|Letter to an "All good people go to Heaven" Person|
(by Chris Long)
[Note from Chris: This is an actual letter I sent to someone, minus a few parts that really wouldn't be applicable to anyone else or helpful to share, plus a few modifications. I pray it will be helpful to you.]
Although "religion" may be a more taboo subject to some, with something as important as what happens when we die, what life is all about, etc. I really have never understood that view because it seems to me that the worst thing that could happen to a person would be to find out they got it wrong when all was said and done. A lot of people adopt an attitude of believing what they want to believe and then not really ever discussing it - they decide in their mind what is "true" and then they just pretty much ignore the subject from then on out. I don't get that view because if it really is true (and not just a person fooling themselves into a "truth" that they have made up for themselves) then it should be able to stand discussion, scrutiny, etc. Religion (like politics) can be a very divisive subject which is why many stay away from discussing it, but any subject including religion can be discussed calmly and rationally and with respect for the other person. And although I tend to be a pretty direct person (I'm not much for "fluff") as you will see even clearer below, I assure you it is all within the framework of respect for you and love for you.
You stated that you are very comfortable with your position that all that are good go to heaven, basically that there are many "paths" that lead to heaven.
I also am very comfortable with my position that there is one way to heaven, through the way God provided in faith in Jesus.
So, so far we have 2 people that are both comfortable with their beliefs.
But, there's one key difference:
I am basing my beliefs, not on what I think I want to believe, but on what the Bible says. In other words, I have a source for those beliefs as the Word of God - what God has revealed to humanity. So my "comfortableness" is backed up by something outside of my opinion - the Bible.
The other view that all that are good go to heaven and that there's many "roads" to heaven does not have anything to hang that belief on other than the wishes of the one believing it. There's no external source because in essence having this view requires NOT looking to any specific source (Bible, Koran, etc.) because this view basically says that they're all right. At the end of the day, this view is an opinion that isn't based on anything concrete but rather just the "hopes" that it is true. It's basically a guess that has nothing solid to hang that guess on.
This view is understandably popular because it is very appealing to think that those that are good enough/do enough good, go to heaven, regardless of what they believe. The problem is (besides the fact that this is just a guess based on my own feelings, not based on the Bible) that who gets to decide how much good is enough? How do I know when I've crossed the threshold and am now considered worthy to be in heaven?
Most people would agree that for example Hitler is not in heaven. But why? Most would say because he did a lot of evil things. But how do we know that what he did was evil? Even the concept of what is right versus what is wrong has to be rooted in something. What right do you or I have to say that what Hitler did was "wrong"? What gives me that moral authority? Throughout history there have been documented cultures that sacrificed their children to idols - literally burning their children. Most people today would say this is wrong and "evil". But they didn't think so. What gives me the moral authority to make that judgement against them? Even the concept of what is good and what is not good is something you or I don't really have a right in-and-of ourselves to define. I can believe that burning 6 million jews is great, but it doesn't make it right just because I think so. I have no authority to make those calls one way or another in and of myself. So how do we even know what is "good" to even know whether we've done it and might get to heaven? There has to be a concrete source to turn to for this information, otherwise my opinion on what is right or wrong is just as good as yours. And while we may agree on some things, we may differ on others. And Hitler's opinion would be different from both of us. Who's to say he was wrong? Who's to say you're right?
Which leads us back to God. Because if there is a God and there is a heaven, then it is up to God to define what is right, what is wrong, and who gets to go to heaven and who does not.
So, if there's a God, and he knows what is right or wrong (because He is the standard!) and knows how humanity can get to heaven (or not get to heaven), wouldn't it be fair of Him to tell us? If he didn't tell us what was right or wrong, and what the deal is regarding heaven, then we're all just guessing and nobody could ever know for sure.
Which leads us to the Bible.
The Bible tells us what God thinks about things, which shows us what is right and what is wrong. The Bible also tells us much more. It's not like any other book. The Bible is a complete story of humanity: it starts in Genesis telling us about the creation of this world and how everything was "good" and how through the sin of Adam and Eve, death and pain and all the horrible things we see in this world were introduced. It goes on to show us through the unfolding of the rest of the Scriptures, God's plan to bring forth a Savior that would save us, the coming of that Savior and the "good news" He had to bring us, Jesus' death and resurrection, how to live in this new "born again" / "Christian" life, and what will happen to this world in the future, and about the final judgment that will occur for those that did not repent of their sins and accept the gift offered to them in Jesus. The Bible starts in the beginning of time as we know it in the book of Genesis, and ends in the book of Revelation telling us about the end of time as we know it. It is absolutely complete in and of itself, with a very complete, consistent message from start to finish, even though it was written down by dozens of authors over hundreds of years. There are myriad prophecies for instance relating to Jesus' first coming peppered throughout the Old Testament that were written hundreds and hundreds of years apart, that we see fulfilled in Jesus' first coming in the New Testament a long time later. But the Bible is complete in itself as a revelation to mankind from God that tells a complete story from start to finish. The Bible teaches the centrality of faith in Jesus Christ as the way to have our sins forgiven and be made right with God.
The Bible tells us what is right, what is wrong, and how to get to Heaven, and it is a complete story from beginning to end. I don't know of any other religious book that even comes close to this. There are other books that present certain ideas, but none with the completeness covering humanity from beginning to end with conhesive clarity like this.
I have chosen to base my life on the Bible. And I believe I have safety in that. I know what is right or wrong, not because of what I want to think in myself, but because of what God has said. I know how to get to heaven not because of what I want to think in myself, but because of what God has said. And because God has said it, I am confident in it. I don't have to wonder whether my mom or dad who were both Christians are in heaven - wondering whether they did enough good or not - I can have assurance. And I don't have to wonder for myself. The Bible makes the truth clear.
I know that murdering people is wrong because God says it is wrong. I know that sacrificing children is wrong because God says it is wrong.
But if I'm going to take what God says about what is wrong or right, then I also need to take what he says about sin, hell, heaven, and judgment.
Is it possible that:
- God created this world
- God gave us a book to tell us about Himself, us, angels, demons, and what is true. This book starts with the beginning of the world, and it ends with the end of the world. In other words, it is a complete revelation from beginning to end.
- That this book specifically says that there will be lots of false people coming and not to be deceived by them.
- That the devil is real and wanting to get people away from the truth of the Bible by introducing all sorts of other "options"
- That other books, such as the Book of Mormon (written ~1800 years after the time of Christ) billed as "additional revelations" aren't actually the work of God, but created by deceived men and women
I'm just asking if that is even remotely possible.
From a strictly logic perspective, I in some sense can understand people that completely dismiss the Bible 100% and basically don't believe anything it says as truth and thus don't believe in God or Jesus at all. That's a coherent position. Of course I believe it's a wrong position, but it's at least a coherent one.
What does not make any sense logically is for a person to in essence say "I believe some of the Bible, but not all of it." In other words say things like: "Well, I believe there's a God, and I believe what Jesus said about loving people and not judging, and some of those real positive sounding things, but I don't believe what the Bible says Jesus said about hell, heaven, being born again, or the problem of sin. I don't believe what the Bible says about sin, Adam & Eve, and a lot of the other things it says are just mythological stories, etc." I mean, who decides what parts of the Bible are true or not? You? Me? Who decides? It's completely illogical to believe that the Bible is a partial book of truth and that Jesus is partially who He said He was, but not fully. I mean either the Bible is God's book to mankind or it isn't. If it's not, then nobody should pay ANY attention to it for any truth about God and how to get to heaven, etc. If it is from God, then we need to believe it is truth and need to believe what it says. I don't understand this middle position that some people take where they try to have it both ways. It's either true or it's not. But for a person to only take some of it as true, but leave the rest as false, means they themselves are making the judgment calls as to what parts are true and what parts are false. That seems to me to be a real dangerous position to be in. For instance, if I were to say I don't want to believe what the Bible says about salvation only being found in Jesus, that doesn't objectively mean it isn't so. It just means I choose not to believe that part of the Bible as being true. Who says I'm right? If I believe that, I'm banking a whole lot on ME - in essence, I'm putting myself and what I want to believe - over what the Bible itself says. I sure would hate to be wrong when I die and have to face God. What could I say to Him? "Well, I know the Bible said that, but I chose not to believe it?" That's another thing the Bible showcases - that God honors people's choices - so if I choose not to believe, then when it's all said and done I will get exactly what I asked for.
Again, using pure logic alone, it sure does seem to me to be a much safer position for myself to just take the Bible at its face value and believe it, without me deciding to only believe X but not Y, etc. Because then I take ME out of the equation. I can stand before God and say "I believed what the Bible said." Logic alone, that just seems much safer to me than me trying to justify why I believed some but not all - especially on the central themes of sin, salvation, judgement, etc.
Now if a person does want to say that the whole Bible is a myth, and believe there's no God, no Jesus (or that there was a real person named Jesus that lived but nothing like what the Bible says), and no hell, then at least they are being logically coherent in regards to the issue of the Bible itself. People that hold to this type of view then have to explain this world and how we got here outside of the Bible. Thus you get theories on evolution, big bang, any number of other things. The problem is they still ultimately have a problem because who in their right mind can really look around at the beauty of creation, look at the intricacies of our bodies, etc. and actually believe it all just randomly appeared. Even if a person wants to claim that evolution is true, you still ultimately have to go back to a beginning. Who started the beginning of that process? If there was a big bang, what started the big bang? I mean you can keep going back and back and back, but eventually you have to say something outside of this universe started it. To just say it came from nothing doesn't even logically make any sense. When's the last time you saw something come from nothing? And at the end of the day, even if a person wants to believe that, what are they basing it on? A guess that some people that don't want to believe in God have come up with? Again, it comes down to their opinion. Plus, that worldview means that there's no heaven or hell, which means that when we die we're just gone and that's it. How depressing!
To me, it's much safer to just take the Bible at face value when it says in its very first line "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." I just take that at face value. And if I'm going to believe the first line and believe there's a God and believe that what that first line says is true, then I need to believe the rest of what it says too. I believe there's a heaven I can be alive in for all eternity - in beautiful perfectness in fullness of love and joy - and that gives me real hope because when my body dies, that means I still go on existing in heaven. Again, using logic alone, a person would have to acknowledge that is a much better sounding plan (much less depressing) than just saying "there's no meaning to life at all and we all just die and that's it". As far as I'm concerned, that would bite. That means there's really no purpose and what's the purpose in living then? Might as well just die. What a hopeless worldview.
My grandfather held this worldview. He told me point blank that that is what he believed - that when he died, he just went in the ground and that was that. My grandmother, by contrast, believed what the Bible said and accepted Jesus for her salvation. I saw my grandmother shortly before she died - and even after she had her stroke and mostly couldn't speak, she still loved for me to read the Scriptures to her - she had such a peace to her that even as she was obviously nearing the end of her time here, she still exuded a hopefulness and confidence in the life to come. In fact, out of the blue when I asked her if "she was alright" one day in the hospital, she spoke (which was a miracle in itself after the stroke) "anyone's alright if they have Christ." In fact she said it 2 or 3 times for emphasis! That's what she said and she believed it. My grandfather, by contrast, definitely did not exude joy or peace in any way. I saw him hours before he died and it was one of the saddest scenes I've ever seen. It was nothing like when I saw my grandmother, dad, or my mom. Very different. I hope in his last moments of life that somehow He came to a saving faith. I don't know his heart and what might have gone on between him and the Lord even in his final moments, so I am definitely in no position to judge his eternal soul. All I know is what he told me and what his actions exuded.
Some people don't just believe it ends, but believe things like we just come back again in another form. In other words, we keep living here over and over again (until we reach perfection). Boy, that's a real depressing worldview too in my opinion. "Gee, if I'm good enough, I maybe get to be a slightly 'better' human next time around, but if not, I have to go back to being a cow, or whatever" Goodness gracious... If I keep being really good, I can eventually be perfect and then I become one with the universe in perfection. Seriously? Obviously people that believe this worldview also don't believe the Bible at all because the entire message of the Bible from start to finish contradicts this worldview.
Then there's those that want to believe in a heaven but not a hell. Or a heaven and a hell but only people that are really bad go to hell and everyone else goes to heaven. This is the "modified" worldview where people kind of believe what the Bible has to say but won't acknowledge all of it - they just skip right over the passages that don't agree with this line of thinking and pretend they don't exist.
I understand why this worldview is appealing because it means we really have very little responsibility. It means that people can basically just believe what they want and as long as they do good they'll be fine. I totally get why this is such a popular view. I really would LOVE to believe it too. The problem is I have nothing to really base that view on and in fact the same Bible that I would look to for part of that belief-system (God, heaven, Jesus being a good man) contradicts that view in lots of other places. That means I just am choosing in myself to believe what I want to believe. Which again I think is quite a brazen move on my part to think that I'm so special that I get to just say what's true in regards to salvation issues. Basically that makes me "god" does it not? That means I am in essence choosing to be my own god because I am choosing my own belief system for salvation. By the way, the Bible talks a lot about this too - that's the whole nature of pride. In fact, the desire to be like god is what the Bible says was the devil's downfall and is exactly what the Bible says the devil used to tempt Eve ("you shall be like God") - some things have not changed. We still want to have it "our way" and form our own beliefs about God in our mind using our own opinions or those of other human beings, rather than based on what God himself has said.
As far as other religions, minus things like satanism (where the goal is to blatantly worship the devil instead of God) or athiestic worldviews (no meaning to life/no afterlife), all others to my knowledge in some way or another have as key components that it is US - our being good - that allows us to be right with God and go to heaven (or be in a "perfect state"/"become god" or whatever the religion dictates). In other words, they all appeal to our pride. The eastern religions do this (i.e. buddhism, hinduism, various "new age" type religions) , mormonism, islam, bahai, even judaism to a degree). It's all about what I can do to be right with God and be good enough to get to heaven etc. Some of these religions use certain aspects of Christianity (i.e. mormons) in the mix also so it can get muddled, but when all's said and done it's based on ME. Christianity says it's not based on me - in fact it says that I could never be good enough to be right with God - because His standard is perfection and I cannot reach that. Christianity says it's based on Christ - the fact that He paid the penalty for our sin - it is a gift to us that we need to just acknowledge and receive by faith. In doing so, the righteousness of Christ gets imputed (transferred to) us through our faith. It's not about good works, it's about receiving the grace extended to us by God. (The Bible then teaches that good works will flow out of genuine faith, but it's not because we're trying to GET to God, but it flows out of our relationship WITH God).
It is illogical to say that all religions can be right when each of those religions completely contradict each other. While many belief systems incorporate Jesus and the Bible into their belief system in some way, if Jesus Himself contradicts other beliefs of those belief systems, there is a problem. Somebody is right and somebody is wrong. Using purely logic: all religions can be wrong, but they can't all be right. Because many of them CLAIM to be the ONLY and right way. Jesus Himself said He was the only way. Either He told the truth, or He didn't. Somebody is right, and everyone else is wrong. But they can't "all be right" because Jesus Himself clearly teaches that is not the case (and if you don't want to agree with Jesus than you really can't say Christianity is right which then means they are NOT all right since Christianity just got shot down...). A person could choose not to agree with Jesus and just believe what they want to believe, but a person can't in intellectual honesty say Jesus didn't say such things.
When Jesus Himself, declared "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6 NIV), He either was telling the truth or He was not. Either He is "the way" and that no one has access to God the Father except by going through Jesus, or He isn't. Either He told us the truth or He lied to us. Jesus said, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil." (John 3:16-18) According to Jesus' own words, those that believe in (thus have faith in) Jesus have eternal life, but that those who do not, are already condemned. In John 3:36, Jesus says "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him." By Jesus' own words, Jesus makes the central issue of salvation one about what people do with Him - with Jesus. Jesus talked quite a bit about hell. He made statements such as: "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matthew 10:28) and speaking of the day of judgment said: "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels." (Matthew 25:41). In Luke 16:19-31, we see a poignant picture of hell that Jesus describes including using words such as "torment" and "agony". Jesus did not shirk away from the topic of heaven and hell, and His message (which agrees with the rest of the Bible) was quite consistent.
In John 6:28-29, we find this exchange:
28 Then they asked him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?"
In John 6:29-40, Jesus says "And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day."
In John 8:23-26, we find this exchange:
But he continued, "You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins."
"Who are you?" they asked.
"Just what I have been claiming all along," Jesus replied. "I have much to say in judgment of you. But he who sent me is reliable, and what I have heard from him I tell the world."
And a little later in John 10:24-33, we find this:
The Jews gathered around him, saying, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly."
Jesus answered, "I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father's name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one."
Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, "I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?"
"We are not stoning you for any of these," replied the Jews, "but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God."
Through all these, we see that Jesus made clear that He was God, that there is an "eternal life" that can be had, that there is a "hell" that we are already condemned to, that the way to transfer from being condemned to hell to receiving "eternal life" in Heaven - in being right with God - is through our belief/faith in Jesus (which necessitates us acknowledging and repenting of our sins and looking to Jesus in faith to forgive us of our sins).
In John 3, we find this interesting exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus:
3 In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again."
Jesus tells us that there is an experience whereby we become "born again" - not in a physical sense, but in a spiritual sense. Later in the Bible in Paul's 2nd letter to the Corinthians, Paul says this: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).
Like Paul, I make the same appeal to you that he (and his fellow believers) made.
When I believed in Jesus Christ at the age of 15 / received God's gift to me in Jesus to pay the penalty for all my wrong, I experienced this "born again" experience. I literally became a "new creation" just as the Bible says above. I passed from death to life by trusting solely in Jesus Christ to save me, along with the peace and joy and love that it brings. If this Christianity thing is real then my life should reflect that. Not perfect (as I'm still flawed) but there should be evidence. And there is. The person I was pre-July 1995 and the person post that date were noticably different. The anger and bitterness left. Peace came in. Love for others came in. I began talking to and trying to help other students at school, I started a website to help people (which I still run to this day). I don't send out a daily email to people around the world because I'm trying to get in God's good graces. I do it because I genuinely want to help people. I'm not writing this letter to you today because I think I have to do it for me as some weird "work" so God will be happy with me but because I genuinely love you and care about you - and want to be with you for all eternity.
No Christians are perfect - I have made and make mistakes where I don't represent Jesus very well. And every other Christian does too. Christianity doesn't teach that Christians will act perfectly here. But their lives should reflect lives of love (since God loves us) and there should be evidence of changed lives in increasing measure over time. I can only speak to my experience and those I've seen. I know the change in me and how I continue to be changed by Jesus. There was a very marked one with my dad in his last 6 months or so of life after he chose to really believe in Jesus in faith. I saw a definite progression with my mom (especially in her last 4 years) and also with my grandmother. And having met lots of Christians over the years and heard lots of testimonies from others, lots of people can attest to the real-life truthfulness of the Bible not just on an intellectual basis but because it has been proved out in their lives. At the end of the day, I can try to make a case to you all day long using logic, history, Scripture, whatever, but while all those have a place in "why I believe in Jesus and what He said" - my faith isn't solely based on these - but also has been bolstered significantly because I've proved it out in my life. Just like the Bible says I can do, I have a relationship with God - I talk to God - I sense Him close to me. He has talked back to me (not audibly but in my spirit). As I've been learning more and more of what the Bible says, I've seen those truths play out in real-life. It has confirmed itself personally to me through my life. And it has through countless others. To someone else, this is all subjective I realize, but it is my personal testimony - and I am being truthful about it. A person can choose to come up with all sorts of reasons why they don't want to believe me (i.e. my flaws) or anyone else, but my testimony is my testimony. No one can take that from me.
Do I realize I seem "extreme" or "too serious" to some? Yes. But that's because I believe what Jesus said. It's the people that don't really believe Him or other parts of the Bible, that adopt much milder positions. Jesus was extreme also - He said LOADS of extreme things. If this Christianity thing is true, if there really is one way to eternal life and it is through Jesus, and if those that won't receive the gift offered to them really are going to go to hell, and if I REALLY BELIEVE that - then it SHOULD make me "extreme" and "serious"! I'm not interested in playing any games. Either Jesus was who He said He was, and meant what He said, or He wasn't, and didn't. If He was and He did, then this IS serious. People can't have it both ways. This whole mild, try to ride the fence in the middle thing that lots of people try to do is actually an offense to God. About such people Jesus says "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm - neither hot nor cold - I am about to spit you out of my mouth." (Revelation 3:15-16) People need to pick their sides. But trying to say "well, I believe what Jesus said about X, but not Y, etc." or "I believe in Jesus, but not that He's the ONLY way" etc. is a dangerous position. God would rather a person reject Him outright than trying to straddle some fence in the middle. Christians SHOULD be passionate, because as Paul rightly mentioned above, Christians are "ambassadors" of Good News. God is a loving God that loves people and wants people to be with Him. He made the way. We just have to take it.
If, after thinking on these things, you discover some beliefs need altering, please don't let any type of pride or thoughts like "I can't stand people that make deathbed confessions/late-in-life changes" stop you. If I believe something wrong for 90 years, but come to a place where I see what I believed was wrong, then the most foolish thing I could do would be to just continue on in what I previously believed despite knowing better now. That's just utter madness. If I come to a place where a belief I previously held was wrong, then I need to let go of my pride and just humbly admit I was wrong, and turn towards the truth. I watched my dad do this - my dad I believe was previously very similar to the type of beliefs you shared with me - he believed in God and Jesus but it only went so far. Through his health problems and hospitalization in 2005, he started really thinking about the important issues - and he asked questions that were nagging him and when he was satisfied, he chose to really believe in his heart, and I (along with my mom) personally witnessed the change in him after he did. He was not the same man I had known my whole life. He humbled himself before God, and I'm so very glad he did.
With that, I will close. You are in my thoughts & prayers.
This is version 1.0 of this document (March 20, 2013).