Response to a question from a Muslim – Omer

The following letter is something I found here:

http://www.comereason.org/religious-exclusivism.asp

I’ve given my response below Omer’s letter

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Hi,

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 http://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.

Sincerely,

Omer

Hi Omer,

I don’t know that much about the Qur’an, so, you won’t have to worry – I won’t be pointing out contradictions in the Qur’an. But I can try to explain to you why believing in Jesus is so important in Christianity.

First of all, I want to commend you on a few things you said in your letter:

  1. we must do what we can to find answers
  2. it is not something that can be ignored. My eternal life and all of ours is at stake

These are excellent points! In my response to you, I would like to build on those themes…

My first question is: what have you done to find the answers you’re seeking? You say that you don’t want me to try “to persuade [you] that [my] religion is correct”. But how will you find out answers to your questions if an advocate does not educate you about his position and why he believes it to be correct? And if my position is correct, why shouldn’t I try to persuade you? As you say “it is not something that can be ignored. My eternal life and all of ours is at stake”, and I would strongly agree! Since our eternal life is at stake, I’d better try to make you aware of what kind of trouble you’d be in if you were to meet a Holy God on judgment day outside of a saving relationship with His Son. So, my concern is for your eternal life – I want to see you be “saved” from the punishment due your sins (more on that later).

You say in your letter “Of course we cannot know, we can only believe [what happened in the Middle East 2000 years ago]”. It seems like you’re setting up a false dichotomy. Either “know” or “believe”. It sounds like the choices you present are “absolute certainty” or on the other hand, “blind faith”. But I would argue that there is a 3rd alternative – “true beyond a reasonable doubt”. Objective truths do exist and can be known – not always with 100% certainty, but “beyond a reasonable doubt”. In fact, there’s not much in this life that you can know with 100% certainty. Here are some examples:

  1. Every time you eat at a restaurant, you can’t know with 100% certainty that the people preparing your food didn’t poison it.
  2. When you are driving down a 2 lane road you can’t have 100% certainty that the person on the other side won’t veer over into your lane and hit you head on!
  3. You can’t know with 100% certainty that when you press the brake pedal in your car that it will stop!
  4. You can’t know with 100% certainty that George Washington or Abraham Lincoln existed and did the things history tells us they did.

But there is an objective truth about all these things. Likewise, there is a historical, objective truth about who Jesus really is and what He said and did. Similar to a cold case detective, we (those who seek to know the truth about Jesus) no longer have direct access to the eyewitnesses to personally interview them. Some of the evidence is lost. Yet we do still have a lot of evidence. We have writings from the eyewitnesses that are included in the Bible. The New Testament specifically is composed of 27 letters written by 9 different authors, who either personally knew Jesus or interviewed eyewitnesses who did know Jesus. These writings were in circulation within 25-60 years of the events they record. Some of those writings can be traced back to within 3 years of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). History tells us that Jesus’ disciples were persecuted and died as a result of proclaiming His resurrection and Lordship. His disciples would’ve been in a position to know the truth, having been with Him for 3 years during His public ministry. As Chuck Colson said “The fact is that people will give their lives for what they believe is true, but they will never give their lives for what they know is a lie.”

We also have early, extra-biblical writings from the time period of Jesus by neutral or hostile sources (enemy attestation), such as Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, Thallus, Phlegon, Pliny the Younger, and the Jewish Talmud. So, like a cold case detective, we can construct a cumulative, circumstantial case using the available evidence. People are convicted for murder on circumstantial cases with no physical evidence all the time in the United States. Circumstantial evidence is powerful enough to condemn a man to death in our human courts and, likewise, there is enough circumstantial evidence to believe that what the Bible says about Jesus is true (beyond a “reasonable doubt”). God has not left Himself without evidence in the world. There is the evidence of natural revelation (the universe, the earth and the apparent design in life), the evidence of special revelation (God inspired writings from His witnesses), as well as the evidence from other writings of the time. I would recommend that you read “Cold Case Christianity” for more information on this approach to examining the evidence concerning Jesus.

Now to the question about why you need to believe in Jesus. You say “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.” I don’t think you stated the Christian point of view quite accurately. Your statement is only partially correct. Yes, John 8:24 says “Unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins”. So, in that sense, what you’re saying is true, but it is only partially correct. The Christian view is that all human beings are sinners, destined to hell to pay for their own sins, unless they recognize and accept the free gift of Jesus’ payment for their sins and trust in Him to save them and reconcile them to God, so that they can spend eternity in heaven with Him. I will explain more…

I think that you and I would both believe that God is the supreme judge of the universe and that He has established laws that He commands people to adhere to. However, we can see that these laws are not adhered to. People break the laws – a lot. In Christianity that is called sin. Now as a righteous and holy Judge, God cannot ignore sin – He must punish law breakers. Yet, in addition to being holy and righteous, God is loving. He wants to save law breakers, but He cannot deny justice in the process. Someone has to pay the penalty for the laws broken. Since the laws that are broken are ultimately against God, He has the right to decide the penalty and how it can be paid. So, since everyone has broken these laws at one time or another, there is no one on earth who is free from guilt and able to be a substitute for others. So, God put a plan in place, where He Himself would come to earth as a man (in the person of Jesus Christ), live a sinless life under the law, and die a horrific death as payment for the penalties of all those law breakers. But if a person rejects Him and His payment for the person’s transgressions of the law, then God will not force this free gift on that person. The free gift must be received and the recipient must acknowledge the giver.

You say in your letter “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”. As I said, we are not “put in hell” due to what we believe about Jesus, but rather because of our sins. But I want you to also consider what hell is and what heaven is. Heaven is being in the presence of Christ for all eternity. Does it sound reasonable to you that someone who wanted nothing to do with Jesus here on earth would be ushered into His presence for all eternity to be with Him? It does not sound reasonable to me. Here on this earth, it is our chance to make our decision where we’re going to spend eternity. Jesus said, “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” Notice that Jesus said, “I never knew you”. Jesus doesn’t want you to spend eternity with Him if you don’t want to be there with Him. As an illustration, imagine if one day you and your family showed up at the mansion of a well-known person in your city. You had all your belongings and luggage with you and told this well-known person that you wanted to move into his house. What do you think he’d say? “I never knew you! You’re not going to move in here! What kind of nerve do you have to expect that you could just move into my house without ever having known me?” Well, there is a similar thing going on with Jesus. We can’t “knock on heaven’s door” and ask to move in having never wanted to know Him here on earth.

Regarding Hell… The Bible has a lot of ways to describe hell. One of those ways is “separation from God”. For example:

They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power (2 Thessalonians 1:9)

Being shut out from the presence of the Lord may not sound too bad. But the Bible says that every good thing comes from Him (James 1:17). That means, if hell is separation from God, then it is separation from everything good, which only leaves everything bad.

In your letter, you say “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”. I want to tell you 2 teachings from Jesus that tell you His thoughts on this matter:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14

Omer, if you were to place yourself into this story, which one of these 2 people do you think you would be more like, the Pharisee or the tax collector? Based on your own statements, I see you identifying yourself with the Pharisee more than the tax collector. Surprisingly to His hearers Jesus says that it is the tax collector (the sinner) who acknowledges his sin and asks for mercy who goes home justified before God. That is Jesus’ heart in the matter.

Here is the other story, which is not a parable, but the historical account of Jesus being crucified between 2 criminals (Luke 23:39-43):

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.

Again, Omer, regarding your statement “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”. This account clearly tells us that the second criminal who asked Jesus to “remember me when you come into your kingdom” did not go to hell, but rather was to be in paradise with Jesus that very same day that he was to die. It was a deathbed conversion! And I’m sure he was one of these “very bad people” you talked about who have repented. Several things are evident in reading what this condemned criminal said:

  1. He fears God – this is evident because of the way he asks the same question to the other criminal. This is ALWAYS a good place to be – fearing God. Proverbs 9:10 says “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom…”.
  2. He repents by saying “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve”. That shows a true change of mind about his crimes. The other criminal only wants to get off scott-free! But this criminal knows that they are just getting what they deserve – nothing more, nothing less.
  3. He uses a logical argument to try to convince the other criminal! “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
  4. He defends Jesus, by saying “this man has done nothing wrong”. So, he’s giving the other criminal a reason for the trust that he has in Jesus – His sinlessness. In John 8:46, Jesus had said “Which one of you convicts Me of sin?”, and the writer of Hebrews says “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin.”
  5. He acknowledges the Lordship and Deity of Jesus by acknowledging that He will be coming into His Kingdom.
  6. Finally he asks Jesus to save him. Romans 10:13 says “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” So, he’s acknowledging a few things:
    1. There is life after death
    2. Jesus has ultimate power and controls exactly who enters His kingdom.
    3. The same Jesus who is hanging on the cross next to him is the same Jesus who will come into His kingdom (i.e. He will be able to “remember” the criminal he was with in this historical account).

So, Omer, you have enough evidence to make a decision about Jesus. You can be sure, beyond a reasonable doubt that the Bible accurately reports “what Jesus said and did” (Acts 1:1-2). Now the ball is in your court. Jesus says “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matt 7:7). The prophet Jeremiah says the words of the LORD to the exiled Israelites: “You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart.” (Jer. 29:13). The prophet Isaiah says “Seek the LORD while He may be found” (Isaiah 55:6a). The writer of Hebrews says “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts”. The apostle Paul says “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20b).

I will pray for you to come to terms with Jesus’ claims and your predicament. Please, call on the Lord and be saved! (Rom. 10:13).

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