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It is a fact of history that many unfortunate people have been born in conditions where it has been pretty much impossible for them to even dream of having a chance to hear the message of salvation -- the gospel of Christ -- preached to them. Thus, when death suddenly comes, they have no other option than to die in their sins and in their unreached state. And regarding the fate of the unreached, there are Christians who believe that no other outcome can be expected than irrevocable condemnation, eternal damnation, no hope of salvation whatsoever for the unreached (see e.g. here and here).

Question: According to believers in the inexorable damnation of the unreached, isn't it unfair of God to arbitrarily have someone be born in unreachable conditions, where no matter what they do they will never be morally perfect and won't ever have a chance to hear the gospel either? How is it fair for those unlucky individuals to be eternally punished when they didn't even have a chance to repent and receive forgiveness of sins in Christ, as nobody came to preach the gospel to them?

Note: by unreached I mean "unreached with the gospel", "unevangelized", "unlearned" (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fate_of_the_unlearned).

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    Doesn't this question assume that those that believe in damnation also believe that God is fair? Children (and far too many adults) complain that "it's not fair", and the obvious response is "Right, life isn't fair. Get over it.". Sep 28 at 21:13
  • @RayButterworth - That's a fair point (no pun intended). If that's your personal take and you think it is reasonable and has merits, feel free to expand on that in an answer. Sep 28 at 21:28
  • If you believe, the answer to the question doesn't apply to you. If you don't believe, you don't even know there is a question. So what exactly is "unfair" about the situation? Arguably, the only "unfairness" arises because god-botherers decide to make unbelievers miserable - and whether the reason they do that is to assert their own moral superiority, or something else, is a different question.
    – alephzero
    Sep 29 at 20:38
  • If you believe, the answer to the question doesn't apply to you. If you don't believe, you don't even know there is a question. So what exactly is "unfair" about the situation? - The unfairness would become apparent to the unbeliever when they receive their boarding pass to Hell upon death. Sep 29 at 21:10
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    @IsaacMiddlemiss I agree your answer is in scope, as you said "I do not believe that it is possible for the unreached to be saved without explicit knowledge of the Gospel". That seems to be the kind of inexorable damnation the question asks about.
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 30 at 4:15
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There are three common landing points that most believers fall into: (personally I progressed in my own thoughts along all three and don’t think its of absolute importance as to which place a person is at). In all three positions the love of God for all humanity is usually not doubted. Its not really a big issue.

  1. Some may think that the gospel is somehow faintly found in nature and that a person that feels the weight of their sin could trust in Christ without clearly hearing about him. For example, because we sleep and wake every morning, the symbolism of the resurrection is in nature and because we live by eating others, life from the death of another must save us, etc. So theoretically one could imagine a sinner crying out for God and trusting in his goodness and these tokens in nature of salvation and believe in Christ the logos of the universe.

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 people are without excuse. ((Ro 1:20). NIV

  1. Some may think that as God foreknew all that a soul would do, before they were born, God simply put the souls of many who would never believe in Christ, in positions that never even heard about him. A sort of efficient use of the world.

29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. ((Ro 8:29–30). NIV

  1. Some hold to the predestination doctrine that simply says God will reach and save his elect and leave it up to a mystery how God still loves everyone but only saves some. In other words they trust God and do not expect to understand everything if he has not revealed it.

22 What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory—24 even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? ((Ro 9:22–24). NIV

No 3 is my current view for several years and I have no doubt that God loves all people without limit. I hold a belief very similar to Martin Luther on that.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Peter Turner
    Sep 28 at 13:48
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    I don't think "most believers" fall into one of these. Most believers believe that God can be merciful to those who have not heard the gospel. I know those people aren't technically who the question is about, but it's still wrong to say "most believers" hold one of these positions. Sep 29 at 19:24
  • Does this answer address the premise of the OP; that is, the utter inexorable damnation of the unreached? If so, could this be pointed out?
    – SLM
    Sep 30 at 13:38
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For all have sinned.... The first part of the answer is that in the absence of Christ's death on the cross, justice demands that all humanity suffer eternal torment because of our sins. Thus fairness would be universal damnation. So the salvation of even one person is not fair, it is grace. This point is driven home by Paul in Romans.

This article discusses the idea (supported by Jonathan Edwards and others) that finite sins against an infinitely holy God are infinite sins:

https://rethinkinghell.com/2016/05/28/what-are-we-to-make-of-finite-sins-against-an-infinite-god/

Everyone who calls... The core Gospel message has remained unchanged since the time of Enosh in Genesis 4: At that time people began to call on the name of the Lord. Paul tells us what that does:

11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:11-13)

So in Genesis 4, people began to call on the name of the Lord, and Paul tells us that everyone who calls on his name will be saved.

But to whom does that name refer? This is the problem. It is possible to get the name wrong, meaning calling on a God whose character is wicked. This is where "reached" versus "unreached" comes in. How can you (as Paul also says) call on one of whom you have never heard?

Job. Job is God's counter-example for all who challenge his justice. Job was not Jewish. He likely lived in the time between Abraham and Moses. Job was in deep distress. He took stock of all his troubles and made up a "job description" for a savior. Then he cried out to God to send such a person to save him. After a careful study of Job, I discovered that the mediator Job sought to square things between him and God had to satisfy nine qualifications. Those nine qualifications correspond to nine events in the life, minstry, death and resurrection of Christ - and appear in Job in chronological order. So basically, Job, a seeker after God, figured out what the gospel would have to be to completely rescue him - and God then showed up and told him that he got it right.

Thus a righteous person who conscientiously pursues God will be granted insight into the gospel by means mysterious to us.

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    "...justice demands that all humanity suffer eternal torment because of our sins. Thus fairness would be universal damnation." Could you expand on this? It seems fundamentally unfair that someone would be born into this world and already deserve eternal torment. Finite crimes do not warrant infinite punishment. Sep 28 at 14:16
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    You are of course correct that Job was almost certainly not a descendant of Abraham, and thus not included in the Covenant with him. But neither was the priest-king Melchi-Tzedek, whose priesthood Jesus himself inherited. It is evident that in that era the one true God was known and worshiped, not only by Abram himself. I think it is plausible that the one true God was known to Job in the (most likely Mesopotamian, Syrian or Persian) land of Uz as well as to Melchi-Tzedek in the City Of Peace.
    – wberry
    Sep 28 at 14:19
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    @wberry - I will add the list from Job's "job description" later today when I have time. Sep 28 at 15:04
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    @wberry The original question was about fairness, which is why it's relevant. It seems that the answer is that since everyone is born into sin (and therefore condemned from the start), the people who do not get the chance to repent are indeed cast into hell. Even if they only spent a few minutes alive in this world, they'll spend an eternity in hell. I think "unfair" is a tame way to describe that scenario. Sep 28 at 16:40
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    RE the related question, What about still-births, infant death, etc. The Jewish answer to this is the bar/bat mitzvah, the belief that there must be an age (nominally 13) after which each one of us is responsible to God for our actions, and implicitly, not before. But while most Christians I have discussed this issue with believe something similar to this, the bar mitzvah is not a mainstream Christian doctrine. Scripture is silent on this question, except to say that God is love, God is just, and his mercy is new every morning. That is enough for me.
    – wberry
    Sep 28 at 18:17
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I'm just going to assume this question is on-topic and answer accordingly. This results in assuming certain other things to be a certain way because changing them renders the question off-topic.

Thus, point 1: A person is only called to answer to what he knows. This has actually been debated through the ages as to whether or not it is true; with some rather famously arguing the passage "will be beaten with but a few" being the relevant teaching here. Yet others argue "I will go to him; he will not return to me" and some others.

But you yourself gave point 2: "dream". I am three steps from the front and have the direct testimony of this being the tool used by God when no others will suffice.

Know this, for we have seen it. As soon as one makes the first step God is willing to move heaven and earth that he shall not be lost. As the eunuch on the road to Ethiopia is the example, God shall act by his mighty hand. See that God picked up Phillip and put where he needed to be to save the Eunuch. I have other records that you may or may not believe; but this is the answer.

Here is a partial citation. You will notice on reading it that it's missing information that would let you confirm it. This is intentional. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/muslims-dream-jesus/ It is well matched to what I already know.

A question has been asked by OP to gather the stories of the pagans calling out to God and receiving an answer before any humans reached them. It is not for these stories that I believe it yet if I were to curate these I would find some true and defensible. But it is by the record I have received from Muslim countries that I truly believe this is the answer.

I am sorry, but I found that those who hold no salvation for the unreachable tend to avoid the question. I have heard it said that no such will be born who cannot be reached but would otherwise be saved, but the best evidence I have says that just isn't true. I have also heard it said that you cannot call Him unless he is calling you, but that to me is evasion and not an answer at all.

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  • What a great testimony! Thanks for sharing! What did you mean by "three steps from the front"?
    – wberry
    Sep 28 at 14:24
  • @wberry: I know a person that knows a person who received said dream. Due to the opsec involved; this close proximity is very rare. The testimony is direct because it is written. But you will understand that I cannot show it.
    – Joshua
    Sep 28 at 14:44
  • Completely. I have learned, this is how God does things. Privately.
    – wberry
    Sep 28 at 14:51
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    As near as I can tell dreams/visions were at the beginning of God's drawing of me. Sep 28 at 22:54
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    I agree with this, but it seems to disagree with the premise of the question, the utter inexorable damnation of the unreached.
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 30 at 0:32
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A view that hasn't been addressed by any answer so far:

There are in a sense two aspects to the scenario; firstly, that the person in question was born when and where they were, and secondly that the Gospel has not reached that time and place.

As to the first, the person's lack of control over the circumstances of their birth. It may be unfair, but not on the part of God, because while it is not the person's fault that they are born in the time/place/circumstances they are, nor is it God's. Rather, it is the result of a long chain of what were ultimately human decisions, from that person's ancestors' decision to settle in that location, to their parents' decision to procreate. Did God know this would happen? Absolutely. Was it part of his plan? Absolutely. But was it also ultimately the result of human decision and action rather than God's? Also absolutely.

As to the second, the absence of the Gospel when/where they were raised, this is again ultimately the result of human decisions/actions. In this instance, it is the failure of Christians to reach these people, as well as the decisions of those people and their ancestors that resulted in their hard-to-reach location. The bible makes it clear in several places that it is our responsibility as Christians to spread the Gospel to those who have not heard it. For example in Romans 10:14-15a, "How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? Ans how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?". Thus, the absence of the Gospel in any area is not God's failure, but ours, which I think gives more weight to the duty of evangelism and mission work than many believe.

Personally, I do not believe that it is possible for the unreached to be saved without explicit knowledge of the Gospel, for scriptural reasons and the fact that people are not raised in a vacuum with nature; the combination of our corrupt natures and traditions that are inevitably passed down in any culture, I believe, prevent anyone from being saved even if the general revelation of nature were sufficient.

EDIT

One aspect of the question I did not explicitly lay out was whether God giving said person life, knowing their fate, is cruel or unfair, as opposed to the child being stillborn or a 'philosophical zombie'. I'm inclined to think that, as an extension of giving humanity free will, He has allowed us autonomy to have children when/where we will. Just as free will results in sin yet is still permitted, so does deciding when to have children result in children born who will never be saved. The argument for this being unfair seems to rest on the unreached nature of the circumstances they are born into, which I believe I have demonstrated is the result of man's actions, not God's. I do not believe we are in a position to say whether it would have been better for creation as a whole if God had prevented that child from being born.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Ken Graham
    Sep 30 at 16:13

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