Available Light: The case from scripture

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.

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15 Responses

  1. I think there is something in what you say in the very last sentence of this blog—– “a false choice between the perpetual torment of those who have never heard the gospel” VS. “the salvation of all who have never heard the gospel”…. I think each is based on our own misreading of scripture.

  2. I agree with all said on this subject and would like to make the point easier to swallow for those that may state they do not agree.
    When a person who does not hear the message is saved, lets compare it to someone that is born mentally not able to believe. Everyone believes and will agree that person will be saved regardless. So, the same thinking should apply to those that have not heard as neither one could possibly understand and obey.

  3. I’m fine with agreeing that those who are not mentally capable of believing will believe….grace extends beyond our ability to understand. But how do you get around the idea then, that in trying to reconcile all things to all men, if we increase the available light, and they reject the new light…are they not then worse off than before?

    Doesn’t then in effect make the good news bad?

  4. The Bible in and of itself is available light. Written by fallible man through an infallible God over thousands of years. Even more we are interpreters of the finality of the scriptures. It is this finality that divides us today of being strict in the understanding of scriptures or very loose. However for me the mystery of how God truly extents his salvation even beyond our understanding is a new hope. We know that salvation is more than the logic box we make of it. Children below the age of accountability and severe mental handicaps is a good place to start with available light.

  5. So…people have mentioned the age of accountability….what age is that exactly? Maybe that would hijack this thread, so Jay you could just facebook me an answer. Like do we have a number?

  6. I’m a little more Robert Prater, in comments to first AL. He states sin is sin, and everyone regardless of light is in sin. I’m not sure the only sins that count are those I have knowledge of. Weren’t sacrifices (Job) and Israel(?) for sins of omission (including unknown?).
    I strongly disagree with Kyle’s senario of increasing available light leading to sorrow. I beleive those who wanted to find, know, and obey God (Romans 2) would be delighted to know and do more. The Ethiopian E. seemed delighted with Philip’s help.

  7. Isn’t odd that Al Maxey is getting famous (1/2 million hits) for his AL!

  8. Romans 1:18-32 is the unfolding of the truth about God’s just wrath on the unrighteous. The subjects of God’s wrath were given “light” by observing the creation, even to the degree that the eternal attributes of God could be clearly seen. Their response to the “light” they had was as follows.

    They didn’t honor him and were unthankful v21. Chose idols over God’s glory v23. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie v25. They failed to even acknowledge God v28. The end for them is the wrath of God against sin and unrighteousness. These are those who did not walk in the light given by God. So, they are without excuse, guilty as charged.

    I think we must assume that others, given the same revelation (light) did respond positively and will not face God’s wrath. In all of God’s doing he can never compromise his justice and still be God. Any view that leaves God unethical is a false view.

    Jesus said those who will not come to the light stay away because their deeds are evil. Nothing has changed over the centuries. God always does right and judges right and from the first man to the last everyone who is finally saved will be saved on the basis of Jesus payment in full of God’s demand for righteousness living, and because he took the full measure of God’s wrath against sin for all men, God is just and right to declare anyone he chooses “just”.

    When we try to cram God into a theological box we have constructed from our presuppositions, traditions, and very limited knowledge of the ways of God, we look like the nuts we are. Ours is to bow to his glory and lovingly tell everyone we can what he has done for sinners through the man Christ Jesus.

    Remember those “other sheep” Jesus spoke of? They must come too he said. And they will come, but some of them may never hear his name in the way we have.

    Royce

  9. Royce,

    Why must we assume that others given the same revelation did respond positvely? Did you read somewhere else in Scripture about it, or is it just an assumption you are making?

  10. Kyle,

    What reason would we have to think that every person who receives God’s revelation rejects him? Did you read that in the Bible?

    Royce

  11. Looking at the passage I realize now I have always read that passage as refferring to all mankind outside of Israel. For they took the general revelation of God and began worshipping Idols. All of mankind, outside of Israel would be considered those whom God was pouring his wrath out on (in this context, not to say God wasn’t ignoring Israel’s problems).

    I have never thought to imagine that others looked at general revelation and worshipped only the One God. I’m willing to rethink that though

  12. Kyle and Royce,

    Why are you so sure God doesn’t answer that question later in Romans?

    PS – Kyle, I thought sure you’d appreciate the Dracula post.

  13. The question isn’t a question for me.

    The fact that God was in Christ reconciling “the world” (cosmos) unto himself should tell us he had more in mind than a group we favor. He will once again bring even the heavens and the earth into harmony with himself. The curse of sin will be lifted from the creation and the creature. Of the earths population of all ages “few” will know life everlasting.

    God does not serve our purposes nor does he fulfill our theological/doctrinal schemes. His purpose is to gather all his sheep from the whole earth for his glory.

    BTW, does everyone here, or anyone here believe the church was restored, or that it needed to be restored?

    Royce

  14. Jay- I did enjoy the Dracula post…I thought I did at least. It was late when I read it.

    I think it is an important question to ask simply because while yes God follows His own purposes not ours, it’s important to discuss and search for those answers so as we may better align ourselves with those purposes.

    I’m not sure what you mean by restored or at least when you are meaning that it needed to be restored? You talking restoration movement or end of times restoration? I’m not sure if I understand the premise of the question

  15. Larry,

    Actually, Al Maxey has been on the internet far longer than me and he has far more readers than me.

    When I first started blogging, he was kind enough to post a link, which helped get me off to a good start. Far truer to say that he’s made me famous than the other way around.

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