A couple of Sundays ago, my husband and I heard a sermon in church on marriage. The speaker that morning told a story about a woman who lived in extreme turmoil over her husband’s lack of faith. The poor woman was convinced that her husband was on his way to hell and prayed daily, fervently, for his salvation. The thought that he might die before accepting Christ weighed heavily on her heart and routinely brought her to tears.
My husband is not a believer. And the story of this wife’s anguish unsettled him a bit. So over lunch, he asked me if I felt the same as she did. I confessed that although I do pray for his salvation, I’m not in turmoil over his lack of faith. Why? Because I’m not fully convinced he’s headed for hell.
I realize that statement may shock some folks. It would have shocked me just a couple of years ago. But as I began digging into the concept of grace, as I began seeing people and loving them from God’s perspective, my perspective began to shift. And then when I began to wonder about it, God whispered to me, “I work it all out.”
The blogosphere is lighting up this week over the suicide of mega-church pastor Rick Warren’s son. There are many who are saying that suicide is a sin–a sin that, once committed, can’t be forgiven because there’s no opportunity for confession. I myself was raised to believe this. But I don’t believe it anymore. Why? Because if it’s true that unconfessed sin keeps believers out of heaven, then we’re all pretty much doomed. Especially if we define sin like many fundamentalists do.
However, one of the defining characteristics of the Christian is hope. Hope in what? Hope in eternity. Hope in salvation. Hope that this existence is merely a preview to something greater. Hope that this world is, one day, going to radically improve. Hope that wrongs will be righted, hurts will be healed, tears of mourning will be wiped away by the gentle caress of our Heavenly Father.
What kind of hope can I have if I believe I’ll spend eternity without the people I love the most? What kind of hope can you have, or Rick Warren have, or that woman sobbing her eyes out over her husband at every church service have? Where’s the justice in condemning to eternal torment a young man desperate to escape the ravages of his mental illness?
I can tell you where it is. Nowhere to be found.
Yes, God has commandments that He expects His children to obey. And, yes, salvation comes through Christ alone. But anytime I read about judgment in the scriptures, the sins of the wicked don’t apply to most of the “unsaved” people I know:
Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly” (Mark 7:20-22).
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents,ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power (2 Timothy 3:1-5).
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21).
And then there’s that whole scene in Matthew 25 where Jesus describes in detail how he will judge between the righteous and the wicked. I find it interesting that the subject of faith in Christ (let alone suicide) never even comes up.
Since arriving at this revelation, I have more hope than ever for my unbelieving friends and family. More hope for myself, too. More anticipation for Christ’s return. More joy. More faithfulness. More trust in God’s goodness. More boldness to share the gospel. More patience. More peace in my prayer time and in my daily life. In short, I’ve seen the fruits of the Holy Spirit manifest themselves more in my life since coming to believe that God is going to work it all out for my unsaved friends. I think the apostles felt this way, too. You never read about them fretting over the eternal destination of their loved ones. They possessed a confidence in Christ that would boggle the minds of most modern Christians. For them, suffering and death actually increased their hope of salvation!
Isn’t it strange that anytime something truly devastating happens in our world, or anytime we start to truly care about unbelievers, that old hellfire theology suddenly seems so cold and inadequate? It shouldn’t be that way. The very nature of the gospel is to give us hope in our most dire circumstances. If we’re thrown into a crisis of faith every time a tragedy occurs, could it be a sign that we’ve got it all wrong? Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). That’s what the gospel does. It attracts people by illuminating the mercy of God. Not manufacture a generation of atheists by making people think they’re more moral and loving than God and His followers (Job 4:17).
I don’t know how God is ultimately going to judge the actions of Matthew Warren. But I can say with 100% iron-clad assurance that he’s not in hell right now. The dead sleep until resurrection comes (John 5:28-29). And all who have called on the name of the Lord for his grace will be saved (Romans 10:13).
What are your thoughts?