“For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!”
Ezekiel 18:32 (NIV)
“What passing bells for those who die as cattle?” asks Wilfred Owen in his poignant war poem, Anthem for Doomed Youth. They have no prayers, but “only the monstrous anger of the guns”, he laments, “only the stuttering rifle’s rapid rattle”. Their sole voice of mourning is the shrill, demented wailing of artillery shells.
What is the fate of all those who have perished in bitter warfare through the centuries? What about those who have died and have never had a chance to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Christianity is divided about such questions. Some theologians have a negative view and feel that the unevangelized dead are lost forever. Others are not so sure.
Years ago I was in what is called the Golden Triangle of Uganda. It is a rich and fertile area, but also a region where many were killed during the time of Milton Obote and Idi Amin. My friend John and I saw black rubbish bags filled to overflowing with human skulls and bones. They had been recently unearthed from nearby fields. They were the remains of hundreds of men, women and children who had been slaughtered in vicious hand to hand fighting. It was horrific.
The killing fields reminded me of the words of the prophet Ezekiel. He saw in a vision the dry bones of countless men who had been killed in an ancient battle. “Can these bones live?” was the question (37:3). The answer was yes, they will in a resurrection. Those who died in some corner of a far off field will be remembered.
There is a wonderful verse in the book of Hebrews. The passage is discussing how we find confidence in Jesus Christ whose throne is “the throne of grace” at which “we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). For humanity the resurrection will be a time of need, and God will supply his grace.
My firm conviction is that the answer to the question “what happens to the dead who have never heard the name of Christ?” lies in the boundless mercy of God. They are safe in His hands, and what better place for them to be remembered? In this we have hope.
Let us praise our merciful Saviour.
Father, thank you for the hope of the resurrection and that the throne of your Son, Jesus, is a throne of mercy and grace.
Study by James Henderson