WE DON’T KNOW HOW GOD HAS DEALT WITH OTHERS
Throughout recorded history, people have always had a God-consciousness. The Bible says that God is love, and we have every reason to believe he loved our early ancestors as much as he loves us.
That raises questions like this: How did God deal with people before the Judeo-Christian era? How does he deal with people today who have never heard of Jesus Christ or who don’t have enough information or mental capacity to understand?
Answers: We don’t know. We can speculate, but we really don’t know for sure because God hasn’t yet chosen to tell us.
We do know that God has different ways of dealing with people at different times depending upon the degree of revelation given to them. Even within the Bible there are different ways: The Old Testament way (see Topics 33 and 34) and the New Testament way (see Topics 36-38). For all we know, God could have other ways as well; for those who are not part of the Bible’s audience.
However interesting it may be to speculate on how God has dealt with other people at other times, and with people who have lesser information, the important thing is for us to recognize how God deals with us today. Like it or not, we are in the audience to which the Bible is addressed and therefore the full Bible message applies to us.
We don’t have the option of choosing our approach to God. We must respond to him according to the revelation he’s given to us. God’s way for us is spelled out in the New Testament and it’s the only way God will accept us regardless of how he’s accepted others in different circumstances.
We’re privileged to be recipients of God’s highest revelation thus far and with that privilege comes responsibility for understanding and acting upon it.
GOD HOLDS US ACCOUNTABLE FOR WHAT WE KNOW
Since God uses ‘progressive revelation’ (see Topic 27) to parcel out information a little at a time, and since not everyone gets the same information at the same time, it’s reasonable to wonder if God has different degrees of accountability for people, depending upon what they know.
Among Christians, there are two views on this:
VIEW 1 – Human beings are part of a family – a race – and God deals with us corporately. The transgressions of some have doomed us all (although none of us are completely innocent), and eternal punishment is the fate of the entire human race. God offers salvation from our condition through Jesus Christ. Those who are fortunate enough to learn about this salvation and accept it are saved from the punishment. But without this individual salvation from group punishment, everyone is doomed to hell.
VIEW 2 – God is just and will not punish a person for failing to respond to a message the person has never heard. Therefore, God must have different levels of accountability for different people – even different ‘ways’ to him – depending upon how much of his revelation they’ve heard.
As a practical matter, VIEW 1 and VIEW 2 bring us to about the same position because nearly everyone in the United States – and certainly everyone reading this resource – has received God’s highest degree of revelation; or at least has been put on notice that the Bible contains this revelation. God holds us accountable for what we know, or can easily learn, so for us it’s only an academic exercise to speculate on how God deals with others who don’t have this information. Furthermore:
Both views agree that everyone is a sinner; born with a sin nature and frequently disobedient to God. Everyone is in need of salvation from the power and penalty of sin.
Both views agree that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the only salvation for mankind, and both views repudiate any suggestion that all roads lead to heaven. The Bible says clearly: ‘Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12). VIEW 2 holds, however, that the benefits of Jesus’ death and resurrection may automatically apply to some people who don’t understand it but who respond to God in the best way they know with their limited understanding.
Examples: Abraham didn’t know about Jesus, but the Bible says he received salvation through him; Rahab, an enemy prostitute, didn’t know about Jesus, but she was considered righteous by God because she helped the Israelites; a thief on the cross beside Jesus barely knew him, but Jesus said he’ll be in heaven because of his last-minute simple faith. Apparently these people, and others, did the best with what information they had about God, and apparently God imputed to them the benefits of Jesus’ death and resurrection, even though they didn’t understand how it works. Both VIEW 1 and VIEW 2 agree, however, that because of the extensive written information given to us today, our only salvation is by confession and personal faith in Jesus Christ, as explained in the Bible.
Both views agree on the need for missionary activity. VIEW 1 holds that because we’re born with a sin nature, people can go to hell even if they haven’t heard that salvation is available through personal faith in Jesus Christ (ignorance is no excuse for the law), and therefore Christians should, in compassion, engage in missionary activity to tell non-Christians of their condition and help save them from it. VIEW 2 holds that Christians are God’s agents (ambassadors) in the progressive revelation process and should tell non-Christians about Jesus Christ in obedient response to his instructions to spread this good news throughout the entire world, even though the telling sometimes makes matters worse for those who reject the news.
WE HAVE NO REASON TO SAY GOD IS UNFAIR
Some people refuse to consider their own relationship with God, or lack of it, because they say God is unfair in his dealings with others. But they don’t have facts to back it up.
God is sovereign and can do whatever he wants to do. He offers information and salvation in his own way, in his own timing. We’re in no position to judge him and say he’s unfair in the way he deals with others because we’re not privy to those dealings.
What we do know is how he deals with us today. We can’t honestly say he’s unfair to us, because what he offers as a complete remedy for our sin condition is absolutely free and immediate.
The key point is this: It makes no difference to us how God may deal with people outside of the Bible’s audience and we have no grounds for saying he’s unfair. Nevermind others, God will deal appropriately with them. For us, we have the Bible, and we’re responsible for knowing and responding to the information contained in it.
Here's a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject.
In earlier times, God spoke in many ways, but now his message is through Jesus Christ
All roads do not lead to heaven; for us, Jesus Christ is the only way
Abraham given salvation through Jesus Christ even though Abraham didn’t know about him
Joshua 2:1-21, Hebrews 11:31, James 2:25
Rehab is considered righteous by God for helping Israelite spies
Thief on the cross given salvation because he asked for it in faith, even though he didn’t confess or have much under standing
For help, see Topic 29.