Condemned For Not Hearing?

by Barry Newton

Is God worthy of worship if people who have never heard will be condemned? The musings from the academic elite as well as from popular culture readily reveal a kaleidoscope of colorful conclusions.

At one end of the spectrum, an atheistic mindset might promote a wedge of disbelief by emphasizing the injustice of punishing those without opportunity.

Karl Rahner, a Catholic theologian, offered another stripe of thought when he proposed the idea of “anonymous Christians.” With this suggestion, those who have never heard of Christ or the gospel could be saved by accepting and living by an interior sense of grace given by God.

In spite of such creativity, God does not need to be rescued from how he will judge. Paul’s writings suggest that to insinuate ignorance causes condemnation distorts the reality of God’s judgment.

In Romans, Paul outlined God’s principles of judgment. How each of us has actually chosen to live will be held up against our own understanding of what is right and wrong (Romans 2:5-15).

For some, their understanding will be shaped by what God has revealed through scripture. For others, it will be their innate sense of right and wrong. But regardless of its source, God is extremely fair. People will be judged based upon how they lived in view of what they knew, not upon what they did not know.

While theoretically anyone could be exonerated under such a fair system of judgment, in reality nobody can endure being measured against even their own understanding of perfection. Universally, humanity is besieged by a crisis of inadequacy.

Left to ourselves, whether a sophisticated urbanite businessman or a tribal leader deep in Brazil’s forests, everyone is doomed because all have sinned.

Fortunately, through Jesus’ death God has provided a way for us to be declared righteous while maintaining his righteousness (Romans 3:24-26).

The comforting and unsettling conclusions are these: Nobody will be punished because they did not know. However, everybody deserves condemnation because we all possess guilt. Through the cross, God’s love has provided the means for our salvation. Certainly, such a fair and loving God is worthy of our devotion.

The remaining question is: do we love others enough to share God’s antidote for humanity’s self-imposed crisis?

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