Recently Pope Francis has come under scrutiny for his conversation with a distraught young boy, deeply worried about his recently deceased father’s eternal future. An atheist, the man had still raised his children as baptised members of the Roman Catholic Church. The man’s love for his children was obviously evident in the grief and concern this boy had over his salvation. The Pope addressed the crowd of children saying, “If that man was able to make his children like that (with the courage to address the pontiff and cry publicly over his passing), then it’s true, he was a good man. That man did not have the gift of faith, he wasn’t a believer, but he had his children baptised. He had a good heart.”
After pointing out that “God is the only one who says who goes to heaven”, the Pope then asked the children, “Do you think God would be able to leave him far from himself (in eternal damnation)? Does God abandon his children when they are good?”
The response was an unequivocal “NO”.
From the mouths of babes...
Pope Francis then returned to the young boy, “There… that is your answer. Surely God was proud of your father.” [thecatholicsun.com]
The exchange has predictably drawn the ire of many evangelical Christians and much conversation amongst Catholics everywhere. [christiannews.net, pjmedia.com]
Even atheists are calling Pope Francis dishonest for his handling of the question. [patheos.com]
So what of it? Is the Pope lying to the poor child, as some suggest, to ease his pain? Is he going further and presenting a false gospel, that all it takes is to be a good person to enter into heaven? Is he rejecting the need for Jesus Christ as the only way, truth and life? Does he now believe that anyone can come to the Father, even if they reject Jesus?
These are big questions in this modern age of pluralism and egalitarianism. Is believing in Krishna, or Buddha, or Mohammed, or even nothing just as good as believing in Christ? Do all roads lead to salvation, like in some new age kind of belief structure? Is the Pope a heretic? Just what is he alluding to here? Is he a false teacher, or worse, an Anti-Christ?
Perhaps the saddest thing that has come out of this recent foray has been the cold hearted way that some Christians have responded. Many have outright decried that if the deceased father in no way accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour, then he is indeed burning for eternity in hell. Some have spoken as much with little thought or sympathy for the poor boy’s grief, which the Pope was commendably compassionate towards. But just what of that ideology? Does one need to specifically identify Jesus as their Lord and Saviour in order to enter into rest instead of torment at the end of their lives? Is it only in proclaiming the name of Jesus that one can become a child of God and worthy of salvation?
Children of God
Pope Francis addresses this in an answer to an earlier question from another child about our eternal heritage.
“When we are baptised we become children of God. People who aren’t baptised, are they not children of God?” one child asked.
Francis responded, “We are all children of God. Everyone. Everyone. The non-baptised, members of other religions, those who worship idols, even the mafiosi… are children of God, though they prefer to behave like the children of the devil,” he said.
“God created everyone, loves everyone and put in everyone’s heart a conscience so that they would recognise what is good and distinguish it from what is bad.” The difference he said, is that “when you were baptised, the Holy Spirit entered into that conscience and reinforced your belonging to God and, in that sense, you became more of a [child] of God…but with the strength of the Holy Spirit.” [thecatholicsun]
Video Source: CNN
Separation from God's love?
I tend to more or less agree with the Pope’s evaluation of things here. God is the one who creates all. It is by Jesus, through Jesus and for Jesus that all things were made and hold together. It is impossible to ever truly be a child of the devil, because the devil did not and does not create anything. The satan’s only objective and purpose is to destroy what God has created. We are all created with God’s divine DNA, just as Jesus was, and nothing can take that away from us. Nothing can separate us from God’s love for us, his creations. We are eternally connected to the divine in a majestic and mystical way, just as a parent is with their child, no matter how successful the enemy has been at distracting us from that fact.
So does this mean that we are free to believe whatever we want, even rejecting Jesus as Lord and following another way, outside of God’s predetermined path? On the contrary, the belief of many Christians on the matter is flawed. It is not the name of Jesus alone that saves, it is our relationship with the person of Jesus that makes us whole. The heart of Jesus’ message was one of Love, of peace, of a wholeness that comes from knowing the Father’s presence in our lives.
Jesus himself pointed out that there were many, “not of this sheepfold” who knew him and heard his voice. In even more definitive terms, he pointed out in his parable of the sheep and goats that often the ones who entered into the life he offered did not even recognise his name, while many that did much in his name missed the mark. What mattered more to Jesus was that people heeded the call to love the lowly in their hearts and acted accordingly. It was not Christ’s name that saved them, it was the response to his call in their hearts. These were the people who truly “knew” Jesus and would be acknowledged as living out the kingdom in this world. These people know Christ, regardless of whether they know him by name.
God’s kingdom is one of love for our fellow man, of dying to ourselves, putting to death the ego that would forsake others to look out for ourselves. God is the divine example and epitome of that ideal. He does not need us to praise his name and fluff up his own ego for fear of retribution. Through the cross Jesus showed us just how little he valued his own ego. To love is to know Christ. To love is to live out the kingdom. Does this mean that doing good is our ticket to salvation? No. To be one with the divine love for all creation, whether we are atheist, agnostic or believer is the source of all good in our lives. To have this peace, this shalom, is what salvation is all about.
Russell Croft has a heart for community and reaching out to the marginalised and forgotten. He is getting to know the God of infinite goodness and is living a joy-filled life with his wife Belinda and three children in South-East Queensland, Australia.
See all previous articles by Russell Croft