Modern Christians believe the reward for accepting Jesus is eternity in Heaven. They also believe punishment for unforgiven sins occurs in Hell after death.
3000 years ago, the Bronze Age Hebrews believed sinners suffered misfortune while they lived. Yahweh blessed and rewarded the living if they followed his laws. When someone suffered some tragedy, it was because they had disobeyed Yahweh’s rules. There was no punishment or reward in the afterlife. Everyone who died ended up in Sheol, an underworld place of quiet darkness. Sheol was where the disembodied souls of the all the dead, the good and the wicked, dwelt without personality or strength.
In the Second Temple period, from 500 years before Jesus, the Jews adopted the Persian idea of the duality of good and evil. Yahweh was good and to represent evil, they chose a minor character from their past literature, the satan.
The satan, one of Yahweh’s advisors in the Book of Job, became something near godhood. The satan (lower case ‘s’) had been controlled and directed by Yahweh in the book of Job. Satan (upper case ‘S’) was given the ability to tempt humans to encourage them to sin. He was also given the job of tormenting and torturing those who succumbed to his temptations in the afterlife. Sheol became Hell, where those who did not obey Yahweh’s rules were punished after death.
Heaven had been where Yahweh lived with his angels and advisors. Heaven now became a place where the righteous went to get their reward after they died.
Jesus grew up with these Jewish traditions. He preached to Jews who had accepted the duality of good and evil. Jesus used heaven and hell as the carrot and the stick to keep his followers in line. He spoke of heaven as a carrot, a reward, for proper behavior. In Matthew, Jesus says, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. (Matthew 19:21, NIV)
He used Hell, as a stick, a threat of punishment, to coerce his followers into accepting his ideas. Jesus says, “But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” (Luke 12:5, NIV)
Modern Christians generally believe that Jesus died as a sin offering, as a way of atoning for the sins of humanity. Since Jesus atoned for their sins, Christians believe they have a golden ticket to paradise.
In the July 29, 2015, Sioux Falls Argus Leader, Billy Graham’s reader asks about God’s discipline for the living. The reader says, “Does God always discipline us when we do something wrong? We discipline our children when they misbehave, but it seems like God lets some people get by with their wrongdoing, and they never do pay for their sins.”
Billy Graham’s reader is raising the old idea of punishment, in this life, following a sinful act. It should have been easy for Billy to set this person straight.
Billy can’t resist the impulse to show the instruments of torture to his reader and, indirectly, to us. It isn’t enough that sinners who do not accept Jesus as their personal savior will roast in Hell. Billy has to threaten our everyday lives as well.
Billy tells his reader that our sins catch up with us – now, in the future, or in the afterlife. If Billy were not a Christian, he might be talking about karma, where current actions influence the future, for good or evil.
Good Christians should believe Jesus has atoned for their sins, but Billy wants those Christians looking over their shoulders. Every person has committed some act that Christians consider sinful. Billy wants his followers to consider any adverse event as a possible payback for those sinful actions.
Billy Graham downplays redemption, one of the cornerstones of Christian belief. Redemption is the idea that Jesus died to atone for all the sins of humanity. Billy wants to stress the possibility of getting some kind of retribution in this life. Billy only has a passing reference to redemption in the last paragraph of his article.
Why would he do this? I suspect it is because Billy understands human nature. Suppose you are a frugal person. If I hand you a thousand dollar gift card and tell you I will reload the card if you use it up, how careful will you be when you spend that money? What Jesus did, according to most Christians, is give believers a “get out of hell, free” card. If there are no repercussions of sinning, why should someone be wary of sinning?
Christians sometime chastise non-believers by claiming that they have no reason to be good or moral. Christians who believe they have had all their sins accounted for are the ones who have no reason to be good or moral. Any sin they might commit has already been forgiven.
Billy Graham probably understands this logic and uses the idea of possibly paying for sins in this life as a way to keep Christians in line.
You can read all of Billy Graham’s answer here.
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