Good Questions: Who will be Saved?

Reflections from Dr. Howell

Who will be saved? We wonder for ourselves, for those we’ve loved and lost – and maybe for all humanity. I think I’ve heard 3 kinds of answers. There’s the “all dogs go to heaven” version: someone who did some good but made a lot of mistakes, and who didn’t think much about God, dies, and we say “Oh, he’s probably playing golf in heaven now.” Then there’s the “great guy” version: a fine person, even a regular churchgoer, dies – and we say “If anybody deserves to go to heaven, it’s Susan.” Or she was mostly good – and God does grade on the curve, right?

Then there’s the “altar call” version: you’re saved by the cross of Christ – IF you have repented of your sins and accepted him as savior. We most surely should repent, and believe! But please be patient with me when I say I hope this isn’t quite right; I sincerely hope repent + believe isn’t exclusive route to salvation. Why?

We all have sins we’ve not apologized for, maybe an oversight, but more likely the fact that we have blind spots: some of what we think is righteous actually is unrighteous, and we can all be spiritual dullards, narrow-mindedly unaware of what’s not of God in us, and what we’ve failed to get done for God. We pray earnestly for God’s mercy to be far greater than what we’ve bothered to confess.

Is belief in Jesus, accepting him as your savior the password to get you through the door to heaven? Yes, but… I wonder, and I hope you’ll wonder with me, if salvation might be a possibility for people who don’t believe in Jesus, have never heard of him, don’t understand him, harbor questions about him, or reject him for painful personal reasons. We’ll get back to this when we ask Who is Jesus? And why does he matter? And how?

For now, I’d like to linger over some Good Questions (with No Easy Answers) about being saved, heaven, and what God’s actually up to. Back to the “great guy” version of salvation. We ask, Am I good enough to go to heaven? Did she do something so horrific that she’s out? Fair worries – but the one thing that’s crystal clear is that if we are saved, if there is eternal life, it is 100% the fruit of God’s mercy and grace. It’s not earned or deserved due to how we’ve behaved, how much good we’ve done, or even if we’ve thought the right thoughts or spoken the proper words about God.

Faith can’t be the way we save ourselves; we don’t save ourselves at all! We should all hope God isn’t measuring the sincerity or intensity of our faith to determine who’s in or out. God’s deep passion is my salvation and yours, including all of us who in some way are too confused or too timid to respond rightly to the grace we’ve been given. All who are saved are saved in precisely the same way: God’s love is greater than any good or evil we might do; God’s love lifts up our faith or lack thereof; God’s love is so powerful that even death can’t untether us from God.

Also, if we have some idea that one day the world just ends, and then a perfect place called Heaven remains, and life is all about getting in (or avoiding going in the other direction), and God’s only purpose is to get us in, then we believe something that, oddly enough, isn’t in the Bible. God created not just people with souls to be saved, but dogs, eagles, cockroaches, azaleas, trees, mountains, oceans and whole galaxies, and God’s purpose is to redeem it all. God pledges “a new heaven and a new earth,” the whole universe perfectly fulfilling God’s intentions, and glorifying God. We will have the privilege and joy of being a part of all that!

So who is saved – as part of that larger redemption? For ourselves, we love God deeply, or as best we’re able, and long for that love to continue forever. For others? It is not ours to judge or know. 1 Timothy 2:4 tells us that God “desires for all people to be saved.” Can we do less? Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote a beautiful book whose title asks, “Dare we hope that all will be saved?” Isn’t this the state of mind God wants for us? Never hoping or sure anybody is lost, but wanting nothing less than a glorious hope for any and everybody?