I was meeting with a family; they were telling stories about their mother, their lively, smart, stubborn, faithful mother. She loved music and singing, cooking, traveling and learning. She made and kept friends easily; she was interested in people. She had been a nurse and an active partner to her husband, a family practice doctor, who had died during the last year after suffering from memory loss.
So we were sharing stories about their mother's faith when one of the daughters remembered their non-negotiable church attendance. During the time she was growing up, their parish had a tradition of a pre-Lenten family night. The daughter wanted to stay home instead and watch "The Wizard of Oz." But her mother was adamant about the family priorities, saying, "What is more important than your eternal life?"
I have to say, I can't imagine any parent these days saying something like this to their children. And I will also admit that, out of the context of the conversation I was having, it doesn't sound like something I would even want a parent to say to their children. To the unpracticed ear, it sounds like a threat, "Go to church or your eternal life might be in jeopardy." Is our salvation dependent on our church attendance? Does going to pre-Lenten family nights earn us more salvation points with God? I think not.
But, I am not sure that is the point the mother was making to her children. It is not that somehow the certainty of their eternal destination depended on attendance at a certain number of church functions. Perhaps it is more the hope that attendance at those church functions would be part of creating a foundation of trust.
"What is more important that your eternal life?" Maybe that question doesn't mean "What is more important than knowing where you will spend eternity?" What if it means more like, "What is more important than knowing God?" After all, that is the definition of eternal life in John 17:3: "Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent."
One of the things that impressed me about this woman, and her faith, was that she had a list of questions that she was going to ask God, when she saw God face to face. And the questions she had for God -- they weren't small potatoes. They weren't theoretical questions. Her top question to ask God was, "What's with this Alzheimers' crap?" Deep faith did not mean unquestioning faith. Deep faith meant faith deep enough to ask questions without fear. Deep faith meant faith deep enough to know that she could bring her questions, and even her anger, to God.
To me, it's a powerful combination: to trust God enough to bring to God the hardest questions of our lives. And to teach our children that they can do it, too.
What is more important than knowing God so well that you can ask God your hardest questions?