Are the Thousands Who Perished in the Tsunami Lost Forever?

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What is the ultimate fate of the almost 300,000 men, women and children who lost their lives in the Indian Ocean tsunami?

What is the ultimate fate of the almost 300,000 men, women and children who lost their lives in the Indian Ocean tsunami?

Many who died were Buddhists who accept neither God nor the Bible. The majority of those who perished were Muslims whose religion teaches that Jesus was a prophet, but explicitly denies that He is the Son of God and Savior of mankind.

The Scriptures clearly state that belief in and acceptance of Christ is the only route to salvation—that "there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts:4:12, New International Version; compare John:14:6).

So what is the fate of these thousands who died in this disaster, many of whom knew little or nothing about Jesus Christ during their lifetime? Does the Bible give us any answers?

Confronting a quandary

The Scriptures clearly reveal that God is "not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter:3:9). Yet a great many believe that unless a person confesses faith in Jesus as personal Savior in this present lifetime, he or she will have no further opportunity for salvation.

So we are faced with a quandary: What happens to those who have been deceived (Revelation:12:9) and, simply through ignorance, have no understanding of God, His plan or His way of life? And what about those who, in this disaster or in centuries past, lived and died without ever so much as hearing the name of Jesus Christ? Are they eternally lost? What is their fate?

The Bible gives the answers to these questions—answers that reconcile all the scriptures about life and death, judgment and mercy, forgiveness and salvation. However, we need to pay close attention to what it says, because the truths that it actually reveals directly contradict what most people have been told that it says!

The Bible speaks of several different resurrections of the dead. It reveals that the "first resurrection," the resurrection of Christ's true followers, will take place at His return to earth (1 Corinthians:15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians:4:15-16; Revelation:20:4-6).

But it also teaches that "the rest of the dead . . . small and great" also are to be resurrected from the grave. Who are they? These are the majority of humankind, all those who have ever lived and died over thousands of years of human history never knowing God's truth. They are to stand before God and, for the first time in their lives , have the full truth of the Scriptures opened to their understanding (Revelation:20:4-6, 11-12).

For the vast majority of mankind, this will be the first time their eyes will be truly opened to God's wonderful truth. This will be the first time they will come to know mankind's Creator, His Word and His way of life! Most will then willingly reject their sinful ways, committed mostly in ignorance when they knew little or nothing of God and His ways.

If they sincerely acknowledge their errors and repent, then they also may be glorified and receive eternal life. This is not a "second chance" theology, as some might assume, but truly their first real opportunity to fully comprehend God's truth and then act on it with genuine understanding.

An opportunity for all humanity

In Matthew:11:21-24, Jesus explained that many godless people who lived and died in ages long before His time would have repented if only they had experienced Christ's preaching and miracles the way people of His day had. Moreover, He said that it would be "more tolerable" in the coming last judgment for the men, women and children who lived and died in ignorance than for those of His day who openly rejected Him.

But how could this be if those long-dead people were already condemned without hope of redemption? The fact is t hey never had an opportunity, with a full comprehension of repentance, to be saved. But one day, God promises, He will give them that opportunity.

Truly "God does not show favoritism" (Acts:10:34, NIV). He has made provision for all people ultimately to have an opportunity to enter a relationship with Him that can lead to glorified, eternal life.

This is why Jesus said: "Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment" (John:5:28-29, New American Standard Bible).

"Judgment" in this passage refers to an opportunity to understand as opposed to the act of sentencing. This time of judging or deciding the future of those who have not yet had an opportunity to understand God's plan and purpose, whether they be small or great, is mentioned in Revelation:20:11-12, cited above.

This biblical resurrection to judgment (a time for sorting out and deciding, not for automatic condemnation) is a time when God's tolerant mercy will finally be evident to all who are willing to face up to and repent of their former sinful ways.

Though the Bible doesn't reveal many specifics about this resurrection—once more to a temporary physical life—Ezekiel 37, the famous prophecy of the valley full of dry bones, provides a vivid description of it.

The wonderful truth of the Bible is that all those who perished in this enormous tragedy are not lost to God. They are His children, and in His own time and according to His plan, He will give them (and the billions more like them) the opportunity to learn His wonderful truth and receive His priceless gift of salvation. He truly is a God of love, "not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance."

(Adapted from the free booklet This Is the United Church of God . For a more complete explanation of what happens to the billions who have died without ever knowing about God, Jesus Christ and the Bible, request our free publications What Happens After Death? and Heaven and Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach? We thoroughly explain this wonderful truth in greater detail in both booklets.) GN

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