“If only you had followed the Savior, you would not have ended up in Hell,” said Arlon, looking sympathetically at his friend.
“But we were following the Savior!” Milan retorted.
“Yes, my friend, I know that you—”
“Nay, you do not know!” Milan said, standing to his feet. He turned to look straight into Arlon’s eyes. “I have heard this enough. For once, I am going to set things straight.”
He began to pace, the lamplight casting eerie shadows on the stone walls as he moved. His face contorted as painful memories ran through his mind.
“Have you not read 1 Corinthians 11:1?” he asked Arlon.
“Of course I have,” said Arlon. “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.”
“And that is a very common practice among Christians,” said Milan. “Does not your pastor teach you various doctrines that you follow, even though you know that other Christians believe and practice differently?”
“Well, yes, I suppose.”
“But you follow him because you believe that he is teaching you the ways of the Savior, correct?”
“Well, I have inquired of the Scriptures myself, and I have seen the truth of what he says.”
Milan stopped his pacing and turned toward Arlon. The lamplight illuminated a strange, blotchy scar on his ruddy cheek. “And that was exactly what we said of the one who led us into Hell.”
Milan held up his hand. “I have not yet decided whether I was born in Hell,” he said. “It was a place with some light and some darkness. Many others of my tradition have been burned badly, even in the place where I was born. But be that as it may, I can say with certainty that the traditions of my fathers made my family very vulnerable to being led into Hell.”
The scars on his arm itched, as they always did when he thought of the flames that had caused them. He rubbed his arm as he continued. “When I was five years old, we went to a leader named Gotheus. My parents had met him before, and he had guided them towards light. They now had a family, and they believed that Gotheus was a trustworthy guide who could guide them in the path of the Savior.
“Gotheus was well known. He had led many people, and he promised my parents that he would guide our family to a place where few went. He told them that the path of the Savior held many wonderful benefits for those who followed it closely, and he convinced them that he had many hard-won secrets for finding that true path.”
“That seems rather suspicious,” Arlon said. “How had he found a secret way that others had not?”
“For one thing, he had many stories of how those who had followed him had found new victories, more light, and greater peace. But he also used many passages of Scripture to guide his followers. Indeed, he taught us that our lives should be centered around the Scriptures, and that we should always follow their guidance.
“Now, my father is an intelligent and careful man. He knew all too well the dangers of guides who lead us into wrong paths. So he did not follow Gotheus alone. He already had the traditions of his fathers to guide him, and he would carefully search the Scriptures to determine whether Gotheus was truly showing us the path of the Savior. There were some paths that Gotheus recommended, but from which my father led us away, believing that Gotheus had misunderstood the Savior and the Scriptures.
“However, Gotheus had shifted my father’s compass so that it no longer pointed true north. This was his practice with all his followers. Some, of course, only had their compass shifted slightly, while other followers’ compasses were completely turned around. I am not certain how much my father’s was shifted, but this I do know: if the Scriptures said to go to the northwest, we would travel towards the northwest. If the Scriptures said to travel toward the south, we would travel south. Yet, somehow, we ended up in the regions of Hell.”
“How is that possible?” asked Arlon.
“Because, as I said, the compass was shifted. For some inexplicable reason, it was shifted in the direction that Gotheus was leading. The light was getting brighter as we followed him. We met wonderful people along the same path who were also following Gotheus’s leading, and we enjoyed sweet fellowship with them as we traveled. They loved the Savior also, and they earnestly sought to follow Him, just as we did. We thought that we must have, indeed, found the true path to life.”
“Didn’t you notice that you were getting burned?” Arlon said.
“Have you ever been outside in the early spring and shed your cloak on a warm day, only to discover several hours later that the sun has painfully burned you?”
“Yes, I have.”
“That was how this burning was for me,” said Milan. “Some followers of Gotheus realized very early that they were being burned. Some families turned away from Gotheus because of the flames or shifted their path so that it didn’t lead them so directly into Hell. But for me, it was as that sunburn that only becomes apparent when one has already been in the sun for far too long. I rejoiced in the light of the flames of Hell. It was bright, and it showed me the way to walk. I had many wonderful companions traveling with me, and Gotheus constantly reminded us that we were special—that we would one day change the world.
“There came a day when the cries of those who had been burned became too great. Gotheus had been hearing them for some time, and he had gradually led us away from the flames. Make no mistake, we were still in the regions of Hell. But the new path was easier to follow, and those who traveled it were not so quickly burned.”
Milan sighed. “This fact makes it very difficult to explain my story to some of Gotheus’s followers,” he said. “They have only seen the newer paths, and they have not experienced the horrors of his earlier followers. They believe that I know nothing of that which I am speaking, or that it was merely because of the traditions of my fathers. But hear me, Arlon. You spoke of following the Scriptures and the Savior. I can truly tell you that it was because my father strove to follow the Savior that we were not affected like some of those who blindly followed Gotheus.
“Yet, there is a dark side to this. Because my father strove to follow the Savior, when Gotheus led us away from the flames, my father didn’t follow.”
“What?” Arlon exclaimed.
“As you remember, my father’s compass had been shifted by Gotheus,” Milan said. “He would read the Scriptures, and they would tell him to go to the east. He would strive to walk as nearly due east as he could, even as he saw Gotheus leading people in a more northern direction. What he did not know, then, was that he was actually traveling southeast, not directly due east, because his compass guided him incorrectly.”
“I think I begin to understand,” Arlon said, thoughtfully stroking his beard. “Your father thought that Gotheus was actually guiding him away from the true leading of the Scriptures.”
“That is it exactly,” Milan said. “So eventually, we parted ways with Gotheus. I still held him in high esteem, even though I believed he was misguided. However, with time, my estimation of him decreased. By now, I had my own compass, and just as my father had taught me, I too sought to follow the directions of the Scriptures. But my compass had also been shifted, just like my father’s.”
“You seem to forget something here,” Arlon said. “Don’t you know that the Savior said that his followers hear His voice? Did not the Comforter speak to your heart about these things and seek to lead you away from the flames?”
Milan reached into a pouch at his waist and withdrew a small object. “This is my compass,” he said. “You and I know that, if the correct path is north-northwest and someone tells us to follow them straight north, we will disregard them. Is that not so?”
“We have a saying,” Milan said. “‘The Comforter will not lead us away from the path of the Scriptures.’ Have you not said that yourself?”
“I have,” said Arlon.
“Therefore,” Milan said, “when the Comforter spoke to me and told me that the path was to the north—according to my compass—and I had seen the Scriptures pointing me to the northwest, I disregarded the voice of the Comforter. Nay, I regarded it as the voice of Abaddon.”
He gestured with the compass. “But when Abaddon told me that I needed to travel northwest, I looked at the Scriptures and they agreed.”
Arlon shook his head, the light slowing dawning in his countenance. “If I understand you correctly, then, you are saying that your corrupted compass guided you to follow the voice of our enemy, Abaddon, rather than the voice of the Savior.”
“Many times. To be sure, I still believe that I followed the Savior in many ways. But, as you said, my compass, being corrupted, guided me towards the cunning traps of Abaddon far too often.”
Arlon shook his head again. “I am sorry, my friend.”
Milan slid the compass back into its pouch and returned to his seat. The two men sat silently for some time.
“By what means did you determine that you were not on the Savior’s path?” Arlon asked.
Milan dropped his head into his hands. “It was a long time of wandering in the regions of Hell,” he said. “I was being burned. I knew that it should not be this way, and I strove to change my course. The burns, I thought, were my doing, the consequences of not following the Savior, for I knew that following the Savior would lead me away from Hell. But the more I tried to follow the Savior, the more I found myself in the depths of Hell. There was much smoke and darkness, and many burns.”
He paused and removed his boot. Arlon gasped as he saw the skin on Milan’s leg–shriveled, red, and scarred, the result of having been badly burned. Without a word, Milan put his boot back on and continued.
“Then one day, I began hearing reports about Gotheus. Some were reporting that Gotheus had personally harmed them, and had led them on paths quite opposite of the way he had said we should walk. Indeed, they were claiming that Gotheus was leading them not in the ways of the Savior, but in the ways of Abaddon!”
“But I thought that you no longer followed Gotheus,” Arlon said.
“You are right. However, I still followed the compass that he had shifted, and therefore, I was still following in his ways, even though I no longer followed him.”
“As long as you had that corrupted compass, you would always walk in his ways.”
“That is so.”
Milan paused as the memories flooded through his mind. “Eventually, I came to realize that Gotheus was not a guide from the Savior, but a crafty agent of Abaddon. And then I began to question the guidance of my compass.
“I saw some who had completely abandoned the Scriptures and the Savior. They had realized that the Scriptures guided them in the wrong direction, so they began going in entirely opposite directions, toward paths that I believed would harm and destroy them. I had no desire to follow their ways, but yet I truly desired to recalibrate my compass to true north.
“And this is where the blessed Comforter began to show me the true way. The path has been long and difficult, but He slowly shifted my compass towards true north again and led me out of the regions of Hell.”
“Praise be to the Savior,” said Arlon.
“Indeed. As I left the regions of Hell, I began to meet others who were also following the Savior. As I observed them, I realized that they were living out the path that the Savior had described, and I allowed them to guide me back to the true path.”
“So has your compass been corrected?” Arlon asked.
“I cannot say for certain,” Milan said. “I am quite certain that it is much closer to true north than it was, but I have found that recalibrating the compass is very difficult. Have you not observed that there are many people who claim to follow the Savior, yet walk in very different paths?”
“To choose one person and follow them is foolhardy, as you yourself indicated earlier. Yet, when I search the Scriptures, I am never quite certain, when they instruct me to travel north, whether I am actually traveling north or whether I am slightly off course. It is supremely frustrating at times.”
“That it must be,” Arlon said, nodding.
“Through it all, however,” said Milan, “I hear the voice of the Savior, calling me towards His path. The more I follow Him, the more I come to understand His voice and His path, and when my compass directs me in the wrong direction, I see the error and am able to shift the compass.
“And, indeed, I have come to realize that, if I walk toward the voice of the Savior, He will guide me into His path. Arlon, He is most gracious and abundantly kind, and even when my compass guides me wrong, or when, in a cloud of uncertainty, I take the wrong path, the Savior and the Comforter are always there to guide me back.”
He arose from his seat and walked towards the lamp. “The night shadows are growing deep, my friend. It is time that we repose and rest ourselves for tomorrow’s battles.”
“I thank you for explaining these things to me. Indeed, it causes me to question whether my compass, too, may need calibrating.”
Milan turned and, walking over to his friend, placed a hand on his shoulder. “My friend, I would be more than happy to assist you in calibration. But I have a word of hope for you. Do not fear your compass, but rather look to the Savior and His light. Seek to know Him first, not to recalibrate your compass. For as you hear His voice and see His path, your compass will calibrate itself to the right way.”
“Thank you, Milan.”
Milan picked up the lamp, and the two soldiers silently marched up the stairs to rest for a night, that they might have strength the next day as they battled, once again, to rescue precious souls from Hell.
Please note: this post is based upon thoughts from my previous post, “Thoughts from a Survivor of Hell”.