When someone asks me a question, I take them and their question very seriously. Especially if it is a question about faith.
Not too long ago, someone wrote asking if a murderer, who accepts the Lord as Savior and asks for forgiveness for his sin, will be allowed to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
I thought about the answer carefully, even slept on it overnight, before responding.
It's a fair question. Our human nature balks at the idea of murderers, rapists and others of that ilk walking the same golden streets that we "lesser" sinners will trod on the other side of death. It doesn't feel like justice. It doesn't look like justice. And our hearts cry out for justice.
Nevertheless I responded, "I refer you to the apostle Paul, who consented to the arrests and murders of believers. He found forgiveness and justice in the Lord. At his conversion, he was shown all that he would suffer as he went forward in his life -- God is just, and He is merciful. He knows the heart of this young man, as only He can and we are called to trust Him, even with this."
I then countered his question with some of my own: "Furthermore, if this young man cannot be forgiven after coming to repentance, then who can? Can I? Can you?"
The dialogue continued as the questioner objected to my apparently overlong reply with, "A simple yes would have sufficed there."
I disagreed. The entire concept of sin, our recognition of our position as sinners and our need of a Redeemer, cannot be captured with simplistic, pat answers. There is simply too much at stake.
Our subsequent dialogue continued over the course of several days, with numerous other questions emerging from my inquisitive reader. I answered each question to the best of my ability, which ended up prompting more questions. Our dialogue ended after my statement, "It is important to work out this issue of God and created man, our fall and our redemption, apart from all of the confusion brought about by men of questionable motives, because this life is not the only life -- it goes on, even after we've shed these jars of clay -- and what comes after is of much greater importance than what seems to matter here and now."
The writer seemed troubled by the number of conflicting opinions found within Christianity. He wanted to know, for instance, why some believe that humans become angels after death (we don't), and why teachings about the end of days are so prolific when, as he wrote, "the Bible explicitly states that no one will know the end of times besides the son and God."
His questions are valid. And he's not the only one asking them. The answers matter.
At the risk of offending my brothers and sisters, much of the confusion that exists for the inquisitive among us is our fault. Perhaps "abiding with the angels" came to mean "abiding as an angel" and no one bothered to correct the error, either out of ignorance, fear or apathy.
As to the end of days, there are any number of opinions out there as to the when and the how of it all, even in Christian circles. Take, for instance, the popular, although far from unanimous, teaching that the church -- that is to say anyone who has called upon the name of the Lord for salvation -- will be suddenly swept away, leaving billions of non-believers behind. This premise is made more palatable because, as the teaching goes, those who have been left behind, having witnessed this great and wonderful sign from heaven, will finally repent of their disbelief and be saved, albeit having to suffer great and cataclysmic horrors. Sort of a desperate second chance scenario.
As appealing as the teaching is, that believers will not suffer the same trials and tribulations as the rest of mankind, I cannot embrace it.
Even if we are the "terminal generation" and many diverse signs seem to indicate that we are, why would we escape desperate trials and tribulations when believers from every preceding generation have not? Those who believed in God, even before the Son came to reveal him to created man, suffered for their faith. The writer of Hebrews notes in Hebrews 11, "Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated -- the world was not worthy of them."
Furthermore, why would we, in essence, receive a "free pass" when even our Lord was called to suffer and die, thereby giving us the right to be called "children of God." (John 1:12)
I believe that believers are already ransomed, already rescued, already saved from God's wrath. I also believe that one day we will be "caught up in the air," as Paul wrote to the Thessalonians. Furthermore, I know that we will all be changed in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet, as he instructed those in Corinth. The phrase Paul uses in the letter to the Corinthians, "at the last trumpet," is of paramount importance here because therein lies the danger. (Not to believers -- at least in terms of salvation. As a former pastor affirmed several months ago during a debate on this very issue, one's salvation is not predicated on acceptance or rejection of the rapture teaching. Certainly, however, some believers who are waiting for the rapture will grow weary in the waiting, and there may be danger there.)
The danger here is that with the widening acceptance of the teaching of a pre-tribulation rapture, many who may be compelled to trust God today -- based on the same truths that birthed faith in me and in all who have believed -- may instead put off their full commitment, waiting for a great and wondrous sign that never comes.
Look carefully at how the writer of Hebrews defines faith earlier in chapter 11: "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." And note his admonition in verse 6, "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him."
The questions are vitally important. The answers must ring true.
"Then Jesus told him, 'Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.'" John 20:29 (NIV)
I don't have all the answers, but I know the One who does. Let's walk together for awhile and discover Him; together.