9/20/13 Joel about 35
Can we be simply “loved” into the Kingdom of Heaven? The Bible makes it clear that in our natural state we are all condemned as rebels against God’s authority over our lives, (for example, “all have turned away” – Romans 3:12) but is it possible that some people simply surrender to God’s love without thought or reference to any reason to fear Him, while others will only surrender with “a sword hanging over their heads”? As part of my “Parable Project” (getting “man on the street” reactions to particular parables of Jesus, and as a great way to start Gospel conversations) I met a businessman at a restaurant named Joel who believed that while some people can only be moved into faith by the fear of God, he on the other hand simply responded to the wonderful people in his life growing up who loved him into a relationship with God. I believed the same thing for many years but I now realize that the implication of this belief is that I am somehow “above” the need for the fear of God. In short, I thought I was somehow a better person than those who needed fear as a motivation. Was this true? Can some people bypass a fear of God and just naturally fall into a loving relationship with Him? Or maybe my “relationship” with God wasn’t what I thought it was. Maybe it was a relationship on my own terms rather than God’s. Joel’s interpretation of the parable of the wheat and the weeds, in which Jesus clearly delineates different paths for the sinners and the righteous – heaven and hell – was that the gardener’s reluctance to immediately destroy the weeds shows God’s eternal compassion for all people. Somehow Joel ignored or overlooked the part where the weeds end up being thrown into the fire. Joel had doubts about the concept of hell, and definitely believed he will end up in heaven even if there is one. I asked how he was different from someone who might end up in hell: “I had 172 birthday greetings on Facebook. I’m surrounded by people who love me. Many of my family members are churchgoers. With all this loving support, how could I doubt I am going to heaven?” Joel doesn’t attend church much himself, and reads the Bible even less. Interestingly, though, he told me he had come to the restaurant for some alone time with God before making an important business decision. Because he believes his future position with God in heaven is secured, his faith focuses on how God might help him in the here and now – and, I believe, a relationship on his own terms rather than God’s. In my life, loving relationships led me to church involvement and an exposure to biblical truth and the realities of God’s justice and wrath as well as His love, and after our long conversation in which I explained about both God’s love and His justice, Joel expressed much more interest in studying the Bible, so I pray he is on the same path. But I have to wonder, couldn’t one of those “172 friends” who surround him have been loving enough to tell the hard truths of the Bible to Joel in the first place?