The Rev. Eugene Stockstill

When it comes to heaven and hell, believers love to take one of two miscues.

The first: Making it into heaven is a bit like tap dancing on a fence post. Very few of us can hope to master the trick unless we spend our lives obsessed with never falling. “I’m still saved,” an earnest churchgoer said when asked how he was doing one Sunday morning.

The second: No loving God would send a human being to a devil’s hell. Out of this spews lots of silly philosophy about the insignificance of human words and actions. A famous seminary professor once told his class a parable about hell in which a teacher refuses to pass numerous students queued up with last-minute excuses. The class went away mad as @#$! that day.

What on earth is a sensitive soul to do? Throw the baby out with the bath?

A helpful answer comes by way of some famous words from George MacDonald: “The one principle of hell is ‘I am my own.’” And this, of course, finds a snug home in the teachings of Jesus, who probably talked more about hell than he did about heaven. He told about a man named Lazarus, who went to hell because he would not share his money with the poor (Luke 16:19ff). About the “goats,” cast into darkness because they had never helped “the least of these” (Matthew 25:31ff). About a stubborn servant, forgiven a debt worth 150,000 years of salary but later thrown into a pit of despair because he refused to forgive a debt worth 300 days of pay (Matthew 18:23ff).

So this means I will go to heaven if I give to charity? Or if I work part time at a community thrift store? No. What it does mean is that every day I prove to myself whether I want to be a child of heaven or a child of hell. “Good works won’t get you to heaven. But you won’t get to heaven without good works.”

The Rev. Eugene Stockstill is pastor of Ebenezer and Myrtle United Methodist churches in Union County.

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