In which we discuss general versus special revelation with an ostensibly confused godless person.
‘Good and Godless’ asks:
Lucky you had access to the bible or you never would have figured it out. How long would have kept researching if the bible was not available for your diversion into public speaking?
Yes, it was lucky I was born more than 1500 years after Christianity began to spread all over the world and more than five hundred years after the invention of movable type allowed the Bible to be mass-produced and available pretty much everywhere except North Korea. That was a close call!
Now, something tells me that our godless commenter here is not entirely sincere in asking this question. However, despite his attempt to score a rhetorical point, it is a legitimate question that seekers—and sometimes Christians— struggle to answer.
Disclaimer: I am a scientist who is Christian. I have not had any special training in theology, and I do not represent any kind of religious or theological authority. The following represents only my own personal understanding. There are many very good resources out there if you wish to pursue the topic further.
The first and most important thing to keep in mind is that God is merciful and just. For this reason, he has made himself manifest in nature, so that we can all discover God just by experiencing the natural world. This is why I post weekly reminders of Psalm 19. We are also reminded in the New Testament that God has revealed himself generally in nature with Romans 1:20, so that there is no excuse for rejecting God.
This is part of what’s referred to as General Revelation. As I explain in my testimony, that’s exactly how I came to my belief in God despite the fact that I had almost zero contact with religion for the first quarter-century of my life. I figured out that God existed without so much as ever picking up a Bible.
What our commenter is alluding to, however, is Special Revelation. This refers to the knowledge that Jesus Christ died to atone for our sins, and that we are saved—that is, reconciled to God even though we’re sinful—solely through Jesus Christ.
It is not unreasonable for a sincere person to be concerned that this leaves a lot of people throughout history and even today out of receiving God’s promise of redemption and eternal life through Jesus Christ. First of all, it’s worth noting that by now that there are probably vanishingly few people anywhere in the world who have not heard of God or the Bible or Jesus. I have seen Inuit people in the remotest parts of Alaska praying in the name of Jesus. Christianity is spreading like wildfire through China despite the brutal efforts of the Communist Party to crush it. This is due in large part to the efforts of missionaries who have been fearless and tireless in spreading the gospel throughout the world. But it also shows, where there is a will to know, there is a way.
There is a good case to be made that God gives Special Revelation to those who are open to receiving it, even in the most unlikely circumstances. There are reports of Jesus appearing in visions and dreams to hundreds of thousands of Muslims in the Middle East amidst the most horrible chaos and suffering. Those who have converted to Christianity will proselytize others who are open to hearing the gospel.
So, what about those who still have not heard of Jesus or the Bible? Are they doomed? I responded to a similar question asked by a student when I was on a Q&A panel, in which I quoted C. S. Lewis:
I think that every prayer which is sincerely made even to a false god, or to a very imperfectly conceived true God, is accepted by the true God and that Christ saves many who do not think they know him. For He is (dimly) present in the good side of the inferior teachers they follow. In the parable of the Sheep and Goats [Matthew 25:34-40] those who are saved do not seem to know that they have served Christ.
God is loving, merciful, and just. Everyone who desires to know God and to be close to him will be given the opportunity.