Question: I have been a believer for about 12 years now, but my boyfriend is relatively new to Christianity and my question is on his behalf. He is from Pakistan, and still has family there. He is the only Christian. He understands the necessity of Hell, but he is uneasy with a discrepancy that he sees with the gospel. His problem is people in places like Pakistan do not have the same opportunity to come to Christ as those born into a Christian culture. I think it is difficult for him to see how salvation through Christ is fair for all people—especially with Hell in the balance. Could you please help us understand?
Answer: Greetings my sister. Thank you for submitting such an important question—and for articulating it so clearly on someone else’s behalf. Hell is such serious business, and our cultural gaps are so wide that one cannot help but question God’s fairness. But since you both seem confident in the existence of hell and in its peril, we shall not talk about the place itself. Rather, we shall focus on whether or not God is “fair” with the opportunities for avoiding it. Let me give you the direct answer first—and it is brief. Then I shall qualify the statement.
Your boyfriend is correct. God is not fair! (How’s that for brief!)
But saying that God is not fair is different from saying that God is un-fair. The term unfair carries a pejorative, because unfairness is always bad. However, fairness cannot be an issue for a true God, because a true God’s attributes (which are his intrinsic qualities) cannot stand as true next to anything that modifies them. Specifically, God is sovereign, and his sovereignty cannot coexist with fairness. Here’s why.
Sovereignty means that God does what he wants to whom he wants and when he wants—and we, his creatures, simply get no vote. Therefore, any philosophical structures designed to soften the hard edge of sovereignty cannot stand, since they would undo sovereignty and change its definition. Fairness, for instance, requires some kind of leveling…but what if God does not want things level? If God had to mix our human compulsion to fairness into his acts, then his sovereignty would be modulated by human will—and then God would not be sovereign at all. He would be a powerful being who, at some level, had to respond to a human notion, and that could never work. “Have to” is for us, not for God.
Do not misunderstand me. Fairness is good. We should all practice, teach and encourage others to do it. But note this well: Fairness is a human idea—and no, it is not bad in that. It is just not divine. And we will never work God’s will by holding out for some type of global leveling.
Where then is Christian compassion? Should we send food to the starving nations? Certainly! Should we grieve over inequities? Yes. Should we pray for God to intercede in human misery? Every day. But these activities acknowledge his sovereignty. Whenever God acts, directly or through human hands, it might be because of our prayers, but it will always be because of his mercy—and if all nations and peoples had parity, then that global socialism would preclude God’s mercy. Here is a hard saying: Sometimes a people are “down” because God wants them down—and this applies to his friends as well as his enemies. Prayer is always in order, but insisting upon fairness would be meddling in the sovereign affairs of God.
In summary, God’s sovereignty means that he works his own plan in his own way, and he is under no obligation to adopt any human construct. That ends the technical part of my answer. We are not done, though. There are also other aspects which are less technical that need examination, so let us consider those. As previously discussed, we should not expect leveling for its own sake. However, I believe that the field is leveler than your boyfriend perceives it to be, and that the problem is smaller than he supposes.
First, God’s plan for redemption, and even its individual glories, were establish before the foundations of the earth—before any nation or any culture even existed. So, God’s plan, and therefore God’s reach, is independent of those obstacles.
“even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,” (Ephesians 1:4–5, ESV)
“and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.” (Revelation 13:8, ESV)
Second, God draws people to Jesus…and this is totally on him. Is there any country so anti-Christian that the Spirit of God cannot work on the hearts of the people? No. God blows right through borders and through cultures—and with perfect parity, in my opinion. Think of God’s drawing power as the ultimate radio signal. It goes everywhere! But people can either hear and obey, or ignore the signal.
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him…” (John 6:44, ESV)
Third, we Christians individuals do perform the Great Commission, albeit imperfectly, but in the perfect power of his resurrection and with the Holy Spirit. How can we fail? Even the most difficult countries have a Christian presence—by people, by literature, by radio or by the Internet. Technology does not overcome problems of the heart, that’s up to the individual and God’s Spirit, but we cannot claim that entire countries are isolated from our witness.
“…“Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”” (Luke 24:46–49, ESV)
Fourth, it is not whether the culture is friendly to Christians that affects salvation. It is whether or not the individuals respond to Jesus Christ. The Christian culture saves no one, but the Christian person, Jesus Christ, saves all who will come.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, ESV)
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,”
(John 1:12, ESV)
Finally, there is a tendency in God’s economy for favored nations to fail while oppressed people succeed. Look at the nation Israel in Jesus’ time. They had already experienced the Law, the Prophets, the exiles, restoral—they had the very oracles of God! (Rom. 3:2) But they missed the embodiment of their salvation, a person who walked right into their Temple, their markets and their homes. In all of history no culture has ever had a better opportunity to see God’s salvation…yet they failed, causing the kingdom’s torch to be passed off to the most despised of people—Christians! As we can see, an ostensibly favorable culture is of no advantage to the Gospel. In fact, it can be quite a disadvantage.
Take my country, the USA. It was initially populated by religiously oppressed peoples from all over the world, and our nation flourished under God. We reached unparalleled heights of prosperity, security and freedom—the freedom to preach Christ unrestrained! And we did for a while…but where is America now for all of its historical light? We are called a Christian nation, but that is in cultural terms. The reality is that we are a Post-Christian nation—and that is in philosophical terms. Therefore, do not let the classification of Christian Nation fool you into thinking that the Gospel has a particular advantage here.
Christian Nation refers to our culture of nominal Christianity—not true Christianity. Nominals run the gamut. Some are actually atheists who belong to churches and participate in church culture. Many are humanists, where Christ is a metaphor or an example, but never a savior—because they are not so broken that they cannot fix themselves. Many are pious, but are stuck with the general notion that doing good will buy them God-points which can be redeemed (pun intended) on Judgment Day. They all look and smell godly from across the street—and some even use bible-speak, but all of these have a decided disadvantage in responding to the Gospel. They have been inoculated against the “disease” of true Christianity by the dead virus of nominal Christianity. In my opinion, it is more difficult to overcome that near miss than it is to make a large leap from an opposing culture.
Please…I am not minimizing their potential sacrifice, and I surely do not know what it is like to fear for my life over my faith, and that is what many Muslims face. But if Christ is true (and he is, of course), that would be a small price to pay for salvation, and any notion of unfairness should disappear in the light of Christ.
See how far we’ve come in our discussion? When your boyfriend was focused on the negative, humanity’s default destination of hell, this fostered a doubt about God. But when we focus on God’s remedy, salvation through Jesus Christ, we see its value—that it’s worth the risk becasue sin cannot be addressed in any other way. This blows “fairness” right out of the water. If his heart is still sensing an “unfair” condition, perhaps this is his call to Christian service among Muslims.
In summary, fairness is a human notion that is not intrinsic to God. His attributes, such as sovereignty, justice and mercy, make fairness a non-issue for him. Furthermore, a freer culture is not necessarily more productive ground for the Gospel, making fairness, as it relates to the Gospel, a non-issue for us, too.
I’ve enjoyed our time together, and I shall pray for you and your boyfriend.