Heaven, How I Got Here: The Story of the Thief on the Cross by Colin S. Smith
In this dramatic re-telling of the story of the thief on the cross, Pastor Colin S. Smith draws us into the world of Roman rule and the way Jesus met the this criminal on the cross. With an eye towards revealing the emotional and backstory of the thief and with a lens towards Jesus’ compassion on the cross, Heaven, How I Got Here grabs the reader’s attention from the beginning. Readers are sure to find much good here including a clear presentation of the good news of Jesus Christ.
Beginning the book Colin brings out a narrative of what the thief on the cross’ life might have been like prior to his painful execution. Initially, the thief tells the story of being raised in a Jewish home, his father was a builder and his mother was the caretaker of the house. What struck me was how Colin mentioned that the thief’s mother had a ‘ridiculous faith’ and that her foundational teaching came from Exodus 34.6, “God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.” This passage was taken up many other times in the prophetic literature, including in Joel 2. Seizing an opportunity to set the table, Colin goes to tell of how the thief came to understand in injustice by Roman taxation and how this crippled his families livelihood (12-13).
Colin goes onto bring out the interior dilemma held onto by the thief on the cross concerning the cultural idea of Messiah he was taught and Jesus’ actual work. Colin writes, “Jesus. I had heard about Him. The One from Nazareth, claiming to be the Messiah…Well, I thought, ‘If He is able to perform miracles, this is surely the day to produce one. But it’s always the same with these religious types: great claims, nice thoughts, but no muscle to confront the harsh realities of the word (22).’” There is a rising sense of disappointment about a Messiah who would come into the world of taxation and bitterness and yet not overturn Roman rule.
The change of judgment to hope happens as the thief narrows in on Jesus’ words of forgiveness. Smith writes, “Hope began for me in the strange words of Jesus that at first filled me with hate: ‘Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.’ Forgiveness! If Jesus could offer forgiveness to His torturers, perhaps He would offer forgiveness to me (37).” This was the part of the book that was most wonderful to me, the forgiveness offered to the thief, and the compassion and grace offered by Jesus . His former way of life was one of thinking that God was out to get him but Jesus offer of forgiveness does not come with a package of merits as its condition.
I really enjoyed this book and think many will be caught up in the narrative life of the thief. My only criticism is that I think Colin goes a little overboard about trying to explain that salvation is not about our works. I totally agree but I believe this came out more clearly in the narrative part of the thief’s life.
Thanks to Christian Focus Publications and Cross Focused Reviews for the book in exchange for an honest review.