If you could communicate something to those you care about most before you die what would it be? Surely there must be something important you’ve learned that’s worthy of passing on to the next generation—something that’s meaningful and valuable. What would you say is most important? What would your story be about?
Having been brought up in the Oregon City Followers of Christ group, I was taught mainly with stories. These weren’t stories that would point to the gospel but mostly stories from within the group about healings, miracles, things Walter had said, things the elders had taught and how the FOC in Idaho was wrong, etc. The stories were mixed with biblical directives but always pointed to the group in Oregon City as being a special place, the place to be for a chance at salvation—if you were good enough. The following story is one of many that haven’t left my memory after all these years (probably because it seems to be at the core of FOC theology).
I must have been in my late teens when this older man lay sick on his deathbed. As far as I know this man had always been a church member, he was a father and husband, and the son of an elder. From my teenage perspective, he was the kind of man that should be able to speak of real hope and wisdom. As he lay there in a room with his brothers by his side he said this: “I’ve never been drunk, I’ve never committed adultery, I’ve never killed anyone, and I think I’ve got a real good chance of going to heaven.” The brothers all seemed to be in agreement that their brother was on good ground because of his own record. As the story was retold to me at home by one of the brothers of the sick man, he built upon the story with his own comment: “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could say the same things before you die?”
Somehow this story affected me. As I recall the impact of this and other stories there is a realization that I liked stories like this because they fed my misguided notion of being spiritually advantaged because there was something good in me and something extra-special about my church. Having a head start on everyone else in the world outside of my group, now I just needed to earn salvation, so I listened for the instructions of going to heaven. When I messed up in my pursuit of being righteous, I would simply start over, and I started over a lot. Even when I could control the words and actions, there were the thoughts to deal with everyday. With this heavy task of self-achieved righteousness ahead, questions often arose in my mind about real hope, purpose and happiness. I continually wrestled with that deathbed story.
What the dying man said sounds right if you read the scriptures merely as a compendium of instructions. But if you read the story in the scriptures and see the hero of the story, it’s shocking. There is no place or people group that can save me and I can’t be good enough to make myself right with God. But there is one story that can bring light out of darkness, it’s a story of the innocent dying for the guilty, the strong standing in place of the helpless, the righteous one suffering and dying for the unrighteous -- that is the good news. If it doesn’t shock you then you haven’t really heard it. If the story of Jesus doesn’t rattle your very core and change you, it will become an offense that forces you to stand upon your own record.
And on the last day, when it matters most, your own record will be contrasted against Jesus’ perfect one and then you’ll see there has ever only been One who was good enough to earn salvation. Will He be your Hero?