Copied from The Hunt (The Twilight Zone):
Hyder Simpson lives with his wife and his hound-dog Rip in the backwoods. Mrs. Simpson does not like having the dog indoors, but Rip saved Hyder’s life once, and Hyder won’t be parted from him. Mrs. Simpson has seen some bad omens recently, and warns Hyder not to go raccoon hunting that night. When Rip dives into a pond after a raccoon, Hyder jumps in after him, but only the raccoon comes up out of the water. Next morning, Hyder and Rip wake up next to the pond. When they return home, Hyder finds that neither his wife, the preacher, nor the neighbors can hear him or see him—they seem to think that he and Rip are dead.
Walking along the road, he encounters a fence he doesn’t recognize, and decides to follow it. Presently, both come to a gate tended by a man. Simpson asks him if he is Saint Peter. Explaining only that he is a gatekeeper, the man explains that Simpson can enter the Elysian Fields. Simpson is appreciative, but disheartened to hear that there is no raccoon hunting there, nor are there any of his other usual pleasures. When he is told that Rip can’t enter and will be taken elsewhere (“up the road”), he declines and angrily goes on down the “Eternity Road” rather than enter the gate without his beloved dog. Simpson states, “Any place that’s too high-falutin’ for Rip is too fancy for me.” Later, after stopping to rest, Simpson and Rip are met by a young angel whose job is to find and bring them to Heaven.
Simpson tells the angel about his experience at the first gate, commenting “Son, that’d be a helluva place without Rip!” The angel replies “Mr. Simpson, you ain’t far wrong – that is Hell! Heaven’s up yonder a piece,” pointing up Eternity Road. When asked by Simpson why the gatekeeper at the gate to Hades wouldn’t let him bring Rip inside with him, the angel explains that the reason Rip was not allowed in was because the dog would have been able to smell the brimstone and alert Simpson that something was wrong. The angel says, “You see, Mr. Simpson — a man, well, he’ll walk right into Hell with both eyes open. But even the Devil can’t fool a dog!”
The angel also tells Hyder that there will be a raccoon hunt in Heaven that night, “right after the square dance,” and assures him that his wife, who will be coming shortly, will not be misled into entering Hell.
I remember watching The Twilight Zone as a child. My parents were older and grew up watching the show themselves. (That’s also how I got introduced to Star Trek.) My dad used to talk about this episode a lot. Now, I don’t know how much of the Gospel he believed but I like to think he believed more than he let on. Why? Because he loved this episode. He didn’t like dogs (or cats) but he loved this episode.
I finally watched it the other day. It almost brought me to tears. There is so much it gets right. Now, I am not a universalist. However, I do think Hell and Death are defeated enemies. The Bible says that Jesus came to take away the sin of the world. I believe that He did that. The only power Hell has is through manipulation and lies. I love that this episode represents Hell and Satan as desperate entities. They don’t quit until you’ve passed the gate. The Gatekeeper in this episode is obviously a desperate man. I wonder if he fears punishment if he doesn’t bring in Hyder Simpson. Notice that the Gatekeeper doesn’t force Hyder to enter. It’s all manipulation and lies.
It’s also interesting that the Gatekeeper insists that his domain is Heaven. But it’s a white-washed Heaven. No ‘coon hunting, no dogs. None of life’s pleasures are allowed beyond the gate. Also, why does Heaven need a gate? Everyone should be welcome. Why is there so much border control to this “Heaven”? This seems like a legalist’s version of Heaven. Can’t do this, can’t do that. The legalist’s, or religious, person’s language is always NO. Their language is always control.
Hyder, of course, doesn’t fall for any of this. Rip doesn’t seem fond of the place either. He insists on walking Eternity Road for all of time rather than spend that time without Rip. A little while later, he comes across a young man who just happens to be looking for him. He introduces himself as an angel. He tells Hyder that the Gatekeeper had lied to him, that the Gatekeeper’s domain is actually Hell. He invites Hyder into Heaven where there is square-dancing and coon hunting and that Rip can come along too.
As much as it gets right about Hell, it gets right about Heaven as well. Heaven is all about relationship. The reason Hyder didn’t walk straight into Hell is that he wouldn’t be separated from his dog, Rip, because the dog saved his life once. In a sense, Rip was archetypal of Jesus Christ. It was Hyder’s relationship with Rip that saved him from the Gatekeeper. It was also the value that Hyder placed on that relationship. Rip wasn’t just a dog but a loyal friend.
Here’s the problem with modern, mainstream Christianity. We sell Heaven as a place where all our dreams come true. We sell Christianity as a ticket to Heaven, a “Get out of Hell free.” card. Now I’m not saying that Heaven isn’t a wonderful place but let’s put things in perspective. The Bible says in John 17:3, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Heaven is a continuously evolving relationship with the one who saved us from Death. If we’re simply looking for all our dreams to come true or to just not end up in Hell, we may be deceived when our time comes.
Will we be able to discern Jesus’ voice from all the other voices calling for us on that day? The Bible says in I John 4:1 to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God”. How can we test them if we have no relationship with God’s true spirit? The real question is not of discernment between other voices but are we looking, listening, for His voice?
We sell out God to get Heaven. This was the basis of Satan’s temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4 and Luke 4. Satan was offering Heaven devoid of any relationship with God. Jesus never denied that he could turn stones into bread or survive falling from the height of the temple. But what was his reason for denying Satan? “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Jesus later said, “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” His source of life and direction was the Father. As ours should be. That’s where Heaven comes from. But we have made Heaven simply a place where fun things happen. Jesus could have had Heaven on Earth by turning stones into bread, commanding angels to save Him from every disaster. But He knew this would be an empty experience apart from the Father.
In short, Hyder and Rip represent our relationship to Christ. The Gatekeeper is Satan, offering “Heaven” devoid of relationship. It’s his oldest trick. Adam and Eve fell for it. They were offered a chance to be like God but without the relationship. They soon realized how empty they were and how powerless they were without Him. It is only when we trust in Jesus that we can discern between opposing forces that would lead us astray, just like Hyder listened to Rip in the story. Rip was having none of that place. True Heaven is a continuous relationship with the one who saved our life. Will wondrous, miraculous, supernatural things happen? The answer is a resounding YES. But do they happen for their own sake? No. They will come from, and point to, an understanding of our relationship in Him and our identity in Him.