Can a Man Save Himself Through His Goodness?

Some time ago, a Korean movie titled ‘ODE TO MY FATHER’ became a huge hit.  At that time, I was in Korea, so I watched the movie with my mother.  The movie depicted recent Korean history when War-torn Korea was struggling to survive and achieve economic development.  Korea sent miners and nurse aids to Germany, sent soldiers to Vietnam, and sent construction workers to the Middle East.  The main character is an eldest son who lost his father in the war and tried to obey his father’s dying wish to care for his family.  To achieve that, he sacrificed himself and placed his family’s needs before his own.

Most Koreans can relate to this story since many of us either lived through it or heard about it from family members, so it touches the core of our emotions.  The ending goes like this:  The main character, now in his late 70s, watches his sons and grandchildren having fun in a comfortable home.  He walks to the next room and looks at his father’s picture.  ‘Father, didn’t I do all right?  But, it was really really tough.’  Then, he cries.  The scene brings out the due respect toward fathers of this generation who lead such sacrificial lives.

As I watched the last scene, one thing came to my mind was a concern about this beautiful but erroneous portrayal of the main character as a sufficiently good and praiseworthy person.  He is a good family man, but still a sinner before God.  I wondered what God would think of such a life.  Wouldn’t God value such a sacrificial life?  Would such a person still go to hell because he did not believe in Jesus?  I was confused.

These questions were answered some time later as I realized that sacrificial love such as mother’s love, love for family members or friendship stems only from the grace of God.  Men were created according to God’s image, thus we have basic characters of God.  Even animals have mothers’ instinct to protect their young so they can sacrifice their lives for it.  Such sacrificial love is given by God and it is not from men.  This world is a place where the grace of God is at work.  Just like God gives rain to the good as well as the evil, it does not take the righteousness to have a sacrificial heart toward one’s own family.

However, as we leave this world, the grace of God which has clothed us will be taken away and all our sinful nature will be exposed.  The sinfulness hidden behind the smiling mask such as greed, evil, and hatred will all be laid bare.  Such a man cannot enter heaven even if God wants him to.  In other words, hell is not a place God sends us.  Certain men cannot go to heaven because they do not fit in that place.  In such a situation, we cannot say, “God, please give me one more chance.  Please let me go to heaven.’  Rather, we realize that heaven is not the right place for us and will walk toward hell.

If God can give us one more chance there and then, he would have done so.  It is too late.  That is why God had to come to the world in a human form.  The only way to receive salvation is by accepting Jesus and solving the problem of sin in this world.

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