9/27/16 Joe about 65
An older, well dressed and very dignified-looking gentleman was sitting and working at a table at Starbucks. I walked over and told him how I have been talking with random people about the question “What do you think happens after we die?” Would he be willing to talk about that question? He said he had some time to talk before his next business meeting, and as I sat down he put away his laptop and leather portfolio he had been writing in. He – Joe - told me about his status as a prominent member of his Presbyterian Church and that yes, he did believe in an afterlife in heaven and that his faith in Christ was very important to him. However, he did not believe in the idea of hell or any kind of punishment. “Then, do you believe all people go to heaven?” I asked, “Yes, but I think there are different levels of heaven” he said.
So what happens when people like Joe believe in Jesus but don’t believe in hell? I can’t think of any scripture that says the belief in hell is a prerequisite for salvation, but certainly some sort of acknowledgment of the punishment we deserve for our sin is implied. Romans 10 says “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” I asked Joe, “If there is no hell or punishment for sin, what do you think it is that we are saved from? I’m thinking that being “saved” means quite a bit more than just an improvement into the next level of heaven.” Joe hadn’t really thought about this, and suddenly it seemed to him that his next business appointment was coming earlier than he thought, and our conversation had to be cut short.
It’s hard to be dignified when we realize our need to be saved. When we are, in truth, desperate. Joe and I didn’t get much further in the conversation, but I hope it helped him realize just how desperately he needs Jesus.