What happens to people who have never heard the name of Jesus? Is God unfair to send them to hell simply because they never had the opportunity to hear the gospel? The Bible doesn’t see it that way: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse . . .” (Romans 1:20-21).
God doesn’t send men to hell because they haven’t heard the name of Jesus. We have no way of knowing how God communicates with people. Surely, the gospel went out from Jerusalem and Judea to the uttermost parts of the earth. God obviously had to consider the fact that there were no jet airplanes, no modern means of transportation, and that people on the other side of the earth could hardly be charged in the same category with people who were right there in Jerusalem. So, he must have had a plan for dealing with them. The Judge of the whole earth will do what is right.
He sent us into the world to preach the gospel so that men might be saved; that does not mean God doesn’t take into consideration the fact that people—through no fault of their own—have not heard the gospel. I think that particular truth is very clearly taught in Romans 1, which goes on to say how God reveals Himself to them. (Don’t ask me exactly how, because I don’t know.)
Dr. Frank Gaebelin once told me about a missionary who had gone to a part of the world where the Gospel had never been preached. Dr. Gaebelin’s story was very well-documented, and he talked personally with this man:
A certain missionary felt a compulsion to go to a specific part of Africa. When he arrived in the village and started preaching Christ, he was amazed by the response. Instead of the indifference or even outright hostility he expected to encounter, people were clearly astonished by his words and very happy to see him. They started talking with each other, buzzing like a huge beehive, and he asked them, “What is the problem? Have I done something wrong?”
“No,” they answered. “But you’re talking about the Sin-bearer.”
“The Sin-bearer!” he repeated, amazed at this revelation. Yes, he agreed, Jesus was the Sin-bearer but how did they know that? One of the elders of the tribe smiled broadly at him, and told him there was someone he must meet. They led him to small house on the outskirts of the village, where an elderly man waited to speak with him. It was a conversation he would never forget. The man told him he knew the world was created by an eternal, good being, and that he had sought for Him. He’d actually prayed for God to reveal Himself to him, and the Lord had answered his prayer. He gave this man, this pagan back in darkest Africa, a vision of Christ on the Cross! And he didn’t understand anything except that there was a Sin-bearer, and that the message would come to them.
The missionary told Dr. Gaebelin, “It was the easiest preaching I’ve ever done. They were waiting for me. I preached and practically the whole tribe got saved! The old man’s face shone like a saint’s face.”
I believe that man had a vision of Christ. God communicated with him and the gospel came to them as a result of that. There are enough instances of this in China and in other parts of the world to tell me that God cares about these people.
I have to believe that the God of the Bible is just. If men go to hell, they go not because they haven’t heard the name of Jesus, but because they turn away from the knowledge that God makes available to them. They could turn towards Him instead of away, and if they do, He will send the gospel to them. I believe that is the truth.
God is not going to arbitrarily send people off to hell if they turn—even blink—in his direction. He does not want any to perish. (2 Peter 3:9)