I realize that, despite a thorough explanation of the circumstances, some people are probably still having a tough time accepting a God who ordered the destruction of entire nations. I admit, sometimes the thought troubles me as well. Surely if He is God, He can prevent destroying the innocent with the wicked. Can’t He?
I recently visited the blog “The Upside Down World” of fellow blogger Rebecca Trotter. She, too, confessed to being troubled by these Old Testament passages. So she asked God about them, and the response she received was, “I work it all out.”
Now, I just about fell out of my chair when I read this, because God had whispered the same words to me when I was doing research for my previous post, “A God of Justice.” What staggered me about the situation is that Rebecca and I hold different beliefs when it comes to God’s judgment. Yet, God’s response to us was the same. Mind = blown.
Rebecca is a Christian Universalist. Universalists believe that Christ’s redemptive work was for all of mankind, so everyone is destined for heaven–whether they lived by his precepts or not. There’s still burning in the Lake of Fire for the wicked, but only for an age. Once the wicked have been cleansed and consecrated by fire, they’ll join the throng around God’s throne. She has found scriptures and scholarly work to back up this theory.
There are other theories about God’s judgment as well. The Jehovah’s Witnesses, for instance, believe that the word “hell” in the Bible refers to the grave, not a place of burning torment. The saved will be resurrected to eternal life on a paradise earth (only the 144,000 elect go to heaven), while the wicked stay asleep in the ground for eternity. They have scriptures and scholarly work to back this up.
Most hardline Christians, of course, believe that people are judged upon death. Those who have accepted Christ as savior go to heaven, while the wicked burn for eternity in hell. They also have scriptures and scholarly work to back this up.
Aye, yi, yi!
As always, the struggle is to reconcile the God of Justice with the God of Mercy. Would a God of Mercy allow people to go into everlasting torment for finite sins? Would a God of Justice allow unrepentant murderers, rapists and haters of His goodness to enjoy the same eternal reward as saints and martyrs? It’s a quandary, for sure.
I’m not a Universalist, and I’m not sure I can be. It’s not that I wish to see people burn for eternity, or that I think people need that motivation to accept Christ. (That wasn’t my motivation, anyway.) It’s that I have trouble believing God would force people who had no love for Him on earth to worship Him for eternity. I believe God does not infringe on anyone’s free will; He gives people a choice and honors it. If that choice is hell, so be it. I’ve always been taught that hell is a place of complete separation from God. And since God is the source of all that is good, it is therefore a terrible place.
Of course, some people would point out that a merciful God would not allow anyone to make such a choice without full knowledge of what they were doing. Others would claim that the gospel contains full knowledge. Considering the vastly different ideas believers have about the afterlife, though, I’m not sure that statement holds water. Again, a quandary.
Here’s what I do believe, though: When the innocent perish and the wicked thrive, God knows what’s going on. And whatever He allows and however He judges humanity in the end, we’ll ultimately find acceptable and pleasing. When we die and see our Maker face to face, we’ll understand everything that happened on earth and why. We’ll see death, time and reality just as God sees them. The tapestry of humanity will be unfurled for all to examine, and we’ll see every life, every death, and every choice as a stitch in that wondrous fabric. Though the individual death or choice may have seemed ugly at the time, it will make up the picture of ultimate glory God chose to weave through us.
I personally no longer hold the hardline Christian view of judgment. I think there will be far more people in heaven than fundamentalists expect. However, I also believe those who reject God and do evil will be allowed to experience the consequences. Whether that’s sleeping in the grave for eternity or being consecrated in the Lake of Fire, temporarily or permanently, is inconsequential to me. I don’t believe God intended for the concept of divine judgment to arm-twist anyone into accepting Christ–as it’s so often used. An irrevocable ticket to heaven doesn’t negate anyone’s need for redemption on this earth, least of all mine.
What I have a problem with are people who insist that Universalism or any other theory that deviates from the hardline view is “a lie from the pit of hell.” They claim that anyone who doesn’t believe in everlasting torment for the wicked is in danger of hell himself. Frankly, that’s an unscriptural view. Correct belief in the events of the afterlife (whatever that entails) is not a requisite for salvation. There is only one thing I, or anyone else, must believe to have eternal life:
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)
Seriously, that is it. There are similar scriptures that mention being baptized in addition to accepting Christ, but no verse condemns those who hold unorthodox views of God’s judgment–unless they are purposely misleading others with such doctrines for their own selfish gain.
Some people claim that unorthodox beliefs fool people into thinking that they don’t need salvation–that without the concept of eternal hellfire, people won’t be motivated to accept Christ. Or that such beliefs will cause those who hold them to become lax in their devotion. But Rebecca Trotter says her Universalist views have made her a better believer–more faithful and obedient to Christ’s commands, more trusting of God, and more enthusiastic to share the gospel. Satan’s purpose in heresy is to drive people away from God, not propel them closer to Him. And Rebecca’s views on issues such as giving, abortion, abstinence and Christian responsibility are anything but lax.
In this regard, we believers really are a faithless lot, as Rebecca is fond of pointing out. We simply don’t trust that God will do the right thing when it comes to judgment. We think we have to have it all figured out to the last detail, or else people won’t approach Christ in the correct manner. What hogwash. First of all, the Holy Spirit, not scare tactics, directs believers in the way they should go. Second, whatever happens on Judgment Day will be fair and in the best interests of all. For some, judgment will bring joy; for others, it will bring great distress. There will be justice for victims and mercy for sinners. I’m just not certain what form that will take. And I don’t think it matters. What matters is this: God desires that none perish (2 Peter 3:9).
A couple of weeks ago, I was thinking about all of my friends who don’t know Christ, which includes my husband. They know I’m a Christian (a few of them even read this blog), but they aren’t ready to put their faith in him. I thought with sadness about being in heaven without them there. And then God said, “Don’t worry. I’m going to save them. Just wait.” My heart was instantly overflowing with joy. Whether He meant in this life or in the next, I don’t know. All I know is that they’ll be with me in heaven, finally free from the pain of abuse, rejection, addiction, loneliness, fatherlessness, uncertainty and the stress of this life. And I’ll run up to them on the streets of gold, arms outstretched, saying, “See?! I told you guys this would be great!”