The concept of hell and eternal punishment raises many questions, but there’s one in particular that I want to talk about in this post. You’re probably aware that one of the main Christian beliefs is that if you don’t believe in God or you reject Him, then you’re going to wind up in hell. But what about the people who have never heard of Christianity? This certainly applies to multitudes of people in the past, and even today it can still apply to people who live in remote tribal societies, untouched by the rest of civilization. Even people in what we might think of as more modern countries might live their whole lives and die without ever hearing of the Gospel. So the question is what about them, are they going to hell?
If you take at face value the broad sweeping statement I made earlier, those who don’t believe in God go to hell, then yes, they’re in hot water. But to me at least this never seemed satisfactory, much less fair. How could a loving God punish people who don’t believe through no fault of their own? Personally, I don’t think that He would. I think that in those cases where a person had lived their whole life without ever knowing about Christianity, as long as they lived a good and righteous life they would be saved. ‘Good’ in this context I think is pretty self explanatory, but by righteous I mean that they lived in accordance with their own set of laws and standards.
In these cases of tribal/uncontacted people, I think it’s a (somewhat, always be careful with these) fair generalization to say that it’s likely they still would worship something. I think that as long as they truly believed and were devout, God would take their worship as service done to Him. The Bible states that God’s existence is manifest in the world (Romans 1:20, for those interested) and I believe that no matter what society a person is born into they still feel the pull of something greater than themselves.
In this case there is a passage of scripture that I think supports my position. Take that as you will though, after all people have also used the Bible to promote slavery, genocide, and even televangelism (I know, that last one is almost too horrible to contemplate). I’ll let you judge for yourself, here’s the passage: “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them)” –Romans 2:13-15. Now I realize that this was written in a more Jew/Gentile context, but I believe that the spirit of the passage applies to many people, even today. That’s my story at least, and I’m sticking to it.