I am Muslim and my question relates to the monotheistic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Jews believe in all the prophets up to Moses but not Christ and Muhammad. Christians believe up to Jesus and not Muhammad whereas Muslims believe in all and consider Prophet Muhammad as seal of Prophets.
I would like to illustrate my question in the form of an example. Suppose there were only three people in this world, you (Christian), me (Muslim) and a Jew and suppose each one of us follows his/her religion as commanded by Allah/God. On the Day of Judgment, each one of us would ask Allah/God if we didn’t follow our religion wholeheartedly as per God’s commandments. So each one of us should go to Paradise. Whereas individually in this world we would consider that we are following the true religion and the others are not.
So how do you see this scenario? How is it to be decided who is right and who is not? Plus, 99% of the population has religion by birth rather than by choice.
AA from Pakistan
Part 1: All his ways are just
Part 2: My own illustration
Part 3: Religion by birth or choice
Part 4: Question behind the question
All his ways are just (Part 1)
I appreciate your sincere question and your apparent quest to sort out some very thorny theological issues. To clarify, what I think you are getting at is this: when a person serves God to the best of their ability and understanding on earth, shouldn’t that count for acceptance by God into an eternal reward? Won’t God overlook the fact that they were not in the “true” religion because their heart was sincere?
Actually, I don’t want to confuse things but couldn’t your argument be expanded to all those who are not in “monotheistic” religions? What about a Hindu who believes in thousands of gods? What about a Buddhist who believes he himself is ultimately a god? What about a very sincere atheist who mistakenly believes there is no God at all? If your argument holds true, shouldn’t God allow every one of them into heaven/paradise based on how hard they tried and how sincere they were? If not, why?
Start out by asking yourself this: do you believe in Absolute Truth or do you believe truth varies by “opinion” and one is as good as another? If there is such a thing as absolute truth (which I believe there is) then it is God who judges us based on IT. God never makes a mistake so however he judges us is in keeping with truth. He is truth and holds all truth.
Listen to the words of an ancient Babylonian king who, though he served pagan gods, recognized the true God’s sovereignty: “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar praise, exalt and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are true and his ways just, and he is able to humble those who walk in pride.” (Daniel 4:37 – Old Testament, The Bible) So how do we view those who stand before God after death having been wrong on earth in the religion they held? How would God view that?
My own illustration (Part 2)
Let me propose a small illustration of my own. It’s imperfect but may serve us here in showing how God might view things. Suppose you are in charge of a new, enormous construction project for your country. You announce your plans publicly by every possible media. You advertise for workers and tell them how to apply for all the jobs you have available. You tell them where and when to show up to start working.
Thousands follow the instructions you give and they arrive at the right place at the right time to begin work. You pay them for their work and they enjoy seeing the project to completion. After the whole thing is finished, other people show up at your office very disgruntled, demanding to get paid. But you never showed up for work, you tell them, and you never participated in the project. Why should you get paid anyhow? Here are some of the excuses they give.
“My newspaper was stolen and I never got the information about the project so it’s not my fault.”
“I wanted to apply but my father lied to me and told me the project had been cancelled.”
“You didn’t give very good instructions. I made a wrong turn on the road and ended up in a different city.”
“You aren’t fair. You made the application too hard.”
“I was very busy then but I’m free now. Is it my fault the project is already finished?
In this scenario, would you pay these people anyhow? I bet not. They had many excuses but in the end, they never did what you told them to. They could have worked on the project and gotten paid just like all those who obeyed the instructions.
Okay, so what do I mean by this illustration? I think from God’s viewpoint, he makes himself clear enough for each of us to follow him in truth. None of us will have any valid excuses on Judgment Day if we have believed error rather than truth. And I don’t think we will be able to talk him into heaven just because we were sincere in our error.
Listen to the Apostle Paul in the book of Romans in the New Testament of the Bible: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20) Paul is telling us that creation itself reveals God well enough for us to come to knowledge of the truth.
Religion by birth or choice (Part 3)
You mention that 99% of the population has their religion by birth rather than choice. I don’t know if that statistic is accurate or not but it doesn’t matter.We may be born into a particular religion or belief system but it is unacceptable to remain there if we come to find it is false. God certainly won’t honor that excuse! I will give the example of Abraham. He is a good one to use because he is the spiritual father of Christians, Jews and Muslims.
Abraham was originally born in the land of Ur of the Chaldeans into a pagan household that did not worship the one true God. His father Haran worshipped many gods. When God called Abraham out, he did not say, “but I can’t, God, I was born in this.” No. After the Lord appeared to him “Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6, Old Testament, the Bible)
Faith made Abraham righteous before God—not a religion. There were no “religions” back then. It is the same today. God is not interested in religion; rather he is interested in relationship with each one of us. Everyone who sincerely seeks his face will find him because he desires to be found by us, his beloved creation.
From my perspective, the Christian perspective, I believe God desires us to CHOOSE him for himself. He wants us to love and obey him because he is a wonderful Heavenly Father who cares for us and numbers every hair on our head. He is always reaching out to us and trying to make himself known to us. He loves it when we reach up to him as a child to a father to be taken into his lap.
Question behind the question (Part 4)
I will go out on a limb here and try to see the question behind your question. I believe you are genuinely seeking God and desire to know the truth. You gave the example of three people appearing before God in the Judgment but I wonder if you aren’t really thinking of yourself before the throne of God.
You may wonder; what if I am wrong? What if it is the Christians who are really right? Or the Jews? What will happen to me then? Will I be excluded from heaven/paradise when I did the best I could? If you are pondering these things you are in a good place. Asking questions is always a good thing.
I don’t have all the answers and my explanations fall short but God himself wants to answer you. Here is where sincerely counts a great deal. You are not dead yet. You are still on the earth and you can still make choices and you can still seek truth. Ask the Lord to reveal himself to you in a way as clear as he did for Abraham. I believe he will do that for you because he loves you very, very much.
God’s richest blessings be upon you and your search!