Salutations. I listen to numerous debates, as well as interviews on the street, where people talk about various views on religion. One interesting question comes up often. Some even refer to it as the one question that stops Christians cold. “So you’re saying that anyone who does not believe just like you is going to hell?”
It always interests me who people think deserve punishment. Usually, most people think that ‘really bad people’ deserve to go to hell in the afterlife, but they would never include themselves in that group. So, I like to ask back, “Do you think people who do bad things should have to pay for them?” Most people would agree in the affirmative, especially if we think of some of the more horrific acts caused out there.
I then ask, “Have you done anything bad?” Most people pause a bit here. Some will admit that they have. Many will stumble and retort, “Well, yes… no… not really! I have not killed anyone or done anything really bad.” To that, I like to ask, “Are you using God’s standard or your own?” For this purpose, I like to use the Ten Commandments. “Have you ever stolen? Have you ever lied? Have you used God’s name in vain?” Even if someone says, “Well, ok, but I have not murdered anyone!” I will point out the words of Jesus. Jesus said that if you yell at your brother in anger you have committed murder in your heart. Jesus taught us that God, who sees all, looks at the darkness and evil in our heart as part of our judgment.
Now, usually at this point, I can point out to him that by this person’s own admissions, he’s a liar, blasphemer and even murderer in heart. For the record, so am I! Then, I usually ask, “Now, given that, how do you think God should judge you? Do you deserve punishment?” People usually feel quite uncomfortable at this point. So, I share the message of the Gospel, or the Good News. Jesus died on the cross so that all who believe on Him will not face punishment but have everlasting life as He has taken their punishment in their place. This is known as ‘substitution atonement.’
“Ok, but what about those who do not believe just like you? What about the Jews in Israel or the Muslims in Pakistan? They sincerely believe in what they believe in. It is not right that God should treat them differently!”
The answer is simple. The people never accepted Jesus’ atonement for their sins. Without a substitution for the punishment we deserve, God has no choice but to hold us fully accountable. Now, to clarify, many have never heard of the name Jesus. And the question of ‘those who do not believe going to hell’ often goes hand in hand with ‘what about those who have never heard of Jesus?’ The Bible says that they, too, are without excuse. It reads, “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 men are without excuse” (Romans 1:20) and “the requirements of the law are written on their hearts” (Romans 2:15).
I often find many use this line of questioning as a diversionary tactic, however, since they clearly have heard about Jesus. If nothing else, I have told them about the Gospel message by this point!
What is important to understand is, as I pointed out earlier, that God judges us based on our sins, not our knowledge or rejection of the Gospel. I emphasize this point at the beginning and end of any discussion like this because of its importance. God loves us, but also acts justly. He loves us in that He gave our son to die for us, but He judges people justly when He hold them accountable for their sin when they refuse to bow their knee to the one who died for them.
Some can accept this, and many cannot. The Bible warns us of this very fact numerous times. “The wisdom of God is foolishness to man.” Ultimately, after answering these types of questions, the most important question I can ask a person is this. “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15; Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20).