On rewards, punishments, and our journey to them

“How we travel to someplace determines how we feel about that place.”

The above quote comes from writer Eric Weiner on Travel with Rick Steves. During his interview, Mr. Weiner also commented upon the connection between traveling and travailing. “To travel is to travail,” he said. He was speaking in the context of taking a long train ride and feeling differently about his destination as a result of his journey. But my thoughts went to much more consequential things.

As followers of the Way and sojourners upon earth, we are all travelers. It is certain that how we travel determines our destination. If we walk “in newness of life” (Romans 6:4), “in the light” (1 John 1:7), “in the truth” (2 John 1:4), and “in love” (Ephesians 5:2), by God’s grace we will dwell with him for eternity. Peace, joy, rest, and utter amazement will be ours forever.

If we walk in our own ways (Acts 14:16), according to the flesh (Romans 8:4), in idleness (2 Thessalonians 3:11), or in darkness (1 John 1:6), then we reject the sacrifice of Christ and earn for ourselves the judgment of God (Romans 6:23). Pain, horror, loss, and constant dread will be ours forever.

The two destinations could not be more diametrically opposed. One holds the promise of the personal presence of the Provider of all that is good (1 Thessalonians 4:17; Revelation 7:15-17; James 1:17). The other is the absolute absence of anything good (2 Thessalonians 1:9; Matthew 22:13; 25:41)

Yet within those absolute places, it appears that there is room for degree.

“I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town. Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. ” (Luke 10:12-14).”

The powerful demonstrations and explanations elevated expectations. Later in Luke, Jesus expands upon the relationship between knowledge and responsibility.

“And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more” (Luke 12:47, 48).

While ignorance is not an excuse, it does seem clear that those who know Jesus and reject him will incur a worse judgment (Hebrews 10:26-31), and those who abandon the Lord will find themselves in a worse state (2 Peter 2:20-22).

In a state of absolutes (joy or sorrow, peace or pain, delight or depression), how can we experience degrees? Perhaps it is how we have traveled.

Those who sacrificed all, who gave up family, friends, and freedom will appreciate the gifts of heaven all the more. Those who have plumbed the depths of suffering while walking with their Savior will find his personal comfort that much more soothing. Those who have grown from infants (1 Peter 2:2), to fully mature (Hebrews 5:14), who have drunk deeply at the well of living water (John 4:10, 14), will be more prepared to fathom the flavors of the tree of life.

The opposite must also be true. Those who have turned from walking with the Lord will spend eternity in agony knowing exactly what they lost. O what soul-crushing agony to have looked upon the Saviors face, to have stepped in his glorious light, only to turn to self and destruction!

The details belong to God, but this seems clear, how we travel will impact not only our destination, but also how we experience it.

Travel well, my friends. The travail is worth the triumph.

2 thoughts on “On rewards, punishments, and our journey to them

  1. On rewards, punishments, and our journey to them
    by Lee Parish— My BIL delivered a lesson at Sunset almost 40 yrs ago, on this very subject in accord with your thoughts…would love to share if you are interested, Lee.

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