First, do people who probably have never heard about Jesus really exist? Yes, there are tribes, even to this day, who apparently live in isolation from the rest of the modern world.1
Second, is this isolated person a sinner? Yes! The Bible says no one is righteous (Psalm 14: 3; Romans 3: 10), so this isolated person is also a sinner in need of redemption.
Third, should we be concerned about the salvation of those who may have never heard about Jesus? Yes! We are asked to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, so if we are concerned about our salvation, we should also be concerned about the salvation of those around us.
The three broad theistic answers to this question are:
(1) Yes, God saves those who have never heard about Christ.
(2) No, God does not save those who have never heard about Christ.
(3) I don’t know (being agnostic).
(Atheists are either clueless about post-life destination or could assert that there is no existence after death.)
If (1) is a reasonable answer, the answer could imply that Christ is unnecessary for man’s salvation. But historical Christianity affirms the necessity of Christ in man’s salvation. Is Christ necessary or unnecessary? This tension needs to be resolved.
If (2) is a reasonable answer, we need to justify the fact that these isolated people did not get to choose the place of their birth. If they were born into a Christian home or in the modern world, they would more likely hear about Jesus. But God placed these people in their isolated locations. So shouldn’t it be God’s prerogative to ensure that Christ is heard by them? So should not God be blamed for their predicament, if HE does not save them?
If we resort to agnosticism, we either imply the Bible’s silence or our lack of understanding the Bible, in this context. If the Bible addresses this situation, agnosticism cannot be reasonably justified.
The Bible states that God is loving, just, and merciful. Hence God should save isolated people. If God does not save these people, there ought to be a valid reason as to why HE does not save the isolated.
God does not save people unconditionally, for mankind is saved only by faith in Christ through the grace of God. But the isolated people have genuinely not heard of God or Christ, so isn’t the problem in God’s domain?
The problem does not seem to be in God’s domain for Romans 1: 19-21 states:
- God has made HIMSELF known to man through HIS creation.
- Since creation points to God, man should know God from that which are commonly seen and known.
So the problem is not with God, and man is without an excuse.
I need more faith to be an atheist than to be a theist. How can I observe the marvelous creation of God and still maintain that this universe is a product of randomness?
Yet it was Marx-Freud’s view that the theist is subject to a sort of cognitive dysfunction. But Professor Alvin Plantinga, one of the finest Christian philosophical minds of our time, negates Marx-Freud’s contention to state that cognitive dysfunction is innate to an atheist, not a theist. 2
The creation points to God. If I have to choose between the causal options of ‘God’ and ‘chance,’ I would certainly choose God as the Creator. But does this isolated person acknowledge God as the greatest being in existence? Or does he worship a fellow being or a created object as the greatest being? If the isolated person ascribes greatness to himself or a fellow being or a created object, then he seems to reject God.
God has made HIMSELF known to everyone. Hence the isolated man should know God. Therefore, I do not see a possibility of this person’s salvation if he categorically rejects God.
But the general revelation (Creation) does not reveal God’s nature or HIS specific deeds (Trinity, Christ, Cross…). Knowledge of Christ is an outcome of a special revelation. Creation does not reveal Christ to the isolated person.
Since God placed this person in isolation, let us assume that the isolated person acknowledges God, yet is ignorant of Christ. Let us also assume that Christ does not appear to this isolated man in any form or manner – through missionaries, literatures, dreams and visions.
In this context, could we affirm that God would condemn this isolated person to hell?
Some Christians believe that God would condemn this isolated person to hell if he does not believe in Christ. Christian Q&A website ‘Gotquestions.org’ states, “If we assume that those who never hear the gospel are granted mercy from God, we will run into a terrible problem. If people who never hear the gospel are saved, it is logical that we should make sure no one ever hears the gospel. The worst thing we could do would be to share the gospel with a person and have him or her reject it. If that were to happen, he or she would be condemned. People who do not hear the gospel must be condemned, or else there is no motivation for evangelism…”3
This reasoning is seemingly based on two disputable premises:
(P1) A Christian will not evangelize if God were to save those who have never heard the gospel.
(P2) The isolated man may reject the gospel to be condemned, so it would be better to not share the gospel to the isolated man and thus have him saved.
Premise (P1) could be disputed because man is saved by God (through the means of evangelism). Man does not save man, for man merely carries the good news of the gospel, but it is God who solely saves the man. Moreover, human evangelism is not the only way to save man. God can appear to a man in dreams or visions to save him.
Significantly, evangelism should not be performed as an obligation. Evangelism is an act motivated by love for God and fellow men. Therefore, evangelism should not cease at any point in time and for any reason.
Premise (P2) can be disputed as well. Even before the isolated man rejects the gospel, he gets to either:
(P2.1) Accept God (through the general revelation)
(P2.2) Reject God
(P2.3) Remain ignorant of God.
When the missionary reaches the isolated man, he could be in any of these three situations. If the isolated man has accepted God, the missionary’s job would be made easier to preach the gospel. If the isolated man has rejected or remains ignorant of God, he could still be potentially drawn to the Lord.
On the other hand, if there is no evangelization to the isolated man, the man who has already rejected God (P2.2), and the man who is ignorant of God (P2.3), could end up being unsaved. So why lose an opportunity? Therefore, in order to save the one who has rejected God or to save the one who remains ignorant of God, evangelism to the isolated is necessary.
Shouldn’t the isolated man believe in Christ for his salvation?
When the isolated man [recognizes his sinfulness (inadequacy) and] accepts God through the general revelation, the benefits of Christ’s one time sacrifice is applied to this man by God.
As in the case of the salvation of Old Testament saints, this man will be saved on account of his belief in God (cf. Genesis 15: 6). The benefits of Christ’s one time atoning sacrifice will be granted to this man because of his belief in God. Therefore, the necessity of Christ is maintained.
On the contrary, the isolated man who rejects God and does not know of Christ, will not be granted salvation. The isolated man who is ignorant may have chosen to be ignorant of that which has been made plain to him – God. Hence he may not be saved by God. But if he remains ignorant of God as how a mentally disabled person is, I reckon God would save this person.
I do not intend to replace God or to stand in judgment over others, but given my understanding of the Bible, this is the best possible conclusion I can submit.
Websites cited were last accessed on February 10, 2014.
This article was first published at http://rajkumarrichard.blogspot.in/2014/02/does-god-save-those-who-never-heard.html