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What Happens to People Who Never Heard About Jesus?

What Happens to People Who Never Heard About Jesus?

Life 201 is a weekly advice column headed by pastor, counselor and RELEVANT Podcast member Eddie Kaufholz. Eddie answers questions and gives advice on issues you want to hear about. Email your questions to [email protected].]

Good Monday, friends! Welcome back to the latest installment of Life 201. Let’s get to work…

I’ve been a believer for a while, but lately I’ve been really bothered by thinking about what happens to people who never got a chance to hear about Jesus before they died. Any thoughts?

– Steven

Steven, this is a really hard question to wrap our minds around, isn’t it? Because part of us instinctively feels that it’s super unfair for people who’ve never heard about Jesus to end up in hell. Additionally, there’s no way that individuals who don’t possess the cognitive capacity to conceive of God just get ignored by Him. There’s just no way, it doesn’t sit right with everything else the Bible teaches us about the character of God (grace, love, compassion, etc.).

Conversely, there’s this:

“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him.’” (John 14:6-7)

Additionally, even a light waltz through Romans will underscore the importance of “confess[ing] with your mouth that Jesus is Lord.” Not a lot of wiggle room in that statement, is there?

The pickle that we’re in, Sir Steven, is that the authoritative word of the Bible effectively gives weight to both sides of a large theological conversation, that is, how God reveals Himself. Essentially, there are three schools of thought, and in the interest of giving you the necessary information for you to answer your question, I’m going to boil down some pretty gigantic ideas:

First, there are those who buy into what’s called special revelation. This idea follows the train of thought that God gave the world Jesus and the Bible as ways to know and have access to Him. Those who strictly adhere to a special revelation doctrine would say that to get into heaven, you have to know about and follow Jesus—it’s the only way.

Second, there are folks who give more weight to the idea of a general revelation doctrine. These people would contend that God reveals Himself through creation and through our inherent moral compass. Basically, a pure general revelationist would say that even if someone doesn’t know the name of God, they know the reality of God, and that’s good enough.

Third, there are those who make a lovely little cocktail of both theories (that’s me). Those of us who are in the middle of bell curve contend that God is in and over all things and reveals Himself in countless ways. I believe that those who are in isolation and have never had any access to the words “God,” “Jesus” or “Bible” still have some deep understanding that their life was created for a reason. They aren’t walking around in some consequence-less bubble, they are propelled by and answering to a deep truth—the truth that is inherent in all God’s children.

And for those that have heard about Jesus, they’re in the same boat. But now, they have language for the truth that they know. They know the word “sin,” they know about Christ’s death and resurrection, and they know that salvation comes with naming the reality—that Christ died on the Cross for all people.

Steven, as you can see, there are many different ways to frame an answer to this question. And while I won’t try to push you in a certain doctrinal direction, I would ask you to think about one thing: If you magically got a definitive and infallible answer to your question, what would it matter?

None of us are God. And at the end of the day, we may find out that all of our thinking didn’t amount to anything in the economy of God’s wisdom. What matters is what God has revealed to us. Which is that we’ve got a job to share the truth of what we know. So for as much time as you devote to the mental gymnastics of doctrinal truth, I’d spend twice as much time doing all you can to leave no stone unturned in a world that desperately needs to hear what you’re certain of.

I’ve been a leader in the college ministry for three years now and I feel like I want to take a break, but I also feel like I would be abandoning the community I’ve helped cultivate. Any help on how to effectively not “burn out” while trying to not neglect the people?


Jenna, you just asked a question that EVERYONE with a ministry job has asked themselves more than a time or two. Thank you for your transparency, and thank you for serving those college students so well! To that end, I think it’s time for you to take another bold step in how you care for the ministry that God has entrusted to you.

You need to rest. Now.

One of our most fundamental disciplines as Christians is the idea of a sabbath rest. God did it, Jesus did it, we should be doing it. We were never designed to run on a treadmill endlessly, yet we tell ourselves that we have to in order to be successful, valued or even important. We’re afraid that if we stop running, take a break or leave the job all together, our flock will suffer. Even in your question, Jenna, you stated that you felt like you would be “neglect[ing] the people” by essentially caring for yourself. This is not true.

You’re about to burn out, which means that your college students will get either none you or an empty shell of you before long. That’s what’s coming. And in truth, that’s probably what’s happening already. By the time we realize we’re out of gas, the tank has been low for a very long time. That’s not good for you, and that’s not good for those you care for.

So here’s what you need to do: Lead by example. Tell them why it’s important to rest, then do it. Show them that caring isn’t destroying yourself on their behalf, it’s taking time to love them enough to step away and recharge. They may not understand it at first, but when they find themselves in a similar spot (and they will), they’ll appreciate your leadership and example.

And with that, we’re done. I hope you have a great week and Easter weekend!

Kind regards,

Have a question? Good! All identifying information will be kept anonymous. Send an email to [email protected]

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