One can understand people getting the wrong impression about their Creator if God punishes people forever for sin committed over a few short years here on earth. Do you really think Jesus is going to invite a thief who apparently warranted death on a cross to enter Paradise but not others with lesser sins simply because they weren’t next to Jesus right before their last breathe? Is one really out of luck if not hanging on a cross some two thousand years ago?
The first chapter of Romans is used to suggest that all people that don’t believe in God are simply suppressing what God has clearly revealed to them. This passage is referring to those who ignore God so they could continue in their wicked ways. Many who aren’t spiritual minded live a life closer to Jesus’ teaching than I could ever hope to. Many people for their own rational reasons cannot believe in an invisible God. Let’s not accuse those who believe as needing a crutch and those that don’t believe of being wicked and not knowing their feelings. If it is a sin to doubt God exists, then Christians sin if they doubt God in troubled times.
A better explanation as to what many believe is not because they are more moral or wiser but because of circumstances in their life. Many believe because of what their parents taught them. Children aren’t bound to hell because of what their parents failed to teach. A traumatic experience such as being raped by one’s father can keep one from wanting to have anything to do with God their Father. It may be too much for some to stomach a God who supposedly burns people forever if they don’t believe in God. Who doesn’t know unending suffering is pointless as it doesn’t produce any good. God is not going to decide one future destiny because of certain choices one did or didn’t have while living here on earth.
Why wouldn’t one want to believe God is a Universalist where all are allowed to have eternal life if freedom and justice can be defended in such a scenario? Several biblical passages can be plausibly interpreted to suggest all enter heaven one day: “For as in Adam all died, so in Christ all will be made alive” (I Cor. 15:22, i.e. Rom. 5:18-19, Philip: 2:10-11). God is obviously full of second changes. Heaven may be more populated than many people imagined. I doubt any reading this or their loved ones would deny such an invitation by God.
The possibility of eternal decisions after death doesn’t create less urgency to change for one’s best interest here on earth. We may want to tell an addict after the 100th relapse there is no hope, but this is not God’s nature. God has always emphasized a relationship over scaring people in obedience. Closer relationships, either personal or spiritual, are what inspire us to be the kind of persons we deep down truly want to be. Parents know a positive relationship is the most genuine way to suggest what may be in a child’s best interest should they every wish for counsel.
Jesus didn’t come to give people a free pass out of Hell. If so, why didn’t Jesus close the deal with the woman at the well caught in adultery (Jn. 7:53-8:11)? Jesus only encouraged the woman to go and sin no more though He might never see her again! There are countless interactions where Jesus’ mission was simply to encourage others to treat others like you want to be treated. When Jesus was asked directly how one obtains eternal life, Jesus only said to love God and love others as yourself (Lk.10:25-27). Jesus knew loving God empowers one to love others to the fullest.
Do we really think God is going to base one’s destiny on saying the sinner’s prayer or even what they believe when situations vary? Friendships and love don’t have a hidden agenda. I love talking to others about my relationship with God as must as I do a good book, but only if natural and mutually desired. It is like asking me to play tennis. Anytime, anywhere! I am convinced knowing God can be life transforming and help to face challenges in a not so friendly world.