How does God judge good, but non-practising, Christians when they die?

(27 Posts)
Stircrazyafteralltheseyears Mon 15-Apr-13 17:26:28

This is a thorny question that I have been grappling with since my dear lovely Mum died last year. She was a truly wonderful personality and much loved by most people who knew her. Owing (I think) to early negative experiences she had with religion, she got 'turned off' Christianity and was always rather cynical about it, so didn't attend church or show much interest in conventionally accepted Christianity. As far as I know she did nothing much wrong in her life, was a very honest faithful person, great sense of humour and full of integrity. (It was easier and pleasanter to be in her company than in that of many Christians I know!) I miss her a lot, do have a personal Christian faith, and hope/need to believe that I will see her again one day in the 'afterlife'. Many interpret the Bible as teaching that those who do not openly 'accept Jesus as Lord' are automatically destined to be excluded from Heaven - and this is my problem.

- I know what the Bible says/ what Jesus taught, ie that He alone is the way, truth and life (...and tried to explain this to my mother a few times ....so she had definitely heard the gospel). I do not judge her personally, and my gut feeling is that a good and loving God could not possibly condemn such a person to the outer darkness. Not only her, but several other people very dear to me have died in recent years, and were not 'clearly' Christians, but their lives spoke volumes about their goodness and love for others. So, can a good loving God really reject such people after death?

I would love to find something to cast light on the question - even if it doesn't necessarily give me exactly the answers I would like to hear...I suppose I am seeking some solid and reliable theology to comfort me, not to increase my sense of loss (that someone so dear must have missed out on eternal life....IYSWIM). Thanks to anyone with some insights here.

Stircrazyafteralltheseyears Mon 15-Apr-13 17:30:54

Sorry, my post's title should have read 'people' not 'Christians'.....just to clarify.

neontetra Mon 15-Apr-13 17:34:35

No theology here, only faith that it is by our deeds we are judged. I believe that we become close to God by being the best person we can be, and if, as we are taught, God is love, noone is outside that love and condemned to darkness, whether they believe or not. But I don't think this is the kind of answer you are seeking. Good luck - I hope you find some comfort with this difficult issue.

Moominsarehippos Mon 15-Apr-13 17:34:59

Sorry you lost your mum. This is a thorny one.

Some people will tell you be thing, and others another. I was having a discussion like this with our curate and his stance was that since God is a loving God, he will weigh up what is in our hearts rather than accept a death-bead conversion (assuming they had heard of God in the first place). Sorry I can't quote chapter and verse but that was his belief.

Moominsarehippos Mon 15-Apr-13 17:35:56

And please please please don't go to a medium or fortune teller about this. They will tell you absolute shite and make you very angry.

Ok well I don't believe that God requires you to have for example attended church every Sunday etc etc. We know though that Jesus said 'nobody comes to the Father except through me'. It's faith and acceptance that Jesus is sovereign that brings you to God. No deed can be good enough, no life 'good' enough without God BUT how do we know what happens as you die and how do we know what's in a person's soul? Can we judge one another? If we do what's the need for God?
hmm I think (speaking as a Christian) that it is easier to feel comfortable with the death of a person who has publicly said to you 'Jesus Christ is my Lord, I want Him in my life'. It's very hard when you don't have that but I reckon the God who loved us so much that he endured the cross is going to love us enough to have an open door wherever possible. Nothing is impossible for God. Nothing is beyond Him and remember Romans - that nothing can seperate us from the love of God, neither angels nor demons, nothing (haven't got time to c&p the proper quote sorry). I think we don't give the love of God enough credit. That's not to say you can live as you like and deny him and it will all work out fine but I think there are some (most?) people who are very close to faith, even when they don't know it. Think about how often people in extremis pray when they've never had a faith before when trouble hits. Panic? Or a deep seated faith that's at our core?

I wouldn't dwell on this too much if I were you. You can upset yourself a lot and I don't think there's a need. There's much, much more to life and death than we can see. It's an iceberg effect and under the waves is a love we can't even begin to imagine.

NorthernLurker talks lots of sense.The passage is Romans 8 38-39 and it is often used at funerals 'For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.'

Gingerdodger Mon 15-Apr-13 19:22:09

So sorry for the loss of your beloved Mum.

I think that there are many ways of accepting God into our lives and not least of these is to show love and compassion for others. Whilst I believe the right way for me to do this is explicitly through my Christian faith I believe all love to be inspired by God in some way so I am sure your Mum's loving life is fully recognised by God.

I have a similar experience to you in that a much loved relative of mine died. She too was not a practising Christian but lived a life as close to Christian values of love as I have seen. I am sure she is with God.

Thanks thegreenheart - I was posting in haste before going out to pick up dd3. Glad you could follow my thoughts enough to see which passage smile

marjproops Mon 15-Apr-13 19:32:29

It does say in the Bible that if you believe in The Lord you and your household will be saved. hope so as Im the only believer in my family.

Moominsarehippos Mon 15-Apr-13 22:05:16

Well, it is thought that if we are the children of God, then what loving parent can turn his back on his child?

I can't believe that a loving God would welcome with open arms someone who has murdered, raped and heaven knows what, then honestly 'found God' over someone who has lived an honest life, made people happy and helped others, yet not found it in their heart to 'believe' for some reason. Yet, if God made man, then he placed doubt in there. So really, surely the person who lived a good life is more righteous than the reformed sinner? I cannot believe that a loving God would keep my father away from my mother - she believed but he was agnostic at best.

Our Curate was very much of the 'Loving God' opinion, and he is usually very strong on his opinions on sin and suchlike, so I am inclined to beieve him.

Stircrazyafteralltheseyears Mon 15-Apr-13 23:00:55

Thank you all so much flowers for your kind, wise and enormously helpful words: every single post here has done something to reassure and console me on this tough issue. We actually used Romans 8: 38-39 at my Mum's farewell service; as well as the first few verses of John 14 ('In my Father's house are many mansions...'). I read somewhere else too a helpful text something like: 'God hates nothing that He has made', but can't trace that specific text just at the moment.

A book I glanced at recently by a scholar, David Edwards ('After Death') had these words which I found very helpful: 'God's saving love will be made known to each one of His children at the moment of death which is the moment of entry into eternity; the Easter offered to every human life. Absolutely no one will be denied that opportunity to know this love as the ultimate reality, beyond all tragedy and above all ignorance. That is one great reason why the Christian message is 'good news' which deserves to be shared'. - This compassionate view seems much more akin to the true nature of God, to me, than a seemingly unloving / legalistic sifting-out of the 'sheep from the goats', at the end. What you have all been expressing in different ways, seems to me to back that up too.

Perhaps I have been fretting too much over the detail here, needing some more Biblical texts to hold on to, to back up my own instincts and to hold in balance against all the many stark warnings about not being committed to Jesus, consequences, etc. Thank you finally marjproops for the particular text about 'you and your household' (Acts 16:31 - to Paul's jailer in Philippi). That example is immensely reassuring for me - as it seems to tick all the boxes! and I had forgotten it.

From a non-Christian point of view.

IF God exists and he sends good people to eternal hell and damnation for not being Christian, no matter how good their deeds in their life, then he's not the type of God I would want anything to do with. Would you want anything to do with a despotic God?

marjproops Tue 16-Apr-13 18:03:48

Thanx. Id forgotten exactly where it was. i know my scriptures but never remember where they are!

But I see why ohters think the way they think.

Im the peacemaker in the family, i try and live a good honest Christian life and yet they 'go their own way' and Im the one that ends up with all the trite.

Stircrazyafteralltheseyears Tue 16-Apr-13 22:56:01

Your point is excellent, worldgonecrazy - To me, this must be another reason in favour of the argument for a truly loving, forgiving and merciful God who is worthy of genuine worship. Over the years I have been at the receiving end of a fair bit of rather strident fundamentalist theology (of the 'you're either saved or damned' variety), and it really hasn't been helpful at times like this. I can see all too well how too many are put off Christianity altogether by (unhelpful but all too common) overemphasis on certain scriptures about judgement, and narrowness, rather than on focusing on what has to be the most important thing - ie. God's great love for us. The balance needs to be redressed, I feel. God is all too often put in a box by those who profess to 'know' Him.... and yet actually do Him no favours.

Stircrazyafteralltheseyears No words of wisdom but just to say I know where you are. My lovely dad died 8 years ago and never showed much interest in faith. I did also share my faith with him but he did not seem to respond much. He was truly loving and kind man. I know my Lord and I know my dad and I just have to trust. Please do not tie yourself in knots.

I will PM you.

Thinking of you.

There is a scripture, and I'm sorry I'm really rubbish at remembering where they are(!), that says, the wages sin pays is death. I think it's in Romans. When a person dies anything that went before is wiped clean. There are no grudges held.

Stircrazyafteralltheseyears Wed 17-Apr-13 09:35:44

Thank you both for more helpful insights here. (This is Mumsnet at its best, when it's a treasure trove of such supportive feedback).

PioneersAndPirateShips Sat 20-Apr-13 22:36:19

Sorry to hear about your mum, I don't believe that God would turn away an amazing person purely because they didn't attend church. This is one of my own worries about church, that some people are too concerned with what someone believes or believed and not what they did. There is a fantastic part (or parts) in Dave Tomlinson's book 'How to be a bad Christian, and a better human being...' which deals with exactly this question. I have a copy of the book I would be happy to lend to you, if you would like to borrow it pm me your address and I will post it to you.

Stircrazyafteralltheseyears Tue 23-Apr-13 09:50:39

Pioneers thank you so much - that's really kind - I will PM you.

ohdobuckup Wed 24-Apr-13 20:32:47

well, if you believe God created everybody who has ever existed... that's all the pre-christians, all the ancient egyptians, all the amazonian tribes, actually millions of people/souls who existed before christianity, let alone all the muslims, hindus, sikhs, pagans, shintoists who have not heard of christianity..what happened to them?

Now if you believe God created everybody, then why create a majority that won't get to the Pearly Gates?

So what happens when they die? I had a 'discussion' with a street preacher about this, and the best she could come up with was some sort of celestial border control where all the non=christians were shown the error of their ways and given the option of joining up there and then, or face eternal exile/damnation.

Which sort of undermines the premise that the only way is via christianity as a life choice... any thoughts?

Stircrazyafteralltheseyears Thu 25-Apr-13 16:55:55

It is a knotty one, ohdobuckup.....I hadn't come across the 'celestial border control' idea before, that made me smile

In Acts 17:22-31, Paul seems to be addressing this question when he speaks to the Areopagus (City Council) in Athens. Vs 26- 31: 'From one man he made every nation of men... God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.... We should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone - an image made by man's design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed'. My (somewhat old-fashioned) commentary on this chapter says that

'Men, the world over, are brothers - "He hath made of one blood all nations". The arrangements of Divine Providence have been contrived to lead men to God. If they feel after him with reverence and true desire, he will be found of them. All men are his offspring, but only those who receive the Son of God into their hearts become really sons...God can overlook much that is hurtful and evil, because he loves the world and deals with men according to their light..' (FB Meyer)

I'm not sure if there are any other passages in the Bible that also attempt to deal with this question.

Stircrazyafteralltheseyears Thu 02-May-13 17:21:47

Just wanted to share this latest 'answer' to my question, which someone has recently suggested to me: in John 10: 14 -16, Jesus teaches that he is the good shepherd who knows and is known by his sheep. Verse 16 is helpful here, I think, because he goes on to say:

'I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd'.

(This might be a potential answer to the huge question about the eternal destiny of all the 'good non-Christians'....)

Never heard it called "celestial border control" smile but it's a good point isn't it. If those who die not knowing god are punished without the chance to choose that's hardly fair is it. Yet if they get an explanation by an angel and a chance to choose then that's easier than it was for those who had to work it out in their lifetime and pick the right god out of the 1000s available.

Either way it is not equal treatment is it.

What happens to those who die young btw? Do they instantly grow up and then get to choose?

backonlybreifly there may be 1000s of gods but most people don't hear about them and I guess most people are not deciding what they believe at the 1000s of potential gods out there. When we hear about Jesus we have a chance to decide for ourselves what we think about him.

The Christian understanding of God is that he is just and fair so however things are I believe we can trust him. I had a miscarriage many years ago and it is my belief that that baby and the others I did not manage to bring to life on this earth will be in heaven. I can;t imagine they would be tiny embroys so I think I would believe that they grow up' but what exactly that means I am not sure! smile

Stircrazyafteralltheseyears I love the other sheep passage, I do hope your mum and my dad and all those others are the other sheep. smile

Stircrazyafteralltheseyears Fri 03-May-13 13:39:57

I'm sure they are, Italian! smile I feel much more confident and reassured now that God = perfect unconditional love (before he is anything else that our limited minds can attempt to portray him as, thereby putting him into a box not of his own making...).

I'm really enjoying reading the book by Dave Tomlinson which PioneersandPirateShips so kindly lent me recently flowers- full of common sense and wisdom, eg: 'There is nothing more fundamental to the Chrisitian faith than the message that God loves us, come what may. ...Whenever conditions are attached to God's love, the gospel is undermined and falsified'.

Surely any life, however immature or incomplete, has an equal share of that love...if he is a God who knows about the fall of every sparrow and who has counted the hairs on our heads.

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