Will Allen Iverson Go to Heaven?

February 17, 2009

I confess to not having given any thought as to the eternal destiny of Allen Iverson, a premier professional basketball player with the Detroit Pistons, and I would not have thought about it at all if Mr. Iverson had not raised the topic himself. During a press conference in connection with the NBA All-Star Weekend, Allen Iverson brought up the topic of heaven and hell and where he thought he would end up.

In a discussion about various charity events where NBA athletes do nice things for the sick and disadvantaged, Mr. Iverson said he prefers to do his charity work behind the scenes, a sentiment shared by Jesus himself in Matthew 6:1-4. That alone would be provocative enough, but the basketball star decided to add a few other thoughts.

“I just look forward to doing it. I don’t need all the publicity that comes with it. I don’t need that. When it’s time for me to get toward that gate, either He [is] gonna say, ’Come in,’ or He [is] gonna say, ’Turn around.’ And a camera won’t decide whether I get in or not.”

It’s clear that he has done some serious thinking about what happens when he dies, and it sounds like he believes in heaven and hell. He is certainly correct that earthly publicity will have nothing to do with who goes where in the afterlife.

Then he added these insights:

“I’ve done a lot of good things in my life and done a lot of bad things in my life so I don’t know. I hope the good things outweigh the bad things. . . . I don’t want to go to hell.”

Iverson was then asked if he was troubled by not knowing where he stood.

“I’m not saying that I’m not in, because I think I am. Unless some things go dramatically wrong in the next how many years, I think I’ll be welcomed through those gates.”

At this point the basketball superstar has veered into murky waters. Like many people, he envisions heaven as a reward for good deeds done on the earth, and he imagines that if his good deeds somehow outweigh his bad deeds, the gates of heaven will swing open for him. Unfortunately, no one can ever live up to that standard because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Apart from God’s grace, even the good deeds we do are like “filthy rags” in the eyes of the Lord (Isaiah 64:6). It’s not that doing good doesn’t matter. It is noble in the best sense to help the hurting and to use the position and influence God gives you to bring joy to others. If that means visiting hospitals, giving free basketball clinics, and donating money to charity, that truly does make the world a better place. So I say to Allen Iverson, God bless you for doing whatever you do in private to help others.

But it won’t help you get into heaven.

The Iverson Plan of Salvation (which is really the Human Plan of Salvation) leaves you without assurance because you never really know where you stand with the Lord. You may think that your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds, but you can never be sure.

So you’ve got to keep on trying. And you might end up in hell anyway because what if God doesn’t evaluate your life the way you do? What if he doesn’t grade on a curve?

In that case Mr. Iverson (and the rest of the human race) is in big trouble.

I commend Allen Iverson for a) believing in heaven and hell, b) desiring to go to heaven, and c) thinking about whether or not he deserves to go there.

The only thing left out is the grace of God. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.(Ephesians 2:8-9).

Allen Iverson thinks he’s done enough to make it into heaven, but with all due respect, it’s not his opinion that matters. I’m glad he said, “I don’t want to go to hell.” I don’t want him to go to hell either.

In many ways Allen Iverson, criticized by so many people, has done more thinking than most people ever do about eternal matters. Having made a good start, I pray that the Lord opens his eyes to see that he can never be good enough, that it is God who must save him, that Jesus died for his sins, and I pray that he might reach out and take the gift of salvation that God offers to those who trust in his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

I hope Mr. Iverson ends up in heaven. I know that’s where he wants to go. So I commend this verse to him and to everyone who reads these words: “The free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

That’s good news for basketball stars and for the rest of us sinners too.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?