In order to answer this question, let me first tell you a story so that there is clarity.
The story begins with two men; Grady, and his middle aged son, Josh. Heather, Josh’s wife of twenty-three years, tragically died of breast cancer five years ago. Josh’s mom had been killed in an auto accident when he was only nine. Upon Heather’s passing, Josh moved Grady into his home so neither would be lonely.
The two men were close. They enjoyed the typical father/son things together: fishing, baseball, good food, and coffee on the front porch every morning.
They both believed that this simple architectural marvel…the front porch…had been one of the greatest losses to the American family in modern history. Most houses nowadays didn't have a porch anymore, and if it did, it was much too small.
Grady grew up in a time when the front porch was the center of social life. Back home in Alabama, porches were large enough to host the entire family at the annual family reunion. Families spent evenings on the porch listening to westerns like The Lone Ranger and comedies such as Amos & Andy on the old radio; waving to neighbors at sunset.
Grady had done his best with Josh, and Josh loved his dad. Grady would often look at the only child he'd ever had and say, “If I was any prouder of you, son, I'd have to hire somebody to help me handle my grin.” They were all each other had, but they found it to be enough.
One Fall Friday morning after the first cup of coffee and discussing the predictions for the evening’s local high school football game, Josh returned for a second cup of blonde roast liquid adrenaline. Grady looked in his son’s direction as the screen door creaked open and Josh reappeared with his steaming cup in hand.
Grady’s eyes found Josh’s just in time to see them widen in panic. The boy’s newly poured cup of coffee crashed to the ground as he leaped off the porch in full sprint. The aged father saw the reason for alarm.
Sam, a young boy, probably about four years of age, had wandered away from his mom who had accompanied him and his sister to the school bus stop. The toddler had chased his soccer ball out and to the near side of the street with the school bus drawing ever closer.
The little boy went between two cars to grab up the ball as Josh raced toward Sam. Without looking, Sam obliviously headed back across the street to his mom…in the direct path of the oncoming bus.
Just as the youngster was about to be struck, Josh’s hands reached him. Using his own momentum, Josh threw the little boy toward the grass near his mom. The mother, now fully alerted to the danger her son had narrowly missed, rushed over to find Sam crying; holding what appeared to be a hurt arm.
Just as onlookers were about to draw their stolen breath again, Grady’s voice pierced the quiet of the moment. “No! No! Please, God, no!” Josh’s body lay motionless just in front of the bus. His severe head wound could not match the severity of the wound in Grady’s heart. One son had given his life for another son. One parent would kiss their child that night, the other would not.
A week later, just after Josh’s funeral, there was a knock on Grady’s door. It was the mother of the toddler Josh had died to save. Her name was Sarah. She didn’t say anything at first, so Grady decided to start the conversation.
“I hope Sam is alright. The only comfort in my heart about all of this is knowing that my son didn’t die in vain.”
“Alright?” she snapped. “Alright? No he’s not alright! His arm is broken at the wrist and he may never be able to play football like he’d always dreamed he would. I just came over here to serve you notice of my intent to sue you for every bit of Josh’s life insurance. And I’m going after your retirement as well. My son will never be the same because of what your son did.”
Grady didn’t know what to say to Sarah. What could he say? His son was dead. Her’s wasn’t. Sam might have indeed had dreams of playing football at some point, but there would really have been no guarantee of that. Yet there would have been a pretty good guarantee that Josh would’ve been having coffee and discussing the football game this morning on the porch if…if…just…if.
As he watched Sarah going into her house down the street, he started to cry. He’d already lost his son to save hers. What more did she want? How could she feel she was entitled to anything more? Anger boiled within him as he thought of the way Sarah had all but spat in Josh’s face. His only son meant more to him than to let someone who never even knew him tarnish his sacrifice in such a manner.
I’m sure you may be asking yourself some of the same questions as Grady. I have to smile as I think of how my wife, Michelle, would’ve responded. She can go from zero to “cray cray” in 3.8 seconds. I can hear her now, “Oh, no you didn’t!”
I had a reason for sharing this story with you. You see, it’s actually more of a parable than anything. If you’ve ever read the Bible, possibly even from other literary sources, you may have heard of a parable. Parables are stories told to illustrate a particular event or circumstance. Jesus used them often. He would more often than not use them to illustrate the Kingdom of Heaven. He would start one by saying something like, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…”
As a pastor on staff at a church, I get asked quite a lot if God would really send someone to hell. This questions is then followed by, “After all, isn’t God love? How could a loving God send someone to hell?” This is a very good question.
To arrive at our answer, let’s put ourselves in God’s shoes. They'd be a very similar fit to the shoes Grady was called on to wear. It is rightly said that God is love. Let that sink in. God doesn't just love, meaning the action of loving others. He is love. Everything about Him exists to love us…you.
Our sin nature, traced all the way back to Adam and Eve, separates us from God. It's not a “how good you've been versus how bad you've been” thing. It's that God looked down through eyes of unconditional love for mankind and determined that we were all worth the price necessary to save us.
The only payment for sin is death. If that price was attached to mankind, we could never be redeemed from our sinful state. The cost we would have to pay is something from which we could never return. But God could. Rather, His son, Jesus would.
Just as instinct told Josh to save Sam, Jesus’ instinct, born from love, led Him to leave the glory of heaven and “run to mankind” to die a horrible, brutal death on the cross. God sent His only son to give His life so that we wouldn't need to give ours. Plus, Jesus did the one thing we could've never done. He rose from the dead. We could've died, true, but we would've died with the grave in victory over us rather than us having victory over it.
So when people reject Jesus, then talk about God being a God of love and never sending anyone to hell, I'm sure God feels as any father would who watched his son give his life for others only to see them reject the most precious gift imaginable. His anger burns. And scripture tells us that those who reject Jesus’ gift to mankind on the cross will burn too; eternally separated from God in a place called hell.
God does love us too much to not make a way of escaping such destruction. His will is for all to come to repentance and accept His gift. So if we are brazen enough to look God in the face after rejecting Jesus’ work on the cross, and we hear God say, “I never knew you,” (Matthew 7:23 NLT), let me tell you what the conversation might be like.
You: “But God, I always heard that You are love. Surely a loving God wouldn't send me to hell.”
God: “I did love you. I never wanted this for you. As a matter of fact, I sent my son, Jesus, and allowed Him to suffer the worst death imaginable while I watched. All of that was done for you so I'd never be put in this position. How can you say I don't love you when I went that far for you? What else could I have done? I paid the highest price I could pay and still you refuse Me. What more did you want? There is only one person I love more than you, and that's Jesus, my only son. Yet I was willing to watch Him die in your place because I knew it was the only way to have you with me for eternity. How could you say that My son is not so important and that I would prostitute His sacrifice by letting you come to me by any means but Him? Get away from Me. I didn't know you then, and I don't know you now.”
Accepting Jesus as your Savior is so very easy. God made it that way because He wanted even a child to understand His love. Scripture tells us, “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved.” (Romans 10:9-10 NLT) That’s it. No prior life changes necessary. Any change that takes place, God must do in you. You don't have the power to do what needs to be done yourself. That’s the whole point. You need a Savior.
If this is something you want to do, I’d like to invite you. I can’t say your prayer for you, but I can write a sample and you can pray it, or one like it, wherever you are right now. If you’re on a commuter train, perfect. Plane? Excellent. Bar? Sure. No place is off limits. Just pray something like this:
Lord, I know I’ve messed up. I’m not even exactly sure everything I’ve done that could be called “sin,” but I’ll trust You to show me from now on. I believe that Your death was for me and that You rose to give me victory over what should have had victory over me. Forgive me for my sins. Help me every day to live for You. Give me courage and boldness now to tell others what I’ve done and why. Thank You, Lord. In Jesus’ name, amen.