As Iron Sharpens Iron

An ongoing and online discussion between: an Orthodox informed Ecumaniac without a denominational home, an ordained Baptist youth pastor with an open mind, a Calvinist worship leader/seminarian with a staggering vocabulary and ability to make a point, and a cradle Catholic with a love/hate relationship to Rome.

Monday, September 05, 2005

When We All Get To Heaven...

After my nephew went home my niece came for a couple of days. As I was driving my niece to her father (with my son in the car), they began talking about God. Josiah said, "Dad, I don't know if I believe in God. I'm not as sure any more." He thought a little bit longer and added, "Yeah, I think I agree with mom." His mother is, more or less, a deist. (I have since discovered that she does believe in the very basic tenets of Christianity, but doesn't know why.)

I wasn't sure what to say. "YOU MUST BELIEVE!!!" No, not that. "YOU'RE GOING TO HELL!!!" No, not that either. "ONOMATOPOEIA!!!" Huh? I sat silent for some time while my niece explained to my son that's what her dad did. "Oh, Josiah, that's what my daddy does. He talks to people who don't believe in Jesus so they'll believe."

I racked my brain for about ten minutes. The first thing that came to my mind were the philosophical proofs, or lack thereof, for God. Belief in God is actually quite reasonable. The concept of the Prime Mover or First Cause is very reasonable. Of course, the whole concept of cause and effect was later challenged by Hume. Hume and Kant both agreed that the existence of God could not be proved. They also said it couldn't be disproven. But arguments about the existence of God are largely beyond a seven year old.

I also figured that, like his mom, what Josiah really was doubting was Jesus. If belief in God is reasonable, belief in Jesus (as the incarnate Word who died on the cross and rose again) is most definitely NOT! Charity believes in Jesus as a man, just not in the traditional dogma of the Church. This made me think of St. Thomas the Apostle. He, when told of Jesus' resurrection, did not believe at first. It was not until he saw the risen Christ, and put his fingers in the wounds, that he believed.

Finally, I recalled a third grade teacher I once worked with. She was/is a Catholic who had/has serious doubts. Her priest told her that the doubters, the ones who wrestled with God, sometimes ended up having the greatest faith. So, this is what I said:
Josiah, there is no way to prove God exists, although even Mommy believes in Him. And there's especially no way to prove that Jesus lived or was the Son of God. It's OK if you doubt it. God won't be upset. Sometimes, I even wonder. But just because you have doubts doesn't mean you don't have to believe at all. But, even though it doesn't make sense to me sometimes, I still believe.
Then, I told him the story of St. Thomas, how he doubted, and how he later brought the gospel to India. Josiah thought about it for a bit and said, "Well, I guess I believe more than I don't. It just doesn't make sense."

I dropped the discussion at that point. I'd said what I needed to say. I don't feel the need to have him say the words right away. Why? It has to do with my beliefs regarding the afterlife.

See, when I told my family about Josiah's statement, they were horrified. For them, if you don't believe when you die, your screwed. Even if you, faced with the Truth at Judgment, suddenly believe, you're still going to hell. I thought about this for some time after I began re-examining my faith. The belief that, when you die, you're already set for heaven or hell doesn't seem scripturally, reasonable or traditionally sound to me.

The argument of evangelical goes roughly this way. You hear the gospel somehow on earth ... tract ... street preacher ... priest ... whatever. Once you hear it, you "know" the Truth and have to make a decision. If you die with the correct decision unmade, you're bound for hell. After all, who, faced with God, wouldn't decide to go to heaven?

There are several problems with this. First, what about all the people who don't ever hear about Jesus, both today and throughout history? Did they all go to hell? Some would say yes, but I think most would say no. So, lets agree that:
If you haven't heard the Truth, you can't know it, can't make a decision and, thus, you won't be doomed to hell.
So if you haven't heard about Jesus, then you won't be condemned. OK, what about the people that have. If I'm walking the street and I hear some random dude telling me I'll go to hell if I don't get saved, does that count as "knowing the Truth?" Somehow, I doubt it. Or, even worse, what if the one who preaches is evil? What if the priest who told you about Jesus also molested you? What if the conquistador that told you about Jesus also raped your sister and sold you into slavery? Do you know the Truth then? This leads me to my second point:
Humans are such flawed vessels that they can't truly convey the Truth.
If we take that, and premise #1, then there is no way on earth to truly know about Jesus. "But," some respond, "everyone would go to heaven! Who wouldn't accept Jesus faced with the reality at the Judgment seat?" Well, we already know of one who hasn't. Lucifer. Satan. The Devil and all his angels. They knew God in His fullness. They were perfect beings who, knowing the reality of their decision, rebelled against God and were cast out. If Satan made that decision under those circumstances, then why wouldn't some humans? I bet they would.

This reminds me of a bible verse. I can't remember exactly how it goes, but it says something along the lines of "If you know the Truth, and then reject it, you are lost forever." I don't believe this means God wouldn't take you back. I think it means that, if you make a decision, knowing the Truth and the consequences, as Satan did, there is no turning back because you wouldn't do it yourself. Humans can't make that kind of commitment or rejection because they don't KNOW the Truth on earth. They see "in a glass darkly." Thus, my final premise is:
There are those who, faced with the Truth, faced with Jesus and knowing of His love and the reality of heaven and hell, will choose hell.
Based on these three premises (premii?) I contend that everyone will know God as He is and have a chance to choose before they are condemned. My belief is further strengthened by an excellent article titled The River of Fire. I can't summarize it effectively. All I can say is this article, based on the ancient witness and teaching of the Church, paints a picture of God more loving than any I learned about in all the Protestant churches I ever attended.

Regarding Josiah, God is Love. He loves Josiah more than I ever could. I trust Him with Josiah's future. For me, it's not a race against God. "Oh no, I have to get Josiah to say the words and believe before I die or he dies or God's gonna get'im!!!" I will keep teaching him, and praying with him, and loving him and trying to be Christ for him and trust that, when convicted with the Truth, on earth or in heaven, he will believe it.

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