Goodness, me? Not really...
After the last blog, I was asked why I would write something that was so far off from the real way people get into heaven. It was a funny story, meant only to be funny, but it implied people got to heaven based on how good or bad they were. Yes, the joke was a little mean, yes it was a total fabrication and yes it probably doesn’t at all fit how it really will be. It implies a sort of purgatory and I agree there are no Biblical references to any concept of a place of punishment or atonement in the afterlife except hell – from which there is no escape and even less chance of humor.
But that brings us to the point – if there is no purgatory – how do we become righteous enough to enter heaven? Is it really how good we are in this life? Is it how many acts of charity that we’ve done? Is it how we treat our family, or friends, our loved ones… our enemies? Is it our motivations? Our desires – or the desire to be without desire as some religious groups would say. Is it in how we worship? Is it that we have the right rituals?
The second hard question I was asked recently was a real zinger. In a discussion about charitable relief such as that done by Bono of the rock group U2, it also came up that there was a similarity to Mother Teresa in their desire to help the suffering. Surely it was said, that these types of efforts made evident the “fact” that they are worthy to go to heaven followed by the questions “don’t you think Mother Teresa was a Christian?” And “Don’t you think she is in heaven?”
WOW – what a stretch! From Bono, the self aggrandizing, egotistical, foul mouthed, self proclaimed “christian” new age rock and roller to Mother Teresa in the same breath. I have a problem with the comparison – but I could lose the topic by getting into a discussion on their differences – so instead, let me tackle the real question behind these assertions.
I can honestly - and properly ¬– say I don’t know! I don’t know if Bono is a real Christian. I don’t know if Mother Teresa was a real Christian. Thankfully that call isn’t mine to make. That call has to be made by the One who knows their hearts. I cannot do that. You cannot do that either. None of us can look at a person’s works and determine what was in their mind when they did it. It is wrong to assume you know based on their “fruit” – though their fruit is a good indicator of who they really are. But even then, as mere mortals, we cannot know for certain whether or not these two people or any person is or isn’t a “Christian”.
There is a huge misnomer in our culture today that basically says that if you are a “good christian” you will go to heaven. Or that Christians are “good” people – or that they must be good in order to be a “Christian”. Hence whenever you see one not being so good, they are often ridiculed as being phony or not worthy of even the slightest regard for their “Christian” faith. By what standard is “good” defined? Yours? mine? our culture? any other culture?
Let me suggest good – is perfection – in every possible way.
The shocking truth is this – no one, not even Christians – can be good! There is nothing in any of us that meets the standard of goodness. Jesus said, “Only God is good." That leaves us out of the equation. The prophet Isaiah said “All our goodness is as filthy rags”. I suppose he foresaw all the “good works” of Mother Teresa in that claim as well. Isaiah knew there are often ulterior motives associated to all of our acts of goodness.
This isn’t to say, we can’t try to be good or that goodness can’t be done at all. It’s just that we are incapable of actually being good.
And that is where the rub comes. If we cannot actually be good, we cannot be good enough to come before the God of all that is, with anything but need. Need mostly for mercy, need for forgiveness, need for love and yes – need for justice. If all our righteousness – or goodness – is as filthy rags in comparison to God’s goodness, where do we then stand?
Each person has to answer this – not to just themselves – but also to God. God has said we have all missed the mark or standard of goodness that would allow us entrance into His kingdom. Even more than that, God has said that for all our acts we deserve punishment. That our goodness is hardly a blip compared to our personal acts of badness. Even Mother Teresa – even Bono – even me. If we got what we deserved, well – let’s just say… it isn’t a pretty picture.
So how do God’s mercy, love and goodness coexist with His justice? He must be consistent. He cannot be inconsistent and still be God. Our missing the mark – or sin – requires justice. Yet He chooses to be merciful. The equation must be satisfied.
You see, we have fallen short of the standard or mark – we have sinned against an infinite God. We are temporal at least in our human life on earth and eternal at best in our spiritual life. We are not infinite. When we act in opposition to God, we are committing a sin against an infinite – or in other words – committing a sin of infinite proportions. Being temporal in this life, we simply just don’t have time enough to make up for even one act of sin against God – much less all of the sins we commit every day. Taking this equation to the next level – the afterlife, as some would do – doesn’t help the situation either. Since we have a beginning and then an eternity – we still are not infinite. If there were time in eternity, there still would not be enough of it to work off our sin debt. God being infinite was offended by our sin past, present and future. We could only possibly begin to work in the present and maybe – if so motivated – continue to work into the future. This leaves a balance – a debt that cannot be paid by our good works or efforts or purgatory or any other form of payment. If it were up to us – there would be no hope at all.
Thankfully, infinite God has made provision for our sin debt. He became a man, Jesus, who lived a perfect life in our place, and died a painful death in our place to pay the debt for us. Just be fore He died; He said “it is finished” or in other words “the debt has been paid in full”. How could He do that? How could He pay the debt in full?
Remember, He is God. God is infinite. Only God can pay an infinite debt! The required payment for sin has been met. God said that the wages of sin are death. Jesus took our sin upon Himself and died to pay the debt we owe. He stepped in and paid off our balance.
The really good news is this – He offers you the opportunity to accept His payment for your balance. All you need do is accept Him for who He said He was – the God who is there for you and loves you enough He would rather die than be without you.
There are certainly a few skeptics thinking “this is too easy”. Frankly there was nothing easy about Christ’s death on the cross. There was nothing easy about living among men and not sinning. There was nothing easy about it. There was nothing easy about proving He was indeed capable of standing in your place. His proof was His resurrection from the dead. Only God can give life. Only God has the power over life and death. Only God can make provision for your sin debt, satisfy His justice, show His mercy and offer His love.
So – is Mother Teresa in heaven? Was she a Christian? What about Bono? What about me? What about you? That depends entirely on if it is Christ’s finished work on the cross that is being relied upon – or if their works of goodness is all they have to go on. That’s between them and God. It is not for me to answer.