Several weeks ago one of my friends from work asked me, “If a person who has never heard about God dies would they go to Hell?”
What stimulated the conversation was an article he had read about a missionary to the Eskimos who lead a man to faith in Jesus Christ. The man then asked him, “If you hadn’t come and told me about Jesus; would I have died and gone to Hell?” The missionary told him he wasn’t sure but he didn’t think so. The man asked him, “Then why did you bother to come up here to tell me?”
In light of what the scripture says, “That there is no salvation in any other than Christ Jesus,” and the Bible very strongly declares it many times; then we as Christians actually believe, yes he would have gone to Hell.
And my friend’s next question to me was, “How is that fair if the man never heard the message of the gospel?”
I have spent a lot of time the last several weeks pondering the questions of the Eskimo and my friend.
Another question I have been meditating on for several months in an attempt to understand is “What does it mean in the “Ten Commandments” when God says he visits the sins of the fathers onto the children and the children’s children?” The word interpreted “Visits” in the older versions of scripture is actually a more accurate translation than the newer more modern versions which translate it as “Punishes”.
“Visits” has the connotation of “Consequences”. “Punishes” has the implication of “Judgment”. God strongly teaches us in scripture that he never judges the parents for the sins of the children and he never judges the children for the sins of the parents. Each person has to give a personal account for their own sins. So, punishing couldn’t be the proper interpretation connected with that commandment.
But “Visits” means that the children often suffer the consequences of the sins of the fathers and forefathers and that is a reality. We see it all around us even today. A drunken father abuses his child; they grow up to abuse their children who do the same unless somewhere one of them breaks the cycle.
The reverse is true as well. My grandparents lived and exampled the life of one who loved and served the LORD for my parents. They have done so for us and each of us as children have chosen to love and serve the LORD as well. Hopefully, by the grace of God we will be faithful in loving and serving the LORD and our children and grandchildren will choose to love and serve the LORD after us and pass it on to their children and grandchildren after them.
So in my family I personally know of at least five successive generations of followers of God. From what I have seen of my family tree there were many generations of Christians before them on both of my parents families. That is the result of each generation successfully passing on their faith to the next generation who faithfully passed it on their children as well.
As I was processing the first set of questions all of a sudden I began to understand the second one that had been plaguing me for a long time.
Somewhere back in the Eskimo’s family tree there was a father that feared God. You may have to go all the way back to Noah and the flood to find him; but there was one somewhere. Somewhere down that hereditary line a man broke from faith in God and his descendants followed him in his unbelief. The Eskimo was suffering from the consequences of the sins of his forefathers being visited on him.
You see, if each of his forefathers had faithfully passed their faith in God on to their children and grandchildren then the Eskimo would have already known God when the missionary arrived.
Moses commanded the people of Israel, “Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the LORD, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other. So you shall keep His statutes and His commandments which I am giving you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you, and that you may live long on the land which the LORD your God is giving you for all time.” Deuteronomy 4:39-40 (NASB77)
Moses declared to them that if they honored the LORD that it would affect their children after them.
God told Moses to, “Assemble the people, the men and the women and children and the alien who is in your town, in order that they may hear and learn and fear the LORD your God, and be careful to observe all the words of this law. And their children, who have not known, will hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, as long as you live on the land which you are about to cross the Jordan to possess.” Deuteronomy 31:12-13 (NASB77)
They were to gather and bring their children to assemblies where the Word of the LORD was taught so that the children would learn to love and worship the LORD. That was part of their training process for their children. It would be equal to our modern-day church services.
Samuel in his writings about the kings of Israel tells of the consequences of not living faithfully for the LORD. He said about the people of Israel, “So while these nations feared the LORD, they also served their idols; their children likewise and their grandchildren, as their fathers did, so they do to this day.” 2 Kings 17: 41 (NASB77)
Do you see the consequences he is describing in this passage? The parents failed to worship the LORD whole-heartedly and the children followed in their parents footsteps.
It is possible for one of our children to break the cycle but they seldom ever do. This is truer of a parent who does not serve the LORD than of one that does because of the sinful nature of the children. The natural bent of the child is to do wrong so if one or both of the parents succumb to sin the child is much more likely to as well.
Even though a parent faithfully serves the LORD is not a guarantee that the children will. But if a parent doesn’t it is almost a guarantee that the children won’t either. It is always the choice of the child and sometimes one will break the cycle and begin his descendants down the right road.
So, the responsibility is ours. Our children for many generations after us will be affected by the lives we live and our commitment to our LORD. What kind of legacy do you choose to leave behind you?