But who is waiting for us there?
If there is a heaven, there must be a heavenly being that created it. That means there is someone looking down on us from the top of the proverbial mountain we are climbing. We all have a divine encounter waiting for us, the moment after we die. When we have lived our lives to their entirety—when we finish climbing to the top of the mountain—we will be there, in the presence of our maker. Universalists have definitely got that part right, but it may not be the comforting truth they think it is.
Who is this god that waits for us at the end of our life’s journey? Who is he whom we draw inevitably closer to with each climbing step, day by day? Will he love us and accept us merely for having made the climb, or is there some standard, some requirement of us before we can enter into that restful, joyous afterlife?
If we accept that merely making the climb gets us into heaven, then that would qualify the likes of Hitler, Stalin, and Bin Laden—men who went to their graves only after sending millions of people before them to theirs. Do we seriously want a god who would give these men everlasting paradise? I have a sense of justice that makes that thought untenable, and I doubt I am alone. There must be some standard by which we enter heaven. Justice would seem to require it.
Is it the sincerity of our belief, then, that will get us to heaven? If we make the climb firmly convinced and striving for the divine, even if our views of God differ dramatically from culture to culture, will it be enough to see us through? Unfortunately, this is a purely illogical view. There is no practical example of faith for faith’s sake alone being strong enough to overcome all obstacles. I can believe with all my heart that I can fly with the pair of cardboard wings I cut from a Wheaties box—but that faith is not strong enough to overcome gravity.
We must also keep in mind that Hitler and Stalin believed firmly in their own manifestations of faith. No one was sincerer about his faith then Hitler when he made possible the murder of 6 million Jews. He was walking the talk of what he believed about religion and the Jewish people. The sincerity of our faith is just not a valid claim to heaven. Faith is only as good as what it is placed in.
So what belief is strong enough to get us into heaven? Can we rely on our good works? If it is possible to get into heaven not on the basis of the sincerity of our faith but of our goodness, we would first need to describe what “good” is. Stalin thought his communism was an ultimate good, worth killing 20 million of his own citizens for. Hitler believed the Aryan Race was good. If “good” is left up to our own discretion, Stalin and Hitler still get to enter heaven. There must be some absolute code of right and wrong that transcends what us so often selfish, twisted humans can come up with. And since it transcends our own understanding, we must believe that the divine creator made it for us—and will hold us accountable to it. He is less like a fan cheering us up the mountain, and more like the referee holding us accountable to play by the rules. And since it is a foul and harms the other players in the game, our heavenly ref will throw us out of the game if we violate the rules. For the first time, the Hitlers, Stalins, and Bin Ladens of the world don’t make the cut. We're making progress!
This view of God as our heavenly judge leaves us with only three religions to follow: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Islam and Judaism are works-based religions. They hold that you have what it takes to storm the gates of heaven and enter victoriously. Haven’t we already established, though, how shaky it is to believe that the human race can do good? What if not only are we incapable of establishing our own right and wrong, but we can’t even keep the right and wrong revealed to us by God? Have you ever lied, stolen, lusted, coveted, or taken God’s name in vain? Have you failed to keep the five pillars of Islam? Yep, you’re out.
That’s the problem with works-based religions. We can never be sure we’ll make heaven, and what’s more, the evidence and an honest evaluation of our hearts seems to suggest we won’t make the cut. At this point, we’re in dire straits.
Is there any hope in Christianity? Here’s the standard Jesus lays out for us to “make the cut”. He says in Mathew 5:48: “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
So . . . if we’re relying on ourselves to get past the gates of heaven, we’re done for.
But that is where Christianity makes a break from all other religions. It doesn’t depend on us, but on what Jesus has done for us! He knew we couldn’t live up to the perfect standard it takes to spend eternity with our heavenly Father, so he came and lived a perfect life for us! He offers this life in our place, to pay for our sins. Where all other world religions say do, Jesus says done.
The Lord is compassionate and gracious; He does forgive transgressions. But yet at the same time, because He is a righteous judge, He can’t leave the guilty unpunished. (Exodus 34:6-7) That is why Jesus had to die for our sins, the just for the unjust, so that he could bear the penalty we deserved and we could go free! That is how God can be both a righteous judge and a compassionate forgiver.
This the amazing good news that we as Christians get to share with the world! If you confess Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved! For those of us who already have confessed Jesus as Lord, we are called to be trail guides to others following behind us up the mountain! We need to stop worrying that we will be called “close-minded” or “intolerant” (Check out this post, btw, for a true definition of tolerance), and stand unashamedly for this good news! There’s still some people standing at the crossroads. They’re asking for the ancient paths, they’re asking where the good way is; they want to walk in it (Jeremiah 6:16).
Can we help them find it?
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me”. John 14:6