On Thursday evening, June 7th, my daughter Michele graduated from the DuBois Area High School.
There were 300 or so in her graduating class, so of course she didn’t know all her classmates, but in the four years she attended DuBois (since our arrival in DuBois in 2003) she had worked hard to establish some friendships and to meet the requirements to succeed in school.
Michele has a mild learning disability, inherited from both of her biological parents. She’s a smart girl, it’s just that she simply has to really want it in order to succeed. She has to work harder than the so-called ‘normal’ kids in order to learn what comes so easy to others.
At one point we got into a conversation about why do they call graduation “commencement?” After all, commencement means to start something, not end something, right?
And of course, we talked about her years in elementary school, middle school, and high school were just the beginning of her learning years… not the end of her learning. Graduation night was simply the beginning (or commencing) of her role as an adult learner responsible for her own lessons and her own mistakes.
Already, some opportunities in life are closed to her. She didn’t join gymnastics while in school (at any age), so being an Olympic gymnist is out. It’s just not going to happen. She didn’t go out for the football team, so the NFL is out of the question. It’s too late to change those choices… those outcomes have already been determined for the rest of her life because of the choices she did, and did not, make while a student in school.
I share all of this, not just to brag about my fantastic kid (although I’m enjoying that part!), but because it’s made me think some.
As pastors, we often get to preside over funerals, which could be compared to a ‘commencement’ of a new chapter in a person’s eternal life. Just like graduation is more than an ending, but rather a much bigger beginning, so also is death (and the ceremony that follows) more of a new beginning than just an ending of a life.
And in the same way that a person’s choices in high school affect the outcomes and opportunities available to them after graduation… so also a person’s choices in this life affect the outcomes and opportunities available to them after death. We are all heading for Hell unless we choose to make a change in direction while here in this life. IF while we are here, we yield control of our lives to Jesus Christ, and allow Him to direct us and lead us, then, according to the Bible, our faith in Christ will be the ‘ticket’ into Heaven.
We don’t know a lot of the details about Heaven or Hell. Even the Bible doesn’t tell us much. The biggies are that Hell is being separated and alone… from everyone else and separated and alone from God. Eternity in isolation… just remembering our regrets and our ‘could have’ moments. And the Bible says that it’s more painful and tormenting than being burned non-stop in sulfur.
The Bible also tells us about Heaven a little bit. A place where we are with God and embraced by the hosts of heaven and all those who have died before us who had chosen Jesus as the one they would follow, rather than just do things their own way while living this life. Heaven is described as joy and peace and a sense of God’s Presence… and never being alone again.
We read that Heaven was God’s plan for everyone… and Hell was His invention to keep the devil and those who rebelled against God away from Him… Not just as a punishment, but because they each had personally chosen to break fellowship with God and go their own way… so there was no place in Heaven where they could be away from Him…
If I read the Bible right, then it teaches that God never meant for anyone to go to Hell… but for those who rebel against God and choose to do things their own way, He allows us the free-will to walk away from Him… even though that means they walk away from Heaven as well.
The problem is, we ALL have rebelled against God. We ALL have walked away and done our own thing. There is no room in Heaven for ANY of us… without some help.
Just like my daughter had a disability that meant that she needed to ask for help in order to be successful in school, so also each of us needs to ask for help in order to change the direction of our eternal life… we need help if we’re going to change and stop being rebels against God.
Knowing that, Jesus made all the arrangements we would need… We simply ask Him for help! He has taken care of everything… all we have to do is believe in Him and ask Him to help us… to ‘save’ us.
In school, Michele learned that she couldn’t do it on her own and she asked for help… and won the prize of a high school diploma. In life, I hope that each one reading these words realizes they too need help if they are going to change from being rebels against God to being friends of God… and all we need to do is ask Jesus for help… and we change the outcome of our life after death in that moment.