Good or Bad?

2011/03/two-sided_tree.jpg Photo ©Copyright/Courtesty of Flickr

There was once a farmer who had a son and a horse. One day his horse ran away and the neighbors exclaimed, “Such bad luck—you lost your only horse!”

“Who is to say whether it’s good or bad,” asked the farmer? “All I can say for sure is that my horse has run away. Time will tell whether this is good or bad.”

A week later, his horse returned home, followed by 20 more horses. His neighbors shouted with delight, “What good fortune for you! Not only did your horse return, but he brought with him 20 more!”

“Who is to say whether it’s good or bad? All I know is that my horse has come home along with 20 horses, and I must leave it at that.” His neighbors shook their heads and scoffed, “Of course it’s good luck you old fool!”

The next week the farmer’s only son was out riding one of the horses when he fell off and broke his leg. Upon hearing the news, the neighbors came over to give opinion. “You were right. Those horses were not good fortune. Now your son has broken his leg, and it time for the harvest. Such bad luck!”

Once again, the exasperated farmer replied, “Why do you people constantly want to label something as good or bad? Why can’t you just say, ‘Your son has broken his leg while riding a horse,’ and leave it at that? Who is to say whether it is good or bad?”

Upon hearing this, the neighbors were indignant. “Listen, you crazy old man. It is obvious that your son’s broken leg at this time is a sign of bad luck. You are such a fool to think otherwise.”

The following week, the army came and drafted all the eligible young men, sending them off to war. They did not take the farmer’s son on account of his broken leg. Afterwards, the people were heartbroken and came to the farmer in tears. “You are so fortunate. Our sons are gone, and we’ll probably never see them again. Such bad luck we have encountered!”

The old farmer once again said, “Why do you continue to insist an event is good or bad? We do not know the end from the beginning. Why can’t you just say, ‘Our sons have been drafted, and only time will tell if it is good or not?’”

I have thought of this fable many times in my adult life, because so many things that I made inaccurate judgments about. There is always a temptation to make a judgment too soon, but we do not know the end of the story, so how can we know if one individual event is good or bad, out of context of the greater whole?

This truth can be seen with greater clarity as we consider history. For instance, was “the fall of man” good or bad? Was the exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt good or bad? Was the sin of David with Bathsheba good or bad? Was Judas’ betrayal good or bad? Was the crucifixion good or bad?

In Genesis 2–3, we find two trees, right together. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the Tree of Life. As I learn to patiently take in the Story, I see that many things once considered good or bad are nothing more than the “other side” of a two-sided tree. On one side of the tree, we find “good,” but on the other side of the tree, we find “bad.” I believe that God fully intended the happenings in the Garden, and that He fully intended Adam and Eve to experience the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Why? Because before we can know, fully appreciate, and partake of LIFE, we must have fully experienced good and bad. It is the experience of good and bad that reveals to us exactly what LIFE is and is not.

The last chapter of the Bible, Revelation 22, also features the Tree of Life, though the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is noticeably missing. It is the Tree of Life that is chosen to open and close the Story of the plan of ages.

“Happy are the ones following His directions, so that they may have the authority upon the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city” (Rev. 22:14).

As we face the challenges of life, let us remember not to make judgments, for we cannot fully know until the end of the Story. At that time, I’m confident that all the good and all the bad will merge into one all-important lesson—how to find full enjoyment in the tree of LIFE.

Share a time you were too quick to make a judgment about something in your life—an event that brought unusual or unexpected results.

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Posted in category: Enlarging Faith

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  • Deb

    Ahhh, Juliejuliejulie…. would you get out of my head, please.
    The concept of whether events can even be classified as good or bad has intrigued me for a while. I know, immediately, the response is "What about child abuse? That's never good." or "What about cancer?"… Since I will never presume to know what another person is going through, I can't answer them … but on the other hand, I can crawl in the boat with victims of divorce or violent crime or abandonment because I do know that feeling. So in a sense, that which was 'bad' for me, was 'good' for someone else. And if God is truly Sovereign, than he controls everything, ultimately, including that which affects me in a painful way. So either he is Not a Good Father, or he is Not Sovereign. Or, the third choice, I'm wrong in my perception of whether it's good or bad. A vaccine hurts. But it's good. Sexual immorality feels good at the time, but it's not.
    I think of it like trying to explain to a fetus why it is being squeezed and pushed and forced through a tiny opening where it is going to have to learn to breathe, and walk, and sneeze. It's going to fall and skin it's knees and have the flu. It's heart will be broken. Those are all things we'd say are not-good, but they make up this thing called living. And who would say that life is not very, very good?

    • jferwerd

      You always have a beautiful way with words, Deb.

      So either he is Not a Good Father, or he is Not Sovereign. Or, the third choice, I'm wrong in my perception of whether it's good or bad.

      This is something I have wrestled with for a long time. But one time He assured me, "You can't see it now, but this is the path to the greatest joy for all."

    • Julie Shaw

      I love your picture/description of the fetus coming into the world. All of this dialog is so intriguing and is opening up my mind! (It's about time!!!)

  • John

    I agree that we often don't know immediately whether a given event is good or bad. But I think there is a difference between good/bad and good/evil. I don't think good and evil are two sides of the same coin. Wouldn't it be more appropriate to view evil as the absence of good?

    Hard question:
    Do you think that God wills people to experience rape and torture in order to find the good in life?

    • jferwerd

      Bad and evil are the same Hebrew word (ra).

      As to your question, who can say if it's good or bad? Beautiful, loved children have come out of rape. Torture of believers has led to the spreading of the gospel over an entire continent.

      • John

        I'm not speaking about the Hebrew word. They are certainly different concepts in English.

        Of course beautiful children have come out of rape, but it's not necessarily BECAUSE of the rape. If God is powerful enough to bring good even out of awful situations, it doesn't mean that he wanted the evil to happen.

        I'm sure God would like us to be beautiful children without rape and torture. That's certainly what he has in mind for heaven. Or, wouldn't he have to include evil there so we fully experience the joy?

      • Roger

        I think it is wonderful that a child of rape beautiful and loved. But acts of grace, mercy, and love will never, ever be a reason to say that the rape was good! That just gives people an excuse to not judge their sinful acts to be evil, at least not yet. . .

        • AnotherFriend

          If there is no free will then when the psalmist talks about "my sin" he really is misleading us…he should be saying "the things perceived as bad right now that God caused me to do", shouldn't he? I tried reading a Psalm this morning from the perspective that there is no free will and God is responsible for our doing bad things that just seem bad right now but ultimately won't be and it just didn't make any sense.

          • jferwerd

            I have never said that we don't have choices. I have said that our choices are limited by many factors, including individual circumstances as well as God's sovereign will and plan. Free will suggests that we can usurp or change God's plan, whether for ourselves, our neighbor, or others.

          • John

            I don't see what's so shocking about that last proposition.

  • John

    "So either he is Not a Good Father, or he is Not Sovereign. Or, the third choice, I'm wrong in my perception of whether it's good or bad."

    I think there is a fourth choice — God is sovereign and amazingly good, but he allows evil to happen (here on Earth) because it's the result of human free will.

    • jferwerd

      I don't believe in free will. To say that a person has free will is to completely overlook 1. the ultimate plan, will, and sovereignty of God and 2. that every person is born into a set of circumstances that severely limit and constrain their choices. The Bible doesn't teach free will, it is a damaging doctrine of men. The Bible teaches that we are given a certain influence or dominion over our environment, but even then it is wider for some than others, and it is ultimately operating under the plan and sovereignty of God. These are my opinions.

      • John

        I respect the fact that these are your opinions. But I think there are answers to these problems. I won't go into them here because I think it will just degenerate into an argument.

        • jferwerd

          My other point is that we don't know the end of the Story. I believe in the ultimate restoration and reconciliation of all things, as taught in the Scriptures. The rape and the torture surely appear "bad" on this side, but someday in a future age, these wrongs will be fully reconciled and redeemed. As any testimony, the bad will reap a bountiful harvest of good for both parties. In my opinion of course.

          • John

            I guess I just don't understand why God would NEED to will evil — especially if he is all powerful and is just going to make up for it later. This seems like a sort of game to me.

            Why would God will the actions of Josef Mengele (from wikipedia)? Why would he put the girls through this? The only possible answer in my eyes, is that God didn't do this — Josef Mengele did. God let it happen because this is an evil world ruined by human free will — I don't doubt that he will shower these poor children with love later — but because that's what he does regardless, not because he is trying to make up for a wrong.

            This is tough to read, but I really think it causes problems for people claiming that evil is God's will. The question is — WHY?

            Mengele's experiments also included attempts to change eye colour by injecting chemicals into children's eyes, various amputations of limbs, and other surgeries. Rena Gelissen's account of her time in Auschwitz details certain experiments performed on female prisoners around October 1943. Mengele would experiment on the chosen girls, performing sterilization and shock treatments. Most of the victims died, because of either the experiments or later infections.

            "Once Mengele's assistant rounded up 14 pairs of Roma twins during the night. Mengele placed them on his polished marble dissection table and put them to sleep. He then injected chloroform into their hearts, killing them instantly. Mengele then began dissecting and meticulously noting each piece of the twins' bodies."

            At Auschwitz, Mengele did a number of twin studies. After the experiment was over, these twins were usually killed and their bodies dissected. He supervised an operation by which two Romani children were sewn together to create conjoined twins; the hands of the children became badly infected where the veins had been resected, this also caused gangrene

          • jferwerd

            This is tough to read, but I really think it causes problems for people claiming that evil is God's will. The question is — WHY?

            It's interesting you should ask. Just yesterday I was studying Ecclesiastes 1:13 with a friend. You won't find an accurate rendering in any modern translation but I'll give you Young's Literal as well as the literal translation from the Hebrew Interlinear:

            Youngs: "And I have given my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom concerning all that hath been done under the heavens. It is a sad travail God hath given to the sons of man to be humbled by it."

            Now the second portion of the verse, a little clearer message in the Hebrew Interlinear: "Elohim gave the experience of evil to sons of men to humble them."

            It's funny that translators cover that up. If you want to look it up in the Interlinear yourself, here is the link:

            I realize how difficult it is for us to understand the role of evil, but we are so limited in our perspective currently. The thing we have to go back to is that God has taken responsibility for evil, so we must have faith that it will one day be understood through the eyes of a loving parent. I do think though, that unless one believes in His plan of the ultimate restoration of all things (and people), there is no way to accept God as being sovereign over His creation, including evil. But if you understand that nothing will be lost, evil is contained within the benevolent plan of God, to be testified in due time, then at least you can borrow faith that everything will make sense in the end.

          • John

            God hasn't taken responsibility for evil. He has taken responsibility for creating even good things out of evil circumstances.

            Let's say your child got into drugs, and overdosed. He/she was within an inch of death. The person comes to faith, and views this moment as the moment in which their life was changed. Did God make good come out of evil here? Certainly? Did he will the (near) overdose to happen? Probably not. I'm sure he would have been happier if the person had come to Christ without this experience.

            I don't think an understanding that "nothing will be lost" would help me to accept your view. If nothing will be lost, and God will fix everything in the end — there's really no point in him putting us through awful circumstances (like Mengele). This is a type of God I wouldn't want to worship. If there is no free will, and he will correct things in the end, why not just correct them now? Why not give us perfect knowledge of good and evil without participating in evil (like he has?)? It doesn't make any sense to me. I don't worship a God that is both evil and good — I worship a God who is only good.

          • AnotherFriend

            "You won't find an accurate rendering in any modern translation but I'll give you Young's Literal as well as the literal translation from the Hebrew Interlinear: "

            :) I recognize that is your opinion but you surely can't expect folks to take your statement on faith, can you?

            It feels as though you're telling me that you've spent six months studying what someone has said about a particular Finnish-English dictionary and you're telling me that all Finns and dictionary writers down through the ages are incorrect in their translations…but after six months of reading a particular Finnish-English dictionary you can find the justification for your assumptions and have concluded that any dictionaries that don't confirm you assumptions are incorrect, and in fact that all Finnish-English translators are in a conspiracy to make their dictionaries conform to a particular translation that hides truth. It seems to me that any reasonable person would say, "Julie, are you really that confident in your understanding of Finnish that you can reject all the dictionaries that have been written?" If you were a Finn then I might be more inclined to accept your contention, or if you have spent the last 20 years immersing yourself in Finnish, but as someone who isn't a Finn and doesn't speak Finnish it seems a stretch to say you have a better understanding of Finnish than people who have spent their lives studying Finnish, and to accuse those with a different reading of a conspiracy just seems weird and out there, and for me makes your entire foundation questionable.

            I appreciate your zeal but I feel that there are so many forks in the road where you've felt compelled to take one fork that requires all sorts of extra work when there are other forks that on the face of it seem more reasonable. Just my opinion. :)

          • jferwerd

            I provided the Interlinear, Young's Literal (which is much closer), and though it is not online, the Concordant Literal also gives an accurate rendering. The Concordant Literal is how I found it in the first place, so then I went back to Hebrew myself. That is the reason we have Concordances available as well as Interlinears–so we can study Scriptures. Otherwise, what is the point of these resources?

            I encourage you, Friend, to have the courage to study for yourself. I believe you risk more in not seeking your own answers and resting comfortably in traditional renderings of Scripture than you do in forging out to attempt understanding and relying on the Spirit to teach you new things. We are each to study to show ourselves approved. To rely on modern translations simply because there appears to be safety in numbers or because it's the comfortable thing to do, is never what is taught in Scriptures and is a false sense of security.

          • John

            From AnotherFriend's comments, it doesn't appear to me that he lacks courage. Nor is he saying that scriptures shouldn't be critically examined. What he is saying (it seems to me) is:

            a) The burden of proof is on those who dispute an accepted truth. This is true in both theology and science.
            b) Accurate translation requires deep expertise in the language.
            c) A conspiracy seems implausible.

            As a larger point, if you claim that a number of original meanings were mistranslated, this opens a big can of worms. What makes you so confidence in the inerrancy of the Young's literal or the Concordant Literal? How do you know that the original Hebrew is correct?

          • AnotherFriend



            I do study for myself, and I use multiple translations and they make sense and provide, what seems to me, to be a God who is loving, just, who hates sin and evil and yet who sends his son to die for us while we were yet sinners…He treats love and sin more seriously than we do.

            I enjoy examining my assumptions so I don't think courage is an issue, although I understand your faith is so strong in your perspective that you seem to feel that if folks weren't obstinate, or weren't fearful and just opened their hearts, that they would then come to the same conclusion you have.

            I'm grasping for an analogy here but to me it seems as though you're saying that:

            1) current translations seem to say that both X and Y are true.
            2) X and Y can't be both true and based on my attempt to make sense of a suffering world, X needs to be true.
            3) therefore 90+% of translations must be wrong and likely the result of conspiracy
            4) my reading of the English commentaries (and interlinear texts0 provides room for me to dispute some key words related to Y, even though for 1000s of years the majority hasn't disputed those. I may not need to examine verses talking about X as carefully because I know that X is true so those verses are translated okay.
            5) therefore X is true but not Y.
            6) therefore anyone who insists that holding that both X and Y are true are either not courageous, not seeking truth, or are not people of good will, or are part of the conspiracy. Or they could be a little slow. :)

            Was that a fair assessment?

          • dubleya


            :) I recognize that is your opinion but you surely can't expect folks to take your statement on faith, can you?

            It is an opinion, yes, but one that can be reproved or affirmed based on evidence that Julie provided. Your personal incredulity does not an argument make.
            Your shadowboxing here- claiming that it is a faith statement by refusing to inform yourself of the evidence….

            To your Finnish analogy, I'll make a few distinctions for clarity:
            1. By the nature of language, it evolves with the culture, common use and zeitgeist of it's native speakers. Friend, are you advocating that God's Truth be subject to the common use and zeitgeist of men? Should we assume that God gives greater weight to tradition and eisegesis than to the Scriptures?
            I guess I'm asking you: Are you Catholic?
            If someone can make a scriptural case that doctrine has been built on un-biblical logic and interpretation, do you believe we have a duty to investigate, evaluate, and adjudicate? if not, then you are the one clinging to potentially false and comfortable beliefs, not Julie.
            2.If a modern dictionary disagrees with an older compendium, which work is more likely to use a word that is traditional or pure Finnish, and which is more likely to be influenced by newer traditions and international influence? What if the more modern and accepted book was a copy of a copy of a copy of a transcript that both books are based on?
            3. Does their need to be a conspiracy here? Isn't it possible that the improperly translated word was mistranslated inadvertently in an earlier work and future works were inadvertently tainted as a result? You are using charged language to make Julies case seem unreasonable, when all you have really done is discount the more obvious possibility.

            If you were a Finn then I might be more inclined to accept your contention, or if you have spent the last 20 years immersing yourself in Finnish, but as someone who isn't a Finn and doesn't speak Finnish it seems a stretch to say you have a better understanding of Finnish than people who have spent their lives studying Finnish, and to accuse those with a different reading of a conspiracy just seems weird and out there, and for me makes your entire foundation questionable.

            Are you using this analogy to claim that Julie is not a Christian? That is how I am reading that comment. I asked earlier if you were Catholic, maybe I should have asked the more obvious question: Are you Jesus? I mean, the only person I think qualified to make a statement like that based on someones well reasoned interpretation of scripture would be Him.
            If you are Jesus, well, I'm gushing!
            You're my hero, Man!
            How You smacked down those Pharisees, those men who had used Gods name to build a church out of elitism, privileged revelation, misinterpreted scripture…..That was awesome!
            I take it all back, You obviously know better than Julie!

          • AnotherFriend


            Uh… I missed something I think. You wrote:

            "It is an opinion, yes, but one that can be reproved or affirmed based on evidence that Julie provided. "

            what conclusive evidence did Julie provide? She indicated that she has read some commentaries and some interlinear texts and has come to a different conclusion than the vast majority of translators…and they are part of a conspiracy. For me to accept that contention I would guess I would expect to see more evidence than the fact that someone relied on Hebrew/English dictionaries or interlinear books.

            Perhaps we have different standards of what constitutes evidence.

            I'm not claiming that Julie is or is not a christian, just that she wasn't a Hebrew or Greek scholar to the best of my knowledge, although I might be mistaken. I'm not casting aspersions on Julie…I don't think she ever claimed to be a Hebrew or Greek scholar nor do I think that she feels she needs to be. I think Julie is claiming that she has come to her conclusions after studying the matter and that is enough evidence for her and possibly for you…all I'm saying is that fact that Julie feels she has sufficient evidence doesn't mean I'm inclined to agree unless I'm already disposed to her way of thinking…in which case I might need less evidence to be convinced.

            I'm not sure how to react to your question of whether or not I'm Jesus since it isn't clear to me why you asked that. I've clearly pushed a button…I'm just not sure which button I've pushed. I'm sorry if something I wrote offended you deeply…that was not my intention at all.


          • dubleya

            Oh sorry, Friend, I thought I said evidence and not conclusive evide…wait just a sec. I did say evidence. Quick English lesson……

            ev·i·dence (v-dns)
            1. A thing or things helpful in forming a conclusion or judgment: The broken window was evidence that a burglary had taken place. Scientists weigh the evidence for and against a hypothesis.
            2. Something indicative; an outward sign: evidence of grief on a mourner's face.
            3. Law The documentary or oral statements and the material objects admissible as testimony in a court of law.,

            Compare that to proof

            proof (prf)
            1. The evidence or argument that compels the mind to accept an assertion as true.
            a. The validation of a proposition by application of specified rules, as of induction or deduction, to assumptions, axioms, and sequentially derived conclusions.
            b. A statement or argument used in such a validation.
            a. Convincing or persuasive demonstration: was asked for proof of his identity; an employment history that was proof of her dependability.
            b. The state of being convinced or persuaded by consideration of evidence.
            4. Determination of the quality of something by testing; trial: put one's beliefs to the proof.
            5. Law The result or effect of evidence; the establishment or denial of a fact by evidence.

            So, no, I don't have a different standard, I have a different definition.
            You are asking me to turn evidence into proof. I said that her opinion is not a faith statement, it is based on evidence. Evidence that she gave you access to. That if you set aside your incredulity for a few minutes, you too can access.
            It is still an opinion, but an informed one; one that your ignorance of the evidence cannot reprove. I'm not saying you have to accept her evidence, or affirm her position. I'm saying you might extend the courtesy of acknowledging it and admitting that by calling it a faith statement you betray your ignorance.

            On and on you go with your conspiracy. Did Julie cry "conspiracy"? Did I cry "conspiracy"? Maybe it is just that I never addressed that issue for…wait a sec. I did address that issue. Please, since you obviously think we are conspiracy theorists, point me to where either of us has used even vaguely conspiratorial language.

            As to Julies faith, when you say

            If you were a Finn then I might be more inclined to accept your contention, or if you have spent the last 20 years immersing yourself in Finnish, but as someone who isn't a Finn and doesn't speak Finnish

            that sounds a lot like "If you were a Christian then I might be more inclined to accept your contention, or if you have spent the last 20 years immersing yourself in Christian Theology, but as someone who isn't a Christian and doesn't speak Hebrew"
            Just sayin'. Maybe you meant it to mean "If you were Hebrew or Greek then I might be more inclined to accept your contention, or if you have spent the last 20 years immersing yourself in ancient languages, but as someone who isn't a Hebrew or Greek and doesn't speak ancient languages.."
            If that's the case then I suppose you were just unclear.

            I asked if you were Jesus for two reasons: a) because you seem to be an expert on Julie's Christianity b) because it served as a humorous juxtaposition against your assertion that the traditional Church hierarchy is better at interpreting scripture than laypeople.
            You clearly did push a button. That button lays somewhere between the button labelled "The KJV is the truth, stop looking for it" and the one labelled "Everyone who disagrees with me is a conspiracy theorist, because I have a trademark on reality"


          • John

            Take a deep breath and bring it down a notch please. AnotherFriend already said he didn't mean to offend you.

          • AnotherFriend


            If believe that Julie made the contention (in an earlier post that I can't find) that there was intentional lying going on by all the current translators. That seemed to me to be the allegation of a conspiracy but you might use a different word.

            I guess I misunderstood how you were using the term evidence. You wrote "It is an opinion, yes, but one that can be reproved or affirmed based on evidence that Julie provided". Well I'm saying that what she presented is insufficient to be able to draw any conclusions in my opinion, and I'm saying that although I respect her zeal I don't consider her conclusions as being authoritative given that 1) it contradicts many years of contrary conclusions and 2) she doesn't appear to be a Greek or Hebrew scholar. I'm not saying that she is wrong in her conclusions based on those factors, just that the fact that Julie says it isn't convincing to me, that's all.

            Clearly I wasn't as effective a communicator as you need me to be because I wasn't calling into question Julie's Christian credentials in my statement about the Finnish stuff, I was calling into question her ability to make authoritative statements, or at least statements that I find authoritative. :)

            I had no intention of pushing your KJV/conspiracy button. I don't think the KJV is acknowledged by Biblical scholars to be based on the best available texts so I'm not defending it. I also don't think everyone who disagrees with me is a conspiracy theorist. I was referencing the fact that Julie stated that current translators of the Bible were intentionally lying although she wasn't sure of their motives for doing so.


          • dubleya

            I appreciate your concern about tone, I do, but you have to remember that this blog of Julie's is not populated by a bunch of strangers. I am Julie's friend. We have a relationship that transcends this blog and these comments. I have nothing but the utmost respect for Steve, and for Deb, who are in a similar (or in Steve's case, much more substantial) relationship with the author of this blog. I am woefully unable to divorce my emotions from my words. Is it personal? You bet it is!
            Steve and Julie need to appear to show decorum toward you, because they are trying to spread what they believe is an important message and because this is their "livingroom", so to speak.
            Think of me as the drunk uncle in the corner who shouts the things that everyone else is thinking but everyone is too polite to say.

            I am a reasonable person, at times, and I understand that you wrote this:

            Take a deep breath and bring it down a notch please. AnotherFriend already said he didn't mean to offend you.

            You should understand, right or (almost certainly) wrong….I'm reading your comment like this:

            Take a deep breath, dubleya, we just came here to argue that Julie is one step short of a heretic. We didn't come here to have a two directional conversation, where we acknowledge, analyze and debate Julie's evidence or argument; we came here to repeat the same things over and over without a hint of objective analysis. We came here to fire strawmen, like evidence=proof, and red herrings, like free will or evil God, around in order to distract from the greater conversation. Could you please, dubleya, bring it down a notch, we prefer to passive aggressively make shots across the bow. We want to turn invective dialogue into a Gentleman's Game, where we very politely tell people that their arguments are not even worth consideration. We don't appreciate your sarcasm or emotion.

            Am I wrong for interpreting it that way? You betcha. Am I being unfair? Maybe. Am I going to stop? Not likely.
            Julie wrote this post and then invited people to share a moment when something "bad" happened that resulted in a positive outcome. You came here to argue that God is not evil, man is, and that Julie is projecting her wishes onto her faith. How do you defend that as a two way conversation, where you respect people's opinions and arguments?
            Mea Culpa, I suppose…..

          • John

            You have every right to defend Steve and Julie's position — just as we have every right to criticize it.

            It is important to remember a few things:

            a) This is a public forum. If this was a private conversation in Julie's living room, it's one matter. But she's writing a book and public blog posts. We have as much right to respond as you do.

            b) The points that Julie and Steve are making are not necessarily neutral. They are statements of their faith, yes, but they are also statements that explicitly attack other belief systems (in this case, mainstream Christianity). I am not trying to attack Julie/Steve or label them as heretics, but merely responding in defense of MY system of belief. Perhaps it's a matter of perspective.

            c) A two-way conversation does not necessarily entail agreement. You seem to think that because we're not swayed by Julie's views, we are not listening. If a definition of a two-way conversation was coming to complete agreement, I could easily level the same charges against Julie or you. The fact that you're not persuaded by me doesn't mean you are not listening or taking me seriously — and vice versa.

            d) In my view, free will, evil, etc are not red herrings — they are central to the issues at hand. If Julie believes that she has provided strong arguments against traditional Christianity, it is paramount that her ideas are able to stand on their own. In my view, a statement that God desires evil logically follows from Julie's worldview. She has not denied this — and I think it is extremely problematic for those who might seek to embrace a universalist perspective that emphasizes a God of love.

            e) You are free to make this as personal as you want. I'm probably not going to respond to personal barbs though. I think it distracts from the question of whether universalism is logically and empirically consistent (and in turn, whether orthodox Christianity meets those same criteria). Believe it or not, I have no intention to attack Julie and Steve personally. But the system of beliefs that they are evangelizing IS controversial, and it is naive to think grenades can be lobbed against orthodox Christianity without a few Christians wanting to rise in defense and dialogue.

          • dubleya

            Let me clarify a point of contention here.
            I don't think a Two-Way conversation is synonymous with agreeing with someone. I think that it is respecting the conversation of others.
            For instance, when someone makes a blog post where they ask for a personal anecdote about a bad situation that turned out to be a positive opportunity- respecting the two-way nature of the conversation would be sharing your own anecdote- not chiming in on free will. Or the nature of evil.
            Having a two-way conversation would be listening to Julie and acknowledging her points instead of ignoring them and rehashing the same argument you did before her comment.
            That's all.
            I don't expect us all to agree. I just expect us to listen.

          • John

            Dubleya, Julie's question was only one part of her blog post. She was also very direct about her view of the role played by evil:

            "Because before we can know, fully appreciate, and partake of LIFE, we must have fully experienced good and bad. It is the experience of good and bad that reveals to us exactly what LIFE is and is not."

            Given that her parable is intended to illustrate a larger point, I don't think it is off tangent to discuss that larger point.

          • jferwerd

            I'm not backing down on this point John. You have not acknowledged or attempted to explain the verses I have quoted affirming my position, such as:

            Ps. 60:3: "You have made Your people experience hardship; You have given us wine to drink that makes us stagger."

          • John

            This is a verse where David (or another psalm writer) is giving his perspective. David regularly cries out to God for explanations of the difficulties of life.

            To the larger point, testing his people is different from doing evil. There is a clear line that you don't seem to be acknowledging. To be blunt, telling your daughter that she has to pay for college on her own is different from hiring somebody to rape her.

          • Deb

            Hey, just wanted to clarify a point here. I've been on my own (unwilling) journey to examine the tenets of my faith for about 8 years. I have struggled with other, related, issues. During this time, my (adult) son and I have both come to the same (though separately conceived) conclusions in many cases. But in other cases, we disagree. Strongly. And we agree that it okay to do so because we respect one another and the integrity of the process that brought us to this place. Julie and I know one another through writing and she hasn't always seen my most 'presentable' side. But she's always been brutally honest with me and I respect that about her. Having said that, I haven't come to a conclusion regarding hell yet. I'm still in my process. I'm also looking forward to following Julie's journey. We might not end up in the same place when it's all said and done. But I know she's not trying to lead me down a yellow brick road. And I hear the passion in what she's saying, but don't necessarily feel judged for not following along willy nilly either. Maybe that's because I've already had so many of my other favorite faith-fuzzy-blankets removed.
            I know this. I live in an ultra conservative area and I am a heretic to many of my lifelong friends because I stepped off the denominational and then off the interdenominational and now off the nondenominational train. (I am now referred to as 'the hippie'.)
            And no, Julie. you may not call me that. 8)

  • jferwerd

    "So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH." 18 So then He has mercy on whom He wills, and He hardens whom He wills. 19 You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?" Romans 9:16-19

  • jferwerd

    In your opinion.

    • John

      I never said otherwise =)

      • jferwerd


  • Christian

    Julie–a wonderful, and insightful post, indeed! The stark contrast between Genesis and Revelation with regard to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life both being present in the Garden of Eden in the beginning, and only the tree of life being present when God is all in all, is definitely a great observation and a crucial one to understand in our spiritual evolution in God's plan for all.

    John, if there is human free will, could I ask did any human choose to be born on Earth, or his/her parents, nation into which he/she was born, the socioeconomic circumstances of his family? I would rather claim based on my life experiences and the Scriptures that we live our lives as if we have free will, but truly, our wills are subject to the sovereignty of God.

    If we all have free will and have the ability to exercise it, don't you think the world be in an even further mess here in the physical? All our actions as far as I know are affected by our environment, both internal and external. It seems to me that the plan and will of God is what brings into existence this universe, as He is the ultimate cause of all things, because He is before all things (Colossians 1:17).

    Perhaps it would be good to define free will to know what we are discussing. I would say free will is defined by the ability to exercise one's will without being affected by any internal or external factors, but acts without restriction for cause and effect.

    • John

      Christian, your definition of free will is much larger than mine. I believe that God is sovereign, but he allows humans to make choices (both large and small)y. These could range the scale from buying a cup of coffee, killing someone, or ultimately rejecting or accepting him. In my view, free will is independent of the circumstances surrounding the choice — free will is not the opposite of God's will.

      • jferwerd

        Again, John, if "free will is independent of the circumstances surrounding the choice," then you are saying that Pharaoh was not influenced by his circumstances of being hardened?

        • John

          I'm not sure why you put such weight on "influenced."

          If I tried to convince someone to go to a movie with me, they would be "influenced." They may even be more "influenced" if their television set exploded. But it's still their choice to go to the movie…

  • chrisnamastephys11

    The point of claiming Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world as in John 4:42 is then made void by man's obstinate free will, it seems in the estimation of mainstream Christian theology. The verse didn't say there that Jesus Christ is the savior of the world if one believes–the belief comes from God anyhow (Romans 12:3), but that He is the Savior of the world. If you have any doubts, then go to 1 Timothy 4:10 For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe (NRSV). From this verse, it seems that there is an emphasis on those who believe who are saved, but those who don't believe in this lifetime will eventually be saved (1 Corinthians 15:22-23; 1 Timothy 2:3-4).

    • John

      I believe the point of Jesus Christ as Savior of the world is made void by REVOKING free will. What is the need to come and die if the Fall of man was in some way his will? If this is all a game according to God's rules, why have himself crucified?

      I believe humans can reject Christ's free gift — this is not the same as refuting the gift itself, or trumping God's power — especially when he is the one who extended that free will in the first place.

      I don't know what will happen to those who don't hear of Christ nor willingly reject him in this lifetime. Mainstream Christianity doesn't either (despite what some may claim)

  • chrisnamastephys11

    Leaving any creature out of the free gift offered by an omniscient, just, and loving being as our Father, would just be voiding the declaration in Psalm 136:1 O give thanks to he LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever. I will no longer debate with you John on this, as there's no point, your unbelief in the complete and finished work of Christ as Savior of the whole world will not change if God's will is not such, and perhaps you might think the same of me in my unbelief toward free will in accepting a free gift from an infinite being, so there's really no point in trying to debate with Scriptures. The context and the languages used–Hebrew and Greek–are indeed important, and meanings of words have evolved over time from their original usage, so I'll leave it at that. Blessings.

    • John

      I appreciate your thoughtful words Chris. I would just counsel you to avoid using what many would view as strawman arguments or false dichotomies against 'mainstream Christianity'— for instance, I don't believe that a concept of free will means that God is not good (just the opposite!). If your belief on universalism is based on this misperception of the implications of orthodox Christianity, I would advise you to find another justification. But I fully respect your right to disagree with me on this.

  • AnotherFriend

    "Because before we can know, fully appreciate, and partake of LIFE, we must have fully experienced good and bad. It is the experience of good and bad that reveals to us exactly what LIFE is and is not."

    So a relationship with God is not complete unless bad has been experienced? That seems to imply if Adam and Eve had not "chosen…poorly" that they would not have experienced life as God intended for them to the fullest. I think that is what you're saying since you've laid the blame for the Fall at God's feet, i.e. he designed it that way because he needed us to suffer so that we could realize how full life could be when we weren't suffering…but I just wanted to be sure. Perhaps I misunderstood what you meant.

    • jferwerd

      So a relationship with God is not complete unless bad has been experienced?

      Yes, that's exactly the way I see it. I believe you cannot know the goodness of God without having a counter experience. This experience we are given of good and evil both humbles us (as Ecc. 1:13 teaches in the original text), and teaches us the nature and character of God through both extremes.

      I think the way evil humbles us is first of all realizing that we cannot be good (we all exemplify evil/bad at given times). We are humbled in that, when we have a true encounter with grace, we realize "but for the grace of God there go I." We come to realize that we are capable of the sins of Hitler, and we realize we are no more or no less deserving than grace, which is why it is a free gift. That is a very humbling realization. However, there is great innate value as well, as the sons and daughter of the Most High–His very DNA.

      • John

        To build on your Nazi example…

        Personally, I don't think a God who would deliberately will 6 million Jews to be gassed/tortured/ dissected in order to provide a meaningful "counter experience" for others is the type of God I want to worship. Visit a concentration camp (I have) and tell me if you really believe these people were killed to enhance your appreciation of life.

        • dubleya

          How about the victims of the flood? Did they die to provide a lesson for us?
          If 10,000 jews had been put to death, would we still talk about this today? I don't know. I don't know how many Jews had to die to wake so many of us to the consequences of antisemitism, or establish for these people a homeland. I guess God knows though.
          I don't hear Julie arguing for pre-destination here. You are playing the free-will dichotomy card here. I'm getting a "soft theological determinism" vibe from Julie and your getting God preordained the holocaust.
          I wish I could say let's agree to disagree, but I can't afford that much grace.

          • John

            I don't think Jews were killed to give us a lesson of antisemitism or to establish a homeland for them. I believe they were killed out of human wickedness. To speak of the Holocaust as an illustration is essentially to dehumanize and depersonalize the suffering that took place.

            Dubleya, I don't think it's possible for Julie to have a "soft theological determinism" if she doesn't believe in free will. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that the only logical conclusion that flows from denying free will is that every wicked and despicable thing that has ever happened has been willed/desired by God.

          • dubleya

            I'm not asking you to believe that God willed the Holocaust. I'm trying to illustrate that even in the face of an unspeakable evil, we gained a little more than "enhancing your appreciation of life". That out of horrible circumstances comes some direct benefit, even if that benefit carried a price we would never have paid in retrospect, is both true and the subject of Julie's post.
            Free Will is really beyond the point, and I don't believe in it in any substantive sense either. But I also do not believe in Predestination or any such nonsense. I think you are wrong to assume that the only choices are absolute sovereignty to God or absolute free will.

          • John

            I'm not sure what your perspective is at this point. I have already said that I believe that God can make the best of evil circumstances. I am objecting to the claim that God desires people to experience evil, which is what Julie HAS said — whether you have taken the time to read it or not.

        • jferwerd

          I am not suggesting that the annihilation of 6 million Jews enhances MY spiritual experience, John. But perhaps it will someday enhance their own experience with God when they are confronted with a greater plan for them, one that includes reconciling with their murderers as well as realizing that they were no better than their murderers (including Hitler) when they had a hand in killing their own Messiah. In spite of their similar sins, they will be humbled and amazed to find that they are also offered the same free gift of everlasting life in spite of their unworthiness. As I mentioned from Ecc. 1:13–this experience they were given in mortal life will be for the purpose of humbling them (and us), and making a level playing field for us all.

          • John

            And this realization wouldn't be possible if they hadn't been gassed, tortured, or dissected at the will of God?

  • Deb

    Wow. I spent the day working on taxes (now THERE is a question of good vs evil) 8)… and happened to pop back in on the thread. I don't know the answer to how (or why) rape and torture are allowed by a Good Father. But I also know that I am comfortable saying I don't have to know that answer to be his child. And please know, I don't speak from a pollyanna-ish desire to be insulated from pain, either. I've been so angry at God for allowing so much crap to happen in my life that I once went so far as to say out loud in the car (I was alone) "That's it. I'm not speaking to you anymore." No joke, the traffic backed up immediately, leaving my little car, with me inside, parked next to a giant black billboard that said, "We need to talk–God."
    When an artist wants to make a color 'pop' on a canvas, he juxtaposes a thin line of the opposite color next to it. Likewise, a poet uses dichotomy to drive a point home.
    God is our Father but he is also the Master Artist and the Bible says we are his 'poema' or workmanship (poem.) Just a thought. Not an answer.

    • jferwerd

      Deb, I have used your example of the artistic juxtaposition before…great insight!

  • I'm not sure exactly where I stand in the "free will" debate, but I guess an observation I would make is that how one defines free will, is the basis for their beliefs on free will and God's sovereignty. I know that does not sound very profound, but I was thinking about several scenarios tonight:

    – does the girl who is born into a family where the step father repeatedly rapes and abuses her, have free will?
    – does the child growing up in destitution and poverty in Africa have free will?
    – does the child born with a serious brain injury or genetic mutation have free will?
    – does the person born into a radical Muslim family in Iran have free will?
    – does the alzheimers patient have free will?

    Or do all of these people simply have the ability to respond to circumstances beyond their control that shape their lives? Is free will affected by the fact that no two people have the same opportunities or influences in life? I believe this kind of echoes what Julie and others have said, but I think it's an important distinction. So I guess my question is, "When does your will stop being free? And what does 'free' really mean?" I think it's too easy for us Westerners living our comfortable lives to assume everyone has "free will," but do they really or is it just as free for someone growing up in America as it is for someone growing up in a shanty town in Africa? I know that this debate has been going on for the last two thousand years, so I probably should research how theologians have defined free will throughout the centuries. It looks like Wikipedia might be a good place to start:

    • John

      "Or do all of these people simply have the ability to respond to circumstances beyond their control that shape their lives"

      This is how I view free will.

      It seems from your previous posts that you and Julie are (justifiably) concerned that there are a lot of people who will be in Hell if mainstream Christianity is true. Since many of these people had no chance to hear or know of Christ, you (justifiably) think this seems unfair, and you think doesn't reflect the actions of a loving God.

      In order to reconcile this possibility with the image of a loving God, you seem to have effectively removed the possibility of (eternal) hell or punishment. But removing this possibility entails that a) you must reinterpret large sections of the Bible, b) you must claim that God wills or desires evil, effectively denying that God is purely good, c) you must find another justification for Christ's death on the cross and d) you must ultimately dismiss the possibility of free will.

      A through D are very logical 'next steps' from the fear you and Julie have expressed at the first stage. But there is an alternate path, that doesn't lead you to B-D (critical examination of the Bible isn't a bad thing, as long as it is objective and not directed towards proving a specific thing).

      The reality is that although a lot of Christian churches teach the hell/brimstone doctrine, this isn't, strictly speaking, the views of Orthodox Christianity. None of us — not a single one — knows another person's heart the way God does. As a result, we alone are completely unable to judge whether that person will go to heaven or to hell. To do otherwise is to claim that we can decide for God (which, by the way, the universalist doctrine does by ensuring that God HAS to save everybody).

      The reality is that God is loving and just, and that his justice and insight exceeds human understanding. Orthodox Christianity says that we a) cannot know another man's heart b) cannot know whether God will save them. The end result is that we simply trust in God to make the right decision.

      Does this mean that God will save unborn babies, people who have never heard of him, abused children etc? I certainly can't say for sure. That's God's decision. But knowing other aspects of his character, my inclination is to certainly say yes.

      He's worth trusting and there is really no need to go to steps B-D, even if it is motivated out of a compassionate heart.

      God bless.

      • Thanks John for your perspective. I think the bottom line for Julie and myself is that we discovered that the concept of "hell" or eternal torment or eternal separation is something that is completely made up and is not supported by scripture. In our opinion, it's a concept that humans came up with to support their personal agendas and theology. So, when we discovered that hell is made up and our exhaustive study and research backed that up, we set out to determine what the alternatives were and we've settled on Universal Salvation/Reconciliation as being supported by scripture and the entire story from Genesis to Revelation, then best. Of course, that's our own personal opinion, and was formed based on our own personal biases, but it's not something we decided on and then tried to find scripture that would support it. We through out our 40 years of Evangelical indoctrination, started with a clean slate (as much as is possible) and came up with this conclusion based on what we see as the most consistent message throughout scripture. Lastly, we may sound dogmatic sometimes regarding our theology, but the fact is that we really are not. We don't know what the truth is for sure, but this is what we believe at this point in our lives given what we have studied and what has been impressed upon us.

        When you mention above "The reality is that although a lot of Christian churches teach the hell/brimstone doctrine, this isn't, strictly speaking, the views of Orthodox Christianity.," I guess I would ask you if Orthodox Christianity does not believe in "hell," what does it believe in? Does it believe in annihilation, does it believe in something else? I agree that no one knows a person's heat but God, but I still believe that "orthodox christianity" as most conservative christians define "orthodox," does believe in "hell" or "eternal torment/separation." Also, if you use the word "saved" or "salvation," what is a person being saved from? Is it hell, is it separation from God, is it temporary punishment. I guess I'm a little unclear on exactly where you stand. You haven't come out and said you don't believe in hell or eternal separation/torment and if you don't what do you believe…or do you just not know what will happen?

        • John

          To clarify, I didn't mean that orthodox Christianity disputes the existence of hell — merely that none of us know for sure who will be sent there. We have the assurance of our own salvation if we believe in Christ. Everyone else is in God's hands.

        • John

          If you believe that hell is a fabricated concept, I don't think there's much further that we can debate. It's an empirical question.

          My concern with your perspective is that it leads you (in my opinion) to make a number of logical conclusions which I find unpalatable and at odds with the image of a loving God.

          • jferwerd

            I find it ironic that you find the notion that God would save all people and not send anyone to hell as "unpalatable and at odds with the image of a loving God." I can't wrap my head around this kind of logic. It seems that what you might be getting at (I could be wrong) is that God would be unloving to you because He will not reject total, undeserving sinners, regardless of how blind or unable to accept Him due to many factors, which also means that your "decision" to follow Christ is, in your mind, cheapened. Correct me if I am wrong.

          • AnotherFriend


            I'm guessing at what John meant, but a God who causes suffering and is responsible for people sinning does not sound loving to me. I have heard it argued that without ultimate justice we need to take justice into our own hands, i.e. if a Pol Pot will not answer to God then he should answer to us. I've heard it argued that a reason to not take vengeance into our own individual hands is that God ultimately will serve justice. If a child rape and murder is just an inconvenience of some sort and God causes it then it seems hard to believe that he is a loving God and there doesn't appear to be a reason for the cross…from what I can see. If God can wave his hand in the end and make it all better, why not do it now rather than waiting and causing all the suffering.?

          • John


            Julie, I don't feel that my salvation is either special or deserved — there is no way to "cheapen" it by extending it to others because it's a free gift.

            I see the God you portray as not loving because in your framework he is responsible for human suffering, despite the fact that ultimately has the power and justification to stop this suffering (he is not constrained by free will)

      • jferwerd

        Hey John, if what you are suggesting is true (that people are only accountable for what they know), then shouldn't Christianity stop sending out missionaries? If you are only going to hell because you have made an informed choice to do so, people would be better off not knowing and not having a choice.

        I have been in evangelical Christian churches–attending and/or teaching–for over 40 years, and I have never been in one that taught that anyone who doesn't "accept Jesus as Lord and Savior in this lifetime," regardless of location, awareness, or circumstances, might have a chance of not going to hell.

        Having said that, and as my husband pointed out, I did not set out to come up with a solution for my being sad for people going to hell. I hate to admit that when I stumbled upon several factors (including the many verses plainly stating that God will save all), I was not looking for an alternative and I was fully accepting of the hell doctrine. You are correct in saying the burden of proof was on this "new-to-me" approach to Scriptures, although I also found that Universal Reconciliation was the predominant view of the Church for the first 5 centuries after Christ (and I have many quotes from them to demonstrate in my book). In other words, it was new to me, but it was far from a new teaching.

        I want to be clear that it was not I who removed the possibility of hell, but it was history, Scriptures in their original languages, dozens of plain verses in all modern translations, and Hebrew perspectives on Scriptures–all together providing overwhelming evidence.

        Just out of curiosity, what makes you so sure that you are safe and correct in following the evangelical Christian interpretation of Scriptures (or in believing that they are correct)? Is it based on numbers of people in agreement? Years of people following the same ideas? Remember that Jesus clearly rejected traditions of men that had been formulating for at least 2,000 years, as well as the consensus of the day among the religious leaders and their proselytes. He had a new view on old Scriptures, and it completely went against the grain of orthodoxy. How can any of us be so sure that orthodoxy hasn't led us astray once again?

        Have you given consideration that modern Bibles might have errors in translation? Have you given honest, thoughtful study? I'm reading a book written by an orthodox Jew right now, and even Jews don't believe that original Scriptures are without error (and he proves it), let alone modern versions that contradict themselves and each other! What evidence do you have that your Bible is error free, not including "because they told me so"?

        • AnotherFriend

          Uh…we're told to spread the good news…seems to be a command that we're asked to respond to.

          Question on the free will thingy. So, would you say that God is ultimately responsible for the translators who intentionally lie when they translate, and for the folks who believe in eternal torment? If there is no free will I don't see how you can escape the conclusion that everyone is merely doing what God causes them to do. It certainly would seem to remove any notion of someone being right and someone being wrong…since the are all just doing what God wants them to do: Pol Pot, Mother Theresa, child rapists, people who help in orphanages, you and me. There is no blame to be had, no convincing that needs to be done.

          Unless when you say you don't believe in free will you mean something narrower…which in case you should carefully qualify so folks don't misunderstand.

      • AnotherFriend

        John…said better than I could have. thx

    • Deb

      I agree – it's a matter of perspective.
      When my daughter came home from Kenya, she had experienced a paradigm shift in her view of good and bad. She was not a pampered child. For heaven's sake, we lived closer to poverty (American style) most of her life than others can imagine (We lived on $800/mo and raised 4 kids. We had no electricity, gardens and milk cows and chickens and hand me down clothes her entire life.) Her eyes were opened in Kenya when she realized we had possessions that reflected extreme wealth to people outside of America. At the same time, she said the kids she worked with there (those orphans who had been abandoned in shanties and on the sides of the road, emaciated and worm-ridden) were so lucky because they knew God in a way she wouldn't ever really know him. He was literally their Provider of Everything. Their faith had entire dimensions beyond hers. They didn't choose to be born into those conditions, but they did choose to embrace God.
      Likewise, I was praying one afternoon for a young girl I know who is brain-damaged. Sometime during the prayer, God revealed to me my blindness. I thought of her as 'not whole'. He pointed out my idea of whole and his idea of whole are far, far different and her childlike innocence was valuable to him beyond measure. I just judged her by my standards and found her lacking, when I was the one in lack. She never chose to be mentally handicapped. But everyday, she chose to smile and bless others.
      And regarding physical abuse, again, I can only say that I wouldn't go back and change what happened to me as a child if it meant I would have less compassion today. I didn't choose it. The perpetrator did. His free will over rode mine because I was the weaker of the two. But I had the freedom to choose how I would deal with it, even as a child.
      We don't get to choose daily events and circumstances. But we get to make the important choices.
      Choose this day whom you will serve….
      Choose life….
      Okay. Off the soapbox and outside to haul water because I chose to live in a house where the pipes freeze and burst regularly and I choose to want to flush the toilet and wash dishes.

      • jferwerd

        Wow Deb, I came across a great quote today on this very topic by a Jewish rabbi:

        Our view of the world and its Creator's view are very different. From our perspective, there is always a giver and a taker. Whether the merchandise be knowledge, affection, or money —somebody always comes out on top and the other on the bottom. In the Creator's view, giver and taker are one. The taker is really giving and the giver receiving. For without the opportunity to give, the giver would be forever imprisoned within his own self.

    • AnotherFriend

      Interesting thoughts…I guess I tend to think of free will fairly narrowly, in terms of whether or not I have any part to play in how I respond to God. Does God script my every thought or do I have the capability of a thought which he does not completely control?

      • Deb

        I'm certain (considering the content of my thoughts) that I have capability of thought which he does not control. I have capability of thought that I don't even control. And I can only speak for myself, but I have the richest dialogue with God at the most unexpected times. I can't have an interesting dialogue with myself because I know what I'm going to say next. And I'm kind of boring.

  • moyin

    There was a time King David just could not fathom some things and he became discouraged until God gave him insight. Psalm 73. There are many many things we do not and probably cannot understand from here.

    One thing is important: God desires that we trust and obey Him irrespective of whether we understand or not.

    Also, many things that happen are the consequences of our actions and sometimes God decides to show mercy such that we do not reap the consequences. But like Julie mentioned above, Rom 9v16-19 says God still decides all things and who can stand against His will.

    Here in Africa, many choices our predecessors/fore-fathers made and that we still carry on, are the results we reap today. Idolatry, lack of respect for human life and the like…God understands why we reap these consequences today.

    • jferwerd

      Hey Moyin, thanks for stopping by from Africa! Nice to have you join the discussion and to put in your valuable insights.

  • John

    With respect to Jesus being a renegade against the traditions of men — of course. He's the ultimate rebel.

    But the founders of Gnosticism, Manichaenism, and Jehovah's Witnesses were also radicals who rejected the common wisdom as well. All claim to know the true truth — revealed through the true scriptures. They can't all be right. So claiming that a perspective is legitimated because it is counter-cultural doesn't provide a lot of evidence in its support (unless you just enjoy being contrarian)

    • I don't think Julie claimed that her perspective was "legitimate because it was counter-cultural." Her point simply was that orthodoxy isn't worth "squat" if it's wrong, just like many people would say Jehova's Witnesses are wrong, or Mormons are wrong. I've already admitted that we don't know if Universal Reconciliation is the "truth," but from our perspective it makes the most sense.

      • John

        Steve, I was just replying to this comment:

        "Just out of curiosity, what makes you so sure that you are safe and correct in following the evangelical Christian interpretation of Scriptures (or in believing that they are correct)? Is it based on numbers of people in agreement? Years of people following the same ideas? Remember that Jesus clearly rejected traditions of men that had been formulating for at least 2,000 years, as well as the consensus of the day among the religious leaders and their proselytes. He had a new view on old Scriptures, and it completely went against the grain of orthodoxy. How can any of us be so sure that orthodoxy hasn't led us astray once again?"

        Perhaps I misinterpreted it. It seemed to glamorize the universalism wasn't based on "years of people following the same ideas."

    • jferwerd

      All people groups have some truth. Nobody has all the truth. We are all on a journey of discovery, and we could learn many truths by listening and being open to the journeys of others. Just because they have not played by our rules does not mean that God has ignored them or left them without any truths. I have learned that, if God interacting with us was based on our accurate understanding and portrayal of Him, then He would not interact with any of us. Despite our failures, inaccuracies and half truths, He still reveals Himself to all His children in various ways, and interacts with them at various levels, continuously drawing them to encounter deeper truths that bring freedom.

      • John

        So you believe in the Holy Spirit?

        If so, isn't the Holy Spirit supposed to guide the church? Not a small band of true believers or enlightened ones, but the church as a whole?

  • drey

    Now we see in a mirror darkly, then we will see face to face. I love this particular thread. We will all face the other side of death (whatever is there or not there) alone as far as I can tell.
    We say we believe in this unfathomable God, (we say) and in the next move, behave as though we have it all covered. It may be because we think that we are the only world or the only lifeforms created by a powerful God. Narcissism if you ask me.
    Eternal damnation for some or all men saved for some, is not our call. The sum of the Christian call is to love God and our fellowman. That ought to take up all of our time.
    My bishop always says that few things are necessary. Too true.

    • jferwerd

      Very true, Drey. What we can take to the bank is to love God and love people. At the end of the day, that's all that's going to matter. :D

  • I don't think Julie or I have ever stated that "a courageous and objective analysis of the evidence will necessarily lead to universalism." It lead to universalism for us, but we don't expect it will for most evangelicals. Of course when we say something like that we'll be criticized for being gnostic just like evangelicals like to quickly attach the label of "heretic." Labels don't really care any substance. In the same way that Chist bucked tradition, he was also a "heretic."

    In response to "Isn't evangelical universalism an oxymoron?" Not at all if you understand what universalism is all about. There is just as much reason if not more of a reason to preach the good news and have people experience life abundantly and be connected to the vine in this life with universalism…but I'm not going to go into all of the details now. Julie can expound if she wants, but I feel like this is a discussion we've had with you in a previous blog post.

    • John

      Frankly, I'm not interesting in declaring that you two are heretics. I'm merely interested in defending orthodox Christian belief from attacks that I believe may be logically unfounded.

      My response to Julie may be unfounded. It just seems like statements like "Have you given honest, thoughtful study?" are leveled as accusations. She, in many posts, seems to view orthodox Christians as docile, unquestioning sheep. There may be some, but there are some legitimate lions in the flock as well who have given orthodox beliefs plenty of scrutiny, but emerged as strong believers =)

      • John

        My apology for using "unfounded" twice within the space a few words =) I'm writing quickly due to passion– I apologize if some of the communication is muddled.

      • jferwerd

        John, part of your frustration is that I have only thrown you "crumbs" from my studies and conclusions. This is because, as I said in an earlier post, I don't want to reinvent the wheel. I am only dancing on the fringe here, offering more of my conclusions than how I got there. But I realize that if you read my book, you still may not be able to see what I see, stunning though it is. And that is okay. There will be many others who will feel that, like my experience, their eyes have been opened to something that makes the Scriptures come alive in ways they never expected, answers more of their questions than current orthodoxy, and moves them to deeper love for God and man than they thought possible. I surely hope it will be true for you as well, but I realize it may not happen.

  • jferwerd

    It strikes me as somewhat arrogant to claim that a courageous and objective analysis of the evidence will necessarily lead to universalism. It could also lead to orthodoxy.

    As my husband already responded, but for the record, I have never said this. If you think I am arrogant in expressing and believing another viewpoint, then that is your perception, but it is inaccurate. My point here (one of them) is that most Christians I have ever met (like I also was not very long ago) do not study the Bible for themselves to see if errors exist in the first place. This is largely because most Christians do not know they exist, just like I didn't. When confronted with the possibility though (that errors exist), I'm finding that many people prefer not to know if it's true or not, and so they just argue that it's not true based on their unchallenged trust of translators and publishers.

    I find it pointless and counterproductive to try to discuss whether errors exist or not (and what it might mean as to the original intent of Scriptures) with people who are not willing to even look into the matter. There is no basis for discussion. When I do provide a credible example of an translation error such as I did with Ecc. 1:13, these kinds of people either don't acknowledge it, or they dismiss it as me not having the ability to read or examine an Interlinear Bible or a Concordance without the assistance of a scholar or translator. As I said before, even Jews don't believe their Old Testaments (Torah/Tanakh) are without errors, whether scribal or translator, so why should we?

    I reject that kind of thinking (that I'm not capable or qualified to locate errors), because I believe that's what got us into trouble in the first place. Jesus said we had to be as simple as a child for Him to reveal truths to us. That means that at least some truths are hidden, and He said from His own mouth that they are hidden from the "wise and learned." Does that mean I possess truth? Not at all, it only means that we cannot rely on scholars just because they seem smart and follow centuries of traditions.

    Truth is living and dynamic, and cannot be fully communicated on paper anyhow. The Bible is the written word, but Jesus is the Living Word. If I have a choice of relying solely on the written word, or relying on the Living Word for an understanding of truth, I will pick the Living Word any day.

    • John

      I guess there seem to be two differences between us.

      A) I don't think there is "hidden truth" in the Bible. You'll be upset that I claim this is Gnosticism, but to put it bluntly, it is.
      B) I think the larger question is not whether there are translation errors, but whether we trust that the Holy Spirit would 'let' there be significant errors in the translations that distort meaning. If God allowed the latter to happen, it would be against many of the core principles of Christianity.

      Building off of B, I wouldn't be surprised that there are errors in Biblical translation. I would be surprised if they significantly distorted the meaning of the original text. If they do, as you claim, I would like to hear from some of these devious translators to hear their justifications.

      The arrogance is not anything explicit. It merely lies in the fact that you seem to assume (on many occasions) that people who disagree with you are too scared or too cautious to actually explore their beliefs. It may be true of some Christians, it may even have been true of your own walk with Christ, but it's not true for everyone. For all you know, I could be a noted scholar of Ancient Hebrew.

      • jferwerd

        John, with all due respect, I find your suggestion that there is no hidden truth in the Bible laughable. You may have just shot down your own argument in the last paragraph. There is unlimited hidden truth in Scriptures.

        I don't doubt there are many Christians who have done a lot of thoughtful Bible study, but I wouldn't be surprised if less than 1% have tackled the question of errancy. I am not being arrogant or condescending to suggest this, but if most of them are like I was, they don't even know to question the inerrancy of Scripture. If you don't know your keys are lost, you don't go looking for them until you need them.

        If it seems like I assume "that people who disagree with you are too scared or too cautious to actually explore their beliefs," what else can I do when the errors are rampant and they do significantly change the meaning of Scripture? Why does that make me arrogant?

        • John

          Depends on what you mean by "hidden truth" — do you mean there are insights in it — such that we can continue to learn from it anew each time? I agree. Do you mean that there is some kind of hidden subscript, or knowledge only revealed to a few? On that point I disagree. Not sure which you meant.

          It doesn't matter if less than 1% of Christians have tackled the question of errancy — if it is the right belief. If it is the wrong belief, there is a problem. But nothing you've presented thus far has convinced me that it's the wrong belief.

          The elephant in the room are these devious translators. They've studied this more than you (indeed, it is their job). It doesn't mean they are smarter, or wiser, but you need to present their justifications for what they did alongside your criticism in order to make a compelling argument. And I'm not talking about cherry picking a few 'defectors' from the 'conspiracy' — email the people at Zondervan for instance. I'd be curious to see what they would say.

          Arrogance is not the same as surety in your beliefs. The arrogant part is in assuming that everyone else still has the wool over their eyes =)

          • AnotherFriend

            I think I should just let John respond for me since he says what I'm thinking so eloquently. :)

  • Roger

    Interesting, insightful fable. But be careful with your hermeneutics!

    God clearly told Adam and Eve, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die." He commanded them NOT to eat it, and He declared that DEATH was the penalty for violating His command.

    Your idea "that He fully intended Adam and Eve to experience the tree of knowledge of good and evil" is a direct contradiction of God's clear communication with Adam and Eve. It is dangerous to imagine "divine hidden motives" that contradict God's declared will. You can end up with some wild, unbiblical ideas that way.

    It is best to look at it this way: was it SIN for them to eat that particular fruit? Since God declared it was sin, then it must be nothing less than sin. We are talking about sin, a direct violation of God's clearly revealed will. The farmer's attitude can apply to non-moral events, but to sinful actions. You cannot seriously be encouraging people to commit sinful acts and take the attitude that. . . “Who is to say whether it’s good or bad,” asked the "farmer"? “All I can say for sure is that I have sinned. Time will tell whether this is good or bad.” Sin is always BAD. Period.

    Now, another topic is that "in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." But recognizing that God is powerful enough to make something beautiful out of my mistakes, sin, and rebellion – is a far cry from saying that fully intended me to sin.

    • jferwerd

      I'm sorry, Roger, but words like "hermeneutics" are not welcome on this blog. This blog is for the fishermen, the prostitutes, and children. Children don't study hermeneutics, and I don't believe we need big, fancy, intimidating words to study our bibles. Admittedly, this is NOT seminary. This is the School of the Wild Goose–trying to be open to following the teaching of the Spirit, and not the teachings by the rules of men.

      I still don't see my position as a contradiction. Regardless of what He told Adam and Eve, I believe he fully intended that they fall, and that this entire "Story" was written in the book before one chapter or page came to be (Ps. 139). If I am trying to teach my child a lesson in self control, I may tell her not to eat too many cookies or else she will not be hungry for dinner and she may also feel sick. But if I really want her to learn the lesson by experience, and not just "because I told her so," (which really won't make her WANT to obey), I may put a plate of delicious cookies in front of her after warning her, fully intending for her to learn by experience. It is then that I know the lesson will "become her own."

      I believe God revealed that He intended Adam and Eve to fall by a key law in His laws of liability, namely the law about the ox falling into a neighbor's pit. I won't give the details now, but they will certainly be in the book!

      • John

        I don't think his use of the word "hermeneutics" is inappropriate. Sounds like you are finding an excuse to discount his argument.

        Frankly Julie, the problem is not that your position is a contradiction, but that it suggests an image of God that few people want to worship. It's a God who has done HORRIBLE things, including rape, torture, murder, brutality, genocide, all in the name of teaching people lessons. Other people are granted nice lives in America for trivial reasons, and have to deal with "cookies" instead of amputation, blindness and despair. This is not a loving God — this is a cruel and arbitrary God who plays games with us while we are here on Earth. And it's not Biblical, logical, or palatable.

        • John

          Julie, you don't answer all of my hard questions either =)

          I don't see how a belief in universal salvation (whether it is a correct belief or not) necessitates a denial of free will and an identification of God with evil. This latter point is what I'm reacting against.

          You say that God is responsible for man's sin — I say that man is responsible for man's sin. In other words, I believe that evil was brought into the world through man's choices, not by God.

          Has God punished people before? Has he started natural disasters? The Bible says yes. Is this evil? No. By definition, nothing that God does is evil, and his decisions are entirely just.

          Does this mean that God is also responsible for the evil that men do? No. He didn't guide Mengele's hand during his dissections. All I am saying is that men can commit evil on their own — an evil that is not sanctioned or approved by God.

          • Deb

            Wow again. Back to the original sin. God is omniscient. Therefore He knew when he created man and woman and the tree, there would be consequences. I can't get in His mind to figure out what He was thinking. If I could, I'd ask why the heck a 30 year supposedly Christian marriage just tanked and why some idiot druggie decided to try and knock off half my family for the heck of it.
            Here's what bugs me about traditional church-faith: there's a recipe for salvation. One part this, another part that, don't piss off the church ladies, wear a dress on Sunday even if your cows are out and that means you have to chase them in wearing heels, and for heaven's sake don't use the word 'screwed' in Sunday School.
            I can't do it anymore.
            I can't pretend and play church anymore. It will make you crazy.
            I believe God is responsible for creating a scenario through which he knew full well what the ending would be: Sin. I believe He is also responsible for pre-establishing the solution to this problem. He is not evil. But all things were created by Him and through Him and without Him not anything was made that was made. Romans 11:36. So yes. He created evil. And I don't understand it but I also don't feel like I HAVE to understand it anymore. I have finally decided to let God be God.
            But John, I'm not offended by your defense of your faith. Not in the least. Please don't take this response as an offense.

          • John

            Deb, I don't find you offensive at all.

            "I believe God is responsible for creating a scenario through which he knew full well what the ending would be: sin"

            Yes — given that God is omniscient, he knew that man would fall. But knowing about something is not the same as making or wanting it to happen — there is a big distinction! I admit that it is difficult to wrap our human brains around this concept. It's one of the wonderful paradoxes of Christianity — why would God grant humans free will, when he knew they would use it to sin against him?

          • Deb

            Earlier, you (I think it was you) mentioned a dual nature. That caught my attention because earlier in the day I was reading through one of my journals and found this entry, "Tell me all day long if you want about a dual nature, and I will hear you. Tell me God wants submission and faith and I will hear you. But today, as I sat on the back of 1200 pounds of power, felt raw fear coursing through a body that could easily cast me aside should he choose to do so, and yet doesn't… knowing that his fear is founded, but that he is obeying me by choice, THEN I understand the absolute necessity of trust in any meaningful relationship. The dual natures at war within ourselves are not always as easy to discern." I was riding a horse that had survived an attack by a mountain lion and wore long scars down both flanks as a reminder. We were in lion country and he obviously had picked up the scent. I had a job to do which required we complete the course we had started. He obeyed but he made it clear he didn't want to. I'm sure he never understood why I would require something so utterly terrifying and (in his humble opinion) stupid as chasing after a bunch of lame-brain cows too dumb to come in from the canyon. But then, I knew something the horse didn't know: I knew the banker would be counting cows that day.
            Probably not a story you can relate to, but it has served as a strong reminder to me that not only will I not necessarily understand at the time, I might not ever see the good in what God asks of me. But I'm guessing he knows something I don't know.
            I think the paradox of free will is best understood when we view God through the filter of his character. Who he is. He is love. If he didn't allow me to choose to follow him, he would be my master, not my father. So he knowingly allowed the situation to occur, then rescued me from my own foolishness.
            I tend to view things as simplistically as possible.

        • John

          "The point here is the He is God, He sets the rules, and if He wants to use evil to accomplish GOOD, how does that smear His character more than what you are suggesting–God allowing evil and then letting evil win when He loses most of His created people to everlasting torment? Which one sounds more fair?"

          God is omnipotent. Why would he have to use evil to accomplish good if he could simply use good to accomplish good? God does not have a dual character — he is entirely good.

          He's not letting evil win by any stretch. He sent his own son to die on the cross, and through that achieved complete victory over evil.

          In my view, evil is not some equal and opposite force to good (which really isn't a Christian teaching), but rather the absence of good. So he's not letting 'evil win' by respecting people's free will to reject him. Those people have simply chosen to be in the absence of God.

          By the way, your view of evil seems to be a variant of Irenaean theodicy (minus the free will)

        • John

          Julie, my apologies for replying to this in piecemeal. There are a lot of comments and posts in this blog, and it is difficult to reply to them all while giving everybody's points a fair shake.

          It seems like there are a lot of assumptions/misperceptions floating around (which likely go both ways). As an exercise, I suggest that we each write down what we think the other believes, then allow the other to correct this view. This should hopefully remove some misunderstandings that may be getting in the way.

          For instance, I have no idea where this paragraph is coming from:

          "That is exactly the kind of thing I am trying to get my audience to take notice of—their questions don't get answered in Church, but rather they are buried under smokescreens and magic tricks, and they are shamed into silence because they aren't able see and call out the faulty reasoning of their elders and pastors. To me, this is irresponsible Christianity, and the fault does not lie with the wonderful sincere people sitting in church on Sunday, but with the pastors, leaders, scholars, and yes, even translators who have silenced the questions while promoting the lies that totally ruin God's character to the world. "

          Sounds like you had a bad experience with the church and are projecting it on me. I'm not trying to silence you — I'm merely disagreeing with you. Nor am I holding a position of superiority over you …. I'm not a pastor, leaders, scholar, or translator. In short, almost none of this paragraph applies to me.

          This is a public blog, and I'm merely debating you, not trying to use "smokescreens and magic tricks." I'm sorry if I've misunderstood you at points. You've misunderstood me as well. I'm not going to apologize for disagreeing with you, nor am I going to admit to all sorts of things that don't apply to my behavior on this blog.

          Let's take the personal attacks out of it and just talk about the issues at hand. If you feel I am skirting hard questions, ask me directly. It's not intentional.

        • jferwerd

          John, are you blind to the Old Testament God that you also portray and revere? The God who clearly sanctioned murder of entire cities of women and children, the killing of thousands "innocent" of firstborn boys in Egypt, telling one of his prophets to prophesy naked and barefoot for three years, the raining down of burning sulphur on two populous cities (and other nearby towns), and the wiping out of an entire planet except for 8 people—let's see that includes torture, murder, brutality, and genocide I think? Yet your portrayal of God's character is better, more palatable, more logical, and more biblical than what I am suggesting? The point here is the He is God, He sets the rules, and if He wants to use evil to accomplish GOOD, how does that smear His character more than what you are suggesting–God allowing evil and then letting evil win when He loses most of His created people to everlasting torment? Which one sounds more fair?

          • Sarah

            Excellent points, Ms Ferwerd!

  • jferwerd

    So John, if God is sending Pharaoh to hell, yet He clearly stated in this verse that He hardened Pharaoh according to His will and to display His glory, where do you see that Pharaoh had a "free will"?

    There is nowhere in this verse or many like it that suggest that God is merely "capable of action." See my comment above on "free will."

    • John

      How do you know God is sending Pharaoh to hell? How are you able to stand in place of God's judgment?

  • I’m quite pleased with the ifnoarmtion in this one. TY!

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