WHAT ABOUT THOSE WHO HAVE NEVER HEARD OF JESUS?
Any Christian who allows others to know his or her beliefs, will eventually hear this question from a non-believer. “What about the poor people in Africa or somewhere in a jungle who have never heard of Jesus? Will they go to hell?” The insinuation is that God must be cruel if He would allow such a thing. And considering the limited and worldly view of most people, this is not an unfair question. However, remember they are asking it to justify themselves, because they have heard. Many Christians have found themselves without a response to this question, but there is a good answer ? which is based on Jeremiah 29:13:
“And you will seek Me and find [Me], when you search for Me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13 (NKJV)
God Will Not Neglect a True Seeker
All over the world, God is dealing with people, trying to bring them to a knowledge of the truth. Contrary to this, many have taught that salvation is pre-ordained, and that some are destined to hell and other to heaven. This is a misguided premise, which not only brings into question the mercy of God, but is also unscriptural, for we read:
“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” 1Timothy 2:3 (NKJV)
This being the case, we know that any biblical reference to predestination refers only to God?s omniscience, and not to a pre-ordained plan which circumvents our free will. In fact, the free will we have is perhaps the main spiritual endowment which distinguishes man from the rest of God?s creation. It is also why heinous crimes occur, and why one person can be a tremendous blessing to all they meet, while another is a terror. The choice is theirs, and the choice is ours. Everyday we make many decisions which have an effect on our lives, and ultimately in the world. The ramifications of our actions can be great because humans tend to copy the behavior of others, especially those in authority. Parents are a primary example. This is the reason Abraham Lincoln said, “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.”
God is Available if We Want Him
The most important free will decision we will ever make is to turn our lives over to Jesus. But no one was ever forced to do this. Nevertheless, God does court us, and draw us to Him, which He is presently doing with all who live and are willing. And without this wooing of the Holy Spirit, there would be no one who would come to salvation, for we read:
“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.” John 6:44 (NKJV)
“As it is written: ?There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one.?” Romans 3:10 (NKJV)
Since it is God?s will that all should be saved, He is drawing those who reach out to Him in repentance. To do the work, God uses preachers and evangelists, but more than anyone else, He uses ordinary Christians who pray for and talk to their friends and neighbors, and even their enemies. However, what about a person who is in a remote place in the world and has never heard of Jesus Christ? It is clear from the scripture in Jeremiah that if that person seeks God with all his heart, he will find Him. And so, if someone wants to know the truth, and is seeking, God may send a missionary to her, or use some other means.
Let us understand, and have faith in knowing that absolutely nothing will stop a person from finding the truth of Christ if they sincerely want it. Christ did not come to extinguish the smoking flax ? which represents man?s hope. He came because He wants us. The fact is, however, that very few want Him. It is a life-changing matter for us to face our own sin and realize that we need deliverance. However, there are numerous accounts of God doing supernatural works to meet the need of a person who truly wants Him. One Islamic mullah in Pakistan preached against Christ daily. But one day Jesus appeared to Him and asked the mullah why he was persecuting Him. The Mullah said, “Who are you Lord?” and then was saved. After this his death was imminent, because any high-ranking religious leader who changes his faith in most of the Islamic Middle Eastern countries has signed his own death warrant.
The Ethiopian eunuch in the eighth chapter of Acts was seeking God with all of his heart, but was not saved. An angel spoke to Philip and told him to approach the chariot and salvation was preached. We are told that God is no respecter of persons, therefore this eunuch was no more special than anyone else in the world – but God intervened supernaturally to make certain he heard the Gospel. Surely it is no different with anyone else.
So we see the answer to what many think is a paradox. All have sinned, but not many care about their sin and seek salvation. But those who do will hear a missionary, or a radio broadcast, or have an angel or even Jesus appear ? or whatever is necessary ? for them to hear the message. Certainly Jesus did not die on the cross for all mankind, and then hide the truth from those who seek the remedy He has provided.
We Still Make a Difference
Nevertheless, let us see that we are instrumental in causing people to have a desire for God. Even though nothing will stop the truth from coming to the one who hungers for it, the desire to know the truth is many times brought about by our prayers. God uses Christians to preach the gospel, and to be a witness of the truth in the world. If we obey Him and live the life He has called us to, we will be a catalyst for enhancing a desire for God in the hearts of many who on their own initiative would not have sought Him.
Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?
In our natural way of thinking, we sometimes wonder about the fairness of God when we meet someone that we like, and who is kind to us, but is not open to the Gospel. Along the same line of thinking, there is a book out by a rabbi entitled “Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?” The answer to this question is that they do not ? because none of us are good. Job questioned how God could test him, since he was, as the Bible says, the best man on earth at that time. However, he shared the sin nature we all have, and when God appeared to him, he was ashamed that He questioned God?s judgment, and repented in dust and ashes. Truly, only God is good. This is why Jesus responded in the manner He did to the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:
“Now behold, one came and said to Him, ?Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?? 17 So He said to him, ?Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.?” Matthew 19:16 (NKJV)
Jesus is good and He is God. Here He was urging this man to recognize His deity, but the man?s idolatry of his possessions blinded him to Christ. He turns away because he does not want to give up his riches, not realizing that the One asking him to do so is the creator of all riches. In a similar manner, we make a judgment about people by thinking some are good and others are not. However, we do not judge rightly in this matter, for we do not understand that deep rebellion against God can be hidden in the heart of someone who seems personable to us ? for the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9).
I had two cousins who died. One was always very warm and friendly with me, and the other was quite rude. The friendly cousin, Ben, died in his 70?s quite unexpectedly. I had tried to share the gospel with him, but he was never open. The second one, Henry, died last year at the age of 95. Henry was what many would term a pill. He was difficult and provoking, and had completely stopped communication with my wife and myself, after we attempted to convert him. He did mention, however, that he might repent on his deathbed.
Henry was so nasty that he had alienated almost everyone, and he wore down the patience of his wife (not a believer). I remember his brother Ben telling me that as they were growing up Henry was always difficult to get along with ? he just did not seem to fit in with the rest of the family. And now, close to death, he told his daughter in law, who was also a Christian, that he wanted nothing to do with religion. Nevertheless we had a burden for Henry, and prayed for him while he was dying. In the last hour of his life, Henry took the hand of his daughter in law, repented, and was saved.
How can anyone explain why Henry was saved and Ben evidently lost? How can we explain how a mass murderer accepts Jesus, and a famous and beautiful movie star rejects Him. Why were the prostitutes and tax collectors of Jesus? day finding salvation when the Pharisees were not? The Pharisees were serious about religion ? they even tithed and fasted. One day I felt God telling me to go into a mainline denominational church and witness to the pastor there. I walked in and was soon in his office. With a shock of white hair and divinity degree from Yale, I thought of how no one could have been better cast for the part. We spoke about Christ and he denied His deity. His patience was running short, and I knew I had to speak the truth quickly. I told him that his denial was the sign of the anti-christ. His mouth contorted and he shouted, “Then you?ve just met the devil!”
The reason we misunderstand these matters is because God knows the heart and we do not. We need to remember this so that we do not rebel and charge God with wrong, just because of our own perverted logic. We may meet Mormons and Jehovah?s Witnesses and feel that they are living what we would call godly lives. Nevertheless, their false religion will not buy them a ticket to heaven. There is only one name under heaven by which we are saved ? and it is Jesus Christ.
We Will See the Justice of God
Right now we are under the veil of the flesh, and in that mode, we do not perceive the justice of God. When this world is over, we will see clearly, and not through a glass, darkly. We know that Satan deceives the whole world (Revelation 12:9) but it is amazing that he has come so far in deceiving Christians. Are some not saved whom we think should be? No, it is rather a miracle of grace that we are saved. Generally it might be better that we forget our old sins, but to some extent it might profit us spiritually if we remember them from time to time, since he who is forgiven much loves much. None of us were a prize to God; we were rather vain and sinful sheep that went astray. None of us deserve salvation; it is rather that we deserve eternal punishment.
Yes, I realize that we do not fully comprehend this. It is difficult for us to accept it, even as believers, because pride looms so greatly in our lives, and the spirit of the world is so pervasive. Nevertheless it is a fact and we read in 1 Peter:
“Now ?If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear??” 1Peter 4:18 (NKJV)
But because of God?s mercy we also read:
“As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.” Psalm 103:13 (NKJV)
In the mid-1980?s a popular daytime talk show host was fond of inviting Christians to his show. One afternoon I watched while he questioned a group of Christians about heaven and hell. He asked pointedly if all are doomed to hell if they do not repent and accept Jesus as their Savior. There was no immediate answer. Finally one of the Christians, a young lady, hesitantly said, “That?s what the Bible says.”
As the discussion continued, the host, upon hearing that he should repent, said, “Repent of what?” None of these Christians answered him. Perhaps they were awed by his fame, or had just not been taught adequately. They could have asked him if he had every broken any of the Ten Commandments. The point could have been made that the first commandment is broken when we care about anything in this world more than God. Or that when we give false witness, or lie, we are breaking God?s ninth commandment. They might have noted that coveting, or wanting something that belongs to others is breaking the tenth commandment. If the host had ever taken God?s name in vain or been disrespectful to his parents he would have broken the third and fifth commandments. And if he, like most of us, had ever stolen anything in his life, that would be breaking the eighth commandment. We do not know about this host, but many have paid for or had abortions, and others cheated on their spouses, which would be breaking the six and seventh commandments.
The silver-haired host of the show finally asked the question, “What about those who have never heard of Jesus?” But he received no real answer. However, it is undeniable that he has heard of Jesus, and he has also heard the testimony of true Christians ? even to the point of inviting them on his show to question them. His excuse before God might be that their lack of answers kept him from repenting. However, this defense will not stand, for the truth is that Jesus is knocking on the door of his heart, just as He is of people all over the world, saying:
“?Come now, and let us reason together,? says the Lord, ?Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword?; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 1:18 (NKJV)