What do you say to love ones whose family or friends didn’t believe in or acknowledge God in any way while here on earth? Do you really think God is going to judge all based only on their beliefs during a short time here on earth influenced by so many random factors? Do you really think a loving God is going to determine one’s destination on supposed, necessary beliefs according to the Bible when the majority of people born never had a copy of the Bible? Do you really think God is going to judge one when they didn’t truly understand God or God was misrepresented by others? Why wouldn’t a merciful, forgiving God be a God of second changes?
If there is a God and there is the possibility of life after the grave, there are many reasons to trust our gut that God is a God of second changes. Many assume the Bible teaches that God bases our future destiny on if we trust God while here on earth. Some biblical passages suggest the possibility of decisions after death when meeting one’s Creator but they are hardly definitive. (One will want to read Grace Beyond The Grave by Stephen Jonathan for an excellent discussion). But, no biblical passage confirms without question that decisions aren’t made after death. Biblical scholars who believe in the trustworthiness of Scriptures suggest both interpretations. Thus, the Bible cannot be used to definitively answer whether God’s grace ends after death or after meeting one’s Creator.
The Bible says nothing about one’s destiny beyond the grave that doesn’t believe here on earth. Even if the Bible defended the traditional understanding of Hell, nothing in the Bible totally rules out grace after death before the possibility of Hell. But, the word Hell is a substitution not translation. The Greek word Gehenna, wrongly translated as Hell in the New Testament, was a real valley near Jerusalem historically known as a site for horrific physical deaths. Hell is not a translation of Gehenna any more than Atlanta is for Chicago. Jesus used Gehenna to warn that spiritual deaths (a life of self-centeredness) can be just as disturbing as physical deaths.
Grace beyond the grace is more likely because it fits God’s loving attributes as described in the Bible and understood in our souls. Many have never had a Bible or read the Bible but would share beliefs about a loving God’s actions after death. The Bible clearly teaches forgiveness is unlimited (i.e. Mt. 18:21-22) In fact forgiveness is so important to God that we should question if we can be forgiven by God if we do not forgive others (Mt. 6:15). This attribute of God strongly suggests God would forgive one more time after death if one truly trusted in God after meeting. God can “not” forgive any more than a parent can deny their child forgiveness no matter the degree of their transgressions or when they seek forgiveness. Also, God’s essence is mercy. God can’t stop being merciful after death. Parables discuss God celebrating regardless of when one finds God. Better late than never! Parables are meant to teach a moral point. God always loves celebrating one’s repentance even if after death.
Grace beyond the grave is more likely because a loving God is not going to leave one’s final destiny to chance. Many people believe the way they do because of the family they grow up in or where they were born. One’s beliefs about God here on earth may be based on false representations by others. Some despise their Heavenly Parent because of their earthly parents. Meeting God will clear up any confusion. Do we really think a thief is going to enter Paradise but not others with lesser sins simply because they weren’t next to Jesus hanging on Cross right before their last breathe? God created freedom for the possibility of authentic relationships, but God is not going to let one’s final destination be controlled by others.
There may be one main reason why people do not believe in grace beyond the grave. We assume God’s purpose for justice is to pay a price rather than in hopes to restore. Unending suffering is pointless as it doesn’t produce any good. Fearing God in the Bible is synonymous with fearing the consequences of immorality. The threat of punishment is only for the purpose to deter. The threat of Hell or prison doesn’t lead to relationships desired by God or parents. God doesn’t have to heap on more punishment than the consequences of destroyed lives and relationships. We may want to tell an addict after the 10th relapse there is no hope, but this is not God’s nature. God’s continual encouragement and mercy, not fear, is our necessary nourishment for true changes of the heart.
The truth is no punishment can return one’s robbed memories because of sexual abuse or murder of a loved one. Justice only for the purpose of payback is misleading for that which has been taken can never be returned. Victims often don’t just want their oppressors to suffer. True justice is being forced to understand your victim’s pain and accepting the harmfulness of your actions. After death God may bring to memory every action of betrayal and how it felt to their victims. Will some still refuse to admit and truly regret? The cleansing and educative effect may take longer for some than others. I trust God can determine pretenders. We like God may forgive our tormenters if they truly regret their actions and seek forgiveness. Believers and unbelievers may go through the same process of justice, some having more regrets than others.
What about our loved ones after death who didn’t acknowledge God much less have an obvious trusting relationship with their Creator? It seems no one in their right mind would reject living in heaven after meeting their loving Creator. God will remove all causes that led to irrational thinking. But, God clearly values freedom of choice. There may or may not be a time limit for one coming to their rational senses. Some will say why even bother then in this life to act godly much less trust in God. I am speechless if you believe a life of not loving others like you want to be loved is worth living. I am convinced when we know God the way Jesus knew God, we will sense God’s love and support in good and troubled times and pursue a life that doesn’t lead to regrets while here on earth.