Arguing with the Preacher (and feeling a little guilty)

I DON’T want to get rid of my guilt. I DON’T want to be justified; not if it means God declares me righteous when I know I’m really not. Let me just get it out there: I am not righteous. And how am I justified? I am certainly not justified by doing wrong. The older I get, the more wrong I see in myself. You say Christ has justified me, but I am not justified because I am not righteous.

The Preacher says: No, you are justified. Christ fulfilled the law so you wouldn’t have to. When God sees you, He sees His Son’s righteousness. Now you are righteous in the eyes of God and the law because Christ obeyed the law. He did it for you because you could not. 

What law are you talking about? It is certainly not man’s law. I can break man’s law tomorrow by murdering my neighbor and no amount of theological defense is going to get me declared not guilty in the eyes of the court. Are the courts of men breaking divine law by following their own? I can’t murder my neighbor and claim to have the moral high ground.

If you say I am righteous by God’s laws, then I must conclude God is now only pretending I am righteous when I’m really not. Besides, the law of my own conscience still pricks me in the heart, and it shows me that I am not righteous but guilty. I lusted after my neighbor just this morning. Am I not guilty of that? How is it that I see a guilty man and God does not?

The Preacher says: But, that’s the good news. Whether you realize it or not, you’re not guilty. Of course, no one is perfect. Not yet anyways. We all must go through a process of sanctification. That means we learn to follow God’s law and become more like him. Every situation in this life is an opportunity to grow towards perfection. Stay in study and in meditation on God’s word, and endeavor always to obey it. We may not get all the way perfect in this life, but God will make us perfect in the next. Trust in Him, He will take care of you. 

See… here’s where you lose me a bit. How can a sinful, imperfect being consider himself to be saved when he continues to be this sinful, imperfect being? The perfection you talk of in the next life seems to be the real salvation. It seems to be after death, when I am made perfect, that God will really see me. Here in this life, He only sees His Son when He looks at me, but when I am perfect I will no longer need to cover my filth with a righteous mask. When I am no longer filthy, but can live with God, being truly seen by Him — that, to me, is salvation. I cannot bear to have God look away. I want to be always in His eyes. But if the only reason God can look at me in this life is that He sees His Son instead, then that is the same as if he was looking away. He does not really see me, and I am not really saved. In this life, I’m just covered with a Christ-shaped band-aid.

Also, how can I deny the guilt I experience after my conscience accuses me of lusting after my neighbor? Should I walk around denying what I feel? It seems to me that guilt is a good thing because it is a powerful motivator for repentance. Without it, I may not feel any desire to change for the better.

The Preacher says: Boy, you are looking at the situation from the wrong end. God sees you here and now because of the work of Christ on the cross. Otherwise, God could not see you at all, for he cannot bear to look upon evil. So, a Christ-shaped band-aid is not such a bad thing. When you asked Christ into your heart to save you from your sins, He saved you, and took up permanent residence there. You are saved. Don’t act as if, to really see you, God has to look down on you. He actually lives inside of you. He says you are not guilty. He is the one who justifies you. Are you going to argue with God? God is here with you right now, writing His laws in your heart so that you will do them from your heart. He will make a change in you making you more and more like Him. Your attitude should be like Paul Bunyan, who wrote Pilgrim’s Progress. He said:

 

One day as I was passing into the field . . . this sentence fell upon my soul. Thy righteousness is in heaven. And methought, withal, I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God’s right hand; there, I say, was my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was doing, God could not say of me, he wants [lacks] my righteousness, for that was just before [in front of] him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself, “The same yesterday, today and, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed. I was loosed from my afflictions and irons; my temptations also fled away; so that from that time those dreadful scriptures of God left off to trouble me; now went I also home rejoicing for the grace and love of God.

I’m not arguing with God. I’m arguing with you. If God justifies me and says I am not guilty then why does He still, as you say, “make a change” in me? That kind of justification sounds fake. God is only pretending I am righteous, knowing full well that my real righteousness is, as John Bunyan says, “in Heaven.” Band-aids don’t fix wounds. Time and bodily care does. It is when I can stand before God as perfect in the grace of his sight, that I finally have salvation. And if I cannot reach it in this life, because my righteousness is only in Heaven, what does that say here and now about sanctification, all my struggle to be like Christ?

Whether I struggle or not, when I’m dead, God stops patching me up with a Christ-shaped band-aid and I actually become just as righteous as His Son. It is then that I come into the fullness of salvation. I DON’T want that. I DO want to be righteous, but not because God snaps his fingers and instantly makes me that way after I’m dead. That robs me of any virtue in my actions. Sure, I will do holy and righteous things, but not because I learned to do it, or struggled to. It will only be because I was changed at the snap of God’s fingers. I want to struggle in the process of becoming more like Christ until I actually am, perfectly: to have God’s consuming fire burn away the impurities of my soul through my experiences. Then it is really me who is holy and righteous, and stands before God unashamed because he did not have to force his righteousness upon me.

The Preacher says: Careful son, that sounds like works-based salvation. You can’t get to Heaven on your own works.

Really… hmmm….

 

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Investigating God pt. 3

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Considering what was written in the previous posts “Investigating God”, one might be tempted to return once more to that massively huge list compiled while visiting all the universes and add one more item to it. At the very bottom, one may be tempted to add the word “God”. Because, after all, the Christian says there is a God. And, here the Christian declares an emphatic NO. There is no logical world in which the universe and even the multiverse can be added to a list that includes God. God and all that exists do not share a co-existence. The notion that God preceded the “Big Bang”, the beginning of the universe and can be included in the chain of cause and effect that began existence is a false notion. God is not the first link in the chain of cause and effect. He is the source of the chain’s existence from beginning to end. In other words, there is no metaphorical “room” which contains God and “all that exists.” Remove God from the room and leave all existence, and the Christian will say you are right. God is not to be found in all existence. He is the source of it, and as such, does not belong in any category humankind can conjure.

God is transcendent. He transcends all categories. He is beyond all categories and conceptions. In fact, God constantly breaks through all categories. Take the category, for instance, “all things that exist”- the very thing the Christian says God is not included in. This category is broken by God through the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The Christian says, God is not in the world, and yet in the next breath, he declares that Jesus is God. Note the use of the helping verb is. Jesus was a man who existed in the past and yet the word “is” indicates Jesus exists today. It boggles the mind. God is not in the universe and yet he was a member of human history.

Thinking further about the person of Jesus. God demonstrates in Jesus that he transcends the category of nature. For all humankind has only one nature, yet Jesus, says the Christian, has two of them. Jesus is both God and man without any mixing of the two. He was not a spirit who appeared to be human. He was not merely a man used specially and uniquely by God. He was not a demigod being part human and part God. Jesus had the full nature of God and the full nature of man.

God transcends his presence. The Christian says that God is omnipresent. God is not in the universe, yet God is everywhere. Still, the Christian insists, one cannot point to a locality or place in the universe and say, “There God is.” This is so because God, as the source of all that exists, is actively creating every place. It takes God’s continued activity as creator for any place or thing to exist right now and even exist in the next moment. If God stopped, there would be nothing: which is the absence of anything at all. Thus things continue to exist because God is everywhere.

Another category God breaks through is Oneness or Unity. The Christian will say God is One and that God is Trinity. He is One and Three. God is even called a Tri-Unity. This is to say God is one essence, or nature, and God is three Hypostases or Persons. But, God is not three Gods. There is only One God in three Persons. These three Persons have no division; they are One. Each person can be distinguished but there is no separation between them. They cannot be opposed to each other, and cannot be defined in terms of what the other is not. A man is considered different or diverse from a woman. An Eskimo is diverse from a European. A man of one culture is diverse from a man of another culture. This is so because each is defined by what they are not, e.g. the Eskimo is not European. But, the Three-in-One are an absolute diversity, non-comparable, and not defined by opposing one to the other. They aren’t defined by what they are not. The Three are distinct but not divided.

Of course, the source of all human categories, should be expected to break through them, to transcend them. If we could have a complete understanding of the source of all existence, we would be God. God is both unknowable and knowable, incommunicable and communicable. And holding these things in balance with one another is a reminder that we cannot know everything, and it is also a call to ascend beyond our human comprehension to the great heights that God has for us. For as Jesus is so we are called to be, called to be more than human. For our true diversity consists not in our humanity, but in bearing a unique image of the divine. To be a person is more than to be human. It is to be in a process of becoming. For we will be as Jesus Christ is, participating in his divine nature by the divine light of his grace. May we each become fully alive.

 

Investigating God pt. 2

retrieved from https://www.theodysseyonline.com/fraternity-greek-gods
retrieved from theodysseyonline.com

 

The gods of days past, the Norse gods, the Greco-Roman deities, and the eastern gods of the Asians and Arabs were all thought to have an existence that touched our own. And, their existence made a difference. They could visit the world of humankind, visibly or invisibly. And when they did, armies would fall, the outcome of wars would be decided, and human loves were thwarted. To come into contact with a God was to come into contact with a force to be reckoned with. Whose will would win over? Time would tell. Sometimes the gods would win and sometimes humans would win. A God would crave appeasement, sacrifice, or worship; and followers either complied or faced the consequences. What humankind did had an effect on what God would do. The existence of the gods was in competition with human existence. For mankind to be fully alive, free, and in control he must say NO to God. A NO to God is a YES to man.

Then comes the Christian, who stares all humankind in the face, and declares there are no gods. But the same Christian will claim to worship God. When examining this situation, one begins to declare the Christian to be suffering from a host of contradictions. At one moment the Christian declares, “There is no God within the whole of existence.” And the next you will see him bow down to worship him.

To the Christian, however, the entire ancient world was just confused. The worshipers of the gods were the ones ailing from contradictions because they were confused about divinity, confused about what it is. There can in principle be no competition between God and humanity since God, as the source of their very existence, is just what makes them what they are. To be God is to be the source of all items in the whole of existence, including anything a philosopher might call existence itself. As the source of all that exists, God is just what makes everything what it is. As such, God makes no difference to anything in the universe. God is the reason why everything is what it is. Therefore, the will of God is what gives fullness of life to humanity. To say YES to God is to say YES to humankind. The glory of God is man fully alive. To reject the source of your very existence is to reject life. It is to die, non-participation in existence, in some way. This is why Adam and Eve were said to have died the day they ate of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. By disobeying God they were turning away from the One who made them, in every way, what they are. Because they refused the source of existence, they refused to participate, in some way, in their very own existence, whether one classifies that existence as physical or spiritual. Adam’s choice to eat the fruit wasn’t an expression of his free will. It was a limitation of his human freedom to be all that he could be. Limited freedom means limited life. The closer God communes with humankind, the more humankind will realize their true selves, free from death and corruption.

Investigating God pt. 1

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Suppose you and I set out on a great quest to find God. We looked under every rock, mountain, and hiding place in the earth. We examined all the biological life and found none that were God. We took to the stars and searched every planet, analyzed deep craters, and went diving into vast alien oceans. And when they turned up empty, we went spelunking in the depths of every black hole, scoured every galaxy until there were none left to scour, and still, we could not find God. We then compiled our findings and made a list of every item in the universe, and counted the universe itself as one of the items. Next, we launched ourselves into the multiverse and witnessed the birth and spectacular deaths of all the universes as they came into existence and passed away. Having a “doorway” to every universe, we searched each one and aggregated the items we found there into our impossibly massive list. And, still, God was not found among them. Finally, we found the origin of the multiverse, whatever contraption that may be, and discerned its inner workings, and from it discovered all the knowledge contained within every universe ever generated. The knowledge of the infinite ages was ours, but alas, in all that knowledge was not the knowledge of God. So with weary faces, we turned our eyes toward home, that quaint universe from which we emerged, and told our fellow man of all we had found, and what we had not found. And while the whole world watched, we pointed to our massive list and resolutely revealed the one sentence of which we could now speak with authority: “There is no God within the whole of existence.” As we ended our lecture, a dingy farmer in dirty overalls and a piece of straw in his mouth greets us enthusiastically with a firm handshake. After a quick spit of tobacco extrudes from the side of his mouth he says, “Its such an honor to meet you sirs. My name is Morgan, I’m a Christian, and I already knew all that.”

 

 

In A Nutshell

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Consider this thought: Some parts of creation observe other parts of creation and themselves. This fact is astounding.

If I were to look at a nut on the ground, would not it amaze me to learn that deep inside the nut, far deeper than can be adequately described, there are impossibly tiny bits of nut that are eagerly looking around and excited about what they see? I should wonder at the behavior of these tiny bits of nut, why they bother themselves to look about. And if I learned later that the tiny bits had formed education centers and universities, might not I begin to suspect that maybe, just maybe, something “un-nutty-like” had gotten into the nut? And, if I found out later on that a large number of them considered themselves to originate from beyond the nut, might I begin to suspect they might be right?

God’s minimum cardinality (a SQL explanation)

ERD_GOD_MAN

SELECT * FROM Humankind WHERE Saved = ‘true’ AND Loved IS NOT NULL
? rows returned

Cardinality here refers to whether God has any sort of mandatory relationship with the whole of humankind. Is it an optional relationship, as in, its possible no one may be with him in the end? Is it a mandatory 1:1 relationship, as in, at least one human will be with him? Is there a difference between Christ’s ideals and the reality he can feasibly create? Is Christ’s ideal to save all humankind, which is a “one to many” relationship? Will he fail in his ideal?

Let’s start by evaluating Christ and humankind by examining some statements which many Christians have held to be true throughout history, statements that start with ideals, but then are reduced by reality.

1. God sincerely wills or desires the salvation of each and every sinful human being.

2. God will eventually achieve a complete victory over sin and death and will therefore accomplish the salvation of everyone whose salvation he sincerely wills or desires.

3. Some human sinners will never be reconciled to God and will therefore remain separated from him forever.

To accept statement #3 as true, you must reject either statement #1 or #2. However, let us examine some clear “one to many” statements in the Bible and see if these statements point to a different truth. What effect does the “one” Christ have on the “many” humankind?

I Cor. 15:28 “When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.” So, in the end, all things, including humankind, will be in subjection to God. This does not mean God will have forced praise heaped upon him from unwilling participants. He calls that iniquity in Isaiah 1:11-13. Rom. 5:18 “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.” Thus, all humankind will have justification and life. Verse 19, says that same group, humankind, will be made righteous. And the force of God’s grace is more powerful than the potency of sin (verse 20). I Cor. 15:22 “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” Thus, all humankind will be made alive.

From these verses, the entity Humankind has the following 5 attributes:

Future subjection (not forced).

Future justification.

Future life.

Future righteousness.

They are given grace more powerful than sin.

 

What attributes does the entity Christ have that necessitates this effect on the many?

I Cor. 15:45 – The last Adam, the life-giving spirit.

I Cor. 15:49 – the man from heaven.

Rom. 5:10 – the Son of God.

Rom. 5:21 – Our Lord.

From here we can create statement #4 which removes statement #3 above. Instead of rejecting either statement #1 or #2, we can accept both and make a new statement.

4. God will eventually accomplish the salvation of each and every sinful human being.

The minimum cardinality for humankind is the same as the maximum. Christ (“one”) created a mandatory relationship with humankind (“many”). Notice, this does not negate the (1:1) relationship in which Christ is the only way to heaven. Neither does it require that all humankind accept the (1:1) relationship in this life. All references to justification, life, righteousness, and subjection are future relationships. Neither does it destroy hell. It just means hell will not last forever because God will not fail in his ideals. God’s ideals will be reality.

References:

(The statements #1 – #4 above were adapted from the reference below, p. 38.)

Talbott, T. (2014). The Inescapable Love of God. Wipf and Stock Publishers: Eugene, OR.

Who will I lose?

When it comes to the end of this whole human experience, the end of the world and the universe, where all come to meet their Creator, I cannot help but feel a tinge of fear. OK, maybe a lot of fear. Let me explain:

Ever since I was young, I was thankful that I and my family were among the ones who would be saved from being thrown in the great divine trash heap to which most of humankind was doomed. I would look around at the mass of humanity being carried along by the floods of sin and evil without anyone to pull them out. To be sure, some people might be pulled out. In my mind, my family, friends, and I had been pulled out and were also given the task of pulling everyone else out. But, there are some people you just can’t reach.

So, there we were in the great Ark of Christianity, drifting along the floods of humanity; thankful that we were aboard, but silently mourning the loss of millions of others. Fake comfort was offered to us to alleviate the realization that “this is just how it is.”  We were told either (1) that God logically cannot save everyone since most of humankind was out of reach or refused help, or (2) that God had chosen us above all others and purposely left the rest to drown.

It took years to ponder the implications of each idea. Later on, I could not get past the feeling that God was either, according to (1), impotent against the human will and the gates of hell prevailed over most of humanity, or, according to (2), God did not want to save everyone, making Him quite the divine monster. Must I be told to love my neighbor, feel compassion for him, know him personally, and ache for his salvation until such time as he can no longer be considered my neighbor? Can God throw out his own image into the trash heap?

Yet, I believed that’s exactly what he was going to do. My neighbor, whom I must love as myself, would be ripped from me. And, it would feel like I was being ripped apart. If I loved him, really loved him, that’s what it would feel like. The gates of Hell really were the victors in the end. The gates would steal my neighbors, maybe my future family members, maybe even my own son or daughter.  How can I live with that? How can God, who is said to love everyone even more than I love them, live with that? If God is love, He too will be ripped apart. But, if he already chose some for the trash heap, he is indifferent, uncaring, and places quite the unreasonable burden of future grief on all his followers. They must love all people, but prepare to lose all people. For God did not really love them in the first place. At least, He did not love them enough to save them. How can I truly love my neighbor as myself under these conditions? Will my neighbor, just as valuable and worthy of love as myself, no longer be my neighbor? God forbid! To lose my neighbor is to lose my very own son. That’s the strongest I can put it. To lose even myself to the trash heap of Hell is nothing compared to losing my own son there. I cannot love such a God who would throw him away, be God grieved or indifferent.

God forbid that I should love more than He does. Can God be outdone in love? “No!” my heart cries, “He loves more than I.” I cannot have been educated in love from my earliest memory by my mother and father, by my brother and sister, by all who have ever come before me: whose written words of love have instructed me, and gotten love so wrong. I know not what else to say except that if God is Love, as the Scriptures and all who have taught me say, then His hands are good hands to fall into. In death we all go to Him who is Love. And who shall be able to separate us from the love of God? No one. Not even ourselves.

Still, I do not know this for sure. It is only the logic of Love, which spurns all other logic. It is only the hope that all this will not end in the most horrifying way possible; that not even one will be thrown away – that God will not let one of His lost sheep slip through his hands. They look like big strong hands, don’t they?

Henry and Charity 6

Henry: Good morning.

Charity: Morning, Henry. How have you been?

Henry: I’ve been fine. Do you want some coffee?

Charity: Sure. That’s enough.

Henry: Creamer?

Charity: Please.

Henry: Hmmm… the first sip of coffee is always the best.

Charity: Ya, it sort of gets you in the mood for the day.

Henry: I haven’t seen you in a while. Have you been visiting family?

Charity: Ya, just for a few days.

Henry: Well, I’ve given your questions a lot of thought. The only thing is, I’m not sure I’m any closer to answering them.

Charity: I do appreciate you listening, though. Some people won’t even allow questions. They would rather have faith, and not put any work toward understanding their own faith.

George: Good morning, everyone.

Henry, Charity: Morning, George.

Henry: There’s coffee left in the pot.

George: Good. That’s the most useful thing they put in this break room.

Charity: Ya, I don’t think anyone uses the stove.

George: Would you mind if I sit down and join you two for a minute?

Henry: Sure.

George: You may not know this, but I’ve been listening to you two off and on for a while.

Henry: Oh, really?

George: Yes. And I can see why you went up to this young lady in the first place. She is very beautiful.

Henry: …

George: You don’t have to say anything. I’m an old man and I have the luxury of speaking my mind every now and then. I don’t mean to embarrass you. I was just wondering if you might let me add something to your conversation.

Charity: Of course, we welcome anything you have to say. You’re one of the nicer employees around here.

George: Thank you. …I notice that both of you have knowledge of the scriptures and can recall specific verses at a moment’s notice. That’s commendable in itself. Some people would be envious of such a skill. But, I wonder if I might pick just one verse, Revelation 2:17, keeping the context in mind of course, and dig a little deeper than normal. I think it will add significantly to your conversation.

Henry: What does the verse say?

George: “To him that overcomes, I will give a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knows except he who receives it.”

Henry: I don’t understand how that fits into a conversation on Heaven and Hell.

Charity: Could you explain what it means?

George: Well, as you know, the Book of Revelation is a book of prophecy about the end of things. In other words, it’s about the whole point of it all, the goal we are all aiming at. And God, in verse 17, is speaking to all the churches. — So, I got to thinking about this white stone with the new name on it and what it’s a symbol of, if anything. The fact that it is a stone and white may strike some as arbitrary and take different meanings to some, but I think the one who wrote it sees in the whiteness purity, and in its substance indestructibility. But, no matter – what I’m interested in is what is meant by the new name. And this brought to my mind the whole notion of names in general. Why do we give each other names and ask what each other’s names are? What is meant by the idea of a name? Is there a perfect notion of a name? Once a man reveals his name, all we possess of him that makes up what we know is a label by which to call him and whatever scrap of external history we are privileged to know: whether he came from upstate New York or whether he started working here a year ago; whether his mother has a three children or whether he hunts on his time off work. Are we any closer, though, to really knowing him? I think not. In fact, we may know more of the man if he has received some other name which he will never hear, but that his co-workers give to him. For instance, they might call him dependable, trustworthy, lazy, or a screw-up. Instantly, we know something of his character and therefore a little bit more about the inner man.  – But what does it mean for God himself to give you a name? It must be a communication about what God thinks about the man to the man. It is his soul’s picture in a word. It must be what he had in mind when he first formed him in his mother’s womb. No one else but God sees what the man is or will be and could express it in a name. Of course, while on earth we could never know what we will become. But, when, I ask, is he given the name?

Henry: When he has overcome.

George: Ah, yes. But, why does God wait? He knew his name from the beginning.

Charity:  Maybe if the man knew it too soon, he would not understand it.

George: Precisely. Henry, you picked a smart conversation partner. It is only when the man has become the name, when he overcomes, that God gives him the stone with the new name on it. It is the blossom, the perfection, the completion that determines the name which God knew in the beginning. But such a name could not be given until the man is the name. But, let’s look a little deeper at this.

Henry: I thought that was deep. How can we go deeper?

George: Well, if we look deeper we will find every man’s individual and unique relation to God. And this is intensified by the fact that “no man knows the name except the one who receives it.” Every man is not just in a relationship with God, but a particular relation to God. He is to God a peculiar being. And the man can understand and worship God as no man else can worship him.

Charity: It sounds wonderful, but won’t that be a temptation for pride knowing that only you can understand and worship God is this manner?

George: That would be a problem to him who had not overcome. God give me grace that I would humble myself before my brother; that I divide us not with foolish pride, but look up to my brother for what knowledge and worship of God that he and he only can give. Each man stands before God, and lifts up a different humanity to the God who is all in all. And inside every man is an inner chamber that only God can enter, a chamber into which no brother or sister can come.

Henry: That’s quite an insight.

George: And further still, it follows that there is a chamber also, a chamber in God himself, into which no man can enter but the one made for it, made from the beginning. Out of this chamber he must bring knowledge and strength for his brethren. Each can reveal to each the secret things of the Father — Each man discovering the riches of the knowledge of God and of his grace, each teaching his brethren how better to know the one who made them. God has become all in all.

Charity: It’s a beautiful vision of things to come, but how does that pertain to our question of whether all people eventually go to heaven?

George. Well, Charity – you too Henry – Let me ask you this. What would happen if even one man, one individual unique in his relation to God, were somehow lost and separated from God and the rest of humanity forever; or if he was somehow removed from existence so that he would exist no more?

Henry: There would be a serious deficiency in our ability to know and worship God.

George: Yes. For we would be missing what he and he alone would provide for every other man, his own peculiar relation to God and the revelation and strength he would bring from it. Each one of us is precious not just to God but to each other. And this is why Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself, Mathew 22:34-40. For to love God is to love your brother; and to love your brother is to love God. One cannot be done without the other.

Charity: You’ve given us a lot to think about. That’s for sure. I think this is the kind of thing that needs to settle in the brain for a while before one can fully comprehend it.

Henry: Yes. I agree. And as it so happens, our break time is over.

To Be Continued…

Henry and Charity 5

Henry: Hi, Charity. I’ve been thinking these last few days about what you said. I haven’t said anything for a while because I wanted something real to say. You ask a lot of hard questions.

Charity: Ya, sorry about that.

Henry: No, don’t be sorry. I enjoy talking with you, even though we seem to disagree on a few things.

Charity: I hoped you weren’t through talking to me.

Henry: It’s just…

Charity: Yes…

Henry: Well, you’ve given yourself a win-win position. Either God is all-good and everyone goes to heaven, or God is not all-good and some people are lost forever. You’ve also been able to ask questions without saying what you really think on the matter.

Charity: That’s because I don’t know what to think on the matter. I’m not actually interested in winning the argument; I just want to know what’s true.

Henry: Let me ask you this then – What happens to justice if all men are eventually restored and spend eternity with God? What happens to the woman who kills and fillets her husband only to serve him for dinner to her children? What happens to the man who cages and tortures his victims for sexual pleasure and then dismembers and eats their bodies? What happens to the tyrant who oppresses and murders his own people, his own family, and dumps thousands of bodies in a killing pit? Or, the one who harms little children for fun, or the serial rapist destroying young girl’s lives? – Where is justice for their victims if, regardless of what we do on earth, we all are made right and have the same destiny? Essentially, all criminals get away with their crimes.

Charity: Hmmm… I see what you mean. I can’t ignore justice or the pain and hurt caused by others. But, can’t we account for this somehow and still restore all men to God?

Henry: It’s nice to think that all men are victims or just making careless, ignorant mistakes. The salvation of all humanity might sit well with me if all men were just misguided angels. But, some men commit horrible, unbearable crimes from which the pain and suffering take lifetimes to recover.

Charity. I agree. I cannot deny the presence of evil in the world, and the need for justice. But, answer me this – are all crimes or mistakes or “little sins” treated the same in hell? It doesn’t seem right that the child who stole a quarter from his mother’s purse and the gas chamber operator in a concentration camp should get the same punishment.

Henry: Yes… I can only say that the punishment justice inflicts will be right and appropriate.

Charity: But, Isn’t hell a place of eternal conscious torment in flames?

Henry: That’s what the Bible says.

Charity: How is that appropriate punishment for the child who doesn’t clean his room when told to? I might approve of a cannibalistic rapist being tortured by fire, but certainly not the child. It’s far more appropriate to teach the child obedience and set him right. Isn’t that what justice is, setting things right?

Henry: I can agree to that.

Charity: It shouldn’t just be about inflicting pain for the joy and satisfaction of the offended party. There must be a “setting right” of things in the punishment itself. Human justice takes different forms; it sometimes reforms criminals, or at least tries to. It sometimes prevents others from acting badly.  Sometimes it charges a sufficient payment to the victim. In all cases, it is meant to set right the wrong, not to enact torture for pleasure’s sake. We don’t all sit back with our bowl of popcorn laughing at the derision of the damned do we?

Henry: I don’t think God takes pleasure in the pain of others. But, If you are responsible for a lot of things then more will be required of you, Luke 12:48. The punishment must correspond to the amount of things the person is responsible for.

Charity: What are you saying, hell has less fire in some areas and more fire in others?

Henry: I’m saying there are degrees of punishment in hell.

Charity: Well, that’s kind of ambiguous.

Henry: I guess it’s sort of a blind trust in justice on the basis that God is good, and punishes in so far as it is right.

Charity: Again, you are evading the question. Are you really saying some of us will endure less-hot fire and some of us more-hot fire? And what about the fact that fire burns, as in destroys. It’s painful because it destroys our bodies. Won’t all the inhabitants of hell be burned up at some point?

Henry: No, Hell is always described in the Bible as eternal. It lasts forever.

Charity: If that’s true, then all inhabitants of hell will be punished the same amount. They all have an infinite amount of suffering to endure, whether it’s not-so-hot fire or very-hot fire. That’s not a punishment that corresponds to the crime. It infinitely outweighs the crime. And by the same logic, it infinitely outweighs even the most horrible of crimes. That’s not just.

Henry: But, aren’t you confining God to your own human standard of justice? What makes you think that your understanding of justice and God’s compares in any way? God is not human, Numbers 23:19.

Charity: Didn’t he create my mind, my intellect and understanding?

Henry: Yes.

Charity: Why should God give me an understanding of justice and then require me to reject it? If God made me and he is good, then my understanding of justice must somehow reflect his justice. If I can’t trust my own mind, which God made, how can I trust that I’m rightfully rejecting my mind? I have to use my mind to determine that it is right to reject it. In fact, to my mind, it’s your understanding of hell that doesn’t make sense. It has more in common with mythology than it does reason.

Henry: Mythology?

Charity: Yes. It’s more like the myth of Prometheus. As the story goes, he gave mankind the gift of fire, which belonged to the gods. As punishment he was tied to a rock and every morning a vulture would eat out his liver. Then it would magically grow back so the vulture could eat it again the next morning. And this went on for eternity. – Your understanding of hell requires this same sort of “magic” that recreates our bodies only for hell-fire to consume them over and over again for all eternity. Are you telling me the Greeks weren’t wrong about hell, only about the kind of torture involved?

To Be Continued…

Henry and Charity 4

Henry: But, God has come after you, through me. He did not leave you in the wilderness. He has sent me to call after you.

Charity: I don’t know if I can answer that call. I have not yet worked out if God is good or not, at least, the God you talk about.

Henry: What do you mean? Of course, he is good.

Charity: He may be good enough to save me, but is he good enough to save my mom? She’s already dead. She died when I was a teenager after months of treatments, enduring the best the doctors could give her. I watched her fade away minute by minute in that hospital bed, and all I had to cling to was God’s love. I believed in him. I trusted that as she faded here, she came alive in God’s good hands. But, Henry, she did not hear this ‘good news’. Is God going to leave her behind? Was my trust in him vain? Is God good enough to save her?

Henry: She may still yet be with God. You don’t know what she came into contact with in her life. She may have heard the gospel.

Charity: Don’t presume to know more about my mom than I do! What sort of arrogance overtakes you that you can pronounce some vague hope on her life using such an uncertain word as ‘may’.  Either God is good or he is not. Either my mom is with him, and I was right to trust in his love, or she is lost forever.

Henry: I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you. You’re right, I don’t know your mom like you do. But, God is good. That doesn’t mean however, that everyone is saved. Your mom may yet be with him, but there will be some to whom God will say ‘leave me. I never knew you.’ Not everyone who calls him Lord will enter into his kingdom, Matthew 7:23.

Charity: Except those who do God’s will. I know the verse. I don’t know what that means anymore. It keeps coming back to ‘doing’ something but I don’t know what we’re supposed to be working towards. You say salvation is not work, but we keep bumping into these verses that contradict you.

Henry: It is frustrating. My verses keep backfiring. Hmmm… let’s leave working aside for a minute. It’s my earnest hope that your mom is in heaven. I wish everyone could be there but, it’s just not feasible. Given a world of free creatures, moral agents who make their own decisions without any coercion from God, some of them are going to choose wrong. God gives his highest priority to freedom, because without it, there is no love. You can’t make someone do something freely. God does not want heaven populated with human ‘robots’ who have no choice in their own destination. Those who freely choose to be with God truly love him. Without freedom, there is no love.

Charity: If God’s plan to save everyone is thwarted by human freedom, then God did not make a good world. And, by implication, God is not all good.

Henry: How do you mean?

Charity: I mean, in order for your God’s plan to be carried out, there has to be collateral damage. Some of us have to be damned for the rest of us to be saved. Yes, Jesus procured the means of salvation for all, but from the beginning he knew most of humanity would not choose to love him. But, he made the world anyway knowing they were destined for hell. You’re telling me, God couldn’t have made a better world? If that is true, then there was not enough goodness to create a truly good world, one in which no one was ever lost. – Think of it this way. Let’s say that only one human was sent to hell and the rest of us went to heaven. God could not create a world in which that man was saved. And let’s say he was the most vile of creatures. He killed millions of people, corrupted everything good around him, took his happiness in the torture of the innocent, and fulfilled every perverted desire in his heart. Everywhere he went he stank with the filth of sin. This man could not be saved and went to hell. But, the rest of humanity went to heaven. Given God’s limitations on what he could feasibly create, what else could we regard this perverse individual but as the one who took the fall so that we could be saved. It would be fitting and proper to toast him at every meal who took the wrath of God upon himself so that we might live forever. Someone had to be damned. God could do no better. The problem is billions of times worse when you consider that most of humanity throughout history has died without the accepting Christ into their heart. Poor them, they did not know the required set of beliefs or the proper name of God’s Son. As eternity begins, the ones in heaven should toast and poor libations to the ones who were damned instead of them. Them, who had nothing to do much with their salvation except emerge as the product of chance, a happenstance of geography, the luck of being born with a language that the Bible was translated in, the fortune of running into a person such as yourself, or the happy course of events that led to their birth into a Christian home. God simply could not order things so that all would be saved. Is this your God, only that good and no more?

To Be Continued…