To find the sin, look within
Professor Malachi tapped a file resting in the middle of his desk. “Let’s consider this candidate right here. The man’s a homosexual.”
Arthur shifted in his chair. “I think he goes to hell,” he said.
“Are you certain of that?”
Arthur paused in case he wasn’t. He wanted to impress Malachi, who had asked him into his office for this special chat. Besides being Dean of the Discernment and Judgement Department at Heaven U., Malachi was also one of its most popular professors. “Well, the Bible very clearly says that homosexuality is a sin.”
“What’s the first thing we teach about sin here at Heaven U., Arthur?”
Arthur thought back to his Introduction to Judgement class.
“That it’s contextual.”
“Exactly. When is it not a sin to kill?”
“When it’s done in the service of a greater good. In defense of the weak. In self-defense. Or even if it’s an accident.”
“So despite the fact that the Bible says very clearly Thou shalt not kill … ?”
“We consider the context in which the killing occurred before determining whether or not it was a sin.”
“That’s correct. And if a woman tells her best friend that the Christmas cookies she made her were so delicious that she ate them all, even though she really threw them in the garbage because they tasted like dead cat?”
“No sin,” said Arthur. He remembered the time back on earth when he told his Grandma how much he loved the red and purple sweater she’d knit him.
“But the Bible says very clearly Thou shalt not lie,” said Malachi.
“But it’s okay. Because the larger good was served by her showing affection to her friend.”
“And the poor man who steals a loaf of bread from the kitchen of a rich man to feed starving children?”
“Despite the very clear words of the Bible? Despite the Eighth Commandment, Thou shalt not steal?”
“Still no sin. There’s no judging sin without context.”
“Spoken like the angel we’ll make of you yet, Arthur.”
“Thank you, sir.” Arthur took a moment to look out at the vast shimmering empyrean.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” said Malachi. “Even when I dreamed of it on earth, I never imagined anything like it.”
“Speaking of those who make it here. Right off the bat, do you vote thumbs up or down for our gay applicant?”
“Well, as a Christian back on earth all I ever heard growing up was that being gay was a sin.”
“You died a young man, Arthur. Did you hold that same belief at the time of your accident?”
“Before I died I had started to wonder if it was really fair that some people were born with something that was supposed to be so bad. There was a kid in my high school who was gay, and he was treated horribly. He used to get picked on and beaten up all the time.”
“And where are you currently on the gay issue?”
“I guess I’m not sure. On the one hand, I have everything I was ever taught about how sinful homosexuality is. On the other I don’t really see what the big deal is. And the attitude of the Christians I grew up with toward gay people was harsh. So I guess I’m just a little bit conflicted on the whole thing.”
“Well, we agree that it’s not a sin just to be born gay, any more than it’s automatically a sin to be born straight. Right?”
“So how do we judge if any person, gay or straight, has done something sinful?”
“Context. Sometimes lying, stealing, or killing is a sin. Sometimes heterosexual sex is a sin; sometimes gay sex is also a sin. Sometimes just about any action—or taking no action at all—can be a sin. It all depends upon the context in which that action occurred. And when we look to context, what do we look for?”
“Harmful intent and harmful action,” said Arthur. “At the motives behind the action and the harm that resulted from it. Or, as you put it in one of your lectures, ‘To find the sin look within.'”
Professor Malachi contentedly sat back in his chair.
“You’re going to make a great angel one day.”
“Thank you, sir. It’s such an honor to even be in the program.”
“Back to our gay candidate. Heaven or hell?”
“I have no idea.” Arthur smiled. “After all, I couldn’t possibly make that call before I know the man—really know him—as a person.”