Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What about someone in deepest, darkest, downtown Dallas who has never heard the gospel?

Do I really believe that the only way to eternal life and entering into God’s presence for eternity (whether you call this “heaven”, the “kingdom”, or the “new heavens and new earth”) is by faith in Jesus Christ?


Doesn’t that make me “narrow minded”? What about the person in deepest, darkest, downtown Dallas who have never heard about Jesus? Is that fair for them?

The answer would be “absolutely not” (well, humanly speaking), if not for two crucial truths.  

The first truth is, God in His general revelation reveals Himself to all men so that they are “without excuse”. The second truth is, God can sovereignly send the gospel message to any who want to know the truth. So, let’s say a Dallas native looks into creation, concludes that God must exist and wants to know the truth. God then works whatever details He needs in order to get the message to that person.

How has God revealed Himself to everyone? Look at these two verses from the Bible: 

“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1)

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20)

The universe around us reveals something about God. About His glory. About His invisible attributes. I think of things like His power, vastness, majesty, and creativity when I stare at the night sky. In fact, God so clearly reveals Himself that people have no excuse for failing to respond to Him as creator. The universe – creation – proclaims that God exists.

Someone might argue – rightfully – that creation does not provide adequate revelation to understand our need for salvation, let alone the means of that salvation. That’s where trust in the character and ability of God comes in. Job learned at the end of his trials that God “can do everything” and not one of God’s purposes can be thwarted. In other words, if the person in deepest, darkest, downtown Dallas responds by wanting to know about the God revealed in the night sky, it is God’s business to ensure the message gets to him or her. And He is perfectly capable of doing so!  

Most often, He uses people to take that message to others (Romans 10:14). Rob Bell, however, overstates this role of the human messenger in salvation (I promise, I’m not really writing just to point out where I disagree with Bell. It’s just that his words touch on my topics): “If our salvation, our future, our destiny is dependent on others bringing the message to us, teaching us, showing us – what happens if they don’t do their part? What if the missionary gets a flat tire?” (Love Wins, p. 9). The subtle error lies in the first part of his statement. Ultimately, our destiny is not dependent on others bringing the message. It is dependent upon God revealing Himself and ensuring the message gets to the person. I am not ultimately responsible for someone’s destiny, although God can use me in the process.

Look at God’s creative working in these four examples from Acts:

God moves Philip to explain the Scriptures to the Ethiopian eunuch, and then beams him out after the Eunuch believes. (Acts 8:26-40)

Jesus revealed Himself directly to Saul on the road to Damascus through a bright light (blinding Saul) and a voice from heaven. Saul responds, “What do you want me to do?” (Acts 9:1-9) 

Cornelius, a “God fearer”, was told in a vision by an angel of God to send for Peter. Meanwhile, God prepares Peter’s heart for this visit with the vision of the sheet with all kinds of animals, declaring the unclean, clean. Peter meets with Cornelius, and Cornelius responds in faith. (Acts 10:1-11:48)

Paul and Silas were imprisoned in Philippi. While incarcerated, an earthquake hit, opening the doors of the jail and loosening chains of the prisoners (not a “routine” earthquake, based on these results). When the jailor wants to know what he must do to be saved, Paul gives him the gospel message.
So, what about the person in deepest, darkest, downtown Dallas who has never heard? He (or she) has no excuse because God revealed Himself to every person through creation. And if he (or she) really wants to know the God of creation, God can (and, in my opinion, will) do whatever He needs to do to bring the message to that person, sometimes doing so very creatively. A flat tire on the freeway will not stop the process.
By no means am I saying we should sit back and do nothing to reach a lost world under the umbrella of “trusting God” to get the message out. He usually uses people to tell the good news, and I should be one of them he uses. Jesus commands us to “go” (Matt. 28:19-20). But the eternal destiny of that other person does not ultimately rest on my faithfulness, but on God’s. If I am not obedient, He can work around my disobedience to accomplish His purposes to get the message out.  I, however, would much rather be used by Him than be a disobedient someone God must “work around”!
What about those unable to believe because they don’t have the mental capacity to understand and respond to the gospel? What about babies or the mentally challenged? That will have to wait for a future post. Before I tackle that one, though, I want to write about something else. Stephen Hawking this week said “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.” Is the afterlife “a fairy story”? Because if it is, none of this matters.

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