It’s an emotionally charged question: Do you believe that Gandhi is in hell? And of course, this question is inevitably followed by another: Do you believe that billions of people alive today, many who’ve never even have heard of Jesus, will end up in hell?
So let me take on the first question. Is Gandhi in hell?
Personally, I have no idea where Gandhi’s soul is right now. I don’t sit on a great white throne. I don’t claim to hold all mysteries about where souls go immediately after we die or where they are held before we face the final judgment. I don’t claim to know the answers to everything the Bible is silent about. I don’t hold power over death and hell. And I don’t presume to have the power to eternally condemn anyone, much less a famous political leader whose respected and revered by hundreds of millions of people.
But with that said, I’m not afraid of discussing the likely implications of Gandhi’s life as it stacks up against Scripture. I’m not afraid to tell you what the Creator of Universe has said within its pages and about what he says he intends to do with humanity. I’m not afraid to quote verses on hell and to tell you that the Church has taught plainly about hell for nearly 2,000 years.
So as to the question, Is Gandhi in hell? let me just say: By all outward observations, Gandhi lived and died a devout Hindu. He made no profession of faith towards Jesus Christ. He never, as far as I can tell, renounced his Hinduism for Jesus and followed Jesus. In fact, by all public accounts, he rejected Jesus as the sole means and path to eternal life, even though he often praised much of what Jesus said and did.
So yes, if Gandhi’s rejection of Jesus was final and complete at his death, and if he did not believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, then Gandhi’s final eternal destination will be hell. This is also true should the billions of souls who now walk this earth refuse to put their hope and trust in Jesus Christ and die in their sins. And given that Jesus himself said that “narrow is the road that leads to eternal life” and “only a few find it,” it doesn’t seem unreasonable to conclude that of 7 billion souls alive today, that several billion of them could find that their eternal destiny lies in hell.
Does that offend you? Is this a message you think is “toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’ message of love?” If it does, I don’t apologize for a moment for your offense because ultimately this message is not my message to begin with and it’s a message with eternal implications. I can live with your offense, particularly if it leads you to reconsider later. But as for the message itself, I’m just relaying it. I’m just passing it along. Hell, condemnation, punishment for sins…these are all Jesus’ ideas. These are all a part of Jesus’ teachings. And as a follower of Christ, I’m compelled to not only tell you that a God of infinite mercy and love exists, but that a real threat exists if you spurn his overtures of grace and love:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. – John 3:16-18
Did you see that? Did you see how even the most famous verse in the Bible can’t get away from condemnation and hell in its wider context? Most people read John 3:16 and never read farther than its promises. But the promises of Christ are anchored in eternal realities that deal with both heaven and hell.
Opponents of the Gospel, opponents who even claim to champion the Gospel, hate the idea that God condemns souls to hell. They want eternal affirmations without having to bow before the Eternal One. They want everlasting life, but not according to his requirements. They want Heaven without its Ruler, and of course, without any of his rules. So opponents look at a Gandhi’s life and see his political accomplishments and his good deeds and ask the same kinds of questions that led us into this whole cosmic mess in the first place: Did God really say there is a hell? Did God really say that whoever doesn’t put their trust and hope in Jesus Christ will find themselves suffering for eternity in a place called hell?
But doesn’t that sound a lot like: Did God really say, “You must not eat from any tree in the garden?”
So to answer the question, Is Gandhi in Hell? another way, consider this: Did Gandhi follow Jesus Christ? Did he really want to follow Jesus? And what does Scripture really say about the eternal outcome for those who don’t follow Jesus?
Gandhi was a good man by human standards. But Gandhi, like you and I, was a fallen creature who is pitted against a Divine Standard that demands eternal and moral perfection – both a perfect heart and a perfect theology. What Gandhi’s life brings out in these accusations against Christianity is the very thing that distinguishes it from every religion in the world.
According to Christianity salvation isn’t merit based. It’s not a system of religion that eternally rewards good works or a noble life regardless of what that life lived for. Christianity is about Jesus. It’s about those who follow this seemingly simple Jewish rabbi who claims to be God and the Only Way to eternal life. Christianity is about a God who demands an unwavering trust in himself in order to find eternal life.
Our emotions scream against “salvation only by faith in Christ” because we’re self-righteous religious fanatics looking for salvation through good deeds and by public consensus. But that’s not God’s way, and it’s not Jesus’ way. There’s only One Way, and beyond him, there’s only hell for those who don’t believe – even for a life as seemingly good as Gandhi’s.
Update: Here’s an extensive review of Rob Bell’s new book that seems germane to the discussion.
Update II: Uh, Kevin’s review is quite massive. I just read it and it took a good half-hour. Justin Taylor has a much shorter summary of it for those pressed for time.