Questions regarding God's justice will be with us always—at least until the kingdom comes. A current example: Since Love Wins brought it up, we are pondering the fate of those who have never heard of Jesus. The New Testament clearly teaches that we can appropriate the forgiveness wrought for us on the cross only by trusting in Christ. But of course, those who haven't heard of Christ cannot do that. So how will God judge them?
In my book, God Wins, I argue that when it comes to such questions—questions the Bible does not answer—our only recourse is to trust in the God who has shown himself to be perfectly merciful and perfectly just in Jesus Christ. We are called to trust that this God will do what is just, right, and good.
This answer has seemed too easy to some. One reviewer of my book referred to this type of answer as "punting"—by which he inferred that it was an easy way out of theological dilemma.
In one sense, the criticism is just, because in the book I did not signal what an extraordinary thing such faith is. I may have given the impression that this sort of faith is an easy out, a comforting escape, a way to avoid tension and ambiguity. It is anything but that.
To me, the easy way out of such dilemmas is to foreclose the tension. For some Christians today, that means positing a loving God who would never in a millennium condemn such people to hell in such an arbitrary fashion. Others say that people who have never heard the gospel will be judged by their good works, or by the lights of their religion. Some speculate that upon their death, such people will be given knowledge of Jesus and will be able to make a decision for Christ right then and there.
The problem with each "solution" is that each is a sheer fabrication. The Bible—what we take to be God's revelation of himself and his will—says little or nothing about the fate of those who have never heard the name of Jesus. But we continue to trust in such solutions because, well, they relieve the tension. To me, they are different ways of "punting," taking the easy way out.
The hard way, the narrow way, the way that demands more than human beings can do on their own, is to trust God to do what is right and just and good.
We can see this more clearly when we bring the issue of God's justice closer to home. You have a brother or sister, son or daughter, mother or father, husband or wife, or best friend who simply refuses to believe in the gospel. But their reasons are complex. Maybe they were abused by a pastor in their youth. Maybe they were raised in a church that was oppressively legalistic. Maybe they have faced tragedy after tragedy. The point is, you understand why they refuse to trust in Christ—everything in their life suggests that the Christian faith is absurd. And yet in many ways, this loved one lives more like a Christian than do a lot of people in your church. They make lifestyle changes to preserve the environment. They volunteer at the homeless shelter. They never judge other people. They are the nicest people to be around. And so forth.
There's the tension: What is God going to do with such people, people who literally have failed to trust in Christ but whose circumstances suggest they may now be psychologically incapable of even hearing the gospel?
Some revert to the letter of the gospel law: Since these people have heard the literal words of the gospel and refused to name the Name, they are destined for hell. Tension eliminated.