Not everyone uses the term un-saved. But Jesus said, and our own eyes tell us, that there are people who are on paths of self-destruction, whose choices are toxic to themselves and to others.
I know, because I was one of them. One night, a woman stopped me as I swayed drunkenly from a friend’s apartment, and asked, “Do you know where you’re going?” I pointed to my car. “No,” she said. “I mean eternally.” Not long after that, I began reading the words of Jesus, words that spoke to my nascent longings for God, and I began to change.
But what if I’d died that night? Would I have gone to hell? Or is it possible that God, knowing who I would become, would have made a place for me? Can a person who is “un-saved” (i.e. has not made a formal profession of faith) still be redeemed?
In C.S. Lewis’s The Last Battle, a character named Emeth has wrongly served the false god Tash. But when he meets Aslan (who allegorically represents Christ), he suddenly realizes this is who he’d meant to serve all along, this is the one to whom his heart belongs. Knowing what’s in Emeth’s heart, Aslan accepts him.
I believe God accepts those whose hearts are His, even when their information or understanding is amiss.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a universalist; I don’t believe in a heaven made of unrepentant souls. Neither do I believe in cheap grace* (Dietrich Bonhoeffer). But I do believe that God can tell when a heart is “done,” and that He sometimes allows what appears to us as an incomplete journey to be seemingly cut short. Why? Perhaps as an act of mercy, in recognition that, although that person’s heart is ready, their experiential baggage or biochemistry would cause them and others unnecessary suffering. In other words, I believe God is interested in redeeming all who are redeemable, even when they are not officially (in our eyes) there yet.
In the fall of 1980, I was on break from a recording session, when a musician friend asked us to pray for someone he’d spoken with. He’d just flown back into the country and had sat next to an iconic rock star. My friend began telling the famously agnostic rocker about Jesus. To his surprise, the star admitted he’d been reading the Bible and had found himself strangely drawn to Jesus. “Yes, I think he may actually be who he says he is!” the rocker said excitedly. So my friend prayed for him, encouraging him, “Don’t stop now!” They departed with a hug.
Did John Lennon follow through in seeking the One he’d formerly rejected? I believe he may have. And two months later, when he died, I suspect God looked into his heart and said,
“Welcome home, John.”
*Anyone who would use this idea as an excuse to continue in their former ways (cheap grace) proves by their very actions that their heart is not His.