I once lived on a busy four-lane road with a house number of 662. We had a driveway adjacent to the family next door. The property line ran through a thin strip of gravel between the oil-spotted asphalt strips.
We and the Nabes were both families with young children, our three just enough old enough to disdain playing with their two. We were all friendly enough, and had common superficial interests. We had warm random chats outside when our paths crossed, and the weather permitted. And that was it.
The Nabes were heart-on-the-sleeve Christians. We weren’t Christians at all. In fact by lifestyle and philosophical temperament I would today regard us as anti-Christians. We not only didn’t go in for that Jesus stuff, we actively dissuaded others from doing so. A generic ‘big G’ God might be okay, but that Jesus character, well he was just sketchy.
They were the Flanderses to our Simpsons. We weren’t interested in their Neducation.
As time went by, the Nabes would take their opportunities to evangelize, softly and gently. They invited us to church events and we always made a polite excuse. I know now that, while I wasn’t afraid of them, I lived in fear of what I thought they represented: powerless surrender.
We couldn’t go there; we wouldn’t go there. Self-sufficiency and independence were too precious.
Despite my self-enforced anathema of All Things Christian, I often wondered about what the Bible said: about me, about life, about history, and especially, about death and eternity. About the end times. Like many people of my generation I came of age reading The Late Great Planet Earth and the various speculations about something called The Rapture. And, about 666: the Number of the Beast.
This is how it all played out in my Hollywood mind:
- Life goes on and the world spins into darkness (as it was even then, 45 years ago)
- Eventually things get so bad, Jesus returns
- The faithful Exit, Stage Left and watch the final act from private box seats
- The unfaithful stay on as the Beast takes center stage
- I’m doomed
Against this backdrop, I imagined there was an invisible place between our property (662) and the Nabes’ property (668) where 666 took up residence.
‘Here is a call for wisdom: Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast. It is the number of a man. His number is six hundred and sixty-six.’ 1
The beast is a divider. The beast is the destroyer. The beast ruins relationship. He is the great seducer and the one who blinds people to God’s goodness.
The beast is attractive to those of us with darkened hearts 2 because his power and influence can be grasped immediately. His works are obvious and there is craven safety in his grasp. He gives us a thrill.
Yet, in long speculation about the dark place that could exist between us and the Nabes, the truth was finally revealed. His number was mine.
Where darkness exists, it’s not between me and others, it’s simply within my own heart. That’s where unforgiveness and bitterness lurk.
The Bible says a darkened heart is confused.2 And yet the darkness and futility of the human heart didn’t dissuade God from having mercy on creatures like me who routinely spat on Him.3 Instead, He sacrificed the love of His own heart, his son, Jesus Christ. The Lord brought light to my heart, but I can still step back into darkness if I wish. It’s still a free-will universe.
If I do, the beast comes on the scene: he brings division, unforgiveness, bitterness, hatred; anything that can separate me from my Nabes. That’s the danger for all of us today.
Many years have passed and I did eventually hear the call of the sacrificed Christ. Now I’m one of the Nabes. The line between you and me is no longer visible from my side. Would you like to come in for a coffee?
1. Revelation 13:18
2. Romans 1:21 (NLT) – ‘Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused.’
3. Genesis 8:21a – ‘The Lord smelled a soothing aroma; and the Lord said in His heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the inclination of man’s heart is evil from his youth…”