Now, I know that news reports often get it wrong. They pick and choose what they words they will use and often use them out of context to make a powerful headline. If we honestly look at the conditions the Pope laid out for going to heaven, then no matter what the Pope says, it can’t happen.
1. He wrote, “non-believers would be forgiven by God if they followed their consciences.” Let’s be honest. Since when does anyone obey his conscience all the time? If we’ve ever done anything that makes us feel guilty, we’ve violated our conscience. In Romans 2:12-16, Paul said if we don’t have the law, then our conscience is what we’re judged by. But we violate our consciences all the time.
2. He wrote, “God’s mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart.” That’s a great statement, but how does an atheist come to God? An atheist denies the existence, power and authority of God. That is a definition of an atheist. If an atheist comes to God with a sincere and contrite heart, we call that a theist, a believer, or even a convert.
Pope Francis is building a reputation as a bridge builder. That’s honorable. But let’s not muddy the waters. Even the Pope, by his definition, admits that atheists won’t go to heaven. Sad thing is, I’m pretty sure that atheists won’t want to be there. Because heaven is all about the God who loves them – the God they deny.
So, let’s be gracious when talking to others about faith and eternity. We don’t need to needlessly exclude people. We need to offer the grace of forgiveness through Jesus Christ. We also need to be clear. That seems to be the more compassionate thing to do.