It is a vexing question for many: “What about those who have never heard?” How can God hold accountable for believing the gospel those who have never heard the gospel? Certainly God cannot send a man to Hell for not believing when he never even had the opportunity to reject the gospel in the first place. The very idea flies in the face of all our notions of justice.
But the question itself is fatally flawed. Are we condemned for rejecting the gospel? Or are we condemned because we are sinners?
The following is a helpful thought experiment from Francis Schaeffer:
If every little baby that was ever born anywhere in the world had a tape recorder hung about its neck, and if this tape recorder only recorded the moral judgments with which this child as he grew bound other men, the moral precepts might be much lower than the biblical law, but they would still be moral judgments.
Eventually each person comes to that great moment when he stands before God as judge. Suppose, then, that God simply touched the tape recorder button and each man heard played out in his own words all those statements by which he had bound other men in moral judgment. He could hear it going on for years–thousands and thousands of moral judgments made against other men, not aesthetic judgments, but moral judgments.
Then God would simply say to the man, though he had never head the Bible, now where do you stand in the light of your own moral judgments? The Bible points out . . . that every voice would be stilled. All men would have to acknowledge that they have deliberately done those things which they knew to be wrong. Nobody could deny it.
We sin two kinds of sin. We sin one kind as though we trip off the curb, and it overtakes us by surprise. We sin a second kind of sin when we deliberately set ourselves up to fall. And no one can say he does not sin in the latter sense. Paul’s comment is not just theoretical and abstract, but addressed to the individual–“O man”–any man without the Bible, as well as the man with the Bible.
. . . God is completely just. A man is judged and found wanting on the same basis on which he has tried to bind others.
–Francis Schaeffer, The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century, 2d ed. (Crossway, 1985), pp. 49-50.