The Heartbreak of the Lost
That we live in the midst of a world alienated from God and destined for destruction is a clear Biblical truth applicable to all ages. In the early days of mankind God’s will had been universally abandoned causing Him to bring a cataclysmic flood of judgment upon the world; only eight people were spared destruction.
In the days of Elijah, the great prophet who lived among the chosen people of Israel, God said there were only seven thousand who had not abandoned Him for Baal. Outside of Israel, most all were pagan and walked in idolatry, sorcery, immorality and/or atheism.
Jesus urged His hearers to “enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Mt 7:13-14).
But these lost are not just an amorphous “world”; they are our family and friends; neighbors and co-workers; fellow students and teammates. They are generous, moral, hard-working, funny, sensitive, studious and law-abiding citizens. And some of them are religiously zealous: they pray, read the Bible, attend worship, help the unfortunate, make mission trips and talk openly about their faith and love for Jesus. We enjoy their company; we love them as family; we see the goodness in them. But when we read Scripture, we see an inconsistency between their beliefs and practices and what God’s word actually teaches. How should we respond to the distress this brings? We live every day amid unfolding tragedy. Countless thousands leave the land of spiritual opportunity to face an unchanging eternal destiny. That’s heavy; really heavy. What will we do with this burdensome truth?
We cannot alter the truth. A lost condition is a result of man’s free response to the truth God has issued. God knows how man will react to that truth, but He could not alter it and be true to His own nature and our welfare as well. So, what sense does it make for us to soften or deny truth altogether in order to justify those in sin? God’s actual truth doesn’t change by our manipulations of it, so the consequences of disobedience remain. Such people “twist [the Scriptures] to their own destruction” (2 Pet 3:16).
For example, loosening God’s restrictions on divorce and remarriage to accommodate the masses of adulterers does not alter God’s standards. A more honest and responsible approach is to hold to the truth and try to persuade others to bring their lives into alignment with it.
We must not accuse God or His truth of being unfair. God doesn’t deliberately try to make salvation difficult. Quite the opposite: God has done everything possible, apart from overriding our free will, to make salvation accessible (cf. Rom 10:6-8; 1 Cor 2:12). He has appealed to us on the basis of His love, mercy and grace. He has blessed us in our rebellion to Him. He gives us inner access to heaven through our mediator, Jesus Christ. His laws are based on things compatible with our ability and harmonious to our nature. The fact that so many people will be lost is not a testimony to God’s rigidity or harshness but the power of free will and the deceptions of Satan that play upon our lusts. It is man who makes the choice to forsake his Creator, his nature and his eternal welfare for immediate gratification.
We cannot without warrant excuse the guilty. It is not our place to legislate for God. Our human sympathies prod us into justifying those who reject or are ignorant of Christ. Granted, it is difficult for us to think about people who grow up under repressive regimes, ideologies such as communism that deny God’s existence or Islam that promotes a false religious system that denies Christ. But again, these scenarios aren’t ours to resolve; we are not God and the eternal welfare of these souls is not in our hands. That is God’s end of the stick. But we must have confidence that God got the messaging right, that He knows how to broadcast that message and He will handle individual situations according to the principles of unadulterated righteousness. Again, a better approach than expanding God’s grace in specific instances is taking seriously our responsibility to educate and inspire those within the realm of our influence who do not know and/or respect God.
The basic issue here is emotion vs. revelation. Yes, our emotions are stirred by the thought of so many lost people (if not, we are in worse shape than we realize). But let us not act like we are wiser and more judicious than God and that He needs our help to fix things. We are not more distressed over the lost than God who is more intimately aware of every single wayward soul than we are.
When Jesus beheld lost multitudes of Jews in His own age, He did not find fault with the Law of Moses and seek to expand its parameters. Rather, He lamented that “the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Mt 9:37-38). As previously noted, the Jews had more revelation from God via Moses and the prophets than Gentile people had through less direct means. But Paul in Romans makes it clear that the Jews had done no better in truly coming to know God (Rom 2:17-29; 3:9-19; 9:23-29; 10:18-21). In every age, regardless of the degree of knowledge available, most of mankind chooses to remain aloof from God. Let us do what we can to bring them to the light, not join them in darkness.