Atheists in the Kingdom of Heaven: A Retelling of the Good Samaritan
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
If Jesus told the story of the good Samaritan today, I imagine it would go somewhat like this:
Jesus replied, “A man was hitchhiking from Houston to Nacogdoches, and got picked up by some drunk country boys who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead by the side of the road. Now by chance a pastor was going down that road, and when he saw him he thought about stopping, but realized he would be late to his church council meeting. So he drove on. So likewise an elder of the church, who worried that the guy would bleed on his upholstery and find out where he lived, possibly jeopardizing the safety of his family. So he, too, passed by. But an atheist, as he journeyed from a Comic Con convention, pulled up beside him and had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, not worrying about possible lawsuits for unauthorized medical care. Then he covered him with his jacket and called an ambulance. He drove behind the ambulance so he could advocate for the likely-uninsured man once he arrived at the hospital. The next day he pulled out his checkbook and paid what he could for the man’s care, and then offered to get the guy a hotel room for a few days so he could recuperate. Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the unfortunate hitchhiker?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
In those days, Samaritans were considered to be theologically inferior and unclean. I’m thinking that from the perspective of some Christians, atheists are the modern day equivalent. This begs the question: Do you have to subscribe to a certain theology to serve God and inherit eternal life?
I think not.
I don’t think God cares what we believe. I think He cares how we act toward our neighbor. In this story, it is the “unsaved” person who is truly living out God’s love and participating in His kingdom.