"My Sister Says I'm Going to Hell"
Okay, one more for the road. Kim L passed this onto me and I wonder what advice you'd offer "Shaken." It was sent to Cary Tennis' advice column at salon.com. You can click here to read Cary's response, but I wonder what your response would be. (A note from me: Clearly it will be easy--and my inclination as well--to dismiss "Shaken's" sister entirely as the epitome of hard stage 2, perhaps even veering perilously close to stage 1, yet I don't at all dismiss hell in and of itself. There. I've said it. So feel free to incorporate thoughts on that into your response as well, if it so moves you.)
My sister told me that she believes only members of her particular church will be going to heaven. I have been in a state of mild shock ever since I hung up on her. She is a longtime active member of a (let's call it) "God's Church" in North Carolina.
I am a semi-regular attendee of a Baptist church in Louisiana. I'm not a strict every-single-Sunday attendee, but my wife and I have an earnest desire to serve, and this church has appealed to us and is one we could join. My sister speaks of matters of eternal life with exacting terminology and rock-hard conviction. She is that clear on the steps to salvation and heaven, the right way to live, to pray, to BE a Christian. She is that sure of her reading of the Bible's truths, or of the way they have been taught to her by her church.
She is so sure of her status as the chosen and elected of God that she has no compunction at all about telling anyone who wants to talk about it that if they ain't doing worship and living her way — the right, God's Church way — they ain't getting into glory. And she does it very sweetly, almost apologetically — she hastens to tell you she can cite the scriptures that totally support her position, and it's almost as if she feels sorry for you in your sorrowful, lost state.
Mind you, she's not the one who is saying that only God's Church members are going to heaven. She is polished and practiced and prepared on the fine point that it is God himself who is saying that. So it's pretty easy to understand that a person wouldn't have any ready comeback, after being walloped by this. I mumbled, "I don't think we'll be talking anymore about church ... I'll talk to you later," and hung up before waiting for her goodbye.
This is huge and heavy for me. I am trying to maintain (I'm sure my sister would differ and say I need to establish something before I can maintain it) a daily relationship with my God as I understand God. If I am doomed unless I find a God's Church, follow the specifically prescribed steps to salvation and eternal life as they say they are laid out in the Bible, and strive to obey sufficiently so that I can be deemed as saved by God's Church, then I am doomed — because I don't see that happening. I will talk to people I consider grounded in these matters. I will pour out my heart to my God as I understand God, and I will hope that my sister, whom I cherish and who has been the closest to me in my family for my whole life, and I can find a way to go forward from this. I'm not sure what you can give by way of advice for this situation, but I knew that I didn't have the answers in my head, and I knew that this has troubled me as deeply as anything I can remember.