Why are we surprised when armchair theology leads us to believe that all decent people somehow wind up in a good place when they die? We’ve raised several generations now of children who have been taught that to participate, even if that participation means wearing the jersey and watching the birds fly overhead in the outfield all season, means being awarded. In an effort to make all children feel good about themselves, we’ve managed to decimate all standards, leaving open to a loosey-goosey interpretation the ideal of perfection.
When did it become wrong to declare that something is slipshod, especially when it comes to human behavior? Do we really think that God would suddenly change His mind about thousands of years of teaching on morality and virtue, He who valued His standards of virtue so much that He was willing to die on a cross, laid bare and humiliated, in order to provide a means for imperfect humans to be in relationship with perfection?
Getting trophies all the time just because you breathe air must make it difficult to realize there are places and times when you actually have to work on being your best self in order to thrive. When the authority figures in your life have always lauded you, no matter how little effort you put into something, it must be even more difficult to visualize a Creator God who might actually see boundaries and strict guidelines as for your greater good, rather than just being angry and mean.
In a world that is grossly unfair, how hard it must be to enter adult life after being buffered against the pitfalls of reality with false accolades to realize that you actually don’t always get what you want, to learn the hard lessons of knowing the difference between needing and wanting. Because you have rarely been called to account for your actions, or lack thereof, you most likely fail to see that the problem resides in your own attitudes. You either turn from God because He seems like a cruel taskmaster that doesn’t line up with your reality of authority figures who are always willing to say good job even when you know something was not your best effort, or you re-create God into an image of yourself, a guy who, if he does exist, surely understands your struggles and cuts you the slack you crave.
But, because God is very real and so very much more than any of us can imagine, we are wise to heed His definitions of what is right and good, to follow His road map to an afterlife spent in His presence instead of wallowing in the misery of hell. In Luke 16, Christ tells the story of a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus which illustrates the importance of heeding God’s Word rather than making up your own, feel-good theology.
The poor man, Lazarus, hovels just outside the gate of the rich man, living a life of half-starved misery, so miserable, in fact, that his only medical attention comes from the dogs who lick at his oozing sores. The rich man, enjoying his great wealth, his friends, his lavish lifestyle, does nothing to comfort the poor man just outside his gates. When they die, Lazarus is brought into the bosom of his ancestor Abraham to enjoy all the peace and luxury he was denied during his earthly life. The rich man, on the other hand, wallows in misery in hell, looking up to heaven to see Lazarus, whom he recognizes, living the life the rich man now longs for.
When the rich man complains, he’s reminded of the luxuries he experienced in his earthly life, but more importantly, he is reminded of the words of Moses and the prophets that the rich man never heeded. When the rich man begs to have a ghost return to the living to warn his brothers against their fate if they do not change their ways, God assures the rich man that the words of Moses and the prophets should be enough for his brothers, just as it should have sufficed for the rich man.
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them,” Jesus tells us, “and I will raise them up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me” (John 6:44-45). God speaks to us through His Word, which, contrary to popular belief, does not teach that all good people go to heaven. “Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you,” James admonishes (1:21). That Word teaches that we all sin and fall short of God’s glory, but that the blood of Christ can redeem us.
Christianity is not a license to do bad things. It is the freedom to know that when we stumble, God is ready, willing and able to forgive us instead of condemning us. But Christian freedom does not include living as if sin doesn’t matter. Get rid of moral filth and evil, the Word says. Be humble.
These lessons are so in contrast to our trophy-loving world. I pray that Christians young and old embrace the Word of God, applying its lessons of love and peace, fellowship and humility, so that none of us, like the rich man, enjoy the pleasures of this life without looking toward the treasures we should be storing in the heavens.
God is good, and in His goodness and greatness He alone understands why we must have boundaries to our behaviors, why being a pretty decent fellow isn’t enough to escape the eternal damnation of a non-existent relationship with our loving Creator. Only by accepting Christ as your Savior, by taking on His much lighter yoke of a life lived no longer as a slave to the sinful nature, will any of us hope to see Abraham on the other side of those pearly gates.
I want to be Lazarus, even if it means great suffering in this life. I want to know that when I finally face God, I have the hope of hearing those words which are the greatest trophy of all, WELL DONE.