Friday, November 15, 2019

What About the Lost?

While doing some reading online, I discovered a very challenging question:

I love my friends and family dearly, and I'm so blessed to have them... But sadly I could count my Christian friends/family on one hand. Heaven is always described as this amazing place without sadness and pain which is awesome and all, but how could I ever be joyful knowing that my loved ones aren't experiencing it with me? Where do they go? Will they be persecuted and sent to hell? If so does that mean I will never be with them for eternity?

Struggling with the Implications

I’ve been very clear, even recently, about the exclusivity of Christianity. A question like this really confronts me with the human toll of that position. All Christians know people who are not Christians. That, after all, makes up the majority of humanity. We live daily knowing that sons and daughters, wives and husbands, neighbors and coworkers do not share our beliefs. This reality has been present from the very beginning of the church, having been spoken of by Jesus Himself (Luke 12:51–53).

It is painful to accept the implications of that. If Jesus is the only way to eternal life, and our loved ones do not come to Jesus, then does that mean they will experience eternal death? The idea of hell is frightening, especially for the people we care about. It might not bother us for the people who we feel deserve it. No one is really concerned about where Hitler and Osama bin Laden are. But the idea that a family member could share that fate, someone we have laughed and cried with? It is unfathomable.

And of course, it extends beyond those we know personally. There are plenty of people of goodwill in the world, people who are doing the best they can and do not harm anybody. They just happen not to believe what we do, and a lot of the time, it is simply because of the culture and family into which they were born. Should they really be held eternally responsible for that?

These are not easy questions to answer, but not because they are complicated. It is because the truth, even presented with all the love we can muster, does hurt. Taken down to the facts, we are not going to find the answer we want. We still have to try to tell it in the most compassionate way we can, but we must prepare for disappointment.

To help with that, let’s start with the understanding that all worldviews have eternal implications. Judaism teaches that faith in Christ is blasphemous, as does Islam, and atheism says that it is a fool’s hope. So, according to the three largest alternatives in our culture, Christians either go to hell, go to hell, or wind up as worm food and nothing more. My point here is not to speak to the merits of those beliefs, but only to say that this question cuts both ways. There is the possibility of offense in every system’s view of ultimate destiny.

Salvation and Condemnation

But we do have to focus on Christianity, and we do have to admit that the answer is the one we don’t want. Everyone, our loved ones included, must trust in Christ in order to experience eternal life. If they do not, then they will face the judgment of an eternity of suffering. That is a fact we cannot escape, seen in places such as Matt. 22:11–14, Mark 9:42–50, and Rev. 21:8. If we are going to take the Scriptures seriously, and if we are going to take the promises of God in Christ seriously, then we must also take these dangers seriously. It is the only way to be consistent.

We must also understand why this is the case. Each one of us stands before God to be judged. Either Christ stands with us (1 John 2:1–2), or we stand alone. Judgment is not about cruelty. It is not about God looking for the opportunity to punish anyone. It is judgment in the truest sense, evaluation. The Lord looks at whether our actions have achieved His standard, the standard of perfect holiness. If they have not, then we cannot remain in His presence. Losing access to Him is what it means to be condemned.

This is where it is important to be honest. Is it possible to believe, however much you love your friends and family, that they are perfect without any moral flaw or personal failing? We know that is not true. It is not true of any of us. We cannot possibly live up to what God requires. If you cannot do it for yourself, then can you do it for anyone else? He will not let them into heaven simply because that is where we want them to be.

The result depends upon the decision each of us makes for ourselves. God does not force it on anyone, and we do not have the right or the power to force it on them, either. If they try to stand on their own resources, they will fall. The only way to escape is by standing on what Christ has done, because His perfect life was the only acceptable payment to satisfy the demands of justice on our behalf. Anything less is worthless.

The sad fact of the matter is that many people, hearing this, still reject it. They would still rather live their own way than to accept their need for Jesus. It hurts to realize, but it is their choice to freely make. What we can do, however, and what we should do is to attempt to persuade them to change. If you love people who are not Christians, then you need to try to convince them to become Christians. This is precisely why. Some people think it is compassionate to encourage people to believe whatever they want. If their doing so leads them to eternal isolation and suffering, then such encouragement is actually hateful. True compassion must be expressed as vigorous evangelism.

Joy in Heaven

That’s the most important thing I have to say, but I want to end on something more conjectural. Our state of being in heaven is something we cannot truly understand here. All we really know about it is that it will reflect the life that Christ has (1 John 3:2). But there are a few guesses we can venture in regards to today’s question.

The nature of memory in the resurrection is difficult to determine, but we can at least be certain that it will change. Personally, I do not believe we will forget the relationships we had in this life, either with the people who are with us or the people who are not. However, we will view those relationships differently. For instance, a mother and a son will still know who they were but will no longer relate to one another through a hierarchy of responsibility and dependence. That is because they will see everything in relation to Christ rather than fixating on their limited, temporal perspectives.

In a similar way, I can see our thoughts changing toward those who did not believe in life. Sadness will give way to a recognition of the glory of God, who gave them the marvelous opportunity to be saved through His Son. Our sorrow is in contemplating their absence, which is the result of our own desires. When we stand before the Lord, there will no longer be room for the things we think we want. Instead, we will know what true goodness is and be satisfied. In a sense, we will not think about the lost. Or more accurately, we will not rue their loss because of the superiority of what we will have found.

That might sound callous, but it has to be my answer. When we get to heaven, we will not miss the people who are not there. We will not miss them because they are not what we need to be complete. God is who we need. Relationship with Him, and with the rest of those who are with Him, will be so much deeper and closer than anything we have now. The present will not compare, and it will not be regretted. That future is hard to imagine, but that’s ok. It is not what matters now. What matters is encouraging our loved ones to join us before it is too late.

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  1. Well said! our temporal relationships, although important, do not complete us.We only find that In Christ! “And ye are complete in Him, which is the head of all principality and power” Col 2:10