If all people are following the teachings of what have been taught to believe, how can any be punished? By punishment, I mean that some religions (Christianity) claim that if you don’t believe what they believe, you will go to hell.
Two aspects to my answer: first, this question is coming from a man-based perspective, as if all religions were equally valid and only about what people are taught. (In other words, leaving God out of the equation.)
Philosopher J.P. Moreland gives this illustration: let’s say I am with a group of people and I ask them to describe my mother. They all say, “I don’t know your mother,” and I say, “Go ahead and give it your best guess.” One says, “52 and blue eyes and brown hair.” Another says, “58 and slender, with silver hair.” A third says “55, hazel eyes and blonde highlights.” The problem is, they are all shots in the dark. They are nothing more than guesses. I’m the only one who knows what my mother looks like.
All religions are like that, with the exception of one. They are all shots in the dark, sheer guesses about the nature and character of God. Except for Christianity, since Jesus says He came from heaven to tell us what God is like because God is His Father. It wasn’t a guess for Jesus to tell us about God, it was a reporting of fact. Which is why Christianity is bold enough to say, “This is what God is like, and all other truth claims about God are mere guesses.”
The second part of my answer is that in Romans 1, God says that He has revealed enough about Himself in creation that men are without excuse:
…because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Romans 1:19-20)
Christianity is about our broken relationship with God being reconciled and restored through Jesus Christ, and only through Jesus Christ. God has spoken to us about His relationship with us, through His written communication (the Bible) and through His Son leaving heaven to come to earth and show us. Its true that if we try to get to God any way except through the one way He has provided—the death and resurrection of His Son—the relationship will remain broken. Which means an eternity separated from God. . . which is hell.
How is it people can be punished for not believing (actually, the Bible’s language is about trusting) in Jesus? Because regardless of what religion people are taught, God has still spoken through His creation: of the earth, of the cosmos, of the moral nature of human beings. And He holds everyone accountable for responding to the evidence He planted in His creation, even if it is contradicted by the teachings of the various world religions.
It’s like a teacher telling her class that there will be a test on Friday, but rumors sweep throughout the class: that the test has been cancelled, or the test will be postponed to the next week, or that tests have been done away with altogether. Regardless of what rumors students may have heard, they are still responsible for what the teacher told them.
Hope you find this helpful.
© 2007 Probe Ministries