You Have Heard, But I Say

(This column is especially for Adventists over sixty-five. Everyone else is also welcome to read.)

You have heard the exam is so difficult scarcely any will pass. But I say, the teacher is so skillful scarcely any will fail. 1.

You have heard that God is so holy, humans scarcely dare dream of a place in his presence. I say that God is so holy, humans cannot find a path so devious or a place so far but that even there God with great affection and longing will be waiting for them to arrive. 2.

You have heard that we can expect a future time of trouble worse than any humans have ever experienced. I say that is not true. 3.

You have heard that there is a moment in your earthly future which will be absolutely determinative of your eternal future. It is called the “close of probation.” If when that moment arrives, the heavenly detectives can find a single instance of moral, ethical, or healthy habits failure which you have not confessed and repented of, then you are doomed for eternity. But I say to you, if this were true heaven would be empty. 4.

You have heard that to successfully “go through the time of trouble” you will have to get the victory over cheese. You have also heard that wearing a necklace is an infallible sign of damnable pride and self-pampering. But I tell you that cheese and jewels are gifts of God. 5.

You have heard that “not one in twenty” will make it to heaven. But I tell you that the Shepherd would never tolerate such losses. 6.

You have heard that unless people believe in their hearts and confess with their mouths that Jesus Christ is Lord they will be lost. But I tell you that many will go into the kingdom who previously had no personal knowledge of the Savior or a knowing connection with the “People of God.” 7.

You have been told that God is forever frowning because his people are not good enough. I tell you that God is perpetually smiling because he delights in every breath his children take. 8.

I keep hearing from my Adventist friends who are over sixty-five comments that express profound uncertainty about their place in heaven. They may voice their rejection of legalism. They say they know we are not saved by our works. But when I listen for a minute longer, I hear words that indicate an ineradicable anxiety. The indoctrination in Adventist schools and evangelistic meetings is too deep. They know at the core of their being that God is fundamentally displeased with his children because they are not perfect. They know at the core of their being that to “make it through the time of trouble” one must be perfect, flawless, and that they have not yet arrived at perfection. And, given their last sixty years of effort, they are unlikely to ever reach perfection, even if they live to be 120.

You have heard that you are damned. I say you are saved. You have heard that God frowns when he looks your direction. I testify that I have seen him smile.

1. One of the names for Jesus used by the disciples was Teacher. Even in the traditional telling of the Jesus story, the teacher successfully graduates 91 percent of his students.

2. Consider the story of Jonah and the words of Psalm 139:7-17

3. None of the predictions in The Great Controversy is worse than the reality of life under Pol Pot or during China’s Cultural Revolution in the 1970s or during the Rwandan genocide. Quit freaking out about some hypothetical “time of trouble” which terrified our parents and grandparents and great grandparents and never happened.

4. Only an evil god would order life so that all of eternity depended on a moment of perfection. The threat of the “close of probation” which terrorized me through my childhood must be denounced as an unfortunate distortion.

5. I don’t even know where to start in debunking this. Jesus said not a word about cheese. Do we really imagine that the heavenly detectives will be inspecting our sandwiches to see if the cheese inside is soy cheese or dairy cheese? And Jesus’ only comment that touches on necklaces is the story of the woman with ten coins—coins which were commonly worn on a necklace. And the woman wearing the necklace represents God.

6. The way Jesus tells the story, when the Shepherd is finished all one hundred sheep are safely home, when the woman quits searching all ten coins are restrung on her necklace, and the Father’s final word to the most recalcitrant son is: All that I have is yours.

7. Luke 14:11-24 and Matthew 25:31-46

8. Talk to a mother about her disabled or criminal or addicted or maligned or depressed or troubled or troubling child. If her child is breathing, life is better than if her child is not breathing. So God takes exquisite pleasure in the sheer fact of our breathing. And if we manage to say words of gratitude or affection or faith or hope or pardon, the happiness in heaven is beyond human words.