Is God Unfair to the Heathen? This is an often-asked question. I will attempt to condense this to the basics.
Step One: First, we need to keep in mind that God is omniscient, man is not! In John 2:25 we are told concerning Christ, "And needed not that any should testify of man: FOR HE (Christ) KNEW WHAT WAS IN MAN". In Job 42:2 we read, "...that no thought can be withholden from thee". Ezekiel 11:5 states, "...for I know the things that come into your mind, every one of them". Hebrews 4:13 agrees as, "All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do". Keep this in mind as we proceed to Step Two.
Step Two: When God created man, man was created with an inborn knowledge of the God of Creation. Romans 1:19, "Because that which may be known of God IS MANIFEST IN THEM; for God hath showed it unto them". In other words, when God created man, He created him with a mind with which to think and to reason. By visually observing all the wonders of Creation: stars, moon, sun, planets, trees, clouds, rain, animal life, plant life; and even himself, man could know that Someone much superior to himself was responsible. Romans 1:20 makes this perfectly clear, "For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made (His creation), even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse". This leads us to Step Three.
Step Three: Man’s Responsibility. All that any person needs to have is a DESIRE to know the truth about the God of Creation. Only the Infinite, Omniscient God can know the desire of a person--not finite beings such as you and I! Remember, very few people want to know the truth about God. Matthew 7:14 tells us that, "Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it". The Greek word for "find" is heurea and can be translated; "get, obtain, perceive, or see". The reason only a few perceive, see, or obtain eternal life is because of their self-righteousness. Read on in Matthew 7:22, "Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? God answers in Verse 24, "And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity".
Christ, addressing the Pharisees in Luke 16:15, exposed their true thinking. "And he (Christ) said unto them, Ye are they which JUSTIFY YOURSELVES before men; BUT GOD KNOWETH YOUR HEARTS...". Many times we have been fooled by people’s actions, unaware of what they are really thinking, but not so the Lord! I Samuel 16:7b makes this clear. "...for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outside appearance, BUT THE LORD looketh on the heart". Again, in Luke 18:9, we see the Omniscient Christ exposing the pride and self-righteousness of the Pharisees, "And he (Christ) spake this parable unto certain WHICH TRUSTED IN THEMSELVES that they were righteous, and despised others". These, like others, had no desire to know the truth; but, were gods unto themselves, seeking to be justified by
their own righteousness. This leads us to Step Four, where we examine God’s responsibility.
Step Four: God’s Responsibility. God loved and created mankind so that He could have fellowship with thinking beings. He loved mankind or He wouldn’t have created them and He wanted mankind to love Him. He created male and female capable of reproducing, thus populating the earth with people who would love Him and He them. As we know, sin entered and separated His creation from Him. Some have asked why God allowed this to happen. God wanted people to love Him of their own freewill, knowing that He loved them or He wouldn’t have created them. Who would want a mechanical, programmed robot to say, "I love you." with no meaning, feelings, or free will? The reason God gave man a free choice and allowed him to sin was, "That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus". (Ephesians 2:7) This He proved, as we know from John 3:16, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
Peter also reveals God’s will in II Peter 3:9, "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, NOT WILLING THAT ANY SHOULD PERISH, BUT THAT ALL SHOULD COME TO REPENTANCE (In the Greek, "A change of mind.") Now that we know God’s will, we realize it becomes His responsibility to keep alive, and get the truth to, anyone who has a desire to know the true and living God of Creation.
An example of God’s longsuffering can be seen clear back in Genesis 15 in the account of His dealings with the heathen nations then in the Land of Canaan, which Israel was eventually to conquer. Seven great nations are given by name in Deuteronomy 7:1. God waited over 400 more years for these people to have a desire to know the true and living God, which shows God’s longsuffering. The record is in Genesis 15:13,16, "...and they (Egypt) shall afflict them (Israel) four hundred years;" "But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: FOR THE INIQUITY OF THE AMORITES IS NOT YET FULL". God extended His grace and long-suffering 400 more years to see if these nations (including the Amorites) had a DESIRE to know the true God of Creation. They did not. Of the hundreds of thousands of people living there, we know there was one exception. Rahab and her family (Joshua 2) were spared during the taking of Jericho for her faith in God.
Deuteronomy 7 records God’s instructions for Israel to destroy all these nations occupying the land of Canaan. May I pause and answer the question: "Why would God be so ‘mean’ as to have the little babies and children killed along with the parents?" The answer is very simple and logical. Should children under the age of accountability die, they would go to be with the Lord. (II Samuel 12:22,23 cf. Psalm 16:9,10). These little babies and children, if left to their parents to raise; would, no doubt, become as heathen as their parents and destined for Hell. Because of God’s grace and wisdom, you and I will see these little ones in Heaven which God took prematurely to raise Himself.
Should a person desire to know the truth, it then becomes God’s responsibility to get the truth to them. This can be seen in Acts 10, and 11 where the account is given of Cornelius who was "A devout man and one that feared God with all of his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway". (Acts 10:2). God told Cornelius to "...call for Simon, whose surname is Peter: Who shall tell thee words whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved". (Acts 11:13b,14). Cornelius was religious, but lost. However, he had a desire to know the truth (John 14:6); therefore, God fulfilled His responsibility by sending Peter with the message of the Gospel.
We should mention one more example, the Ethiopian eunuch. He was in charge of all the treasure belonging to the queen of the Ethiopians. More importantly, he was a religious man as he had come to Jerusalem to worship. (Acts 8:27). On the way back, he had stopped and was reading the book of Isaiah. (Acts 8:30). Like Cornelius, this man was religious but lost. Nevertheless, God knew he had a desire to know the truth. Philip had been preaching in many villages of the Samaritans when the Lord spoke to him, instructing him to go down where the eunuch was. (8:25,26). Again, we find God fulfilled His responsibility, predicated upon the eunuch’s desire to know the truth. Philip led him to Christ and then baptized him. This leads us to Step Five.
Step Five: Many have a mistaken idea that if all the "heathen" were given the Gospel, most of the "heathen" would abandon their idols, their false gods, and be gloriously saved! This kind of reasoning leads one to blame God for their eternal destiny in Hell. The idea that all, or the majority of, those who have not heard the truth would be saved, if they had the truth, is just not true! The word of God repudiates this philosophy from man’s reasoning. Remember, God knows man--a thousand times better!--than man knows man. No man knows what another person will or will not do; but, God does, because he is omniscient.
Recall the words of Christ, Himself, in Matthew 7:14, "Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, AND FEW THERE BE THAT FIND IT", (i.e., perceive or obtain it). Why is this so? The answer lies in man’s pride and self-righteousness; therefore, they willfully reject the truth. Notice Christ’s words in Matthew 13:15, "For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed...", i.e., to the truth. Compared to the multitudes who have ever lived, only a few have been saved from the time of creation until now.
At the time of the flood mankind had lived upon the earth 1656 years, and there were hundreds of thousands of people living on the earth at the time of the flood. How many were saved at the time of the flood? Only eight. Those who decided not to board the ark had heard the truth, as Noah preached for 120 years prior to the flood judgment. The Bible says, "He (Noah) was a preacher of righteousness." (II Peter 2:5).
What about Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Zoar (Genesis 14:2) , which were all destroyed by God? (Genesis 19:24,25). There were hundreds of thousands of people in these cities, yet God could not even find ten that were saved.
Look at Pentecost, just 50 days after Christ was crucified and resurrected. We have the record of the first 40 of these 50 days after His resurrection in Acts 1:3, "To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God:" "And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures; And then he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once: of whom the greater part remain alive unto this present, but some are fallen asleep." (I Corinthians 15:4-7). He then ascended back to Heaven ten days before Pentecost. (Acts 1:11). Read I Corinthians 15:3-8. We learn, from Acts 2:8-11, of the tremendous populace from all sects and areas that had come to Jerusalem to worship at the Feast of Pentecost. It is estimated that there could have been over 300,000 in and around Jerusalem. Remember, all Jewish males were required by the Law to come to this feast. (Deuteronomy 16:16; Exodus 23:17). In Acts 2:41 we are told that only 3,000 out of approximately 300,000 believed and were saved. That is only one out of 100. One must remember that many of these had seen Christ crucified, with their own eyes, and then observed Him alive after the resurrection for a month and ten days. (Acts 1:13). Yet, only one out of every hundred would believe and be saved. On to Step 6.
Step 6: Consider America today...as compared to the heathen First, let me re-emphasize a popular misconception. "If all people hear the Gospel; that Christ died, was buried and rose again to pay for their sins; they will believe and receive His promise of everlasting life." (John 3:16). If that were true, then why do Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Christian Scientists, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. totally reject salvation as a free gift without their own self-righteousness of good works included. All these have access to the truth, through radio, television, and print, that a person is only saved one way. "For by grace are ye saved through faith: and that not of yourselves: it is the gift (eternal life) of God, NOT OF WORKS, lest any man should boast." (Ephesians 2:8,9). Yet, they totally reject the truth!
Just because people living in the jungles and bush country have not advanced in the technology of agriculture, medicine, sciences, etc., does not qualify them as "heathen", as we think. Many of these tribes have a higher value on life, marriage and the family than America does. It is estimated that 4,000 babies, daily, are slaughtered by abortion in America. Lesbians and homosexuals have brainwashed America to the point, most of the schools are teaching our young people to accept this as an "alternative" lifestyle instead of what God calls it, "Plain, old perverted sin". Of all the missionary books I have read, I do not recall any of the missionaries encountering the problem of homosexuality in the bush tribes. Many of the so-called heathen execute the death penalty for adultery because of their values concerning the home and family.
Look at America! We even have our pulpits being saturated with homosexual and lesbian so-called preachers, with a Bible ON the pulpit in which they do not even believe. Some of the peoples and tribes we call "heathen" are more civilized than our so-called educated people in America, including our Supreme Court! Look at the educated fools (Psalm 14:1) who saturate our grade schools, high schools, and colleges with their agnostic and atheistic ideologies of false science (evolution). (I Timothy 6:20). All of these are born with a knowledge there is a God who created them. All have access to God’s Word, the Bible. All can observe the evidences of God, their Creator, in Astronomy, Botany, true Science, the wonder of living creatures--yet, deny the truth. This leads us to consider Step 7, the conclusion.
Step 7: In conclusion, I want to address those of you who seem so concerned about those who have never heard the Gospel and are going to spend eternity in Hell. Consider the following:
1. You are not God, therefore you do not possess the attributes God possesses. You and do not possess foreknowledge; i.e., God knows everything. He knows what you are going to think before you ever think it. Foreknowledge contains only one element--God knows everything that is going to happen before it happens. He knows the things that would have happened, if the things that did happen, hadn’t happened! Since you are not God and do not know all things as God does, then I would suggest that you quit trying to play God, second-guessing God, and questioning God’s love for His creation.
2. One must remember that unsaved parents and religion are opposed to the Gospel. This is why generation after generation will spend eternity in Hell. The children believe their unsaved parents instead of opening the Bible for the truth. Remember, the children grow up and as teen-agers, then adults, they have the same enlightenment from God as everyone else. Recall Romans 1:20, "For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse." This is the external cosmology and that of nature, also. The internal evidence is stated in Verse 19, "Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them: for God hath shewed it unto them."
When God created man with a mind to think and reason with, it contained the knowledge that God was the Creator of everything, including themselves as mankind. The God of Creation had His word written in the Bible, which will always point us to Jesus Christ for salvation. (Acts 4:12). This is Christianity. Christ dying and being resurrected in payment for the sins of the WORLD; therefore, eternal life is available to anyone as a free gift only. (Titus 3:5; Ephesians 2:8,9).
Religion, whether Catholicism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormonism, Islam, World-Wide Church of God (Armstrongism), Unitarianism, Scientology, and on and on, is always characterized by man, through his own achievement, trying to reach up to God or become his own god. How often, when witnessing, have you had a Roman Catholic tell you, "I was raised a Catholic and I will die a Catholic!" Their children were taught the same as they were taught; and, on it goes, from generation to generation. You have the same process in tribal peoples, whether in Africa, New Guinea, Ecuador, etc. I have witnessed to an innumerable amount of Lutherans and Catholics and found families going back to a great-great-great-grandmother, all united in believing that infant baptism provides salvation for their children. This philosophy, or heresy, was passed down to great-grandmother, grandmother, mother, then son or daughter. I cannot recall how many times I have had a Lutheran or Catholic tell me that his or her mother had them baptized as a baby, and they were "all right"! How sad; but, this is religion and not Christianity. I have related to them that nowhere does the Bible say that babies are to be baptized. Rather, when you reach the age of understanding right from wrong, you must trust Jesus Christ as your own personal Savior. They wanted nothing to do with it at all.
3. Now, the good news! Once in a while, you will find a person who does not bow to family peer pressure and exercises his own thinking. I have led Catholics, Lutherans, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others to Jesus Christ because they had a desire to know the truth. Remember this, the same truth (John 14:6) that one member of a family accepted, is available to every member of that family, going back hundreds of years. Why only one or two who has accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior, out of hundreds in their family tree over myriads of years? The answer lies in a person’s free will and personal responsibility. May I call your attention again to God’s disclosure of the case in Matthew 13:15, "For this peoples heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed..." Personally, I would rather deal with someone who has never been to church, than a person raised in a religion which has "brainwashed" them with their philosophical ideologies and traditions rather than the word of God.
Taking into consideration God’s attributes of foreknowlege, omniscience, omnisapience, and omnipotence, you can rest assured of these two things:
(1.) God knows who will accept Jesus Christ as their Savior when they hear he truth, because of His foreknowledge and omniscience.
(2.) With His attributes of omnisapience and omnipotence, God is able to get the message to the person who has a desire to know the truth, and will accept it when they receive it.
There are many generations of people, for hundreds of years, whom God knew would reject Jesus Christ as their Savior--if they had this truth. They have already rejected the knowledge of God they were born with, along with the external evidence of creation and cosmology. (Romans 1:19-23; Isaiah 45:6). This is evidenced by the Amorites in Canaan who, as God describes in Romans 1:22,23, "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image (Deuteronomy 4:15-19) made like unto corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts and creeping things." Yet, God waited 400 years and not one, except Rahab, had a desire to know the true and living God!.
4. Man’s unbelief. I have found that many of those who seem so concerned about people thousands of miles away, do not witness for Christ in their own town. Why? If you are a Christian, explain to me why you are so interested in someone going to Hell ten thousand miles away from you, and not interested in someone going to Hell ten blocks away from you in your own town.
Consider this. You may not be a Christian, just a skeptic trying to blame God out of your own ignorance for something to justify your own unbelief. Those that blame God for the so-called heathen going to Hell, evidently know nothing of the God and the Christ of the Bible. If you are in this category, this is what you do not believe about God and why your mind is in the dilemma it is in.
(1) God is love - John 3:16-18; II Peter 3:9; Romans 5;8,9
(2) God is omniscient (all-knowing) - I John 3:20; Psalms 94:11; I Kings 8:39; Hebrews 4:13
(3) God is omnisapient (all wisdom) - Romans 11:33; I Corinthians 2:4
(4) God is omnipotent (all-powerful) - Revelation 19:6; Matthew 19:26; Genesis 18:14a
(5) God is longsuffering - II Peter 3:9; Exodus 34:6; I Peter 3:20
(6) God is just - Deuteronomy 32:4; Isaiah 45:21
(7) God is righteous - He will never allow the unbeliever to enter Heaven; nor will He permit the believer to enter Hell - John 3:36; John 5:24
The problem with skeptics and their view of the so-called heathen is, they attempt to reduce the Infinite God to their own finite thinking. Man cannot look into the mind of another man and know what he is thinking now, or what his mind will accept or reject in the future. Only God knows this.
Skeptics need to believe God when He said He loved the world (John 3:16) and is longsuffering and not willing any should perish (II Peter 3:9). Believe God, that He knows who will believe; and will act upon their desire to know; and get them the truth. Remember the Ethiopian eunuch and Cornelius. Remember, there are hundreds of thousands of people in false religions who will not accept Jesus Christ as their Savior. I am now talking about America! Go into a small town with one Catholic church, two Lutheran churches, and a Methodist church and start witnessing. I did this one day and, after talking with about 120 persons, could not find one that knew they had eternal life because of trusting Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. Not one! When you that doubt God start believing God; then, you will have "the peace of God which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus". (Philippians 4:7).
I was talking to a man, some time back, and he had the same question we have been discussing here. My question to him was, "Since he was so concerned about the tribes in New Guinea, why didn’t he go to a Bible college, learn the word of God, learn their language, and go there as a missionary?" His mouth dropped down about to his knees!
May I say this in closing? Never doubt God’s love as He loves His creation more than any human being loves another. It only angers God when someone, because of their own ignorance, accuses Him of being unjust. God warns such persons in Isaiah 45:9, "Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker..." Maybe you have doubts because you are not saved and cannot see things through the eyes of God, as revealed in His word. I Corinthians 2:14 lets us know, But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." "Except a man be born again, he cannot see..." (John 3:3).
If you are not absolutely sure you are going to Heaven when you die--you probably are not! Right now...put your trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior and have the peace of knowing you have eternal life.
"He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him." (John 3:36). Also, I John 5:13, "These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God."