I am about to get myself into big trouble with my more — shall we say — theologically conservative brethren. Curious thing though: I really don’t care.
Since nothing any writer or speaker writes or says comes out of a vacuum, let me begin by telling you from where these thoughts are coming.
Almost exactly one month ago, Matthew Warren, son of mega-pastor, bestselling author Rick Warren, took his own life. I blogged about it. And when I did, I began those thoughts with this statement (if I may be so narcissistic as to quote myself): “Rick Warren’s youngest son, Matthew, went to Heaven on Friday night — tragically killed by his own hand.”
An avalanche of responses resulted, most of which I approved for publication as comments to my blog entry, but many of which I did not.
The ones I did not approve all basically said the exact same thing: How can you say that he went to Heaven when the Bible says that he went to Hell? Yet, curiously, of the spate of Scriptures offered by my many respondents to prove their point — that suicide is a one way ticket to Hell — none (as in, not one single solitary verse) addressed, let alone contradicted, my opening comment. Quite the opposite. No one made a compelling, let alone convincing, argument that suicide is the unpardonable sin. Because you know what? It isn’t. NOT so says Dewey, No! So says Jesus!!! According to Matthew 12, there is only one unforgivable sin. And guess what? It ain’t suicide.
By every measure, Matthew Warren loved the Lord, served the Lord, worshipped the Lord, and heroically battled his demons of depression. I have no doubt that I will meet him in Heaven. If fact, as a depression sufferer and survivor myself, I look forward to it. We’ll have many-a-story to swap, I am sure.
But this is not a post about suicide. It is a post about God.
And the theme of this post, the central thought, the major thrust, the takeaway of this blog post is this: While many of our ilk sound as if we look for every reason to exclude people (as far as Heaven is concerned), it is the character of God to look for every reason to include people. (Reread that sentence please. And as the psalmist so often likes to say, Selah — pause and prayerfully ponder that.)
Or to put it another way, while many of our evangelical ilk pride ourselves on being exclusive — You know, the old “Us four and no more.” (“And frankly, I’m not sure about the three of you.” Ahem.) — God is exclusively inclusive.
Not quite sure about that? Then check this out. One of the most dramatically moving scenes in all of the Bible. A picture, a Scriptural snapshot of our God who demonstratively declares that He is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
A God who readily admits, “I drown in grief. I am heartsick”… because of “the cry of my dear people reverberating through the country” (Jeremiah 8:18-19). Never mind that God’s “dear people” were in an unrepentant state of rebellion against their God at the time that that was written.
A Jesus who “wept” as He looked over the city He loved and a people He loved. Who convulsively cried because of the suffering they were about to experience, even though they were only days away from nailing Him to a cross.
Here’s the picture, found in Revelation 20. This is how the Bible ends, one last lingering image of God: “And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books… And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.”
Do you see there what I see there?
This is the picture of God as Judge presiding over a throne-room-turned-courtroom. Where all of the dead of all time who have rejected Jesus – His amazing grace, His matchless mercy, His absolute forgiveness, His free offer of a glorious salvation, His priceless sacrifice, His shed blood, His unconditional and boundless love – are assembled. Standing before the God of the Universe, they are guilty as charged. Deserving of God’s judgment. Having broken God’s laws. Just like us.
But God takes no delight in their inexorable demise. Unlike us, having rejected His offer of an unconditional pardon and a suspended sentence — His own Son having paid their penalty in their place — God is left with no alternatives.
Fact is: God loves them too much to force His love on them.
Fact is: God loves them too much to force them against their wills to live with Him forever.
Fact is: God knows that to drag them kicking and screaming into Heaven would make Heaven a Hell for them.
So fact is: They leave God with no other options.
Yet, God demurs. He recoils from the task at hand. He hesitates before pronouncing their deserved and, I might add, desired judgment.
The evidence has been presented. It is all there for all to see. Exhibits A, B, and C, recorded in the “books,” now become a part of the official record. Damning testimony that has been admitted into evidence before the just Judge of the Universe.
And still, before lowering His gavel, torn between His righteous justice and His boundless love, God desperately orders one more book to be opened, the “Book of Life.” The book that records the names of every one of us who did indeed say “Yes” to, and humbly received, God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness — the salvation purchased by the blood of His only begotten Son.
This book is opened, its pages are searched — all the while God hoping against hope that maybe, just maybe, perhaps, somehow on some day each individual standing before Him now did indeed turn to the Savior and pray a simple, yet sincere prayer: “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
But if his or her name is not found written in that book – the “Book of Life” – God’s hand is forced. His judgment is rendered. His justice is fulfilled. His wrath is decreed.
Yes, it’s true. While some of us Christians talk and act as though we are in the exclusion business, God is and ever shall be in the inclusion business. To which I shout, Hallelujah!
Let’s thank God together that He, by His nature, by His grace, by His mercy, by His love, and by the sacrifice of His own Son, chose to include us!