Whenever the pre-Christian me passed a church with a sign assuring me that Jesus saved, I always wondered what that savings entailed. I eventually learned that Christ saved the bodyless dead from burning eternally in hell. Then I thought, how can a fleshless spirit burn? Without a nervous system, how could they feel? What was the point, then? Would the unsaved dead simply be upset because they were thrown into the everlasting fire pit? Further, how can you throw a spirit anywhere? The question also comes up about whether you can hurt a ghost’s feelings?
Or consider the tricky matter about how you get saved to begin with. I occasionally see an activist Christian standing on a street corner with a sign in quaint 400-year-old English that advises that if I only “believe on” Jesus will I be saved. So, is it all simply a matter of believing-on, which presumably means accepting that Jesus really is the Son of God and thus can save us? In that case, faith is presumably your ticket to ride the celestial railway to heaven, as a well-known bluegrass gospel song declares. Or is the price of avoiding hell simply being a member in a Christian church? In that case, you may get an argument about which version is the true church. Then again, what if you’re only a nominal member who shows up for Christmas, Easter, and the occasional wedding? Does that count? Or even if you’re a regular member who gives every week, but you’re a terrible boss, worse parent, and untrustworthy friend—what then? Is church membership enough to get you on the infernal bypass to the celestial city?
Since I’ve already alluded to it, what about behavior? Now you’re not only a faithful church member but you’re a good, kind, helpful human being? Is the behavioral standard sufficient? But let’s take things a step further. What if you’re a good, kind, helpful Moslem, Hindu, Buddhist or even Agnostic or Atheist? Is your exemplary behavior enough without believing in Jesus as one’s divine intercessor or belonging to “the true faith”? Finally, in the 16th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, verses 9-15, we read about a woman named Lydia who lived in Thyatira, a city in Asia Minor, and who traded in the purple cloth bought by the upper classes of the day. The Bible goes on to say, “The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by [the Apostle] Paul . . . and she and her household were baptized.” So is our ticket to heaven a matter of luck, what Christians call grace. We also know in the story of Exodus that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that he wouldn’t let Moses and the children of Israel leave their bondage in Egypt. So, at the end of the day, is it all a matter of God’s arbitrary choices? Or is it some combination of all the factors mentioned? I don’t know the answer to these questions, but maybe you do. If so, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks.