As an instructor in college, the classes I teach look much different than the classes I sat in as a little girl. In elementary school, we were all one color, and we all had one religion. The most diversity we experienced was from the kids who were Pentecostal and weren’t allowed to wear pants. Other than that, we all looked and believed alike, and none of us had ever met a Muslim or a Buddhist. I’m not even sure I knew those other religions existed, and I am sure none of us knew anything about them.
Children today grow up in a much more diverse world. The students I teach in my college classes have skin colors of many shades and come from many different places all over the globe. They have been taught to pray and follow sacred scriptures faithfully, to love their neighbor and be kind. But it isn’t always the Bible which has been used to teach them those things, and they don’t all call the Creator they pray to God. Are they all going to hell? Even though they pray, take care of the needy, read sacred scriptures, and seek to follow and honor God, because they call God by a different name, will they be doomed to hell?
I know Muslims of character, whose actions reveal love and whose words reveal faith. They seek to follow and honor God and treat their neighbor with care and compassion. Will the God of mercy, justice, and love condemn those good people to hell?
Many today believe that anyone who doesn’t say the words, “I accept Jesus as my savior,” is damned to go to hell. Period. What about children who die before they can make that statement? What about the mentally disabled who will never be able to understand or be traditionally “saved”? What about people who have never been told about Jesus? Even though they may have been deeply religious and sought God their entire lives, because they failed to utter a specific sentence, are they all burning in hell?
A much more feasible understanding of this difficult topic is Christian Inclusivism which is based on the acceptance that Jesus Christ suffered and died for our salvation, and this salvation is a gift from God which he can give to anyone and for any reason he chooses. We cannot earn, and we do not deserve, salvation. We are saved by Grace alone. All that is required of us is faith, and it is up to God to decide who has faith and who doesn’t, and that might include some who never really understood the role of Christ. So even a child who hasn’t yet learned of Christ before they die can be saved by Grace if God chooses to do so. The God of love, mercy, and justice decides who has lived a faithful life of seeking to follow him in whatever form that may have taken. Only God determines who receives the gift of salvation.
So why teach the gospel at all? We need to believe in something which comforts us, gives us hope, fosters a sense of belonging, and inspires within us a burning desire to love and reach out to our fellow man. As for me, I find those things most clearly in the teachings of Jesus Christ. And I believe that it is through Christ which we gain the best understanding of who God is and how we are to live. I believe the gospel is the clearest way to a life of mercy, and justice, and love; I do not believe it is the only way.
When we listen to people of other faiths, when we search for what we have in common rather than what divides us, and when we do all of this in compassion and respect, we are acting as we have been commanded to act by Christ.
Share your faith in Christ and live a life of faithfulness. Let others see Christ in you as you respect all who seek out and honor God. Remember that we are all God’s children, every one of us. Love without judgment, and as we all seek God together, healing for the brokenness of this world will be found.