A Hope for All?

A common subject of Bible studies, sermons, and other Christian discussion is redemption. Why not? As Christians we have the promise of eternal life with God. The other side of this is heard much less often, and frequently as an aside to talk of redemption. And again, this is quite understandable. The condemnation of people who do not believe in Jesus Christ is an uncomfortable subject, especially as most, if not all, of us have friends who this applies to. I also find it uncomfortable, for reasons I will shortly come to discuss, and so I present here some of my thoughts on the subject. This isn't a completed 'world view' - more an attempt to clarify things for myself by putting them in writing.

This starts to a large extent with my own experience. I have many friends who are not Christian. Some are agnostic; some so strongly atheist I doubt there is any chance of changing their opinions on the existence of Christ. This does not, in general, make them any the worse as human beings, at least inasmuch as can be told from everyday life. They may not be perfect, but then neither am I, nor are many of Christians I know. This makes it difficult to understand why, when in almost all situations they act as Christians would, albeit for different reasons, they should be condemned.

We know that God is a loving God, and his love shows no favouritism. Jesus was as likely to eat with sinners as virtuous men, even though this often set Him against the Jewish authorities. As Christians we believe that death is not the end of life, more a transition to a different kind of life. If God loves everyone in this life, why should not the same hold true in the next life?

People often find it easier to discuss the fate of those people who have never heard God's word, those who live in remote places. The conclusion I have most often seen people reach is that we can trust in God's mercy not to punish them for not having heard. I believe that the Gospel is so compelling, that if someone trusts that the events happened, they cannot fail to trust in God as Lord and Saviour. If those who we know do not believe this, who is at fault? Them for not believing, or us for not telling them the truth as well as we should? If it is our fault, should our friends be penalised any more than those people who have never had the chance to hear the message?

Many people I know are not Christians. However, they live their daily lives according to what we recognise as Christian standards. Equally, many people who would claim to be Christian have, and still do, live lives that seem to be at odds with the example we have in Jesus. The Bible tells us that this doesn't matter, that faith in Jesus as our Saviour is all that matters if we are to have eternal life. The point about faith is that if we have faith in God, we will automatically try to live better lives. Those who live in a Christian way, without having the belief, must do so for a reason. If they truly believe that this life is the end, and there is no higher being, the only logical philosophy is to an egocentric one: to believe that they are the only person of note in existence. When people do not act like this, it suggests that, at some level, they recognise there are other things beyond that which we can physically see, even if they do not yet know precisely what these things are, and so cannot fully trust in them as we do, knowing them to be God.

We believe that anyone who truly repents and turns to God, no matter what they have done before that point, no matter how late in life it is, will gain salvation. We know little about the Resurrection. Is it not possible that judgement will not be simultaneous with new life? If someone with a few of the qualities I have mentioned so far, for instance someone who never had a friend explain the Gospel convincingly, but who had led a life of Christian values, was resurrected, is it not likely that they would instantly repent and throw themselves on the mercy of our Lord? If they have this chance, I believe that we can trust in God, who made us and knows each of us, to be merciful and grant that person life.

This doesn't necessarily mean I believe everyone will have eternal life. I think there are some who are irredeemably evil, and who, even if they see God in his glory, will still trust in themselves, and refuse to repent.

In a way this seems to suggest that belief, at the moment, is unimportant. We have a chance at eternal life anyway, so why bother? Well, this is asking the wrong question. I mentioned earlier that, once we have truly heard the Gospel, we cannot fail to believe. There may be trials of our faith, things will not always be easy, but if we hold fast to the knowledge that Jesus dies on a cross to give us life, our faith will always be there. Our faith gives us hope during this life, it gives us a reason to act as God would have us do. It can give us comfort when times are bad, and gives us the strength to bring others to God.

So, is there a hope for all? I believe there is.

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E-mail: michael.stewart@physics.org