Saturday, April 22, 2017

Polishing Brass on a Sinking Ship


In Douglas Adams' masterpiece of cynicism and sacrilege, he pictures time travelers visiting a restaurant situated at the very end of time, where patrons regularly watched the entire universe come to an end around them. As they watched all of reality burn to nothing, the MC made some comment about how they had all in their own time worked hard for the sake of the world but now, in the end they saw that it didn't matter anyway.

This is a problem we must face as we look at the world--the fact that it will not be around forever. This world, this universe is going to come to a conclusion some time and many people think it will be sooner than later. The modern western world has made great progress, though the dream of progress has been ultimately frustrated--but even if it had reached a perfect success, it still would have been a temporary success. We might bring about the millennium on earth; and then the millennium would come to an end and so would the earth. No matter what our perspective, we must come to face with this reality. No discussion of a worldview would be complete without discussing the end of our view--and the end of the world.

The problem can be put very briefly this way: can there be any meaning for life when life (not just our life but ultimately all life) is going to come to an end? That was the question of Solomon considered in Ecclesiastes, and he said that all life under the sun--that is, human life considered simply as human life--is pointless or empty--it is vanity of vanities. Because, in the end, everyone dies and all their work means nothing. Wisdom is better than folly, but the fool dies and the wise man dies and in that they are indistinguishable. (Ecclesiastes 2:15ff) We can play our parts with all our wit and skill, but in the end the curtain will come down and it will all be over. This is the essential problem of the world and we must face it, one way or another. Even Christianity does not, as such, remove the problem. The church has been accused (not without reason) of being almost morbidly obsessed with the end of the world. Christians have divided “on every conceivable notion” about the end of the world, but they all (or almost all) agree that it is coming. In any kind of insane Darbyite scheme with twelve second comings or seven millenniums (each with its own scheme of interpretation), still, in the end, it all comes to an end. The title of this article gives a succinct form of this problem. The question is not original with me and is usually used in connection with an idea of the imminent end of the world. But even if the end of the world is not for several thousand years, the same problem remains. The ship of this world is doomed. It will sink and nothing we do can possibly do more than delay the inevitable for a few seconds. The best of all human actions comes to nothing, so it seems, than polishing the brass on this sinking ship.

Of course, many people throughout history have believed in some kind immortality or afterlife. You could say that when the ship sinks, we are all going to be picked up by a rescue ship or, maybe, that we will just sink into the ocean and become mermen. But while this is a far more cheerful idea than thinking we're all going to drown, it does not solve this essential problem. If we are going to travel on in some other ship, that still doesn't give much meaning to polishing the brass on this one. Of course, how well we polish the brass on this ship may have some baring on whether we get a ride on another ship and so, in that sense, it may be a necessity, but it still doesn't seem to have much purpose. That is all we have with a pagan concept of immortality and even in a lot of what passes for Christianity (much of which is merely a particular kind of paganism). It would seem that all we do is pointless, since it is all doomed to end along with the world in which we do it--it would seems that even the best of all human endeavor is merely polishing brass on a sinking ship.
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However, before we can discuss the end, we must begin with the beginning. As I've stated elsewhere, we must begin all our thinking with the existence of God. Everything else is contingent, while He is primary. The fact that this world is going to end is not really as significant (in one sense) as the fact that it very possibly might not have begun. This entire world might not have been--or it might have been something entirely different. Only God exists of Himself and everything else exists for Him. “For thy pleasure they are and were created.” (Revelation 4:11c) It is not that God stumbled upon our ship and decided to help it or to sink it. God was the financier for the ship, as well as the shipwright and the captain. God created this world to manifest His glory and to be the stage on which mankind could come to know Him--to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Originally, this trip was to be--in a sense both true and awe-some--a pleasure cruise. But then man, in his disobedience, drilled a hole in the bottom of the boat and we have been sinking ever since. We do not know what, if any, consummation God intended originally for this world--we do not know for what strange, exotic port we may have been bound. But we were not meant to sink and that is exactly what we ended up doing (or bound ourselves to do). One by one we were doomed to stumble on the crazy, tilting decks and fall into the churning waves while the ship from which we fell slowly fell with us.

God was our captain but not a passenger and so he was no involved in the doom which we wrought for ourselves. But the strange part is that He did partake of it. The captain booked a passage in steerage on His own ship which he knew to be sinking. He booked a passage on a doomed voyage and even fell and drowned like the rest of the passengers. And yet He lived and nothing has ever been the same sense.

Because Jesus was a human being, experienced human death, and rose from the dead, a new path has been opened in the black, blank wall of reality. Humanity will not simply sink beneath the waves and disappear with the wreck of the world we wrecked. “Man will live forevermore/Because of Christmas day.” This is not simply immortality in the philosophical or pagan sense. It is not simply “then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” If that was all we believed, it would still be “Vanity of vanities... all is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 12:7-8) The truth is something more complicated and far more interesting. The promise we have is not immortality, but resurrection. Just as Jesus rose from the grave to a renewed, human, physical life in a new body (that yet had continuity to His old body), so will His people rise (at the last day) to a renewed, human, physical life in new bodies (that yet will have continuity to their old bodies in some sense). This is the fate of humanity, of all humanity--even of the wicked, though of their resurrection we know very little.

At first this distinction may not seem to make much difference and this may be why the doctrine of the resurrection lays in limbo for so much of the Christian world. But there is a tremendous difference involved. The essential point is that there is continuity (though also discontinuity) between our present life and our future life. This world and the next have more in common than we commonly imagine. The sinking ship and the rescue ship are very much alike (though also very different)--because they have the same Builder and the same Captain. And it is possible that the port to which He will guide us in that ship is the same as that to which we originally embarked in this one.

But this metaphor of two ships is really misleading. What Christianity teaches is something more like this--that after the ship of this world sinks beneath the waves, there will be a swirl of bubbles and for a moment nothing--and then slowly but grandly from beneath the rolling foam will rise a new ship, gleaming in the sun. It will not be the same old ship but it will not be a different ship, either. This morality is not going to end and then be replaced with immortality nor shall this corruptible wither away and then give place to some new incorruptible thing. Rather, in the end it will be that “this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortality shall have put on immortality.” Death will not triumph because it will not succeed. Nothing is going to stay simply dead, which is why it can be said that “Death is swallowed up in victory.” (1 Corinthians 15:54)

I do not deny that when we look to that which lies beyond the end of all things we should feel a sense of awe and, almost but not quite, fear. The final home of the blessed must be something strange and, in Charles Williams' phrase, “terribly good”--terrible as an army with banners. But coupled with this feeling should be another feeling. God made us as we are, though sin corrupted His design. God is also making that final home. The New-Heavens-and-New-Earth are not a place that just happens to exist and to which we just happen to go. It is a place which God went to prepare for us--the same God who made us and made this world for us now is making another world for us. In one sense, when we get there, we will feel that we have come home. This is one significance of the Resurrection. Our life here--our physical life with all its distinctive properties--is not a mistake. It is corrupted; it is incomplete; it is temporary--but it is not a mistake. It is not a wrong stitch which God is going to tear out and sow somewhere else. It is going to be set right by becoming something more than what it is--not by becoming something less or something else entirely. This ship may be sinking, but it is a good ship, and we are quite right in hoping and believing that the next ship will be like it.

There are two obvious, common errors regarding eternity which seem to afflict by turns (and sometimes almost simultaneously) the mass of Christian and semi-Christian thinking. People either think of the next life as by exactly like this one or as being exactly unlike it. And the ironic thing about these opposite errors is that they have the same net result. A life which simply extends this life indefinitely seems dull and vapid, and a life which is nothing like it all seems undesirable. (And I think this is why our thinking tends to swing back and forth between them so restlessly--because neither are satisfactory resting places.) I want to emphasize the resurrection as something which quite firmly shatters both ideas--since the resurrection as taught in Scripture is something both decidedly like and unlike our present life.

Moreover, the Resurrection reminds of us one important connection between this world and the next. I said in an earlier article that in Creation man was made as a family or community and that in redemption, he is redeemed as a family or community. The Resurrection of the Body is the proof that this follows through in the New Creation. We are not, in the end, simply absorbed back into God or plunged forever into an isolated experience of God. We are raised in a human body as a member of the human family. Olin Curtis argues that bodily existence is essential to our communal experience. “Without a body a man could be a person; but without a body a man could not be a social person. The philosophical significance of the body is that it is the machinery of personal expression. By means of his body a person breaks isolation, and goes out, and gets a community.” (The Christian Faith, Chapter 10) While I think it is possible that there is some interpersonal experience without the body that does not change the fact that our body is the tool or mechanism by which we relate to other people and without which we cannot even imagine relating to others. And the important point here is the new world Christ is preparing is a world of interpersonal fellowship. It is not an individualistic experience, but a “holy city.” There are great many gospel songs which picture our future life solely in terms of a family reunion in another world--I think this picture is false and dangerous for reasons to be discussed later, but it is good in so far as it reminds us of this--that our destiny is not to be lost and absorbed in the cosmic whole nor to be forever alone with our God. God made us as a family and that family will last forever. Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever--but neither here nor hereafter does man either glorify or enjoy God solely and isolation. Our experience of God and our glorification of Him is centered squarely on the communal aspect of our humanity. This reminder does give some degree of meaning to our work here--perhaps the brass will be lost, but the crew will survive, and whatever we do for them, then, will not be lost.

As I said, the Resurrection shatters most of our concepts of the future life. We will not die, but live--live again in a way that is both like and unlike how we live now. We do not know what this means for us or our work in any practical sense. Our work will be tried by fire (1 Corinthians 3:11-15) but what will happen to it then we cannot now imagine. Though some have speculated (especially Tolkien in Leaf By Niggle) that our work here may in some sense survive and be resurrected--that the new ship will have shining brass because we polished it before it sunk--it is hard to imagine how that would work in most cases and I will not push such a view here. However, with that being said, it is here that we find the first answer to our question. Our work, even our temporal work, can have a sense of purpose. The ship may be sinking, but it is no accident that we are on the ship or that it has brass to polish. This world is a sinking ship; it is not a waiting room. God did not give us the work of this world as a parent gives an impatient child a toy to play with to pass the time until something else happens. Nor is it a test which God arbitrarily selected to try us; nor are the works we are commanded to do here merely crosses which we will shortly discard. God made us and this world for each other, which is evidenced by the fact that the next world will be like (though also unlike) it. The work He calls us to do here may be temporary, but it is not alien or arbitrary. And I cannot help but think that even the most seemingly mundane and prosaic and even undesirable work which God may give us here will not be echoed in some way by work He will give us in that world. At worst, our work now has been but practice; perhaps we polished the brass on the sinking ship only to be ready to polish it on the new ship. (We tend to view eternity in terms too static or too involved with rest. There will almost certainly be work to do there, though we cannot yet conceive what it is.)

However, while that is part of the answer, it is not the whole answer. For a farmer, struggling with hard earth under a burning sun, it is a blessing to remember that his toil is not forever--it may bring him joy to think that perhaps in eternity he shall know what it means to be a farmer on earth with no curse--but none of that gives him any help in his work at the moment. To spend long, weary hours putting in a crop and to remember that for anything he knows the entire Cosmos may collapse before Harvest and it be all for nothing--this is the Vanitas Vanitatum of Ecclesiastes, and if we are to find the answer to it, we will find it where Ecclesiastes finds it. But to understand that answer, we shall have to take a slight detour.

One of the simplest acts of kindness is giving water to the thirsty--whether it be the heroic draught carried by David's mighty men, the water given to the enemy which is like coals of fire, or simply the cup of cold water given in the name of Christ. Imagine a non-human mind, highly intelligent but completely unfamiliar with our world or any world like ours and able to see things only in their basic, scientifically-defined nature--imagine such a mind observing any of these cases. What would he see? He would see one particular carbon-based organism transporting a given quantity of the compound H2O across a set distance and putting in a certain spacial relation to another carbon-based organism. He might have the most exact knowledge of everything involved--he might know with exactness the position and movement of every molecule of the act--but the one thing he would not know would be what the act was. He could look at every atom and never discover that it was an atom of kindness. He might study for ever, but he would never be able from his viewpoint to find out whether the act was “For only comfort or contempt,/For jest or great reward.” He could never find out because the essence or definition of an act does not lie in its composite particles. (And the idea that anything can be reduced to such knowledge is one of the most pernicious errors of the modern world.) I realize I am now treading on a tangle of philosophical knots and I have neither space nor skill to attempt untying them now. But we can broadly say that we, as humans, know what our non-human intelligence does not. We can see the act for itself, not merely in its composite elements, and so can judge it. We realize that to give someone a cup of cold water is, under certain circumstances, an act of genuine kindness, while under others it might be a mere trivial formality, while under others (perhaps) it might be a cruel insult. There is a difference and a meaning to all these things which we can see, because we have the ability or perception to see them--something which could never be seen merely by looking at the movement of the molecules involved.

But let us imagine a different kind of observer. Suppose you are out with a friend in his truck, crossing a burning desert. You have stopped for a brief rest and to have a sip of water from the large water cooler in the back of the truck--for you are still several hours away from anywhere. As you are stopped, another truck drives up a few yards away and the driver staggers out. You know the man. He is a man from the same town as your friend, a man who bares a pointed and poignant animosity for your friend because of his race or his religion, a man who has done everything in his power (and he has some local authority) to make life difficult and miserable for your friend, a man who has managed to alienate several of your friend's closest allies and stopped several of his most important enterprises. Normally, this man is a man of arrogant and cocky bearing. But not today. For he has been traveling for many hours across that desert. His truck broke down for a period and he had to fix it, delaying him. In the process, his water cooler sprung a leak, and he has been without water. Half crazed by thirst he begs--his pride is all broken--for just a sip from your friends water cooler. For a moment, there is silence in the desert. Then your friend rises silently, turns to the cooler, and fills a Styrofoam cup with water and then dismounts from the truck. As you watch, you can't help but wonder what he is going to do. You know how much cause he has to hate his enemy and how little reason he has to help him. Does he intend to give the water, to take the path of compassion and mercy? Or will he, before the face of his thirsty enemy, drink the water himself or pour it out in a taunt?--that is, you know, exactly what the other man would do if the situations was reversed. There is a moment of anticipation as your friend, holding the cup of cold water, moves across the desert sands. Then, without warning, he clutches his chest and falls to the ground--dead of a sudden heart attack. For just a moment, you and his enemy lock eyes in shock and bewilderment. Besides the natural shock of seeing a man suddenly die, you are struck with one great realization. With your friend's death, neither you nor his enemy will ever know exactly what that last act of his was. It might have been an act of kindness or cruelty, of justice or mercy--but you will never know, because it was never brought to completion. The man and his actions are dead and you are a fool if you think you will find out what he was doing by performing an autopsy or a chemical analysis of the water he carried. The only way someone could know would be if some higher mind, capable of perceiving the kind of thing we perceive only in a greater measure, a mind capable of seeing the unfinished act to completion, as it were--only such a mind could judge the action and see exactly what it was.

But this is a picture of many of the actions we take in this world. So many things we start are, by necessity, never brought to completion--and if the end of the world came tomorrow, than none of them would be. The only way our work can be evaluated--and have value--is if some higher mind, capable of perceiving the kind of thing we perceive only in a greater measure, a mind capable of seeing our unfinished acts to completion, as it were--only such a mind can judge all our actions and see exactly what they are. This is the final answer to the blank nihilism of Ecclesiastes: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” (12:13-14) This both our greatest hope and our greatest fear--our work, our toil, our actions here do have value, because they will be evaluated by God. Once the ship sinks and resurfaces, the Captain's first task will be a general inspection. Confronted by the reality of the Judgment, we might prefer to go back to the original idea that this life is meaningless--this is rather too much meaning. But that does not change the fact.

In Linda Sue Park's book A Single Shard, a boy is charged with taking a sample of his master's pottery to the king who was interested in commissioning some pottery work. However, during the long journey, the boy is ambushed by robbers who destroy the work he carried--he was able to salvage only one fragment of the pottery. But in determination, he carried this to the king. And from this one shard, the king was able to see the excellency of the original workmanship. This is our hope--when this world and our life is shattered, we will carry the fragments to our King and He (and He alone) will be able to judge their quality.

This life does have meaning because the very God who first made our life, who gave us life, who will give us new life--He (and He alone) will judge it. This is not an alien judgment by some unconnected power who happens to stumble across us, but by the author and captain of our world and of our faith. Whether that makes it more or less terrible is an open question, but it does establish the essential coherence of our life. Our life now, the judgment, our life then--they are all bound together in God, who is the Life.

And that brings us to the final aspect of this matter. As Christians, our work is not done merely for its own sake. If the ship were sailing on a smooth sea, one might do a good thing for its own sake--but not when the ship is sinking. The paradox of our present human condition is that nothing can remain merely itself. Everything that will not become divine will become diabolical. Everything that refuses to put on incorruption will be corrupted. To give a cup of cold water is a good thing, but if it to have lasting meaning--if it is to receive a reward--it must be done in the name of Christ. As Christians, we do not do anything in this life merely for its own sake. “Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” Our work is not done in reference to itself or to us or even, solely, in reference to other people--but to God. An old couplet stated: “Only one life, 'twill soon by past/Only what's done for Christ will last.” This is the reality of our present condition, though we usually define what can be done for Christ too narrowly. Paul told the slaves of his day that even in their lowest and most prosaic labor, they could be working for the Lord and not for men. (Colossians 3:23) The destruction of this world does not destroy the meaning of our work if our work is not done for this world. If it is done for God, the world can be end and it will still have meaning, for God will continue.

This is the fundamental mistake of a great of semi-Christian and even Christian talk about Heaven--why the “Christian's hope” has ceased to be a particular vibrant or even appealing doctrine. I mentioned earlier that a great many pictures of Heaven show it as merely a family reunion on the other side. Others, far worse, put it almost in terms of a retirement home or a resort. (I remember, with something of a cold chill, running across a gospel song in some old book which talked about taking our “vacation in Heaven.”) They are right, as I said before, in so far as they remind us that our destiny is communal and not solitary. They are good in so far as they give us any kind of hope beyond the grave. But in the final analysis all of these pictures are wrong, and catastrophically wrong, because they do not give us the right center for our hope. In these pictures, God is left on the side lines if He comes in at all. He is the host of our reunion or the manager of the resort but nothing more and one sometimes feels that people would be quite happy without Him. But Heaven without God is not what we have been promised, because Heaven without God is Hell. The new world, like the old world, will no doubt have beauty and pleasure and the joy of fellowship with other people--but all these things will be there and will be enjoyed only because in them and through them we enjoy and glorify God. “Our Lord must be in all and over all. Let us not have any longing for anything which can exist outside of him. Let us not only in our thinking and in our imagination build the entire company of the redeemed into a solid race of which Christ is center and source, but also find our interest in eternity itself, as Saint Paul did, through our desire to be forever with our Lord and those who love him supremely.” (Curits, The Christian Faith, Chapter 33) Our life in Heaven will have meaning for the same reason our life now has meaning--because we do not life for ourselves or for this world, but for God.

And having said all that, we can very briefly state the essential answer to the question of this article. The ship of this world is sinking but it will not remain below the waves--but on the sinking ship and on the ship which isn't sinking we polish the brass for the same reason and find the same essential meaning and purpose in it--because we want to please the Captain. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Last Shalom


“Shalom!” said aged Annas as he left the judgment seat,
His servants washed the dust of Pilate's court from off his feet;
He put his house in order and he gave his men their pay
And then sat down and waited for the solemn Sabbath day.

“Shalom!” said holy Caiaphas, departing from the crowd,
He touched his wide phylactery and hummed a song aloud,
He left the burning hillside for the shadows dank and cold
Which filled Jehovah's temple midst the silver and the gold.

“Shalom!” said all the people, and with laughter in their soul
They left the dead to die alone upon the cursed pole
And trading parting pleasantries and laughter loud and odd
They went home to their families and there sang a hymn to God.

“Shalom!” replied the Devil from this throne beneath the seas
And all of Hell fell silent and they worshipped on their knees
The dark, satanic peace that covers earth like fresh-blood shed;
The ending of the music and the slaying of the dead.

The last “Shalom!” was spoken, though, upon the mountain side
Christ breathed out: “It is finished,” bowed His head, and then He died.
Then all of Heaven echoed with the thunder of “Amen!”
And angels sang once more of peace on earth, goodwill to men.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Clockwise


I want to talk in this article about being wise, since I think we all agree it is better to be wise than otherwise. In thinking about wisdom, I realized there are different kinds of wisdom--different ways of being wise. If a person knows a lot about money, and how to use it, you might call them money-wise. If a person knows a lot about the ways of the streets in the city, they're called street-wise. If a person is experienced in the things of the world, we call them worldly-wise. And if a person knows a lot about clocks, we call them clockwise.

This sounds funny, because, of course, that's not what clockwise means. In this case, the suffix wise means in the form of or after the manner of. This kind of language is rather archaic, but in older writings you might come across words like "guestwise", after the manner of a guest, or "crosswise," in the form of a cross. Even the Bible we read in Matthew 1:18: "Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise." It means, of course, in this manner. So, in the same way, clockwise means in the form of or after the manner of a clock. More specifically, it refers to the way the hands of a clock go around the face--down from twelve to three to six, and then up to nine and back to twelve again. This is the way all clocks go and anything that travels in that kind of pattern is referred to as "clockwise."

As you can see, there is a great difference between being wise about clocks and actually being clockwise. If you look at your watch and you saw the hands were going the wrong direction around the face (a direction known as counter-clockwise), you might still know everything about your watch--how it worked, who made it, how much it cost you, and all that kind of thing--but the one thing you wouldn't know is the time, because the clock, no matter how wise you are about it, is no longer clockwise.

For a clock, there is no substitute for being clockwise. Some people think if you can make the hands go fast enough around the clock, it won't matter if they're going the wrong direction. Others, in reaction, try to make the hands go the wrong direction very slowly. Some people decide just to sit around and talk about how well the clock went "in the good old days" and how thoroughly clockwise it was, but never take the trouble to actually try to set it right now. But other people take the opposite tack and say "Who cares about the old clockwise routine? Why shouldn't the clock just go counterclockwise? Why should we let the past dictate our lives? Let's just make the clocks go counterclockwise now." And in any case, we don't end up with a clock that keeps the right time.

A clock exists to keep time; if it fails to do that, it has failed in the very purpose of its existence and nothing can make up for its failure. That is why nothing else really matters for a clock besides being clockwise--going around the face of the clock at a given direction and speed. It's important to know about how a watch works--you need to be wise about clocks, so that if it starts acting up, so you can fix it--but merely knowing about clocks, no matter how much you know, will never make anything clockwise.

And Jesus said, "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven." (Matthew 7:21)

Hosanna


Mark 11 describes an impressive scene, as crowds of people gathered around Jesus for His entrance into Jerusalem. In arranging this event, Jesus was officially announcing to the people who He was. In many cases, Jesus had tried to hide His true nature and mission--this is what some call 'The Great Messianic Secret.' However, by entering Jerusalem in this way, the secret was ended forever. Jesus was declaring Himself the Messiah. Though Jesus came in a humble, prosaic way, riding on a donkey, He was claiming kingship and more than kingship. The people understood this--at least, in one sense. They cried out "Hosanna; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest." (Mark 11:9-10) Saying that Jesus 'came in the name of the Lord' was recognizing that He was, if nothing else, sent by God and did His works by God. To speak of the kingdom of David was, most likely, a way of stating that they believed this to be the promised descendent of David--the one who was to establish his kingdom forever. But the most interesting thing they said was: "Hosanna!"

Hosanna is the Greek form of a Hebrew phrase which means, roughly, "Save now!" It was a cry that people would raise to a king if they were in need of his help. By crying this to Jesus, the people were publicly acknowledging His kingship. Perhaps because of its use in some of the Psalms--most notably Psalm 118--it had come to associated with the Messiah, so it is possible this was also a way of saying that the people knew Jesus was the Messiah.

But while they may have known that, we see that they did not understand what or who the Messiah really was, or what He had come to do. But there is a note of irony in their cry, for Jesus had come to do precisely what they asked. The angel told Joseph to give the child the name Jesus which means, literally, The Salvation of Jehovah, because "He shall save His people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21) Jesus explained His own ministry simply enough: "The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." (Luke 19:1) That is what Jesus came to do. The Kingdom He came to establish was not a political kingdom, but a kingdom of salvation. That is why came into Jerusalem on that Sunday and that was what He accomplished the next Sunday. That is why His entrance is called the Triumphal Entry even though there was seemingly nothing triumphal about it. He had come to accomplish something which had been "in the works" since before the beginning of time. To put it shortly, He came to save us from sin. But sin is not a simple thing--it has many sides and aspects. And Jesus did not come to save us from one part of sin, but from all of sin.

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Jesus came to save us from the defilement of sin. Sin is often pictures in Scripture as a sort of defilement. Isaiah says our sinful hypocrisy is like filthy rags. Throughout the book of the law, God emphasized to the Jews the importance of physical cleanliness and this was, in part, to give them a picture of moral cleanliness.

There are two forms to this defilement of sin from which Jesus came to save us. First there was legal defilement. Since all have sinned, all stand defiled in the eyes of the law. Guilt was brought on us by sin. When a person is brought into court and tried for a crime and the verdict comes against them, from that point they are considered guilty. A punishment of some kind will probably follow, but even if they were let free, they would still be seen as guilty in the eyes of the law. They have become defiled. For the rest of their life, that guilt hangs over them. We sometimes confuse guilt with a certain feeling (which is technically the perception of guilt, a perception which may or may not be accurate in any given case), but guilt is a fact. Guilt is a recognition that wrong has been done. Guilt, when it exists, cannot be ignored without denying reality. As long as we had sinned, there was no way to simply sweep that under the carpet.

But legal defilement included more than just guilt. Alienation was brought on us by sin. By sinning, the human race had officially separated itself from God. We had offered out Declaration of Independence from His law. And while God did not leave us alone after that, we could not stand in the same relation after that. We had placed ourselves on the outside of the law, and that made us outlaws.

But though there was a legal aspect to sin, sin is not merely a legal fiction or even merely a legal reality. Sin is a personal problem. And so there was also personal defilement. Humanity lost its protection of holiness. When man first was created, He was created with a holy nature, for He was created in the image of God. This holiness was a positive quality of man's soul before he fell. Holiness and sin cannot exist at the same time. So, as long as man was holy, he did not have to fear sin. Holiness gave man the power to conquer over sin. But when man sinned, he lost this. The original protection of holiness was destroyed.

This led the way for the next for further personal defilement. When man sinned, it brought an actual pollution into his soul. Solomon wrote of sin: "Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?" (Proverbs 6:27) The answer, of course, is no--no one can sin without facing the consequence. You cannot play in the dirt without getting dirty. You cannot sin without becoming sinful.

This legal and personal defilement was a definite, objective fact. There is no use saying God should just ignore the fact and declare that everything was all right. The one thing God cannot do is to ignore or contradict reality, for to do so would be to deny Himself. He could never pretend that dirty was clean or that black was white. What He could do is what He did--come to earth and die for us so that, in Him, we could become clean. In coming to saving us from sin, He saved us from the defilement of sin--both from the objective fact of legal guilt and from the equally objective fact of personal corruption.

II.
Jesus also came to save us from the defects of sin. The dictionary defines a defect as: "Want or absence of something necessary or useful towards perfection; fault; imperfection." Because of man's sin, humanity now has a want or absence of many things necessary and useful. Just as a piece of machinery that does not work properly is defective, so the whole human race is defective, for we do not work according to God's original plan for us.

There are several different kinds of defects. There are moral defects. Moral, of course, refers to that which has to do with good and evil or right and wrong. Because of sin, man has moral defects. We are now inclined to evil. No has to be taught to do wrong.  In all people there is something that drives people to commit sin. Paul explains why it is that no one can live a holy life apart from God's power: "What I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I... for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me." (Romans 7:15, 18-21) We have no power, in ourselves, to do good.

Paul describes us as "dead in trespasses and sins" before we become Christians. (Ephesians 2:1) A dead person is powerless to do anything. Man--as a sinner--is utterly unable to do anything to help himself. We can do nothing but cast ourselves on Jesus. Of course, because God is at work even in the hearts of sinners, it is possible for sinners to know and even to do good--sometimes to do acts of goodness which put even Christians to shame. But because this power comes from God and they are in a state of alienation from God, this can only be something transient and ultimately temporary. Mankind does not have the power to be good--to be good fully, completely, and finally--because of the moral defect given our race by sin. For there to be any salvation, these things would have to be changed. And that is what Jesus came to do--to save us from the moral defects of sin.

But the moral defects, though the most serious, were not the only defects that sin brought. There were also non-moral defects. These do not directly relate to right or wrong, and so are not sinful. But they were brought about by sin. And Christ came to save us from them also, though the full extent of salvation with these things will not come until we reach Heaven.

There are physical defects. Disease and infirmities came into the world because of man's sin. Because God is the source of all life and strength, if man had not separated himself from God, he would have had perfect and eternal life. But not only did sin destroy our physical perfection, but it also brought about emotional defects. Our emotions are closely related to our physical state, and so it is no wonder that when one fell, the other would also. Our emotions have also been damaged by sin. The sins we commit and as well as the wrongs done to us by others leave scars on our emotional being. These pains go deep down into the soul and cannot be easily removed. And, besides all this, sin also gave us intellectual defects. Adam was created with a perfect mind--not that he knew everything, but he did have perfect understand with what he did know. As God is the source of all reason and understanding and as man stood in a perfect relationship with God, this is not hard to understand. But when man sinned, he lost the perfection of his mind. And Jesus came to save us from all these defects, even though they are only secondary results of sin. We see some signs of this redemption even in this life--such as when a person receives healing through the prayers of the saints or by turning to a life or righteousness or when a person finds renewal of their emotions by turning to Jesus or when someone's mind is given new understanding of the world by reading the Bible. However, in all these, the final restoration will not take place until we have passed into the next life. God has prepared a place where all things will be made knew and everything damaged by sin will be eternally repaired.

But these non-moral defects were not the only result of sin that Jesus came to save us from. There were also social defects. God did create man to be an isolated creation, but a family. We were to live in relationship one with another. However, when sin entered into the world, those relationships were corrupted. Now, remnants of man's interdependent relationships remain, but they are twisted and often evil. In this world, more often than not the deepest pain is caused by those closest to us. When man made sin the center of his life rather than God, he undermined the foundation of all his other relationships. Now we have lost our reference point to relate to others, and so our relationships cause more problems than they solve. Oscar Wilde was a man who knew the power of sin firsthand and he wrote: "Yet each man kills the thing he loves/By each let this be heard,/Some do it with a bitter look,/Some with a flattering word,/The coward does it with a kiss,/The brave man with a sword!" It is only through Christ that we can regain our relationships with one another. It is no coincidence that when Paul addresses the question of husbands and wives in Ephesians 5 he relates it to Jesus. Only through Jesus can our relationships with one another be repaired; it is only by making God the center of our lives that everything else falls into place. The unconditional love which God kindles in our hearts that allows us to live in peace with one another. We can follow peace with all men only because we also follow holiness without which no man shall see the Lord.

Because of sin, nothing in this world is quite the way it is supposed to be. The world is nothing now but a ruin of what it once was, of what it could have been. A poem comments that the saddest words are: "It might have been" and that is, in one sense, the caption that must go under every picture in this world. But because Jesus came--because of His death and resurrection--we can cross out that caption and write: "It still may be." The defects of sin can--will--be removed and corrected.

III.
Finally, Jesus came to save us from the destiny of sin. Sin, like everything in life, has certain consequences. It is impossible separate sin from the things to which it leads--they are intrinsically linked together. God warned Adam and Eve that if they sinned "thou shalt surely die." (Genesis 2:17) Paul reiterates this thought when he says: "The wages of sin is death." (Romans 6:23) Death is the only possible result of sin, just as the only possible result of falling in the water is getting wet. Death, here, means both physical death and the eternal death which would have followed it had Jesus not come. Physical death came into the world only as a result of man's sin and will be removed when Jesus completes His new creation.

Death includes several aspects. First, death is separation. In death, there is the separation from man. This is perhaps the most painful aspect of death as we know it. To die is to be separated from this world. Death is the dividing veil which falls, in the end, between each person and all others. Without the hope that salvation gives us, this separation would be never ending. But the separation that sin brings is worse even than this. There is the separation from God. To have lost God, is to lose all. But to sin is to turn away from God. Therefore, the ultimately consequence of sin is to lose God and, in that, to lose everything. Death is separation from God, for God is life. Man was made for fellowship with God, but sin and death bring the termination of any hope of that fellowship. Olin Curtis, the great theologian of Methodism, wrote: 'Bodily death... takes this... sinner, wrenches him out of the protective physical scene, breaks him off from his race, flings him into absolute isolation, and compels him to inhabit his own selfish fragment of being. Death says to the sinner, "You would not obey God, you would not love your fellow men, you lived for self, you wanted only self -- THEN TAKE IT!"' (The Christian Faith, Chapter 20)

But death is not only separation; death is the result of wrath.  God's wrath is against all evil. Paul wrote: "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness." (Romans 1:18)  Because God is perfectly holy, He cannot be glad to see anything that is not holy. Because God is good, He hates evil. It is impossible that God could look with pleasure or indifference on the presence of sin. Whenever we see some flagrant act of cruelty or injustice, an impulse of anger naturally rises against those who perpetrate it--this is but an echo of the wrath of God. But our eyes are so blurred that we can only see sin in its worst aspects. God, with perfect vision, sees sin in its root as well as its fruit, sees the essential evil in every act and occasion of sin--and His wrath is against it. If we were eternally evil, than God's wrath would be eternally against us.Sin clings to the soul of man until the two are eternally inseparable. As God hates sin then, in the end, He cannot help but hate sinners, once any hope of separating the two is past. The wrath of God, then, would be eternally settled both on the sin and the sinner.

And there is, moreover, a third aspect of the death--death is corruption. We refer to corruption with death as in the decay of the body in the tomb. But worse than this corruption is the decay of the soul. The end of sinners is referred to as destruction. Not that they cease to exist for, in the final analysis, nothing ever ceases to exist.  This is the death that never dies. Corruption is the antitheses of all God's plan. To be a lost soul is to be the complete opposite of God's intention for your soul. Everything that God meant for man to be is lost in that eternal corruption. Corruption is the final, irreparable end of evil. Every path of sin must, in the end, lead to this. It is the final conclusion of the story of sin.

This death--this separation, this wrath, this corruption--this is all man would have to look for if it were not for Jesus. But Jesus came to save from these things. He came to save us from sin. There is no more separation, for Christ comes to reconcile us to God and make us forever part of His family; there is no more wrath, for Christ comes to erase our sins so that they are no more; there is no more corruption, for Christ came to bring healing and restoration. He told Martha: "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die." (John 11:25-26) In the final world Christ has promised, “there shall be no more death.” (Revelation 21:4)

Christ came to be a Savior; He came to save us from sin, from the defilement of sin, the defects of sin, and the destiny of sin. As we see the world now, the picture seems dark. On every hand we see clearly all the results of sin. But into this darkness has come a light, and like the trumpet of victory, the call of the gospel cuts through the noise of strife and suffering. Whatever our problem, we know that Jesus came to save us--for all problems (ultimately) are caused by sin and so all problems (ultimately) are met by Christ, who came to save us from sin. This is the triumphant call of Christmas, a call of salvation and deliverance.

Good Christian men, rejoice
With heart, and soul, and voice:
Now ye need not fear the grave:
Peace! Peace!
Jesus Christ was born to save!
Calls you one and calls you all,
To gain His everlasting hall:
Christ was born to save!
Christ was born to save!

The Haunted Galaxy: Chapter Eight


[White's Journal. Sixth of Epiphany, Anno Domini 3172.] We had finally reached the Altayra system, where we met its ruler--the young, lovely Princess Valencia--and her enigmatic advisers, Zortan and Rothmar. They seemed unaware of the deactivation of the Guidance Beacon but did report that there had been mysterious disappearances within the system. Gold believed this was a sign of Nadirite involvement and led us to the Guidance Beacon itself, where we were ambushed by a group of Nadirite power suits and then confronted by their leader, Erybus. Rather than fight, Erybus vanished, leaving behind a bomb powerful enough to destroy even our armor. We had only seconds to act and so I did the only thing I could--rushed towards it with all my speed.


"White! No!" Gold shot forward and his voice rose to something above a shout (though still not quite a scream). But his armor was no match for White's when it came to speed. Even as he moved, White reached the bomb--and both she and it vanished. Gold came to an abrupt stop at the point where they vanished and for a moment stood immovable, as if temporarily frozen.

"And zero," said Green impassively. He had apparently been counting down inside his head. "It's over."

"I-it's over," repeated Gold. His voice seemed odd and completely unlike his normal voice.

"Blue, did you pick up any readings from the bomb?"

"None. A K-P bomb has a blast radius of two degrees on the fourth dimensional axis, meaning she must have managed to phase it to at least +(2.5)d."

"What are you talking about?" Red seemed about as clueless as usual.

"White used the power of her armor to phase along the fourth dimensional axis, carrying the bomb to a point where it could detonate without hurting us or Altayra Vorphintus." Green spoke with his ordinary, emotionless calm.

"But if she carried the bomb with her--" Red began (and for the first time, the light seemed to dawn on him)-- "then that means that she--she--"

Gold was still standing at the location where the bomb vanished, immovable except for the fact that he had clenched his fists. "She sacrificed herself," he finished, his voice still odd and unnatural.

Green and Blue glanced at each other, but before either one could speak, Red did. "Whoa. I can't believe she'd do a thing like that--it's just--"

Gold spun around to face him. "Shut up! This is nothing for you to blather about. Just--just shut up."

"Gold." Blue's voice rung out with a suddenness and strangeness, very unlike her normal off-hand manner. "This is no time let yourself go. There's still things that need done and throwing a tantrum isn't going to help anyone."

"Listen to the lady," said Black. "She has a point for once."

"Certainly, she does have a certain air of conviction to her words," said Erybus.

At the sound of his voice, all the Corps jumped slightly. There he was, levitating calmly about two feet from the ground, still wearing his robe and approximation apparatus and still smiling.

For just a moment there was a pause and in the round control chamber of the station, a strange tableaux was enacted. And then without warning, Gold leaped forward.

Erybus raised his hands and with a wave threw Gold back.

Gold landed on his feet at the far end of the chamber. Without a pause, he was moving forward again, this time, flying in from above. Erybus turned his right hand downward, sending out a force wave which shot him up into the air. He shot up to meet Gold and, with his left hand, sent a wave of energy which threw him down to the ground. He fell back down, as if somehow to crush the armored figure, but Gold rolled out of the way in time. But the force from Erybus's hands had crushed the floor slightly where he had been.

Gold was on his feet again. Once more, he rushed the Nadirite captain. Erybus sidestepped and, almost as if performing a dance step, moved in a twinkling to stand behind Gold and gave him a push which sent him sprawling to the floor.

"Silver, cover me." Gold's voice rang out suddenly and without warning. "Red and Green, run interference. Black, back up."

Silver leaped forward without hesitation.

"Silver! Stay back; this is my fight," said Gold.

For a moment Silver hesitated, and then Gold's voice rang out again, "Silver, cover me. Now!"

Erybus turned to face the new threat as Silver rushed him. Raising his palms, he sent a shock wave which forced Silver back. But Silver had been observing the battle and knew what to expect. He rolled with the impact and landed in a crouching position.

Erybus seemed about to attack Silver again, but then Red fired an energy star at him. Erybus turned towards him and Red teleported to one side. At the same moment Silver rolled forward. Pivoting, he delivered a punch and moved out of the way at the same time. Erybus whirled and caught Silver's blow with the palm of his hand. But the force still drove him back--

It drove him back and he tripped, tripped over an invisible obstacle behind him. Green had moved into position, using his armor's invisibility as cover.

Erybus was down, but even as Gold and Silver moved for him, he pressed one palm against the floor and, as if from a spring, shot upwards and landed on his feet a yard or two away from the two boys.

But he was close enough now for Black and Blue to move in for an attack. As Black approached, Erybus raised both hands and they glowed for an instant.

"Black, downward slice... NOW!" Blue ordered with unusual intensity.

For once, Black didn't argue but, as Blue said the words, raised her arms and brought them downward, sweeping forward with the blades on her armor. There was a weird sound almost like breaking glass. Black had managed to counteract the shock wave, dispelling it. She rushed forward and grabbed hold of Erybus's right hand. He twisted around and raised his left hand, but at the same moment, Red teleported to a position behind him and fired an energy star directly at his back, causing him to move forward slightly and making him lose his opportunity.

Black raised her arm and slashed downward, aiming for Erybus's approximation device, but he twisted out her way. By now Gold and Silver had moved in and were closing in from each side. With one supreme effort, he raised his left hand and struck the palm of it against the palm of his right hand. There was a sound like a small explosion, and all of the Corps were thrown back, as for a moment an almost visible sphere of vibrations seemed to radiate out in every direction.

Erybus floated a few inches off the floor. He was breathing heavily and there were signs in his face of exertion. But when he spoke his voice was the same as always. "You fight well when you try," he commented, with something almost like genuine admiration. "Your strength would do well in the service of a better cause. I will make you a bargain, Gold. We will fight--if you win, I will surrender myself and my troops. If I win, you must join our forces and fight in the service of Oblivion."

Gold drew himself up. "I will gamble my life but never my honor," he said in a hard voice but with an almost childish simplicity.

Erybus threw back his head and laughed soundlessly. "Your idealism is so noble, so pure, and so hopelessly unrealistic that it is almost--" he paused, seeming to look for the right word-- "cute." He rose a few inches higher in the air. "But our game has only begun, Corps. Before you have returned light to this beacon, the darkness will have claimed you. I will have great pleasure in offering up the broken remnants of your honor as an oblation to the great void. Until then, farewell." He bowed his head, flickered, and vanished.

"Is he really gone this time?" asked Green, glancing at Blue.

"I think I'm beginning to be able to hone in on that weird radiation of his--and if I'm right, he's gone for now."

Gold phased off his helmet and looked around at the others, his eyes hard and angry. "All right, I just want to know one thing. Who was behind that crazy stunt during the battle?"

"What crazy stunt, chief?" asked Black. "You mean, the part where you couldn't make up your mind whether you wanted our help or not?"

Gold's eyes flashed. "I didn't need your help. It was my job to take him down. Who ordered that charge?"

All the others had also phased off their helmets by this point and for a moment there was quiet as Gold glanced at each of them. Then his eyes met the cold, black eyes of Blue and she shrugged slightly. "I don't like losing," she said dispassionately.

"You did it?"

Her expression didn't change the least as she barked out in a perfect imitation of Gold's voice, "Silver! Cover me!"

"I-I can't believe it." Gold seemed to be caught between anger and astonishment.

"Maybe you didn't remember that my mother is a well-known voice actor. I've learned something about the trade in my life."

"But-but that is rank insubordination. Do you know what that means?"

"It means you're still alive to be angry. If you'd fought Erybus on your own, you'd be dead and it would be a moot point."

"That's no excuse." Gold was so angry that his hair seemed to be vibrating slightly.

Blue shrugged. "We're a team. Keeping each other alive and fighting together is what we do. I was merely doing the logical thing under the circumstances. I guess doing the logical thing is the most likely way to get in trouble, isn't it?"

"That was my fight. You had no right to interfere."

Blue's face seemed to change with just a hint of expression, thought it was hard to say what exactly it was. "Gold, when White gets back, have her explain the meaning of the word hubris to you."

Suddenly, the anger drained from Gold's face and he looked only blank. "When White gets back?"

Red contracted his eyebrows in puzzlement. "But she phased out with that bomb--she's dead."

It was the first time anyone had said the word.

Green pushed his hat back slightly. "Sir, we can't be absolutely positive, but there's a strong possibility that White survived."

Gold turned to him, seeming almost in a daze. "How is that possible?"

"Because the laws of motion hold true for movement along the fourth dimensional axis as well as for the other three. Specifically, even when traveling along the fourth dimensional axis, objects in motion tend to stay in motion--something White would know as well as the rest of us."

"Better, probably," remarked Blue, in something of her more normal manner.

"Therefore, it seems likely that White's intention in flying at the bomb was to set it in motion along the fourth dimensional axis so that it would travel beyond her and detonate harmlessly at some point several degrees plusward. So long as the bomb was traveling at her rate of speed, she could stop and it would continue to move, assuming the friction of the movement did not cause it to detonate prematurely, which is unlikely considering the nature of a K-P Bomb."

"But that would require some delicate timing," Gold objected. "And the force of phasing that quickly would probably kill a person anyway--even with White's armor."

Green looked down and pulled his hat forward. "There are a great many variables and so we can't be certain of the outcome, but that she survived is definitely a real possibility."

"But if she has traveled that far along the fourth dimensional axis, we don't really have any way to get to her--anyway to know whether she's alive or dead."

Green nodded. "I'm afraid so."

Silver's face looked troubled. "Then what can we do?"

Blue and Green glanced at each other again. Then Blue shrugged. "Wait."

Gold nodded silently.

The six remaining members of the Corps stood in a silent semi circle, facing the location where White had disappeared. For once, even Red was silent. They seemed mostly alone with their own thoughts. Blue was the only one who seemed concerned about the possibility of the Nadirites' return, but there was no sign of this. And still they stood, with the impersonal machinery of the control center staring down at them.

And then, suddenly, without warning, White's armor appeared in the air in front of them. The next instant, it vanished, and White's body fell limply to the ground.

*

"And that just about takes care of that," said Blue impassively. "You might try to be more careful next time; you've really pushed the capacity of this thing."

White felt herself wading through a mass of foggy thoughts and sensations as she tried to register where she was and what was going on.

"Not that it's any of my business," Blue's voice continued. "Apparently trying to keep people alive is overrated."

White's mind finally began to clear. She was lying in the medical bay on The Crystallair. Blue was sitting behind the diagnostic computer, which formed the heart of the sophisticated medal equipment on the ship.

"W-what happened?" asked White, still trying to force back the fog that was in her mind.

"Nothing very vital. You broke seven or eight ribs, bruised a few tendons, and very nearly crushed your neurocranium. Besides that, nothing much."

Slowly everything was coming back to her. "Well," she said, pushing herself up gingerly, "then it wasn't as bad as it could have been. How long have I been out?"

"About an hour."

"Are we still in orbit around Altayra Vorphintus?"

"No, we went ahead and landed beside the Guidance Beacon." Blue stood up and walked around the computer to stand beside her. "The others are in the station--Green is trying to find a way to get the Guidance Beacon back online."

White slowly stood up. She felt a little woozy but otherwise she was fine. The medial equipment had fulfilled its purposes well. The equipment used on the Corps' ship was some of the most advanced in Ursa Prime, based on scientific principals which had only recently come into common knowledge. There were very few physical injuries which couldn't be cured by this equipment so long as they were treated within twelve hours of occurring.

White glanced at Blue. "Then am I cleared to go?"

"So far as I can tell. But this computer can't diagnose if there are any actual neurological injuries--and since you already have neurological problems... you might want to take things easy for a while. But that's just me."

White nodded. She had been wondering about that.

"I think Gold is going to want to see you if you feel up to conversation," Blue remarked, turning away.

White couldn't help noticing there was a strange tone to Blue's voice. She wondered what had happened in her absence. But all her memories had come back now, and she knew she had to talk to Gold. She had to talk about what she had seen. It was a small thing, sitting inexplicably in the center of her mind, without any kind of explanation or coherence, but it was there and she couldn't ignore it.

"Thank-you," she said as she walked towards the door.

Blue shrugged. "It's nothing. You can always court-martial me for it later."

What? White frowned. Blue was definitely in a bad mood. She hoped it wasn't her fault. But she didn't have time to try to figure it out then.

She walked into the main cabin of the ship--and as she did, Gold entered from the outside. He wasn't wearing his armor, and there was a slight change to his stance that White couldn't help noticing. He seemed a little more... tired? Was it? But as he saw her, his face lit up slightly.

"White! Are you..."

"Blue says I should be all right. There were a few skeletal injuries, but nothing irreparable."

Gold walked down the cabin, his back to her. For a moment he said nothing and then suddenly he spun around to face her. "How could you do something like that?" he demanded, his voice rising with anger. "Why didn't you let me deal with that bomb?"

White took a step backwards, involuntarily. She had never seen Gold this angry, even with his father. She felt a momentary flash of hurt, but she forced herself to suppress it. After all, he did have a point, and she knew how much Gold worshiped protocol. "Gold, I'm sorry--but there was no time to do anything. We had only seconds before that bomb would have gone off, killing all of us--and who knows how many innocent people on this planet. It's always been an unofficial rule with us that, in a time of crisis, whichever one of us can act should act, even without a formal order. I know it's not official protocol, but--"

Gold cut her off with an abrupt motion. "Who cares about protocol? Nobody in this group, obviously." For an instant, there seemed to be an element of bitterness which passed unconnected and mostly unnoticed over the current of his manner.

"Well, then--" White took another step back, placing one hand on the back of the pilot's chair--more for psychological than physical support-- "I still don't see what other choice I had. I'm sorry to have upset you, but there simply wasn't time to discuss things properly."

Gold's voice rose and his fists were clenched, seemingly involuntarily. "We had no way of helping you. You could have been stuck somewhere plusward, and we couldn't have done a thing to save you. We didn't even know if you were alive or dead. If you hadn't made it, we never would have known for sure what happened to you."

"You were--worried?" White dropped into the chair, calling up every last reserve of strength in her body not to express the shock she felt.

"Of course." Gold snapped off the words and then turned around, pacing down the length of the cabin. "I'm the leader of the Corps. I shouldn't let one of us kill themselves--we're not going to lose a member on my watch."

"Of course," repeated White, blankly. Of course, she knew how concerned Gold always was for the safety of his teammates. Of course, she knew that he would be worried about her given the risky nature of her attempt. But he had been angry--she had seen the light of a white hot anger in his eyes--he had been angry because he had been worried. The idea seemed ludicrous to her, but she couldn't come up with any other explanation for his attitude. Well, extreme emotions did tend to affect people in odd ways and to be expressed in odd ways. But she had seen Gold before in tense situations, in times when the life of one or another of the Corps had been threatened. And he had never reacted like this before.

Maybe the stress of everything was beginning to wear on him? Something at the back of her mind tugged for her attention--a nagging thought that there might be some special explanation for Gold's reaction in this case. But she didn't have time to examine it right then.

"Gold, I'm sorry--but it was the only thing I could do."

"Understood." It was almost a shock to hear Gold bark out the word in his normal tone, as he paced back up the cabin, once again cool and competent as usual.

"But there's something else you need to know." This was harder than she had thought it would be. After seeing his last reaction, she was almost afraid to see how he would react to this piece of news.

He just looked at her, attentively.

"Do you remember the Nth Dimensional Holocube--the one we found on the Wanderer?"

He nodded. "Yeah--the one that somehow disappeared during our fight with Maxwell."

"Well--" She trailed off. This was far harder than she had expected. "You've never phased, of course." Traveling along the fourth dimensional axis was something almost unknown in Ursa Prime. Though some development was being done on it, only she (with the white armor) and the Tremonsirs (with their phaseships) had easy access to all that lay plus and minusward along the fourth dimensional axis.

"No, but I understand the basic concept," replied Gold, coming to stand opposite her. He took off his jacket and carefully folded it on the table. Smoothing out the surface, he placed his hand on top of it. "My hand exists in all three dimensions, but at present it can only move around on top of my jacket--in other words, it can only move in two dimensions, though it exists in three. If it were conscious, it wouldn't even be aware that a third dimension existed so long as it remained on this plane. But if it were a different kind of object--a needle, say--it could push through the layers of my jacket, going deeper to other planes where it could also move around in two dimensions. And in reality, everything exists in four dimensions, even though we are only conscious of three and, generally speaking, can only travel in three. We exist on a three dimensional space located at a certain point along the fourth dimensional axis. Your armor has the ability to pierce through that space and moved 'up' and 'down' along the fourth dimensional axis, to other spaces. For that matter, even though you're the only one of us who can move along the axis yourself, all of our armor can phase like that." He glanced up at her, with a smile. "That's about right, isn't it?"

White was impressed. Even among the Tremonsirs, who had essentially discovered phasing, she had seldom heard it explained so accurately. "Yes, that's about it. If you travel minusward along the axis, you reach other levels--other worlds, you could say--which are very similar to ours; spaces with planets and stars and basically the same physical makeup of ours. But plusward is different." She stood up and paced away from him. She somehow felt that she could concentrate better when she wasn't looking at him. "It's hard to explain if you've never been there. The levels plusward are like--like empty spaces, like canvases that are yet to be filled in. The Tremonsirs believe," she added, almost to herself, "that God left us blank worlds to give us a contrast with the worlds He filled so fully."

"But they're not truly blank, right? I mean, they have matter--oxygen, particularly."

"Yes, at least +(1)d has an atmosphere almost identical to that of the homeworld. The air we breath while in our armor comes from there. But aside from that, it's empty." She turned around to face him again. "Imagine being in a large, well-lighted room, painted white and absolutely empty. That's what it feels like to be in +(1)d and, to some extent, all the levels plusward--at least, as far as I've ever gone. No matter how you enter +(1)d or where you travel in it, it's always exactly the same. That's why, if I want to be out of the way, I always phase plusward. If you go minusward, you're in danger of running into the things of that space. But plusward there's nothing--nothing except--"

She trailed off.

"Except our armor," finished Gold. "Right? That's what happens to our armor when we phase it off."

"Exactly. If I travel to +(1)d and the rest of you don't have your armor, I see your armor floating by itself in white space--and moving around just as you move in this space. And--" somehow all this scientific explanation hadn't made it any easier to explain-- "anything we stow in +(1)d using our armor also appears there, floating alongside whichever us puts it there."

"I assumed it was something like that, but I never knew exactly what it looked like. But what does any of this have to do with the ND Holocube?"

White closed her eyes. "It was there. I saw it."

"What?" Gold bounded forward so that he confronted her face to face. "What do you mean?"

"I mean that when I was traveling back from detonating that bomb, I saw that holocube floating there in +(1)d, right where the six of you were waiting in this space. Which means--which means that one of the six of you had taken it from the Wanderer and stuck it there."

"Are you absolutely sure? You were badly hurt and very nearly unconscious. Are you sure you could see things accurately?"

"I wasn't delirious, Gold. I was in pain, but I could see things clearly. And, anyway, that's the last sort of thing I would hallucinate about."

Gold was clenching and unclenching his right fist, more in puzzlement than anger. "But--but that doesn't make any sense. Are you sure it was the same holocube?"

"I didn't have time to examine it, if that's what you mean. But it was very definitely a Nth Dimensional Holocube." Really, White had no doubt that it was same device. Everything fit together too well. The only rational explanation for the disappearance of the holocube on the Wanderer was if one of the Corps had taken it. And the only rational explanation for the appearance of an identical holocube in +(1)d was if one of the Corps had put it there. Besides-- "Besides, even if it wasn't the same, why would any of us have a ND Holocube? After all--"

"It's illegal for a private citizen to own one," Gold finished. "Yeah, I know that." He was staring in concentration at his hands. "But I still don't get it. You're basically accusing one of us of stealing it. Right?"

"That--would certainly seem to be the case, yes. Of course, I'm not sure it'd be stealing technically since Maxwell had no right to it, either."

"And we would have authority from the Prefect to confiscate something like that. Probably I should have confiscated it--but I didn't. And if one of the others did, they didn't tell me."

"I know."

Suddenly Gold glanced up. "What about Erybus? I know Moreland's Intersect works on trans-dimensional physics, but wouldn't it also give him the power to travel along the fourth dimensional axis?"

"Probably," answered White slowly. "You're suggesting he put it there?"

"Well, he was around not long before you got back. And it seems clear that Maxwell is working for or with the Nadirites, meaning that Erybus very likely knew about the holocube. For all we know, he might have been watching that whole battle on the Wanderer."

"It's possible--but why?"

"I don't know." Gold frowned. "But there's a lot about Erybus and his schemes that we don't know yet." He threw his shoulders back and walked down the chamber. "There's only one thing to do, though. I'll gather all of us together and then you phase. If the holocube is there, you should be able to trace back which of us put it there, right?"

"Right."

"We need to take stock of the situation, anyway." He spoke into his communicator. "Corps! Assemble in main cabin."

Blue had joined them almost before Gold finished his order. It was almost five minutes later before Black, Silver, Red, and Green trooped into the cabin from outside.

"Green, status report," Gold barked, standing with his back against the pilot's chair.

Green pulled his hat down. He seemed more than usually out-of-sorts. "I have been unable to determine the cause of the station's break-down, sir."

"But we've scoured around and there's no sign of those workers the princess said were stationed here," added Black. "Which mean they've disappeared. Which means that they were probably taken by ghosts and that ghosts also hexed the station."

"More likely your ghosts are Nadirites," Gold grunted.

White noted that all of the others were out of their armor, except Green. That would be perfect for what she wanted to do. It would be a simple matter to match the holocube with whichever member of the Corps had taken it.

She took a deep breath, phased on her armor, and pushed herself plusward to +(1)d. In an instant, the scene inside the cabin of The Crystallair faded away and she was floating in a white void. All around her, the unworn armor of the other members of the Corps floated likewise, moving in a strange pantomime, mimicking the actions of their owners. White was used to this sight and it was not for this that she had come. She was looking for one thing and one thing only.

And it was the one thing that wasn't there.


"I see you're still able to phase smoothly," remarked Gold as she reappeared in the cabin. "You were probably wise to try again as soon as you could--you have to prove to yourself that you can still do it."

White knew that Gold was trying to cover for her, explaining to the others why she had so suddenly decided to phase. She didn't like it. It was too much like lying. But she was too nauseated by the phasing to argue. Besides, he did have a point. She was glad to know she could still do it--and it was a good idea to try again as soon as possible after a traumatic experience such as she had had.

"So, Green, you were saying that you need parts to fix the station?" prompted Gold, turning the attention of the group away from White.

"This mechanism of this station is unlike anything I've worked with before, but I believe there is a solid chance that with the right equipment I could bring it back to functionality."

"But what are the odds they'll have any of that kind of equipment in an out-of-the-way hole like this system?" Black prodded.

"Hey, it's not that bad," Red interrupted.

Black looked at him with a quick, sharp glance. White noted it. Apparently, for once, even Black was surprised by something.

"Never thought you'd take a shine to this kind of place. Or maybe it's not just the place."

"Green, do you think you can find the necessary equipment here in Altayra? With the Nadirites blockading the void, it's going to be very difficult to return to Ursa Prime to get any equipment--we could go to Draxmore, but even in The Crystallair that's going to be a long trip, and I want this cleared up as soon as we can."

Green adjusted his hat slightly. "Sir, according to my data, there is a large village on this planet, a short distance from here. It seems probable that the basic materials I need could be obtained there. I might need to improvise a little, but I believe it would be a workable solution."

"All right. Is the distance short enough that we can go by foot?"

"That would probably be simpler than trying to fly the ship there, yes."

"We'll leave in five minutes. Get anything you're going to need. White, could you meet me outside to take care of a few other arrangements?"


"Well?" he asked, once they were alone together outside the ship.

She shook her head. "Nothing. It was gone."

Gold turned away. "So you can't be 100% sure you even saw it."

"Gold, I saw it."

He didn't answer for a minute. "Well, we still don't have enough evidence to come to a conclusion on the matter. That's what Green would say. It's possible it was some kind of trick of Erybus's. It could be that somehow you did mistake it--maybe something in the atmosphere of +(1)d, combined with your injuries, created some kind of mirage. Or it could be--"

"That one of us did put it there and then in the interim took it back."

Gold clenched his fists. "I don't want to believe that."

"Belief is conditioned by truth, not by emotion," thought White, but she didn't say it out loud. "When you allow your emotions to determine your beliefs, you are headed towards madness; though once you have a belief, your emotions may help you understand that belief."

"I know what you're thinking," Gold interrupted. "Just because I don't want to believe it doesn't mean it's not true. But--but why would any of them steal that holocube?" He shook his head. "White, don't say anything about this to any of the others. We don't have anything to go on, so we'll just have to let this slide--but we can keep our eyes open. There's something strange going on around here."

With a flash of insight that was almost like pain, thoughts linked themselves together in White's mind.

Once again, Gold seemed to read exactly what she was thinking. "Don't even think that. Red and Black may have their crazy side and even Blue has her moments--but none of them would betray the Corps."

"Of course not."

It was silly. But White couldn't help thinking--thinking of that missing holocube--thinking of the fact that the Nadirites and Maxwell had done things to the Corps which shouldn't have been possible--thinking of the fact that the Nadirites and Maxwell had seemed to know exactly where the Corps would be before they knew it themselves--thinking of the fact that Maxwell had known to use a photon disrupter against them--thinking of the fact that all of that would be exactly what one might expect if one of them were a...

But Gold was right. Whatever faults the other members of the Corps might have, none of them was a traitor.

'Jehovah's vision is not the vision of a human, for human vision can only perceive the visible, but Jehovah penetrates to the very heart.'

The words ran through her mind by automatic habit, but she pushed them away. Of course, only God could see people's hearts, but that didn't mean human perception was totally useless. Understanding people was her job. If she couldn't do that, what good was she to the Corps?

But by this time, the others had put in their appearance and they set off.


This planet was almost identical to Altayra Rex. It had the same black, glossy rocky surface veined with white stone which glowed slightly. And other than this--nothing.

"Is it just me, or is the light dimmer than it was before?" White asked, glancing at Gold.

"Definitely."

Green was walking behind them. "It is probable that the light on these planets goes through some cycle of diminution and return, similar to the day-night sequence of other planets."

"That makes sense. In which case, we'd better hurry. I'd assume it'll be night soon."

"So where does the light come from, anyway?" asked Black. "I mean, I can see it comes out of the ground, but how does it get there? Is it some kind of geothermal energy?"

Gold shrugged. "Search me. I've never heard of geothermal energy being harnessed like this, but there're a lot of things about this system that are unique. You don't have any data on that, do you, Green?"

"No, sir."

They walked on in silence

Normally, they might have taken to the skies to cover ground more quickly. Though they could walk at about the same speed they flew, flying was generally more direct. However, this planet was so bare that there were no obstacles to impede their progress. There was nothing except the bare, glossy rock and the occasional patch of moss. At least, for the most part.

But after they had traveled for almost half an hour, they came across the first break in the landscape. The light had ebbed quite a bit by now, but it was still light enough to make out things around them clearly. The ground seemed to buckle slightly, forming a round, shallow indentation, almost like a crater. On one side, a low wall had been built from stone, forming a large, square enclosure which opened out into the crater. Milling around this crater and slowly making their way into the enclosure was a flock of sheep. And along with the sheep was the first human being they had seen since the battle with Erybus.

It was a boy of ten or eleven, wearing a loincloth and holding a long staff--the staff seemed almost ludicrously long because it was so much taller than the boy himself. He seemed too small to be controlling the large flock of sheep, but clearly he was, using his staff to direct them as they made their way into the stone enclosure.

White was the only one of the Corps who had much experience with sheep. On Coulair, the Tremonsirs had kept quite a few sheep ,and there were times when she was was younger that she had watched them in the field just like this boy. She walked forward to get a closer view of the sheep, when suddenly the shepherd turned from his work and rushed towards her, waving his staff.

"Keep away! Keep back!"

White took a step back.

The boy stopped and stood protectively in front of the flock, holding his staff threateningly. "Keep back!" he repeated. "Leave us alone."

"Awfully protective, isn't he?" commented Gold in a low voice.

"It's a shepherd's job," White responded, also in a low voice. "And he may never have seen someone from another planet before."

Green adjusted his hat nervously. "Ask him if there's a village near here. We should be getting close."

The boy heard the question. "Hath'ellah," he answered, motioning with his staff. "A few minutes that way."

"Hath'ellah?" repeated Gold, questioningly.

"That is the name of the village we were searching for," Green explained. "We're getting close."

"Then let's go. We wouldn't want to bother the sheep."

They moved on in the direction the boy had indicated (roughly the direction they had already been going). The boy watched them suspiciously until they were out of sight.

"So those were sheep?" remarked Gold, not really as a question. "I've seen pictures before, but never the real thing."

"The real thing is a little bit of a shock, isn't it? The sight and the smell--" White stopped abruptly. "Those sheep didn't smell."

"Do sheep usually?"

"Yes. Sheep usually have a very strong, distinctive smell. But those sheep didn't."

Green adjusted his hat again. "Apparently, something in the atmosphere of these planets suppresses distinct smells."

When he said it, White realized that was one of the things which, subconsciously, had struck her as strange about Altayra. She really didn't remember smelling anything since they had reached the system. "Is that even possible?"

Green glowered at her. "I just stated that it was apparently actual, at which point the question of possibility is irrelevant. Everything that is actual is, of necessity, possible."

"Of course." Green was evidently in a worse mood than usual. This mission was proving unusually stressful on all of them.

"OK, I know I'm the city-girl here," Black began, "but I thought the basic idea of grazing sheep was that they, you know, ate grass. And I haven't seen a blade of grass on this planet."

White frowned. "We have seen moss. Maybe they eat that."

"Or for all we know they're mods and can eat rock materials--like ambients." This from Green. "You notice that they were out in a sort of hollow--maybe they had eaten it away."

"That sounds like a dangerous kind of sheep," remarked Black. "And trust me, that's a phrase I never thought I'd be using."


A few minutes later, their path was interrupted by a deep trench or canyon. They used their armor to fly across it and when they landed on the far side they found themselves standing on the boarder of a village--apparently, their destination, the village of Hath'ellah.

It was a large village, though not as large as the town they had passed through on Altayra Rex. The buildings were made of stone and mostly sat low to the ground. Primarily, the town seemed to be built along one street which ran straight from the trench where they stood to a large hill on the other side of the town. A few spherical lamps were set on posts along the street and they came to life just as the Corps arrived. (It was now nearly "night.") There were only a few people out in the streets.

As they moved towards the town, one of the men in the street detached from the scene and moved towards them.

"Who are you?" he demanded as he approached.

White noted that he carried a small sidearm and guessed him to be a soldier or constabulary officer of some kind.

Gold stopped. "We are the Corps." And seeing that this did not seem to suggest anything to the man, he added, "And we are here as representatives of Ursa Prime."

The man nodded, though otherwise his face remained wooden. "I understand. You are here because of the Guidance Beacon?"

"Exactly. The beacon has become inactive, and we believed that we could find the materials needed to fix it here."

The man bowed. "I do not know if we can supply what you need, but I bid you welcome in the name of her highness." He gave a short call and another man came towards them. "We have visitors from Ursa Prime. Make sure everything is ready." He turned back to Gold. "If you will follow me--"

Gold nodded. "Of course."


As they moved into the town, the inhabitants eyed them strangely. "I take it they don't get strangers around here much," Gold observed. "Do you really think you'll be able to find anything helpful here, Green?"

"I hold to my supposition, but it's impossible to say without further evidence."

The guard led them on to a courtyard halfway down the street, where some tables had been set-up under a large awning. It had something the look of a restaurant or cafe, but it was empty except for themselves. "If you will wait here--" and with that, their guide vanished into the building behind the courtyard. An instant later he reappeared, carrying a tray which he set on one of the table. "This is the best Hath'ellah has to offer."

The tray contained seven blocks of prefood. White could tell by the slight sheen on the outer coating that the food had already been given its flavoring. She realized that she had not eaten since that morning, which seemed somehow years away now.

Gold bowed slightly. "Thank you for your hospitality."

The guard also bowed. "Once you have eaten, we can discuss the materials you require." And with this he moved off to the far side of the courtyard, as if to give the Corps some privacy while they ate.

"Sir, I'm not sure we should eat here," said Green in a low voice as they sat down. "We will be back to our ship shortly, and we have provisions."

Gold shot him a sharp look. "Is there something wrong?"

Green adjusted his hat, uncomfortably. "I'm just not entirely sure we can trust these people."

"We don't have any reason to doubt them. If we refuse the food without good reason, we'll definitely offend them. And if we do that, we may not have any chance to get the materials we need. Remember, these people are under no obligation to help us."

Red was already munching away on one of the blocks. "Tastes fine to me. You're just nervous, Green."

Green slouched in his seat, disgustedly. "You could put anything that looks even remotely like food into your mouth and say it tasted fine, Red."

"Hey, just because you don't like eating doesn't mean the rest of us can't."

"Though some of us are going to end up fat, at the rate you're going," added Black.

"Personally, I prefer starvation, but that's just me," Blue remarked. There had been seven blocks of prefood but since Green didn't eat, that left one extra. Just as Red as reaching for it, Blue picked it up and handed it to Silver. "You probably don't want this, but you'd better have it anyway."

Silver ate very slowly so he was still only a fraction of the way through his first block. But he accepted the block Blue gave him respectfully and sat beside his own partially eaten block.

White glanced at Blue. It was good that she was making sure to look out for Silver, since his own laid-back, quiet personality made the others forget about him most of the time. But she couldn't help but wonder about it. Blue was a hard one to read, but she couldn't help wondering whether it was more than mere compassion or even friendship which was prompting her actions. That was probably silly, but still...

But she didn't have long to think about it, because at that moment she noticed something else.

When they first came into town, she had noted that there were very few people out on the street. This seemd right enough, as it was after dark on the planet and would have been nearly pitch black except for the lamps along the street. (There was next to no light coming from the ground now.) But now the street was crowded. In the dim light of the lamps, she could see a nebula of faces crowding the streets.

"There's nothing I enjoy quite so much as having hordes of strangers staring at me while I eat," remarked Blue laconically. White was not the only one to notice the crowded streets.

"Curiosity I would expect," said Gold in a low voice. "As I said, I'll bet strangers are rare here. But they don't seem just curious. They seem angry."

"And they actually aren't looking at us," added White. She had switched to their private communicators--it was safer than talking out loud. "I don't think we are the main thing on their mind."

Suddenly, the guard sprung up from his place at the far side of the courtyard and ran towards the entrance. Even as he did, one man pushed through the entrance. The man from the street aimed a blow at the guard who ducked, took a step back, and drew his weapon. "Stand down!" he shouted. "I'll drill the next one. What do you want here?"

"You know what we want," shouted one of the men in the crowd. "The Jailer. We know he's in there."

Black glanced at Red. "You wouldn't happen to be a jailer and never told us, would you?"

"Why are you looking at me?" asked Red, honestly confused.

"Don't start you two. I'm pretty sure this has nothing to do with us. We're just getting caught up in it."

"Keep back!" repeated the guard, as the press seemed to increase outside of the courtyard.

"Looks like we're in for a fight," remarked Red. "This should be fun."

"I always enjoy fighting unarmed peasants," agreed Blue. "There's so much honor in it."

"No." Gold's voice was quiet but firm. "We are strangers here, remember? We have no right to get involved in this conflict. Besides, there's no reason. We can easily fly out of range. It's not as if anyone here would have long-range weapons--even if they were after us, which they aren't."

"But if there's a riot in this village, it may ruin our chances of getting the materials we need," White pointed out. She agreed that they couldn't fight the Altayrans--but she couldn't help wondering if there was someway they could stop the riot.

"We'll have to take that chance. And, no, White, there's no way we can stop this thing. Not without knowing more about what's going on."

White hated to admit it, but he was probably right.

Once again, one of the men in the street tried to strike at the guard, who dodged. The guard struck back, using the handle of his gun as a weapon, but it didn't connect with anyone. He took several step backs and raised the gun as if to fire. All seven members of the Corps stood to their feet and, instinctively, phased on their armor, getting ready for flight.

But before they could move and before either the guard or the crowd made their next move, a figure rushed through the courtyard from the interior building and came to a stop directly in front of the entrance. "If you want into this place, first you must strike me down. Are you willing to do that?"

White gasped in amazement. She would have recognized the figure by its dress and voice alone, but as it stood there in the light of the torches, it turned slightly so that from her position she could clearly see the profile of its face.

It was her imperial highness, Princess Valencia.

To be continued...