Everybody is foreknown, because God knows everyone before they are born, so everyone is predestined "For those God foreknew he also predestined", and therefore everybody is called in their life time "those he predestined he also called". Therefore everybody is judged on the extent of their calling, and even if you are not baptised if your calling was small you will be judged and still have a chance of getting into heaven. Is this correct? If not do you have to be baptised to get into heaven? If so is that not very unfair on people who have a smaller calling e.g. the difference between a person brought up person in the UK and a Hindu brought up in India? I would reference to the Bible from Romans 8:29. [Editor’s note, this question comes from a son through his father who is passing it along, which explains how the answer is worded]
You ask a good questions. My experience is that adolescents tend to be rather fixated on the idea of fairness. It how their brains are wired. My kids always told "that is not fair." I think the common parental answer "Well, you have to get used to it, sometimes the world is not fair." is true of the world, but does not work very well when it comes to God. If God is not just, then that completely and fundamentally violates the Christian understanding of God. Therefore, in this case, the way the brains of adolescents is wired is appropriate to understanding Christianity!
First, there is one thing your son will have to accept in the end, which is that the justice and fairness of God requires faith. I fully intend to give a "logical" answer to his question, but the definition of faith is being "certain of what we do not see." (Hebrews 11:1). We should contemplate God’s idea of justice, but in the end, we will have to accept at least partially on faith that God is in fact good and that his justice is wiser than our justice. Consider Jeremiah’s "conversation: with God in Jeremiah 12:1. Basically, Jeremiah says to God (paraphrasing), ‘You are always just and always righteous, but in this particular case over here, I really have a problem with your justice.’ Jeremiah, like Jamie, had a problem with God’s justice, in this case when God allowed the wicked to prosper for a time. So, Jamie is not alone. Notice that God does not rebuke Jeremiah for questioning his justice. Neither should you or I get on Jamie for questioning God’s justice (I am sure you are not!).
Let me start in Ezekiel 33. I suggest Jamie read the whole chapter. Notice that God says to his people that his justice is not like the justice of human beings. "Yet your countrymen say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ But it is their way that is not just." God says that if a wicked man repents, he will be forgiven, but if a righteous person turns from his righteousness, no matter how righteous he has been, nor how long, he will not be forgiven. Our sense of justice says that we must receive justice/punishment for our "sins," but God’s justice leaves room for grace to those who take responsibility and repent.
God both foreknows and predestines. He predestines in this sense. God has prepared a way and a "room" for us (John 14:1-3). God has predestined all of us to be with him forever. Yet, he gives us free will and the right and ability to reject this destiny. This is a mystery. How can God foreknow what we will do, yet at the same time give us freedom of will to do or not do what he already knows we will do or not do? To humans, with their linear view of time, with past, present and future all laid out in a definite order, this does not make sense. However, remember that God created not only space: He created time. Time is nothing to God, as space is no limitation for him. God exists outside of time. God preknows. He also predestines. However, what he does not do is force anyone to accept the offer of love he gives. God is love, but he is also justice. For those who refuse the calling and the destiny he has prepared for them, he is willing to apply justice. "The wages of sin are death." (Romans 6:23). This passage is as true as the one which says "God is love."
Now, Jamie seems to have read some materials outside the Bible. This is kind of a guess, but it is my intuition based on his question which seems to reflect Reform doctrine. If I am wrong, it really does not matter, but that is my guess. Besides, there is absolutely nothing wrong with reading things outside the Bible, to say the least! He mentions some having a smaller calling. I do not see the idea of a smaller calling in the Bible. All of us are called to the same thing, which is to a relationship with God. All of us have the same calling. We are called to the gospel message. Now it is true that some of us are given more opportunity. What I mean is this, Jamie has, from his youngest age, been "called" through the way he was raised, whereas many have not had such good exposure to Christian teaching.
Some ask, and I cannot blame them one bit, what about those who never hear about Jesus? In today’s world, I will guess that it is less than one in one hundred who literally have not heard of Jesus. Nevertheless, it is crystal clear that some are given more opportunities to respond. Anyone living in India can get their hands on a Bible. Anyone who want to can go to church in India as well, but I will not pretend that children growing up in India are given the same opportunity to respond to Jesus. How is it just that people raised in North Korea, where Bibles are not general even available, are held accountable before God?
My response is that God will hold us responsible for what he has given us. 1 Corinthians 4:2 "those who have been given a trust must prove faithful." Romans 2:5-16 is, arguably, the key passage on this. Here Paul argues that all have sinned and all are responsible. He even says that when Gentiles who have not heard of the Law behave as if they have, God recognizes this and will take it into account when judging them. They are judged according to their consciences. The problem with this is this: Which of us obeys what our God-given conscience tells us is right all the time?
I am very glad that I am not the Judge. God is the judge. He is a good judge. He is a perfect judge. He is a perfectly fair judge. In the end, I trust him. To quote a typical question from a skeptical person, "What if a person dies on the way to their baptism. Are they lost?" I believe God is plenty big to take care of this quandry. It is not for us to judge. It is for us to bring the truth to people. I am fully convinced that people are far–just about infinitely far–more likely to be with God for eternity if we share the gospel of Jesus with them than if they remain in ignorance. However, I trust that God is just. He will hold everyone accountable for what they have done while in the body (paraphrasing Revelation 20:12-13). God is just. Those given more opportunity will be judged more strictly. Luke 12:48 tells us that from those given much, much will be expected. The Bible says that we must be born again of water and spirit to enter the Kingdom of God. I will stick with this teaching and let God handle any "exceptions" to the biblical teaching that salvation requires baptism into Christ.
Here is the problem. I cannot spell out in clear detail EXACTLY how this will work. I wish I could, but this is God’s territory. All I can do is obey God and trust in him. The Bible tells me to repent and be baptized. It offers me great assurance that if I do so, trusting in the blood of Jesus, I will be saved. I can hang on to that. What about someone in Mongolia who never heard of Jesus. Never mind that probably virtually everyone in Mongolia has by now heard about Jesus. I cannot affect a person in Mongolia. That is where trusting in the provenance of God comes in. I am in a LOT of control of my own reactions and own responses. I need to do what is right and I need to try to help those around me to come to know God. I trust God to be just. By faith, I know that he is. The logical, intellectual side of my brain wants to have the answer to every question, but God says, "Be still and know that I am God."
Jamie mentions Romans 8:29. Here is how I understand this verse. All are predestined. God has a place in heaven for all who repent and trust in him, through the blood of Jesus. All are predestined, but not all are called. We need to get out there with the gospel and make sure that more receive the call. But there is a sense in which all are called, because, as it says in Ecclesiastes, God has put eternity in all of our hearts. God has called all of us because we are made in his image. Yet, it is clear that some receive a stronger calling because we share our faith. Let us get the gospel out there so more can hear the call of Jesus. But not all who are called are justified. Not all are baptized into Christ. And even of those who are justified, not all are glorified. Some give up their faith and lose their salvation. This is a deep tragedy, but it is also the truth. Read Hebrews to see the truth in this.
So, with Jeremiah and with Jamie, there are things in this world which seem to me not to be just. I can relate to this emotion and my mind struggles with this as well. However, God is love and God is justice. His love is, in a sense, greater than his justice. That is why Jesus came. But in the end, God will bring all humans beings to account, and from those who have been given much, much will be expected.
John Oakes, PhD