This is going to be a contentious post, and you should be warned that a lot of sacred cows are in danger of their lives 😉
It’s about who will be saved; who will be in Heaven. Life after death. Just a fairly superficial look at a very deep subject, but paradoxically, one that’s probably much simpler than we humans expect – we do love to complicate simple things! Let me say up front that this is not a Universalist perspective – where everyone gets ‘saved’ no matter what – but, well, you can of course form your own opinions on what I am saying, ok? 🙂
Firstly, let me set out my premises. Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the Way, I am the Truth, I am the Life. No-one comes to the Father except through Me”. Acts 4:12 says, ” Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name [Jesus] under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
So far, so good. We establish that Jesus is the Way to the Father; the Way to Heaven.
Now, let’s look at Romans 10:13 where it says, “Everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved”. There appears to me to be no other condition for salvation…. and remember we need to take into account the passages above which set out that Jesus, and only Jesus is the Way to salvation.
You may have noticed that the Bible does not contain a formula or prayer that makes someone suddenly ‘saved’ where they weren’t before. So often, for example in Mark 5:36, Jesus Himself said ‘Only believe’. He mentions being ‘born again’ (John 3:3ff) but it does not really explain in the Bible how this happens, except that in the same passage Jesus says we must be ‘born of the Spirit’. The Bible also talks in Galatians 6:15 about being a ‘new creation’.
But there’s a lot more unanswered questions as well, in addition to these. For instance, what happens to those who have not heard the Gospel? What happens if someone kind-of ‘believes’, but isn’t sure? What about those who would have loved Jesus, if only they’d been given a proper representation of Him, but the Church people were not showing Christ’s love? Can you make the choice after death, or must you make the choice while you’re still on Earth? Is it too late once you’re dead? The Bible is silent on most if not all of these questions; I would also hazard that many of the currently popular answers to these questions have been made up by well-meaning people in order to propagate a certain doctrine or another. And I suppose in writing this piece, I am doing the same!
So, what do I think? Well, I’d need to write a book….and in a similar way to how I sometimes feel that the doctrine of Hell is not necessarily founded in Scripture – I have read some very interesting interpretations of the Bible’s ‘teaching’ on Hell – I also have some issues with finding evidence or answers in the Bible for having a ‘time limit’ on receiving Christ. And for the other questions above too.
I am Aspergic so please bear with me; my lines of thought are sometimes hard to follow 🙂
So here goes. Let’s use an illustration first. Ok, as an ex-College tutor I have issues with the academic assessment of students. I don’t believe in exams or qualifications (despite having loads of them) because they do not reflect either the way in which knowledge is absorbed or used. It’s the same with a quiz show – a player may know the answer but unless it is given before the answer is revealed by the quizmaster, it does not count. If the answer is given by the quizmaster, and the player says ‘But I knew that answer’, he would not get the prize because he did not prove that he knew the answer before it was revealed. So the assessment, or the quiz, is more to do with regurgitating the answer on demand, and at the actual time, rather than actually knowing it internally despite not being able to recall on demand.
It’s difficult to explain how this relates to life after death but as an Aspie I am making a non-logical transition…..please bear with me.
So, a second or so after a person dies (but what is time in the Eternal Realm? Another reason for my doubts on this matter!) – anyway in that second or so, the person can see God right there (whether it’s Judgement Day or whether he sleeps and then wakes up in Heaven, whatever) but basically the person can now see things as they really are. So, like in the quiz, just because the answer is now plainly obvious, does not mean that the person cannot say ‘Oh yes! I understand now!’ and ‘qualify’ for Heaven based on Jesus’s already-done, all-encompassing sacrifice. He died for everyone!
Then there’s C.S. Lewis’s ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ which you may be familiar with. In ‘The Last Battle’, remember how there’s a Judgement: “But as they came right up to Aslan one or other of two things happened to each of them. They all looked straight in his face, I don’t think they had any choice about that. And when some looked, the expression of their faces changed terribly – it was fear and hatred: except that, on the faces of Talking Bears, the fear and hatred lasted only for a fraction of a second. You could see that they suddenly ceased to the Talking Beasts. They were just ordinary animals. And all the creatures who looked at Aslan in that way swerved to their right, his left, and disappeared into his huge black shadow, which (as you have heard) streamed away to the left of the doorway. The children never saw them again. I don’t know what became of them. But the others looked in the face of Aslan and loved him, though some of them were very frightened at the same time. And all these came in at the Door, in on Aslan’s right.”
I think that this is more or less what it will look like. There will be people who, all along, have loved Jesus without having met Him. Or, at least, they would have done, had they met Him. And when they do see Him, they will love Him. The answer to the quiz is right there and they will either already know the answer, or they will not. But the timing has nothing to do with it.
These people have been denied the chance to see Him as He really is – either because, as we have seen, they are perhaps newborns, those from far away or whatever – or simply those who have never had Jesus presented to them realistically and given the chance to respond.. I am Jesus to my colleagues at work, and yes I ‘witness’ to what God is doing in my life. But I am not challenging them – or at least I don’t think I am (and, of course, under the rules of the old ‘religion’ I used to have, I would have been condemned for that, for not being a pushy Witness!) but at the end of the day, Jesus is being presented. The challenge – the conviction, if you like – is up to Holy Spirit. That’s not my job. And neither is their response.
What happens to those who don’t love Him? We don’t know for sure. Personally I don’t believe that God would inflict eternal suffering; I think it is a device made up by the Mediaeval Church to keep people under their control. You couldn’t even commit suicide to evade the Church’s repression because they made that a ‘cardinal sin’ – to me that’s a dead giveaway! It’s a control thing. That’s what I believe at the moment, anyway.
And what about people from other faiths? Not only people who perhaps have never heard of Jesus the Son of God (as opposed to Isa the Prophet or whatever), but also those whose birth faith precludes ever having ‘correct’ knowledge of Him?
Well, again, for me Christ died for all. So this is my starting point. No-one comes to the Father except through Him. But this does not necessarily mean that it’s only Christians who can come to the Father. It means to me that even those of other faiths only get to come to God because of what Jesus did. Either before or after He came – which caters nicely for those who died before He arrived. Incidentally, the Old Testament saints were convinced that they were going to be with God. How? Interesting….Jesus must have had something to do with that!
Anyway, because of this, I think there are going to be many surprised Muslims in Heaven. They’ll be surprised partially because their religion has told them that they will never be good enough. And there will equally be a number of very, very surprised Jehovah’s Witnesses in Heaven, where all along they thought they’d only make Paradise Earth…. You see, I believe God looks on the heart. The story of Emeth in C. S. Lewis’s ‘The Last Battle’ is absolutely brilliant, “But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, Son, thou art welcome. But I said, Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me”. I am in tears just reading that once again…. I love Emeth and I am looking forward to meeting those like him in Heaven.
So, when it comes to the few seconds immediately after death, a person may find that they have loved Jesus for ages without having ever actually realised it.
And I believe that this is the basis for entry to Heaven. Your love for Jesus – the Real Jesus. The Jesus you always hoped He’d be like. It still fits with the Scriptural framework – Jesus is the Only Way – but it’s not necessarily what mainstream Christianity teaches, and certainly not what Fundamentalism teaches.
A wise friend of mine said, when asked the same question,
“I think there *might* be a possibility for people to come to faith in Christ after death. I would say this more than a possibility for children who died before they could understand the gospel, for mentally ill, and for those who have never heard the gospel. Similarly, there are countless people who have lived through horrible “religion” and so rejected the Gospel as a result. Are they to blame for rejecting God? I am not so sure.
“I do know this: God is loving and just. He will do what is right. From my perspective, what is “right” is to give people a real chance to believe in Him, a chance that this life does not always afford. But then, that is just my human perspective”.
And that opinion, too dovetails nicely with mine. You see, even in the Christian faith, or should I say especially in the Christian faith, there is room for discussion and differing opinions, even on the deepest and most eternal of matters.
Of course, none of this takes away from the absolute assurance that those who believe here and now have for their salvation. If you believe in Jesus for your salvation, in whichever way makes sense to you, you are saved, and that’s all there is to it. You can rejoice in that simple fact. You will be in Heaven. Your sins are forgiven. So why, then, should we become Christians in the here and now, with all the sacrifice that entails, if after death we’ll possibly make it to Heaven anyway? What benefit is there? That’s another whole issue, involving the reality of God in today’s life, assurance of salvation here and now, and the presence of the Kingdom of God. But more on that later. [in fact it’s here.]
5 thoughts on “Life after Death – A Contentious Post on Decision Points”
You go and slaughter those holy cows dude – let’s have a sacred beef feast! 🙂
I’m with you 100% on all of this. And Emeth is one of my heroes.
I know that C.S. Lewis doesn’t work for everyone, but for me his metaphorical depictions of heaven and hell (mainly in the Last Battle and The Great Divorce) hit the spot in a way that no other writer or theologian has quite managed.
The other bit that really resonates for me in Last Battle is where the treacherous dwarfs persist in believing they’re trapped in a dark smelly stable and being fed animal fodder even when they’ve been brought out into the light and given the finest fare. They’re in heaven, in a sense, but because of their own ‘self-blindness’ they can only see hell. Aslan has freed them, but they remain trapped in their own suspicion and mean-spiritedness.
I don’t believe in hell in the traditional punitive ‘eternal conscious torment’ sense. But I do believe that we can choose a kind of self-imposed hell for ourselves, refusing to enter into the light and freedom that Jesus is always offering us. Or something like that.
Keep the BBQ hot. I’ve come to a similar position over the last five years and intend to keep exploring.
I see by the date of this blog that I’m way behind in replying to it, but here goes:
“So, when it comes to the few seconds immediately after death, a person may find that they have loved Jesus for ages without having ever actually realised it.”
This idea, that you can love Jesus for your whole life without knowing that it is He that you love, is one of the cornerstones of my faith.
And I hold it to be true because of my understanding that of all the aspects of God’s nature, the one He wants to reveal to us the most is Love, and Jesus is a perfect example of that love.
There are countless people in this world, and always have been, who understand love as being the solution to our problems and who have done their best to live by love.
Because of that, when they finally see Jesus face to face, their hearts will recognize that love in Him.
In my childhood the idea of being separated from God seemed to be such a strange idea, because I saw God in everything around me, and loved Him.
It was only as I got older and more familiar with the ways of the world and was sent to sunday school that I lost this feeling of being close to God. Instead, I began to feel like a person that God couldn’t accept.
it’s amazing and so sad to me that this feeling of being separate from God didn’t arise in me until I came into contact with the very people who claim to be His representatives in this world!
These two ways of viewing myself caused me years of inner conflict, and in later years, as a young man, I finally decided to reject the whole thing and become an atheist.
But there was one thing I was never able to reject completely, and that was my belief in love being what we all needed.
To find this love and how to have it, I spent years searching through every philosophy, every religious, spiritual, and metaphysical teaching I could get my hands on.
To me it seemed that most, if not all, of them added so many unnecessary rules to the whole thing.
Then I found the concept of the “Bodhisattva” in Mahayana Buddhism, and it really spoke to my heart. I finally had a word to describe what it was that I was looking for, and decided to become a Buddhist.
I followed this path for many years, including 12 years as an actual ordained Buddhist monk!
I loved the ideas of cherishing the life of all living beings, human and non-human alike, of learning to regard the happiness and well-being of others in the same way that I cherished my own, and felt right at home in these concepts.
I recognized these ideas as being the way that I regarded Jesus in my youth, and still thought of Him in my heart as being that way.
One thing that bothered me was that I understood enough about Jesus and the bible to know that Jesus said we could develop the same love by abiding in him, whereas Buddhism seemed to be saying that it took years and possibly lifetimes to develop it.
I began to see Jesus more and more as being the perfect example of the bodhisattva concept, and remembered how easy it seemed to feel close to him in my youth.
Whereas I had never really felt close to Buddha, except for sharing quite a few of the same ideas.
In the end, it was this feeling that Jesus was an actual Living Presence that I could have whenever I wanted it that finally made me decide to return to him and leave Buddhism behind.
Now, once again, I have a wonderful sense of the Living Presence of Jesus in my heart, and complete confidence in Him as the way to truly fulfill the Bodhisattva ideal that I love so much!
This in no way means that my love has suddenly become perfect, but that by holding onto that Presence, His love can touch others through me in spite of my failings because it’s from Him and not based just on me.
I say all of this as an illustration of your main point: that if someone really believes in love for others as a true way to live, eventually they will come to recognize Jesus as the perfect example of that love and willingly embrace Him!
I have complete confidence in this!
Wow, Dennis, what an amazing journey you have been on! And of course you still are on that journey…but also what a testimony! I really appreciate what you have written here and it has given me much interesting food for thought. I particularly like the idea of Buddhism too having part of the truth, as I think we both appreciate that all faiths share at least some of the truth – whatever that is. But the indwelling Presence, for me, is the real deal, as it is for you. I feel it sad that churches actually put barriers in the way of that Relationship, instead of encouraging it. How much of Sunday School is the Ten Commandments and David & Goliath? Lollz, and yet so tragic too. I do often think of this as being as seed falling on the ground with the weeds and thorns, to pinch a bit from the Parable of the Sower…
Yes, I think the most common thing that all religions share is what is called the “Golden Rule”. But unfortunately the legalists in almost all of these religions bury that simple truth under tons of regulations.
Having said that however, I see this common factor of all religions as where we all start from, but we are left struggling in our own power to accomplish this and without a relationship with that Living Presence, we are unable to do it on our own.
That doesn’t make us better than other religions, because it’s really not us that achieve this ability to generate true divine love, but Jesus within us.
I don’t think we can do it without Him, but anyone can do it with Him!