“My father has been gone for a short time. He was an atheist, but he baptized his four children. He was a good man. Is Dad in Heaven?”
Seeing the young boy was unable to ask his question, the pope told him to whisper it in his ear. After a few moments of speaking with the child, Pope Francis asked him if he could reveal his question and he said yes.
“Come, come, come.”
“I can’t do it.”
“Come to me, Emanuele. Come and tell me in my ear. Tell me in my ear.”
“If only we could cry like Emanuele when we have pain in our hearts. He cries for his father who died, and had the courage to do so before us because there is love in his heart for his dad.
“My father died a short time ago. He was an atheist, but he baptized his four children. He was a good man. Is dad in Heaven?”
It’s nice that a son says that about his father, that he “was good.” If that man was able to raise his children like that, then he was a good man. God is proud of your father.” Do you think that God would be able to leave a man like him far from Him? Do you think that? Louder, with courage.”
Does God abandon His children?
Does God abandon His children when they are good?
Here, Emanuele, this is the answer. God surely was proud of your father, because it is easier when one is a believer to baptize his children, than to baptize them when you are an unbeliever. Surely God like this so much. Talk to your dad, pray for your dad. Thanks Emanuele for your courage.
The God who blindly saves everybody does indeed seem like C.S. Lewis’ “senile grandfather in heaven.” It’s hard to believe that such a God exists, or if so, to take him seriously. Eternity with him is just another inexorable stage in the cosmic process, as out of our hands as other things that we’ve endured without our consent — like conception and birth.
But a God who saves very few raises other issues: It is hard to believe that he is good. And we begin to doubt his competence: First he creates a mankind prone to a sin that will damn the whole race; then he sends a Redeemer who can only manage to pull a tiny remnant from the pit of eternal fire toward which the teeming billions of souls slide on a conveyor belt.
Is this the all-powerful, all-loving God with whom we would even want to spend eternity? Why? (Perhaps because the alternative is so gruesome.) But why buy into such a system in the first place — when instead you could dare to hope that God does not exist?
In preaching the faith, we must avoid the old salesman’s trick, the “bait-and-switch.” As apologists, we make hell understandable, and even perhaps acceptable, by pointing up the overwhelming mercy of God, the ocean of graces offered any soul, the relentlessness of a Love that hunts each sinner like a real-life Hound of Heaven.
Despite this mighty divine initiative to rescue every soul, God insists each soul accept his mercy. In this divine romance, no soul is raped. Those who really want to reject God are free to do so; His grace will take “No” for an answer.
The danger comes once someone has taken the “bait,” accepted the whole Catholic system, and granted that certain sinners may (and some surely have) rejected God’s offer. Then we are tempted to “switch” what we’re asking him to believe. We give him brochures on the fewness of the saved, we read him the very long list of mortal sins — with little talk of diminished culpability or purgatory — and show him the text of apparitions that suggest that hell is full and groaning at the seams. If he thinks things through, they completely undermine the arguments that convinced him that hell was reasonable in the first place.
Asserting that good behavior saves atheists is a new teaching entirely. In fact, I’d say it’s part of the broader liberal instinct in Christian circles. I call it Pelagianism with very low standards. Or Mini-Pelagianism.
He has been Press Secretary to pro-life Louisiana Governor Mike Foster, and a reporter and editor at Success magazine and Investor’s Business Daily, among other publications. His essays, poems, and other works have appeared in First Things, The Weekly Standard, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, USA Today, FrontPage Magazine, The American Conservative, The South Carolina Review, Modern Age, The Intercollegiate Review, Commonweal, and The National Catholic Register, among other venues. He has contributed to American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia and The Encyclopedia of Catholic Social Thought. From 2000-2004 he served as Senior Editor of Faith & Family magazine and a reporter at The National Catholic Register. During 2012 he was editor of Crisis.
He is author, co-author, or editor of eleven books, including Wilhelm Ropke: Swiss Localist, Global Economist, The Grand Inquisitor (graphic novel) and The Race to Save Our Century. He was editor of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s guide to higher education, Choosing the Right College and Collegeguide.org, for ten years, and is also editor of Disorientation: How to Go to College Without Losing Your Mind.