Just the other day, I was thinking of the question, “What kind of God, who claims he is fair and just, would let a good man like Gandhi go to hell and an evil person like Hitler, who claimed to be Christian, go to heaven?”
I personally doubt that Hitler has gone to heaven. Given the enormity of his acts of hatred towards the Jews, I don’t think he personally understood what it meant to be a Christian. He could have been a Christian in name, but I don’t think he knew God. If he did, he would know He loves the Jews.
But regarding the first part of the question. Gandhi in hell. Seems rather unfair, for such a peace-loving man, fighting for a noble cause, to find upon death, eternal residence in hell. Seems unfair, doesn’t it? I would think so. A God who would consign someone to hell just because the man didn’t believe in Him seems cruel.
But I don’t think God put Gandhi in hell because He wanted to. There is one way to salvation, and anyone who tries any other way goes to hell. That’s how the Bible says it works. God has already extended his mercy towards us with his solution of sending his son to die for our sins, so we can’t blame him if we didn’t take it, can we? A thief knows stealing is wrong, but you can’t accuse the judge of cruelty for sending him to jail. It’s justice. The thief had a choice not to steal. He chose not to take it.
Let me try to use a better analogy. The way to salvation is like the path up Mt. Everest. It is a path that can only be climbed in one way – with climbing tools like ice axes, ropes and harnesses. One day, the famous Tour De France champion Lance Armstrong decides to take on Mount Everest. He’s strong, he’s fit, and he could do it! But he decides to do it the way he knows best – with a bicycle! He attempts to cycle up the slippery slopes of Mount Everest, but his bicycle slides downwards more than it makes headway upwards. He’ll never reach the top with his bicycle. Cycling just isn’t the right way to scale a mountain like Mt. Everest.
(This analogy is imperfect because it makes it seem like the Christian journey is an effort, when it’s actually just a journey of sanctification as we walk with Christ, after accepting the grace He has given us. Just to clarify.)
My point is, if Lance Armstrong had decided to climb mountains the usual way, in all likelihood he would be able to reach the top.
I see Gandhi as Lance Armstrong. He was a good man, surely, but he wasn’t finding God the right way. Although it’s probably us Christians’ fault for not being a good representative of God that turned him away, considering he is quoted as saying,”I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ”.
Another thing. God seems cruel when he sends people to hell because we’ve visions of hell as a place of terrible suffering and pain and burning of hellfire. The Bible doesn’t say otherwise. But it’s probably so terrible because it’s a place where God is totally absent.
And conversely, what heaven’s joy is is the opposite of that fact. Christian children (I remember wondering these when I was young!) like to ask questions like,”Will we be able to play soccer in heaven? Will there be television? Will there be computer games? Will there be all my favourite foods?”
Could there be earthly entertainment options in heaven? I always assumed to some extent that there would be. But perhaps it’s because as physical beings our enjoyments are inextricably tied to the material that it’s the only way we can quantify paradise. It’s not explicitly stated in the Bible what things on earth we will also find in heaven.
But as I’ve grown in the Lord and had a taste of the joys of heaven, it seems all I will need when I am in heaven is God – as the songs say. It’s true. I think that’s what heaven’s joy will be – God is there, in our presence, all the time, and in heaven we will be one with him, in full intimacy with his glory and goodness.
My sentiments are summed up neatly by a friend’s Facebook status a few months ago:
“Yesterday, someone asked me if I’d still want to go to heaven if Jesus wasn’t there. In all politeness, I’m going to say “No, thank you”, not for all the chai tea lattes and chicken rice in the world. Because a heaven without Jesus ain’t heaven – at best, it’s hell masquerading as paradise.”