Greg reflects on how Mr. Rogers’ parting words exemplified a common misunderstanding of God’s grace.
I want to talk for just a moment, offer you a reflection about something I heard about a very good man. His name is Mr. Rogers. You might have grown up with him on TV, died about 15 years ago now. But I watched a documentary on his life, and there were so many remarkable things that I learned about Mr. Rogers that I was very impressed with him as an individual.
Now, he was an ordained Presbyterian minister, and I don’t know a lot about his deep theological convictions, very little came up regarding that in the documentary. However, it was pretty clear that his theology was dictating a lot of his behaviors towards other human beings, that is, helping people feel accepted, and loved, and cared for in ways that he actually hadn’t felt loved, and accepted, and cared for as a kid, and he was magnificent in that regard. So I have no qualms about that.
But I was troubled that at the end of his life, he had a conversation with his wife, and he had just been reading Matthew 25, the separation of the sheep from the goats, and he said to his wife, “Do you think that I’m one of the sheep?” And his wife said to him, “Honey, if anyone was a sheep, you are.” Now I want you to think about that for a moment from the perspective of the grace of God in Christian theology.
At the end of my life, I am not going to look back on my life and recount all of the good things that I have done in order to make myself feel comfortable as I face death that I have done enough good things to qualify for the Kingdom of God. I know that I haven’t. Think about it for a moment. The two greatest Commandments that Jesus gave, the summary of the whole law, love your Lord your God with your whole heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. You know, if that’s the summary of the law, there is hardly a moment in my entire life when I have ever fulfilled either of those. If that’s the way I am to be judged, then I’m a goner, and so is everyone else.
Our good deeds are like filthy rags. It’s our iniquities that get us. And on my tombstone I want what it says in Psalm 130, I think, verse 3 and 4, “If you, Lord, should mark iniquity, oh Lord, who could stand?” Not me. Not Mr. Rogers. As good as he was, as noble as he was, probably a much better human being than I’ll ever be, I fully acknowledge that. But if God were to mark our iniquities, no one would stand. The psalmist goes on to say, “But with You there is forgiveness that You may be praised.” With You there is forgiveness. You see, that’s the hope. The hope isn’t whether I have done enough good things in my life, because I haven’t. I haven’t, I know that. You know that. Mr. Rogers knew that. That’s why he asked the question.
The only hope is in the grace of God. And I wish his wife had told him at that point, “Fred, you have been rescued from the domain of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved son in whom you have redemption, forgiveness of sins.” That’s what I’m banking on in my last day.