Dearest Rachel –
One of the reasons you were so concerned about your folks as they gradually moved into their twilight years was that – as far as you could see – their lives gave no indication of the salvation they supposedly had. Sure, they were in church every Sunday, and put their few bucks in the plate. But they never talk to you about spiritual matters, and it seemed to you that, if it was as important to them as it should’ve been, they would be more willing to do so than they were. Long story short, you feared for their souls.
All of which, you would think, would be odd, because it was their persistent attendance in church that brought you to Christ. But as far as you could see, He didn’t seem to have any impact on their lives. And it worried you.
After their passing, you may have stopped worrying – since there was nothing more you could do – but I don’t think the concern ever left you. Would you see them when you got there?
Have you seen them there?
And if not, do you even remember them?
We’re told that there will be no sorrow in heaven, and that God will wipe every tear from our eyes. Which sounds about right; why would there be sadness in a place that is by definition perfect for anyone allowed into it?
And yet… what of those who don’t pass through its gates? Nearly every one of us who walks the earth knows someone – and more than likely, knows them well – who will not find their name in the guest Book for the wedding supper of the Lamb (and indeed, if any of us doesn’t know anyone like that, they have, in effect, failed to hold up their end of the Great Commission). Not that they weren’t invited, mind you, but that they refused – or at best, ignored – the invitation.
Which begs the question: do you notice that those people aren’t there?
And doesn’t that bother you?
You mentioned, after one visit to see your folks, that you determined part of their antipathy toward discussing spiritual matters hinged on this very line of questioning. There’s a part of me that hesitates to tell the story, as it doesn’t seem like mine to tell (and since I’d gotten it secondhand, I may be getting some of the details wrong), but if I don’t record it, no one involved will, since they are all gone by now. As it was their circle of friends and acquaintances mostly revolved around the university, after all, and the art department in particular. With that in mind, they thought of their friends as ‘nice’ people – logical, or else why would they be friends with each other? – but recognized that they had no spiritual connections. As I understood from you, they had issues with a God that would reject these ‘nice’ people simply because of their lifestyle.
Of course, we both know full well – as Little Red Riding Hood put it – “nice is different than good.” Indeed, the word has passed through so many meanings throughout its history, that sometimes it’s hard to tell what it means. Jane Austen uses it in Northanger Abbey (1817) in a tone that seems to be mocking the use of the term, finishing off with “Oh, it is a very nice word, indeed! — it does for everything.” And to paraphrase the villainous Syndrome, once ‘nice’ applies to everything, it applies to nothing.
Of course, then there’s the question of being ‘good,’ too. Nobody gets away with calling themselves that — and while some may be considered experts at discerning what and who is or is not, they’re all just as human (and therefore fallible) as the rest of us. Not to mention, how good is good, anyway? Can we ever be ‘good’ enough?
That was a rhetorical question, by the way.
Jesus answered, “Why do you ask me about what is good? Only ·God [L one] is good.Matthew 19:17a, Expanded Bible
All of us ·are dirty with sin [became like an unclean/defiled thing].Isaiah 64:6a, Expanded Bible
All ·the right things we have done [our righteous deeds] are like ·filthy pieces of cloth [filthy garments/rags; or a menstrual cloth]
Yup. Isaiah does not mince words. We’ve actually toned it down in most translations, but in the original Hebrew, even the best things we do are no better in God’s sight – in terms of determining ourselves worthy of heaven – than a handful of used Tampax. You’re not gonna be able to get into Disney World with them, what makes you think they’ll be your ticket into heaven?
So a ‘good’ person isn’t getting in, let alone a ‘nice’ person. We all know the rules.
Jesus answered, “I am ·the way, and the truth, and the life [or the one true way to have life]. ·The only way to the Father is through me [L No one comes to the Father except through me].John 14:6, Expanded Bible (emphasis added)
It’s actually pretty simple, really… except we all know a lot of ‘no ones.’ Some of them are very close, indeed. And it pains us to think we won’t see them there.
I’m not going to name names, for once, but I dare say it will be obvious. She’s ‘nice.’ In fact, from most of our dealings with her, you could call her ‘good’ – even ‘better’ than we are, on far too many occasions. Only, she’s made it clear, even as she and Daniel verbally spar – quite civilly, I should point out – on the subject (and I’ve pointed out to her that “he just wants to see you there, you understand”), that “it’s not gonna happen.”
You and I tried, back in the day, to persuade her, and if we made any progress in convincing her, we also upset her as we did. Eventually, you instructed me to back off with the debating, and let you handle matters with her, as you knew how to be a friend, and believed that to be a more effective way to reach her – or at least, to avoid pushing her away. I won’t deny the latter argument, but on the former… I don’t think any progress has been made, and I don’t see it being made in the future, the way things are going. I know that miracles can happen, and to say otherwise is to put God in a box that He doesn’t belong in, but all I have to gauge future performance is past performance, and past performance doesn’t bode well.
So what happens at the end, when we get there and she’s not there with us? Do we notice? We can’t be sad about it, can we? Does the Lethe flow into the Jordan as we cross it, such that we no longer remember those who aren’t there, let we be filled with sorrow that doesn’t belong?
So many questions for you, honey, and no way for you to let me know the answers.
You know who I’m talking about, too. Keep an eye out for her, will you? For all the times I ask for you to wish me luck, I think she needs so much more.