By popular acclamation, Betty White was “America’s sweetheart.” I first became acquainted with her on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and laughed along with most of America at her Rose Nylund portrayal in The Golden Girls. She was terrific in Boston Legal and The Proposal among other projects.
Now we have learned that the famed actress filmed a tribute to her fans just ten days before her death. She was participating in a documentary special titled “Betty White: 100 Years Young—A Birthday Celebration” that would play in theaters across the country. The feature-length special will still debut on January 17, but it will be retooled to be a celebration of her life and career. It has been retitled to “Betty White: A Celebration.”
Her popularity is well deserved and not just for her television career. By one account, she supported twenty-six different charitable causes, from the American Heart Association to the Red Cross and Special Olympics. Her devotion to animals was especially passionate and noteworthy.
Given her remarkable life, I would imagine many of you cringed at my title for today’s article. Of course someone who was as beloved and did as much good as Betty White would go to heaven, many people will say.
To even raise the question is to seem intolerant, the worst thing a person can appear to be today. It feels unkind to ask such a question about a cultural icon like Betty White, doesn’t it?
What did Betty White believe?
That’s because it’s conventional wisdom that “all good people go to heaven.” Only one in three Americans affirm the statement, “When you die you will go to heaven only because you have confessed your sins and have accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior.” By contrast, 63 percent of adults believe “having faith matters more than which faith you have.”
According to a substantive Probe Ministries study, over 60 percent of Born Again Christians believe Muhammad, Buddha, and Jesus are all valid ways to God. Pew Forum reports that 39 percent of Americans say even people who do not believe in God at all can go to heaven. Only 2 percent of Americans think they are going to hell.
As a result, most Americans think Betty White’s personal religious beliefs are irrelevant to the question. She was reportedly a member of the Unity Church, which describes itself as being “for people who might call themselves spiritual but not religious.” Its “five principles” state:
- God is all there is and present everywhere. This is the force of love and wisdom that underlies all of existence.
- Human beings are divine at their core and therefore inherently good.
- Thoughts have creative power to determine events and attract experiences.
- Prayer and meditation keep us aligned with the one great power in the universe.
- It is not enough to understand spiritual teachings. We must live the Truth we know.
I could find no evidence that the Unity Church teaches the need for people to confess their sins and turn to Christ as their Savior and Lord.
By contrast, as you know, the Bible clearly teaches that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Since “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), it is vital that we “believe in the Lord Jesus” to be saved (Acts 16:31). Scripture teaches, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9). God’s word proclaims, “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, my emphasis).
Is Christianity “worth bothering with”?
Does this mean that Betty White did not go to heaven? I have no way to know that, of course. I did not know her personally and, even if I did, I could not see her heart. I could find no evidence that she believed what Scripture teaches regarding saving faith, but it is not for me to judge the state of her soul.
What I do know is that she went to heaven only if she had trusted in Christ as her Savior. The same will be true for you and me one day.
However, my larger point relates less to her and more to you: Is this conversation unsettling for you? I assume you agree with Jesus’ testimony, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). But do you often consider the eternal destiny of those who do not?
C. S. Lewis wrote: “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.”
Billy Graham agreed: “If Christianity is important at all, then it is all-important. If it is anything at all, then it is everything. It is either the most vital thing in your life, or it isn’t worth bothering with.”
“Don’t cheat yourself out of spiritual victory”
I am praying that today’s article will be a catalyst for us to pray more passionately for those we know who, to our knowledge, do not have a saving relationship with Jesus. I am praying that we will then respond to our prayers by sharing our faith more diligently, winsomely, and courageously with them.
And I am praying that we will seek in this new year to be the change we wish to see: Christ-followers others can follow to Christ.
Dr. Graham continued his admonition with the warning: “So don’t give the lie to the Christian faith by professing Christ without possessing him. Don’t lock the church door with the key of inconsistency and keep the lost from coming to Christ. Don’t hinder revival by your unbelief and prayerlessness. Don’t cheat yourself out of spiritual victory by allowing sin to imprison you.”
Then he added: “The supply of heaven is adequate for the demands of our spiritually starved world. Will we offer that supply to the hungry masses?”
Who among the “hungry masses” do you know today?
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