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>God's sovereignty and glory

2008 August 29 11 comments

>Calvinists have claimed that God chooses specific men for salvation because he is sovereign. Those are saved to maximise God’s glory in his mercy, and others are damned to maximise God’s glory in his wrath.

These ideas, I think, are incorrect. The issue of sovereignty is a logical question. And damnation, while giving God glory, does so less than salvation.

I don’t think it possible for God to force anyone into heaven. Or rather force anyone to love him; heaven is the destination. So I think the Calvinists are incorrect about sovereignty over who is saved because it is not an question of sovereignty.

God can create, God can woo (prevenient grace), God can save, God can give eternal life, God can create freedom of the will.

None of which man can do.

However I think that if God creates us as beings that have the ability to choose or reject God then I think it logically impossible to force love from such a being.

To have such a high view of sovereignty that claims that God can make us love him, seems, to me, as preposterous as a high view of God’s omnipotence means he can make 2 + 2 = 5.

So I don’t think that non-Calvinists have a low view of God’s sovereignty, I think they have a more accurate one.

Further I think God does desire every single person go to heaven. I don’t think any have been created specifically for destruction. Neither are we created for redemption; rather for fellowship. Because of Adam’s choice we become estranged. God’s grace gives us a possible path back. Those who continually reject God’s drawing are handed over to destruction. They become unredeemable* objects of wrath whom God prepares for destruction based on our rejection of him.

It is theoretically possible that every person could choose God.

God does seek his own glory, but the Calvinists are incorrect about this being the reason for creating beings for damnation. Why? Because if we choose obedience and become objects of mercy, God gains even more glory.

God is glorified when he destroys the wicked.

God is glorified more when he shows mercy to the repentant wicked.

What of Romans 9?

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called,…

It is not that God creates beings solely so they can be destroyed and they have no choice to escape that destination. Rather they have insisted on wickedness, they have rejected God’s offer of mercy, therefore they are prepared for destruction. Given they are not redeemable, God uses them to maximise his glory in the view of the vessels of God’s mercy. God uses a bad situation for good.

If Calvinism was correct about God’s sovereignty then he would maximise his glory by saving everyone. That would bring him more glory than damning some.

*We are children of wrath because we are fallen (Ephesians 2:3). If we reject God to the point we are not redeemable then we are vessels of wrath prepared for destruction (Romans 9:22).

>Does God ordain evil?

2008 August 12 32 comments

>God may will certain events. These events may involve sinful actions of men. Some have suggested that because God ordains these events then God is ordaining evil.

God does not desire evil nor ordain evil. When addressing the actions of God there are some subtle issues that need to be kept in mind.

Firstly, there are actions that God does that are not intrinsically sin despite the fact that man doing the same action would be sin. This is not arbitrary, this is because the action does not apply to God. Take killing as an example. God can kill but God cannot murder. This is because he created us and owns us. He is the author of life and can remove it at will. However man can murder. But not all killing is murder. So a man executing a criminal is carrying out God’s command for justice and neither the man nor God are sinning.

Let us suppose that God wills that a particular evil man should die. God could:

  1. kill him directly;
  2. command a ruler to execute him (judgment from a judge for his sin);
  3. command a man/ army to kill him (compare David); or
  4. allow a murderer to kill him.

In all but the last situation neither God nor the killer is sinning. In the last case the man is sinning but God is using it for his purposes. Note that in the last example God is not commanding the murderer to murder. Rather the would-be-murderer is to resist sin. In resisting murder (sin) he is obeying God. This is the best course he should take. Resisting sin in this situation does not thwart God’s will. God can still see to the execution of the evil man he wishes dead. The will of God here is that a person be put to death. It is not God’s will that a man commits murder.

If God wills a person to kill the evil man then he is not a murderer, he is acting as God’s agent of judgment (example 3) and is not sinning. God can command a person with the authority of the sword to put him to death. That person is doing God’s will and is not sinning.

If God desires something, how can God will a man to do an action and God be without sin yet the man be with sin despite being obedient to God’s intention in his life? Of course God can use evil men, but God does not intend for any man to be evil, he intends for them to repent. In our example God is not intending for the murderer to murder, he intends for the evil man to be put to death. That God does not prevent a murder and uses it for his goal does not make him the author of evil nor does it make murder God’s intention. The best option is for the (potential) murderer to repent of his intended actions and let God carry out his intentions on the life of the person another way. God can know the plans of a wicked man to murder said person. It is God’s will that the man be put to death. It is not God’s will that the person murder him.

That God knows murders will happen does not mean he approves.

Secondly, God does not necessarily ordain things that he uses. God can bring good out of evil, even greater good than had the evil not happened. This does not mean that God desires that the evil happens.

One cannot observe consequences of God working through the actions of evil men and assume that God’s activity equals his approval.

Take teaching truth as an example. False doctrine tests us. Responding to false doctrine may aid us in understanding true doctrine better. God may also use false teaching to purify his people. But better no false teaching than some false teaching. Spreading falsehood means judgment for both those who teach it and those who follow it.

>The long-suffering of God

>The time of the judges is an interesting period. God intends to lead Israel by men he raises up. Though he commands the Israelites to obey him, frequently they don’t and God removes his protection and allows evil men (of which there is no shortage in the world) to oppress them. We see them following God in the time of Joshua but depart soon after his death and several times again even though God delivers them thru Othniel, Ehud and Barak.

We reach a period when the Israelites again choose disobedience:

The people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines. And they forsook the LORD and did not serve him. So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of the Philistines and into the hand of the Ammonites, and they crushed and oppressed the people of Israel that year. For eighteen years they oppressed all the people of Israel who were beyond the Jordan in the land of the Amorites, which is in Gilead. And the Ammonites crossed the Jordan to fight also against Judah and against Benjamin and against the house of Ephraim, so that Israel was severely distressed. (Judges 10)

It is in their distress that they cried out to the Lord,

“We have sinned against you, because we have forsaken our God and have served the Baals.” (Judges 10)

I find this response of God interesting. God said,

“Did I not save you from the Egyptians and from the Amorites, from the Ammonites and from the Philistines? The Sidonians also, and the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you, and you cried out to me, and I saved you out of their hand. Yet you have forsaken me and served other gods; therefore I will save you no more. Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in the time of your distress.”

God says enough! He has delivered Israel repeatedly, he will do so no more. And if Israel continues in her idolatry then let her ask for help from the false gods she clings to.

This example of wearing out God’s patience is reminiscent of God’s words to Moses when the Israelites made a golden calf shortly after God delivered them from Egypt:

And the LORD said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!'” And the LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.” (Exodus 32)

After rejecting God, God rejects them. In the first he would have destroyed Israel had not Moses interceded for them. In the second he tells Israel that he has delivered them several times already and he is thru.

Nevertheless, the Israelites acknowledged their sin, acknowledged God was right, accepted God’s judgment on the matter, stopped their idolatry, and again requested deliverance. They would have worn out my patience, yet God remains ever merciful and kind. After the Israelites’ repentance in word and deed God…

became impatient over the misery of Israel (Judges 10)

And again God raises up a deliverer for Israel!

These passages tell us much about the patience and grace of God and it gives us much hope that even those who reject God continually may not be beyond his redemption. But we would do well not to presume on his grace. Some have rejected God and are then only useful for God to show his glory thru his righteous wrath, such as God’s judgment on the Egyptians. Proverbs warns:

He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck,/
will suddenly be broken beyond healing. (Proverbs 29)

We do not know the length of our days. None of us deserves life. God is not compelled to save us. These stories give hope for the sinner contemplating repentance but leave no room for presumption.

Categories: judgment, mercy, patience, sin

>Does temporal punishment attenuate eternal punishment?

2008 January 21 6 comments

>This is a question I have pondered but have never read about elsewhere. I tend to think that hell will have degrees of punishment. Just as believers will be rewarded for their devotion to Christ, and that reward will vary, I think it is possible that the wicked man’s punishment may be dependant on his sin. All sin is not equal and it is reasonable to think that punishment will match the crime. Of course God will take into consideration our heart, and an adulterous Christian may be more sinful than an adulterous infidel.

Jesus refers to men being hit with few or many lashes.

And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more. (Luke 12)

Jesus also mentions men can be more severely punished.

And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” (Mark 12)

The proposal I wish to suggest (at least for consideration) is that punishment on earth for wickedness means that punishment in eternity will be less.

I am suggesting that a murderer who is caught and imprisoned or sentenced to death receives a less nasty Hades (or possibly subsequent hell) than the man who is not caught or who is excused by a corrupt justice system (though in the later example the unjust judge may wear some of the guilt). This assumes all other things being equal such as the state of the murderer’s heart and the lack of repentance before death.

There is no direct biblical evidence for this proposal, and I do hold it or consider it tentatively, but it seems consistent with Scripture.

I am suggesting this is the case because they have already received some of their punishment.

If I am incorrect it is still possible that a man is changed by the temporal punishment such that his heart is less opposed to God. Due to the lessening of his hatred of God his eternal punishment may be less severe, not because he has received his punishment in part.

If I am correct about this it has implications in biblical exegesis and God’s expectations of government.

In terms of biblical understanding, temporal judgment will be seen as having an aspect of mercy. Those whom God judged in Sodom and those whom the Israelites destroyed in Canaan were already wicked. They had decided on a destiny without God. Their eternal dwelling place is unpleasant, yet possibly less than it may have been had God not acted decisively in the situation. Leviticus hints at this when God explains the disaster he will send if they disobey him. Progressive punishments thru to exile are promised if they persist in disobeying him. But even if progressive judgments finally result in exile, God says, on the condition of repentance,

Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them, for I am the Lord their God. But I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 26)

Even in judgment there is the desire of God that we repent, and his actions, while just, are tempered with mercy and desire for us to return to him. Perhaps even final temporal judgments are actioned so that eternal ones will be less severe.

In terms of government, this brings an even greater responsibility to those who rule us. Failure to punish the wicked not only makes life more unpleasant for the righteous, it means that eternity may be worse for those than it could have been. Of course God’s punishment will be just and appropriate, it is just that with poor government the wicked man is able to clock up that much more wickedness and not have any of it dealt with this side of death. Letting the evil man away with his actions may not be a kindness of a despot to his unjust cronies, rather a greater evil delayed. Interesting that Satan can lead a man to curse his friends while that man thinks he is blessing them.

>Objects of wrath

2007 December 22 2 comments

>The fall of Adam put us in opposition to God. It changed our nature and our relationship with God.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2)

This is not just some, it is all mankind. All men prior to redemption are by nature children of wrath. Even if we desire God’s ways we still sin and fall under God’s wrath. We deserve judgment.

This is not the pleasure of God. God does not desire that the wicked are destroyed. Jesus says,

God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3)

Paul tells us,

…God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2)

And Peter informs why the day of the Lord is delayed:

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3)

Jesus, Paul and Peter all state that God desires the salvation of every man. He would that heaven be filled, that not a single person lost.

Sure, the destruction of the wicked will demonstrate God’s glory but their condemnation his not his desire. God gains much greater glory by showing mercy than by just judgment. If God judges by justice alone he will send every man to hell.

So how do we square Jesus’ offer of mercy to all men with Paul’s comment on God’s mercy?

So then God has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. (Romans 9)

I find it interesting that the actions here are not opposites. God is described as hardening men, but not softening them. I am sure God can soften hearts, but the point is the context contrasts hardening and having mercy. These actions of God can be seen in connection to our response to God. We are all children of wrath because of our nature. So when one rejects God’s work in his life he is resisting the work of God in drawing him to himself. If we reject God and refuse his ways then God cannot gain glory by offering mercy to us. There is nothing else but to harden us that God’s glory may be maximised in our lives; not as objects of mercy, which is God’s preference, but as objects of wrath: that all may see that the rebellious will not prevail against God.

And for those who choose God, yet who by their nature are children of wrath, he offers mercy so that they may become children of God. If in judging those who deserve judgment God is glorified, how much more so when he shows mercy to those who deserve judgment!

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! (Romans 11)

>Reconciling the talion

2007 September 26 Leave a comment

>We read in the Law of Moses about punishment for crime which causes permanent injury. The law states that the same injury the offender has caused should be meted out to him.

“When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. (Exodus 21:22-25)

“Whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death. Whoever takes an animal’s life shall make it good, life for life. If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him. (Leviticus 24:17-20)

Further, even if a person intends to cause injury by false accusation they are to punished in the way they intended to harm.

If a malicious witness arises to accuse a person of wrongdoing, then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the LORD, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days. The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely, then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. And the rest shall hear and fear, and shall never again commit any such evil among you. Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. (Deuteronomy 19:16-21)

How is this reconciled with Jesus’ teaching? Jesus’ views on the inerrancy of Scripture are clear. In commenting on the law he preludes his statements with:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew5:17-20)

Then he discusses anger/ murder, lust/ adultery, divorce, making oaths, talion, and loving your enemy.

The introduction to each topic is:

  • “You have heard that it was said to those of old,…”
    • for anger and taking oaths
  • “You have heard that it was said,…”
    • for lust, talion, and love
  • “It was also said,…”
    • for divorce, though this is relating to the discussion on adultery.

In mentioning “those of old” Jesus is obviously referring to the Hebrews receiving the Mosaic Law. Although Jesus doesn’t say “to those of old” for 3 of them (lust, talion, love), the context suggests he is still referring to the Law. As mentioned the divorce commentary is tied into the lust/ adultery commentary so is not a separate discussion. The Old Testament references are:

  • Murder
    • Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17
  • Adultery
    • Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:14 and Deuteronomy 5:18
  • Divorce
    • Deuteronomy 24:1
  • Making oaths
    • Numbers 30:2
  • Talion
    • passages mentioned above
  • Loving your neighbour
    • Leviticus 19:18

The Old Testament does not have a direct parallel command to hate one’s enemies. It may have been (incorrectly) surmised from the Leviticus passage, though there are commands for Israel to fight her enemies. If the idea of hating one’s enemies had been incorrectly surmised by many Jews then Jesus is correcting this wrong belief.

However the talion is clearly taught in the Law yet Jesus says,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matthew 5:38-39)

How do we reconcile these passages? Jesus’ says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets” which precludes a resolution that denies the truthfulness of Scripture.

There are at least 3 solutions to this issue, though all may come into play.

The first is that the laws were a limit on punishment. While it may have been appropriate to invoke a judgment that matched the crime, it also limited judgment. It disallows punishments that were excessive, and likely common at the time in other cultures. It rejects the possibility of a sentence of hand amputation for stealing. A man cannot be executed for breaking another’s arm. It forced justice to be just.

Second, it may be that this law is for the government and people were applying it personally. What God allows the state to do may frequently be very different to the responsibility of individuals—this concept needs expanding at another time. So the talion may have been a commandment to judges that they may judge justly and men were (wrongly) applying the principle individually. This allows a judge to sentence in this way but prevents individuals from vigilante justice. Jesus was, in effect, saying not to seek one’s own justice. If Jesus is saying this here, this message is very consistent with Old Testament teaching: seek justice for others and let God fight for you. We see examples of this in the life of David where he refused to take what would become his but waited for God to give it to him.

A third possibility is that Jesus was calling for a higher way. It is not that justice is wrong, God is very just; rather that mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2). Jesus is saying that forgiveness is greater than vengeance. And this is the message of the gospel: that we owe God a debt we cannot pay but he forgives us if we come to him and ask him to. If we don’t, judgment is all that remains possible. We are not to respond like God in the area of judgment as we are still in the era where God is seeking men. We are part of that activity of God and therefore must act in love. If men reject it, punishment will come, but we are to leave that part to God.

So 2 seemingly disparate passages are in fact complementary. We can reject difficult passages as being too hard, we can reject God claiming his Word errs, or we can seek to understand what initially appears contradictory and come to a greater understanding of the ways of God.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Romans 11)

While I have attempted to reconcile the issue, I have not really explained what turning the other cheek means; that may prove more difficult.

>Sinning or living in sin

2007 August 12 4 comments

>I was talking recently with family who were relating a story about a music leader living with his girlfriend. The music leader had denied it to the leadership but it had become apparent he was lying. The pastors were made aware of the real situation and discussions were being had about the appropriateness of him leading the church musically. At that time the pastor’s wife made the comment that she (herself) is not perfect, with the implication that all are sinners.

I tell this story to illustrate her misunderstanding as I doubt this type of story is unique. While her comment that none are perfect rings of humility and non-judgmentalism, I believe it is a betrays incorrect thinking. A correct understanding of salvation helps avoid this.

As I have previously written, the nature of salvation is not about a set of right beliefs or pronouncement of a creed. A discipleship is a follower. That is, we repent (turn around) and start following Jesus. This is why taking a snapshot of people can make it hard to see who is and who is not a Christian. It is not where we are on the road, it is what direction we are walking in. You can’t tell by glancing at the tree, you need to see the fruit, and fruit takes time to develop.

This side of perfection we all sin, so the pastor’s wife is correct in this regard. The issue is followers who stumble get up and keep walking (with the help of Christ). It is not the falling that defines us, it is the following. Where pastor’s wife goes wrong is she is aligning her faltering with the music leader’s turning away. Choosing to deliberately live in a way we know God opposes, with no attempt not live this way, is not the behaviour of one following Christ, it is the behaviour of one refusing to look at him. This is not necessarily apostasy, but it is placing oneself in a dangerous position.

He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck,/
will suddenly be broken beyond healing. (Proverbs 29:1)

I will add that positions of leadership in the church carry a great responsibility and there may be acts of sin that demand you step down, at least for a time, for the sake of the body. This sin may happen in the context of a person attempting to follow Jesus; this is not what I am addressing here.

Categories: judgment, salvation, sin

>Who gets saved?

2007 July 24 Leave a comment

>The question is not infrequently raised by those within and without the church about salvation thru Christ alone. It is asked, “What about those who have never heard? ” Can any outside the church can get into heaven?

There are actually several groups to consider with this question and my understanding comes thru trying to make sense of all of them. My thoughts are tentative and I am happy to adjust it if I am shown to be scripturally incorrect. Salvation is clearly thru Christ. Christianity states that men only get heaven thru Christ and I am not seeking in this post to defend this–the Bible states that we are fallen and deserve death. In terms of justice, we all deserve hell; that Christ would save any is due to his mercy. We cannot earn our salvation and it is Christ’s blood that allows our sin to be forgiven. My question is, who can the blood cover?

From a salvation perspective history is divided at the cross and resurrection. This divides mankind into 2 groups. However these can further be divided into those inside and outside covenantial communities. For those prior to Christ the covenential community were those who followed Yahweh. After Christ it is the true church. Can those outside those groups get into heaven?

Exclusivists claim that only those who are inside these communities are covered by Christ’s blood and thus get entry into heaven. Inclusives say that others can get in, sometimes including people from other religions. Universalists believe that everyone eventually will get into heaven. I would consider myself to be an extended exclusivist. Strict exclusives may object to that and suggest I am a limited inclusivist, though I prefer the former as I think entry to heaven is completely tied up in following Jesus.

Previous posts have shown my views on salvation. The saved are those who follow Christ. Repentance has to do with turning around, turning from behaviour that results in death to walking in the ways of God. If this is the case then can people who have never heard the gospel follow Jesus?

One cannot reasonably follow someone they have never heard of. They can however know something of Christ indirectly. Romans informs us there is enough in natural revelation to point to a creator. Because the Holy Spirit is always at work, even amongst the unsaved, he can in some sense draw men to God. The knowledge of God these people have is very limited compared to what we have with the more specific revelation of the Bible, as well as the Holy Spirit indwelling us, but it is still knowledge.

I think it possible for men to attempt to live for God in as much as they know. People living before and after the cross may try to be obedient to what they think God requires of them based on a desire to please God. They are still sinners and fail at times. Their obedience is imperfect because of imperfect knowledge. Sin that is committed is still sin even when we don’t know that it is, sincerity cannot override sin; but the punishment may be less based on incomplete awareness.

Because these people are sinners they deserve death as we all do. But I do wonder whether Jesus will allow his blood to cover those who truly wish to live for God as best they know how. It is as if they are looking for God all their lives and when they die and face Christ they recognise him as the one they were looking for.

In the final book of the Narnian Chronicles, The Last Battle, when night falls on Narnia, the creatures are all forced to look at Aslan:

But as they came right up to Aslan one or other of two things happened to each of them. They all looked straight in his face, I don’t think they had any choice about that. And when some looked, the expression of their faces changed terribly—it was fear and hatred:… And all the creatures who looked at Aslan in that way swerved to their right, his left, and disappeared into his huge black shadow,… But the others looked in the face of Aslan and loved him, though some of them were very frightened at the same time. And all these came in at the Door, in on Aslan’s right. There were some queer specimens among them.

While this is fiction, I think there is something to Lewis’ analogy. We can’t get our theology from fiction though, so is there anything in Scripture that suggests this?

Passages about Nineveh and the queen of the South may give some clues. Though one could argue these people came into a relationship with Yahweh it was possibly based on less extensive knowledge than that of the Hebrews.

Comments about god-fearing Gentiles suggest these persons were on the path to heaven with perhaps incomplete knowledge; note how Cornelius still needed to be told about Jesus. These either pre-date Christ or were perhaps proselytes so do not directly equate to the current situation. But for those who have never heard of Christ, how is their situation different from others pre-Christ outside God’s covenant?

Jesus tells a parable about sheep and goats. Many interpretors apply this to Christians but some apply it specifically to those who have no direct knowledge of Christ.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31-46)

The setting is the gathering of the nations. This is perhaps a pointer to not equating the sheep with Christians and the goats with non-Christians. A second pointer is that the individuals of the nations are judged by their works. But there is a third feature that points away from this being about Christians and non-Christians. In discussing this with my pastor he suggested that the parable is very likely to be about those who have never heard the gospel because the sheep are surprised by the king’s comments. The reaction of the sheep is not one that would seem likely of Christians who have already been told to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked. Whereas those who seek righteousness may do these things yet not know they are doing it for Jesus.

And what of the idea that Christ avails his blood to cover those who only meet him after death? Firstly scripture suggests that we need to make our decision be
fore death (and these people have), not that the power of atonement can only be applied before death. And secondly, this is the situation of those in covenential relationship with God pre-Christ such as Noah, Abraham and David. Christ did not die until after their death but it is still Christ’s death that avails them heaven—incidentally, this is consistent with them going to Sheol after death until, at least, Christ’s resurrection.

If my conclusion is true, and I am cautious about my conclusions, why evangelise? Why take the gospel to those who have never heard?

Because choosing God without the gospel is probably not common. Telling those who are seeking God about Jesus gives them joy in knowing Jesus now, security of their future, power to avoid sin, encouragement to tell others. And for the majority who are heading to hell it is the opportunity to turn. The gospel is the power of salvation, it convicts sinners who repent and choose life.

>Who goes where? Part 2

2007 March 6 1 comment

>We have established that Jesus did not ascend to heaven between his death and resurrection by Jesus’ own words. Jesus subsequently ascended to heaven 40 days after the resurrection having spent time with his followers (Luk 24:51; Act 1:3). Peter expounds on Jesus’ ascension:

Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,

“The Lord said to my Lord,/
Sit at my right hand,/
until I make your enemies your footstool.” (Acts 2:33-35 ESV)

I think it is likely that the righteous were taken from Hades to heaven following Christ’s resurrection. We do know that those who die as Christians, that is after the resurrection, go to heaven:

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:6-8 ESV)

Paul also makes the comment:

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. (Philippians 1:21-24, ESV).

This makes sense if Paul thought that he would go to heaven to be with Jesus when he died. This would be nonsensical if Paul thought he went to Hades or that his soul slept while he waited for the judgment.

The unrighteous remain in the pit in Sheol. Those who don’t know Jesus go to Sheol at their death. Both await the judgment. This is possibly what Peter is alluding to in the following passage:

…then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment,… (2 Peter 2:9 ESV)

though I concede that this verse is difficult to translate. At the end of the age all will be resurrected and face the judgment. It is at this time men and angels who have rejected Jesus are cast into hell.

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11-15 ESV)

And the most straightforward understanding is that it is everlasting, conscious and unpleasant.

…and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. (Revelation 20:10 ESV)

Hell was not made for men but for angels. In choosing to disobey God it became a possibility for humans. But for those who have chosen to follow Jesus our punishment in laid on him and he promises eternity with the Father.

To summarise more fully:

  • Hell was created for the fallen angels.
  • Hades (Sheol) was created for man because of the fall and the subsequent pending death.
  • Man goes to Hades at death, the righteous to Paradise and the wicked to the Abyss (pit).
  • Some fallen angels are in Tartarus which is the deepest part of the Abyss.
  • Inhabitants of Hades are conscious
  • Jesus descended to Hades at his death then rose on the third day and did not go to heaven during that time.
  • Jesus subsequently ascended to heaven.
  • Christians go to heaven at their death.
  • Judgment happens at the end of the age.
  • Fallen angels and men who have rejected Christ are cast into hell.
Categories: afterlife, judgment

>Who goes where? Part 1

2007 March 4 2 comments

>Because of the fall of the angels God created hell. Jesus informs us of this:

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels….’ (Matthew 25:41 ESV)

The eternal fire does not appear to have been created for man. It was created for the evil angels, presumably soon after their fall, and is in existence now. However I contend that it is currently empty. Hell is also described as the hell of fire (Mat 5:22), the eternal fire (Mat 25:41), unquenchable fire (Mar 9:23), the lake of fire that burns with sulfur (Rev 19:20; 20:10,14-15). It is a place where the inhabitants will be tormented day and night forever and ever (Rev 20:10), where both soul and body are destroyed by God (Mat 10:28).

So what happens to man? Man was not created to die. Death, both man and sentient animals, came as a result of the fall.

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “…but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that [or when] you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17)

When humans died they went to Sheol. Sheol is translated into Greek as Hades in the Septuagint and the bible uses this word in the New Testament. Hades may be used in the context of suffering (or punishment) after death. That is an appropriate albeit restricted meaning, and Hades is generally the place of the dead. A helpful bible translation would use Hades in both the Old and New Testaments to help with interpretation and understanding. Scripture clearly understands Hades to be a real place. It may have metaphorical meaning but words that are used as metaphors also have a literal meaning. Using head as a metaphor for leader does not deny that head refers to a part of the body as well.

Both the good and evil went to Hades, but there is distinction between them. The wicked were cast into the pit (a word that meant a hole in the ground (Gen 37:19)) which was descriptive of the part of Hades that was unpleasant and reserved for evil men. The New Testament equivalent is Abyss—also a word (like pit) that can have both Hades and non Hades connotations.

Of Isaac it is said: “…and Isaac expired and died and he was gathered to his people.” (Gen 35:29). Jacob said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” (Gen 37:35). From this we can see that Jacob expected that he would descend to Sheol at his death. But we also know that Isaac and Jacob will be in heaven by Jesus’ comments: “I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven,…” (Mat 8:11).

The stories of Enoch and Elijah also give clues about the realm of the dead. That they were taken to heaven is somewhat out of the ordinary; not just the way in which they went, but the fact they went to heaven and not Sheol.

Further information about Hades comes indirectly from Jesus when he tells the story of Lazarus and the rich man.

There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ (Luke 16:19-31 ESV)

From this we learn that Lazarus goes to Abraham’s side and the rich man goes to Hades. Whereas Lazarus is comforted the rich man is in torment. And it was not possible to cross the chasm that separated them. Note that Paradise is used for a pleasant place, but it is the context that explains this word. Paradise also refers to heaven (2 Corinthians), the new earth at the end of the age (Revelation) and possibly Eden.

Interestingly Jesus did not ascend into heaven immediately following his death. Peter quoting David says:

I saw the Lord always before me,/
for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;/
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;/
my flesh also will dwell in hope./
for you will not abandon my soul to Hades,/
or let your Holy One see corruption./
You have made known to me the paths of life;/
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’ (Acts 2:25-28 ESV)

Peter shows that this passage applies to Jesus and that Jesus descended to Hades and was resurrected:

Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. (Acts 2:29-32 ESV)

After his resurrection Jesus said to Mary:

Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” (John 20:17 ESV)

One of the criminals on the cross went to paradise which we can see from the above was not heaven. His destination corresponds to Luke 16 where Abraham is said to be in Paradise (as previously mentioned).

And he [one of the criminals] said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:42-43 ESV)

Presumably Peter’s enigmatic statement in his first letter corresponds to the period between Jesus’ death and resurrection.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison,… (1 Peter 3:18-19 ESV)

The dead have some semblance of consciousness in Hades. This can be seen in many passages in the Old Testament. It is also alluded to by Jesus’ comments about Abraham (who was in Paradise).

Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad. (John 8:56 ESV)

To summarise: hell was created for the fallen angels; Hades (Sheol) was created for man because of the fall and the subsequent pending death; man goes to Hades at death, the righteous to Paradise and the wicked to the Abyss (pit); Some fallen angels are in Tartarus which is the deepest part of the Abyss; inhabitants of Hades are conscious; Jesus descended to Hades at his death then rose on the third day and did not go to heaven during that time,…

more to follow.

Categories: afterlife, judgment

>The dark side

2007 February 24 2 comments

>Though the events around Satan and hell are not treated extensively in the bible, there still is a reasonable amount of information to be gleaned. Enough to lay to rest many falsehoods and speculations by Christians. I will leave out passages in Isaiah and Ezekiel because they are not universally acknowledged as being about Satan, though I think a reasonable case could be made for the traditional belief.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1). This gives us a starting point for the material universe but whether the creation of the angels preceded or postdated this event is uncertain. God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit existed from eternity past and the angelic realm is certainly created but to pin down the timeframe may prove to be difficult working within God’s specific revelation.

God spoke to Job saying:

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?/
Tell me, if you have understanding./
…when the morning stars sang together/
and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:4,7 ESV)

In the context the sons of God are angelic beings. Interestingly this (as well as other passages) tells us that stars metaphorically describe angels. Given God is describing the beginning of the creation of the earth, this would suggest that the angels were created prior to or about the time of Genesis 1:1. An alternative view would be day 4 if we associate the creation of the literal stars with that of the metaphorical ones.

This is followed by the creation of man and woman on day 6. This is the day that God described everything as very good (Gen 1:31). Although this is primarily a reference to the creation of the material universe, there may be information in this verse that tells us that the angels had yet to fall. We can be certain that the angelic fall predates the fall of man because the temptation by the serpent shows that evil had entered into spiritual realm.

We have an parallelism in Job above equating angels with stars. This is also (possibly) seen in Revelation.

And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. (Revelation 21:1-4 ESV)

Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” (Revelation 12:7-12 ESV)

From this we see that Satan is equated with the dragon, the serpent and the devil; all traditional interpretations. A further traditional interpretation is that the passage about the dragon sweeping a third of the stars means that about a third of the angels fell at the time of the angelic fall. This is possible, though a third of the stars may be referring back to the stars crowning the woman. Given that the woman, the sun the moon and the stars likely represents Israel (Gen 37:9), this may be discussing some opposition of Satan against Israel. Another (or further) interpretation is that the woman, sun, and moon represent an astronomical configuration as per Ernest Martin.

I am not certain of the timeframe of these events discussed in Revelation, but it gives us information as to the identity of the serpent and tells us that Satan is the leader of many evil angels.

God told Adam and Eve to procreate and populate the world. This would have happened quickly given their perfect state. The fall of man is prior to Eve conceiving her first child and likely occurred shortly following her creation from Adam—almost certainly less than a month. Ussher suggests Day 10 based on subsequent commandment that the day of atonement should fall on day 10 of Tishri (Lev 16:29; 23:27). An argument for day 16 could also be made on this basis (10 days following day 6 of creation).

Though we have not established a complete relative order of events we have established some constraints. In terms of the material world we have:

  1. The beginning of the creation of the world.
  2. The creation of man and woman 6 days later.
  3. The fall of man (likely) several days later.

In terms of the immaterial world (who clearly can interact with the material world) we have:

  1. The creation of angels sometime prior to the fall of man and possibly prior to the creation of the world
  2. The fall of the angels prior to the fall of man, possibly after the creation of man, but prior to the creation of the world cannot be excluded.

There is some further information given us by Peter

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into Tartarus and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment;… (2 Peter 2:4)

It is uncertain who, how, or when this fits into the above. Clearly not all fallen angels are in Tartarus. In the time of the New Testament we hear of demons requesting Jesus not send them into the abyss. So were some angels sent there at the angelic fall or was there some subsequent sin on behalf of some angels that demanded this imprisonment? And were these fallen angels, or were they angels who didn’t side with Satan in his rebellion but have subsequently taken his side. However this passage at the least allows the possibility of some significant angelic event following the angelic fall.

Categories: afterlife, judgment