February 5, 2011

Oops! I Guess I'm Going to Hell?

The word “oops” can be defined as a spontaneous expression of aggravation, frustration, lamentation, mortification, and/or exasperation when a person comes to realize that they have made a mistake, or done something undesirable out of ignorance or not paying attention1—it is also a cousin to the word “whoops.”
Interestingly, no one seems to know where this expression came from, save perhaps the time somewhere around the 1920s or 1930s. But this makes sense—the word itself is a spontaneous expression, so it fits that it has spontaneous origins.
However it came to be, the question is: Have you ever made an “oops”?    
The most mortifying “oops” I made in recent history happened a couple years ago when we first moved to Nebraska.
My family and I arrived home after 10 days working at camp meeting. We saw some of our neighbors working on the fence we share. Several weeks before, I had spoken to a woman on their deck whom I took to be a grandmother—many of the homes in our neighborhood have young families. This was the opportunity to meet the rest of the family. I went out there and started chatting with a man who appeared to be healthy and middle-aged.
During the conversation I inquired after the elderly woman I had met a few weeks prior. The man gave me a puzzled look and said he wasn’t sure to whom I was referring. I persisted in saying that I spoke with a very nice older woman and was wondering if they had any extended family staying with them.
2011 1503 page18“No,” he said cheerfully. “Just me and my wife.”
Now, I don’t know how it happened, but the part of my brain that is supposedly trained to be a professional communicator—that has processes connecting neurons and forming coherent thoughts—was missing in action. Unfortunately, my mouth wasn’t. And because I didn’t know what was going on, my questioning took on the air of an interrogation.
“Look,” I said exasperatedly, “I know I saw an older woman living here; this makes no sense. This is so weird.” By this time my wife was at my side giving me signals that I had no time for as I tried to solve the mystery.
Then, before I completely lost my mind, she appeared. The woman came out onto the deck where I had seen her. My neighbor said, “Hi, honey,” at the same time I shouted, “There she is!” As she came down the stairs I shook her hand vigorously, living proof that I wasn’t crazy—just stupid—and I triumphantly announced, “We have met before!”
After we had all exchanged names and such and wished each other a good afternoon, we got back into the house, and Angela told me that she had never been more embarrassed in her entire life. Still not understanding what had transpired, I got defensive. “What do you mean? I’m the victim here! She is—”
“She’s his wife!” she said, fuming.
I didn’t leave the house for three weeks, save churchgoing, because of embarrassment. Thankfully the man either forgot, didn’t notice, or is extremely gracious, and we get on just fine now.
An “Oops” Is Common
An “oops” happens frequently.
We forget to add an ingredient to that new recipe.
We aren’t aware when our fly is down or our dress isn’t zipped up.
We punish our kids for something they didn’t do.
We punish our kids too hard for something they did do.
We experience blunders all the time in our relationships with people—but what about our relationship with God? Mistakes like the ones I’ve mentioned result in awkward moments, emotional confrontations, hurt feelings, and embarrassment—but what if they cost you your eternal life?
We are told growing up, through the writings of church pioneers such as Ellen White, that “every act of dishonesty also is recorded, and every person is finally to be rewarded as his works have been.”2 In other words, your angel is writing down everything you do, so be good!
Matthew 12:36, 37 says, “But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (KJV).
Watch your words, and if you say something careless, it’s going to affect you in the judgment. Your “oops” may have eternal consequences.
Some think our salvation is going to involve all our good works on one end of a scale and all our bad works are on the other, and the one that outweighs the other will determine our destiny. But that’s not Christianity.3
Some of us are still haunted by Jonathan Edwards’ classic sermon “Sinner in the Hands of an Angry God,” where he says, “Yea, God is a great deal more angry with great numbers that are now on earth: yea, doubtless, with many that are now in this congregation . . . than he is with many of those who are now in the flames of hell. . . . Natural men are held in the hand of God, over the pit of hell; they have deserved the fiery pit, and are already sentenced to it; and God is dreadfully provoked.” It’s as though God is looking for any way He can to send us to hell—waiting for us to make an “oops.”
Now, practically speaking, can you see someone functioning with this kind of message in the back of their mind? How well do you work when someone is looking over your shoulder?

Morris Venden puts it this way: “We have been so sure that He was going to reject us because of what we are, that we keep on being what we are! We keep on sinning because we don’t believe we are forgiven. We remain defeated because we have no assurance that He accepts us even while we grow.”4
Supernatural Memory Required?
Many of us carry around a fear about salvation because while God remembers everything, we don’t. And we fear that there may be some unrepented sin, something from our childhood, or last week, or this morning that we aren’t aware of that puts our salvation in constant question.
Last year Wired magazine printed an article featuring Jill Price, a woman who is able to give specific memories from every day of her life since she was 14. She has written a book entitled The Woman Who Can’t Forget,5 addressing her almost supernatural memory. At the end of the article the secret of her gift is revealed. Price has an obsessive-compulsive disorder that causes her to journal everything—50,000 pages—with writing so dense it’s almost unreadable.6
Do we have to have a super memory—or be “OCD”—about our sin? Do we need to remember so God can forget it? We need answers to these questions, as well as this one eloquently put by Roy Gane in his book Altar Call: Does Christ’s blood cover us between the time we sin and the time before we have the opportunity to ask for forgiveness?7 We need answers—and we can turn to the Bible to get them.
Oops, I sinned
Leviticus 4:13, 14 describes a people who are in a relationship with God doing something wrong but they haven’t realized it. They have an “oops!” situation—there is a brief time span during which the sinners are unaware of their error:
“Now if the whole community of Israel errs, and the matter escapes the notice of the assembly, so that they violate any of the Lord’s commands and incur guilt by doing what is prohibited, then the assembly must present a young bull as a sin offering. When the sin they have committed becomes known, they are to bring it before the tent of meeting” (HCSB).8
Verses 27 and 28 express the same scenario, only on an individual level. The scary part about this is that it suggests that sin comes so natural that we can commit it without knowing it.
So where does our salvation lie in these moments when we are unknowingly and unintentionally committing a sin? What would happen if, for example, I think a bad thought or commit a wicked action and a split second before I can take that thought into captivity, or make amends for my behavior, a piano falls on my head? Or I’m hit by a car, or suffer a heart attack? Is it a case of “Oops! I guess I’m going to hell”? Here’s what it says in the Old Testament.
In Numbers 28:1-11 we learn that ancient Israel had daily (morning and evening), weekly, and monthly sacrifices. Leviticus 16 tells about an important yearly sacrifice known as the Day of Atonement. Things are constantly being killed, grilled, and spilled in the sanctuary to atone for sins. This leads us to conclude that there is no time that there is no sacrifice. Sometimes sin and sacrifice even overlapped each other.
Thundering Into the Future
I remember going on a ride-along with a police officer on third shift. At midnight during that shift there was a horrible drunk-driving accident at a local gas station near our church.
2011 1503 page18We got out of the squad car, and the officer spoke to a teenage girl who didn’t even remember where she’d left her shoes—she was so drunk her pupils were quivering in her eyes and she barely knew who she was. In the background her friend and others were being stabilized and loaded into an ambulance, all in critical condition. It was chaos. But what makes this already-hectic scene even more incredible is the conversation we had with a police officer just coming out of the gas station. He told us that while all the carnage (and aftermath) of the car wreck was taking place, he had found a teenager hiding in the freezer—trying to make off with a few beers.
It’s as if there is no time that there is no sin—and that’s the point. All those sacrifices were offered on behalf of those who needed to be covered until they could repent and make a sacrifice themselves.
Fast-forward to the book of Hebrews, where the author contrasts the continual sacrifices of the Old Testament with Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
Hebrews 10:12-14 says, “But this man [Jesus], after offering one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God. . . . For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are sanctified” (HCSB).
The tense of the words “has perfected” is—ironically—in the “perfect,” which means that not only was Christ’s sacrifice completed in the past, but its effects are so powerful that they go thundering into the future.
In other words, Christ has completed and will continue to complete—or perfect—those in the future who are being sanctified. His sacrifice is more complete and more continual than all the Old Testament sacrifices. He is the realization and fulfillment of all the myriads of sacrifices made in ancient Israel—and more powerful than all of them put together.
Our ignorance can’t excuse us. Whether we are unaware of our sins or fully knowledgeable, it isn’t about what we can do about the “oops.” It is all about Christ and His sacrifice on the cross—for all.
There’s one place where this intercessory work of our High Priest in heaven is alluded to—one tremendous example of grace for those ignorant of what they are doing is pleaded for—and it is found on that moment of complete offering, that complete sacrifice, on the cross.
With Christ and the Cross
In Luke 23:33, 34, we come across a group of misled, misunderstanding people watching Christ hang on the cross. On the brink of death, in the midst of sacrifice, Jesus gazes upon the ignorant who have sponsored His torture.9 He makes a plea that points to His intercessory ministry at the right hand of the Father and gives us comfort in those times we are ignorant of our evil. When we make an “oops.”
“Then Jesus said, Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” n
Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4, p. 564.
Dean C. Halvorson, The Compact Guide to World Religions (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1996).
Morris Venden, 95 Theses on Righteousness by Faith (Boise, Idaho: Pacific Press, 2003), p. 146.
Jill Price, The Woman Who Can’t Forget (New York: Free Press, 2009).
Gary Marcus, “Total Recall,” Wired, April 2009.
Roy Gane, Altar Call (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Diadem, 1999), p. 141.
8 Scripture quotations marked HCSB are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible, copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission.
9 See Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 745.
Seth Pierce is a book author and the senior pastor of Golden Hills, River of Life, and Nebraska City Seventh-day Adventist churches in Nebraska. This article was published January 27, 2011.