Thursday, June 26, 2008

How do you spell "heaven"?

America, with her heritage of individual freedoms and, for the most part, tolerance of differing viewpoints, is by-and-large a nation where "live and let live" is a value accepted by the great majority of people. It is no surprise, then, that a recent poll conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reveals that 70% of those surveyed agree with the statement, "Many religions can lead to eternal life."

Now, there are some among those polled, Protestants mostly I suppose, who may use the term religion" to mean "denominations" as well as totally unique faith groups like Islam and Hinduism. But even so, that's a high degree of tolerance, especially when the actual doctrines taught by most of those "religions" teach a more exclusive view. There are some world religions, like Buddhism, that don't teach a doctrine as much as a way of life, and so make room for many different kinds of people in whatever they call "heaven." But many others, Islam, Judaism and Christians, have in their doctrinal traditions more of an "our way or the wrong way" outlook on the afterlife.

Perhaps most surprising, at least for those in the Christian sector of world religions, is that 79% of those identifying themselves as Catholic agreed with the statement. This from people who are taught that there is no salvation outside the Roman Catholic church, which is more restrictive than most Protestants believe about their own denominations. And amazing for Christians of all varieties to be so inclusive when they claim to believe in a Savior who said, "I am the way, the truth and the life; no man comes to the Father but by Me."

So was Jesus being overly strict in His teaching, just to keep the folks in line, but intending one day to throw the pearly gates wide open to those who wish to come with a different belief? Or, and this should be the more likely explanation to anyone who takes the Lord Jesus seriously, does this survey show that the American people have been so thoroughly indoctrinated in tolerance and a "who am I to judge?" mentality that they are loathe to rule any "sincere" person out of bounds for heavenly reward?

Muslims and Hindus and Zoroastrians and many others can believe whatever they want to believe. They are free to do that. But surely there's a difference between what one is free to do and what is right to do. I am free as an American citizen to have an affair with my neighbor's wife. I am pretty much free to lie about my neighbor, though I may get sued if I do in print. And I can covet all day long my neighbor's property. But God regards those behaviors as wrong, and hence there will be consequences, regardless of what I say to the contrary. For that matter, I am free to leap from tall buildings in a single bound, but I'm still not Superman.

One thing is sure, if the Bible is truly God's Word (and most of those surveyed say it is): God isn't going to take polls into account when He gathers His own into the heavenly realms. He has already declared the parameters of acceptable belief, regardless of whether or not Americans include them in political correctness. The good news is: there's room for everyone in heaven - everyone who comes in Jesus' name. By God's grace, no one will be excluded except one who refuses to acknowledge God's absolute right to set the standard for eternal life - believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved!

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