So What's a Thru-Hike?
How does the ATC define thru-hiking?
"We define a thru-hike as completing the entire A.T. in 12 months or less".
Imagine starting a thru hike of what you think is the Appalachian Trail, hiking hundreds of miles, yet not being entirely sure when you have completed your quest, or if it will even qualify? How many miles are enough? What is defined as the "entire AT"? If you don't know the answers, how do you even know you've done a thru-hike?
The questions seem ridiculous, yet they point to a common belief that shares some of the same problems.
It is commonly believed that good people go to heaven. But how good is good enough? And just who decides? If God decides, is he making it clear how we are doing so far?
We assume God is fair and rewards good behavior, keeping heaven good by letting good people in, and keeping bad people out. Each religion has its own definition of good. Our consciences don't agree with each other. There are significant differences in cross-cultural beliefs. If good people go to heaven, then we need a clear and consistent definition of good. In hiking terms, it is impossible to define a thru hike without a definition of the northern and southern terminus, the Trail between them, and the length of time that constitutes a thru-hike. "Just start hiking" with no markers, no maps, and no distances, all the time waiting for someone to suddenly say "times up", and only then finding out if you made it? Who's going to sign up for that? Yet, this seems to be a common approach when considering what constitutes the way to heaven. Would a caring God leave so much ambiguity?
What if you are off to a bad start, like a hiker who has been on the Trail off and on for 11 months, only to make it as far as Springer to Fontana? Can you make up for that?
What if you fall short by one good deed (or maybe the final approach to Katahdin)? Where is the cutoff? How do we know where we stand in relationship to it? Imagine a cup of chocolate pudding which you are ready to eat, until you are told there is a bit of horse manure hidden in there. How much is too much? It seems absurd to ask, but the good people go to heaven idea assumes a perfect God can tolerate at least some sin. How much?
There are problems of no consistent standard, no clear cutoff, no progress report, and no hope if you have been too bad up to this point.
If we take the Bible as the consistent standard, even that does not help the good people go theory. Jesus said "For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:20. The Pharisees were the most devout religious adherents to the Old Testament law. They even made up extra laws about the laws to make sure they didn't break any. But they weren't good enough.
All that God's standards of right and wrong do is prove we don't meet them. "For by works of the law no human being will be justified in His sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin". Romans 3:20
To compound that, Jesus promised heaven to one of the worst people described in the entire New Testament. Jesus was crucified between two criminals. "One of the criminals who were hanged railed at Him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” Luke 23:39-41. This guy was so bad, he admitted he deserved to be crucified. And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingdom.” Luke 23:42. In response to his expression of faith in Jesus, this is the response "And He said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise.” A criminal, admittedly deserving of crucifixion, having no way to turn over a new leaf or do anything good, is promised paradise by Jesus, thoroughly contrary to the good people go approach.
The alternative to the good people go to heaven approach is this: Forgiven people go to heaven.
Jesus paid the penalty that had to be satisfied for people to be forgiven. To whom is that forgiveness applied? Not to good people but to "all who believe", to the "one who has faith in Jesus".
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in His divine forbearance He had passed over former sins. It was to show His righteousness at the present time, so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Romans 3:21-26