They sat outside the coffee shop together in a moment of silence, bright street lights lined their outdoor seating area, this was their spot, this is where he’d made that decision three years ago, this is where he was now questioning it. There was a good looking couple nearby, talking sweet things to each other, he eyed the woman’s long legs quickly, caught himself doing it, and recovered before Aaron noticed. Always a fight, always a struggle, always restraints. He was tired. He was doubting. He was reconsidering.
He sighed, the exhaustion as palpable as Floridian humidity in the height of summer, “It’s just hard, ya know?”
With patient eyes Aaron looked at the younger man he’d been discipling, yet, the twenty five year old would not meet his eyes. He loved Jacob as he had loved his late son, the boy’s intellect was sharp and he dreamed big, but lately that mind of his had been chasing new ideas, those powerful emotions drawing him towards foreign waters of belief and unbelief. Aaron had seen this conversation coming, yet it came more quickly than he had anticipated.
“I know Jake, trust me, I know.” Thoughts of his son filled his mind, that initial evaporation of confidence that had formed the clouds of his own season of doubt which forever loomed on the distant horizon, allowing light to shine, but always reminding him of their ominous presence.
“Sorry, I know you get it, but that still just proves the point, it’s hard.” Three college girls walked out of the shop, laughing in the enigmatic way that any trio of pretty girls will do on a Saturday night, the brunette definitely was his type, just the right balance between looks and style. Aaron definitely noticed his lingering glance this time, though he did not mention it, “Like really tough, ya know?”
Aaron took in a breath, the cool and gentle fall air in contrast to the rising inner unrest within him. He battled to stay dispassionate, decades of experience had honed his ability to show such emotional restraint. It’s not in my hands, he began whispering it over and over again in his head. Father, help me.
“Jake, don’t take this the wrong way, and forgive me if this is a little curt, but did you actually expect anything else? I mean we talked about the cost of discipleship before you confessed.”
Jacob finally met the gaze of Aaron’s brown eyes, he appreciated the man’s soft bluntness, Aaron always just told it like it was, but with near perfect consistency there was always that dose of kindness in his words as well. He liked Aaron, he liked his church and most of the people in it, well, at least a handful of them, but, “It just feels like I’m dying man.” Two guys were chatting with the female trio, was that really all the game they had? Pathetic. How were they laughing at those weak lines? He could do way better. “Seriously, dying. I’m not exaggerating. Where’s all the joy and happiness, that was part of the deal right?”
The deal? Jake, you know better than that. Silent thoughts. Jesus, hold him. Please! “Jake, you’re smart, smarter than me.” Jacob scoffed. “I’m not joking, and you know I’d never flatter a cocky kid like yourself.” Aaron, gave him an impish smile, he knew Jacob would appreciate the banter. “But put that mind to work, shouldn’t bearing a cross, that bloody Roman torture devise, daily, feel a little like dying? To me if that’s how you feel, it sounds like you’re doing something right.” Jacob was silent, though his eyes were no longer wandering. “I mean, it’s like you’re assuming that all that talk about walking the narrow road, hating yourself, and being in a cosmic spiritual battle was just hyperbole. Yes we’re promised joy, but we’re also promised tribulation. Yes we’re promised the Spirit, but we’re also to expect testing. Yes we’re promised life, but first we’re told to die.” The words came out in a rush, he had spoken them before, to himself, alone in his dim lit kitchen with an open Bible before him, as the death of his son only made sense as he read of the death of the Son.
Jacob folded his hands and leaned forward, eyes downcast, “But what if we’re wrong?”
“Then we perish and are of all men most to be pitied.” Aaron didn’t miss a beat, that bluntness Jacob always loved knew when it was needed most.
“Well that would suck.” Jacob laughed, his mood a bit lighter. He’d heard Aaron say that before, they had worked through that chapter of the Bible before, it had been a turning point for his conversion. The fact that a religion attested that it was worthless if one unique fact was not objectively true had challenged his worldview like nothing else he’d ever come across, especially as it was a previous hostile enemy of Jesus who had written that. All the other Christians he’d known had tried to appeal to their own subjective inner experiences, Aaron did not deny these experiences, but had critiqued their apologetic value long before Jacob had ever converted. The dude went right for the heart of Christianity by getting out of the human heart and going right for that stubborn resurrection upon which the hinges of the world’s largest religion swung.
“Yeah it would. But you know the facts, you know the chasm of doubt that would exist if you walked away. Jake, do you think this is your intellect or your emotions, or perhaps your flesh?”
Yeah, he had definitely noticed the looks. Jacob leaned back and ran his fingers through his curly hair, locking his hands together behind his head. People were passing by constantly now, just how many people actually got coffee this late? Did any of them care about all this? Why weren’t they in daily existential crisis? Were they? Still, that blissful appearance of indifference held a certain kind of attraction to him and in this moment it looked down right sexy.
“It’s all of it. It’s none of it. I don’t know Aaron, man, I just don’t know. It sucks. I want it to be easier. Everyday its something new, everyday its the same thing. I can’t just take a break can I?” Jacob asked the last question with begging sarcasm.
“You know you can’t look back and expect to see again. Jake, like it or not, you’ve got to remember what it is you’d be rejecting, you’ve got to consider the whole framework. But Jake, I want to try something with you, something we haven’t done before.”
Jacob’s eyebrows raised, that was unusually vague. “Okay… ”
Aaron sent up one last prayer, “Jake, you know the apologetics. You know the arguments, if anyone knows them, you do. You know the comprehensive worldview that Christianity entails, you know the short fallings of secular ideologies, and you know darn well the evidence for the historicity of bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. You know its belief no matter which path you choose. That’s why I don’t want to go down that road, I want to keep it simple.”
“Okay, simple sounds good right now. Whatcha got?” The music played in the background, the people kept walking by, the world kept spinning, yet something had to changed in this moment, which way would his world go?
“Jake, I want you to close your eyes…” Aaron started to say.
“Seriously?” Jacob moaned with his eyes widening in exasperation, well aware of the many surrounding eyes.
“Just play it out… Jake… it’s all I’ve got left.” Jacob, heard the pleading behind his voice, the man had earned his trust, had spent hours, days, probably even weeks, working through his hundreds of questions and objections to the faith, and had then spent just as much time with him after his confession, he owed him this much.
“Alright, nice and shut, what next?”
“Holy, think of that word. Holy, holy, holy. Separate. Perfect. Penetrating light. Jake, if Christianity is true, and you know I believe it is, that is what God is. Just think about the word, the concept even, quite your mind and try to think of holiness. Awaken your conscience with the word, test it, feel it.”
Had Aaron not spent so much time developing a relationship with Jacob there was no way he would have played along, but, as it was, he went along with it. Several minutes went by.
“Holy.” Jacob said with eyes tightly shut, mind oddly placid.
“Now Jake, what I’m going to ask you to think about is not going to be easy, but I think you need to do it with what you’ve been considering. Jake, I want you to think of the absolutely worst sins you’ve ever committed.” Father, is this right? Help.
“Really?” He kept his eyes shut, but his heart rate began to increase. “That seems, unholy.” He meant it as slight joke, but actually believed it after the words left his mouth.
“Yes, and I want you to go all in. Remember the moments, before, during and after. Remember the sting of your moral failure. Remember the shame, the guilt and every single shred of your conscience’s accusations against you. Remember the times you promised yourself you’d never do it again and then gave in the next day. But don’t just remember it, feel it. Feel the failure, the weakness and the darkness. Feel the sin. Feel your sin.” Aaron’s voice was a strange mix of passion and pleading, power and weakness.
For once Jacob was silent, no protests, no jokes. The world was alive around him, the world was far from him. His mind and conscience met together. His memory and emotions reunited as two old friends, both pointing towards one enemy. Minutes went by.
Too many, his failures were incalculable. In his virtue he saw pride. In his chivalry he saw manipulation. In his charity he saw deceit. And that was his best. An uncomfortable warmth spread through him, he wanted to run, to open his eyes and never look here again. Something restrained him. Something held him tied to this taste of his own dark depths. Something pressed him deeper.
Some sins seemed small. Others seemed monstrous. One seemed unforgivable. He rubbed his hands together as a tear rolled down his cheek.
“Keep your eyes shut Jake,” the compassion in Aaron’s voice was impossible to miss, “keep remembering, keep feeling. But now add one other thought. Jesus.” Aaron paused, this was it. “Think of who he was, who he claimed to be. You know the reliability of the gospels that describe the historical person of Jesus Christ. Forget all the bad scholarship that you’ve admitted is woefully flawed. You know he claimed to be God in flesh. You know that if he is lord over all, then you owe him absolute obedience. You’ve read his standard. And you know he calls the sick, the weak, the poor in spirit. He welcomes the heavy laden and the weary. He welcomes even the worst of sinners, declares that his blood can be efficient for even them.” Father, into your hands I commit him. Let him be yours. Save him. Preserve him. Please. Thy will be done. Jacob was not alone in his tears.
“Jake.. Jake, my son… can you say it?” Aaron’s voice was thick.
“Say what?” Jacob’s was thicker.
“Can you say that you don’t need him? Can you say that you don’t want him? Can you say the words, ‘Jesus, I don’t need you. Jesus, I don’t want you. I don’t need your blood to cover my sins. And I want nothing to do with your cross.’ Jake… can you say it?”
They were alone. Two men of different stories and different hurts and different doubts. They were alone. On a Saturday night outside a busy coffee shop. Jacob was silent. In his mind. In his heart. This was it. What was he going to do with Jesus?
Seconds or minutes? Was he becoming a slave or being freed? Was he coming to life or was he dying?
“No. I can’t do it. Aaron, I can’t say it… I don’t want to say it….” He opened his eyes to see the somber brown iris’s meeting his wild blue stare, “I won’t say it.”