What Happens to Those Who Die Without Knowing Christ? [Video & Transcript]
I hope you’ll stay as I unfold the Savior’s crystal clear answer to one of the most oft-asked questions on college campuses universally—and among professors of faiths: what happens to those who die without knowing Christ?
Welcome to any of you who’ve stumbled upon this in the middle of the night, and friends of the I Believe Podcast series. This is for you, wherever you find yourself—Gen-X, Millennial, Baby Boomer or beyond—in the current of belief—perhaps without anchor or rudder, overwhelmed by strident voices, severely stressed; straddling belief and unbelief, Church-going but lacking substantive answers to honest thorny questions; seeking a closer relationship with Christ; or wanting to understand the relevance of religion and belief in your life.
So here is our question more specifically as I received it from a listener who actually has crossed the spiritual line from agnostic to believer in the past few weeks. I share this with his permission:
Do Good People Who Don’t Know Christ Go to Hell?
I have so many questions and concerns that I’ve never had answered. Years ago, a well-meaning co-worker took me to church with him. I asked him some questions that had been eating at me. I explained that my father was the type of man who would give anyone the shirt off his back. He was loving and kind but did not consider himself a religious man. He grew up with an abusive father and went to a strict [Christian religious] school that I believe alienated him from God. Despite the fact that he was not religious, he was still a kind man. I asked my friend, ‘How can a loving God send my father to a place of burning and torture for eternity simply because he doesn’t know Jesus?’ My friend assured me that ANYONE who did not accept Christ would burn in Hell. I could not wrap my mind around that. What about a primitive culture of people in the rain forest who may have never even heard of Jesus? Do they burn in Hell simply because they were never informed?
Likewise, a Chinese student, returning to his homeland after having graduated from one of the United States’ leading colleges, was in conversation with a Christian minister, also en route to China. When this minister urged the truth that only through acceptance of Christ’s teachings can any man be saved, the [student] said: “Then what about my ancestors who never had an opportunity to hear the name of Jesus?”
The minister answered: “They are lost.” Said the student: “I will have nothing to do with a religion so unjust as to condemn to eternal punishment men and women who are just as noble as we, perhaps nobler, but who never had an opportunity to hear the name of Jesus.”
There is great news largely missing from most of Christendom’s teachings but revealed clearly by the Savior in our day, within His restored Church.
How anyone could believe a loving God could consign millions to hell without an opportunity to learn of Him and His Son is beyond me.
The Truth: Jesus Christ Offers Opportunity to Hear the Gospel in the Spirit World
The consoling truth is that while hundreds of millions of human beings have been born, lived out their short earthly span, and passed away, ignorant of the plan of salvation provided for them, there is an opportunity for all those who are in the spirit world to hear and receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to have the privilege of embracing the truth and to obey every principle and ordinance by proxy.
God is perfectly loving and is certainly no respecter of persons; He and Jesus have not forgotten anyone and will not give privileges to one generation and withhold them from another. Each of God’s children—every one of us, from father Adam down to our day—will have the privilege, somewhere, of hearing the gospel of Christ; and, the generations that have passed and gone without hearing that gospel in its fullness, power, and glory will never be held responsible by God for not obeying it. Neither will He bring them under condemnation for rejecting a law they never saw or understood, and if they live up to the light they had they are justified so far, and they can be preached to in the spirit world (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff, 186-7).
Jesus Organizes Servants to Teach the Gospel in the Spirit World
So let me explain a little more. Rewind visually with me to the Holy Land, where the body of Christ lay wrapped in two burial cloths. While His body was still in the tomb following His atonement for sins and His crucifixion, His spirit was very much alive as He went to fulfill another part of His mission. His spirit, in other words, was still alive though separate from His body, and He went to the spirit world—the place our spirits go immediately after death as we await the Resurrection. He went there to organize His servants to teach the gospel to those there. This spirit world is right around us, though invisible to our natural eyes unless quickened. And it is not heaven, per se, but a place of preparation prior to the Resurrection.
So, Jesus organized valiant believers there to go forth and teach His truths to all who would listen, especially to those who died without having a chance to hear or understand the true calling and office and divinity of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. While those on earth were unaware of our Savior’s activity in the spirit world during those three days when His body lay in the tomb, this doctrine has been revealed by Him in our day.
The scriptures indicate it this way:
Behold from the righteous, He organized His forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead… Thus was the gospel preached to those who had died in their sins, without a knowledge of the truth, or in transgression, having rejected the prophets… And so it was made known among the dead…that redemption had been wrought through the sacrifice of the Son of God upon the cross. (Doctrine and Covenants 138:30, 32, 35).
Peter reveals the same truth: “For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit” (The Holy Bible: New Testament: 1 Peter 4:6).
You may ask if they are baptized there? No. Can they have hands laid upon them for the gift of the Holy Ghost? No. None of the outward ordinances that pertain to the flesh are administered there, but the light, glory, and power of the Holy Ghost are enjoyed just as freely as upon this earth. We’ll discuss what we can do for them in a follow-up cast.
God bless you in your spiritual journey. For other casts, including ones on the purpose of life, and Is Satan Real, please visit youtube.com/ibelievepodcast or our website. I would love to hear from you! Thanks for being here.
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karenrose – has written 75 posts on this site.
Living out a great season of my life, thanks to Jesus Christ, and two wonderful daughters, a great life's work. Loving this opportunity to share faith online... I'm a single Mom, convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, second-gen Italian, from the East coast originally. Love the fine arts, dance, frozen yogurt, temples, scriptures, writing, jazz, helping others reach their potential, king salmon, ....and not in that order. God is good. I feel it deeply when people have a misconception of Heavenly Father or Jesus Christ, His Son, that lessens or cheapens Them and blinds one's ability to feel His presence or to trust in an ultimately good eternal end to life's circumstances.