“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them” (Romans 1:18-19).
The other night my wife and I went out to dinner with some friends. In the course of our conversation, my friend started telling me about an acquaintance who is considering the claims of Jesus as Savior but had one significant objection. This individual’s question was this, “How can God send all these people who have lived in various places and times to hell for not believing in Jesus when they never heard about Jesus to begin with?” This is an excellent and very reasonable question which deserves an answer.
This question is really asking, “How can this be fair? And if it is not fair, then it must not be true.” After all, we all know that life is not fair, right? Still we protest against such gross unfairness, as we should, because we get the concept of justice from a Holy God. First, the question itself is unfair in the wording. The question is constructed as if God sends people to hell for not belonging to the right group or for some other arbitrary indicator. The misunderstanding lies in the fact that no one goes to hell for not believing in Jesus. Let me say that again: no one goes to hell for not believing in Jesus. People go to hell because they are guilty of breaking God’s law.
The book of Romans lays out the case of guilt against all men.
1) All men are morally responsible before God “because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20).
2) All men are morally guilty before God. Paul the Apostle, who wrote the book of Romans, makes the case that men are guilty, writing “there is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 2:10). Paul added that “all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
If all are responsible, and all are guilty, then all have a problem. Jesus came as the solution to this problem.
You see, Jesus is the antidote to the problem of sin. He is not the leader of the Christian club. He is not merely the founder of a religion. He is the cure for man’s guilt before God.
Still, throughout history and across geography, some people have had more access to the gospel than others. While on the surface this may be true, we must consider the case of Cornelius in Acts 10. Cornelius was an Italian soldier who was neither a Christian nor a Jew, yet he was devout in prayer and giving. Cornelius recognized there was a God and that he was responsible before Him and he conducted his life based on this self-evident truth. God responded by sending Peter to bring the gospel to him.
I know a former devout Muslim whom Jesus visited in a vision. In that vision, Jesus revealed to this man that He is the Son of God. I am hearing about this happening with Muslims across the world. Is it only for Muslims that God speaks?
When working with missionaries to the Mayan people of Guatemala, I heard about a Mayan stone carving that depicted a man dying on a cross. The date of this carving was before 1000 AD. I cannot remember many of the details of the story but it made me wonder: had the Mayans received a vision too?
Another example is found in Acts 16 when the Apostle Paul has a vision of a Macedonian man calling for Paul and Silas to come help them. They saw this as an open door to communicate the good news to a group that had not been reached. It was in Philippi, a major Macedonian city, that Paul and Silas found Lydia, a “worshipper of God,” whose heart was opened to the gospel.
On one hand, the geography where the gospel spread in the early years of Christianity seemed unfair. On the other hand, we have evidence of God working where the gospel has not yet gone. His work in people across the globe evens the playing field. If you can believe in a God, you should have enough faith for Him to get it right.
God seems to know when people are ready for the antidote of their sin. The real question is not about those people at all. The real question lies in how you are responding to God’s gracious offer.
-by Pastor Shawn Martin