I first came across this quote while reading a book by John Piper called Let the Nations Be Glad. The premise is simple: there will always be a need for missional work while there are people in the world who are not worshiping the one true God. So, technically speaking, there will be a need for missionary work until Jesus returns because it will only be then that, “Every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).
Still fresh on my mind is a recent missionary trip to Haiti with a team from Covington. To observe the abject poverty, the lack of infrastructure, economic output and basic human necessities can lead one to wonder: why are some people born into such want and despair while others find themselves in a land of opportunity and plenty? Is it unfair of God to allow such a diversity of need among the people in His creation? How does poverty affect the opportunity to hear and receive the Gospel message?
Answering these questions will require insight from the Author of Creation. In the book of Acts we find these helpful words, “And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:26-27).
I note three important truths from these verses. First, all people on earth are related by blood. Despite our differences in culture, color, language, or religion, we are all one human race, the descendants of Adam. Second, God is the one who determines where and when each person will be born and live upon this earth. He determines our “pre-appointed times” and the “boundaries of our dwellings.” Third, the reason that God places each person on this earth regardless of the where and when, is so that they should seek Him. He wants to be found and known.
Based on Acts 17, it is up to the sovereign determination of God as to where and when a person lives. Does this make God unfair? The verse in Acts references “nations” (“He has made from one blood every nation of men”), which in the Greek language stands for “a tribe” or “people group.”
God has made clear in other places in the Bible that He treats the nations based on how they respond to Him and His people, especially the nation of Israel (Deut. 8:20). Consider Psalm 9:15, 17; “The nations have sunk down in the pit which they made; in the net which they hid, their own foot is caught . . . the wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.” God desires people of every tribe and tongue to come to Him and know Him, but if a nation [people group] chooses to reject God and disobey His Word, that nation can expect that God will eventually remove His hand of grace from them, resulting in the suffering of those people that belong to that nation; poverty, despair, and oppression.
How does such poverty and oppression affect the opportunity of people to receive the Gospel message? Typically, it causes them to be more desperate for God and His message of hope in Christ. Such conditions of despair lead people to grope for Him and find Him as they look for help beyond themselves. In times like these, God becomes their refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1). The nation of Israel experienced an undulating history of disobedience which led to their oppression and despair; then when they turned in obedience and worship to God, they were rescued and experienced peace and prosperity. The nations today can expect the same results based upon how they respond to God.
It is peculiar to note that historically, the nations that become prosperous experience a time of relative ease and freedoms and then slowly slip into moral decay and hostility towards God. It is a cycle of sin that to date, the nations have not been able to overcome. How far do you suppose we in America are from falling out of God’s grace? Perhaps we have lost our sense of desperation for God and no longer seek Him as a people group. I fear for what may lie ahead for us if we continue to sink down in the pit which we have made. The privilege that we have experienced may be turned to poverty if we continue to refuse to seek God as a nation.
Dr. Mike Hohenstein is a pastor serving at First Baptist Church in Covington, Indiana. An Ohio native, Mike moved to Indiana in 1994 where he met and married his wife Stephanie. They have three children and live in Veedersburg, Indiana where Mike also works part-time as a veterinarian.