Do ‘Good’ Atheists Go to Heaven?

By John Zmirak Published on April 17, 2018

What do you say to a grieving boy, who asks you if his father, a recently dead atheist, is in heaven? A little boy asked Pope Francis that question. It’s a tough one — especially coming from that little boy. But, assuming the report is accurate, I don’t think the pope answered it quite correctly.

Both secular and liberal Catholic media are making much of the conversation depicted by Rome Reports. No doubt they see this private talk, which should have been left private, as a tool for advancing the “revolution of mercy.” That’s their nickname for Catholic faith that nudges and winks on sexual ethics and theology. Then thunders dogmatic answers on economics, immigration, and climate science.

A Young Boy Asks About His Dad

During “the pope’s encounter with children from the parish of St. Paul of the Cross,” the following exchange ensued:

“My father has been gone for a short time. He was an atheist, but he baptized his four children. He was a good man. Is Dad in Heaven?”

Seeing the young boy was unable to ask his question, the pope told him to whisper it in his ear. After a few moments of speaking with the child, Pope Francis asked him if he could reveal his question and he said yes.

“Come, come, come.”

“I can’t do it.”

“Come to me, Emanuele. Come and tell me in my ear. Tell me in my ear.”

“If only we could cry like Emanuele when we have pain in our hearts. He cries for his father who died, and had the courage to do so before us because there is love in his heart for his dad.

“My father died a short time ago. He was an atheist, but he baptized his four children. He was a good man. Is dad in Heaven?”

It’s nice that a son says that about his father, that he “was good.” If that man was able to raise his children like that, then he was a good man. God is proud of your father.” Do you think that God would be able to leave a man like him far from Him? Do you think that? Louder, with courage.”

No!

Pope Francis:

Does God abandon His children?

No!

Pope Francis:

Does God abandon His children when they are good?

No!

Pope Francis:

Here, Emanuele, this is the answer. God surely was proud of your father, because it is easier when one is a believer to baptize his children, than to baptize them when you are an unbeliever. Surely God like this so much. Talk to your dad, pray for your dad. Thanks Emanuele for your courage.

Tear-Jerking in Service of Heresy

It’s unclear from the Rome Reports story whether all of what’s above is meant to be what Pope Francis said. Some may be editorializing on the website’s part. I really can’t tell. But it’s all in the same spirit.

What should we make of this? First, we should push back hard against attempts by secular media or secularizing Christians to present this as a doctrine. “Pope says atheists can be saved if they are ‘good.’” That’s heresy. I wouldn’t even call it Pelagianism, because Pelagius was a Christian. He simply thought that you could be a worthy Christian (i.e., avoid sin, serve the poor, and love both God and your neighbor) by your own human efforts. You didn’t need God’s constant help via grace.

Asserting that good behavior saves atheists is a new teaching entirely. In fact, I’d say it’s part of the broader liberal instinct in Christian circles. I call it Pelagianism with very low standards. Or Mini-Pelagianism. (Think of “Mini-Me” from the Austin Powers movies … a very tiny heretic.)

We can do all that God expects from us by our efforts because it isn’t very much. Just serve social justice, check your privilege, and as Google says, “Don’t be evil.” Needless to say, throughout the Gospels Jesus said something quite different.

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No Easy Answers

I admit there’s an tough issue here. I wrote about this in 2012, in response to some Catholics who claim that very few souls are saved. And others who hope that all souls will be. As I said then:

The God who blindly saves everybody does indeed seem like C.S. Lewis’ “senile grandfather in heaven.” It’s hard to believe that such a God exists, or if so, to take him seriously. Eternity with him is just another inexorable stage in the cosmic process, as out of our hands as other things that we’ve endured without our consent — like conception and birth.

But a God who saves very few raises other issues: It is hard to believe that he is good. And we begin to doubt his competence: First he creates a mankind prone to a sin that will damn the whole race; then he sends a Redeemer who can only manage to pull a tiny remnant from the pit of eternal fire toward which the teeming billions of souls slide on a conveyor belt.

Is this the all-powerful, all-loving God with whom we would even want to spend eternity? Why? (Perhaps because the alternative is so gruesome.) But why buy into such a system in the first place — when instead you could dare to hope that God does not exist?

In preaching the faith, we must avoid the old salesman’s trick, the “bait-and-switch.” As apologists, we make hell understandable, and even perhaps acceptable, by pointing up the overwhelming mercy of God, the ocean of graces offered any soul, the relentlessness of a Love that hunts each sinner like a real-life Hound of Heaven.

Despite this mighty divine initiative to rescue every soul, God insists each soul accept his mercy. In this divine romance, no soul is raped. Those who really want to reject God are free to do so; His grace will take “No” for an answer.

The danger comes once someone has taken the “bait,” accepted the whole Catholic system, and granted that certain sinners may (and some surely have) rejected God’s offer. Then we are tempted to “switch” what we’re asking him to believe. We give him brochures on the fewness of the saved, we read him the very long list of mortal sins — with little talk of diminished culpability or purgatory — and show him the text of apparitions that suggest that hell is full and groaning at the seams. If he thinks things through, they completely undermine the arguments that convinced him that hell was reasonable in the first place.

We Are Speaking of Mysteries

These are very deep waters. Not ones I’d want to have to plunge when talking to a little boy whose father just died. Too harsh an answer might plant in his mind a trauma. And make the Gospel repulsive to him. (Some pagan tribes in Europe refused Christian evangelists who blithely told them all their ancestors were in hell.) Too saccharine an answer, such as Pope Francis seemed to give, makes faith seem quite irrelevant. A lifestyle accessory which it’s nice to have, but you can live without — eternally.

Asserting that good behavior saves atheists is a new teaching entirely. In fact, I’d say it’s part of the broader liberal instinct in Christian circles. I call it Pelagianism with very low standards. Or Mini-Pelagianism.

The Enemy, of course, would be fine with either outcome.

This is a pastoral, and not a doctrinal moment. That’s why it should have stayed private. But since Pope Francis seems to have wanted it made public, fine. What he said needs public correction. A better answer would have been something much more like this:

“Young man, you are speaking of mysteries. None of us knows for certain what happens to a soul when it meets God. Your father said he was an atheist, but are you even sure that’s true? He baptized you. He had you raised as a Christian. Would you teach your child something you were certain was a lie? Perhaps on some level your father did believe. We can’t know for sure. It’s between him and God. So pray for your father, always. And imagine the man you knew meeting a loving God. And leave such mysteries for the next life, when all our questions will be answered.”

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  • John

    There is none good but your Father in Heaven. These were Jesus’ words.
    There was a tree in the garden called the knowledge of good and evil.
    God never meant for us to know GOOD or evil. He wanted us to know HIM.
    Goodness is not a requirement nor a merit for heaven. It is a comparative term by which we judge ourselves against others.
    Thus Jesus’ words serve to condemn all who would trust in goodness above grace.
    You summed it well in your closing paragraph. He should have been a little more thoughtful in his response.

    • Tim Pan

      We are to be righteous.

    • Bryan

      I agree with you that we are supposed to know Jesus and with you last statements.
      The only thing I differ with you, and it’s not of primary importance, is that we were never meant to know Good or Evil. I think that if Eve had not been deceived by the serpent and had instead sent it away or it had been destroyed, that we would have been allowed to eat from the tree. It was a matter of following God’s timing, not ours. If Eve had waited until it was time, it would have been blessed. I don’t think that the temptation was meant to last forever. I think that God does want us to know Good so that we know Him better, and to understand Evil because Evil existed before we were made and if we had never sinned we would still have to deal with Evil in one way or another.
      This is my opinion and I could only point to C.S. Lewis fiction to back it up. It’s just a perspective to consider.

      • Howard

        I suspect that we were supposed to learn about evil theoretically, but the tree was about learning about evil through experience. That kind of knowledge was never meant for us.

        • Bryan

          Do you think it would be possible to experience evil without sinning? I agree that by taking the fruit at the wrong time we learned evil through Adam & Eve by sinning. Theoretically we would learn the difference between what is Good and what is Evil and, had that first command not been disobeyed, we would choose the Good because of the love we shared with God. Is another way of saying “That kind of knowledge was never meant for us.”, that we weren’t meant to sin in order to understand what sin is?

          • Howard

            We could experience evil by being sinned against, and yet not sinning. That is a kind of experience, certainly, but a different kind of experience. Let me put it this way: I can experience the music of the violin by attending concerts in which excellent violinists play, or I can experience it by learning to play the violin myself. Those both may be said to be an experience of the violin, but the difference is huge. Of course, there is no reason I should not do both in the case of the violin, but the point is that experience-by-receiving and experience-by-doing are fundamentally different in terms of the qualitative kind of understanding.

  • Ken Abbott

    Quotes from a hymn (“How Firm a Foundation”) are not allowed here? I just had a post reviewed and removed.

    • Howard

      I’m not sure how relevant that is in regards to an atheist, unless you think that maybe, somewhere between life and death, he was given the opportunity to convert and took it.

      • Kevin Quillen

        The atheist will convert after death. He will be punished for his life of unbelief, but the punishment has a purpose. If punishment has no purpose it becomes just torture. The purpose is to bring the soul to repentance. ALL will be restored to fellowship with the Father!

        • Howard

          That falls into the category of “making stuff up”.

          • Kevin Quillen

            my beliefs have been standard Christian belief for many years. In the first century there were 6 theological schools. Four of them were teaching as I believe. It was not until Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman empire that the concept of hell became predominate. Plenty of historical evidence, if one cares to look, that proves the concept of eternal punishment was introduced to keep people in line. Google “The Winchester Profession of Faith” adopted in 1803. I teach nothing new or unique. Visit hopebeyonghell(dot)com and tentmaker(dot)org

          • AndRebecca

            There have been all sorts of heresies since the time of Christ.

          • Kevin Quillen

            true. how do YOU know truth?

          • AndRebecca

            I listen to what is preached and see if it lines up with what I’ve seen and read first hand. Many people have written on the Bible throughout the ages and I tend to agree with the reformed writers. However, I believe no one has to be literate to go to heaven, but must believe that Jesus is the Lord. People are always looking to get into heaven without belief, and that won’t happen.

        • ranger01

          Is your idea copywrited?

          • Kevin Quillen

            my “idea” is not unique. Visit tentmaker(dot)org and “hopebeyondhell(dot)com

        • Kathy

          Your compassion is getting in the way of the truth of Scripture, Kevin. I understand your desire to see all people saved, but just how and for how long will these rebelling unbelievers be punished before they repent and are reconciled to God? Pardon me if I’ve told you this previously, but this reminds me of the RCC’s concept of purgatory, the place where the deceased will be “purged” of their remaining or leftover sin. Just to clarify, I in no way subscribe to that notion.

          • Kevin Quillen

            How long will Go punish them? Ps 62:12 and Pr 24:12 is a good hint.
            I am a Pantelist. I have never considered that my belief sounds like “purgatory”. I just see a loving Father dealing with His rebellious children who declined relationship with Him on earth so must be brought to repentance so they can have a loving relationship with Him. The whole concept of punishment (kolasis) has the idea of “pruning”, just as you would prune a tree to make it grow better.

          • Kathy

            What do you believe the “work” means in both those verses?

            I know a few people who refer to themselves as atheists. They have heard the Gospel message numerous times, yet for reasons like problems with authority, accountability, desiring to continue in their sinful lifestyle, etc., refuse to acknowledge their Creator. They are obviously making a choice to be separated from God…they want nothing to do with Him. Therefore, God will honor that choice and not force them to be with Him for eternity if they don’t want to. Can you force anyone to love you and desire your companionship?

        • AndRebecca

          Are you a Mormon? Mormons believe there are 7 heavens and no hell. And that you can choose after death to become a Mormon and go higher up in heaven.

          • Kevin Quillen

            no. I am not a Mormon. I am a Pantelist.

          • AndRebecca

            Where can I find a Pantelist church? Not that I wish to attend, but that I have never heard of one.

  • Howard

    I have to agree with you.

    When we’re dealing with things we just make up, we can make the story any way we want. “If a train leaves Chicago at three o’clock traveling seventy miles per hour and another …” “Ooh! Ooh!” “Yes?” “What kind of train?” “It doesn’t matter.” “Could it be blue? I like blue!” “Fine. A BLUE train leaves Chicago at …” “Ooh! Who’s riding on the choo-choo train? Can it be clowns?” “That’s totally irrelevant!” “Can all the clowns be named Carl and Larry?” “OK. A BLUE train leaves Chicago at three o’clock, full of clowns named CARL and LARRY ….” [Apologies to the Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy.]

    When we’re dealing with things that we AREN’T just making up, though, we may like the truth, we may dislike the truth, but as often as not, we may not know what the truth is.

    • Kevin Quillen

      Did God give us the Bible? answer, yes. Why did God give us the Bible? answer…so we could know Him. Do you suppose that God is capable of creating a book that we can understand? answer…of course. So, why don’t “we” know the truth? “We” don’t know the truth because we do not read from the right vantage point. The Bible must be read with a first century mindset. The Bible was written to them, not us. It was written for us too, but not to us. Therefore if one puts himself in the time it was written and uses the old testament to derive definitions from, the Bible can be understood, and the truth known. But, most follow the religious traditions of man because it is easier. Hence, the massive confusion found today.

      • Howard

        No, we don’t know the truth about everything because the Bible was never intended to be the answer to every question — particularly about highly specific questions. Maybe you should go back and read John 21:21-23 if you don’t believe this. In the current context, from what chapter and verse would you learn the name of the dead man described in the article? He is the one we do not know about.

        • Kevin Quillen

          Actually we do know who this man is. It is John the revelator. He did live long enough to see Jesus’ second coming. Jesus came back in 70 AD., just as He said He would. “This generation” in Matt 23 and 24. Just as He told the Sanhedrin in Matt 26:64. “coming on the clouds with power”.

          • Howard

            I would not refer to the Gospel According to St. John as an “article”, nor was St. John dead at the time that passage was written — obviously, since he wrote it himself. No, I meant the dead father of the boy who met Pope Francis. No doubt the father’s name can be found, but not from the Bible.

            The passage from John’s Gospel was to illustrate that God does not always answer our questions. He told St. Peter clearly enough, “None of your business.”

  • m-nj

    I believe the author may be Catholic, but we dare not trust what either Catholics or Protestants teach, but what the Bible declares.

    Go read Romans. It is the clearest and most detailed description of the Gospel. The early chapters lay out man’s total lack of any desire to obey God or turn to God. ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. All are already damned to hell, due to both Adam’s sin and our our own sinful nature.

    Against this dark and dreadful backdrop, the Gospel is presented as a bright shining light, “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes”. Believes what? That Jesus lived, died, and rose again – fulfilling the Law (righteousness), paying the redemption price to “buy” us out of our slavery to sin and death, and making atonement for all our sins and our sinful selves (turning away God’s righteous wrath).

    And who believes this? Only those whom God has chosen to make alive in Christ before the foundation of the world. Read Romans 9, specifically v15 – “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy”. A rebuff to the argument that its not “fair” is also provided by the Holy Spirit through Paul.

    So how many will be saved? A remnant, but also “a great multitude which no one could number” (Rev 7:9).

    The answer to a small child who have lost a parent, or to parents who have lost a baby/child needs to be pastoral, while not being theological heresy. Jesus Himself declared, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3). And one is only born again by God’s power, with the evidence of the new birth of believing the Gospel and living a new life.

    A true pastor would tell the grieving that God is the One Who decides who goes to heaven, and He is all wise and loving, so He doesn’t make mistakes. A true pastor would comfort the grieving and tell them to trust the Lord and take their sorrow Him, without unequivocally stating the deceased is in heaven without any basis in the life or confession of the deceased for such a declaration.

    • Howard

      “… we dare not trust what either Catholics or Protestants teach, but what the Bible declares.” Followed not by Scripture alone, but by m-nj’s slant on what is really important in certain passages or what the Bible means though it does not clearly say, because, I suppose, we are supposed to dare to trust what m-nj says?

      It is OK to paraphrase and summarize the Bible, but don’t lose track of the fact that your summaries and paraphrases are not divinely inspired and do not command assent, any more than anyone else’s paraphrases and summaries.

      • m-nj

        Dude, a little harsh, no? I directed people to the Bible vs. what the Pope may say… your can judge whether I accurately distill the main ideas correctly or not… this isn’t a forum for full theological treatises.

        • Howard

          Dude, you were just dismissive of two thousand years of Christian experience, but the real offense is being dismissive of you? A little egotistical, no?

          You didn’t even have to put that part in to make your real argument. It would have been better to have left it out.

          • Kevin Quillen

            Martin Luther was dismissive of many years of Christian experience too.

          • Howard

            So?

    • Kevin Quillen

      “God is the One Who decides who goes to heaven”. If God is the one who decides, then tell me……why would he choose one and not the other? You are correct, God does choose, John 12:32, draw actually means drag. He chooses ALL.

      • Bryan

        “why would he choose one and not the other?” This is answered in Romans 9:15 as m-nj says above: I have mercy on whom I will have mercy. In other words, God chooses who he chooses because he chooses them. There is no imperative that you or I or anyone understand everything that God does or does not do in this life. If we think something God does or doesn’t do is unfair, that is because we have limited knowledge of the situation, not because God is unfair.

        • Howard

          See also God’s response to Job. Honestly, the argument that God would not allow anyone to choose Hell is hard to maintain in the light of the evil things God obviously does allow people to choose (to say nothing of it being hard to square with Scripture without some “creative interpretations”).

          • Kevin Quillen

            would you allow your child to jump in front of a truck because he wanted too? God will allow man to choose to follow Him in this life. In the next life the one who rejects God will be corrected(punished) until he sees the “light”. Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess Jesus is Lord. One cannot do that without the Holy Spirit working. ALL will restored to the Father.

          • Howard

            You are doing exactly what Job’s friends did — arguing not from God’s revelation of Himself, but by assuming God must (of course) be a lot like you, therefore whatever you think you would do, God must do. That is a very unsound approach to understanding God.

        • Kevin Quillen

          God chooses some for Heaven and some for Hell. Does that sound like a loving Father to you? God tells us to love our enemies. Would He tell us to do something He does not do?

          • Bryan

            “Would He tell us to do something He does not do?”
            Sure. He tells us to procreate, to eat, to build alters, to build temples, etc. These are things God the Father does not do.
            I understand your point. I just think your point is wrong. This thread has scriptural evidence to back up my claim and so do several other articles on the stream that you’ve skewed to this subject.
            While I believe you are free to believe what you want, that doesn’t make it true.

  • Bernonensis

    It makes you wonder. Is Pope Francis an evil man who led a child astray, or a stupid man who was led astray by a child?

    • Kevin Quillen

      I would not say evil or stupid. He just follows tradition like most.

      • Phil Steinacker

        You’ve just inadvertently revealed more about your fallacious understanding of Christianity and the Bible than you could possibly realize.

        What Pope Francis said (assuming accuracy in the re-telling) is NOT part of Tradition. BTW, if you continue to take shots at Tradition/tradition, it might be helpful if you became at least minimally acquainted with the distinctions between the two.

        • Kathy

          Does the tradition tell you that all non-Catholics will go to hell? My husband was told that in Catholic school, and many years later, our sons were told in their Confirmation classes that same thing concerning their non-Catholic relatives and friends I guess the teachers did not have as much compassion as the pope…it upset some of the children so much, I was told they were crying.

          • Kevin Quillen

            horrible thing to tell children! Hell is a man made idea to keep people in line. There is much historical documentation to prove this.

          • Kathy

            I will have to disagree with you on that, Kevin. I do believe there is a hell because I believe God’s Word in the Bible. I was asking Phil if he believes the tradition of his church, that only Catholics will be in heaven with God.

            I understand that all true believers in all Christian faith traditions, who are born of the Spirit
            as explained in John 3 (which doesn’t mean simply baptized with water) will enter His Kingdom. I was baptized as an infant, but did not experience that new birth until just 6 years ago. I was a nominal Christian, at best, until then.

          • Kevin Quillen

            Kathy, I sense you are very real and sincere. Please research the history of hell. I recommend tentmaker(dot)org and hopebetondhell(dot)com

          • Kathy

            I am sharing what I learned with all readers. I think we all make things more complicated than need be. As one of my favorite pastors, Alister Begg, says “The main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things”.

            Our means of salvation and the subsequent eternal life in our Father’s presence is very plain in Scripture. All are familiar with John 3:16-17. As Romans 10:9-10 reads “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe IN YOUR HEART that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (Saved from what? Separation in hell from God) For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved”. I did not believe this in my heart until I was baptized with the Holy Spirit, the new birth. Not my previous water baptism as some claim.

            I could to on and on concerning faith traditions that have either skewed this message or added so much burden on to it, as if we still must save ourselves. Christ’s sacrifice was FINAL, we don’t have to help Him out.

            The Bible obviously states you MUST believe, which means atheists, traditional Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Mormons, etc. etc are not saved because they don’t believe. There is nothing in Scripture that says they will have another chance after they die. Isn’t that the reason for evangelizing, to claim the awesome love of Christ so people can experience that and forever? We just plant the seed, God does the work, as I am certain He did in me…nothing I did.

          • Kevin Quillen

            Kathy; please read and prayfully consider 1 Tim 4:10. Those that believe are saved from God’s wrath and have relationship with Him IN THIS LIFE. Those who reject Christ’s free gift will experience God’s wrath after death. The question is, what is wrath? The verse clearly says Christ is the Savior of ALL.( a savior isn’t actually a savior unless he actually saves you!) The wrath is punishment for their sin, proportional to how they lived their life. Proverbs 24:12
            Punishment has purpose, the purpose is to “correct” some one. Punishment brings repentance. If God punished you forever for a sinful 80 year life, would that be fair and just? Certainly not! God is fair and just and love. God is LOVE. Love does no harm. This verse and John 12:32 “draw means to literally drag”, are hard to refute. There are many more verses to prove Ultimate Reconciliation, but these are a good start.

          • Kathy

            Here is the explanation in my ESV study bible concerning the statement that God is the “Savior of all people, especially of those who believe”.: “That seems to teach universalism, that every person will eventually go to heaven. However, the rest of Scripture clearly denies this idea. There are several other possible explanations for this phrase: 1) It means that Christ died for all people, but only those who believe in Him are saved. 2) It means He is offered to all people, though not all receive Him. 3) It means “the Savior of all people, namely, those who believe”. 4) it means “the helper of all people” taking “Savior” (in the Greek) to refer not to forgiveness of sins, but to God’s common grace by which God helps and protects people in need. 5) It means “the Savior of all kinds of people, not Jews only, but both Jews and Greeks”.

            Note the phrase “However, the rest of Scripture clearly denies this idea”. People tend to take one verse and run with it without referencing the rest of Scripture concerning that topic, i.e., some refer to John 3:16 without including the rest, verses 17-21.

            You refer to yourself as a Christian (Universalist), Kevin. Why are you a Christian if it’s just as relevant to ascribe to any other religion or no religion at all? After all, you will just be minimally punished if you are at least a “good” person. How good does a person have to be to avoid worse and longer punishment? Like purgatory is for Catholics, this sounds like purgatory for everyone else, even though you’ve denied that. I’m not trying to be sarcastic, it’s a serious question.

  • JJMAT

    If faith is a gift, why would God deny salvation to someone who never received the gift? Most Atheists I know are far more in touch and secure with their disbelief than those I know who profess to believe. God is pleased when we seek the truth. Our human conclusions should be of little to no consequence.

    • Kevin Quillen

      Excellent point. God does the calling. Not man. So therefore what makes me any better than anyone else? Why would He save me, and not another?

      • Chip Crawford

        Why would you be too good to choose God or another?

      • AndRebecca

        Many are called and few are chosen. I read that somewhere.

    • Phil Steinacker

      The Catholic Church has long viewed (only) a handful of Greek philosophers as likely to have been saved. Though they were pagans, these select few demonstrated a lifetime commitment to the search for truth above all else, and yet, never met Jesus or heard of Him because He had not yet come.

    • AndRebecca

      Read the Ten Commandments. If atheists are following them and John 3:16, they shouldn’t have a problem.

  • Ineverleavecomments

    I first saw this issue on Twitter and like many Papal … “dialogs”-I don’t know what to call these things-it went in one ear and out the other. Thanks for going into more depth on this one!

    I think we can all agree that your last paragraph is, basically, the only correct answer to this question, the right tone and right message.

    However, what the #%^* does “pastoral” really mean? Whatever it means, I don’t think you should set it up as something to contrast with “doctrinal.” Your last paragraph here is a correct doctrinal statement (isn’t it?) with an appropriate and considerate (“pastoral?”) voice? If we were talking about a doctor we’d say they have a “good bedside manner.” I have heard of priests giving correct and context appropriate answers to very unpleasant and hairy issues off the cuff (both doctrinal and pastoral at the same time). This is not impossible and this is why we need to pray for priests.

    I don’t think I’m being super naive about whatever “pastoral” is supposed to mean, but wonder what needs to happen to “reclaim” this term for what it should mean in practice.

    • Bryan

      I think doctrinal in reference to Catholicism and the Pope specifically, is referring to the ability of the Pope to speak for God on an issue. That is there are certain times that what the Pope says is considered on a level near to what is written in the Bible. I’m not Catholic so I’m not intimately familiar with all of the particulars, but I think I understand the basic gist.
      So in this case, because the personal question of the young boy was made public, the media and the Pope can try to make the case for it being a doctrinal statement on who goes to heaven. Of course if the statement is heretical itself, it doesn’t matter if they wish it to be doctrinal or not, it is still a heresy.
      I agree with you though, that in general a pastoral statement (such as the response that Mr. Zmirak and another commenter below gave) should be doctrinally sound as well.

      • Ineverleavecomments

        Thanks for your comment. I feel like what you’re getting at is Papal infallibility which is not what I’m talking about here (thank God!) but I’m sure Dr. Zmirak would be really happy if you’d check out-even from your local library- the Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism. That spells that issue out better than I can on my phone.

        Pastoral just means having to do with the shepherds. So I think letters from bishops are called pastoral. And major statements on doctrine are called… doctrinal statements. But I don’t think that’s all that is going on here.

        Image someone like Fr. Martin saying “we need pastoral outreach to accompany and help gays plan their church weddings in the parish” huh?

        And then imagine this same word being used by any other orthodox priest (or doctrinal or Biblical pastor, pick your favorite word) “we need a pastoral answer to help our gay family members avoid sin and reach heaven.”

        What does this mean here?

      • Zmirak

        A pastoral situation doesn’t leave room for doctrinal falsehood, but it might call for changing the subject or giving only partial information, if the person’s emotional state or age calls for it. A doctrinal statement for public assumption must be clear and complete.

        • Kevin Quillen

          the beauty of being a Christian Universalist(Ultimate Reconciliation) is that one can answer a question like this and any other “tough” questions. God is a loving Father and will bring ALL home to Himself. He may have to correct His wayward child for a time, but when the child comes to repentance all is forgiven and child is united with the loving Father. That is the really Good News! Tell the child that he WILL see his father in Heaven. God desires All to be with Him and He certainly can accomplish His desires! Do not limit God to working in this life only.

          • Chip Crawford

            Right – the broad way that leads to destruction is a wider, easier, more convenient now path. However, the beauty of the TRUTH is that it will actually hold up in eternity. The ugliness of compromise is that one does it to be more comfortable oneself without true regard for the well-being of others. It is God’s plan to offer. How can we know better than God? There cannot be mercy if there is no justice. I can see him making himself known and available to a person over and over through this life and at the last second of cognizance on this earth, drawing, inviting continually. But he has made it up to us to choose. He won’t do your choosing for you or anyone. You can’t delegate back to God what he has delegated to you. To tell someone otherwise is to lie against the truth.

        • Bryan

          Thanks for saying this. I thought I was trying to get that point across because that’s what I took from your article but after rereading and reading through Ineverleavecomments’ earlier response (I’m not sure where that went), I realized I hadn’t been as clear as I would have liked. It’s a good thing I haven’t decided to leave my day job for a career in writing.

  • JP

    If a man has not put his faith in Christ for salvation he will be condemned because he will be punished for his sins which the justice of God requires condemnation.

    • Kevin Quillen

      agreed, he will be punished. But for how long? Is justice punishing someone for eternity for a life of sin that may be only 80 years? Is that justice? No. The punishment has purpose. What is the purpose? To bring the soul to repentance. All souls will eventually come to repentance and be united with the Father.

  • Patmos

    Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.
    But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

    -Romans 4:4-5

  • VisPacem

    “If, however, some were saved without receiving any revelation, they were not saved without faith in a Mediator, for, though they did not believe in Him explicitly, they did, nevertheless, have implicit faith through believing in Divine providence, since they believed that God would deliver mankind in whatever way was pleasing to Him, and according to the revelation of the Spirit to those who knew the truth, as stated in Job 35:11: “Who teacheth us more than the beasts of the earth.”

    St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II q. 2 a. 7 ad 3.

  • It seems Francis is a liberal first, and Pope second.

  • Albion

    The best answer to the child in such circumstances would have been to pray for his father’s soul because such prayers will not be wasted. Besides, it the best act of charity one can perform and is meritorious in the eyes of God. Our Lady of Fatima said that many souls are in Hell because nobody bothered to pray for them.

    • Fr Eric

      Yes, if there is no heaven, there certainly is no hell. There can be no judgement as no one can judge anyone about anything. So, it all begins with the denial of truth. An atheist dad had his own struggles, which is a mystery. However, out of love for his son, he guaranteed his baptism. We cannot put a limit on God’s mercy. Yet, as I mentioned above it all seems orchestrated.

  • Howard Rosenbaum

    “ in this divine romance no one is raped”
    That certainly drives the point home. I may even borrow it should an appropriate occasion arise.
    The best wisdom is the word of God the Holy Spirit brings to ones rembrance in the moment. That is available to all . Though they must be familiar with both the word & the usually “still small voice” of that one sent to help .
    It’s neither a doctrinal or pastoral matter initially. It’s a hearing issue.
    Probably why such compromise is too often the result when these kinds of things come up.
    I know were the Master to be asked a tough question He would have only said what He heard His Father say .
    Even if it meant not seemingly to answer the question.
    Yeah, some questions may be left unanswered with cause . Cause God didn’t in the moment reveal it – yet .
    What’s wrong with saying “I don’t know” – yet …

  • ranger01

    Did the boy randomly meet the pope or was he preselected for this question?
    Why, why, why put this tearful boy in the spotlight?
    Quietly, with great comfort answer his question one to one and then return him to his mother.

    • bob

      it was clearly staged.

  • ArthurMcGowan

    I’ve seen the entire incident on video. It’s disgusting. The entire thing is grossly choreographed.

    It reminded me of nothing so much as the hypocrites dropping big bags of money into the temple coffers, while a trumpet blows. Bergoglio hugs a little boy! Bergoglio comforts grieving child! Bergoglio the Merciful!

    • Fr Eric

      This was my first concern when I saw the video of the actual event. I was scared of it being choreographed. A public pastoral event to address a serious need of conversion. Was the child manipulated in this event?

  • John Doe

    St Peter will sort it out at the gate.

    • Chip Crawford

      Kind of late for something the most critical of all ??

  • PalaceGuard

    “The God who blindly saves everybody does indeed seem like C.S. Lewis’ “senile grandfather in heaven.” Sounds more like the author of The Golden Compass than it does Lewis.

  • Andrew Mason

    No man is good in the eyes of God – we are all evil. That being the case why should God force a man who has lived a God denying life to spend eternity in His presence? Not sure how you explain that to a young child though.

    • Kevin Quillen

      you tell a child that God is a loving Father, and like any loving father, He will not reject His child forever.

      • Andrew Mason

        But God’s not doing the rejecting.

        • ranger01

          Reality comes down hard on some who have never grown up.

  • Kevin Quillen

    Man has truly messed up the message of the Bible, the word of God.
    The answer to the question is……John 12:32. In this verse “draw” means literally to “DRAG”
    EVERYONE will eventually be with the Father. Some take the easy road and some take the hard road. The hard road is a time of remedial punishing for the purpose of bringing the soul to repentance. Please read Isa 55:11, 1Tim 2:4, Matt1:21, Matt 11:27 and John 3:35, 1 Tim 4:10, 1Cor 15:22, Ps 30:5, Ps 62:12, Ps 24:12, Isa 45:23 and Phi 2:10.
    God is LOVE and love does no harm. He expects us to love our enemies, would He does less?

    • Chip Crawford

      Man cannot mess up God’s word. It lives and abides forever. As you illustrate, man himself can be messed up by messing with it like this. Thank God there is a living Heavenly father instead of this robot dragging creature you depict. The Gospel is GOOD NEWS not a comedy/horror shtick.

    • m-nj

      This the universalist heresy promoted most recently in Rob Bell’s “Love Wins” book. Utter nonsense.

      I will agree with the “dragging” idea… God does ALL the work of saving His elect. He alone makes the dead alive.

      • Leo D.

        The book should have been titled “Sin Looses”.
        oh by the way
        Subaru is Love.

    • Another liberal looking to make GODS word say what he is comfortable with! If the Bible is left to your interpretation it may as well be thrown out completely. There is scripture that commands us to HATE evil, how about that Kevin do you ever see evil?

      • Kevin Quillen

        then you tell me what Jesus meant when He said to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Matt 5:44

        • I pray often that millions of Muzslime will yet find the Lord as their savior, and if someone persecutes me I do not have to lay down my life for them my Lord did that for me. Muzslim will kill you because they are followers of Satan Tell me what do you do with the verses that clearly tell us to HATE evil, and do you understand just how evil izslime is? Look up Revelations 22:10 that time is on us.

  • Trilemma

    Yes, good atheists go to heaven and so do the bad ones. According to Jesus, there are two gates into heaven. Jesus said many people would enter into heaven through the wide gate and a few would enter through the narrow gate. Jesus recommended the narrow gate.

    • Bryan

      You might want to review your reference for the gates. I think you missed a couple of words.

      • Trilemma

        What words? Jesus was asked about getting into Heaven. He said to make every effort to enter Heaven by the narrow gate rather than enter Heaven through the wide gate.

        • Bryan

          Matt 7:12-14 – 12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

          13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

          Like Ken above mentioned, it’s a big stretch to say that Jesus was referring to heaven as leading to destruction.

          In your quotation of Revelation above you seem to refer to a translation I am unfamiliar with, WNT. What translation is this?

          • Trilemma

            Luke 13:23-24 – WNT: when some one asked Him, “Sir, are there but few who are to be saved?” “Strain every nerve to force your way in through the narrow gate,” He answered; “for multitudes, I tell you, will endeavour to find a way in and will not succeed.

            In Matthew 7:13, Jesus describes two gate that lead to the same place since Jesus doesn’t indicate He’s talking about two different places. In Luke 13:24, Jesus indicates the gates lead into Heaven since He was answering a question about who goes to Heaven. Therefore, the narrow gate leads to life in Heaven and the wide gate leads to ruin or loss in Heaven.

            The WNT is the Weymouth New Testament.

          • Ken Abbott

            Please note that in Luke 13:24 Jesus speaks only of one gate, not two, and this is the narrow gate. And in Matthew 7:13-14, he distinguishes between the narrow gate (small, the way that leads to life) and the wide gate/broad way that leads to destruction. Two distinct paths and destinations. You have to read back your erroneous interpretation of the location of the lake of fire (which I note you now want to use as a place of destruction, not refinement and purification) to come to the conclusion that the ultimate destination of both paths is heaven.

          • Trilemma

            Jesus never indicated that entering by the wide gate was to a different
            location than entering by the narrow gate but only a different fate. Two distinct paths, on destination, two distinct circumstances. Refinement and purification in the Lake of Fire destroys impurities. Burning sulfur used to be used to purify a house by destroying bugs.

            I could say enter my neighborhood by the narrow back road for wide is the main road that leads to traffic delays and many take it. But the narrow back road leads to a pleasant drive and those who take it are few. There would be no reason to mention the main road if it didn’t lead to my neighborhood too. Likewise, there would be no reason for Jesus to mention the wide road when describing the narrow road to Heaven if the wide road didn’t also lead to Heaven.

          • Ken Abbott

            Sorry, Trilemma. Your interpretation has become increasingly forced and strained in order to save your theory. No reputable commentator (I’ve investigated several) takes this position. Unless you can come up with something far more convincing, we’re done here.

          • Bryan

            Tri, It is very clear that Jesus is using the opposite to make his point. He says in Matt 7 “enter through the narrow gate.” The whole exchange seems of the formula in normal expository conversation, “Do this. If you do that, it will be bad for you. If you do this, it will be good for you.” Likewise in Luke, Jesus says enter through the narrow door because if you don’t, you won’t get in at all. In this case being in is being with God and being out is being outside of God in the place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out.” (Luke 13:28) These are clearly two distinct and separate places. Whether they are physically separated by an inch or 10 Million miles, it does not make a difference.

            Concerning the WNT, I read about Mr. (Dr.?) Weymouth. He essentially did at the turn of the 20th century what Eugene Peterson did in the beginning of this century with The Message. They both created a version of the Bible in modern spoken english. I’ve found the Message to be extremely useful especially with the Psalms. But I do not think their point was to provide a scholarly text but rather a supplement that helps with understanding but does not become the source of understanding. So by all means use the WNT as a supplement with ESV, NASB, NRSV, KJV, NKJV, etc. But it probably shouldn’t be your only source.

    • Ken Abbott

      I’ve never heard heaven referred to as “destruction” before.

      • Trilemma

        The Bible says there will be destruction or ruin in Heaven. The Lake of Fire is in Heaven.

        • Ken Abbott

          Citations, please.

          • Trilemma

            Revelation 14:9-11 – WNT: Another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a great voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead, or on his hand, he shall drink the wine of God’s anger which stands ready, undiluted, in the cup of His fury, and he shall be tormented with fire and sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up until the Ages of the Ages; and the worshipers of the Wild Beast and his statue have no rest day or night, nor has any one who receives the mark of his name.

            Since this happens in the presence of the Lamb and the Lamb is in Heaven then it must be concluded the Lake of Fire is in Heaven. Also, it doesn’t last forever but only until the Ages of the Ages.

          • Ken Abbott

            Since the Lamb is God the Son, who has the power of omnipresence, the fire and sulphur could be anywhere. The text does not provide a specific location. Do not make unwarranted suppositions.

            Revelation is apocalyptic literature, which has its own rules of careful interpretation. Conclusions are made only provisionally and in the light of the whole counsel of Scripture.

            I have to ask, T, what books or articles have you drawn upon to come up with the “interesting” theology you present in so many of the topics posted on this site? What are your influences?

          • Trilemma

            Since the holy angels are not omnipresent, that puts the Lake of Fire in Heaven where they are. I agree with your comment about Revelation. But I see many Christians trying to take it as literal as possible. Is the Lake of Fire a literal place or is it figurative for something? Fire was used to refine metals. Burning sulfur was used to purify homes. That would make the lake of fire and brimstone a place of refining purification.

            The Tentmaker site for Universal Reconciliation. Preterist Archives for preterism. Sometimes I come to my own conclusions based on my own study and meditation. Typically, if I believe something, I only read things that disagree with what I believe. If they win me over, then I read what disagrees with my new belief to see if they can win me back. I’ve been back and forth a number of times to get where I am now. Sometimes I will argue a point to see if it’s defensible. If it is, I keep it. If not, I discard it.

          • Royce E. Van Blaricome

            Could there be any clearer evidence and confession of one who professes to be his own god?

          • Trilemma

            Nope, you have indeed provided plenty of evidence and confession that you are one who professes to be your own god.

          • Royce E. Van Blaricome

            Thanks for showing the best ya got. Maybe Jesus wilil let me stand beside Him when you come before Him and then you’ll see differently. I wonder if He’ll remind you of that post and let me wave “Buh bye!” as He hurls you into the Lake Of Fire. Which is NOT in Heaven, btw. That’s just another lie you’ve made up by speaking falsely for God.

    • LOL!!! talk about tweaking the word of God to make it mean what ever you want it to mean DUUUUU. You had better read that again or gather with another church.

      • Royce E. Van Blaricome

        Nah, reading it again won’t help. When the spiritually dead try to read the Book of Life it’s like a blind man trying to read a road map before hopping in the car to drive. You have to get a heart transplant before you can have eyes to see.

        Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” (John 8:47)

        “The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1st Cor. 2:14)

        “There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” (2nd Peter 3:16)

        And gathering at another church would only pollute it. He needs to walk away from being his own god and surrender to Christ as his new Master instead of the sin he chooses to cling to.

        Then he’ll have a new set of eyes to see.

    • Royce E. Van Blaricome

      I’ll say one thing for sure, you haven’t lost your touch at being a good laugh from time to time. That one got a real belly-busting, honest to goodness, LOL outta me.

      To ALL those true Christians on here, and especially those new to the faith having been recently Born Again, ya see those words of Trilemma’s above? Pay close attention to the “according to Jesus” and the “Jesus said” parts.

      THAT folks is your evidence of who this person is and who they belong to and it is a HUGE teachable moment to realize that those who do Satan’s bidding on the internet these days have NO fear of God and NO problem flat out lying about what God says.

      God does NOT cotton to His Word being twisted nor false prophets proclaiming He said something that He didn’t.

      “But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.” (Deut. 18:20)

      • Trilemma

        Did Jesus ever say anything about entering by one of two gates?

        • Royce E. Van Blaricome

          Yes

        • Royce E. Van Blaricome

          You need to hear this. I will pray the Holy Spirit give you ears to hear. I don’t know if this site allows links so Google “Paul Washer Shocking Message”. This is a “MUST see” for every person professing to be a Christian. And he addresses your question too.

          • Trilemma

            I used to believe everything this man said.

            Jesus never indicated that entering by the wide gate was to a different location than entering by the narrow gate but only a different fate.

          • Royce E. Van Blaricome

            I’ve never believed everything he said though he’s mostly spot on. Including here. You lie about what Jesus said. And you never believed what Paul said. You simply used to agree with him.

          • Trilemma

            Now you claim to be omniscient.

          • Royce E. Van Blaricome

            Well, I can see why you’d say that. Let me clarify. One will do what they believe. One can agree with someone but not “believe” them. I’m not omniscient but I’d bet a good deal of money that you never even watched the video and if that’s true then that would make you a Liar because you can’t say you believed everything he’s ever said when you don’t even know what it is.

  • Kathy

    Was just thinking of the burial service I attended recently. I paid close attention to what was being said about the deceased. The priest would say she is now in heaven with God, then say we needed to pray for her soul and for the the angels to carry her to heaven, then that she was in the ground and her soul will soon be with God. Everyone there was told that we will ALL see her again in heaven when we die and that she is with ALL deceased relatives and friends that she knew. How confusing is that for people that are not Biblically grounded? This was a Catholic funeral, but have heard the same at other Christian funerals, that ALL will be in heaven.

    • Chip Crawford

      There is nothing kind or loving about watering down the word to fit the mental assessment of the circumstances relative to it. Questions? Sure. How about asking God? We really don’t have to stumble around in the dark. But Bible questions are answered from the Bible, not commentaries or everyone’s opinion. There is usually light on these issues around, sometimes from other parts of the Body of Christ. We’ll get more answers as these part get together.

      • Kathy

        Yes, it is deceiving. It was as if the priest was very confused himself. However, he was reading from a book some of the time, which is even more disturbing. I understand that we cannot make the judgement as to someone’s eternal fate, only God knows our hearts. m-nj made a very good suggestion for clergy in the last paragraph of his/her longer post.

        I have heard of a few officiating clergy that speak of sin and judgement at funerals, and many times are chastised for it, as you can imagine. “What a terrible time to speak of those things!” Actually, it’s the perfect time….that’s when people are contemplating their own eventual death.

  • This present pope is the most unchristian thing that ever besmirched the position! He is a silly old fool!

  • bbb

    How old was the “little boy”?
    Children understand Jesus and God differently than adults do.
    If an atheist goes to heaven because he is ‘good’ what use is baptism in the name of Jesus Christ or the church?
    A very little boy will sometimes ask the question because he may have overheard someone talking about it.
    Sometimes the truest answer for children is best: Only the Lord knows who goes to heaven because He can look into a person’s heart and know them more than anyone else. We know that Jesus Christ will judge everyone in heaven one day and the answer to your question is up to our loving Savior.

  • Billy Bee

    Tough question the little boy asked. But the answer is pretty clear, if the boy’s father, in his heart, rejected Christ, he ain’t saved.

    This is where I’ll be a lil controversial. The other part in this article about missionaries telling tribes that their ancestors are in hell is where I disagree. Since the resurrection, there are probably millions of souls that never had the opportunity to make the decision to make Christ their savior, what happens to these souls? They can’t be damned, damnation is rejecting Christ. So I think this is where God judges according to what they have done.

    Good article =)

    • Kevin Quillen

      Good point about the ones who have not heard. Pr. 24:12

      • Billy Bee

        Yeah, at judgment day God will know who sincerely never heard of them. And I kind of have a vision of the people who never heard of Jesus while being alive in the physical plane being totally overjoyed when they finally meet Jesus. I could be wrong in my logic, but God is just and fair.

    • Bryan

      Billy, I think it’s Romans 1 that talks about those who have not heard the gospel message are still without excuse. There’s more to it than that of course, but that’s a short answer.

      • Billy Bee

        Bryan, my point is that damnation is what happens to those who make the conscious decision to reject Christ. With your response that means every aborted baby is eternally damned, and I don’t buy that as truth, and that’s a good way of making multitudes of women that have aborted babies hate the church if they think there babies are eternally damned. You need to provide a little more detail to your response then what you’ve provided.

        • Bryan

          I reread your original comment. I think I misread part of it when I responded because when I read my comment now, it doesn’t make the kind of sense I thought it did.
          As I said there is more to it than just what I wrote. There is an issue of innocents which covers (in my opinion, I haven’t done research to verify) miscarriages, abortions, stillbirth, infant mortality, young children, children with special needs, etc.
          On the other hand, I think it’s in the Screwtape Letters that C.S. Lewis describes the the older demon counseling the younger demon to carefully put the idea in his mind so that he consciously makes the decision to reject Christ without realizing the importance of that decision or realizing that he’s done just that. So it’s not always making the overt conscious decision to reject Christ. Many times it’s probably more subtle.
          Again there is a lot to it. More than fits in a relatively small comment section. I shouldn’t have tried to start that conversation with such an off-the-cuff style of answer.

          • Billy Bee

            No worries! But your point still talks about a decision being made. Overt or subtle, a decision is made. And that’s why I don’t buy the concept of the masses of people that have never heard of Christ being eternally separated from God. =)

  • tz1

    Protestants present a problem since the Sacraments are the only KNOWN way to enter heaven.
    We also know there are no limits on God’s grace and mercy.
    To rely on exceptions are dangerous. Invincible Ignorance? Sure about that?

    But what about Jews? Replace Atheist with practicing Jew (who specifically rejects Jesus as the Messiah) in the above exchange.
    Meanwhile here, I see a lot of discussion on how Evangelicals and everyone “Loves Jews”. But they also seem to want to leave them in their damned state, especially in Israel. The question about how we can be saved might be debated between Catholics and Protestants, but all seem to consider the only way requires accepting Jesus Christ. So when Jews no more accept Jesus than the Atheist in the above story?

  • Boris

    “Just consider for a moment what their [the devout’s] heaven looks like. Endless praise and adoration, limitless abnegation of self; a celestial North Korea. – Chris Hitchens

  • Momomomo-sparkle

    First, good is only God. thank you

  • Solstício

    First, good is only God. thanks

  • John P Glackin

    Pope Francis is teaching falsehood. The boy’s father is probably in Hell. The father needs to believe in Jesus, be baptize, receive Our Lord’s Body & blood & do copral works of mercy.

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