1/28/10 Antoinette, about 20
I went 45 minutes early to pick up my kids from their drivers ed. class and stopped by a Starbucks where I met Antoinette, a communications student at IIT. She grew up in a Baptist family but at age 14 her parents became disillusioned with church and they all stopped attending. Now she wavers between belief and unbelief in God's existence. I asked "If there is a heaven and hell, where would you go?" "Hell" "Why" "Because I don't believe in God" I asked her "Does that seem fair, that God would send people to hell just because they doubt Him?" "No, it doesn't" she said. I agreed - "It WOULD be hard to believe in a God like that. But other than your doubts about God, do you think you are basically a good person?" "Oh yes, I'm not selfish or hurtful. I try to do what's right". She knows she isn't perfect but believes she is "good enough" for heaven. We had a good conversation, and now, with exposure to the Law, she knows better.
This conversation was a reminder to me of the importance of a right understanding of sin as the primary cause of our condemnation. Self-righteous unbelievers criticize Christians for being "narrow minded" about salvation. The assumption is that all people are good, and that hell is simply for unbelief, rather than as a place of punishment for sinners and lawbreakers in rebellion against God. No wonder God seems unreasonable. Verses like John 3:18 can be confusing: "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son" But taken in context, we understand that unbelief only causes us to miss the way of salvation, it didn't cause our condemnation in the first place. (John 3:36) Sin did. Our rebellion against God did. We deserve God's wrath because we are sinners, not because God unfairly punishes people with honest doubts. We MUST include accountability for sin and warnings of hell in our gospel messages and witnessing.