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DECEMBER 2004
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HeavenThe White Room
By Jim Francis

I didnít know where I was, and I had no idea how I got there, but there I was, apparently alone in a place that frightened me deeply. I still donít know the "how" of it all, even if I now have some inkling about the "where." Perhaps I can explain.

The chilled, stale air in the room brought gooseflesh anywhere my skin was exposed, and that covered a bit of territory. I was wearing, with attempted modesty, a hospital gown. You know the type, the ones that reveal much more than they cover. I had no memory of being sick, but I assumed I must have been. Why else would I be dressed like this? I was sitting on a metal stool of some sort, and leaning on one elbow against a stainless steel table. The room was not well lit, but I began to notice indistinct shapes I assumed were people moving around. None of them seemed to be paying attention to me, but went about some tasks I couldnít understand. I tried to get their attention.

"Excuse me, where am I?"

No response. In fact I heard very little sound except some distant murmurs I suspected were human voices. They didnít seem to be directed at me, and I couldnít make out anything that was being said.

I tried again. "Excuse me? Can you hear me?"

Still nothing. I kept trying for what I would assume to be ten or fifteen minutes, until I gave up. No one was going to answer my questions, or even acknowledge I had asked. Time for another approach.

I tried to stand up, to see if I could walk around, but I couldnít get off the stool. I found nothing binding me or restraining me in any way, but it was impossible to stand. However, I discovered I could move my arms, twist my body, turn my head and look around. I looked for any object I could reach, thinking perhaps I could toss it toward one of the moving shapes or maybe just drop it and gain attention from the noise. I found nothing but the bare tabletop.

The minutes crept by until I thought I had been in the room for hours. I passed the time by observing the meager details. The smooth walls were colorless, a dull and lifeless white, apparently made of some sort of ceramic tile. The furnishings and fixtures were stainless steel. The room could better be described by the absence of features than by their presence. It was one of these absences that startled me most. I found no door in the room. There was no way in or out.

It was after I noticed the missing door that feelings of intense dread arose. Words canít express what I felt; the closest word I can find is despair, intense, bottomless despair. I have never felt so strong an emotion before or since. I had felt fear, sudden panic, despair and even resignation to unpleasant circumstances before, but this was nothing like those. It was deep and haunting beyond description. I was absolutely devoid of hope and I knew the despair would be eternal. I would never feel the slightest spark of hope again. Not ever. I felt a deathly chill in my very soul.

{Is this the way Jesus felt when he was on the cross? Is this why he cried out, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" As I have thought about this event after the fact, I realized I have had just the slightest taste of what Jesus must have felt. The one difference is that I deserved what I was getting. He didnít.}

At that point, I noticed for the first time that I was no longer sitting alone as I had thought. To my right, just beyond my reach, was another stainless stool. Sitting on it was a man with the most piercing steel-blue eyes Iíve ever seen. He looked through me to the bottom of my soul. He was tall, athletically muscular, and dressed in radiant white (he was not wearing a hospital gown, nor did he look like a doctor or nurse). It looked as if his clothes were made of light. His hair was reddish blonde and his features smooth, but somehow elusive to examination. Only his eyes were distinct to me.

Am I saying God is a blonde Caucasian, or that angels are? Of course not. God is so far beyond race or color we really canít comprehend it. But He has the power to appear to anyone, anywhere, anytime and in any form He chooses. The visitor I had appeared as I described him.

"Who are you?" I asked.

"Do you know where you are?"

"No. But Iím never going to leave here, am I?"

"Yes, you are. Most donít, but you arenít permanently assigned here. Not yet."

"Who are you?" I inquired again.

"Who do you think I am?"

"I donít know. God, maybe? But I didnít think humans could be allowed to look at God and live. An angel?"

"Something like that. Have you recognized where you are?"

"Am I dead? I donít think this is Heaven."

"No, it isnít Heaven. But Iíve already told you youíre not permanently here."

"So where are we, then? And why am I here? Iím a Christian, so I thought Iím supposed to go to Heaven."

"Well, like you said, this isnít Heaven. And you are here for a purpose. Youíve had the chance now to discover something about what Hell is like. You feel completely hopeless and abandoned, right?"

"Yes, and terribly afraid. Alone."

"Thatís what eternal separation from God feels like. The lake of fire isnít the only punishment, you know."

"Am I going to end up here?"

"Thatís not why youíre here. Youíre here so you can know, and you will know so you can tell others. As you said, you are a Christian and you know that thereís only one way to avoid Hell. Weíll talk again." And with that he was gone.

{Okay, so what is this one way to avoid Hell? Itís a personal relationship with Jesus. Like it or not, thereís nothing we can do by ourselves to get into Heaven. Jesus really did say it best when he said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." You can find that in the Bible, at John 14:6 and 7.}

The next memory I have is of waking up in the intensive care unit of St. Josephís Hospital in Atlanta. The first person I saw was Dr. Darrell Caudill, one of my primary physicians and one of the many involved in my care. I had experienced an aortic aneurysm and had been comatose for about six days. My family tells me I was alert and talking during the early part of that time, but I have absolutely no memory of that. The doctors had essentially drugged me into a coma to get me settled down to treat me. I understand that I was in cardiac arrest twice. Perhaps thatís when I was in that white room.

I hope you never go there, even for a visit, as I did. Thatís why Iím telling you about it.

If the one way to avoid Hell is to have a personal relationship with Jesus, how do you do that? Itís not as complicated as many people think. The Lord is ready and waiting to establish that relationship, but you have to ask him. He will not force himself upon you. Here are some thoughts to help you.

First, itís important for you to know God loves you, no matter what. But that doesnít mean He isnít also just. We all have sinned and come short of Godís plans and desires for us. You have, I have, everybody has (see Romans 3:23). For that reason, we deserve to be separated from God; to be in Hell.

But God offers another option. He sent Jesus Christ, His only son, to be among us and to live on earth. Thereís one distinct difference between Jesus and the rest of us. He never sinned. Ever. And it was his sinless nature that made him a perfect sacrifice. Thatís why he died on the cross, to pay for our sins. Your sins. Mine. But he completed the job. He rose on the third day and made the way for us.

What remains is for you to realize you have fallen short and to accept the sacrifice Jesus made. You do that by a simple prayer asking Jesus to take away your sins and come into your life. If you ask, He will do that. Without fail. You simply have to mean it. Your personal relationship with him begins right then and there. Itís not a difficult thing, but youíll never do anything more important.
Jim Francis is a native Kentuckian who was "transplanted" to the Atlanta area. He is married to Nancy, and they have three grown sons and two grandchildren. Jim works as a technical writer by day and a creative writer by night. Jim and Nancy attend North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, a northern suburb of Atlanta."
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