My daughter Presley is generally a very good girl. I feel the need to point that out because last week I told a story of her misbehaving when talking about hell and lollipops. As a counterpoint to that, this week I’m going to talk about heaven…and lollipops. Again the best illustration I have involves Presley misbehaving, even though that’s relatively rare. But, hey, Romans 3:23.
When Presley was about 4, she was playing with building blocks with her younger sister, Finley, who kept knocking down whatever Presley was building. In a moment of anger, Presley took one of the blocks and smacked her sister over the head with it.
Finley started crying hysterically, and Presley, immediately realizing what she had done, also started crying, both because of the pain she had caused her sister and because of fear of the consequences. I have to tend to Finley first, so I tell Presley to go to her room—which she knows means to go to this chair in her room, where she sits and waits for the wrath of Daddy. Presley’s just sitting there, weeping, and saying “I’m sorry Daddy, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…”
As many people have noted, children don’t come with an instruction manual. Actually, there is one—it’s called the Bible—but I’m not always perfect in how I apply it. I’m trying to figure out how to handle this, and praying for God to give me something to say. So I go into the other room and grab a lollipop. Not a little sucker or blow pop, but a giant, big-as-your-face lollipop. The kind that lasts you all year. Presley loves lollipops more than just about anything else in the world, so this is (in her mind) pretty much the greatest gift I could possibly give her. And that’s what I do. I walk in her room and hand it to her.
You’ve never seen someone so confused. She’s crying and smiling at the same time, and looking at me and the lollipop like, what do I do with this? Is it a trick? Is he going to use it as a paddle to spank me? Is it poisoned, or something?
I tell her, “It’s yours. Enjoy it.”
And she says, “Why, Daddy?”
“Presley, enjoy it. It’s yours.”
“But Daddy, why?”
“Presley, this is grace. This is grace. You deserve the spanking of a lifetime. I am so disappointed in the choice you just made. But this is what God has done for your Daddy. See, Daddy deserves the ‘supernatural spanking’ of a lifetime. But God has shown me grace. He has absorbed that spanking Himself, and He has given me abundant life in place of it. So enjoy your giant lollipop. That’s grace.”
As Jefferson Bethke pointed out last week at The Porch, most of us try to earn God’s favor. Like the Prodigal Son, we think that if we feel badly enough about what we have done and say “I’m sorry” enough, that God might begrudgingly tolerate us. Or, like the older son in that parable, perhaps we try to always do good works and never, ever do anything wrong (which is impossible, even for an “innocent” child). In the process, we miss out on the fact that God is freely offering us grace, with no strings attached.
It is hard for us to grasp because that type of exchange—eternal riches for nothing, other than our misdeeds—does not make sense. It’s just not natural. It’s supernatural.
You get heaven and avoid hell because God is good, not because you are.