THE TWENTY-FOURTH DAY OF JULY IN THE YEAR OF GRACE TWO THOUSAND AND SIXTEEN.
I first met Neal two years ago while shopping for a hat at Shudde Bros Hatters, his century-old family business situated in the Brookwood Community, about 40 miles west of Houston. We quickly connected as fellow-believers and soon were discussing the hope of immortality that we share in Jesus Christ. From childhood, Neal was taught that God will also keep the lost alive forever, to suffer everlasting conscious torment. Neal said that teaching had always struck him as out of line with the gospel and inconsistent with God’s character as revealed in the person of Jesus.
The theme throughout the word of God is God’s faithful love for his people, whom he already has reconciled to himself in Jesus Christ and one day will make immortal to live in a redeemed creation creation called the new heavens and earth. It is therefore no wonder that God’s word often gives joy to his people. “I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil, exclaimed David” (Psalm 119:162). As we talked that day, Neal was overjoyed to learn that he can read texts like Romans 6:23 (“the wages of sin is death; the gift of God is eternal life”) and John 3:16 (“whoever believes in Jesus will not perish but will have everlasting life”) and take them at face value. The final destinies awaiting human beings really are LIFE or DEATH.
Some of my family visited the Brookwood Community last week, and again Neal and I crossed paths. Since our previous visit, he told me, he had watched my lecture on “The Fire That Consumes,” presented to a live audience of 800 at the Lanier Theological Library in 2011, and he could not contain his excitement. The whole Bible seems to glow with new meaning, he said, and the good news of eternal life seems to him more beautiful than ever. But as we began to reflect on the word of God again, Neal did not know that his joy was only beginning…