Here’s a thorny one:
A school student recently asked me,
“Can you still go to heaven if you don’t believe in Jesus?”
It’s actually a pretty common question, because people know that Jesus claimed to be the “Only Way to the Father” (John 14).
For me the answer is…
yes some will – but Jesus is the Only Way that’s possible…
Consider Abraham: he didn’t know about Jesus, or the cross, the resurrection, or the Holy Spirit, and yet he trusted that somehow God would make things right. And God credited that trust to him, and that was enough to make Abraham right with God – without any awareness of Jesus at all! (Check it out in Romans 4).
CS Lewis talked about God being a good judge, who judges people “according to the amount of light they have received.” So if you’ve received very little light about Jesus, God will take that into account as he judges us (as he did for Abraham.)
That counts for: babies, people in places that have never heard about Jesus, people with mental disabilities, or emotional scars, anyone who for whatever reason are prevented from seeing the light. So, by trusting as best they can (with whatever little light they have been able to process – and God knows how much or little that is) they could go to heaven, without ever explicitly believing in Jesus…
AND – Jesus is the Only Way that can happen.
You can’t find a better explanation of why God can forgive people so simply.
– If we have to make sacrifices to appease God (the gods) to forgive us, then what about people who don’t know about the sacrifices?!
– God wouldn’t just ignore sin: because, sin matters because sin hurts people. If God loves us, sin isn’t a little matter – sin really matters to God because WE matter to God.
– We intuit God forgives, but we also intuit that our sins matter – so how does God forgive sins???
According to the Christian message:
Jesus’ death & resurrection makes the ultimate atonement for sin,
so that all people can be forgiven (Hebrews 10), and be fully with God.
So now the only thing remaining for us to do is to trust him,
as best we can, with the amount of light received…
The rest is taken care of. How? By Jesus’ atonement:
– The Only Way I know of that atones for sin.
– The Only Way I know of that effectively atones for all peoples’ sins.
Jesus is the only Way to be put right with God, but you don’t have to know about it to be put right – just trust God the best you can with what you do know. Like Abraham did. 🙂
there are some benefits you don’t get unless you know & trust Jesus personally.
– The liberating spiritual dynamic of trusting Christ’s Spirit at work in you,
– The clarity of hope & meaning,
– The sense of purpose & liveliness.
But how can you trust Someone you don’t know about, or have never heard of?
And how can you hear unless someone tells you?
And how can someone tell you unless they’re sent to you?
This is why we speak up. To share what we know – not keep it to ourselves.
It’s so liberating to know
In Hebrews 11, the heroes of the faith all looked forward to “something they couldn’t see” – the means by which God would forgive their sins! They didn’t know how God could forgive – they just trusted and hoped he would “somehow.” They looked forward, but never saw it (Hebrews 11:39,40). That must have been a serious niggle in their faith – a big flaw in their theology! And it’s like that for so many people in the world, living with not much light – not much info about God to satisfy aching, gnawing questions & fears.
We can help! We can answer gnawing aching fears & questions about God, the afterlife, & therefore how to live now with hope & purpose.
Knowing The Way – “the means by which our sins are forgiven” (Hebrews 10; Romans 3:25; Colossians 1:22) – it’s liberating! Life-giving! Praise-evoking! (Hebrews 12&13). It makes you grateful. Aware. Want to follow Jesus, live the Beatitudes. It helps you “see” God like you didn’t see before.
Far from being narrow-minded, it opens up more of life than we ever previously imagined!