On the trip to Europe I mentioned previously, a group of friends and I spent a few days on a boat sailing around different islands in the Adriatic Sea. While docked one morning, several of us decided to go for a walk to get some exercise and happened upon a thousand-year-old church that had a large graveyard behind it. We wandered around scores of gravestones, three unbelievers and me, just taking in names and dates and epitaphs.
One of the guys pointed to a particular grave and said, “Hey, that guy’s probably in purgatory. Probably didn’t pay his penance, you know, and has been in limbo for the past two hundred years! You’re the professional here, Hybels. Why don’t you explain all this purgatory stuff to us? I mean, what’s the deal with the whole penance thing? Just tell the rest of us what it’s all about.”
Call me crazy, but it seemed like an open door to me. They all stared at me, nodding. “Yeah, tell us!” they ribbed.
My mind whirred. I’ve got about forty-five seconds to make something clear here. Where should I begin?
I live for moments like those! Why? Because I have absolutely no idea what’s going to come out of my mouth in response. But I trust that God’s going to direct some logical flow and make it all work out. Each time, I echo Paul’s words, “Oh, God, please make this clear!”
This probably isn’t what I said verbatim, but something like this rolled off my tongue as the four of us stood in a deserted graveyard on a windy morning in May: “Well, for starters, I’ve never done an in-depth study on purgatory or the whole penance plan. I’m far from being an expert on those things, but this much I know for sure: the Bible teaches that God is utterly heartbroken when anybody ends up anywhere but with him eternally in heaven. And he sent Christ, his Son, to pay everybody’s penance so that we wouldn’t have to. When we ask him personally to pay our penance, Jesus joyfully agrees to do so, and that opens the door for that person to be in heaven with God forever.”
Surprisingly, as I finished my remarks, there was no applause.
There were no follow-up questions, no falling-on-knees-in-submission-to-Christ motions. Just a simple, “So that’s the deal, huh?” from one of them. And a bunch of stares. (Although later that day, one of them did cycle back around for what turned out to be a fantastic spiritual conversation.) — Hybels, Bill (2008-09-02). Just Walk Across the Room: Simple Steps Pointing People to Faith (Kindle Locations 3927-3947). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.