Today’s Reading: Romans 1
“What about the people in other countries who have never heard the gospel? Will they go to hell?” This was a question one of our worship band members asked me. I was finishing up a late meeting at the church, and he was finishing practice. We met each other in the lobby when he dropped that question. More specifically, he said, “We preach the gospel here, but what about for all of the other countries around the world? How will they know what we know?”
Today’s reading in Romans 1 is how I began to address this young man’s legit and important question.
I wish I were a universalist and an annihilationist, but I can’t be, based on what the Bible teaches. A universalist says everyone goes to heaven no matter how they interpret God, so all of humanity will be in heaven. An annihilationist says there is only heaven and no hell, so those who are evil simply cease to exist. It removes the final judgment. I wish I were both, so responding to such a complex question would be easy. However, the Bible provides an answer. We’ll start in the book of Romans.
Romans is what I use to explain the difference between a local church band member, a tribesman in the remote part of the Amazon or a nomad in the Sahara who has never heard the Good News. The full answer is in two Bible verses: one about God, one about humanity.
Let’s start with the verse on humanity: “That which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20). Paul says God has two witnesses on the planet: one is internal and the other is external. Both creation and consciousness speak about God—we see this very clearly in this Romans passage. It is the evidence of God “without” and “within.” In other words, what’s outside of us and what’s inside of us.
German philosopher Emmanuel Kant spoke about believing in God because of two realities that converted him—“the starry heavens above and the moral law of God within.”
A story about Sir Isaac Newton and his atheist friend serves as a wonderful example of the evidence “without.” Newton’s friend did not believe in God but preferred to take the position that the universe “just happened.” One day Newton showed him a model of the solar system. The sun, the planets, and the moons were all in place. The sizes of the spheres were in proportion, and the planets and the satellites revolved around the sun at their relative speeds. The friend admired the model saying, “It’s intriguing. Who made it?”
“Nobody,” said Newton. “It just happened.”
Newton was stating that to have a design of the universe, there needs to be a designer of the universe. A big bang didn’t do it, but a big God did.
The “within” argument is the moral law. The distinguishing between right and wrong is innate within humanity. This premise was the entirety of C. S. Lewis’s conversion and his must-read book, Mere Christianity.
What is not clear is how much information a person gets from within and from without? Even with only these two witnesses, however, I do know that it is enough by which to be judged and not have any excuses.
For all of us in the West, I believe we will be judged more severely than the person in an Indian remote village because we have had the gospel made clear to us almost our entire lives.
Now let’s look at the verse about God: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25, AMP).
This verse is so powerful. Abraham said this about God. God will do what is right with what He has given humanity to believe.
From consciousness and creation will people in other countries know Jesus was God in the flesh, came from a virgin, died for the sins of humanity on the cross, rose from the dead, and ascended to the right hand of God the Father? That I don’t know. It doesn’t seem so. What I do know is that whatever they get will be enough for them to be judged and they will be without excuse.