by Ben Jones
(Note: Much of this material is adapted from Hard Questions, Real Answers by Dr. William Lane Craig)
This can create problems for believers because they see only 3 main possibilities:
- They are lost because they never heard and therefore never believed on Christ, and will spend eternity in hell. God is depicted as saying, ‘You didn’t accept Jesus, so you can go to hell!’ whilst multitudes of poor unfortunates reply ‘Who? We never heard of this guy. You can’t do that!’ This makes God seem unfair and even cruel. But no, we serve a fair and just God.
- They can be saved through faith and obedience to their own religion or version of God. This takes away the exclusivity of Christ being the Only Way.
- They are saved because they are not held accountable for what they do not know, like small babies who die. This takes away all rationale and urgency of missions, and no motivation for evangelism at all. Almost better off not telling them if the point is to have as many people go to heaven as possible. The worst thing we could do would be to share the gospel with a person and have him or her reject it. If that were to happen, he or she would be condemned. The following are points of support from proponents of this belief:
- God has called us to mission work and we should obey: This supplies no rationale as to why God would have issued such an apparently pointless command. It would just be blind obedience to a command with no rationale.
- Missions is broader than just securing peoples’ eternal destiny: This brings us back to the idea of the Christian peace corps.
- Missions should be positive, not an ultimatum: Yes, but why would there be any urgency to world missions then. Why would I drag my wife and children to a foreign country to struggle as missionaries for 15 of the best years of our lives?
- Option: Christ is revealed to every person and given a choice sometime before their death. There is little to no evidence to support this belief; it also takes away the need, and especially the urgency of mission work, among other problems.
Although many people do not know the full revelation of the gospel, none of us are totally ignorant of him.
Psalm 19:1 → “The heavens declare the glory of God”
The created universe speaks so clearly of a Creator. Hard to take a walk in the country or gaze at the night sky and not see something of God’s creative flair reflected there. And I don’t buy the whole “science has killed God” idea. Science is simply understanding better how God designed things, and if anything, should make us more in awe of Him.
Then there is the witness of our consciences.
Though defective since the fall, they still function and give us a sense of a moral order, a morality that we generally know to be correct, even though we fail to live up to it.
Hence there is no one that is totally ignorant of God. According to Paul, all mankind can know through nature that a Creator God exists, and through their own conscience God’s moral law and their failure to
live up to it. Romans 1 and 2 indicates that God doesn’t judge people who haven’t heard about Christ by the same standard as those who have. He judges them based on the info he does have, as God has revealed it to all mankind in nature and conscience.
But the truth is that most ignore the Creator and morals and worship gods of their own making and immerse themselves in immorality (see this throughout Scripture). It is conceivable that a few might recognize God and His moral law, and turn to Him in repentance and faith and that God might accordingly apply to them the benefits of Christ’s blood so that they might be saved without the conscious knowledge of Christ. This is what happened with OT figures like Job. He had no conscious knowledge of Christ, but still enjoyed a saving relationship with God in virtue of Christ’s atoning death. If their lack of knowledge before Christ’s first coming was not an absolute barrier to salvation, is there any reason why sheer lack of knowledge after this time should be an absolute barrier? Those who have really never heard the gospel today are in a similar position to those who lived before Christ. Is it not possible for them to respond to the knowledge of God they do have in the way those OT heroes did?
So I think salvation is universally accessible to anyone at any time through a faith response to God’s general revelation through nature and conscience. But if we take Scripture seriously, and are honest with ourselves, these are the extreme exceptions. We know that very few people actually access salvation in this way. Most people freely ignore a revelation of only nature and conscience, as opposed to most people coming to Christ after they hear the gospel.
So we still have a problem.
How could God be all-powerful, and all-loving, yet for some people never to hear the gospel and therefore be lost?
More specifically, why didn’t God bring the gospel to people who reject the light of general revelation that they have, but who would have believed had they only heard the gospel?
Answer: How do we know there are such people? We know that not everyone believes the gospel and is saved when missionaries finally succeed in bringing the Good News to some previously unreached people group.
So we know that some people who never hear the gospel and are lost would not have believed in it even if they had heard. What if God has providentially ordered the world that ALL persons who never hear the gospel are precisely such people. In other words, everyone who never hears the gospel and is lost would have rejected the gospel and been lost even if he had heard it.
No one could stand before God on Judgment Day and say “Sure, God, I didn’t respond to your revelation in nature and conscience, but if only I had the gospel, I would have believed! God would say, “No, I knew that even if you had heard the gospel, you wouldn’t have believed it. Therefore, my judgment of you on the basis of nature and conscience is neither unfair or unloving.”
What about missionary work? Why do it if all the people who are unreached would not receive Christ even if they heard of Him?
We are talking about people who NEVER hear the gospel. God in His providence can so arrange the world that as the gospel spreads out from first century Palestine, he places people in its path who would believe it if they heard it. In His love and mercy, God ensures that no one who would believe the gospel if they heard it remains ultimately unreached.
What about Acts 17:24-28a! Read this!
Paul describes God’s providential arrangement of the world’s peoples with a view toward reaching out and finding God.
Ok, sum up with a couple other questions that are raised when talking about this:
Why didn’t God create a world in which He knew everyone would freely receive Christ and be saved? It may not be within God’s power to create such a world. It’s a logical impossibility to make someone freely do something. Given His will to create free creatures, God had to accept that some would reject Him and be lost.
Why did God create the world, if He knew that so many people would not receive Christ and therefore be lost?
God wanted to share His love and fellowship with created persons. This is an immeasurable ‘good.’ He knew that this meant some would freely reject Him, but the blessedness and happiness of those who would accept Him should not be precluded by those who would freely reject Him. Those who willingly forfeit salvation should not have a ‘veto power’ over worlds God could create.
Why didn’t God bring the gospel to people who reject the light of general revelation that they have, but who would have believed had they only heard the gospel?
There are no such people. God has so arranged the world that those would respond to the gospel if they heard it are born at a time and place in history where they do hear it. Those who do not respond to God’s revelation in nature and conscience and never hear the gospel would not have responded to it even if they had heard it. Hence, no one is lost because of a lack of information or due to historical or geographical accident. Anyone who wants, or even would want to be saved will be saved.
Is this true?? Only God knows. But even if it’s a possibility, then you don’t have to settle on one of the options we talked about before.
Just remember, Isaiah 30:18
Trust in that.