someone be saved who never had a chance to hear about Christ?"
issue, seemingly, is the fairness of God. Let's say I'm the classic 'ignorant
savage' born on a deserted island, I live, I die, and then stand before
God and have no knowledge of Jesus Christ. Unfair for me to go to hell,
right? Well, there are several facets to this issue so be sure to read through
all my following points:
no one is born alone. You came from someone else, who came from someone
else, etc., etc., all the way back to Adam and Eve. And Adam and Ever were
warned, weren't they (Genesis 2:17-3:24)? This first point I'm making is
that God deals with humanity collectively as well as individually; perhaps
an idea more foreign to those of us in the modern Western world than elsewhere
or in other times.
and over in Scripture, God exhorts mankind that his teachings are to be
written down, passed on to their children, talked about day and night, and
so forth (Deut. 6:4-9). Not just because the teachings are important and
beneficial, but because we're all in this together. Somewhere along the
line, the 'ignorant savage' had one or more ancestors who were warned by
the word of God not to disobey or abandon him. Somewhere along the line
someone did, and now the result is descendants separated from the knowledge
consequences of one generation adversely affecting latter generations is
what Scripture refers to when it talks about the sins of the fathers being
"visited upon" their children (Exodus 20:5). Note that while this is slightly
different from God specifically cursing people for the sins of their predecessors,
which he doesn't do, it
still leaves descendants in a bad spot; exactly how bad we'll discuss next.
God is fair in that each of us is judged by the amount of knowledge that
was manifest to us. In other words, by one token the ignorant savage does
not share the guilt of the informed ancestor that disobeyed or abandoned
what he or she knew to be God's word (Ezekiel 18:20). But by another token,
even the heavens and all creation declare the glory of God (Romans 1:18-20)
so no one who has ever lived is completely without excuse. Thus the best
clue I believe we have to such a person's fate is probably most clearly
spelled out in Luke 12:47-48a:
That servant who
knows his master's will and does not get ready or does not do what his
master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not
know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows.
response to what I anticipate is a feeling that this still seems unfair,
let's rush onto the next point that ameliorates what would otherwise seem
to be hopeless damnation for the helpless:
God rewards all those who diligently seek him ("…for the Lord searches
every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek
him, he will be found by you..." - 1 Chronicles 28:9).
and again are there missionary tales of some remote people group who knew
there was a great power behind creation, and they prayed something along
the lines that they might come to know him. Along comes a Christian missionary
and, behold, even the ignorant savage who responds properly to the little
light he or she has is saved.
the chief point to take away here is that God is sovereign. He is
as capable of enforcing the consequences of ancestors on their descendants
as he is capable of rescueing all who have it in their heart to see him
in their life and circumstances.
beyond the ignorant adult savage, a far more common situation to wonder
about is "What about infant children or mentally retarded people that are
incapable of understanding the gospel? What happens when they die?"
my knowledge such cases are not addressed explicitly in the Bible, but I
believe a fair case is to be made for their salvation. First, we know all
are judged by the light of knowledge they have of creation and of the gospel;
little to none in the case of infants and the retarded. And second, and
most importantly, Jesus used children multiple times as an example of how
we must come into the kingdom:
Matthew 11:25 -- At
that time Jesus said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed
them to little children.
Matthew 18:3 -- And
he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little
children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 19:14 -- Jesus
said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for
the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."
the Jews had a custom that the age of twelve began the age of accountability,
at which point you were supposedly accountable to have an adult understanding
of God. But I don't know of anything in the Bible to codify that so concretely.
I've heard John MacArthur preach on the fate of infants that die, and I
remember him having more arguments from Scripture for their acceptance into
heaven. I'll append this page when I recall or research what those are.
What is the Gospel?
The nature of God's