What about the person who does not own a Bible and has never heard of Jesus Christ? God will send someone in that predicament to Hell? This common question found its way into an ESPN feature story on the famous Football Quarterback Aaron Rodgers. This feature article included the QB’s journey away from more traditional Christianity of his parents to an open and fluid Christianity of spiritual leader Rob Bell. Bell is famous for pastoring a large church, writing a book concluding Hell is not Christian, and working with Oprah to bring spiritual enlightenment to the commercial masses. Bell’s influence on Aaron Rogers is pronounced and here is the quote from Rodgers he used as a reason to doubt and leave the traditional Christianity of his youth.
“I think in people’s lives who grew up in some sort of organized religion, there really comes a time when you start to question things more,” he says. “It happens for some at an early age; others, you know, maybe a little older. That happened to me six or seven years ago.”… “I remember asking a question as a young person about somebody in a remote rainforest,” he tells me. “Because the words that I got were: ‘If you don’t confess your sins, then you’re going to hell.’ And I said, ‘What about the people who don’t have a Bible readily accessible?'”
His recounting of growing up and questioning “is this real” is normal. Unfortunately the conclusions he has drawn means he did not get the needed answers or he rejected the truth along the way. Only Rodgers and God know the heart, but I pray he would find the real character of the Creator God. Below is what the Bible, God’s word, has to say on this topic.
Rodgers is not the first person to pose this question and in my personal conversations with people this is a common objection. The objection has two flaws that need to be discussed before providing the reasoned answer. First the, what about those people, question challenges God’s grace and his plans for humanity. Second the, what about those people, question is a diversion avoiding God on a personal and relational level.
God’s grace and his sovereign plans are His to know and execute. God has not revealed why everyone is born at the time and place of their birth. But He has revealed that you and I are living today with, our color of skin, our cultural heritage, and our station in life exactly as He planned.
26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, Acts 17:26-27 ESV
If one has an earnest want to understand God’s plan for those living in the “remote rainforest” then maybe that desire is a prompt from God to go to those people, live with those people, and find out what God’s work is in the lives of those people. God is always bigger than mankind can imagine.
14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” Romans 10:14-15 ESV
This leads us to the second point. Is the question serious? Or is the question a diversion to avoid one’s own state before a Holy God? Jesus being questioned about the 11pm Jerusalem news cast was asked if the people who died in the local awful tragedy were sinners or if they were innocent. Jesus redirects the question back to the individual asking the question.
4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Luke 13:4-5 ESV
Jesus has a way of making people uncomfortable. He has a way of bringing the focus back to where it needs to be. In his response to the local news of a collapsed building killing so many people he tells the questioner not to be concerned about the spiritual state of those people now that life is lost, after all he is God and they are his responsibility, he tells the questioner that “unless you repent” then the questioner will too perish.
My observation in talking with people about Jesus is sometimes they want to deflect the conversation to someone else. What about that person or what do you think about that bad church? This line of conversation is fruitless and Jesus brings the questioner back to the most important question of all. Have you repented? You are born in this time and in this place to have a conversation with God in the flesh. Will you repent and trust in me, Jesus is asking. He asks today of each reader. He asks today of Aaron Rodgers. The ultimate answer is known only between God and the individual.
Understanding God is in control and God’s plans for everyone is being accomplished we must each take seriously our own spiritual state. It is with this understanding that the Bible does offer a limited answer to the question about those other people.
14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. Romans 2:14-16 ESV
Gentiles in this case are “those other people” who do not have a Bible and have never heard the name of Jesus. God tells us that His laws and nature are written in our heart. We know right and wrong and we know when we have violated what is written in our hearts. God through Jesus will judge every woman and man. For those who rejected Jesus they will be condemned. For those who did not know they will be judged by their conscience and it will excuse or condemn. How that will work and what God plans for each individual is between him and that individual. The real question all of us should focus on is who we are in Christ and are we living the life God appointed?