As before, this post also comes with the standard disclaimer: I am not a theologian, a pastor, or Bible scholar, not especially high, or low, church, but just a layman navigating his way through the Word and the world. That said, what follows are my convictions about who does, and does not, get to enter God’s eternal kingdom when they die.
That God would entrust His reputation to such a disputatious lot as the church astounds me. That He would entrust us with the mission of proclaiming His Word (Jesus) to the world, all the while knowing that we’ll not reach everybody, puzzles and confounds me. Why would He do it, and do it this way? I can’t answer that directly, but suspect it has quite a lot to do with free will. God wants heartfelt lovers, willing participants–not robots. Being His hands and feet are the “good works” the “He prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:9). Along with that, we are mandated by the “Great Commission” to take the Gospel into all the world.
In Mark 16:15, it reads thus, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
This is well and good for all those that we are able to reach, but what about those we are not, those in countries either closed, or adamantly opposed, to the Gospel? What happens to those who never hear, who didn’t grow up in the Gospel-soaked West?
I believe God has a plan for those people as well. They, being His creation as much as the rest of us, are not beyond His love. Else what did Jesus mean when He said, in Matthew 8:11-12, “I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven,
while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Or what of the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, which says, in verses 9-16:
“9 And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius.
10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius.
11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house,
12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’
13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius?
14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you.
15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’
16 So the last will be first, and the first last.”
Here the vineyard is the world, and the laborers the people in it. The earth, and the fullness thereof, are His, and as such He can do with it all as He wills. Including any late-comers. This may not be fair to those of us who labored at His plow all along, but whoever said God had to be fair? His universe, His rules. Disagree? Consider the following, which occurs in Matthew 22:8-10:
“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy.
Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’
And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.”
The point being that He gathers whom He will. You would be correct in pointing out that the parable goes on to include a description of a man not attired in wedding garments, and how he is subsequently cast out. This is entirely true, but is also entirely God’s job to do–not ours. We don’t get to decide who’s in or out; our job is to boldly, lovingly proclaim, and do unto the least of these.
It is up to the hearers to respond. And that is my sense of it, namely only those who have heard the Gospel are accountable to God to respond. It is entirely my conviction that those who have not heard are judged solely on the basis of their consciences. The crux of it is this, how did they respond to the revelation given them by God via His 67th “book,” the creation? How well did they live with by the light they were given? Only God alone knows. I believe the Scriptures bear this out, because in Romans 2:13-16 it says, “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 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. 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 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.”
As I said above, we are to occupy until Jesus returns, and take His message out. We are mandated to do so. But we must leave the fate of the unreachable entirely in His more than capable hands. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pray, or shouldn’t try, it just means that there are people groups who, through accident of birth, geography, religion, politics, etc., will never–despite our best efforts–hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They, being God’s creation, are just as much in His hands as we who have heard are.
If the foregoing makes me a Christian inclusivist, then so be it. I can do no other, so help me God.