My (Eastern Orthodox) priest came over to bless our house a few years ago, and I decided to ask him a question about salvation. His smile showed me he gets this question quite often. That morning, I joined with the millions of well-meaning Christians concerned about the spiritual welfare of persons who had never heard of the Gospel, the name of Jesus, or the Church, and asked the question, “What about those who have never heard?”
This question is in the same category as “What about babies or children below the ‘age of accountability’?” so I’ll consider that question here, too, along with “What about those of another religion who have never heard the Christian gospel?”
Rephrasing The Question
I think the question is best answered by rephrasing it. And since I am blessed with the spiritual gift of sarcasm, I suggest the following possible updates to this age-old question:
- How can God reach out to people and save them without our help and ideas?
- Did God know those people in the jungles existed when He came up with the plan of salvation?
- How did God manage to save people before the 700 club?
- Is it time for God to admit He really didn’t think this redemption thing through?
In other words:
How could God’s plan of salvation have gone so horribly wrong?!
By the way, for those asking a similar question about those who have “never heard the name of Jesus” I hate to tell you this but his name is really “Yeshua”, which in Hebrew is “Joshua”. So by whose “name” are we saved? But this is how cults are started…
Now, To The Solutions
Now that I’ve redefined the question into several more accurate questions, I now suggest the following possible solutions to God to fix His incomplete idea of salvation, as it pertains to those who have never heard the gospel — those who have never even heard of Billy Graham:
- God could judge them based on how the would have responded to the gospel.
- God could present the gospel to them shortly before, during, or right after death.
- Maybe God has taken all the people He knows will reject the gospel, and put them in the jungle, and in other religions (and in the cubicle next to mine).
- God could refuse to let them into heaven, but allow them to remain in the foyer, or maybe heaven’s bookstore/coffee shop.
- God could let them watch an unedited film of the lives of every person who has ever asked that question, and then let them decide if they want to be a Christian, like them.
- For teenagers who have never heard, after they die God could invite them to one big pizza party with a band, and at the end of the night, trick them by scaring them about hell.
And these are solutions I came up with in just a few minutes!
Really, any question that begins “How can God-” should be stopped cold right there and answered “By using the same power He used when created the universe.” It’s a little like wondering how in the world Lance Armstrong could win a cycling race in some remote third world country I just found out about, or how Einstein could solve addition problems without the internet. God has salvation under control, and there are no exceptions he didn’t already know about when Jesus died for the whole world. God is intimately aware of the people we’re not aware of at all. He knows the people we don’t. There are people who have never heard of Jesus, but there’s nobody Jesus has never heard of.
So what’s the answer? I don’t know. But I know what the question says about me. The fact is, God came a long way 2000 years ago and went through quite a lot to have overlooked this part of the plan. Actually, God doesn’t overlook anything or anyone, we do. God is not unfair, we are. And judging by the amount of money I spend on Starbucks compared to the amount I spend on missionary work, I’m not in a position to ask such a question, much less answer it. As a matter of fact, if I look at every advantage I posses in my spiritual life, including the Bible, the writings of the church fathers, a local parish, a country with freedom of religion, and many more, and then compare my faithfulness to the gospel to that of the Christians of the first century, it seems apparent to me that more “hearing” has not in my case led to more righteousness. With my advantages comes greater responsibility, which is the answer my priest provided. I used to wonder “What about those who have never heard?” Now I ask myself “What about those who have?”