Last night at the FOCUS Team, Sam from Pelita gave a talk on "Christian apologetic" during the common hour, i.e. how do you defend the gospel when you are challenged by non-Christians. Topic for last night was this fairness question - what about those who have never heard? Is God fair to condemn those who have never heard of Jesus? If God is fair, then what would he do to those who have never heard about the gospel?
Someone asked me exactly the same question last time, and I gave the same "standard" apologetic answer - God is fair, but God is not condemning us because we have not heard of the gospel. All of us are given a chance to respond to God, but none of us, in our default position, treats him as GOD. We are condemned because we have rejected him in the first place, and in Jesus, God has exercised both his justice and his love.
Last night, we were trying to come up with the conclusion that "yes, we all deserved to be punished" from Romans 1:18-32. However, I can see how non-Christians can have issues with these passages, and in some sense they might not be convincing argument to support the "we all have sinned" idea.
First of all, the emphasis on these verses is that God has made his eternal power plain to us, and we are supposed to know him and his character by just observing the creation. There should be no excuse, in verse 20, not to recognise what God has done for us, and people are assumed to know God's decree in their heart.
But I am wondering, as knowing is an intellectual exercise, how intelligent do you need to be in order to really know the existence of God from the creation? There is clearly a logical implication here, because one must observe (see/hear/smell/touch), feel (how wonderful is the world!), be challenged (how does this wonderful world come to be?), experience (wonderful things usually have a designer), and then logically apply (therefore this world must be created by someone, i.e. GOD). How many people can really think this way?
Well. Maybe most of us can. But how intelligent do you need to be in order to come to the same implication? IQ 50 or above? At least finish the kinder garden? Then what about those who were born with less intelligent? What about those who were born disabled, who cannot even perform basic observation? What about those who are logically incapable, who have not done a course on descrete mathematics? What about the little babies who die? They can't even feed themselves - are they going to go to hell? What about...? Is God fair by condemning them? They were not even given opportunity to know God from the things He created!
So my second question is, in Romans 1:18-23, we see that "sin" is when we know the existence of the eternal God, but we deliberately reject him as God but worship created things instead.
I am not a psychologist, but I am wondering what is the mental state of this deliberation. You can only deliberately rejecting God if to one God evidently and convincingly exists, and that's what the passage in Romans 1 is about - you can find out about this evidence from His creation. However the logic also implies that, for those who cannot or are unable to determinedly conclude the existence of God, will they be labelled "sinners"? That will include at least the intellectually incapable group that I've mentioned above, isn't it?
At the end, does Romans 1:18-32 solves the question behind these questions? Is God fair when the new born baby, or the mentally incapable people might also face the wrath of God?
Probably not, but I think Paul did not wrote down these words to answer "what about them" kind of question. People asked these question to disapprove the fairness of God, and they want a way out without submitting themselves to God. You cannot have a fine line saying, anyone who has this much of intelligent are responsible to perceive the eternal power of God, or any child who has passed x-year birthday can evidently know God. Then people will start trying to be Pharisees, trying to push the limit up so that they aren't responsible.
Instead, I think the emphasis is still on you. For those who have read the passage - there is no excuse for you that you don't know God and recognise him as the creator of heaven and earth. Why should we find loop holes to see how some people can get out of it, and then try to fit into this loop hole ourselves? But the word of God is addressing each one of us individually - if you have the intelligent to try to word around it, surely you have no excuse to not to know him, not to treat him as God, and not to follow his decrees.
At the end, we still need to trust God that he is just, and it is not a supposition. I cannot put my word into His mouth, by answering specifically what God will do to the mentally incapable on the judgement day. What God did say was (1) all men are sinful (2) God will judge justly, and I do trust his word. However, at the same time God's word is speaking to you that you too need to repent and place your trust on the death and resurrection of Jesus, otherwise you will perish.
It is indeed difficult to prove that "we have all sinned", as you need to cover all the cases. However in Romans 1 Paul proved that "you have sinned", which is equally effective to each individual.