One afternoon a very capable and diligent student asked to meet with me in my office. I thought he must be wanting to discuss the essay that was soon due. I frequently helped students put their rather scattered thoughts together into the thesis statement for a writing assignment.
However, this young man had a serious question for me. Did I think that he was going to Hell because he had slept with his girl friend. Whoa! What? “Back up,” I said to him. “What is going on?”
It turned out that he had been raised in a very conservative Christian home. Apparently, he had left home with the understanding that if he had sex before marriage he was going to go to Hell. I have no way of knowing if this was the actual theology of his denomination. I just know that he believed this. Knowing that I was a Christian, he wanted to know my view.
I asked him to tell me a little more about this situation. He told me that he loved the girl, that he had very much enjoyed sleeping with her and that he was totally confused. He had understood that he would feel condemned, but instead he felt wonderful. I told him that in my belief system no one was condemned to Hell for such behavior. That did not seem to reassure him, but seemed to confuse him further. He had been raised to believe that there was only one way to be a Christian. How could I have a different view on such a critical question?
He left our conversation telling me that he was going to continue his relationship and that he was going to give up on his faith. He felt he had to choose, and he was choosing the girl. I was deeply saddened by his decision. I never spoke about his faith again with him, though I learned from another student that he was now very angry at Christianity.
I hope that in later years he found his way to a faith that sustained him. It had once been at the center of his life, and I hated to think of him adrift and angry.