Burritos and Theology; or that time I creeped on a lunch-time chat about Jesus

By: Brad Masters // 

I try not to be a creeper. Really, I do. And thankfully, with the advent of social media, I can creep safely from my own home without anyone knowing—so long as I don’t accidentally deepfave that Instagram picture from 108 weeks ago of that person I happen to be stalking. But this one day, at Mountain West Burrito in Provo, Utah, I could not help myself from shamelessly eavesdropping on these two tattooed dudes having an all-out discussion . . . about the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

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I snuck this shot — the man on the left is the missionary; on the right, the questioner.

In my defense, it was totally riveting. And powerful. The evangelical, Protestant missionary on the left answered all of the other man’s questions with dazzlingly inspiring ideas and stories. It was clear from the dialogue that they both had plodded similarly rough courses through life, and with each turn of the conversation, the missionary demonstrated how Jesus Christ’s gospel had saved him, had redeemed all the horror and pain of his life and transformed it into joy and healing. I could feel so much of God’s love and grace in the flat-brimmed cap-wearing dude’s words, and I tried so hard to conceal how intently I hung on each of them.

But then the Green-T questioner asked a truly difficult question, and it stumped the missionary. The questioner asked, “Okay, this is all well-and-good for me, but what about everyone else that never lived to hear this message? What about all the millions of people who’ve never heard of Jesus Christ? Are they damned to hell?” By this point, I no longer hid the fact that I was eavesdropping. I just sat there, four feet from both of them, and listened with my head turning from left to right as each took turns speaking.

The missionary paused. And when he began to speak, the look on his face and the tone of his voice told me that this wasn’t the first time he’d been faced with this vexing question. He began: “Think of God like an inventor. An inventor has patents on his inventions and can do whatever he pleases with them. They wouldn’t exist without him anyway, so if he develops some but not others, it’s pretty much his prerogative. None of us deserve salvation, so the fact that God chooses any of us is already more than we can ask for. I believe God gives ‘common grace’ to all of us: the prisoner gets 3 meals a day, an unemployed man finds a job. These are examples of God’s grace. But He has something truly special for those he chooses.”

The questioner nodded thankfully, but something in his eyes told me he wasn’t all that satisfied.

Now, I don’t want to take away from what was, otherwise, an amazingly inspiring and beautiful faith discussion, one I’m truly better for having creepily eavesdropped on. The truth is, that is a tough question for most Christian sects—Mormonism being, as I see it, the exception. If everything the missionary said is true about a loving God who wants us to be saved so badly that He’d die for us, then why is His love so limited? Why must He choose only a finite number of us?  And if life depends entirely on God “choosing” us for salvation, isn’t this life sort of . . . arbitrary? One is either lucky enough to live at a time when he can receive grace or one went to hell.

So, as a Mormon, here’s my short answer to the man’s question. Hopefully he sees this, or, alternatively, if any of you have wondered something similar, maybe this will help.

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Thomas Edison, prolific inventor

If God is an inventor, he’s the kind that is obsessively tinkering with each of his inventions, who will stop at nothing until they are fully developed. Each of us are His spiritual sons and daughters, and he cares deeply about our eternal happiness. “For behold,” one LDS scripture states, “this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). One key Mormon belief is that God intends for everyone to have a real, honest chance at salvation, even the Chinese farmer in 400 B.C. who never heard the name “Jesus Christ,” or the 8 month old child who tragically slipped out of life too early.

Christ died on what is now called “Good Friday,” and he appeared to Mary as a resurrected being the following Sunday. Where did he go in between? Interestingly, Peter provided the answer: “ . . . he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah . . .” (1 Peter 3:19-20). In that space of time between his death and resurrection, Jesus ministered unto those not-yet-saved souls who were already dead, providing them a chance to hear His teachings. As Mormons, we take this scripture quite literally, believing that Christ paved the way for the dead to still have a chance to be redeemed. We believe that God’s grace and his love for each of us is big enough to allow even those who never knew him in this short mortal life a chance to be saved.

In fact, you may have wondered what goes in those big, beautiful temples Mormons are always building. When we go to the temple, we perform ordinances on behalf of our ancestors who never had the chance to receive them while alive. The ordinances we perform in these temples are largely dedicated to ensuring that EVERYONE has a chance to to hear and receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not just those who were lucky enough to hear it during their lives.

In short, this life is a crucial time—a time where we are exposed to all kinds of ideas, lifestyles, and religions. It matters a great deal how we live and which path we follow. When we hear God’s truth, we must follow it. But for the many who may live their entire lives without hearing of God’s grace and love, of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for all mankind, Mormonism hopefully and triumphantly declares that they are not lost. Salvation is not some sort of lottery that depends as much on where you’re born as how you live. Salvation is about love, God’s love, for all his children—no matter when or where they live.

Last year, Pope Francis shockingly declared that even Atheists can go to heaven. And I thought, “That’s the most Mormon thing I’ve ever heard.”

6 comments

  • Solid answer, thanks for the post. Some of the most complex questions boil down to a simple understanding of the true nature of God and how far He’s willing to go to save His children.

  • July 28, 2014 at 9:04 am // Reply

    Thank you I will be sharing. I have recently gotten into a discussion about how we Mormons think we need to be perfect in this life and how I should be scared that I might not be perfect before I die. I have been trying to explain this to the person. Thanks for answering a prayer! I have been pointed once again to something I know to be true. Heavenly Father is not a respecter of persons and gives us all the same chance to be with Him again in the Celestial Kingdom! Thanks!

  • Can you share with me where your version of 1 Peter 3:18 comes from about how Jesus went to preach to the spirits in prison ? I have reviewed MANY interpretation of the bible, including KJV and those words are not there.

    • I think he meant Peter 3:19, which says…

      New International Version
      After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits–

      New Living Translation
      So he went and preached to the spirits in prison–

      English Standard Version
      in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison,

      New American Standard Bible
      in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison,

      King James Bible
      By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;

      Holman Christian Standard Bible
      In that state He also went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison

  • One of my Elders said to me once that those who have heard about Jesus and the gospel know, they know what there is to know and they now have the free will to either live by it or choose a different path but it is conscious behavior and there are consequences to it, but a person lets say in rural Africa, who has not heard of the gospel cannot know what they are supposed to know and sometimes they just go with whatever has been taught to them to be “normal”… as in the Aztecs beheading people and such, so their actions are in some way…pardoned or justified in some sense because they do not know better. That answer filled me with hope for those who do not know what we are fortunate enough to know. (:
    Greatttt article!

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