Pastoral Message – August 21, 2022
What will happen to us when we die?” In today’s world, the question leads to much debate. For those without faith, this life is all there is. For them, death is the end. However, for those of us who believe in Jesus Christ, death is actually the beginning rather than the end. Either way, both believers and non-believers should agree that there is no way for us to scientifically know or to prove what will happen when we die. When we accept that premise, we can ask a more interesting question: “Even though we cannot know what will happen when we die, shouldn’t we at least hope that we and everyone else will be saved from any kind of a bad outcome at the time of death?”
We believe that God created us out of love and that His love has no limits. Numerous Scripture passages speak of this limitless love and mercy as well as the fact that Jesus died on the cross to save all of us from eternal damnation. Our job is to simply accept His love and share it with others. The desire to share love is one reason why humans live in communities, in relation with one another. If being in relationship is a good thing during this life, why wouldn’t it be a good thing in any potential future life? To preserve those relationships, it makes sense for us to hope that all of us will be saved after we die.
Throughout the Gospels we read that God’s love extends to many unlikely candidates. It’s not hard to conclude that His Kingdom may also include many of those unlikely folks. On the other hand, there are also passages (like today’s Gospel) which state that not all will be saved. Since we don’t know the standard by which we will be judged, we have absolutely no certainty that we will be among those who are saved. Jesus tells us that some who are “last” will be first and some who are “first” will be last. How do we know who will be invited to the Eternal Banquet and who will be sent away? When we knock on the door of the Eternal Kingdom, we don’t want to be told, “I do not know where you are from.”
We take comfort in believing that, if we are “good” (loving God, loving one another), we are on the path to eternal life with God. If we are “bad,” our eternity is much less appealing; it involves eternal damnation in a hopeless existence. Of course, most of us who come to church each week are confident that we are indeed on the “right” path and are living above the minimum requirements for entry to heaven. However, we’re not so sure about those around us. As we see it, many people range from bad to downright evil. Our own sense of fairness would tell us that they must be on the path to Hell. However, is that really what we should hope for? Since none of us really knows who will end up where, wouldn’t it make sense for all of us to hope that we will all be saved?
By the way, having this hope does not ignore the reality of Hell. It simply offers the optimistic possibility that people will be able to avoid that harsh reality.
Of course, there really are evil people in this world. Every day, people use their free will to reject love, whether from God or others. They hate, kill, and torture their fellow man. Human existence includes countless victims of abuse, neglect, poverty, discrimination, and racism. How can anyone be hopeful given this level of evil? It is much easier for us to judge that we and “our people” deserve to be saved while others are simply not worthy of God’s Kingdom. In our very small, human minds, life is a whole lot more orderly if the “bad” people go to hell and the “good” people go to heaven. Does that sound like love? Does that sound like the mercy of God? Not really. It sounds a lot more like arrogance and rejection of others. If we really want to be saved, we must be better than that. We must be more like Teresa of Avila who experienced a vision of Hell and said, “I would suffer death a thousand times with the greatest joy in order that even only one single soul might escape so horrible a torment.” We must stretch our capacity for love so that we maintain the same hope that even those who we judge to be less deserving will join us in God’s eternal kingdom.
There may be less love in the world than we would like. However, the fact that love exists at all amidst selfishness, pain and evil should give us great hope. That hope helps us to move beyond the possibility that some people will reject God’s love and will choose Hell and move toward the possibility that all men will find their way to God even if that happens in the last seconds of their lives. This possibility is why we should care about and hope for others in this world and the next. This is the source of the courage that we need to dare to hope that all will be saved.