Saturday, February 4, 2017

Isn't God judgmental?

One of the most frequently heard criticisms of religion, particularly Christianity, is that one should not judge another’s beliefs or religious activities.  To inform someone their behavior is wrong and sinful in God’s sight is perceived as inappropriate and judgmental.  In today’s society, one of the greatest sins one could commit is intolerance of another’s beliefs or actions.  Next to John 3:16, perhaps the most often quoted verse found in the Bible is Matthew 7:1, wherein Jesus instructs His followers, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.”  If the God described in the Bible is judgmental, then some say He is not worthy of respect.  Is God judgmental and, if so, is that wrong? 

What does the Bible say?
The Bible contains numerous references to God as Judge.  The word “judge” appears 191 times in the KJV of the Bible.  God is described as a righteous judge (Psalm 7:11 and others).  A Hebrew verb frequently translated “to judge” in the Old Testament is šāpat (Strong’s, 8199).  In many contexts this word is used in a judicial sense, such as a third party deciding a case between two other parties who disagree.[1]  For example, when Sarai requested Abram to judge between her and Hagar regarding the child born to Abram and Hagar, Sarai said, “the Lord judge (šāpat) between you and me” (Genesis 16:5).  This word for judge can also be used to describe a process whereby order and law are maintained, such as when Deborah “was judging Israel at that time” (Judges 4:4).  Another Hebrew word used frequently in the Old Testament is din, which has essentially the same meaning as the English word.  There are several Greek words translated in the New Testament “judge” as nouns (kritēs and dikastēs) and verbs (krinō, anakrinō, and diakrinō).  Without going into great detail, these have very similar meanings to the English word.  Diakrinō (Strong’s 1252) denotes “to separate throughout, discriminate, discern, to decide, to judge).[2]  The Apostle Paul uses this word in 1 Corinthians 6:5, where he asks, “Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren”.  This is an act that Christians are expected to perform in handling matters between fellow believers.

God is just (Job 5:1) and righteous (Daniel 9:14) in His judgments.  He is perfectly holy (1 Peter 1:16), knows all things (1 John 3:20), which no person can claim.  So, God is clearly in a position to be a trustworthy judge.  If He seems to be judgmental, He has the right to be.  The real issue with those who claim God is judgmental or that Christianity is intolerant is that they know some of their behavior is not acceptable by God.  Seeking to justify one’s own behavior, we lash out at the authority figure.  Jesus said the world “hates me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil.” (John 7:7)     

Did Jesus judge?
In John 8:1-11 is found the account of a woman caught in adultery who was brought to Jesus.  He said to the people, “Let him who is without sin throw the first stone.”  When everyone left, Jesus said to her, "Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?" She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, "I do not condemn you, either."  Jesus forgave her and some would say He did not judge her.  However, the next statement He makes to the woman is, “"Go now and leave your life of sin."  Jesus makes it clear to the woman that, after escaping judgment, her next step was to leave the sin that had originally placed her under condemnation.  Jesus Christ has already come to save the world and, one day, will judge the world (Revelation 19:11).   

Is it wrong to judge others?
Jesus goes on to say in Matthew 7:2, “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.”  Does this mean that Christians should not tell others they are wrong?  The point Jesus is making in these verses is that we need to first look at ourselves – the plank in our own eye – before pointing out the speck in another’s eye.  Believers are instructed to first judge ourselves, as the Apostle Paul instructs, “if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged.” (1 Corinthians 11:31)  In 1 Corinthians 6:2, the Bible states, “the saints will judge the world” and in verse 3, “we will judge angels.”  If no one is permitted to judge another, where is it appropriate to draw the line?  If someone is committing a robbery, murder, or abducting a child, would it be inappropriate to pass judgment on this person?  So, all people make decisions about their own behavior and the behavior of others.  Christians are also expected to separate appropriate from inappropriate behavior, however we should begin with ourselves and all judgments of others should be done with love as the motivation.  Paul advised Timothy to “correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” (2 Timothy 4:2)  If believers judged others with patience and love, it would likely be much more palatable for those receiving the correction.

We make judgments every day.  We judge whether people are being honest, such as salesmen, politicians, and witnesses in trials.  We judge whether it is safe to make a purchase on the internet and if our romantic partner is Mr. or Mrs. Right.  We would not survive in life without making judgments.  The person criticizing God or Christians for being judgmental is making a judgment himself.  What gives any of us the right to stand in judgment of God?  The Lord could say the same to us that he did to Job when He asked, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?  "Now gird up your loins like a man, and I will ask you, and you instruct me!  "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?  Tell me, if you have understanding” (Job 38:2-4).  It is advisable to carefully consider one’s decision to criticize and judge God.      

(Biblical quotations are from the NASB version.)

[1] Vine, W.E., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary (Nashville, TN:  Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996), 125.
[2] Ibid., 337.

Will God forgive suicide?

What does God think about suicide? Will someone automatically go to hell if they commit suicide?  The Bible is clear that suicide does not determine one’s acceptance or rejection by God.  If an unsaved person commits suicide, he or she has done nothing but expedite journey to hell.  Unbelievers will be in hell for rejecting salvation through Christ, not because he or she committed suicide.

What does the Bible say about suicide? 
Five specific instances are mentioned in which people who committed suicide:  Abimelech (Judges 9:54), Zimri (1 Kings 16:18), Saul (1 Samuel 31:4), Saul's armor-bearer, who is not named (1 Samuel 31:4-6), Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17:23), and Judas (Matthew 27:5).  Abimelech was described as “wicked” and was actually dying anyway due to an injury.  Zimri, who was described as “doing evil in the sight of the Lord”, was in imminent danger of being captured and killed.  He then burned the house he was around him.  Saul and his armor-bearer committed suicide in battle to avoid capture.  Some consider Samson to be a sixth instance of suicide (Judges 16:26-31), but Samson's goal was primarily to kill Philistines, not himself.  The Bible does not make any specific statements concerning suicide.  In Exodus 20:13, God commands His people, “You shall not murder.”  Self-murder could then be considered a sin.    

Can someone who commits suicide still be saved?
Since the Bible does not mention suicide directly, principles found therein will be applied to determine an answer.  Salvation is through faith alone, not through any good works (Ephesians 2:8-9).  So if no good works can help us attain God’s favor, will any evil deeds remove us from His favor?  God is the one “who forgives all your sins” (Psalm 103), not most or some sins.  And, John 3:16 does not distinguish categories of sins, but states, “whoever believes in him (Jesus) shall not perish but have eternal life.”  And, 1 John 1:7 informs us that “the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”  Not only is God’s forgiveness behaviorally comprehensive, it is chronologically comprehensive.  “When this priest (Jesus) had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins…by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.  Then he adds:  ‘Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.’  And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.” (Hebrews 10:12-18)  For those who believe in Jesus Christ for their acceptance by God, His sacrifice on the cross is sufficient for all sins, past and future. 
What about the unpardonable sin? 
The Bible states that God will forgive all sins except one, which Jesus mentions in Luke 12:10, “he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him.”  This will be explained on another page, but as is evident in this passage, suicide is mentioned as the unpardonable sin.     

Can I lose my relationship with God?
Jesus states in John 10:28, “I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”  Nothing can separate a Christian from God’s love.  Paul states in Romans 8:38-39, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  If no “created thing” can separate a Christian from God’s love, and even a Christian who commits suicide is a “created thing,” then not even suicide can separate him from God’s love.  The last message Jesus left with His followers in Matthew’s gospel was the promise that, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:20) 

After examining the issues and Biblical references above, the main question remains: Why would someone contemplate suicide? Hopelessness? Depression? Feeling no one loves them? Too many problems? Seeing no way out? Revenge? Lost love?  Here are some things for someone thinking of suicide to consider.  God tells Jeremiah, “I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)  If God had good plans in mind for Jeremiah, then He does for each of us also.  In Romans 8:28, the Apostle Paul informs believers, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  A current situation may seem to be very difficult, but we can believe that God will work it out for our good. 

What if I feel like giving up?
Joseph was hated by his brothers, thrown into a well, sold as a slave, and imprisoned two years for a crime he did not commit.  Situations certainly did not look good for him, but after some very difficult times, Joseph told his brothers, “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result” (Genesis 50:20).  Job had the worst things you can imagine happen to him.  But, after Job endured all the trouble, look at what God gave him:  “the Lord increased all that Job had twofold. The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had 14,000 sheep and 6,000 camels and 1,000 yoke of oxen and 1,000 female donkeys. He had seven sons and three daughters. In all the land no women were found so fair as Job's daughters; and their father gave them inheritance among their brothers. After this, Job lived 140 years and he died, an old man and full of days.”  (Job 42)

(Biblical references are from the NASB version.)
If I am a Christian, when I die, will I still need to pass through purgatory before entering heaven?  The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that, “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.”  (The Profession of Faith, Section Two, III The Final Purification, or Purgatory, 1030)  To reduce one’s time in purgatory – or the time spent by someone already there – we can do certain works.  The Catholic Encyclopedia states that we can reduce our time by three years by making the sign of the cross and seven years by doing this with “blessed water”.  Of course the big question one might ask is, “How many years do I need to knock off?”  No one can know that and every sin adds more time. 

Where did the idea of purgatory begin?
The notion of purgatory was not found in the Christian church until the Council of Trent (1545-1563) established it as a doctrine.  Pope Gregory the Great (590-604) first mentioned the idea that, “for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire.” (Dialogues)  The word purgatory is not used in the Bible, but that does not necessarily invalidate the concept.  For example, the word trinity is not used in the Bible, but the concept is clearly contained therein.  Justification for the doctrine of purgatory derives from the second century BC account found in the book of Second Maccabees.  Jewish military leader Judas Maccabeus, at one point, offered prayers and pieces of silver (12,000 drachma) to Jerusalem, to be offered as a sacrifice for the sins of the dead.  This account is found in the book of 2nd Maccabees 12:42-46.  However, it is important to note that neither the book of 1st nor 2nd Maccabees was considered holy scripture by Jesus Christ or any of the apostles.  Though Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, and other writers of the New Testament quoted the Old Testament hundreds of times, never once did they quote any verse from Maccabees. 

Is purgatory mentioned in the Bible?
Two primary Biblical passages are used as evidence for purgatory, including 1st Corinthians 3:15, which states, “If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.”  However, these verses do not state the person will be burned, rather his or her works.  If our deeds in this life were of no eternal good, they will burn up.  Another New Testament reference used as evidence for purgatory is Matthew 12:32, in which Jesus says “Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”  The idea here is that some sins may be absolved after death, or “in the age to come”.  But, this says nothing of any additional punishment after death that could eliminate this sin.  It is an untenable stretch to make this fit the concept of purgatory.  The plain meaning of this verse is that the age to come refers to believers entering into eternal life with God, or heaven, and unbelievers entering into eternal punishment apart from God, or hell.  (See Matthew 25 and Revelation 20)

It is finished 
In John 17:4, Jesus spoke of His impending death on the cross by saying to God He had “the work you gave me to do.”  Then, in John 19:30, just before He died, Jesus said in a loud voice, “It is finished.”  Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about suffering in purgatory.  The Bible clearly states that we can do nothing to earn acceptance by God.  Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “it is by God’s unmerited favor you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”  We can do nothing to merit or deserve God’s favor.  Someone who believes in purgatory may agree that we are admitted to heaven by belief in Jesus, but we still need to work off some sins.  If that’s true, then Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross was not enough to pay the penalty for all of our sins.  But, Romans 8:1 states, “there is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.”  This does not say there is still a little condemnation to work off. 

Once for all

Hebrews 10:10 informs that, “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”  And, 1 Peter 3:18 states, “Christ died for sins once for all”  Hebrews 9:27,28 goes on to state,  Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people”.  In 2 Corinthians 5:6-8, the word of God states that we are either in the body in this life or “at home with the Lord”, with no mention of an intervening time of purging.  The Bible clearly states that, when we leave this life, we will go to be with God or away from God in hell.  There is no third option mentioned in the Bible.

Who is Jesus in the Qur'an and the Bible?

Is Jesus the Son of God?
This is not a minor issue; rather it is essential to determine the identity of Jesus and his relationship with God the father.  The Qur’an states that Allah “begotteth not nor is he begotten” (Sura 112:3) and the note (#6299) in the commentary by Abdullah Yusuf Ali indicate this is a negation of the Christian idea of the godhead of the Father, the Son, etc.  “The Christians call Christ the Son of God … God’s curse be on them:  How they are deluded” (Sura 9:30).  The next Sura goes on to state “[they take as their Lord] Christ the son of Mary; yet they were commanded to worship but One God ... [far is He] from having the partners they associate [with Him]”.

It seems that Muhammad – and possibly many Muslims today – understand the Biblical concept of Jesus’ sonship in a biological sense, with God the Father procreating with a female, culminating in the birth of Christ.  In fact, Muhammad asks, “How can He have a son when He hath no consort?” (Sura 6:101)  An understanding of the Hebrew term of sonship will help to clarify the issue here.  The Bible nowhere states or implies that God the Father had sexual relations and produced a biological son. 

Was Jesus begotten?
Some of the confusion results from the Biblical use of the term “begotten” in referring to the Father’s relationship with Jesus, in John 1:14,18 and the all-familiar John 3:16.  The Greek word translated “begotten” in the New Testament is monogenes, which means “unique” or “one of a kind”, not a result of biological procreation.  This term is also used in Psalm 2:7, which is quoted three times in the New Testament, “Today you are my Son, today I have begotten you.” (Acts 13:33, Hebrews 1:5; 5:5)  The Hebrew word used here is yalad (Strong #3205), which is used in the Old Testament to indicate biological birth, but also is used in a broad range of other meanings.  God has begotten or brought forth (yalad) “drops of dew” (Job 38:28) and the “frost of heaven” (Job 38:29).  The wicked bring forth (yalad) “falsehood” (Psalm 7:14) and God gave birth (yalad) to the “mountains” (Psalm 90:2).  So, the sonship of Jesus Christ is the more broad metaphorical description of his relationship with God the Father, not the narrow biological meaning.  Furthermore, it would not make sense to use the biological meaning because God is Spirit (John 4:24). 

Is Jesus equal with God the Father?
The Qur’an teaches that Jesus Christ was a prophet and is revered in Islam, but was a lesser prophet than Muhammad.  Sura 4:171 states, “Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) an apostle of God, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a Spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in God and His apostles.  Say not ‘Trinity’: desist: It will be better for you for God is One God”.  

In Islam, Jesus was not equal with God and to make this statement would be blasphemous.  The Qur’an states that “God forgiveth not [the sin of] joining other gods with him” (Sura 4:116) and informs that “the Christians [went wrong] in raising Jesus the Apostle to equality with God” (Sura 4:C68).  The Qur’an advises believers to “join not any partners with Him [God]” (Sura 4:36) and further states “in blasphemy indeed are those that say that God is Christ the son of Mary” (Sura 5:17).  

Does the Bible teach that Jesus Christ is equal with God? 
Yes, in a number of places.  In John 10:30, Jesus states, “I and the Father are one.”  It would be blasphemous for a normal human to utter that statement.  We know that is how the Jews understood it because, in the next verse, we read that they picked up stones to stone him.  John 1:1 states, “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.”  How do we know this is referring to Jesus?  Because in verse 14, John writes, “The word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  Jesus stated in John 8:58, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am."  This was a blatant quotation of Exodus 3:14 in which God (the Father, Jehovah, Yahweh) gives to Moses His name as “I am”.  And, here again, the Jews recognized the obvious association and picked up stones to stone Jesus for equating Himself with God.  Hebrews 1:8 states, “But of the Son He says, ‘Your throne O God is forever and ever’.” 

(An excellent book that addresses the above and other related issues in detail is Reasoning from the Scriptures with Muslims by Ron Rhodes, Harvest House Publishers, 2002)

Why is God jealous?

Some people can accept and agree with the idea that God will reward those who do good and punish those who commit evil.  After all, there are plenty of people in the world who do rotten things (just read the newspaper) and they deserve punishment for those sins.  On the other hand, there are many people who do a lot of good and it seems proper for the ultimate Judge to reward those deeds.  This thinking is not even proprietary to the Christian God, but also finds agreement with the Hindu notion of karma.  What you do in this life will come back to you in the next.  The Quran mentions the weighing of good and bad deeds in Sura 23:102-103, which states, “Then those whose balance (of good deeds) is heavy, they will attain salvation:  But those whose balance is light will be those who have lost their souls; in Hell will they abide.”  The difficult part people have with the Christian God is right there in the very first of the ten commandments, “You shall have no other god before me.” (Exodus 20:3)  

Do we need to worship a jealous God?
Most people who have read the Bible – and a few who haven’t – noticed the verses where God describes Himself as “jealous”.  Continuing in the first of the ten commandments, God says, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand [generations] of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:5-6)  An initial reading of this may give one the impression that God is like an abusive husband, demanding that his wife and children give him complete adoration or he will bring wrath and destruction upon them.  This strikes some as a bit heavy-handed.  The question that arises is, if someone is a good person who does not harm anyone else, why is it necessary to worship God?  Is it not enough to be a good person?  Even Jesus said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  In fact, many atheists and agnostics live better lives than some Christians.  But, this jealous God will reject these atheists simply because they don’t worship him? 

What about the angels?
At first glance, these issues seem to cast a shadow on the goodness and justice of the God of the Bible.  To borrow from Stephen Hawking, let’s look at a brief history of time.  Sometime in the distant past, God created the angelic beings.  We know that, prior to the fall of man, Lucifer had his own fall.  Isaiah 14:12 states, “How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn!”  Lucifer (light-bearer, shining one) became Satan (adversary) and was there to tempt Adam and Eve in Genesis 3.  Apparently, angelic beings have free will at least in some sense like humans because a third of them chose to follow Satan and rebel against God (Revelation 12:4).  Now, after Satan rebelled against the despotic tyrant of heaven, did he run off and start his own church of good deeds and begin helping little old ladies across the street?  Hardly.  The mission of the leader of the revolution is to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10).  Satan is described as the “father of lies” (John 8:44).  Satan is the one who brought death, destruction, and physical distress upon Job.  Satan crippled a woman for 18 years in Luke 13:10-17.  He “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).  Where does the evil in this world originate?  Satan is described as the “prince of this world” (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11).  God is omnipotent.  But Satan, like a bad dog on a leash, has been given a certain amount of rope to wreak havoc in this world, as people allow him.     

What is God’s nature?
In contrast with the character and intentions of Satan, “God is love” (1 John 4:8; Psalm 145:17).  He does not occasionally demonstrate love; rather, love is an integral part of God’s nature.  In 2 Thess. 1:6, we find that “God is just”, meaning he will punish offenders and help the victims of injustice.  The Lord is also “righteous” (Psalm 11:7, 129:4, 145:17; Lamentations 1:18; Daniel 9:14).  The Lord is compassionate (Exodus 34:6; 2 Chron. 30:9; Psalm 86:15; Joel 2:13).  He is a God of truth (Isaiah 65:16), He sends to us the Sprit of Truth (John 14:17; 1 John 4:6), and the Son of God is the truth (John 14:6). 

How is God different?
The disparity between Satan and God is clearly described in 1 John 3:7-10, where the apostle states, “He who does what is right is righteous, just as he [God] is righteous.  He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work.  No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.  This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.”  When we chose to follow God, we are also by default, choosing to follow love, justice, compassion, righteousness, truth, and many other qualities I did not list for the sake of brevity, because they are an inseparable part of God’s nature.  On the other hand, when we chose to reject God, we are rejecting all that is good because Jesus said, “He who is not with me is against me” (Luke 11:23).

Is it wrong for God to be jealous?
Ok, so God has a lot of good qualities, but the Bible says He is jealous and isn’t jealousy a negative character trait?  It is true that God is described as jealous in many Bible verses:  Exodus 34:14, Deut. 4:24, Joshua 24:19, Nahum 1:2, and Zech. 1:14.  The first point to note here is that God’s jealousy must be differentiated from sinful, human jealousy.  Humans become jealous of others whom we believe have obtained something we think we deserve.  Someone may be jealous of a person who has a bigger house or more expensive car.  One may be jealous of another who is better looking, more athletic, or more intelligent.  Motivation toward jealousy in those instances is purely self-centered.  We don’t care about the good of the objects of our jealousy; rather, we want what they have.  This is actually one of the most primal and basic emotions.  It can be observed in children not even old enough to walk.  One toddler sees a toy in the hands of another child and he wants it.  He doesn’t care that the other child is currently playing with the toy.  

Definition of jealous
There’s a difference between jealousy for one’s own selfish reasons, which causes most of the confusion here. However, there is also jealousy for another person. For example, when my children were young, I was jealous for them in the sense that I did not want another man raising them. Is God’s jealousy the same?  If we look at the context of Biblical verses that mention God’s jealousy, we see He is jealous for his people.  Zechariah 1:14 states, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I am exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and Zion.’”  Jesus stated, “O Jerusalem, How often I wanted to gather your children together, and you would not have it!” (Luke 13:34)  When we realize that, before each of us was born, God formed us in our mother’s womb (Jeremiah 1:5).  He sent His son to experience an excruciating death to redeem us.  It is only natural for Him to be jealous for his children.  If you are a father and you saw your children reject you and run up to another man saying, “Daddy, Daddy”, how would you feel?  And, you have not given as much for your children as God did for His.   

[Biblical quotations are from the NASB version.]      

Can those who have never heard of Jesus be saved?

The Bible states in several passages that all people have the capacity for an understanding of God, good and evil, and our own eternal nature.  In Romans 1:19-20, we read, “what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”  Psalm 19:1-2 states, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.”  And Ecclesiastes 3:11 inform that “He has also set eternity in their heart”.

How do most people handle the general revelation of God?
In Romans 3:10-11, we read “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.”  What if there was someone who sincerely wanted to live a righteous life and know God?  We see one example of this very situation in Acts 10:1-4, “At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment.  He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.  One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, ‘Cornelius!’  Cornelius stared at him in fear. ‘What is it, Lord?’ he asked.  The angel answered, ‘Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.  Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter.’”  When Peter arrived, he said to Cornelius and the others gathered, “"I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.”  Cornelius had heard of Jesus, but apparently knew little because Peter proceeded to tell the group about salvation through Christ.  That day they were baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit.  Cornelius was devout and God-fearing based on the knowledge he had at the time.  And, because of this, God sent someone to bring him a fuller understanding.  In Jeremiah 29:13, we are informed that “'You will seek Me and find me when you search for Me with all your heart.”

Does God have a chosen race?
Though God had designated a chosen people prior to the time of Christ, even then all people, regardless of race, were given the opportunity to be one of God’s people.  In Leviticus 17:8-9, God tells Moses, "Say to them: 'Any Israelite or any alien living among them who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice and does not bring it to the entrance to the Tent of Meeting to sacrifice it to the LORD -that man must be cut off from his people.”  So, non-Jews (alien) were obviously permitted to offer sacrifices with the same requirements as Jews.  Many other verses in Leviticus and Deuteronomy mention aliens alongside with Jews, indicating that they were given the same opportunity to come to God and be accepted by God as the Israelites.

Before the ten commandments
People living prior to the time of Christ, prior to the law given by God through Moses, and even prior to the founding of the Jewish nation exhibited faith in God and a keen understanding of their own sin as well as need for forgiveness.  Look at Genesis 8:20, where it is recorded that “Noah built an altar to the LORD and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it.”  Job had an understanding of God, sin, and sacrifice.  We read in Job 1:5, “When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would send and have them purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, ‘Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.’ This was Job's regular custom.”  Job certainly lived prior to the time of Jesus Christ and this book does not mention the law of Moses or the Jewish people.  Scholars generally agree that Job lived prior to the time of Jacob.  Speaking of Jacob, before God changed his name to Israel, “offered a sacrifice there in the hill country and invited his relatives to a meal” (Genesis 31:54).  Here are several clear examples of people who had never heard of Jesus and who lived prior to the time the Old or New Testament were even written.  Yet, they show faith in God and a very keen awareness of right and wrong and even the need for an atoning sacrifice.  Furthermore, we have clear indications that these men were accepted by God. 

What about Noah?
Look at the history of Noah.  He was not a Christian (never heard of Jesus Christ) and he did not have the law given by Moses.  In fact, he was not even a Jew, one of God’s “chosen people” because he lived before the time of Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel, the inception of the Jewish nation).  Nevertheless, what did God say of Noah?  In Genesis 6:8-9, we read that “Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.  This is the account of Noah.  Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.”  Noah is a very good example of someone who had not heard of Jesus Christ.  In fact, Noah had not heard of the ten commandments, nor had he heard of the Israelite nation.  Nonetheless, we see that he had enough understanding to live a righteous life and even walked with God.  If Noah could do those things, why cannot someone living today in some desolate location who has never heard of Jesus Christ do the same as Noah?

Is it even worthwhile to preach the message of salvation?
Should we not bother spreading the gospel if there is a possibility people who have never heard of Jesus Christ may be saved?  No, we have the commandment from Jesus to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).  And, in Romans 10:14, Paul asks, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”  God is a righteous judge (Psalm 7:11) and it would seem inconsistent with His love and mercy to condemn someone who truly desires to know Him and live a righteous life.  However, we must follow the instructions we are given to preach the gospel.  It is the best news we could imagine for all people, so how could we not tell them?  You may be a modern day Peter bringing the message to Cornelius.