It is a reality that I would rather not contemplate. We are all resistant to God. We are all sinful in thought, word and deed. But could someone or a whole group of someones cross a line with God that would put them beyond all hope while they are still alive?
I’m afraid the answer appears to be “yes”. This is a relatively rare event which is contrary to God’s own heart. God doesn’t want people to be damned, but they can push the envelope so far that God will shut down trying to work with them. I can think of several groups that had this onerous distinction.
The first is a subset of the Jewish people. There is a difference between not believing and having God shut you down so that you don’t believe. At least some of the people at the time of Isaiah were like this. Isaiah arguably gets the worst job ever. It requires a fabulous vision of Heaven to recruit him. But the job he is sent to do is described like this:
Go and tell this people: “Be hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving”. Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, understand with their heart and turn and be healed.Isaiah 6:9-10
This is one of the more shocking declarations from the mouth of God. He had worked with this generation of people and sent them multiple appeals through the prophets, but it was finally declared that He would now do the opposite. Their sin was the acceptance of idolatry and the perversion of justice, while at the same time claiming to be righteous Jews.
The declaration doesn’t appear to be limited to those at the time of Isaiah. Jesus uses the above passage as an explanation for why He spoke in parables. Parables were not analogies to enhance understanding. Parables worked to shut the ears of some people who were still banned by God. (Matthew 13:14-15) This was not a wholesale rejection of the Jews, but who is included and why is not clear.
There are other groups that might have been banned in this way. The majority of the people traveling with Moses seemed to cross that line. God’s attitude toward them is explained in the Psalm 95:
I said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways.” So I declared on oath in my anger, “They shall never enter my rest.”Psalm 95:10-11
In this case the “rest” seems to be more than just entering Palestine, but rather eternal life with God.
It is God’s objective to reach people of every people group. Judgment Day awaits the universal declaration of the Gospel.
And the Gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations and then the end will come.Matthew 24:14
This proclamation seems to work enough to eventually say:
After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”Revelation 7:9-10
Whether this group contains anyone from people groups in the Old Testament that were marked for total destruction is unclear. These included groups that were absorbed into the occult and dealt treacherously with Israel. Israel was given the command to eliminate these groups, but it is possible that some survivor’s ancestor could be included in the picture above.
So what is the takeaway? God desires the salvation of people, but individuals and even groups can offend God and resist His efforts to the point where He quits them. Short of God telling us so, we cannot know if someone is a lost cause. We are to reach out to all people, but in no way should we expect a positive response from all. We are even cautioned this way:
Do not give dogs what is sacred, do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.Matthew 7:6
This is not to judge a person as beyond hope or even necessarily unsaved, but it is to recognize when a hard and hateful heart would render a witness as useless at least for the present time. Pray instead that God would soften a heart and that someone may still prove to be reachable. And in all cases show love, even in the face of just the opposite.