May I ask you a couple of personal questions?
You don't have to respond out loud; silent answers will do. The answers are for you, not for me.
Here's the first question: Has your child ever gotten a bit rebellious, uncooperative or disrespectful?
And here's the second: Did you punish him or her? Remember, just a silent answer. No need to raise your hand.
Now let me ask you this: How long did the punishment last? More to the point, Did you decree that the punishment would last forever?
"Somehow they have taken a detour to come up with the idea that people's eternal destiny is determined by our success or failure in the work of evangelizing."
The very idea of it sounds crazy, doesn't it?
We, as weak and imperfect parents, forgive our kids for their "sins" against us. We might even punish them, but I wonder how many of us would think it fitting, or even sane, to punish them for the rest of their, or our, lives.
Yet some Christians would have us believe that God, our heavenly Father, who is not weak and imperfect, punishes forever and ever people who have never even heard the gospel. And fascinatingly, these same people call God the God of grace and mercy.
Let's think about it for a moment. Jesus tells us to love our enemies, and yet some Christians think God not only hates his enemies, but burns them mercilessly and relentlessly for eternity.
Jesus prayed for his killers, saying, "Father, forgive them, because they don't know what they're doing." But some Christians teach that God only forgives certain people, the ones he predestined to forgive before he even created the Earth. Which, if true, means that Jesus' prayer didn't make a whole lot of difference.
On our heads?
How often have you heard someone giving their "witness" speak about how miserable and guilty they felt over failing to present the gospel to someone who died? One Christian youth leader recently told a group of college kids a morbid story about how he met a person and talked to him, and felt an urge to present the gospel, but then didn't actually do it during their conversation. Then he learned that the man died, hit by a car, later that same day.
"That man is in hell right now," he told the young, wide-eyed, Christian students, "suffering indescribable agony." Then with a dramatic pause, he added, "and all that's on my head." He told them how he suffers nightmares about what he has done, and how he lies in bed sobbing over the horrible truth that because of him, this poor wretch will suffer the torments of fiery hell forever.
I marvel at the way some people can so expertly juggle their faith on the one hand that God so loved the world that he sent Jesus, with their faith (yes, it takes faith) on the other hand that God is so shockingly inept at actually saving people that he sends them to hell based on our incompetence. Standing steadfastly in faith in God's power and love with one part of their minds, they actually believe at the same time that God's hands are tied to save people if we fail to get to them in time.
"You are saved by grace and not by works," they say (rightly so), and yet they somehow have taken a most baffling detour to come up with the patently anti-gospel idea that people's eternal destiny is determined by our success or failure in the work of evangelizing.
Nobody slips through Jesus' fingers
As much as we humans love our kids, how much more does God love them? It's a rhetorical question— God loves them infinitely more than we are even able to love them.
Jesus said, "Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?... If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (Luke 11:11-12).
God really does love the world. And the salvation of what God loves depends on God, not how good we are at telling the gospel story. And God is really good at what he does.
So if you're carrying a burden of guilt about someone you didn't get the gospel to before he or she died, why not hand that burden over to Jesus? Nobody slips through his fingers, and nobody goes to hell because of you. (Who do you think you are, anyway?)
Our God is good and merciful and strong. And you can trust him to be that way for everybody, not just for you.