Will the “unreached” go to heaven? – Part Two, a ruthless God

Will the “unreached” go to heaven? – Part Two, a ruthless God November 23, 2021

In a recent post, we began our discussion, “will the unreached go to heaven?” with a look at the standard evangelical answer: according to so-called proof texts, no, they won’t. The billions who have never heard of Jesus are hell-bound.

Supposedly, God has revealed himself to all people, everywhere, in one way or another. Because we are sinners by nature, all people are by default in a state of rejection of whatever revelation they have received of God. Those who haven’t been introduced to Jesus may not have rejected Jesus, but they rejected God.

I lived (uneasily) with this paradigm for over half a century. (I kept the door open a crack for the possibility that God would surprise us all on Judgment Day with mercy for the unreached, but I was not optimistic.)

The whole idea made me uneasy – it felt insupportable that God could both be good and condemn scads of people to hell.

I remember learning that “God in his love ultimately gives people what they want most. Some people don’t want anything to do with God – fine. They can spend eternity separated from God. Be careful what you wish for!”

Another explanation I’ve heard is, “God made a great sacrifice by sending his only son Jesus to pay the price for our sin – and if you reject something that generous, you deserve to fry.”

Or this one: “we can’t understand the serious nature of sin, or the intensity of God’s loathing for anything but holiness – we just have to accept that this is how it is. Don’t question God!”

Absolutely. I wouldn’t question God. I would, however, question humans: theologians, preachers, teachers.

We invent stuff

Many of the tenets of the evangelical faith, and trademark feel-good expressions of Christianity in general, are man-made – but we treat them as though they came directly from on High. For example:

  • We all know that the word “Trinity” does not appear in the Bible, but many of us would die before admitting that God may not actually be three-in-one
  • “Rapture” is also nowhere to be found in Scripture, but for some Christians, it is the only thing that matters
  • Scripture makes no mention of a “Sinner’s Prayer” either, or the concept of “asking Jesus into your heart”
  • Nor does the Bible mention the idea that “God is in control” or “God never gives us more than we can handle,” or “everything happens for a reason,” or “God helps those who help themselves”

If any of the above surprised you, you’re not alone. Many of us would never guess that these are actually manmade ideas – they’re so ingrained that we can’t imagine Christianity without them.

(Commercial: One of my favorite “doctrines” to debunk has to do with the modern state of Israel. Go here if you’d like to climb into that can of worms. If you question “business as usual” in Christianity – or want to question it – subscribe to my newsletter, and we can journey together!)

I submit that our concept of hell as a place of eternal, conscious torment is another of those manmade doctrines.

Original sin

We’ve been taught that, Adam and Eve’s sin put every human being on the fast track to hell. We came out of the womb doomed. A lucky few will manage to escape, but most will burn.

How does that fit with a God of mercy?

The standard answer: “We’re only human. We can’t understand the ways of God.”

Well, yes. Scripture says:

How unsearchable are [God’s] judgments, and his ways past finding out! (Romans 11:33b)

But wait. Let’s back up a little:

O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are [God’s] judgments, and his ways past finding out! (Romans 11:33)

First of all, this verse is not about some dark side of God that we can’t comprehend. It’s about his riches in wisdom and knowledge! Maybe when we sort his creatures into “accepted Jesus as savior” and “damned,” we’re shortchanging God’s ingenuity.

Back up a little more. Before Romans 11:33 we find Romans 11:32:

For God has consigned everyone to disobedience so that He may have mercy on everyone. 

Eternal damnation shows no mercy. If we’re all sinners, it’s not so that God can send most of us over the abyss.


Even the worst sinner of all time, perhaps Hitler, would receive punishment that far outstrips his transgressions (Hitler has the blood of a finite number of people on his hands, but eternity is infinite) – and eternal torment would be the same length for a Hitler as it is for any other occupant of hell. The severity of Hitler’s punishment loses its meaning.

hitlerIs there any chance of Hitler (or anyone else) repenting and escaping hell? Not if it’s eternal. Therefore, hell is not redemptive, only vindictive.

And when it comes to the “unreached,” we’re talking about people who never had the chance to hear about Jesus or “pray the Sinner’s Prayer.” We’re talking about babies. How do they deserve the same punishment as Hitler, who was himself a church-educated Lutheran? He should have known better. The unreached couldn’t have known better.

Here’s another conundrum: Imagine a boy who was sexually abused by a priest. In his trauma, the boy rejects the God of this abuser and never changes his mind. Infernalism has this fellow in hell for eternity. Meanwhile the priestly abuser, whose sin caused the boy to reject God, spends eternity in Paradise. How could that be God’s intention?

I’m not out on a fringe here. Learned theologians, lifelong students of the Bible, and prominent authors have been questioning “infernalism” for a very long time – since nearly the dawn of Christianity.

A recommendation

Recently, I read “That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation,” by David Bentley Hart. It expressed in words what I’d been sensing wordlessly for several years and trying to poke at from various angles today: that eternal damnation can’t be a true interpretation of the Bible.

If you are a believer in eternal, conscious torment, you need to read this. You might come out of it unmoved – but at least you will know that your theology stood the test. You might come out doubting what you’ve been taught. There is nothing wrong with that. Give it some more thought. Pray. Read Scripture. Grow.

If you, like me, have always sensed that God is better than that, you need to read this too. It will give you peace.

(If you are energized by challenges to the evangelical status quo like this, you’d enjoy my blog. Sign up for my free newsletter here!)

(If you would like to comment, please pop over to my Facebook page. All of my posts are there and open to constructive comment! I welcome your thoughts. And don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter!)


Will the “unreached” go to heaven? – Part One, an evangelical answer

The inclusivity of heaven – according to Jesus

Let’s talk about eternity for a minute – Pt 1, Good Samaritan

Let’s talk about eternity for a minute – Pt 2, sheep and goats


Browse Our Archives