Available Light: Response by Al Maxey

Good Morning Jay,

First, I apologize for taking so long to get back to you. It has been busy here. I have read your articles, however, and I agree with much of what you say. In fact, I thought your presentation was excellent.

Clearly, you and I agree on the nature of final punishment. Immortality is conditional, thus for one who is lost to be tortured everlastingly, that person must be MADE immortal by God for that very purpose. In other words, his punishMENT will be eternal LIFE in misery. God doesn’t promise LIFE to those who are lost, He promises DEATH. The degrees of the punishING, I believe, deal well with the great divide between people like Hitler and those who may have rejected the Lord, but who still lived decently (for a worldly perspective) with those about them.

If I have understood Leroy correctly (and I admit I may not have), he seems to take the view that all are SAVED initially, and that they become LOST at the point they reject whatever light God has given them. Leroy wrote: “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.” I would differ with Leroy on this point, and approach it from the other perspective: everyone is initially LOST (with the exception, of course, of those who have not yet reached the point of personal accountability), and that those who respond to the available light given them, and seek to order their lives thereby, will be SAVED. In the end, we both arrive at the same point: most will be lost, few will be saved. However, I think we have to BEGIN with the fact, as you yourself pointed out, that ALL have sinned and fall short of God’s expectations. Thus, it truly IS by grace we have been saved, with our FAITH responding to that grace. I don’t think we can begin with a premise of universal salvation that must be relinquished, but rather universal lostness that has been addressed by a gracious God for those who respond in faith to what light they have been given.

Jay, where I would tend to disagree with you is in thinking that Conditionalism (and the view you and I take of the nature of final punishment) adequately addresses the problem of those who have never had the opportunity of being shown the greater Light that you and I have. In your final statement you say, “But I think, in the end, conditionalism is a better, more scriptural solution.” I would agree that it is a better solution to the question of what will happen to those who are not saved. However, it doesn’t even address the matter of whether or not one MIGHT be saved apart from hearing of Jesus. Indeed, it assumes that all who have not heard of Him are LOST, and since they are ALL LOST, this way of destroying them is humane enough to ease our minds.

The poor, humble man who lived in the depths of the Amazon stands before God one day, and God says, “Why weren’t you baptized?” “What is baptism?” he asks. A series of other questions follow: why didn’t you confess Jesus as your Lord? Who is Jesus? This man lived his entire life not even knowing there were other humans. His whole world was his little tribe in his little part of the Amazon. However, he had seen the goodness of the Great Spirit in sending fish for him to eat, sending rain for his crops, and so he sought to live in just such a loving, benevolent manner with others — sharing his food with the widow whose husband died, seeing that her children were fed, trying to mediate when conflict arose between tribesmen, etc. So what does God do for this man who sought to the best of his ability to follow that light he perceived? He just KILLS HIM QUICKER!

Jay, the real question isn’t: How will God punish those deserving of punishment? Conditionalism does indeed address this well, and shows a God who is fair. The real question we must face is: Is it just possible that SOME may be saved who have never heard of Jesus, and, if so, upon what basis will they be given LIFE. Your solution is to address how those deserving of death will die; the real issue, though, is about LIFE, and to whom God extends it. Is life ONLY for those few in the history of the past 2000 years who have actually heard the Good News (received the greater light), or is it just possible that SOME who have not will still be saved? And if the answer to this is YES, then upon what basis are they saved?

I believe God has addressed that question in Scripture, which I sought to convey in my article “Grace and the Caveman” (and which Leroy has also addressed). God will judge HEARTS, and the response of those hearts to what God has given them in the way of a revelation of Himself. He has revealed Himself in many ways, the greatest of which, of course, is in His Son. But, as Romans 1-2 points out, He can be perceived in lesser revelations as well. Those who seek to the best of their ability and opportunity to live according to that available light will be judged by God according to how they responded to what they HAD, not according to what they did NOT have (a principle Paul even speaks of in his writings to the Corinthians). Jay, you even seem to agree: “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.

You are correct, brother!! No matter WHAT light is available to us (even the great light of the Gospel), NOBODY measures up. None are righteous, Paul says; ALL have sinned and are worthy of death … regardless of the level of revelatory light. And that applies to US as well. The solution is GRACE!!! Both for the “caveman” as well as for US. It is by GRACE we have been saved through FAITH, not of ourselves (works) lest any man should boast (Eph. 2). God will judge HEARTS. How have you (or they) responded to what has been given? Did you seek to live in the light given to you? Did we do so PERFECTLY? Of course not. But, His grace covers those who sought with all their hearts to do so.

Such grace is available to all men, even those with lesser opportunity and understanding than we have. Yes, to those of us who have been given more, more is expected. To those who have been given less, less is expected. But unto EACH there IS an expectation of God that we abide in the light given to the best of our understanding and ability. To those who do (and such will always only be a remnant), salvation will be extended by our merciful God.

I hope this helps clarify a few points, Jay. I really appreciate you, brother. May God richly bless you. Have a wonderful day!!

AL

[My profound thanks to Al. Although we remain in disagreement, it’s wondrous to be disagreed with in such a courteous and loving manner. And there’s a valuable lesson in that. You see, unity comes not from agreeing on difficult doctrines such as available light. Unity comes from grace and faith in Jesus. And it’s just so refreshing to be disagreed with without being personally attacked or condescended to. We can all learn a lot from my brother Al. — Jay]

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9 Responses

  1. I agree that was a very gracious and kind way to disagree.

    I think there is room for common ground between Leroy’s and Al’s positions. I would put it this way: All people initially are not in need of salvation, because they have not yet sinned. As soon as each person sins, he needs salvation. Since all sin, every single person reaches that state once he becomes accountable for his actions. The isolated, remote man who never heard anything about the gospel still fails to live up to the standard of righteousness he does perceive. So he needs grace. God made grace possible through the sacrifice of Jesus, so he can forgive without neglecting justice. If he so chooses, he can forgive that primitive man who never heard of Jesus. Whether God will do so or not, I am not sure.

  2. Thanks Al, I appreciated your words and thoughts.

    I’m not in disagreement that it is POSSIBLE for God to save those who have yet to hear about Christ. My question is, How is that teaching applicable and practical to my life?

    As much as it is possible for God to save them it is equally possible for God to destory them. So whether the possibility is true or not, I don’t understand how this idea has value practically speaking.

  3. To apply this to our lives is to say in my opinion that we are held accountable based on our ability to know and that will determine our responsibility.

    Does not just apply ot those of less mental ability, mental retardness, that we all agree fit this application.

    This is what the Cherokee and many American Indians have been saying and preaching for many years. Even those that mix in some of ther heritage beliefs and practices while still members of the church of Christ. Look at my heart.
    I call God the Great Creator. So what?

    This can be taken as a warning to those that have learned much at the feet of some of our church of Christ colleges. There is more required of those than of us that are dumber and less educated.

  4. There are only so many people I can come in contact with. Even if broadcast in HD, only those watching will hear what I have to say. Already, I must admit that I can’t reach the whole world, at least before some of it’s current inhabitants die.

    There are only so many people that a group of us can come in contact with.

    There might be undiscovered groups of people for the rest of my lifetime.

    None of these facts changes what I must do: Love (serve) God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love (take care of, serve) my neighbor like I take care of myself. In any moment, I must be ready to talk about why I’m living like that.

    While what happens to the unsaved is a continual question for the believer, and a partial motivator, and some point, one must decide that whatever God judges, it is right. Therefore, I will continue to love, fear, and serve Him, and I believe that by the same grace I am saved, He will grace other men on the planet with salvation.

    My greatest desire – our inheritance – is to be in the game. To be a part of the harvest. To see people come to Christ. Whatever happens to the lost, it will be Bad, and unspeakable. The type of unspeakable is irrelevant.

    The fear of the Lord is only the beginning of wisdom, not the completion of it. Our motivation for any works should not be from what type of death might there be for the lost.

    Rather than pondering available light, lets be motivated by the available *life*.

  5. Kyle,

    I suppose, in one sense, you’re right that that this teaching lacks a “practical” application since the “available light” principle isn’t going to change anything about how we function everyday or in regard to how we do missions, since we would all agree that it is ALWAYS better for people to have the chance to hear about Jesus.

    However, literally from childhood, I have struggled with the idea of how a just and graceful God can simply cast people who have never heard of Jesus into hell. So when the Lord began to reveal the “available light” concept to me through a study of Romans 2, I became deeply thankful for it as a possibility.

    So, is it “practical”? I guess that depends on how you define that word.

    Thanks to everyone for a great discussion!

  6. This simply confirmed to me the underlying assumptions in this debate that (1) God is neither knowledgeable enough nor powerful enough to reach those people who will respond aright to the gospel. Is that not a manifestation of CoC-Deism? And (2) that people are lost due to unfortunate happenstance. People are lost (and worthy of punishment) because they’re in sin, not because they weren’t baptized. i really don’t see what annihilationism does for this debate except attempt to legimitize those two assumptions.

    i do concur though that the tone and candor of that exchange was far more exemplary than many others i’ve witnessed.

    –Guy

  7. The bible does a fine job answering this “available light” question/debate; God will judge those that didn’t know about Jesus fairly also…

    “For there is no respect of persons with God. For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; (For not the hearers of the law [are] just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.

    For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and [their] thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;) In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel. (Romans 2:11-16)

  8. Jesus spoke to a man who believed he had lived a good life saying “No one is good but One, that is, God.” Mark 10:18. Jesus answered people saying, “before Abraham was, I AM.” John 8:58. Jesus was saying He is God and they wanted to stone Him, why – the people didn’t know God.

    People who don’t know Him need to know Him.

    This “available light” theory is exactly what Satan wants people to believe. The devil wants people to think what a good person they are. Those who are such good righteous people don’t need help, they have it all together, they really don’t do anything wrong .…right….WRONG! Our good does not outweigh our bad. Can anyone stand before God and say they have lived a sinless life – the answer is No! When a person stands before God they better have Jesus standing next to them saying, I know this one.

  9. Not one person will wind up perishing who was not treated fairly (just). Not one person will be finally saved who has not had his sins paid for by the atoning work of Jesus.

    If an ignorant tribesman who lives his life as well as he can in reference to his fellows, and never hears the name Jesus, is an object of the wrath God; And a mean spirited, divisive man who has been baptized and is a member of a church of Christ finds only grace is God just?

    We don’t get to decide upon whom God will lavish his love and mercy and upon who he pours the fury of his wrath against sin. God is God and every man but one deserves to perish.

    “God so loved the WORLD that he gave….”, “God was in Christ reconciling the WORLD to himself”, Jesus claimed to be “the light of the WORLD” and came that the WORLD might be save by him.

    There are many things we don’t know but what we should know is the scope of God’s redemption is much larger than than we care to admit. Heaven will be populated by people I wouldn’t have approved and some I would have approved will wind up lost.

    The best plan is to preach the very good news as commanded and baptize those who believe with all their hearts and teach them to follow Jesus the best they can. I’m very pleased that God is not just the God of the church of Christ. as some evidently suppose.

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