Thinking Theologically: Are People "All Around the World" Hungering for Jesus?
February 27, 2019
Updated February 28, 2019
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I recently attended a church service and one of its elements communicated the following message: “People all over the world are hungry to hear about the saving grace of Jesus Christ.” Is that statement true, false, or something else? In this piece I will examine what the Bible says about those who are hungry and those who are not.
When the statement is true:
Addressing his disciples and the crowd on the occasion of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6). He also mentioned to the Samaritan women at the well (John 4) that He alone could satisfy her deepest thirst and by extension, her deepest hunger. In that same Gospel, he mentions that he himself is the “bread” that satisfies deepest needs.
Thus it could be said to be true that people “all over the world” who have come to savingly know and put their full trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, and walk in obedience to him aided by the power of the Holy Spirit, as they live in Christian community, do hunger to love him more, know him more, and to experience more of his grace. They realize they have been saved by him, are experiencing this salvation in greater depth as they together “grow in grace and in the knowledge” (2 Peter 3:18) of him.
Thus, in the context of the worldwide Church, which has experienced his saving grace, and can and should grow in such, it can be accurately said that “they are hungry to hear.”
The overall context in the service, where the phrase was expressed, is key to knowing if this is the meaning attributed to it. But is there another interpretation?
When the statement is false:
In John 3:16 we read the phrase, “For God so loved the world that he gave…” Who or what is this “world” that we are talking about? A composite sketch of the New Testament word shows that it refers to all people irrespective of race (“go into all the world”), the physical planet and its resources (“gain the whole world,” “come into the world”), humanity in rebellion against God and the systems attached to it (“adulterous friendship with the world which is forbidden”), the territory that needs the convicting and convincing power of the Holy Spirit (“he will convict the world concerning sin…”), the place where deceivers and false prophets have gone according to I and II John and which “lies in the power of the evil one” (I John 5:19), a place of tribulation which Jesus has overcome (“fear not I have overcome the world”), the place where sin came (“through one man sin came into the world”), and the place where Jesus came (“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”).
In summary, the people of this whole world who are not savingly in Christ are under the power of the evil one and collectively in rebellion against the Triune God.
The gist of John 3:16 is that the author is completely flabbergasted at the magnanimous love of God in that He would even reach out to any and all people in this kosmos, even in their state of rebellion.
Are all these people hungry to know God in Jesus Christ? Hardly. The devil who has blinded their eyes to the beauty and glory of Jesus will do anything to keep them that way. 2 Corinthians 4:4 reads:
In their case, the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
The apostle Paul states that in this blinded, unregenerate state, “no one seeks God” and he describes this lot of humanity in rather graphic words in Romans 3:10-18:
“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Of course he is setting the stage for the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, but before one jumps there, a quick count of the “none’s” , “not one’s” “no one’s” , “not even one’s” as well as the “all’s” and “together’s” communicates a categorical view of the utter lostness of humanity.
If this data is not enough to convince that which can't help but have the look and feel of some kind of inclusivism which says that all are seeking and hungering for God, other scriptures written by Luke under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, describe the unregenerate as “devoid of revelation,” “spiritually dead,” “under the power of Satan,” “in darkness,” “[suffering from] ignorance,” “idolatrous,” “materialistic,” and “unholy and unbelieving.”
Thus, the statement that people all over the world are hungry for Jesus’ grace is false, unless of course a sample of the global population, unknown to the authors of the Bible, and Jesus himself, but known to the propagators of such a statement exhibit such qualities. Yet it might be asked, is there no room for common grace and Calvin’s sense of the divine? Absolutely.
When the statement applies to a God-shaped vacuum
The church father Augustine stated,
“You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” (Augustine, Confessions, 1.1.1.)
Augustine also reports that he imagined God saying to him, “Take heart; you would not be seeking Me if I had not already found You.”
Recall the hymn that roughly echoes Augustine’s words:
I sought the Lord and afterward I knew He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me. It was not I that found, O Savior true, no, I was found by Thee.
Long story short, every human has a God-shaped vacuum in them due to what Calvin called the sensus divinitatis (or sense of the divine), and it needs to be filled. To say that humans have a hunger to fill this, has a certain nice ring to it, and to say that they want it to be filled “with the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ” has an even nicer ring. However, it fails to account for what the apostle Paul spoke about in Romans 1, namely that humans, due to the effects of sin are both truth holders and truth suppressors at the same time. For example, even if a slight hunger pang for God somehow manifested itself due to His self-disclosure, immediately the truth repression apparatus kicks in and twists that truth.
Both the hymn and Augustine acknowledge that it is the seeking God who initiates the salvation process. In and of themselves, humans are more content to be fig-leaf sewers hiding from God, and who deny that they are disoriented homing pigeons, even though God has provided the perfect ‘home’ in Christ for them.
The statement was made in the context of a church service. I asked several people what they thought it meant and if it was theologically true. Essentially they thought it meant that people all over the world are “pretty good” in that they are smart enough to hunger for good things, which Jesus undoubtedly is. They were also a bit shocked to hear that the statement could be challenged theologically, especially if it insinuates that the unregenerate of this world are actually hungering for Jesus. Perhaps it would have been better to have said, “People all over this world need the saving grace of Jesus Christ.” Theological confusion eliminated.
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Allow me to offer another perspective. Andrew B. Newberg et.al authored a book, Why God will Not Go Away in which it is argued that our brains are hard-wired to believe in God.tis based on brain science and others have followed. If this is true, then there is an innate longing for God. And if it is true that in Jesus we have the "very image and likeness" of God, and if there is only one, true God, then, yes, people are actually hungering to know that God, hungering for Jesus. Why Jesus? Because we understand things physical much better than we understand things spiritual. It is the tangible world that is the most real to us, that impacts us the most. Come to know Jesus and you come to know--as best we mortals can--God and in so doing our hunger is satisfied. The hunger for meaning, for significance, for unconditional love is a hunger only God can satisfy.
From the post, you can see that I fully agree that Jesus is the only one who can fill the God-shaped vacuum that we have. Also, with Calvin I fully agree that each and every person has what he called the sensus divinitatis or sense of the divine. Calvin said, "“No human being can be found, however barbarous or completely savage, untouched by some awareness of religion.” All that is true, and I think is not in opposition to the Newberg book you cited.
The challenge is to define the effects of the fall on human nature and their ability to know and want God in a saving fashion. This is called the noetic effects of sin. Phillip E. Hughes, describes the noetic consequences of the fall as described in Roman 1:18–32 as “ intellectual futility,” “spiritual darkness,” “incredible stupidity,” “false religion,” “gross immorality,” and “social depravity.” Phillip E. Hughes, in Jerusalem and Athens, in “Crucial Passages for Christian Apologetics,” ed. E. R. Geehan (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1971), 134.
Calvin is quite good on this aspect, and he stands on the apostle Paul's thinking who said---and I paraphrase---I Corinthians 2:14
The person who lives on an entirely human level neither welcomes nor embraces the Spiritual realities found in the biblical text because they appear to this person as sheer nonsense; furthermore, because of sin-deformed thinking processes, they are unable to investigate and ascertain their worth because they are not aided by the illuminating work of the Spirit.
Ronald, what is at stake, is a question of how we see humans in their unregenerate state. We can marshal whatever extra-biblical material we want, but it must take second seat to what the "whole counsel of God" revealed in the Bible tells us. Unfortunately, we cannot wish away the effects of the fall.
Just as an aside, many evangelistic strategies with an essentially Arminian anthropology (with a positivistic view of human nature) presuppose that the human will is sick, uninformed, or slightly misguided. These same strategies speak of people innately hungering for God, but deny the pervasive effects of the fall, which Calvinists variously refer to as radical (right down to the root) corruption, pervasive corruption, or the often misunderstood term from TULIP called 'total depravity'.
Thanks for engaging
I am completed to make a couple of confessions here. First off, I am always somewhat hesitant to engage in discussions such as these unless it is face-to-face as that they can easily embrace so many perspectives and postings are far from actual dialog where one can a gracious freedom to interrupt to ask for clarification or to provide clarification for a statement made. My second confession is that I am not always a very good Calvinist, though educated as one. So my personal reflections are rarely linear and often can be viewed as less than orthodox. They are meant not so much to prove a point but to help me to reexamine and renew my own faith.
I recently posited with my own pastor (I “retired” from active ministry 2 years ago and am now serving as an Elder in the CRC) that psychology, sociology, and anthropology are the foundations of theology. This thought came quickly to me and have yet to reflect on it; but what I mean is this. It is clear from Genesis on that we were created to have a relationship with God and with one another. All scripture is an abbreviated record of the Lord’s interaction with us and our theology (thinking about God) speaks of his nature and how his nature is reflected in that interaction and, conversely, how our own nature is reflected in our interaction with the Lord. So I am in concert with the conviction that science, whether pure or social, cannot be in conflict with scripture (theology) but rather must itself be seen in dialogue . . . a dance of sorts.
I do not reject the notion of sin or “original sin;” but maintain that we are all created in the image of God and that, however clouded that image may be by our fallenness, it still remains within each and everyone of us. I would also maintain that we need to see and understand sin from not a singular; but rather a multitude of perspectives. Often what lies behind sin is a woundedness, a brokenness that needs to be healed. I think here of individuals with bi-polar disorder, those who have suffered abuse, schizophrenics, those with dementia or PTSD. Many have done those things which we would label “sin;” but it is not a deliberate act. Hence I take broadly “who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases.” I see them linked. Even our courts recognize some individuals as being NCR (not criminally responsible) and therefore threat their “crimes” differently. I would not wish to think that the “secular” laws are more understanding and gracious than is our God.
In a pause for a moment, I will also confess that it is easy for me to be linked with the Corinthians (15:19) that the afterlife for me is a bonus. My relationship with my Lord in the here and now, if it only be touching the hem of his garment, is eminently satisfying and I cannot imagine living a day without that intimacy, the sense of comfort (HC #1) knowing that I am being led through every valley where there is the shadow of death.
Thank you Ronald.
Blessings in Christ
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