One common objection to the message of salvation through Jesus Christ is the question of what happens to those who never hear His message or His name. So, what does happen to those who die having never heard of Jesus Christ? This is a question that is often raised to counter Jesus’ claim that ONLY those who believe in Him will inherit an eternity in heaven. Surely it is unfair that those who never hear the gospel message should be condemned to an eternal separation from God for something they did not even know about? This is not an easy question to answer but there are a number of clues in the Bible that will help us deal with this question.
Creation bears indisputable evidence of God’s existence
We are told that the evidence of Creation itself leaves us with no excuse. The Bible makes it very clear that non-belief in God is inexcusable as God’s creative attributes are clearly evident in the world around us. Every person can take a look at the world around them and common sense should be enough to convince a reasonable person that this is the result of a creator. This is reasonable – if you look at world today and go back in history, an overwhelming majority of world population have always believed in some form of God. It is logical, natural, and instinctive to reach the conclusion that we are the result of a creator. Romans 1 makes this very clear:
For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. (Romans 1:20-23, emphasis added)
The book of Job deals with the issue of suffering. After much discussion among the characters in Job about the cause of suffering it is very revealing to read God’s response between chapters 38-42. Basically, God simply points to the unfathomable immensity of creation in an awesome dialogue that is very inspiring to read. We are supposed to look at the world around us and the heavens above and simply be in awe of the God who clearly created it all. This should draw all people towards God.
In the UK, we live in a time when “militant” atheism and humanism aggressively sneer at those who question “molecule-to-man” evolution. This hostility appears to have rocked the Church at large. Sometimes it is a good thing to take a step back from the array of scientific disagreements and take a long look of the complexity of the world around us or the heavens above quietly and soberly reflect – do you instinctively sense that there has to be a Creator that caused this wonderful world?
We believe it is unreasonable, irrational and illogical to deny the existence of a God. Worse still, we believe the denial of God’s existence reveals both arrogance and pride that make it almost impossible to genuinely search for God. We also believe that God gives everyone a chance to respond to Him and where people genuinely seek God, an encounter with Jesus is entirely possible. There are many accounts of people having a direct encounter with Jesus Christ who had never seen a Bible or heard His name before the encounter.
What about our conscience?
The Bible states that every human has an imprint of God’s law and standards written in their heart:
For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;) In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel. (Romans 2:14-16, emphasis added)
We ALL have a conscience and instinctively know what is right and wrong. There is obvious variation across cultures but mankind intuitively has a moral standard imprinted within them that is unique to humanity and we would say bears witness of being made “in the image of God”. No matter how hard we try to suppress this, our conscience teaches us what is right or wrong. For there to be a moral standard, there has to be a moral judge through whom these moral standards come and to whom we are accountable. This should cause us to look for and search for the Creator God.
What about those born in countries where there is no gospel message?
There appear to be many locations or time periods in history where the name of Jesus Christ is never heard. Many ask about the Eskimos who have no contact with other cultures or those who live in strict Muslim countries where possession of a Bible or the Christian faith is banned. What will happen to these people – surely it would be unfair to judge them?
There are some amazing accounts of people converting to faith in Jesus Christ with NO contact whatsoever from any Christian and without any access to Christian literature. In strictly Muslim countries where Christianity and even possession of a Bible incurs brutal punishment, there are inspiring accounts of Jesus Christ appearing to people in their dreams. These dreams and visions are often so real and vivid, these people wake up, confess their sins and submit their lives to Christ and then experience terrible persecution on account of their conversion and often execution. It seems no human effort can prevent the gospel spreading that even where we feel it impossible for people to hear of Jesus, God often has other plans!
Faith in Jesus Christ often increases at a far greater pace in parts of the world where the message of Christ is banned – this is an amazing phenomena. How can this be possible? We believe that where people genuinely look for God – he WILL find them. People who are trapped in oppressive religious systems often do look for the true God and there are many spectacular accounts of Jesus reaching people where it seems humanly impossible!
We believe that most people in our modern world today (particularly in the Western word) who really want to learn the truth about Jesus Christ are able to. An open and enquiring mind WILL look for God. Incidentally, the fact that the gospel has been virtually preached worldwide is another reason to believe we are nearing the second coming of Jesus Christ:
And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14)
God wants people to look for and turn to him – there is plenty of reasons to look for God in our broken world. He WILL meet people where they need to be met if they are genuinely looking for the true God. He will either send Christians to them, send Bibles to them or appear to them Himself!
What happens to babies and small children that tragically die?
There is very good evidence in the Bible that in tragic circumstances where children die before an “age of accountability”, they are granted safe passage to heaven. However, it is not possible for us to be certain what this age is as it is not clearly stated in the Bible and we imagine it would be differ from child to child depending on rate of maturity. In various places the Bible refers to children as those who do not know the difference between good and evil:
For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings. (Isaiah 7:16)
For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. (Romans 7:9)
It seems logical to conclude that every child reaches a point of maturity where he/she instinctively knows boundaries between right and wrong. It is at this point that an awareness of “sin” is apparent to the child – it exists within all of us no matter how hard we try to suppress it. We suspect that when a child becomes aware of their own sinful nature, it is at this moment that the child is accountable for his/her own actions before God.
David and Bathsheba suffered the bereavement of witnessing the death of their baby son soon after birth. David statement below reveals that he expected to see his son again at a future time. This implies he believed his son was in heaven.
And he said, While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, Who can tell whether God will be gracious to me, that the child may live? But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me. (2 Samuel 12:22-23, emphasis added)
There is also a strong clue in the book of Job. The book goes into great detail to list how many animals and children Job had at the beginning of the book:
And there were born unto him seven sons and three daughters. His substance also was seven thousand sheep, and three thousand camels, and five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred she asses, and a very great household; so that this man was the greatest of all the men of the east. (Job 1:2-3)
After all the trials of Job, God promises Job a double blessing and then we have listed all of his animals and children:
So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning: for he had fourteen thousand sheep, and six thousand camels, and a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand she asses. He had also seven sons and three daughters. (Job 42:12-13)
The curious detail here is that the number of sons and daughters was not doubled but the numbers of all the animals were. The reason for this is that Job’s children that perished at the beginning of the book were never permanently lost (whereas the animals were). They went safely to be with God in heaven and Job was to see them again when he arrives – therefore the number of sons and daughters he had was ALSO doubled!
We believe this all suggests that children that are UNABLE to make a reasonable assessment of God’s existence will not be judged in the same way an adult is. Only God knows this “age of accountability” as only God knows how much awareness any child truly has of the world around them.
We imagine the same principle would apply with those who are unable to understand the gospel message due a mental illness or learning difficulty. We emphasize that God is fair and will meet people where they need to be met for them to have a chance to respond.
The Genuine Seeker of the Truth
There is no question that God is perfect, fair and just. We believe that those who genuinely seek the truth will be found by God. It is clear that the world around us is tainted and it is very obvious that humanity is corrupted. God is the answer and He wants us to seek Him. He does NOT force us to turn to Him – He invites us to Him:
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)
We believe that if anyone honestly looks at world around them WILL be convinced in the existence of a creator. We live in a country where most people can access a Bible and investigate the claims of Jesus Christ. Have you investigated the claims of Jesus Christ? The gospels describe the account of a blameless, perfect man performing an array of miracles to be then executed only to rise from the dead, never to die again. IF this is all true, Jesus Christ certainly authenticated His message to humanity – it definitely deserves at least an honest, open-minded and genuine investigation on our part.
Ideas that are NOT Biblical
It has often been suggested to us that its OK for Christians to believe in heaven and hell and the teachings of Jesus as long as they do not tell anyone else. We think this is unbelievably selfish! Can you imagine knowing a cure for cancer that could save millions of lives and then keeping it to yourself? Or, could you imagine seeing a house with its roof on fire and people unaware inside oblivious to the danger they are in and then NOT telling them to get out? This is unimaginable! Yet, Christians, who believe that those who do not come to faith in Jesus Christ will be sent to hell, but can be rescued in Christ are supposed to keep this a “secret” and not tell anyone? Keeping this to yourself is surely the greatest act of selfishness! This clearly cannot be the right approach.
Others have come to the conclusion that anyone who does not hear the gospel will automatically go to heaven. This presents a big problem. Anyone who believes this would have a strong motivation NOT to tell anyone the gospel message. Why tell someone the gospel message and risk them rejecting it, if they could be guaranteed heaven by not hearing the gospel in the first place?
Jesus clearly strongly commissioned believers to preach the gospel to everyone:
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Matthew 28:18-20)
In fact, Jesus’ very last words were a commission to preach the gospel worldwide:
But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. (Acts 1:8-9)
We have no excuse for keeping the gospel message from anyone. This would be a tactic of the devil to keep people from the truth of Jesus Christ and is clearly not found in the Bible.
We believe that God WILL reach anyone who wants to be reached with the truth and will meet each person where they need to be reached.
What about YOU?
This is very simple. The most important thing is that YOU do know the gospel message – this is the only thing that should concern you! Having read this article, you DO know the gospel and therefore cannot claim ignorance on judgment day. The gospel message HAS been delivered to you! We believe that God “taps the shoulder” of those looking for answers inviting a response. If you feel God “tapping” your shoulder – be SURE to respond!
Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul. (Ezekiel 3:17-19)
What will you do with the gospel message? Will you protest your perception of unfairness and injustice and refuse salvation in Christ because you feel this question is not sufficiently answered. Surely this makes no sense. What a tragedy it would be to take this question with you on judgment day, find out that there was a simple explanation that was fair for all and find yourself excluded from heaven because you did not trust in the goodness of God. Why consign yourself to an eternity away from God on a “matter of principle”?
We are confident any questions like these will be answered in a satisfactory and fair manner – would not it be better to find good answers to these questions on the “right side” of God’s judgment day, than get it all wrong?!
How you looked at the live of Jesus Christ? Surely you would agree that the description of Him in the gospels is of a fair and reasonable person? The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ WILL be our judge! Whatever happens to those that never hear of Jesus Christ is impossible to be completely sure BUT we do know of the loving, just and fair character of God. Whatever does happen, we can be sure that it turns out to be totally FAIR. The best approach with this is to concern ourselves with what we DO know – not worry about what we do not.
We urge you to look into the life and claims of Jesus Christ for yourself – you can at least then be sure and thankful that YOU have heard the gospel message!