Do Non-Christians Go to Heaven?
Peter J. Gomes explains why he believes God is bigger, and more generous, than some Christians imagine.
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In his book, "The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What's So Good About the Good News?," Peter J. Gomes examines the radical nature of Jesus' teachings. In this excerpt, the theologian and Harvard professor explores God's generosity, and how that influences his thoughts on heaven.
When I am asked if people who are not Christian get into heaven, and if they can expect a joyful future, I reply with a question: is God just God of the Christian, and is the only way to God the way that we know? Some of my Christian friends are horrified by the notion that God is not a Christian and is God and Lord of everybody, but if God is the author of the universe, God of everything and everybody, then how can anyone say that some people are outside of God’s providence? When a Christian says, as a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention once said, that “God does not hear the prayer of Jews,” then I know that, at the least, that person has an inadequate doctrine of God. As J. B. Phillips famously said, “Your God is too small.” Such a God is parochial, provincial, and unworthy of the praises directed toward him; only God, who does provide for everybody, even in ways unknown or unclear to Christians, is a God who deserves the title “Creator of the World.” Just because you and I cannot account for the religions of other people does not mean that the God whom we worship cannot.
Within the teachings of Jesus we have case after case of Jesus pointing to a God who is larger than the conventional wisdom, who is not downsized by the petty pieties of those who would constrain him by their own limited knowledge and experience. In my youth I used to hear of the competing songs from the Methodist and Baptist churches on opposite street corners on a Sunday evening. The Methodists would lustily sing the hymn “Will There Be Any Stars in My Crown?” and the Baptists would sing one of their favorite songs, “No, Not One.” Each church thought itself alone, not in the universe but in God’s favor, although Jesus constantly points out that God’s generosity is greater than ours. How fortunate it is that God is in charge, and not simply Christians.