This post was first published during December 2015. –ed.
From an early age, we learn to spot hypocrisy—especially in the lives of our parents, teachers, and any other authority figures we hope to undercut. It’s a childish tactic for avoiding rules we don’t like and consequences we don’t want, and it’s one that many grownups still employ. Especially when it comes to God.
One of the world’s primary means of escaping God’s authority—besides denying His existence—is to rhetorically point out seeming inconsistencies in His character. If your God is so loving, why does He send anyone to hell?
Questions like that are inherently flawed because they substitute subjective standards for God’s righteous and holy standards. Moreover, they reflect a prideful, humanistic perspective that puts the sinner in judgment of the standard, inverting the logical order of God’s design.
With Christmas on the horizon, there will be many opportunities to interact with unsaved family and friends. And in the event they raise some of these familiar gripes against God’s goodness, we want to help prepare you to answer their complaints—particularly since Christmas is the supreme example of how God’s unfairness is a tremendous blessing!
How can God justly condemn people who have never heard the gospel?
That question isn’t exclusive to non-Christians. Many pastors and missionaries struggle with this issue as well. But once again, the problem stems from a wrong view of man.
Just as man is born into bondage to his sin nature, he is also born into the just punishment for his sin (Romans 6:23). In the moment Adam sinned, he and all his offspring stood guilty and condemned—and only through Christ can we be redeemed (Romans 5:18–19). There are no free passes for ignorance.
Sometimes Christians can slip into the habit of merely paying lip service to God’s verdict on sinners, while harboring doubts about the justice of His condemnation of them—whether they hear the gospel or not. But that betrays the clear testimony of Scripture:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Romans 1:18–20)
Put simply, God doesn’t believe in atheists.
Unbelievers are not morally neutral before they reject the gospel. Caught in the snare of sin, all people stand guilty and without excuse. Rejecting the gospel is merely one further expression of their relentless rebellion against the God they know to be true. When it comes to salvation, God doesn’t owe anyone anything. But in His grace and mercy, He has made possible the way for some to be redeemed.
Therefore, the question isn’t “How can God justly condemn people who have never heard the gospel?” but “Why does He use the truth of the gospel to penetrate hearts that have already rejected the testimony of His creation?”
Why doesn’t God save everyone?
Amazing Grace is a timeless anthem, reaching well beyond the confines of the church and permeating the modern world. But how often do we pause to reflect on its rich lyrics?
John Newton, like so many of the Puritan hymn writers, was astounded that a holy God was willing to save a wretch like himself. Charles Wesley similarly marveled, “And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Savior’s blood? Amazing love! How can it be, That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?”
Newton and Wesley’s common ground is not unusual. It is the pervasive view expressed throughout hymnody. The songwriters of old were amazed and overwhelmed that God would condescend to dwell among sinful men, fulfilling the law that they had broken and suffering the wrath that they deserved (2 Corinthians 5:21). They were astonished that God would save anyone—least of all themselves! They understood and gratefully expressed how they were the beneficiaries of God’s glorious unfairness.
Not only that, their hymns give voice to the convictions held throughout church history, going all the way back to the church’s formative years. God’s grace, His unmerited favor towards sinners, was something the apostle Paul simply could not fathom: “To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8).
Most unrepentant sinners favorably compare themselves to the rest of the fallen world. Even as believers, we can be tempted to discount the severity of our sin when it’s compared to the impurity around us. But in the light of God’s righteousness, expressed in His law, we’re able to accurately see the grievous nature of our sin. The only appropriate response is to echo the awe-struck perspective of Newton, Wesley, and the apostle Paul, and celebrate the amazing grace and mercy of our Lord.
In light of that grace, the question is not “Why doesn’t God save everyone?” but “Why does God save anyone at all?”
Next time we’ll conclude with one final complaint against God’s fairness, and reflect on the rich blessings of His unfair treatment.