I’m glad I don’t get to decide who goes to heaven. I’m glad the one who does is good, and right.
I chatted to a guy as he headed into drop-in tonight who held my hand for too long and stood a little too close. I should have minded, but I didn’t because he was old and sad and yet kind of sparkly. Harmless. He told me in detail about himself, in the way that people are uninhibited sometimes with complete strangers. Things poured out in a non-sequential and sometimes nonsensical fashion, so that conversing was like clasping on to rocks in a stream, digging my branch down deep and trying to be still for a moment before the words rushed on.
He talked about war and death and violence. About goodbyes and heartbreaks, thuggery, addictions and a lifetime of pain. He talked about needing to be good and marginalising the wicked, about taking vengeance.
He talked about the miracle of Jesus, and when I asked he explained that God sent his son into the world to die for us, because of our sin. He talked about God being the creator, the only one who judges, the only one who could save us, the one who came into his life – in a dream, about wrestling demons – and redeemed his soul. A God who speaks, to whom he listens. A God whose word brings life. The light of the world. The only King. The one who became a man who never sinned, but who became sin for us. And God’s love – he talked about God’s love so that his eyes filled with tears and he had to steady himself.
And here’s the thing – he made the most sense when he talked about Jesus. It didn’t sound like random high-church phrases strung together. It sounded like he knows him.
So it turns out I am absolutely floored (and flawed), and completely without clue. In a hypothetical discussion on a Tuesday afternoon I can posit that certain things need to be true for someone to know Jesus. I can do this in good company and it can barely flicker in my soul. But in a technicolour conversation on a Thursday night, I have absolutely no idea if this man will be in heaven. I have no idea. If Jesus returns tonight, I can’t tell you after 30 minutes of talking if this man will find rest for his weary soul. I could argue it from both sides, but I don’t want to argue at all.
A peace overwhelms me as we file into chapel and sing about the God who has power over storms. Storms again? Peace because God has this. He has all of this under control. He formed each one. He knows each thought. He loves – how he loves each person here. I don’t know who’s going to heaven. I can’t pry into the mixed up jumble and pluck out the one prevailing truth that anchors each life, but God can. So often the truth is there, but so are many lies.
This week, in the Annual Moore College Lectures we’ve been thinking about ‘the world’. In a material sense, in a ‘everyone who lives’ sense and in a negative ‘fleshly’ sense. It’s been amazing – I am stupidly blessed to be at college. The juxtapositions in and of my life are not unnoticed, and I’m thankful again for this place and this privilege.
For all of the depth and nuance and height and detail of the talks, it is when we get to the cross that my heart sings. On Tuesday it was the amazing truth that the world is in a desperate plight that needs alleviating and the mission of Jesus is aimed at alleviating this plight, but the world offers the chief resistance to this mission in their rejection of the Word. I mean, aren’t we absolutely, utterly, stupidly wretched in every way? In the words of one of my favourite songs; “dying of thirst, yet willing to die thirsty”. But Jesus dies and lives instead, offering living water to those who trust in him.
Today it was that in the event of the cross, God has declared this world is on the way out and a new world is coming – things are passing away but there are permanent things ahead. The cross is our hope. Our only hope. This is true in salvation and in everything that follows (if I can put it like that). Because of the cross of Jesus, this broken, confusing, fading world makes sense. It is not all there is. Praise God!
The older I get, the more I study, the less I realise I know. I don’t know if James will be in heaven. But I know the one who knows, the one who decides, and I know that he is good. He sent his Son for me, though I am as far from good as can be. He can and does save.
“Blessed be the name of the Lord from this time forth and forevermore! From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord is to be praised” Psalm 113:2.