What Happens to Those Who Never Hear the Gospel?



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  • What Happens to Those Who Never Hear the Gospel?

    I have a question I'd like to pose.

    At my church this past weekend, there were these huge banners in the lobby with a list of countries and their corresponding populations of people who are still in the dark and have yet to hear about the gospel. My question is this - are those people who happen to have been born in a certain time and place without the opportunity to hear the gospel passing into en eternity of damnation? And is this part of an Armenianism versus Calvanism argument/doctrine?

    What are the thoughts on this?

  • #2
    Indeed a difficult question, pondered for two millennium. The Scriptures do not reveal to us specifically what happens to those who have never heard. But it does say that Jesus is the only way to salvation (Acts 4:12). Because the Scripture does not specifically address this question, no one can in earnest provide a concrete response. While there are multiple possible tangent references, the verses scholars turn to the most is the following passage:

    "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, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them." Romans 2:14-15

    The consideration of the goodness of God, his common grace, the goodness of his providence, of his patience (e.g. it rains on the just and unjust) should be effectual to bring us all to repentance. God does not save men with respect to their external privileges or their lack of knowledge or even toward their profession of the truth, but according to their dispositions as they really are, the condition of the heart. God has already revealed himself to the hearts of people everywhere (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

    It is said that degrees of light are revealed to all mankind. The light of nature the unbelievers have in abundance, and by this they shall be judged: As many as have sinned without law shall perish without law; that is, the unbelievers, who had no other guide but natural conscience, no other motive but common mercies, who never heard the Word of God nor experienced any supernatural revelation. They shall be judged by, as they sin against the law of nature revealed in their hearts.

    To clarify this further, God provided the light of nature, revealed to the unbelievers instead of a written law. He had said they had sinned without law, which looks like a contradiction; for where there is no law there is no transgression. But, He says though they had not the written law (Psalms 147:20), they had that which was equivalent to the moral codec of law. They had the work of the law. He does not mean that work which the law commands, as if they could produce a perfect obedience; but the good works which the law produces. The work of the law is to direct us what to do, and to examine us what we have done. Innately, we naturally know it is wrong to murder, to steal, to lie; these things are as of themselves the law, against which those who have not heard will be judged.

    In the late 1600's, Matthew Henry wrote in observation, "They had that which directed them what to do by the natural law: by the force and tendency of their natural notions and dictates they apprehended a clear and vast difference between good and evil. They did by nature the things contained in the law. They had a sense of justice and equity, honor and purity, love and charity; the light of nature taught obedience to parents, pity to the miserable, conservation of public peace and order, forbade murder, stealing, lying, perjury, etc. Thus they were a law unto themselves. They had that which examined them as to what they had done: Their conscience also bearing witness. They had that within them which approved and commended what was well done and which reproached them for what was done amiss. Conscience is a witness, and first or last will bear witness, though for a time it may be bribed or brow-beaten. It is instead of a thousand witnesses, testifying of that which is most secret; and their thoughts accusing or excusing, passing a judgment upon the testimony of conscience by applying the law to the fact."

    Essentially, mankind is without excuse. It is not that some have not heard about God. Instead, they have rejected what they have heard and what is readily seen in nature (Psalm 8:3,4; Job 26:8,9,14; Romans 1:20). In Deuteronomy 4:29 reads, “But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.” This verse teaches a universal truth—everyone who truly seeks after God will find Him, as Abraham did with no other means than calling out and pressing in. We find instead, souls reject the knowledge of God that is present in nature and in their own hearts, and instead decide to worship a “god” of their own will and devices. Certainly it is more diverse and complicated than this alone, where Matthew 11:27 and John 6:44 both state no person can comprehend or find Him without divine providence. Abraham was spiritually touched to seek, not as if he sought by the nature motivation of his own will.

    And yes, the question often arises "Why do I deserve to be one of the lucky ones to have received the Word of Life?" which is partially what Grace is about. Charles Haddon Spurgeon spoke of it often, so did Billy Sunday and Dwight L. Moody. It is the mystery of Grace, that many are called but few are chosen (Matthew 22:14). Predestination as it is called, would tell us that from the foundations of the earth, the Creator knew already who would receive and who would not. The Calvinist would say, "Preach the gospel to awaken the elect... for they are predestined to be found." I do not applaud many of the Calvinist views, where it can be cold debate, just as contentious as the Armenists. Instead of lofty arguments, we are to be willing tools in the Masters hands to share the gospel with all to harvest the few. It is profound Grace that God would use a reconstituted fallen man to share the gospel with other fallen men. It is unfathomable that the Father would use the very vessels that were objects of wrath to share good news with those who are surely condemned.


    • #3
      Not leaving a response seems rude to me as you took considerable time to respond. :-)

      Yes, the whole idea of predestination is one of those things a college professor used to influence me away from my faith and it took me awhile to get back to it (my faith, that is). Then, my stepdaughter asked me about it the other day and then I saw the vast number of reached people on the banners at church the other day.

      Thank you for your insight and perspective on the matter. It is helpful.


      • #4
        I find, at least with the debates I have read, but not participated in, predestination from the Calvinist's perspective, is trying to theologically explain God's mind, purpose and domain from the limitation of our finite understanding. It simply isn't possible for a person to fully comprehend God's sentient thinking outside of our framed time and space, and come away with a rational explanation of why some are saved by Grace, and others are never given the chance.

        Faith to me requires a degree of child-like simplicity. Not suggesting blind-faith question-nothing submission, a spell Fundamentalist often fall under, but accepting some theological matters are simply not approachable by the human cognitive process

        I work daily with a famous professor and author, a Moody graduate some fourty years ago, who upon his dissertation of why God allowed suffering, abandoned the faith because he found the matter irreconcilable. He cast his faith aside because he could not explain suffering against the backdrop of how Scriptures over-arching premise is on His love and mercy. One large doubt caused him to question everything, unto abandonment.

        This same fallout is repeated daily for different reasons, as I have observed former contenders of the faith turn cynical, and then finally tossing Christianity out as mystical nonsense. As a paid moderator on a forum and blog for a New York Times Best Seller pastor who turned agnostic, I read letters daily of former believers forsaking years of faith for freedom from religion. While I watch helplessly as many forsake the faith as Jesus promised would happen in the last days (Matthew 24:10), my faith is reinforced, where I can learn and take note of the fallacies in their thinking and the grand seduction.


        • #5
          That's amazing!

          I find it fascinating that you work in that arena. You don't find it difficult to do so? How did that come about?

          I really need to get to know you better. Lol


          • #6
            At first, it was challenging. But about three years later, I was able to drop a partition between what was false and what is true.

            It is a grand paradox to be living in faith working with those who lost theirs... very unexpected. It has given me a different set of lens when confronted by different views, where I am less a religious militant than I was. We know Jesus had to learn cohabitation with religious diversity, where he grew up and lived among hardened Orthodox Judaism, devout to the Torah and the traditions of the faith, all the while, his whole life and purpose was about being set free from the law through himself.

            I can't imagine what that must have been like


            • #7
              Wow. Amen to that!

              Thank you for framing the whole argument about child-like faith versus blind faith so well. You've offered up a refreshing perspective for me.

              And thanks for what you've done with this forum. Very refreshing.


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