Thursday, April 16, 2009

Knowledge and Responsibility

It's fun to watch the way God works in my life, specifically in my theological training. Last week at our church's Easter service I preached a message on the judgment and destruction of three Old Testament cities: Sodom, Tyre, and Sidon. Each of these cities was very wicked, and despite being warned by God several times to repent of their sin, they refused and were judged. In Luke 10, Jesus cites the judgment of these cities as being child's play compared to the coming judgment for those towns and cities that he had personally visited and ministered in, and yet the people did not believe.

One of the main points of my message was that everyone will be held accountable for their level of exposure to God, his word, the gospel, etc. I argued that the more exposure to God an individual has, the more accountable they will be to believe the gospel. Hence the judgment of Sodom, Tyre, and Sidon, and the more severe judgment coming for those cities (Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, specifically) that had heard and seen Jesus but still did not believe.

The obvious conclusion for our world in this day and age is that we are more exposed to the truth of God than anyone before us in history - especially in America. This is readily demonstrated by ritualistic/traditional celebration of Easter. Pretty much everyone goes to church on Easter, whether they're a Christian or not. And guess what? They are exposed to the gospel and the truth of God when they go to church on Easter. Know what that is? Knowledge. Know what comes with knowledge? A responsibility to act on what we know. Also, we have freedom of religion, practically everyone in this country owns at least one Bible (Christian or otherwise), practically everyone in this country has either been to church or heard the gospel in some way, plus we have 2000 years of Christian history that testifies to the truth of the gospel. So when it comes to exposure to the truth of God, I think it's safe to say that we are even more privileged than those who actually saw and heard Jesus when he was on this earth. In other words, I think we're going to be held to a higher standard for our level of exposure to God than any other people in history.

This begs a question, though, that a lot of non-Christians get hung up on: what about people who live in primitive tribes in the middle of the jungle? Will they be judged and go to hell simply because they haven't heard about Jesus? A lot of would-be Christians can't bring themselves to believe in a God that would send "innocent" people to hell. But if we look at scripture, it turns out that primitive tribes in the middle of the jungle don't have any more or less going for them than those in Sodom, Tyre, or Sidon did.

In Romans 1 Paul says that God has made himself known to all people through creation. In other words, it stands to reason that if there is a creation than there must be a creator (the same principle applies to the watch on your wrist - if you have a watch, you have to have a watchmaker. Watches don't just happen by accident.). So the people of Sodom, Tyre, and Sidon (and the primitive tribes in the middle of the jungle) are all exposed to God simply by walking out their front door. In Romans 2, Paul goes on to say that God has written his moral law on the heart of every human being. Paul makes his point by saying that Gentiles (non-Jews) follow the laws instituted by the Jewish faith. How can they do that if they have no knowledge of or participation in Judaism? The only answer must be that there is a Moral Lawgiver who has endowed all men with a knowledge of his law. In other words, when somebody does something wrong, they know it's wrong because God has put his law on their heart. This too, is a way that God has revealed himself to all people.

So then, it turns out that the people of Sodom, Tyre, and Sidon, and the primitive people in the middle of the jungle are all in the same boat : they won't be judged because they've never heard of Jesus (which, don't forget, the people of Sodom, Tyre, and Sidon had not heard of Jesus, nor had they read a Bible, much like people from the primitive tribes in the middle of the jungle) - they'll be judged because they've rejected the revelation of God.

That might sound harsh, but remember this: God is a powerful, loving, and merciful God who can save whomever he wishes, and he is not willing that any should perish. So if someone from a primitive tribe in the middle of the jungle uses his power of reason and realizes that since there is a creation then there must be a Creator, and that he has a conscience that bears witness to his sin, then God is powerful enough to see that person saved. He might send a missionary to them to explain the gospel to them and tell them about Jesus, or he might direct them to a more civilized part of the country where they can attend a church and here the gospel. But the key is to respond to the knowledge that is given to us by God, no matter how much it is, whether a lot of exposure to God (like in America), or just a little (like primitive people in the middle of the jungle).

This is where it's fun to watch how God uses things in my life to teach me and cause me to reflect on his word. Guess what we're studying this week in my "Creation, the Spirit, and the Church" systematic theology class? This very topic. It's been fun to rethink and re-examine my thoughts on this.

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