Why don’t people respond to the gospel message? This is the heartfelt cry of anyone concerned with the salvation of souls.
Fundamentally, the answer lies in the good purposes of God. No one, from their own resources will ever turn to God. But God in his goodness, draws people to himself. I know there are all sorts of questions that arise from this truth, but the foundational thinking is that we have an all powerful and good God.
My intention in this blog is not to explore this matter further, but to take up another question. It is the question of the human response to hearing the gospel. We can ask this question, because God in his sovereignty, made us morally responsible beings. We make choices and are accountable for these choices. So my question is ‘why do so many people have a neutral or even negative response to the incredible message of forgiveness?’
As we draw near to Easter and recall the gracious action of our God in the sacrifice of His Son on the cross, we cannot but think about forgiveness. Forgiveness is great news. Forgiveness, true forgiveness, is free for the forgiven but comes at great cost to the forgiver who must not hold anything against the one who has wronged them. In human experience we seek retribution when wronged. We want the offender to feel the pain we have felt. But God offers forgiveness, not retribution.
Why is forgiveness not accepted
Again there are many answers to this, but I am constantly struck that people feel no need to be forgiven. This shouldn’t surprise us as the heart of human rebellion against God is pride. Pride which does not allow us to accept fault.
There are at least three common negative responses I hear when forgiveness is offered
1. The offering of forgiveness assumes that we need to be forgiven. This is offensive to those who feel no need to be forgiven.
2. God is not without blame. We live in the age of the 24 hour news cycle where natural and human disasters are constantly on display. God could fix it and doesn’t so he is at fault. Humanity has an accusation against God, and so to speak of him forgiving us is to put it the wrong way around: we need to forgive God!
3. I may not be perfect but there are many who are worse than me, so go and forgive them, and leave me alone. I am in that bulk of humanity that is not perfect but not too bad, so forgiveness is not a commodity I need.
What should we do?
In our proclamation of the gospel of grace this Easter, we need to take into account our hearer’s natural reactions, three of which I listed above.
We must anticipate the responses of our hearers, recognize why they hold these views and show the fatal errors in these ways of thinking. This means that our gospel proclamation will not merely be that God has the solution to our problems, as true as that is; but that God has diagnosed, explained and passed judgment on humanity and we must deal with that. This will involve helping those who hear the message to correctly recognise their own heart and situation and the outcome that awaits.
And we will proclaim the wondrous story of the Christ who died for us with great boldness, and pray that God will be merciful so that people will not foolishly reject such a great salvation.