One picnic group leaves, another arrives! Woodward Park, Fresno, CA
February 22, 2019
The answer to the question above has proven to be difficult to face and come to grips with for both Christians and non-Christians alike. This is especially true when one applies it his or her own life, or to the lives of loved ones. The answer will likely surprise people in both categories, as the vastness of God’s truth, his compassion for mankind, and his infinite wisdom, mercy, love and hope for all people, plays out in his just ways.
I can distinctly remember wondering, as I grew up Catholic, what happens to all the people in the world when they die who are not Christian. Surely, I thought, they can’t all be condemned to hell, it simply wouldn’t make sense or be just. But as I became an adult and questioned Christians about this, many thought that without accepting Christ as their personal savior (Protestants), or being baptized in the Catholic Church (Catholics), you wouldn’t make it to heaven. Look it up, it’s in the Bible they would say. This was disturbing to me because I could easily see it as starkly unjust, and I knew in my heart of hearts that God was never unjust. I wrestled for years with this contradiction and prayed to God to give me a clear and understandable answer. I started with searching the Bible diligently. I will give you here what God has revealed to me over the years.
The first problem that came to my mind was, “What about people who lived and died on earth without even hearing about Jesus Christ?” They had no chance to become Christian or even know that Christianity existed. Then, in my mind, this group expanded exponentially when I thought of the vast numbers who lived and died before Jesus Christ was even born. Surely a lot of those people made it to heaven. This was becoming too big for me to ignore. There must be a different requirement for them to make it to heaven, but what was it?
I started checking in the Bible to find out God’s view of all this, especially what his hope and desire was for the people he created. Paul states in 1 Timothy 4, verse 10: “This explains why we work and struggle as we do; our hopes are fixed on the living God who is the savior of all men, but especially of those who believe.” Also, in 1 Timothy 2, verses 3-4, Paul writes: “Prayer of this kind is good, and God our savior is pleased with it, for he wants all men to be saved and come to know the truth.” These two passages from 1st Timothy reveal God’s heart, which yearns deeply for all men to end up eternally in heaven with him. All men is pretty inclusive, as none are left out. These verses started me on the right track, but I thought that if people actually ended up in hell, then something must have thwarted God’s will, as this was clearly not his desire. What could possibly have this much power? Again, I searched through the Bible and prayed for answers.
In Romans 2, 4-11 we read, “Do you not know that God’s kindness is an invitation to you to repent? In spite of this, your hard and impenitent heart is storing up retribution for that day of wrath when the just judgement of God will be revealed, when he will repay every man for what he has done; eternal life to those who strive for glory, honor, and immortality by patiently doing right; wrath and fury to those who selfishly disobey the truth and obey wickedness. Yes, affliction and anguish will come upon every man who has done evil, the Jew first, then the Greek. But there will be glory honor and peace for everyone who has done good, likewise the Jew first and then the Greek. With God there is no favoritism.” Notice that these verses don’t even mention religion, whether Christianity or Judaism, for it is not religion which gets you to heaven, but rather your heart and your life. Your own heart is the only thing that has the power to keep you out of heaven, so you have no one to blame but yourself! If the religion you are in is not preparing you to strive to do good and repent to God for all sin, then it is failing you.
When it comes right down to it, everyone will be judged based on their particular situation in life, including what religion or lack of religion they were born into; what quality of family life they experienced; what country they lived in; the historical time period in which they lived; and all the particulars of their personality, their health, their intelligence, and myriads of other things. God knows and takes into account every tiny detail about you, and is understanding and compassionate. No person on earth could judge you as justly as God can, including yourself. A good summary of this kind of judgement is found in the book of Romans: “Sinners who do not have the law will perish without reference to it; sinners bound by the law will be judged in accordance with it. For it is not those who hear the law who are just in the sight of God; it is those who keep it who will be declared just. When Gentiles who do not have the law keep it as by instinct, these men although without the law serve as a law for themselves. They show that the demands of the law are written in their hearts. Their conscience bears witness together with that law, and their thoughts will accuse or defend them on the day when, in accordance with the gospel I preach, God will pass judgement on the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.” Romans 2, 12-16
Every person will bear the responsibility for how he or she lived life on earth. If this is so, then do we even need religion or God? Emphatically, YES! Christianity, especially, can give you the truth to live by, lead you to seek and find God, and with him, salvation in Jesus Christ. It is much harder for you to live your life alone, where you engage in a solitary struggle to find meaning, purpose and truth, and may never be fully successful. With God in your life you are never alone, and actually live in God’s presence in a down payment on heaven.
So the answer to the original question which was asked in the title to this article is yes, non-Christians do make it to heaven based on how they live their lives, just as Christians do. But it can make for a much harder life. It is like asking the question, “Is it possible to find a good job, be happy and earn a living wage without graduating from high school?” Of course, but it is a lot easier and much more likely if you prepare yourself by getting the best education that you can. That’s why there are churches, and the Bible, and preachers, and writers like myself. Take full advantage of everything that you can, you will never regret it.