We can never know how we would respond to the ultimate threat. But a thoughtful heart check sheds light on what we treasure most.
While our choices matter to God, he tells us our motives matter even more. God is always looking at our hearts.
Thinking of what I would say to a shooter pointing a gun at my head was not nearly as revealing for me as pondering why I would say it. As you read these wildly different responses from the candid crew over on Reddit what values do you see at work?
“Strong Catholic here. I can't deny God. No matter what; for me my faith is first.”“I guess that's the difference between you and me. I'd say d— near anything to continue to be here for my family and to save them having to grieve me. Also I don't want to die, can't lie there, but I really feel a commitment to my loved ones.”“People that would put faith above family and life scare me.”"’But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.’ Matthew 10:33 I'm Christian – – I would have denied it. Some people might not because of the above scripture.”“I mean Jesus himself told Peter he would deny him three times before the dawn, and guess wut happened….and that dude was the first Pope. It takes major chutzpah to look death in the face and say f— you, I worship who I worship…I gotta say though, for the record, I kind of f—ing admire the ones who said they did….“They stuck to what they believed and didn't let the bully win. Can't help but wish I had that courage.”“It's an insanely brave thing to do. It's not logical, it's not rational, but it sure as hell is brave.”“Exactly. It's fascinating how many people in here think willingly dying for your beliefs is crazy. Throughout most of human history, standing up in the face of certain death has been seen as about as brave and honorable as it gets.”“It's a matter of principle.”“I hope those orphaned children and widowed wives can spend that principle on comfortable housing and food when the regular income dries up.”“So everyone should always take the path of least resistance, as long as it feeds them.”“When I was a Christian, I always think to myself that getting killed defending my faith is a sure ticket to heaven and I'd gladly do it.”“Life is real. God might be. Or not.”“I feel like I'd probably say no out of fear… then have a lot of survivor's guilt for not standing alongside those who died.”
When I look over these comments I see a slew of motives: Church loyalty. Commitment to family over God. Fear of death. Obedience to God and his Word. Defying the shooter. Allegiance to beliefs. A matter of principle. A ticket to heaven. Doubts about the reality of God. Guilt…
Some of these motives resonate deeply. I love life. I love my family. I would hate to leave them to grieve. But I hope I would not choose to love them over God. Jesus said that whoever makes that choice is not worthy of him (Matt 10:37). I believe in Jesus with almost as much certainty as I believe that I exist. So I hope that in such a moment of decision I would treasure his “Well done!” more than living out a life under the banner of his “unworthy.”
There was a time when I might have said “Yes” out of obedience. An act of the will. Force me to choose, and I choose to obey God.
Or escape. A ticket to heaven. Not in the sense of earning it, (something never promised) but deliverance from my marathon of living with rheumatoid arthritis. From the pain, multiple surgeries and limited mobility. From feeling trapped in a physically old-feeling body for thirty-five years and counting. I’ve asked God many times to please spare me from lingering years and years in even more pain and limitation. Would I choose a ticket out?
I hope, if ever confronted with that terrible choice, I would not say “No” out of fear or a lesser love, or “Yes” out of obedience or the desire for escape. I hope I would say “Yes” for the joy set before us.
What makes you feel most alive? The sudden embrace of your child? Making love? The warmth of sunshine in the beauty of a garden? A heart-to-heart conversation? The impulse of a creative moment? When you’re about to take a risk and feel scared, but also resolved? You know you’re about to step out and do it?
That aliveness is what life face to face with Jesus will be like. Life to the full. Sometimes we get glimpses—a golden moment of tenderness, beauty, or discovery—and we wish it would last forever. But, as Robert Frost says in his poem, “nothing gold can stay.” For a follower of Jesus death changes that. The gold is forever.
One of my favorite quotes is from John Vianney: “Our home is heaven. On earth we are like travelers staying at a hotel. When one is away, one is always thinking of going home.”
I so long for the joys of heaven—the comfort of what’s lasting and familiar and home, but also the thrill of newness and discovery and adventure. All the pain is a gift that has helped me to see through the bubble of all my American, good-life dreams to glimpse the sheer joy that awaits.
I long for the wedding. The new-each-moment joy of the honeymoon. By his grace, and as I have daily said “yes” to him, I have made a sort of heaven shift. Nothing here compares.
The clock is ticking on our race. One day we’ll top the last rise. We’ll see our home rising before us, radiant with God’s glory. And the memories of our pain and sorrow will only make it sweeter—like the black velvet that makes the diamond sparkle.
All our pain and even our laughter will fade into the sheer joy of knowing who waits for us—that face coming closer and closer with each step. That smile that mirrors our own as we finally come before the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
In his face we’ll find everything we’ve ever longed for. And, as we hold our breath, our King will open heaven for us. He will take us up to the throne. We’ll see the four living creatures, wingtip to wingtip. Their sparkling wheels covered with eyes. Their waterfall voices leading worship.
Jesus will claim us by name as his own before his Father and his angels. And the Life we’ve always dreamed of really begins.
If we can see Him with the eyes of faith, then to live is Christ and to die is gain. I don’t think we have any idea how much joy awaits.
If we did we might say “Yes” and never look back.