Would people go to hell for not believing in God?

A friend of mine once asked me this question: “If a child is born in India, never knew Christianity, only knew Islam or whatever, for his entire life… According to Christians he will burn in hell because he didn’t pray to “the right God”… but he never knew about him, it can’t be his fault? Why should he burn in hell because he didn’t believe in a god he didn’t even know existed?”

This question highlights the ignorance people have with regards to God’s judgements. Some people think God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because they didn’t know about Him, as such they prayed to the wrong god which led to their destruction. But the bible says the sin of the people of Sodom was so grievous that they once commanded Lot to let them rape the men who were visiting him. Because of the sins of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, God rained down burning sulphur from heaven and consumed the whole population of those cities. The only people in those cities who were not destroyed in the fire were Lot and his family, and that because God had refused to “kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike”. (Read Genesis 18-19).

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah shows us that its people’s sins that lead them to hell, not their knowledge of God’s Law, or lack of. If people’s lack of knowledge of the Gospel was the reason people go to hell, then it wouldn’t explain why there are lots of people who have heard the Gospel over and over again, yet they are in hell as we speak. People do hear the message of salvation, but they still reject it and continue in their sins. Even though they heard the message, they would still be subject to hell because they broke God’s Law and never repented. In the end, people in hell would be united by one thing, they would have all broken God’s Law, whether they heard the Gospel or not. Ray Comfort once wrote the following on his blog:  

“No one will go to hell because they haven’t heard of Jesus Christ. The heathen will go to hell for murder, rape, adultery, lust, theft, lying, etc. Sin is not failing to hear the gospel. Rather, “sin is the transgression of the Law” (1 John 3:4). (Ray Comfort April 12th 2010, Atheist Central)

In 1 John 3:4, the bible describes sin as lawlessness, meaning sin is when people do as they please regardless of the commandments from God. In hell, God would be punishing that lawlessness, not people’s lack of access to Christian networks. A story is repeated, whether fiction or not I don’t know, where a man asked a missionary priest if he would go to hell if he didn’t hear about Jesus and sin. The missionary says no, then the man in anger asks the missionary why he told him to begin with and led him to destruction. The reality is you can close your ears when a person tells you about Jesus, or you can listen, but this won’t change your destiny if you don’t repent from your sins and asks forgiveness from God for breaking His Law.                                

Does this mean it’s not important to preach to people, as it doesn’t lead to their eternal destiny, and does God take lightly the failure of most Christians when it comes to witnessing? No, God’s will is for everybody to hear the message of salvation so they can make informed decisions and repent from their sins, or reject Him if they so wish. This is why God has promised to bring into account every Christian who has failed to preach to those people God has sent them to. God says: “when I say to a wicked man, ‘you will surely die’, and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood” (Ezekiel 3:18). So for every person in the world who has never heard about Jesus Christ and what he did on the cross, there would a Christian who will be held into account. God’s plan is simple, He “wants all men to be saved and to come into the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). So God is not pleased by the fact that there are billions of people in the world who have never heard the Gospel, and His heart bleeds for them as some could have been saved from the horror of hell.

When all is done, some would have heard the message while others would have not been so fortunate, but in the end all “will judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books” and everyone whose name “was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown in the lake of fire” (Revelations 20:11-15).

 Jonathan Edwards in his great sermon called “sinners in the hands of an angry God” said:

“Almost every natural man that hears of hell, flatters himself that he shall escape it; he depends upon himself for his own security; he flatters himself in what he has done, in what he is now doing, or what he intends to do. Every one lays out matters in his own mind how he shall avoid damnation, and flatters himself that he contrives well for himself, and that his schemes will not fail. They hear indeed that there are but few saved, and that the greater part of men that have died heretofore are gone to hell; but each one imagines that he lays out matters better for his own escape than others have done. He does not intend to come to that place of torment; he says within himself, that he intends to take effectual care, and to order matters so for himself as not to fail.

But the foolish children of men miserably delude themselves in their own schemes, and in confidence in their own strength and wisdom; they trust to nothing but a shadow. The greater part of those who heretofore have lived under the same means of grace, and are now dead, are undoubtedly gone to hell; and it was not because they were not as wise as those who are now alive: it was not because they did not lay out matters as well for themselves to secure their own escape. If we could speak with them, and inquire of them, one by one, whether they expected, when alive, and when they used to hear about hell, ever to be the subjects of misery: we doubtless, should hear one and another reply, “No, I never intended to come here: I had laid out matters otherwise in my mind; I thought I should contrive well for myself — I thought my scheme good. I intended to take effectual care; but it came upon me unexpected; I did not look for it at that time, and in that manner; it came as a thief — Death outwitted me: God’s wrath was too quick for me. Oh, my cursed foolishness! I was flattering myself, and pleasing myself with vain dreams of what I would do hereafter; and when I was saying, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction came upon me.”

it is plain and manifest, that whatever pains a natural man takes in religion, whatever prayers he makes, till he believes in Christ, God is under no manner of obligation to keep him a moment from eternal destruction. There is the dreadful pit of the glowing flames of the wrath of God; there is hell’s wide gaping mouth open; and you have nothing to stand upon, nor any thing to take hold of; there is nothing between you and hell but the air; it is only the power and mere pleasure of God that holds you up.

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