Someone asked him, "Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?" He said to them, "Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, 'Sir, open the door for us.' "But he will answer, 'I don't know you or where you come from.' "Then you will say, 'We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.' "But he will reply, 'I don't know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!' "There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. --Luke 13:23-29
Dear skeptical friend,
Thank you for your email, and the careful, courteous way you've worded it. I completely understand your difficulty in imagining a loving God would punish someone, let alone punish them eternally.
Like most other Christians, I have people I love and admire, people very near to me, who died without apparently accepting Christ as Savior; and many others still living whom I love or care deeply for also appear to be indifferent to the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. So when I tell you I've searched the Scriptures passionately for any signs there is a back door to heaven, I mean it.
There simply is not another way to achieve salvation; and teaching there is would make me guilty of one of the gravest errors a Christian teacher can commit.
As a serious thinker, I invite you, indeed, I urge you, to read the various accounts of Jesus' time in the Garden of Gethsemane. (especially Luke 22: 39-46; but also Mark 14:32-42; Matthew 26:36-46). I think every serious reader comes away from that passage deeply moved by how distraught Jesus is, and how it appears He would have done almost anything to avoid the terrible death awaiting Him on the Cross. Far worse, though, than the physical punishment His human nature (remember Christ was fully human and fully divine---a concept hard for us to comprehend) would endure (the worst death imaginable at the time); Jesus also knew He would for the first time experience sin in His divine nature. I call this the "double assault on Christ"; in that He not only endured terrible physical pain, but would now also endure not just the sins of one person, as we all experience, but the weight of the sins of every human in history. Imagine God, who refuses to be in the presence of sin, heaping on His Son the sins of the entire universe.
No, if there were truly "other routes" to God, then Jesus would not have suffered, died and conquered death; God would have heard His pleas in the garden and let Him escape the terrible next few days.
This strikes us as patently unfair, of course, and yet, Scripture is full of reminders that we don't have the wisdom or perspective God does. Just as we must tell our children things which seem unfair or unreasonable to them at the time---and do so because we know it is in their best interests---so too must we trust God in those moments when what He does seems to run contrary to our sense of right or wrong.
I would also point out that far too many believers ignore the "justice" side of God. The God we serve is the same one who instructed the Israelites to erase every man, woman and child from Canaan; is the same God who killed the priest who reached out to steady the Ark of the Covenant; is the same God who turned King Saul's soul dark. The Bible is full of instructions that seem unfair and unloving, and which simply cannot be easily explained away. We either trust God or we don't trust Him, and trusting Him sometimes means we have to trust that what seems wrong in our eyes will one day be understood from God's perspective.
Jesus says this repeatedly Himself, pointing out over and over that many who believe they are saved will discover when they get to heaven that they're being sent to Hell.
Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. --Matthew 7:13-15
Jesus even pointed out that He didn't come to bring peace or to make people feel good, but rather He came to divide brother against brother and father against son. "Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.
But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven. "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law-a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.--Matthew 10:32-36
We simply don't have the information or the wisdom to understand the many paradoxes of Scripture, so we're left to choose to believe God precisely----or to manufacture solutions that fit our sense of right or wrong. Again, we are like children who struggle with the same thing as they try to understand why their parents say no; and yet parents continue to say no because they understand children don't have the ability to understand the explanations, nor do they have the wisdom to avoid the dangers.
I urge you not to make the mistake of dismissing or denying the central tenet of Christianity---that only through Jesus Christ is salvation made possible. The whole counsel of Scripture, the meta-narrative, if you will, is Creation, Fall, Redemption. Just as Adam introduced sin's stain into all of humanity, thereby condemning all of us to Hell (defined as eternal separation from God), so the "second Adam" (Jesus) erases that stain for any who would acknowledge both the first Adam's stain (sin that separates them from God) and the second Adam's atonement for that sin. Any other decision leads to continued eternal separation from God---there is no truth besides that one when it comes to salvation.
I'm truly sorry this truth has caused many to pull away from our ministry, and from the body of Christ, but I'd be guilty of terrible disobedience if I taught any other way. As a broken-hearted friend and family member, indeed as a broken-hearted Christian who has watched others live good lives but slip away without Christ, I've desperately searched for any sign of hope; any way to cling to the idea that God gives people second or other chances. He simply does not.
"Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to a wicked man, 'You will surely die,' and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his evil ways, he will die for his sin; but you will have saved yourself." --Ezekiel 3:17-18
May the earnestness of your search for truth lead you to Jesus Christ; and then may God grant you peace as you struggle with what that truth means to the many who are blinded by false prophets who turn them away from that truth.
Warm regards in Christ,