Q: I'm writing about your comment that "Christianity makes room in its conception of Heaven for all those who never encountered Christian teaching and thus never had the opportunity to accept or reject it." I know Hebrews 9:27 states, "Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment," but nowhere does it say they will go to heaven (unless they were sinless, and no one was, except Jesus). I know that's a topic that only has opinionated answers. I am sure that in God's judgment He could allow entry but not just because they didn't know that they were sinning. I always emphasize in Bible study that God knows whether we are honest and sincere in our beliefs and knows our actions and that is what determines our entry. A faithful reader and cutter-outer of God Squad, God bless you. -- J from Wilmington, N.C.
A: Thanks, J, for your kind comments and for your loyal cutter-outing. One of the most enduring and vexing and divisive questions facing any kind of interfaith dialogue is the question of whether a religion can teach that people of other faiths can also be saved.
Christianity has been deeply divided on this theological question of the spiritual legitimacy of other faiths since its inception two millennia ago. On the one hand there is John 14:6:
"I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me."
This would seem to settle the matter. For Christians, the way taught by Jesus is the only way to God. However, I still harbor doubts as to whether this is the only possible Christian view of salvation. Jesus begins his address to his disciples in John 14 with these words of comfort in verses 1-2:
"Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you."
Sponsored Video Stories from LifeZette
So, what Jesus also seems to be saying clearly is that there are many ways to God -- many mansions.
Most powerfully, the idea that what matters to Jesus is our virtue and compassion to each other -- and not our belief in his divinity -- is conveyed in Matthew 25:31-46, (KJV):
"When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal." (See also Romans 2:14-16)
What divides the sheep from the goats, the inheritors of Heaven and the denizens of Hell, is not what we say or what we believe. What matters is what we do. Believing that is what we all need to reach Heaven together.
(Send ALL QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad via email at email@example.com. Rabbi Gellman is the author of several books, including "Religion for Dummies," co-written with Fr. Tom Hartman.)(c) 2018 THE GOD SQUAD DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.