"I am my own God. We are here to unlearn the teachings of the church, state, and our educational system...We are here to laugh at the odds and live life so well that Death will tremble to take us."

- Charles Bukowski


The most common misconception nonbelievers have about heaven is believing you get there by being good.

This notion reveals mistaken ideas of heaven, of why one should "be good", and of the nature and seriousness of unbelief.

While much could be written about all this, these paragraphs just begin to answer what is more fully covered under "Introduction".



Why can mass-murderers go to heaven, but unbelievers cannot?


"A thorough reading and understanding of the Bible is the surest path to atheism."

- Donald Morgan


A spiteful challenge to the true definition of Christian stems from the late serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. Although Lionel Dahmer recalls his son posing the very atheistic question, "If there's not a god, why can't I make my own rules?", Jeffrey was reported to have converted after his arrest. He is also said to have read from the writings of the apostle Paul at his sentencing.

Anti-Christian proponents afterward had a field day using Jeffrey Dahmer as the poster child for Christianity by associating all kinds of evil as being characteristic of God and everyone who believes in him. Behind all the fallacious guilt-by-association, a very legitimate question can nevertheless be found:

Can someone as horrible as a mass murder become a Christian - that is, go to heaven - and, if so, what does that say about God?

First, to the dismay of Bible quoting felons around the globe, conversion to belief in Christ does not waive the earthly consequences of one's sins in the eyes of God or government.

Second, true conversion is God's invisible action within a person that coincides with their honest turning towards him. No one begins the spiritual birth mature and perfectly obedient. As such, the only visible evidence of conversion that others can expect to see will be the outward effects of a changed life. So whether or not Dahmer had a sincere profession of faith is unknowable now that his life has ended and no behaviors may be evidenced.

Third, even if Dahmer's conversion was real, conversion does not override a believer's freedom to choose between sinning or pleasing God. Believers can and will still sin, but with an important exception. Conversion permanently provides the believer with the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives believers the ability not to sin, and the capability to be so open to God that they are filled with this companion and teacher. When believers do sin, they grieve the Holy Spirit within them, feel that grief themselves, and forfeit the benefits for which the Spirit is there to provide.

So if Christians may go against God's teachings found in the Bible but will be made to feel bad about it by the Holy Spirit, would they not be better off if they remained non-Christian until their deathbed so that they could sin until then and feel good about it?

This presumes that sin brings nothing but good feelings. That is not the case. We are not commanded to be faithful to our spouse, to always speak the truth in love, and to abhor murder and adultery just to please God: these are for our own joy and well-being, too. Furthermore, life, like money, can be spent fast and loose... for a time. But the day we come up short is also the day it's too late to fix the problem.

Besides, if a deathbed confession is our plan now, how will we expect to convince God of our sincerity then? Our obedience is not what gets us into heaven, but it is something that God will nonetheless judge. (See also What is the gospel?)

An additional objection posed by nonbelievers, especially in a case like Dahmer's, is the perceived inequity that horrible murder cannot keep a person out of heaven, but "innocent unbelief" can.

Murder is horrible, but so is unbelief in light of what God has done for us, in light of the seriousness of sin, and in light of the massive amount of evidence God has provided by which we may believe. The seriousness of unbelief is always difficult to understand until one comes to see unbelief as God sees it. That might not be fully appreciated until one comes to know God personally.

Knowing God personally means not just knowing about him, but it means coming to know him as one would a close friend or family member. You know a friend through years of listening to them and talking with them. Similarly, you know God through believing in him and allowing the presence of his Spirit to fill you, and by interacting with him in prayer.

It is critical to actually know God rather than just know about him. The difference is like a convict on death row who might be able to say, "I know the Governor" versus another who could only say, "I know about the Governor". Either statement can be true, but only one is a relationship in which there will be a confident hope of seeing a positive difference in one's future. That relationship with God through Jesus Christ is precisely what sets one apart as Christian. Only from within that relationship may unbelief truly be seen as God sees it.


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See also:

What is "Christian"?

The Bible's most frightening passage

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