Questions for non-Christians #12
St. Peter at the pearly gates…checking the books, asking probing questions, welcoming some through and for others…releasing the trap door to that other place. It’s an iconic image which cartoonists have been employing in their craft since cartooning began. Here are a few of my favorites.
The possible scenarios…many amusing, others poignant…are endless. But how close to reality is the concept of a gatekeeper of heaven granting entrance based on merit? It’s a common doctrine across otherwise dissimilar religious worldviews that heaven is reserved for those who deserve to be there because of good things they have done, but what support is there for such a view and why is it so prevalent?
It is such a widely-held notion that I’m confident most non-Christians would answer “Yes” to this question #12…
Do you believe that if heaven exists you’re good enough to be allowed in?
…whereas most Christians would answer “No.” So does this mean that heaven is populated by mostly non-Christians? Some anti-Christian types would relish the thought, envisioning a scene like this one. Or could it simply mean that Christians have it right when we say that no one is good enough?
I think it’s safe to say that not even the most self-righteous types, Christian or non-, would claim never to have done anything wrong, or bad. Even those who reject a transcendent moral authority intuitively recognize some moral dictates and have feelings of guilt for not abiding by them. But when comparing themselves with others they justify themselves as maybe not perfect, but better than most and worthy then of a place where imperfect but relatively good people belong.
I think the fact that we do recognize nobody’s perfect is partly why so many have this expectation that if heaven exists we get there by virtue (no pun intended) of our good behavior relative to that of others. Because otherwise no one would make it in and so what’s the point of it?
But there’s an inherent flaw in this kind of graded system that measures merit for heaven. Higher education uses it to grant acceptance into some colleges and universities…a minimum SAT score is required, for instance…and we understand that it’s necessary to have some kind of standard that needs to be met. But if a student falls a little short, he or she has other options and not being accepted into a particular school does not ruin their life for all eternity. Just missing a minimum required “score” for acceptance into heaven, however, results in unimaginably terrible consequences.
If heaven is about justice…those who are allowed in gain entrance because they have, in essence, earned it…wouldn’t that necessarily mean that those who ever so slightly miss the cutoff are only minutely less deserving than those who just barely squeaked by? Yet those who have met the bare minimum threshold will enjoy a blissful existence for eternity but those who just missed it will suffer an eternal existence in torment. Does that seem just to you?
It doesn’t to me. It seems to me that a just system for acceptance into heaven would have to be all or no one. Either everyone gets in regardless of life choices, heart attitudes, deeds done, or wrongs committed, or else moral perfection is the requirement. But of course if either everyone enjoys eternal bliss, or everyone suffers equally for all eternity, that leaves all the injustices of this life un-righted.
Only an infinitely wise God who loves us could make a way out of this predicament. Today is Good Friday, when Christians all over the world celebrate the solution…and the salvation…that God provided when he took on flesh and took the punishment for our moral imperfections. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, took on himself our sin and unrighteousness and gives us in exchange his righteousness when we simply put our faith and trust in him. Though we have done much deserving of blame, God reckons us as blameless when we stand before him in the Judgment because of Christ.
There is an entrance exam for heaven but it’s a simple test that we complete on earth, and anyone can pass it. Righteousness is the requirement, but you can’t earn it. You can only receive it by faith. If you have at some time answered “Yes” to God’s prompting to submit to him in faith and trust, no matter what you’ve done you are counted as righteous…you have passed the test.
No wonder we call this day good.
Thanks, Caroline. Good retort to the “good people go to Heaven” false gospel. It’s very unfortunate that we have this popular myth of St. Peter being the gatekeeper of Heaven. No doubt it’s connected with a misinterpretation of Matthew 16:19 where Jesus gave Peter “the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” However, Jesus subsequently indicated all of the apostles were given the same keys in Matthew 18:18. The keys were the proclamation of the Gospel of grace as we see later in Scripture. The church of Rome interprets Matthew 16:18 & 19 as Peter being given authority over the church, from which they extrapolate papal primacy and authority.
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Thanks, Tom. I agree and think the ramifications of such a system are obvious and unjust. Unless I’m missing something…
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Every time I hear Peter being mentioned as the mediator between God and men via this myth I cringe.
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Thanks, Caroline, good debunking of this popular misconception. I know so many people that think they’re “good enough.” Also, I love your last sentence — praise the Lord for this really good day!
(Btw, I’m listing an alternative email since the one associated with my WordPress account automatically points to my website that isn’t ready for prime time yet.)
Thanks, David. I pray you and your family enjoy a blessed Easter holiday. 🙂
“Do you believe that if heaven exists you’re good enough to be allowed in?”
I’m afraid that even if heaven existed, I wouldn’t care if I could get in. I have no interest in being judged according to a moral standard that I don’t agree with, and as a result, it doesn’t matter to me whether I measure up to your deity’s requirements for entry.