A week ago on February 13, Daniel Sinclair had published a blog article that confronted the question of whether or not it is just for God to punish those who had never heard the message of the gospel. If you believe that those who have never heard the gospel are going to face judgment for their sins, he asked, then how can you call God just? It seems unfair that some people have had a chance to hear the gospel and others have not.  Now, I do not for a moment think that Sinclair was asking that question for himself, that is, I do not believe he thinks the justice of God is a questionable matter. I believe he merely recognizes that such a question exists and tries to provide what he thinks is a sensible answer—see his “generational justice” toward the end—after first looking at some answers that others might offer.
I offered a response to his article that same evening from the perspective of Reformed theology,  since his anticipation of how Calvinists might respond seemed, well, a little off. He gestured at the issues of God’s sovereignty, predestination, and election, but I did not think these directly answered the question being asked. And it certainly did not seem to be how a Calvinist might perceive the question and answer it—at least not this one (yours truly). So as a Calvinist I offered what turned out to be the most succinct answer I have ever provided to any theological question. Yes God is just, and here is why: human beings are sinners. Bam, done.
Maybe that answer was a little too easy. Later on Sinclair admitted in conversation that perhaps he had sold Calvinism a little short. “Maybe I should fix that,” he said. I told him that I would make a note of it in my article if he did, letting our readers know that he had fixed it. A week later he republished his article with significant changes to it, but did he fix the Calvinism section? Let us have a look.
1. Predestination and free will
The first significant change he made was adding a section of three paragraphs on the difference between a logical and evidential challenge (the latter being conflated with emotional).  First, he said that answering the logical challenge is about settling the matter of whether or not the doctrines of predestination and free will logically contradict one another. Second, answering the evidential or emotional challenge is about arguing that they are not only logically possible but in fact probable and in a way that is philosophically, evidentially, and intuitively convincing.
Okay but wait, predestination and free will? Why is that subject raised?
Yes, exactly. It is a bit of a mystery to me because he never actually explains that. He describes the conflict of predestination versus free will as one of the two most significant challenges to Christianity, so far as he is concerned,  and that the plight of the unreached taps into that. But then that is it. He never goes on to explain how exactly this is relevant to the question of God’s justice in condemning the unreached. How does this tap into the predestination versus free will issue?
Since he does not say, we can only guess, and I will offer my best educated guess. What he is doing, I think, is importing into this question the assumption that in order to be morally accountable to God one must have a will that is free of God’s sovereign purview, his will and rule. That this is an imported assumption is evidenced by the stark and persistent absence of a scriptural argument supporting it by those who make use of it, which must necessarily be the case since none is even possible because the scriptures paint a very different picture. You know what is free of God’s sovereign purview? Nothing—literally, because that which is free of his sovereign will and hand, that which is metaphysically separated from God, cannot exist. Nothing exists or happens apart from the sustaining will and rule of the Trinity. If something exists, then it was created and sustained by God according to his eternal purpose. All of reality is God’s creation and upheld by the hand of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will (Colossians 1:16-17; John 1:3, Revelation 4:11).
Our will is free insofar as our choices are a product of our nature and desires. Think of the Assyrian king Sennacherib who boasted of the destruction he brought upon one nation after another, and yet God said, “Have you not heard? Long ago I ordained this, from days of old I planned it; and now I am bringing it to pass.” God sent him in judgment against a godless nation, ordering him to devastate the people with whom he was angry. But that was not the king’s intention, that is not how he thought of it; he boasted arrogantly as if his power was in himself, not giving God the glory, and for that God determined to punish the Assyrian king, for his pride and arrogance (2 Kings 19; Isaiah 10). The will is free only insofar as our choices are a product of our nature and desires. Our will is not free of us, nor is it free of God’s sovereign purview. Think also of Abimelech, king of Gerar, to whom God said, “It was I who kept you from sinning against me” and thus “did not let you touch her” (Genesis 20:6; cf. Exodus 21:12-13, Joshua 11:19-20, Proverbs 16:9, 21:1, Ezra 1:1, Acts 17:26, 16:14, 2 Corinthians 8:16, etc.). Our will is not free of God’s sovereign will and rule. It is also not free of us and our sinful nature.
There is no contradiction between predestination and free will—that is, when these concepts are biblically understood, drawing our conclusions exegetically from the scriptures and not assuming them in advance and imposing them on the texts. Equipped with a properly biblical view, gratuitous conundrums vanish and we need not make appeals to mystery or our being “too puny to get it.”
The answer to the basis of our moral accountability is found in whether God has decided to judge us—and he has. Freedom of the will is irrelevant. Think about it. If our will was free from God’s sovereign purview but we are never judged by him, then we would not be morally accountable! The very concept becomes unintelligible. Moral accountability is predicated on a God who has decided to judge mankind; it is not predicated on any freedom of our will. As one of my favorite apologists so aptly put it, we are responsible not because we are free but precisely because we are not free, for a holy and sovereign God has determined to judge us at an appointed time.
That is, of course, unless you are reconciled to God through covenant union with Christ, in which case he bore upon the cross the judgment of God’s wrath for your sins, punished in your place. You have no judgment for sins to face, for Christ already faced it, bearing the curse of sins that were not his so you might enjoy the blessings of righteousness that is not yours. I hope that your life is hidden with Christ in God.
The answer to the logical challenge is that there is no contradiction, provided that properly biblical teaching is not being substituted with straw man caricatures. If you are talking to Christians who believe the human will is free, then ask them to prove that from scriptures. When they fail to—and they will—patiently show them the abundant biblical testimony demonstrating that our will is neither free of our selves nor of God’s sovereign purview, that apart from Christ our will is no less a slave to sin than any other part of our selves, and every bit a part of God’s creation which he upholds with unmitigated sovereignty according to the counsel of his will. That precludes libertarian freedom.
And the answer to the evidential challenge is that God indeed is just because he does not condemn any man except for that man’s sin. Condemnation is conditional, but such a condition every man meets! It must always be kept in mind that the natural man exists in a state of condemnation before God. He does not move from a morally neutral state over to a condemned state. There is no morally neutral state. Man does not exist in a state of spiritual limbo from which either belief or unbelief finally determines his standing before God, whether justified or condemned. For it is not his unbelief that condemns him; rather, it is the entire scope and depth of his sin that condemns him; and in his unbelief he remains condemned. No man is ever in a neutral state; all mankind exists in a state of condemnation on account of sin. We all come from the same pool of death and darkness, of sin and moral ruin, where we willingly remain apart from God’s redeeming grace. We exist in death; only in Christ do we move to life. We exist in darkness; only in Christ do we move to light. We exist under God’s wrath; only in Christ is that wrath removed. We exist in condemnation; only in Christ are we justified.
2. Mercy and grace
Another paragraph that Sinclair added to his article took into account my initial response to him. He admitted that a biblical theology would profess that all people are guilty before God; as such, if God punishes the unreached it is because like everyone else they are guilty of sins and merely getting the just penalty, nothing more. With that I would heartily agree—obviously, given that it was the very answer I provided.
But then he goes a bit off:
If some receive mercy and are not punished, that does not make the punishment of others unjust. And while this may be logically consistent and sound, it utterly fails to address the inequity of mercy given to the two groups—and so it fails to address the evidential challenge.
There is no inequity in the mercy God shows mankind; that is, he shows mercy to all mankind, universally. If the wages of sin is death, then every single passing moment we are alive and drawing breath is a manifestation of God’s mercy; he withholds the cursing we deserve. Even the riches of his common grace is showered upon all mankind, wherein he gives us blessings we do not deserve, constituted by every moment of joy, comfort, health and so forth. To withhold cursings we deserve is mercy. To give blessings we do not deserve is grace.
Where inequity emerges is when we speak of the saving grace of God, wherein we are reconciled to God through covenant union with Christ and made co-heirs in his eternal kingdom, the consummation of which all of creation awaits. Such grace is indeed discriminating, for he does not save all of mankind. But we have not somehow lost the challenge by admitting this, for grace by definition is undeserved. It is only unjust if you deserve it and do not receive it. But who deserves grace? No one; it is by definition undeserved. No injustice has occurred when you do not receive something you were never owed in the first place.
The logical challenge is answered. The evidential challenge is answered. The emotional challenge is ignored because the scriptures predict the enmity and slander of the unregenerate against God; it is not any kind of challenge when they supply the proof to what the scriptures predict. And, again, nobody will be judged for not hearing the gospel because not hearing the gospel is not a sin. In the final analysis the answer to the challenge is yes, God is just in punishing sinners…
 Daniel Sinclair, “The unreached: Can God justly punish those who have never heard?” Whole Reason [blog], posted February 13, 2013. The article was significantly modified on February 17; the modified version is what the link now displays. The original version is gone.
 David Smart, “God justly punishes sinners,” Aristophrenium [blog], posted February 13, 2013. Reformed theology is substantially Calvinist; its distinction is in being confessional, that is, expressed in such confessional documents as the Westminster Standards or the Three Forms of Unity.
 “What ends up happening in these cases is that the challenge breaks down into two pieces,” he writes: “the logical argument, and the evidential or emotional argument.” He said “two pieces” but lists three items, which implies to me that evidential and emotional are being conflated into one.
 The other is the supposed problem of evil.