After becoming a Christian, we cross from darkness into light. We leave the realm of sin and unbelief and enter the realm of repentance and faith. The stark contrast between what we were and what we have become are striking. Now that we are God’s children, we may see ourselves as God’s special people for whom He cares deeply to the exclusion of all others. The Jewish people of Jesus’ day thought this. They enjoyed being God’s special people and thought themselves better than all other people. But was this the case? Or is this the case today? Does God only care about believers?
While God had a special relationship with the Israelites, there are several anomalies which we should investigate. During this study, we will look at several people who could be classified as unbelievers or at least people outside of God’s special attention. After looking at these examples, we will answer our initial question: Does God care about unbelievers?
- Did God care for unbelievers in the Old Testament?
The Book of Genesis traces the godly line from Adam, Seth, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It also covers the ungodly line of Cain before the Flood and the various “other” descendants of Abraham who didn’t follow in his footsteps. While the main focus is on the seed of Abraham, God did have some interactions with a number of people who we would consider unbelievers.
Cain (Gen. 4:6, 9-15)
When Cain and Abel brought their offerings to the Lord, only Abel’s was accepted. For an unrevealed reason, God did not respect Cain’s offering. Cain didn’t seem very happy about this and left with an angry countenance. As you know his anger got the best of him and he killed his brother.
If we only knew that much of the story, we would think that God only cared for Abel and disliked Cain. But that’s not the whole story. God addressed the situation with Cain and offered him a proper reception but also gave him a warning. Did God care about Cain? Yes, God cared enough to address Cain’s problem despite his unbelief.
Abimelech (Gen. 20:1-7)
During our adult Sunday School lessons, we have been going through the Book of Genesis. As you may recall, Abraham feared for his life when living in Gerar. Thinking that someone would kill him to take his beautiful wife, he told the lie that she was only his sister. How did that work out? Abimelech, the king of Gerar, took Sarah. What a terrible situation.
In an interesting turn of events, God appeared to Abimelech in a dream and warned him of his sin. Abimelech pleaded innocence and God acknowledged this. God even revealed that He had kept Abimelech from touching her. He then told him to return Sarah to Abraham so that he could be forgiven. Once again, God showed his care for not only Abraham and Sarah, but also for an unbeliever.
Joseph’s Pharaoh (Gen. 41:1-8)
The unbelieving pharaoh of Egypt had two dreams that troubled him. The first involved seven fat cows that were eaten by seven gaunt cows. The second dream involved seven plump heads of grain that were devoured by seven blighted heads of grain. This unbelieving ruler asked his magicians to interpret the dreams but they could not. Eventually, God enabled Joseph to interpret the dreams and warn the Pharaoh about a coming famine.
What is so interesting about this situation is that God gave the dreams to an unbeliever. Of all the people whom He could have given the dreams, he chose an unbeliever. Why was that? You could say that God was using Pharaoh to accomplish His plan for Israel and that would be true. But could it also be that God was giving Pharaoh an opportunity to know the One, true God?
Belshazzar’s queen (Dan. 5:10-12)
Besides Daniel, the main character in the Book of Daniel is Nebuchadnezzar. God got his attention on several occasions and eventually convinced him of his need to submit to God’s sovereignty. But he wasn’t the only unbeliever that God cared for in the book. There was also Belshazzar’s queen. When the supernatural fingers wrote the message of condemnation against the wicked king, the queen took the opportunity to respond. She told him about Daniel “in whom is the Spirit of the Holy God.”
It would seem that Nebuchadnezzar was not the only one who had been affected by God’s care. The queen, who is only mentioned here in the book, was the silent watcher in the background who saw all that transpired as God was working. This, I believe, is evidence that God cared for this woman from an unbelieving background. And it may also be evidence that she turned from her unbelief to faith in the one, true God.
Each of these unbelievers experienced something that seems out of place. The Old Testament is usually focused on the history of the Israelites. But if you look closely, you will see that He also cared about people who were outside of Israel. He cared enough to reveal himself to people who beforehand had not believed. Despite their sinful unbelief, God interjected Himself into their lives and gave them a chance to believe.
Now, if this is true that God cared for unbelievers in the Old Testament, it would seem to be a characteristic that would overflow into the New Testament as well.
- Did God care for unbelievers in the New Testament?
The people we will look at in the New Testament might not be precisely classified as “unbelievers,” but they are people who were outside the normal focus. The initial focus of Jesus and the disciples were the Jewish people. But three people (if not more) were somehow cared for despite not being Jewish.
Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30)
When Jesus visited the area of Tyre and Sidon, he tried to get some alone time by entering a house. But it didn’t work. A woman whose daughter was possessed by a demon came and fell down at his feet. She pleaded with Jesus to cast the demon out of her daughter. To this point, this doesn’t sound surprising at all. Jesus healed lots of people. However, this woman was not Jewish. She was a Syro-Phoenician. Jesus, who had come to minister first to the Jewish people, told her it wasn’t right to care for non-Jewish people at that time. But her sweet response won Him over. Because of her response, He told her that the demon had been removed.
There is something special about this interaction between Jesus and the woman. Their picturesque language and back-and-forth make me smile. But I see this as more than just a feel good story. It is evidence that God cared for unbelievers in the New Testament. I would imagine that this kindness shown to her by Jesus later led this woman (and perhaps her daughter) to place her faith in Jesus.
Samaritan woman (John 4:1-42)
The Samaritans were half-Jewish people who were the result of the Assyrian captivity. Although they were half-Jewish, they were viewed as compromisers and unbelievers. This was actually true. Their version of religion was a mixture of truth and error. And because of this, they were shunned by the Jewish people. How strange it must have been for the disciples when they found Jesus talking to the woman at the well. Even she was surprised.
But Jesus’ interaction with this woman led to her faith and that of many people in Samaria. “And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman.” This, I believe, is more evidence that God cares for unbelievers.
I think you get the point. God not only cared for unbelievers in the Old Testament, but also cared for unbelievers in the New Testament period. It seems to be a characteristic of God. As Jesus said, “God so loved the world.” That world is big and includes people of all types. God cared for all of them.
Did you notice something about each of these people? God cared enough for each of them to interact with them despite their being unbelievers. We Christians often think that God only cares about us. But these examples show us that He cares about people before they believe and even if they do not believe.
Now, let’s take a moment to think about this. Have you always been a Christian? The answer is no. Each of us was an unbeliever at one point until God saved us. So, the truth is that God cared for us when we were unbelievers. Consider what Paul said about this:
Ephesians 2:1-8 – “And you … who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
Despite our sinfulness and willful rebellion, God loved us. He cared for us when we were believers. And thankfully, He drew us to Jesus and saved us. But this care for unbelievers didn’t end with us. God still cares for unbelievers today. And I would imagine that He is still interacting with them so that they can see His loving care. And all of this has a single purpose. God is caring for people so that they can be saved. And as He does this, He is shown to be the great God who loves people. For this, He deserves our sincerest praise.