|By: ATRI Staff; ©2006|
|Garner Ted Armstrong put it this way: “Does it make sense to you that a little Chinese girl, age 3 ½, sweet little innocent baby, is going to be dancing from brick to brick, beating at flames for all eternity because a missionary had a flat tire?” The issue, of course, is whether God would consign to hell those who have never heard the Gospel.|
Are the Heathen Lost? – Part 1
Garner Ted Armstrong put it this way: “Does it make sense to you that a littleChinese girl, age 3 1/2, sweet little innocent baby, is going to be dancing from brick to brick, beating at flames for all eternity because a missionary had a flat tire?”
The issue, of course, is whether God would consign to hell those who have never heard the Gospel. The common objections to this doctrine are that it is nonsensical, unreasonable and uncharacteristic of a loving God.
How can a Christian answer this emotional question?
The Bible clearly teaches that men are not in total spiritual darkness (see Rom. 1:19-20). This is borne out by scientific research showing that men all over the world have known and believed in the “one supreme God.”
For years, anthropologists, historians, and theologians have taught that man originally evolved in his beliefs from a concept of many gods (of sun, sky, earth, idols, animals) to the concept of an invisible, infinite Spirit.
Dr. Wilhelm Schmidt, an Australian anthropologist, thought differently. He set out in the 1920’s to compile every “alias” of the Almighty, that is, every primitive culture’s name for God. By 1934, he had compiled six volumes totaling 4,500 pages, listing these names. Since 1934 the Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics has gone on to list 1,000 more names.
Writing in direct contradiction to the views of the intellectuals of his day. Dr. Schmidt stated, “Probably 90% or more of the folk religions on this planet contain clear acknowledgement of the existence of one supreme God.” His original shocking conclusion supports the Bible’s claim. It is simply not true that men do not know about God.
Secondly, the Bible clearly teaches that God does not want the heathen to perish. Second Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
Thirdly, the Bible is very clear that anyone who wishes to establish a relationship with God will receive the necessary information on which to make that decision. Consider the following references.
For the Lord searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thought. If you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever (1 Chron. 28:9).
For thou, O Lord, hast not forsaken those who seek thee (Psa. 9:10).
The Lord is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His deeds. The Lord is near to all who call upon Him in truth. He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him. He will also hear their cry and will save them (Psa. 145:17-20).
And you will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart (Jer. 29:13).
Skeptics object that the heathen never heard of God, never knew His laws, never understood His salvation. How then can God hold them responsible?
Paul in Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world, His attributes, His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen; being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks.” Paul goes on to say they are without excuse because when they “knew God, they glorified Him not… and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.” Here the Apostle is saying that the nations are responsible because they had light from God and turned away from it. But is there any proof that this is so?
The Bible reveals to us that at the beginning of human history. God revealed Himself to Adam and Eve. Man was not left without knowledge of God and His salvation.
Later when Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, was called out of pagan society by God, he and all of his descendants were given God’s special revelation, much of which has become the Old Testament.
What about the other heathen nations? God did not forget them. The Bible shows that the heathen nations of men were never, at any period of their history, left totally without revelation.
Specific examples from the Bible which show that God did not confine His revelation just to the Jews can be found in the book of Genesis.
In Abraham’s time we are introduced to Melchizedek, a king who lived in the midst of the heathen Canaanite society, where temple prostitution, child sacrifice, and idolatry were common practices. Archaeology has shown us the complete debauchery of this society. But interestingly, the Bible does not hesitate to tell us of this man, the king of a city called Salem, who also was a priest of “El Elyon” (Gen. 14:18), the Canaanite name for “God Most High.” Melchizedek is called a righteous man in Genesis. In the book of Hebrews we are told that the Messiah is a priest of the order of Melchizedek, not the Jewish Levitical priesthood.
Another example of God giving special revelation outside of Israel is found in Moses’ time, where we meet Balaam, a prophet of Yahweh, who lives outside Israel at Pethor, by the Euphrates.
In addition, numerous examples are cited in Scripture where God gave special revelations and warnings to heathen kings in dreams. Such illustrations of this are Abimelech, Pharaoh, and Nebuchadnezzar.
Many times the Old Testament prophets are shown speaking to foreign nations. The entire Old Testament book of Jonah is about a prophet whom God sends to preach to the heathen city of Nineveh.
The New Testament continues to give similar examples. God speaks to Cornelius in a dream and sends the Apostle Peter to him so he will be able to come to a full knowledge of God’s salvation. The Evangelist Philip is directed by an angel of the Lord to leave a city-wide crusade in Samaria and go down to Gaza, where he finds and shares the Gospel with a searching African Eunuch who wants to know God.
Secular anthropologists are also beginning to learn of examples of what the Bible has said all along. In Don Richardson’s book, Eternity in Their Hearts, we learn of the primitive “Karen” peoples of Burma and the “Kachin” peoples near India, who although surrounded by Buddhism and idolatry through the centuries, continually rejected such practices as wrong. Anthropologists have concluded they did this simply because of their belief in the one true God.
In Peru, the great 15th Century Incan king, Pachacuti, called his people together and as a group they decided to follow the one true God. In order to do so, they had to consciously stop worshipping the nature gods they had worshipped before.
Here then are primitive people who, because of the revelation of God which they had received, did not practice idolatry and child sacrifice. In fact, they seemed to have lived closer to God than the Israelites who had the written law and were following Moses.
In his book, Richardson goes on to give example after example of those primitive people who retained knowledge of the one true God and followed Him—such as the savage headhunters and cannibals of New Guinea, who still hunt heads and drink blood. The book, Eternity in Their Hearts, was written by a man who worked with these fierce people and has much to tell about how God has dealt with them.
So the 3 1/2-year-old in paragraph one is not at the mercy of an uncaring God, nor will she be consigned to hell because she missed her only chance to receive God’s grace. God has not left men in total spiritual darkness. God does not desire that any should perish. The Bible clearly teaches that anyone who wishes to establish a relationship with God will receive the necessary information to make that decision.
In Part 2 we will answer the question, “Will God give a further opportunity for men to decide about Him and His salvation after this life?” We will also look at further questions which might seem to suggest that God is not fair in His treatment of the heathen.