Feeble Knees

Monday, December 13, 2004

Do You Think She Made It?

Last night I was remembering standing by the casket of a family member at her wake, when the assistant pastor of my former church looked apologetically at me and whispered, "Do you think she made it?"

Had I been thinking on my feet, I would have retorted: "I dunno. D'ya think your odds are any better?"

He was, regrettably, not the first person from my church to wonder out loud if this troubled lady made it safely to heaven's shores. Mental illness had long ago robbed her of appropriateness, tactfulness and self restraint. She did not always do the right things. At times she did very selfish, mean, and shocking things.

But don't we all?

For a time she regularly attended church, much to the chagrin of many church members. To some she was just a harmless eccentric. To others, she was emotionally dangerous and hurtful. She could be embarrassing, trying, and frustrating in the extreme one minute, and sweet as sugar the next. On medication, she did pretty well. So it's not surprising that to this day I'd still like to beat the stuffing out of those would-be saints who convinced her God would heal her mind, and that she didn't need to take her pills. Thanks people. Thanks a lot. Go to jump in a lake, 'kay?

She would bless Jesus and curse others out of both sides of her mouth. She gossiped. She lied. She gave exorbitant money gifts to people. She gave me presents of enormous gaudy dime-store brooches and earrings while I was growing up. She smoked, then quit with Jesus' help, then started again. She visited the sick and elderly. She demanded and got attention. She sang hymns alone late at night in her apartment. She knew she was sick. She played people against each other. She cried and cried into her tea, makeup drizzling down her face as she sat there at our kitchen table most weekdays as I arrived home from school.

She was no stranger to this assistant pastor. He knew her, her condition, and her antics, well. He tried in vain to counsel her, and then later us as we attempted to pick up the pieces of bruised and battered people in her wake. Like us, he was on the receiving end of both her affections and her rants. But he was the pastor, he was the one who we figured knew better than we; surely God spoke to him about her plight, just as God spoke to us.

So the shock of that question shot through me like ten thousand volts that morning. I'm not sure which stunned me more: the sheer impropriety of the moment, or the fact that he, her pastor, felt the need to ask me, the nobody important. What the BLEEP!

The night before and the morning of the wake, Mum and I discussed things quietly, prayerfully. The truth is, we didn't know. It wasn't easy to say. We didn't know where mental illness ended and personal accountability began. We thought long and hard about Grace and Justice. We considered that for many years now, we'd been saying that God is perfectly loving and perfectly just. This put our belief to the test. Did we really believe in grace? Did we really believe God was just? Did we believe that someone who professed to have given her heart to Jesus would be forgiven all her miserable deeds as a professing Christian? Was there an insanity clause? Exactly how far does Grace extend? Is there a point of no return?

That day we really began to understand that what appears to be a paradox between God's justice and God's mercy really isn't. Christ's willing self-sacrifice fulfills the requirements of justice in the most perfect, merciful way.

I don't know if she made it. But I don't know if that pastor will either. Who but God knows what transpires in a human heart in the moments before they pass over? The scriptures say there will be those who, from all outward appearances, seem to be absolute shoe-ins. And yet Jesus will say to them: depart from me, I never knew you. And then there are those like the thief on the cross who appear to be the most unlikely of all candidates for paradise who are nevertheless ushered into glory.

I am glad the decision is not up to me, and that while God is an altogether Perfect Judge, Jesus is an altogether Perfect Advocate on our behalf. Therefore, my soul is at peace, contemplating the thought every poor undeserving soul in heaven today, rejoicing in their Savior's everlasting love.
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