We are considering a post by Al Maxey from November 15, 2004, arguing for the doctrine of “available light” — the idea being that —
all men, who ever have lived or ever will live, are amenable to whatever available light God has given unto them. Those who genuinely respond to that light with fullness of faith will be judged fairly and benevolently by our Father; those who willfully reject that light will be rejected by God.
In short, for those who’ve never heard the gospel, their salvation will be determined based on their response to what they know of God from other sources.
Al argues from several passages that God reveals himself both through the Bible and through nature. Indeed, he sometimes reveals himself through dreams, visions, prophets, and — ultimately — his Son. And Al is unquestionably true to scripture on this point.
Al then argues that God judges based on available light from this passage —
(Rom 2:13-15) For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, 15 since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)
Verses 14-15 teach that even those who’ve never heard God’s law know by nature some of God’s law, because their consciences affirm much of what God requires. Al concludes,
Thus, some who never even heard of the Law of Moses (God’s law), will still find a defense as they stand in judgment before God in that they perceived His will from what light they did have, and they responded to that light to the best of their ability. I believe that principle is no less true today in the Christian era.
(emphasis in original).
Let’s turn now to Leroy Garrett’s article on the same subject from October 30, 2004, cited by Al. Leroy begins by citing several passages in which we are told that Jesus died to save the entire world —
(1 Tim 4:10) (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.
(Heb 2:9) But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
(John 4:42) They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”
(John 1:29) The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
(1 Cor 15:22) For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
He concludes —
that when Christ died on the cross he saved every one – all those who lived before him, all those who lived in his day, and all those who live after him. All humanity — past, present, future! Therefore, every one is of the elect, and everyone will be saved in heaven – except those who reject such a salvation, or reject God’s light in some other form. They are the non-elect. The references above show that some will not inherit the kingdom, and will have their place in the lake of fire. It is clear who they are – those who refuse to believe and accept what Christ did for them, or who knowingly reject God in other ways.
One may rightly ask, “Does not one have to believe in and obey Christ?” Yes, of course, just as he/she must respond in faith to any and all light God has given him/her. A “believer” is not only one who accepts Christ, but one who responds to the light in the two other books of God [God as revealed in the Creation and God as revealed in nature]. Rahab, the Ethiopian eunuch, and Cornelius were all “believers” in that they “feared God” (Acts 10:2) when they had comparatively little light. It is the principle of available light. One finds favor with God by walking by such light as he/she has. Enoch did not have much light as a patriarch, but still “He walked with God” (Genesis 5:24). Those who died in the flood had similar light, but they did not walk by the light they had and were lost.
Leroy offers additional support for this view in a 1988 article —
As Paul says in Acts 17:27, God has placed people on the earth “so that they should seek the Lord in the hope that they might grope for him and find Him, though he is not far from each one of us.” But millions who grope for Him never find Him because they are so deprived by impossible circumstances that they can do no more than exist on a starvation diet until they die. Others are so crushed by oppressive regimes that they have no opportunity to hear the gospel or to seek the true God of heaven.
Another way to say it is that responsibility is measured by ability. Paul lays down a principle in 2 Cor. 8:12 that applies to the whole of life: It is required of one according to what he has, not according to what he has not. Our Lord distinguished between those who had heard and those who had not: “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin” (Jo. 15:22).
So … do I agree? Well, largely, yes. But there’s one key point where I disagree. I agree that God judges men by available light. We aren’t condemned for sins we can’t even know are sins. I think that much is clearly true. I agree that those who obey as much of God’s will as they know will be saved. That’s true, too. I just think that no one satisfies this test.
On the other hand, I do think there’s a way out of the box — the false choice between the perpetual torment of those who’ve never heard the gospel and the salvation of all who’ve never heard the gospel.