Q: Your recent column alluding that Father Tom and your father could know of each other's presence in Heaven raised some questions for me. If the God of the Old Testament is the true God, would that not preclude the possibility that Father Tom would be in the same Heaven as your father? However, if Jesus is the true savior, would that imply that your father would not be in Father Tom's Heaven? I would love to hear your thoughts. — From S
A: After my joy and shock at getting a message from Tommy, former partner the Rev. Thomas Hartman, through Michael from Heaven (it still freaks me out to write these words), I thought about the theological implications of Tom's message to me, "Sol is in charge and he wants you to know that this place is more beautiful than you could ever imagine." My first thought was your first thought. If Tom and my dad, Sol, are both in Heaven and only Tom accepted Jesus as his Savior, perhaps Christians need to re-examine John 14:6 (KJV), "Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me." Dad is in Heaven and Dad did not go through Jesus. That is a problem for John and for Acts 4:12, "There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved."
Judaism does not have this problem because in Judaism we believe, "The righteous people of all nations have a share in the World to Come." (Talmud Sanhedrin 110b).
So how do we reconcile Michael's message from Tommy?
One solution to Christian exclusivism is the belief of the Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner (1904-84) called "anonymous Christians." This belief affirms that non-Christians who are good people are saved by Jesus and go to Heaven even if they do not know it. Rahner was moved by Romans 2:14-16, as well as Matthew 25:31-46, in which Jesus told his followers, "Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."
So Rahner wrote, " 'Anonymous Christianity' means that a person lives in the grace of God and attains salvation outside of explicitly constituted Christianity. A Protestant Christian is, of course, 'no anonymous Christian;' that is perfectly clear. But, let us say, a Buddhist monk (or anyone else I might suppose) who, because he follows his conscience, attains salvation and lives in the grace of God; of him I must say that he is an anonymous Christian; if not, I would have to presuppose that there is a genuine path to salvation that really attains that goal, but that simply has nothing to do with Jesus Christ. But I cannot do that. And so if I hold if everyone depends upon Jesus Christ for salvation, and if at the same time I hold that many live in the world who have not expressly recognized Jesus Christ, then there remains in my opinion nothing else but to take up this postulate of an anonymous Christianity."
Rahner's compassionate belief in anonymous Christians allows Jesus to remain the Christ without forcing Christians to accept the theologically cruel belief that those who do not accept Christianity are doomed to Hell.
The Catholic Church affirmed the basic idea of anonymous Christians in Vatican II and in subsequent encyclicals. In Lumen gentium we learn, "Those also can attain to everlasting salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience." And in Gaudium et spes, "Since Christ died for all men, and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery."
Pope Benedict dialed this back a bit by teaching that the mechanism of how this all works is deeply mysterious, Catholic belief is still essential and how this all works is indeed, "known only to God."
Some Catholics and many Evangelical Protestants are, however, not on board with the idea of anonymous Christians. Perhaps their solution is that Tommy was just visiting my dad.
I am grateful for Rahner's motivation, but I find the idea of anonymous Christians paternalistic and in a way demeaning. My dad is in Heaven, I believe (and now I know), not because he was an anonymous Christian but because he was a public Jew.