What will God do to assure His highest desire is fulfilled?

We know that God is not willing that any should perish but all should come to repentance. We know that God takes no delight in the death of the wicked. We know that Christ died as an atoning sacrifice for our sins, not only ours but for those of the entire world. We know that God is Love. We know these are true because we read them in scripture.

All of God’s historical actions and planning and bringing about of his plans are centered on the salvation of humanity. This forces us to contemplate the strength of God’s own desire for all humanity to actually be saved. Jesus seemed to indicate that many would go the way of destruction and few would find life. If this is in fact a prediction of inevitable reality regarding soteriological eschatology, then we have to wonder how God could wish all men to be saved with any degree of determination and yet seemingly acquiesce prophetically to the unfortunate eventuality that His desire will be tragically disappointed. 

We have all known people who say they are committed to something with their mouth, yet their behavior betrays the dearth of enthusiasm. Many sports fans have lamented that their team lost because they really did not want to win enough. I remember a presidential candidate who spent millions of dollars on a campaign which he lost and it was determined that maybe he never really wanted to win it in the first place. 

God could not be like any of those examples. If He says he desires the salvation of all, we should think that he would give his very best effort to see that vision achieved. After all He has utterly limitless resources at his disposal. To make people believe He is real and that His Son Jesus Christ is the Savior could be made readily apparent by simply forming a massive crucifix in the outer atmosphere made of space rocks. This could have appeared and remained from the day Jesus was crucified. Then all we would have to do is share the gospel and point up at the sign in the heavens.  Or there could be an angel like the one in Revelation who flies around the earth and proclaims the gospel from the sky for all to see. That could happen every year on Resurrection Sunday. 

  How many atheists would we have then? For that matter how many Buddhists or Muslims or Hindus would we have? That would seem pretty effective considering when people saw Jesus signs and wonder we are told many believed. Not just a few believed, many did. That’s not all, but you have to leave room for the stubborn hold out who just won’t believe their eyes. 

  But even Jesus was able to say “I did everything any reasonable person would need to know I am from heaven and my claims are verified by my power” . But 2000 years removed, and passed through multiples languages and translations and theological gatekeepers, (and left to us in fragmented copies) creates a challenge for validation in the mind of modern peoples.

But God’s chosen method of convincing the generations of humans outside of Israel and the first century is by the oral proclamation of events which cannot be empirically verified to the extent people would always abandon their religious or skeptical positions in favor of the obvious truth. 

It appears that the faith has relied upon humans to carry a message. They are to tell the story and people are accountable before God as to whether that story is something that seems real to them. Of course we have to hope that the story gets told to everybody. In other words God seems to be completely relying on us believers to convince everyone of the gospel. If we don’t’ God has no choice but to throw them into the eternal lake of fire.

Chick tracts made a gospel cartoon tract that addressed this very issue. God judged a Christian because they were not much of an evangelistic witness and others went to hell forever because of their silence.

So now it seems it is no longer about how badly God wants to save people, but how badly we want to. God did everything he needed to do to save everyone. He gave his Son. He doesn’t have to do anything else, it’s all up to us. That’s a pretty heavy load to carry for a kid. 

But if God is as passionate about all being saved as we would think He would be, and He has given it to us to spread the message in a persuasive way, and many will not receive it in the end, then it all points to a missing piece whose shape is apparent in it’s hole based on the present facts. 

That is that ultimately God will not fail to fulfill his passion. He will at last do what we have tried so imperfectly to do and that is to save all.  After all, didn’t He arrive the first time to do what we could not do on our own? (Live a perfect life.) Why wouldn’t he arrive a second time to do what the church tried but could not do all on it’s own? 

The objection to this is that this narrative is not what scripture teaches. The scriptures teaches an eternal judgement on all who rejected, failed to believe, never had a chance to hear, or tried to believe but failed to do so properly because they incorporated some damnable heresy such as universalism. We know from scripture exactly what Jesus final summation of the ages will look like. Just like the Jews of Jesus day already knew from the scriptures exactly what the Messiahs arrival and victory would look like. Well, of course they missed the meaning of the prophecies, they didn’t have the Holy Spirit guiding them into all truth like we do. Thats why we have such univocality of doctrine in the Christian world for the last 2000 years. Actually, if there was universal accord in the church it could only be in one confession. “I know I’m right!” 

Here is what I will suggest in conclusion. For Gods desire to save all to be authentic, and for the delegation of evangelism to the church to ultimately fall short of that goal, there must be a final ingathering wherein God himself will evangelize all who have ever lived and they will bow the knee and confess under the incontrovertible, irresistible persuasion of an infinitely creative and powerful and loving God.

If Universalism is true what’s the point of the gospel?

It is often objected that Universalism guts the gospel of its necessity in that if everyone is going to be saved, then theres no point in trying to convert people. This position is a result of limited perspective and lack appreciation for the true value of a relationship with God.

Lets say a person was born in a cave in total darkness. One day someone came to them and said “you don’t have to live in darkness” and they showed him how to make fire. He lived by the light of that fire and made his way around that way. Then someone came to him and said, did you know there is a world outside this place where you don’t need to carry a torch because the sun shines and gives light all day long. Would the man say, “Then what good is this torch?” No because the fact is the fire he has is very helpful and good UNTIL he reaches that outside world. 

The idea that Christianity is only worthwhile if there is an eternal hell to escape seems to devalue the inherent good in knowing God as soon as possible as an end unto itself. Has eternal hell become such a large fixture in our psyche that without it God’s love and salvation is meaningless to us? 

Jesus has a bride. Marriage is a revelation of that mystery. What part of the marriage metaphor requires the threat of eternal punishment to reveal the fulness of the grooms love? The groom marries the bride because he loves her. She marries him because she loves him. They know each other and love each other. No threat of hell is involved in this marriage. In fact if the groom were to use threats to guarantee her acceptance of his proposal, the proposal would no longer be based on love but instead coercion. 

As I look back on my own conversion I realize hell had nothing to do with it. I did not really have any kind of understanding of hell. I did fear death. That played a major role. But I did not accept Christ because someone told me I was going to hell. I accepted Christ because I hated what I had made of my life and knew that I was empty and lost and imprisoned by my habits and desires and needed God in my life. I let him in and he revolutionized me. Then later church people taught me about hell. Because they had been so instrumental in helping me find and grow in God I accepted everything they told me. 

Yet the idea of eternal hell really was not something fully revealed to me. I just didn’t think it through. But eventually it did sink in and when it did I vomited it out of my heart. I no longer accept hell as a place of eternal torture. I see it as a place where rebellion and unbelief are destroyed so faith in Christ can be accepted. 

But had I known that when I got saved would anything have changed? No. I still needed God and my life was still not what I wanted it to be. The idea of continuing in the life I was in simply because I knew hell was not for forever seems ludicrous. It would be like saying I regret moving to Hawaii now that I found out there are some warm sunny days in Alaska. 

Knowing God and being loved and cared for by him is the core of my faith, not the escape from hell. This is why the absence of eternal hell does not really leave a empty place in the gospel. There’s too many other reasons to share Jesus. 

I mean if God is real and God wants to live in your heart, isn’t that reason enough to feel excited? The creator of the Universe loves you and wants to have a relationship with you, and He died to remove the one obstacle to that relationship.

Eternal hell was never spoken of in the book of Acts as they proclaimed salvation. Then what does salvation mean? It means being saved from Satan and evil and our own sin. Theres plenty to be saved from in that list. Theres plenty to celebrate and worship right there. But there is a hell and being saved means not having to go there right? Yes it does.

But what is hell for? Is it an eternal torture chamber where the God who calls himself Love puts people who never got in on the offer? That introduces serious logical and philosophical as well as theological problems. Love cannot be a torturer. If Love is a torturer then He is not Love. If He is Love he cannot be a torturer. This means hell must be something else besides a torture chamber. Perhaps it’s an operating room. Perhaps it is where the cancer of unbelief and stubbornness is burned off by fire. 

Look at the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. Its very hard to tout the importance of free will in that conversion. Saul was forcefully coerced by Jesus himself. He was not convinced by scriptures and Christian love in the church. He was overthrown by Jesus. That in itself is a powerful evidence that God will do what he has to do to get who he wants. He wants everybody and he will get them if he has to send them to hell to coerce them. 

But that reality does not negate the fact that the person who is saved through hell instead of from hell could have lived an entire life of fellowship with God. They missed out on something beautiful. I would never want to go back to the life I was living out of assurance I would eventually be saved. There would be too much I would have missed out on living for God and way too much I would have regretted and hurt myself with had I gone on in that path. 

So the idea that the absence of eternal hell renders the gospel meaningless is a sad symptom of how meaningless the gospel has become if we cannot appreciate it’s joys without the threat of eternal hell. 

Universalism leads to moral apathy? Degreasing the slippery slope

The common argument proposed by anti Universalist spokesman is the fear tactic of the slippery slope into unholiness. The argument goes like this. If there is no eternal punishment, every Christian would have the license to just go wild and live anyway they want to. The premise then is that the basis of the Christians holy life is the fear of eternal hell. 

As long as hell is eternal there is a psychic failsafe to enforce self control.

This is a notion based on medieval doctrinal constructions which have long since been abandoned by Evangelical theology. Yet in desperation to fend off the enlightened reason of Universalism, opponents are often willing to retreat to positions which are not only obsolete, but contradictory to what they would otherwise tell believers if Universalism were not at the center of the discussion. 

Namely, our motivation for holiness is not fueled by heaven and hell but in fact by the working of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the believer. Consider the following passages. 

“[Phl 2:12-13 NASB] 12 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for [His] good pleasure.”

[1Jo 4:17-19 NASB] 17 By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. 19 We love, because He first loved us.

[Heb 2:11 NIV] 11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.
[Heb 10:10, 14 NIV] 10 “And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. ... 14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”
[Mat 22:37-40 NIV] 37 “Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

In light of these passages it is quite problematic to suggest that hell plays any role in keeping the believer in pursuit of holiness. And the true acid test is a simple question? How well is it working? Are all who believe in eternal conscious torment free of sin and compromise and corruption and backsliding? 

No, there is plenty of that among those who would never accept Universalism. Why then isn’t the fear of eternal hell the perfect guardian against backsliding? How does it not better protect all Christians who pay homage to it? Because the fear of hell is not what transforms a person, it is the love of God that transforms them. It is the inner working of the Spirit of Holiness that keeps the new nature hungry to do God’s will.

I would assert that the doctrine of eternal conscious torment is a poison that is making Christians sick and corrupted and may in fact be an actual source of much backsliding. 

When I got saved I knew nothing about hell. I literally did not have a thought about hell on my mind before during or after my conversion. All I knew was that all my attempts to make myself happy and find my own way had lead to pain and dead ends. I was experiencing a fear of death but not because anyone told me about hell, but because death seemed like the end of my existence and that scared me. Then God led me to a church where the gospel was being preached by an Evangelist named Rich Wilkerson. I answered the alter call because I wanted to be free from my life controlling urges and I wanted to know God. That night I was gloriously saved and set free. I went home and flushed all my drugs down the toilet and dumped all my worldly paraphernalia in the trash. I began to devour the word and pray like it was the air I breathed. And yet for all this, I knew nothing about eternal conscious torment. I witnessed to people and prayed for the sick and saw miracles in my life and personal ministry. 

But then I started taking classes in theology. Then I started listening to the old time preachers who had fed on wrath all their life. Suddenly I had to start worrying whether or not I was doing everything I was supposed to be doing. Suddenly I had to be concerned that if I slipped up I might lose my salvation. Then I found out from the people who I trusted (because they were there at my spiritual birth and I imprinted on them like a  baby duck) that hell was the place God sent sinners and backsliders for eternity. I found out that if I wasn’t living right when Jesus returned I would get left behind.

Condemnation set in like a conquering tyrant. My joy and peace began to turn to fear and trembling. The stress of worrying of whether I was still loved by God was too much of a strain and I started feeling tempted to medicate my feelings again. Sensual pleasure began to creep back in. For a long time I lived under my own dark age of fear and works because eternal flames were the ever present threat in Arminian based Christianity. 

What I am showing you is that in my life God’s grace alone had done a great job making me a holy and pure child of God. Then mans doctrines came along and cut my dosage down by half and prescribed me a drug that had terrible side effects. That drug was infernalism. 

God doesn’t need hell to threaten us into holiness. The fire and conviction of the Holy Spirit does the work in our soul. The spirit of adoption makes us cry out to Abba for more holiness because we love Him for having first loved us. Religion has interfered with the relationship between a father and a child the same way the serpent in the garden did. As a result darkness and separation result in minds clouded with religious lies. 

[2Co 11:3-4, 20-21 NIV] 3 But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. ... 20 In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or puts on airs or slaps you in the face. 21 To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that!”

  So Paul is concerned that the original transformative message is being polluted by preachers who are heaping abuse and fear upon the converts. Paul says facetiously that he would be too weak to treat people that way. What he really means is that what religious men often describe as strong, bold, uncompromising preaching is in fact spiritual abuse! And like all abusers they will brain wash their victims with the idea that the abuse is for their own good so that the converts relish being abused and then themselves go on to abuse others.

[Mat 23:15 NKJV] "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”

One of the unfortunate mistakes Christianity makes is prescribing grace in half doses out of the fear of overdose. Like a medicine whose dosage is under-prescribed, we rob grace of its true transformative power to produce holiness by fearing too much grace will result in unholiness. This is why Romans 7 is never preached. It’s more grace than we are willing to give. When Paul says “If I do that which I do not want to do, then it is no longer I who do it but sin living in me”, preachers bristle and scurry for their commentaries. “It doesn’t mean what it sounds like! Who are you going to believe, me or your lyin’ eyes?! That’s just too much grace. People won’t take responsibility if they believe that.”

I’d like to propose another option. What if we just get out of the way and let God’s truth do what it does best and that’s setting captives free and inwardly transforming the sinner. God doesn’t need our double minded doctrines editing his Word or commenting in the margins.

People don’t get the medicine they need when we try to interfere with what the doctor prescribes. “You can’t give them that much grace…they might develop a dependency!”

Fancy that, people depending on God’s grace instead of what – men’s approval or fear based methods of reform? If thats a dependency then I’m addicted. I’m a grace junkie! I need a fix and the grace of God is the only thing that will do! 

The problem that the modern church faces is we have too many doctrines and not enough doctors.

Do you realize that for hundreds of years Christians had no bible to read the day after they got saved? They had no literature to take home or books to train them. All they had was a hearing of the gospel which bore by faith the presence of God into their inner man. They had a relationship with God without a bible of their own. There were no ministries passing out bibles to the early church and yet they turned the world upside down for Jesus. Yet they were being inwardly transformed by their communion with God through the Spirit. 

People who walked in the ministry gifts had scrolls they studied and the Holy Spirit gave them messages to speak that built up believers with spiritual words from God. But this compilation we now call the bible did not even exist for several hundred years. My point is not to devalue the bible. It is precious to me. I mean only to show that regarding the transformation unto holiness, we underestimate the simple power of having a living relationship with God by faith in the gospel. We tell people that unless they read the bible everyday they will wither and die. Then how did converts with no bible thrive? They did so because they were attached to the vine Jesus Christ by the Holy spirit. 

We had an ancient original Christianity that said all you need to be saved is to believe Jesus is the Son of God who died for sinners and rose from the dead.   Now we have a complicated modern Christianity that says you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven unless you adhere to all the vast doctrinal constructions exactly as we do. Like the Catholics who persecuted people into compliance to one controlling doctrine, religion uses threats of hell to command loyalty to their doctrines. Before Emperor Constantine seduced the church onto the back of the beast, there were rich and varied schools of theology that explored doctrinal possibilities and had differing views, all while calling each other brothers and living in unified love. But when Rome took over the church, all that changed. Hell broke loose when Emperor Constantine decided Catholic doctrine was law and those who broke doctrine would be punished as if they broke the criminal law. 

It was then that the doctrine of eternal conscious torment exploded upon the minds of the churches across the world. It was a powerful tool for maintaining conformity with Rome. 

But in fact, the Apostle John set a boundary on the authority of men regarding individual believers and their relationship with God. 

I John 2:27 “As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.”

Is John undermining the authority of the church? No, he is setting limits on the authority of men upon the conscience and conviction of the individual believer. He is granting the believer authority to reject any doctrine that grieves the anointing that abides within us. We Universalists have an anointing that teaches us that God is not and will never be an eternal torturer.

What did Jesus say to his soon to be Apostles?

[Mar 10:42-45 NIV]  42 Jesus called them together and said, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

Jesus modeled spiritual leadership by way of inspiration not enforcement. He won hearts through his ransom payment which proved the depth of his love. Yet men have trouble living in that level of faith. Christian leaders will take hold of mens hearts by force if given the right weapons to do so. The doctrine of eternal conscious torment is such a weapon. 

In fact I wonder sometimes if God left the parts of the bible that sound like eternal torment in there just to see if men would assemble a gun out of it or if they would beat the sword into a plowshare.  In some ways the bible is a inkblot test that mirrors what is in our hearts. If our hearts are filled with anger and judgement those are the parts of the bible we will see most. But if our hearts are filled with love and grace we will place the weight of our faith on those. 

I do not believe eternal conscious torment is needful to produce faithful holy people. 

“[Phl 2:12-13 NASB] 12 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for [His] good pleasure.”

Notice to what Paul attributes the internal motivation of the believer. God is at work internally by His Spirit granting us a drive and desire and motivation to please Him and fulfill His purpose for our lives. Of course the phrase “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” should never be construed to mean we could work up our salvation but to work out our salvation. The language indicates a salvation that is internally in place already and is then being manifested visibly for all to see through the good works it produces. Jesus declared his disciples the light of the world and then told them to let their light be seen. He did not tell them to create light within themselves. Jesus is the light that lights everyman who comes into the world. 

The fear and trembling spoken of is never to be taken as a indication that a threat hangs over the Christian. First, it would contradict the statement that follows that God’s love inside of us is the source of positive motivation to do what pleases Him. Second, it would argue with the message that we are not appointed unto wrath. Third, it would be more accurate to understand fear and trembling as an idiom that points away from pride and towards humility. In other words, good works can cause us to be proud and glory in ourselves. We can begin to think more highly of ourselves than we ought when we see God’s mighty working through us by His power and wisdom. So Paul sets a balancing weight on the scales and suggests that we always keep our head down as we are so mightily and beautifully used of God to manifest His goodness.  Pride is the original sin with which Satan would seduce the holiest of men if they were to forget the insufficiency of their own merit and power. Thus we work outwardly with careful humility the wonderful power that is already at work within us.

A Universalists goal is salvific and sanctified liberty, but not libertinism. We would see all men utterly freed from sin by the convicting and transforming work of the Holy Spirit. And while due to the Gehenna fire of the tongue having been quenched by our distinctive faith, we are less likely to judge harshly the backslider and the sinner, (especially by employing the threat of eternal damnation) we would no less seek to spur everyone on to love and good works. To see people become transformed is our great delight. We are not here making intellectual or philosophical excuses for why biblically defined sins are acceptable to God. We can say “God forbid” as well as anyone regarding sin and immorality. But what makes us different is that we say “God forbid” to the notion that the God who makes men holy is ultimately impotent to make all men holy in due time.   Note the phrases preceding our above noted passage:

[Phl 2:10-11 NASB] 10 so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Who will deny the stunning and hopeful implications of this statement? How can eschatological understanding not explode with a greater hope than we could have ever imagined. For is it not God who is able to do exceedingly and abundantly above all that we ask or dare to imagine? Dare we imagine that God would save all, even those who were judged in hell? I can imagine that and yet Paul says God can still do more than I can imagine! 

But if the human authorities of religion believe they can enforce limits on divine possibilities, I will not stand in their way. I will simply point to another way. That is the way of salvific possibility. For was it not Christ who answered the disciples question saying, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” And to what question was this answer given? “Who then can be saved?”  We know that Jesus harrowed hell in part for the sake of the righteous dead, but at the time Paul wrote this, that event had taken place decades before. Of what relevance is the joy and worship of those under the earth at this juncture? When Paul says every knee will bow under the earth, he is in fact looking forward, even beyond our time to the end in which God will truly “be all …in all.”

Now it would be amiss not to mention that for all the assertion that Universalism will grease the slope and send its followers sliding backwards morally, there is in fact no historical evidence for this in the centuries old tradition of this belief. In fact Universalists have always been some of the holiest and all the while gentlest Christians you might find. 

In fact I can say with absolute confidence that among the ancient traditions of Christianity, Universalism is the only one that has no murderers or suborners of murder in it’s historic legacy. Yet What do we see of others? Augustine, Calvin, and others both wrote doctrine and gave winks and nods for those who eradicated brothers and sisters and babies in Christ in the name of one enforced theology. These men never shed a single drop of blood for the cause of Christ, for they were too comfortably ensconced in the seats of power the early church once hid from. Yet look at the Universalists who were persecuted and tortured and slain having never cursed but only blessed those who abused them. 

Furthermore, where is the great hedonistic hoard of Universalists living in the lifestyle of eat drink and be merry? The whole notion is a straw man, a scare crow, a red herring. It’s what people say who have nothing to say other than what they fear they themselves would do. In fact the assertion that Universalism would remove moral deterrence is more of a confession as to their own motivations than that of Universalists. Perhaps by their argument they tattle on themselves as to how feeble their understanding is regarding how exactly God does make men holy. Or perhaps they simply have yet to be liberated to the joy of holiness without torment.

Therefore I reject the tired and impotent argument that Universalism breeds moral apathy. For it was never hell that made us holy in the first place. It was and is God’s truth, love and power in Christ through the Holy Spirit at work in our heart.

The parable of the sheep and goats: problems, paradoxes and promises

The parable of the sheep and the goats is a very compelling vision set forth by Jesus. It evokes a different emphasis depending on who you talk to. Pro-Israel Christians focus on Jesus speaking of what we did for his “brethren” as absolutely identifying Israel. So the whole parable means we will all be judged by how we treated Israel. Well that falls apart pretty quick when you consider that most of the worlds population has never had the opportunity to do good or bad towards Israel. But I’m sure someone‘s twisted scriptures can hot wire that logic somehow.

  Then there are those who say this is an image of the judgement of the nations and everyone is getting punished or rewarded based on the charity they showed to their fellow man. The problem here is that we are supposed to be saved by grace in the Lutheran sense and thus our works count for nothing. There is no mention of faith in Jesus in the entire parable. The only criteria appears to be the charity works for the needy. So are people of other non-Christian religions going to be counted among the sheep because they did compassionate works? Furthermore does this mean faith alone will not save a person who has confessed Jesus if they turn away from the poor and needy? James did ask how can such faith can save anyone.

Then there are those who claim that the sheep and the goats are simply the totality of confessing Christians who are divided by the charitable vs. the non-charitable. However this appears to again run afoul of salvation by faith alone. For if someone can confess Christ and turn from sin and yet fall short on charity to the needy, then they are a Christian who goes to hell forever. Besides, if this is merely the judgement of the church, what happens to the rest of the world?

In any case then, how does anyone know if they have done enough charity to escape hell? Furthermore can any of us say we stopped to think about the parable of the sheep and the goats when we were actually moved with compassion for the needy? Does fear of eternal hell really produce authentic compassion? 

But what if we read all of this in a Universalist light? What if hell is not eternity in punishment but instead punishment in eternity? What if the fire of hell purifies and burns out evil from peoples hearts? If that were the case it would not be a problem to think that even those who had professed Christ by faith would go to hell for being uncharitable for it is necessary to burn the sin and selfishness out of them. That would explain how Jesus could tell his disciples they would not be forgiven if they did not forgive. That would explain how religious people can blaspheme the Holy Spirit and not be exempted from the judgement fire in the age to come. 

Some think we Universalists are making a huge leap in assuming hell is for purifying because they don’t see it plainly in scripture. However, often what people think they see plainly is because they are told it’s there and they see it by power of repeated suggestion. Remember when the three wise men went to visit the baby Jesus? You think you do but you really don’t. You were told there were three wise men by paintings and stories but it’s not in the bible. The word three never appears in the nativity. There were three gifts listed but that is no evidence of how many wise men showed up. None the less we are trained to imagine three wise men and so we assume it‘s in the bible. By the way, one is brown, one is white and one is jet black according to my Mom’s little mossy nativity scene circa 1974.

In the same way we can also be taught to ignore things that are in the bible that should help to define things we beleive. How in the world do you think the church ignored justification by faith for so long? 

  Over and again God referred to the crucible of fire to purify mens hearts. We have been taught not to connect that to any understanding of hell even though they both share the element of fire. We see in the bible Nebuchadnezzar threatens that if three men don’t bow to him he will roast them in fire. Do you realize how much that looks like a parable of our doctrine of hell? But we have never been taught to think that way so we don’t see it. Did you know that Gehenna was a place where Israelites committed idolatry by throwing their babies in the fire in dedication to a bull God Molech? God said such a thing had never entered his mind. Yet we have Gehenna being used to threaten us with being thrown in the fire like those babies. Gehenna went on to be referred to as a name for hell. 

Now keep in mind these are divinely inspired stories which are supposed to be infallible scripture, yet they are a conspicuously ironic argument against a belief in eternal torment. Is God like Nebuchadnezzar? Or was Nebuchadnezzar simply imitating God? 

But did you notice that when they were thrown in the fire they were not hurt? Instead Jesus was with them in the fire and only that which bound them and restrained them was burned away. The ropes were burned off yet they were saved. 

Universalism believes that in fact when souls go into hell that what burns is the sin and bondage that keeps them from bowing to Jesus…the very point of Nebuchadnezzars judgement! 

Yes the story is primarily about courage and fidelity under persecution. But like a beautiful two sided tapestry we see another salvation story on the flip side made of the same woven threads. It is a revelation of God‘s liberating judgement upon the souls of sinners and those whose hearts are unloving. 

Whereas on the front we see Nebuchadnezzar as the sinner converted to faith by seeing the righteous delivered. On the flip side the king is the righteous God and the people in the fire are the sinners being liberated from their sin. 

A tapestry always has a negative image on the back side. God in His masterful artistry has woven a second revelation of eschatological victory into this story. Who could make this up?

So take heart dear soul. God has a plan beyond the grave and it is far more beautiful than you could have dared to imagine.

May you be a sheep and may all the goats you love join you in heaven after the holy fire of judgement has set them free from what binds them. For as it is written, “every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and UNDER THE EARTH.”

A lesson on what God is NOT like.

Jesus told a parable of the unjust judge. A woman came before a judge asking for justice and he ignored her for two reasons. He did not fear God and he did not care about people. Yet because of her persistent pleading he granted her request to relieve himself of the annoyance.

Jesus told his followers that God was NOT like that judge. Instead Jesus wanted them to pray and not give up because God does in fact care and he will grant us justice with all haste. 

Sometimes we don’t know what to do with bible stories because we can’t figure out how to interpret a positive lesson of any kind from them. But sometimes we need to realize that God knows the strange and twisted notions men will have about him and he sets stories in place to tell us what he is NOT like.

One such story is that of Jephthah. It is so bizarre and offensive that no one preaches it or uses it because no one knows what to do with it. There might seem to be no redeeming lessons in the story, only tragedy due to a man’s stupidity.

So as the story goes Jephthah (another judge mind you) is so desperate that the Lord give him victory in battle that he makes the dumbest vow in human history. In fact vows like this should be illegal and should be declared null and void due to their recklessness. He vows that if God gave him victory in battle, he swears to sacrifice as a burnt offering the first person who walks through the door when he gets home. Well he won the battle and who walks out to meet him but his own daughter.

The horror. What a dilemma. I have made a vow and I must keep it. My honor, my word, they must not be disgraced. I am bound to what I said I would do. I would not even break my vow for someone I claim to love so dearly. Justice demands that I do this thing. I am without choice. I must burn the person I have always loved. “I have opened my mouth unto the Lord and I cannot go back.”

Guess what Jepthah means in Hebrew by the way. It means to “open the door”. What a coincidence. 

So the daughter, in epic, tragic style acquiesces dramatically to the Fathers vow. She asks only that she be allowed to mourn her virginity with her friends for two months upon the mountains. Her fate became the cause of a yearly four day mourning among the daughters of Israel.

Soooo…..he really burned his daughter as a sacrifice? Yep. That’s the inference. 

To any reasonable person this story is the height of absurdity. In fact we will call it Mt. Absurdity it’s such a tall tail.

But I actually believe this story is divinely inspired legend. That’s right. God wanted the story in there to tell us something very important about what kind of judge God is NOT. 

God is not a judge who is trapped by his own words into burning people to death whom he actually has always claimed he loved. Who does God claim to love? How about all human kind? 

You see there’s an absurd doctrine thats been floating around in the church toilet thats been waiting to be flushed for a long time and it goes like this: God must burn sinners in hell forever for to not do so would be to violate his righteousness and justice and dishonor his holiness. God‘s love is trapped into burning his children in hell forever in order to fulfill His Word. 

Well guess what?…that ain’t the kind of judge God is and the story says that by way of the same rhetorical device as Jesus used in the parable of the unjust judge. 

It’s almost as if God is saying “Do you think I’m so stupid as to claim victory in the battle against Satan at the expense of the billions of souls I claim to have loved and sent Jesus to die for? What kind of victory would it be to say, “Well I defeated my enemy, but now I’m bound by my oath to burn forever most of the ones Jesus died to save who just happened to walk through the wide door in life.”

Now does that mean there won’t be a fire judgement? There will, but it’s nothing that fits in Jephthah’s story, except maybe with one exception. Jephthah means “open the door”.

How do you open a door? If it’s locked you need a key. 

Jesus said, “I hold the keys of hell and death”.

Jephthah opened his mouth and got his daughter killed.

Jesus is going to open the door of hell and then open his mouth and call out all God loves!

Why does Jesus need keys to hell and death if no one is ever coming out anyway? Every entrance is also an exit. If people go in then Jesus has the keys to let them out. Did you imagine hell and death having doors or did you imagine a canyon with fire at the bottom? Religious culture teaches us hell is a pit. Jesus says it’s a place where there are doors. He said that in Revelation by the way which is supposed to be the big story of the end of time. So Jesus is standing at the end of time twirling the keys to hell and death on the finger of his nail scarred hand basically saying, “I can do what ever I want to do and no theologian is gonna tell me any different.” 

“I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.”

“Who are you Oh man to talk back to God?”

Now, let me just say, there’s only one thing more stupid than the idea of God burning people forever. That’s the idea that you can bank on that to go out and live a life of sin anyway. What if it’s not forever but it’s still as long as you were alive on earth?. That would be a really dumb decision. So repent and be washed in the blood now, love others and avoid hell altogether.

That concludes our lesson on what God is NOT like.

Fallacy: Without Eternal Hell We Are Lost!

In an excellent series at Brazenchurch.com a particular man named Bill posted a comment at the conclusion of part three of a series about the origins of hell as a church doctrine (1)

“If heaven is not eternal and hell does not exist, even though some form of time limited punishment might (although I’m not clear on your views about that) and in the end everyone gets saved then as far as I’m concerned I might as well ‘eat drink and be merry for tomorrow I die’. Or put another way, live a life of ‘sex, drugs and rock & roll’ as perhaps is meant by Meatloaf when he sings ‘A wasted youth is better by far than a wise and productive old age.’ I’m sorry but the love of God which you emphasize (and I truly believe in) to me is pretty meaningless if there is no eternal condemnation, perishing, unbearable separation etc from God which that love and sacrifice of Jesus saves me from. Frankly if I’m going to be ‘saved’ eventually anyhow I don’t see that it matters what I believe or how I live.”

This is a perfect representation of how many people react who are so deeply entrenched in the doctrine of ECT that without it it they lose all definition of God and gospel.

Notice that in Bills mind, the love of God is meaningless without eternal torment. How truly tragic this is. It’s like saying that if we eradicated the death penalty in the penal code, justice and law would have no more meaning.

Well, there are many nations that have no death penalty and have a much lower crime rate than those who do, yet they still find it necessary to punish people in ways that do not eradicate all hope for their future. Some would say they have a higher respect for justice because justice is not defined by punishment alone. That is the major flaw in many Christians theology of God’s judgement. Justice is only about retribution and not restoration. Every judge who sentences someone to jail has made a decision about duration based on the crime and the amount of time it will take to impress upon the person a determination to reform. The parole board says, “Have you learned your lesson?”. They often shorten the judges sentence based on good behavior and provable change of heart.

Perhaps paroling someone before the actual sentence is fulfilled should be abolished lest we lose all meaning of what justice really is? But I suppose if it were your brother or sister or child who is up for parole, the meaning of justice would blossom far beyond just punishment would it not?

Lets restate the point Bill made:

“I’m sorry but the love of God which you emphasize (and I truly believe in) to me is pretty meaningless if there is no eternal condemnation, perishing, unbearable separation etc from God which that love and sacrifice of Jesus saves me from.”

So unless the duration of hell is forever, Jesus sacrifice is worthless to us? Unless hells duration is forever, our obedience to God has no meaning?

I’m reminded of a particular brother from a certain parable who felt that all His years of faithful service and all his pleasing the father was made worthless by the acceptance of his long lost brother back into the family. A brother who was “dead but is now alive” according to the happy dad. (I have always noticed that statement to be an almost glaring insertion of afterlife application inserted by Jesus into this parable.)

It’s truly sad when our own love and devotion to God seems to have no meaning unless it can be set against the backdrop of someone else’s total rejection by God. Isn’t that what afflicted the resentful brother?

(if) “everyone gets saved then as far as I’m concerned I might as well ‘eat drink and be merry for tomorrow I die’.”

The commenter confesses that his faith is immature and not well developed. For in Christianity we reject conformity to this world not because of punishment but because of conscience.

In view of Gods mercies we become living sacrifices, not in view of Gods judgement. (Rom 12:1)

If the fear of hell is our only motivation to be obedient, then the work of the Holy Spirit is failing within us. For the spirit works in us to will and to do according to his purpose. And God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind. Yes by the fear of the Lord men may depart from evil, but once departed they would never return for the blessings of righteousness satisfy them enough never to return.

And if hell is of any duration there is still plenty to fear, if fear is as necessary as Bill contends. In nations with no death penalty, people still fear sitting in jail for half their life. As a result they think twice before resorting to murder, do they not?

As a Universalist I must conclude there is far more room in hell for me as a believer if I fail to live up to the standards of love as set forth by Jesus.

When he says “and this is how my heavenly father will treat you if you don’t forgive your brother from your heart.” and “ everyone will be salted with fire”, I am disinclined to lean on my assurance of salvation as a guarantee that I myself will not have to “do time” in the flames. When the dichotomy of eternal punishment vs eternal reward is set before men they tend towards the construction of a very self forgiving theology that imagines themselves being immune from hell by faith in Jesus. Thus being that hell and heaven are an either/or prospect in their mind, they believe theres no chance they could go there like the people who reject God altogether. Thus they create a wider zone of disobedience. But for the Christian, if hell and heaven is an either/AND possibility, or an either/THEN possibility, we find ourselves examining our life with all the more vigilance.

Lets take an illustration from history. Both Augustine and Calvin considered themselves as having the superior doctrinal system on just about everything. If anyone was sure they were going to heaven it was them. And they believed that following their theology was the only sure way to stay on the path to heaven. Now these two are credited with the development of eternal hell as we formulate it today.

Augustine warned that the softness of Universalism might lend itself to depravity and disobedience to God. Yet what did Augustine and Calvin do as men who so feared God and revered the threat of hell? They burned people at the stake for heresy. You can talk about sex, drugs and rock and roll all you want to. I would rather stand before God guilty of those than have to explain why I murdered others in His name and how I could be such a learned Bible teacher of others who thought he could commit such acts and still enter heaven.

So it would seem belief in eternal hell doesn’t really provide much restraint upon the morals of men. The pioneers of this doctrine prove it. Whereas the pioneers of Universalism are known to this day as men of Christlikeness, holiness and meekness who loved and served and never raised a hand against sinner or saint. Yet todays historic assessments of the patristic fathers cover up the violent sins of Augustine and Calvin while greatly embellishing the few marginal doctrinal errors of Origen and Gregory of Nyssa. Never mind that Gregory was the final editor of the Nicene Creed.

The truth is that Augustine established the Catholic hell, and upon the emergence of the reformation it was Calvin who made sure that the Catholic eternal hell was a carryover doctrine in Protestant theology. Neither would worship in the same church, but both would burn men at the same stake for departing from their orthodoxy.

The reality is with or without eternal hell people can excuse their own sins and slide down some slippery slope afforded by licenses derived from or in spite of their doctrines.

So it’s not really saying anything when Universalism is accused of creating a license to sin. Its like saying if we allow bank robbers to get out of jail someday, pretty soon everybody will be robbing banks.

1 http://www.brazenchurch.com/how-hell-invaded-church-doctrine/

The Age of Accountability and Universalism

One of the big criticisms I have observed by many online “bible answer experts” towards Universalism is that it relies so much on sentiment and emotion to substantiate itself instead of scripture. For this reason Universalism is called wishful thinking and a doctrine on shaky ground. But lets put another idea to the same standard. Lets challenge the age of accountability.

We operate by the idea that people are born under the curse of sin from their mothers womb and the only salvation is in acceptance of Jesus. If an infant dies before it has the ability to accept Jesus or even understand any of this, then under the solid doctrinal framework of sin and death, that baby should go to hell because it has not accepted Christ.

But not so fast…nobody accepts that equation. The most hardcore Calvinist or the most staunch Arminian will tell you that babies go straight to heaven when they die. Really? Whats your scriptural basis? They will immediately admit there is not SOLID scriptural foundation on this. Instead we are left to weave together some scriptures that seem to lean towards the idea that babies go to heaven even though scripture does not say that. David lost a baby and declared “He cannot come to me, but I can go to him.” Well thats no guarantee the baby went to heaven because David did not go to heaven until Jesus released the captives from the grave. David went to Sheol where the baby was when he died. David may have went on to heaven, but that baby never put faith in God in this life so under the rules of justification by faith, he should be bound over to the other side of the gulf where the rich man dwelt.

In fact Jonathon Edwards sent babies to hell in several statements.

“For we know they have enough (sin) to make their (infants) damnation very just.”(1.)

“And you, children, who are unconverted, do not you know that you are going down to hell, to bear the dreadful wrath of that God, who is now angry with you every day and every night?” (2)

Augustine the great church father who taught us hell is forever argued with Palagius that infants must be baptized or they will be damned for their original sin.

Now contrast Charles Spurgeon who on infant salvation relies heavily on appealing to the love and mercy of God’s nature where scripture fails to speak specifically.


“First, we ground our conviction very much upon the goodness of the nature of God. We say that the opposite doctrine that some infants perish and are lost, is altogether repugnant to the idea which we have of Him whose name is love. If we had a God, whose name was Moloch, if God were an arbitrary tyrant, without benevolence or grace, we could suppose some infants being cast into hell; but our God, who heareth the young ravens when they cry, certainly will find no delight in the shrieks and cries of infants cast away from his presence.”

We would never object to Spurgeons sentimentality with so little scriptural reference. For where he lacks proof text, he applies scriptural logic and sound biblical philosophy.

In light of the terrible agony put upon parents by the heresy of infant damnation, unto the point of suicide, Spurgeon employs a logic in the absence of scripture that refuses to allow God’s nature to be impugned by the qualities of a monster.

The Christian Universalist however is not allowed such liberties in the struggle with the incomprehensible notion of fiery torture for sinners exceeding a trillion to the trillionth power of years. We see no glory for God in this. We see no purpose in this and further more we see no joy in heaven knowing these suffer this long in hell.

In fact we have a scripture in which God says that He will not allow His name to be defamed by way of – wait for it- staying angry forever.

For my name’s sake will I defer mine anger, and for my praise will I refrain for thee, that I cut thee not off. Behold, I have refined thee, but not as silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction. (Hell?) For mine own sake, for mine own sake, will I do it; for how should my name be profaned? and my glory will I not give to another. Isaiah 48:9-11 ESV

We universalists contend that eternal conscious torment profanes God’s name for it is the name of Love and it gives His glory to another, namely Satan, in that it would appear the devil takes more souls to hell than God takes to heaven. And that matters when all men are made in God’s image and when He has declared He wants all men to be saved.

We say God has shown Himself far too wise and surprising and creative and redemptive to allow Satan to score a trillion souls for hell while God only scored a billion for heaven. God’s progressive revelation keeps pressing towards that which is lost in spite of past judgements. Over and again God’s judgements keep getting followed up by restorations and promises of a better day.

The tune has changed drastically since Augustine and Edwards. The church accepts that an understanding of God’s nature and what we believe His justice to be forbids us from accepting that children could ever burn in hell by virtue of original sin. Yet that somehow becomes heresy when applied to people of age 16 or 20 who never heard the gospel.

Why then can we not appeal to these same virtues and sensibilities to say surely God will not stay angry forever? Surely there will be an end to punishment.

1.http://edwards.yale.edu/archive path=aHR0cDovL2Vkd2FyZHMueWFsZS5lZHUvY2dpLWJpbi9uZXdwaGlsby9nZXRvYmplY3QucGw/Yy4xMjo0OjEud2plby41NjQ4