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Jerry Falwell, Heaven, Hell and the Kingdom Come

dougfloyd – 5/16/2007

Yesterday Ryan asked the question, “Did Jerry Falwell go to heaven or hell?” I jotted out
a few responses in my late night stupor. I awoke this morning still wrestling with the
other questions that his one question set off. Beneath the particular question relating to
the fate of a specific person, I hear the question about justice.

What significance do our words and actions have? If we violate other people and the
world around us, is there a price to pay? As I think about these questions, I think about
the idea of rectitude. Will there redress for every wrong? Can every wrong by righted in
some way? These are questions better left to greater minds than mine, but at the risk of
becoming a treading fool, I will proceed.

As I think about these questions, the bumper sticker “Christians aren’t perfect, just
forgiven” comes to mind. In a short phrase this sticker attempts to reflect something of
the grace and forgiveness of God. At the same time, it may have some disquieting
implications.

Are Christians claiming that their faith functions like a “get out of hell” free card? Does
my faith in Jesus mean that I am not accountable for my actions. I can cut in front of you
at the grocery store, or shake my fist at you on the highway, but it doesn’t really count:
because of Jesus, the Father sort of winks at my indiscretions.

While these minor infractions seem innocuous, what happens when my words and actions
set in motion violation upon violation upon violation of other people? I can cheat on my
taxes and cheat on my wife but rest secure that I’m not perfect just forgiven. I can buy
discounted clothes and foods that may come at the price of enslaving someone in another
country whom I will never know or see.

I can enjoy the benefits of a culture that built its wealth on enslavement, torture and
dehumanizing an entire race. The more I think about the implications of our actions, it
becomes evident that either directly or indirectly each of us are oppressors. “Does God
simply wink at this evil because we have faith in Jesus?”

If God is good, shouldn’t wrongs be righted? Do Christians suggest that because God
forgives us for our wrong actions, everyone else should to? This obviously could cause
some people to line up, ready to damn every Christian that acted though they had a right
to condemn and/or mistreat the people around them.

Then I wonder, what if the Judgment Day looked very different then we expect. What if
Judgment Day is not about God giving all my enemies their just deserts? What if it really
is about redressing wrongs?

What if I had the opportunity to face all my oppressors on Judgment Day? My word
would carry the power to determine their sentence. Each person who ever hurt me,
oppressed me, or in any way violated me (directly or indirectly), would stand before me.
By direct violation, I mean people who personally violated me. By indirect, I mean
people whose actions hurt me even though we never faced (politicians, people’s action in
other cities, states, nations, and even times). In fact, each oppressor would stand before
every single person they harmed through words or actions.

The Prosecutor would show in detail every form of harm each oppressor ever caused. As
the Defender, Jesus would stand on behalf of the accused. Because there are no longer
any time restraints, this judgment would proceed until every single person faced his
oppressors and all those he oppressed. Therefore, even as I looked upon those who
caused me pain, I would know that I faced the same trial for all my offences (direct or
indirect).

As I prepare to pass judgment, the Defender would make the audacious claim that he had
took the wrong of each violation upon his own body. Then he would proclaim that his
resurrection is a sign that rectitude has been made and will be eventually realized by
every harmed person.

As I faced my oppressors, he would explain, “You can use condemnation or mercy as


your measure for justice. If you choose condemnation, this person will bear the full
weight of their offense. If you choose mercy, you are trusting that I will redress your
grievance.” And then he would offer one last reminder, “The measure you use, will also
be the same measure used for you.”

Please forgive my presumption to explain and or envision something beyond our human
capacity to full grasp. I have no idea what the judgment seat looks like.

But I do think that Christianity claims that Jesus death and resurrection assure us of
justice. Jesus and Paul both indicate that to follow Jesus means to bear his cross, his
suffering. Oddly, this means that I might walk in the reality of Judgment Day today; that I
might choose to bear the offence, the grievance of another so that mercy might prevail.

As I face those who oppress me, might I trust in the promise of both forgiveness for my
failures and vindication for the wrongs against me? Might I have the power to offer
mercy? This seems impossible and yet some have manifested in their lives.

My hero Richard Wurmbrand, suffering under daily torture for 14 years, pleads to God
for mercy on behalf of his oppressors. More recently, South Africans facing the threat of
inevitable civil war chose to enter into this model as a means of justice. The oppressors
faced their victims. Through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, confession and
forgiveness became a model of justice. The reality of Jesus’ cross manifested in a national
policy, attempting to heal of deeply divided nation.

This model of justice involves personal suffering, intentional forgiveness and trust.
Instead of me trying to determine who goes to heaven and who is bound for hell, can I
live in this world in a way that fosters peace and reconciliation? Can you imagine what
our world might look like if we lived the reality of confessing our faults one to another
and forgiving one another. Maybe we might finally see a glimpse of the kingdom come.
(Note: Please forgive my shortcomings. What I am trying to think about is more complex
than this simple essay can address. And there are others like Miroslav Volf who are far
more articulate and theologically astute than myself.)