Atheists in Heaven? Part 1

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I respect Pope Francis even if I’m no longer Roman Catholic and now an Evangelical believer. I really admire his humility.

However, his recent statement came as a shock: “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! … We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.” (Source: The Huffington Post)

In fairness, it appears that what the Pope said was not an ExCathedra or an infallible pronouncement. But still every word that he utters will definitely make waves.

I agree with him that all of us can do good works including atheists. The Pope declared, “The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us.” (Ibid) (See also my blog post re: Altruistic Atheism) But I disagree with what he said that even those who do not believe in God would be in heaven. 

A friend who holds to atheism and goes by the Twitter handle @Bye_Dogma actually pointed out that the Pope’s words countered what Jesus Christ taught us in the Bible. In a reply to me, he twitted, “There MUST be more to it. If John 3:16 & John 14:6 are meaningless, I might as well be agnostic.” And in view of  the dogma that “There is no salvation outside the Catholic Church,” my friend added, “and in the case of the one true church, it brings into question their power & authority and the whole raisin d’être (sic) of Vatican.” 

Twitter Interaction (May 24, 2013)
Even to someone who questions the very existence of God, the exclusive claim of our Lord is clear enough: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6, ESV) If Jesus is not our way, we are lost. If He is not our truth, we are in error. If He is not our life, we are dead. There can be no other way to the Father except through Him. 

Also, as far as I understand the Bible, even those who do good works would not be in heaven based on their own merits. The apostle Paul wrote, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9, ESV) A person can only be saved by grace through faith in Christ alone.

In an email, Jesuit priest Father James Martin, wrote to The Huffington Post, “Pope Francis is saying, more clearly than ever before, that Christ offered himself as a sacrifice for everyone. That's always been a Christian belief. You can find St. Paul saying in the First Letter to Timothy that Jesus gave himself as a ‘ransom for all.’ But rarely do you hear it said by Catholics so forcefully, and with such evident joy. And in this era of religious controversies, it's a timely reminder that God cannot be confined to our narrow categories.” (The Huffington Post)

Yes, the blessings of Christ’s death and resurrection are available to all. But only those who would avail of it through faith can enjoy it.

Sadly, instead of highlighting the Gospel, Pope Francis’ homily obscured it. It’s like telling people with terminal cancer that they are already healed without even actually treating them. That will not help them at all. (I believe, though, that it was his honest attempt to build a bridge between the Church and atheists.) But “in this era of religious controversies,” what we need are clarity and conviction, not confusion or compromise.

Truth is indeed narrow. No apologies for that. It is not confining God. It is, as Paul wrote, “[letting] God be true, but every man a liar” (Romans 3:4b, KJV).

(Read Atheists in Heaven? Part 2)

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