“People to whom sin is just a matter of words, to them salvation is just words too.”
~ William Faulkner
Lately, I’ve been on a Quora.com kick.
This nifty Q & A web forum never fails me when I’m hungry for insightful and sometimes absurd fun.
But one recent post stopped me in my tracks. It was from someone obviously agonizing over the death of a family member. It read:
“My son recently passed away. I am a Christian but he claimed to be an atheist. What chance do I have of seeing him in heaven?”
Ironically, this question was custom built for me!
If we assume that historical Christian teachings are true, then there are only two possible outcomes for people when they die. They will either spend eternity in:
- Heaven: Where they will be in the presence of God.
- Hell: Where they will be in unceasing pain trapped in the torture chambers of Hell forever with its isolation from God, noxious fumes, flames, flesh-eating worms, flogging, etc. without any hope of relief.
Therefore, the question raised on Quora is actually about salvation.
Salvation determines whether one will go to heaven or hell. The “Final Judgment” is the final decision made of who Jesus will select to be saved or condemned and why.
Luckily, the Ultimate Guide To Salvation (Holy Bible) gives us a precise description of how one’s salvation status will be determined at the time of the Final Judgment. It’s seen at Matthew 25:31-46, also known as the “Sheep and Goats” passage.
It describes how all the people from every nation in the world will be gathered together in front of Jesus who will then separate them into two groups:
- The “sheep” are placed on his right side and are destined for Heaven.
- The “goats” go to his left and are destined for Hell.
On a personal note, this passage may be one of the sources for the centuries-long discrimination against left handed people, which I am, and find rather uncool.
But I digress.
There is only one single criterion cited in the passage that determines who will be saved and go to Heaven: whether the individual — while they were alive on Earth — treated needy people kindly.
Specifically, it considers whether they had helped out hungry, thirsty, unclad, sick, or imprisoned people.
Unfortunately, the passage is not too helpful to the individual Christian.
My assumption is that every person who has ever lived will have performed some good deeds for needy people during their lifetime… but will have also ignored others.
Personally, I usually give into my heart and share some change with a person begging for money assuming they seem to need it more than I do. But speaking honestly, there have been times when I’ve been in a mad rush and have blown by them without so much as a glimmer of acknowledgement.
It’s unfortunate that the Bible passage doesn’t give details on how a so-called passing grade is determined. Consequently, nobody can be sure whether they’ll be a leftie or a rightie when Judgment Day finally arrives.
Also, unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any type of appeal process one can pursue should they end up in the undesired destination.
Another problem with this existence altering decision is that there are other passages in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) that conflict with this passage. Since they were written by various followers of Jesus rather than being quotations of Jesus himself, they presumably don’t have the authority of Matthew 25’s Sheep and Goats passage where Jesus’ exact words are allegedly cited.
- John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” This appears to create a third alternative to Heaven and Hell: Some people will simply die, remain dead, and not be resurrected to live forever either in Heaven or Hell. The passage also is ambiguous, because it doesn’t define what “believing in” Jesus means. Most Atheists and Agnostics probably believe that Jesus existed and preached in the Galilee and Judea as a Jewish prophet during the first century CE. They probably believe that he inspired his followers to found Christianity and build it up to become largest religion in the world. But, believing these things about Jesus may well be insufficient on Judgment Day, according to Matthew 25.
- The synoptic gospels seem to mainly teach that salvation is dependent upon one’s works.
- The Gospel of John mostly teaches that only those who accept that Jesus is the Son of God will be saved.
- Paul teaches that only those who believe in Jesus’ resurrection will be saved.
- Other passages seem to require that the Christian must be baptized in order to be saved.
Individual Christian denominations appear to select one or more favorite Scripture passage and downplay or ignore the rest.
The bottom line: For those Christians who would love to know whether they are going to Heaven or Hell, they’ll simply have to wait to see what the exact criteria for salvation is and whether they’ve made the grade.
Faulkner W. 1930. As I Lay Dying
Quora. Atheism and Christianity. At https://www.quora.com/
Bible Gateway. King James Version. Matthew 25:31-46. At https://www.biblegateway.com/,
Religious Tolerance. Christian concepts of salvation: An introduction to ancient & modern beliefs. At http://www.religioustolerance.org/sal_over.htm
The views presented on this blog are an extension of those presented on the Religious Tolerance website. The purpose of all articles is to compare the full range of beliefs and actions by people who are members of various faith groups within Christianity and other world religions, individuals who are NOT Affiliated with a faith group (NOTAs), and secularists.