Sunday, August 2, 2009

Does God send innocent people to hell?

Wow, it's been awhile since our last post.

Long story short:

The four of us (Jeremy, John, Brent and myself) are doing a Bible study together through e-mail. This is Jeremy's brainchild. He e-mails us his commentary/thoughts on chunks of verses in the book of Romans. We read the verses, his comments, and write responses.

It's a beautiful thing.

Anywho, an interesting topic came up in the section we're in. This section deals with what has been termed "natural revelation," or simply put, the idea that each of us has in us the ability to look at the complexities of creation around us and truly know that God exists. In fact, "men are without excuse." Of course, by "men" it means everyone.

The verse:

"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."

I'm not going to discuss the verse, but rather, some implications that come up.

How often does this question come up: What about the poor foreign children from _________ country who have never heard of Jesus? Are you really telling me they are going to hell? Doesn't the Bible say that?

It's a great question. Another version of the same question: How could a "loving" God send someone who didn't know about Him to Hell?

The typical, unloving response: God is Just and holy. He can't be around sin or people who are sinful, so it has to go somewhere else (i.e. Hell).

While this is a 'technically' true response, it's definitely not a FULL response--there are pieces missing that reflect God's true nature. Also, before I go on, this needs to be said: many, if not all, thought processes here are based on a belief that what the Bible says about God is true, without exception.

I've had more than few discussions with people about hell, God and all that jazz. Here's how I like to structure the discussion:

In my discussions about the idea of a loving God sending his children to hell, here's how it usually goes:

1. For the discussion, we both need solid footing, so we have to believe what the Bible says about God is true. Arriving at an answer to this question is a moot point if we both can't agree to believe or assume that the Bible is true. For the sake of the discussion, let's agree the Bible is true.

2. Some aspects of God according to the Bible: God is Good. God is Just. God loves his people (i.e. EVERYONE). God's promises/statements always come true. We are, at the very least, assuming it's true for the sake of the discussion.

3. If God is Just, every action from every person must be brought into account. One of his names is Judge. However, part of his judgement also includes how we use what resources we have been given. This includes abilites, knowledge, talents, finances--everything. However, in this discussion, we only need to talk about knowledge. So:
- If someone in a forgotten, foreign country, with only the basic, mysterious and innate knowledge of God, suddenly dies, will he/she go to hell? Would that seem fair? Does that seem good? or just? Not to me. This brings us to point 4.

4. Does God send that person to hell?
- Most common answer I've heard: Yes. They don't know Jesus = goes to hell.
- Quicker, more palatable answer: There's no way of knowing. We only truly know our own story.

My answer (remember, I have no authority here. this is my experience in life combined with what I've read in the Bible--this is what I perceive to be what the Bible says about this question):

When searching the Bible for answers, we have to remember that
every single verse in the Bible needs to be viewed in context with every other verse in the Bible. That's why we have to be SO careful when we start throwing Bible verses around in sermons, essays, blog posts and everything else.

With that in mind, we can look at this question:

We have to remember that God is intimately aware of the fact that this person had no contact w/anyone who told him/her about Jesus. It would be unfair (at least in our eyes) to send this person to hell. God is also intimately aware of how much that persons soul was crying out for Him/Jesus and how much actual 'searching' this person has done for the Truth. Jesus said that those who are truly searching for the Truth will certainly find it. Again, God's promises/statements always come true, so if this person was truly seeking God, he/she would have found him.

Verse again (so us lazy people don't have to scroll up):

"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."

Another implication of the verse from above is this: no one, not a single person, has an excuse for "not knowing."

The opposite of not knowing something is, of course, knowing something. With that said, does it not make sense that the Bible is literally telling us that no one will be surpsied when they end up in Heaven/Hell? So often I think we get the idea that God is up there pushing random buttons that send us to our eternal destination when, in reality, we all make clear and concise choices that lead up to that moment.

In other words, the temporary life here and now decides the eternal.

So, does God send innocent people to hell? The answer, I would say, is that really, there aren't any innocent people. With creation all around us, it seems we are continually provided with evidence that God exists, despite His invisible and hidden nature. I think sometimes we let the noise of everything drown that out.

Of course, there are all sorts of ways to refute what I've stated above. My main purpose in writing this is to present an argument and an answer(ish) to the question that explores not only what the Bible says about those who go to hell but also what the Bible says about the character of God and the lengths He will go to to be reunited with his children.

And, in no way, am I minimizing the very clear command to evangelize and spread the message of Gospel (i.e. make disciples) that Jesus gave when right before he ascended to Heaven.

Feel free to respond on here to get a discussion started! No pressure :)


Cary said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cary said...

@Sarah W--


You brought up a really, really good point that's been discussed for a long, long time. I didn't want my blog post to be too long, so I didn't include it (now I wish i had :)

From the get go we need to talk about this thing called "age of accountability." I would assume that most people in the world agree that when we're little children, we aren't smart enough, wise enough, or experienced enough to make our own decisions.

So, much in the same way that Jesus provided us grace when he died on the cross for our sins, many believe that God provides children (or anyone who can't make their own, thought out, conscious decisions concerning belief in Him) grace when they pass away before their age of accountability, or the age in which they are able to make those choices on their own.

Since we are all unique, I believe we each have our own age in which we are able to make those decisions. Some kids might be wise enough to make those choices when they're 7 or 8, some might be younger, some might be older.

The idea of age of accountability might have something to do with this verse that stems from 2 Samuel 12:21-23. This verse talks about how King David's child was taken either at birth or was born still-born (I can't remember off the top of my head).

"They said to King David, “What is this thing that you have done? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.” David's response was, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows, the LORD may be gracious to me, that the child may live.’ But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”

The "I shall go to him" part implies that the child is safe within the Lord (Heaven).

There's no part in the Bible where it says that God literally allows children who die before their age of accountability go to heaven, however, it would be consistent with God's love and mercy to do so.

It's important to not add to what the Bible already says and I try to be careful not to do that, so I can't honestly say (and back it with a Bible verse) that God allows children who die into heaven automatically, but I remind myself that everything God does is out of love and grace, and ultimately, everything he does is Good. It's not his Will that any should perish or be separated from him. It just makes sense that those without the capacity to choose Him he would show grace to.

I hope that answers your question AND, more importantly, makes sense.

Feel free to post whatever else you might be thinking on here.

I'm glad you brought this up. I can't believe I didn't include it in the original blog.

Grandma Brenda said...

**Sorry about the name, but I dont have a google account, so I used my mothers.** =|

I also wanted to elaborate further, but stupid facebook limits how long your comments can be, so i was forced to edit.

I, too, have heard of the age thing ... I didnt think that john was one of the people who agrees with the age of accountability thing....

I actually think I may be wrong now, but I remember it coming up in bible study, the one night I could attend. They (himself and his wife) saying something about thinking baptizing at birth or at any young age is silly, since the child doesnt 'get it'... which I agree with. {But doesnt the bible say you must be baptized?} ... and then someone brought up that we are sinners from BIRTH, not from some magic age, only when we realize the difference between right and wrong..... or something along those lines.

I am, however, not known for my crystal clear memory, but more for foggy recollections, and even entire lapses. ;)

Cary said...


Now that we're talking about it, I'm not sure what John think about AoA.

However, I do agree that it doesn't really serve any purpose (as far as eternity goes) to baptize babies simply because the purpose of baptism is an outward expression of what has happened inside us--our spiritual death and resurrection.

You're right on both counts actually.

The Bible DOES say to be baptized, however, it does NOT say we will go to hell if we're not baptized.

Also, the Bible does clearly state we are sinners from birth and not one person is righteous, save for Jesus, of course.

If my statements above implied that children are not sinful, I apologize. The Bible does clearly state we are born into a fallen nature.

The beauty of God and his Nature is that God provided His Son to pay the price for our wrongdoings. It's as simple as accepting that gift.

However, what if we can't accept that gift because of circumstances beyond our control?

It seems it would fall into God's nature to provide grace in those situations (i.e. small children, those born with mental handicaps, etc.). According to that Samuel verse I brought up earlier, it seems God did it for David's son.

I just realized I started restating what I wrote above. Oops :)

Again, I hope this all made sense.

And I, too, am not known for crystal clear memory, so it sounds like we in a similar boat :)

Andy Dale said...

I'm sorry--this is a cut and paste job--but it's a possible answer to some of these questions. It helped me a little! The following is by John Piper:

"After death, is there a final chance to be saved?"


The picture in the Bible is that the rich man went to Hades, Lazarus went to the bosom of Abraham, and a great gulf was fixed. "You cannot come from there to here. He cannot come from here to you" (Luke 16:26). It's over.

There is no indication in the Bible that there's a purgatory or that there's a chance that God would let you be saved.

I can think of one exception, and it's only an exception if you conceive of it a certain way—namely, infants. I believe that infants are saved, that they don't go to hell who die.

It's a long argument. But when people ask me, "So, are they already saved? Are they born again? Have they believed? You believe that regeneration happens through faith. They haven't believed yet, because they're little babies. So how are they saved, if they're not regenerate since they haven't believed? Where do they get saved if you say they're saved?"

And I back away from those questions because my answer to why I think they're saved isn't based on how they get saved.

I speculate about God instantaneously causing little babies to come into their maturity when they die—I don't know what that would be, a 35 year-old mentality or something—and that immediately they are believers. But all that is speculation, and that's another issue.

I think God's justice in Romans 1:18-21 implies that babies who do not have the resources to construe revelation will not be held accountable for their fallenness. They will be saved by Jesus.

But for everybody else, there is only one opportunity to be saved. And that is: Believe on the Lord Jesus now, and you will be saved.

Steve Finnell said...


Is it possible to be saved without having your sins forgiven? Was Saul saved by faith alone before his sins were forgiven?

If Saul was saved on the road to Damascus, then he was saved without having his sins forgiven.

Saul believed in Jesus on the road Damascus, but his sins were forgiven three days later in Damascus
Act 9:1-19......9 And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank....

Saul sins were forgiven in Damascus, three days later, not on the road to Damascus.
Acts 22:1-16.....10 And I said, 'What shall I do Lord?' And the Lord said to me, 'Get up and go into Damascus, and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do.'.......16 Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins,calling on His name!

Saul was not saved by faith only. Saul was saved by believing and being baptized in water.

Jesus did not establish faith only salvation on the road to Damascus. Jesus confirmed what He already had said "He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved"... (Mark 16:16)

You cannot be saved unless your sins have been forgiven.

In order to support the doctrine of faith only men have offered many reasons why the Scriptures cannot be trusted.
1. The Bible is not the inerrant word of God, it has many errors and contradictions.
2. You have to be a Greek scholar to understand the Bible. If you understand the original Greek language, then you would know water baptism is not essential for forgiveness of sins.
3. You need to use extra-Biblical writings to understand the plan of salvation.
4. The Bible has been mistranslated, therefore men are saved by faith only and not the way it is presented in the Bible.

If God is not smart enough to give men an accurate translation of His plan for salvation and Christian living, then why would anyone trust in Him for salvation or for anything else.

God has given us His plan of salvation in many translations, in different languages. You do not have to know Greek.You do not have to have a Greek dictionary. You do have to be Greek. If men had to be able to read and understand original Greek to understand the Bible, then all Bibles would be in Greek.


Men are not saved by faith only and there is no verse of Scripture that states men are saved by faith only. Men are saved by faith, but not by faith only.