In my last entry, I seem to have confused some people on the issue of who goes to heaven, and how. Good, this is a complex point, and one which should be examined through discussion.
Make no mistake, I am committed to Christ, and I whole-heartedly recommend the faith to anyone seeking meaning and purpose to their existence. But a lot of Christians seem to be cultural Christians, accepting a version that may well be different form the role Christ meant for us, and there I find it necessary to discuss whom we are meant to be, as well as a glimpse at some of Heaven’s more surprising tenants.
First the basic question; is it necessary to be a Christian in order to enter Heaven? The answer seems easy, until you think about it.
First, who is Jesus Christ? Jesus said plainly, that if you know Him you know the Father. He was, is, and ever will be God, Who chose of His own volition and love to walk among us, as one of us. Accordingly, it is impossible to reject Christ yet love God. It would be easier to demand a life without oxygen, yet demand no complications in breathing.
The tricky part, however, is when we deal with the matter of ‘rejecting’ Christ. There are those people who clearly hate Christ, but many who do not choose to become Christians, do so for reasons which are hard to criticize and more, recognizing that God is merciful and seeks to show compassion to all of us, means that we must be very, very slow to consider a person lost to God.
The Bible provides clues to how people can get to Heaven by less-traveled ways. In the Old Testament, a number of non-Jews are portrayed in a light which suggests God was pleased with them, including the Pharoah whom Joseph served, Nebuchadnezzar, the Queen of Sheba who knew Solomon, and King Xerxes. The fact that God made an everlasting covenant with Abraham also shows a commitment on God’s side, which is not conditional on Man’s behavior, a point which needs to be understood and reinforced. Paul wrote that we Christians were grafted onto the vine of that promise, not supplanting it but growing alongside it. Also, it needs to be understood that God is not a pawn for technicalities; the thief on the cross was never baptized but was truly saved anyway, as one obvious example. If God means to grant heaven to any person, there is no man qualified to deny that act.
The rapture also shows a signal to the matter. If we Christians are to be raptured as it seems, and so receive our measure at the Bema seat, then what of the passage in Revelation which says that men would be judged by what they did. If a man who does not become a Christian in this mortal life has no hope, then why go through the pretense of a judgment; all remaining after the Rapture would be lost! Also, we see in Scripture many times the promise that we will reign with Christ. Reign over whom, if the only people in Heaven are Christians?
Thus, we hit an impasse. I cannot agree that a man may enter Heaven on his works, because even if a man could live a life with no errors or mistakes, the strength and ability to do good comes only from God, and so the man would earn no credit for himself as a result of his works. And if Christ is not the Savior of the entire world, why would God have made such an effort and why would He bear such pain? That cannot be correct, either.
Here is what seems right to me, with the caution that I speak only from my own understanding, which is flawed as all human minds are to some degree: We all must at some point consider Christ and the Gospel, and make our choice. Some will reject Him totally, but I do not think that will be the case for all, nor even most. Some will accept Him fully, and their faith will shine brightly indeed. These are the elders we see in Revelation, and the people whose seats will be in the presence of God, not only for their faith and pure spirit, but because of the natural desire everyone has to be with people like themselves. Those who follow God the most closely will desire Him the most, and God will delight in those who, He knows the best through their choice.
The rest of us will all accept Christ, in what means we are able. The Christian will see Him as Lord, the Jew (eventually) as Messiah, and all the world will come to know Him by His right and worth. And this will determine our place and course in the world to come. We who are Christians in this world, are called to spread the Gospel, by word but more by deed, showing the love and hope we claim to everyone, freely confessing that all we know for goodness comes from Jesus, but never condemning anyone for their doubt and reluctance. After all, during Christ’s time on Earth, Peter denied Him, his earthly brother James did not believe His divinity, and Thomas was a cynic indeed. Yet all of them came around in their time, just as did Paul, who spent months if not years persecuting Christians and denying the essential truths. Who is to say where the life roads may lead for those who now say they cannot believe? We must serve as we are able, and bless as we have ourselves been blessed.
The answer is imperfect, but in this life all such answers must be.