Friday, January 29, 2010

Atheists in Foxholes

I have been a pastor for thirty-three years and I have never seen a deathbed conversion. I have stood sentinel at a lot of deathbeds. I have had spiritual discussions with many critically ill people. I have invited dying patients to accept the life that Christ has to offer. But I have never seen a last hour conversion. I won't say they don't happen. I have heard and read stories of such accounts. But I have never witnessed them. It is my experience that people die the way they live.

Furthermore people live the way they die. They say there are no atheists in foxholes. Perhaps. But once the shooting stops, people leave their religion in the foxhole. Revelation 9:13-21 gives a symbolic picture of a great war in the Middle East involving two hundred million troops and weapons of mass destruction. It says that a third of humankind dies in this World War III. I will let the polyester preachers with their television prophecy programs fill you in on the details of the countries and dates. (Just realize they don't really have a clue either.) I am more interested in what happens after the war.

"The remaining men and women who weren't killed by these weapons went on their merry way-didn't change their way of life, didn't quit worshiping demons, didn't quit centering their lives around lumps of gold and silver and brass, hunks of stone and wood that couldn't see or hear or move. There wasn't a sign of a change of heart. They plunged right on in their murderous, occult, promiscuous, and thieving ways." (Rev. 9:20-21 - The Message)

People don't change. That is my experience. Extreme circumstances might temporarily bring about religious sentiment. People tend to be very reverent at funerals. But when things get back to normal, the heart returns to its sin.

One of the messages of the Book of Revelation is the hardness of the human heart. No amount of sounding trumpets wakes people up from their spiritual slumber. No amount of divine wrath poured from heavenly bowls turns people's hearts to God. The plagues of Egypt only hardened Pharaoh's heart. External circumstances do not change the soul.

The only hope is the inner work of God in the human heart. People don't change; God changes people. This is the mystery of salvation. This is the gift of Christ. This is the sealing of the Spirit. This is the grace of God.

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