I clench my fists and scold that whimpering coward inside. Come on, man! You can’t just sit here and die!
I never have been one to just lie down and let circumstances run all over me. I’ve never looked to others — or to God — for help. When life gave me a kick I tried to kick it right back. I’ve always depended on my own wits and I’m going to do that now.
I’ve got to make a hole in the snowbank outside so I can get some fresh air. So I grab my pick, but know right away that’s a silly idea. There’s no room to swing it. I toss it aside and dig with my mitts until my hands are almost frozen. I shove at the snow, demanding it to move, until the futility of it all hits me in the face again. I may as well try digging through the mountain.
I flop on the cave floor and accept the truth: there’s no way I can dig myself out of this grave. I’m going to die here — maybe in a couple of hours.
What’s so fearful about dying anyway? You just lie down and close your eyes, and it’s over. Or is it?
Some folks say you wake up to a whole new world: some say it’s heaven or hell. I’ve had some preachers tell me God’s keeping records in a big book and when you die you stand before Him and are judged by what’s written in that book. What will He say to me? Have I been good enough to get a pass for Heaven?
Some tell you your whole life passes before your eyes just before you die and you get to review all the things you’ve done in this world. All your failings and mistakes. I lean my head back against the cold stone and contemplate what that procession might look like. Scenes of the past pop into my mind, decisions I made, things I’ve said, people I’ve loved, some fights I’ve been in.
I think about my lust for gold. Yep, I see it now for it what it is: lust. For me it’s been like an insatiable thirst. I wanted lots of it, I wanted to get it before the other guy, and keep it for myself. I wanted all the nice stuff money could buy, the security of a fat bank account that would keep me through my old age.
I think of a Bible verse I heard one time: “What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul.” I sadly shake my head. No, I probably haven’t been good enough to join them saints when they go marching in.
For an instant I contemplate bargaining with God. I tell Him, “Lord, if you’ll just get me out of this situation, I’ll serve you forever. I’ll become the best Christian there ever was; I’ll be in church every Sunday, give my gold to the poor, become a preacher. Hey, Lord, I’ll even sing in the choir if that’s what You want.”
I remember other men who’ve made those same promises when they were in dire straits, and kept them, too. But I can name a few others who’ve have gone back on all their vows as soon as the circumstances changed.
Yeah, I could promise God all that, but what if there’s no miracle for me anyway? What if this is simply going to be my last day? A kind of acceptance settles into me. I need to make peace with my Maker now, if I can, because I’m going to be looking Him in the eye right shortly.
Even in the blackness I shut my eyes when I start to pray. “Are you there, God? Do you hear me? Do you know me? What’s going to happen when I die? Will you let me into your heaven? Will you — can you — forgive all the sins of my life?”
Soft as sifting snow, a few Bible verses slide into my thoughts. “God sent his only Son… whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Songs I learned as a gaffer at school, rehearsing them over and over for the Christmas program. Never would have dreamed I’d remember them here and now. “Peace on earth, goodwill to men… Unto you is born this day a Savior, which is Christ the Lord…” I contemplate the Good News we sang about then and wonder if it could be for me, too.
Another verse came into my mind, one I heard in a fiery sermon one day: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
I sigh another prayer. “Lord, is this an offer you’re making me, such a selfish sinner as I have been? You know I have nothing to give You in exchange. Except maybe this gold — and I guess it’s really Yours anyway, seeing You put it into the rock in the first place. But if You are hearing me and giving me this verse, if You can wash me pure as this snow outside today, and if You’re willing to do it, then I accept. I’ll give You whatever life I have left in this world and all my days in the next, if You’ll only clean me up and make me fit for Your heaven.”
I can never completely explain the peace that pours through me in that instant. I feel so light I could float, and so free. Suddenly I needed to be in the light so I fished a candle out of my pocket, lit it, and set it up on a chunk of wood. Symbolic, I guess.
For maybe an hour — you lose all sense of time in a place like that — I talk with God about my past, the people I knew, all the places I’d been. And He lets me know He’s been there with me, has seen and felt it all. Then He washes my past, forgives it all. I feel so new — like the fresh buds that pop out in springtime, even on an old tree. I’ve scoffed at the term a lot, but today I understand what “born again” really means.
Then I start to feel cold and sleepy. I stretch out on the floor and tell Him, “Thank You, Lord. I’m ready to go now, whenever You want to come for me.”
A few minutes later I hear a sound, another rumbling above me. I feel vibrations and hear thuds like falling rocks. Another avalanche! The noise is so fierce now I start shaking. This time even the cave seemed to shudder; instinctively I roll onto my belly and curl up, using my parka hood to cover my head. Is this the end, I wonder? My last minutes?
Suddenly I’m aware that the cave was filled with light. I lift my head, realizing the snow has tumbled away from the opening. I listen as the avalanche makes its way to the valley below. Finally all is silent. I crawl to the entrance and look outside, shutting my eyes against the dazzling sun. The clouds have almost all drifted away now; it’s a beautiful day.
Yes, it’s a glorious day to be alive!