The basic answer to this theological question is already given briefly in my message ‘The Churches’ Hellish Teaching About Hell’. If you haven’t read it yet, please read that message after you have read this, for this message will complement what you understand there.
I have a question for those reading this message who have been believing till today that if a man is not saved before he dies God will cast him into hell to be roasted alive there forever and forever. That is what most Christian denominations officially believe is the fate of the incorrigible wicked. Now, my sincere question…because I truly cannot understand how anybody could allow such a terrifying concept in their mind…is, how can such a believer ever think of our Heavenly Father in that way!!??
They will be horrified with disbelief if thoughts came to them about their own physical father casting them alive into a burning pit. They would immediately cast such thoughts out of their minds. But they don’t have any problem having such thoughts about their Father in heaven, who is infinitely more compassionate and merciful than any human father can possibly be.
I don’t know if this story really happened, but I am absolutely sure similar stories have happened throughout the history of Christian evangelization. I read many years ago of a missionary in China, in the early years of the 20th century. A runner came to him with the urgent plea that a man was dying in his village, about five days journey away on foot, and about two days journey by horse or by T-Ford. The courier, who had converted to Christianity through this missionary, told him that a few days ago the old man had expressed a keen interest in knowing about Christ and had asked to be baptized before he died.
The old car carrying the missionary and his convert sputtered as fast as its aged engine can carry it in the direction of the dying man’s village. Just about a couple of hours to the destination, the radiator overheated and Ford’s amazing invention stalled. It took a half hour for the occupants to cool the engine, find some water, and get going again.
They finally arrived at the house of the old man…only to hear loud wailings and beatings of chests. The missionary was told that the man had kicked the spittoon bucket in his final spasm just ten minutes earlier.
After the funeral, the missionary got back on his car, his disappointment and sorrow very visible on his face. For a soul has been lost, and consigned to the eternal flames just because his engine conked at the most critical time.
What a narrow miss of salvation indeed. The old villager, who heard the name of Christ for the first time in his life only a week before he died, was sent to hell because a T-Ford overheated and stalled for about 30 minutes. (Another version of it is that the missionary had a flat tire, but whatever…)
If people think that our Father in heaven has been sending billions and billions of people in China, Mongolia, India and the Amazon Forest in the last couple of thousand years to burn in hell just because they never once got a chance even to hear the name of Jesus, then they have got the true God confused for the god that wants all people everywhere to believe the horrible tale of lost souls burning in Inferno.
What is the eternal fate of all the people in the various faiths who died without once hearing the Gospel of Christ?
Even a renowned theologian and evangelist friend of mine believed that lie, and once showed me a book written by John Bunyan, one of the most respected writers in Christianity, in which the author claims a vision from God of the afterlife. John Bunyan was a 17th century English preacher who spent 12 years in prison for his Christian faith and wrote over 40 books. His best known writing is Pilgrim’s Progress, one of the most famous books in history. One of his books, ‘Visions of Heaven and Hell’, is an account of how an angel was sent by the Lord to take John Bunyan on a tour of heaven and hell. This book has influenced many Christians over the centuries, including my theologian friend, reaffirming their belief in the traditional concept of hell.
I sensed in my spirit something awry about the authenticity of the vision. If John Bunyan indeed received a vision from God about hell, then what he wrote in his book contradicts what God’s Book says about hell. After some fervent online research, I found the answer.
I showed the theologian that authorities at the John Bunyan museum in UK, which has custody of the original manuscripts of Visions of Heaven and Hell, have officially declared this book to be a fraud – a work by someone else masquerading as John Bunyan a few centuries ago. (A few days after I had completed this message, I wanted to reconfirm the spuriousness of that book and wrote to the John Bunyan Museum & Library in Bedford, England. Here’s the reply:
“Many thanks for your enquiry. According to our records, ‘Visions of Heaven and Hell’ is considered a spurious work which has been wrongly attributed to John Bunyan. I hope this has been of help to you, please don’t hesitate to contact us again if you have any further questions. Sincerely, Jennifer Ayley, Librarian”)
Satan will go to any length to convince God’s people that this is the only day of salvation, and that if a person is not saved before he dies, he’s destined to spend eternity with worms and writhing souls in steaming ghoul soup inside a red cavern. This unthinkable fate of the unsaved is the very reason for the intense urgency in televangelists’ tone. That is the sole reason for the impassioned pleas and screams of pentecostals at revival meetings. God bless their souls, for they mean well.
So is there no need for all the urgency and fervency of evangelists? Of course there is! But there is no need for the desperation in their voices. If they have a flat tire or something else that hinders them from reaching unsaved people with the Gospel in time, then they need not panic. God is more concerned than they are in saving a soul. In fact, he is concerned about even their every hair on their head. (Luke 21:18)
The people of Nineveh, Sodom, the Queen of Sheba, the old Chinese man whom the missionary couldnt reach in time, my ancestors who worshipped man-eating demonesses, and even Hitler, Stalin, Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein and their evil ilk, will hear the Gospel of Christ one day soon, just as you and me have heard it in this age.
In fact these sinners are going to rise from the dead when their Redeemer comes to save the whole world, and on understanding the Gospel for the first time, they will look around and see many people of our generation who had professed to be Christians, but who on rising from the graves, found that former heathens and harlots have entered the Kingdom of God while they are still waiting to exchange their grave clothes for white shining gowns.
‘The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it…The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it’ Mat 12:41-42
‘And you, Capernaum…for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.’ Mat 11:23,24
‘Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you.’ Mat 21:31
Assuredly, says Jesus to every Bible believer who thought that now is the only day salvation, that today is only ‘a’ day of salvation. ‘The’ day is coming, and it is coming for the whole world. Some script, whose beliefs got in his way while translating the Bible, faithfully chose to insert the wrong article in this verse:
‘In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.’ 2 Cor 6:2
‘the’ in the ‘the day of salvation’ is not in the original Greek, and it was left to the translator to insert the article of his choice. The King James Version, while overall the most reliable translation, has some of the most notoriously wrong verses too. The same verse in other translations read:
‘I have listened to thee in an accepted time, and I have helped thee in a day of salvation: behold, now [is the] well-accepted time; behold, now [the] day of salvation’ Darby Translation (The words in brackets indicate they are not in the original manuscript.)
‘In an acceptable time I did hear thee, and in A day of salvation I did help thee, lo, now [is] A well-accepted time; lo, now, A day of salvation’ Young’s Literal Translation
‘In a time acceptable I heard you and in A day of salvation I helped you’ Orthodox Jewish Bible
Now is indeed ‘the’ day of salvation for those who have been called to Christ. But it is only a day for the rest of the world, for there is another day for them. And when that day comes, when all the people in all the nations will be saved, the whole world will praise God for his mercies and wonderful works.
‘God be merciful to us and bless us, and cause His face to shine upon us, that Your way may be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations. Let the peoples praise You, O God; Let all the peoples praise You. Oh, let the nations be glad and sing for joy!’ Ps 67:1-4