September 30, 2008

Loving Well- A Reply

Below is a detailed response to my previous post from this morning. The question about what happens to people who have never heard of Jesus was so good, it deserves an answer. Thanks! Mark

Your question is a great one- and like I said, one I wrestle with at times.

Since I am a Jesus follower, I take all my questions to God through what He has to say in the Bible. Let me make a few-maybe several- opening observations, then I will try to put it all together.

In the book of Romans, written by the Apostle Paul, he addresses the heart of your question when he writes in chapter 2, starting with line 14: “Indeed, when Gentiles (non-Jews), who do not have the law (the Ten Commandments), do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them. This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.”

Paul also says in the first chapter of Romans that “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities- his eternal power and divine nature- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

In additional writings, Paul tells us we will all have to give an account before God for our actions (Romans 12). The writer of another book, the book of Hebrews (some believe Paul wrote this also) tells us nothing is hidden from God’s sight.

Before I get to my full explanation, let me also add that when Jesus was asked by the religious leaders of the day what were the greatest of the Ten Commandments, he said “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second one is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (He says this toward the end of the book of Matthew.) Jesus also says “If you love me, you’ll obey what I command.”

OK, here’s where these all come together. For the Amazon tribe who has never heard of Jesus, God will judge them based on their choices and actions according to their own moral code that is written on their hearts. This would include how each person treats each other and their heart attitude toward their world. So, the only difference between them and us is which way the information has reached us- but we all have to answer to God for how we choose to live our lives, which reflects (or should) what we believe.

As far as your last question, I think it really is about the nature of God. In my mind, it’s similar to being a parent or a teacher or someone else you can think of who has to set boundaries to avoid chaos and encourage people in treating each other well. (And I know I am continuing to learn how to treat people well- especially under stress.)

Here’s the snapshot- God creates a beautiful world, including man and woman, who He gives free reign to do what they want. And God loves having a deep relationship with them. They choose to disobey Him (eating of the fruit He told them not to). So, by their choice not God’s, sin enters the world bringing pain, death both physical and eternal, poverty, war, evil, sickness, etc. It also brings a separation from God. Even the man and woman recognize something is different and try to hide from Him. God is holy and pure and will not tolerate relationship with impurity, but He is grieved by the distance and has a plan to fix it all.

In response to man’s failure, by God’s choice, He sends Jesus to pay the price for sin because of love for us. You’ve probably heard the famous Bible verse- and it’s a good one for a reason- “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life.” The next line is equally powerful- “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (All this in from the book of John, chapter 3.)

As a teacher, the kids in my wife’s class earn the grades they get. They make the choice to study and work hard etc. or not. Her scoring of their tests only reflects the students work. The resulting grade is the consequence of their choice to work hard or not. It’s an analogy that eventually breaks down, but makes a point that applies here.

Through Jesus, God provided the gift of an earthly and eternal reunion of relationship with Him, but like any gift, it is our choice to accept or reject what He has given. We don’t get to decide what the gift is. And if God through Jesus says “I am THE way and no one gets to the Father but by me”, that’s the way it is. Jesus is either really who he says he is or he is a liar or a crazy man. My bet is He is who he says. (And I could tell you stories of how powerfully He has changed me and loved me and brought healing to me, but that is a different story.)

Anyway, (see I told you it would take awhile…) whether by us hearing of Jesus and His payment of sacrifice on the cross or if we are the Amazonian tribesman choosing to live by the moral code written on his heart, there is a way for all of us to receive eternal life- or not. But it is our responsibility to choose. God does give us free will to choose Jesus or not for those of us who have heard the message. I think this shows God is a good and loving God. A God that cares enough to sacrifice for us and to reach down from heaven to us- very different from religions where people try to work their way to God. With Christianity, God chose to reach us instead.

Putting it all together, no one is excluded from having to give an account to a loving and kind God for how they have lived their lives. And everyone, including you and me, gets to make a choice. I think it is a pretty fair system, only being held accountable for what we know and how we live.

I hope I have explained it well. If not, feel free to ask more questions. Thanks, for having this conversation with me!


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