This week, I’ve found myself considering the not-so particularly comfortable topic of Heaven and hell. I am usually successful at avoiding serious consideration of the matter by employing the “It’s God’s job to determine ‘who goes where;’ not mine” principle. I thank God every day that we can and should allocate the responsibility of judgement to Him and not to ourselves, but this fact does not negate our obligation to seriously ponder the question.
I was reminded of this obligation last Tuesday night during a late-night conversation I had with a Muslim friend. He had requested to interview me for a religious ethnography he was conducting for a qualitative research class. Having myself before been assigned the dubious task of qualitative research, I readily agreed to help a brother in need.
He asked me if I had grown up in a Christian family? Yes, I had. How old I was when I started attending church? Since Infancy. Since before infancy. Did I believe I would still be a Christian, had I been born into a Muslim family in Egypt?
Good question I’d like to think so?
Did Christians believe that Muslims can go to heaven?
My friend’s query cut to the heart of the uncertainty I’ve lately been experiencing about religion. I found the “It’s God’s job to determine ‘who goes where;’ not mine” trope sufficient to quell the qualms younger me had about the eternal fate of the non-Christian world, but lately, I’ve found it lacking. How am I to respond to a dear Muslim friend, who sits across the table from me, sincerely curious about what I believe to be the fate of his soul? How am I to respond to he, whose life arguably embodies more Christian virtue than my own? It was easy for me to casually leave the fate of the “non-Christian world” up to Jesus when I knew very few people in the non-Christian world. It became very hard for me to nonchalantly leave this question up to a Higher Power, however, when some of my dearest friends, who’ve taken the “God” question every bit as seriously as I, have reached a conclusion other than Jesus.
My friend and I each wanted desperately to be kind to each other. To reassure and to encourage and to convey the respect we had for the each other’s faith, even though we were convinced of the truth of our own. In such a situation, it seemed far too perfunctory for either of us to say about the other’s fate, “Don’t worry; it’s God’s job to judge.” That doesn’t convey “I care about you” very loudly, does it.
Confused, and a little disillusioned, I decided to respond to the question about what I believed to be the fate of my friend’s soul with one truth about which I am absolutely certain.
“God loves you. And so do I.”
We parted ways in peace, closer companions than we had been before.
That night as I was going to bed, my phone buzzed. My friend had sent me a message.
I just prayed my last prayer for today this time I didn’t only mention people who are good in general but I mentioned your name in specific. I prayed for you to enter heaven and I’ll be really happy first to be there and to see you there.
I pray for you in specific as well, my friend. And I am going to be very happy when I arrive in Heaven. But perhaps even happier if my prayers are answered, and I see you there too.