What Will Our Answer Be?

I want to share a story with you that I once heard. I do not remember its source, else I would share it, but know that it isn’t original to me. It has also been some time since I have heard it and may misremember a few details; however, the heart of the story is one that could never be forgotten, and it will do all of us well to remember. The story is as follows:

“I once sat in the audience of a congregation while the preacher shared a message with us about hell. At the end of the service, the local preacher and I were standing outside and talking, when two teenage boys who were not Christians walked by. As they were leaving, one of the boys turned around and called out to the preacher, ‘How far away is hell, preacher!?’ The boy chuckled, he and his friend got into his car, and they left. Later that day, we learned that there was a bad wreck right up the road from the church building. Both boys, only teenagers, died in the crash. He had asked, ‘How far away is hell?’ Right up the road. It was right up the road.”

That story has been etched into my mind ever since I heard it several years ago and recalling it gives me chills every time. Certainly, my chills are not the indicator of whether or not something is serious, but I think we understand how serious of a matter this is and the consequences that this story represents.

We grow up in a world that teaches us to “sow our wild oats” while we are young; we only have one life to live, after all, and we won’t be young forever. We have to have fun before we reach those “rusty” (otherwise known as “golden”) years. I say that in good fun, but don’t let it detract from the seriousness; this is the message presented to us: We have our whole lives to “get right with God.” But that is not what this story illustrates for us, and that is not what God teaches us.

We are first taught that we might not want to change later. Solomon writes that we should “Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth” (Ecclesiastes 12:1). He reasons that we will have no pleasure in God’s way if we begin life following after the ways of the world. If we will remember God in our youth, we will not be hard-pressed to turn him later; we will already be his.

Secondly, we are taught, and this story illustrates, that we may not have the opportunity to change later. In James 4:14 the question is posed “What is your life?” It is immediately followed by the answer, “For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” Our life is like the vapor (KJV) that is seen for a moment and then dissipates into the air. Some vapors sit on the air longer than others, some shorter than others, some unexpectedly leaving, and some unexpectedly staying. We know that our “vapor” will disappear (Hebrews 9:27), not when it will disappear. James makes this clear in the beginning of the verse when he says that we “do not know what tomorrow will bring.” When that day comes, whether in our youth or our age, will we be prepared?

You see, the question is not “How far away is hell?” because the answer is the same for both heaven and hell. Both are only a breath away, a moment away. The question is: “Which am I prepared for?” Have I laid up treasure in heaven or on earth (Matthew 6:19-21)? Am I rich toward God or toward self (Luke 12:13-21)? Am I a servant of righteousness or of sin (Romans 6:16-18)? When the day comes that our vapor must go, what will our answer be?