Cabin 16: The Neighbor’s Well

I’m reposting this in light of recent conversation in our Heaven LifeCourse about the nature of heaven and hell, freedom of choice, being ‘given over’ to the destructive consequences of sin, and how we are daily becoming creatures more fit for heaven and hell. -JB

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This post is in memory of Robin Williams and a loving plea to all those who are or know somebody suffering from severe depression and/or contemplating suicide. Please don’t give up; Hope is knocking on your door. 

Jesus had one more thing to show me before we took a lunch break. He led me over the property line and down the hill toward the neighbor’s cabin. I was immediately struck by what I saw.

The neighbor’s property was completely overgrown with thick bushes, twisted trees, thorns, burs, tangled vines, exposed roots and fallen trees.  The woods around the neighbor’s cabin would have been impassable had it not been for a narrow hidden path that probably only Jesus knew. We struggled our way through until we came to a tall imposing chain link fence that went around the entire property — the barbed wire on the top screamed loud and clear: “Keep out!” Completely covered by vines now, you could hardly see through the fence to the dilapidated shack it protected. Everywhere I looked I saw “NO TRESPASSING” signs.

Screen shot 2014-08-12 at 3.02.58 PM“Uh, Jesus, maybe this isn’t such a good idea….” I suggested. The place looked like something out of a horror movie.

“Oh, don’t worry, he passed away last summer,” Jesus said. “It’s a tragic story. No visit to the Father’s Cabin is complete without pondering the tragic fate of Old Man Winters.”

“How did he die?” I wondered.

“Well, that’s just the thing. It’s not as simple as it seems. Let me show you something.”

He led me around the perimeter of the fence to a gate with a thick chain and lock. He was able to pull the door open just enough for us to squeeze through the crack.

“It’s such a shame,” Jesus began the story. “The place was absolutely beautiful when it was built 60 years ago and the yard was like the Garden of Eden. Old Man Winters was a nice little chap in the beginning, too. Such a shame. And far too common a tale.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“The coroner’s report said it was the polluted water from his well that ultimately did him in. But his long, slow downward spiral began years ago.”

“What do you mean?”

“He was a nice enough fellow when he moved in. Never said much but was at least open to a conversation about the weather or how the fish were biting. But things turned sour around the time of his divorce. He grew bitter. Then severe depression set in. He turned inward. Even worse, he began to push others away.”

“Didn’t you try to help him?” I asked.

Screen shot 2014-08-12 at 3.02.07 PM“Of course, we did.  I would knock on his door several times a week, just to check in on him, invite him fishing or to take a walk, or invite him over for dinner. No answer. I knew he was home, too. I could hear him scrambling downstairs to hide. Then the drinking grew worse. That’s when we tried the first intervention. We knocked on the door, pleaded with him to let us in to have supper together. He began to curse us. He told us to leave him alone, that he didn’t want our help and to stay off his property.”

It was hard to believe someone could live so close to the peaceful joys of the Father’s Cabin and yet not want anything to do with his company. How could such heavenly bless dwell next door to this hellish reality? I remembered someone once said that “the line between good and evil runs through each human heart.” Or, as C.S. Lewis put it:

“Every time you make a choice you are turning into the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state of the other” (Mere Christianity).

Jesus allowed me a moment of reflection before continuing, “So, after the failed intervention the fences started going up. After another unsuccessful visit, the barbed-wire was added. He was so bitter and angry. And yet, some evenings when all was quiet we could hear him through the woods weeping, or talking shamefully down on himself.”

“Wasn’t there anything you could do?” I again asked, not wanting to accept the answer.

“Jeremy, each man has the freedom to receive our company and share in our joy, or to reject help and keep us locked out.  We will not force ourselves on anyone who wishes to push us away.”

“So, tell me about the polluted well,” I inquired.

Screen shot 2014-08-12 at 3.21.00 PM“Yes, this is the worst part of all,” Jesus said, leading me to an well hidden by overgrowth about 50 yards from the back door. “We had the well tested and found the quality of the water was toxic and unsafe to drink. But Old Man Winters refused to listen. He grew terribly sick and even when the doctor told him he would eventually die if he continued to drink it, he ignored the warnings.”

Unbelievable. 

“We offered him access to our fresh water supply and brought him clean, purified water each week,” Jesus said. “But he preferred the ‘taste’ of his poisoned water over ours.”

“Did he have a death wish or something?” I asked with incredulity.

“I don’t think so,” Jesus began to conclude.  “Overtime, sadly, he had just grown an insatiable appetite for destructive things, and preferred a sip of toxicity over a gulp of something life-giving. Here’s a universal truth worth grasping: At first, we control our appetites and choose what we will swallow down. In the end, if we let it, our appetites will begin to control us and ultimately we will be swallowed up by them if we don’t get help.”

I remembered back to my Old Testament class in seminary and the way this sad truth was played out among the people of Israel in Jeremiah’s day who had given themselves over to serve false gods instead of the Living God.

“Yes, Jeremy, the Father’s warning couldn’t be more clear:

‘My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water'” (Jer. 2:13).

“But remember, “Jesus continued, “I Am the source of Living Water. Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life” (John 4:14).

“Jeremy, let Old Man Winters’ tragic story be a parable for ‘all who have ears to hear.’  People all around us everyday are living out a similar tragedy though its harder to see.  Instead of finding satisfaction in the True Source of Life, people are trying to satisfy the inner thirst with all kinds of poisonous substitutes — alcohol, drugs, entertainment, fame, money, gambling, sex or whatever. People are depressed and turning inward. Each day the walls get a bit higher, and bitterness and despair are beginning to push others further and further away. Some folks who have been hurt in the past by other people have placed emotional barbed-wire around their hearts and “No Trespassing” signs all over their attitude. Eventually, many folks just give up and waste away their final days alone in an overrun landscape of despair nursing an insatiable thirst for poisonous well water that can never satisfy their real need.”

“Is there hope for such people?” I asked.

“Of course, there’s always hope,” Jesus said. “But the first thing a person needs to do is properly fill and seal up that old well before it can be a pathway for more contaminants and pollutants. Are you ready?”

Jesus handed me a shovel.

“Let’s close this old well up once and for all so this cabin can once again be inhabitable.”

With every shovel full of gravel I threw into that well, I confessed the toxic wells and cracked cisterns I had hiding in my own interior life. As we sealed it off, I prayed for the Holy Spirit to seal off access to my own secret idols polluting my life.  As we walked back to the cabin, I said a silent prayer for all those who are ready to give in to despair even though they are only a stone’s throw from the Father’s life-giving embrace just next door.

Read the full series of Jeremy’s fictional weekend trip to Jesus’ Father’s summer cabin HERE.

SCRIPTURE MEDITATION:

“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends” (Rev. 3:20). 

‘My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water'” (Jer. 2:13).

PERSONAL REFLECTION:

1. Do you know any Old Man Winters? Have you watched someone slowly destroy their life through self-destructive habits or addiction?

2. Do you have any emotional fences or barbed wire keeping people at a distance in your life?

3. Is there still a pathway for God to reach the door of your heart? Is He knocking? What does it look like for you to answer the door? 

DAILY PRAYER: 

Dear Jesus: Thank you for clearing a path through the thick woods to the door of my heart. I’m sorry for the fences I have raised and for all the times I have said, knowingly or unknowingly, “Keep Out.” Help me to locate any polluted wells and help me seal them off. Today I answer   your knock on the door and welcome you in for dinner. Amen. 

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