The God of the Bible is More Inclusive Than We Might Think
Kristin (who administrates our blog and website along with her husband) and I (Ron who has been writing these weekly blogs) decided recently to ask several NCF-ers to write guest blogs as part of our series on Bridges and Pathways to Experiencing More of God’s Presence. We are publishing them as they became available. It is a privilege to be able to post the second of these today. Thanks, Elaine, for doing this teaching a few weeks ago and for this challenging summary.
When I was young, I was taught that the fires of hell awaited everyone in the world who wasn’t a member of our denomination. This didn’t suggest much hope for humanity, because our denomination was quite small. Happily, when I was in high school, I learned about grace.
This revelation prompted me to start reading the Bible to see what other wonderful things were in it. Soon I discovered Romans 2:14-16: When Gentiles, who don’t have the law, do instinctively what the law requires. . . they show that what the law requires is written on their hearts”; in Romans 2:29, Paul goes on to explain that God doesn’t care that much if a person doesn’t fulfill the minutia of strictly prescribed sacraments and forms of worship. What God does long for is people seeking goodness, justice, mercy, and love. For if they do so, they will find God, who is always present where goodness, justice, mercy, and love are found. Such people might not ever learn God’s “proper” name in this life, but they will be God’s followers, and in the end, they will know God, and God will welcome them into the Peaceable Kingdom.
These assertions may sound unbiblical. Yet, the Bible provides plenty of indications that God’s inclusiveness is far greater than ours.
Here are some of them:
In 609 BC, Josiah, king of Judah heard that the pagan Pharaoh of Egypt was going to fight the Assyrians. Josiah tried to stop him, but Pharaoh said “What do I have to do with you, king of Judah? I’m coming against Assyria, not you; and God has commanded me to hurry. Do not oppose God . . . so that he will not destroy you.” But Chronicles tells us, Josiah “did not listen to the words of Pharaoh from the mouth of God.” Thus it is clear that God really was speaking to Pharaoh, and that Josiah’s death in a battle with Pharaoh was a direct result of his failure to listen to this pagan king who had heard the words of God and acted on them.
Isaiah the prophet said of the Persian king, Cyrus, who conquered Babylon in 539 BC, “Thus says Yahweh to his anointed, to Cyrus,. . . He is my shepherd, and he shall carry out all my purpose”; And Cyrus did that, letting the Jewish people who’d been in exile in Babylon for 70 years go home, even providing materials and money for use in rebuilding the temple. Both 2 Chronicles and Ezra state that Cyrus announced throughout his kingdom that Yahweh, “the God who is in Jerusalem” had told him to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. And Isaiah’s calling Cyrus “God’s anointed” confirmed God’s unmistakable approval.
The stories of Balaam, Naaman, Melchizedek and Jethro are all examples of God’s accepting and interacting positively with unbelievers in the Judeo-Christian tradition.
The New Testament also evidences God’s inclusiveness.
The wise men who gave gifts and worshipped the infant Christ were probably Zoroastrian priests of a pagan god named Ahura Mazda, yet God provided a comet to guide them to Judea to worship Jesus. God also used Herod’s priests and scribes to tell them where Jesus was, and spoke to them in a dream, telling them not to return to Herod after visiting Bethlehem. They were neither Christians nor Jews, yet God favored them greatly.
In Matthew 25, Jesus says that when he sits on his glorious throne, all the people of the world will be there. He will say to many of them “Come you who are blessed by my Father. . . For I was hungry; you fed me, I was thirsty; you gave me water, I was a stranger; you welcomed me, I was naked; you clothed me, I was sick; you cared for me, I was in prison; you visited me.
But the righteous, confused, will ask, “When did we ever do any of those things?” And Jesus will reply, “When you did it to any of those I love, you did it to me.”
Presumably these righteous ones are not Christian believers, because if they were, it is likely they wouldn’t need to ask that question. The point being that God considers such people to be his followers, even if they don’t know his name or who he is. For even if they don’t know Jesus’ name, they know his heart. This picture is consistent with the Romans 2:14-16 passage, that those who do not know Jesus, but act with the love, justice, and compassion that the law demands, are just as much God’s children as those of us who already know who Jesus is.