Is God Unfair to Those Raised in Other Faiths?
I'm a Muslim and lately I have been reading many of the questions and answers on your site and thought to myself that I needed to express my thoughts and feelings too and hear what you have to say about it.
The two biggest religions in the world, Islam and Christianity both have a rule that is extremely disturbing when the two religions have so many followers and both make a lot of sense.
According to Islam, if you believe Jesus as the Son of God you go to hell, and according to Christianity if you believe that Jesus is not the Son of God you go to hell. Now living in the 21st century in Australia, how are we supposed to know what exactly happened in the Middle East 2000 years ago? Of course we cannot know, we can only believe. Lately this has been really stuck on my mind. I still believe in God but I feel very lost and insecure.
People and religions say you should love God, but I do not understand how I could love someone who would put me into hell for eternity based on what I believe about Jesus, even though God knows my situation and knows that I could never be sure about which belief is true. I do not want to lose my faith and I do not want to not have a chance of going to heaven either and so we must do what we can to try to find answers.
In one of your responses you said that no matter how much you have sinned, if you repent and believe Jesus is your savior you will still go to heaven. So on judgment day if I was to see very bad people who have repented and been saved, and if I was a very good person who always believed in God and never did bad things, only small mistakes that we all do and I go to hell being a much better person, then where is the just, merciful, understanding and loving God that I used to know and believe in? It looks as if Christianity shows an easy way out for Christians and makes it impossible for everybody else. I don't like the thought of this as it does not sound fair and at the same time it sounds scary since I am a Muslim.
If God was to toss a coin and ask you "heads or tails? If you are correct you go to heaven, but if you are wrong then you go to hell", then would you see this as a fair way of deciding who goes to heaven and hell? Of course you wouldn't but when you think about it, you have a much better chance this way since it is fifty-fifty. In real life it isn't fifty-fifty between Muslims and Christians, there are more religions too. Knowing that God has the power to do anything, both religions would be possible in terms of who Jesus really was.
I feel insecure but it is not something that can be ignored. My eternal life and all of ours is at stake. Now before you reply, instead of listing more contradictions in the Qur'an and trying to persuade me that your religion is correct, if you could just think what if YOU were born into a Muslim family and it was ME who was born into a Christian family, then who would be correct? Who would go to heaven and hell then? I was born into this game without a choice where if I win I have nothing to gain (Heaven is unneeded if one does not exist) but if I lose than I have everything to lose.
When there are so many murderers, rapists, people who do not believe in God at all, so many people who do not deserve to go to heaven, why is it that somebody who believes in God should burn for eternity just because they didn't correctly guess the right religion? People are going to be eternally punished for being unlucky.
Why should I be one of those who end ups burning forever for a reason so unreasonable and for something not in my hands (as you notice nearly all people raised in a family of a particular religion would stick to it and if I was to think about changing religions I am tossing up between a chance of guaranteed hell and a chance of guaranteed hell).
Nothing feels as bad as living blindly, knowing you might go to hell no matter how good you are as a person all because of something that is not in your hands as you can never know for sure what is right. I cannot accept something like this but cannot do anything about it. God is supposed to be fair but I do not see any fairness in this. If God understands our situation then why doesn't God forgive us for the incorrect belief of Jesus a lot of us have? (I am not saying which is right and wrong)
Thank you for reading, I really hope to get a reply from you and I really do not know what sort of reply to expect for something like what I wrote. There are so many little questions in my writing and you probably will not have the time to answer it all in detail and I do not know how helpful any reply would be keeping in mind that even the good go to hell but I would really like a reply not only for me but for all the people who visit www.comereason.org that have similar thoughts to what I have since I believe that what I wrote about is the most important and the most scariest thing of all.
If I had a choice right now to die and never come back, I would choose that than to go on with this and have a high chance of ending up in hell. Nothing is worth the risk of eternal pain. It is not our fault that there are so many religions to choose from that sound right.
Thank you for having the website to give people the opportunity to express themselves and ask questions.
Thank you so much for taking the time to write and articulating your views so clearly. I really appreciate your question, as I can see you're truly seeking answers and not wanting to just debate some point. I appreciate those people who are just seeking the truth.
Let me see if I can restate what you have asked so we can take focus on each pertinent point. First we both agree on several points:
- There is a God who is loving as well as just and He expects people to be responsive to Him.
- There exists an eternal place of joy and an eternal place of punishment; either of which a person may be sent after this life.
- People will be judged by God to determine where they will be sent once they die.
As I read your letter, your real question can be stated:
- Islam and Christianity both make specific claims about who Jesus was and what he did on this earth. These claims stand in contradiction to each other.
- Each religion teaches that your eternal destiny depends on what you believe about Jesus, but there is no real way to tell who's right.
So, basically, your question boils down to this "If God is a loving God as well as a just God, then how can He send people to hell just because they were born into one religious system instead of another?"
God's Standard of Accountability
First of all, I'd like to point out that the premise as it is stated above is wrong. God does not send people to hell because they don't believe in Christianity. Let me emphasize that again because it is a major point of confusion to many people. No one has been sent to hell because they don't believe in Jesus. Hell is a place of punishment and people are punished because they've done wrong. In other words, the only reason people go to hell is because they've broken God's law. It is not as you stated, "somebody who believes in God should burn for eternity just because they didn't correctly guess the right religion?"
Think about it this way. If God is holy, righteous, and just then He cannot let wrongdoing go unpunished. It would not be just to let sin pass without executing a proper judgment. Any judge who allows a crime to go unpunished is not an honorable judge - he would in fact be considered unjust and unfit for the job. God, as a totally righteous being, cannot let even one sin pass unpunished. He must be just, that is his nature. Every man will be held accountable for any act of disobedience against God's law.
Now, it is true that by such a standard no one can survive God's wrath. We are all guilty of doing and thinking wrong things. However, God is not only a just God, He is a gracious and merciful God, too. So He provides a way that we can escape this judgment by allowing that Jesus takes our punishment for us. Jesus is like the close relative who sees you have a debt you cannot pay, so He pays the debt instead of you. Once your debt is paid, you are considered clean before God and can now have fellowship with Him. God maintains his righteousness and justice while still showing His grace and mercy.
In your letter you wrote that this kind of arrangement feels arbitrary - a
kind of luck of the draw like a coin toss. You say, "People are going to be
eternally punished for being unlucky."
But that again misrepresents the true nature of our salvation. It is not by luck that we stand before God guilty, it is our own actions that condemn us.
However, as I pointed out above, God does provide a way for us to escape that punishment. God must punish sin but allows Jesus to be our substitute, taking that punishment in our stead. But we are required to accept that substitution in order for it to be effective. It is like the person who has a fatal disease being offered a new vaccine that holds their cure. The patient must give permission for the doctors to administer the vaccine before it can save him from death and pain. If the patient refuses the vaccine - if he doesn't believe it will save him - he will die. Again, that is not luck, but a choice made by the patient.
Truth and The Luck of the Draw
You wrote that "Nothing feels as bad as living blindly, knowing you might go to hell no matter how good you are as a person all because of something that is not in your hands as you can never know for sure what is right." But, again, I don't think you're framing the point appropriately. What you believe is directly under your control. You are not beholden to any belief simply because you were born into a specific culture or faith tradition. Further, you are not obligated to "live blindly". God has given you at least two tools; your ability to reason and your ability to research.
You wrote, "Instead of listing more contradictions in the Qur'an and trying to persuade me that your religion is correct, if you could just think what if YOU were born into a Muslim family and it was ME who was born into a Christian family, then who would be correct?" It strikes me that you see matters of faith as wholly dependent on your cultural surroundings. The idea that Islam is true for you because you come from an Islamic culture while Christianity is true for me because I come from a Christian culture is where your error lies. Truth is always true, no matter if a specific culture recognizes it or not. Let me give you another example. Throughout most civilizations, health practitioners believed that illnesses were caused by an imbalance of what they termed "humors" in the body. They would therefore bleed patients to try and restore the balance and cure the ailment.(1)
The fact that many cultures believed in this technique in no way made it true that bloodletting was the cure for diseases. In fact, it most of the time further weakened the patient. The truth is ruthless - it never changes simply because one's culture doesn't hold to it. We can look similarly at the claims of Christianity and Islam and we recognize that both cannot be true. They stand in marked contrast to one another. It may be the case that neither is true, but it cannot be the case that both are true.
It is either true that we're sinners before a righteous God or it isn't. Both Islam and Christianity hold to this point. It is either true that God would allow us a way of escape or He wouldn't. This is where Islam and Christianity diverge. Christianity holds that not only is there a way of escape, you can know that you have escaped God's judgment. And if God allows a way of escape, then it would make sense that he would make it knowable.
You wrote near the beginning of your letter, "Now living in 21st century in Australia, how are we supposed to know what exactly happened in the Middle East 2000 years ago?" Again, this question seems to assume that we cannot know what happened, that we must just believe. However, as people who can think and who can investigate, I believe we can come to some conclusions about this question in an intelligent fashion.
First off, we do have the ability to investigate whether the accounts of Jesus' life have any historical validity. When we study the texts as a historian would, we find out that there is good evidence to show the accounts were written very close to the events they record and eyewitnesses or people who spoke to eyewitnesses wrote them.(2) We can then look at the claims that the Scriptures make about Jesus - the fact that he claimed to be the very son of God and that He rose from the dead - and see if these claims are supported or contradicted by the evidence we have. A great start in this would be the book by Dr. Gary R. Habermas entitled The Historic Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Lastly, we can examine the claims that the Qur'an makes about Jesus and we can determine whether those fit the evidence we have.
You see, a doctor can tell his patient about a treatment that will cure his illness, but other practitioners may offer alternate cures. Some may offer bloodletting, some may offer snake oil, and some may offer shark cartilage or other cures. But it is the patient's responsibility to look into the healing claims of each and see if they have the evidence to support their claims. I hold that Christianity is true, and it has the evidence to be justified as a true belief. You have been given a great opportunity in the fact that you are not exposed only to the teachings of your culture of origin, but you may investigate many other belief systems. That's why you wrote me to begin with. That's a great gift!
I pray we can at least agree that the truth is the truth, regardless of who holds it and that at least some truths can be investigated and known. If you agree to that, then the idea of a just God punishing sinners isn't such a stretch. And if God is God, and God is merciful as well as just, the He would provide a way to escape that judgment. Christianity gives a satisfying response to how all those things can be true at the same time.
Please let me know what you think of these ideas. I'd love to hear more from you as you continue to seek out truth.