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Mark Bowen wrote:

Hi, guys —

I am a 60-year-old male. My question is this.

  • What does the Church say is the fate of a person who has never heard the Gospel and therefore never had a chance to become a believer?

For example, third-world inhabitants who can neither read nor write and have not been exposed to a missionary.

  • Do they go to:
    • Heaven
    • Hell, or
    • do they stay in Limbo?

Mark

  { What is the fate of a person who has never heard the Gospel and had a chance to believe? }

Bob replied:

Dear Mark,

Thanks for your question.

Your question is one that often puzzles many. It is only for God to judge where any individual belongs but it is not beyond the scope of His power to save even those who have not heard the Gospel preached explicitly and had an opportunity to respond directly. See 1 Timothy 2:4, and 4:10, where Paul says God desires that all be saved and God is the savior of all, especially those who believe. He alludes to the fact that God can save anyone: babies, the ignorant, etc.

We would be limiting God's power to suggest that He is unable to save someone who He desires to save because of the limitations of mankind.

  • Should He be bound by our ability to travel, speak, or translate?

No, the Spirit, like the wind, blows where it will, (cf. John 3:8)

He has given us the means to preach, bring sacraments, and other graces because of the great peril that we all face in the domination of evil in this world. We are doomed without His grace. Therefore, it is not superfluous to do all these, even though Jesus can apply His Salvation to anyone He chooses. We participate in His redemptive work because it brings Him more glory to have His children share in His Love.

Ultimately, the further souls are from the gifts of his Gospel:

  • His sacraments
  • His community
  • etc.

the more peril they face. They need the Gospel to stand a better chance of responding to the grace He wants to give them to be saved. Satan is taking prisoners all the time so we are better equipped to fight the good fight when we have the riches of God's blessings. In short, when we know our enemy, we have a much better chance of winning the battle.

Lastly, many fundamentalists get stuck on the idea that God can only work through an explicit profession of faith. (Accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior and being born again.) While there is an explicit call to faith in the Gospels, this formula doesn't take into account difficult questions.

It can't account for babies or anyone else. I attended a debate by a prominent Protestant apologist that had nothing to say with respect to infants that died — to Christian couples no less. His theology would consign them to Hell but his silence on the matter implies either God has no means of saving them or he, (the apologist), simply can't afford to concede that maybe God does save them and that point would throw away his argument about making an adult profession of faith.

  • Does it make sense that Jesus would not have a way to apply His victory to any soul He wants to?
  • Would consigning innocent children (of personal sin, not original sin), even those who were aborted, to Hell demonstrate God's love and compassion?

Hardly. Peter said to his Jewish contemporaries in Jerusalem, the promise is made for you and your children (Acts 2:39), when referring to the promise of salvation. And when speaking to Jews, who practiced circumcision, and considered their children part of God's covenant, well before the age of reason, it would have been absurd to reduce the promise they already had to something inferior: Waiting until they grow up to profess Christ.

In the end, God wants Faith, Love, and Charity from and in every soul. He offers it first to all but only some respond with it even though His grace is sufficient to move them towards Himself. Many prefer darkness.

Finally, there is no doctrine on Limbo. Catholics don't teach it or believe in it, although many ancient Church Fathers postulated it as a means of solving the issue of the unbaptized who shouldn't be damned.

These days, we simply rely on God's loving mercy to all people and work like crazy to get them the Good News!

Peace,

Bob Kirby

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