The purpose of this article is to clarify the language games (as used by Ludwig Wittgenstein) that help us distinguish, from God’s point of view a decision of faith from a direction of faith. This is important because many Christians have been taught that our eternal destiny hangs on making a decision to accept Jesus as Savior and Lord. Others imagine that it is baptism that saves us. They add that those who fail to make the right decision are condemned to eternal damnation.
No one should deny that decisions are important. We decide where to live, what church congregation to attend, what work to do, to engage or not engage in sexual intercourse, to get engaged and remain single or get legally married.
Some assume that it is making vows and signing a register that constitutes a marriage. But these decisions are preceded by a heart direction that is usually called falling in love. "I want to spend my life with this person, and I cannot imagine going it alone, or playing the field with various partners the rest of my life."
When I came with my family to Canada as landed immigrants in 1964, there were many decisions to fill in papers, have medical check-ups, obtain passports, buy tickets, and board the ship for the journey. But all those were preceded by an underlying heart direction of faith. That is where we long to go, and that is the place for us to be as a family. But obviously there are many who have had the heart longing to emigrate, but they never qualified or they did not have the money for the journey.
That helps us to see how God cares about the heart longing of every man, woman, and child in this world. Many are born into to a legalistic religion, and never receive the right information to make decisions to be baptized, join in a church congregation, or even to pray with faith to a loving Father. Unlike the bureaucracies of our world, God gives us what our heart really longs for. If we would be at home in the love and joy of heaven, and all that the Son of God has prepared for us there, it is ours. There are no papers to fill, money to pay, priests to satisfy, or journeys to make. And we draw our last breath, the last trumpet sounds, and the Son of God is there to welcome us into his heaven. This is why Jesus was able to say to the criminal on the cross next to him as they both bled to death, "Today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43 - the Greek paradeisos is from a Persian word that means an enclosed garden of delights).
God cares about the human heart. And once we have made heart longing rather than a particular decision as the door into heaven, many otherwise insoluble problems are solved. Babies and little children do not have what is needed to make proper decisions. No can retarded persons frame a theological statement of their faith. But these and many others have a heart for God. If they die they are welcomed without the need of a passport to prove their citizenship.
Most people of the world are born into a religion that indoctrinates them into a set of explanations. As in the case of the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ time, the religious explanations are usually far from the loving heart of God that Jesus revealed. "God will only accept you if you perform these good works." Others are told that "When you die you will come back into other incarnations till one day you might be able to escape from the miserable effects of your karma." Bu, in spite of these unhelpful opinions, God can discern the heart longing of each person, and overrule the wrong decisions of their religion.
That does not undercut the huge importance of the good news. Jesus came to explain the good news of the unconditional love of God. And having become his disciple, we can begin to learn with others in a school of the Spirit what God is really like. If we love our neighbor, we will long for his or her freedom from false religion. In the certainty of resurrection death loses its sting. If there is unacceptable behavior, there must be consequences here on earth, but we should never suggest that if our friend fails to understand, he or she is excluded from the love of God.
In the C.S. Lewis’ children’s story of The Last Battle an enemy warrior is brought to Aslan. He expected to be killed for his wrong decision. Instead Aslan said "Well done my good and faithful servant." The soldier objected hat he has fought for the god Tash and against Aslan all his life. But Aslan insists that he knew the man’s heart. Though he was brainwashed to fight on the wrong side, the Lord he would certainly be happy with the joy of heaven. That enables us to look beyond the behavior of terrorists and criminals, and wonder if their heart might not belong to our heaven.