If you see the picture of young Emanuele sobbing as he tries to ask Jorge Bergoglio (Pope Francis) if his atheist dad made it to heaven following his death, you can’t possibly feel anything but overwhelming sympathy.
Sympathy first for the soul of anyone who departs this earth without having accepted the free gift of salvation in Christ alone.
Sympathy second for the young boy who desperately wants to have his dad here with him, but at least to have the peace of knowing that he is in a better place.
And finally, sympathy for Bergoglio, who is being put in the often-challenging position of bearing witness to the truth that sometimes stings, while still exuding the enduring love and compassion of Christ.
Any believer watching this grief-filled moment or one like it fully understands why Jesus once wept standing amidst grieving mourners at the home of the (temporarily) deceased Lazarus – Christ knew it was all needless. “Whoever believes in me,” He said there, “will live even though they die, and whoever lives by believing in me will never really die.”
In other words, young Emanuele’s father held all the chips in relieving the suffering and anguish his son now faces. That he chose not to do so is crushingly disappointing. The pain we see in that young boy’s face is what motivates those of us as believers to evangelize and desperately share the resurrection power of life in Christ regardless of what men say about us.
“A boy that inherited the strength of his father also had the courage to cry in front of all of us,” the pope said. “If this man was able to create children like this, it’s true that he is a good man.”
“That man did not have the [gift] of faith, wasn’t a believer. But he had his children baptized. He had a good heart,” Francis added.
The pope said that God decides who goes to heaven, and that God has “the heart of a father.” He asked the young girls and boys in the audience if they thought God would abandon a father like Emanuele’s, who was a good man.
“No,” the children shouted back.
“There, Emanuele, that is the answer,” the pope said, according to a translation provided by the Catholic News Service.
No, that is not the answer. The answer is that salvation is found in no other name than Jesus. The answer is that none of us – not one – can consider ourselves “good.” Goodness is not determined by comparing ourselves to one another. God is goodness, and by that standard, none of us measure up. We all deserve death – if we received what we have earned we would be in Hell right now. Every second we continue breathing is but by the grace of God. And because of His inexplicable, surpassing, enduring love for each of us, God has offered us a free gift of redemption. If we choose it, we receive it. If we reject it, we don’t. That is the truth that every person who calls themselves a Christ-follower must bear witness to.
Why someone who claims to be the voice of Christ’s church on earth can’t do that is beyond alarming.
Would it have been appropriate for Bergoglio to address the eternal fate of those souls who reject Christ with this young boy? Of course not. Not there, not now. Effective Christian witness involves tact and grace. But that doesn't translate to it involving dishonesty and false teaching either. Bergoglio’s effort to offer hope to a heartbroken child is not the issue; him doing so through a false gospel of earned salvation through good works is.
What could he have done in that situation? Tell young Emanuele of the repentant thief on the cross and the fact that we don’t know what happened in his father’s heart at the end. Tell him that God never stops pursuing us and offering salvation, and that we can’t know but what his dad wasn’t receptive of that offer in the quiet moments before the end. Tell him that God loves him so very much and is close to the broken hearted. Tell him that even though we can’t know for certain what has occurred in a person’s heart, we can certainly offer a prayer for the dearly departed and for the peace of those left behind – and then do that.
But instead Bergoglio gave false hope that because of his platform will potentially mislead millions from the truth of salvation in Christ alone. That failure made an already heartbreaking situation all the more tragic.