Salvation 2.0: Part 3.7: Justice

grace5Imagine a 12-year old girl raised in a Christian household. She has, we will assume, reached the “age of accountability.” It happened just today. And imagine that she is not yet a Christian. And she commits a single, solitary sin.

Now imagine that in a sad, tragic accident, she is killed. You are asked to preach her funeral. What do you say?

Do you pretend she was saved even though she’d never confessed Jesus, and in fact had not at all decided to follow him? She was more worried about school work, her friends, and boys. She just hadn’t made up her mind.

Do you preach that she will suffer the burning punishment of fire and sulfur for all eternity for a single, solitary sin? Is that the God you want those at the funeral to meet?

Would you argue, as some  theologians do, that even one sin merits eternal suffering because it’s a sin against an eternal God? Does that sit well with you? (And notice how this argument abuses the meaning of “eternal.”)

Or do you preach that God is perfectly just and will not allow her to suffer one second more than is just? That is, although she will not be in the resurrection, neither will she suffer unfairly for a young, almost entirely innocent life.

You see, there’s something inherently unfair and unjust in the Medieval version of hell that the modern church teaches, thanks to Plato. Punishment is always disproportionate — greatly exceeding the wickedness being recompensed. Maybe eternity is fair for a Hitler or a Pol Pot. We’ve seen some true evil in the last 100 years.  But for everyone who lacks faith? Everyone?

No, God is a God of love. God is love. God is just. And therefore, I have to say that I’m inclined to take “destroy” as meaning (are you ready?) destroy. Hell, I believe, is a painful, agonizing separation from the glory of God, following by the cessation of existence — forever. And the amount of pain suffered is whatever God deems just — and if that strikes you as unfair, then you need to reconsider your understanding of who God is.

In fact, many struggle with this idea because the idea of an unjust, cruel God is so deeply rooted in our minds, that we don’t trust God to be just. In fact, to our ears, God’s justice sounds awful, mean-spirited, and cruel. Because that’s who we imagine God to be.

Which is just one more really good reason to throw away our old thinking on hell.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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46 Responses to Salvation 2.0: Part 3.7: Justice

  1. Gary says:

    Jay, you leave us hanging with the example you have chosen. Of course the 12 year old accountable girl would not be lost in some kind of torment or punishment forever and ever. I’m with you all the way that far. But are you suggesting that, instead, she would be annihilated? Sorry, but that sounds quite medieval as well. I have no problem with accepting that God can destroy human beings body and soul. That doesn’t mean, however, that God will in fact annihilate anyone. God, for example, made some definite sounding statements to Moses about destroying all of Israel except the family of Moses but God never did that. What kind of God would annihilate the 12 year old girl you described? For that matter what kind of God would annihilate the Muslim or Buddhist or Sikh who devoutly follows the religion of their parents throughout their lives and leaves this world having done more justice than injustice? Only an eventual universalism (after for some, perhaps, a time of punishment and purification) does justice to the nature of the God whom we are told is love.

  2. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Gary asked,

    What kind of God would annihilate the 12 year old girl you described? For that matter what kind of God would annihilate the Muslim or Buddhist or Sikh who devoutly follows the religion of their parents throughout their lives and leaves this world having done more justice than injustice? Only an eventual universalism (after for some, perhaps, a time of punishment and purification) does justice to the nature of the God whom we are told is love.

    1. I’m about to embark on a series of posts dealing with Universalism. I’ll not spoil the fun by repeating those posts here.

    2. By what logic do you conclude that any human being deserves eternal bliss with God? Sounds like a works salvation, to me. I mean, how dare we claim to deserve the new heavens and new earth! I don’t. I deserve to die and to remain dead. Maybe even to be punished for my sins first. I’m sure there are a few people who would enjoy being vindicated by God against me.

    If we can’t be saved by works, then it’s by grace. If it’s by grace, it’s a free gift. A GIFT — by definition, undeserved. That’s what I believe. I think you already know the verses.

    So how would you reconcile Pauline soteriology with universalism? I mean, there are out-of-context proof texts, but a universalistic interpretation runs immediately into Paul’s reasoning about how we don’t deserve salvation. And if we don’t deserve it, how can we demand it for others?

    It’s the parable of the day laborers. God may give more than we deserve, but we can only call on him to give what we in fact deserve. If he wishes to do better, that’s up to him to set the terms. And those terms are faith in Jesus.

  3. Gary says:

    Jay, where did I say that anyone deserves salvation? I think you know that that is a straw horse. Obviously no one deserves salvation. We don’t even deserve life itself. Everything we receive from God is pure grace.

    So we neither deserve salvation nor demand it for others. That is entirely the province of God. You and I are simply trying to ascertain what God may do. I believe that God has not completely revealed to us everything he will do regarding our judgment and the future of this earthly home he has provided for humankind. Anyone who is seriously interested in these matters owes it to himself or herself to read what Hans Urs Von Balthaser has written. I’m having a senior moment right now and can’t recall his monumental work on universalism. He does not draw hard and fast conclusions but I find him to be persuasive that we have good reason to hope that all those created in God’s image will eventually experience eternal life with God.

    Works do have significance when it comes to how God judges individuals. Romans 2:6-8 is plain that we will be judged according to our works. I take Paul at his word. This truth is also taught by James who makes clear that good works are the evidence of a saving faith. Faith in God and good works are two sides of the same coin. So the old works versus faith debate is largely a distraction. All who are saved are saved by grace but there will apparently be degrees of reward and punishment that are determined by the works and heart of each person. I think it is wise for us not to press the details too closely but to respect God’s sovereignty in these matters.

  4. Gary says:

    “Will All Be Saved?” was written by Richard John Nuehaus and appeared in the August, 2001 issue of First Things. It is a thoughtful treatment of universalism, salvation and punishment. It is available online.

  5. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Gary,

    The article you refer to may be found at http://www.firstthings.com/article/2001/08/will-all-be-saved

    If your position is that no one deserves salvation (with which I agree entirely), then you can’t argue, “For that matter what kind of God would annihilate the Muslim or Buddhist or Sikh who devoutly follows the religion of their parents throughout their lives and leaves this world having done more justice than injustice?” That sounds exactly like the works-based religion I was raised on. I literally once asked in Sunday school class as a first grader, “What happens if there’s a tie? If we do just as many bad things as good things?” I really couldn’t imagine doing more good than bad. There just weren’t that many old ladies to help across the street — and my grandmother was insulted by the idea that I might try to earn my way into heaven by helping her cross the street. I was desperate.

  6. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Gary,

    I’m not impressed. (Readers, if you read the Neuhaus article, you can stop reading at the caption “We Piped and You Did Not Dance.” That marks the beginning of new topic.) His thesis is that we evangelize because we aren’t sure the damned will in fact be saved, but we nonetheless hope.

    I also don’t like Pascal’s Wager. I mean, I don’t think God calls on us to play the odds. He calls on us to believe him and trust him. And I believe the countless passages that promise destruction for those not saved.

    I just don’t see Paul spending his life crossing Asia and Europe, taking beatings and stonings for a salvation that may or may not be necessary but, because God may dash his hopes and damn the Gentiles, he needs to preach the gospel. Too many epicycles. Too hard to even keep in my head. And most people will inevitably decide which non-doctrine doctrine they prefer and act accordingly.

    I mean, the “good news of the Kingdom of God” is that everyone gets to go to heaven? And the apostles were astonished that the Gentiles didn’t have to circumcised to come in? Really?

    It just doesn’t fit the narrative of scripture. Indeed, the idea of God’s consuming wrath and the destruction of his enemies fills the pages of scripture — which is one reason Fudge’s The Fire the Consumes is such a long book. He covers very nearly every relevant passage on hell. There are an awful lot of them.

    And (and I hate to say it this way) it sounds so much like the Calvinist argument: I’m certain I’m going to heaven because I have this feeling. But I know people who thought they had this feeling, and they fell away and so they were never saved. So they didn’t really have this feeling I have but they thought they did and so did I. Too many epicycles. Everything is mooshy. (Forgive the technical language.) I mean, the lines all blur into confusion.

    Just so, Neuhaus wants us to agree with him that God just might save everyone — as a hope not a doctrine — and so not ACT on this hope. Just feel better about God because he might act as we wish him to. And yet sin Neuhaus says, correctly, I think, is us not acting as God wishes us to. And so if we are SUPPOSED to hope for something about God that may not be true about God then we’re trying to NOT be like God but only maybe – which is maybe-sin. Dang confusing. Odds-based religion. And I’m a math major and don’t feel comfortable in this thought universe at all.

    So do I hope that God saves everyone? Of course. I hope everyone hears about Jesus, confesses his name, has faith in him, is baptized, receives the Spirit, enters the Kingdom, and perseveres to the end. I hope that God’s will is done on earth as it is heaven. I don’t hope that God has misspoken regarding the fate of the damned. Rather, I hope to be more like Jesus every day — and Jesus said more about hell and damnation than anyone else in scripture.

    Might God do more than he promises and saved those without faith? Even those who’ve rejected the gospel quite intentionally. Sure. Do I hope for this? No. I don’t presume to want a better God than the one I read about in scripture. I hope that God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. And if that means that the damned will be consumed by the wrath of God, then that’s my hope.

    (Luke 12:49 ESV) 49 “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!

    Not exactly the words of a universalist. Am I a bad person if I agree with Jesus that I’m groaning for the creation and its inhabitants to be freed from futility? And for justice to be meted out by the Great Judge?

    (Luke 18:1–7 ESV) 1 And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8

    The Second Coming is not just about salvation. It’s also about justice.

  7. Monty says:

    Gary said,

    “Only an eventual universalism (after for some, perhaps, a time of punishment and purification) does justice to the nature of the God whom we are told is love.” Sounds to me like pay for your own sins, or at least suffer for your own sins in a redeeming sort of way, pay the price(through doing your time) and then go onto heaven. If we could do it, then why the Cross? I still like the old classic, Jesus Paid It All.

  8. Gary says:

    Regarding my comment about Muslims, Buddhists and Sikhs, the central issue is not whether anyone deserves salvation. Of course no one does. The central issue is the nature of our God and how that nature determines what God will do in judging human beings who have been made in his own image. We are in good company when we ask regarding judgment, “Will not the judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25). While the inhabitants of the cities of the plain were physically destroyed we still do not know what God has done or will do with them at the final Judgment. When it comes to individual fates all we can do is speculate. But for the 12 year old girl you described I have to ask, “Will not the judge of all the earth do right?” Especially considering that we now know that the brains even of teenagers are not nearly finished developing I can’t imagine our God annihilating her. Even for the devout devotees of other religions who intentionally devote their lives to doing righteousness I also ask, “Will not the judge of all the earth do right?” I cannot fathom God annihilating them either. God took notice of the alms and good works of Cornelius before he knew Christ and I believe God still looks with grace and favor upon those in our world whose hearts are drawn to showing compassion and justice. Matthew 25 is not window dressing. Jesus gives us there in his own words a vision of the coming Judgment. It will not be obsessed with doctrinal positions and whether we loved the wrong person. It will be based on how we ministered to Jesus in our own time and place in the persons of the least of these among us.

  9. Gary says:

    Monty, I too believe that Jesus paid it all at the cross but, like you I’m pretty sure, I believe it takes faith in Christ to accept the gift of salvation. Where we part ways I imagine is that I believe the opportunity to accept Christ does not end at death. We have loved in Churches of Christ to quote the verse (in Hebrews?) that it is appointed for us once to die and then comes the judgment. But all that verse tells us is that judgment follows death. It does not say that judgment necessarily follows death immediately. It also does not rule out opportunities to come to a saving faith after death. Can I prove that there will be such opportunities after death? No. But neither can Jay prove that anyone will in fact be annihilated. As Richard John Nuehaus writes we don’t even know that Judas is lost.

  10. Gary says:

    Jay, Jesus’ statement in Luke 12:49 about bringing fire to the earth is characterized by some commentators as being abrupt and difficult to interpret precisely. I don’t think you can prove that it nails anything down about what we can know about the judgment of individuals. One possibility in Luke 12:39 is that Jesus was speaking of the “great tribulation.” I certainly can’t prove that either but it is one possibility.

  11. Richard constant says:

    better read 1st Corinthians chapter 7 verse 14.
    Since the Bible does not give a date for the age of accountability.
    Then the age of accountability becomes the government’s job which is 18.
    When I was 21 that was the government’s time for adulthood even though I could be drafted.
    So I fell under the age of accountability at 21 and was baptized.
    I think we have severe issues with this age of accountability.
    One thing God is not not is ambiguous. this is another false conception of flatlander theology.
    My child is holy until he is an adult by law.
    Plain and simple and of course that means I have to be a Christian a believer, a work in progress, boy oh boy.

  12. Richard constant says:

    Wow Gary what’s the name of that ballpark that you’re playing in.
    Blessings buddy just kidding you know you’re a great study.
    Just don’t be like those guys that fell in the desert and those people that Moses and Joshua taught in a kind of those hard-hearted knuckleheads the hardest things to do is to admit when you’re not right took me too long to figure that one out read the first seven verses of Romans 1 and then read the last 3 vs of the last chapter of Romans give me too long figure that 1 out read the first 7 versus romans mine and then read the last 3 vs the last chapter romans you’ll find obedience of faith as bookends

  13. Monty says:

    Gary,

    The God of all the earth will do right. He will punish the wicked (all who refuse the Light and prefer darkness)who choose to persist in wrong doing. What choice does He have in satisfying HIs justice. Sin has to be paid for. Either Christ can foot the bill or we do it ourselves. But God must punish injustice or else He would not be just himself. Our Being faithful isn’t paying for our sins. Being baptized doesn’t earn the gift. Any idea where we are punished and our punishment is redemptive is just works thinly disguised. The early monks used to flagellate themselves supposing it was purging their sins. It’s always good to be sorry and remorseful for our sins, but God’s grace and not works is the answer. Jesus’ torturous death was enough to satisfy God’s justice.

  14. Richard constant says:

    Sin is paid for it is called Death.
    Rom: 5:12-14…

  15. Richard constant says:

    Quite simply gary
    Penance or repenance
    kind of funny story behind that around 1400

  16. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Gary,

    Do you therefore conclude that Cornelius was saved before Peter preached to him?

  17. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Gary,

    I can think of possible interpretations.

    (Lk. 12:35-59 ESV) 35 “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, 36 and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! 39 But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” 41 Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?” 42 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? 43 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. 44 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. 45 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, 46 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. 47 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. 48 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. 49 “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! 51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 52 For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” 54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming.’ And so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time? 57 “And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? 58 As you go with your accuser before the magistrate, make an effort to settle with him on the way, lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in prison. 59 I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.”

    The context is one of warning to be ready for judgment. Which judgment? NT Wright is inclined toward 70 AD, and some of the passages fit, but not 42-48, which speaks of degrees of punishment. It’s hard to see how the Roman destruction was proportional to the evil of those made to suffer.

    Just so, verses 58-59 don’t seem to fit 70 AD.

    Therefore, I take it that the passage speaks, in general, of the Second Coming, although v. 50-53 is about the present, the crucifixion, and persecution — all in anticipation of Judgment Day and the Second Coming.

    Not only this section but the whole of this address, beginning in v 1, has an eschatological timber, with such tones surfacing explicitly in vv 5 (Gehenna), 9 (“acknowledged before the angels of God”), and 33–34 (heavenly treasure). Throughout, Jesus has expounded on the theme of “vigilance in the face of eschatological crisis,” including as motifs vigilance with respect to persecution (vv 1–12), possessions (vv 13–35), and, now, more generally, faithfulness within the household of God. What is more, Jesus’ words to his disciples—“Do not be afraid … for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (v 32)—already applied to questions of security and material goods, are equally relevant to his present instruction on fidelity with respect to what “has been given” (v 48b).

    Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 497.

    Green nails it, in my view.

    [49-59] Luke provides no markers to signal a shift in audience or topic with the onset of this segment of Jesus’ lengthy discourse. Assuming coherence, then, we should inquire into how this material advances the overarching theme of vigilance in the face of eschatological crisis. This is not a difficult task. The immediately preceding discourse section had drawn to a close with a primary focus on the basis of future judgment in present watchfulness and fidelity. From those images of future judgment, Jesus now turns to the reality of judgment already at work in his ministry. The division accompanying his mission is itself both integral to his purpose for coming (vv 49–53) and a portent of eschatological judgment (vv 54–59). Interestingly, the two subunits of the present discourse segment, together with their paired faces of judgment, are made to overlay each other by the metaphorical play between images of fire and blazing heat (vv 49, 55) and between images of immersion and cloudburst (vv 50, 54), set in inverse parallelism.

    Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 508.

    49–53 The preceding images of severity (vv 46–48) may seem surprising, coming as they do from one who earlier characterized his ministry as “good news to the poor” (4:18; 7:22). Jesus dismisses any notions of incompatibility, however, insisting instead that it was to inaugurate judgment that he had come. In order to establish this motif, he refers both to metaphors and a sign of destruction. The first is the metaphor of fire, in this co-text clearly the fire of judgment, portended in such passages as 3:9, 17; 9:54. The image Jesus uses may recall the apparently quite different evaluation of his purpose in 2:14, where the angelic host announced not the casting of fire but the inauguration of peace “on the earth.” How these two images are to be correlated is an issue that Jesus seems to anticipate and will take up momentarily. The metaphor of “baptism” may also portend calamity and judgment;104 this reading is rendered plausible especially in light of the parallel reference to a cloudburst in v 54, since sudden rain in the desert areas of Palestine could lead to perilous flash flooding.

    Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), 508–509.

    So that’s a standard, respected commentary that has no problem with the metaphor.

    Jesus’ sayings about the coming crisis contain several OT allusions. Verse 49, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” echoes OT passages that speak of fire as a figure of judgment (Jer. 43:12; Ezek. 15:7; Hos. 8:14; Amos 1:4–14; 2:2, 5; Nah. 3:13; Zech. 13:9; Mal. 3:2–3; cf. 1 En. 18:15; 102:1; 2 Bar. 37:1; 48:39; 4 Ezra 13:10–11; Pss. Sol. 15:4–5; Jub. 9:15; 36:10; 1QHa XVI, 20; see Bock 1994–1996: 1192n6).

    G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007), 332.

    While Jesus came to bring salvation rather than judgment (Luke 4:19; John 3:17), his coming also meant judgment (John 9:39). A comparison with earlier teaching in Luke, however, suggests that “fire” means purification as well as judgment.

    Walter L. Leifeld, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke, 1984, 8, 968.

    Leifeld’s mistake is in forgetting that the way fire purifies is by burning off the dross. It’s like burning the chaff to leave the wheat or to melt the ore into metal and dross — and the dross is burned and thrown away. Hence, the biblical language, the fire of purification and the fire of judgment are the same thing.

  18. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Richard,

    In fact, the Bible does provide an age of accountability. It’s in the Torah. I challenge you to find it.

  19. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    PS — We assume “age of accountability” = “old enough to have faith in Jesus.” I’m not sure those are necessarily the same. I mean, they could be but just as a child can learn to understand and to speak at two different times, there’s no reason just to assume.

  20. Gary says:

    Jay, yes Cornelius was saved before hearing the Gospel because he was safe. How could he have been lost when God had chosen him to be the Gentile test case as it were for receiving Christian baptism and admission into Christ’s church? Given what we know in Acts 10 it’s inconceivable that Cornelius would have accidentally died before hearing the Gospel. I think we probably would agree that God would not have allowed that.

    More generally, if salvation is dependent on living long enough to hear the Gospel of Christ and accept Christ by faith in this life then salvation for most people in this world is like playing the lottery. Those lucky/blessed enough to be born in a country where they are likely to hear the Gospel would then have a far better chance of being saved than those born in Saudi Arabia or North Korea. That would effectively be a form of limited atonement. It would also be a case of God being a respector of persons or of nationalities. That is not the God who is revealed in Scripture.

  21. Gary says:

    One more thing Jay. A host of people leave this world having done more justice than injustice. When your time comes I feel sure you will be one of them. The justice done by most serious disciples of Jesus greatly outweighs the injustice they do. Yes we need to always be aware that we are sinners who will be saved only by the grace of God. But we also are only rational to recognize the justice that we do. We are a mixture of good and evil/sin. Once we intentionally begin to follow Jesus it is hard to envision many of us doing more injustice than justice, at least on an ongoing basis.

  22. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Gary wrote,

    Jay, yes Cornelius was saved before hearing the Gospel because he was safe. How could he have been lost when God had chosen him to be the Gentile test case as it were for receiving Christian baptism and admission into Christ’s church? Given what we know in Acts 10 it’s inconceivable that Cornelius would have accidentally died before hearing the Gospel. I think we probably would agree that God would not have allowed that

    I’ve been to enough revival meetings to know that it’s trains that kill people on the way to the baptistry. And there were no trains in those days. 😉 Chariots would really hurt but not likely to kill.

    (Acts 11:13-14 ESV) 13 And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; 14 he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’

    God promised Cornelius salvation. Hence, he was no save yet saved.

    I have no idea whether God preserved Cornelius against all mortal harm until Peter could preach to him, or God chose among the Gentiles then available Peter. The text doesn’t say. And I don’t buy Calvinistic predestination. So I’m inclined to believe that God chose Cornelius when he told Peter to go preach to Cornelius. But it’s unprovable.

    Next, you talk about the “available light” theory, which I’ll consider in future posts soon. However, let’s talk big picture. It is my view that that the saved are saved and the damned are damned — but that the damned will suffer finite punishment that is just and no more.

    The fate of the damned is the very definition of justice and fairness. There is no reason for the damned to live in eternal bliss with Jesus — and thinking that everyone deserves heaven is without scriptural warrant. And if they don’t deserve it, why condemn the idea of God refusing to give someone what he doesn’t deserve?

    No, the problem is not that God damns. It’s that God saves. There is no justification for this at all. Even harder is that God elects — not in the Calvinist sense but in the national-history sense. God elected Israel. Some in Israel responded and are saved. Some did not and they are damned. And the Gentiles were not elected. Rom 9 – 11 is clear, but so is Deuteronomy. And the Prophets. And Acts 17.

    I’ll have more to say on this subject as we go.

    “Available light” collapses as soon as you attempt to articulate a standard by which some are saved or some are damned. Is it faith? By assumption, they don’t know Jesus. Is it works? Read Galatians and Romans. Won’t work. So AL advocates quickly resort to criticizing contrary views but find themselves unable to fill in the blank — what is the standard if not faith in Jesus? What works just as well in non-gospel lands?

    This is why Universalism is more interesting. At least it can tell me how to know who goes to heaven.

  23. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Gary wrote,

    Once we intentionally begin to follow Jesus it is hard to envision many of us doing more injustice than justice, at least on an ongoing basis.

    You are very kind to suppose such a thing of me. But I just don’t think in those terms — not in decades. No longer trying to earn my way in and so I stopped keeping score. I remember the day.

  24. Gary says:

    Jay, Jesus no doubt spoke of the coming Judgment a number of times. We know from Matthew 25 that some will be embraced by Jesus at the Judgment (the saved) and others will be rejected (the lost). Our disagreement is about what happens to the lost after that Judgment.. You believe the lost will be eventually annihilated; I believe they will ultimately be reconciled to God through Christ. Both of our beliefs are opinions that cannot now be proven one way or the other. God will do what God will do. We can only imperfectly reason from what has been revealed to us in Scripture. So I’m not able to see how the passages and words of Jesus you mentioned settle the question or prove that the lost will be eventually annihilated.

    Regarding Cornelius the quotation from Acts 10 that speaks of the salvation of Cornelius in the future tense does not mean that Cornelius was not already safe in God’s sight. Salvation is past, present and future. The saved have been saved; we are being saved; and we will be saved. NT passages with each of the three perspectives exist. In one sense the saved have always been saved. In Acts 18:10 God tells Paul to not fear but continue his Gospel proclamation in a certain city because “I have many people in this city.” God refers there to those who will come to Christ as already being his people. Of course there are other passages that clearly speak of salvation as being received in the future.

    One passage with a future reference to salvation does not cancel the present and past realities of salvation. That was true for Cornelius and is true for all of us. Being obsessed with the precise moment of salvation is a venerable Church of Christ tradition. But it is not a matter that seemed important to the writers of the NT.

  25. Gary says:

    My acceptance of what you refer to as the available light doctrine only extends to how quickly perhaps one will experience salvation or, on the other hand, suffer punishment since I’m strongly inclined towards universalism. While I can’t prove universalism beyond a doubt I seriously can’t understand how God would annihilate the righteous of this world anymore than you can believe that God would punish them forever and ever in unending torment. God is just and I can’t understand how a just God would annihilate people who do follow faithfully the light available to them simply because they never had a real opportunity in this life to believe in Jesus. God certainly has the power to allow the lost to come to a saving faith even after this life. Why would a loving God not do that? Why would a loving God annihilate even those in this world whose alms and good works, like those of Cornelius, have ascended as a memorial before him?

  26. Richard constant says:

    I would assume that it is the cutoff age in the wilderness.

  27. Richard constant says:

    it seems to me your little afraid to make a call on that one too bud.
    Your just Trying to tell Us Something that’s not there.
    and the government Does. And for good reason to
    🙂

  28. Richard constant says:

    I don’t like tradition J
    if a child asked can I get baptized.
    mom and dad do you think I’m old enough to get baptized mom dad everybody else is getting baptized can I get baptized.
    the child is holy.
    In plain words.
    I didn’t ask to get baptized.
    I surprised everybody.
    I was 21.

  29. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Richard wrote,

    I would assume that it is the cutoff age in the wilderness.

    Eight days?

    (Sorry. Couldn’t help myself. 😉 )

  30. Monty says:

    It would seem we all have differing opinions about what a good God would do or not do when it comes to dealing with evil doers and with those who are not quite as bad evil doers. We all understand that God in order to be just must satisfy his justice by punishing the wicked who “know not God or obey not the gospel”, and no one should expect that God would punish a Hitler the same as a 20 yr. old who dies brought up in a good moralistic home where looking out after their neighbors was taught and modeled but they didn’t believe in Jesus. The problem is when we get to interjecting our feelings into something we can hardly grasp intellectually. As soon as we say this group or that group shouldn’t be punished based on external circumstances, like where they live,or available light and so forth we have left the realm of our finite human understanding and objectivity and we become like the parent of a child that commits some heinous crime who cries out for leniency based on the parents love for the child. The parent may even give an excuse or two for their child’s actions blaming it on their upbringing or lack thereof, but that hardly affects the work of the legal system when it comes to meeting out justice. It is pure sentimentalism. In some parent’s eyes nothing a child of theirs does meets the litmus test for justice that meets the crime committed. For some people nothing God does by way of punishing those who deserve punishing is going to meet their litmus test. God will only be good if he conforms to their sentimentality. We worry that God would somehow make a mistake like our legal courts do on occasions and punish someone who doesn’t deserve it. How foolish. As Jay says, “we all deserve to be punished” and that’s where any understanding of God’s grace, mercy, and yes, his justice, must begin.

  31. Gary says:

    Actually, Monty, the 12 year old girl whom Jay described in no way deserves to be punished. Do you honestly in your heart believe that she does deserve to be punished?

  32. Richard constant says:

    OK FOR YOU, JAY I’m TELLIN!
    THERE’S just something wrong about THAT
    answer.
    I could see what my kids say to me.
    Dad there’s just something Sick and Wrong with that answer!
    BOY OH BOY
    you have no idea how long I looked for the pencil sharpener on that one!
    a counter intuitive and an asymmetrical sense of humor that I didn’t expect.
    . just too much fun J…

  33. Richard constant says:

    J if you would please have a look at this.
    this just couldn’t mean what it says.
    Is that would make things just to simple.
    which follows into the deliverance that we’re going through today.
    which follows along with possibilities / probabilities of possibilities!
    probabilities of possibilities = Risk / doubt / Futility / peer pressure / anthropological ontology
    Possibilities… loving kindness

    Deuteronomy chapter 1 vs 34 -40
    compare to.
    Vs. 38 – 39
    give me a better explanation on that good and evil Will ya jay…
    I’m using the ESV.
    a blessing Jay .great morning in California just too much Sun, might go to the beach today.
    I mean I would have to drive 3 miles

    how do you spell blessings
    boy oh boy

  34. Monty says:

    Gary,

    It doesn’t really matter what I believe or you believe. We could both agree and both be totally wrong because we are trying to base justice and punishment on our limited views and limited knowledge of any imaginary person. Once you say God wouldn’t punish a 12 year old then what about a 13,14,15,16 yr old? Where does it stop? I think we both can agree that God (if he did punish the 12 yr. old, it would be the just thing to do)and if he chose to not punish her sin, it would be grace. Justice is a tough pill to swallow even when you are watching it be executed from the sidelines. What parent ever enjoyed spanking their 8 yr. old over some offense? “Far be it from God to punish the righteous with the wicked.” “Will not the judge of all the earth do right?” Of course he will. We can take that to the bank. No one slips into heaven and no one slips into ECT, or punishment and then annihilation(if that be the case) who shouldn’t be there, whether we comprehend the why or not.

  35. Richard constant says:

    J in reference to your post October 9th@ 7:49
    this is where you would use…
    Rom.
    4: 23,24 and 25, that’s too simple to me

  36. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    RC,

    Yes, you have dipped your toes in the doctrine of the age of accountability found in the Torah. But you’ve not yet found the AGE of accountability — only that there is one.

    (Deut. 1:39 ESV) 9 And as for your little ones, who you said would become a prey, and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil, they shall go in there. And to them I will give it, and they shall possess it.

    Clearly an allusion to Gen 2 and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

    Most interesting.

    Enjoy.

  37. buckeyechuck says:

    You said in your comments, “The context is one of warning to be ready for judgment. Which judgment? NT Wright is inclined toward 70 AD, and some of the passages fit, but not 42-48, which speaks of degrees of punishment.”

    Jay, where might I read about what N.T. Wright is saying about judgments and the focus of the Luke text being A.D. 70?

  38. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Buckeye Chuck,

    Jesus and the Victory of God, pp. 331, 640.

    Surprised by Hope, p. 138

    Luke for Everyone.

    Wright’s argument is that Jesus in speaking of the master returning is referring largely to himself as the presence of God returning to the Temple with warnings that often speak in terms of his immediate presence and look forward to 70 AD.

  39. Christopher says:

    With respect to the age of accountability, I have always found it interesting that the only Jews allowed into the promised land (besides Caleb and Joshua) were those under twenty years of age coming out of Egypt. Why not twelve or thirteen? Why does Jesus call the twelve year old female he raises from the dead a “little girl”? Recent medical research has shown that during the teenage years, a person’s brain undergoes more development than at any other time then his first couple of years. I have owned dogs that “known” that it is “wrong” to dig in the garbage can but do it nonetheless and “slink” away once they are discovered in the act. Are they guilty of “sin”? I have seen the two year old son of a deacon in church slap his twin brother to tears when he tried to “share” the other’s toy. Was he guilty of “sin”? At what point does one truly understand the consequences of his actions? Do teenagers, in that phase of life one preacher humorously called “temporary insanity”? Food for thought…

  40. Dwight says:

    Monty, I think you have a good sense of it. We aren’t the judge. God is and God will judge according to what is right and wrong within the context of His justness. We might not like the thought that someone young might be judged, but I don’t quite relish the thought of me being judged either as I know I am at the mercy of God even at my best. While there might be a cut off age, many mature faster than others and know things before others. God will probably take us case by case and not by matter of age. Otherwise those that are mentally incapacitated will be judged based on their age and not on their ability to understand.

  41. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Christopher,

    You are right that the Torah makes 20 the age of accountability. American law generally pegs the age from 18 to 21. The reasons you note regarding brain research match experience — teens have trouble seeing the consequences of their actions.

    We make a mistake, I think, when we assume that the age that someone can come to faith is the same as the age of accountability. It’s quite possible that the AOA is around 20 whereas a 12-year old can come to saving faith. Why not? Who says that the ability to have faith and being accountable are the same thing?

  42. Richard constant says:

    Someone finally found it huh.
    I would have put it up but I think after all the clues it would have been obvious I referred to it before but not in that perspective.
    more in the light of everyone was cut off because they weren’t circumcised and then had to be circumsized after their fAith, had been tried.
    So God counted this new generation as his people through circumcision because of the fathers that he had made a promise to.
    Joshua 5 :1 through 12
    and then thE covenant of conditional blessings and curses Joshua chapter 8:30-35 as Moses had spoken.
    one of the most important aspects of that covenant

  43. Gary says:

    I have continued to think about these issues. None of us can prove our position beyond doubt. God will do what God will do. But the more I ponder what God is likely to do with his children through Adam created in his own image, the more convinced I am that all will ultimately be reconciled to him. The principle of 2 Corinthians 8:12 is given in a context of giving but it is quite revealing as to what God expects of humankind and what God accepts from humankind. As I grow older my recall of Scripture is increasingly from the KJV which I cut my teeth on growing up. “For it is acceptable from a man according to what he has and not according to what he has not.” God does not hold against anyone what is not possible for that person. Those who die never having been exposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ will in the end be at no disadvantage as compared to those privileged to grow up in Christian homes.

    I take it as a given that God is at least as loving and forgiving and merciful as are we. That may sound like a strange thing to say but the nature of God that is implied in many conservative positions makes God out to be decidedly less loving and forgiving and merciful than we are. Who among us would annihilate the existence of our own children for all eternity no matter what they had done? That’s not to say that justice may not require even extensive punishment in some cases but eternal annihilation? Wouldn’t that be an admission of failure or a mistake on God’s part? It would definitely mean that God’s will will not be done in the end because we know that God is not willing that any should perish.

    No, I’m sticking with the nature of our God revealed in such passages as Psalm 30:5 where the psalmist confidently asserts that God’s anger is but for a moment but his favor is for a lifetime. Since the Jews before Daniel had no concept of life after death that was the same as saying that God’s favor lasts forever. How can God’s favor last forever if we take it as a given that the vast majority of those who have ever lived face a destiny of annihilation? That’s really just a kinder, gentler version of the old doctrine of everlasting torment.

  44. Christopher says:

    Gary,

    I think the position for which you are arguing depends on the premise that everyone, given enough time and discipline, would come to a lasting repentance and that this would happen even in the afterlife. If that is true, why cannot Satan and fallen angels repent as well? Do they, unlike us, have immortal souls? If so, can an immortal soul ever become or act consistently good after having done evil? Is is possible for a saved child of God, once in heaven, to commit evil? What happens then?

    I certainly understand you sentiments, but perhaps there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies (if I may paraphrase Shakespeare’ Hamlet on a CoC blog).

  45. Gary says:

    Christopher, for all we know even Satan and the fallen angels may ultimately be reconciled to God. But there is an intermediate position that I concede is possible. Perhaps there will be some who forever refuse God’s grace and are lost/annihilated. Even that possibility is light years away, however, from consigning all non-Christians in this life to a fate of annihilation. If Christ must be accepted in this life to be saved then what chance do those born into other faiths have? Salvation then is largely determined by the accident of where and in whose family one happens to be born. That would effectively be a form of limited atonement.

    I can’t get past how God’s nature figures into the fate of humankind. Take the millions of people suffering under the rule of ISIS. Some of them are Christians but most are Muslims. So their awful suffering in this life will be followed by annihilation in the next? Who among us would be so cruel? Isn’t God at least as compassionate as we are?

  46. Christopher says:

    Gary,

    I fully understand and empathize with your sentiments. Speaking metaphorically, with our rudimentary math skills, we are unable to comprehend – and much less perform – the calculus in judgment. Personally, I think it all relates to having and maintaining trust in a good and all-powerful God in spite of appearances to the contrary. It is the quandary of Job and Abraham and every other human being who has ever lived. We are all trying to figure that out, to arrive at some rationale to enable us to trust – just as Abraham did. Talk about facing a logical contradiction: he was commanded to sacrifice his son through whom he was to become the father of many nations. Not only that but, to almost any loving parent (as Abraham surely was), the idea of filicide must seem an abhorent and monstrous evil. Who would ask such a thing to be done?

    The difference between Abraham and us, however, is that he had a personal history of seeing God work miraculously and lovingly toward him. Most of us don’t have that; we mostly have words on a page. And a lot of us (like me) didn’t have very good fathers as children, were abused sexually or physically or emotionally, maybe were born with a genetic defect, acquired some horrific disease, had good parents who were murdered or died early in life, were raised in awful circumstances (like in the inner cities in America or in Cambodia during Pol Pot’s reign), had siblings die in accidents and so on and so forth. We absorb that alright as children, but great damage is nevertheless done to our psyches. And then we grow up learning or hearing a bunch of false doctrines (like people being condemned to an eternity of torment) and it makes it real hard to see God as being good. A great and powerful king, yes – but good? Not so easy.

    One of the hypotheses I have entertained and floated here is that God allows Himself in some ways to appear evil in order to test our faith. And that gets back to the original temptation of Adam and Eve, in which Satan makes God out to be evil (secretly withholding good things from them and even lying to them). That’s the dilemna Job faced. And Abraham. And Israel, when it came out of Egypt. And many of Jesus’ disciples when He told them they must eat His flesh and drink His blood. Indeed, what is the one sin that will never be forgiven? Saying God has an evil spirit. Why? Because it offends Him so much? No. Because who will be won over to God and have lasting repentance thinking God is a bad father?

    Maybe that’s Satan’s problem: he cannot believe God is truly good. And he’s working very hard to ensure none of us do, either. The only way out of this for each of us I think is the path of Abraham. We develop some history of trust with God through obedience and His answers to our prayers and we come up with a rationale (as we are doing here) to accept apparent discrepancies. That’s why blogs like this one can be so helpful.

    Just my two cents worth…

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