Copyright 2017 by Bob Rogers
Many people wonder, “If a person lives in an unevangelized area and never hears the gospel of Jesus Christ, do they go to hell?”
On the one hand, John 14:6 says that Jesus is the only way to heaven, yet we know that millions of people have never heard about Jesus. It seems unfair for God to send them to hell, especially since 2 Peter 3:9 says that God does not desire that anybody perish, but desires all to come to repentance and faith in Christ.
Some Christians try to solve this dilemma by thinking that God just gives people a pass if they haven’t heard. But if that’s true, then they’re better off not hear the gospel at all, because once we tell them about Jesus, we doom them to hell if they refuse! But we know that can’t be right, because the Bible commands us to share the gospel with all people.
We find some answers in Acts 17. It says Paul preached to a group of people who had never heard the gospel before, and Paul says something that can help us understand this dilemma. He noticed that they had worshiped what they called an “Unknown God,” and then he told them what they call “unknown” he wants to make known to them: Jesus Christ. Then he says this:
“From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17:26-27, 1984 NIV)
Notice three things in this passage that helps us understand the fate of those who have never heard the gospel:
I. God knows where we live (Acts 17:26)
People say it is unfair that God sends somebody to hell because they happened to be born in a land or culture where they don’t hear the gospel, but Paul says almost the direct opposite. He says in verse 26 that God determined the exact time and place where every human should live. Verse 27 even says that God did this so that men would seek Him!
Could it be that God put people who are less likely to seek Him in strongly evangelical areas, and He put people who are more likely to seek Him in non-Christian areas? I used to pastor in one of the most evangelized areas of the world, in Mississippi, where there is a church on every corner. But I can also tell you that many of the unchurched people that I met were some of the most hardened to the gospel and hardest to witness to that I had ever met. Yet when I went to an unevangelized area of Mexico and shared the gospel, hundreds of people responded.
So don’t think it is an unfair accident that some people live in areas where the gospel is rarely preached. God didn’t make some mistake. He knows exactly where He put every person, and God is revealing Himself. Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
II. God knows our hearts (Acts 17:27a)
Paul goes on to say in verse 27, “God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him…”
God knows our hearts. God knows who is going to seek Him.
In Romans 4, Paul discusses this with the illustration of Abraham. Abraham believed what God revealed to him. Jesus had not yet come, but Abraham had faith in everything He saw, and God accepted that faith as righteousness. Apparently God even revealed Jesus to Abraham, because in John 8:56 Jesus says, “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” Notice the words “he saw it.” Jesus was saying that somehow, God allowed Abraham to see and understand about Jesus.
Cornelius was another example. Acts 10 says Cornelius was a God-fearing Roman centurion. He had not heard the gospel, but he had heard about the God of Israel, and he sought the Lord, even giving generously to the synagogue and praying regularly. Acts 10:4 says an angel appeared to Cornelius and said, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.” Then God sent Peter to Cornelius to share Jesus with him, and when Cornelius heard about Jesus, he believed.
God knows our hearts. If people live in lands where the gospel is not preached, but they seek God, then God will respond to them. If they come to the light they are given, God will give them more light!
III. God is available to us (Acts 17:27b)
Finally, notice what Paul says in the end of verse 27: “He is not far from each one of us.”
God is available. He is not far away. He can be found.
Romans 1:20 says that God has revealed Himself through creation, so that all people are “without excuse.” Everybody has been given the revelation of God’s existence through creation. When we pay attention to the light that God gives us, then God gives more light. Deuteronomy 4:29, (HCSB) says to “search for the Lord… you will find Him when you seek Him with all your heart…”
The International Mission Board reports that around the Muslim world, Christian workers report an increasing openness and turning to Christ — often preceded by dreams or visions of him among potential converts. Several examples of such phenomena were detailed by National and International Religion Report:
— Thousands of North African Muslims wrote to a Christian radio service asking for information. Many reported a similar dream: Jesus appears and tells them, “I am the way.”
— In Nigeria, Muslims savagely beat a Christian convert from their tribe. As he lay dying, they heard him asking God to forgive them. That night two Muslim mullahs who participated in the attack saw visions of Christ. Both repented and took 80 followers to a Christian church to hear the gospel. (“Analysis: To Muslins with ‘love, prayer, tears and blood,’ IMB Connecting, http://www.imb.org. Adapted from The Commission, January 8, 1997).
Each of these stories illustrate the truth, that God is available, no matter where a person lives, and even people who live in areas where the gospel has rarely been heard, are hearing and coming to Christ.
Really, the question should not be, “Why did God put them in places where the gospel is rarely preached?” The question should be, “Why are we not taking the gospel to them?”
Copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers
Question from Anna:
I hope I can get your opinion on this: do dogs have a soul and do they go to heaven?
Answer from Dr. Rogers:
Anna, Genesis 1:27 says that humans are made in God’s image, and Genesis 2:7 says that when God made Adam, the man became a living soul. However, nowhere does the Bible say that animals have souls.
Several passages in scripture imply that animals will be in heaven, such as Isaiah 11:6 which describes a future paradise of the wolf and lamb, leopard and goat, calf and lion living together in peace. Revelation 21:1 says there will be a new heaven and new earth in the last days, so I believe God will have animals in heaven for the enjoyment of mankind. However, animals are not made in the image of God nor do they have souls like human beings, for only human beings can have a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ.
Copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers
“Should we accept only good from God and not adversity?” (Job 2:10, HCSB)
Last week, I met a man who wanted to give up on life. I asked him if he knew the story of Job, from the Bible. He said he had a Bible somewhere, but had never heard of Job. So I gave him the short version of the story: Job was a good man who worshiped God, but he lost everything. Bandits stole his property, a storm killed his children, and then his skin broke out in painful sores. His wife told him, “Curse God and die.” When I said this, my new friend raised his eyebrows, and wanted to know what happened next. I explained that Job refused to curse God. Then his three friends came to comfort him, but instead of comforting him, they tried to defend God. They said Job must have sinned, and that was why God was allowing him to suffer. Job objected, saying he didn’t deserve his suffering. In the end, God spoke to Job, and restored his fortunes.
The wrong question to ask of Job
Many people go to the book of Job looking for the answer to why people suffer. Unfortunately, the only answers they find are negative:
Job’s suffering was not because God was angry or punishing him. Bildad, one of Job’s friends, accused him of this. He implied that Job must have forgotten God, so God forgot him (Job 8:13). But Bildad was wrong! God specifically said in Job 1:8 and 2:3, “Have you considered My servant Job? No one else on earth is like him, a man of perfect integrity, who fears God and turns away from evil.”
Job’s suffering was not because Job sinned. Bildad said that Job’s children died because of their sin (8:3), and Zophar, another one of Job’s friends, accused Job himself of being so sinful that “God has chosen to overlook some of your sins” (11:6). But they were wrong! Job 2:10 says, “Throughout all of this Job did not sin in what he said.”
Job’s suffering was not answered by God, either. After the long debates between Job and his friends, the Lord Himself answered Job from the whirlwind in chapters 38-41. But if you read those chapters to find an answer to suffering, you will be disappointed. It’s not there. Instead, God turns the questions on those who have been asking questions. “Where were you when I established the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding,” God asks (38:4). Then the Lord lists the amazing traits of His creation, and asks if Job can explain all of that. The point is blunt: We do not know all there is to know. Only God does. We cannot understand God. As the Lord proclaimed through the prophet Isaiah, “For as heaven is higher than earth, so My ways are higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).
So what is the answer to suffering? The Book of Job doesn’t answer that question. In fact, it’s the wrong question to ask.
The right question to ask of Job
The question to ask is not, Why is there suffering? The question to ask is, What do suffering people need to do? The Book of Job has hope-filled answers to this question.
First, hold on to faith. Despite his losses and sorrow, Job fell to the ground and worshiped, saying, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will leave this life. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Praise the name of Yahweh” (1:21). Later, in the middle of his debates with his friends, Job says, “Even if He kills me, I will hope in Him.” This doesn’t fit with the so-called “prosperity gospel” that says if you just have faith, all will go well. No, this is a real-world faith, that holds on to God’s hand, even when it cannot see His plan.
Second, live in integrity. Satan, the old accuser before the Lord, said that Job would curse God if Job suffered. But Satan was wrong. This is one of the major points of the book. The word “integrity” is repeatedly used to describe Job. Notice the question Job’s wife asks: “Do you still retain your integrity? Curse God and die!” (2:9) But Job rejects her suggestion as foolish, saying, “Should we accept only good from God and not adversity?” (2:10) We read in James 2:2-4 to consider it joy when we face trials, because God uses it to produce maturity in us. It has been my observation as a hospital chaplain, that suffering generally reveals the attitude that is already in a person. I’ve seen people handle horrible physical problems with grace and peace, while others with lesser physical ailments complain and are bitter. We choose how we will respond. Job set a standard, choosing to live in integrity.
Third, hope in the Savior. One of the greatest cries of faith comes in the midst of the greatest pain, when Job says, “Even now my witness is in heaven, and my advocate is in the heights!… But I know my living Redeemer, and He will stand on the dust at last. Even after my skin has been destroyed, yet I will see God in my flesh” (16:19; 19:25-26). Long before Jesus Christ came, Job caught a vision of the Redeemer, who would die on the cross for our sins, and be our advocate before God the Father (Romans 8:34; 1 Timothy 2:5).
There is an fable about a poor man who had a valuable horse. People told him that he should sell his horse, so he wouldn’t be poor, but he refused. Then the horse ran away, and the people asked, “Why didn’t you sell it when you could? The man said, “Don’t say that. All you can say is the horse ran away.” Later, the horse returned, with 20 wild horses, and the man suddenly became the owner of 21 valuable horses. This time they said, “We were wrong! Now we know why the horse ran away; it was to bring you riches later.” The man said, “Don’t say that. All you can say is the horse returned with more horses.” Then the man’s son broke his leg, trying to tame one of the wild horses. The people said, “Why did you keep the wild horses? Now your son has a broken leg.” The man said, “Don’t say that. All you can say is my son broke his leg.” Then their country went to war against a larger, more powerful nation, and the army came to their town, forcing all of the young men to join the army, except for the son of the man with the wild horses. The people said, “Now we know why his leg was broken, to spare him from dying in the war.” Once again, the man said, “Don’t say that. We don’t know why. All we can say is my son did not have to go to war.”
Thus the question we need to ask is not why? but what? Not, Why do people suffer? but What do suffering people need to do? Even if we knew the answer to why, it would not help us do anything different. But the answer to the second question gives us hope and purpose that we can put into action. Because our Redeemer lives, we even after our skin is destroyed, we shall see God!