Does Everyone Get a Chance?

We recently had a comment here on What do Mormons Believe, that caught my eye. In the comment it asked the following questions.

What would happen to people who didn’t have the chance to hear the gospel, such as people in third world countries? Even if they’ve lived good lives, but never even heard the name of Christ, do they still end up in hell? What about small children who die?

The reason that these comments caught my eye is because I’ve asked these very same questions myself. Now in this article, I will share the answers I have learned with you.

Sadly, there are still places in the world, where the name of Christ is foreign and his teachings are not taught. Think of a tribe of people in sub-Saharan Africa, where they’ve never even heard of Jesus and where there are no scriptures to learn from. But they are still good people. They help their fellow men, they look after their families. They respect the earth and work hard to improve life for themselves and those around them. These are the types of people who would accept the Gospel of Christ if it was presented to them and would strive to follow Him. Is it fair that because they were born in Africa, instead of another part of the world, that they are doomed to Hell?

The answer to this question is No. We know that God is a just God. Where would the justice be if these people were assigned to eternal damnation by no act of their own?

But we also know that in order to return to God, we must have faith in Jesus Christ, repent of our sins, be baptized and receive the Holy Ghost through confirmation.

How can God be fair, while having faith, repenting, baptism and confirmation are required?

In the scriptures we learn that everyone will have the chance to be taught and accept the gospel of Jesus Christ. For some people, it will take place in this life. But for others, it will occur after they die.

The apostle Peter spoke of this in 1 Peter 3:18-19

“For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirt:

By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison”

And in 1 Peter 4:6

“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.”

These people will get a chance to learn and accept the gospel while in this “spirit prison”. They can develop faith in Christ and repent of their sins. They will also be able to receive the ordinances of baptism and confirmation by proxy. Here is a link to further explain that.

The last question was about small children who die. Some babies are born with severe conditions that only allow minutes of life to them. Other children pass away at an older age, but are still too young to have really understood who Christ was.

These children are also not punished for their brief lives, but are saved through the atonement of Jesus Christ. We learn from the scriptures that “children who die before they arrive at the years of accountability are saved in the celestial kingdom of heaven.” (D&C 137:10) What a truly comforting promise to those who have lost young loved ones.

God is a just and loving God. He loves and cares for his children. That is why he sent his son, Jesus Christ, to make it possible that we can return to live with him someday. And that is why he has given everyone a chance to learn of Christ, have faith in him, repent of their sins, be baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Why Did Jesus Die For Our Sins?

Q. Why did Jesus die for our sins?  What would have happened if he hadn’t?

I was thinking about this question early this morning from 3:30 till 5:00 as my toddler was throwing a massive fit.  For some reason, he had decided that sleeping in his crib for the rest of the night was not going to work for him.  He didn’t like sleeping in the portable crib either (but his baby sister liked that better–he was out of the room they share).  My prevailing thought was the importance of law, as a parent, to prevent chaos from ruling the house.  (Bear with me, this will all tie together shortly. )

sometimes lazy, always tired.

See, we have rules, as parents.  Many of them we make up: you need to sleep in your own bed, you need to finish all of your food if you want dessert, you cannot hit anything but the floor, etc.  Some of them are imposed by other people: you have to be buckled in your car seat when we are moving, you can’t take that candy from the store without paying for it, and so on.  Because we are imperfect, lazy or tired, all parents choose to disregard the laws once in a while.  “Fine, just get into bed with me and Daddy”, thinking that just for tonight, that will work.  But of course, it isn’t just for tonight it is now expected every night.  “He’s starving–just give him Chex for dinner tonight”, but for weeks thereafter, when it is time for dinner, the toddler refuses to eat anything but Chex (or Goldfish crackers).  When we disregard these laws, we lose the structure of our family society and everything can come unglued. Chaos reigns.  Once you take a kid out of their carseat while driving they suddenly understand that what they thought was impossible is now possible.  Same with Chex for dinner.  Same with sleeping with Mom and Dad.  There are no more rules and I can do whatever I want!  It is a very dangerous place to be.

without honoring justice, chaos would reign

Luckily, our Heavenly Father has laws and He never deviates from them.  Some of them He has created (the 10 commandments, for example) and some of them are just natural laws that He honors (gravity, rotation of planets, etc.).  The law that applies to this question is the law of justice.  Essentially, if you do wickedly, you will be punished and you are no longer worthy to return to live with God.  If you do well, you will be rewarded.  Unfortunately, every single one of us has done wickedly, and we cannot return to live with God–our righteous works don’t cancel out our sins, I think they are on separate balance sheets, as it were.  So that is justice.  It doesn’t help us at all, but it keeps the universe running smoothly.   And God needs to honor justice fully in order to prevent chaos from reigning.  As soon as He lets just one person in, with just the tiniest sin (like maybe, Moses or Abraham), there is going to be a big line of people demanding to get in too.  They didn’t sin that much.  They aren’t that wicked.  Its a slippery slope.

God is an excellent parent, though.  He can honor all of the demands of justice and still get us back to Him.  His more excellent way is accomplished through Jesus Christ, who offers us mercy.  When Christ came to earth, he was the only person in the history of this earth to ever live a perfect life.  No evil thoughts, no evil actions, not even any selfish motivations.  He lived perfectly.  Before he died, Justice could have looked Him over and said, “Come on back in.  You’re clean”.   But Jesus didn’t just go back to Heaven after His perfect life–instead, He allowed himself to suffer for every person on this earth and every sin that they had ever committed.  He died on the cross between two criminals after allowing himself to be beaten, scorned, mocked, spit upon, tried and convicted all by people like you and I.  Regular justice-breakers. Betrayed and condemned And in this way, Christ broke the law of Justice–but He broke it the opposite way that we break it.  He broke it toward himself–He owned it.  He should not have died and suffered for us in that way–that was not just.  The atonement of Jesus Christ (this suffering and dying in order to reconcile us with God) was merciful and motivated entirely by love.  Christ’s mercy can satisfy the demands of justice and still get us back to Heaven.

So, to answer your question: Jesus died for our sins to get us around the impassible heights of justice.  If we ally ourselves with Him, He will vouch for us and His mercy carries us over the demands of justice back to our Father in Heaven.  He is the only one who can do that.  We can’t do it–we are imperfect.  Heavenly Father can’t do it, He needs to honor justice (though He is, of course, carefully helping us find our faith in Christ so that we can come back to Him).  Without Christ, we are subject to endless death and hell (an eternity without God).

For more information on this fundamental topic, see:

Doctrine and Covenants 45

Alma 42

2 Nephi 2

2 Nephi 9

Alma 34

This priesthood lesson

And this talk