Here’s a re-post of one of my earliest blogs, dedicated to actor-comedian Robin Williams, who died on this date four years ago.
Robin Williams’ death brought on the expected flood of tributes, but also a smaller wave of hellfire pronouncements by judgmentalists—because Robin lived a sometimes sinful life and died at his own hands. These warnings were countered by gentler folk who chose to focus on Robin’s many acts of kindness. But who’s right? Neither.
Because eternity isn’t about goodness or badness.*
It’s about relationships, according to the Bible (although actions can reveal what’s in a person’s heart). King David was called “a man after God’s own heart” despite the fact that he was an adulterer and a murderer. The Apostle Peter disowned Jesus on the night of His arrest, but was later called to lead His church. According to Jesus, the unforgivable sin is not suicide, but “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit,” refusing God’s life-giving Presence. But if bad behavior is not a guaranteed ticket to hell, neither is good behavior a ticket to heaven: “Many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not [do good works] in your name?’ And I will reply, ‘I never knew you.’” (Matthew 7:22-23) Reflecting on this, I recall an epiphany from my youth:
I was eight or nine, and had reached the end of a gleefully misbehaving day. My cronies and I had been lobbing olives at cars (our neighborhood was built on the site of an old olive grove), which would erupt in purple explosions against windshields, causing reactionary curses and wild careens. It was all good—well, alright, evil—fun until Mom spotted us! She’d come to the door to proclaim the dinner banns. There must have been some guilt in my pre-manly breast, for when she called me home, whispering “Wait till your father finds out about this,” I thought, “Why didn’t she call Rory instead?” Rory was the only kid who’d refused to throw olives. And then, lo, a marvelous truth fell upon me, “She didn’t call him in because she’s not his mom, she’s my mom!” And nothing, even the fact that I did really bad stuff, could change that!
Interestingly, this realization didn’t result in a torrent of licentious behavior. In fact, it had the opposite effect. Sure, I did other bad stuff, but I never threw olives at cars again. Once I’d realized living with Mom and Dad was a gift, it made me want to do better. Of course, there would be hell to pay when Dad got home.
But not hell to go to.
Because heaven and hell are about who we know, not what we do. (John 17:3)
Robin’s death hit me hard. He had an immeasurable impact on my career as a writer and a humorist. I also have a similar psychopathology and a kindred tendency toward ADDled monologuing. But what I always found most compelling about Robin was the humanity beneath his persona, the desire to make a connection with his audience, to be real and, yes, to be loved.
Did he long for that kind of connection with God? There are indications he did: he was a professing Episcopalian and a fan of C.S. Lewis, whose books contain profound explorations of faith (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was reportedly Robin’s favorite book). I hope so. I’ll even settle for an 11th hour “Thief on the Cross” conversion–I so want to spend time with him when we’re all…
Finally called Home.
* This post avoids the questions of what, where, or even if, heaven and hell are. We’ll explore that another time.