Image by Disco in the Nunnery via Flickr
A question has been lingering in the back of my mind for quite some time now. “Why would a human, who never had an opportunity to hear the name of Jesus, be banished to an eternity of torture?”
I have done much research, and to no surprise found a vast amount of ideas to this question, all of which use Bible verses to back them up.
Here are the three most common ideas.
1. If they have never accepted Jesus, then they go to hell, regardless of whether or not they had a chance to.
2. God will treat them as an innocent (ie. babies or anyone not capable of making such a decision) and they will go straight to heaven or purgatory.
3. After Jesus’ second coming everyone will have the opportunity to acknowledge him as God, thus receiving salvation before entering heaven.
I have found one of these answers to be satisfactory.
The first idea does not reflect the character of God as recorded in the Bible. Banishing someone to eternal damnation for failing to meet an impossible perquisite? That seems extremely merciless and unwise. Both are opposite of God’s character.
I don’t believe God would create a human, knowing full well that they would never hear the name of Jesus, then make knowing the name of Jesus a requirement for entering heaven.
The second idea is better than the first, however it mixes things that should not be mixed. “Innocents” verses fully capable adults. That is not a fair comparison. The reason is “Innocents” do not have the ability to accept Christ. People who have never heard the name of Christ do have the ability. Ability verses ignorance is too much of a discrepancy to be co-located in the same argument. Why should people who have never accept Christ’s sacrifice be granted paradise automatically? That completely grinds against scriptural doctrine.
The third idea is the winner.
It is the only idea that is reflected in the Bible.
1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 -
“For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him.” (NIV)
Paul is clearly saying that whether we are live or dead (sleeping), we will be given the opportunity to accept him as savior. Paul uses the word “sleeping” as a metaphor for people who are dead. This shows that he is describing people who are waiting for Christ’s second coming.
Another verse that I think indirectly gives credit to this argument is John 5:28-29 -
“28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” (ESV)
Notice that there is nothing comparable to “those who accepted Jesus” is in this verse. It’s good versus evil, some will arise from the grave and get life and some will be judged (which could also be interpreted as damnation). It is during the judgment period that I believe they will be afforded the opportunity to accept Christ, which they were denied on earth.
In conclusion, assuming that someone recognizes that there is a God, which is inexcusable according to Roman 1:20 -
“For since the creation of the world 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)
And that person just never had the opportunity to hear Jesus name in their life time, then they will have a chance to do so during the time of judgement.