I arise from my deep slumber, my feet standing upon a rough, rocky surface. Before me lays an ocean that stretches as far as eye can see. But the ocean does not glow with the colorful light dancing about in the sky above me, nor does it reflect a deep blue or green. Instead, it seethes in blackness, and consumes the light that would have otherwise played upon its surface.
Something is amiss about this water, so I step forward for a closer inspection only to leap back to where I stood before. What lay before me is not an ocean of water, but rather an abyss of vermin and foul creatures crawling upon one another. Behind me is no sure footing, it seems the rough rocky surface upon which I stand is the only place left in this love-forsaken world.
Suddenly, an angel stands at my right side. “Where am I?” I plead.
“The place you would not understand,” he replies with solemn countenance.
“What is this terrible ocean that surrounds me?” I ask fearfully.
“This endless, abysmal sea,” he says while extending his hand about us, “is filled with the sins of your entire life, from youth to old age.”
“Certainly I could not have sinned that much!” I protest, not because I think him a liar, but because of the fearful truth in his words.
“How many thoughts run through a man’s head in even one hour and how many hours did you live?” he asks. He continues his questions, though not in an accusatory manner, “How many thoughts did you dwell on that were self-glorifying, selfish, greedy, impure, impatient, judgmental, critical, self-pitying, self-justifying, angry, jealous, bitter, fearful of others, vain, proud, unloving, unsacrificial, and unkind to name only a few? How many times have you spoken carelessly, feared the opinion of others, turned away a beggar, performed good only to be recognized, and lacked compassion for your fellow human made in the image of God?” he asks as one sharing my horror at the realization of what I have done with my entire life. The fearful expression upon his face only frightens me more.
“My abyss stretches beyond what my eye can see,” I whisper as I collapse on the rock in tears. “Who will save me from this death?”
A sound catches my ear and lifts my head. It is a wiry man, whistling as he approaches us from my left. His head is mostly bald except a few nasty hairs that bravely cling to his scaly scalp. He approaches with an arrogant, crooked, toothless smile.
“You gaze upon this foul ocean with your eyes, my boy,” he says to me, “but its true location is in your heart. This filth surrounding us is merely a reflection. Now you see, my job is to take what belongs to my master, and seeing you are filled with his treachery, you belong to me.”
Grasping my shoulder roughly, he is suddenly stopped by the angel on my right. “No!” cries the angel, “there is some of my Master within him as well.” Reaching into my heart, the angel pulls out a handful of the most beautiful jewels. They sparkle with color beyond a rainbow, and light beyond the sun. The glow stuns my accuser.
Flinching, the wiry man releases my shoulder, but quickly recomposes himself and sets forth a challenge: “Cast them into the sea and we will find which one prevails,” he demands with a chuckle.
The angel lifts them high, whispering a prayer, and casts them into the abyss. An explosion of light occurs, foul vermin begin screaming as they are burned. Thousands of them shrivel into nothing, and, for a moment, a great opening is created in the abyss before us. However, the opening is soon filled with the overflow of vermin around it, and within minutes it appears as if nothing had ever been done.
“Surely there is more than that!” I cry to the angel.
Sadly shaking his head, he replies, “Only that which was done without pride and without any other passion-derived motive can be used. What I collected from your heart is all that was pure.”
“But there was hardly a thing!” I protest.
“Ha! You see, he is mine” cries the devil to my left, leaping with foul happiness.
Once again though, the angel keeps him from taking me with a defense, “His works are nothing compared to his sins, but he went to confession and partook of the Eucharist frequently. Those sins, as you know, that are confessed and not hidden can never be used against him, numerous or horrendous though they be.”
Not willing to give up easily, my accuser points his crooked finger at me while asking the angel, “Ah, but did he make a good confession or did he hide certain thoughts or deeds in shame and embarrassment?”
After gazing at one another intently, they both slowly turn to look toward me. Immediately, I can see and remember every one of my confessions.
Stunned, I open my mouth to reply…
The parable ends there.
There is no conclusion because as long as I am alive it is not finished.
The purpose of every parable is to make a particular point; in this parable, my point is obviously that we should not conceal our sins during confession. I wrote the above after reading through Elder Ephraim’s teaching on confession in the beautifully formatted book The Art of Salvation.
In every story, parable, or teaching that details the “other world,” we are stuck with crude images that are incapable of expressing the depth that is beyond words. In addition to that, I am not an accomplished writer. I pray you forgive me my omissions and errors.