'But What About Those Who've Never Heard?'

"But What About Those Who've Never Heard...?"

by Alex McFarland
 
While hosting my daily "call-in-with-your-question" radio program, I receive many questions from listeners who want to know about the fate of those who reject Christ. But there is another part to that question that I also often am asked. It's what I call the "Africa" question: The caller will say, "But Alex, what about all the people in Africa, Asia or any remote place who never hear about Jesus? How could God send them to hell?"
 
Allow me to share a couple of personal examples to shed some light on this. A few years ago, I met a man from Papua New Guinea. He grew up as an aborigine, having never heard the name of God or Jesus Christ. Yet even as a young boy, he would look to the sky and pray, "God, I want to know you." Was he specifically praying to Yaweh, the Biblical God? Did he know anything about the gospel story? Of course not. But he was aware of his need, so much so that he would try to appease the gods - any god - by cutting himself. His tribe believed that there were spirits alive in the woods. So in an act of sacrifice, he would viciously gouge his arms, thinking the more pain he brought on himself, the more pleased these gods that haunted him would be.
 
"Even as I did that, I knew it wasn't right," he told me. "I wanted to know the true god. I knew there had to be a real God beyond the gods in the trees." Years later he heard of some Christian missionaries visiting in his area and went to see them. As soon as they told him about Jesus, he knew this was the one true God he'd been waiting to meet.
 
On another occasion, I was privileged to travel to Shabwalala, a small dusty town 100 miles outside of the capital of Zambia. As I was standing in a field talking with a group of African boys, we heard a clanging noise slowly coming down the nearby path. I turned to find a rail-thin cow with a bell around its neck. An old, disheveled-looking man was leading it down the road with a frayed rope. The man immediately came up to me and began rattling off words in his native Bebma dialect as if I understood him. Obviously, I didn't, so I turned to my translator, Abel Tembo, for the story...
 
"This man has walked a day and a half to meet with you," Abel relayed. "He heard there were white missionaries from America visiting, and he has a question he wants to ask you."
 
When I asked Abel about the cow, he said the man couldn't leave his only cow behind or it would be stolen, so he brought it all the way with him. As Abel was telling me this, the man began to point up at the sky and around him while rattling off more unfamiliar words.
 
"I know there's a god," he said to me through Abel, "because all of this had to come from somewhere. It couldn't have come from nothing. But I don't know where to take it from there..."
 
I nearly burst into tears. Here was a man nearing the end of his life, certainly weathered by its trials and storms. He obviously had little to eat, maybe wasn't even sure where his next meal was going to come from. And yet the burning inside him had caused him to leave everything at the chance that maybe a strange foreigner might have an answer to his soul-searing question.
 
This was probably the most intelligent man I've ever met - more so than any of the university professors I was used to meeting on American campuses. Because he knew enough about what he didn't know to seek out an answer. He recognized the stark contrast between the fullness of his surroundings and the emptiness inside him.
 
It was a matter of words before he accepted Jesus into his heart.
 
"I have sought this for my whole life," he said with tears in his eyes, his life now changed forever and the weight of the world now lifted off his shoulders. He then asked if I would come to his village. "There are 13 more who need to know this," he pleaded. We went and saw 13 more souls added to the kingdom of God.

Lost & Found
 
I don't tell these stories to lather up an emotional response. I tell them because they are proof of a truth all of us, at our core, already know. Having been to the "Africas" of this world, to the farthest regions and most remote places, I can say this having experienced it: People know God. They also know their dire need for Him. Romans 1:20 says of these people, "Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse."
 
He may be known by a different name. He may even be shown in a different manner. But God has been revealed to all souls, no matter where or how. And those who will honestly seek Him will honestly find Him. Nobody goes to hell because they couldn't be reached; they go because they didn't want God. The wonderful news is that anyone who wants God will find Him.
 
"And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you." - Jeremiah 29:13-14
 
The truth of Christianity is not contingent upon how many have or have not heard. Likewise, the truth of hell isn't dependent upon whether the noble savage in the jungle or your atheist neighbor receives Jesus as Lord. Hell still exists, whether one person is headed there or a trillion. And the Bible still defines that salvation - the way to avoid hell - is through Jesus only.
 
Kind of puts a different spin on the fiery afterlife, doesn't it? Rather than causing us to react with indifference, the reality of hell should serve as a mandate for missions. With one word - Jesus - we can be a part of lifting the burden of souls in anguish. We should work to depopulate hell!
 
SUMMARY RESPONSE:
 
Reasons to accept the reality of hell:
  • Testimony of the Bible
  • Warnings of Jesus
  • Recognition by the church
  • Morally appropriate
  • Logically necessary
  • Unchanged by our biases
 

 

Sources:
1. Greg Garrison, "Heated Debate: Do Hell's Fires Still Burn? Theologians Argue Over Nature, Definition of Bible's Destination for the Wicked," The Holland Sentinel Archives, www.hollandsentinel.com.
2. Peter Kreeft and Ron Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics. Downer's Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1994, 327.
3. C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain. New York: MacMillan Publishers, 1962, 118.

For a more complete response to this issue, see Alex McFarland's book,
The Ten Most Common Objections to Christianity (Regal Books, Ventura, CA)