MORE TRAGEDY IN HAITI

The news today tells of yet one more catastrophe in a country so close to our shores, a country with which I am familiar after many years of visits and ministry by our church.

A friend from Haiti wrote this morning and said, “We can’t take anymore.” But they will because the news tells us of an approaching hurricane ironically called ‘Grace’. Our friends there are becoming more hopeless.

I read an online comment this morning where someone wrote, “There but for the grace of God go we.” Not helpful and not correct. It sounds like God specially favors us because God spared us and not them.

My question is, “Where IS God in the midst of the calamities in Haiti?” As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from a prison cell before his execution, “Who is Christ, actually?”. He was asking what about the Jews and others who were killed by the Nazis. The same question could be asked for our Haitian friends. Does it mean the salvation of their souls as their homes tumble down on them and their children die of disease and hunger? That’s not God’s will. That’s evil against which Christ fought and for which he died. And it’s a battle to which we are called.

We are the hands and feet of Christ to reach out to those in dire straits. We are his body and we must show that to the world. There once was a leader who called Haiti a  _____hole. But Christ calls them his beloved and God’s word says that the Lord is close to the needy and broken. And yes, of course that means anyone, anywhere. And I believe that our supernatural God takes every one of those souls into his eternal care, doing for them what we have not been able to do to give them life.

At this moment all I can do is offer my sympathy and prayer for those who suffer there and in so many parts of our world. And I know that Jesus weeps with everyone of those who hurt. He suffers with them. He dies with them. May we all offer ourselves to God in these moments.

When I first heard the song below, my heart broke. I wept.

Who Will Save The Children (Randy Stonehill)

Cry for all the innocent ones born into a world that’s lost its heart,
For those who never learn to dream because their hope is crushed before they can start,
And we shake our fists at the air and say, “If God is love, how can this be fair?”

But we are his hands, we are his voice,
We are the ones who must make the choice,
And if it isn’t now, tell me when?
If it isn’t you, then tell me who will save the children?
Who will save the children?

We count our blessings one by one, yet we have forgotten how to give,
It seems that we don’t want to face all the hungry and homeless who struggle to live,
But Heaven is watching tonight, tugging at our hearts to do what’s right.

But we are his hands, we are his voice,
We are the ones who must make the choice,
And if it isn’t now, tell me when?
If it isn’t you, then tell me who will save the children?
Save the children.

As we observe them through our TV screens, they seem so distant and unreal, but they bleed like we bleed and they feel what we feel.

Oh, save the children,
Oh, save the children,
Save the children.

Now we decide that nothing can change and throw up our hands in numb despair,
And we lose a piece of our souls by teaching ourselves just how not to care,
But Christ would have gone to the cross just to save one child from being lost.

And we are his hands, we are his voice,
We are the ones who must make the choice,
It must be now; there’s no time to waste,
It must be you; no one can take your place,
Can’t you see that only we can save the children?

READING THE BIBLE WITH GRACE-FILLED EYES

The violent character of God as presented in the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures, has always troubled me.  I grew up having been taught that the whole Bible is the word of God without any errors. This idea of inerrancy became sort of a doctrine one had to subscribe to within the evangelical church.

Some people raised in more fundamentalist homes and churches were taught the Bible says it and I believe it, only to discover how untenable some of that ancient stuff really is. So when God commands the slaughter of people, well we just know that God had his reasons. He was purifying the world by getting rid of the bad people. Some say that God’s ways are mysterious and we can’t know God’s will. We just accept the printed word.

People leave the faith because of answers like that. I believe we CAN understand the violence in the Old Testament but it will require a certain grace to read the scriptures differently than what we might have been taught.

Let me write this cautiously because some will be offended even though they might not know why: Not every biblical event in those ancient times was specifically from God. Much that was written interpreting God’s intent and actions was actually the way a tribal society amidst other tribal societies interpreted what God was saying and doing through them.

I know that ‘all scriptures are inspired by God,’ but not all of them are accurate portrayals of God’s character. How do we know God’s character? Through Jesus, the Christ. He was the very WORD made flesh so that we can know God. Jesus himself says at one point, ‘if you see me, you see the Father’.

So I came to a conclusion late in life that if I see something from the old stories that don’t conform to what I know about God in Jesus then at the very least I say now that the old stories are problematic and probably not accurate. I feel under no pressure to believe differently now because I have come to know the living eternal God through Christ. God’s character never changes. He is love, once and for all time. The cross is the place where love and justice meet in Christ. Our God is a merciful and forgiving God. Christ shows us that time and time again in his acts of forgiveness, healing and Godly love.

 As one evangelical writer put it, “Some biblical writers got the message wrong.” Jesus even corrects some old sayings when he speaks what we now call the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5,6, and 7. (C.S. Cowles) For example: “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the LORD.” – ( Leviticus 19:18) But Jesus goes on to say, “43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” ESV.

Or take Saul, for another example. (1Samuel 16) The Bible says that God sent an evil spirit into Saul. Then look at Jesus…. He never put evil spirits in anyone he encountered but rather removed them.

So I am not troubled any more by the misunderstandings I read. Although I must be forthright and say that many churches wouldn’t want such an evangelical as me. But I want to be honest to God and I want to seek truth. And the only one who really had the truth was Jesus who himself said that he WAS the truth.

So I am reading the Scriptures with grace-filled eyes these days so I can model my life on the God I know in Jesus who gave me life and life eternal. On the Mount of Transfiguration God said to Moses and Elijah, about Jesus, “This one is my son. Listen to him.” That’s who directs my ways these days.

One more thought. A man approached a monk one day and asked, “Why does the Bible contain so many bizarre, offensive and un-Christlike depictions of God?” The monk replied, “Because God let his children tell the story.”

And so it was. The children continued to tell the story progressively until the WORD became flesh and dwelt among us and we now get to behold his glory.

So, enjoy the Scriptures. We learn much about God. And when your friends tell you they can’t believe some of the violence in the Old Testament, feel free to say, “It’s ok, I have the same trouble with it.” Then get to Jesus.

THE CHICKEN OR THE EGG

I’m reading “Open and Relational Theology” by Thomas Oord in which he asks the age-old question which is the title for today. But he asks it with regard to faith and love. Which comes first? I began to think that I am no longer attracted to the Evangelical notion about faith. It’s like a formula or a barcode stamped on our hands to secure our entrance into the eternal Kingdom of God.

Oord directs our attention to Paul writing to the Galatians,

“For [if we are] in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith activated and energized and expressed and working through love”. (Amplified Bible)5:6

When I was a young pastor an older teen told me that he had ‘backslidden’ in his faith (a term meaning that he was probably into something bad) but then he said it didn’t matter because he was ‘saved’ and once you are saved you are always saved. Now, there’s a testimony that I will preach. NOT.

The church at Corinth always had problems of pride and greed. Paul wrote to them that without love even a faith that moves mountains is of no use. (See I Cor. 13.) Isn’t that something? Who would guess that such a faith without love is useless? Anybody with an intuitive mind would. Faith is trusting God in Christ. Love is God. Some see faith as simply an assent to doctrines. Love is the expressing of God’s life in ours and in others. And yes, sometimes non-believers live love better than those of us who have the ‘correct’ belief.

In Jesus’ day, people had their lives changed because they were touched by God’s love in Christ, through healing and hearing the Good News that God’s Kingdom had arrived for them. He invites them into God’s love before they can trust him. Think how often Jesus says, ‘Go, your faith has made you well.’ His love and their acceptance gave them new life.

When Jesus met with his disciples to wash their feet he said he was giving them a new commandment: “Love one another.” (John 13:34) He said it was the same kind of love with which he loved them.

So, the chicken or the egg? In my mind they are an organic whole. They are a unity in Christ. They are like the two wings on an airplane. We can’t trust or live without both of them together. But I will say this: The virtue of love expresses a whole lot more in this creation than believing. Sometimes I have to believe and trust in order to have love. But love is the thing.

When I go to a doctor my first concern is not if they are a Christian. Rather I want to know that this person is skilled in the art of medicine and care. All their hard work finds it’s greatest expression in love (deeds of love). Thankfully I have a doctor who has connected both. Or consider marriage. I believe in the covenant. I believe in my wife. But if I don’t love her with more than words, then I’m ‘toast’.

Finally, it’s rather easy to declare faith or belief. Love is the thing. We can’t counterfeit it. It’s relational and it changes the world.

If anyone is interested in reading the book I mentioned, it’s “Open and Relational Theology” subtitled ‘an introduction to life-changing ideas’ by Dr. Thomas Jay Oord published in 2021

PANHANDLERS AND GRACE

I’ve been reading online comments about the people who stand on street corners asking for donations. Often it’s a family with a sign pleading for some help. The online comments usually list all the reasons why we should not give these panhandlers money.

Some say ‘they drive BMWs’ or ‘they live in nice homes’. People have actually followed them to their supposed houses. ‘They are ripping us off’, or ‘they are part of a scammer gang’, I read. ‘They use their children to play on our sympathies,’ one person suggested. ‘They should get jobs, like the rest of us’, or ‘we shouldn’t reinforce their behavior.’ And there are some good-hearted folks who suggest that people give to a rescue mission where one can know the ‘needy’ are being taken care of. Good idea.

I recall Jesus words, ‘Give to everyone who asks of you.’ (Luke 6:30). I like the MESSAGE VERSION: ‘If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life.’ How many people ‘used’ Jesus for their miracles? Remember the lady who stole a miracle when she snuck up and touched the hem of Jesus’ garment? And there are still people using Jesus like a vending machine. ‘Cheap grace’ is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called it.

I am embarrassed to recall an incident in NYC when a street person asked me for money and I took to the time to explain to him how he would probably use the money for drink or drugs and such. Was I a jerk or what?

Here’s what I think. Giving is good, not just to help someone but for the building of our own character of grace. It’s probably why Jesus said, ‘Don’t let your right hand know what your left hand is doing.’ (Sermon on the Mount) It means that we are not to keep track of how we give money. Certainly stewardship is a good thing. But grace is even better and it may cost us a dollar or two. Grace has even cost people their lives. That’s what happened to our Lord. If he had been more earthly sensible he would have moved to Galilee and set up shop for the rest of his life.

I’m thinking of a scene in the final judgment when God looks over my life and says, ‘George, you were so wasteful for giving $10 to that so-called family on the street corner or that supposedly homeless man who begged some money from you.’

I know that we can find some creative ways to help those in need but remember that grace comes in the giving, not in any form of judgment on our part. Listen, God knows how wasteful I have been in spending money for myself. And while I am not deliberately trying to be wasteful on ‘panhandlers’ it is a good lesson for my soul to just give ‘without asking for anything in return’.  And please let’s not judge the people who are asking. In this past year those people have been some of us.

Just maybe, out of all the money we give away in such instances, someone’s life is touched by the love of God we show. And by the way. Offer a blessing of God to those in need. You are the one who will be truly blessed.

THE WATER AUTHORITY: A PARABLE

A few weeks ago the City Water Authority where I live came to my home at my invitation. They came to inspect all my sprinklers to make sure they were efficient and they programmed the system that turns the water on and off at correct intervals for conservation and effectiveness. All this was done for free.

The whole experience was wonderful. What happened next was the best. I shared my experience with my neighbor. He was overjoyed because he was having problems with his own system. He made the call. Then I overheard him sharing the news with another neighbor and then another. The water folks are going to be busy in our neighborhood.

You could say that this was GOOD NEWS, a proclamation of what the City was doing for us. Now, here’s the thing. Let’s say my neighbor Phil listened to their recommendations, read their follow-up email….  and did nothing; told no one. Ah, but that’s not how it works.

It got me to thinking. Wouldn’t it be great if we shared the Good News of what God is doing for us with those around us? I could sound something like, ‘Guess what God is doing in my life?’ ‘Can I pray for you?’  ‘Hey, if things are going so wrong let me share where I have found some help.’ An understated, subtle comment is often more effective than a forceful evangelical approach. Heck, you could even write a little blog on the Good News. And if you are reading this and not a person of faith, then invite God into your life perhaps not knowing what to expect at first. You can discover who God is by reading one of the Gospels in the beginning of the New Testament. Listen, I never knew that the City provided their service until I read about it on a neighborhood website.

The second thing I thought about was how sometimes we receive the Good News about God and do nothing with it. God is always about reconciliation, reform, renewal and I am sure a whole lot of other ‘r’ words. The Good News is about changing the world for good by God’s grace. Grace changes everything: the way you see yourself, the way you see others and best of all the way you see God through his Son Jesus, the Messiah. God coming into our lives as Good News changes the earth… not the way we care for just our lawns but all of creation. The Good News changes the ethic, the worldview by which we live.

Now I would have loved the water authority folks to stay with me and help me day to day cause something always is going wrong with my sprinklers, but of course they can’t.. But the Good News of God is that God stays with us to repair and renew everything in our lives. Oh, sometimes the system of this world might not be able to be repaired at the moment, but the Good News is that something good can come from the brokenness.

So make the call, accept the invitation and live into the change that the Good News of God can make. A change not just in you not but also in this world that God loves so much.

I welcome your thoughts.

LIVING INSIDE OUR OWN HEADS

‘Living in your own head’ can mean to be introspective but often times it means to overanalyze life even to the point of feeling self-critical. Too much second guessing ourselves.

There are certainly times when we need to reflect within ourselves, take stock of our lives, and see what needs to be done. And that soul searching needs to be done in love, not judgment. If we are to love others as ourselves, well, then, I guess we need to have an unconditional self-acceptance in order to be able to be healthy about loving others. And that can be a life’s work of maturation.

This is so true in the Christian life. Our view of God’s judgment and anger can lead to a lack of self worth.  This might come from some bad parenting or even lack of success in some endeavor. We end up with a bad image of God thinking that we need to please God, achieve some great thing for God.

Self-flagellation is what it was called in early Christianity. It was practiced as a form of mortifying the flesh, inferred from some places in the Bible.  In Romans 8 Paul writes: 13” for if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Notice that Paul says ‘by the Spirit’. This is no directive to physically abuse oneself in some kind of effort towards purification. It is more meant as a means of subduing one’s earthly ways that are contrary to God’s will. If anger is my problem then I need to subdue it, not repress it. I need to name it and conclude that I am invited into a better way to live.

I think that’s the meaning of ‘repentance’. In some instances ‘repent’ might have to do with being sorry for sinful deeds but generally it means to be ‘changing one’s mind’ and even being ‘out of one’s mind’. Stop regurgitating the same ole way of living and believing and get out of your head and discover that the Kingdom of God has arrived and is here for God’s good purposes of defeating evil and bringing abundant life to God’s creation. That’s why Jesus says in Matthew 4:17, “Repent for the Kingdom of ‘Heaven’ (meaning God) is at hand.”

Let’s paraphrase that verse. “I invite you to change your way of thinking about life as a dead end and instead try to think outside your own mind into a new way of understanding that God’s eternal and unconditional love has come close in the person of Jesus. And this love will change your life.”

There is no need for self-belittling or self-incrimination. Rather this is an opening of our minds and hearts to receive the Father’s love. Even for those who haven’t had good fathers, this God is the father and perhaps mother that we have longed for.

And once we start thinking God’s thoughts, and having the mind of Christ, as Paul puts it in Philippians 2, we discover why God’s ways and God’s love manifested in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is a wonderful way to live. Not by rules but by a relationship. Then we will be in our right minds.

ORIGINAL SIN? GONE.

No, I don’t know exactly what this ‘original sin’ thing is except to say, ‘something went very wrong in the relationship between humanity and God. I’m not even sure there was a literal, historic Adam and Eve. But I do think they represent a humanity that chose their own will over the love of God. Augustine was the first to use the term and he might have gotten the notion from the Apostle Paul who wrote that sin entered the world through one man, Adam.

But – and this is important – Christ took upon himself the sin of the world. The Baptist, John, referred to Jesus as the ‘Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’ John 1:29. It may be no accident that John uses ‘sin’ in the singular. Whether sin or sins, the point is that the death of Christ dealt a stunning defeat to sin. His death removed its consequences for everyone so that all people would have the hardness removed from their hearts in order to hear the call of Christ to return to

God’s love.

And here’s the most pertinent scripture in this piece: ‘God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.’ 2Cor. 5:19 (NIV)

And this is the same use of the Greek word for ‘not counting’ that we read in 1Cor. 13:5, ‘Love keeps no account of wrongs.’ (My translation.) Check out the Greek for yourself.

So original sin is not in our consideration anymore. The way is cleared now for God’s love to be most alive and apparent to the world. When I think of it this way, it sure changes my approach to sharing the Good News. Repentance is not getting rid of particular sins but rather turning around to see life in a different way. Probably asking forgiveness from God is simply saying to God, “I took my eyes and my mind off you. I want to get back to being loved and loving.”

Yes. God so loved the world.

STAY WITH THE PROGRAM

This a phrase sometimes used with AA or an exercise regimen and it’s good advice but there is another place where the expression is most useful -to the soul. It’s where Jesus says, ‘Stay with me’. (John 15:4) It’s the same words that Jesus used in the Garden of Gethsemane when he said to the disciples to simply stay with him and keep awake. (Matthew 26:38) The Greek word, pronounced, “men’no” means simply to be, or remain, or abide, and it reminds me of the Psalm phrase, ‘Be still…’ (from Psalm 46).

Christians think too much about too many things. We are like Martha, ‘worried about so many things.’ (Luke 10:41) I mean things like doctrines, beliefs, who is in and who is out. And our minds are too focused on ‘doing’, not that there is anything wrong with ‘doing’. Recall that faith without works is dead. But we can become more occupied with the things done than why are we are engaged to begin with; with that comes guilt and shame. ‘I should have.’ ‘I could have.’

Here’s what can happen. After many years of being active in ministry I find myself at a place of more questioning, walking away from all the dogmas, doctrines, beliefs, and whatever else you might want to call them. I got tired of them and their insinuations into my life, especially my spiritual life. So now, besides writing this blog I am more about just ‘staying with Christ’ without any formula or direction.  Now, I just ‘am’ with Christ, waiting on his direction to my soul and life.

I feel like the vine attached to the branch/root where Christ will give the life and growth. I want his will but since I don’t want to get wrapped up in some kind of program or 10 steps to finding it, I’d rather just wait with no expectations on my part and none from the madding crowd.

For example, tithing has always been a part of our lives (not that tithing is a biblical mandate). But now we don’t try to figure how much is 10%. Rather we wait for a word to sustain the vine. For a while I was unsettled about that but recently have come to a place of God’s peace in the matter. Knowing my wife’s generosity I probably have nothing left for buying baseball cards. Sure it’s a small example but it bears upon other things in my life and, generally, in the Christian’s life. It’s almost like there is no commandment but to ‘hang in there’ or not, in the sureness of Christ’s love for us.

Ah, already I hear some ‘whining’ about such a cavalier attitude. Don’t worry. ‘One day at a time,’ is what I hear some folks say.

Justice and Love

How do we reconcile the passages in the Bible that paint a picture of a God who is loving, forgiving, and whose mercy endures forever, with the image of a vengeful, and punishing God who sends unbelievers to their eternal torment in hell?

Many people want to believe that God is just; he rewards the righteous and punishes the unrighteous. And then there are passages that might lead us to either of those opinions or views of God. I should mention that there are also verses in the Bible that speak of God rewarding us for deeds done in the flesh. See 2Cor. 5:10 for example. (I wonder how many people look up these verses.)

So let’s look at a couple passages about people getting their just due. In Romans 10:9 Paul writes: ‘9 …. if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.’ This is one of those verses the evangelical types like to share in order to convince others that there must be a confession of faith in order to be saved… sort of like ‘accepting Jesus’ or being ‘born again’. And that’s fine because there it is in the Bible.  It’s in the same section of scripture that causes us to wonder what the fate of the Jewish people is. At one point Paul says he grieves over his own lost people and at another he speaks about how all Israel will be saved. There seems to be some uncertainty as to God’s plan of salvation for the Jews. I do like that verse in Romans 11:32 where Paul writes that ‘God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them ALL.’

Now consider this verse found in 1John 2:2 supposedly written by the Apostle John. ‘He (Jesus) is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” Good Calvinists say that the death of Christ was sufficient for the whole world but only efficient for the ‘elect’. Now there’s another can of worms in trying to figure out the character of God.

Let me add another verse about God’s love and forgiveness. “Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:18-19)  I leave it to the reader to understand the parallels of ‘all’ and ‘many’ but it is clear that Paul means to let his readers know that God’s mercy is extended to all.

Ok. Let’s take a look at John 3:16: “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (NLT) See, it would seem that those who don’t believe would perish. But notice this, perishing is different from everlasting torment. You will have to do a dictionary study for this.

Now let’s go to a passage which helps us understand God’s will. In 1Timothy 2 Paul urges the people to pray for the leaders of Rome so that they can live a peaceful life, and he concludes in v.4: ‘This is good and pleases God our Savior who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (NIV)

Some folk say that the love of God wants all people to be saved but the justice and election of God only saves some. That’s interesting. I have always thought that Christ on the cross IS the justice and love of God together. Christ’s death allows us to know that God takes sin seriously and that he forgives sin at the same time for all people.

Recall the death of Jesus on the cross where he cries, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ It seems to be there are a whole lot of people in this world who don’t understand and therefore don’t know Christ. Are they condemned because they don’t confess Christ as Savior?

Now let’s take a look at a letter from Peter, the disciple who denied and then reconciled with Christ. 1Peter 3:18-19: ‘18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison.’ (NRSV) I can’t be absolutely sure but it appears that there is a second chance for those who have died. This goes along with 1Peter 4:1-6: ‘Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.’

And there are many scriptures (see 1 Cor. 15 for example) that lead us to an understanding of God’s justice and love mingled together on the cross. (This may actually mean that there is post mortem salvation by the will of God who in his word says that one day every knee will bow and tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.) Our God’s nature is revealed in Jesus the Christ. It is the nature of justice absorbed by love.

And so I believe that there will come a time when God reconciles the whole creation to himself. That is not for the purpose of encouraging irresponsibility but rather magnifying the love of God. It’s love that saves and not fear. The Good News of God’s love has more drawing power than any warnings about eternal torment. Just something to think about.

A REASON FOR HOPE FOR ALL- A POSSIBILITY

There is a significant amount of conversation these days about Hopeful Christian Universalism, meaning that the Bible gives us reason to believe and hope that through Christ all people will be restored and saved and enter the Kingdom. Most Christians are fine with thinking this is NOT the case and would rather trust the research and theology that has come to us mostly since the Reformation of the 1500’s.

Let’s consider the idea of judgment for a moment. I recently read a blog written by a friend from Long Island on this point: (This following is a paragraph from the blog.)

The message is clear. No matter who you are, rich or poor, known or unknown, cleric or laymen, artist or Pope, we all have the wonderful opportunity to look up and consider God in His marvelous creation. But if we do this, we must all also consider that we will all face Him in his judgment – and that is the part that many people want to forget. It is one thing to look at creation and think that God may have had a part in it, but it is quite another to think that we all are accountable to this same God.

Christians of the Evangelical sort make much of judgment, particularly final judgment which, depending on what verses we read, can be based on faith or faith and good works done in the body or how we used the talents God gave to us. This judgment, especially for unbelievers, is dark and filled with images of hellish eternal torment rendered unto us by the loving God who in Jesus told us to love our enemies.

I want to consider a passage that is most appropriate for this Holy Week. I believe it’s an alternate view. It is a Palm Sunday scene that takes place after Jesus had raised Lazarus to life. He is now in Jerusalem and at one point reflects on his imminent death. I will pick up the scripture from there: John 12:27 ff.

 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. 34 The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiahremains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” 35 Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.”

Now, here’s how I understand what is happening in this conversation. Jesus is speaking about his death on the cross and concluding that his death will bring about the judgment of the world. His death will bring the world into a crisis by which the love of God expressed by Jesus on the cross IS the judgment of the world that Jesus is taking into himself. Evil, sin and Satan will be defeated on the cross. Read Colossians 2:13-15 [NRSV]:

13 And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, Godmade you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, 14 erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.

See, this is the work of Jesus on the cross. To forgive us all, erasing all the legal punishments against us, and disarming Satan. Some will say it’s only true for those who believe. But in verse 32 of John 12, Jesus says that he is going to draw, pull, or drag ( Greek) all people to himself.

Now we can still say that this drawing does not save, only attracts more people. But left over from my Calvin days is the idea that such drawing is a work of irresistible grace on God’s part that will ensure that all people will come to Christ. It may be in this life and it may be that it happens after this life. I picture Jesus from his throne opening his arms of love to enfold the entire world for which he died. He didn’t die just for believers. Read I John 2:2: He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but for the sins of the whole world.

Having written this I need to say that there are scriptures that signify a severe punishment for unbelievers (in whatever way such people are determined) but there is much in scripture that leads us to conclude that God will restore his whole creation back to himself, even through penalty after death that lasts for a season or eon. See Colossians 1:20. But many Christians don’t want to study those passages or dwell on them lest they be led astray, they think. But we want to consider the whole counsel of Scripture. The early church Fathers did. Read what they thought of hopeful universalism before the 6th century. (Gregory of Nyssa, Origen, Clement, St. Jerome and others anyone can look up.)

My point is to say that God loves his whole world and wants the salvation of all to take place; and restoration of all creation is possible through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. I believe Jesus even puts an exclamation point on that possibility by forgiving the men who crucified him. So judgment may have taken place on what we call GOOD FRIDAY, only to be affirmed by the SUNDAY RESURRECTION.

I am hopeful that the God of love revealed in Christ will do more than we think or imagine in restoring all people to him. Paul writes that God is not counting the sins of anyone in the world against them (2Cor. 5:19). To me, that’s the Good News we can proclaim in Christ. That’s the kind of love that changes peoples’ hearts.

Grace does matter.

By the way, a wonderful book to read in the above vein is THE EVANGELICAL UNIVERSALIST by Gregory MacDonald.