I can almost accept sending Gandhi to Hell for not taking the step of putting his faith in Christ, a figure with whom he was obviously familiar. But what of the child in a third world country who simply never heard? This question is a tired cliche, but I'm curious where you stand. Is that why we are called to make disciples if the nations? If so, the blame for the eternal fiery torture of all the unevangelized people groups I haven't yet personally reached is on my head, making me deserve Hell more than any sin I could ever imagine committing. I can't imagine there being no tears in heaven knowing that I had been such a tragic failure yet got in because I knew the owner.This is a great reflection on that ever-pressing question, "What happens to everybody who hasn't heard the gospel? Do they go to hell?" I'd like to tie together three passages from the New Testament that will help us on the way toward an answer to this question.
The first is John 15:22. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Because Jesus only preached the gospel to the Jewish residents of Israel (with a few exceptions), he is clearly talking about the Jewish people that rejected him--namely, the religious authorities. But there is a principle at work here: Those to whom Jesus has not spoken are not held accountable for their sin. As we stretch that out across space and time, I think it's safe to say that, those to whom Jesus has not spoken through the Church (which is his body on earth) will not be judged as those to whom he has spoken. It's common sense, really. If you haven't heard of Jesus or the gospel, then God won't hold that against you.
The second is Romans 3:25-26. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Paul seems to be saying that God has not meted out judgment upon those who lived before Jesus, which implies that, somehow, there must still be hope for them. But how?
This brings me to the third verse, 1 Peter 3:18-20. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits—to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. This is definitely one of those, "What the heck does that mean?" verses. I don't want to speculate too much, but it seems to imply that Jesus, after resurrecting from the dead, was somehow able to preach the gospel to those who lived and died before he came.
Tying these verses together, I think we can draw some conclusions:
- God is just.
- No one will be condemned to hell because they never had the opportunity to hear the gospel.
- Everyone will have the opportunity to hear the gospel eventually.