Her house is the way to hell,... Proverbs 7:27
Two men were leaving the Oak Street Bible Shop as I was about to enter, they were a little over dressed and had some kind of literature in their hands. I stepped aside to let them pass and went into the shop. Gary was in the back room pouring himself a coffee into an old china cup. Sue was so busy hanging up little cloth streamers she hardly noticed when I came into the room. Joy’s stool was empty and she was nowhere to be seen.
“Oh, Hi”, Sue said, she held out one of the streamers. “Look”, she exclaimed, “real silk!”
I was about to ask about Joy when I heard her clumping up the basement steps. She opened the basement door and strode into the room. She barely nodded in my direction as she stepped to the glass-topped counter and slapped down a double handfull of pamphlets. I looked down and read the title of the top one “Jehovah’s Witnesses, Antichrists and Liars”.
She went to her high stool and sat down.
“Is that who just left? I asked.
“You bet!” was all she said.
Gary could not resist a comment, “They were like cats at a dog show! Couldn’t have picked a worse place to try to peddle their stuff.” Joy was not smiling, she could not abide the Watchtower crowd, as she called them. I sympathized with her . For all their pretense of being Biblical, they were just what the pamphlet said, they denied the deity of Jesus and wrested the scriptures in almost every way. I felt they did not have a religion of their own, but existed to destroy the faith of real Christians.
Sue continued to hang her beloved streamers in the sunlit window. It was quiet in the Bible Shop for a few minutes. I browsed through Bible commentaries looking for McGee’s wonderful volume on Hebrews. I could have asked about it, but I found so many good books while looking I liked to take my time. I saw Sue’s face brighten as she watched an approaching figure coming up the sidewalk. It was Glen, he had decided to walk today. Soon the bell above the door jangled as he entered. His black Navy shoes were polished, he had gotten a haircut and was fresh shaven. He took off his watch cap and stuffed it into the back pocket of his khaki pants. “What’s up?” he said, noticing the quiet atmosphere of the room.
“We’ve had visitors” was all Gary said, not wanting to stir up Joy at this time.
“You mean the Watchtower kind?” said Glen. “They’re all over the neighborhood. My landlady let two of them in and they saw all her statues of Mary and lit out! Guess they thought lightning would strike them. She laughed when I told her who they were. She said “Mary protected me again”. “Guess those statues are good for something. I saw their team leader’s van. He takes them to a neighborhood in the Mother Ship and they fan out like vacuum cleaner salesmen.” Joy was in no mood to talk about Witnesses or statues of Mary. She just wondered why people couldn’t just believe the Bible like she did. It was all so simple and she said so.
“Well, I figure they actually do some good”, said Glen. Joy sat upright on her stool, like an angry school teacher being sassed.
“Glen, I know you like to take a contrarian view to everything I say, but how can you defend the Watchtower Society and their hellish doctrines, how can you?”
Glen was in one of his clear eyed analytical moods today. He was not at all riled or on the defensive. He had told me once, “In an argument, you need to outsmile your opponent, like Davy Crockett grinning at the bear. ‘Lose your temper, lose your head’, a boxer told me.’ Glen could be so patient he infuriated people. He told me that women, in particular, like to enjoy getting mad, and they resent anyone who spoils it.
“Now hold on Joy”, he said quietly,”I’m with you on this thing all the way”. He gestured towards the pamphlets on the counter. “I agree with what those little booklets say. In fact I’m here to get some Chick tracts to help nail these birds, maybe save some of them if we can. I’m not saying these people are good, I’m just saying that it is good for us to be tested in our doctrines, and these guys do it. If I had my way we would test ourselves, but Christians can be so sure of themselves, so set in their ways we get soft and lazy. We need someone to get us to thinking. This phony religion challenges our faith, shakes us up. They make us jump through their hoops or go over their hurdles.”
“Kind of like those fish ladders that salmon go up to spawn” said Sue brightly. She had finished hanging up her banners in the window and was taking in the discussion with happiness in her eyes. I figured she wanted to hear Glen straighten out Joy. It was obvious whose side she was on. “Only the strongest salmon make it upstream over those barriers, isn’t that how it is with people who test our faith?” Everyone turned to look at Sue. She could come up with the most unexpected statements. You wondered where they came from. As if reading our thoughts, she piped up “I saw it in a Disney nature film.”
Glen tried to get back on track. “Well, they do test us. If they are wrong and we are right, why can’t we just show ‘em.? I don’t mean on the deity of Christ. The Gospel of John lays that out so perfectly even their best arguers can’t get away from it. But they find our weaknesses and exploit them.”
Gary jumped in “The Witnesses and others, have this technique, where they try to prove they are right because we are wrong if certain of our beliefs and practices are unscriptural. It’s very effective because we do hold some beliefs we can’t defend. That is what they look for.”
Glen turned to Gary with a look of admiration. “You’re right on, Gary. They hit Christians on the pagan holidays they keep, and their doctrine of hell.” You could see Joy start to recoil from what she knew was coming. She expected it from Glen, but now Gary? “Are you guys going to start in on that again”“ she said. “Are you going to tell me the Bible doesn’t teach there is a hell”?
Glen was still the patient old mechanic. “Let’s get out the micrometers and gauges, see what fits and what does not,” was his motto . “Let me give you an example of how a desire to make the Bible prove what it does not say, can get you into a wrong interpretation.” He withdrew his pocket Bible and put on his dime store reading glasses so he could read the tiny print.
“In the book of Proverbs, chapter seven, the author describes the encounter of a foolish young man with a loose woman, a married woman cheating on her husband. I won’t read the whole passage, it actually starts in verse one and goes through verse twenty seven. I don’t want to get into the gory details, just the part about hell, what it is and how this boy could go there.” Gary had opened up his New Scofield “demo” Bible and was following along. Joy looked like she wished she was somewhere else, maybe on a sunny beach listening to the waves, anywhere but here.
Glen set the scene. “Now this passage says this woman can ensnare this young man and if he follows her he will end in hell.” Gary turned a page, “There is a parallel passage in chapter five verse five. Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on hell.”
“Very good, Gary”, Glen said with satisfaction, "this verse makes the case even stronger.” Joy was rallying, “What case? You read two quotes about hell to prove there is no hell. What gives? It seems perfectly obvious to me. If this young man goes with the woman God will send him to hell. What could be simpler than that? Why complicate it?”
Glen was ready for this approach, he had grown up hearing it. “Do evil, go to hell, do good, go to heaven.” Joy” he said, almost like she was his daughter, “Are you saying that if he did not go with the woman he would not go to hell? He was on his way to heaven until he went with her, now she sends him to hell? Remember those little leaflets, scratch pads, you had on your counter, that asked “What Do You Have to Do to Go to Hell?”. They were one of the first things I saw when I first came here to Oak Street. I’m sure you believe as I do, that the answer to this question was on those blank pages that were under the cover-nothing! We’re all under condemnation from conception until death, unless we are saved by Jesus. We don’t need to do anything to get lost, we’re born lost. Agreed?”
Joy was about to answer when Gary quipped, “This reminds me of the story about two guys who were facing a firing squad. Just before the officer gives the command “Fire!” one of them says “Wait a minute. I have the right to a chaplain, and I’d like to smoke a cigar...”. The other guy says, “Shut up man, don’t make trouble for us”. We all had to laugh at that one, Gary had a talent for interjecting humor at odd moments.
When things settled down Joy spoke up. “You know I believe in Original Sin, Glen. But isn’t the author of this chapter saying that we will go to hell because of following our sin nature?”
“What, follow?”, said Glen. "When guys in cattle country go out to clear the rattlesnakes from the range, do you think they spare the snakes that don’t bite them? A snake is a snake and a sinner is a sinner. We aren’t sinners because we do evil, we do evil because we are sinners already. If this kid was already on his way to hell, sinning with this woman isn’t the reason why. If he is one of God’s elect, sinning with her won’t send him to your hell. Did the sin with Bathsheba send David to hell?”
“Then why bring up the woman at all, if she doesn’t cause you to go to hell”, was Joy’s challenge. She wasn’t backing down. Glen continued, “Look Joy, do you think that there is a hatch in the floor of her room. If he goes with her this hatch opens up and two demons grab this guy and drag him down the steps into hell?” Sue had been an excited spectator for some time, but now she felt compelled to speak. “I know this passage,” she said, “and you’re leaving something out. What about the husband?”
Glen turned to her and pointed a finger at her. “That’s it, that is it! The Bible doesn’t put the husband in here without a reason, in fact he is key to the whole situation. Gary read the following: But whoso commiteth adultery with a woman lacketh understanding: he that doeth it destroyeth his own soul. A wound and dishonor shall he get ; and his reproach shall not be wiped away. For jealousy is the rage of a man: therefore he will not spare in the day of vengeance. Proverbs 6:32-34
“Thank you, Gary, that’s it in a nutshell. You see this passage is not about theology. It is about a father giving advice to his son. Good, plain advice that could save his life. The woman says, in effect, ‘My husband is on a trip, he won’t be back for quite some time, come with me.’, verse 19.”
“But it says ‘hell’ “ Joy persisted. Glen was about to lose his legendary patience.
“Joy”, he asked, “What is it with you Baptists? I swear you are so hell-happy, I think you must have hell wall paper in your bedrooms. Look at your root word, either in the margin of your Bible or in Strong’s. In this passage hell is used for “sheol” and that is defined as “the old testament designation for the abode of the dead, also, the grave”. Everything in the Bible is not theological or mysterious. I’ll say it as plain as I can. The father says to his son,”Don’t have sex with this guy’s wife or he will come home and kill you. He will put you in your grave”.
“Please don’t be upset with me, Joy. I feel sorry for the people hooked up with the Witnesses. But I despise their horrible religion. Yet even they can be right when they criticize us. They find an error we believe in and they jump on it. It’s our fault for believing wrong stuff in the first place. But just because a Witness drives a Ford don’t mean it’s not a good car. Sometimes they catch us, to our shame, and I think hell doctrine is one of those cases. Anyway, I need to pick up some Chick tracts on the Witnesses."
Joy pointed to the rack, “The Crisis” is a good one, Glen. I’ll be praying they have a good effect.”
Glen put on his watch cap and walked to the rack. “I’ll need more than you have here”, he said.
“There are whole packs on that shelf by the coffee urn.”
“How many in a pack”?
“I’ll get two of them, that should cover my street. I’ll put them out on my way home, that’s why I walked.”
He paid for his Chick tracts and walked to the door. He paused with his hand on the doorknob. “Look, I’m sorry what I said, about the wall paper and stuff.”
Joy had a peaceful expression as she answered him. “That’s ok, Glen, I guess I had it coming”.
He closed the door behind him and paused on the porch. Sue saw him take out his pocket knife and carefully cut the cellophane packs open. He put one in his jacket pocket and held one in his hand as he headed on down the street. She watched him with fascination. “I wonder what he was like before he was saved?” she asked.