How Far is Too Far?
Updated: Dec 23, 2022
Meeting Jesus Face to Face
Story by Randy Grathen
(Author note) To put this story in context, you need to understand it was 1965, in the one parish I attended as a kid in Green Bay, Wi. Everything I wrote in the story is my personal experience, not an indictment of the church in general.
How far can you walk away from God before your soul is irredeemable? I grew up Catholic. Even went to Catholic school. Had Nuns for teachers.
One of the first things I learned about Catholicism was that it was based on a lot of rules. Not just the Ten Commandments, but the priests and nuns had a bunch more that weren’t written down anywhere. You learned about a new one each time you broke one. We were always trying to measure up to a bunch of unwritten rules and standards, trying not to sin too much and doing a few good works to make up the difference. There were categories of sins too. Mortal sins, Venial sins, Sins of Omission and so on. Going to 'Confession' was one way to wipe the slate clean for a moment or two, and saying a few extra “Hail Mary’s” and “Our Father’s” didn’t hurt either. You could bankroll them for when you did something really bad.
We were told God was sitting on His throne waiting to judge each one of us when we died. Our hope was that on the 'Scale of Judgement' our GOOD DEEDS DONE tipped it in our favor over TOTAL SINS COMMITED.
We would compare ourselves to other kids we knew, and tried to decide whether we were not as bad as they were as if God graded our salvation on a curve. “I’m a good person” was our answer as to whether we were going to go to Heaven or Hell. As if being good was enough. It was always about staying out of hell more than knowing we had secured our place in Heaven. We never knew for sure if our goodness would outweigh our badness at the time of our death, so, if we weren’t bad enough to go to hell, but not yet good enough to get into heaven in our present condition, the Catholic Church invented a place called Purgatory. It was hell with an exit. Once we paid our penalty i.e. varying lengths of time in hell depending on how many sins we had to make up for, we finally got to go to heaven.
Apparently Jesus's death on the cross wasn't enough to totally erase all our sins. I decided that if I wanted to get right with God, I’d have to clean myself up and get my act together. I made a mental checklist of just some of the things I would have to do to please Him. Stop swearing, quit drinking, smoking, lying, getting angry, cheating, stealing, taking the Lord’s name in vain, and start going to church. When I looked at my To-Do list it was down-right depressing. Maybe a few more Hail Mary’s would help. My Catholic upbringing still had me thinking in terms of “working” my way into heaven.
The word Repentance means to turn around or turn away from our transgressions and ask for forgiveness. I had been walking away from God for the first 23 years of my life. I left a long trail of sins in my wake. To turn around and walk all the way back to His throne, throw myself at His feet and beg forgiveness would be a very loooooong arduous journey indeed.
But then a most remarkable thing happened. It was during the time of what was known as the Jesus-freak Movement in the early 70’s. Street evangelist were everywhere.
“Hey buddy, are you saved?”
“Do you know where you’re going to spend eternity when you die?”
Hey man, Jesus loves you!”
Just keep walking - Eyes straight ahead - Don’t make eye contact, but I inadvertently did.
I was single, in the Air Force and headed to the Airman's Club for a beer. Instead I hear this... “Come here, I want to show you something. look at this…”
It was April 1973. His name was Bruce. He opened up his King James Bible and read the most quoted verse in the bible. It is the starting point for everyone who is ready to concede defeat and stop running away.
John 3:16. For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. I finally understood that we are all sinners, and no amount of good works would save me. I realized it wasn’t how far down the path of destruction I had walked, because I was doomed from birth. I was bound for hell before I ever took my first step. I was born with a sin-nature. It was in my DNA and there wasn’t a thing I could do to save myself. But here is the good news…
God showed me no matter how far I had traveled on the road to Hell, no matter how long I had my back turned on God, He doesn’t sit on his throne waiting for us to come crawling back bowing, whimpering and groveling and begging for forgiveness and one more chance. He pursues us. Jesus had been following me my entire life. Walking right behind me the whole time. When I finally stopped walking away and turned around, He was right there. He was standing inches away. I turned and stepped right into his open arms. He wrapped His arm around me and said, “let’s go home son.”
Salvation is not about rules, it's about a relationship with our savior.
We are made “new” the moment we step into Jesus’ arms, accept His forgiveness, and make Him our Lord. We are forgiven. We are set free from the wages of sin – death. He paid the price in advance for me. All I had to do was accept the gift.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His loving devotion for those who fear Him. 12 As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. 13 As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.… Psalm 103
"Come now, let us settle the matter," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. Isaiah 1:18
P.S. for those of you who knew me between 1973 and and the mid 90s I hope you weren't taking notes, unless you were noting all the things not to do while claiming to be a Christian. I was a very poor example. I apologize!
May the grace of the Lord and the peace that surpasses all understanding be with you always.
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