Tuesday, March 21, 2017

What About Those Who Never Heard?

When Paul argues that all humans deserve the wrath of God (Romans 1 and 2), the question inevitably arises, "What about those who never heard? Those who never had a chance? Is it fair that they should be condemned, when they are just doing the best that they can with the light they have?"

Something sounds missing; like God has not been clear enough for universal condemnation. Doesn't history's wealth of religious diversity demonstrate humanity's sincere desire to honor God?  Can humans help it if they got it wrong? Doesn't religion show that at least humans are trying? And doesn't that very diversity testify that what God has revealed is insufficient to get everyone on the same page, much more to condemn everyone to eternal damnation?

The answer to this dilemma is in what Paul says humanity does with what little knowledge it has:
21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Don't miss this, because it is crucial to understanding God's justice and humanity's culpability.  God's self-revelation demonstrates that all people are without excuse--not by how much is revealed, but by how people respond to however much or little is revealed. The problem is not God; it is the people. No matter how much he reveals, depraved people have always responded the same way: they will refuse to honor him as God or give thanks to him.

Here are three cases in point, the first of which provides the allusive framework for the entire passage: 1) We know that even when God appeared in humanity's midst, and walked with them and talked with them in the cool of the day, and gave them all manner of good things to eat, they still chose to do what he forbade.  This is what foolish hearts and futile minds do. Can we honestly argue that humanity's foolishness has improved since Adam and Eve?  2) What if God were to peel back a massive body of water in front of our eyes?  Or make bread fall from heaven? Or appear in clouds of smoke and pillars of fire? Or boom his voice from a mountain top for all to hear?  Wouldn't people fall right into line upon experiencing these things? 3) What if God were to walk down main street and perform miracles--say, feed 5000 people at once, or walk on water, or raise people from the dead--people would not do all that is within their power to destroy him, would they?

 The problem is not how much or how little God has revealed of himself. The problem is how deep and wide is the unrighteousness that justly deserves God's wrath. This is how we know that an earnest idolater who has never heard the Gospel is still under the curse of God’s wrath.

This post is an edited excerpt from a recent sermon at Trinity Presbyterian Church, which you can watch in full here: 

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