Quick recap for those who haven’t read my last blog. I have a friend. His name is “Brad”. He doesn’t believe in God. He’s intelligent and generally open to debate on the topic. Last time we addressed his question about why God allows suffering. His next question is (my paraphrase) “What happens to a boy who is good all his life and dies without ever hearing about Jesus?” Brad’s actual question was more of a scenario.
Little Jimmy Click Click Dirt (Click Click Dirt being a series of sounds that represent an impossible to pronounce name) never does much of anything wrong. One day a hut catches fire and he rescues two of neighbors kids but is killed by a falling tree while trying to rescue a third. What happens to him? Heaven or Hell?
This, of course, is a classic theological question that has been posed in debate and discussion countless times. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make the question any easier to answer. The Bible says that Jesus is the only way. This kid didn’t know Jesus. The kid goes to hell. Right? Maybe, but that doesn’t necessarily jive with the loving and just God that is also portrayed in the Bible. Let’s see what we can figure out.
The first and obvious point to make is that the boy, being just a boy, cannot be held accountable because of his young age. I don’t think this is a good argument for Brad’s question. He made the person a boy to represent his hypothetical innocence, not his accountability by age. The “age of accountability” will play a different role though. Let’s say that the boy is 13. This removes all doubt that he is old enough to be held accountable.
Let me say that my understanding is severely limited in relation to God’s infinite understanding. If God deems that little Jimmy should spend eternity in hell, then I will have to be OK with that. Some things don’t seem fair or just; in our limited perspective. Having said this, I don’t believe this is likely the case.
The New Testament is clear that anyone who is saved, is saved by the name of Jesus. The only way to be saved is THROUGH Jesus Christ. This is how God has redeemed us of our inherent sin. However, there are also evidences that people who had never heard of the name Jesus Christ are indeed in heaven.
Noah, Job, Abraham and other “Biblical Heroes” of the old testament were not saved by believing in Christ. They had never heard of Him. But the New Testament doesn’t say “From now on, Jesus is the way.” Jesus is the way for everyone, even before He was born as a human. I know this doesn’t make a lot of sense to our linear minds, but God is outside of space and time. Jesus existed, as God, before He was born in Bethlehem. Clearly, then, there is a mechanism for people to get to heaven outside of a saving decision to follow Christ. “HERESY! “ you say, but wait. Just because they did not BELIEVE in Him doesn’t mean they weren’t saved THROUGH Him. Having never heard the name of Christ, they also never had the choice to reject Him. This brings us back to children and the “age of accountability”.
It’s commonly believed that there is an age or time when each person is mature enough to be held accountable for their sins. Most believe that this age is different for each person, but the general age range might be 7-11 years old. The thing that may surprise you is that this is not mentioned in the Bible at all! However, in 2 Samuel David talks of seeing his dead child again:
‘Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live? But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” 2 Samuel 12: 22-23
Surely David’s infant son is in heaven, right? In Matthew, Jesus talks about the children by saying:
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14
These verses add to the belief that children, at least until a certain age, will automatically go to heaven. Who would disagree with that? Not me. I’m relying on it to know that I will see my daughter again. Yet what about Jesus? Did these little children ever accept Christ or believe in Him? No, but they never had an opportunity to reject Him either. What about people with mental special needs? Surely their age of accountability is later in life, if at all.
The point is that Little Jimmy from the jungle in Africa is, possibly, in the same situation as a child who has never been exposed to Christ. Perhaps he could go to heaven without accepting Christ. However…..in Romans, Paul says:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 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 people are without excuse.-Romans 1:18-20
These verses slightly confuse things, don’t they? It seems that if someone hasn’t heard of Christ or Christianity or even God, they can still be “without excuse” before God when they die because He has revealed Himself through His creation. This seems to imply that little Jimmy could grow up to be big Jimbo but He still has the choice to reject or accept God in some way. I couldn’t say how this opportunity manifests itself in this hypothetical Jungle, but clearly it does. And if this is the case then he can still be saved through Jesus (because that is the only way) without knowing His name.
I know these hypotheticals are a little weird, but this is a serious objection to a just and loving God. I would like to add a few more things:
- Since the great missionary movement that started with colonialism, we (Christians) have evangelized a significant percentage of the world’s population. Unfortunately there is still a long way to go. There are close to 3 billion people on the planet that belong to what we call “unreached people groups”. These people have not yet heard about Jesus and are in the same precarious situation of little Jimmy Click Click Dirt.
- An even greater number of people have heard of Jesus, but only in schools, on TV, or from horribly inaccurate sources (televangelists :@). I would argue that these people are in a worse situation then the jungle people. They are rejecting the Christ that they’ve heard of even though they don’t really know who He is. This is our fault as Christians. We don’t know enough or share enough about Him to those around us and they are suffering for it.
- God has proven Himself to be true to me, so I must accept that He has all of this under control. Even so, it is good for us to consider these questions and try to find out the answers for ourselves. Do you disagree with my assessment? Let us know what you think is right. If God wanted us to have blind faith, there wouldn’t be any evidence that He is real. Fortunately there is a lot. Stay tuned for more “Questions from a guy named “Brad”.