Q: Is it Fair that People Who Have Never Heard of Jesus Will Be Sent to Hell?

By Adam Lloyd Johnson, Ph.D.

I was arguing with an atheist on an online message board. One Christian made the statement that everyone will have a chance to know the Lord, so ignorance is not an excuse. The atheist then said that everyone will not have a chance to know the Lord because there are some people who are brought up to believe different religions that they have been taught from birth. I know the original statement that the Christian made was true because I remember reading that somewhere in Scripture that everyone will get their chance to make their decision for Christ, but isn’t it easy for me to say. I am a Christian, but I grew up in a Christian home. So, I feel like I have had an advantage over other people who were not introduced to Jesus at an early age. I guess you can make the argument that there are people who grow up in Christian homes that are not saved because they didn’t want to be even though they had the knowledge. And then you can make the argument that there are people who have become saved and were never taught about Jesus by their parents. So how do I argue that to someone who poses this question?

I can understand this person’s concern. If people are supposedly sent to hell because they reject Jesus, how can God justly send to hell those that haven’t even heard of Jesus? It doesn’t seem fair.

To be honest, the question is pretty loaded to begin with. It’s like asking, “Do you think it’s right to hurt a child?” The question seems like it must be answered no because it’s loaded with inflammatory language. But if thought out, the answer is yes, sometimes it is right to hurt a child. For example, I caused my child to experience pain when I was teaching him to ride a bike. I let go on purpose and let him crash so he’d learn from it. Sometimes doctors and dentists have to cause pain to fix or heal. If you step back from the emotional hurricane the question invokes, it is possible to think through it logically without the inflammatory language throwing you off.

With that said, let me phrase the answer carefully so as to not cause an unwanted emotional response. Let us remember that God created us to have a beautiful relationship with Him, to walk with Him in fellowship and love. We are the ones who walked away from that, in whole and in part: in whole when Adam and Eve disobeyed and in part when every single person ever born since then has chosen to follow their own selfish ways instead of loving God and serving others.

It is God who is seeking to restore this relationship. He does this by grace through revelation, i.e., His communication with us, spoken and unspoken. The Bible often refers to this as “light” (see John 1). It is a good analogy because God is shedding “light” on us to be able to see and understand our condition apart from Him and how we can be reconciled with Him. This is just like how real light helps us see and understand our surroundings so we can move around and do things.

Now, if someone rejects His light then He gives them over to what they want. In effect, He says, OK if you don’t want me, then I’ll give you what you want, an eternity away from me; hell. 2 Thess. 1:6-10

Now, does everyone have the same amount of light? Clearly the answer is no. This may not seem fair until we consider some important truths:

  1. All people are given some light, even if it is just the light of creation, see Romans 1:18-23.
  2. God only holds us responsible for the light we are given. In danger of sounding like Spiderman’s uncle, with more light comes more responsibility.
  3. When people respond to the light they have, God gives them more light. When people reject the light they have, God takes away the light they have.
  4. There will be different degrees of suffering in hell depending on the amount of light that they rejected.

I think it would be very helpful for you to read Romans 1:18-3:26, Acts 10, Acts 17:16-34, Luke 10:12-16, Luke 1:1-18, and Matthew 25:14-46.

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