Today: Sunday, December 08, 2019

Obstacles to faith: Who gets into heaven?    (7/28/2013 )

Why do Christians think they have a monopoly on heaven? What about ‘good’ people who have no faith, or people of other faiths? This issue can be a real irritant to some people, who are offended by what they see as a sort of self-satisfaction and exclusivity on the part of Christians. 

The simple answer is that we don’t know who's going to be there, simply because we don’t know people’s hearts, we are not the judges, and it’s not our job to decide. What we do know is that God is good and merciful, that he wants everyone to know and love him, and that he’s the judge who does make the decisions.

Having said we don’t know, Christians do have a range of views on this:

  • Some are 'universalists': they believe that all things and all people will eventually be reconciled to God. Because God is all loving and all powerful, so the argument runs, his will that all should be saved cannot possibly be frustrated in the end.
  • Others believe that on our own we are simply not good enough, not holy enough, for heaven. But there is a door into God’s holy presence, through Jesus Christ, through his death and resurrection.
  • Some accept that Jesus is the way to God, and that each of us needs to make a personal decision to follow Jesus, but they are less sure about where God’s lines are drawn. They believe, for instance, that those who have never heard the good news of Jesus will not be judged in the same way as those who have.

Jesus himself seems to have had a very open attitude to people of other faiths or cultures.  There were Wise Men from the East; there are Samaritans and Romans in the story, as well as others who may not have made an open declaration of faith in Jesus, but who were clearly drawn to Jesus and were accepted by him.

At the same time, Jesus spoke very directly about hell, about the consequences of turning from God. It could be that he was using pictures - hell is like that great burning rubbish tip, it’s like a great darkness - in order not to threaten people but to help them see the seriousness of separation from God.

It’s clear that some people do reject God (which is not the same thing as rejecting Christianity or religion). It seems unlikely that they will find a place in heaven for the simple reason that that’s not where they want to be. And God will honour their choice.

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), which, at one level, is a very exclusive claim — there is no other way.  But perhaps we should understand it more as an inclusive promise: here is the open door, how it works and who is excluded is not for us to know or judge, but the invitation is there for all.

What happens when we die, and when we face God’s judgement, is perhaps the biggest question of all. For ourselves, God invites us to come in faith and penitence, trusting in his love, receiving his forgiveness and mercy. For other people, we are encouraged not to speculate too much — there are certainly going to be some surprises when we get to see who’s there! But we are also encouraged to share the good news of the open door through Jesus, through whom all may come in.

Pray: Jesus, you are the true and living way. and you have opened the door to heaven.  Help me to come to God through you. Open the door also for those I love and pray for, that they too may come in. Amen.

Think about: When faced with this kind of question, Jesus often gave a roundabout answer, or turned the question back to the questioner.  Someone has put it like this: “The interesting academic question ‘Will the saved be few?’ is turned into a directly personal challenge - ‘Will the saved be you?’”

Challenge: Jesus once used the farmyard image of a chicken sheltering its young under its wings (see Luke 13, verse 34). Could that picture help you face your problems and challenges today as well as picturing the sheltering love of heaven?

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