A couple of my Christian friends have told me they worry about being judged before God at the end of time, as the apostle Paul says will happen in 2 Corinthians 5:10: "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that everyone may receive what is due them for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad." One friend still anguishes over sins she committed long before she became a Christian. I argue in vain that these sins—along with every sin she's committed since then and will commit later—vanished from God's notice for all time when she accepted Jesus' death in payment for them.
"I know they won't keep me from heaven," she explains. "But still. I did evil, and I know I'll be held accountable for it in the end."
My other friend worries more about her sins of omission: namely, that she hasn't done enough good and therefore won't have many crowns to cast before Jesus. So, she works tirelessly for God by leading Bible study groups and taking frozen meals to elderly homebound acquaintances.
Both friends know the same good news—that God's mercy outbalances his anger and Jesus' death renders us entirely sinless in God's eyes—that I heard when I became a Christian. Indeed, these two friends were among the ones who taught me the gospel in the first place. Nevertheless, they take to heart the parable about the worker who buried the money entrusted to him instead of investing and multiplying it, as his commended comrades did. My friends worry they'll earn, at best, a low place on the totem pole of God's favor.
I feel lazy and complacent compared to my friends—not just these two, but most of my Christian acquaintances. I wish I worried about such matters—the sins of my past, the spiritual idleness of my current life, my ultimate rank in God's kingdom. I wish that I did the good things I see my friends do, and that I took Scripture's warnings as ardently to heart. I wish I were, in short, a better person. More certain in my faith. More active in working it out.
Alas. Most days, I struggle just to be nice to the ones I love. My mother-in-law, for instance—a lonely widow with all the habits of an 85-year-old. She's probably the most guileless person I've ever met and entirely devoted to my family's and my happiness. Nevertheless, I have to force myself to spend time with her. And, when I'm with her, being forgiving and loving—as I hope someone will be to me in my old age—is a trial. Instead of focusing on her many sweetnesses of character and selfless dedication to my family, I seethe that she doesn't wear her hearing aid or that she repeats a tedious story four times or that she acts horrified when I let my 14-year-old daughter stay home alone while my husband and I go out to dinner.
If my mother-in-law notices my surliness or impatience, she doesn't let on. Her very ignorance of my mean thoughts is a judgment on me, transforming my good deed of spending time with her into one of those "filthy rags" even our most righteous acts amount to, according to Isaiah 64:6. Every visit with her previews the Day of the Lord.
Here's my personal vision of that day. God, in the form of my mother-in-law, stands before me. She beckons to me, offers me a plate of her chewy biscuits and a cup of bad coffee, and smiles her sweet crazy smile of welcome—the same smile of pure joy she smiles at me whenever I visit. Heaven, in my estimation, will be the ability to share that joy, unadulterated by pique and arrogance, boredom and guilt. To be genuinely glad to see her. To love her completely, as God already, amazingly, loves us both.
I don't fear the Day of Judgment, although I probably should. The disciples certainly did. They were always asking Jesus worried questions about it. As for me, though, I wait in hope for that day. For that moment when, in a flash of God's power, I'll be made kind and good. For the moment when, though worthless in my own power, I'll nevertheless be—for the first time, for all time—worthy of God's love.
Copyright © 2010 by the author or Christianity Today/Kyria.com.
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