A reader asked, “If there are people in hell while I'm in heaven because I didn't witness to them, how can I have eternal joy? The Bible says there will be no more sorrow in heaven, but this has me not feeling good. Obviously, the answer is to share my faith with everyone, but what if I don't?” Here is my response…
You have asked a question that has troubled legions of believers. Before I address this issue, let us turn to a familiar story from the Book of Acts.
Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:
“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter
and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he opens not his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”
And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea (Acts 8:26-40 ESV).
To address you question, let us examine these five truths:
- God is sovereign. The fulfillment of His plans and purposes are not dependent upon you and me.
- God is far more just than you and me. God is more loving than you and me. God is kinder than you and me. Let us never doubt His goodness.
- All who desire joy will find joy. Our sovereign God will see to that.
- The damned are those who entered a place of misery and torment by their own volition. Rebels to the end, the eternally lost are hardened individuals who insisted on something other than God's joy.
- The joys of Heaven will never be held hostage by the miseries of the damned.
The Ethiopian eunuch had a genuine hunger for God. He diligently searched God's word for the answers he desired. God knew this man's heart. We might say that God knew the desires of this man's heart--and the desires of his heart were pure. In response, God sent Philip with the Gospel message. The Ethiopian heard the Gospel message and responded to the good news with great joy.
My friend, Philip was an ambassador of God's love, but salvation is strictly God's business. Had Philip been unwilling to share the Gospel, do you think the Ethiopian would have remained forever lost and only a heartbeat away from eternal damnation? Heaven forbid! The Ethiopian was not saved because of Philip. Had Philip complained, "I have a headache and I don't like Ethiopians and it is almost time for lunch," God would have summoned a more reliable evangelist to do the job. God's plans and purposes will be accomplished with or without our help.
Are you familiar with Jesus' story of the rich man and Lazarus? You will find this chronicled in Luke 16. The rich man did not enter into a place of torment because he was rich. During his earthly life, the rich man desired the joys that come with wealth over the joys that come from a relationship with God. The rich man was not doomed because of ignorance; on the contrary, he knew the writings of Moses and the prophets. For that matter, the patriarch Abraham was no stranger to him, but during the rich man's mortal years, his wealth had been his god. The rich man was a rebel until the end.
My friend, would God allow the miseries of torment brought upon the damned by their own volition to dampen or spoil our eternal joy? I should hope not! Hell will not hold Heaven hostage. The goodness of God is far greater than the miseries chosen by rebels of Jesus Christ.
After His crucifixion, our Lord Jesus descended into Hades and preached the Gospel to those who had died. The souls who responded favorably to His message ascended into Heaven with Him. Do not miss this point: Our Lord Jesus, being fully divine, is not bound by time and space. Those who do not hear the Gospel on earth will hear the Gospel regardless. God is sovereign. He will save those who will be saved with our help or without our help.
Over the years, I have discovered that few people truly want joy. They want wealth or fame or power or sex or, most likely, a combination of these. What they do not desire is joy. The older I grow, the more I desire real, lasting joy. These other trinkets are mere worthless baubles--heaps of dung that cannot satisfy. Do you think God will withhold His joy from those who desire joy? The answer, of course, is a resounding no.