“You’re Going To Hell!”
I was passing bullhorn guy on the way to a Sounders game the other night. He was yelling at people and his sign read, “You’re going to hell!” I have to admit as much as I loathe this guy’s method, I was at least impressed with his certainty. He was so convinced of his message, he was willing to face embarrassment, rejection, and probably even the police. (1) This got me wondering how often Jesus told people where they were going when they die. Surely, the incarnate God would let people know if they were in or out? Heaven and hell seem like a long time and God would want people to know which place they end up, right?
As I’ve searched the scriptures I’ve only found two places where Jesus specifically promises someone heaven or hell. Ironically, One of them is a conversation Jesus had as he himself was dying:
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” -Luke 23:42,43
It seems Jesus rarely promises heaven or hell to people and when he did it was to the least likely candidate. If Jesus places such little emphasis on eternal certainty, why do so many evangelistic Christians?
Closing The Deal
My wife’s family is a beautiful diverse group with various religious beliefs, sexual orientations, and cultures. We spent a week on the beach together last summer. Spiritual conversations would come up from time to time but we mostly just laughed a lot together and told stories. When I got back, I shared about my vacation to our church staff and their reaction was surprising. After I finished, they all looked at me expecting more. I even uttered under my breath, “That’s it.” They looked disappointed like watching a show that ends with “to be continued.” Unfortunately, I knew what they wanted. They wanted me to talk about heaven and hell. They wanted the four spiritual laws. They wanted one of my relatives to get saved. They wanted me to close the deal. And I didn’t. And it left me feeling like my whole vacation didn’t matter anymore.
I’ve officiated over 40 weddings and I can tell you from experience that special day brings out the best and worst in people. However, it’s the bride or groom that put too much emphasis on the day that makes me nervous about their future marriage. A recent study has found couples that spend over $20,000 on their wedding are 3.5 times more likely to divorce compared to those who spend $5,000-$10,000. A couple that obsesses over every detail of the wedding while giving no thought to their future together have made an awful exchange of a lifetime for a day. The evangelical church’s obsession on conversion reminds me of this kind of bridezilla. Don’t get me wrong, the wedding day is really important and from time to time I’ll still look at pictures from our day eleven years ago. Likewise, I could tell you the story when I first put my faith in Jesus, but that’s not exactly the best part. I’d like to think the best is yet to come.
To Hell With It!
Now, it’s not as if Jesus didn’t talk about heaven and hell. He actually did a lot and the majority of the time he used stories to explain how it all works. What’s interesting about these stories though is most of them include surprise endings. The employee that works just one hour gets paid the same as the one who worked hard all day. The business woman who just bought a burger for a homeless guy was actually feeding Jesus. People who expected to be in are actually out and the ones who thought they were out are actually in. You get the picture. (2) I don’t think Jesus is some cruel ruler trying to keep us guessing so I’m forced to think of another reason. I think the point is that God knows where we’re going but we don’t. He’s inviting us to stop guessing who’s in or out while ranking sin and justifying our own actions. I think Jesus is gently requesting we lay down our bullhorns and signs and humbly walk together.
Trust Me, I Know Where I’m Going
When I let those stories sink in, I’m humbled. They have a way of leveling the playing field of faith. The family vacation starts to matter again. Trust is not microwavable and the lifetime is better than the wedding day. This Jesus thing is more about a direction we’re headed than a destination we think we’ve arrived at. After all, Jesus didn’t request for us to meet him somewhere, he invites us to follow him.
So, do I know where I’m going when I die? Honestly, I don’t yet. I heard even Mother Teresa wrote of tremendous doubt before she died so I guess I’m in good company. I do know that I trust Jesus more this year than I did the last. I do know when I gave him my addiction he slowly replaced it with freedom. I know when our church closed, I was really mad at him and he didn’t leave. I know I look at the homeless single mom hurrying her kids on the bus much differently now and I’m grateful. I know he hasn’t lied to me yet and he seems to act far more good and faithful toward me than anyone else I’ve encountered. I’ve remembering that faith is nothing more than trusting someone will do what they say they will do.
See, I think faith may just be these slow, small steps of trust as we journey together with Jesus. I think after being with him, learning from him, and falling in love with him for some time, leaps of faith become easier. Someday, eternity may be just another one of those leaps. After all, take a look at Jesus’ other promise to his friends that walked with him for three years.
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. -John 14:1-3
To me, that sounds like an invitation from a dear friend to trust, and less like the shouts from bullhorn guy.
1. I’ve always wanted to be there with bullhorn guy when one of his coworkers recognizes him. Can you imagine? “Is that you Bob?!” (awkward silence) “Well, umm, see you at the meeting Tuesday I guess?”
2. Matthew 20:1-16, Matthew 25:31-46