If Jesus is the only way to God how are we supposed to handle the question of those who have not heard the good news of Jesus? This is a very important issue for Christians since one of the foundational claims of Christianity is that salvation only comes through personal faith in Jesus Christ (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:5). Many people struggle with the fairness of a God who holds a person responsible for information (the gospel) they have never heard. If billions of people throughout the history of humanity never heard about Jesus, how is that fair? How can God judge people who have never been told about Jesus? Here are some important observations:
First, God doesn’t judge people on the basis of information they don’t have. He judges them on the information they do have. Scripture teaches that every person knows at least three things about God—apart from any special revelation from Him. God is powerful (Romans 1:19-20), God is moral (Romans 2:14-15), and God is good (Acts 14:16-17). In other words, everyone has access to this knowledge—everyone! Despite this knowledge, humanity suppresses the truth about God. In other words, they intentionally hold down the truth much like a person holds down a spring so that it doesn’t pop up. Unfortunately, all of humanity is morally flawed and fallen short of God’s absolutely righteous, perfect, and infinite standard.
Humanity’s lack of responsiveness to general revelation precludes people from receiving further revelation. God does not judge people because they have never heard about Jesus Christ—He judges people because they have rejected and refused the information they do have. God is fair because people have a clear knowledge of God yet resist and reject this information. Gifted theologian, John Feinberg explains the concept with this observation:
“Those who don’t get that information don’t fail to get it because it was impossible to attain it; rather they fail to get it because they reject even the truth they have, and don’t seek further truth about God.”
Second, if God has given people the dignity of free will there’s no guarantee that everybody’s going to choose to cooperate with Him. Remember, it is logically impossible for God to make someone freely do something against their will. Unfortunately, skeptics regularly assume that if God was all-powerful and all-loving that He could and would create a world where everyone would hear the gospel and positively respond. This assumption is simply not correct. As long as people are genuinely free—God could not create a world where everybody would be freely saved.
However, God’s heart is to reach lost people and those people who earnestly seek Him. If a person genuinely and sincerely seeks after him, God will make it possible for that person to hear of Him. Acts 17:26 states that God “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, though he is not far from each one of us.”
Third, God has foreseen what an individual might have done if they would have had access to the news of the gospel. God’s omniscience extends to His knowledge of what free creatures would do under any circumstance. This knowledge includes what an individual might have done if he or she had access to the news of the gospel. In other words, if God knew that a person would of his or her own free will respond to the news of the gospel, He would find a way to extend the reach of the gospel to that location. Remember, God is too righteous to allow people to be damned simply because they happened to be born at the wrong time and place in history. It’s reasonable to believe that God in His omniscience knows that they wouldn’t have responded to the gospel even if they would have heard it. God’s omniscience extends not only to a person’s response to general knowledge about God; it also extends to what their response might have been if they had heard the gospel.
If you want more information on this topic please look at my book, Footprints of Faith.