Today’s sermon (or what I heard of it before I had to prematurely leave) reminded me of a question I’ve asked several times, in different ways, and which has never been satisfactorily answered. So I’m going to try it again today, not so much in the hopes that it will be any better received now than before, but simply out of a need to try once more to find a phrasing which suits the nature of the conflict in my heart, and to remind people that this is in fact a problematic aspect of our faith whether we are willing to acknowledge it or not.
I’m not interested in the how, the specifics. I am interested simply in the if, then; the incontrovertible. The necessary implications of certain factual statements.
Statement: Either becoming a Christian prior to human death is the only means of achieving salvation (and avoiding an eternity in Hell), or it is not.
If it is not, then
1. Most of us are lying/quite misinformed.
2. We may be precluding salvation by evangelizing. If God makes a way for people who never hear the gospel, then by making them hear the gospel we actually give them a greater chance of damnation than they would otherwise have had.
3. While the best route is to become born again and to have a relationship with God during this life — and thus while there is a “reward” for salvation — the potential risk seems to outweigh that. In the cost/benefit analysis it seems difficult to argue that the potential cost is worth the potential benefit.
If it is, then
God has created billions of people who never had a chance of salvation. By virtue of circumstances beyond their control (being human) they are sinners, and by virtue of circumstances beyond their control (geographical, temporal, and/or communicative isolation) they are damned for not accepting a savior they were never offered. They are as culpable for their crime as a wind-up doll which walks off the edge of a table: set in motion by an outside force and lacking the capacity to change their trajectory prior to catastrophe. Nevertheless we, and he, place the blame on the toy rather than the hand that wound the key.
These are the two possibilities I see. Neither sits well with me. Neither is a thing I would want someone to whom I am witnessing to bring up — for in the face of the former, I am wrong, and in the face of the latter, the notion that I am serving a God of love, compassion, and mercy becomes somewhat absurd; at best I must concede that the pre-existing notions of those terms are irrelevant to the entity I’m describing.
Like I said, this is not new for me. And many have tried to respond and will likely find themselves wasting time repeating arguments which have not previously proven helpful to me, so I quite understand if no one responds at all. But there it is, should anyone wish to try. I’m really not trying for a “gotcha” conundrum here. This genuinely bothers me and I genuinely don’t like that.
Meanwhile, have a nice Sunday. I don’t know about where you are, but here, the weather is beautiful.