Recently we discussed whether people of other religions, or those who have never heard, participate in the life after death that Jesus offers us or whether this life is available to only the limited number of people who respond to Jesus in a certain ‘appropriate’ way. I concluded that Jesus is inclusive and offers life with God after death to everyone—without restriction. And I believe that God, like Jesus, is also inclusive.
While some believers point to biblical passages they think create restrictions on who is able to have life with God after death, other passages indicate that life after death is available to everyone, including the famous John 3:16 which is so misunderstood by restrictive believers.
John 3 reads:
God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
I think it significant that God loved the world and did not send Jesus to condemn the world but to save it. God did not love a select few and send Jesus to save them only—but the world. Now I think both aspects of eternal life are seen here: the quality of life during our present existence that includes being saved, not from punishment in hell, but from a life of brokenness, pain, and alienation; and also having life after death with God. Those who do not follow him during this life miss the temporal benefit, but I think life after death is available to ALL.
How Might Those Who Have Never Heard Finally Learn of the Offer of Life After Death?
Many believers assume that in order to have eternal life (or ‘go to heaven’) we must hear the good news of Jesus and personally respond to it and become ‘a Christian’—and that we must meet these conditions before we die. This view is often tied to penal substitution theory.
While I agree that one must make a clear-headed acceptance of the gift of eternal life, I don’t think it involves some fabricated ritual of repentance, confession of sin, and symbols of commitment. I believe that each of us will have an opportunity to grasp the reality of this invitation with a clear understanding devoid of any prior misconceptions about Jesus, and without any cloudiness of mental deficiencies, scarred psyches, or twisted thinking. And there is no reason to think that people who have not heard or understood the good news of eternal life cannot understand and accept it at or after death.
The conclusion that life after death with God is offered to everyone raises a significant question—is this, then, Universalism? Will everyone who ever lived have life in God’s community after death? Not necessarily! While I think God is accepting of everyone, I also think individual free will is an issue; there could be some who don’t want eternal life with God for some reason, and I don’t think God overrides a person’s free will to impose eternal life on them by force.
There is always the prospect that some might choose NOT to align with God, even though their thinking is clear; these are those who would say, ‘I would rather die than live in God’s community!’ Will God force them into his/her place of peace and happiness against their will? I don’t think so.
What! Who Would Reject Life After Death with God!
Why would anyone reject eternal life after death when all the facts are clear? What possible objection might they have to living forever in God’s community? We can only speculate, but I am impressed with Christian writer C. S. Lewis’ proposed possibility in his book Mere Christianity (Christian Behavior, chapter 8); it is pride or egotism. Lewis does not mean common pride in our accomplishments or relationships but rather competitive, dominating pride.
There are those who MUST be the dominant ego in any relationship. This accounts for a lot of evil among us, but there is no room for such ego-competition in God’s community of peace and happiness. Even if there were, the power-seeker would still be unsatisfied because, even if they subjugated every other ego in God’s community, they would still find themselves competing with God. And this is a no-win for the egoist.
This situation would not constitute peace in God’s community, nor would it bring happiness to one driven by such ego needs. It seems that God would be cruel to force a person like this into his/her peaceful society with no opportunity to exploit others; it would be hell to them.
So I believe God will honor the free-will decision of such people to reject eternal life in God’s society.
What Might Become of Those Who Reject Eternal Life in God’s Community?
What happens to them? If someone rejects God’s offer, what will happen to them? Different groups of believers suggest several scenarios:
1. Everlasting punishment in a burning fire
2. Everlasting punishment without fire
3. Universalism-everyone will go to heaven
4. Conditional immortality-annihilation
We will talk about these next time.
Articles in this series: Jesus, World Religions, and Eternal Life
- Do All Religions Lead to the Same Place? Not Really
- ‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life’; Is Jesus the Only Way to Life? Yes and No
- Will Everyone Live Forever with God After Death? Not Necessarily!
- Hell? Conditional Immortality? Something Else? What Happens to Those Who Reject God?
- If Most Everyone Will Have Eternal Life with God Anyway, then Why Do We Need to Share the Good News of Jesus?
- 3 Reasons Why Loving Others is Not All There Is to Following Jesus