Wednesday I re-posted “Evidence does not produce faith”, partly because this topic was on my mind recently. A conversation I had with someone stimulated my thinking.
The conversation was actually on a different but related issue. This person believed that, while salvation is only through Christ, all will be saved in the end. They sounded like some type of Christian inclusivist or universalist. What they specifically believed was:
For those who did not believe in Christ before death, Christ would appear to them after death – and then they would believe upon Him. They admitted that there was no scriptural support for this “after death” chance to accept Christ, but it was what they hoped was true. This really leads into other complex topics. (For a series of posts on whether Jesus is the only way, see this first post in a series where I review the various viewpoints and share my own.)
But this got me thinking about the topic at hand. This person seemed to think that when given this “after death” chance to accept Christ that everyone would accept Him. Really?
To speak plainly, I don’t find this realistic at all, and rather naive. Do we really think everyone will believe when given the opportunity – whether before or after death? (By the way, I do not believe in this after death opportunity.)
As I said in my previous post, if someone does not have a heart to believe, no amount of “evidence” will bring them to faith in Christ. The Gospel of John (12:37) seems to make this clear.
But I wanted to share thoughts on a couple other passages. Jesus died on the cross with a criminal on each side of Him. The book of Luke (chapter 23) records how one criminal mocked Jesus but the other placed his faith in Christ. Whenever I have heard this passage discussed, the emphasis is always on the criminal who believed. The point may be made that it is never too late to accept Christ, or that faith alone is all that is needed (and not sacraments like baptism) as this criminal had no time for sacraments before his death. I agree with these points, yet we seem to forget about the criminal who did not believe!
Even in the face of his own imminent death,
in the presence of Jesus Himself,
able to observe first hand some of the amazing events surrounding Christ’s death,
and seeing the other criminal trust Christ…
this man would not believe.
Do we really think he’d suddenly believe after death (if that was possible)?
Someone who left a comment on my evidence post referred to Luke 16:31. This is from the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. While a parable may not be a literally true event, parables were used to reveal truths. In this particular parable Jesus was making some points for the Pharisees. The rich man in hell begged that Lazarus be sent to earth to warn his brothers of the horrors of hell. He thought if someone came back from the dead, then his brothers would listen. But Abraham replied that if they refused to listen to the Scriptures then they would refuse to listen to one who came back from the dead. I appreciated this commentary on this passage:
Jesus was obviously suggesting that the rich man symbolized the Pharisees. They wanted signs – signs so clear that they would compel people to believe. But since they refused to believe the Scriptures, they would not believe any sign no matter how great. Just a short time later Jesus did raise a man from the dead, another man named Lazarus (John 11:38-44). The result was that the religious leaders began to plot more earnestly to kill both Jesus and Lazarus (John 11:45-53; 12:10-11). – John Martin in the Bible Knowledge Commentary.
I know those who claim that they would believe if God would only present Himself in an obvious way to them. Yet, I have doubts that they would. I can imagine them thinking that the “obvious” revelation was a hallucination or hoax or they’d explain it away in some other way. (Related thoughts here: Why didn’t God become a mile high green giraffe?)
Perhaps I’ll close with a story my dad recently told me. My dad is a retired itinerant Bible teacher. Once years ago while speaking at a church, one of the congregants asked him to come talk to his atheistic father. He’d already had multiple other preachers and pastors present the Gospel to his father, yet he remained firmly in unbelief. My dad decided to take a different approach. He essentially said to the man something like this:
Well, you’ve already heard the Gospel from a number of pastors. And you’ve chosen to reject it. Hebrews 11:6 says “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Having faith or belief is the only option, and you have refused to do this, so I don’t really see any point in reviewing the Gospel with you again. Let’s just have a nice time chit chatting. Would you like to talk about the weather or current events or a hobby you enjoy?
Perhaps you disagree with the approach my dad took, but my dad said the man was rather taken aback (startled) by it. As my dad traveled around, he did not know if this man remained atheistic to the end or came to belief. I can’t help but wonder if my dad’s unique approach may have made him think and perhaps brought him to belief before the end.
I think God is gracious and gives people many chances to believe, yet in the end God “honors” someone’s disbelief and will not force belief on them.
I hope these thoughts on a tough topic are coherent, and thanks for listening.