Salutations. Earlier this week, the father of a particular child died. The boy worried about his father’s soul, because the father did not believe in God. So, when the Pope visited his town, the tearful child whispered a question into the pope’s ear. “‘A little while ago my father passed away. He was a nonbeliever, but he had all four of his children baptized. He was a good man. Is dad in heaven?’”
According to the USA Today article, the pope replied to the crowd,
“That man did not have the gift of faith, he wasn’t a believer, but he had his children baptized. He had a good heart.”
Francis asked the children in the crowd if they thought God would abandon a father like Emanuele’s, who was a good man.
The children shouted back: “No!”
“There, Emanuele: That is the answer,” the pope said, according to a translation
I understand the desire to give the crowd and the child the answer everyone wants to hear. And, I want to address another way to answer that question. However, first, I want to tackle what the Pope said, because it completely contradicts the Bible.
First, after mentioning the baptism of the children, the pope says about the man “He had a good heart.” This line and its variations always hit my ear wrong because they contradict the Bible. Romans 3.10 says, “As it is written:“There is no one righteous, not even one; 11There is no one who understands; no one who seeks God.…” and Jeremiah 17.9 says, “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?”
The USA Today article continues, “Francis asked the children in the crowd if they thought God would abandon a father like Emanuele’s, who was a good man.”
To be clear, God does not abandon any man. The Bible says in John 3.16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” Knowing that all men hold wickedness in their hearts, God not only provided a way that for them to receive forgiveness for their trespasses, but sanctification through the blood of Chirst and the work of His Spirit on our hearts.
However, we know people go to hell through other scripture. So if God does not abandon them, and even died for them, how do people end up there? John continues, “18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”
People end up in hell not because God abandoned them, but because people abandon Him. C.S. Lewis put it best when he said that hell is locked from the inside. For more detail on this subject, see the video I posted at the bottom. The Bible clearly points out that atheists, or any who refuse to put their faith and trust in a loving creator will go there, simply because THEY want nothing to do with God. That is the truth taught in God’s Word, and simply wishing for a different outcome because of a love for a relative will not change that fact. That may be just one reason why Jesus pointed out that our love for God needs to significantly exceed our love for our relatives.
So, I will return back to the emotional appeal for the hurt boy who lost his father. Certainly, my heart goes out to him. And, no, I do not feel that saying the above and leaving it at that would be the appropriate response. However, lying about what scripture teaches does not work either. How do we answer in a loving, compassionate way?
The Bible gives us the answer. Hope.
The Word of God makes it clear that only GOD understands the heart of man. We, on the other hand, do not. During the father’s final moments, even within his heart of hearts, the possibility exists that he reconciled himself with God, and put his faith in Jesus. We see this take place with the thief on the cross. I would explain to the boy that unfortunately, none of know, but we can rest assured that if his father was willing to accept God, and not shut himself off, then, no, God would not abandon him. While that sounds close to what the pope said, the distinction of whether or not his father ultimately accepted repented of sin and accepted Jesus is quite important. In showing goodness and kindness to someone suffering a loss, we must be careful not the sacrifice the truth.
The full USAToday article can be read here.