“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. (Matthew 25:31-33, NIV)
In a conversation over on Morgan Guyton’s blog, he asked me whether I ever felt as if I deserve eternal torment.
It was a good question. Like all good questions, it brought something from my own life into clearer focus. It pointed out to me that I analyze the situation from the other side. I don’t start with the assumption that I deserve paradise and God must prove the case if he would take it from me. I don’t put God in the dock.
Here’s how I put it on his blog:
Good question. Do I think I deserve eternal damnation? Where to start? Ten Commandments? Sermon on the Mount? How about Matthew 25? Am I more like the sheep or the goats? Well, I do volunteer every week at a community center for the poor and homeless. Of course, tonight at McDonald’s I drove by a guy standing in a snow storm holding an “I’m hungry” sign. Are there children going to bed hungry tonight while I nibble on potato chips? Is someone cold while I am warm? Is someone lonely while I sit and write on a computer screen? Are there beloved children of God whose lives could be better if I mustered the gumption to love them as much as I love myself?
When Jesus comes and says to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels,” do I have any confidence that I deserve to be standing over on the right side with the sheep?
No. Not based on my own works, I don’t. I am so far from perfection that I can make no protest. But thanks be to God, I do not have to rely on my goodness.
If I assume I am a sheep, then it is easy to think that God would have to be angry and cruel to deny me my rightful place in the Book of Life. If I start with the awareness that I am a goat — selfish, sinful, and sanctimonious — then I see that God is gracious to forgive a wretch like me and heal with his own blood my goatish heart.
Jesus Christ has begun that work in me. It is not complete by any stretch. I pray he continues.