3/14/12 Tom, about 30
I usually end my weekly Bible study/discipleship meeting with Tian, a new believer, by having him join me in a witnessing conversation with a passerby. This sets an example of practicing what we preach, and usually helps him hear the answers to questions that non-believers often have. Yesterday, he observed as I asked a man heading into a store named Tom if he had time to answer an interesting question. "Are you going to ask me for money?" he said. "No, I just have a crazy question - do you think there is any kind of existence for us after this life?" "Well I'm Catholic, but I'm no theologian so I don't think I can answer that question." While saying this, Tom had reached to pull out a cross pendant that was around his neck, I guess to prove his religious credentials. He believes in God and understands his accountability to Him, but thinks that since we can't know our fate we should just try to be good people and hope for the best on judgment day. Tom correctly understands that good deeds should be done simply because they are the right thing to do, not as some sort of heavenly bargaining chip to be used to outweigh our sins. He believes that good deeds done for the wrong reasons - to "earn" heaven - turns them into selfish deeds, so one shouldn't talk about them in this way. For this reason, any talk about our eternal fate can also be seen as self-defeating, causing relatively decent people to avoid the subject completely. But is it wrong or selfish to want to go to heaven? In the context of eternity, shouldn't that be our top priority? And if heaven is understood as being the joy of being in a right relation with God and in His presence, how is that selfish? I went on to affirm that since God gives us our health, time, energy, money, etc., He has every right to expect us to do good things, and that we can't use the good we ought to do to pay for the bad that we ought not to have done. Tom realized that, bottom line, he really has been making the mistake of depending on his own goodness for salvation, and this led naturally to an explanation of the true path to heaven: faith in Jesus.