Christianity - Salvation - End of Life

  • It seems common in Churches and among Christians to believe that at the end of mortal life, there will be a ceremony at the Gates of Heaven where each person will list off their many wonderful accomplishments.
  • Doesn't that seem extremely unlikely, since the Lord ALREADY KNOWS every detail of everything you have ever done? Would He (or Gabriel or Peter) spend enormous amounts of their time in listening to stories from endless lines of people, about things they already knew?
  • This presentation suggests a far more logical concept, where the Lord would ask a SINGLE question of each person, and by the answers, He would know, without the slightest doubt, whether to allow the person in or to turn him/her away. No actual "guarantees" like many modern Protestant Churches seem to promote, but a very logical structure upon which all Christians might choose to live their lives.

My "advancing age" has caused me to give a lot of thought to a specific subject which I have never really focused on much before. I had ASSUMED that Christianity had pretty much figured it out, but now I am wondering if ALL Churches have a basic concept "totally wrong"!

This seems pretty "deep" and it took me several weeks to work through all the implications (that I can comprehend!)

Churches all seem to assume that there is some sort of "scoreboard mentality" at the Gates of Heaven. Catholics (and others) insist that "doing Good Works" contributes toward any ability to get into Heaven. Protestants have different attitudes, but still there seems to be an ASSUMPTION that each person will be required to "list off the accomplishments" that the Lord might be Impressed by.

But how can that be true? The Lord ALREADY knows "everything", right? Why would He need to hear "applicants" reciting what resembles a "job interview"?

I have come to realize that His interest is nearly certainly rather different from what has always been assumed. He wouldn't necessarily care what you HAD done, but what you ARE NOW, at this instant. Christians and Churches seem to acknowledge that in words, but seem to have lousy comprehension of what that must actually mean.

I have come to think that the scene at the Gates of Heaven is EXTREMELY DIFFERENT from previously assumed! I now think that we each might be asked A SINGLE QUESTION, and by our response, His Decision would be made!

The question?

"Tell me the FIVE WORST THINGS you have EVER done or thought".

Now, being God, He already KNOWS ALL the bad things we each have ever done! So He already KNOWS any answers you might express! But is the "applicant" prepared to "be deceptive or evasive to God"? Wow! If so, I tend to think that person would probably be handed a shovel!

Is the "applicant" "oblivious" to having done terrible things? ("No, Lord, I have NEVER done any really terrible things in my life.") Except, again, He ALREADY KNOWS about EVERY bad thing that the "applicant" has ever done. Again, I tend to think "a shovel".

There are many other ways that people might try to "get tricky" with the Lord regarding answering such a horribly difficult and certainly painful question. (a shovel).

Note that this is NOT just referring to swearing at someone or punching someone or cheating at poker. It really necessarily involves the person's deepest and darkest secrets. Times when the applicant was vicious beyond imagination, or where life-changing lies were told, or where similar disgusting things were done. Being humans, we have all been there, done that, but we NEVER admit such things to anyone else. They are absolutely private memories, right? We are each too ashamed for having done such things. Could the applicants open up for the Lord? Many probably could not.

However, IF the person was "brutally honest" and expressed five things that he/she believed were the worst ever done, that MEMORY of having sinned in horrific ways, and the PERCEPTION of having totally failed and the HONESTY of stating it, seems to me the most spectacular (and concise) way of convincing the Lord that the "applicant" DESERVED to be allowed to be in the Presence of the Lord forever.

The point here is that the actual sins are essentially irrelevant! What is actually important is what the person presents to the Lord and how he/she presents it. Can you IMAGINE needing to tell the Lord that you intentionally infected someone else with AIDS, out of pure viciousness, thereby totally destroying that person's life? How many people could find the words to describe such personal behavior to the Lord Himself? I wonder.

Repeating, it is actually NOT the sins themselves which are important. It is essentially whether you later became a better person for having realized how horrible your action or thought was, and made sure not to repeat it. We are all familiar with the concept where people Confess sins on Sunday, where they are then considered to have a tabula rasa, a clean slate, where they then feel free to do the same sins again the next week and the next week. Is there some kind of assumption that God is Blind or Stupid? He certainly Forgives the FIRST time we do a specific sin. Maybe even the second time. But many Christians seem to really believe that they can get away with extremely un-Christian behaviors and thoughts, as long as they make sure to go to Church to Confess them each week. I am deeply hopeful that the Lord does NOT run things by those rules (or lack thereof!) In other words, if you do NOT "become a better person after introspection after having committed a Sin," then how could the Lord be expected to be Pleased with you?

The "interesting part" is that each person would likely have unique standards of judging what were truly terrible things done. "I caused my little brother to get flunked out of Third Grade and have to repeat it." "I cheated on my wife a hundred times." "I robbed a store and got away with it." "I caused someone to be killed in an assumed accident."

Some documents of Church Fathers indicate that they would consider it a horrific Sin if they mis-spoke a single word in reciting the Lord's Prayer or a word in the Mass, their standards being apparently far higher than ours are today! Such a Saint might present a list of five items that we might see as very tame! But the Lord would see the intensity of the expression of the various experiences as far more important than any intrinsic level of violence involved.

On the other hand, what would a Saddam Hussein or a Josef Stalin or an Adolph Hitler describe as his five worst? First, I would guess that the events would be gruesomely bad for those individuals. Second, I would suspect that those men had done SO MANY vicious things during their lives that they might not even REMEMBER any specific horrors that they committed. All in all, I tend to think that such people would have immense difficulty in trying to get into Heaven! But we have all assumed that anyway! This might represent a REASON that such people could not get into Heaven. It might also clarify a situation which has been discussed ad nauseum where some serial murderer asks a Priest to become a Christian just before being executed. Exactly what listing of bad behaviors or thoughts would such an established criminal be willing to admit to the Lord? Seems to me that the Lord would be told rather different things than He already knows had been done, and the "applicant" might not be too likely to get into Heaven. But at the same time, there seem to be a FEW such criminals who seem to truly have remorse for crimes they had done, and maybe they would be honest and open with the Lord in their answers, so maybe they can get in!

One point of this is that EACH person seems likely to be evaluated INDIVIDUALLY, and NOT on the basis of whether or not they meet some sort of generic standards. THAT seems to be a real distinction with most attitudes toward the situation of trying to get into Heaven! In other words, whether or not you have "performed 23 Good Deeds" may be irrelevant! No "scoreboard" at all!

I have a suspicion that most of the behaviors described to the Lord would likely be ones that had directly hurt or tried to hurt other people, in one way or another, financially, emotionally, physically, spiritually. But there certainly might be many alternatives, as if someone had intentionally polluted Chesapeake Bay and killed millions of fish. We humans seem to find many ways to sin!

I can picture some people trying to use the "victim mentality" on the Lord! "Well, Lord, Satan made me do it " (trying to imply that "it wasn't my fault.") There are probably a lot of people who would think that such a cop-out might work! It DOES around human Social Workers, doesn't it? Probably, not so much, around the Lord!

This is interesting because a lot of possibilities might be very different from the perception. "Killing someone in clear self-defense"? Is that a sin? "Abortion, when the baby was clearly going to be born with extreme birth defects"? Would that be a sin? Would those behaviors belong in the "five"? (I have no idea.)

One INTERESTING aspect of this premise is that WE each can always "see how we might do", in the event that we pass on during the next minute! DON'T let anyone else see or hear your five responses! They are ABSOLUTELY private, between you and the Lord and no one else.

Then you could think about whether the Lord would likely be impressed or not at your remorse for having done things that were truly evil. If you claim to have never done (or thought) such things, maybe your memory is not very good. When you were a hormone-filled adolescent, didn't you once wish someone would die after having spurned you? True, you may not have actually acted it out, but isn't that a truly evil type of thought to have about another person (or animal)?

You might think that these comments violate things that the Bible says, but that is NOT the case. The Bible actually has very few Verses that actually even mention the PROCESS of getting into Heaven. Most of the Verses that tend to be cited need to have assorted ASSUMPTIONS applied in order for them to actually apply. Worse, many of those arguments and assumptions are based on English language translations of the Original Greek texts.

The comments presented here have been carefully checked against the Original Greek wording, and they seem to be in even better accord than traditional opinions have been!

Our Church has long presented a similar concept, a gentler version of this one, where a person is asked to "privately list (any) ten Sins you have committed". The home-page text on the BELIEVE Religious Information Source web-site includes a discussion of that concept. Nearly EVERYONE first laughs upon being asked the ten-question and says they have committed many more Sins than that, but in actually trying to "write down a list of ten specific Sins", it is NOT as easy as it sounds. But the ten tend to be RECENT bad behaviors or thoughts, and generally not of the level of this concept being presented here.

Apparently, the Catholic Church uses a similar concept to our ten-question, involved in something they call "examination of conscience." or the Ignatian Exercises.

THIS concept expands those to (possibly) representing the very CORE of what Salvation actually is. It is NOT whether you can recite 27 Good Deeds you have done, or can state any of the other "job interview type" responses.

Instead, very concisely, it seems to "presents your deepest being, OF WHAT YOU ARE TODAY, stripped bare of all protection, KNOWING that your answers (somehow) will intimately determine your Eternal fate!"

Given that "pressure of performance", I can easily imagine a lot of people "trying to minimize their references to failings and even trying to 'spin' in some self-promotion". Or all the other things that we humans seem capable of doing when we are severely stressed in a critical situation. Exaggeration, deception, spin, "creative history", "Revisionist history", even outright lies.

All of which would be REALLY bad ideas, given the Listener!

Whether or not this might be the actual method that the Lord might use at that critical moment, it seems still worthy of some extended thought. See how YOU might respond if the Lord asked YOU that question a minute from now!

One interesting aspect of this exercise is that whatever answers you might formulate will NOT actually give any clue regarding what the Lord might Decide based on them! But if you BELIEVE that you are being brutally honest with extremely uncomfortable memories, you might be on the right track. In contrast, if you can rapid-fire list off five experiences, my suspicion is that the Lord might consider that as a lame effort, and NOT be impressed that you had actually seriously tried to fulfill what He had asked!

So, in either case, or in ANY case, there would really seem to be NO absolute guarantee that you would either get into Heaven or to be denied entry. This exercise would possibly only give you some general idea of what the outcome might be.

This presentation was first placed on the Internet in November 2009.

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C Johnson, Pastor, A Christ Walk Church