It seems to be an anomaly that a loving God as depicted in the Scriptures would condemn the majority of people who have ever lived to an eternity apart from him. That at least is the idea we get from traditional Christian theology. Speaking of Jesus, Paul said, "There is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12 NIV). Does that imply that billions of Hindus, Buddhists, animists, agnostics, and plain old decent human beings throughout history have no hope, for by dint of birth in time and place they never quite got the Christian message?
Jesus himself once said that "no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him" (John 6:43 NIV), while Peter wrote that God is "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." (I Peter 3:9)
So we’re told that God wants everyone to be saved, but only those whom God calls will be drawn to Christ. And the only way to salvation is through the name of Jesus, which is through the strait and narrow way, yet our experience clearly tells us that God is evidently losing the battle for souls, if it so be we understand what the Scriptures are saying.
Frankly, these understandings lead non-Christians to accuse us of exclusivism, and it should be easy to understand why. How could a loving yet all-powerful God allow the Devil to "win more souls" than he?
Christians (of which I am one) need to admit that there is a flaw in the logic of traditional salvation doctrine. God is all-powerful. God wants none to perish. Jesus is the only way to salvation. Yet most people don’t accept that way.
It is beyond the scope of this short column to give a detailed, Scriptural resolution to this seeming dilemma. But there is such a solution, and that solution is one that shines a ray of hope for all mankind.
Jesus made some intriguing statements in that regard. To his disciples he said, "That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded: and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." (Luke 12:47 – 48 NIV)
The point: People who don’t know better will be granted some degree of mercy.
In the presence of the Pharisees, that exclusivist and self-righteous lot, Jesus upbraided the cities wherein he had done his mighty works: "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be
brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have
remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you." (Matthew 11:21-24 NKJV)
Understand this. Jesus is saying that, because they didn’t know better, there will be a certain amount of forbearance offered to the wicked cities of ancient times. Furthermore, he makes the startling case that if he had so chose, God could have brought those cities to repentance by simply showing up and performing a few mighty works. Those cities would
have repented and prospered if Jesus had simply entered into earthly time and done in them what he had done in Judea. Are we to conclude that by deliberately not showing up, Jesus was intentionally condemning these people to everlasting punishment?
Jesus’ words seem to imply that it might not be entirely the fault of non-Christians when they don’t believe and repent, and that God in his infinite wisdom has some provisions for them. In a future column I’ll address the question more fully. But rest assured that Scripture is accurate when it says that God is not willing that any should perish.