Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about faith and doubt. Rather than writing a typical blog, I decided to wrestle with this tension through a short story. I hope you enjoy it.
Jacob could not identify the origin of the wood. As a carpenter’s apprentice, he took pride in distinguishing the differences between pine, alder, oak and birch, but he had never encountered the dense grey timber that formed the exterior of the object.
The company of explorers gathered round the foreign cube-like construct. They silently stared at it as though it would soon shift, speak or do something to reveal its nature, but it sat still—appearing not to have moved from the mountain’s crevice for dozens if not hundreds of years. Jacob ran the palm of his hand along its smooth surface and studied the unfamiliar scriptures carved into its edges. Suddenly, as he reached his hand to feel the top surface of this wooden structure, which was exactly one cubit taller than him, his fingers found a short metal rod protruding from its center. He felt long cylinder clasps beneath it, as though this rod functioned as a lever. Without thinking, he pulled it downward.
The object’s top surface popped upward with a shrill creak. A slender opening had formed, revealing its mysterious interior.
“It’s a box!” one of the other explorers exclaimed.
Although little light passed into the mountain crevice at this early hour, Jacob could not restrain his curiosity to look inside. He hoisted himself upward and lifted the object’s top surface, peering inside. All was black at first, but as he began to focus, his eyes caught glimpse of something.
“What do you see?” shouted Thom, his first cousin.
Mid-sentence, Jacob felt his foot slip. He collapsed hard, smashing his head against the stone floor of the mountain’s crevice. Consciousness faded.
Jacob’s eyes opened. He peered upward and knew he was not in his own bed. Shelves of metallic tools and vials of ointments surrounded him. He had been here before. This was the doctor’s quarters of his village. He sat upward and cringed from the shrill pain that shot through his forehead. He looked outside and noticed the glow of the setting sun reflecting off the shutters of a neighboring cabin— it was now late in the day. How much time had passed? What happened during the morning’s exploration?
The sound of shouting voices in the distance disrupted his train of thought. Jacob grabbed his coat and walked outside toward the center of the colony following the sound of an argument. He approached the meeting hall.
“This box has provided the prophecy we have been waiting for,” he could hear Mrs. Crawford say.
“Just because a few of our members hallucinate when looking inside the object does not mean some divine revelation has occurred,” Thom retorted.
“The object must have been delivered to Norwood for this purpose. We have been chosen to receive a message,” one of the explorers said.
The colonists had divided themselves into two groups in the meeting hall. On one side, a few dozen villagers described ornate visions of heavenly realms, fantastical creatures and apocalyptic symbols they had witnessed when peering inside of the box. One woman even fainted as she tried to recall the vast array of ineffable splendor she had seen.
“Glory! It was all glory!” she said, just before passing out.
On the other side of the hall, a number of colonists jeered these visions as ignorant foolery—a mere result of the colony’s desperation for meaning and direction in a time of need. Given the drought and the lack of shipment, they explained, some of the colonists had subconsciously projected these visions inside of the box to satisfy their desires for hope and purpose.
“Can we even trust our senses? We’ve been malnourished for months. All of this talk is mere fantasy,” one of the Ferrier brothers explained.
“Jacob, you were the first to look inside. What did you see?” a colonist asked when she saw him standing in the rear entrance of the hall.
Jacob stood speechless as he tried to recall that morning. He remembered waking up before sunrise for the day’s exploration. He also remembered descending into the mountain’s crevice and following what seemed to be a pathway for a few dozens steps until he spotted the foreign object, but beyond rubbing his hands over its surface, his memory was blank.
“I cannot recall,” Jacob confessed.
“Then you haven’t been brainwashed by the excitement of this object? Thom asked. “You must agree that this talk of prophecy is foolishness.”
“Oh, come now,” interjected Mrs. Crawford. “We have received an incomprehensible gift. This box could reveal all that we have ever desired to know. Why must you be so incredulous?”
“I have no qualms against studying this object, but these superstitions are ungrounded. I waited for the box to prove its power, but after five minutes of staring, I saw nothing.” Thom said.
“You mean you don’t know the order of things?” Mrs. Crawford asked.
“Belief has always come before perception. Not after,” she said.
“This is absurdity. I will end this madness before dark.” Thom said. “Jacob, you are the only one here without a bias. You must look into box again and tell us what you see.”
Understanding that this controversy could create enough conflict to divide the colony, Jacob agreed. He grabbed a staff and began marching toward the mountain path with a number of the colonists following behind him. Only an hour of sunlight remained in the day.
Jacob returned to the mountain’s crevice and hiked down the narrow path. He could see the box from more than one hundred cubits away. He slowly walked toward the boulders it rested upon as though he were approaching a primitive alter. Just as he had earlier that day, he pulled the metal rod protruding from the box’s center. The top popped open with a familiar creak. Jacob looked inside. He widened his eyes with anticipation, but he saw no fanciful vision or luminous glow, nor did he hear whispers of truth or revelations of divinity. He simply saw an indecipherable scribble etched into the bottom of the box. As he peered closer, he could make out one short sentence.
He who has eyes to see, let him see.