Long ago whist at college my daughter’s class was asked by an atheistic teacher.
“Whoever here believes in God, stand up.” Only she and a Muslim girl dared to stand.
“And why do you believe?” He continued. Their answers were very similar, they had both seen God work in their lives and miraculously answer prayer. Not to be put off he announced.
“Well you, pointing to my daughter, are Christian, but how come this girl is Muslim says the same thing?” She couldn’t answer and came home troubled. I had never considered the question and had to pray for the answer. It came instantly.
God loves all His children whoever they are and whatever faith they embrace. If someone prays with a pure and believing heart He will answer (even if they call Him by another name). My daughter was content with that answer. For me however it triggered other questions.
I’ve never believed that if someone hasn’t received Jesus they’ll burn in hell for eternity – though a common fundmentalist doctrine, that just doesn’t jive with all I’ve known of God. What about all those that never had a chance to hear? Rather I’ve found Him to be far more loving, more merciful, going to far greater extremes to redeme His children than I could envisage. I think not to know Jesus maybe means to miss out on the fulness of life He brings right here and now, the joy, the freedom, the healing, the solace.
It is my personal belief that, rather than God as a stern judge dealing out rewards and eternal punishment at death, we, in a sense, judge ourselves. When God is revealed in all His splendour we either run to embrace Him, cringe in guilt and shame begging for mercy, or run in fear or rebelion. To come before God drenched in sin is perhaps akin to someone drenched in gasoline confronting a fire. God is always loving, forgiving, but we can only come into His presence naked and humble (one cannot pretend with God) we cannot bear His presence with any taint of sin or subterfuge.
It says “God looks on the heart” we must be careful to do likewise. A self-righteous, holier than thou Christian may further from God than a big-hearted atheist. Perhaps some of the “saved” may find themselves raised, not to glory, but to “everlasting shame and contempt” for their lack of love toward humanity, and the shamed single mum who loved too ardently find, she that loves much will be forgiven much. Perhaps that’s what it means about the last being first and the first last.