Thursday, July 14, 2016

On Earning, Deserving, and Inheriting Eternal Life

I’m not an expert on anything I post in this blog.  I’m not a theologian.  I’m not a Scripture scholar.  I have no formal training in Catholic apologetics.  I’ve never taken a philosophy course.  I’ve never taken an astronomy course.  Yet, the things that enter my mind when composing My Thursday Thoughts are things that probably fit into these categories.  I did participate a Bible study at my home parish in Nebraska once some years ago, and I sometimes feel that in writing this blog, I am undertaking my own private Bible study that has no guidance from a priest or anyone else.  So you may find my thoughts interesting, but you may, at times, also find them lacking in facts or in opposition to what you consider to be the facts.  That is okay … maybe it can be a learning experience for both of us as good Bible studies should be.

A case in point are the thoughts I’ve had regarding salvation.  I have said things like “We must earn our way to heaven” or “if we live our lives according to the teachings of the Church, then we deserve heaven.”  I’ve had opposing responses like “salvation is a free gift to believers resulting from the death of Jesus on the cross and cannot be earned” and “no matter how we live our lives, we will never deserve heaven.”  These friends back up their statements with Scripture passages.  I’ve thought about these responses a lot and can never quite seem to wrap my head around it. 

Recently I connected a Scripture passage to this perplexity and settled on a “new” word.  The word is “inherit.”  The Scripture passage is Luke 10:25-37.  A man (scholar of the law) asked Jesus “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law?  How do you read it?”  The man said in reply, “You shall love the Lord, your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  Jesus replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you shall live.”

But the man continued, “And who is my neighbor?”  Jesus responded with the story of the Good Samaritan, the point being that if we have love and compassion for a fellow man who is suffering, and treat him with mercy, then we fulfill the “neighbor” part of this law.  Remember that the original question was about inheriting eternal life, about heaven, about salvation.  Clearly, Christ’s response involves action on our part.  It involves serious love of God and serious love of neighbor. 

So, can we “earn” salvation or “deserve” heaven?  My definitions of these words tell me that the answers are “yes” if we demonstrate our love for God and neighbor with the lives we lead.  Others may define these words differently, and I respect that.  That is why I will try to substitute the word “inherit” in future posts on this subject.  We are God’s adopted sons and daughters, after all, and that makes us his heirs.  Amen.

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