I’ve written on this controversial topic before, and I tried to resolve it by saying that faith is a work, meaning that it is a conscious action on your part to accept Jesus as your personal Lord and savior. (Note, I am technically not disagreeing with staunch Calvinists here. You can still think you were predestined by God from before you were born to “choose” Jesus. In fact I believe that too. I think we have free will, and God is sovereign over everything that happens, simultaneously. I have tried to deal with this apparent paradox in a different post.)
In the present post I just want to relay a neat perspective that literally came to me in a dream the other night. I’m not saying it was divinely inspired, but I’m not making it up when I say this occurred to me in a dream.
Suppose that just before dying, everybody is visited by Jesus Himself. He makes His presence known; the person understands full well that there is a God of the universe, Who created everything and has observed the person’s entire life. Then Jesus asks the person, “Do you want to join Me in paradise?”
Now at that point, born-again Christians are going to answer, “Hallelujah praise the Lord! This is what I’ve been waiting for! Take me home!”
But what about someone who vaguely believed in God, and yet lived a very sinful life? He might be filled with such shame and guilt, that he can’t forgive himself and allow himself to be with Jesus in paradise. He might say, “No, I can’t accept your offer. I don’t deserve to spend eternity in heaven with those who led good lives.”
Finally, what about the hardcore, confident atheists? The people who thought they had logically and scientifically demonstrated that there was no God, or at least, nothing like the God of the Bible?
Rather than being relieved at their colossal error–there is an afterlife after all! Woo hoo!–they might be furious. “Why did you remain hidden until now?!” they might demand. “I reject you! What sort of sick sense of humor do you have?!”
Now if something like the above were the case, it would answer a lot of questions. It would neatly handle all the objections about what happens to people who haven’t heard about Christ before they died. (Answer: there are no such people because Jesus Himself communes with you right before you expire.) It would also justify the passages suggesting that faith in Christ alone is sufficient for salvation.
Yet it would also make sense of all the passages where even Jesus Himself suggests that you need works for entrance into heaven, e.g. Mt 25: 31-46:
31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy[a] angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’
44 “Then they also will answer Him,[b] saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
In light of my dream, I would interpret the above as Jesus telling people that if they don’t lead proper lives, they are setting themselves up to make the wrong choice when He asks them whether they want to be with Him in paradise.
In other words, the single most important decision–the one on which your soul hangs–is whether or not you accept Jesus as your Savior. Everything else you do is conditioning, to build up good habits so that you will make the right decision on that crucial question. Every time you sin, you make it that much harder for you to open yourself to receive God’s gift.
In closing, let me reiterate that my speculations above are just that–speculations. However, I hope people can admit that if that’s how things really worked, it would be pretty fair. (At the very least, it would be a lot fairer than some of the scenarios depicted by others.) As a born-again Christian, I don’t really know what happens to serial killers, three-month-old infants, or really “nice” atheists who honestly don’t think the evidence points to the existence of God.
What I do know is that God will deal with all such people with infinite justice and mercy. Once I am with Him, His plan will make perfect sense. I will say, “Of course You did it that way. Thank you, that makes perfect sense. You couldn’t have done it any better. I love You.”