The question of rewards in heaven seems to trouble many of God's children? What does the Bible have to say on the subject? To answer this question, we will need to peel back a number of layers of theological truth and hold a number of important ideas in proper Biblical tension. This will probably require several blogs. So bear with me..
Let's begin with a number of basic Biblical assumptions about God, justice, and human merit.
- God is just with a kind but inflexible righteousness. The foundations of His Throne are righteousness and justice (Psalm 97). As such, He must always act according to His nature. He cannot be ungodly (un-Godlike).
- As the Creator, Possessor, and Judge of all the earth, it is both His responsibility and right to ensure that all evil is dealt with appropriately. The wicked cannot and will not be allowed to prosper forever.
- For these two reasons, therefore, God has no right to forgive sins unjustly. He cannot simply brush evil under the cosmic carpet, turn a blind eye to it, or pretend sin never happened. Justice cannot go away until it is satisfied completely, and only perfect justice can silence the voice of justice. If God were to fail to respond to evil, it would be tantamount to a confession on His part that righteousness wasn't really that important and that evil didn't really require a just response. We all know this to be true. An instinctive and insatiable cry for justice arises from the heart of every human being. Against this desire, however, there is the hope against hope that somehow God will turn a blind eye to the evil in our own hearts. Surely, there will be an exception for us? After all, we have little problem explaining away our own mistakes; they surely can't be that bad. In that sense, we are rather like the person who enjoys being 'Frank' and calling a spade a spade --as long as the spades in question belong to other people, mind you! Point out one of Mr Let-me-be-Frank's own spades, and he generally isn't nearly so appreciative! So when it comes to judging evil, where should God draw the line? How much evil can He safely ignore? Can God ignore the evil in my life and not Hitler's evil, or for that matter the perversion of the child molester? Don't you see, for God to ignore any evil, the moral fabric of everything would completely unravel?
Clearly, at least at first glance, this is a 'problem' for God. After all, He reveals Himself as One who pardons iniquity, transgression, and sin, whose mercy endures for ever, who takes no pleasure from the death of the wicked, etc. How can He justify the ungodly without impeaching Himself and ruining everything?
This is also a problem for the sinner, and no ordinary problem at that - a God-sized problem. For the justice against which we have sinned is an infinite justice. We have offended against the Holy, limitless and endless Majesty of heaven. The price to silence such a voice is one no mere mortal can pay. Here is the conundrum: man must pay, but mere man can't pay? What can be done?
- God's only answer to this question is Christ. "There is none other good enough (or big enough) to pay the price of sin. He only can unlock the gate of heaven and let us in." In the nature of man, the Son of God became sin. He was the only one grand enough to soak up the stroke of infinite justice and survive, leaving the voice of offended justice silenced forever. This is my only hope of heaven - and I embrace Him with the dirty, empty hands of faith, alone.
I am reminded of the story of Mr. Thomas Hooker(1586-1647). Along with John Davenport, and John Cotton, he was one of the three American Divines invited to join the Westminster Assembly of London (1643-47). By all accounts Hooker was a faithful and godly minister. His biographer tells us,
On July 7, 1647, this remarkable man fell to an epidemic sickness sweeping New England. Clearly he was dying. Surrounded by many of his flock, one said, "Sir, you are going to receive the reward of your labors!" With his last breath and shaking his head, he replied, "No, Brother, I am going to receive mercy!"
This should be the spirit of each of God's children as they head into eternity: a just mercy at Christ's expense. Along with everything else we receive in God's saving kindness, any reward we get will be a gracious one, covered with Christ's fingerprints, paid for by His precious blood. Watch this space and, as God spares, we will continue this discussion presently...