I was watching segments of the BBC series “Human Planet” recently. Everyone should watch this. It is a fascinating look at human cultures, ingenuity, resourcefulness, survival skills, perseverance, tenacity. It is stunning. You can find it here and I hope you do.
I think it would be difficult for a believer in Jesus Christ to watch the series and not marvel at what God has created. It is a powerful testimony to the truth that we are created in the image of God. It is a powerful testimony to the fact that human beings are a marvelous species.
As one watches people in jungles and on flimsy sailboats and living in trees and on water and on mountain tops that defy conquering, but which have been conquered nevertheless, I cannot imagine how it is possible not to wonder about the state of their souls. Is it really true that these people, these marvelous examples of knowledge and wisdom and survival and intelligence, leave this planet at death and enter into an eternity of suffering? What did Paul mean when he said that all the peoples of the world are without excuse (Romans 1:18-25)? So many believers seem to be able to utter that truth so glibly and so flippantly, and may I say it, so happily. It seems that we can mouth it and then go back to our work or play or worship without a care in the world. The fact that God is going to treat them fairly seems to comfort us. Quite frankly, the last thing I want from God is what is fair. Why should it make me happy for others? The Bible was not meant to be quoted like that. We are not meant to find solace in the fact that people who have never heard the Gospel are without excuse as we spend our money on theatre tickets and iTune cards and pizza.
As I watch Human Planet I find a pull to the belief that all people are fine just the way they are. I can understand how people conclude that these cultures are meant to be left alone in the magnificence that God has given them and let them thrive as a culture without interference from those who think they can help them. I understand why people look at missionary effort with disdain when they consider that quite often the work of Gospel giving is accompanied by invasion of the culture. I understand the temptation to conclude that people this beautiful, this resourceful, this intelligent, this caring, this ingenious, do not need anything that we have to offer them.
Note my words carefully. I said that I understand the temptation. I did not say that I agree with the conclusion that they should not be told the Gospel or that they are spiritually fine just the way they are. But I understand the pull of that conclusion. And I think all Christians should. Not that my way of thinking is superior. Good night, I cannot imagine what a horrifying planet this would be if everybody thought like I do. I just find myself increasingly impatient with Christians who have all the answers before they know all the questions and look on those who dare to voice their doubts as enemies of God.
We are saved by grace. We are saved by a grace that chose us before the world began. And if we really believed that, we would not be so afraid to say that we have doubts sometimes about the way things seem to be working out. The prophets sure had their questions and doubts and didn’t seem to mind letting God know about them. (Try Habakkuk for starters.) Only God has everything all figured out – and He does not tell us. He calls us to live by faith. Faith means, at least at some level, not knowing everything and it always means accepting that we cannot do what is required of us. We need grace because we can do nothing of any spiritual worth on our own. We are not, by nature, seekers after God. We all, including the people on Planet Earth that simply amaze me, have wicked hearts and just because we come to believe in Jesus does not erase all the wickedness that is in them. I am a frail, sinful, human being. If God should withhold His grace for just today, all of humanity would perish in its sin. I do not know everything. I do not know very much. I wonder about the fate of the marvelous cultures of the world that have never heard of Jesus Christ.
I believe the Bible is true. I believe that the judge of all the earth shall do what is right. I believe that none of the wonderful people I see on Planet Earth will be able to charge God with injustice if they die outside of Jesus and stand unprotected before the Judge of all the earth. But I find it difficult to get my head around it. It may be because of a flawed understanding of sin and how God sees it. Fact is, all of us have a flawed view. And I do not want to hear from anyone who has got it all figured out. I bump into far too many of them in my daily travels as it is.
God is love. God is good. God is just. God sent His Son into the world, not to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved. He looks on the cultures of the world with a knowledge that no BBC crew will ever be able to come to know. And He calls those who have embraced Christ to look on these peoples and weep for their spiritual welfare, and to pray for someone to go and give them the Gospel and be the ones who will be the answer to that prayer. Go watch Human Planet. Watch it with awe. Watch it with gratitude at the variety and skill and mastery of horrendous environments that God has put into them all. Watch it with a broken heart.
I do not know if the missionary movements of history were the tools of western colonialism that they are portrayed as being today. But I do know that it is a sin of grievous proportions to go into a people with the greatest treasure there has ever been and then mangle it under the guise of helping people. The Gospel is to be given to all peoples out of a love for them. It should be given to them with a desire to learn from them. It should be given to them as brother to brother because we are Christians and we have what we have because of enormous grace. It should be given with a sense of privilege that we have been given the opportunity to learn from people whose wisdom just may never be plumbed by us who have become so dependent on technology that we hardly need to use our brains at all. See the cultures that God in His providence has caused people to develop through history and pray that they will find the God who has so enabled them.
I look forward to being in heaven with those who navigated the seas by observing the ripples in the waves, surviving in bone chilling cold while keeping warm, catching fish by swimming with them, living on the sides of cliffs that a goat could barely navigate. Oh what God has done. Oh what He is doing and Oh, Oh, Oh, what He is going to do. Thank you dear God, that you do not need us to have it all figured out.