Chapter 19 of Scot McKnight's book 'The Heaven Promise' is the shortest so far. That doesn't mean it is not one of the most weighty or important topics however. He titles it, "Is God Fair? The Haunting Worry About the God of Heaven."
The question in this chapter is perhaps asked more frequently than any other. I was actually just discussing it with a couple people yesterday. It is especially pertinent to the unconvinced:
- How could an all-loving, all-powerful God allow so much suffering on earth and THEN send so many suffering souls to hell to experience eternal damnation?
- Why would a loving God arbitrarily decide to send multiplied hundreds of millions of Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, Shintoists, Muslims, Jews, animists (and all people who lived before 40 CE) to hell to endure eternal suffering just because they were born into the wrong culture or in the wrong epoch?
- How could a loving God decide in advance that there is one, and only one, path to Heaven, and that the path goes through Jesus, when we all know that the lion's share of the earth's human population past, present, and future never had a chance to even hear the name of Jesus?
First, on the basis of the Bible's general depiction of God - the God of love, the God of mercy, the God of justice, the God of holiness - I believe we need to begin to answer this question by affirming that God is perfectly and eternally good.
Second, this perfectly good God loves all human beings equally. God doesn't love Europeans or Americans any more than God loves Asians or Africans, though some have a better shot of hearing the gospel than others.
Third, this good God of love has chosen to redeem humans in and through a single Person, his Son Jesus. The Christian faith stands or falls right here for just one reason. The Christian belief in Heaven depends on the fact that God - this good God of love - raised this Jesus from the dead and accepted that same Jesus into the throne room of God.
Fourth, and now we come to the crucial point that, to my way of thinking, makes the most sense of the Bible and the reality in which we all live: this good God of love, to be good and to be loving of all people equally, gives to each person a full and fair opportunity to know God and to respond to God's love in Christ. I cannot see how God can be good and loving and not make it possible for each person to respond to his love.
We don't know how God makes these opportunities possible for each person in history - past, present, and future. But we can trust the God of promise to accomplish what he wants to do because this God is good and this God is loving.
Wall mentions four options for how God possibly gives everyone the opportunity to know and accept Christ:
- At the moment of death.
- Or God knows on the basis of his infinite knowledge, how each person would have responded had each person been given a full and fair opportunity, and God judges on this basis.
- Or after death in the postmortem state, God gives persons a full and fair opportunity.
- But probably the most common view is that God will judge each person on the "light" he or she has received in this life but that there are no opportunities from the moment of death on.
I confess that I am not confident the Bible allows us to answer this question with absolute confidence. I believe God is good, God is fair, God redeems in Christ, and God is loving. While I believe that God will give each person a full and fair opportunity, I don't know how God makes that happen. A case can be made for each view, and that is where we might have to let the matter rest...
Good stuff here.