What if You Do Not Believe in God
Photo adapted from Marian Beck some rights reserved https://www.flickr.com/photos/lescientist/8430282209
Recently, Pope Francis made this statement which suggests that belief in God is optional to get to heaven :
“You ask me if the God of the Christians forgives those who don’t believe and who don’t seek the faith. I start by saying – and this is the fundamental thing – that God’s mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart. The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience.
“Sin, even for those who have no faith, exists when people disobey their conscience.” Note1
I agree with Francis that God’s mercy is far greater than we can imagine (Lamentations 3:22,23). It is also true that His ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8,9) and we cannot grasp them fully. And, I must say that our God is sovereign and can make decisions without consulting any other. Finally, it is possible that, in the larger context of his words, the Pope’s words may have been taken out of context.
But, taken as read, I have a deep disagreement with Francis about whether a non-believer can go to heaven by simply following his or her conscience.
- Our conscience is a result of our value system. Depending upon the society in which we live, one’s conscience may excuse practically everything that is considered sin in the Bible. An example of this is the US World Report of an Islamic Fundamentalist whose Sharia beliefs led him to rape a 13-year-old girl because (in his words), “Women are no more worthy than a lollipop that has been dropped on the ground.”
- The Bible declares that the heart (Biblical term for conscience) is deceitful & desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9) and out of the heart “come evil thoughts–murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matthew 15:19). Although some may claim to have a clear conscience, it is no comfort for eternity because their conscience may have been seared (ironed over) (1Timothy 4:2). Unless it has been led by the Spirit of God, one’s conscience is not trustworthy, instead it is deceitful and wicked.
- Jesus said that there is just one way to our heavenly Father, and Jesus is the way (John 14:6). Even if one tries to keep up a clear conscience in the present, their past sins must be accounted for. Anyone who claims to be free of sin is a liar (1John 1:8). But when we confess our sin, “He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins“ (1John 1:9).
Although I am saddened to say, it seems to me that the statement by Francis is diabolically opposed to Scripture.
When we offer alternative “gospels” (good news, a means of salvation), we are attempting to make Christ a liar when He said (John 14:6) that He was “THE” (one an only) way to the Father. Romans 3:3,4 states, “If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? 4May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar.”
According to the Bible (John 3:16-18), unless and until, we believe on Christ, we are condemned:
“16 For 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. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.18 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. 1
The reward for the “unbelieving” is determined at the Great White Throne judgment: “for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).
It may be that sovereign God may make some allowances for those who have not had an opportunity to hear the Gospel of Christ and believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior in their life. Although the Bible is unclear about such, it may fit with God’s sense of justice. However, it *IS* clear in the Bible that those who know of the Gospel and still disbelieve, are guilty before God (John 15:22) and (Hebrews 10:26) plus many others. So, how many of these “unbelievers” have never heard about Jesus Christ?
Note1 The full text of the Pope’s letter can be found here: https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/letters/2013/documents/papa-francesco_20130911_eugenio-scalfari.html
A rebuttal argument can be found here: https://www.catholicvote.org/what-pope-francis-really-said-about-atheists/