Ask a Pastor Ep. 58 - Deathbed Confessions, Bad Driving, Natural Disasters
Welcome to Ask a Pastor, a podcast from Orchard Hill Church! Have you ever had a question about the Bible, Faith, or Christianity as a whole? Submit your question and one of our pastors will answer on the program. New episodes every Wednesday.
This episode our Senior Pastor, Dr. Kurt Bjorklund, talks with Director of Student Ministry, Russ Brasher about deathbed confessions and acceptance of Christ, bad driving and if God uses natural disasters as punishment.
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Kurt Bjorklund: Hey, welcome. Today I'm joined by Russ Brasher. Russ is the head of our student ministries at our Wexford campus and does a great job with students, and we are going to talk about some questions that you've sent along on Ask a Pastor. If you have questions, you can send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will be happy to address them on a coming week.
Kurt Bjorklund: Russ, here's the first question. It's about deathbed confessions, and the person says this. "I heard that mass murderer Jeffrey Dahmer converted to Christianity while he was in prison. Does God really forgive people like him, and do they get to go to heaven? That seems like a person could be a horrible person their entire lives, and then at the very last minute say, 'Oh quick, I need to repent now so I can go to heaven.'" That almost seems to this person to be unfair. So how would you answer that question?
Russ Brasher: Yeah, great question, and I would say my first response would be yes, if we want to call it deathbed confessions, they are real and they do work, and we see it happen with Jesus when he's on the cross, and Luke, with the criminal on his right and left, and the one criminal says, "Lord, I repent, and remember me." And Jesus right there on the spot says, "Today you will be with me in paradise." And so we do see that deathbed confessions, if we want to call it that, are real, and they do happen, and they are acknowledged by God and Jesus.
Russ Brasher: And so yes, they work. And I think the problem with that for a lot of people is there's no way for the criminal or those people to then prove that it was genuine or that it was real. And it's not just, "Sorry, God, I lived my life how I wanted all these years, but now that I'm on my deathbed, I know I need to repent." We know that God sees through us and he sees our hearts and he knows that what we're saying is either going to be genuine and sincere or not, and I think that we as humans have a hard time trusting that, because we have a hard time trusting a lot of things.
Kurt Bjorklund: Why is it logically important or biblically important to say yes to that?
Russ Brasher: To say yes to Jesus?
Kurt Bjorklund: Just to say yes, that there's the possibility of a deathbed conversion. In other words, that somebody could live a life like Jeffrey Dahmer and at the very end of their lives turn to Jesus and be eternally saved or experience heaven. Why is that logically important or biblically important to say that that is indeed possible?
Russ Brasher: Yeah. I think it's important because we know that it breaks God's heart that we would choose to live this life apart from him and it breaks God's heart even more if we would choose to then spend eternity apart from him, and so I think us who love the Lord and know that God desires, like Scripture says, "God doesn't want anyone to live life apart from him and experience pain and hell and eternity separated." That he wants all of us to repent and spend eternity with him in relationship, and so we should, as much as we might not like it, we should see the importance of never thinking it's too late to share the gospel with someone, never too late for someone to come to know Jesus and realize that no matter what that they've done in this life, that God's grace and salvation is for all of us through what Jesus did. Does that-
Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah. I have a different answer. I appreciate that perspective. My reason for asking that question is, I think often behind that question, there's a misunderstanding of the basic message of the gospel, because it's saying that there are good people and there are bad people, and good people ultimately are the ones who are Christian and go to heaven, and bad people are the ones who should not go to heaven. And if somebody has been bad their whole life, then how can they get to heaven? Because they haven't had enough time to do any good, and they're just in the category of bad. And the reason that I think logically it's important or biblically is that in the Bible, the real answer is, we're all bad. We all deserve punishment. Only Jesus was good. Jesus has paid the price. So if Jesus pays the price, it doesn't matter how bad I am or how late I am in coming to the party.
Kurt Bjorklund: Either way, I come on Jesus' account, not on my own. And the reason that this is so often misunderstood is people still have this sense sometimes that, "I come on my own account. And yes, I believe Jesus, yes, it's important that I understand that, but really I'm still good, or I'm good, at least for part of my life. Maybe I'm not fully good, but I'm certainly not as bad as Jeffrey Dahmer. Therefore, I get eternity with God. Jeffrey Dahmer doesn't deserve it." And if we really understand the gospel, we don't see such a big difference between Jeffrey Dahmer and ourselves. What we see is, "Yes, he may have acted in ways that I didn't act. He may have done things that I didn't do, but I don't deserve heaven any more than Jeffrey Dahmer, even if I've never killed a person."
Russ Brasher: Right, and that's what I was going to get to, was just I think there's that underlying question behind this question of, "Why is it fair?" Or, "How is because of all the good that I've done and all the bad that they've done, how is that fair?" And it just goes back to the vineyard workers parable that Jesus tells, and also just the reality that if we can't look at ourselves and if our perspective is, "Well, I've never robbed anyone or done this or that," but really, we've all robbed God, we've all walked away. We've all said no, and we're all-
Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah. There are a lot of Christians who will give lip service to the idea that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, but in their gut believe that other people are more sinful. And, "Yes, I've sinned a little, but I'm still pretty good, still redeemable because I haven't gone too far."
Russ Brasher: Right.
Kurt Bjorklund: And it's again, I think, important to understand from a gospel standpoint that ultimately there is nothing that that makes me commendable, that it's all Jesus, and without that, then this question will be a struggle. But if I get that and believe that, then this question won't be that big of a struggle.
Russ Brasher: Yeah. And I agree. I know I hear you preaching a lot about it, and I know we spend a lot ... That's a hard thing to convince people of, is that it has nothing to do, salvation has nothing to do with what you have done or are doing or will do. It's about what Jesus has done on our behalf, and it's a hard thing for people to wrap their hearts around.
Kurt Bjorklund: Hard both in the secular world and in the Christian world, believe it or not.
Russ Brasher: Right. Exactly.
Kurt Bjorklund: Because they both for different reasons have a vested interest in answering that question differently.
Russ Brasher: Yeah.
Kurt Bjorklund: So, all right. Here's a question. "My wife is a terrible driver, like stay off the sidewalk bad. Every time I ride in the passenger seat, my heart stops a few times as she runs over curbs or almost hits someone." Then this person says, "As the biblical head of my household, for the safety of family, and for those in the North Hills, can I just demand the keys? I want to meet Jesus one day, but I don't want it to be the next time she says, 'I'll drive.'"
Russ Brasher: Yeah.
Kurt Bjorklund: That's actually a loaded question in many ways, but go ahead.
Russ Brasher: Yeah. I'm kind of scared to answer that one because of the many different ramifications there, and we pray for those in the North Hills. But to me when I hear a question like that, regardless of the scenario, it sounds more of the role of the head of household as the husband and his role and authority, and power and control over situations involving his wife. And this particular one is the driving, and I think that that's something that gets misunderstood and misused is this role as husbands, as head of household, and what kind of power or authority and demands we can do.
Russ Brasher: And I don't find that in scripture when I look through how the head of household and how husbands and wives are supposed to interact and communicate and do life together. I look at the role of the head of household as a husband and, and being one as my call is to be like Christ, and to be the head of my family, and the head of this relationship, just as Jesus is the head of the church. And so that doesn't come with any power and dictatorship and ability to just demand things. "I demand the keys." Like, "I am the husband. Give me these." But what it does is it gives us the authority and influence to be able to lead our wives and our families in a way that has God honoring and points them back to the Father.
Russ Brasher: And so I would say if this is the situation in this scenario, as a husband, you know, I would say first pray. No matter what the situation is, but in this particular one, pray. Pray for God to do something in the heart of your wife. Pray for scenarios and opportunities to open up, to be able to then bring this to attention and not just demand and step over and just control the situation, but be able to actually sit your wife down and bring this up in a loving way, in a way that says, "I care about you and the people of North Hills, and our family, but I care about you and I want to guide our family and our marriage in a way that points you to Jesus and makes you become more like Jesus and less like yourself, just like I want to become more like Jesus and less like myself." And try to work through that instead of just kind of playing this power, trump, demand card. Because I think that's where that's going to push anyone away, no matter what the relationship is, if that's how you view your role in the relationship. Does that make sense?
Kurt Bjorklund: Yeah. Obviously when you start talking about things like head of the household, you're talking about things that are controversial for a lot of people, and rightly so. For me, the challenge is obviously the text does say, Ephesians 5, that the husband is the head. So the question is, what does that mean?
Russ Brasher: Right.
Kurt Bjorklund: Which is a whole nother podcast probably than what we're doing here. But here's just some quick thoughts that have helped me navigate this. One is the command to the husband to love his wife as Christ loves the church and gave his life for her is actually a higher command than to the wife to submit to the husband, meaning it's more all encompassing. The other thing that strikes me is that there's a command to the woman to say, "Submit to your husband as the church does to Christ," and to the husband to say, "Love your wife as Christ loves the church." The command never is, "Husbands, make sure your wife submits to you, and that you're the head." And it's never, "Wives, make sure your husband lays his life down and sacrifices and does everything that Christ did for the church."
Kurt Bjorklund: And the reason that's an important distinction is when couples get in trouble is whenever they start to say, "I know what you're commanded to do, and I'm going to demand that you do it." As soon as that happens, you've stepped out of actually the biblical model, which is saying, "I'm going to serve and come under you and support you." The husband saying, "I'm going to support you as Christ loves and supports the church, gives his life for it." Or the wife, "I'm going to defer to you and give some respect."
Kurt Bjorklund: Now again, I know we live in an era that's trying to flatten all gender distinctions and say there is no gender distinction. There's nothing that that uniquely man or uniquely woman in any relationship. I wouldn't personally hold that view, but here's what I would say. And that is as soon as a man, any man starts saying, "I'm the head of the household. You need to obey me or follow me," nothing positive comes from that. And the reason I say that is I've been a pastor a long time, and what I've seen is that every time a man does that, it's an attempt to gain control rather than to love his wife. And therefore, I think it's a very poor way to go about leading your family. If that's indeed the call, to lead your family, as soon as you have to tell people, "I'm in charge," you're not in charge. And so what you have to do is serve to such an extent that somebody says, "I want to let you lead me."
Kurt Bjorklund: And it's very similar to leading a team. I mean, you lead a team of staff people, and if you have to go in and say, "Hey look, I'm the boss. I'm in charge here." As soon as you do that, you're not in charge of anything. You have to actually come around and say, "I'm going to demonstrate how we do this." Lead in a way that people want to be part of a team, and not that you don't as a boss have constitutional authority. Marriage might be a little different. And so back to this issue. It's kind of written in a funny way, but these kinds of issues do come up. "Who should make the decision?" And I think your words of saying, "Let's have a discussion. Let's work it through," are obviously wiser issues than, "Let me simply tell you how it will be."
Kurt Bjorklund: But to the question, there does probably come a time where maybe somebody needs to say, "Well, I'm making a decision that you won't make for yourself. that I think is right and good." And this is where, again, some people would challenge that and say, "That's not a man's role any more than the woman's role, and the woman can do that, and the man can do that. Anyone should or could or neither can or should." Again, what I would say is I do believe that there's some element of God saying, "I hold a man responsible for the protection and provision of what happens in a family."
Russ Brasher: Absolutely.
Kurt Bjorklund: And as a result of that, there may be some times when you need to make hard decisions that aren't universally loved or supported in your own home, but that should never be done without the basis of servanthood and without the basis of, "Okay, I'm going to trust you."
Kurt Bjorklund: My wife, I remember years ago, we were trying to decide whether or not to buy a minivan when we first had our young kids. It was our first van. And for us, at the time, it was a huge expense and it was a huge decision. It was one of those things like, "Do I dare spend this much money on anything?" And I remember her, I was trying to get her to enter into the decision and make it with me, in part because I didn't want to have the weight of making a bad decision on me. I wanted her to be culpable, if I'm honest. I wanted, if we got too far behind on the payments or whatever, to be able to say, "You decided this with me."
Russ Brasher: Right.
Kurt Bjorklund: And I still remember her saying, "You know what? I trust you. You make the decision that you think is best for our family. I'm going to ..." And in a sense, what she was doing was she was saying, "You need to make a decision that is best for our family, and I'm going to trust you to make it." Now, I don't think that that is inherently a man decision. In some families, maybe the wife should make the decision. Maybe she's better with money.
Russ Brasher: Right.
Kurt Bjorklund: Maybe there would be a place for the man to say, "You know what? Can you make this decision? Because I think you understand our finances better." In our particular situation, for me, it was her saying, "Would you lead us in this area? And I want you to make a decision that you think is best." That didn't mean she wasn't engaged. She sat through all of it, but when it came down to the, "Is it a good decision or not?" She finally said, "Look, just decide something that's right for us."
Kurt Bjorklund: Now, I don't know that I would hold that up as an example of biblical submission, but what I would say is what she was doing was she was saying, "Okay, we've both weighed in. Now would you make a decision that's best for us?" To be fair, there are a lot of times when I'll say to her, "Hey, we've talked about this. Would you just make this decision that is best for us?" And I think that's biblical and right in a marriage, in terms of that. So I don't know if that ultimately answers the driving question, but yeah. We'll just leave that there.
Kurt Bjorklund: Let's move on to a third question, and it's this. And that is, "In 2010, when the island nation of Haiti suffered an earthquake and hundreds of thousands of people died, a prominent Evangelical pastor said that God was punishing the people for their disobedience. Certainly the story of Noah in Genesis can be pointed to as someplace God uses natural disaster to rid the world of evil. But does God still use natural disasters as punishment in today's world?" So basically is that take from a Christian leader correct, to say God's punishing people sometimes when there's a natural disaster. I heard that years ago when the hurricane hit New Orleans, that God was punishing New Orleans and things like that. What's your response?
Russ Brasher: Yeah. Hard take. No is my answer, and I believe that to be a no, that I find as I study scripture, that God, especially today, does not use natural disasters to punish people. As I read scripture, and as you look at the Old Testament where natural disasters like Noah's flood and the plagues and all those things, those things God did use, but there was a pattern or there was God specifically giving warning and giving reason and giving a way out for those that are faithful to him and believe in him. There's so much more to that than just, "Oh, God is behind natural disasters." And I also know that God is love, and if God is love and scripture tells us so, then God can't also be this brokenness and this evil and this pain and this suffering, that he is just deciding when and how to just punish people who decide to not love him back, because then that wouldn't be love.
Kurt Bjorklund: So natural disasters are purely random?
Russ Brasher: No. I wouldn't say that, because what we do know is that God is also all powerful, all knowing and God knows that these are happening. And so to say that God, I don't want to get caught up in my words here, but God doesn't say, "Natural disaster, hit Haiti, because I want to punish them." But I do think that natural disasters, God can use them to point people towards him and to show people that life is short, that at any moment's notice things can happen. And I'm not saying that God sends these things to necessarily remind us, but I do know that God doesn't use evil and pain and brokenness to punish us in any way, and that God doesn't want the brokenness and the fallenness of this world that I think natural disasters do come out of.
Kurt Bjorklund: So we have about two minutes left. I'm not sure I agree with your take on that. I think the Bible's more nuanced, and I think if you go to the Book of Revelation, you see God using natural things for punishment.
Russ Brasher: Right.
Kurt Bjorklund: So I'm not sure why there would be a discontinuity that he couldn't do it today. I think your impulse is right, to say every time there's a natural disaster, I don't want to go, "Oh, God's punishing people." Because most of the time, that's probably not how it works. It doesn't appear to be the way God normally works, but I would be hesitant to say that it's never how God works. It's kind of like the issue of, "If I get sick, is God punishing me for something?" Well, maybe. There's natural consequences. You know, if I smoke a pack a day for my whole life and I get lung cancer, is God punishing me? He's letting natural consequences take [crosstalk 00:20:25].
Russ Brasher: Yeah.
Kurt Bjorklund: If I get lung cancer and I never smoke at all, am I under God's sovereign moment, or is he bringing something into my life to correct something else? The answer is, we don't really know. The Bible doesn't tell us. And I would say the same thing about natural disasters. Because it's not addressed specifically in such a way that you can build a case, because you can find instances that can cut either way in your interpretation, I would say the safest answer would be to say, "We don't know." But I think it would be ill stated, and I think this is, again, your impulse, to say what the Evangelical leader said-
Russ Brasher: Right. That's what I was-
Kurt Bjorklund: ... which is, "God is punishing the people of Haiti for their sin," because he doesn't know that either.
Russ Brasher: Right.
Kurt Bjorklund: And so to assume that and heap that guilt on somebody who's already suffering is like throwing double guilt, but I also wouldn't want to absolve the possibility that God may do something like that in our world, especially given that when you read through the Book of Revelation, there's coming a day when we know God will do that.
Russ Brasher: Well, yeah.
Kurt Bjorklund: And as a result, there's no reason not to think that there are some tremors or some moments that God might be saying, as you said, "Let me catch your attention. Let me help you understand that this world will not go on forever." That there can be powers that are bigger than what you see. There was a thunderstorm the other night, and I was sitting outside under cover in our back patio with my wife when it came through, and it was just one of those moments where you're just reminded that storms can kick up that are way more powerful than our little flimsy house. And although our house survived the thunderstorm, we just had that moment where it's like, "Oh, God is actually more powerful than our little castle that we've built, our little house." And sometimes I think we forget that and make everything a product of natural causes rather than saying God is the ultimate mover of this. And so if God wants to use it in a way that is for an ends that we don't maybe approve of or like, that's ultimately something God may do.
Russ Brasher: Right. Even in Revelation, where God calls the angels back from keeping the powerful winds, that's what I kind of meant by the, "God is love." And in that love is freedom to say no and distance ourselves, and ask him to not. Intervene on our behalf and keep some of this stuff from happening. But I'm not saying that God isn't in natural disasters. I just don't like the-
Kurt Bjorklund: Right. Don't like their answer.
Russ Brasher: "This is why."
Kurt Bjorklund: Got it. Yeah. Absolutely.
Russ Brasher: "And it has to be why."
Kurt Bjorklund: Good. Good. Thank you. We've got to leave it there, Russ. Thanks. If you want us to discuss a question in coming episodes, please send them to email@example.com.