The Fairness of God

by Don R. Camp

God is not fair. That is what I hear on YouTube and read on skeptic websites. God is not fair. He favors some with salvation, but not all. He is preached in some cultures, but not all. Some have the Bible, but not all. And if salvation depends on believing in this God and obeying the Bible, then all do not have an equal chance. It is not fair.

   The next step in that logic is usually to say if God is not fair then he is unworthy of being worshiped. Or even better, if God is unfair it is likely that there is no such God as you Christians have been declaring.

   That sounds like a pouty teenager who decides to run away from home because she wasn't allowed to wear lipstick like her friend Jennie. But that analogy trivializes the question. Seriously, is God fair?

   Anyone who bothers to look for that answer on the Internet will find two answers.

   The first, God IS FAIR because he is impartially just. Because of the rebellion and disobedience of all mankind (Romans 3:23) God is just and therefore fair in condemning all.

   That answer does not satisfy most skeptics, however, because they are of the opinion that some must be better  than others and that in fairness God should reward those who are better. But they fail to understand that failure is failure.

   When I was teaching school a D was passing - barely. If a D was a 60-69% grade then everything below 60% was below passing. It did not matter if it was 59% or 15%. Both grades were below passing.

   That is the situation for us. By God's standards we are all below passing, how far does not make any difference. We all deserve, in all fairness, an F.

   "But." I love that word in Ephesians 2:4. It means that FAILURE is not the last word. The last word is GRACE. And that is the second answer you will find. God is not fair; he is GRACIOUS.

   The bottom line premise of the Bible is that all are sinners, and all, if left on their own, would choose darkness rather than light. In other words, we would choose rebellion and self-interest rather than God. The result would be a forever, banned form his presence and blessing, in hell.

But God's mercy is so abundant, and his love for us is so great that, while we were spiritually dead in our disobedience, he brought us to life with Christ. It is by God's grace that you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4,5) 

   God IS NOT FAIR. But he is merciful and gracious. 

   So, it is likely my skeptic friends really would not want fairness. They would want grace.

   Stop! my skeptic friends will say. That might be all good for you, but what about those who don't even know about your God? Since it is "faith" in Jesus that is the key, if they do not know about Jesus aren't they doomed? Is that fair?

   My skeptic friends have a point, and they must have been reading on in Ephesians 2 because that is what it says in 2:8. "For it is by God's grace you have been saved through faith." But the question is faith in what.

   In Ephesians, Paul is talking to people who have heard of Jesus. And it is faith in the mercy and grace of God revealed in Jesus and made available through Jesus' sacrifice that is specifically in view. But what of those who have not heard of Jesus?

    That is a fair question, and it is one I hear from many internationals whom I've had in Bible classes and whose families have never heard about Jesus. I'll answer that question, but first this:

All who are reading this blog have heard of Jesus. What are you doing with that knowledge? If you were asking Jesus this question, that is were he would stop. There is no point going on if you are unwilling to trust in God's grace that you now understand to be centered in Jesus. Everything beyond that is abstract curiosity and not a serious question. What will you do with Jesus?

   If you, however, are trusting in Jesus and want to know, here is the answer I believe Paul the Apostle would give: God has revealed himself and his grace to all.

   To the people in Lystra he said: "He [God] has always given evidence of his existence by the good things he does: he gives you rain from heaven and crops at the right times; he gives you food and fills your hearts with happiness.” That revealing of himself was intended to cause men to seek him, as Paul explained to the men of Athens: "He did this so that they would look for him, and perhaps find him as they felt around for him. Yet God is actually not far from any one of us."

   In other words, God is findable. His grace may be known even if you don't know about Jesus. Certainly, the ancient people such as Abraham and Job knew God initially this way. And there are many for whom this is all they know of God. So Paul says in Romans 1 that they are "without excuse." What people, even those who have never heard of Jesus, can know is sufficient for them to know of God's grace. They cannot claim they didn't have a chance.

    There is a principle in the Bible that we are accountable for what we know, not what we don't know. If everyone can know something of God's grace, it is to that they are accountable. If the question to those who have heard of Jesus is what have you done with Jesus and the gospel, the question to those who have only the knowledge of God's grace in nature is what have you done with what you know.

   Can they then be saved apart from Jesus? I think that the answer is both NO and YES. But. (I know many of my brethren in the faith will object. Be patient with me.)

   The "but" is that the man or woman who responds to the little that may be seen of God's grace in nature will not be left where he or she is. In some cases, God has brought that person to a knowledge of Jesus. That is, after all, what apparently God did in Athens for Dionysius and Damaris (Acts 17). These apparently were two who had a distant hope in the unknown god represented by the pedestal absent an image, and Paul directed their hope to the true and living God whose Son died and rose for their forgiveness. They then were able to focus their trust in that clearer truth. And that was certainly a pattern in the Old Testament where many trusted in a god they only barely knew and came to focus their faith in Yahweh, the God revealed to Israel. And that seems to be what is happening across the Muslim world as people seek to really know God, they are given a vision or a dream or a message that focuses them on Jesus. God is findable by those who pursue him. God does not exclude anyone from his grace.

   But Jesus is the essential key, even for those who never heard of him. There is no salvation apart from Jesus' death on the cross. Not at any place or time. None. There is only justice. For those who refuse him or neglect the grace and mercy of God they can know, there is only justice.

   Dear reader, if you have come this far, I adjure you to give your attention to Jesus. Get to know him in the Bible. Trust in him and trust in the grace and mercy of God revealed and personified in him. He is our only hope.

   See William Lane Craig's answer to this question: How will God judge someone who has never heard the gospel?