A Time Without Mercy
I was piss drunk in Buffalo a few nights ago. It was in this state I was confronted by God, or the Devil, or another drunk man looking for a cigarette. It all depends on your perspective and interpretation, maybe a little bit of experience too. After all, what religious experience doesn’t.
I don’t remember seeing him of course. With spirits and drunkenness, people kind of just appear. And when you mix the two—well, maybe that’s a story for another time.
The man was Latino with dark, knowing eyes, and in the incandescence of street lamps he looked real. His shirt was maroon and topped with a cross that looked like it was carved out of a bone.
I remember seeing the cross and seeing it was outside his shirt. I told him I liked his cross. He smiled and told me his son made it for him. I congratulated him on being a father and he asked me if I was a Christian.
“Yeah, I consider myself a Christian.”
“Oh yeah? What does that mean? Have you been saved, my friend?”
“Yes, I have.”
“What was it like for you, ‘I consider myself a Christian’?”
And so I told him, because I did have a conversion experience. I told him about how it felt like my body was on fire, how I couldn’t breathe. I told him that the Holy Spirit overtook me in a moment.
“Do you hear this!?” he said to my friends having their own conversation by now. “He says the Holy Spirit— overtook— him.”
I regretted using such lofty words.
“No, no, this is good.” He continued. “Tell me what it is you believe that you ‘consider’ yourself a Christian.”
At this point I had affirmed in my heart of hearts that I am not articulate while drunk. Nevertheless, I spoke on, following my words out of my mouth. “I guess I consider myself a Christian Agnostic.”
“Whoa! Now this is something new! Please, enlighten me! I thought Jesus had given his life for our sins, but this is something that I need to hear!” he was mocking at this point— or I suppose had been mocking.
“No, no, no. See— This,” I grabbed his cross.
“Don’t grab his cross, man,” my friend suggested.
“This right here,” I went on, cross-less, “this happened for us, for all of us.”
“What happened?” he challenged my words.
“Jesus Christ died and bled on the cross for the sins of humanity.”
“Okay.” He nodded and stroked his chin.
“But I know that I can’t know for sure, and I’m okay with not knowing.”
It was here when I started to catch up with my mouth. The words I helped color on a banner for my old church’s teen room came back to me, KNOW WHAT YOU BELIEVE, PREACH WHAT YOU KNOW, LIVE WHAT YOU PREACH. I thought about how I didn’t know what I believed and how I was okay with not knowing. I thought about the darkness of 4:30am and how there was so much doubt all of a sudden.
He asked me what God would think of that on judgement day. If I weren’t depressed by the conversation I might have told him that I think God would be just fine with it. But I was seriously thinking about this apocalyptic judgement and this angry God he was bringing me on the empty street.
“Do you know what it feels like to want to kill yourself, but not be able to?” the anguish was in his face just thinking of it. He gestured stabbing himself and said, “the Bible says, people will look for death— they will not find it.”
“Right, but I feel like in the end, mercy will win. If God’s love is infinite it will reach us beyond the grave even.”
“Oh no my friend… When judgement comes,” he squinted his eyes to focus us in the hollow street. “Mercy. Will be long… Long gone.”
“Why?” I think I really asked him this.
“My friend, you are confused. I will pray for you and your friends.”
With that, he vanished into the dark, Buffalo night. I walked behind my friends thinking about a time without mercy. The thought unsettled me. I dug my hands in my pockets and found my way up the steps to a strange doorway. I imagined God was inside, sitting on a throne waiting to have it out with me. I’d be the first to admit I got it wrong.