As many college students have noticed, maybe while walking somewhere similar to the University of Oklahoma’s South Oval, preachers love to preach. Today, I saw a sign that caused quite a ruckus.
With large, bright red letters emphasizing the first and last words, a sign read this:
“You deserve Hell.”
Those passing by were offended. “How rude!” they said. “How can someone judge someone else so harshly? How insensitive can someone be?”
Their comments were right. The preacher was rude, harsh, and insensitive. His message didn’t come with love, which is quite different than the way Jesus did things. None of these qualities exemplified Jesus – the rudeness, harshness, or insensitivity. Jesus is the kindest, gentlest, and most sincere human to ever walk the earth.
But, lost in translation, the preacher was right too. At least, he sort of was.
The preachers are wrong about so many things.They go about it the wrong way. I’ve heard some of them say some pretty absurd things like, “You’re going to hell for drinking!” and “You’re a slut if you’re in a sorority.” In no way am I condoning the South Oval preachers, what they say, or what they do. But sometimes, truth gets twisted up in a bad interpretation and bad communication.
Often, the most dangerous lies we can fall for are things very close to the truth. The preacher has good intentions, but his methods are nothing like Jesus’s. He speaks parcels of truth, but because he speaks with such hate, the message is lost in his fallacies.
Instead of chasing down people to listen to his message, Jesus’s love was so compelling that people chased him. Sometimes, they’d even follow him when he just wanted to be alone. But his relationship with God was so intimate and so deep that they came to him.
In our culture, we focus very much on the sweetness of Jesus. This is good, for He is very sweet. Sometimes, though, we forget his justice. Justice is giving someone what he or she is due. The price of sin is death. I am due death. We are due death. Hell is the absence of God. If God cannot be in the presence of sin, then we are due hell as well. We deserve hell. It isn’t a scare tactic. It’s the truth.
Without understanding what we deserve, we cannot fully understand what we do not deserve. It is only once we begin to wrap our minds around the depth of our sin and brokenness that we begin to understand the absolute magnitude of grace.
Without Jesus, we are dead men walking. Our culture gets something wrong with the “Jesus story.” I’ve heard it described as this: “We fell off of the boat! We couldn’t swim! Then, God threw us ‘Jesus the life vest’ and reeled us in and we lived happily ever after.”
I’m here to tell you that this isn’t the case.
We fell off the boat. We couldn’t swim. We began to sink. We were drowning, and we suffocated at the bottom of the ocean of our own sin. We were corpses. We were dead. There was no hope. It was dark and it was cold at the bottom of the ocean, and most of all, we deserved to stay there.
I dislike when people complain, saying, “Life isn’t fair.” You’re damn right life isn’t fair. If life were fair, we’d still be corpses at the bottom of the ocean. That is the beauty of grace: life isn’t fair. God is merciful. If we have a relationship with him, he doesn’t give us what we deserve. Instead, he gracefully gives us what we don’t deserve: life.
He has given us an opportunity to live forever with Him. I’m not sure what Heaven is like, but I do know this: if Heaven is with God, I don’t care about the details.
So instead of condemning someone for their inability to deserve anything but hell, we should love them. We should seek Jesus so deeply, so intimately, that those who don’t know Him find us compelling because of Him.
Like Lazarus, Jesus awoke us from death. Let us love others with kindness, gentleness, and sincerity. Let’s help Jesus awake others from sleep.
“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” James 3:17