Photograph of a North Korean farmer. Picture source: Damir Sagolj (Reuters).
As a believer in Christ, I have of course wondered about what happens to those who have never heard about the Gospel. I currently reside in South-Korea as part of a 2 month mission trip. During my stay I have become friends with a young woman who, as a child, escaped from North Korea and became a Christian in South Korea. She shared with me that her father is still a farmer in North Korea (readers, please pray for him) and that her family had never heard about Jesus, let alone about the Gospel. This example made the debate about those who have never heard come far closer in my own personal life.
Of course I wrote the former not to play on the emotions of my reader but to give an example to those who have had the possibility of reading the Bible, hearing the Gospel,… Not all people in this world have the same privilege. (This good father probably sacrificed a lot to give his daughter a better future, possibly even sacrificing his own chance of hearing the Gospel from a preacher, for his daughter’s sake.)
I started looking for answers, for my dear friend. Not claiming to know it all, I think the following few verses give us some hints of how God deals with those who haven’t heard:
"And the times of this ignorance God winked at." - Acts 17:30 (KJV)
"God overlooks it as long as you don’t know any better." - Acts 17:30 (MSG)
"For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;) In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel." - Romans 2:14-16 (KJV)
I personally really like this paraphrase:
"When outsiders who have never heard of God’s law follow it more or less by instinct, they confirm its truth by their obedience. They show that God’s law is not something alien, imposed on us from without, but woven into the very fabric of our creation. There is something deep within them that echoes God’s yes and no, right and wrong. Their response to God’s yes and no will become public knowledge on the day God makes his final decision about every man and woman. The Message from God that I proclaim through Jesus Christ takes into account all these differences." - Romans 2:14-16 (MSG)
"I love those who love me, And those who seek me diligently will find me." - Proverbs 8:17 (NKJV)
"Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear" - Isaiah 59:1 (KJV)
"Look! Listen! God’s arm is not amputated—he can still save. God’s ears are not stopped up—he can still hear." - Isaiah 59:1 (MSG)
If the North Korean regime tries to stamp out the Gospel and it does not repent of their practices, then it will not mean the destruction of the souls of those who genuinely seek God but the destruction of their own souls!
"Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war." - Revelation 19:1 (NKJV)
“Everlasting, your light will shine when all else fades
Never ending, your glory goes beyond all fame.”
(Hillsong United – From the Inside Out)
So I am hopeful for her father and others like him. I believe there is nothing wrong in being hopeful.