I was once having a conversation with a friend who said: "It doesn't seem right that, those in pagan lands and throughout history who have never heard the gospel, should then be damned to eternal separation from God in Hell; after all, they never had a chance to learn about God in the first place so they never had a chance to accept Christ as their Saviour."
May be you've been troubled by that question, too?
My friend asked me this question expecting a written response; here's what I answered (for brevity here, I've taken some points out), in point form:
- We first have to either accept or reject the Bible as divine authority. If we don't accept the Bible for what it claims to be (i.e. θεόπνευστος, theopneustos, "God-Breathed") and reject what Christ said concerning it (i.e. "Thy Word is truth", John 17:17), and reject the Biblical reality that "God said" over 3,000 times, then nothing that follows will grip your conscience.
- Thus, we must first be convinced by God the Holy Spirit that He has spoken... and that He has done so generally through Creation [General Revelation] and, specifically (to the saving of the soul) through Scripture/the Bible [Special Revelation]. On that, I'd encourage you (as I do myself) to pray the Lord to graciously speak to you through His Word and give you understanding and a receptive heart to it. See Luke 24: 44-48; Psalm 119:18,133; 2 Timothy 3:15.
- I submit the Word of God is true and it is what Christ claimed it to be. Therefore, I believe this: "Righteous art thou, O LORD, and upright are thy judgments." (Psalm 119:137) and "The LORD is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works" (Psalm 145:17), italics mine. This means everything God does and is, is righteous; EVERYTHING. God is without any sin. He is perfectly Holy and He always does what is perfectly just and holy, in all cases and in all instances.
- As God is perfectly just and lawful and righteous and holy it follows that all His actions will be as well. In other words, nothing He does is bad, sinful or unholy in any way or manner, regardless of what we may perceive, wonder or what might even appear as contradictory to our senses. This includes our understanding of God's dealing with those in pagan lands (past and present) where they have not had the immense privileges and blessings of a land impacted by the blessings of the gospel.
- Consider Calvary; the cross. This was the most unjust, evil and wicked event to ever scribe the pages of eternal history. The death of the sinless Christ, when God's wrath and punishment was unleashed on Him for the sin of His people, for my sin and all those that trust in the Risen Redeemer. Where was the good in this; indeed, where was God in this we might have said with Cleopas on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24) in those dark hours following the Lord's crucifixion? Yet, looking back we clearly see that God was eternally just, perfect, wise, holy and altogether righteous (and merciful and gracious) in all He did at Calvary while His people's sin, for whom He was punished, was the diametric opposite in every sense.
- In short, God never has, never does, or ever will, do anything unjust or sinful.
- In that Biblical context noted, think on this: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55: 8-9). What sometimes seems to be, is not always what we imagine it to be and, what sometimes seems to be our assessment on action or thought with God, is often not what actually is.
- So, when the Bible states over and over that God is just and right and holy and pure and lovely and wonderful and yet justly damns some men to Hell, even though they may never have heard the gospel as others, we must come back and say... I may not fully grasp that, but I still affirm that God is what He says He is: holy and righteous and just and, that being so, somehow in the economy of God's decrees that the thoughts, decrees, and sovereign actions of God in any matter past, present or future are wholly just and good and right and holy and pure in every sense. In short, we must not hold court on God our judge (Romans 9).
- The amazing thing, actually, is that anyone is saved, not that some are lost. We are all guilty before a Holy God. Yet, in His righteous and just eternal plan he has elected and decreed some to eternal life. This is a great mystery; namely that some (dead and undeserving as they are) should hear and then be moved of God to receive His unmerited salvation and not others. In contrast, the Scripture also states that if we, who have heard God's Word, reject it, our accountability will be so much the greater.
- Where do you stand with the God?
- The Scripture states: "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out" John 6:37. I believe this is one of the most incredible passages of Scripture! It's where our focus should land. It speaks of God's electing a people unto Himself for whom the Son will come and die for and then states that anyone that comes to Him (i.e for repentance and salvation and trusting alone in His righteousness; i.e. saved by grace through faith in Christ on the authority of His Word in the Bible) -- that He will not cast them away; in short, He will save them, sinners who are deserving of hell.
- "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me" (John Newton).
- Don't get distracted with trying to figure out why you can only see 3,000 stars empirically in the Northern Hemisphere on a clear night. Believe what God says (i.e. that there are more stars that can be numbered... something scientists can only recently empirically state). Believe what God says concerning Himself (that He is just and holy and good and only does what is right), acknowledge that His thoughts and ways are so much higher and greater than yours, believe what He says about your sinful and utterly lost condition outside of Christ and your absolute need to have His righteousness applied to your soul by grace (all his works and atoning death, none of ours) through faith (believing what He has said) through Christ (the sole object of true faith) on the authority of the Word (the Bible) He has so graciously provided and, even now, is printed in volumes upon volumes (millions and millions of copies everywhere) in just about every language and dialect all over the globe (where many can, but often reject, His Word).
- There is no greater question that this: What will I do with Christ the Saviour?
"And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification" (Romans 4: 21-25).
Please prayerfully consider these things with open Bible; look to Christ... and then tell others all over the world (or "across the street") about His saving grace!