My last post was a fictional story about God. Like all parables it illustrates a point, but the analogy is limited. I hope it illustrated the point about fairness. That sense of "unfair" is what is at the heart of the discussion on salvation. Is it fair that God only allows people who confess Jesus as Lord go to heaven, when millions either do not know Him or find themselves in a situation where faith in Him is very difficult?
In this discussion it is vital to point out that all have sinned and no one is worthy. If you do not get that point then there is little else can be said. One of the disturbing features of the position that "everyone goes to heaven" is it fails to take seriously sin and evil. It makes it all so easy. It also ignores the holiness of God. It reduces God to our level. For those reasons I am hesitant to even push back against the 'exclusive' position.
But there is, I think, a logical challenge to the 'exclusivist' position. Let me explain. The argument generally laid out goes like this:
1. God is holy, all holy, and pure goodness.
2. People sin and alienate themselves from God.
3. God's truth and justice demands our eternal punishment.
4. Jesus has taken on our sins and the NT makes clear that He is our salvation.
5. Those who do not believe in Jesus remain in the lost state without any hope.
6. Those who have faith in Jesus are saved.
There are linguistic variations, but basically that is the argument. Today in Morning Prayer I read from Romans about the uselessness of works and the effectiveness of faith. Based on Romans, and similar NT texts, many 'exclusivists' argue that human actions alway fall short of God's perfection. Even our best acts are muddied up with various evil intentions and desires. Our good works, some would say, are dirty rags (an image of one of Israel's prophets). Dirty rags are useless. That is what our works are, useless and disgusting in comparison with the holy and good God.
Now, here is where the logical problem emerges. The word faith is used, but my question is, why are our imperfect works ineffective while our imperfect faith isn't? How is it that the feeble, impure and incomplete faith I have in Jesus is somehow enough when God's goodness makes it impossible for Him to be pleased with my imperfect works?
When people talk about Jesus to me, I often hear them say things that I know are flat wrong. The real Jesus, revealed in Scripture is quite different from the Jesus many Christians have made up in their own minds. I also know my understandind of Jesus is in flux. I have learned so much in the last few years. I expect I will continue to learn more. My ideas and beliefs have changed and will continue to change. I will never know Him fully or totally accurately.
I also know I have doubts. Worse, there are times when I have no feelings about Him. He died for me and lots of times I do not seem to passionately care. I hunger for Him but I hunger for sin, too. I do not know how fully I believe. That leads to another issue, what exactly is 'belief'? Is it an intellectual thing? A feeling thing? An obedience thing? And if it is about obedience aren't we back into the realm of works?
YIKES! So many questions.....
I want to leave it there for today. I think it worth pondering: what is faith? Who is Jesus? How right do we need to be about Jesus and how perfectly must we believe in order to be saved? And at what point is believing just another human activity, a work, of an imperfect, sinful soul? In light of these questions, I think there is an opening, to discuss the question. If Christians do not fully know Jesus and fully have faith in Jesus, is it possible that the same graciousness that God extends to us can also be extended to those who did not know Him, yet desired to please Him (without knowing it was Him) and relied on Him for life eternal (even though they had never heard of grace). It boils down to the question: where does GOD draw the line?
And to muddy it up even more, is 'deciding about heaven' really the point of Jesus' life and work?