Pondering Eternity – Part VIII: Judgment Day & Justice

Matthew 7:2 God will judge you in the same way you judge others, and he will apply to you the same rules you apply to others.  On Judgment Day, we will face the consequences of our actions.  We will feel the joy we gave when we helped others, and we will feel the pain we caused when we hurt others.  Therefore, as Matthew 7:12 advises us, do for others what you want them to do for you.

We will also feel the ripple effect of our actions.  When we smile at someone, hold the door open for someone, or do something nice for someone, we brighten that person’s day; then perhaps that person feels better and does the same for others, who, in turn, do the same for still more – this is a ripple effect; there are ripple effects for good actions and bad actions.  Although we are not responsible for someone else’s actions, we are responsible for how we treat others.  If the way we treat people affects the way they treat others, we will feel the ripple effect of our actions.  Luke 17:1 Jesus said to his disciples, “Things that make people fall into sin are bound to happen, but how terrible for the one who makes them happen!”

In order for fairness and justice to exist, the consequences of our actions will depend on our knowledge and circumstances.  Consequences based on knowledge… As I stated in my post “What We Have Been Given,”  if more is required from someone given more and much more is required from someone given much more (Luke 12:48), then it follows that less is expected from someone given less, and much less is expected from someone given much less.  If a person is severely mentally retarded or if someone is kidnapped at birth and isolated and abused, they will understand that they did not realize what they were doing when they hurt others (if they hurt others) because they were not given the same awareness or knowledge as others.  Their realization that they did not know any better will help them work through and release any pain they caused others.

In this same way, the significance of grace is apparent.  Before we knew Christ, we may not have had the knowledge to live as Christ taught.  Luke 23:34 Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”  The pain we will feel related to our negative actions will be based on our knowledge of whether or not we knew it was right or wrong.  If we had not accepted Christ at that point, we may not have realized the action was wrong or may not have realized how much damage and pain the action would cause.  If that is the case, we will understand that we did not know any better, and this will help us work through and release any pain we caused others before we accepted Christ.  When we accept Christ and His teachings, we are saved – Ezekiel 33:19 When an evil man quits sinning and does what is right and good, he has saved his life.

After we accept Christ, when we hurt others by mistake, we will realize that we are not perfect.  Our acceptance of Christ will lead us to ask forgiveness and to attempt to correct our mistake.  Our realization that we are not perfect and our attempt to correct our mistake will help us work through and release any pain we caused others by our mistakes.  If we hurt others intentionally, we are choosing to turn away from God.  In this instance, we must repent, ask forgiveness, attempt to correct our mistake, and try to do better in the future, and this will help us work through pain we caused someone intentionally.  When we repent and ask for forgiveness, we are forgiven because God loves us unconditionally.  Although forgiveness absolves our misdeeds so that we are pardoned of the related sins, forgiveness does not remove our misdeeds from the past as if they never happened.  Even though our misdeeds still exist, forgiveness allows us to be able to work through and release the pain we caused others – just as here on earth, forgiveness allows us to work through and release the pain others caused us.  On the other hand, if we choose not to repent, ask forgiveness, or attempt to correct our mistake, then we are choosing to continue to turn away from God.  Ezekiel 33:19 When a righteous man stops doing good and starts doing evil, he will die for it.

Grace does not mean that we will go to heaven regardless of what we do after we accept Christ.  Grace delivers us from sin and gives us the motivation and strength to live as Christ taught, and living as Christ taught leads us to do good. After we accept Christ, if we choose not to follow Christ’s teachings, then we are choosing to turn away.  As I discussed in my post “Hell Is for Those Who Turn Away,” someone who turns away from God is choosing life without God, which is hell.  God loves us regardless of our sins; even if we choose to turn away from God, God still loves us – He has unconditional love for us.  However, even though God still loves us, God does not stop us from turning away from Him.  His unconditional love for us is grace – if we choose to turn away from God, we are turning away from grace, too.

This does not negate that we do not have to do good works to earn salvation.  In Luke 23:42-43 when one of the criminals crucified with Christ asks Jesus to remember him, Christ promises that the criminal will be with Him in Paradise.  The criminal did not have a chance to do good works after he accepted Christ; so if good works were required, he would not be able to go to Paradise.  However, had the criminal not died by crucifixion, grace would not only have delivered him from his sins, but grace would have also given him the motivation and strength to live as Christ taught, which would have led him to do good.

Consequences based on circumstances… Luke 21:1-4 Jesus looked around and saw rich men dropping their gifts in the Temple treasury, and he also saw a very poor widow dropping in two little copper coins.  He said, “I tell you that this poor widow put in more than all the others.  For the others offered their gifts from what they had to spare of their riches; but she, poor as she is, gave all she had to live on. (also Mark 12:41-44)  A person who lived in extreme poverty during their life on earth may feel intense joy at giving a dollar to someone in need because they would understand that they gave a significant amount based on what they had available to them.  On the other hand, a person who lived in excess during their life will not feel the same amount of joy for giving a dollar to someone in need, even if it is the same person to whom the poor person gave a dollar; on the contrary, they may experience pain because they would understand that they could have given significantly more without even affecting their life of excess.  This is acknowledged in Luke 16:19-31 in the passage about the rich man and Lazarus.

Luke 6:20-21 Jesus looked at his disciples and said, “Happy are you poor; the Kingdom of God is yours!  Happy are you who are hungry now; you will be filled!  Happy are you who weep now; you will laugh!  For those who suffered or had a hard life, simply being done with the suffering and hardships will give them relief, rest, comfort, and joy.  Revelation 21:4 He will wipe away all tears from their eyes.  There will be no more death, no more grief or crying or pain. 

Those who helped the needy will also experience relief, rest, comfort, and joy.  Matthew 25:34-36 Then the King will say to the people on his right, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father!  Come and possess the kingdom which has been prepared for you ever since the creation of the world.  I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.”  Instead of using those resources for an easier life or for a life of excess, they gave to the needy.  By doing without those resources and through empathy for the needy, they shared in the suffering and hardships of the needy, so they will share the relief, rest, comfort, and joy of the needy.  Proverbs 19:17 When you give to the poor, it is like lending to the Lord, and the Lord will pay you back.

Luke 6:24-25 But how terrible for you who are rich now; you have had your easy life!  How terrible for you who are full now; you will go hungry!  How terrible for you who laugh now; you will mourn and weep!  Those who had an easy life or lived a life of excess, are not likely to be relieved that their life on earth is finished; rest, comfort, and joy from being done with hardships and suffering will not exist for them.  Instead they will relive the times they ignored the needy and the pain they caused the needy by ignoring them.  Matthew 25:41-43 Then he will say to those on his left, “Away from me, you that are under God’s curse!  Away to the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels!  I was hungry but you would not feed me, thirsty but you would not give me a drink; I was a stranger but you would not welcome me in your homes, naked but you would not clothe me; I was sick and in prison but you would not take care of me.”

Matthew 19:23-24 Jesus then said to his disciples, “I assure you: it will be very hard for rich people to enter the Kingdom of heaven.  I repeat: it is much harder for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.  As I discussed in my post “If Heaven Were a Lollipop,” in general, it takes less for someone who has nothing to be happy than it does for someone who has much.  Those who had nothing will be happy with little joys but desensitized to little pains; whereas someone who had plenty will not be desensitized to little pains and, in addition, will need more joy to be happy.  The harder your life was the more desensitized to pain and suffering you will be, whereas the easier your life was the more desensitized to joy and rest you will be.

Proverbs 22:22-23 Don’t take advantage of the poor just because you can; don’t take advantage of those who stand helpless in court.  The Lord will argue their case for them and threaten the life of anyone who threatens them.  For those that took advantage of the poor and needy, the pain will be even worse.  While those who ignored the needy will feel the pain they caused the needy by ignoring them, those who took advantage of the needy will experience additional pain due to the injustices they inflicted on the needy.  Proverbs 17:15 Condemning the innocent or letting the wicked go – both are hateful to the Lord.  Psalm 82:2-3 You must stop judging unjustly; you must no longer be partial to the wicked!  Defend the rights of the poor and the orphans; be fair to the needy and the helpless.

So… our actions will be judged according to our knowledge and circumstances, and our degree of reward or punishment will be based on this.  The more joy we gave, the more joy we will feel – when we gave joy to others, we will feel their joy and understand that our actions gave them joy.  Our righteousness will be evident to us, and we will feel worthy to accept God’s love.  In contrast, the more pain we caused, the more pain we will feel – when we caused pain to others, we will feel their pain and understand that our actions caused them pain.  We will be filled with shame for these actions, and our shame will make us feel unworthy to accept God’s love – shame will cause us to turn away from God.  In addition, the easier our life was, the more joy it takes to make us happy and the less pain it takes to hurt us, while the harder our life was, the less joy it takes to make us happy and the more pain it takes to hurt us.  Wisdom 11:20 You could have pursued them with your justice or struck them dead at the slightest hint of your power.  But you have chosen to measure, count, and weigh everything you do.

Depending on our knowledge and circumstances, we may or may not be able to work through the pain we caused others.  If we honestly tried to live righteously, as Christ lived and as Christ taught us to live, we will be able to work through the pain we caused others, and in doing so, we will be allowed through heaven’s gate to experience the joy of heaven – 1 John 3:7 Whoever does what is right is righteous, just as Christ is righteous.  Otherwise, our shame will make us turn away from God, and then we will be cast into the fire of hell and tormented throughout eternity with the pain we caused others and with the shame that we were not worthy of heaven.  Matthew 25: 45-46 The King will reply, “I tell you, whenever you refused to help one of these least important ones, you refused to help me.”  These, then, will be sent off to eternal punishment, but the righteous will go to eternal life.

Consider that the pain and shame are the fire of hell.  Mark 9:48 There ‘the worms that eat them never die, and the fire that burns them is never put out.’  The worms that eat them are their misdeeds – they relive the misdeeds ceaselessly, so the worms never die.  The fire that burns them is the pain they now bear due to their misdeeds as well as the shame related to their misdeeds – since they relive their misdeeds ceaselessly and since there is no way to escape and no where to hide from the pain and shame of their misdeeds, the fire that burns them is never put out.  They are further tormented by the realization that their choices led them to their eternity of pain and unrest and that they are forever excluded from the rest, comfort, and joy of heaven.

Closing – If we receive in eternity what we gave on earth and if we live the opposite in eternity of what we lived on earth, inequalities disappear, and truth and justice reign.  Am I saying this is the way?  NO, I am not.  I am merely saying this is a way to make life and eternity fair and just.  For me, just knowing that a fair and just way exists gives me peace – so, for any of you that need to know that a fair and just way exists…this is for you.

Pondering Eternity – Part VII: Truth Will Be Revealed

Accepting grace directs us to heaven’s gates, while turning away leads us to hell’s fire.  But… what makes life and eternity fair?

The Bible declares that God is just and fair, and that justice and fairness will ultimately exist.  But the question of “how” it would be possible has always bothered me – how will justice and fairness ultimately exist?  Life is not just or fair.  How can eternity be such that justice and fairness will prevail?

Justice and fairness do not exist without truth, so let’s start with truth.  So often in life, we find ourselves thinking, “if only they knew what really happened” or “if only they knew the truth” because then they would know… they would understand.  Having the truth known or being understood would make us feel better and give us closure, even if it doesn’t solve our situation.

The Bible refers to Christ as the truth in John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except by me.”  In this verse when Christ is referred to as the truth, the truth is usually interpreted to mean that Christ came to earth, Christ is the Son of God, Christ died by crucifixion for our sins, Christ rose from the dead.  However, this verse can also be interpreted with the dictionary meaning of truth; the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines truth as sincerity in action, character, and utterance.  Christ is the truth in this way as well – His ways/actions were sincere, His character/life was sincere, and His words/utterances were sincere.

The Bible proclaims that the truth will be revealed.  Luke 8:17:  Whatever is hidden away will be brought out into the open, and whatever is covered up will be found and brought to light. (also Mark 4:22)  God already knows the truth, the truth does not need to be revealed to God – the truth will be revealed to us.  Christ as the truth will be revealed to us, but the truth as sincerity in our actions, character, and utterances will also be revealed to us.  In eternity, all our actions, words, and even intentions – whether good or bad, accidental or purposeful, large or small – will be made known to all.

John 8:32 you will know the truth and the truth will set you free supports both meanings of truth used in the Bible.  The truth that is Christ will be revealed, and our belief in and following of Christ will set us free from death.  The truth as sincerity in action, character, and utterance will be revealed to us as well, and for those that have been wronged, this truth is also freeing – victims will be vindicated, and misconceptions of victims will disintegrate.

For truth as sincerity in action, character, and utterance to be revealed, understanding is necessary because the same action can be considered evil or not evil depending on the knowledge and circumstances of those involved.  For instance, if a severely mentally retarded person strikes out at someone, this is not the same as someone who is intelligent striking out at someone – a severely mentally retarded person is not likely to have the knowledge for their action to be considered evil.  However, circumstances must also be considered because if someone is defending their life or loved ones, this is not the same as someone striking out in revenge or anger.

So, our awareness, knowledge, and life circumstances will also be revealed, not just our actions, words, and intentions.  We will be able to understand our deeds in relation to our life and our circumstances, and, in addition, we will be able to understand everyone else’s deeds – as if we had actually walked in their shoes for their entire existence – in relation to their lives and circumstances.  Our circumstances as well as what we knew or should have known will be considered in context with our deeds.  If we did not have the awareness or knowledge to know something was wrong, that will be revealed.  If our life circumstances prevented us from achieving what others achieved, that will be revealed, too.  Everyone will understand their capabilities, and they will be able to see clearly what was right or wrong for their situation.  In this way, actions that are truly evil will be revealed.  Matthew10:26 So do not be afraid of people.  Whatever is now covered up will be uncovered, and every secret will be made known.  (also Luke 12:2)

Once the truth is completely revealed, judgment can begin.

Pondering Eternity – Part VI: The Beauty and Importance of Grace

It took me some time before I realized that what I had been observing about grace (simply acknowledging that Christ existed and accepting that Christ was crucified on a cross for our sins) was not actually what was truly meant by grace.  Christ suffered and died for all our sins – not because we earned and deserved His mercy but because He loved us unconditionally regardless of our sins.  When we realize the importance of this and accept Christ into our hearts, Christ’s gift of unconditional love for us fills our hearts – this is grace.

With acceptance of this beautiful gift, we feel the need to repent for past transgressions and the desire to live as Christ taught us to live, which includes sharing His love with others and helping others.  When we truly receive Christ and Christ’s unconditional love in our hearts, our actions will show this.  We will “talk the talk” as well as “walk the walk” – this does not mean we will never make mistakes; it means we will try to do the best we can with what we have been given.  If we do not feel the need to repent or the desire to try to live like Christ, then perhaps we have not truly accepted Christ into our hearts – maybe we have only accepted that Christ existed and that Christ suffered and died, and while this is a start, it is not the same as allowing Christ and His unconditional love to fill our being and overflow into our surroundings.

Our acceptance of grace will be evident by our actions and by how we live our lives.  Appropriate actions for each person vary according to what they have been given – their knowledge and circumstances.  For instance, a person who has lost their arms can not literally feed the hungry; perhaps this person offers up their limitations in life for others and chooses not to dwell on their circumstances.  There are other strengths and weaknesses that are not as obvious, but our acceptance of grace and our faith will shine through in one way or another.

The beauty of grace is that the presence of Christ is there for us – always.  Christ is there for us in good times and bad.  He will guide us, support us, help us… even carry us through the hardest parts of our lives.  If we are faced with a tough decision, we can ask for guidance.  If we need comfort, Christ is there to hold our heart as well as our hand – we can put all our woes in the Hands of Christ and let him heal our heart.  If we find we are in need, we can ask for help.  Grace gives us the strength to live as He taught us and gives us peace, and grace will protect us.

The importance of grace is it will guide us to eternal bliss in heaven if we truly accept it.  Matthew 7:13-14  Go in through the narrow gate, because the gate to hell is wide and the road that leads to it is easy, and there are many who travel it.  But the gate to life is narrow and the way that leads to it is hard, and there are few people who find it.  Grace gives us the direction and guidance to lead us along the narrow path to heaven.  For those with grace, they know Christ is there for them to help them follow the narrow path.  For the person who has not accepted grace, they are not aware that Christ is there to guide, support, and help them, and this makes the path to heaven hard to identify and even harder to follow.

Pondering Eternity – Part V: What We Have Been Given

What about those not as innocent as babies and children that never get the chance to learn about God and are, therefore, unable to officially accept God?  Where is the fairness and justice in this?  What about the wide range of inequalities that affects people’s circumstances?  How does fairness and justice apply to these people?  If fairness and justice truly exist, then eternity can not be based on “the luck of the draw.”

It had been my understanding as a young child that if we were good, we would go to heaven.  Confusion descended on me as I began to hear the term grace* and its definition.  Based on what I was told about grace, someone could turn away from God, then repent and accept God and go to heaven, even if they committed atrocious acts against humanity, while someone else who never had the chance to learn about and accept God could go to hell, even if they lived a good and decent life.  The thought of this possibility troubled me – how is it possible that someone could massacre a group of people and then go to heaven, while someone else could help others and go to hell?  If God is willing to accept those who turned away from Him and then subsequently turned back, surely he would not banish those who never got a chance to learn about Him.

What I observed about grace and being saved did not help my confusion – it appeared to me that all a person had to do to be saved was to simply acknowledge that Christ existed and accept that Christ was crucified on a cross for our sins.  Based on this, either a person officially accepts God and is welcomed into heaven, or they do not officially accept God and are, therefore, condemned to hell.  The essence of fairness and justice escaped me – what if you never got the chance to officially accept God?

Besides, if eternity is based on whether or not a person officially accepts God, what is left to judge?  If there is nothing to judge, what is the purpose of Judgment Day?  Perhaps my young childhood belief deserved more consideration – at least if a person was good, they went to heaven, and then whether or not a person was good would provide something to judge.  For Judgment Day to exist there must be something to judge.

As I considered my childhood belief, the wide range of inequalities inherent in life created more questions for me.  If someone were born into life such that they had to struggle just to survive from day to day (whether from lack of money, lack of health, lack of physical or mental ability, lack of familial or societal support, lack of emotional or spiritual support, or a combination of these) while someone else was born with an abundance, how does this discrepancy in life circumstances affect their outcome in eternity?  How is it fair if both are expected to achieve the same for admittance to heaven?  For someone struggling to survive, it may be all they can do just to put one foot in front of the other.  Why would they be expected to achieve equal to someone who never had to endure this type of struggle?

Consider Luke 12: 48  Much is required from the person to whom much is given; much more is required from the person to whom much more is given.  If more is required from someone given more and much more is required from someone given much more, then it follows that less is expected from someone given less, and much less is expected from someone given much less.  This verse provides information on how justice and fairness can exist in life and eternity, even though there are vast differences in life’s circumstances – this verse lets us know that our circumstances are taken into consideration.

In Luke 21: 1-4 Jesus looked around and saw the rich men dropping their gifts in the Temple treasury, and he also saw a very poor widow dropping in two little copper coins.  He said, “I tell you that this poor widow put in more than all the others.  For the others offered their gifts from what they had to spare of their riches, but she, poor as she is, gave all she had to live on.”   The widow gave less actual money than the rich but proportionately more of what she had.  God sees how much we give in proportion to what we have.  We are not expected to achieve exactly equal to another since we are not given the same.  We are expected to do the best we can with what we have been given – whether it is less or much.  If we do the best we can, what more can we do?

Our level of knowledge or awareness is part of what has been given to us.  A typical infant and a typical adult do not have equivalent abilities and mental capacities, so we would not expect the infant to understand what we would expect the adult to understand.  Likewise, due to the variety of circumstances in life, not everyone has similar or comparable abilities and mental capacities, and, therefore, they should not be held accountable for understanding the same either.  Neither a newborn infant nor a profoundly mentally retarded person can officially accept God’s existence and His teachings, but it would not be fair or just to condemn either to hell if they died before they gained the level of understanding in which they could accept God and His teachings.

In Luke 12:47  We are told that the servant who knows what his master wants him to do, but does not get himself ready and do it, will be punished with a heavy whipping.  But the servant who does not know what his master wants, and yet does something for which he deserves a whipping, will be punished with a light whipping.  This says that if a person does something for which they deserve punishment, they will be punished.  It does not say they will be punished if they did not do something for which they deserve punishment.  Interestingly, neither does it say, if a person does something wrong, they will be punished – it says if a person does something for which they deserve punishment, they will be punished.  Just because we consider something someone does to be wrong (wrong according to our standards, which are based on our circumstances and our level of knowledge), does not mean it is something for which the person deserves to be punished (meaning it is wrong for that person) when the person’s circumstances and level of knowledge are taken into consideration.

For me, the depth of knowledge possessed is a key element in this verse.  This verse relates to three general types of knowledge or awareness:  knowing God and His teachings; not knowing God or His teachings but able to determine right from wrong; and not capable of determining right from wrong.  First, let’s consider the person that knows God and His teachings – because this person knows God and His teachings, he is inherently capable of determining right from wrong for his situation.  Since this person knows God and His teachings, this is the servant that knows what his master wants; if he does not follow God’s teachings or God’s calling, he will be punished with a heavy whipping, or punishment.  Next, let’s reflect on the person that does not know God or His teachings, but is capable of determining right from wrong.  This is the servant that does not know what his master wants, but since this person is able to determine right from wrong for his situation, he is capable of doing something for which he deserves punishment (meaning something wrong for him).  If this person does something for which he deserves punishment, he will be punished but not as strongly as someone who knows what his master wants.

Now contemplate the person that is not capable of determining right from wrong.  If someone is not capable of determining right from wrong, then either they do not have the level of knowledge to grasp this (and, therefore, do not have the level of knowledge to grasp the concept of God and His teachings) or their circumstances are such that they were never given the chance to learn this (and, therefore, were not introduced to God and His teachings or to right versus wrong or were not introduced to either in a positive way that they could understand).  Considering this, not only does this servant not know what his master wants, but he is not capable of determining what is right versus what is wrong, either.  If he is not capable of determining right from wrong, how could he do something that deserves punishment?  To deserve punishment, a person must be aware, at least on some level, that what they did was wrong for their situation.

Circumstances such as a person being profoundly, severely, moderately, or mildly mentally retarded or having low, average, or high intelligence affects whether or not they possess knowledge or awareness of their actions and whether or not their actions are right or wrong for their situation.  Other circumstances of a person’s life also affect whether or not they possess knowledge or awareness that their actions are right or wrong.  For instance, what if an infant were kidnapped, incarcerated in a hostile and unloving environment, forced into unloving behavior, and subsequently died in that environment before learning that God existed or learning to determine right from wrong?  What if a child were isolated from society and raised in an abusive alcoholic environment in which determining right from wrong was disregarded and either God was never mentioned or was only mentioned negatively? How would this child learn to determine right from wrong, and how would this child learn anything other than what they heard of God?

If a person knows or is aware something is wrong, they are expected not to do it.  If a person does not know or is not aware something is wrong, how is it possible that they know or are aware that they should not do it?  And if they do not know or are not aware that they should not do something, then why would they deserve to be punished if they do it – perhaps, they simply need direction, correction, or guidance.

These verses from Luke indicate that what we have been given, which includes our life’s circumstances and our depth of knowledge and awareness, is considered when determining whether we will be punished and the extent of our punishment.  For me, this means that justice and fairness will ultimately exist – for those that have less, less will be expected, and for those that have more, more will be expected.  So… if we do the best we can with what we have been given (regardless of what others have been given), then there is nothing more that we can do (regardless of what others achieve).

*Note: This post is not intended to imply that grace is not part of eternity.  I will discuss the importance of grace and eternity in a later post.

Clarification:  Circumstances can be out of our control or in our control.  If the circumstances are in our control, even if they were only indirectly in our control, then they occurred due to a choice or choices that we made.  In the above post, the word “circumstances” is used to refer to circumstances that are out of our control, the word is not meant to refer to the circumstances that we choose, even if we choose them inadvertently.

Pondering Eternity – Part IV: Hell Is for Those Who Turn Away

If heaven is for those who accept God and hell is for those who turn away from God, what happens to those who never had a chance to accept or turn away from God?

Christ died for everyone’s sins not just those that accept Him and believe in Him.  Maybe a person has to turn away from God to go to hell as opposed to officially accept Him to go to Heaven.  Mark 9:40 For whoever is not against us is for us.

If we view eternity in this way, someone that has never had a chance to learn about and officially accept God is not prevented from going to heaven whereas someone who turns away from God is choosing life without God, which is hell.  God loves us regardless of our sins.  Even if someone chooses to turn away from God, God still loves them – He has unconditional love for us.  The Wisdom of Solomon 11: 23-26 You are powerful enough to do anything, but you are merciful to everyone; you overlook our sins and give us time to repent.  You love everything that exists; you do not despise anything that you have made.  If you had not liked it, you would not have made it in the first place. How could anything last, if you did not want it to? How could it endure, if you had not created it? You have allowed it all to exist, O Lord, because it is yours, and you love every little thing.  However, even though God still loves that person, God does not stop them from turning away from Him.

This does not imply that someone can go about life and ignore a chance to accept God.  Ignoring a chance to accept God is not the same as never being given a chance to accept God.  If someone is given a chance and chooses not to accept it, then they are turning away from God.  Luke 12:48  Much is required from the person to whom much is given; much more is required from the person to whom much more is given. If you are given the chance to accept God, then much has been given to you. If you are raised from birth with belief in God, then much more has been given to you because, in general, it is easier for a person to accept faith and learn right from wrong when taught this from infancy.

Neither does this imply that someone can go about life and never tell or teach others about God.  If someone chooses not to acknowledge God in front of others or chooses not to tell or teach others about God when the chance occurs, then once again they are turning away from God.  Luke 12:8-9  I assure you that whoever declares publicly that he belongs to me, the Son of Man will do the same for him before the angels of God.  But whoever rejects me publicly, the Son of Man will also reject him before the angels of God.  (also Matthew 10:32-33)

Viewing eternity in this way gives me peace when I think of all the innocents that never had the chance to learn about God or were never able to grasp the concept of God, such as: babies from miscarriages and abortions; babies or children that die at a young age from sickness, violence, or neglect; and severely mentally disabled people (who for this purpose are mentally still babies or children) who die never having gained the ability to grasp the concept of God.  Although these innocents never had the chance to officially accept God, neither did they ever turn away from God.  Luke 18:16 Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the children come to me, and do not stop them, because the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”  (also Matthew 19:14 and Mark 10:14)

Imagine the intensely beautiful vision… the spirits of these innocent babies and children running to Christ and finding comfort in His arms after they have died.

Pondering Eternity – Part III: To Find a Way

For me to believe that God is just and fair and loves each and every one of us, I needed to understand how life could be fair even when it seemed it was not.  Whether life’s unfairness was due to inequalities or never being given a chance or both, I needed to find a way to make life fair regardless of circumstances – I needed to know that it was possible.  I was aware that I was not supposed to have all the answers and that I was supposed to have faith, but I simply could not see a loving and just nature in a God who would create a person doomed to hell by the circumstances of their life.  I knew that if I could find a way that life is ultimately fair, then God most certainly could find a way.

I cannot bring myself to believe that people are automatically sent to hell if they never had a chance to learn about God.  I cannot believe that they are condemned to eternal damnation regardless of their circumstances just because they did not officially accept God.

I would not condemn a child because it was aborted or miscarried.  I would not condemn a child that was severely mentally retarded and unable to grasp the concept of God.  I would not condemn a child who had no knowledge of God that was killed or forced to act or behave in unloving ways.  I cannot believe that they deserve eternal damnation.  I would not condemn a child who was never given a chance to learn about God, love, peace, right and wrong.  I can not bring myself to believe that any person would go to hell just because they did not have the chance to learn about and officially accept God.  If I am made in God’s image and I feel that way, perhaps God does not condemn them either.

Pondering Eternity – Part II: Never Given the Chance

As if all of life’s inequalities were not enough to cause me to question God’s loving and just nature, the realization that some people never get the chance to learn about God was intensely unsettling – how could those who were never given a chance be accepted into heaven if they did not learn about God?  I could not fathom why God would create someone who never had a chance – this waste made no sense to me.  Besides, how could I embrace a God that would create someone and then allow circumstances beyond that person’s control to affect whether or not they had a chance?  How is that loving or just?

What about miscarriages and abortions?  Do miscarried and aborted babies go to hell since they were never born and, therefore, were never able to learn about and accept God?  What about babies or children that die from abuse before they have a chance to learn about God?  What about babies or children that are kidnapped, tortured, and killed before they have a chance to learn about God?  What about babies or children that are kidnapped, sold, and forced into prostitution or other unloving acts and behavior?  How is someone that is incarcerated in a hostile and unloving environment supposed to learn about God, love, peace, right and wrong?

What about people born with mental disabilities, especially those that are unable to grasp the concept of God?  Do severely mentally retarded people go to hell because they are not capable of learning about God?  If they can not understand the concept of God, how can they accept God?

What about any person that dies before they get a chance to learn about God or any person that is not capable of grasping the concept of God?  Are these souls doomed to hell due to circumstances beyond their control?

What if it were someone I loved?  What if my infant were kidnapped, incarcerated in a hostile and unloving environment, forced into unloving behavior, and never given a chance because they were taken when they were only a few days old and subsequently died in that environment before ever being told God existed?  How would I feel?

How could I possibly be happy in heaven knowing my child was in hell because of circumstances out of their control?  How is it fair that they would have to live such a traumatic life on earth and then be exiled to endure even more torment in eternity?  After living through such a horrendous life on earth, they deserve to be welcomed home with loving arms by God rather than be sent to eternal doom.  How am I supposed to believe that God is loving and just if He allows them to experience a traumatic life on earth and then does not welcome them home with loving arms when they die, even though they were unable to learn about Him?  How am I supposed to believe that God is loving and just if He allows them to go to hell after they have already lived a traumatic life on earth without any knowledge of Him that might have helped sustain them through their earthly torture?

What if it were not my child, but it was a relative, a friend, a friend’s child, a stranger’s child, or even a stranger?   How is it fair to them?  How can I live with that?  How can I be happy in heaven and not be tormented by sorrow for them?  How can I be happy in heaven knowing I was in heaven while others were in hell because they were never given a chance to learn about and accept God?  If there is no sorrow, suffering, or torment in heaven, how is it possible that I would feel that way?