I don’t want to be insensitive but when I was reflecting on the gut-wrenching image of the drowned refugee boy lying facedown on the beach, I couldn’t help but wonder “Where is he now? Was his hellish life on earth a mere meaningless foretaste of endless misery in the next, or is he living peacefully with God?” I know that when a loved one of mine has died I’ve been comforted by believing that they will be restored in the new creation and we will eventually be reunited.
For many Christians the answer to these questions is simple, “Did they believe in Jesus?”. In this particular case, Aylan1 probably didn’t – he was most likely a Sunni Muslim2… Most Christians can’t stomach the idea that God would send children to Hell and would suggest that Aylan did make it into Heaven because he hadn’t yet reached the “age of accountability”3 .
I certainly hope Aylan hasn’t gone from hell on earth to a literal Hell But assuming he was spared, that raises the question, “Will he ever be reunited with his mother and father?”. His mother, Rehen, who sadly also drowned, had reached the “age of accountability”. It’s hard to imagine Aylan ever being truly happy if he’s never reunited with her. In an attempt to solve this dilemma some Christians have suggested that, “Perhaps God obliterates from their minds any knowledge of lost persons so that they experience no pangs of remorse for them.”4 However, as Talbott rightly points out, “In the case of those whose entire family is lost, this would mean, I presume, that God expunges from their minds every memory of parents and other family members; and I doubt that Craig has any conception of how much of a person’s mind that would likely destroy.”5
After all, Humanity is interconnected:
- Biologically we are all one species, indeed one race6, who are all distantly related to one another.
- Physically we all share this planet, this global village.
- By agape love, which is the self-sacrificial love that God shows us and asks us to display. It includes both our mind and our emotions. Talbott insightfully points out that in order to truly love someone, one must love those whom they love7. This creates a strong network of links between everyone.
- Spiritually, Christians also believe we all share in the image of God, that our Creator breathes His life into us8. Some would go as far as saying that we are all children of God, even those who don’t live in the light of that relationship (still wallowing in the Prodigal son’s “pigpen”9).
Considering these things, I think our response to anyone in hellish circumstances, should be primarily compassionate (taking priority over our concerns about our economy, culture, etc.). Christians in particular, ought to imitate our Father in showing empathy and giving them refuge10. I think this should apply both now (e.g. with refugees fleeing war and persecution, and those locked up in indefinite detention centres) and in the age to come (otherwise I’d suggest that if Hell never ceased, it is the ultimate “indefinite detention centre” – a depressing thought indeed). As we open our hearts and doors11, we anticipate the day when the gates of the New Jerusalem (heaven come to earth, God dwelling with Humanity) will never be shut12.
1. Media initially reported his name was “Aylan”, however his aunt recently said his original, Kurdish name was Alan.
2. According to Wikipedia the majority of Kurds are Sunni Muslims and both his mother and father have Arabic names, Rehen and Abdullah, and his uncle’s name is Mohammed.
3. Most Christians believe God has mercy on all people under a certain age https://bible.org/question/what-does-bible-say-about-age-accountability.
4. William Lane Craig’s http://www.reasonablefaith.org/talbotts-universalism.
5. Thomas Talbott’s The Inescapable Love of God (1999, revised 2015), p180. Also available on p13 of http://www.thomastalbott.com/pdf/Chapter11.pdf.
6. “Today the vast majority of those involved in research on human variation would agree that biological races do not exist among humans.” http://www.newsweek.com/there-no-such-thing-race-283123
7. Thomas Talbott’s The Inescapable Love of God (1999, revised 2015), p126.
8. Genesis 2:7
9. Luke 15:11-32
10. A helpful blog post on how God’s response to refugees should shape our own.
11. Practical ways we can help refugees
12. Revelation 21:25