This is a question that many people have. I appreciate the concern of those who ask it. They frequently show great compassion and want to see as many people as possible come to know Christ. To those who ask, the implication is that it would be unjust for God to condemn someone to hell for eternity if that person never had a fair chance at accepting or rejecting Jesus because they never had an opportunity to hear about Him. Perhaps they lived in a country closed to the Gospel or where there is not a Bible translated into their language. Whatever the circumstance, they have no direct knowledge of Jesus Christ. So, what happens to such a person when her or she finally reaches the end of their earthly life?
First, we should affirm a few general truths about God. The Bible affirms that:
- Christ is the only Savior (Acts 4:12)
- God is truly just (Gen. 18:25; Job 34:12)
- God’s love is everlasting (Jer. 31:3; John 3:16)
Secondly, we should dispel one of the misconceptions behind the original question. The misconception is that those who have never heard about Jesus are somehow innocent. In John 3:17-21, Jesus explains that the problem is not that there isn’t enough light in the world pointing people to Him, rather it is that that men’s hearts love darkness rather than light.
So the real issue is how the light, which is the knowledge of God, is being shown to all people at all times and in all places. This is exactly what the Apostle Paul tells us about in Romans 1, 2, and 3.
In Romans 1:18-23, Paul tells us that everyone has received the light of creation. That is, “God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. ” (NIV) If a person responds to this light – that of the incredible wonders of the creation of the universe – then God has promised through the Holy Spirit to give that person more light.
Next we learn from Romans 2 that everyone has received the light of conscience. Paul explains in verses 14 and 15 that, “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.” (NIV) Therefore, if a person recognizes that the moral law that nearly all (sane) people have within them was given by a moral Law Giver, that person is acknowledging the light of conscience and will, as promised by God through the Holy Spirit, receive additional light guiding that person to further knowledge of God.
Lastly, Paul announces in Romans 3 the details of the Light of Christ (verses 21-26). Almost triumphantly, Paul declares that ” God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement,through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.” (vs. 25, NIV) It is true that not everyone who has ever lived or ever will live will hear about Christ. However, Jesus Himself claimed that because no one has been kept in the dark about God (through the lights of creation and conscience), we’re all accountable to Him (Luke 12:47-48).
You may still be tempted to say, “it just doesn’t seem fair that those who have never heard the Gospel or heard the name of Jesus will be judged anyway and potentially receive the ultimate death sentence – an eternity without God in hell.” What you are really saying is that you think God has not provided enough light about Himself and therefore He should not hold these people accountable. You are taking the burden off the person, and putting it onto God. However, we have learned that every individual has not been kept in the dark by God, but by their own sinful nature. They have plenty of light (creation, conscience, Christ), but have reject the light in favor of darkness. Therefore, they are WITHOUT EXCUSE.
If this truth concerns you still, I have two simple questions:
1. If Christ supernaturally showed Himself today to a group of people who have never heard about Him before, would 100% of these people believe in Him? I doubt even a majority would. They didn’t when He came the first time, despite numerous miracles and proofs that He was truly God in human flesh. Why? Because their hearts loved darkness rather than light.
2. What are YOU doing to make Christ known to these people who have never heard of Him? Your concern is a prompting from the Holy Spirit to actively spread the Good News of the Gospel. How obediently are you following His promptings? If you want to see this apparent injustice correctly, then as quickly as you can go share your burden with other committed Christians, ask them to support you financially and prayerfully, and become the missionary God has clearly called you to be.