Will God allow you to live a free and immoral life right until the last minute? A couple of critics have conjured up a rather fishy scenario, but can it really happen?
A couple of days ago a fellow believer was handed an argument by way of example from an atheist critic. The argument attempted to support the notion that religion, Christianity in particular, was evil. I’ve seen quite a few critics map out a scenario like the following so at the risk of creating a strawman (I must note that this is only what I’ve seen being argued and I recognize that another critic may paint it differently) here is a summary of the scenario.
“Imagine, if you will, that some killer was going to come around and violently kill all your family, friends, pets etc. Every single thing that you cherished. He also steals all your possessions and lives a life of luxury right up to the end. However, right at the last moment, this guy repents on his deathbed, right at the last minute, and God decides to let him into Heaven while you go to Hell. Isn’t this completely immoral and unfair?”
The scenario attempts to show that if a killer such as the one described above, repents of his sins at the very last minute, God will forgive him and welcome him into Heaven with all the rewards believers expect. But can this scenario really happen? There are good reasons to believe it cannot. I will present three.
Firstly, even if this scenario were possible, it is incredibly unlikely that this person would be sincere in his repentance. Notice that the scenario paints him as a person living a life of luxury from the possessions and work of someone else. The critic (in this instance) has given us no reason at all to believe this man would be sincere. What’s interesting is that I’ve seen many critics themselves accuse believers of using religion as a means to gain comfort and security. They accuse believers of being insincere because they pursue religion for eternal rewards, only performing good deeds because they want something out of it. As one critic asked,
“Just for a moment, assume there was no heaven or hell, would you have any time for Jesus?”
If the killer above were honest he’d probably say no. Wouldn’t this make sense in the scenario above? A more likely reason for his repentance is that he fears the unknown and decides to repent just to be sure he doesn’t go to Hell. If even the critic sees that as insincere why would God see it differently? This is not to say God cannot save someone with selfish heart (I believe that describes us all), however, he would then undergo a process of change and transformation and this takes time. A deathbed “repentance” doesn’t allow the possibility of change and to acknowledge/accept/face the just consequences of his/her actions.
Additionally, if the killer did repent out of fear for his own life, what makes him signal out Christianity? Why leave Islam or any other religion out? Shouldn’t he pray to each one just to be sure? The last minute of existence doesn’t leave a lot of time to examine the Resurrection of Jesus Christ or the arguments for God.
Even if by some miraculous chance he knew Jesus was the only true God AND his repentance was sincere he would still be facing repercussions. If we grant that the writers of Scripture were right, Heaven is a place of honor in Christ’s presence. The amount of honor you acquire due to your faithfulness and suffering on earth goes towards your heavenly rewards. If by all accounts the critic’s scenario really happened the killer would be granted little to no honor for he lived his entire life in sin and greed. As apologist J.P. Holding put it, he will be scrubbing the toilets for eternity (more on this in link 1 below.)
Secondly, it is highly improbable that an unrepentant killer can live a luxurious life until old age without getting caught by the law. The critic’s scenario borders on absurdity in this regard. The very act of murder makes this person a fugitive under suspect. He cannot go back home and live the way he once did, and unless the critic views prison as a luxurious existence, the scenario falls apart simply due to its impossibility. There are consequences for our actions and we are obliged to face them and make things right either by God or the law. This is what repentance entails. Under the Christian worldview, there is no such thing as a sin without consequence.
Thirdly, as has already been said, the act of repentance designates a willingness to face and accept the consequences of one’s actions, thereby turning away from them and making things right. However, rarely do we see a sincere repentance from someone who hasn’t realized the weight of his decisions. The possibility for change reveals itself when we’ve reached the lowest point and there’s nowhere else to go.
One of my favourite shows of all time is an anime called Welcome To The NHK. It’s a somewhat depressing tale revolving around a number of fatally flawed people. The story explores why and how people change for the better. For them, change always occurs when they’ve reached the end of their ropes. It’s when they’re about to walk off a cliff to their deaths or when they’ve completely failed at life and can do nothing but return home. Far from luxurious.
The Holy Spirit continually works to draw people to Himself and sometimes this means He has to let them face the repercussions of their choices and actions. I’ve heard many prayers for protection over people who are living reprehensively because, as is rightfully so, we love them. But as much as we may desire to protect those we love sometimes we need to allow various circumstances to happen in their lives in order to bring about that chance to change.
Overall, by being used against Christianity, the critic’s scenario simply doesn’t work. It must rely on a Heaven that gives equal honor to all despite various degrees of faithfulness and it must assume that the Holy Spirit leaves His children completely alone until the last minute which goes entirely against Christian theology.
Link 1 – About the judgement seat and rewards.
Link 2 – About atonement. Just in case critics argue that Jesus takes away all responsibility for our actions.