BY: CHARLES SLAGLE
As I lay staring at the ceiling, my body cringed with grief. Spasmodic cringing while trying to go to sleep while experiencing the shame of embarrassing memories was a normal occurrence. It had happened frequently since I was 12 years old.
Now I was age 32. Shedding tears was not as common an occurrence at early bedtime as it had been in my childhood years. But this night was a particularly bad one. Not only was I thinking again of all my shortcomings and my most humiliating failures and petty mistakes, but I was quietly sobbing. My heart was filled with terror, self-loathing and despair.
“Please, God, I didn’t ask to be born! Why do I have to stand before You? Do I have to be judged? All I want is to not exist!”
Inside my head I was nearly screaming. But my mouth was silently shaping the words. My beautiful wife lay sleeping beside me to my left. Our tiny poodle lay sleeping with her muzzle resting on my right shoulder.
Tears were streaming down my face and into my ears. “Why, why, why, Lord, don’t you help me? Why wait until judgment to punish me? It’s not fair, Lord! How can you say, ‘Depart from Me, I never knew you!’ after all those years that I’ve begged for you to come help me?”
At the word help my body cringed and shuddered again. “I never ASKED to be born!” I sobbed. “Why do I have to live? Why do I have to be judged? I was Your idea!”
“I’m sorry I’ve displeased You! But where are You, Lord? If You love me so much, why don’t You help me!?”
Ginger, our toy poodle made one of her usual snuffling noises. As she sighed, her body heaved a contented shudder. Almost human. Ginger was the most intelligent, lovable dog we had ever had. Even while sleeping, it seemed she knew by instinct that I was disturbed and sorrowful, for her muzzle was nuzzled firmly between my shoulder and my contorting face.
“You love this dog more than You love me! She’ll never have to worry about your judgment. She’ll never have to worry about spending eternity in hell. She has a wonderful life. When she hurts we comfort her. When she misbehaves, she receives gentle correction. Instant forgiveness! Never, never has this little dog shown any sign that she worries about whether we love her or feels terror that we may subject her to the horrors of endless punishment! Why, Lord, why!? Why do You love animals more than You love people?
“Why did You let me be born as a human? If I had to exist, why couldn’t I have been a bird? Or better yet, a gnat or a microbe? Then I could have lived a little while and died enjoying the nothingness of eternal forgetfulness!
“Your Word says to ask, and we will receive. So I ask You, Heavenly Father, let me be like this dog. If she will somehow go to Heaven, at least she can live in peace without worrying about it!”
Sobs and spastic cringes convulsed my body as the moonlight from the front window faintly lit the room.
“I know I’m not qualified for any kind of ministry! I know my life is a wreck. The only reason I’m in the ministry is because I thought You called me! Why would You call me into ministry? Was it so I would have to endure harsher judgment?”
Paula stirred and snuggled her back closer to my side. She had entered my life as a direct answer to my prayers, ten years before.
As I listened to her steady breathing, I wept bitterly for her. How fortunate that my dear wife could sleep! Living with an insecure and miserable wretch like me, bless her, she deserved a break sometimes. I was a horrible excuse for a husband – and yet – she loved me with all of her heart.
“Why God? Why did You curse Paula by putting me in her life? What did she ever do that was so wrong that You would punish her so severely? Why, why don’t You at least love Paula?” I raged. My mind was burning with anguish. Sorrow and shame swept over me in waves of liquid fire.
“Will she, at least, be in Heaven? Will all of her years of sacrifice to follow me in traveling ministry singing Your praises and encouraging others to worship You count for anything? Or is she also destined for eternal torment? Why would You let such an atrocity happen after all she has given?
“I hate you, God! You’re full of empty promises and even more full of cruel threats! I hate life! I wish I had never been born! When You condemn me to eternal fire, don’t You DARE say ‘I never knew you.’ Don’t You dare. Because I will tell You, with all Heaven and hell as witness, that You could have known me. I will remind You of all the nights like this one when I cried out to You!
“So You call Yourself a God of love... Then where in the hell are You!? Oh, no. Of course not! You have no intention of talking to me now. That would spoil everything. You’re saving that for the Day of Judgment. The day when You cast me into hell forever! And all because You love me so much!”
Helpless fury raged inside me. What horror! What injustice! Being called into existence in a world wracked with pain, catastrophe, and abuse – and then – hauled into judgment and sentenced to fiery torment. Forever without hope!
“What hypocrisy! You call Yourself a God of love. So why did You invent a hopeless hell for Your cherished creatures? Oh, yes. I remember now. You must honor our ‘free will’, mustn’t You? That is – until – You violate our free will to drag us into judgment and eternal fire! How honorable of You, dearest Father! You honor free will to have liberty to be damned to suffer forever. But You’d never dream of ‘violating’ our free will in order to save us! What a kind and loving God You are! It’s been so nice of You to let us all live here just so we could have a ‘choice’!” A chance to make it to Heaven! I’m sure hell’s myriad billions will praise You forever for Your wonderful gift of ‘free will’, won’t they? Such a tender and gracious God You are! You love human free will enough to violate it only when it’s time to judge and damn people. But to help us? Do You love us enough to interfere with our will to help us before it’s too late!? Of course not! How ungrateful of me to wish that You loved us more!”
White-hot hatred mingled with despair and sorrow coursed through my body. Why had I wasted a moment of my life even trying to serve Jesus Christ? In the end, it would all count for nothing – whether I tried to serve Him or not! Somehow, was it possible to bail out and at least spend the rest of my life in some semblance of peace and pleasure? Was it possible? I was doomed for endless torment either way! If I was going to be guilty anyway, why not have a good time before I had to face my sentence?
Shame and remorse swept over me like a flood. For I suddenly realized that even if the Lord did choose to abandon me to hopeless torment, I still yearned to be a good husband and father.
Then I remembered how God had answered many of my prayers over the years. Things had happened that were impossible to attribute to “luck”. Paula’s severe allergies had been healed, along with her stomach ulcers – in an instant. Our little boy, Bryan, was a walking, talking miracle. According to the doctor’s assessment, he should never have been born. I remembered the tiny placenta that followed Bryan’s descent from his mother’s womb into the world. How could that have sustained his life? Again, I broke into sobs.
“Oh, Father, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. How can I be so full of blasphemy? So full of ingratitude?” But it was not mere remorse I was feeling. Terrible fear gripped me.
“Please, God. Please forgive me. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but if I can’t be honest with You, who can I talk to?”
How long I was in this state of mind that night, I have no way of knowing. All I know is I was sobbing, praying, sobbing, apologizing, sobbing, cringing, sobbing, cursing, sobbing, pleading for forgiveness, pleading for help, sobbing…
And then – I was standing in a vast and majestic room, or court, about the size of at least several football fields. The floor beneath me gleamed with a hint of golden splendor, as it seemed something like marble covered in a crystalline substance, perhaps six to eight inches in depth. Streams of color, sparkling blue, green, red, yellow and silver, swirled amidst the shimmering translucence. Somehow I knew these colors were liquefied emeralds, rubies, sapphires, gold and silver and other precious gems.
Columns tall and as thick in diameter as ancient Redwood trees stood in row after row throughout the hall, to my left and to my right. Made of the same shining substance as the floor, they rose upward, their tops reaching into a golden haze. I couldn’t make out the ceiling.
It seemed I stood in the center of this great hall, perhaps much closer to the front than to the rear. The atmosphere was electrifying, yet still as glass. Several yards in front of me rose a small platform, perhaps eighteen inches high. On it sat a simple golden chair with a red cushion. The chair was empty.
As I surveyed the splendor of the expanse in which I found myself, terror seized me. I was dead! And now? I was a spirit-being, about to face Almighty God – in judgment!
My hands and body trembled violently as my heart pounded in my chest. Unspeakable sorrow swept over me. Tears, bitter and desperate, flooded my eyes. And again, I wept.
“Oh, dear Father, why have You brought me here after all the prayers I’ve prayed? Have You no compassion? Please, please. Heavenly Father! I’m sorry I have offended You. Why won’t You just let me not exist? I can’t stand the thought of suffering alone forever and ever.”
At that point I began convulsing like a little child. My mind was reeling. Such despair had seized me that I was unable to think, let alone utter speech.
As I stood weeping, from behind me, a wet warmth suddenly licked the palm of my left hand that hung down. Startled, I felt my heart leap inside me. No sooner had I jumped a foot forward than a huge white blur of fur dashed from behind, whirled around in front of me and pounced mischievously, looking playfully into my eyes. A sheepdog? What was a sheepdog doing here?
He was nearly as large as a pony and beautiful, without a mat or tangle in his hair. As he pounced and sought to engage me in frolic, I plopped down on the floor cross-legged and began to laugh and cry for joy. I was with my favorite kind of person – a playful, innocent and loving dog. Long before I had learned to tolerate humans, I had always loved dogs.
Immediately, he rushed forward and began licking my tears away, covering me with canine kisses, nudging me affectionately about my neck, my chest, my ears.
And of course, I was hugging him and kissing his face and rubbing his ears and savoring the joy of running my fingers through his long, radiant fur.
Then, somehow, we were wrestling and tumbling. And the next thing I knew, we were running and playing tag all throughout the room. I would hide behind one of the pillars and suddenly see him peeping at me from behind another one. As he would dash toward me to gently nip at the seat of my trousers (this was his way of saying “Gotcha!”), I would dash to hide behind another column. But in the end, he always got me – then, it was my turn to chase him.
Around and around the large columns we scampered. The sheepdog would purposely show off by slipping and sliding on the glassy surface as he scrambled around the pillars. As he panted and cavorted, his tongue hung out the side of his mouth. And he would glance pleadingly at me with a make-believe desperation that was too hilarious for words, as he struggled to keep his balance.
Occasionally, from exhaustion and mirth, I would have to plop myself down and sit while I laughed, and laughed, and laughed. And before long, when the dog surmised I had rested long enough, he would suddenly rush in from behind me. Then he would begin washing my neck and ears with kisses. Interspersed with this, he kept nudging me to get up and play again. Again and again – and again.
The last place I can remember having plopped down was the exact spot in the throne room where I first stood at the beginning. I don’t remember seating myself there. All I recall is that I was there. And I was gazing, this time, with only a detached curiosity at the golden chair, adorning the small platform.
My magnificent sheepdog friend was lying, panting with serene contentment beside me on my right. With his huge paws, stretched out in front of him, he was also staring nonchalantly at the chair.
“Where is He?” I thought to myself. As I slowly kept running my fingers through the dog’s glorious coat, I felt so alive. So secure. So unable to care. So detached from fear of any kind. But a heavy drowsiness was creeping over me.
“Maybe He’s in a side office, going over my case with His secretary,” flitted across my mind. At the time, it wasn’t a strange or amusing thought. It seemed a very normal idea that God should have a secretary.
My right hand, fingers outstretched, kept stroking gently yet firmly from the dog’s hindquarters up to his ears. Feeling that rich coat between my fingers, enjoying the sensation of his warm floppy ears, experiencing the serenity and warm acceptance of my beastly friend... How can I describe the effect it was producing? I just felt too contented to know how to worry. Also, I was getting sleepier and sleepier.
“I can go to hell now,” I thought to myself, “and it won’t be that bad, because I’ll have these moments to remember for all eternity.” By now, I could hardly keep my eyes open. I was so sleepy.
“I wonder if…?”
The sheepdog, as though he had read my mind, yawned, and stretched out lengthwise beside me. Like Daniel of old, in the lion’s den, I laid my head gently on the dog’s stomach. Spiraling downward, downward into trance-like oblivion, I could hear his heart beating beneath my ear.
Ka-thump, ka-thump, ka-thump. As his heart thumped, I continued spiraling downward into the most magnetic and delicious sleep.
Yet, at the same time, a strange warmth glowed inside me. And it seemed that an unbearable joy – mingled with heartache – was unraveling my whole being.
A sob erupted from my lips, and I heard myself saying, “Heavenly Father, this isn’t... You, is it?”
“Uh huh,” came the reply – but it was spoken distinctly inside me. It was such a comfortable, warm and gentle voice.
“A dog?!” You came to me as a dog? But, Heavenly Father . . . Why . . . Why would you . . . ?”
I like dogs,” came a tender chuckle. “Don’t you like them?”
“Of course I do, Father. You know I have always loved dogs all of my life.”
“Yes, I know and have always known. But I know everything, don’t I?”
“Of course You do, Lord!” I responded.
“And when it suits Me, I can take on the appearance of any creature I have made. Do you like this one?”
“Oh, yes. Father, You know I do. But why did You come to me in this way tonight?” Even as I finished the question, the sense of God’s heartache inside me intensified. Then it seemed, in a sense, that He was weeping with deepest tenderness of compassion. Not bellowing or bawling, but it was as though His sorrow raged like a torrent. Yet when He spoke, His tone was so quiet, so gentle.
Little one, how My heart has ached for you. All your life you have misunderstood Me. You have been so afraid of Me. When you have cried out, pleading that I un-make you, or else begging that I not abandon you to endless torment, I have wept. Such pain your words have brought to My heart, My son. It is as though your words thrust into it like a knife that was twisted each time you spoke such things.”
“Oh, my dear Father, I’m so sorry… I had no idea… it never entered into my mind that I could hurt You…“
“It wasn’t for Myself that I was grieving. It was the pain of your sorrow, your anguish that I wept for.”
“Yes, cherished one. I always hurt when you hurt and I cry with you each time you cry.”
“Yes, My son, I always do. And that is why I came to you in the form of this noble creature called the ‘dog.’ I have longed for you to know that I look forward to your homecoming one day. And it will be a day of unimaginable joy for you.”
“It will, Father?”
“Oh yes, son, I promise you it will. And all the warmth, the simplicity, the unconditional acceptance, the ‘at-homeness’, even the frolic you have found in our wonderful canine friends – you will also find in Me. Yes, and multiplied many times over, will you find them. For has it not occurred to you that each of My creatures, to some significant degree, reflects My image?
“It is true, My son, and in your world, mankind most completely bears My likeness and image. Even so, every creature I have made reflects My likeness in some special way that is appropriate and fitting for its calling and purpose.”
“That is amazing. Father, but I believe You. So You are never going to… going to…?”
“Give up on you and throw you away? Certainly not! That can never happen. Son, as you have said yourself – repeatedly – you are My idea. Do you think I would have brought you into the world had I foreseen that our hearts would never meet? ‘Love is kind,’ little one. ‘Love thinks no evil, but always rejoices in good and believes the best.’ You must stop listening to people entrenched in religious tradition, son. You can love them while not buying into their nonsense. I do it all the time!”
“Yes, Heavenly Father, I will do my best to do as You say and do as You do. Oh, dear Father! I can’t even begin to thank you enough…“
“Enough, little one. You don’t have to grovel in remorse, for all timing for all things is in My keeping. And you are in My hands as well as in My heart. And you always will be – forever and forever.”
“I love you. Father.”
“I love you too, son.”
“Do You often appear on earth in another form?”
The sweetest, deep chuckle sounded within me and then came the words: “I do indeed, son. You see Me more often than you know.”
As I opened my eyes, it was morning and the alarm clock was sounding. I was still the same Charles I had always been, flesh, blood and bones. Somehow I knew also that all of my weaknesses and chinks were still with me. So many, many things I wanted to see healed and changed inside me – if they had changed at all – had been changed by only the smallest fraction.
But a “seed” had been planted. It was the seed of God’s unconditional love. I could never be the same again, because somewhere in the vaults of my deepest heart I knew (or at least I began to know) I was cherished, loved, and treasured.
Some have felt uncomfortable when, on occasion, I have shared this night-visitation publicly. And it is a true account of an experience I had on August 31, 1978. “But why didn’t JESUS CHRIST come to visit you that night?” I have been asked. I reply that He did come, as perfectly represented in our Heavenly Father. For Father, Son and Holy Spirit are in perfect accord in righteousness, loving kindness – and deepest humility.
Moreover, I have the impression that – in my own case – God yearned to shatter much religious imagery that had become entrenched in my deepest heart. Furthermore, the childhood environment in which I learned of our Lord had conditioned me to feel almost the same degree of unwholesome fear of Christ as I had developed toward God the Father. An appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ, at that time in my journey, might have been too overwhelming for me.
“But couldn’t our Lord Himself have been sufficient to meet you while accommodating your weakness?”
My response: That is exactly what He did. The same Lord Who is the Lion of Judah, the Lamb of God, the Patient Ox and the Mighty Eagle came to me as a shaggy Shepherd Dog. A dog that guards sheep and lambs. The Spirit caused me to hear and see. God’s Son, I am persuaded, animated the Glorious Canine. It was the Father’s voice I heard. That is my distinct impression.
The TV in my mom and dad’s bedroom was blaring out a football game, if I remember correctly. However, I do remember being there, just enjoying the company of Dow Slagle, my earthly dad.
We had just eaten a big dinner, so I was half-dozing and half-awake. For some reason I was thinking about the dream I had experienced months before.
“Was it real, Heavenly Father?”
“Go, and you will know,” was the response that sprang to my mind. For all I knew, the “voice” I heard was merely the foolish ramblings of my own mind.
But I did need to go to the bathroom. So I got up and opened the door to the bathroom that connected with the master bedroom where my dad and I were sitting.
As I entered, I nearly stumbled over something shiny at my feet. It was the aluminum water bowl my parents kept for their small dog, Lissy. Scratched on the side of the bowl appeared an inscription that bowled me over, to say the least! In the wobbly print of a pre-school aged child (probably that of our son, Bryan) appeared in all capital letters:
“God!? Written on Lissy’s water dish? Why would that Holy pronouncement be on – “
“What does it spell, backwards?” chuckled the Father’s voice inside me.
“Awesome!” was all I could think.
Years later… I heard an Englishman named Malcolm Smith teaching on the 23rd Psalm. I found myself captivated by all he said, for Malcolm Smith knows the heart of God.
As he concluded his message, he told us that the original Hebrew of the last verse of Psalm 23 declares: “Surely goodness and mercy – like Sheepdogs – shall hound my heels all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the Lord’s House forever!”
Lo and behold – confirmation in Scripture, of all places! But that finally was given, 14 years later! Just think of all the religious critics I could have silenced if only I had realized that my dream was confirmed in the Bible...
Why hadn’t such confirmation come my way sooner? Probably for the reason stated above. I was one of the worst of God’s critics and He handled me well enough. No doubt, our Heavenly Father prefers coming to His own defense. And when He does, He does far more than silence His critics. He woos them to become His most devoted friends – as only a winsome and Shaggy Shepherd Dog can do.
HEAVENLY DOGS [Charles Slagle] 1