The question is one that I have dealt with briefly in a previous post where I quote Greg Koukl in showing how we are all guilty of committing moral wrongs–or sin. The point that Mr. Koukl was making is that God is not sending innocent people to hell. We all do things that are wrong and doing those wrong things is what condemns us to hell. Hell is our punishment for our wrong doing. However God has also provided a means of being saved from the punishment. That salvation comes from God through our faith in Jesus Christ.
"You asked what happens to people who live far away from the gospel and have never heard about Jesus and die without faith in him."
So that leaves us with this young girl's question. What about those that never have the chance to hear about Jesus? Do they miss out on this chance for salvation simply because of circumstances beyond their control?
Pastor John answers the question this way:
He then references Romans 1:18-23 and makes the following four points:
God always punishes people because of what they know and fail to believe. In other words, no one will be condemned for not believing in Jesus who has never heard of Jesus.
Does that mean that people will be saved and go to heaven if they have never heard of Jesus? No, that is not what God tells us in the Bible.
Pastor John goes on to point out that these facts are why it is so important for us as Christians to pray for and support missionaries. The simple answer to the question is that whenever and wherever people die apart from Christ that there is no hope of salvation. This is a difficult topic for for a 12-year-old. It can be an equally difficult topic for me too.
- All people "know God," even if they have never heard the Bible. "What can be known about God is plain to them" (verse 19). "Although they knew God..." (verse 21).
- The way they know God is by the way God has made the world and their own consciences (verses 19–20).
- Even though they know God, no one who knows God anywhere in the world "honors God as God or gives him thanks" (verse 21). Instead, they "suppress the truth" (verse 18). That is, they resist the truth deep in their hearts and "exchange it" for other things that they would rather have (verse 23).
- Therefore, they are "without excuse" (verse 20). That is, they are guilty and deserved to be punished.
Is this really fair? How do we reconcile this with the claim that God is also a God of mercy and justice?
Romans 8:29-30 gives us a bit of a glimpse at the answer. In these verses Paul states:
Even before creating the world God knew all of those that will have faith in Jesus Christ in order to be saved. God also predestined those that will have faith in Jesus Christ. A part of this predestining means that God makes sure that those who will respond positively to the message of Jesus will hear the message of Jesus. This means that there are no people out there that might have been saved if they only had the chance. God will always provide the opportunity for those people to hear that will respond. And one big way that he provides is through the work of those missionaries that are working tirelessly to bring the Word of God to far away places.
"For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified."
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.