Venturing into Dangerous Waters

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I’ve been venturing into dangerous waters recently—putting my soul in jeopardy—by visiting and listening in on various blog conversations of atheists. There are probably many atheists who don the title for the sheer novelty of it, or because they have a yearning for nonconformity, or because they heartily enjoy a good mud slinging session. But there are also atheists I’ve encountered through blog or books (or agnostics such as Bart Ehrman), who left mainstream Christianity and developed anti-religion mantra for what I now see as very legitimate reasons.

In the past, I generally and quietly dismissed atheists as inferior beings who either didn’t want to live by the rules or who were sadly, perhaps willfully deceived. All this and I never once even asked them WHY they became an atheist or attempted to listen to them. In fact, if I did have a conversation with one, I am sure I was so convinced I was right that I didn’t even give their reasonable objections a chance to see daylight. If you are an atheist reading this blog, I humbly ask your forgiveness for dismissing you so blindly, pridefully, and callously. Many of you were far more right and more insightful than I.

With what I have learned about the Bible and Church history in the past three years—when and how many of our “sacred” Church dogmas and doctrines were formed as well as the prolific errors and contradictions in our popular Bible translations—I might well have become an atheist myself. What stopped me?

For me, there is foremost the undeniable evidence of a God who has interacted with me continuously and personally throughout my life, and who has orchestrated the details of my life in profound and tangible ways. There are just too many miraculous, amazing details for them all to be coincidences. Of course this is completely subjective evidence, but nevertheless, to me, it is undeniable. On the other hand, what to do with all of the counter evidence, thoughtfully and convincingly brought into the light by many of my unbelieving friends?

Thankfully, by learning* the truths hidden beneath the surface of translation errors, and especially beginning to learn (still have a long way to go) the ancient perspectives and intent on Scripture that help unravel the translation corrections, I have not come to the conclusion of atheism or agnosticism. Instead I have encountered a God who makes sense, even in light of many of the legitimate questions of atheists. My ignorance of and unbelief in His true character were the result of being ingrained with traditions of men since childhood, yet I was fully convinced my belief system was above error.

What do I now see in the truer character of God? I see a Loving Father who never entertained the thought of giving up on even one of His children—a Father who disciplines all of His children with an intent for their good, whose mercy triumphs over judgment, and who has determined a full-circle plan of reconciliation for ALL of His offspring. This Father doesn’t play favorites, though He does include some of His children ahead of the rest in helping to work His plan for ALL. He plainly stated His plan as early as Abraham, in a Covenant with mankind called the Abrahamic Covenant:

“Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 28:14. See also Col. 1:15-20;  Acts 3:19–21; Rom. 5:18; 1 Cor. 15:22-28).

This is a hard idea to process and accept for certain individuals I’ve talked to who feel they have spent time paying dues as “members of The Club,” expecting membership to have its exclusive privileges. This is exactly how the Jews felt back in the days of Paul when they were first told that they were not the only ones who would be saved from death and brought into the Kingdom of God—now the Gentiles (nations) were being invited into The Club as well. This made the Jews very angry and jealous! When Paul was persecuted by the Jews, I believe this is the reason why—they wanted to shut him up from proclaiming salvation to the nations (see Rom. 11:11-12).

I’m really not encouraging most Christians to rush out recklessly into water over their heads (especially if they can’t swim) . If you don’t have the right foundation in place—if you don’t know or understand the true character and plan of God—your faith might be shipwrecked (or you might do more damage than good with others). But I am encouraging us all to start listening to people, and to start studying the Bible and Church history for ourselves instead of having everything interpreted for us. We are living in amazing times when solid information is just a click away and not locked away in stuffy libraries God knows where. I believe this is a gift offered to our generation that must not be squandered away by laziness or indifference.

So what is my conclusion? For me, even in light of the many questions that still don’t have clear or satisfying answers (YET), the God I now find in Scriptures is absolutely worth taking a chance on.

In the next entry, we’ll explore this topic a little further by looking at one or two objections of interest I came across this week. Perhaps we can listen in and learn together. In the mean time, have you been harboring a superior attitude toward those who question the beliefs of Christianity? Have you ever taken the time to really listen to them and consider the value of their questions?

*A great place to start is by using an Interlinear Bible and a Lexicon, both free online tools. The Interlinear Bible is a word-for-word translation from Greek or Hebrew to English (showing both words and usually Strong’s Concordance numbers) where you can begin to learn amazing insights and see errors for yourself by comparing passages to your favorite Bible translation. A Lexicon is a way for you to look up a Greek or Hebrew word in order to see all the ways it is used in certain translations. This is enlightening when you want to uncover inconsistencies or gain greater understanding of the meanings of words.

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  • Deb

    Julie, I think the character of God is central to our understanding and correct interpretation of scripture. Unfortunately, and I speak for myself only, we don't often seek to learn the character of someone we are mortally afraid of, or don't understand, or … well … don't like very much. This served two purposes in my life: I remained ignorant. And I perpetuated my ignorance on others. Good on you for digging deeper and being fearless enough to take the message of God's Character to the front line.

    • jferwerd

      Absolutely Deb! Those are powerful words you have spoken. It is fear that has held us in bondage for too long, yet we are told, "there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear because fear has to do with punishment." I truly believe that people don't reject God, they reject false contortions or illusions of Him. What we all really want is a loving Father who would never give up on us…who wouldn't respond to that unless they were incapacitated to do so?

      • Deb

        Inquiring minds want to know, or so they say, and I can't help but look at the false teachings about God and ask myself, "Now who does it benefit for this lie to be perpetuated? And how?" And then I remember that there was one who wanted to be 'like God' … the same one who reaps the harvest when tired and weary soldiers drop out of the battle because they lose heart for the cause.

        • August

          If God is who you say he is — a loving Father who would never give up on his children — why would he allow such a lie to be perpetuated and followed by millions? It's internally contradictory.

          • dubleya

            August,
            As a loving father of four children (who would never give up on his children) I will try and give some insight. I could put my children in a bubble, insulate them from every harm or misinformation, but what kind of father would I be? If my love were truly unconditional, limitless, and perfect, I would want to give them the freedom to be themselves. I would hope that they arrived at the truth because I equipped them to search for it, not because I imposed it on them. When judging their actions, I would want to base their actions on the merit of their reasoning given the tools afforded them.
            I don't think Julie is saying that the Bible is corrupt in letter, but in reading. Man has the keys to the truth yet insists on using them to stab people instead of opening the door.
            There is nothing contradictory about loving children enough to arm them with the proper tools and allowing them to make their own way, for better or for worse.
            Plus, if you take the other tack that God is judgmental, authoritarian and petty, then your problem still stands.

          • August

            I think you are establishing a false dichotomy. I don't believe that "God is judgmental, authoritarian and petty." I believe that God is just, loving, merciful, powerful, and dangerous.

            I was merely challenging the internal contradiction — if God is who Julie says He is, why would he allow a lie to be perpetuated for thousands of years and believed by millions? It's just not plausible that there is a "secret key" to understanding Scripture that has only been revealed to a few.

  • Chester

    I believe wholeheartedly in critically examining Scripture, interpretation of Scripture, etc. But I don't believe it leads to the conclusions that you do. It's not about being a "member of a club," it's about following a God who respects human will and doesn't play counter to his own rules. The God you are referring to — who saves people against their will — is neither the God that is represented throughout Scripture nor the God that I follow.

    Ultimately, a doctrine in which everyone is saved is far more comforting than one in which God respects free will. But it's also a doctrine in which the power of Christ's sacrifice is stripped of meaning, and a doctrine in which God is reduced to a (far less dangerous) caricature of Himself. Ultimately, this is the God that atheists (and indeed all of us!) want to believe in — a God who plays by humanity's rules, a God who is safe, the God entirely divorced from the Old Testament, Revelation, or anything mildly discomforting. But I don't think our measuring stick should be worshiping the God that most people want to believe in.

    Christianity is about "furious opposites" and not all of them need to be resolved in order to have a rich and powerful relationship with Christ.

    • jferwerd

      I have never said, nor do I believe that God will save anyone "against their will." Like the prodigal son (which is a picture of us all), each will come to a place where we realize the kind of Father we have waiting for us at home, and we will choose to go back to Him where we are fully loved.

      "For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself as a ransom for ALL, the testimony given at the proper time." 1 Tim. 2:5-6

      The problem is that we have limited God's love to this lifetime, which is not Scriptural (when you correct all the errors that translators have printed as "forever, everlasting, forever and ever, eternal." The Scriptures in word and intent are about a plan of ages, with this part of the plan (mortal lives) being only a very small part of the plan of God to bring all His children home.

      I have a question for you. If firemen are called to a hotel fire in the middle of the night, are they considered greater heroes if they save a few out of the fire, or if they get everyone out? Your argument about "Christ's sacrifice being stripped of meaning" holds no reason or credibility. There is far greater worth in a sacrifice that saves all, and not just a few.

      But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for ALL the people…" Luke 2:10

      If most people will not benefit, this would not be good news for all people. In fact, it would be very bad news for most people.

      "…for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world." John 4:41

    • dubleya

      Chester,
      I've got to say that your comments seem to be at odds with scripture, reality, and human nature.
      First, atheists don't want to believe in any God, that is why they are atheists. They didn't all abandon a God concept for convenience. They aren't all heathens who do whatever strikes their fancy. Yet this is exactly what you are saying, that they would like to believe in God but don't because they can't make "their creed match their deed". This is both fallacious and ignorant.
      Second, I think that scripture clearly indicates that the sacrifice of Jesus was for all of mankind. I think that Julie makes some good arguments that Jesus' sacrifice was complete and available to everyone. I have seen her arguments for a more universal salvation, one not just limited to those who believe in a very narrow and strict doctrine, and I find them compelling. If you want to have a "exegesis-off" then feel free, but rest assured that just brushing it aside based on tradition and denominational beliefs is going to rob you of an opportunity to learn and solidify your own interpretation.
      Lastly, I take issue with your insistence that we all as humans want a universal salvation regardless of what the Bible says about it. You are claiming that humans naturally want to disregard fairness. I would argue that justified salvation is more in step with what men want than with what God wants. Would I be happy if I were given a bonus for a job if my co-worker sat around and talked to friends on facebook while I did everything yet still got the same benefit? Would any man be happy with that? Humans want fairness, not benevolence. You are trying to argue that humans want everyone to be happy, everyone to be rewarded, everyone to be afforded the same grace, regardless of how fair it is. That is contrary to human nature, not justification.

      • jferwerd

        You bring up an excellent point about justice, D. I have been learning so much about this very concept. The word "righteousness" used throughout the NT to convey moral goodness (for lack of a better description) was another translator faux pas with the 17th century King James Version, a man-made tradition that has stuck ever since (and from whence many a false teaching/application of Scripture has come). Somewhere along the line, the Old Testament Hebrew followed suit. Whenever you see the word "righteousness" or "righteous" occurring in the text, the Greek word most often used is "dikaios." Dikaios unequivocally means justice or fairness, not moral righteousness. Gosh, when you read the NT through the proper lenses, it conveys almost a completely different message!

        I now believe the purpose of the coming ages in God's plan for mankind–which I believe includes a complete "restoration of all,"–is to restore justice and fairness. This will include a reconciliation process between people, restoring what has been corrupted or lost in this mortal lifetime. You can see much evidence for this throughout Scriptures even without the correct translation of dikaios (justice). But anyhow, the NT is HUGE in the theme of justice, and the ultimate plan of God through Christ is to establish a JUST Kingdom for all. It is so comforting to me to know that God does care about all the injustices we each have suffered, and He will give us ample opportunity to set everything aright with those we have injured or cheated.

      • Chester

        Dubleya, your comments are needlessly inflammatory. Calling someone "fallacious and ignorant" and "at odds with scripture, reality, and human nature" does not lead towards reasoned debate.

        – My comment on atheists 'wanting to believe' was based on Julie's assertion that they don't believe because they have been presented with a false image of God.

        – Of course I would not accept a doctrine simply because it is the established belief. But I believe the fact that it IS an established belief means that it also deserves to be examined seriously. In my case, I do believe that Jesus died for all of mankind, and that humans in turn have the choice whether to accept that free gift of salvation. I have not come to this belief through blind faith or lack of introspection. Your insistence that this critical evaluation leads only to Christian universalism is misguided

        – I don't see how universal salvation is by any means 'fair'. It is grace — an undeserved gift. My point about humans 'wanting' universal salvation was once again a response to the contentions of universalism in which it is asserted that all humans will inevitably choose salvation…. I think this view is certainly easier to believe — there is certainly no danger of eternal damnation.

        • dubleya

          Chester,
          I don’t really know how best to respond. I never said you were fallacious and ignorant, only that the very specific opinion you expressed about atheists was fallacious and ignorant. You are not the sum of one specific opinion you hold. Give yourself some credit, you are a little more complicated than that! Again, my insistence that your opinion SEEMS TO BE “at odds” with facts we have available to us is just your cue to defend your assertions, not yourself. You are having an emotional response when none is warranted.

          When I use the word “fallacious”, I mean that your assertion that atheists as a group “want to believe” in a God is almost certainly wrong. It is based on a false or misleading inference.
          It is incorrect.
          It is fallacious.
          When I use the word “ignorant, I mean that your assertion disregards all other reasons for disbelief other than disagreement with God’s law. It shows a lack of knowledge or awareness.
          It is misinformed or uninformed.
          It is ignorant.
          So I said “fallacious and ignorant” when I should have said “incorrect and misinformed”. Does that make it better for you?

          I’ll address the rest of your comments in order:
          -Where does Julie say that atheists reject God because of a false image of God? I searched this post high and low and was unable to find that assertion. Please point it out to me. If it’s not there, then I think it rather ironically proves her point that all people, Christian and atheist alike, have a tendency to read what they want to read into information without approaching it from the author’s point of view. If it is there, I’ll owe you an apology.

          -No one, not Julie and not I, has ever asked you to flippantly discard established doctrine. When Julie gives you references to do the search on your own, that implies to me that she wants you to research and decide for yourself; that hardly sounds like asking you to not take doctrine seriously. When I say “rest assured that just brushing it aside based on tradition and denominational beliefs is going to rob you of an opportunity to learn and solidify your own interpretation”, what I am saying is that not considering or debating the merits of an argument takes away from the completeness of your own opinion, whatever it might be. Again, I implore you to show me where I said that Julie’s opinion or my own was the only informed one. I said the exact opposite of that.

          I said that universal salvation was not fair. How you end up trying to make an argument out of an agreement is beyond me. The doctrine of grace itself says that salvation is undeserved for everyone. It is blatantly unfair. I take issue with people who claim that universalism is based on what humans want instead of what God wants. That is the argument you made, and I disagree. I don’t think that everyone “chooses” salvation, I don’t think anyone is worthy of it. It is a gift. Do you get to “choose” your gifts? I think the doctrine of eternal damnation is more likely a human invention than limitless grace and universalism.

  • Jack Johnson

    If we feel a sense of tension between what classical Christian teaching is and what we initially think ought to be the case, humility requires that we consider the possibility that the fault lies with us, not classical Christian teaching. If Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit will guide the church into all truth, it must be the case that it has gotten at least the basics right. Otherwise, Christianity is falsified by its own inner logic.

    I agree with you and Chester that we have to critically examine our views of Scripture. I further agree that we have to be sensitive and honest when we interact with atheists and others who disagree. Too many Christians are arrogant and triumphalistic when dealing with nonbelievers. But at the end of the day, I believe classical Christianity stands up to their criticisms, and I think we need very good reason to deny a point of consensual orthodox as it has been guided by the Holy Spirit, ESPECIALLY on central matters (as basically affirmed in the early creeds of the church). The democracy of the dead gets a vote, too.

    • jferwerd

      Jack, I appreciate your open and thoughtful response. But one thing we must do is carefully contemplate all of the words we have "christianized." CHURCH is one of those words. The Greek word is "ekklesia" and means "out-called." It is an ongoing theme from those called out of Egypt and does not equate with the institutionalized church like we think of today. It is about a spiritual people who have been called out of "spiritual Egypt" in order to be a light to the nations. Another consideration here is that Jesus is not speaking to the "outcalled" but to His chosen disciples. In the Hebrew perspective, the chosen had a different relationship with God than the outcalled, but that is too lengthy to go into here.

      Lastly, I would challenge you to rethink siding with the masses and orthodoxy. Throughout history, the masses have traditionally been wrong. In Jesus day, those who were entrusted with the oracles of God were in error. After that the Catholic Church went into deep error (and we have brought a lot of those errors along with us into Christianity). Just because it is classical and orthodox does not make it true.

      • Jack Johnson

        But throughout CHURCH history, a history of people filled with the Holy Spirit and yes called out by God, the masses have traditionally been right, particularly on central matters. Christ promised that His Holy Spirit would guide the church into all truth.

        We aren't talking about just any old people, or just general church-going folk. We are talking about generations of faithful Christians. God has give the same Holy Spirit to believers that He gave to the apostles, who established the foundation of the faith. We ought to listen to them seriously, and I do think the burden of proof is upon those who argue against them, as it is antecendently improbable that they got something central wrong. If they got something central wrong, it falsifies the inner logic of Christianity, for it means the Holy Spirit failed to guide the church on the most fundamental issues.

  • Jack Johnson

    At the end of the day, Christianity rightly understood *will* satisfy our deepest and best longings for truth, beauty, and goodness, but that is different than it feeding our common desire for comfort and ease. God is good, but He is not safe, like Aslan, the untamed lion of C.S. Lewis's Narnia Chronicles.

  • Jack Johnson

    Your prooftexts, too, only prove the biblical truth that God's love is universally given. The question that remains is whether or not we may decisively resist and reject God's love, even to the point of damning ourselves for all eternity by our own actions ("losing our soul"). Consensual Christian teaching and interpretation of Scripture says "yes" to this question.

    • This is an interesting discussion for sure. I'd like to quickly reply to one thing that Jack said above about "your prooftexts." The bottom line is every pastor, scholar, theologian, the apostles and even Christ himself, has prooftexted, if you want to go by the modern meaning of prooftexting. Everyone does it, but that does not mean that if you quote a single verse or passage from the old or new testaments that the text you quoted is not valid or is completely out of context. Some verses stand on their own and do not need to be read within the context of an entire chapter or book. To me, saying that someone is "prooftexting" is a quick way to negatively label them, but has no substance in reality. It's a lot like labeling something that someone said "is heretical." Saying that something "is heretical" makes someone look really bad but it does not get to the bottom of whether their statement or belief has any merit or is based in truth. Of course defining "truth" is another thing altogether. The more accurate thing to say would be "that is your opinion or interpretation." Nobody has a handle on truth or interpretation, but using labels like prooftext, heretical, etc. is really only beneficial to the person who is not willing to have an honest dialog but believes they've arrived at "the truth."

    • Hi Jack!

      "Consensual Christian teaching" is an interesting and broad-sweeping statement. I am a follower of Christ and His teachings, yet I see no such thing as God allowing us to damn ourselves for all eternity. Nobody consented with me on the matter. As I read and study the Scriptures, over and over again I see God's intervening in the affairs of humanity and His spelling out a plan for the ages, which includes the reconciliation of all.

      THAT is how *I* understand and interpret Christ's teachings. Why would I believe a group of men before I would believe the Spirit's teaching, especially when the group of men hold fast to something that makes God's character out to be a monster, yet the Spirit's teaching reinforces a God whose love never fails?

      I am suspicious of claims of "End-All-Be-All-Truth" when the one proclaiming it backs it up with "because this is what the majority believes."

      • Chester

        I don't think Jack is resting on "this is what the majority believes" — he is just pointing out that we are not necessarily wiser than those who have come before, and their viewpoints deserve to be critically examined and taken at their merit.

        • Oh, that's a good point: I agree we are not necessarily wiser. It's all open for interpretation. Who's to say who's right or wrong? I feel I have examined their viewpoints critically, and yet the process of examination led me to a different conclusion. Now what? The phrase 'consensual' is off-putting to me b/c I don't consent to the same interpretation.

      • AnotherFriend

        Barb,

        " that makes God's character out to be a monster"

        Uh…how do you reach that conclusion? I guess I'm curious as to your definition of "monster" and which beliefs of "the group of men" lead you to that conclusion. I'm not questioning that you feel that way…I'm just curious as to what led you to that point.

        • A god who would torment more than half of His creation forever when His entire book of Scripture is loaded with verses about His never-ending mercy and unfailing love would be a hypocritical monster in my eyes. My opinion goes against the traditions of many scholars (groups of men) who believe we damn our own selves to hell. I believe God's love will bring us all home. Sorry, should have clarified.

          • Chester

            By making these statements, though, you are essentially saying that you know who God will damn and who God will save. None of us know this. What I do know is that he is, as you say, a God of mercy and unfailing love.

            He is also a God who follows his own rules — to the point that he sent his own son to die rather than simply dismissing Adam's fall as non-critical. He is a God who doesn't want robots as followers, but a God who allows us to choose between 'him' and 'not him'. If someone hasn't heard of him, I trust he will judge them justly.

          • AnotherFriend

            Well said Chester.

          • I based my comment about damning and saving on the orthodox church's doctrinal belief as a point of reference: According to them, Christians are saved, all others aren't. Let me stress that is not *my* belief, but *theirs.*

            Yes God sent his son to die, but He was resurrected and now He lives, as will all of humanity, but each in his own order. No, he does not want robots because He is a God of authentic and genuine love, but He is the Potter and we are the clay. There is a difference.

          • AnotherFriend

            Barb,

            You're also seem to be saying what sort of God you'll accept or not and your're bringing that to your reading of scripture. I could be misunderstanding you, and if so I apologize, but it sounds like you've drawn a line in the sand and said that you won't accept anything on that side of the line…so you end up with a line where you're on one side (with a God that doesn't hold people accountable for their actions) and on the other side you've got orthodox Christianity and all the folks who are corrupting scripture by mistranslating words to imply that God might hold people accountable.

            I don't think we have a good God vs bad God situation…I think we've got a God who doesn't hold people accountable on one side and on the other a God who sacrificed all to redeem people but who, for some strange reason, allows a bullet to hit someone and kill them when he could easily intervene, i.e. he allows suffering here and now.

            I'm thinking a God who didn't hold people accountable, who didn't want people to suffer and intended to prevent them from suffering would do something about it now as well…although to be fair I don't yet understand the universalist argument. :)

          • Hi, AnotherFriend. I tried to respond to your other question but something on this intense debate is botching up my attempt to reply. Unfortunately I have to leave this exciting conversation for the afternoon to tend to family, so who knows where I'll find this comment later on today, but for now let me temporarily end with this:

            I never said anything about God not holding people accountable—I believe the exact opposite, keeping in mind the verse, "to whom much has been given, much will be required." I can see how, if you think I equate God saving all with no one having accountability to Him (or to others they've hurt), then I understand why we have a difference of opinion.

            I believe God is just, and will judge everyone justly. However, I don't believe someone who has done a finite crime will be punished infinitely. That would not be just in my opinion.

      • Jack Johnson

        It would be fallacious to argue that something is true "because this is what the majority believes" – but of course that was not making a raw "ad populum" kind of argument.

        My argument is based upon Jesus' teaching that the Spirit will guide the church into all truth. In light of this fact, we ought to be suspicious when individual interpreters come up with idiosyncratic readings of Scripture on their own, "discovering" things that are either new or that have been rejected by the judgment of most Spirit-filled Christians. The church can and has learned new things on certain matters, I freely concede, but the burden of proof is on those who go against the generally consensual affirmations of the church, especially on central matters. No one has a direct line to "the Spirit's teachings," and so we must read the Bible with the rest of the Spirit-filled church throughout history.

  • Jack Johnson

    I agree that God would never give up on anyone even if there is a shred of hope. But can we put ourselves beyond hope? That is the question.

  • Brian

    Julie:

    My 2 cents for what it is worth, Christians are brought up on expectations of what God is or will do for them.

    The way I try to express it is, when you hook up a horse to pull a wagon they put blinders on him as to only see the road ahead. These are the people who through their life experiences, have had those blinders removed and see that every thing they had been taught was a lie.

    So instead of seeking the real truth they take a path 180 degrees from where they started. They attack at God and refuse to see that he gives us Free Will and it is because of that we can find many different directions for how we should see God and his plans for our lives.

    Truth is an interesting lesson, our choice is how do we as humans handle that education when he teaches us that lesson, does it strengthen our Faith and give us a better understanding of the Creators hand or do we reject him in our refusal to see man’s finger prints all over the false teaching we were raised to follow?

    Shalom

    • jferwerd

      Hi Brian. I don't believe in free will. It is a most destructive teaching. The Torah teaches "dominion," which is quite a different perspective than free will. For me, it is important to stop using terms that continue to feed the fire and teach false perspectives. The modern notion of free will, if followed to it's logical conclusion, would mean that man can permanently alter his own destiny and the destiny of others, as well as usurp the plans and will of God. That would mean that Adam and Eve messed up plan A. And that would mean that man could mess up plan b, and c, and d, and so on.

      On the other hand, I do believe that man has been given dominion, and each person has a certain, limited "allotment" of influence and choice in his or her life. This is the meaning of the parable of the talents. You can see this in Matthew 25:15: "To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ABILITY; and he went on his journey." The word "ability" in the Greek is "dunamis" and means POWER (and should have been translated as such). It is easy to see looking at different people that to each one is given a different amount of control and influence. Some use it for good, and others for evil.

      • AnotherFriend

        Julie,

        You write:

        "The modern notion of free will, if followed to it's logical conclusion, would mean that man can permanently alter his own destiny and the destiny of others, as well as usurp the plans and will of God. That would mean that Adam and Eve messed up plan A. And that would mean that man could mess up plan b, and c, and d, and so on. "

        You seem to be implying that the idea that man could permanently alter his own destiny is unthinkable for you, or abhorrent. Why does that idea bother you so much?

        If feels a bit as though you've staked out the above position (perhaps based on your compassion) and then decided to reject all translations (that contradicts your position) and orthodoxy as being corrupted.

        I'm with Chester…that over and over again we run into these "furious opposites" (to quote Chesterton) presented in Scripture: God's Love/Holiness, Christ FullyGod/FullyMan, God's Sovereignty/Man's Free Will, Man's wretchedness/Man's position as God's creation that Christ died for, "work out your salvation with fear and trembling/ for it is God who is at work in you". Chesterton argues (if I can get this correct) that when you lean one way or another in order to be "reasonable", that you become heretical and you've lost an inherent tension at the center of the Gospel…as we try to make God be logical and understandable for us. If you can't live with Fully God/Fully Man you end up with Full God with aspect of a man, or not God/Special Man (to oversimplify). He is "other" after all :), so eliminating a paradox might not be the first course of action.

        Perhaps I'm just more comfortable with paradox than you seem to be…since my sense is that you're attempting to remove a tension because you feel deeply about something.

        I personally don't have any issues with believing simultaneously that God is love, and doesn't want anyone to perish and at the same time that not all will choose him and some will choose to be separated from him. The fact that some choose "not-God" doesn't mean he isn't loving or isn't just or isn't merciful, at least in my perspective.

        • Damian Masters

          Another friend, I am truley not as articulate as most but you seem to be using a lot of ideas that are not in the scriptures. When you make Christ out to be fully God you take away the promise of the choosen becoming true son's and daughters with Christ. Christ is not a man any more. He has been glorified, and has all the Power of God the Father. That is how He can be called God. Just as Joesph was considered Pharaoh. To me anyone who labels someone a heretic, is afraid and wants to pin labels to see if they can shut them up. Christ is our Priest, He alone has the truth and he alone with Holy Spirit will reveal it to who wants it. His truth not tradition.

          • Jack Johnson

            Christ is still fully human and fully man, even in His glorified state in heaven. And he was also God before He was glorified – it was His humanity that was glorified. This is orthodox theology.

        • Jack Johnson

          And I would even argue that these "tensions" are only tensions based in our misunderstandings and our own limitations. Knowing these, we should be comfortable with paradox, realizing that we have a hard time seeing the whole picture. And of course paradox is not the same as contradiction or illogic. I think over time in our walk of faith, the tensions become relieved in some measure as you begin to see the whole picture.

          • AnotherFriend

            Jack,

            I agree that the "tensions" are based on the fact that we aren't God. :)

  • Jack Johnson

    jferwerd,

    I think the Bible clearly does teach what is usually termed free will. It is not a "modern notion" – it stretches back to the earliest biblical interpreters of the first century (Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Boethius), indeed right back to the Bible itself. The Bible teaches us that we may sin, or not sin (1 Cor 10:13). God calls people to choose life or death, hoping they will choose life (Deut 30:19). The Bible is also clear that we can abuse our free will such that we can subvert God's perfect plans and intentions for us (Luke 7:29-30). Adam and Eve *did* mess up God's perfect plan for them, which was eternal life with Him. It is not the will of God that any man perish (2 Peter 3:9), and God desires that all men come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4), but many nevertheless reject God's plan and desire for them (2 Cor 2:15). And most Christian throughout church history have understood the Bible to be teaching that we can choose evil decisively such that it can become our eternal destiny (Rev. 14:11).

    Of course, God can work *through* our evil, but He never *needs* our evil to accomplish His ultimate, overarching goal, which is the Kingdom of God for those who choose Him. God can bring good out of evil, but this is quite another matter. And no one can subvert that God's will will be done in *light of* of human evil – that is, those who persist in rejecting His grace will be separated from Him, and those who choose God will find joy – no one can change that. But not all aspects of God's will are unilateral like this, unless we embrace Calvinism. He has a permissive will – what He allows us to do. And under that rubric He has a perfect will and plan – what we can choose to do or not do to. All of these aspects of God's will can be found in a sensitive reading of Scripture.

    • Hi again, Jack! I don't see the same aspects of God's permissive will (as you do) in Scripture, and I have done many sensitive readings. In fact, the very first time I read the Bible cover to cover I couldn't believe all the verses that spoke of His sovereignty. I even kept a document listing all the verses that were precisely against free will because it shocked me–how different the God of the Bible is portrayed vs. the God of the Church. I don't find that a subversion of Scriptures, I find it a reinforcement of understanding what unconditional love really means.

      • Chester

        If God is going to save all in the end, why would he allow Adam and Eve to fall? Why not just impose his perfect will from the beginning? To me, Adam and Eve's choice of sin is a perfect illustration of free will.

        • The simplest way I can explain my interpretation of "the fall" is that without understanding and living through evil, we'd never appreciate and subsequently choose good. But my study on this is a work-in-progress. One of the interesting things I've learned along the way is that, according to ancient Hebrew, the words that our English-speaking scholars translated as "good" and "evil" are more accurately translated as "functional" and "dysfunctional." Evil is an abstract word and hard to define, but if you set out to study the purpose for which God created it (Isaiah 45:7) and uses it (Isaiah 54:16) you can begin to see there is something much more concrete to His plan.

          • Chester

            How can a perfectly good being create evil? This seems like a rather torturous (and intellectually dangerous) way to get around the problems posed by the fall.

          • I've only repeated what the Bible says in the verses I listed above. I know it's shocking, and really, for me those verses are part of the many that set me out on a whole new journey of studying about God's sovereignty. If you feel it's intellectually dangerous, then perhaps you'll choose to refrain from investigating further. I couldn't help myself. It was an area of ambiguity that I felt compelled to learn more about.

            Someone named Dave poses some excellent points about the fall as well (below).

          • AnotherFriend

            "If you feel it's intellectually dangerous, then perhaps you'll choose to refrain from investigating further." Ouch! Sounds a bit condescending. :) I do have a big gnostic button, however, the contention that God reveals his secrets to only a few who are intellectually and morally superior to the masses without the secret. I'm sure you didn't mean it that way, but it sounds as though you've concluded that folks who don't see the Bible as you see it are either 1) doing it out of evil motives or 2) are doing it in a half-hearted or fearful way (as Scott implied). If that is how you feel then it sets off all sorts of warning bells for me.

            If I've learned anything in my walk with Christ, it is that I've been very blind over and over again when i thought I really knew something about the Christian walk and God teaches me that he is a lot deeper and I have a lot more to learn in a certain area…which leaves me realizing that I need to constantly be humble…because God isn't done with me yet and I've still got some major weaknesses to which I'm oblivious but which may be very visible to other. I also need to be better at granting grace to those Christians around me since we're all broken sinners who desperately need God's daily intervention in our lives.

          • Hi Another Friend. You're right…my comment sounds condescending. Sorry, I didn't mean it that way at all. Chester's response confused me. I referred to Isaiah 45:7, which says:

            "I form the light and make darkness; I make peace and create evil; I the Lord do all these things."

            Chester then asked the same question I always had before studying the matter of good & evil in greater depth:

            "How can a perfectly good being create evil?"

            And maybe I misinterpreted the rest of his reply, but it seemed as though he was challenging ME–as if I was the one who came up with that statement about God creating evil. I haven't been trying to "get around" the problems posed by the fall, I've been trying to study Scriptures straightforwardly–trying to understand the problem of evil. And in the process of studying, I don't shy away from verses where God says He is responsible for evil. I don't see how that is intellectually dangerous or torturous as he indicated.

            I also haven't made either of the two conclusions you suggested above. And I certainly don't view myself as morally superior. If my reply came across that way, I apologize. The things I comment on are my interpretations…my opinions of how I understand Scripture. I, too, have been humbled over and over again in my walk with Christ, and one of the biggest lessons I've learned is that two people can look at the same verse and interpret it, or react to it, completely differently, as has happened above.

          • jferwerd

            Barb, you make some great points. God clearly takes responsibility for evil throughout Scriptures. And unless you acknowledge the dozens (perhaps hundreds) of verses on His plan to save ALL, you can't make sense of evil and He appears to be a monster. But, if you realize that evil is the other side of the tree of good, and its purpose is to reveal what is good, a new understanding comes into light. Good thoughts Barb!

          • AnotherFriend

            Barb,

            You wrote:

            "without understanding and living through evil (dysfunctional), we'd never appreciate and subsequently choose good (functional)"

            So are you saying that we do have free will and that we'll choose good/functional because God allowed all the suffering and brokenness of the fall for all these years so that after we're dead we would realize that we should choose him? …or maybe it was Julie who said she didn't believe in free will….although I think you were impressed by God's sovereignty.

            I've always thought of evil as anything with separates us from God rather than something that is functional or dysfunctional. I believe we're all desperately broken and need Christ's salvation not only to save us once (justification), but to keep rescuing us daily (sanctification), so that we'll be conformed to the image of his son more completely and one day be with him (glorification). But I'm no theologian. :)

  • Damian Masters

    Hey Julie, It will be 70 degrees here on Saturday. I,m going fishing! That can you just opened will supply all the bait i need. Good for you. The sad thing is, most will not understand until the next age. i found when my eyes were opened, it was because of my asking for the understanding that Christ wanted me to have. i had pretty much knew what man wanted me to believe, now I needed what Christ wanted me to know. It is truely an exciting ride. Go with God, your still in my prayers.

  • Dave

    "Free will" is not about "making choices". Of course we all make choices; thousands of choices every day without any thought in many cases. What FREE will says is that we make UNCAUSED choices; choices absent any influence. That's shear nonsense. Every choice is caused. Choices are simply picking a PREFERENCE, what we PREFER, from what options are available. What one attempts to do when they talk of "free will" is contend that choosing to accept or reject a particular religion or course of action is done absent ANY influence whatsoever, including God. Since the Bible clearly teaches that having faith and choosing Christ is something that originates with God's holy spirit, and that He works ALL THINGS after the council of His own will, then how can we say anyone makes a "free" choice to reject the gospel?

    Adam and Eve did not make a "free" choice. Their choices were influenced by circumstances and their own lusts. If God didn't intend for them to fall, why allow the serpent to tempt Eve? Why put the tree in the center of the garden? Why make the tree appealing to eat? Why even HAVE a tree containing the knowledge of good AND EVIL? Why would Adam's fall be thought of as something God can't overcome, as if Adam and Eve totally screwed up God's plans and ever since He's been operating from a position of weakness; having had to go to "plan B"? No, the whole plan of God from the beginning is still on course and moving along exactly how God intended. If not, then God is not "GOD".

    • jferwerd

      Wow Dave. That's such an insightful comment on free will! I totally agree. An orphan living on the streets of Haiti has so many circumstances limiting their choices, and therefore, how could that child be held accountable to choices it never had? Wonderful thoughts.

    • I love this explanation. Very nicely articulated!

    • AnotherFriend

      "Since the Bible clearly teaches that having faith and choosing Christ is something that originates with God's holy spirit, and that He works ALL THINGS after the council of His own will, then how can we say anyone makes a "free" choice to reject the gospel?"

      Yes that is what the Bible says, but it also indicates that we're to choose God, that we're to respond, etc. I'm not disagreeing with what you wrote, just that you've left out half of it! To way oversimplify, stereotypical Calvinists say in a whisper "man has fee will, BUT GOD IS SOVEREIGN!", Arminians say "god is sovereign, BUT MAN HAS FREE WILL!" From my reading of scripture I see that God is sovereign and simultaneously man has free will. 'But it isn't logical, both can't be true!" Uh…why not? Christ was fully god and fully man, we're to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (except for universalists), for it is God who is at work in us.

      I think, although I could be wrong, that you've set up a straw man argument on one side of the scale because you prefer that God be a certain type. It seems like universalists don't want a God that is both terrible and powerful and just and holy and loving and merciful. To use the Aslan analogy from above…perhaps they prefer a tame lion. It seem the loving and merciful side is the side that gets stressed…which seems to me to do violence to God's word. Just my opinion… :)

      I vote for both…if you're taking a poll. :)

      • jferwerd

        I can't speak for all "universalists," but I can speak for myself in that I am not denying a fearsome side of God. There is still a Judgment Age for sin, and Scriptures are clear it is not going to be a picnic for those on the wrong side of the fence. However, if you read more closely, who is the Judgment of God fearsome for? Is it the world? No! We find it is those who have been given much, who squandered, who did not love and forgive with the love and forgiveness they had been given and understood, who receive the backlash. Jesus said, "the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom before you…" This is what He meant…those who were offered the chance to believe but were not faithful, these are the grapes for the winepress. But even grapes are brought in as sweet wine at the end of the harvest season.

        • Rufus

          Based on these statements, it seems far better not to be a Christian than to be one, and to not have heard of Christ than to have heard of him.

          If your concern is a fear that people who have never heard the gospel will not be saved, I think that orthodox Christianity has a perfectly acceptable answer for that — God is just and merciful, and we don't know who he will save and who he won't. We don't need to make the decision for him =)

    • Dave

      The notion that we're to "choose" God in and of itself does not prove that we do so "freely". If I walk into a restaurant and don't know what they offer how can I choose? Only when I know the choices available can I pick my preference. But even picking a preference from a menu is not something done freely. Something causes me to choose Chicken over Pork, or cake over pie. Maybe I had Chicken the night before so I pick the Pork, maybe I don't like cake, so I pick pie. It's never a choice made free of any influence. So yes, the Bible offers a choice because "How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?" (Rom. 10:14) But the scriptures never say that the choice is freely made. God does the choosing, God gives the faith to choose. The "chooser" responds to the spirit of God.

      If we think that God is incapable of saving anyone who doesn't choose in this life, well then yeah, we have problems and contradictions all over the place. If we realize it's not God's intention to save all in this age, but that through the ages to come all will be reconciled to God, then God's ways make sense and the contradictions disappear. You either have to believe God was sorely negligent in making a tree that contained the knowledge of evil and allowed a serpent to screw up His plans, OR you have to acknowledge that it was all part of the plan from the start. Since scripture says Christ was slain from the FOUNDATION of the world, it seems clear God knew all along what He was doing and what He was planning. Free will is nothing more than an illusion that we use to take God off the hook for things we don't understand about His ultimate purposes and His ability to accomplish all He desires in His due time. Nothing is impossible for God. Nothing. Oh if only people believed that truly.

  • Chester

    It's condescending to dismiss those who disagree with you as being ignorant, or being 'safe'

  • AnotherFriend

    "safe mainstream views" :) Safe? Safe?

    I love Annie Dillard's quote:
    "Does anyone have the foggiest idea of what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews."

    :)

    The nice thing for folks who don't believe in universal salvation is that apparently it doesn't matter whether they believe in it or not since their belief has no consequences…unless I'm missing something. From my shallow understanding it seems like neither Hitler nor Pol Pot has anything to worry about…but again, there may be some sort of reward system built in to encourage folks to behave while they are alive. Is there?

  • cafewitteveen

    I'm going to stroll in as an atheist voice and leave a comment. It's not to troll and it's not to disrupt the pace of conversation. I want to say it despite knowing many Christian responses, and I'll probably yawn a little with any responses. This conversation isn't a new one. But there's a part above that compels me to respond.

    JF said: "For me, there is foremost the undeniable evidence of a God who has interacted with me continuously and personally throughout my life, and who has orchestrated the details of my life in profound and tangible ways."

    This very statement is a large reason why I am an atheist. My parents, teachers and loved ones repeated a version of this very phrase often to me. As an adopted kid who has had the appearance of a providentially guided life, it seems very easy to say that somehow god had a hand in guiding my life.

    If I weren't adopted, there's no telling what person I would have become if I were reared by a then 17 year old girl. If god didn't inspire strangers to pay my tuition at my Christian high school or guide me to a Christian college with excellent scholarships, I may never have had those amazing experiences. In some respects, it's very easy to say that god had a hand in where I am now and the successes I've had.

    But to contrast that providential love ballad with what other people do not have. To contrast that with poor children born with any number of painful diseases or addictions for sins they didn't commit. To tell someone that their plight is somehow guided providentially as well. Frankly, it angers me to tears.

    If you say that god had a tangible hand in your successes, and the successes of others, he also had a hand in the demise, the pain, the suffering, the woes and heartbreaks of others. Even if it is the hand of a sinful past, or the hand of a tempter or evil one, if you believe god has some hand in the affairs of humanity, then he is culpable for the excruciating pain that undeserving people experience every day and have experienced since the dawn of humanity.

    It is plain and simple to me, an atheist, that the universe, god, or whatever you want to call the essence of awesome, doesn't care about everyone. It's explicable in terms of evolution. But in terms of any religious notion, it makes god out to be a sick, twisted, and malicious being.

    I would not want anything to do with such a being. I'm not sure why anyone would.

    On your marks. Get set … just kidding.

    Best,

    Jeremy

    • jferwerd

      Jeremy, your argument seems to confine God in a time constraint. Who's to say that He doesn't work in people's lives in various times of their existence (within or beyond mortality) moreso than others at that exact time? Yes, if we are on a clock, by all means God interacting with a some now would be vindictive and unfair. But if there is no clock, and all people will have exactly the same privileges and opportunities at some point in the story, and the good is so good that the previous bad is completely diminished, then what is your problem with that?

      You seem to insinuate that I'm implying God has worked through my life through blessing. Well, sure there have been blessings and wonderful times, but you don't even know my story and how much I have had to overcome and suffer, and how difficult the road has been. So there, we are both guilty of assumptions, aren't we? It is actually through my darkest times that His leading was the strongest. Sure that sounds unfair to an orphan somewhere, but not if that orphan is going to have exactly the same opportunities.

      We get so freakin' caught up in the experiences of this brief life, judging them as good or bad, ye this time spent in mortality is just one grain of sand on the seashore.

    • Damian Masters

      Jeremy,
      to late! he has already touched you. Everyone that has been here on the earth is interacting with God. He allows our hearts to beat, our blood to flow, our breath. People seem to think that only prosperity comes by knowing God. Then what about the millions who never prosper? We as humans have to learn what it is like living with evil, so when evil is shut up and man has been restored and re-educated , they will understand what living apart from God brings. None of what goes on now in this age is a waste of time.

      • cafewitteveen

        Thanks Damian,

        By your rationale, god allows which also means he does not allow.

        Your definition of god is synonymous with a jerk.

        Thank you. You helped me make my point.

        • Chester

          You seem to be confusing evil things that men and the world does with things that God desires. Allowing things to happen and allowing people to make decisions does not mean that God is evil.

        • Jack Johnson

          Hey Jeremy,

          You said:

          "If you say that god had a tangible hand in your successes, and the successes of others, he also had a hand in the demise, the pain, the suffering, the woes and heartbreaks of others. Even if it is the hand of a sinful past, or the hand of a tempter or evil one, if you believe god has some hand in the affairs of humanity, then he is culpable for the excruciating pain that undeserving people experience every day and have experienced since the dawn of humanity."

          What you are essentially raising here is the Problem of Evil: How can God be perfectly good, all-powerful, and all-knowing with all of the evil in the world? I think many Christians do spell out God's relationship to the world and its events quite poorly. I think the idea that God causally brings about *everything* in the world, good or evil, is a deeply mistaken and unscriptural understanding of divine sovereignty and providence.

          I think what you need are a couple of helpful distinctions regarding God's will. The first one is between what God permits and what He desires. God permits human beings (and other created, free beings) to have free will so that they can enter into free, loving relationships with Him and each other. In so doing, he has allowed for the *possibility* of evil and suffering. But He always desires us to use this freedom rightly in loving Him and one another. Many of us don't, which is the main reason our world is so broken.

          And as for His providential involvement in the world, it doesn't follow that because good things are directly from God, that evil things must also be directly from God. We have messed up this world, and the evil things are really from us. God still works on human beings and works through human events to bring good out of evil, but insofar as there are still free human beings who choose evil, there will still be suffering. God is letting the human drama play out so that we can choose for ourselves what path will ultimately be ours: the path of God and love, or the path of not God and selfishness/evil.

          So one can coherently thank God for the good things in life, but also not blame Him for the evil things, precisely because of the interposing factor of free will. God merely permits evil: He does not cause it, nor directly bring it about, nor desire it. And He cannot unilaterally accomplish His desire of having free creatures love Him and each other without overriding their freedom and making them automatons. It is not the case that just because God has permitted something, that he is to blame for it (culpable). That doesn't follow. He is involved in good things in a crucially different way than He is "involved" in evil things.

          And Christians judge good things to be from God because they have independent reason for believing that a perfectly good, all-knowing, and all-powerful God exists, such as divine revelation, powerful religious experience, etc.

          • Jack Johnson

            I should point out that without free will, it makes little sense for God to cause evil so that good may come (later). If there is no free will, God can cause us all to love Him and love each other from the beginning, forever. All of the evil of this life would be utterly gratuitous and unnecessary. But love is impossible without free will, so that's why we have it.

            I do believe God will even out His grace in the long run in terms of the salvation of people. But this does not mean people cannot still reject even God's optimal grace for them.

          • Jack, you should read Ecclesiastes 1:13 in the Hebrew Interlinear, here:
            http://www.scripture4all.org/OnlineInterlinear/OT

            and also read it on studylight (with an interlinear) here:
            http://www.studylight.org/isb/bible.cgi?query=ec+

            And check the original words. Translation has watered down "evil" to "grievous task."

            The verse should read as this:

            "It is an experience of evil God has given to the sons of the human to humble him."

            The "evil" in this life is not gratuitous or unnecessary, it is here to humble us. As I understand Scripture, a big message God is getting across is that those who think they had anything to do with their moral makeup–those who believe THEY made the choice for Jesus, when Jesus plainly states: "You did not choose me, I chose you," those people are boasting, and that is also known as pride.

            Love is *not* impossible without free will. I understand this in my role as a parent. I love my children & discipline them, and this inspires them to love me back. I have caused them to love me because I first loved them. They did not freely will themselves to love me. There was a cause and effect.

          • John

            Of course your children have a choice whether to love you or not. There are plenty of children from loving households who don't love their parents.

            That's like saying your significant other had no choice but to love you because you loved them first. Try telling that to someone who has faced unrequited love =)

          • Jack Johnson

            I think newer translations are more accurate in translating this as "calamity" not "grievous task." Surely this is "evil" in a certain sense – it is bad to experience a hurricane. It is a harmful state of affairs. But the Hebrew language lacks the nuance to see the difference between this and actual evil – moral evil, or natural evil that flows directly from evil human choices. The Bible is very clear from front to back that actual evil is not from Him – He is not the author of evil – but from sinful creatures.

            "You did not choose me, I chose you" has to do with Jesus' choice of the 12 apostles, not salvation. And of course God first loved us, but we can still refuse to love Him back. Many do – although on your view, God is currently causing most people not to love Him.

  • Chester

    Let me try to get all of this straight.

    A) Man has no free will
    B) Because man has no free will, God must have desired man to sin and fall.
    C) As a result of this sin, there will be suffering, death, and pain in the world. All of this serves some obscure purpose in God’s design (who somehow is still perfectly holy).
    D) God is not tame — he actually punishes people for a certain age. This is despite the fact that he willed the sin or evil to occur in the first place.
    E) Everyone will be saved in the end, so it’s all right.

    This seems like a rather painful twisting of the beautiful truth of Christianity — all to avoid the ‘messy’ problem of hell.

    This account, to me, shows a God who is more loving:

    A) God is perfectly good.
    B) God created humans and allowed them to choose to be with him or not with him.
    C) Adam & Eve chose not to be with him. As a result, evil entered the world.
    D) God sacrificed his own son to atone for their sins.
    E) Whoever accepts this free gift is saved.
    F) God died for all, and wants all to believe.
    G) Nevertheless, he gives men a choice, because he respects his own rules
    H) If men do not hear his name, or are exposed to him, he will judge them justly in a manner that is consistent with a being that sent his own son to die for those who did not deserve this grace.

    Where is the monster, traditions of men, or twisting in the latter truth? How is it so ‘off-base’ that we need to selectively retranslate Bible verses in order to believe the first truth.

    More importantly, if everyone is to be saved, why blog about it? Why write a book? Why even care?

  • Chester

    Let me try to get all of this straight.

    A) Man has no free will
    B) Because man has no free will, God must have desired man to sin and fall.
    C) As a result of this sin, there will be suffering, death, and pain in the world. All of this serves some obscure purpose in God's design (who somehow is still perfectly holy).
    D) God is not tame — he actually punishes people for a certain age. This is despite the fact that he willed the sin or evil to occur in the first place.
    E) Everyone will be saved in the end, so it's all right.

    This seems like a rather painful twisting of the beautiful truth of Christianity — all to avoid the 'messy' problem of hell.

    This account, to me, shows a God who is more loving:

    A) God is perfectly good.
    B) God created humans and allowed them to choose to be with him or not with him.
    C) Adam & Eve chose not to be with him. As a result, evil entered the world.
    D) God sacrificed his own son to atone for their sins.
    E) Whoever accepts this free gift is saved.
    F) God died for all, and wants all to believe.
    G) Nevertheless, he gives men a choice, because he respects his own rules
    H) If men do not hear his name, or are exposed to him, he will judge them justly in a manner that is consistent with a being that sent his own son to die for those who did not deserve this grace.

    Where is the monster, traditions of men, or twisting in the latter truth? How is it so 'off-base' that we need to selectively retranslate Bible verses in order to believe the first truth.

    More importantly, if everyone is to be saved, why blog about it? Why write a book? Why even care?

    • The monster is the god who will torture/torment his rebellious children forever; the god who will suddenly show no mercy, once you pass the finish line (death), and whose love–which is described all over Scripture as 'unfailing'–will fail to draw those prodigal sons home.

      I'd say a good reason to blog and write about God saving everyone is to begin to undo all the layers of heinous slander that Christians have assigned to His character. And perhaps more importantly, to give hope to those who have been imprisoned by the fear of worshiping a god who's wrath is never-ending (according to the doctrine of hell) and serves no corrective, or loving, purpose other than to torment.

      • Chester

        The god you are referring to is not the God of orthodox Christian theology — it's a false version that you are somehow associating with the church.

        • dubleya

          My question to you Chester is whether you want to follow the bible, or "orthodox Christian theology". It seems to me that Barb, Julie, and others here are saying that there is a strong Biblical grounding for a God of infinite grace. What you are saying is that the church doesn't agree. Only one can be right, to be sure. Why must it be the particular denomination you ascribe to? Why not Julie? Why not Barb? Why not Jehovah's Witnesses, or Catholics, or Quakers, or Armenians, or Universalists, or Westboro Baptist Church?
          The only way we can answer these questions is by going to the Bible and making a case for and against, and even then you have to make a string of assumptions. If you have absolute knowledge of God's will, then I applaud you. If you just think you do, well….
          I wonder what motivation men in the past might have had to downplay grace and focus on judgment and hellfire? It entirely escapes me. I wonder why so many churches spend so much time on Revelation when the overwhelming majority of the NT is so much about redemption, grace, and salvation?
          Every time a Christian is brave enough to make a biblical case for a benevolent God we hear that it is against church doctrine. I'll tell you what Chester. I really don't care about church doctrine. There are hundreds of denominations and thousands of different doctrines between them. I suppose the number that are right are less than or equal to one. The best you can do is to build a biblical case, defend it against reasonable objection, and refine it until it is as close to truth as you can get. Even then, be humble enough to know that you don't know it all.

          This is why I so often make a distinction between a Christian and someone who is Christ-like. There is a big difference. One loves theology, the other loves God.

          • Chester

            You seem to be making an awful lot of assumptions about my character and the nature of my beliefs from a few short blog posts =)

            By referring to orthodox Christianity, I am simply referring to a set of beliefs. That reference does nothing to suggest that I haven't examined the issues as critically as Julie, Barb, etc. It also does nothing to suggest that I don't have Biblical evidence or don't believe in a God of grace. My comments were actually directed at the fact that I DO believe in a God of love, not a God of "judgment and hellfire." I fully believe that the God that most Christians believe in is this type of God.

            Please stop leaping to conclusions and lumping me in with whatever stereotype you may have of Christians.

          • dubleya

            Chester,
            Once again you treat a valid criticism of your argument as a personal attack. You did it in the above comment, which I responded to, and you do it again here. I am not attacking you. I am making a point, one I think is entirely valid.
            I am saying that you assume Julie's thesis is based on wishful thinking and a lack of scriptural context. I am saying that you might be wrong. I am saying that a biblically grounded belief, one that is a reasonable interpretation of scripture, deserves more than just being ignored as falling outside the traditional human construct of Christianity. To my mind, granted as an apostate, God's message is in the bible and not in the pews. I have no horse in this race, but I respect Julie's stand on this subject.
            I never said you haven't examined issues critically, that you have no biblical evidence, or that you don't believe in a God of grace. Just as I did above, I'll ask you to show me exactly where I said those things. You won't because I didn't. Just like I didn't call you fallacious and ignorant.
            Please stop leaping to conclusions and lumping me in with whatever stereotype you may have of apostates.

          • Chester

            "I am saying that you assume Julie's thesis is based on wishful thinking and a lack of scriptural context"

            This is not what I said.

            "I am saying that a biblically grounded belief, one that is a reasonable interpretation of scripture, deserves more than just being ignored as falling outside the traditional human construct of Christianity"

            I fully agree.

            "Just as I did above, I'll ask you to show me exactly where I said those things. You won't because I didn't"

            While not referring to me directly, you implicitly set up a comparison between me (follower of theology/orthodoxy/church doctrine) and a more enlightened view. My apologies if I misinterpreted you. The larger point is that I feel you are taking what can be a reasoned, rational, discussion to a more personal level by using unnecessarily charged language. This isn't personal between us — I don't even know who you are.

          • dubleya

            Chester,
            You say that I am making this unduly personal, and I think we are still under a grave misunderstanding. I have been avoiding the diplomat's apology with this because I really dislike a passive aggressive half apology. "I'm sorry if you interpret my words that way" and the like. I've said it already; I'm not criticizing you, I'm criticizing your opinion. I'm not calling, with the exception of your assumptions of atheists, any of your arguments uninformed, or unenlightened. I'm asking you to avoid rejecting the other side out of hand, or build a case as to why we can.

            I also want to question how you are able to infer what I am saying when I don't say it when you will not extend that same courtesy to me. If you want to build an inferential case by talking about what I implicitly do, perhaps you might want to concede that your paragraph:

            Ultimately, a doctrine in which everyone is saved is far more comforting than one in which God respects free will. But it's also a doctrine in which the power of Christ's sacrifice is stripped of meaning, and a doctrine in which God is reduced to a (far less dangerous) caricature of Himself. Ultimately, this is the God that atheists (and indeed all of us!) want to believe in — a God who plays by humanity's rules, a God who is safe, the God entirely divorced from the Old Testament, Revelation, or anything mildly discomforting. But I don't think our measuring stick should be worshiping the God that most people want to believe in.

            "implicitly" makes the same statement as:
            "Julie's thesis is based on wishful thinking and a lack of scriptural context"
            Just sayin'

            I do feel bad that a really important conversation is getting sidetracked by people who want to take criticism personally instead of constructively. This isn't personal between us.

          • Chester

            "I do feel bad that a really important conversation is getting sidetracked by people who want to take criticism personally instead of constructively"

            If you want to avoid making this a personal conversation, please avoid condescension.

            I am not rejecting Julie's position out of hand — I have several objections, none of which have been answered (in my opinion) sufficiently. But I certainly wouldn't dismiss her opinion without seeking to understand it.

          • jferwerd

            So Chester, what are your sincere objections? And if I give you sound, reasoned, scriptural responses, are you going to listen and consider, or are you going to drown them out with traditions you cling to? If you are truly interested in seeing al alternative, credible perspective, although through new lenses, give me your objections. If not, then don't waste my time.

          • Chester

            I am very interested in seeing your opinions, but you must also recognize that:

            a) Listening to your opinions, understanding them, appreciating them, does not necessarily entail accepting them.

            b) It's possible for someone to study the scriptures deeply and come to a different conclusion than you do.

            c) Just like there is a possibility that I am wrong, there is a possibility that you are too.

            d) Just because my beliefs may be traditional, it in no way entails that I cling to them. This is a really condescending way to talk to someone.

          • Chester

            My sincere objections are as follows:

            A) My understanding is that none of us know who will be saved or who will not be saved. This is up to God. In this vein, it doesn't seem correct to say that '99%' of humans will end up in hell, as Steve does in this thread.

            B) My understanding is that the God of Christianity in the orthodox sense is kind, loving, and just. Why can't we simply trust that God will justly judge those who have not yet heard of him?

            C) If God really did create and use evil, what is the point? It seems in this respect, a God in the universalist tradition is more cruel than the orthodox God because he CHOSE for people to suffer. If he is going to save everyone at the end, why not spare everyone the suffering? If it is to reveal the true 'goodness' of God to us, can't he simply reveal this to us since he is omnipotent?

            D) What use is God sending his son to die in a theory in which everyone is finally saved? If God can save everyone (regardless of their acceptance of his son), why even send his son? Why not just forgive everyone immediately?

            E) How does a situation in which humans have no free will make sense in light of the Fall? How does it make sense in terms of Christ's call for us to evangelize?

            F) If everyone is to be saved, what is the purpose in evangelizing? Why tell anybody? Is there a rewards system?

            G) Why would God, if he truly is a loving Father, allow so many people to be mislead for so long? Why has he only revealed the truth to a few? Why is this truth only available via careful study (many people are illiterate or don't speak the original tongues).

            H) How can a good being create evil? Evil is by definition the opposite of good.

            I hope none of these questions "wastes your time"

          • @chester, you have some good questions/objections, but they are all questions that have been asked before and that we have answers to. In fact, some of your questions/objections are the very same ones we had when we first began studying Universal Reconcilliation/Salvation. I would suggest, either that you wait to read Julie's book or that you and Julie debate this topic by email, on a forum, or by phone.

          • Chester

            It would be interesting to see some of these answers laid out in a blog post. I (and others) would be very interested in hearing your perspective on this.

            I don't want to read too much into your comments (please forgive me if I am), but if the purpose is to politely ask me to stop posting; I'm not sure if I see the utility. If the point that you and Julie want to spread to the world IS a valid point, and IS worth writing a book about, it is certainly valid to discuss on a blog, and moreover, will only be strengthened by criticism. I don't think one-sided audiences are ever a good thing, and that's certainly the point with Julie's interaction with atheists, right?

          • @Chester, what I'm suggesting is that if you Google Universal Reconciliation or Universal Salvation, you will find forum posts where people debate this topic for hundreds of pages. Julie and I are all about a good debate, but the issue is not going to be settled on her blog. That's why the companion website which will be set up for her book will have a section dedicated specifically for answers to the most common questions/objections and there will be a forum where you can debate people to your hearts content. This topic is a Pandora's Box and as soon as we answer some of your questions, you'll have 10 more. It took us more than 6 months of intense studying before we completely embraced this teaching so it's not likely we'll convince you by debating in the comments of a blog post.

          • Chester

            Fair enough.

          • jferwerd

            D. The Scriptures teach we are saved from the consequence of the sin of Adam–mortal death, not hell. The Bible is clear that the purpose of Christ was to overturn the consequence of Adam for all people.

            "So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men." (Rom. 5:18) "As in Adam all die, so in Christ, all will be made alive, but each in his own order…" (1 Cor. 15:22-23) To me, it can't get any plainer than that.

            F. Evangelizing is about declaring life now. Paul said, "For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace" (Rom. 8:6). Jesus spoke of having life by being connected to the Vine. OC (orthodox Christianity) has made LIFE about LATER, but the Scriptures teach that when you have faith in Christ, you come into LIFE NOW. Would you say that your life as a Christian has been a waste? I hope not. You are to tell people about Jesus so they can enjoy the relationship you now enjoy. The Kingdom of God is about a citizenship, not a place. Evangelizing is declaring this Kingdom until it fills the earth, which won't happen successfully in this age. But we are still to share it with others.

            G. God said in many places that He deceived or blinded people to the truth–even those who proclaimed to have the truth! This is for a purpose that I do not have the time or ability to go into here on a blog. But consider a few verses where God is portrayed as deceiving people or hiding truth from them. Would these make sense from a "fair God" if He hid the truth from them only to send them to hell?

            And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: 2 Thess. 2:11

            "To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, 12 so that WHILE SEEING, THEY MAY SEE AND NOT PERCEIVE, AND WHILE HEARING, THEY MAY HEAR AND NOT UNDERSTAND, OTHERWISE THEY MIGHT RETURN AND BE FORGIVEN." Mark 4:11-12

            At that time Jesus said, "I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants." Matt. 11:25

            "HE HAS BLINDED THEIR EYES AND HE HARDENED THEIR HEART, SO THAT THEY WOULD NOT SEE WITH THEIR EYES AND PERCEIVE WITH THEIR HEART, AND BE CONVERTED AND I HEAL THEM." John 12:40

            Again, evil in the mind of the ancient and Eastern culture is very different from the way we perceive evil. For one thing, it does not have nearly the power we have given it in our society. Here are a couple links:
            http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/1_faqs.html#bad1 http://www.askelm.com/doctrine/d950101.htm

            Our perspective of evil is often skewed or we make judgments based on partial pictures. For instance, was the crucifixion evil? Was the fruit of Judas' betrayal evil? Was the fruit of David's sin with Bathsheba evil? Was the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt "good"? Was the fruit of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers evil? (What you intended for evil, God intended for good, for the saving of many lives). So again, we have to put on new glasses when thinking about things.

            Hope this helps.

          • jferwerd

            About the "wasting time" comment. I get so many people who just want to debate or argue…it feels like beating one's head against a wall. I'm always willing to try to explain things to people who are willing to listen.

            A & B: Orthodox Christianity teaches that every person who has ever lived who did not call upon the name of Christ before they died, regardless of whether or not they had a chance to hear of Him, will burn forever in fiery, conscious torment. Consider that the world has nearly 7 billion people currently, and roughly 30% of those are professing Christians. That includes Catholics, Protestants, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Eastern Orthodox, etc. And this is in the information age when people have had the greatest opportunity of all time to hear about Jesus. But what about the many Millennia before and millions of people who never heard? Our contention here is not with God's justice, but with the black and white teaching of orthodox Christianity that would damn most people who have ever lived and who did not hear about Jesus, which does not even follow the teaching of Scriptures on the matter. Jesus plainly stated that He would save all people, John 12:32 ("And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all humans to Myself.")

            C: the point of evil is that you cannot understand what is good without it. Would we appreciate the good and just nature of God, and be able to fully respond to that love unless we knew what was counter to it? God stated that He created evil and uses evil (in many different verses). Evil in the minds of western Christians (Americans) is very different than Middle Eastern mindset. We have given evil much more credit and power than what it has. It is merely a tool for God to contrast what is good to His creation. I believe this is the meaning behind the Tree of Knowlege of Good and Evil…before we can know what is LIFE, we must understand good and evil. How can you say God is more cruel in creating and using evil if none of His creation will be lost to is, as orthodox Christianity teaches? In OC, evil wins and God loses. But if God created and is fully in control of evil for a temporary purpose, and ultimately has victory over it, then why is it so hard to accept?

            >>"If he is going to save everyone at the end, why not spare everyone the suffering?" I say, if He is NOT going to save everyone in the end, then the suffering is far, far worse than any suffering that this world has ever seen. Would God seem more or less benevolent if He allows suffering for a temporary greater good, or if He allows it to continue without limits forever?

          • Jack Johnson

            Orthodox Christian teaching does not entail that those who have not heard of Christ are damned. This is a speculative issue, but there is also a rich tradition of inclusivists who hold:

            (1) All salvation is through Christ
            (2) Christ's benefits can be applied to those who follow God's will apart from knowing about Christ, and His grace can enable a positive, albeit limited, response.
            (3) These people will embrace Christ as the one they were implicitly after once they meet Him in heaven, similar to OT saints.

            I further hold (which has precedent in old Christian tradition):
            (4) Those who have not heard of Christ, as well as those who have not fully grown into Christlike character, will go to an intermediate state to finish their cooperation with grace.

            Jesus plainly stated that He will draw all people, but that drawing is resistible.

            It seems to me that you have jumped to universalism without seeing all of the other options orthodox Christian offers. What you have, in my judgment, is a caricature of traditional theology, or at least big strands of it.

          • jferwerd

            Since Jesus rebuked people for holding to traditions of men, I don't see it as being condescending but rather exhortational. We should all be cautious about following traditions of men. We should all be more deliberate about checking into why we believe what we believe to see if they are from God or ideas from men. You seem a little over-sensitive for someone who wants to debate a controversial topic on a blog…are you sure you want to proceed?

            Are you willing to abide by your own a-c? I could be wrong but it seems that you don't listen, understand, or appreciate the ideas and thoughts of others (a).

            Part of the problem here is that I know what you believe and why you believe it….I was probably very similar to you a few years ago and held the the same beliefs and views on Scripture and such for most of my life. I KNOW what evangelical Christians believe. I taught it, spoke it, and lived it for decades. But the difference (so far) between you and I is that I began really listening and not discounting other views or perspectives just because I didn't initially understand or agree with them. And by being open to really listen, it opened my eyes to amazing understanding that made everything I read in the Bible (especially many passages/teachings that no one could agree on or explain) make a lot more sense. It opened my eyes to how many false teachings had worked their way into modern Bibles from tradition, ignorance, or agenda through the hundreds of years of translations.

            Are you willing to accept that I have come to a different, equally informed and studied conclusion than you, without criticizing or condescending or feeling that you are superior (b)?

            Are you willing to consider the possibility that you are wrong (c)? Does wrong even matter if we can learn from other perspectives?

          • Chester

            Julie, if you have any intention of becoming a strong spokeswoman for this perspective, you NEED to stop personally attacking people who disagree with you. I may be sensitive, but there is a reason! How would you react if someone said this about you:

            "But the difference (so far) between you and I is that I began really listening and not discounting other views or perspectives just because I didn't initially understand or agree with them."

            "I could be wrong but it seems that you don't listen, understand, or appreciate the ideas and thoughts of others"

            Why even say these things? What is the point? I'm not making similar accusations against you, even though we may disagree.

            Disagreeing with you is fundamentally different from not listening to or appreciating you!

          • Chester

            With the respect to the 'traditions of men' point, I certainly agree. No belief should be unquestioned. But this doesn't mean that traditional opinions should be simply rejected for being…well..traditional.

            Let me use an analogy (borrowed from Kuhn and Lakatos). Physicists are constantly trying to discover new things about atomic structure. Many theories have been proven false in the past. But physicists always give the existing theory the respect and attention it deserves, because there is likely a very valid reason it is the existing theory. If everyone started from ground zero, science would get nowhere. This doesn't mean that the theory should be unquestioned — but it does mean that the weight of evidence should be respected and not simply thrown aside without careful consideration.

            For some people, simply embracing orthodox beliefs may be the result of an unquestioned faith. But this is not always the case.

          • jferwerd

            Chester, I did not mean to come across so harsh. I'm multitasking right now, working on homework, and I didn't give adequate thought to how my words came across, so I am sorry. This is not a personal attack and I did not mean to make it one.

          • dubleya

            My dad has a friend who has been divorced four times. He has also had several broken engagements.
            Every time he comes over to visit my dad, he's got another story about how he has been done wrong.
            One time, when I asked my dad how this guy has such bad luck, my dad turned to me and said "When one person screws you, they might be the problem; when 10 people screw you, I think you have to start looking at the common denominator"

            Every person who has disagreed with you has had a problem with tone. Every single one. I think that maybe it's time to investigate the common denominator.
            You are being a tone troll. Yes, I realize that this comment is insulting, I realize that it is a personal attack.
            Tell us Chester, how exactly might we disagree with you without offending you? Because I assure you we will try…..

          • Chester

            Thanks dubleya.

          • AnotherFriend

            I guess what confuses me is why you believe that you have to choose between a God of love and church doctrine. I thought church doctrine, at least the church doctrine I'm familiar with believes that God is a God of love…not that he is a God of hate. I think the Bible does teach that God is a god of love, so we agree there…I just think the Bible also teaches that there will be be a judgement as well which clearly some folks here seem to be uncomfortable with. My guess is that some have been scarred by attending churches that only focused on God's wrath and not his love. The Bible that I see, and the Bible that orthodox Christianity seems to affirm is one in which God is both love and there is a judgement.

            I do understand that you feel that any consequences of sin beyond suffering in this world is abhorrant and you're not willing to accept a God that allows that…but it seems to me that the Bible teaches that there are consequences beyond the immediate…and to be honest, I'm not sure that I believe anyone in this forum has the years of Greek and Hebrew knowledge to credibly explain all those instances away, unless there are closet scholars reading. With all due respect to Julie's ability to parse Young's Literal Translation and explain away eternity and souls and evil, I don't find her more credible than 2000 years of church orthodoxy, call me a skeptic.

            I value your earnestness and your heart for people but I feel like you've come to a conclusion: people are driven away by the concept of hell, or God would be a monster if he did such and such, and you're finding the proof you need in the Bible but changing some words and discounting other passages. You're free to do that, of course, but I personally believe that it does violence to the Bible and attempts to resolve away the mystery/paradox of who God really is, "warts and all". :)

            I know I'm repeating myself but not only do I feel you've designed a God you like and then looked for proof to confirm that, but you're throwing away something that doesn't to be thrown away…God can be a god of love and there can be judgement, in fact his love is only meaningful if there is judgement. I'm comfortable with both, and I'm not part of a conspiracy and I don't believe God is a monster and I'm not in it for the money…so I continue to be confused as to why you need to have a conspiracy in the first place, why you can't accept 2000 years of church orthodoxy, why it has to be a secret that you've stumbled upon that God has hidden from all except a few.

            I'm guessing we won't convince each other…but I do appreciate that you're trying to find what is true, as I know I am and Chester appears to be. Despite comments to the contrary here and there, you can't dismiss my view as being from someone who doesn't care or who isn't interested in the truth or who is blindingly accepting pablum. I'm not a shill for the religious-industrio complex :), so in your world view you need to account for people like me…who don't see God as a monster, who believe that he is love and that here is a judgement with eternal consequences.

  • A lot of interesting discussion on both sides about both free will and universalism (God's plan/intention to save/reconcile all). It seems like both sides are making assumptions about what the other side believes. This is a very complicated topic to discuss on a blog like this, and is probably better discussed in person, but I'd like to add my 2 cents.

    1. I don't think Julie, Barb or anyone else is suggesting that we completely abandon Christian orthodoxy or tradition. I believe that was they are saying is that it's okay to question things and to try to get to the bottom of how things became "orthodox." None of us has a direct line to Christ or the Apostles to know what they were thinking, and neither did the men who lived in the 3rd-6th centuries who developed much of what we consider to be orthodoxy which included doctrine such as eternal torment and the trinity, to name a few. Those men were just as human and fallible as we are today and there's no reason to believe they were more spirit led or informed than we are today. If anything, many of those men were influenced by power, politics, and religious bias, and it's likely that their theology and doctrine reflected this. If you study early church history, it is my belief that there was not a consensus on most Christian theology and doctrine…so those with the most influence and power often won out in determining what was "orthodox" and in determining what was "anathema" and who was heretical.

    2. I don't think that any of the people on here who support universalism are denying that orthodox Christians are loving or that they are suggesting that Christians do not get grace. In fact, most Christians are very loving. The problem is that from a non-Christian's perspective, a strict interpretation of Christian orthodoxy when it comes to salvation and eternal torment/hell, is that over 98% of the people who have ever lived, have been dammed to hell. So when Julie talks about the " Club" in her post above, it's great if you are part of the Club and can make up the rules about who is in the Club, but it sucks for the other 98% who did not make it in. Christian orthodoxy says that the man who was the most vile of sinners his entire life but said the sinners prayer minutes before dying, will be saved from eternal torment, but the Hindu woman who was more selfless and loving than 99% of Christians, will be punished or separated from God eternally because out of no fault of her own, she never heard of Christ or had the chance to believe in Him. It just does not add up and you can see why people become atheists or agnostic.

    3. Someone above mentioned that Julie was trying to make scripture fit her conclusions. The truth is that she fought and defended the inerrancy of modern Bible translations for the longest time and she was a strict orthodox Christian for 40 years. She, like the Apostle Paul who was devoted to the Jewish tradition, was just as devoted to her Christian heritage and to orthodoxy. However, in an effort to make sense of so much Christian theology that does not truly make sense, she opened her mind to ask questions like, would the Bible make more sense if God's plan was to save all? Is there a chance that the theologians of the early centuries got some things wrong? Would universalism satisfy both God's justice and mercy, yet line up better with his character of unfailing love?

    4. Universalism is very misunderstood in Christian circles, usually dismissed as heresy, and usually dismissed out of ignorance for what it really teaches. The bottom line is that that if you really understand what universalism is about, it does not water down the gospel, Christ's death and resurrection, consequences and atonement for sin, justice, or most of the objections that orthodox Christians initially have against it. It's gotten a bad rap throughout the centuries and there is a lot of misinformation about what it really teaches.

    Because it cannot be covered adequately here, I would suggest that those opposed to it hold their objections until they have a chance to read Julie's forthcoming book on the subject. At that time, there will be plenty of opportunity for discusion, and Julie will have a website set up with a proper forum where people can debate to their hearts content. Stay tuned to Julie's website to learn about when her new book will be available.

    • AnotherFriend

      Steve Ferwerda,

      I appreciated your post as I think it provides a glimpse of your heart and one of your key assumptions. I think your key statement is:

      "The problem is that from a non-Christian's perspective, a strict interpretation of Christian orthodoxy when it comes to salvation and eternal torment/hell, is that over 98% of the people who have ever lived, have been dammed to hell. So when Julie talks about the " Club" in her post above, it's great if you are part of the Club and can make up the rules about who is in the Club, but it sucks for the other 98% who did not make it in. Christian orthodoxy says that the man who was the most vile of sinners his entire life but said the sinners prayer minutes before dying, will be saved from eternal torment, but the Hindu woman who was more selfless and loving than 99% of Christians, will be punished or separated from God eternally because out of no fault of her own, she never heard of Christ or had the chance to believe in Him. It just does not add up and you can see why people become atheists or agnostic. "

      My guess is that you started from there based on your compassion and that is a truth you're willing to hold to above a lot of others, a core value, i.e. a loving God can't possibly allow the situation you describe. You believe that it is unfair that a sinner be saved on the cross but a Hindu woman not be saved and so you need a view of Scripture and of God where you can be sure and know that the Hindu woman will be ultimately saved from eternal torment. You believe that your view is the correct one for a number of reasons, amongst them the fact that it matches one of your key criteria: no "innocent" people get eternal torment.

      Am I on the right track or did I missinterpret what you wrote?

      • @AnotherFriend from your statement “you need a view of Scripture and of God” implies that I am trying to fit scripture to match some belief that “I need” which is what you suggested about Julie as well. We are not trying to create a God or theology that fits our conclusions or beliefs, we are simply trying to embrace an interpretation of the Bible that makes much more sense to us than anything that was ever taught to us in our 40 years of Christian orthodoxy. Calvinists and Arminians are diametrically opposed to each other on the notion of who is “saved” yet both cannot be true. Universalists on the other hand offer an explanation that harmonizes the two, yet Universalists are branded the heretics.

        Quite frankly I don’t know that my view is the “correct one,” and quite frankly I don’t know what the truth is but neither does anyone else. What I do know is that I’ve settled upon a teaching that makes more sense of the Bible to me from Genesis to Revelation than any other teaching I’ve ever been exposed to.

        Lastly, by definition, God does not need to answer to anyone and God has every right to send most of humanity to hell if he chooses. However, the real issue I believe is not whether God has the right or is just or loving to send people to eternal torment/hell, but rather, does the Bible even teach eternal torment. And in my view after critically studying church history, and the scriptures, I don’t believe the Bible teaches eternal torment. I believe it was a concept that was popularized by Latin/Roman bishops and theologians who wanted a doctrine of salvation that matched up with their cultural and political ideologies. There are several mis-translated key words like “hell” and “eternal” which I believe are responsible for perpetuating the doctrine of eternal torment. Julie’s book covers these mis-translations in great detail, but you can find hundreds of websites (both pro and con) that discuss this very issue if you can’t wait for her book to be released.

        • Chester

          Why can't Calvinism and Arminianism both be (in a sense) true? Why can't a situation exist in which God respects free will but remains sovereign? How is this any different from the mystery of how Jesus was fully God and fully man?

        • "We are not trying to create a God or theology that fits our conclusions or beliefs…" Whoa, wait. Of course you are. I'm a first time reader and that's the most obvious part of the blog. You may be right in your understanding of God, and it may be a better understanding than what you have been taught, or – at minimum – a necessary counterbalance to some other ideas that are considered more mainstream. But the most obvious thing here is that it doesn't seem right to you that God would let (or send) anyone to a hell, and especially those who seem to have had no control over that situation – it doesn't seem like God would do that, not the God you know, and certainly not one who claims to be good – so there must be some misunderstanding that has been passed down in the church over the centuries that must be corrected, must be re-envisioned.

          I don't think there's anything wrong with that. Perfectly honorable position to take. But that is the theology, or assumption, or starting point of the reasoning here. I'm not sure I can envision a universalism that doesn't start there, actually – though I haven't made any study of that. My anecdotal examples are missionaries who had great compassion for people they served, worked in an area where there was not much visible conversion and lots of suffering, and came to regard it as inconsistent for God to reject those who they loved.

          Separate topic: As to orthodoxy being set down and solidified in the 3rd-6th C's in some unfortunate way that doesn't do justice to God's real truth, it's another idea that seems attractive at first and looks like it will explain some difficulties, but the longer one tries to apply it, the more it unravels, creating even worse contradictions than those "fixed." It's not just that it gets us in trouble in the 19th-21st C's, because we moderns are as prone to the same political and cultural forces that misled them (probably 10x more, actually), but because you start losing good explanations for the 2nd C and the 7-10th, then the 1st C and the 11th-18th, and finally, no explanation that holds together for one day after Pentecost to the present moment.

  • Jack Johnson

    Wow, this has branched into several different lines of discussion! Let me offer my own ten cents:

    (1) There is a mammoth difference between our choices being *influenced* by outside forces and them being *causally determined* by outside forces. No serious Christian philosopher or theologian who believes in free will believes we cannot be influenced one way or the other. No one is utterly "free" in that sense. What makes is "free" is that we have the ability to do otherwise than we do. We have the power of contrary choice, to choose to give in to one desire/influence or another. We have the freedom to not only weigh, but *weight" our desires as we choose. That is the essence of free will, and I do think it is taught in Scripture.

    (2) When the Bible says God "creates" evil (in Isaiah), it is clearly talking about certain natural disasters in the context. More modern Bible's (post King James) are more faithful to the text when they state that God creates "calamity," which He does in many circumstances, either by permitting it and providentially ordering it, or by causing it. It is not speaking about moral evil.

    In the Garden, God gave people the choice to trust Him that His ways lead to true happiness and fulfillment, or to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and figure it out on their own, independent of Him. Instead of trusting that God had their best intentions in mind, they believed the lie that God was holding out on them, and ate the apple, hoping to find true happiness outside of God's will and guidance. Temptation is always enticing – it *seems* so very good on the face of it, and it seems like such an easy and surefire path to happiness and fulfillment, but it is always based on a half-truth. Adam and Even ignored the full truth and acted on the lies of the serpent, when they could have done otherwise, resisted the seeming good of rebelling against God, and found that it really is true that God is the source of true human happiness. The choice in the Garden is paradigmatic of the choice between good and evil that is laid before all human beings every day.

    (3) Human freedom is not at odds with God's sovereignty. God has sovereignly chosen to give us freedom and not to act in a unilateral way throughout His providence. That is His sovereign right. What sovereign has ever micromanaged his kingdom? What kings and queens almost always do is set up certain rules unilaterally, leave people free with respect to them, and then punished and reward them according to how they act. There isn't even any tension between sovereignty and human freedom. It is clear once you have a good grasp of what sovereignty is that the former can encompass the latter.

    In one sense, God's will is always done – God has permitted us freedom, God is ordering history, and God will assign people their destinies according to their choices. In another sense, God's will is often not done when we sin. I think the passages I have brought out do make it clear that people can reject God's will for themselves in this sense. This is not a sign of "weakness" in God or a chink in His sovereign armor – it is an expression of the awesome power He has sovereignty endowed each of us in the image of God, to determine freely for ourselves our destiny.

    (4) It is far from clear to me that this version of Calvinist Universalism (which is what is being propounded here) is comparatively less "horrible" or makes God relatively less "monstrous" than the classical view of these matters (rightly understood). On this view, God causes every rape, child molestation, wife beating, genocide, adultery, murder, torture – all because such things are somehow necessary for us to appreciate the good, or are somehow necessary to God's plan – which is to save everybody unilaterally in the end?

    Consider this: if we have no free will, then God can determine us to love Him and each other from the beginning, and to do so forever. There would be no need for sin if God determines all of our actions. The notion that the perfectly good God of the universe *needs* evil to accomplish his purposes is morally abhorrent to me, and contrary to central biblical teaching about the nature of God, in whom there is no shadow of turning. It is one thing to say God can and does bring good out of evil. It is quite another to say that He needs evil to accomplish the good, which I find very implausible.

    continued below…

  • Jack Johnson

    As Chester has laid out, the classical Christian view is far more attractive (and biblical) in my mind:

    (1) God gives us the freedom to follow His will or not
    (2) We all fall short of this and sin, becoming slaves to evil, unable to break the chains
    (3) God sends His Son as the perfect revelation of the Father so that we can be free from both the guilt and the power of sin, and He gives everyone a full and fair chance at receiving this gracious love (how he does this is another matter, but for now I will say I believe it is very clear from Scripture that God will do this).
    (4) If someone decisively rejects God after His optimal efforts to save them and make them righteous again (giving them every grace they need until they are past a point of no return), then He leaves them to their choice. He does not directly torment them necessarily: he just lets them experience the natural consequences of sin and separation from God – which is misery. This they deserve, as they have decisively rejected God and all He stands for (which is everything good and loving). C.S. Lewis' "The Great Divorce" is wonderfully illustrative of this.

    I don't see anything in these classical Christian teachings that is inconsistent with a God of perfect goodness, wisdom, and power. I *do* see the notion of God causing evil utterly inconsistent with a God of such lofty attributes.

    • This last point of yours sums up our differences in one cold-hearted nutshell IMO:

      (4) If someone decisively rejects God after His optimal efforts to save them and make them righteous again (giving them every grace they need until they are past a point of no return), then He leaves them to their choice. He does not directly torment them necessarily: he just lets them experience the natural consequences of sin and separation from God – ****which is misery. This they deserve,***** as they have decisively rejected God and all He stands for (which is everything good and loving).

      To say people *deserve* misery, and to even think you can elevate yourself above someone and believe you made a better decision than they did while ignoring all sorts of Scripture verses that teach how God has blinded some from accepting the Gospel–is exactly what's troublesome about your view of God's plan.

      Tell me, where is the perfect love in a God who leaves a good chunk of His creation in misery, f-o-r-e-v-e-r "because they deserve it"?

  • Jack Johnson

    Barb,

    I don't believe the Scriptures, rightly interpreted, teach that God blinds anyone apart from their choice. He gives them over to lies if that is what they want, but He is only ratifying their choice when He does so. The same son that melts wax, hardens clay. It is the condition of our heart that determines how God's love will affect us: by hardening us further, or melting us unto repentance. Before God hardened Pharaoh's heart, he hardened his own heart. Before the Jews were blinded, they rejected Jesus. But of course if they accept Jesus, the "veil is removed," as Paul said. It comes down to our choice.

    Some people do make the right choice. Others do not. There is nothing boastful in this, it is just the nature of free choice, the power God has given us. God praises people all the time in the Bible for making the right choice, and blames those who do not. Hebrews 11 is a good example of this.

    People who sin and choose evil do deserve the fruit of their labor. The Bible is clear: you reap what you sow. There is justice in this. If someone rejects God fully and decisively and chooses evil with every aspect of his/her character, I think it is indeed just that they experience the misery that results from this choice. It is very hard for me to see how this is coldhearted, as this misery is self-imposed and self-chosen, and it only comes about as a result of folk's persistent rejection of God's incredible love and grace. The stubbornly unrepentant sinner does deserve to incur consequences for his or her choice. To me, what would be coldhearted is to allow the finally recalcitrant (those who decisively refuse to repent) to get off scott free, for the Hitler's, the murderers, the child molesters, and the wantonly selfish to experience no consequences for their actions whatsoever. To me, this undermines the seriousness of their choices and the damage that they have done to so many. God still loves these persons perfectly, even throughout eternity, and would welcome them back gladly if they would just repent. But they do not, and they therefore deserve to incur the consequences of their choices. God does not "leave them in misery," but does all He can to save them. They choose misery over the personal cost of repentance. Here, love and justice meet and are fully displayed, in classical Christian teaching.

    I'd like to say a couple other things, too. I don't think classical Christian teaching holds that 98% of people go to hell. Nor do I think simply asking for forgiveness is all that is required of Christians – we must cooperate with God's grace to become Christlike as well in order to be fit for heaven. Nor do I think it holds that the Hindu who is responding to the light that he has is destined for hell. Rather, I believe that God's grace has been universally given, and insofar as those outside of the explicit Gospel have become genuinely good people in some measure, they are already implicitly responding to that grace. If they follow that light, they will be given more, until they finally meet Jesus (here or hereafter), the full revelation of God's grace. This kind of inclusivism has a rich history in Christian theology, and can even be found in C.S. Lewis's work, "Mere Christianity." Still, it is possible for us to reject God's saving grace, and to do so eternally, if we so choose.

    Moreover, I don't think universalism necessarily undermines God's justice and love, or the cross, etc. I think that's a fair point. There are some orthodox versions of universalism that have been offered in the history of theology (although the wider church has not been persuaded). One can hold that all will eventually come around, trust Christ, cooperate with His grace to become holy, etc. But I do think those who argue for it have to show that universalism is consistent with human freedom, and that it follows somehow from God's perfect love. I have personally not seen this done. And the onus is upon them, for most Spirit-filled Christians have not been persuaded by the arguments, biblical or philosophical/theological.

    • Actually, I was the one that suggested that classical Christian teaching holds that 98% of the people who have ever lived are in hell, not that "98% of people go to hell." Historically, if you take a strict evangelical view of salvation only coming through a profession of faith in Christ, my estimate is that 98% of the people who have ever lived are in hell. One could make the case that in modern times less people are going to hell, but the odds are not that great from a modern evangelical perspective since most evangelicals question the salvation of Catholics, Methodists, Mormons, etc., etc.

      • Jack Johnson

        Hello Steve,

        Yes, I was just throwing out a thought in light of the overall conversation. Thanks for clarifying that.

        There has always been an exclusivist strand in Christian thought that has held that those who have not heard the name of Jesus are eternally damned. But likewise, there has always been a rich inclusivist strand in Christian thought, extending all the way back to the first century with Justin Martyr and all the way into modern times with C.S. Lewis (who is prized among evangelicals), that holds that there is hope for the unevangelized – that God will not leave them without His grace somehow.

        These inclusivists agree that salvation is through Christ, but they believe the benefits of Christ's atonement can extend to people who have not heard of Christ. God can begin to work on people before they hear of Christ, similar to how He worked in the Old Testament, until they eventually meet Christ and explicitly accept Him (here or hereafter). On this view, there are many people in other religions who are already responding to the light and grace that they have (which is universal in some measure), and who, if they continue to respond positively, will become the type of people who would want to embrace Christ for forgiveness and further transformation if they were given the chance to do so.

        I do believe the exclusivist understanding is incompatible with a God of perfect goodness. But I don't think it's biblical, nor do I think it is the only option for the orthodox Christian who cares about staying in the bounds of traditional theology and who believes all persons must *eventually* respond explicitly to Christ to be finally and full reconciled to God. And I certainly do not think it is necessary to embrace universalism to meet the challenge of the fate of the unevangelized.

        • Wonderful. Finally we have some common ground. :-) The universalism that we believe in is the one that says everyone will be reconciled to God through Christ in a plan of ages. So people are either reconciled here (the preferred thing) or reconciled in the hereafter, as you suggest above. Also, the Bible never once says that man has only one chance to reconcile with God…that is in this mortal lifetime. The only verse that comes close is the one that says "It is appointed to man once to die and then the judgment." But that does not prove man only has one chance in this lifetime to get things right. Both the righteous and unrighteous will be judged and it's only if you believe there is eternal torment that you assume it follows the judgment. I see no proof for eternal torment and I see lots of evidence for reconciliation through a plan of ages (eons).

          Some may ask: what about those who explicitly reject God? My contention is that they reject God in this lifetime because they have an incomplete and distorted picture of Him. Perhaps they grew up in a Muslim family, an atheist family, or perhaps they just can't reconcile the God of the Old Testament with the God of the New. No one with a true picture of who their loving Father really is can reject him for long. I believe that in the next ages, God will have revealed himself to everyone without distortion and everyone will be drawn to him. In the same way, the only reason a child rebels and rejects a truly loving parent is because they have distortions about that parent or they have psychological issues. if the parent is truly unconditionally loving and the child is psychologically healthy, there's absolutely no reason for them to reject their parent. How much more so will a person not reject their loving Father when they get to know him without distortion in the next age.

        • So I guess my question to you Jack is: do you think anyone would still reject God's love if they had the opportunity to know God without distortion? Hypothetically, if you were born into God's family and he was the only Father you ever knew, would you ever have a reason to reject His love?

          • AnotherFriend

            Steve Ferwerda,

            Uh, how about Adam and Eve?

          • That's a great question. I guess my reply would be, do we know for sure that there were no distortions in the garden of eden? Were satan's lies about God distortions? Were satan's lies int the garden any different than the way satan still operates today?

            And, can we say that it was not part of God's plan to allow Adam and Eve to fall or people to reject him or be blinded today? If allowing Adam and Eve to fall/sin/reject God's best was part of his plan/grand story/will, how can we say that was a bad thing if it was a necessary part of the story. In the same way, who are we to doubt that if God desires the restoration and reconciling of all things before the end of time, that he won't be able to accomplish that either by removing distortions and drawing all men to himself.

            I guess this kind of brings us back to the "free will" thing again, doesn't it. :-) We may just be going round in circles here, but some interesting things to think about on both sides of the debate. Always more angles to think about.

          • John

            "God's plan" is often confusing because he is omniscient. Surely he knew that Adam & Eve would eventually fall, but this doesn't necessarily mean it was his will or his desire. From my reading, Adam & Eve were in a perfect state of communion with God (much like heaven), but were given the opportunity to disobey him and leave his intimate presence.

            They chose the latter. If we say that it is simply because of Satan's distortion it merely begs the question — why did Satan fall? Who was tempting him? It seems like God is willing to allow the freedom to choose 'not him,' even though he knew that it would lead to his eventual death on the cross.

          • Jack Johnson

            Exactly. And all created beings with free will are subject to temptation (unlike God). We can always ignore God's guidance and truth and go with how things seem to our finite perception, trying to craft our own self-created path to happiness. But only God's will leads to happiness, and we have to be willing to trust Him – even when we cannot see that His (often difficult) way will indeed lead to ultimate happiness (which we often can't up front). But that is the nature of trust – it is always open to us to ignore evidence, trust in ourselves, take the easy path, ignore the consequences of our sin or conveniently forget that we are the problem, etc.

          • Jack Johnson

            Hey Steve,

            I agree that God's grace extends beyond death. If you read "The Great Divorce" by C.S. Lewis, that is essentially my theology on this topic. God will not give up on anyone until it is too late for them (by their choice), for His nature is perfect and unending love. There is a longstanding tradition in Christian theology that holds that there can be purification after death, and I substantially agree with it.

            However, I do believe someone can still reject God decisively even with the best resources of grace. This is because moral freedom necessarily entails the ability to deceive oneself. This is what happened in the Garden, albeit with the help of the serpent (the Devil himself fell because he was self-tempted, evidently, convincing himself of a lie about himself and God). It is always open to us to lie to ourselves in order to avoid pursuing the good (which is often quite difficult), to convince ourselves that what we are doing is not really that bad, to ignore evidence to the contrary, and the like. I think we see this every day, and I do not think all of this behavior can be explained away through ignorance or non-culpable distortions. I think people themselves willfully distort the truth when they decide to choose the easier, immoral path, the one that requires no self-restraint or discipline, etc. And I think since the Fall, our capacity for this is quite great.

            Any relationship involves trust (faith), which means it is open to us to trust that God's way leads to happiness and to trust that God truly is love, or it is open to us to lean on ourselves and go our own way. We cannot know God is loving or that His will is the source of all human happiness unless we are willing to give His ways a chance, and many people are not so willing, precisely because His way is costly and painful, the way of the cross. Many people are just not prepared to pay the cost, either to their pride, to their most immediate desires, to their reputation…you name it. God cannot communicate to us that He is the source of happiness unless we are willing to listen and trust Him. Many people prefer to believe lies (often of their own making) when given the moral freedom to do so, which God has given all us. It is *we* who distort the truth about God's love. Even Jesus, the perfect revelation of the Father (Heb 1), was hated and rejected by men who know Him personally! ;) So long as we have moral freedom, and so long as we must freely participate in God's love and His moral will for our lives to know the fulfillment of it, we may fail to come to know the truth about God by our own choice, falling under the stupefying power of sin instead. It is surprising how often people will forgo what is truly wonderful in order to hold on to their rebellion. Usually, it is because they never gave that wonderful thing a chance.

            I think your view does not have a serious enough understanding of the moral freedom God has set before us, our capacity for self-deception, and the stupefying, distorting nature of sin. I have found that many universalists end up falling into some kind of Pelagianism with respect to human nature.

            And again, I think the idea that God somehow needed the Fall to happen – with all of its concomitant misery – in order to bring about the Kingdom of God is implausible, both rationally and biblically. I don't see how the holocaust, child molestation, rape, etc. could somehow be necessary for God's ultimate purposes. Such moral evil only makes sense if human beings have serious free will. If God caused us all to act as we do, as a perfectly good Being He would cause us all to love each other and Him forever. Since we do not do that, we must have free will if God is to remain perfectly good.

          • Jack Johnson

            I should say, too, that I do think "it is appointed unto man to die once, and then the judgment" is referring to the Final Judgment. I just think there are many exegetical reasons not to think this judgment happens immediately after death (which happens once). The first reason is that many Christians (regardless of belief in a purgatorial intermediate state) already believe that the Final judgment is at the end of history, which will be a LONG time for many Christians. There are other aspects of that passage that make a "death, then judgment immediately" reading hasty, but I'll just leave it there. But nevertheless, I do think it is speaking of THE judgment, and I do not think there is any real reason to believe that this is anything but the end of the story for those who choose God and those who do not choose God.

          • Jack Johnson

            One more note: I do believe many people reject God because of distortions, which is to say that are not really rejecting God at all. But even when God clears these up, moral rebellion is still a real possibility for people, and I don't think all sin can be explained via non-culpable distortions. I think people can and do make their own distortions to avoid following God's will.

          • Jack Johnson

            Usually, it is because they never gave that wonderful thing a chance…and people prefer the misery of sin, because of the twisted satisfaction it brings (though it is but a poor, inverted substitute for real joy), to the personal cost of humility and repentance, without which it is impossible to know the good.

  • Jack Johnson

    What is coldhearted to me is this idea that God *causes* sin by unilaterally blinding people, when He could just as easily, on this view, cause them to love God and each other perfectly, forever. On your view, God causes evil and brings it about on people who truly don't deserve it, since they could not do otherwise. On the classical view, people just experience the natural, just, and fitting consequences of their own evil choices, after God's every effort to save them. Which view is more consistent with God's justice and love?

    • Thanks, Jack, for taking the time to write out your thorough response. It gives me a better glimpse into where you're coming from. I have a few more points to add, but I'm guessing you and I have just about reached an impasse to this dialogue. As I said above (in the comments elsewhere), we are two people who can read the same verses in Scripture, yet interpret them in two totally different ways. Such is life.

      1.) It might be that the same sun/Son that melts the wax hardens the clay, but Who made the clay? Did the clay have any say so in the material it was made of? Therefore, can we accurately judge the clay's reaction as equivalent to the wax's? I don't see how.

      2.) When God told Satan to consider his servant Job, who was "flawless" and "upright," and then Satan proceeded to destroy Job's livestock, his house, his children, and inflict him from head to toe with boils… were those horrific events the "natural consequence of Job's evil choices?" Did Job deserve it? I don't see how.

      3.) After all that, when Job's wife told Job to "curse God and die," why did upright and flawless Job respond to her with, "What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?" Do you believe that the "evil" Job received was any kind of natural catastrophe (earthquake, flood, etc.)? I don't see how, since we know God directed it behind the scenes through Satan. Which is interesting then, that the rest of that same verse says, "In all this did not Job sin with his lips." Job realized that God is responsible for both. Job gave credit where credit was due.

      4.) Justice, judgment and/or punishment are all done through God's love. And His love never fails. His mercy never ends. I don't know anywhere in Scripture where it teaches, nor does universal reconciliation lead me to believe, that God will let people off scott free from their actions. Everyone will be accountable. And everyone will pay their dues. To suggest God will run out of mercy and turn His back on the very people He created is not what I consider as unconditional (agape) love.

      As always…my opinion & understanding…

      • Jack Johnson

        Hey Barb!

        I'll respond to your posts one at a time.

        (1) The clay/wax thing is an analogy. The point is that yes, we indeed can and do choose our moral makeup, choosing to develop an evil or a good character over time. Those who want to do God's will will respond positively to God's offer of gracious salvation. Those who do not will respond negatively to God's grace, becoming yet more hardened. God does not make us as automatons, but free agents, free to do God's will or to choose not do. How God's grace affects us depends upon our free response, and the freely chosen character we have developed.

        (2) Job is a difficult passage of Scripture, but note that it is not God who causes those things. It is Satan. God permits Satan to have his way in the world, just as He permits us to sin and hurt one another. That is free will. He then calls us all back to enter freely into a relationship with Him as genuine persons, rather than robots. Job was not a perfect man (though he was upright, and presumably asked for forgiveness when he was not, which is why he is in *one* sense "flawless" before God), but I agree with you that he did not deserve that pain nor was it merely the natural consequences of *his* sin. Of course, we often suffer unjustly in this world (as Jesus did), which is why we need eternity for the scales to finally be balanced.

        (3) in a *qualified* sense, both good and evil are under God's full sovereignty and will. But the difference is that He positively brings about the former, but only sovereignly *permits* the latter. You can see this asymmetry throughout Scripture – when good things happens, God is praised; but when bad things happen, God is not blamed. This is because God only permits bad things, but actively brings about good things. Both are from His hand, but His relationship to good is radically different from His relationship to evil. Evil (including moral evil) is still "from God's hand" in the sense that it can only happen by His sovereign permission, and only within the bounds that God sovereigly sets), but it is not directly from God; it happens because God has given moral agents free will, and they choose to abuse it when they could choose otherwise.

        This means we need not worry that evil has ever "spun out of God's control," no matter what happens. But we also need not believe God causes evil or creates it as such, which would be a most horrifying, and unbiblical, prospect.

        (4) When the Bible speaks about God's unfailing love, it is speaking about it never ending. God always loves His creatures, everlastingly. It is never overcome with hate, and it is never exhausted. None of this means, however, that God's love cannot be declined. But love declined is *not* love defeated. To speak of "divine defeat" in love is to confuse love with some expression of sheer divine power or will, as a feat to accomplish. But love is an offer of a relationship, and by its very nature it requires a free response from the beloved.

        I do believe God will always love who reject Him. Forever. Unconditionally. And I do believe if God ever actively disciplines/punishes people, it is in hope that they be redeemed (it is done in love). But the real question is whether or not someone can decisively put themselves beyond this redemptive love through their persistent refusal of grace and persistent choice of sin. Can someone sin to the point of closing themselves off to God's love for all eternity? Classical Christian teaching says, "yes." On this view, God still loves them, and would gladly welcome them if they would only repent, but they will not.

        So the difference between the universalist and the classical Christian is not that one holds a high view of God's unconditional, unfailing love, and the other does not. The difference lies in whether or not someone can decisively reject God's love. If people choose to reject God throughout eternity, they do deserve to reap the negative, natural consequences of this choice, which is misery, separation from God, the only source of human fulfillment and happiness. Again, God still loves them, but they just will not love Him back.

  • Jack Johnson

    I should say, God permits only permits EVIL things. In many sense. God causes things that are "bad" or "unpleasant" for people.

    • I'm sorry Jack, but you lost me on this one. I don't understand your point of view; it's too complicated for my little brain to grasp, but I really do appreciate that you took the time to further explain the Gospel as you understand it. From what I gather, we each take away something different from the Bible. Perhaps others will benefit from reading your perspective, and even from this dialogue altogether. The bottom line is everyone who has an interest in learning God's plan should do their own studying to 'show thyself approved' for the day we meet our Maker. :) Take care. :)

  • I have to admit that I always wonder just how much was lost when Constantine first formed the church and what was holy was voted on. The dead sea scrolls are an example. So much has been lost over the centuries, it not being official, that you could ask does what we have today bear any relation to the original message? Although for me there is clear evidence of God still keeping an eye on the bible when he says it doesn't matter how you worship so long as you worship, and Jesus's comments on fundmentalism, for these comments to survive i think that someone has to be keeping on watchful eye on us.

    • Jack Johnson

      If you study church history, you will see that nothing was really suppressed. What happened at the first council of Nicea was that people ratified what the church had basically already recognized as the canon throughout its early history. We still have the non-canonical gospels, precisely because they were not destroyed.