What Pope Francis Should Have Said
By Denton Ice
Recently, in a conversation with some co-workers while we were talking about salvation and justification, I explained how the Bible makes it clear that only through faith in Jesus is a person accepted by God. Then one of them asked, “Well then what about what the Pope said to that boy whose father was an atheist?” I was glad they asked me this, because they were right in seeing the dilemma. What I was saying was contradictory to what the Pope said to this child, so their question afforded me the opportunity to correct some of the damage the Pope had done.
If you are not familiar with the story you can easily find it online and even watch the video of it. To sum it up, the Pope was asked by a young boy if his father, who recently passed away, was in heaven. The boy also explained to the Pope that his father was an atheist, meaning he did not believe in the existence of God. He did note, however, that his father had him and his siblings baptized, and that his father was a good person. In response to the young boy’s question, the Pope told him that God would not turn away such a good man like his father.
Let me be clear that I am in no way suggesting this was an easy position for the Pope to be in. He had a crowd of people there along with video cameras filming the whole thing. I certainly hope I am never put into such a tough position like this. However, that does not change the fact that the answer the Pope gave to this boy was completely false and very dangerous. It was false because, not only has the Pope contradicted traditional Roman Catholic doctrine, he has apparently abandoned scripture all together on this issue. It is dangerous because it is likely to mislead many people about what is required for salvation from judgment.
At this point, I could go on to discuss the major theological issues with the Roman Catholic Church and the Papacy, but that is not my goal. Regardless of who was delivering the response, there is a correct response that should have been given to this boy. The correct response is not rooted in man’s opinion or in emotions, but in the Word of God.
Jesus says in John 14 that no one comes to the Father except through Christ. Further more, Paul tells us in Galatians 2:16 that only through faith in Jesus can one be justified. These are just a couple of the multitude of passages that directly contradict what the Pope told this young man. Some might say, “But how could any kind-hearted person possibly tell a boy like this that his father is in Hell?” Certainly it would be hard, but that does not mean there is not a helpful response.
So what should the Pope have told this boy? First of all, he could have acknowledged that there is no way for anyone to know what decisions or commitments this man made before he took his last breath. If this man cried out to Jesus even moments before his death, God is able and willing to save him even then. This could offer some hope for this young boy.
Beyond that, the Pope should have shared with him the story of the rich man and Lazarus. In Luke 16:19-31, Jesus tells the story of two men, one rich man, and one poor beggar named Lazarus. Both of these men die in the beginning of the story; the rich man goes to Hell and the Lazarus went to heaven. From Hell, the rich man sees Lazarus with Abraham and begs him to put a drop of water on his tongue to offer just an ounce of relief. Once he finds out that it is impossible, the rich man then asks Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his family so that they would not end up in that terrible place, and again, the request is denied.
The point to be made is that if this boy’s father never trusted in Jesus as his savior, then he is in the same position as the rich man in the story. The last thing he wants is for his family to end up in that awful place along with him. In fact, this boy’s father right now wants his children to be warned of the reality of Hell and told how they can avoid it. This is what the Pope should have said. I know that this response has less appeal than to tell the boy that his father is in heaven. I know that this message is not likely to be received with much enthusiasm by most people, but this is the truth.
Surely it would be better for this boy and all those who were watching, to hear the truth so that they might be saved from this place of torment rather then be led there by this false hope that was given. The truth is always better than a lie, no matter how sweet that lie is or how much comfort it brings in the moment. Because the reality is clearly laid out in John 3:18 where Jesus says, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”