Ask an anti-skeptic: Guaranteed spots in heaven?
I like this question, because I think it gets the heart of most people’s understanding of religion, which is basically that the point of religion is to ‘get into heaven.’
And if I’m basically a good person, shouldn’t God let me in, even if I’m not very religious?
Books could be written on this subject. And have been. So forgive me if I ramble on for a bit.
These concerns presuppose a version of Christianity that is very different from what most theologians (i.e. people who study and teach Christianity) believe it’s all about. Basically, this: Christianity is not about getting into heaven. Let that sink in for a second. The point of faith is not ‘fire insurance.’ It’s about bringing heaven to earth. This is, unfortunately, the most common misconception about our faith. Jesus taught about building the Kingdom of God right here, right now: to be a part of what God is doing on earth. That’s why he prayed “Your will be done, on EARTH as it is in Heaven.” He didn’t teach us to wait around and go to church (I guess it would’ve been Synagogue back then) a lot before we die: he taught us to help the poor, to do justice, and to learn to love each other: to be a part of the new kingdom, the new system, that God is building. Then the Bible ends with a picture of heaven meeting earth in the New Jerusalem, where God will build his kingdom and reign forever.
Now, that isn’t to say heaven doesn’t exist, or that we won’t go there when we die. Scripture paints a portrait of a day of judgment, when God will right all the wrongs in the world. Until then, it’s very possible that your ‘soul’ goes to be with Jesus “in paradise.” But that’s not the end of it. While most theologians would say we’re not really sure what that period looks like, or who gets to go, it’s pretty clear that having confessed Jesus as Lord is the key, not how many times you went to church when you were alive, or if you just led a good life.
After that, and what happens at judgment for those who never confessed Jesus as Lord, well, I can’t say that I know for sure. Nobody does. But chances are that you’re gonna want to ‘plead the blood’ (to use an old Christian catchphrase) when Satan, also known as ‘the Accuser,’ comes along to court to remind you about all those bad things you’d done, and then pleads with the Judge that justice be done. But I digress: this whole subject is a HUGE topic of debate, so let’s not go too deep into that. I’ll just say that I’d rather have accepted Jesus’ sacrifice and have him on my side when my time in court comes than a long list of ‘good’ things I’ve done.
Ok, onto the next bit about church. Christ taught that his followers are like a body. There are different parts, but we are all connected. Going to church is like saying “I want to be a part of Christ’s body, his people, to be a part of what this people is doing.” The point of going to church is not to rack up goodwill points with God, but should come from a place of wanting to grow deeper in your faith, in your relationships with other Christians, and a desire to partner with them and with God to be a part of his work of building the Kingdom here. So I think you could lead a good life without going to church, but would it be as impact-ful as if you partnered with a bunch of like-minded people who came together to help each other? Admittedly, lots of churches aren’t very good at this, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, and be as supportive as we can.
So in conclusion, I’m not sure who gets a ‘guaranteed’ spot in heaven, but most theologians would say that the best place to start is a personal relationship with Jesus, which is much easier to foster inside church than outside of it. And it’s not really about living a good life: it’s about making a difference for the kingdom. Are you doing a good job of this by yourself, or would you be better served doing it with others in a church community? That’s for you to figure out, I guess.
Here is a good article to read if you’d like to know more about the changes over the last few years of the meaning of ‘conversion’ and ‘salvation.’ It gives the discussion much more depth than I am able to here. Check it out The New Conversion: Why We ‘Become Christians’ Differently Today.
Got a question for the anti-skeptic? Email firstname.lastname@example.org