Monday, April 30, 2007

Heaven? Not for Me. I can’t.

As I contemplate the approaching celebration of Mother’s Day, I remember the devotion of a man whom I met during an evangelism call. We visited this man in his home and shared with him in friendly conversation about matters of life and faith, especially regarding the blessed hope of everlasting life with God in heaven through faith in Jesus. It was a delightful evening except that it ended in disaster.

No, he did not become angry. He did not ask us to leave. It was truly an enjoyable evening of friendship and loving sharing together.

The disaster was the conclusion that this man shared with us, a conclusion that had been made such a part of him that he could not let it go. He was truly trapped by his devotion to his mother.

He loved his mother very much. She was the object of his deepest commitment and love. He was literally ready to sacrifice everything for his mother.

He acknowledged that Jesus is God and the true Savior of the world. He acknowledged all that the Gospel says. He professed faith in the truth of the Gospel and of the promise of everlasting life though faith in Jesus.

Yet he also said:

But I cannot have it. I cannot allow myself to receive everlasting life and go to heaven when I know that my mother is in hell.

My heart broke. My heart still breaks whenever I think of this dear man.

What a loving son!

But would his mother want him to love her that much? While she was living she impressed this upon him. But now, would she still want this as what is attributed to her, to know that her son rejected everlasting salvation out of love for her?

In Luke 16 Jesus tells of a rich man who did not trust in God, lived his life ignoring God’s love and thereby also ignored the needs of his poor and suffering neighbor, Lazarus. The man was a man of faith, but not of true faith, worshiping God with a false faith. He ended up in hell and looked up to see Lazarus in heaven. When in hell the rich man had two concerns. First he longed for even the slightest bit of relief from his torment. Secondly, he desired that his brothers be warned so that they would not end up suffering with him.

Some count this as a parable. Luke does not label it as one. He simply shares what Jesus gave as an example and warning for us.

Surely we are to honor our fathers and our mothers. This is by God’s design and command. Yet we should remember the one from whom this honor flows and love and trust Him above all things, even above father and mother. We should remember His love to us, which moves Him to desire that we be saved from everlasting torment.

We each make choices in life. Some choose to ignore the true Gospel and follow an altered form of the Gospel or some other way entirely. When they make this choice, they do not honor God and they do not honor their loved ones. The rich man found this out too late.

The greatest honor and love that we can show to our parents and loved ones, even when they choose badly, is to embrace the God who loves us and gives Himself for us. By so doing, even if some of our loved ones are in hell, at least we do not add to their torment by consigning ourselves to the same judgment. I expect that this is why Jesus speaks of levels of torment in hell: that those who have caused others to lose the hope of salvation will carry that burden everlastingly, with no hope of absolution, ever.

It has been over 25 years since I visited the devoted son who chose hell over heaven out of a very sad understanding of love for his mother. I still think of him. I still pray for him, in case he is still alive and still may learn of the freedom of God’s grace. In fact, the entire Church of God on earth prays for him in the General prayer of the Church, each divine service.

God bless each of you this Mother’s Day, with the joyous hope of knowing and trusting your God and Savior, Jesus Christ, that you may truly honor your mothers and be a blessing to many.

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