Once in a while, I’m going to use this blog as a way to answer some questions I’ve received. I recently got this one—and maybe you have friends who struggle with this as well:
It doesn’t seem fair that God would send people to hell who have never heard of Him. How can this be?
First of all, does the answer to this question change whether or not Christianity is true?
If God exists and has revealed Himself to us, and if Christ is the only way to God, then the question may puzzle us, but it won’t change the truth of the Christian message, will it?
The Bible teaches us that God is holy, just, unchanging and all-loving. This means that God will always do what’s right—even though our finite minds don’t understand. We CAN trust Him to do what’s right.
I like what two passages in the book of Romans tell us:
“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities
his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Romans 1:20.)
And “the requirements of the law are written on their hearts” (Romans 2:15).
These passages claim that everyone has an inherent knowledge of God, and this can be clearly known from creation and that everyone also has a God-given moral compass.
Is it true, then, that “those who have never heard,” really have no idea of God’s existence or of their moral responsibilities? Biblically speaking, it’s not true.
“Those who have never heard” have heard something and they do have access to key information about God. They know that God exists, that there’s a moral standard and that they’ve broken this standard.
Check out what 2 Peter 3:9 tells us: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
So we know that God desires everyone come to Him through Christ, but not all will.
We, however, don’t have access to a list of who will respond to God and who won’t.
So early Christianity in the Bible places a huge emphasis on missionary efforts.
Let’s go to Romans 10:13-15 for the importance of Christian evangelism when it comes to reaching those who have never heard: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
In other words, Christians are actively spreading the message of Jesus so that “those who have never heard” will get an opportunity to hear. You may have heard or read various missionary stories about those who have never heard the gospel but who have responded to God’s general revelation (through nature . . . through God’s stirrings in their hearts, etc.) and are later visited by Christian missionaries.
The Bible records just such a story about the guy named Cornelius. He knew about God, but not about Christ. Because of his sincere desire to know God, Cornelius came in direct contact with the Apostle Peter who told Cornelius about Jesus (see Acts 10 for the entire story).
Here’s something interesting to chew on: Two guys (Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson) wrote “Is Hell Real?” and they say this:
“How could it be fair and just for those who have never even had a chance to hear the gospel, which is necessary for salvation, to be condemned to hell? The question sounds powerful, but behind it lie faulty assumptions.”
What are these “faulty assumptions”?
“The first mistaken assumption is that our condemnation is based on a rejection of the gospel. Scripture teaches that our condemnation is based on the fact that we are sinners, not because at some point in time we rejected the gospel . . . Furthermore, God’s wrath is revealed against everyone who suppresses His truth revealed through creation . . . Strictly speaking, the Bible denies that there are persons who have never heard of God.”
Morgan and Peterson go on to explain another faulty assumption, this one having to do with “a confusion of justice and mercy.”
God is merciful in that He has provided a way of salvation through Christ for those who will accept Him. But God is also just in that unrepentance will not go unnoticed.
Let’s remember this: We know that God will deal fairly with those who haven’t received a direct presentation of the gospel, just as He will deal fairly with those who have. But is God’s way too narrow?
God’s way is wide enough for everyone willing to accept it and receive Christ. The most important question any of us can answer is the one Jesus asked His own disciples, “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15; Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20).
Bottom line: God is just. He is fair. And we can trust Him. We don’t have to understand Him to know that we can trust Him.
(I worked at Focus on the Family for almost 20 years, and some of these thoughts have come from materials they shared with us.)
I’m speaking in Lansing, Mich., this weekend. Will you pray that God moves in a mighty way in our services?