Is God Unfair?
By Matthew Barrett –
“God is unfair!” “How can God condemn millions to hell who have never heard the gospel?” Many Christians and non-Christians share this objection. For non-Christians, such an objection is all the more reason not to believe in Christianity. For many Christians, such an objection leads them down the road of inclusivism. But is God really unfair? Is he wrong to condemn those who never heard the gospel? While it may be unpopular to say this, I believe the biblical answer is quite simple: No, God is not unfair but absolutely just. Several reasons justify such an answer.
First, when we shake our fists in the air at God, protesting that it is unfair of him to condemn those who have never heard of Christ, we neglect to recognize what Scripture says, namely, that every single person, regardless of whether or not they have heard the gospel, is a wretched sinner deserving God’s eternal wrath and condemnation (Rom 3:11-18). As Paul explains in Romans 1, every man is unrighteous, suppressing the truth (1:18ff). Although God’s invisible attributes are perceived in creation (1:20), thereby leaving man without excuse, nevertheless, man’s heart is dark and futile, and he exchanges the glory of God for idols (1:21-23).
Second, for God to send his gospel to anyone at all is sheer grace and mercy. As shocking as this might sound, God does not have to save anyone. We are sinners deserving only wrath and judgment for our transgression of his holy law (Rom 6:23a). Therefore, if we truly want “fairness,” we should be sentenced to eternal punishment. God has every right to send us to hell for our sin. The fact that he chooses to send his gospel to some is pure grace.
Third, our discomfort with God condemning sinners to hell who have never heard the gospel may reveal our discomfort with the biblical doctrine of predestination. Before the foundation of the world, God chose or elected certain sinners to salvation, not on the basis of foreseeing anything in them (e.g., faith or good works) but purely because of his mercy and grace (Eph 1:3-14; Rom 9:9-12). And just as God is free to elect whom he will and pass over whom he will, so also is he free to send his gospel to whom he will and withhold it from whom he will (John 8:47; 12:40). As William Edgar states, while God knows his sheep and makes “arrangements for them to hear and respond,” he also “has determined to pass others by and leave them in the place we all deserve to be.” “The fact that some do not hear the gospel is one of the providential means of his passing them by.”
Is God unfair? Ironically, Paul addressed this very question. “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. . . . So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills” (Rom 9:14-16, 18).
Matthew Barrett (Ph.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the founder and executive editor of Credo Magazine. Barrett has contributed book reviews and articles to various academic journals. He is married to Elizabeth and they have two daughters, Cassandra and Georgia. He is a member of Clifton Baptist Church in Louisville, KY.
This column is from the January issue of Credo Magazine, “In Christ Alone.” Read others like it today!
The January issue argues for the exclusivity of the gospel, especially in light of the movement known as inclusivism. This issue will seek to answer questions like: Can those who have never heard the gospel of Christ be saved? Will everyone be saved in the end or will some spend an eternity in hell? Must someone have explicit faith in Christ to be saved? Contributors include David Wells, Robert Peterson, Michael Horton, Gerald Bray, Todd Miles, Todd Borger, Ardel Caneday, Nathan Finn, Trevin Wax, Michael Reeves, and many others.
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