Q&A: Condemning Those who Haven't Heard

Condemning Those who Haven't Heard

Question

If being saved comes only through accepting Christ as personal savior, how can a fair, loving and compassionate God condemn to eternity in hell people who haven't and never will be given an opportunity to accept or reject Christ?

Answer

It is true that God is fair, loving and compassionate. But it is equally true that he is wrathful and willing to destroy the objects of his wrath. The covenant curses of Leviticus 26 demonstrate this quite well, as does the flood of Noah's day (Gen. 6:9ff.). In fact, it is precisely the fact that God is fair that causes him to demonstrate his wrath and destruction. Human beings are sinful beings, and in all fairness deserve nothing but condemnation. Since the Bible teaches that God is both loving and wrathful, merciful and vengeful, we are not free to emphasize those attributes we find more appealing (love, etc.) and to de-emphasize his other attributes.

There is also a sharp distinction between the reasons people get sent to hell and the reason they get sent to heaven. Because all people are sinners, they justly deserve hell. They do not go to hell because they reject Christ, but because they commit all sorts of sins that warrant their death (Rom. 3:23). Those who have heard the gospel and had rejected it can count rejection of the gospel among their sins, but it is only one of countless sins for which they are punished. On the other hand, people go to heaven only by God's grace, and this grace comes to them when they receive Christ. In short, all people are on the road to hell, but God graciously and mercifully saves some from that road.

The fact that some people have less opportunity to be saved than others have (or no opportunity at all) does not excuse them from the sins they commit. In his fairness, God punishes more harshly the people that had the opportunity and did not receive the gospel. These are held more accountable because they had a greater witness to God's gospel. Nevertheless, those who do not hear the gospel still know enough about God to know right from wrong, yet they still sin (Rom. 1:18-2:16).

A factor that you might also find troublesome is that even when he saves people, God does not just give them the opportunity to be saved. That is, everyone who is saved comes to faith because God makes it certain that they will come to faith and be saved. All who are saved have been brought to salvation by God's sovereign act of irresistible grace. In a sense, God does not give them the opportunity not to be saved. God chooses those who will be saved, and then he ensures their salvation. As Paul points out in Romans 9:11-23, God is not obligated to show the same considerations to everyone. Rather, God is free, and he may do as he pleases. Some he chooses for salvation, some he appoints to destruction, but he is fair to all. Those he condemns are punished for their own sins, just as he punished Christ for the sins of those he saves. But he is merciful only to some. This is his prerogative (Rom. 9:15-19).

Ultimately, God's decisions are his alone to make. We are assured that he is just and good, and we are assured that without faith in Christ it is impossible to be saved. That's one reason that evangelism is so important. Nevertheless, we are also assured that when God condemns people, he does so fairly and righteously.


Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.