Orthodox, Biblical Christianity teaches there are only two ways to heaven:
- Live a perfect, sinless life or
- Experience forgiveness of your sins through faith in Jesus.
Furthermore, given that heaven is a place of moral perfection and endless joy, we are taught to be grateful that option #2 even exists. That is, Jesus’ entrance into our world as a human being, his holy life and sublime teachings, his agonizing death, and his glorious resurrection from the dead are not events which are to be taken for granted.
Well, why should we be so grateful? The main reason is that if we, as the guilty party, demanded that God give us what we deserve, the results would not be to our liking.
Consider this: why think we are entitled to receive mercy and grace? Are these not, by definition, undeserved gifts? How did we come to believe these were owed to us? Christianity asks us to take a perspective of sober, honest reflection upon our selfishness in light of the high demands of God’s moral code. When we do so, the announcement that there is forgiveness available for anyone who wants Jesus to save them is very good news.
All the same, one primary response to the Christian doctrine on heaven is to argue that Christianity has a narrow-minded, exclusive, and very judgmental approach towards those who are not Christians.
The objection finds much of its force from a common-sense understanding of fairness. For instance, if you give one child a Christmas gift, you should give all of your children a Christmas gift. To say to little Johnny, “Hey, Christmas gifts are gifts. Therefore, you don’t deserve one,” comes across as a bit heartless.
And it seems like this is what Christians are saying about God. He gives gifts to some people, but not to others, and that doesn’t seem fair. But if God is unconditional love and grace, then we should at least expect him to be fair. It seems like a low standard, actually, and the seeming contradiction naturally creates emotional and intellectual challenges for people.
On a strictly intellectual level, there are excellent formal and logical responses to this objection. These range from considerations of free will to applying the concept of “transworld depravity” to the discussion.
However, there is another response which we sometimes overlook in the discussion, and which directly addresses some of our emotional hesitation. Even the finest arguments can still leave us feeling disturbed, like something is just off, and we want more.
One way to speak to our emotional objection is to talk about a practical solution to what is, in some ways, a very concrete problem: some people have not yet heard about Jesus. Part of what we are asking, then, when we query a Christian about “the unsaved” is to test how seriously they care about the issue.
Speaking personally, my wife and I give regular financial gifts to Wycliffe Bible Translators as part of our commitment to seeing that all people have an opportunity to hear the good news about Jesus’ offer of forgiveness. We pray for different people groups that are yet to be reached with the gospel. We work to support missionaries as we have opportunity to do so. I personally was able to attend the Cape Town Congress on World Evangelization in October of 2010. In multiple ways, we are dedicating our time, energy, and resources to letting everyone know that God does love them and offers salvation to all who will respond in faith.
If you are personally troubled by the Bible’s teaching about those who have never heard, I hope that understanding how Christians are motivated to global evangelism offers you encouragement. If you are a Christian, but are not active in praying for and supporting missionaries, consider starting today. The best response to this question would be if we could respond, “By God’s grace, we’ve shared the good news with everyone!”
Carson Weitnauer blogs at Reasons for God.
Go check out his articles on searching for God.