Tent makers
and tabernacle breakers

 

Nicole: To me the solution is: God desires all to be saved. God’s purposes will be accomplished. God allows us to disobey out of his mercy so that he can have mercy on all of us and we will all know he is God. I believe God will one day accomplish his mission, even with allowing for our choices, such that all people will be saved. I have a tattoo on my arm from 1 Timothy 4:10 that says that God “is the savior of all people, especially those who believe.” I feel Calvinists and Arminians need to get together to understand the big picture. God’s judgements are severe at times, but even those are acts of his mercy.

OSC: Even the Talmud explains how God’s mercy in some way “outdoes” His wrath, perhaps because (as Dr. Walls explained) wrath isn’t an essential of God, but rather power and love are indispensable aspects of Their Spirit. I suppose in reply I’d write God doesn’t accomplish everything He desires, so He purposes events and actions diferently from those things which He would like to have done in our lives. He is commited to greater things.

 

So when we write His purposes “will be accomplished” we’ve then got to answer what are God’s purposes. For example, the Lord didn’t desire that parents sacrifice their children through fire to idols, and yet that’s exactly what He allowed for to happen. God’s committed to something greater than the rescue of physical bodies from the fire at our expense of freely accepting/rejecting Him, namely an authentic relationship between Himself and His creation.

 

An example of our relationship with God is, as Calvinists overemphasize, one of the potter and the clay, and of course, the potter has full rights over the clay. However, that’s one of the least stressed of the examples of our relationship, rather, we’re described as the sheep of a Shepard, and lastly, in the most common expression, we’re written of as a bride. Lewis in his “Problem of Pain” wrote that’s the most dangerous of relationships to describe in print, and he’s right, as it’s the most detailed, and thus more open to being perverted. To say we are His bride is a wonderful and scary thing if we’re unsure of how to understand it.

Insofar as my reading of Scripture goes however, God’s mission isn’t to rescue everybody (it’s to show His mercy upon all), because He desires that people freely choose Him rather than to coerce their worship and love. He makes an open show of universal mercy by a truly bona fide offer of grace extended towards everybody, and yet that’s never to overstep or override His want for our freely choosing Him. If His purpose is to save everyone, and not to make a universal show of His saving grace, I’d enjoy reading some scripture to that effect. I have an interesting story which I’m sure would be helpful here.

Recently I’d been talking to a Jehovah witness, an older man who insisted Jesus didn’t return in His own body, rather he was adamant that Jehovah needed the body of Jesus for His sacrifice to be truly made, due to which Jesus after being crucified took different forms, returning in a spirit body. I pointed towards two portions of scripture which totally undid their views:

 

The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. (Jn 2:18-22).

 

While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” (Lk 24:36-39).

 

To this view they said no, they insisted they too have scriptures which support their view, and after trying several which fell flat, the older man held up on one single verse. Their big stronghold. They used 1 Peter 3:18, which read “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.”

 

I bluntly replied “Being made alive in the Spirit isn’t the same as saying Jesus was made alive as a spirit.” Although this wasn’t getting through. What did get through however was this question “Isn’t it a rule of good hermeneutics that we understand unclear verses in light of clear verses, and not in the reverse?” This hit home. I had shared very explicate verses, portions of scripture in which Jesus said “a spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have” He was saying “I am NOT a spirit”, my witness friend went from explicate verses to a less clear verse and tried to forcefully interpret the clear in light of the unclear.

In so doing they wounded the text, causing damage to a fuller understanding which does no damage to either verse, in this particular case the fuller, less destructive understanding was my own. That may not always be true, but in this case it was. The best question which you and I as thoughtful people should be asking is how much damage (if any) does a universalist picture do to the scriptures, similarly does an understanding which doesn’t include some kind of worldwide rescue of sinners somehow harm God’s revealed word about Himself.

 

For example, I love 1 Timothy 4:10, which reads “That is why we labour and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, and especially of those who believe.” We’re reminded we’re to labour for God’s kingdom, to strive, and that we’ve put our hope in a living God who truly is the Saviour of all people (as Jesus died on behalf of all).

 

However, in Matthew 25:46, Jesus teaches concerning the unsaved: “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Notice there’s a sort of contrast between an eternity of life, yet also an eternity of punishment. What the faithful receive in full the unsaved receive in kind, and it’s in a universalist understanding where I’m thinking we’d begin to do damage to the scriptures in the above.

We labour and strive precisely because everybody isn’t saved, everybody isn’t rescued, but rather the saving grace of God is made available to all, in addition to rescue being made actual or possible on behalf of all people before Christ retroactively (Abraham was saved by faith after all). Anyhow, it’s really awesome to read and respond to your message, Nicole. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed reading and I’ll hear back from you soon.

Best wishes and God bless.

Nicole: I appreciated your response. You said if there is a good explanation of why God may save everyone, you would be interested and I can recommend no better book than “The inescapable love of God” by Thomas Talbott. He contends that there is no wrong done by God eventually removing all obstacles that keep one from realizing his goodness and the evil that comes from refusing it (he writes a lot more and better than me.)

 

He compares it to one who has put one’s hand in a fire. Someone with a rational mind will not do it again. For God to eventually remove all obstacles to belief in him for all people does not do injustice to their free will. I think a universalist understanding of scriptures gives a better and more holistic understanding of scripture than anything else.

 

Why did Jesus not simply preach salvation and take the kingdom? Just preach repentence to him? Because forgiveness has to start somewhere and he showed ultimate forgiveness in forgiving even the people who crucified him. If god wants to be able to have mercy on everyone, this was the beginning. 1 Peter 3:19 say that Jesus went and preached to imprisoned spirits from the days of Noah. I feel the good news is really good news for everyone. Of course, it needs to be preached because it is only through Christ that we can be saved.

Also, the word that commonly gets translated as “everlasting” is aionian, a word that means age-enduring, even in modern greek, as my former Greek boyfriend will attest. It’s translated according to traditions passed down by the church. Most of the early church was universalist, but the power of the sword came over when Rome converted to Christianity and the doctrine of everlasting punishment took.

 

I used to be arminian, but I feel that believe that God is truly loving and loves everyone combined with knowledge of trying to truly understand the scriptures in their larger context and the goodness of God causes me to believe God has a plan for everyone. He created everybody and the bible says he will reconcile all things to himself (Colossians 1:20). I feel if studied well enough, the passages for the salvation of all people and Jesus being good news to all people are clearer than any passages for everlasting torment.

OSC: I suppose Thomas’ conclusion would be based upon the idea that people are truly rational in their rejection of God, in addition to believing that we’re somehow rational and able to learn in hell or the grave or wherever/whatever state it is that he believes the unsaved are going to be in when they’re set into an “aionian” punishment.

 

The majority of people who reject God, at least in the now, aren’t doing so because they’ve been rationalists who make decisions based upon an oven burner “once bitten twice shy” decision making process. I imagine any seasoned evangelist would agree, because even when they (the Christians) have every answer, every argument, and even when they argue in love, most of the time the other person’s just going to say “I’ve got my views. That’s that.”

 

The rationalist, dismayed, replies “But but but, I’ve got the answers!” and that’s true, the other person simply doesn’t care. Of course I would have to read their book so to make an accurate objection (if any).

 

“Why did Jesus not simply preach salvation and take the kingdom?”

 

My reply can only be to write Jesus wasn’t simply an ordinary preachers, but rather the spotless lamb, it’s an issue of sacrifice. This makes sense historically speaking, as sacrifice (so say the Pharisees) wasn’t accepted since the year 30AD, whereabouts when Christ was put to death. After which the sacrificial system itself was done away with with the destruction of the second temple in the year 70AD. I do appreciate how Christ as our model for human behaviour said on the cross “Forgive them Father, they know not what they do”, however, we’d be hard-pressed to extract universalism therefrom.

 

It’s like when our brothers in Calvinism use Psalms (AKA songs) to try and make the Lord “hate” people (or even an e.g. of “Jacob I’ve loved but Esau I’ve hated”). To which of course you and I can reply “Songs aren’t the safest place to gather an understanding of God’s nature from.” There’s genre, context and historic backdrop to be considered. That’s why it’s safer to ground our interpretation of Scripture in principles.

With regards to 1 Peter 3:19, apparently there’s around 12 different interpretations of the chapter in its fullness, for which it’s always better to set our feet on less contentious ground so to enter into Peter later. As I’ve tried with my witness friend, to limited success (the rationalist in me must be furious!)

 

About God’s good news being good for everyone, you wouldn’t go so far as to write an Arminian interpretation of the crucifixion wasn’t good news for everybody, right? Because Christ being offered upon behalf of everyone, even when we’re faced with the fact of people rejecting that same sacrifice, that’s still good news for all. If a person were offered a miracle cure for some terrible illness, and they reject it, I wouldn’t say that simply on account of them rejecting the treatment it wasn’t good news.

 

On the contrary, it would be fantastic news that they’d been gifted this wonderful, curative medicine. I can see why a Calvinist perspective could be considered less than good news, because of double predestination. God damning people for doing what He predetermined them to do, be it based upon our sins or Adam’s as the federal head. Being a universalist circumvents this problem.

Now, I’ve been looking forward to replying on this, and hopefully you don’t mind if I’m a bit cheeky here. :) I don’t speak classical Greek, although I do know my Greek alphabet. Anyhow, my point is to write when in doubt differ to an authority, in your case, it’s your ex, although in my case, it’s moody Matt Slick. The reason I’ve read why translators, who of course are greater authorities than us both, translate aionion as eternal isn’t because it’s not “age-enduring” (because they happily write that’s correct), rather, they opt for eternal because, like in the case of every language, words have multiple meanings drawn out by the surrounding context.

We can find aionion in many different cases (genitive, nominative) and yet, in many cases it’s clearly in reference to eternity given the immediate context. Romans 16:26, for example, reads “but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— “ No Christian would want to write God exists “for an age” or “age-enduring” instead of eternal, as if to write He won’t endure after an age. This is why we defer to experts, me to Matt Slick, my interlinear Bible and other sources. Whereas you may defer to Thomas Talbott (here comes the cheek) and an ex who’s Greek, but you can’t defer to him any more, because he’s an ex, and we screen their calls so as to not talk to them. :)

Writing you used to be an Arminian was an interesting point to read, how do you identify now? I imagine a person could be something of a universalist and believe in an Arminian interpretation of God’s sovereignty. Perhaps a four point Calvinists would mesh better into your understanding, or maybe another opinion I’ve not considered. Lastly, you’ve shared how:

 

Most of the early church was universalist, but the power of the sword came over when Rome converted to Christianity and the doctrine of everlasting punishment took.

 

That’s a bold claim, one I’d never personally make without having done an awful lot of church history. I’m curious, is this what Thomas Talbott also teaches? We can’t safely write for Christians who never put pen to paper, although for everybody I’ve read from, they appear to presuppose an eternal punishment for the unrepentant:

Barnabas (A.D. 70):

 

[Christ speaking] I see that I shall thus offer My flesh for the sins of the new people.

The way of darkness is crooked, and it is full of cursing. It is the way of eternal death with punishment.

 

Letter to Diognetus (A.D. 125-200):

 

You should fear what is truly death, which is reserved for those who will be condemned to the eternal fire. It will afflict those who are committed to it even to the end.

 

Polycarp (A.D. 135):

 

They despised all the torments of this world, redeeming themselves from eternal punishment by the suffering of a single hour…For they kept before their view escape from that fire which is eternal and will never be quenched.

 

http://www.reformedresources.com.au/index.php/writing/church-history/125-early-church-fathers-and-eternal-hell

Having studied a fair amount of Ignatius’ authentic letters I can add he appeared to believe in eternal damnation also. I can’t really see much of the history rewriting tyranny which Jehovah witnesses, Muslims and Mormons insist took place to hide their pure faiths, which they insist were the predominate viewpoint before the advent of [insert your favourite baddy here]. Once again, it’s been a real pleasure replying to your message, Nicole. Keep well and I hope to hear back from you later. :)

Nicole: I appreciate what your saying. My phone is having issues on me, so I’ll get back to you when I can get into my computer. As for my understanding, there were 6 Christian schools of thought before A.D. 500 and 4 were universalist, one was annhilationist, and 1 (the church in rome) believed in eternal punishment. Rome won over due to the sword, according to Talbitt. For a list of early Christian universalist you can go to:

 

http://www.tentmaker.org/tracts/Universalists.html

 

The important thing, though, I think we can both agree, is a relationship with Christ. It is his continual presence that reassures me of his salvation, whatever I might believe about the rest of creation. He is God and is reigning from heaven and it is good to know he is in control and he is truly good.

OSC: Amen, Nicole. You’ve got a wonderful heart for conversation, thanks for blessing me and I’ll wait on that reply.

― Ty