God And Those Who Haven’t Heard

Support for Rob Bell (Love Wins:A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived) and his brand of universalism seems to be fueled by a great concern for the “billions and billions” of people who have never heard of Jesus Christ — the same concern, I might add, that fuels much of the missionary movement.

Rather than prompting prayer for the unreached or evangelistic endeavor, however, this concern from Bell supporters turns into … Bell support as he “explores” the idea that all people get a mulligan, a do-over after we die, until we eventually get it right.

The problem, of course, is that this position is not Biblical. Many who disagree with Mr. Bell have said they themselves wish his view was true because the thought of people suffering for eternity is unthinkable. But the fact is, it isn’t their decision any more than it is mine or Mr. Bell’s. The decision is God’s.

Some bloggers, then, have postulated that what we believe about hell exposes what we believe about God. If we see Him as loving and kind, the thinking goes, we will lean toward universalism, whereas if we see Him as a harsh, vengeful taskmaster, we will embrace a “hell for eternity” view.

Again, I think this have very little to do with “my view” of God. The reality is, He has told us about Himself in the Bible and He’s given us His Spirit to guide us into all truth. Consequently, I see no reason why we shouldn’t search the Scriptures and see what God says about His role as judge and what Jesus says about coming judgment.

All that as background for the issue — what about those who haven’t heard the name of Jesus Christ? What does the Bible say about their eternal destiny?

First, what does the Bible say about anyone’s eternal destiny? Here’s one clear statement:

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.
– John 3:14-15

The reference is to the bronze serpent God used to save the lives of the Israelites dying of snake venom during their exodus from Egypt (see last month’s post “The Way Of Escape” for more details). The bronze serpent served as an intermediary between God and the dying Israelites. In the same way, Jesus is the intermediary between God and sinners dying spiritually.

In fact, Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”

But that still leaves the question on the table — what about all those who haven’t heard of Jesus?

Scripture has more to say about Salvation and this, I believe, answers the question.

In Romans 1 Paul builds the case that God has revealed Himself in what He made. So we can conclude that even people who don’t have the Bible can know God and are responsible for what they do with what they know. Here’s the key passage:

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. 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. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
– Rom 1:18-21

So here’s my conclusion. If someone suppresses the truth and does not honor God as God, then he has no interest in Jesus who is the way to God. Simply put, that person does not want a way to God. Consequently, by turning away from God, he is also turning away from Jesus (though he may not have heard of Jesus by name). And doesn’t that seem undeniably true, given the fact of the Trinity?

On the other hand, isn’t God capable of sending an Elizabeth Elliott or Hudson Taylor or William Cary or Cameron Townsend to a previously unreached people group whenever the time is right? Can we not trust Him, the Great Shepherd, to search for the one lost sheep? Of course we can, even as we can trust Him to one day separate the sheep from the goats.

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Published in: on April 11, 2011 at 6:49 pm  Comments (6)  
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6 Comments

  1. I have pretty much littered the web with my take on this, so I wont repeat myself. Which is unlike me. 🙂

    I think you handled the exegesis well here, though. Have you thought about writing a letter to Bell? I’ve been contemplating that myself.

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  2. The following scripture suggests that there are degrees of punishment in hell.

    Luke 12:46 The lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and at a hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.   47 And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.   48 But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.

    The greatest punishment seems to be reserved for those who had the most privilege to the gospel and still rejected it – or worse, denounced it in a pulpit.

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  3. Since God is Omniscient and He will only save the elect, why could He not arrange to have the people He will save in a place where they will hear the Gospel?

    At least that is one fix to the problem of those who have not heard. Believing that Salvation is entirely of God and not of ourselves takes an enormous amount of stress off of our missionary and evangelistic efforts.

    Rob Bell is teaching a false view of God and the eternal consequences of sin against a Holy God. He is truly the hateful one by giving false converts and the unconverted a false assurance of the afterlife.

    You are absolutely correct in saying that those who suppress the truth are in fact turning away from God and Jesus by default. There is no salvation outside of Christ….it does not matter if we like that fact because God did not ask our opinion

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  4. A friend served as a missionary in Africa years ago. He spoke of tribal groups who reminded him of the men of Athens: they knew God, merely did not know His name. The rocks and the trees will shout of Him if man does not. Just as in that scripture you quoted, all of Creation sings praises to God. Man needs but to listen. In my years growing up in an atheistic household, I could never deny a sunset or sunrise, a gnarled tree, a lapping wave: Someone sent those light fingers through the clouds; Someone whispered in that wind.

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  5. “So here’s my conclusion. If someone suppresses the truth and does not honor God as God, then he has no interest in Jesus who is the way to God. Simply put, that person does not want a way to God. Consequently, by turning away from God, he is also turning away from Jesus (though he may not have heard of Jesus by name). And doesn’t that seem undeniably true, given the fact of the Trinity?”

    Exactly! Romans 1 makes clear that every one has the same choice to honour or dishonour God, so that “they are without excuse.”

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  6. I suppose this is not a goaterly comment; I’ve been hanging around with Jesus too much for that. I do think that our view of God is important and is expressed when we discuss our expectations for the future, one that we all face!

    It is imperative, too, that we see that God is not Righteous, if He allows evil to continue ad infinitum, and not Merciful, if He makes no allowances for those who love Him, in spite of fallibility.

    It is all the more stunning to read, ” . . .For when we were yet without strength, Christ died for the ungodly. . .” (Romans 5:6) and ” For as by one man’s disobedience [Adam’s]many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” (Romans 5:19, KJV).

    The remarkable thing is that both the Old Testament and New Testament writings demonstrate an astonishing agreement with a surprising number of fragments documented. Clearly, there is little reason to doubt their authenticity.

    Similarly, there is little reason to doubt the sincerity of God’s Love for each of us, in the light of His shocking display of concern for us in the incident of Calvary’s cross! Even for Deity, it was a bitter, haunting cry from the cross, necessitated by our sin: “My God, My God! Why hast Thou forsaken Me?”

    He bought my clean conscience with that moment of separation from His Father I bought for Him.

    I can’t be distant enough from a God like that, to try to conjure Him into some new form of my own choosing. His Gift is too Personal–it requires intimacy.

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