Selam to all
Dear bishoy,Selam, I too had these thoughts my dear brother at one point in my personal journey in the faith. So here is what I think about regarding those questions you raised, even though most people already have answered you very well.I will refrain from saying this religion or that when it comes to those that do not confess the Orthodox Faith but will speak in general terms.
Unlike the philosophers of the world that emphasized the knowledge of truth / wisdom is in of itself the highest achievement by which the worth of man is measured, the Lord said those that know and do not do the will of the master will be punished because of that very knowledge they possess, more than those who did not know and yet did something that deserve punishment, so those that know are not superior just because of their knowledge in the eyes of the Lord. In fact everyone to whom much is given much is expected, The lord says on Luke 12:47-48
“That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
The apostle James also reminds us of this truth James 4:17
“anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.’
so the expectation and the judgement is not the same. When one hears of this and the seriousness of living out the truth we know, some might say its better then not to know, indeed, terrified of the faith that awaits those that knowingly reject the Truth, in comparison to those that did not know the way of righteousness the Apostle Peter also says 2 Peter 2:21 “ it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed to them’’ the Lord also says to the Pharisees John 9:41 “If you were blind, you would be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remain”, therefore the Holy Spirit through the prophet Ezekiel also warns us again and again the futility of keeping the saving truth from others and not living in the truth that we know ourselves because they are tied together, Ezekiel 3:17-21, 17“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. 18When I say to a wicked man, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. 19But if you do warn the wicked man and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his evil ways, he will die for his sin; but you will have saved yourself.
20“Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and does evil, and I put a stumbling block before him, he will die. Since you did not warn him, he will die for his sin. The righteous things he did will not be remembered and I will hold you accountable for his blood. 21But if you do warn the righteous man not to sin and he does not sin, he will surely live because he took warning, and you will have saved yourself.”
Ezekiel 33: 1-9, 1The word of the LORD came to me: 2“Son of man, speak to your countrymen and say to them: ‘When I bring the sword against a land, and the people of the land choose one of their men and make him their watchman, 3and he sees the sword coming against the land and blows the trumpet to warn the people, 4then if anyone hears the trumpet but does not take warning and the sword comes and takes his life, his blood will be on his own head. 5Since he heard the sound of the trumpet but did not take warning, his blood will be on his own head. If he had taken warning, he would have saved himself. 6But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes the life of one of them, that man will be taken away because of his sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for his blood.’
7“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. 8When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. 9But if you do warn the wicked man to turn from his ways and he does not do so, he will die for his sin, but you will have saved yourself.
The prophet speaks on the mercy and righteousness of the Lord’s judgment Ezekiel 33: 11-16 11Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?’
12“Therefore, son of man, say to your countrymen, ‘The righteousness of the righteous man will not save him when he disobeys, and the wickedness of the wicked man will not cause him to fall when he turns from it. The righteous man, if he sins, will not be allowed to live because of his former righteousness.’ 13If I tell the righteous man that he will surely live, but then he trusts in his righteousness and does evil, none of the righteous things he has done will be remembered; he will die for the evil he has done. 14And if I say to the wicked man, ‘You will surely die,’ but he then turns away from his sin and does what is just and right— 15if he gives back what he took in pledge for a loan, returns what he has stolen, follows the decrees that give life, and does no evil, he will surely live; he will not die. 16None of the sins he has committed will be remembered against him. He has done what is just and right; he will surely live. , he then speaks on the justice of the lord 33:17-20 17“Yet your countrymen say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ But it is their way that is not just. 18If a righteous man turns from his righteousness and does evil, he will die for it. 19And if a wicked man turns away from his wickedness and does what is just and right, he will live by doing so. 20Yet, O house of Israel, you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ But I will judge each of you according to his own ways.”
What then of those that hear and reject the truth? In addition to all the above mentioned points, we see how the lord compares the sin and judgment of that town with the sin and judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah (remember what happened to them?) he said ‘I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.” This shows certainly that not all are judged the same. Before the law was given to mosses men had the knowledge of good and evil, thus they were judged by that knowledge, and Sodom and Gomorrah chose evil and arrived to the futile destination of their path. But even they will not face the severity of the sin of rejection of the Truth that is reveled to us. Luke 10:8-16 8“When you enter a town and are welcomed eat what is set before you. 9Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’ 10But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11‘Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.’ 12I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.
13“Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. 15And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths
16“He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”
As to those that do not put an effort into knowing the truth they have heard of I specially think of those of us who are cradle orthodox but face certain difficulties to delve into the knowledge accessible to us if we were to put on a bit of an effort and commitment to help us live out the truth (be it language, human custom, politics etc.)as difficult as they may be are also addressed thus, “The queen of the south will rise up in the judgment with this generation, and will condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, someone greater than Solomon is here.” Matthew 12:42 so to me these words tell me that I need to put more effort to listening to the One who is Wisdom Himself. And stop treating Him and His church as if it is a worldly kingdom and source of cultural pride, for those are the very things that He warns us not to do. So today if we hear his voice let us not harden our hearts.
How about those that never get to know the truth we know out of no fault of their own, and yet they live a just life, as the heart of men know of good and evil, what of them? In this case I look at the story in the Genesis 18:16-32, in this story when Abraham was told of the eminent destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as judgment for the evil they were committing, Abraham asks the Lord, “....would you destroy the righteous with the ungodly?.....far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked. That the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from you! shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?’’ and indeed the Lord in His infinite wisdom did not find 10 righteous men to save those cities, but He saved those He found righteous from sharing the fate of the wicked. This gives me hope when I think of all those whom the Lord knows but that I do not know to be righteous and just in their given situation, He will judge and He will judge justly and in His infinite Mercy that manifests his justice. The Judge of all the earth will do right! , so trusting in this all the other detail of how He does what He does with them I will leave to Him, I know I must keep following Him, even as to the fate of the beloved apostle , when St.Peter asked “ Lord, What of this one ?” Jesus answered, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me." John 21: 21-22. So it is not my place to investigate what should be done to whom by God. He rules supreme, His kingdom is of mercy and justice, he knows every star every flower every hair on our head, not one moves without him knowing, and He feeds the blind sparrow. So let us trust that he will provide for those who hunger and thirst for the sake of righteousness. That he will be found for those who seek Him, how is known only to Him, our job is to follow Him as he has commanded and be faithful witnesses to the Truth that is reveled to us.
So as to you and me my dear brother, our task is to follow Him!
May the Peace of the Lord be with us all Amen.