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Daniel of Doulogos Name:Daniel
Home: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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Friday, July 11, 2008
Implications
I apologize up front for the length...

Isaiah 55:11 says, "11So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. " [NASB]

We often skip the context when we use that verse to make a point, so in order to avoid that, let us examine the immediate context - just so that we don't make that mistake.

Of particular note is the Messianic reference in verses four and five, "4Behold, I have made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. 5Behold, you will call a nation you do not know, and a nation which knows you not will run to you, because of the LORD your God, even the Holy One of Israel; for He has glorified you." [NASB]

The "you" of verse five is referrencing the Messiah (referred to as "David" in verse three). Isaiah is proclaiming God's announcement that His Christ will call to Himself "a nation you (Israel) do not know" - a reference to the Gentiles. Christ will call the Gentiles, and He will do so because "He (God the Father) has glorified you (Christ)". I don't think that is particularly fuzzy or obscure, and so I am not going to belabor the point.

In the next verses God proclaims through Isaiah the message that is going to be preached to this "nation Israel does not know": 6Seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near. 7Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the LORD, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon." [NASB] - which we may note is exactly what Paul says He preached as "the gospel" (c.f. Acts 20:18a, 20-21, "18And when they had come to him, he said to them, "You yourselves know, ... 20how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, 21solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. "

I highlighted the words faith and repentance because that is what God was proclaiming (through Isaiah) the Messiah would preach to the Gentiles, and that is exactly what Christ did, through the Apostles after His resurrection. Paul testifies through Luke (Acts) that this is what he was preaching.

We find verse eleven of Isaiah therefore, following a short "apology" (in the theological sense and not in the "I am sorry" sense) for this proclamation - where God basically says, through verses 8, 9, and 10 - that God's ways are not our ways, and that what He proclaims He will may not line up with the thoughts of the Jews - but God says here that His thoughts are far above their thoughts...

That is where verse eleven comes in - God declares that what He has said (about the Messiah calling the Gentiles) will absolutely come to pass - that this declaration shall not be empty, but that God will absolutely bring to pass the thing He has declared to do.

We shouldn't have a lot of difficulty, I think, in seeing that, or believing it. God is basically saying - look, I am going do this thing. I am going to make an everlasting covenant with my Messiah, and He is going to call the Gentiles - and regardless of what you think - I shall make it happen, for I am not speaking in emptiness - I shall make this happen.

I suppose I could repeat that ten ways, but you get the picture.

That is, I think what the verse is specifically teaching.

Yet there is more here than just the specific teaching - there is inherent in this proclamation, something instructional about God's character. That is, while the verse -does- have a specific meaning, it also reveals something of God's nature.

If someone were to ask us, "Does God ever fail to follow through on His word?" we may quote Isaiah 55:11 - but only if we are applying to what the text says about God's character.

I have seen people quote (and I myself have done this -- even on this blog) the text of Isaiah 55:11 text as a biblical proof text for the idea that every time scripture ("God's word") is employed (no matter by who, or for what purpose) it always produces some spiritual effect, -because- "God's word" does not return to Him void, but is successful in accomplishing whatever God sends it out to do.

You see, that is a very poor application of this verse.

It may well be that whenever scripture is employed God does something spiritual - but this verse doesn't "prove" that. All it "proves" is that what God said about the Messiah, would come to pass - and it did.

Yet, as I began to allude, this verse does reveal something of God's character - it shows that God accomplishes everything that He sets out to do. Although the point is obvious from this verse alone, the point does not stand in isolation. We see this truth portrayed throughout the whole of scripture in many places and many ways. Yet, the purpose of this post is not so much to expound on the text of Isaiah 55:11, so much as to examine the implications of what this text teaches us about the Character of God.

Would you agree dear reader, that God does not, and will not fail to do everything He sets out to do?

I think a lot of people are willing to go on record to say that God is sovereign - as long as they qualify what sovereignty means. It means (according to these) that God really does have control over everything -- except who goes to heaven.

Expressing that more carefully: it means that while God brings His will to pass in every other aspect of creation, when it comes to mankind, God's will is thwarted by mankind's free will. God's sovereignty (according to this schema) is now regarded as nothing more than his "right to rule" - God is sovereign, but only in the sense that He is the rightful Authority, that is, the reason we ought to obey God is because He is positionally sovereign over us.

Now the problem with having a fluctuating definition of sovereignty is that scripture never paints God's accomplishing His will as something that sometimes works and sometimes fails. God, in the witness of scripture - does - not - fail. I would even boldly submit, scripture shows that God cannot fail.

If we deny God's sovereignty in election, that is, if we say that God doesn't choose whom He will have mercy on, but rather leaves that up in the air - casting out a general invitation, and hoping that someone will answer it - we can paint over what is going on in the hues of sovereign sounding language, but even should we paint a photo-realistic horse on the side of an elephant, and even if in the right light we might only see a "horse" - we are still looking at an elephant.

Which is to say, that we can pay great lip service to the idea that God is sovereign - saying with unfeigned, pious humility that God sovereignly "chooses" to let man make the determining choice in His own election - but the moment we strip God of having any determining influence in the process - we actually are stripping God of real sovereignty.

This is where we make that theological choice that tells us something about our estimation of God's nature.


Peter tells us (in 2 Peter 3:9) that The Lord is patient toward us - not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. Likewise Paul says in his first letter to Timothy that God our Savior desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (c.f. 1 Timothy 2:3-4). This sentiment cannot be thought of as some new testament change in God's character, for we read even in Ezekiel 18:23,32 that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked and would rather that the wicked would turn from his ways (repent) and live. We also see Paul expressing to Timothy and Titus something of God's nature when he writes that the living God is the Savior of all men, especially of believers (1 Timothy 4:10) and that the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men (Titus 2:11).

The picture we are painted by these (cherry picked) verses is that God is desperately trying to save everyone.

Now, without going into the exegesis for each verse - for people from both sides of this equation will have plenty of "proof" that the "only" right way to understand these verses is according to their theological conclusions - such that the text can "only mean" as much as supports their preconceived opinion.

We want, I say, to avoid that because it's been done, and frankly, people tend to come away from such "debates" - not softened in any way, but rather sharpened in their continuing ability to defend the position they have already, with longstanding fervor, dug their heels into, and while I hold very strong opinions in this regard, and while I am certain that my handling of these texts not only conforms to the conclusions I draw from them, but is the least injurious way to receive these texts - yet I will not here defend my understanding of them, and instead I ask what if anything these texts imply about God's nature.

Most of us can agree that God loves everyone. He lets the rain fall on the just and the unjust; that is, He lovingly provides sustenance (rain is needed for crops) for all men equally. Christ Himself demonstrated so much love for Judas Iscariot that when Christ proclaimed at the last supper that one of them would betray Him, no one suspected Judas. I mean, we can, for the most part, understand that God is not partial when it comes to provision and love. God loves His enemies, we are told, such if one wanted to argue that God didn't love the non-elect - it would be a pretty strained argument.

So we accept that even if scripture says that God loved Jacob, but not Esau - it cannot mean that this same God who loves even His enemies, had no such love for Esau; for God multiplied Esau and blessed him greatly. That is, we don't want to take a text like that and by it imply that God doesn't love everyone. If anything such a text shows us that God does not apply the same blessings to all unilaterally. Israel received the blessings according to God's promise, and Esau did not - though both were sons of Isaac. Isaac received the blessing and not Ishmael - though both likewise were son's of Abraham. We see in this text - at the very minimum - that there was a relationship between God's promise and God's blessing - and that this promise was not according to birthright, or anything that Ishmael or Esau did or did not do - but was in accord with God's purpose - a purpose that was in place before either of these were born.

That is, though the language of "love" is used here in scripture, we recognize that if God loves even his enemies, that what is being described here by the word "love" is referring to something that is not universal, but is according to God's purpose which He promised to fulfill.

I don't want to go off on too many tangents here - especially given that as I do so I give more opportunity for those people who disagree with some finer point to needle me in the meta about it rather than discuss the main point - yet I think I have not added too much or left out too little to begin a brief examination.

So getting back to the idea that we have to make a theological determination, based upon our understanding of God's nature, in order to handle verses that seem contrary - we must answer the question of whether or not a sovereign God can (or will) fail to make His will happen.

You see, if I presume that God -is- trying to save everyone in the world, I must deal with the implications of my presumption, not the least of which is that God -can- fail.

You have heard it said that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. That is, if a man has only ever raped a child once - the chances are you are -not- going to let him babysit your little ones. That single act of violence marks the man as one who is not merely "theoretically" capable of something heinous - but as one who has demonstrated both the desire, and the capacity to carry out such a thing. The child rapist has lost forever the 'benefit of the doubt' as it were, when it comes to babysitting children. We reason that if he could do it once, he could do it again - and whether or not he does is not the issue with most parents - but that we dare not provide an opportunity him to give into that temptation.

The child rapist may live an exemplary life - a life of profound ethical and moral "regeneration" - yet all his piety, good works, and "niceness" - whether or not the man is trustworthy with a dollar, a job, or some other responsibility - yet when by this one single act of perversion - the man forever removes any hope of being trusted on that account again. It doesn't matter how strong the other links are in the chain of this man's character - the one link that is broken suffices to eliminate him from as a prospective baby-sitter.

Now, if the man had once driven three miles over the speed limit, we could care less, because we tend to reason from a state of relative morality: raping a child does far real-world "damage" than driving three miles over the speed limit. We all have been trained that evil is measured according to how disruptive it is. The more disruptive - the more evil. Stealing a pencil from work? Pffft. So what? Yeah, it's wrong, but hardly comparable to say, stealing a car. Who is inconvenienced by a stolen pencil?

You see, we do that - we reason that the greater the inconvenience, the more heinous the crime. It is a totally selfish way of looking at it. That is why when we hear that a tidal wave has killed so many people in some third world country, we look up from our meal and say - "oh" then go back to eating - but if a child falls into a sewer on our street and drowns, we are there with our own dollars to patch the sewer so it doesn't happen again. Our self-interest, the very personification of sin, drives us to deal with those things that either directly inconvenience us, or potentially might inconvenience us. It is this same thing that we use to determine who bad a thing is.

That is why we do not weep bitter tears at night over our having rolled through a stop sign. We are concerned with sin only in so much as we regard our offense to be "big". We weep that we are bad spouses, or that we yell at our children - but who cares that we take an extra five minutes on our lunch break?

This "relative perspective" on sin is what keeps most of us spiritually immature, for we stop seeing sin in our selves the moment we "clean up" enough to pass church muster. We don't think our "little" sins are worth concerning ourselves over, and so we get comfortable with the "little foxes that spoil the vine".

I digress however.

The point is that if we understood sin right, we would see that the smallest infraction is just as sinful as the biggest - for it demonstrates a truth about us - we are spiritually unfit to stand in God's presence. We don't need to do some "big" sin to become unfit - rather that we sin at all demonstrates something about us - that (as I said) we are unfit; that we are sinners.

Likewise, (arguing from the lesser to the greater here), if God can fail "at all" - it tells us something about God's nature.

Do you feel the weight of that? If God can fail in anything, it tells us something about God.

Now - as I have said, this is where we make theological presumptions. My presumption is that God cannot fail. I base that presumption upon the nature of God that I find in scripture - a nature that is revealed in verses like Isaiah 55:11 - where I see God proclaiming that His plan shall certainly come to pass. I see in such a declaration that God is not impotent, not sitting on a fence, not indifferent - God is active, God is bringing about His purpose. I see this all throughout scripture, and the verses that tell me that God loves everyone cannot mean - if God really is sovereign - that God has his hands off of the process. Nor can it mean that God is trying to save everyone, and failing to do so.

What it must mean - given my stated "presumption" - and by presumption, I remind the reader that I mean, given what I see of God's nature in scripture and applying in unilaterally, what I see is that when scripture states that God loves everyone, or that God takes no joy in condemning sinners, or that God wants everyone to repent - it is not suggesting that God is impotent and unable to make these things happen, but rather that God has determined to allow things that in and of themselves do not bring Him pleasure.

Consider the "spiritual" death of sinners. God takes no pleasure in that. It doesn't matter if that "spiritual" death happens in hell or in Christ on Calvary - it happens to -all- of us, and the displeasure that God takes in it is universal. It isn't like God hates sending sinners to hell, but loves letting believers get away "Scott-free" Believers to not get away "Scott-free" we get the same deal as the non-believers, a fullness of God's wrath poured out on us - but that wrath is received -in Christ-. It is not as if it vaporizes for believers, and sticks around for unbelievers - good gravy no. The same wrath is poured out on all sinners. The only difference is whether or not one passes through that wrath in Christ or not.

Likewise consider that God loves even His enemies. Can we find one person who is was not born God's enemy? It wasn't God's love that called us - for scripture says that we are called according to His purpose.

I know that many in my camp like to argue that God has a "special" love for his own - and I leave them to argue that. Likewise many stand on the grammar and linguistics of various texts to demonstrate that "all" means only some, etc. and I leave them to argue that too. Even if all is always universally inclusive - we find that we are either following a God who is a failure, or a God who never fails. How we regard God in this will leech into all our theology.

I ask you therefore reader, to consider whether or not God can fail. If you say that God cannot, then does your theology line up with that, or are you just painting a horse on an elephant?

Labels: ,

posted by Daniel @ 9:32 AM  
15 Comments:
  • At 1:50 PM, July 11, 2008, Blogger Daniel said…

    First comment!

     
  • At 5:59 PM, July 12, 2008, Blogger Daniel said…

    And second also. This is turning into a regular conversation now.

     
  • At 6:05 PM, July 12, 2008, Blogger Even So... said…

    Yeah, yeah yeah...I'm reading...it IS all about God's character, isn't it? (yes, it is)

     
  • At 6:34 PM, July 12, 2008, Anonymous Carol said…

    So what good is God's love if people he loves die and go to hell? Just to have a good life while here on earth? To have a good 75 or so years out of... forever? Big Deal.

    And God sends people he loves to hell when he has the power to stop it? Wow. What kind of love is that?

    Also, does God love people in hell? Will he love them forever or will he change and hate them after they go to hell?

    What good is God's love if it doesn't save you?

    My God saves EVERYONE he loves. His love really means something! I'm so glad it does.

    Thanks for letting me comment.

     
  • At 7:22 PM, July 12, 2008, Blogger Daniel said…

    JD, it boils down, pretty near to that I think.

    Before I married my wife, I dated a lot of women. I wouldn't recommend that to my children, or anyone else btw - but I wasn't walking with the Lord, and that is what happened. One of the things I learned from my experiences, was that there was a period at the start of the relationship - a period I called the "Mary Poppins" period, where I would think the other person was "perfect" - they didn't seem to be capable of doing anything I didn't like, saying anything I didn't like, or being anyone I didn't want to be around.

    Yet over the first few weeks, that sheen began to wear thin. Their personality began to break through that eclipsing image of perfection that I had projected upon them, and so little by little who they were began to outshine who I had hoped they were.

    I called it the Mary Poppins phase of the relationship because during that time you don't really know the person yet, you tend to give them the benefit of the doubt - that they can do no wrong, and that everything they do and say is good and right - as far as being in a relationship with one another was concerned.

    Given that we know God to be perfectly holy, pure, just and kind - that we tend to fill in the cracks of our understanding of who God is, with a plaster made up of our most virtuous moral principles.

    The problem with that is that some of our moral principles are by no means godly, but in fact worldly.

    That is why good, honest, Christians can come to the same text and read it differently. Both come to the text and draw conclusions from the text that knit into or rightly match the image they have of God. If one's image of God is derived entirely from scripture, then the interpretation is not flawed on that account, but if one has an image in their mind of God that has been shaped in part by secular moralism - then their interpretations will have to line up with a false image of God.

    I am sure I was clumsy in saying that - but it is something of an expansion I suppose on how that comes about.

    Grace to you JD!

     
  • At 8:35 PM, July 12, 2008, Blogger Daniel said…

    Carol,

    You are quite welcome to comment, and I hope you come back.

    I suspect we would agree that the moment God has to compromise His justice (in order to be more loving) God stops being God.

    If God promised to pay us one dollar for every time we said thank you in a day, we would rise up on pay day and demand that God paid us every last penny we earned, because we know that failure to do so would mean that God is an unjust liar, and no God at all.

    But what if God promised to pour his wrath out in full on anyone who sinned. How many sinners do you suppose will be crying for justice on the day they receive the wages for all the sin they have commited?

    What you suggest is that if God is loving, he will not pay out the wages of sin - and such a thought usually shows that a person doesn't understand that God isn't being mean by punishing sin - He is being just by paying out the wages it has earned.

    You ask what good is God's love if:
    [1] some of the people God loves die and go to hell?
    [2] it doesn't save people?

    What you are really asking is, "What good is there in God loving His enemies?" - and implied in that question is the notion that unless God's love serves to benefit a man "eternally" it serves no good purpose.

    I may be missing the flavor of your comment, but I think that is what you seem to be implying.

    Consider Carol that when the bible says that God -is- love, it may well be answering your question.

    It may be that God's love isn't something He does, but simply and expression of who He is - he loves everyone because He -is- love, and not because that love is being metered out in accord with some purpose. If it is God's nature to love it is not a matter of choice to love, but a matter of nature; if it is a matter of nature, then God doesn't need a reason to love sinners - He loves them because He is love.

    You ask what kind of love actually pays guilty sinners the wages of their sin?

    Scripture teaches in 1 Corinthians 13 what love looks like - and one of the ways love is described is that it doesn't rejoice in iniquity, nor does it seek its own [good]. The "love" you seem to be demanding of God cannot be found in 1 Corinthians 13 because the love you describe yourself as admiring actually "rejoices in iniquity" and "seeks its own".

    The God of the bible loves everyone he saves, but does not save everyone he loves. God does not save us *because* He loves us; that is, God's love was the --cause-- our our salvation. God certainly does love us, but it wasn't God's love for us that caused God to save us. God chose to save us according to "his purpose" as Romans 8 makes plain.

    That isn't to suggest that God's love serves no purpose, it just doesn't serve the purpose you describe.

    Let me know if that made sense or not.

     
  • At 6:34 AM, July 13, 2008, Blogger Chris said…

    you said ..."The point is that if we understood sin right, we would see that the smallest infraction is just as sinful as the biggest - for it demonstrates a truth about us - we are spiritually unfit to stand in God's presence."

    Does this statement raise any questions in you?

    Does it mean that comparatively, a child rapist is just as guilty as someone who steals
    a candy bar from the store?

    Does the child rapist deserve the same punishment as the one
    who stole the candy bar from the store?

    If both the child rapist and the candy bar thief are not saved, and both, go before The Lord
    for judgment, will both be sentenced to eternal damnation?

    The Lord God is a God of Justice.
    A God of Righteousness.

    Is the doctrine of “eternal punishment” just?
    Does it reflect Gods character?

    Let me put it to you this way ….

    Adolf Hitler and the candy bar thief go before God to be judged.
    Would God condemn both to eternal suffering for what they had done?

    Or would they each be punished according to WHAT they had done.
    And after they had been justly punished, would they just cease to exist?

    After sin and death are forever gone, can there be eternal joy if somewhere
    in existence there are billions angels and humans being tormented forever and ever?

    Do you really believe that the Lord God would do such a thing?

    I myself …. Do not believe this doctrine of eternal damnation.

    It distorts Gods justice and mercy.
    One day God will deal with sin.
    And his justice will be perfect …. As God is perfect.

     
  • At 8:36 AM, July 13, 2008, Blogger Daniel said…

    Chris,

    Before I answer your questions, can I ask you whether or not God was over-react to Adam's sin (eating a fruit he was prohibited from eating)?

    That is, did God go overboard in saying that on the day Adam ate of it he shall surely die? Did God go too far in driving Adam out of the Garden and away from His presence? Did God really need to go the extra mile and curse not only Adam and Eve, but even the earth as well?

    Let me know your thought on that, because how I answer you is going to depend upon whether or not you believe there was literal Adam and a literal Eve, a literal curse, and a real death all on account of one man's (relatively) insignificant infraction.

     
  • At 6:09 PM, July 13, 2008, Blogger Chris said…

    Daniel,

    No. He did not.

    I have no time now. Will stop by tomorrow morning for more.

    Chris

     
  • At 6:56 PM, July 13, 2008, Anonymous Carol said…

    You ask what kind of love actually pays guilty sinners the wages of their sin?

    No, that wasn't my question. I do understand God's justice in punishing sin. He MUST punish sin or he would be unjust. My question would be rather... what kind of love doesn't make a way of escape for those he loves. I don't think God should or will just 'excuse' anyone's sin because he loves them, but I do think he provides a way for those he loves to have their sin paid for so that they don't have to spend eternity in hell. That's why he sent Christ, to die for the ones he set his love upon.

    And yes, I guess I do feel that love serves no good purpose unless it benefits the recipient eternally. I don't understand a love that says, "I will be kind to you for a short time, then I will give you what you deserve, even though I could have provided a substitute and way of escape for you. I don't think I will, but I do love you."

    And what of this question... Will God eternally love those in hell?

    Just my thoughts,
    Carol

     
  • At 8:56 AM, July 14, 2008, Blogger Chris said…

    Let me be clear on what I am saying.
    God WILL deal with sin.

    Every knee will bow to God and confess that he is Lord.

    2 Thessalonians 1:9 ....

    They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power

    Jude 1:7

    Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.

    when I look today I do not see the fires that destroyed these cities still burning. Their destruction is complete and final.

    My point is that the doctrine of Eternal Torment is NOT biblical.

    Those who reject GOD will be punished, and then they will cease to exist. shut away from GOD forever.
    THAT is eternal damnation.
    To be separated from the Lord God forever.

    C-ya tomorrow Daniel. Enjoy the day.

    Chris

     
  • At 10:07 AM, July 14, 2008, Blogger Daniel said…

    Chris, I find the idea that eternal torment actually means instantaneous death far more viscerally satisfying than what I find in scripture on the matter.

    I find your interpretation however flies in the face of things that I personally cannot wipe away for the sake of a more satisfied opinion.

    When I consider Luke 16:22-25, ("Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.' But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. "), I ask myself - would my Lord and Savior use an illustration that portrayed the afterlife incorrectly?

    My conclusion is that it would not be in Christ's character to give an illustration that did injury to a correct understanding of what happens after we die. Clearly Christ was teaching that there was a judgment coming, and the illustration seems to reveal at least something of the nature of God's judgment. I have to admit, as much as I like the idea of sinners being destroyed, I can't believe that Jesus would use an example that purposely distorted the afterlife "just to make some point." I don't think Jesus operated that way.

    I am left therefore to conclude a few things from this text:

    [1] Some judgment took place after the death of both these men which determined where they would be.
    [2] God allowed the rich man to experience physical agony
    [3] The rich man's agony was a judgment.
    [4] The rich man's agony is being caused by 'flame.'

    I say, I am left to conclude, given only this pericope, that either our Lord believed that this was an accurate portrayal of the afterlife, or that He was willing to distort what happens after we die just to make a point.

    I also consider Isaiah 66:24 ("Then they will go forth and look on the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me for their worm will not die and their fire will not be quenched; and they will be an abhorrence to all mankind."). Now the worm that Isaiah is talking about is very likely the same "worm" he speaks of earlier in 14:11 ("Your pomp and the music of your harps have been brought down to Sheol; maggots are spread out as your bed beneath you and worms are your covering.' ") Which refers, it seems, to maggots feeding on flesh - if the maggots never die, the suggestion is that the flesh is never consumed. But here too we see a reference to the same sort of idea - a fire that is never quenched. We see this kind of fire in the burning bush - it burns, but it does not consume.

    I mean, fire (as we no it) would burn forever if it didn't need fuel or oxygen - how could we put it out?

    When I think of "hellfire" I don't think of the fires of Sodom and Gomorrah which eventually went out, I tend to think of fire like the burning bush - a fire that does not consume fuel, a fire not of this creation.

    That is the type of fire I think Isaiah is talking about and it is the same picture of damage without consumption that we see in the "worms that do not die."

    Mark 9:48 quote from Isaiah, for here it is Christ again teaching something about the afterlife, and here again the imagery Christ uses is not of a consuming fire, but of fire that burns eternally.

    In Matthew 25:46, we see the same Greek word used to indicate eternal life and "eternal punishing"

    It is, to me at least, a rather sloppy thing to equate "eternal punishing" with a one time punishment that has "eternal" consequences. The idea of having a life that continues forever is very easy to understand. The idea of a punishment that continues forever is likewise easy to understand - right up until I subtly change it to mean a temporal, finite, punishment with "eternal" consequences. Oh, I see the lure of that kind of thinking, but I don't see the abstraction as a valid handling of the text. It may be a nice way to think about it - but it isn't an "accurate" way to think about it.

    I mean it isn't that I don't see the notion of eternal consequences as a possibility - I see it, but I must dismiss it because that isn't what Christ was describing with the rich man is it? Nor do we see that kind of finality decisively appearing in any scripture verse - yet we do have many texts that speak of torment over time. I think of Revelation 14:11, " And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name." " - I mean, how can people who have been destroyed in a moment not have "rest"? How can they experience torment the next day? How far are we willing to stretch our abstraction that hell is a finite punishment whose consequences (now I am dead) are eternal?

    Now, I say, because of scripture and what it teaches in (I think) a straight forward way, I am inclined to believe that hell is real, and eternal, and that suffering continues there day and night just as the scriptures plainly say.

    Yet I am also a man prone to thinking, and I ask myself if I can forgive and forget, why can't God do the same? That is (and these are really thoughts that I dealt with in the very early stages of my faith), why can't God simply 'get over it'? Why does he have to punish people forever and ever, and ever? I mean, if a man lived a perfectly sinless life, excepting that just before he died he told a lie to someone - one lie, will the judge of all the world toss this nearly perfectly righteous man into eternal torment for something so insignificant as a single lie?? What is so heinous about a single lie? Why not just forgive him and let him into heaven? I mean, c'mon, I forgive bigger things than lies, and I really do forget them and move on. If I am capable of that sort of grace, surely God is moreso?

    But here again I am reasoning from a very shallow perspective. The truth of the matter is that no matter how great my memory, any offense against me begins to fade over time. How many arguments do couples have where after three days they don't even remember what they are arguing about? We simply can't retain an offense forever. That is not to suggest that the father who has his child murdered or worse will forget his pain easily - or the husband who loses that perfect wife to some violence and weeps at her grave with all his soul will suddenly forget all about her - but it is to say that we are by nature temporal, and we think temporally - life is too short to hold onto something that no longer is of benefit to us, eventually our grip slackens, and even hard pains fade.

    God is not temporal. The smallest act of rebellion is forever before him - forever and ever and ever and ever before him, and it loses nothing - there is no fading, God experiences eternally and will full clarity in every moment of His awareness the full knowledge of even the smallest act of rebellion - our smallest imperfection remains something that God is eternally aware of.

    How long we would last if the pain of our first heartbreak never dulled? If every pain we ever felt, emotional or physical simply cumulated - what if we lived forever and this were true? A life times worth of sin and suffering carried around in full awareness of every ounce of pain and suffering...

    You see, even if God destroyed us, the damage we have done is as eternal as God's memory, our sins - every last one of them, are eternally etched in God's memory - yes, he will not remember them against us, but that isn't to say that God simply forgets - He cannot. I believe that even were there no scripture to support the idea of eternal punishment - the very notion that God is eternal demands that justice cannot be served by a finite punishment.

    Really, I can say that I believe that offending God is the very worst thing anyone can do, because God must carry that offense forever, and the only "just" solution, is an equally eternal punishment.

    So Chris, I can appreciate the notion that eternal damnation is actually some finite punishment - being eternally separation from by dying in a moment - and as I have said - I find that viscerally satisfying - but it doesn't fly with my understanding of scripture, my understanding of God's character, and my understanding of the sinfulness of sin.

    All that being said, if someone doesn't see eternal punishment in scripture, whether I think them to be right or wrong in the matter, I don't think it really affects any other doctrine one way or the other.

     
  • At 11:00 AM, July 14, 2008, Blogger Daniel said…

    Carol,

    "what kind of love doesn't make a way of escape for those he loves?"

    Whoah! Who said anything about God not making a way of escape?

    God has provided a means to escape His wrath, and this provision was made for all mankind starting with Adam whom God Himself clothed in the skins of innocent animals (prefiguring the atonement).

    God did provide a way for all people to escape His wrath, but the nature of sin is such that no sinner really wants to take advantage of this provision.

    Let's not abstract sin here - let's examine for a moment what it really looks like. At the heart of sin is rebellion - I will not have God rule over me! Sin expresses itself by lying, stealing, doing "bad" things etc. - and we call those things "sins" - but that isn't what Christ died to save us from - He died to save us from the thing that produces all that - the thing Paul calls our "old man".

    You see, God's plan is not about getting people into heaven - it is about getting people back in a right relationship with God. What does a right relationship look like? It looks like Christ - perfect obedience.

    This is where the sinfulness of sin is evident. Sinners do not -want- to become obedient to God. That is the very nature of sin itself.

    So even though God has provided a way for sinners to become obedient - guess what? No sinner desires that - they don't want to be reconciled to God. That is why so many people have changed the gospel from "God saves you from sin" to God saves you from hell". No one wants to be saved from sin, but everyone wants to be saved from hell.

    That is a critical distinction to make if we are going to understand what it means when I say that God makes the offer of reconciliation available to everyone - but no sinner wants that offer.

    Do you see that Carol. No one who hates God and hates God's rule is going to desire to walk down any path that puts him back into a nice, obedient relationship with God - that is the very last thing they want, or will ever want.

    The offer of reconciliation therefore is given by God with utter sincerity - but not one sinful soul on this earth will ever overcome sin and take up this offer in their own strength, because they are enslaved by sin - that is they are captivated by their own desire to NOT be reconciled to God.

    Now, God can do nothing to make the offer more attractive or palatable. He does not refuse to spend His own Son's life to provide a way of escape - but even though the offer is genuine - not one person can overcome sin and come to God - if anyone could suddenly decide that they no longer wanted to live their own lives for themselves and for their own desires, purposes, and goals, but now were willing to surrender all they are in the moment or will ever be to God - if that were something that people could do by themselves, then sin isn't really that big a deal - for that would prove that people could overcome sin by themselves, and if they could overcome sin by themselves, they certainly couldn't be described as being held captive by sin - and it would make no sense to send to earth a Savior to set the prisoners free.

    No. Not a single person, as gracious and genuine as the offer of reconciliation is, gives a hoot. People don't want God, they don't want to obey him, they don't want to enter into a relationship wherein obedience and love go hand in hand - they want love; sure, they want heaven - oh yeah - but they want God only so far as no impositions are made against their own selfish desires. They don't want the God of scripture - they don't have the heart of Christ that says, "Thy will be done" - they have a sinful heart with says, "my will be done" - and that is why they don't want to be reconciled.

    If they don't want to be reconciled, and I remind us that this is more than simply an intellectual thing - the reality is they cannot desire to be reconciled to God - that is what being a slave of sin means. They can long to not go to hell - and I am sure that many have very strong desires to avoid hell. But that is not the same as actually wanted to obey Christ forever.

    So I believe that the offer is genuine, and given to all - but I believe that sin rules in every heart so that no one ever take up that offer or even can take up that offer.

    Now does that make the offer invalid? No, that makes the sinfulness of sin manifest.

    Would God be just in making the sincerely making the offer even though He knows that man is unable to respond to it? Of course God would be just - He doesn't have to make the offer at all.

    So why does God make the offer then?

    He makes the offer because even though no one has the capacity in themselves to accept it - and even though no one deserves to receive God's help in overcoming sin so that they can receive the offer - yet God has determined that He personally is going to have even greater mercy on whomever He wills to do so. God determines that the Spirit will go where He wishes - that is God determines that He is going to *cause* a remnant to come
    to Him.

    That is what I see in scripture.


    On your other note:

    Why did Christ love Judas Iscariot - when He knew from the beginning who would betray Him? Wasn't Christ's love useless here?

    Perhaps love flows from the character of God rather than from the purpose of God...

    Consider these things.

     
  • At 12:39 PM, July 14, 2008, Anonymous Carol said…

    Ok, this is where we differ. I do not believe the gospel is an offer. I believe it is a declaration, and all that Christ died for AND LOVES will believe it. They will believe it because God enables them to. I certainly agree with you that no one would come to Christ left to themselves. We want no part of him, apart from God putting that desire within us.

    And as far as Judas Iscariot, I do not believe that the Lord Jesus did love him. If he had, he would have died for him, thus making a way for his salvation.

     
  • At 2:01 PM, July 14, 2008, Blogger Daniel said…

    Carol, I have no trouble with the gospel being a declaration.

    I use the word offer in the sense that the gospel is not a secret or not available to all. I don't think we differ on that point.

    I was more than a little surprised, I admit, that you responded to my question by saying that you believe Jesus did not love Judas.

    Jesus himself referred to Judas as "friend" (c.f. Matt. 26:50), and I can't imagine a sincere friendship based on hatred, nor can I imagine Christ being deceitful and secretly hating Judas, while externally pretending to be His friend.

    In John 8:39 Christ said to the Pharisees that if they were really children of Abraham, they would have done the deeds of Abraham. That's the way Christ talked, I love that. He talks like that in the Olivet discourse, in Luke 6:35 where He commands those who have ears to hear to, "love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men." - I hope the full weight of the words "sons of the Most High" falls on that text for you - for Christ is saying here, that the reason we are commanded to love our enemies is because God loves His enemies.

    I believe in election, but I don't believe that it is love who decides who is elect and who is not. Scripture tells us that we are called according to God's good will, and according to His purpose. I see nothing in scripture to suggest that it is t God's love that causes Him to choose who He chooses - and frankly the notion that God loves some sinners, and hates other sinners doesn't make much sense to me.

    I could easily believe that God hated everyone equally: He certainly has good reason to. There isn't anyone who doesn't sin.

    Likewise I could quite easily, believe that God loves everyone (though not as easily as I could believe that God hated everyone) For scripture says as much both explicitly and implicitly. Yet in order to believe that God loves everyone - I would have to believe that love is an expression of God's nature as opposed to His personality - that is, I would have to presume that God cannot help but to love - that God "is" love, if you will.

    That would cause me to have to rethink love and hate. Most people think of love and hate as mutually exclusive - even if in our own lives we demonstrate that it is quite easy to hate someone you love. How many divorces are there each year?

    So yeah, I can fly with God loves everyone...

    But the idea that God loves only certain people, and hates the rest. That I cannot find in scripture, in my own experience, or even imagine. Such a binary condition - even animals are capable of being indifferent - I suppose maybe insects might have something close to that? I am grasping at straws though...

    So yeah. I don't think one has to paint God as hating people in order to send them to hell. Though in my own childhood, my father used to punish us out of anger, and I admit that for many years I not only resented him - but I also lived with the fallout of that example - I felt like God was only capable of punishing me - and not loving me. I don't suggest that your own childhood was very dark - but I know that I used to think of punishment not as an expression of justice, but as an expression of anger: hurting someone else to make ourselves feel better. I thought that way because I had no real model of justice in my life, and I was practically hard wired to think that way.

    Praise the Lord he gave me the grace to forgive my father - and what a darkness left my life that day. <smile>

    Anyway - If there is anything you can say that would perhaps give me something to chew on - I am always willing to consider the possibility that I have horribly misunderstood God and scripture both - but I ask you to consider too that God does love everyone, and that He doesn't have to hate people to give them justice.

     
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