I was talking one day with an atheist friend. And we were challenging (in a friendly way) each other’s reasons for believing what we do. She, of course, said that she believes that there is no God and no eternity. That we all just die and disappear, and the only lasting part of us is the effect we have on our children. And challenging her to really consider the possibility that there might be a God, I asked her, “What if there really is a heaven and a hell? What if you’re wrong?”
And then she said the stupidest thing I have ever heard in my life . . .
Oh my goodness! I wanted to tell her, “You know not what you say! You have no idea what kind of eternal price you will pay for ‘not caring.’”
But I knew that her and her husband were very firm in their beliefs. They really didn’t care. Or at least, they didn’t want to bother with really giving it the serious thought that a serious issue like that deserves. And so I didn’t press it further. I just said something like, “Well, I guess we’ll all find out someday.”
The thing is, if I am wrong and there is no God and we all just die and disappear, then I have nothing to worry about. In fact, if this is true, then it doesn’t really matter how we live. We are all basically dead to begin with. It really doesn’t matter in the end if you were Hitler or Mother Teresa. It doesn’t matter if you spread love or hatred. Because in the end, nothing we did amounts to anything. There is no reward, no justice, no consequence. And there is no real value in people (other than the temporary, socially-agreed upon values at that time and place) if we are just cosmic accidents, if we weren’t created with real purpose and a lasting-ness. And so there is no real good, solid reason for choosing to abuse or not abuse, to kill or to heal. In the end, it wouldn’t matter a bit.
(Look at your child or your mother or your spouse or yourself, and imagine that when they die, every good thing about them disappears. They simply cease to be, and it doesn’t really matter eternally that they ever existed in the first place. It doesn’t matter if they struggled all through life or if many wrongs were done to them, if they were abused or mistreated. It doesn’t matter if they lived in loving service to others, trying to make other’s lives better. Because in the end, there is no justice and no reward and no hope of “better things to come.” It’s as if they never were and as if it doesn’t matter how they lived or were treated. Does that seem right to you?)
And if I’m wrong about heaven and hell – if it doesn’t matter which faith you believe because “all good people go to heaven” – then, once again, I have nothing to worry about. I’ve got that covered, too. I’ve lived as a “good person.” I’ve done my best to treat others well and be a responsible citizen.
But can I ask, “What is good enough? How can we know if our good outweighs the bad? Who gets to define ‘good’? Is what’s good for a Muslim different than what’s good for a Christian? Is what’s good for a Nazi different than what’s good for a Jew?” What a mess! This business of defining what’s “good.”
I can’t think of a crueler cosmic joke than to make “good” the basis for getting into heaven, but then not defining what’s “good enough,” leaving people to always wonder if they have made the cut-off.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I see here that you missed heaven by two good deeds. So sorry! Better luck next time. Oh, wait . . . there is no ‘next time.’ Too bad for you!”
All of this to say that if I am wrong then it really doesn’t matter in the end. Whether we all just die and disappear or whether all good people get into heaven or whether Jesus is the only way to salvation, I am good.
But it matters tremendously, eternally, if my atheist friend is wrong. If she’s wrong and there is a heaven and a hell at the end, then she will pay eternally for “not caring.” I have nothing to lose if I’m wrong. She has everything to lose if she’s wrong. And this should at least warrant a little bit of serious consideration on her part.
(And for those “educated” atheists who can identify this reasoning as “Pascal’s Wager” . . . just because you know the fancy names of the different reasonings and arguments doesn’t mean that you are somehow above them or that you have defeated them just because you can identify them. Knowledge is not the same thing as wisdom. Truth is still truth, regardless of what kind of fancy ideas you have or how many “argument titles” you know. If there is a God, He will still be real even if you choose not to believe in Him.)
Of course, all of this is assuming on my part that Christianity is the only way, that Jesus is the only way of salvation. I could be wrong, and some other faith could be right. But I really don’t think so. I have researched all these other faiths thoroughly. I have looked into how they explain God and salvation and eternity. (And all faiths are NOT the same. No matter how much you want to believe that. That’s just an excuse for not making a decision.) And what all other religions have in common is some sort of “work your way to heaven” scoreboard, either by doing religious things or by blowing other people up or by “warming the church seats” or by giving money to the church or whatever.
Only Biblical Christianity claims that Jesus paid the way for us, that Jesus’s death paid the price that God’s justice demanded for our sins. We don’t have to pay our way to heaven. We simply have to accept Jesus’ payment on our behalf. Our gracious God has clearly laid out in the Bible how we get to heaven. He hasn’t left it unclear and fuzzy. And He hasn’t left “salvation” up to mankind. He has paid the price, paved the way, and placed the call on our hearts. All we have to do is respond and turn toward Him, to open our hearts to Him and accept Jesus’s sacrifice on our behalf. There is no faith like the Christian faith, no God like the Christian God. And I’ll stake my eternity on it. What are you staking your eternity on?
Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
No one will be able to say, “But I didn’t know that God was real.” Because God says that we will not have any excuses when we stand before Him and He asks, “Why didn’t you believe in Me?”
He will hold us all accountable for the choice we make (or don’t make). And in the end, He will give us what we asked for. If we ask Him to cover the penalty for our sins, He will do it. (He already has!) But if we ask to be left alone, He will allow it. (This is what “hell” is, eternal separation from God and all things good.) He won’t like it and it will grieve Him; but He allows it because He has given us the freedom to choose.
Romans 10:9 tells us what’s required for salvation: “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Galatians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Unlike what other religions say, Christianity says that we do not get to heaven by the things we do, but only by putting our faith in Him and accepting Jesus’ sacrifice for us. And all we have to do is accept it in prayer. All it takes is a genuine desire to turn to God and a prayer that expresses it. There is no magic formula for the prayer, but as I already said, if you “confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. . . . ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” (Romans 10:9-10, 13)
If this is something that you want to do, here is a prayer that you can pray. (Or use your own words, something as simple as “God, I need you”.) It doesn’t have to be fancy; it just has to be real.
I admit that I am a sinner and that I have been living life apart from You. But I don’t want to do that anymore. I want to spend eternity with You. And so today, I am turning to You. I am choosing to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I believe that He came here and died for my sins, and that He rose from the dead, proving that He is God. I ask for forgiveness for my sins, and I choose today to make Him Lord of my life. I open up my heart to You and ask You to fill it with Your Holy Spirit, so that I can live the rest of my life for You. Thank You for Your sacrifice for me, and thank You that because of it, I can spend eternity with You. In Jesus’ name, Amen