Friday, January 18, 2019 - Updated: 2:42 pm
QUESTION: Officially, what are the specific requirements to get into heaven? You see, I lead the best life I can because I am deathly afraid of hell. Call it upbringing if you like, but I have a dread of that “eternal punishment.” My dominant reason for doing good is my fear of hell. Is that enough reason to get me into heaven?
ANSWER: The notion of “gaining heaven” is not at all like winning a prize. Frankly, it is more complex than that and really involves a mystery. Salvation is God’s free gift given because of love for us. It is not earned, not bartered, nor demanded. God offers the gift of salvation and desires it for everyone. Yet in the freedom given us, we may choose to accept or reject it. God’s gift, our choice — simple, yet complex.
Simple, in that it seems logical (If it were a matter of choice, who would choose hell over heaven?). Complex, in that, despite logic, we choose the apparent “good” when, in fact, it leads us away from God and the things of heaven.
There are some choices we make in our lives that involve leading a life and going in a direction that is contrary to everything God desires for us. There may be times when we harden our hearts in such a way that we totally lose sight of God, his people and his kingdom. But such a rejection of what is good really must involve a free choice that we make.
The specific question above, however, advances us to a deeper level. Is it enough for me to do what is right out of fear of hell rather than love of God? The traditional answer is yes. This answer was generally given based on the presumption that the actions we perform (or the evil we avoid) is the important aspect. The motivation, however, is not unimportant and really can change.
What we might hope for is that the good actions one performs will open our hearts to see goodness in our world and in the lives of others. Little by little, we come to appreciate that the goodness surrounding us is really reflective of the goodness of God.
Perhaps we also grow in our spiritual lives and learn to relate to God differently. Not unlike the relationship we have with our parents, our relationship with God grows through different stages of our lives. There may be times when we fear God’s eternal punishment for transgressions. But as we grow in our relationship, we come to see and know God in prayer and through others, and we begin to see a God of compassion, tenderness and love. We may be so drawn to God that we would never think of offending or transgressing that relationship. All of a sudden we find ourselves acting out of a fear of “hurting” the one we love, fear of appearing so ungrateful in the face of such love. Suddenly, we realize that our actions are now more motivated by love than fear.
Father Bober is administrator of the grouping that includes St. Kilian in Adams/Cranberry townships and Holy Sepulcher in Glade Mills.