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Before you flame me, please understand that the question in this post’s title is an honest one, sincerely asked. And I ask because, as a self-professed Christian inclusivist, I have to.
My question is primarily motivated by a careful reading of two books:
C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle, and Rachel Held Evans’ Evolving in Monkey Town.
(If you’ve read either of these books, then the passages I’m going to cite should be familiar to you; if not, at the very least you’ll gain some context for my question).
In the penultimate chapter of Last Battle, “Further Up and Further in, Lewis relays a dialogue that takes place between Emeth [interestingly, the Hebrew word for truth], a Tarkaan, and servant of Tash, and Aslan, the Lion, and Son of the Emperor Oversea:
[Emeth speaking] “But the Glorious One [Aslan] bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, Son, thou art welcome. But I said, Alas, Lord, I am no son of Thine, but the servant of Tash. He answered, Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me.”
As you may, or may not, know, in Lewis’ Narnian Chronicles, Aslan is the allegorical stand-in for Jesus Christ. Thus in this scene, we have “Jesus” telling Emeth that his service to another god was in fact service to Him. The qualifying factor? As presented in the next paragraph: the sincerity of Emeth’s service.
Apparently, Emeth came from a country–Tarkaan–where Aslan was either unheard of, or presented as something other than he was. In any case, according to Aslan, what Emeth thought he was seeking in Tash, he was–unbeknownst to him–actually seeking in Aslan.
What if we substitute the names “Osama” and “Allah” for “Emeth” and “Tash” in the dialogue recounted above, respectively? Surely that is not a stretch of Lewis’ logic, right?
Now I recognize that Lewis’ work is fiction, and is not meant to be read as theology. But certainly it has theological implications?
I read somewhere that Rachel Held Evans considers this passage a critical one in informing her understanding of the eternal fate of those who die without ever hearing the Gospel. So I would say the theological import is not lost on her.
In chapter seven of her excellent book, Evolving In Monkey Town, Mrs. Evans relates the sad tale of Zarmina, a woman in Afghanistan accused of murdering her husband. Zarmina was apparently accused, arrested, made to confess, imprisoned for three years, and then summarily executed by the Taliban before a crowd of 30,000.
Mrs. Evans is appalled (as I am as well) at the unfairness of it: that a woman so treated, who lived by the light she was given (Islam), should not only be executed in this life, but doomed to Hell for all eternity by a loving God–and all because she didn’t have the good fortune to be born in a country where she would have an opportunity to hear the Gospel? It is, to Mrs. Evans, monumentally unfair.
In her own words, Mrs. Evans says, “We just assume that little kids and mentally disabled people go to heaven,” I said. “The Bible doesn’t come right out and say that. So why can’t we believe that people without the gospel go to heaven? What’s the difference? Why won’t anyone give me a straight answer on this?”
Indeed, where is the justice in it? Unless, like Emeth, Zarmina, in her simple, devout, unknowing sincerity, truly sought Christ as she seemingly sought Allah? God alone knows.
Like Zarmina, I think a case can be made that Osama bin Laden was likewise sincere–very, very sincere–in his beliefs. His interpretations of the Koran were perhaps on the extremist fringe, but he certainly carried everything he believed through to (him) their logical conclusions. He sincerely, devoutly sought “Tash.”
Also, like Zarmina, it seems that Mr. bin Laden (to all appearances) never had the opportunity to hear the Gospel in his fifty-four years of life. Born in Saudi Arabia, he was raised a strict Muslim, studied at a Muslim university, and lived in Islamic countries his entire life.
I know: this is tough stuff. I’m merely trying to follow the arguments made by Mr. Lewis and Mrs. Evans through to their logical conclusions.
What is God to do? Only He truly knows the state, the contents, of the respective hearts of Zarmina and Osama bin Laden. But if God is to afford Zarmina His gracious understanding, certainly in fairness He must do the same for Mr. bin Laden, right? Taking into account his upbringing, the hardships of his life, etc., that led him to the path he was on…
What do you think?