I’ve always struggled with this concept.
“How can a good God send people to Hell?”
I have never struggled with this question. God’s justice and his wrath have always made sense to me. Even from a very young age, I understood the Law of Sin and Death. Those who sin deserve to suffer in Hell. It just made sense to me. You’ve offended almighty God, what else should you expect?
Then there is me. I deserve Hell. I don’t know what others have done, but I know what I’ve done. I’ve caused people misery and suffering just because I could, because I wanted to. I deserve no less than Hell.
There is a hymn we all know that tells us that grace taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved. The Bible taught me about the ugliness of human nature, about the holiness of God and how we all deserved to burn in Hell for our terrible sins.
But I could not ignore it taught something else too. Something beautiful beyond words. Something I could not understand.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
What? You mean God isn’t going to punish me according to my sins? That doesn’t make sense, I am a lawbreaker. I deserve Hell, I must go there, it is only right.
Yet somehow I found myself daring to believe in this. It was a miracle of God, just as the passage says, not because of any decision I made. One October night, God suddenly and miraculously convinced me of the truth. The same truth that taught me to tremble in fear of His wrath taught me that wrath was borne by Christ and now I had nothing to fear. I believed on the Name, I repented of my sins, and I was born-again.
But the grace of Ephesians was something I struggled daily to believe in. I struggled so badly to believe it, but I still felt that this gift must be a “trial run.” I was going to have to make it up to Him. I was going to have to live up to the gift, or it was curtains for me again. And I tried. I tried so hard. Not surprisingly, I failed miserably. I cried, I pleaded for forgiveness. “Just one more try God, I can do this.” I couldn’t. God and I played this game for many, many sad years.
“I’m going to Hell.” I told a friend one day. I had stumbled once again into a habitual sin, and this time I knew He was done with me. I felt it inside, like something was gone forever. For three days I prayed for forgiveness, but felt like He was no longer listening. It was perhaps the most depressed I’ve ever been.
Yet by this point I was a new member at Steven’s Street Baptist Church, and God had placed several great men in my path to help me. They reminded me of this verse, and others, and pleaded with me to lay my guilt aside and carry on. I did, and I believed in grace on faith as I had before, but I still did not understand it at all.
Over the next couple of years, my heart grew cold and hard. I was disappointed in myself. I had failed Him. I was not worthy. Every emotional connection just caused me more pain. So I closed my heart up. No one could get in. I sealed it up carefully with many skilled locks. I had friends, but they could only come so far. No one was to know the real me. Sitting with a sister in Christ one night at the coffee shop, she told me, “I don’t think anyone knows you, really.” She was right. Had this continued, I would have become a soulless wretch.
Then I met her. At first I did not like her. Being around her made me uncomfortable. The things she said got under my skin. But we were part of the same circle of friends, so I had to tolerate her company.
One night we found ourselves talking to one another. The conversation went on….and on….and on. Soon, I was sharing parts of me with her I’d never shared with anyone. I did not want to. It was like she had some magical key to my heart and everything was coming out. The conversations went on night after night. She was never repulsed by my pain and fears. She listened to me, she cared about me.
Her eyes told me, “Don’t be afraid. Tell me everything. I will heal you.”
One day, I expressed all my fears and doubts about God’s grace. She sat down with me and showed me in the Scriptures all that God says about His love for the elect. I had heard these verses before, but somehow hearing it from her…I started to really grasp them for the first time.
Before long I realized I could not live without this woman. God led me to pursue her, and eventually I asked her to marry me. She said yes. But my fears and doubts made me a poor boyfriend. Afraid of losing her, I became selfish and insensitive towards her. She should have left me. She did not.
Her eyes said, “I am committed to you.”
Soon we were married. It was one of the happiest days of my life. Yet I was not a very good husband. I was still selfish and insensitive. We would argue and I would withdraw from her for hours, sometimes days, living in my own little world and neglecting her. She cried, she prayed for me, but she never gave up. When God would turn my heart back to her, she was there with open arms to welcome me back.
Her eyes said, “I will not leave you. I will not give up.”
Over the years I’ve struggled to pick up the pieces of my foolish youth and start a real career. I’ve had many pitfalls and moments of humiliation in that time. When no one believed in me, she did. When my career looked hopeless, she held out hope for me. She encouraged me, she praised all of my pathetic accomplishments as if they were titanic milestones. She has given up her dreams to see ours become a reality.
Her eyes said, “Don’t give up. I will always be with you. I am proud of you.”
Today, I still struggle with the concept of grace, but I am miles and miles from where I used to be. Gena’s love and faithfulness have taught me so much. She is the best wife any man could hope for. Her gentleness has turned away my wrath, and her quiet obedience has helped me to repent and change.
Do you know I wake up each morning and by the time I am done with my shower she has breakfast on the table for me? That might not sound impressive, but remember this is not breakfast for the fantastic man who has a stellar job and makes lots of money, who is in perfect physical shape, is kind and understanding with his wife and a great role model for his children. This is breakfast on the table for me. The selfish, uncaring, overweight, 31-but-just-starting-a-career man who is insensitive and is not nearly as invested in his family as he ought to be. That is love. That is grace.
Every day I see those beautiful eyes, still speaking grace into my life. And now I am starting to understand that the voice in her eyes wasn’t hers. It was His.
Gena is to be valued higher than gemstones. I can trust her totally and lose nothing. Every day she does me good and not harm. She works hard all day long for this family. She is wise with money, and without her I’d be a financial wreck. She is generous and compassionate to all. She takes care of our children and sees to all their needs (physical, mental, spiritual). I am honored to be her husband and have an extra strut in my step just to know she belongs to me. She teaches righteousness to the younger women and makes a good impression upon the old. She fears the LORD and loves Him too. I am blessed because of her, and I praise God daily for her. Many women in this world do great things, but she exceeds them all.