Death is now the servant of Christ, bringing me to my own death only to find the bars of Hell broken and the gates crushed and every place therein filled with Christ’s glorious light. Even there his hands lead me and his right hand holds me. He led all the captives which came before me up to Heaven’s height. Shall he do the same for me? Every lightened place and every broken bar is a promise that he will not leave me. Be not afraid, my soul, and neither be in despair, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. When I am ready to enter into God’s fiery presence, and walk before him in purity; when my own sepulchers are emptied, when His light blazes through my own murky depths; when I am stripped naked: then am I clothed in royal linen. And then is the ring put on my finger. And what shall I desire of God after all of this except what he planned to give me from the beginning, when he saw me yet being unperfect — a new name.
Henry: Good morning.
Charity: Morning, Henry. How have you been?
Henry: I’ve been fine. Do you want some coffee?
Charity: Sure. That’s enough.
Henry: Hmmm… the first sip of coffee is always the best.
Charity: Ya, it sort of gets you in the mood for the day.
Henry: I haven’t seen you in a while. Have you been visiting family?
Charity: Ya, just for a few days.
Henry: Well, I’ve given your questions a lot of thought. The only thing is, I’m not sure I’m any closer to answering them.
Charity: I do appreciate you listening, though. Some people won’t even allow questions. They would rather have faith, and not put any work toward understanding their own faith.
George: Good morning, everyone.
Henry, Charity: Morning, George.
Henry: There’s coffee left in the pot.
George: Good. That’s the most useful thing they put in this break room.
Charity: Ya, I don’t think anyone uses the stove.
George: Would you mind if I sit down and join you two for a minute?
George: You may not know this, but I’ve been listening to you two off and on for a while.
Henry: Oh, really?
George: Yes. And I can see why you went up to this young lady in the first place. She is very beautiful.
George: You don’t have to say anything. I’m an old man and I have the luxury of speaking my mind every now and then. I don’t mean to embarrass you. I was just wondering if you might let me add something to your conversation.
Charity: Of course, we welcome anything you have to say. You’re one of the nicer employees around here.
George: Thank you. …I notice that both of you have knowledge of the scriptures and can recall specific verses at a moment’s notice. That’s commendable in itself. Some people would be envious of such a skill. But, I wonder if I might pick just one verse, Revelation 2:17, keeping the context in mind of course, and dig a little deeper than normal. I think it will add significantly to your conversation.
Henry: What does the verse say?
George: “To him that overcomes, I will give a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knows except he who receives it.”
Henry: I don’t understand how that fits into a conversation on Heaven and Hell.
Charity: Could you explain what it means?
George: Well, as you know, the Book of Revelation is a book of prophecy about the end of things. In other words, it’s about the whole point of it all, the goal we are all aiming at. And God, in verse 17, is speaking to all the churches. — So, I got to thinking about this white stone with the new name on it and what it’s a symbol of, if anything. The fact that it is a stone and white may strike some as arbitrary and take different meanings to some, but I think the one who wrote it sees in the whiteness purity, and in its substance indestructibility. But, no matter – what I’m interested in is what is meant by the new name. And this brought to my mind the whole notion of names in general. Why do we give each other names and ask what each other’s names are? What is meant by the idea of a name? Is there a perfect notion of a name? Once a man reveals his name, all we possess of him that makes up what we know is a label by which to call him and whatever scrap of external history we are privileged to know: whether he came from upstate New York or whether he started working here a year ago; whether his mother has a three children or whether he hunts on his time off work. Are we any closer, though, to really knowing him? I think not. In fact, we may know more of the man if he has received some other name which he will never hear, but that his co-workers give to him. For instance, they might call him dependable, trustworthy, lazy, or a screw-up. Instantly, we know something of his character and therefore a little bit more about the inner man. – But what does it mean for God himself to give you a name? It must be a communication about what God thinks about the man to the man. It is his soul’s picture in a word. It must be what he had in mind when he first formed him in his mother’s womb. No one else but God sees what the man is or will be and could express it in a name. Of course, while on earth we could never know what we will become. But, when, I ask, is he given the name?
Henry: When he has overcome.
George: Ah, yes. But, why does God wait? He knew his name from the beginning.
Charity: Maybe if the man knew it too soon, he would not understand it.
George: Precisely. Henry, you picked a smart conversation partner. It is only when the man has become the name, when he overcomes, that God gives him the stone with the new name on it. It is the blossom, the perfection, the completion that determines the name which God knew in the beginning. But such a name could not be given until the man is the name. But, let’s look a little deeper at this.
Henry: I thought that was deep. How can we go deeper?
George: Well, if we look deeper we will find every man’s individual and unique relation to God. And this is intensified by the fact that “no man knows the name except the one who receives it.” Every man is not just in a relationship with God, but a particular relation to God. He is to God a peculiar being. And the man can understand and worship God as no man else can worship him.
Charity: It sounds wonderful, but won’t that be a temptation for pride knowing that only you can understand and worship God is this manner?
George: That would be a problem to him who had not overcome. God give me grace that I would humble myself before my brother; that I divide us not with foolish pride, but look up to my brother for what knowledge and worship of God that he and he only can give. Each man stands before God, and lifts up a different humanity to the God who is all in all. And inside every man is an inner chamber that only God can enter, a chamber into which no brother or sister can come.
Henry: That’s quite an insight.
George: And further still, it follows that there is a chamber also, a chamber in God himself, into which no man can enter but the one made for it, made from the beginning. Out of this chamber he must bring knowledge and strength for his brethren. Each can reveal to each the secret things of the Father — Each man discovering the riches of the knowledge of God and of his grace, each teaching his brethren how better to know the one who made them. God has become all in all.
Charity: It’s a beautiful vision of things to come, but how does that pertain to our question of whether all people eventually go to heaven?
George. Well, Charity – you too Henry – Let me ask you this. What would happen if even one man, one individual unique in his relation to God, were somehow lost and separated from God and the rest of humanity forever; or if he was somehow removed from existence so that he would exist no more?
Henry: There would be a serious deficiency in our ability to know and worship God.
George: Yes. For we would be missing what he and he alone would provide for every other man, his own peculiar relation to God and the revelation and strength he would bring from it. Each one of us is precious not just to God but to each other. And this is why Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself, Mathew 22:34-40. For to love God is to love your brother; and to love your brother is to love God. One cannot be done without the other.
Charity: You’ve given us a lot to think about. That’s for sure. I think this is the kind of thing that needs to settle in the brain for a while before one can fully comprehend it.
Henry: Yes. I agree. And as it so happens, our break time is over.
To Be Continued…
Henry: Hi, Charity. I’ve been thinking these last few days about what you said. I haven’t said anything for a while because I wanted something real to say. You ask a lot of hard questions.
Charity: Ya, sorry about that.
Henry: No, don’t be sorry. I enjoy talking with you, even though we seem to disagree on a few things.
Charity: I hoped you weren’t through talking to me.
Henry: It’s just…
Henry: Well, you’ve given yourself a win-win position. Either God is all-good and everyone goes to heaven, or God is not all-good and some people are lost forever. You’ve also been able to ask questions without saying what you really think on the matter.
Charity: That’s because I don’t know what to think on the matter. I’m not actually interested in winning the argument; I just want to know what’s true.
Henry: Let me ask you this then – What happens to justice if all men are eventually restored and spend eternity with God? What happens to the woman who kills and fillets her husband only to serve him for dinner to her children? What happens to the man who cages and tortures his victims for sexual pleasure and then dismembers and eats their bodies? What happens to the tyrant who oppresses and murders his own people, his own family, and dumps thousands of bodies in a killing pit? Or, the one who harms little children for fun, or the serial rapist destroying young girl’s lives? – Where is justice for their victims if, regardless of what we do on earth, we all are made right and have the same destiny? Essentially, all criminals get away with their crimes.
Charity: Hmmm… I see what you mean. I can’t ignore justice or the pain and hurt caused by others. But, can’t we account for this somehow and still restore all men to God?
Henry: It’s nice to think that all men are victims or just making careless, ignorant mistakes. The salvation of all humanity might sit well with me if all men were just misguided angels. But, some men commit horrible, unbearable crimes from which the pain and suffering take lifetimes to recover.
Charity. I agree. I cannot deny the presence of evil in the world, and the need for justice. But, answer me this – are all crimes or mistakes or “little sins” treated the same in hell? It doesn’t seem right that the child who stole a quarter from his mother’s purse and the gas chamber operator in a concentration camp should get the same punishment.
Henry: Yes… I can only say that the punishment justice inflicts will be right and appropriate.
Charity: But, Isn’t hell a place of eternal conscious torment in flames?
Henry: That’s what the Bible says.
Charity: How is that appropriate punishment for the child who doesn’t clean his room when told to? I might approve of a cannibalistic rapist being tortured by fire, but certainly not the child. It’s far more appropriate to teach the child obedience and set him right. Isn’t that what justice is, setting things right?
Henry: I can agree to that.
Charity: It shouldn’t just be about inflicting pain for the joy and satisfaction of the offended party. There must be a “setting right” of things in the punishment itself. Human justice takes different forms; it sometimes reforms criminals, or at least tries to. It sometimes prevents others from acting badly. Sometimes it charges a sufficient payment to the victim. In all cases, it is meant to set right the wrong, not to enact torture for pleasure’s sake. We don’t all sit back with our bowl of popcorn laughing at the derision of the damned do we?
Henry: I don’t think God takes pleasure in the pain of others. But, If you are responsible for a lot of things then more will be required of you, Luke 12:48. The punishment must correspond to the amount of things the person is responsible for.
Charity: What are you saying, hell has less fire in some areas and more fire in others?
Henry: I’m saying there are degrees of punishment in hell.
Charity: Well, that’s kind of ambiguous.
Henry: I guess it’s sort of a blind trust in justice on the basis that God is good, and punishes in so far as it is right.
Charity: Again, you are evading the question. Are you really saying some of us will endure less-hot fire and some of us more-hot fire? And what about the fact that fire burns, as in destroys. It’s painful because it destroys our bodies. Won’t all the inhabitants of hell be burned up at some point?
Henry: No, Hell is always described in the Bible as eternal. It lasts forever.
Charity: If that’s true, then all inhabitants of hell will be punished the same amount. They all have an infinite amount of suffering to endure, whether it’s not-so-hot fire or very-hot fire. That’s not a punishment that corresponds to the crime. It infinitely outweighs the crime. And by the same logic, it infinitely outweighs even the most horrible of crimes. That’s not just.
Henry: But, aren’t you confining God to your own human standard of justice? What makes you think that your understanding of justice and God’s compares in any way? God is not human, Numbers 23:19.
Charity: Didn’t he create my mind, my intellect and understanding?
Charity: Why should God give me an understanding of justice and then require me to reject it? If God made me and he is good, then my understanding of justice must somehow reflect his justice. If I can’t trust my own mind, which God made, how can I trust that I’m rightfully rejecting my mind? I have to use my mind to determine that it is right to reject it. In fact, to my mind, it’s your understanding of hell that doesn’t make sense. It has more in common with mythology than it does reason.
Charity: Yes. It’s more like the myth of Prometheus. As the story goes, he gave mankind the gift of fire, which belonged to the gods. As punishment he was tied to a rock and every morning a vulture would eat out his liver. Then it would magically grow back so the vulture could eat it again the next morning. And this went on for eternity. – Your understanding of hell requires this same sort of “magic” that recreates our bodies only for hell-fire to consume them over and over again for all eternity. Are you telling me the Greeks weren’t wrong about hell, only about the kind of torture involved?
To Be Continued…
Henry: But, God has come after you, through me. He did not leave you in the wilderness. He has sent me to call after you.
Charity: I don’t know if I can answer that call. I have not yet worked out if God is good or not, at least, the God you talk about.
Henry: What do you mean? Of course, he is good.
Charity: He may be good enough to save me, but is he good enough to save my mom? She’s already dead. She died when I was a teenager after months of treatments, enduring the best the doctors could give her. I watched her fade away minute by minute in that hospital bed, and all I had to cling to was God’s love. I believed in him. I trusted that as she faded here, she came alive in God’s good hands. But, Henry, she did not hear this ‘good news’. Is God going to leave her behind? Was my trust in him vain? Is God good enough to save her?
Henry: She may still yet be with God. You don’t know what she came into contact with in her life. She may have heard the gospel.
Charity: Don’t presume to know more about my mom than I do! What sort of arrogance overtakes you that you can pronounce some vague hope on her life using such an uncertain word as ‘may’. Either God is good or he is not. Either my mom is with him, and I was right to trust in his love, or she is lost forever.
Henry: I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you. You’re right, I don’t know your mom like you do. But, God is good. That doesn’t mean however, that everyone is saved. Your mom may yet be with him, but there will be some to whom God will say ‘leave me. I never knew you.’ Not everyone who calls him Lord will enter into his kingdom, Matthew 7:23.
Charity: Except those who do God’s will. I know the verse. I don’t know what that means anymore. It keeps coming back to ‘doing’ something but I don’t know what we’re supposed to be working towards. You say salvation is not work, but we keep bumping into these verses that contradict you.
Henry: It is frustrating. My verses keep backfiring. Hmmm… let’s leave working aside for a minute. It’s my earnest hope that your mom is in heaven. I wish everyone could be there but, it’s just not feasible. Given a world of free creatures, moral agents who make their own decisions without any coercion from God, some of them are going to choose wrong. God gives his highest priority to freedom, because without it, there is no love. You can’t make someone do something freely. God does not want heaven populated with human ‘robots’ who have no choice in their own destination. Those who freely choose to be with God truly love him. Without freedom, there is no love.
Charity: If God’s plan to save everyone is thwarted by human freedom, then God did not make a good world. And, by implication, God is not all good.
Henry: How do you mean?
Charity: I mean, in order for your God’s plan to be carried out, there has to be collateral damage. Some of us have to be damned for the rest of us to be saved. Yes, Jesus procured the means of salvation for all, but from the beginning he knew most of humanity would not choose to love him. But, he made the world anyway knowing they were destined for hell. You’re telling me, God couldn’t have made a better world? If that is true, then there was not enough goodness to create a truly good world, one in which no one was ever lost. – Think of it this way. Let’s say that only one human was sent to hell and the rest of us went to heaven. God could not create a world in which that man was saved. And let’s say he was the most vile of creatures. He killed millions of people, corrupted everything good around him, took his happiness in the torture of the innocent, and fulfilled every perverted desire in his heart. Everywhere he went he stank with the filth of sin. This man could not be saved and went to hell. But, the rest of humanity went to heaven. Given God’s limitations on what he could feasibly create, what else could we regard this perverse individual but as the one who took the fall so that we could be saved. It would be fitting and proper to toast him at every meal who took the wrath of God upon himself so that we might live forever. Someone had to be damned. God could do no better. The problem is billions of times worse when you consider that most of humanity throughout history has died without the accepting Christ into their heart. Poor them, they did not know the required set of beliefs or the proper name of God’s Son. As eternity begins, the ones in heaven should toast and poor libations to the ones who were damned instead of them. Them, who had nothing to do much with their salvation except emerge as the product of chance, a happenstance of geography, the luck of being born with a language that the Bible was translated in, the fortune of running into a person such as yourself, or the happy course of events that led to their birth into a Christian home. God simply could not order things so that all would be saved. Is this your God, only that good and no more?
To Be Continued…
Charity: Henry… listen, do you have a minute to talk?
Henry: Sure. What’s going on?
Charity: I was thinking about what you said and I did some research. You talked about the character of Jesus’ life and death, but I was wondering about the time in between his death and resurrection. I came across an account written by Nicodemus. It’s an old story with old language. — It says that a great light shone down on Hades and lightened up all mankind. And the prophet Isaiah said that it was the same light he spoke of when he had said in his book, the people that dwell in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. And John the Baptist came in among them and they wondered who he was. He said he was the last of the prophets sent to make straight the way of the Lord. He spoke of Jesus to them and advised them that those who believe on him will be saved, but those who don’t will be condemned. Then the first man Adam sent his son Seth in among them to reveal a secret he kept till now, a story of his last dying wish he whispered to his son. Adam had sent Seth to the gates of Eden which the angel was guarding to offer a prayer that he might be allowed to get some oil from the fruit of the tree of life to heal his father. But, the angel said it couldn’t happen at this time. And the angel said the Son of God would come to earth as a man and be anointed with this same oil. This Son of God would rise again and cure Adam and all his descendants of all sickness. But, for now, it cannot happen. Then after the inhabitants of Hades heard the story, they were filled such great joy and hope. Then Satan came and conversed with Hades itself. He said he just had the Jews crucify one of their own race, one calling himself the Son of God. But, now that he is dead we can safely put him in chains down here. For Satan remembered this Jesus said his soul was very sorrowful, even unto death. Satan took that to mean he was afraid to die. This gave him joy not least because this Jesus had worked so many miracles even to the point of raising some from the dead just by so much as a word. But Hades fired back saying that if he was able to do that, why would you bring him here? If he has that kind of power then he must have been mocking you when he said he feared death. Having the power to reverse death by only a word, who here will be able to resist him? There will be no one left here when he is done. And then Hades, Satan, and all inhabitants of hell heard a voice saying, Lift up your gates, o you rulers, and be lifted up, eternal gates, and the King of Glory will come in. And when Hades heard, he told Satan to try and hold him if he could. So Satan went. Then he told all his demons to stand firm and secure his bars and gates. It was then that King David remembered what he wrote in the Psalms and said aloud, I predicted this voice — lift up your gates, o you rulers. I saw all this through the Holy Spirit. He further quoted, the dead will rise and those in the graves will be raised up, and all those in the earth will be glad. Where is thy sting, O Death? Where is thy victory, O Hades? Then the voice came again, lift up your gates. And Hades answered, Who is this King of Glory? Then the angels said, the Lord strong and mighty in battle! And all of a sudden, the brass gates were broken and the iron bars were crushed. And everyone that was imprisoned was freed and began to walk out. The King of Glory entered as a man and all the dark places in Hades were filled with light. And Hades cried out loud, we are conquered! But, WHO are you that has so great power and authority over the dead and the living? And WHAT are you that you come here without sin? And while Hades began to blame Satan for killing him and bringing him here, Jesus took the first man Adam by the hand, and lifted him up. Afterwards he turned to the rest and said, come with me all you who have died through the tree that he touched. Look! I have raised you all up again through the tree of the cross. Then he sent them all out. Adam thanked him and all the saints and prophets gave thanks because he had brought back their lives from destruction.
Henry: I… wha… that was amazing. And you found that in your research?
Henry: I don’t know if it’s true but, if anything happened when Jesus died, that was probably it. – There are a couple things I find real interesting about that account. No one was left in hell, and they all had to walk to get out. John the Baptist said they could choose not to believe, but who in their right mind would want to stay? In the end, no one stayed. I find it interesting also that they had a choice after they had died. Many Christian people have said mankind would be judged right after death, and that there was no opportunity to follow Christ afterwards. They are at least wrong concerning the ones in Hades.
Charity: Something you said there caught my attention. What man in his right mind would stay there? It gets me thinking that if all ignorance of God was taken away and God was seen as he truly is, would anyone in his right mind choose to be without him? God is supposed to be the fulfillment of mankind – man’s highest good, his greatest desire. What man would say no to the greatest goodness and joy he could ever experience?
Henry: We were created to be with God. It is at least part of the nature of humanity to want him. Maybe it’s like bondage and imprisonment to be without him.
Charity: Yes. Maybe all these people who say no to God in this life because of ignorance or misunderstanding, when the light shines in their dark places, they too will praise him for rescuing their lives from destruction. – Hold on, let me go back to something we talked about the other day. I’m connecting some dots here. What if the ‘gift’ of salvation is by faith and works and everyone will gladly put forth the work of walking out of their own prison? What if all mankind will be saved, and the separation of mankind into groups “the saved and the lost” will be wiped away? What if all that remains is the saved?
Henry: Now, hold on. This is all just conjecture. I’ve been avoiding argument with you so far, but that’s not what the Bible says will happen. Your research should include the Bible, not just old books. God is going to tell the wicked to leave his presence and they will burn in everlasting fire, Matthew 25:41. He will separate mankind into two groups. The shepherd will divide his sheep from the goats, so to speak, Matthew 25:32. I would like to join you and say that everybody makes it to heaven, but that’s just not so.
Charity: But, I thought God loves everyone the same. Why would he ever give up on one of his sheep and let them be a goat forever? Does God stop loving them?
Henry: Of course not! He loves even the goats, but he lets them go their own way and will not force them to follow him.
Charity: You agreed that the highest good man could obtain is God.
Charity: Then why would God stop seeking after them knowing that he is the highest and best thing for them? Wouldn’t he still call out to them after the judgment? Wouldn’t he cry out to them in hell and brake the bars of their prison too?
Henry: No. That’s why they call it the judgment. It’s the final state of mankind.
Charity: I don’t get it. Why would God finalize something so awful? Few find the straight and narrow path, Mathew 7:14. The Gospel is supposed to be the good news. How can it be that when ninety percent of mankind will be grouped in with the goats? Only a few sheep will remain and the rest go to the “slaughter house.” That’s bad news, not good news. The God I remember from my youth left the ninety-nine sheep to go seek the one who was lost. He was not willing that one of his sheep should die, Luke 15. We are all that lost sheep. Apparently God came after you. Why would he not come for me? Why would he not come for everybody?
To Be Continued…
Henry: Charity, I discussed our conversation with a few of my friends and family.
Charity: Oh… it was a pretty intense conversation. I thought about it a lot too. What did your friends and family say?
Henry: Well, at first, they didn’t think you were sincere and some thought you were arguing against God. And some thought you just didn’t understand. But, I assured them you were honest with me and knew that God loved you. But, really, they were the ones who didn’t understand. They just didn’t get your concerns.
Charity: Thank you for standing up for me. I appreciate it. Did any of them have anything good to say?
Henry: Yes. Oddly enough, it was my father who said something interesting. He used to run a farm out in North Carolina and most of his advice comes in the way of farming illustrations – so you’ll have to excuse the metaphor. He said, you can be the best pig in the farm but the famer’s still gonna slaughter you in the end. The farmer’s plans don’t change because of the behavior of the pig. In fact, the better the pig, the happier the farmer will be to slaughter it. However, if the farmer plans on bringing the pig into his house for a pet, it matters very much how the pig behaves. A good pig will surely fulfill the farmer’s plans, but a bad pig may end up in the slaughter house.
Charity: Your dad seems to imply that good works do have something to do with it after all. Do you think that’s what he was saying?
Henry: Well, it started me thinking about what God wants, what his plans for us are. God isn’t willing that any should be slaughtered, so to speak, but that all should come to repentance, 2 Peter 3:9.
Charity: I like that, but, again, it sounds like work.
Henry: It does sound like that, but then I get to thinking about the verses I mentioned earlier. They emphatically say, not by works of righteousness, but according to God’s mercy are we saved, Titus 3:5. And salvation is not by works because mankind could brag about the work he had done to earn salvation, Ephesian 2:9. My pastor is always saying you can’t earn salvation. It’s a gift. Yet, I cannot say that belief is effortless or that a faith without works is one that God honors. So, I don’t have any real answers on this. Sorry.
Charity: You know, it’s nice seeing you be real about these things. I feel like I know a little bit more about you. It’s better than being on the receiving end of a proselytizer’s conversional urge. Your dad had said something good, though. If God does really love all of us, it must be more than some desire to have a pet in the house. Love esteems the other as equal or better than itself. But, how can we be more than just a glorified pet to God? Can we God’s equal? The gulf separating the created from the creator is infinite. Can that distance ever be met?
Henry: Hmmm… When I look at the life and death of Christ, I don’t see the desire to have mere heaven-dwellers filling celestial streets. I see a loving desire so strong that it was willing to taste death just to have the one it desired. Yes, we are the created and He the Uncreated, but the love displayed on the cross must be one that lifts us higher, that bridges that distance. You could look at his death for humanity and interpret it as a master loving his pet, but you would have to dismiss his life. He didn’t go around as a kindly master caring for his pets. He loved us as his equals. He washed his disciple’s feet, John 13. He took on the duties of a servant, esteeming us better than himself, Philippians 2:7. If Jesus truly was God, then God truly loves us. And I can only say that we are more than creatures to him.
Charity: I think you got something there. I’ll have to think about it.
Henry: Do you know for sure that you’re going to heaven?
Charity: I don’t think God is ever going to stop loving me, so… yes. I think I’ll be in heaven some day.
Henry: You may ‘think’ you are going to heaven, but I have faith in Jesus, so I have been assured of my salvation. I know I’m going to heaven.
Charity: Isn’t that kind of arrogant? Aren’t you assuming that you have a special place in the eyes of God while the rest of us occupy some less esteemed position? I thought God was not a respecter of persons, Acts: 10:34.
Henry: Yes. But, you should keep the context in mind. Peter goes on to say in the next verse that in every nation he that fears God and works righteousness is accepted by God.
Charity: But, how can God claim not to esteem one person over the other when he clearly makes a distinction between those who fear him and do good works and those who do not. I at least fear God and do good works, so I still don’t perceive a difference between you and me. Still, it seems God respects us but he does not respect others.
Henry: Doing good things will not get you to heaven. As they say, the road to hell is wide but the narrow path leads to heaven. Some will find it, many will not, Matthew 7:13-14. And there is a difference between you and me. Without faith, it is impossible to please God, Hebrews 11:6. And, God esteems all people the same because he loves us all equally. It does not mean, though, that we aren’t divided into groups: the saved and the lost.
Charity: What does the division of humanity ultimately result in?
Henry: The natural result of sin is death, Romans 6: 23. But the gift of God is eternal life. We must receive the gift of life from God if we are to go to heaven and that involves having faith in him.
Charity: I have faith in God. I trust him. He loves me and I think I will be with him because he loves us all equally as you say. If he loves us all equally then we all have received the gift.
Henry: No, no, no. You’re get this all wrong. We are divided into the saved and the lost. Some have received the gift and some have not.
Charity: You mean, God gives the gift to some and not to others?
Henry: Not exactly. It’s given to all, but every person has to decide if they will receive the gift. Those who receive it will be with God. Those who do not receive it will be separated from God.
Charity: But the verse didn’t say we had to receive it. It just said it was a gift.
Henry: But, if I give you a million dollars, you must receive it in order for it to be yours. It is the same with salvation. You must receive the gift of salvation or it is not yours.
Charity: That makes sense, but how do you know if you have received it? Is there some method of confirmation that eternal life is in your possession?
Henry: If you confess Jesus Christ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved, Romans 10. Call on the name of the Lord and you will be saved.
Charity: So, my salvation is all on me? Doesn’t confession and belief fall under the category of good works? I must assent to certain propositions, namely that Jesus existed, that he was the Christ, that Jesus died, that God exists, that he raised Jesus from the grave, that Jesus is alive, and that he offers me eternal life as a gift. Not only that but I must confess all of this verbally or mentally. That’s actually a lot to do, considering that I’m not sure about any of this. You may be convinced all of this is true, but I am not fully convinced. I’m not rejecting this, don’t get me wrong, but I really have to do some historical research on Jesus, and verify this method of salvation. I can’t believe or confess something that I’m not fully convinced of. This ‘gift’ is turning out to be a lot of work.
Henry: But you don’t have to do any research, you just have to believe and confess.
Charity: Well, that would be half-hearted belief. I would hope this was all true, of course. But, do you think God wants people to believe all these things without knowing whether or not they are true?
Henry: You can take my word for it. It is true. Actually, don’t take my word for it. Read the Bible. It will verify all of this.
Charity: You’re adding to this list of works I must do.
Henry: Wait a minute. I didn’t have to do all that historical research. In fact, I didn’t really have to search the Bible. These verses were pointed out to me by my family, my friends, and my pastor. I believed them all and I accepted Christ as my Savior. I showed you the same verses that were shown to me. In hopes that you might be saved as well. Besides, salvation comes not by righteous works by us, but God saves us by his mercy. Salvation is from God, not us. It doesn’t come by works, Ephesians 2:8-9.
Charity: You’re confusing me here. You did tell me I had to assent to a certain number of propositions and at least confess with my mouth a few of those propositions before I can be saved. Those are good works. You can’t tell me to do things and not to do things at the same time. Now that I think about it, I have to believe you too — that you’re not trying to lead me the wrong way. I’m sure you are sincere, but so are so many others who espouse other beliefs. I’m not saying you’re deceiving me, but what if you yourself are deceived? How do you know your family, friends, and pastor weren’t deceived?
Henry: Now look here, God is good. He would not deceive me, nor did he send into my life a bunch of lies. God is truth. He is the way, the truth, and the life, John 14:6. I believe the Bible is true and I believe in Him. He is worth believing in, and I am telling you about him. He is the truth.
Charity: Henry, I didn’t have the luxury of growing up the way you did. I’m just not sure about the things you are so sure about. I wish I was sure. But, you aren’t helping things when you tell me salvation doesn’t come from works and then tell me some things to do and believe. I either must do these things or I must not. This ‘gift’ you talk about is very complicated.
Henry: But, these things aren’t good works. They’re not in the same category as works. They are beliefs.
Charity: You’re telling me beliefs are effortless? What about the wrong beliefs? Are they effortless too? Do beliefs just come upon me without my say so? Do I have no choice in this? If I have a choice, then it takes my effort and therefore I must exert mental work, and, at least when it comes to me, I must research these things you mention to see if they are true. Doesn’t the Bible say to test the spirits to see if they are true because not all of them are from God, 1 John 4:1? And doesn’t the book of James say that faith without works is dead, James 2:20? Is a dead faith a faith that God honors?
To Be Continued…..