1/5/13 Joseph about 25
A young man sat working on his computer at Starbucks, noise reduction headphones on. I got his attention and asked for permission to ask a random question – “What do you think happens to people after this life?” “People end up in heaven or hell” he said confidently. Joseph is a doctoral student from Nigeria, and grew up attending his family’s Pentecostal church, so we talked a while about his church experiences. He sounded every part the Christian, but I have learned that those who “talk the talk” of church culture, especially when they say they “grew up Christian”, often have misplaced their faith in churchianity rather than in Jesus. “What would make you different from people who end up in hell?” “People who go to hell are sinners, and the righteous will go to heaven” he said. “So what does it mean to be righteous?” “Those who obey God are the ones who are righteous” “But you must know that you haven’t followed God perfectly” “Of course, no one has. But I’m not a sinner like that guy who shot all the children” “So how good do you think you must be?” Joseph put it in terms of a grade-point average – “At least 95% good” I reminded him of the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, how the Pharisee thanked God that he wasn’t like that sinful tax collector, but how the tax collector pleaded for mercy saying ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ and he was the one who went home justified. (Luke 18:3) Joseph had been trusting in his connection to God as a church kid and in his ability to play the part. “Did Jesus die for good people, or for sinners?” I asked. He had to think about it for a while. How about you?