The other week a student at SLHS asked me a question that comes up a lot in evangelism: what about the person that never had the chance to hear about Jesus? How can God send that person to Hell?
Now, like I said, this question comes up a lot, so I went into one of my typical answers. I talked about God’s sovereignty over all creation, and how all people have been given the ability to see that God exists and respond. And then how God, before he created anything, knew that if he gave all people free will some of those people would never in any possible scenario receive his free offer of grace. Therefore when he did create them he was free to put them in places where they would never hear about Jesus.
I think that is where I lost him. Actually, I know that is where I lost him because he said out loud, “That’s BS!” (Except he didn’t use the abbreviation). No, it’s not BS— it’s Christian philosophy at its best. Nevertheless, that didn’t really matter.
So I said to him with a laugh, “So you’re not convinced?”
And this is where the conversation took a turn. As we continued to talk he mentioned that all of his family is Buddhist. Ah, now things made sense. He wasn’t just asking some abstract philosophical question, he was asking a very personal question. He wanted to know if his family, who in his mind had never heard about Jesus, was going to Hell. That is a very different kind of question.
The mistake I made is a mistake that is often easy to make when talking to people about matters of faith. It is easy to talk about and respond to matters of salvation in the abstract. It is easy to do because often the person asking the question poses the question in this way as a means to protect him or herself.
But what I had forgotten that day is there are no purely abstract philosophical questions when it comes to matters of salvation. Every question asked is a personal question because the answer will always affect the questioner in a personal way. It may affect how they think about their own eternity, or it may affect how they think about eternity for others—but in both cases, the answer matters to them. If it didn’t they would not have asked the question.
When the student asked the question, I should have responded in a more personal way. Here are some examples of what I could have said.
- “Wow that’s a really great question. It sounds like you are concerned about God’s fairness. If God is fair, how do you think God views you?”
- Or “Wow that’s a great question. What led you to think about that question?”
- Or “Honestly, I’m not 100% sure, but if you really want to know, I’d be happy to get back to you with an answer. But what about you? It seems God is wanting to tell you about Jesus. Do you know what Jesus has done for you?”
I’m grateful that God is bigger than my mistakes and missed opportunities. But hopefully this article will help you and me to remember whenever someone asks us a question about salvation, that question is always a personal question. So we need to pray (sometimes in the moment) and ask God to show us how to respond with a personal, not just philosophical, answer.