In 2011, I visited Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the town demolished by the great flood of 1889. David McCullough has written a compelling book chronicling that catastrophe caused, in great part, by careless men. In the visitor information center, I met an 85-year-old volunteer named Duane. He was a talker. After telling about the three floods that have struck the beleaguered city, he proceeded to tell me his life’s story. He said much, much more than I can include here, including how his grandfather, abused by his step-father, ran away, worked for a timber company in the northwest, came back home riding the rails, was caught by the conductor and was told that he would not turn him into the railroad police if he would manage his farm. Eight years later, in 1889, he responded to newspaper ads in nearby Johnstown to clean up after the flood. The man, fearful his stepfather would learn of his return, changed his last name.
Duane was a World War II and lung cancer survivor, a newly-widowed man who lost, as he said, “the love of my life” after 58 years of marriage. He raved about four children, the oldest of which just turned 60. He was steady and solid in the community and in his home. He was a likable man and a conscientious one.
While this man contributed so much to the overall good of his community and nation, one thing struck me about Mr. Soliday. He was not a New Testament Christian. He believed in God, did good things, and was so engaging and worthy of respect. Yet, he could not point to his civic heroism, his long and happy marriage, or his apparently successful parenting to cover his sins.
We often think that if people live good, clean, and productive lives, surely God will save them. However, the only thing that will suffice for our sins when we stand before Christ on that great day is the blood of Jesus. If we have not done what it takes to have the blood applied (cf. Matt. 26:28+Acts 2:38; Rev. 1:5+Acts 22:16) and live in such a way as to have it continually applied (1 Jn. 1:7), none of us on earth is good enough to stand before Christ based on our goodness. May this break our hearts for good people whose goodness cannot save them–it did not save Cornelius (Acts 10:1ff). May we care enough to share the good news with them. (This fine man passed away about five months after I met him).