Written By Harriman Kelsie, USA
I’ve historically been fairly successful at avoiding the uncomfortable topic of who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. I have been able to evade any serious consideration of the matter by employing this principle: “It’s God’s job to determine who goes where, not mine.” I thank God that the responsibility of judgment is on Him and not on us, but this fact does not negate the importance of pondering the question.
I was reminded of this need a few days ago during a late-night conversation with a Muslim friend. He had requested to interview me for a religious study he was conducting for a qualitative research class. Having been assigned the challenging task of qualitative research before, I readily agreed to help.
The conversation started off something like this:
Friend: Did you grow up in a Christian family?
Me: Yes, I did.
Friend: How old were you when you started attending church?
Me: Since infancy.
Friend: Do you believe you would still be a Christian if you were born into a Muslim family in Egypt?
Me: Good question. I’d like to think so.
Friend: Do Christians believe that Muslims can go to heaven?
Me: Good question.
My friend’s last query caught me off guard and revealed the uncertainty I’d been experiencing lately about religion. This time, I found the “It’s God’s job to determine who goes where, not mine” spiel that sufficiently quelled the reservations of younger me about the eternal fate of non-Christians, lacking. How was I supposed to respond to my dear Muslim friend, who sat across the table from me, about what I believe to be the fate of his soul? How was I to respond when he arguably embodied more Christian virtues than me?
It was easy to casually “leave the fate of non-Christians up to Jesus” when I knew very few people in that world. But it became very hard to say this nonchalantly when some of my dearest friends, who have taken the quest of knowing who “God” is every bit as seriously as I, have reached a conclusion other than Jesus.
My friend and I wanted desperately to be kind to each other—to reassure, encourage and convey the respect we each had for the other’s faith, even though we were convinced of the truth of our own. In such a situation, it seemed far too perfunctory for either of us to say: “Don’t worry, it’s God’s job to judge.” That doesn’t convey “I care about you” very loudly, does it?
Confused, I decided to respond to the question about what I believed to be the fate of my friend’s soul with one truth of which I am absolutely certain: “God loves you. And so do I.”
We parted ways in peace, closer companions than we had been before.
That night as I was going to bed, my phone buzzed. My friend had sent me a message:
I just prayed my last prayer for today. This time I didn’t only mention people who are good in general but I mentioned your name in specific. I prayed for you to enter heaven. I’ll be really happy to be there and to see you there.
I pray for you in specific as well, my friend. And I am going to be very happy when I arrive in heaven. But perhaps even happier, if my prayers are answered, and I see you there too.
This article was first published here. This version has been edited by YMI.