A question I have been asked recently – and on a couple of accounts, not just one – is “Why can’t it be that you just have to be a good person to get into heaven?” In other words, is it possible for a man give to the poor throughout his life, or have the highest integrity, and still not make it to heaven simply because he did not believe in God during his lifetime? That sounds extremely unfair. Why would one want to have anything to do with that kind of God?
Perhaps a practical example can allow more understanding. Though I take a female perspective with this example, the roles are reversible. Imagine you are in a romantic relationship – let’s say a marriage – where your husband fails to acknowledge you as his wife when you go out in public. Perhaps, he is even embarrassed to introduce you as his partner. His time is expensive, so spending time together is something you call a “once in a blue moon” event. He buys you gifts, but in truth, they do not satisfy because he has not taken time to find out what it is you really like. There is no love in your relationship; Nevertheless, this man credits himself as good partner because he pays the bills, buys you things, doesn’t cheat, or because he does not harm you physically. And if it is a woman, she credits herself because of the peripheral things she does. But you know, as a man, that you cannot trust her with the matters of your heart.
It is safe to say that a partner like that will never get the best of you. He or she has not moved your heart to the point where you desire to give your all. Their good acts are simply not good enough to warrant that. It is quite the same way with God.
When God made man, He said, “Let us make man in our likeness1” Therefore, our desire to be loved is an off-shoot of God’s desire to be loved by men. And in the same way that we reward great love with our best qualities, God rewards our love with His best – both on earth and in heaven.
So in that sense, it is indeed possible for someone to be “good” on earth, yet find that he does not have a place heaven. He did not believe the place existed when he was alive, and so he did not bother to love the One who made it. Therefore, he finds no reward in heaven.