One summer my boyhood town in Western New York passed a parking ordinance that forbade parking on certain sides of the street on certain days of the week. The city council had their reasons for passing that law, and one benefit was an increase in revenues from cars ticketed for violations. The city, you see, didn’t post warning signs on the streets in question. In answer to queries from the local newspaper, a city spokesman pointed out that they had published a notice in the newspaper, and legally that’s all they had to do.
Maybe in this case the law was on the city’s side, but the concept of fair play was not. Ironically, many people see God’s justice in the same light. Conventional wisdom tells us that God has published his way for salvation, and that way must be honored in order to gain eternal life. But there is a problem when we realize that the majority of people who have walked this earth have never had a chance to consider that way of life. On the surface, at least, it would appear that the devil is winning the contest for souls, for billions have never held a Bible. Countless have been honestly, sincerely, yet totally deceived by theologies and philosophies other than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And many have been legally barred from even being exposed to it.
God has his message, as some would tell it, but he never got the signs posted, and ignorant or not, people bear their guilt and have a price to pay. And, so it might seem, God shows his justice by punishing the deceived in an equal measure with the rebellious.
But people who believe such things have some scriptures to explain.
Jesus said, “And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.” (Luke 12:47-48 NKJV)
He also said that it would be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the judgment than it would be for the people of his day, for “if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day” (Matthew 11:24-25 NKJV).
If we take these passages at face value, it would appear that God makes allowances of some kind if people just don’t know better. It will be more “tolerable” for them in the judgment. God is not like that Western New York town. He doesn’t purposely keep people ignorant so that he can get some benefit from a penalty imposed by the law’s violation.
The author of Hebrews makes a curious statement. After discussing the faithfulness of many Old Testament heroes, he says they were looking for a “better resurrection” (Hebrews 11:35). Conventional theology teaches that the dead will rise at Christ’s return and that judgment will be made on the righteous and unrighteous at that time. Yet the book of Revelation (chapter 20) tells a different story. And it is a story that is filled with hope for those of us with loved ones who never understood God nor accepted Jesus Christ. And it is hope for the billions of people of all times whom the Gospel never reached.
Revelation 20:4-6 talks about a resurrection at the return of Christ of those who were written in the book of life. These are clearly “those who are Christ’s at his coming”. And the Bible uses a curious phrase to describe this resurrection. It’s called the “first resurrection” (v. 5), and this resurrection is clearly a better resurrection, for those in it live and reign with Christ for 1000 years.
“But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished” , at which time they “stood”, that is, they are resurrected. “And the books were opened, and another book was opened, which is the book of life” (v. 12). The book of life is being opened again! More names will be written in that book. Those who didn’t know better will have a chance to know better.
God doesn’t play “gotcha” with a little thing like salvation. He will make sure that everyone sees the signs and understands them. Then the decision will truly be theirs.
Lenny Cacchio is a resident of Lee’s Summit. He blogs at http://morningcompanio nblogspot.com/.