PLACES IN GOD’S HEART

I am wondering why some Christians, supported by denominational doctrines, and certain biblical passages, want there to be a hell of eternal torment. Is it for justice or perhaps revenge? Like ‘they’ get what’s coming to them for not believing in Jesus or doing bad things.

Surely it’s not from any sense of love. Jesus reminds us to love our enemies. (Matthew 5) We are told often in the Bible that the essence of God is love. A great definition of love is to work for the good of others even at our own expense. I am thinking of God doing that very thing through the sacrifice of his Son on the cross. Why, I wonder why would God go to such an extent with his love only to one day say to some folks, ‘Too bad for you’. God’s love is eternal. (Jeremiah 31:3, for example.) I think that Jesus expressed God’s love for the thief on the cross who was to be welcomed into Paradise. Jesus also asked God’s forgiveness for those who were crucifying him.

We know that God knew, planned, or permitted the FALL to take place back in the Garden of Eden because Scripture asserts that Christ’s sacrifice for all God’s creation took place before the creation of the world. ‘Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.’ (Ephesians 1:4 NLT) The Trinitarian love of God is eternal and being shared with us through creation and redemption and finally reconciliation.

See 2 Timothy 1:9 (God’s grace came to us in Christ Jesus before the ages)  and 1Peter 1:20 (Christ was chosen before the creation of the world, but revealed in these last times for our sake).

God is a good ‘love investor’, having already planned for the inevitable conclusion of giving humanity free will. God was not giving up on creation and surely not on any of us who were created in God’s image, stamped with the life of God’s son, and it is in God all humanity lives and moves and has its being. (See Acts 17:28 for this last phrase.) This is all grace.

Scriptures declare that even after the rebellion of God’s people God’s love remains everlasting. Paul even writes that all ISRAEL will one day be saved. (See Jeremiah 31:33,34 along with Isaiah 59:20,21 for God’s everlasting love and Romans 11:26 for Paul’s statement about ‘all Israel’.)

Do I really want murderers, rapists, Nazis and the like sitting with me at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:6-9)? ‘Of course not’, my flesh replies, but if I walk by faith and love I will not reply from my flesh. And yes, my flesh looks for the Bible readings where the righteous prevail and the wicked are doomed but I want to live by grace, forgiveness and with enduring love.

The Bible tells us that ‘God will be all in all.’ (1Cor. 15:28) Perhaps it’s a mysterious passage or it well could match up with what Paul says to the philosophers in Athens about everyone having their whole lives wrapped up in God with the possibility that we may indeed look for God and find God.

In the meantime the church is Christ on earth to help bring creation back to the Garden as it were. God, through the church, is filling the earth with God’s presence. (See Ephesians 1:23) That is a call to responsibility and joy.

The final scene in the movie PLACES IN THE HEART depicts a gathering at worship of all the characters, the ones who have died and those who are alive. Some have been mortal enemies. They are sharing the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper together. I pray and hope that one day all people will bow and worship God as one. Paul writes that in Philippians 2.

So this Christmas let us proclaim God’s love, an eternal love, for all creation. It’s going to be a great day when all the creation realizes that the babe in the manger came to redeem the ones God loves so much.

 

BUT WHAT ABOUT REPENTANCE AND FAITH?

So a good friend remarked to me some time ago, ‘If Christian Universalism is TRUE then what about repentance and faith?’ At first it sounded to me like, ‘doesn’t something have to be required to get in on this good deal of salvation?’ But it was a good question and one that is often asked of Christ centered Universalists.

But here’s the thing. Christ came to invade this earth and bring God’s Kingdom. Christ in his covert manner of incarnation came to take over what had become enemy territory. (I think C.S. Lewis uses that analogy.) And Christ’s presence, his teachings, life, death and resurrection were to reconcile creation to God by taking away the sins of the world. In 1John 2:2 we read that Christ is the atoning sacrifice for not only the believers’ sins but for the sins of the whole world. But that sounds too easy to think that the whole world is forgiven. Well, that’s what it sounds like in that passage above. But again, ‘what about the bad dudes who keep on doing bad and don’t ask for forgiveness or the people who worship other gods?’

Christ inaugurated a Kingdom. And Paul infers in Acts 17 that all are, in a fashion, ‘children’ in this Kingdom. The thing is that some people know it and others don’t or won’t. But God’s Kingdom affects everyone. God’s grace impacts the whole creation. God is involved in the lives of everyone in some way, some good way. But some folks don’t see it or won’t see it.

I love the meeting in Athens, Greece recorded in Acts 17 where Paul talks with non-believing (in the Judeo- Christian God) philosophers who have questioned his ‘new’ thinking. And he says at one point, “In God we (meaning all people) live and move and have our being” (vs. 28).

The MSG version has ‘we can’t get away from God.’ I like that. God is involved in every life since no life, none whatsoever, has come upon this earth except through Christ.

Now take for example when Paul writes in Romans 8, ‘we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…’ vs. 28. If you are a believer and know God’s love then you KNOW this truth and you find comfort and hope in this world that is foreign to other people. But if you are not a believer then what? God is working bad things into your life? Do you say to someone when bad stuff happens, ‘that’s the way it goes for unbelievers?’ Of course not. If we trust Christ we get to SEE what others don’t see. But it’s the same God who is working in God’s creation to bring everything and ultimately everyone to a place of a new heaven and new earth. And just as God has changed your heart (if you are a believer reading this) God is going to change all hearts in some way. We trust God to grace all lives either now or even post-mortem.

 

I had this thought this morning. It’s not new but worth repeating or re-emphasizing. Would the God who tells us to love OUR enemies -And here we need to read those verses from Jesus in Matthew 5:43-45a. 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.

-would our God then go on to eternally torment HIS own enemies? I don’t think so. I am not positive but the big picture of God’s loving-kindness displayed through the cross of Christ causes me to consider that God loves His enemies too. And God’s love will conquer all evil.

So to get back to the unrepentant, unbelieving and even ‘bad’ ‘wicked’ people. Unfortunately they have not experienced the grace that others have. And the task of the believer in Christ is to share that good news to let others know they are included. They belong. They are loved. They are going to be with God. They are with God. That’s the good news. The word ‘Euangelion’ means good news and was used when a runner would come back to Rome to announce that an enemy had been defeated. Whether someone believed it or not, his or her life was impacted by this victory.

Blessed are the eyes that see all that now. I hope and pray that if you are reading this and have never trusted Christ for making this life so real and eternal, that you would say ‘yes’ to him even at this moment. Then you can know for sure what this good news is about.

Back to Acts 17 for a moment. Paul went on to say that God is commanding people everywhere to repent, meaning that God wants everyone to think differently about this earthly life. It’s not meaningless. It is full of the presence of God. God is everywhere at every moment gracing our lives, and moving this world closer and closer to God’s self. (Even if it doesn’t always look like it.)

God bless you and yours. That blessing is real.

george

 

 

 

ONLY SOME ARE ELECT? I DON’T THINK SO.

Calvinism is a doctrine that evolved from John Calvin’s work in the Reformation. A most important part of that teaching is the idea that Christ died only for the elect- those chosen by God even before creation to be saved while the rest are left to their deserved punishment in hell.

That might seem reasonable for a beneficent dictator and demiurge. But that is not the loving action of the intimate and involved God who so loved ‘the world’ that he gave his only Son to die to remove the barrier of sin from creation.

See, the Calvinist types don’t ever want to contemplate that Christ wasted a single drop of blood or iota of atonement.

So let’s go to the video. 1John 2:2

Christ is the one whose death removes our sin and not ours only but the sin of the world. Or as the Message version has it, “When Christ served as a sacrifice for our sins, he solved the sin problem for good- not only ours, but the whole world’s.

 The Calvinists believe, and I do as well, that if Christ literally removed, pays for and atones for any sin, then the Grace of God is operative in that person and wherever grace is operative, faith, at some level is established. So indeed the whole world has been effectively changed to be able to trust that God both exists and loves his whole creation.

John 1:29 ‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’

Christ, before he died, said that when he would be crucified he would draw all people to himself. (See John 12).

Now I realize that there are verses in the Bible that would indicate other than what I have just written. Let’s read all of them and get the grand picture. The panorama of God’s grace is such that I believe God will find a way to bring all creation back to himself. And it will be done with justice and above all with love.

So if you are reading this and have been somewhat unconscious to this reality, please let your heart and mind be awakened to what the love of God means for you.

That is another taste of what some call Christian Universalism.

A TASTE OF CHRISTIAN UNIVERSALISM

Romans 10:9

“..if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” ESV

Many Christians use the above verse as a text for evidential proof that a person is saved and going to heaven when he or she dies.

I DON’T THINK SO.

The text is an affirmation for newer Christians, especially Gentiles, who were divided by grace and law to know that their confession was a confirmation of God’s sovereign grace for the entire world. It was not a ‘bar code’ to be scanned by God for entrance into the Kingdom.

And while the statement is itself true, it does not MAKE one a Christian. It was written by Paul as a challenge to the Jews and Gentiles who depended on the Law for salvation. And in the context of Gentile Christianity Paul is simply declaring that Christ is the END of the Law (10:4) and that anyone who puts their trust in Christ alone can know with certainty that they are reconciled to God.

Salvation is simply trusting to Christ to do for us in his faithfulness to God what we could never do for ourselves. Then we can assuredly know where we stand with God and find much peace and new ways to live with God. But remember, God is blessing the whole creation and pouring out God’s Spirit on all flesh as stated in Acts 2.

This includes all who HAVE YET TO BELIEVE. And it includes the Israelites who to this point have held out from such trust in their stubbornness. (Vs. 21)

Paul will go on in chapter 11 to write that mysterious sentence about all Israel being saved. (11:26-27)

And then there is that wonderful phrase of hopefulness for the whole creation.

“God has bound all people over to disobedience that God may have mercy on them all. (11:32)

The word ‘all’ contained at the beginning is the same ‘all’ at the end of the sentence. Something akin to ‘in Adam all died and in Christ all shall be made alive.’ (See 1Cor. 15:22) From the MSG version we read, “everybody dies in Adam and everybody comes alive in Christ.”

Everyone receives God’s mercy. Blessed are those who know it right now.

Therein lies a taste of Christian Universalism.

 

THE ATTRACTION OF UNIVERSALISM

It is difficult for me to comprehend how humans can think to be more merciful than God with regards to the eternal destiny of each human soul. After all we are made in God’s image to love, and to forgive but it would seem that according to traditional Christian teaching there is a limit to God’s own loving nature and actions.

In 1990 I became a convinced Calvinist assured that God’s glory was somehow tied into the justice of electing some out of all the reprobates on earth. Otherwise, I reasoned, we should all end up in eternal torment if not for the limited atonement of Christ for certain people.

But as I read the entire Bible it appears more and more that God’s plan is to bless the entire world and those in it. It appears that God’s desire is to have mercy on all people, that Christ is the second Adam in whom all are made alive.

Jesus said he would draw all people to himself through his death. And the Bible states that God really desires all people to be ‘saved’.

In my own mind without doubt is the idea that God’s love and grace are universal. But is that grace finally successful? I believe it is. That’s my presupposition if you will, somewhat akin to the presupposition of a loving God as see through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

I will use a universalistic hermeneutic (way of interpreting the scriptures) as I study God’s word and writings that pertain to this subject. I want to make the case for believing that the new heaven and new earth will resolve all sin, injustice and sorrow to the glory of God.

In my mind the story of the Bible is not about the power of God but the love of God as revealed in Christ and known through the Trinity.

Your reflections and questions will be most appreciated.

 

 

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO GRACE? MY WIFE SAYS SHE MOVED TO MINNESOTA.

Really?!

My point is that often we evangelical types forget the magnitude, the outrageousness and the wideness of God’s Amazing Grace. I would love to explore this with any of you who would like to respond. I begin with a passage from Ephesians chapter 2.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (ESV)

In the Voice Version this is how it reads:

But God, with the unfathomable richness of His love and mercy focused on us, united us with the Anointed One and infused our lifeless souls with life—even though we were buried under mountains of sin—and saved us by His grace. He raised us up with Him and seated us in the heavenly realms with our beloved Jesus the Anointed, the Liberating King. He did this for a reason: so that for all eternity we will stand as a living testimony to the incredible riches of His grace and kindness that He freely gives to us by uniting us with Jesus the Anointed.

Words like unfathomable, indescribable, and even incomprehensible are not too extreme to describe God’s grace.

And this passage goes further to say that we have been saved by grace through faith and none of it is our doing, none of it. (Not even the faith part)

So where in any of the above passage do we see anything of our own doing in this salvation grace of God? Salvation is God’s work from beginning to end.

The only ‘work’ that we might be able to do is to leave, walk out of that relationship with God. Let’s put it this way: we are in until we opt out. This is one of the premises of Christian universalism. Now don’t stop reading. This universalism idea has much to offer in the conversation about Grace.

Let’s consider this analogy. We are all in the river together being carried along in God’s love. Some choose to make the leap out of that flowing water. I had a tropical fish that once jumped out of the tank. It’s not long before it realizes the need for water. And so it is with us. After a season God will place the wandering fish back where it belongs. Some fish will see the error of their ways and struggle to get back home by themselves. Kind of like the prodigal son. Ok, maybe it’s not the best analogy but I like it.

But here’s the thing. God’s salvation is through the faithfulness of Christ to show the incomparable riches of his grace. (Verse 7)

How can those riches be displayed, and how can the glory of God be known when we take credit for somehow making salvation possible by our belief? Remember that in the Bible we are looking at a microcosm of salvation encounters over a period of say 100 years in the New Testament narratives. But God’s incredible grace is at work through all eternity and everywhere in all God’s creation.

When we talk about belief, faith or trust we are simply recognizing that there are people who do acknowledge that Christ is the author of our salvation.It is Christ’s faithfulness and his alone that brings salvation to the world. Recognition of Christ and obedience to Christ are essential to the Christian walk but God is up to something quite astounding in bringing the whole creation back to God.

I realize that we can ‘find’ other scriptures to ‘prove’ other than what I have written but let’s do this; let’s consider them all and see what kind of picture they present of the incredible riches of God’s kindness.