If you spend any amount of time considering certain issues, you begin to realize who makes those good, thoughtful arguments which are based in sound logic. Sound logic, where the four corners of an argument are pretty well nailed down and the pole is centered in order to raise the tent of an argument where one can come under it and revel in its simplicity are difficult to find.
Good arguments avoid overwhelming emotion. While some emotion may be referenced, it doesn’t control the argument, but is informed by the argument. They also avoid hypocritical points: they don’t take the other’s position while, at the same time tearing it down. Arguments attempt to capture the idea of one point while not misrepresenting the other’s point.
Often, especially in those arguments where the God of Christianity, the God of the Bible are called into question, all of those objectives of good, logical argumentation get tossed out by one side in order to launch an attack.
Recently, I went back and watched author and critic Christopher Hitchens and Professor John Lennox’s debate on the question, “Is God Good?” It was a fascinating look into the mind of most atheists who are critical of positions that they have not sought to think out in light of the premises laid out by most scholarship on the topic. If you have not seen the debate, it is still available online, and very informative on the positions of most of the “New Atheists”. While there is a great deal that could, and has been said about this debate, I believe that the most compelling and unanswered question that was put forward by Mr. Hitchens was the question of justice.
The question of justice is a difficult one, especially when it is approached in the light of questions of what believer’s address as “God’s foreknowledge“. Mr. Hitchens was critical of the concept of hell, and who belongs there. Now, we can never adequately answer this question this side of eternity, but God has given us enough information through His revelation, the Bible, to make some interesting hypotheses worth considering.
Mr. Hitchens rightly raised a concern that troubles even the most ardent believer: what about those who have never heard the gospel, those who lived before Christ came on the scene, those who lived in places where the gospel has not reached, and those who died before they were old enough to hear, much less consider, or accept the gospel? I’m glad to admit that this question has bothered me for as long as I can remember.
There is something interesting about most religious cultures: there are an abundance of “messianic”-type elements that are sprinkled throughout them, a point that is often used to discount the veracity of the gospel. One thinker rightly noted when considering that matter, whose name slips my memory and I paraphrase here, “If we take the opening chapters of Genesis seriously, when the Creator promises that first couple a deliverer, if we take it that they are the progenators of humanity, it is completely reasonable that such information and anticipation would permeate all cultures which sprang from them.” Yet, when one considers all of the prophecies which surround those “messaiahs”, only one appears to meet all of the qualifications set out in those openning chapters: the messiah of Christianity.
One of the apostles of that “peculiar religion” made a curious statement in a letter to some distant believers in that faith, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead…(Romans 1:20).” If one takes that passage seriously, there is an answer could possibly answer the question posed by Hitchens: if among all those cultures, there were some who looked beyond what they were told to believe, and asked for something more or better to believe in. God, who Christians admit as being omniscienct and omnipresent, would most certainly reach out to those who dared to ask that question. Scripture records such individuals who dared to question the prevailing religion of their day: Noah, Abraham, Melchizadek, Job, ancient men who broke with tradition to seek that God who stood in the background waiting.
If one reads a little farther, in Romans, as Paul is furthering the indictment of the unbelieving world, he rightly condemns two distinct groups of individuals: the Jews, who had the Scriptures, the judgements and commandments of God, but rejected it anyway; and the Gentiles who reviled their God-given consciences to pursue prurient enterprises. As a result of the rejection of God from both camps, both found themselves under God’s judgment.
God was loving, giving both tools and options to pursue Him, and just for punishing those who rejected Him in light of that revelation. Now, as I said, let us assume that in one of those remote, heathen lands, there was a man who responded to his conscience, and even though he did not have the special revelation, responded to the natural revelation, and sought to live his life differently than those around him, supposing that there was something that was waiting on him to do so: would God be just in condemning that man, who did not have a law, but placed himself under it as though he did?
Now, I do not want to presume to know the mind of God, but I do look at the testimony of Scripture. It is clear that there are none who seek after God, but God does seek after men. I also notice that Scripture seems to be abundantly clear that when God judges, He judges a man by how he kept his own standards before judging his accountability to Himself. Scripture is also clear, “…I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy (Exodus 33:19).” Now, I say all this never to intimate that God has a double-standard, but God most definitely makes it clear, that where knowledge of the truth lies, man has no excuse:
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. (Romans 1:18-19)”