Good Morning Jay,
First, I apologize for taking so long to get back to you. It has been busy here. I have read your articles, however, and I agree with much of what you say. In fact, I thought your presentation was excellent.
Clearly, you and I agree on the nature of final punishment. Immortality is conditional, thus for one who is lost to be tortured everlastingly, that person must be MADE immortal by God for that very purpose. In other words, his punishMENT will be eternal LIFE in misery. God doesn’t promise LIFE to those who are lost, He promises DEATH. The degrees of the punishING, I believe, deal well with the great divide between people like Hitler and those who may have rejected the Lord, but who still lived decently (for a worldly perspective) with those about them.
If I have understood Leroy correctly (and I admit I may not have), he seems to take the view that all are SAVED initially, and that they become LOST at the point they reject whatever light God has given them. Leroy wrote: “Therefore, every one is of the elect, and everyone will be saved in heaven – except those who reject such a salvation, or reject God’s light in some other form.” I would differ with Leroy on this point, and approach it from the other perspective: everyone is initially LOST (with the exception, of course, of those who have not yet reached the point of personal accountability), and that those who respond to the available light given them, and seek to order their lives thereby, will be SAVED. In the end, we both arrive at the same point: most will be lost, few will be saved. However, I think we have to BEGIN with the fact, as you yourself pointed out, that ALL have sinned and fall short of God’s expectations. Thus, it truly IS by grace we have been saved, with our FAITH responding to that grace. I don’t think we can begin with a premise of universal salvation that must be relinquished, but rather universal lostness that has been addressed by a gracious God for those who respond in faith to what light they have been given.
Jay, where I would tend to disagree with you is in thinking that Conditionalism (and the view you and I take of the nature of final punishment) adequately addresses the problem of those who have never had the opportunity of being shown the greater Light that you and I have. In your final statement you say, “But I think, in the end, conditionalism is a better, more scriptural solution.” I would agree that it is a better solution to the question of what will happen to those who are not saved. However, it doesn’t even address the matter of whether or not one MIGHT be saved apart from hearing of Jesus. Indeed, it assumes that all who have not heard of Him are LOST, and since they are ALL LOST, this way of destroying them is humane enough to ease our minds.
The poor, humble man who lived in the depths of the Amazon stands before God one day, and God says, “Why weren’t you baptized?” “What is baptism?” he asks. A series of other questions follow: why didn’t you confess Jesus as your Lord? Who is Jesus? This man lived his entire life not even knowing there were other humans. His whole world was his little tribe in his little part of the Amazon. However, he had seen the goodness of the Great Spirit in sending fish for him to eat, sending rain for his crops, and so he sought to live in just such a loving, benevolent manner with others — sharing his food with the widow whose husband died, seeing that her children were fed, trying to mediate when conflict arose between tribesmen, etc. So what does God do for this man who sought to the best of his ability to follow that light he perceived? He just KILLS HIM QUICKER!
Jay, the real question isn’t: How will God punish those deserving of punishment? Conditionalism does indeed address this well, and shows a God who is fair. The real question we must face is: Is it just possible that SOME may be saved who have never heard of Jesus, and, if so, upon what basis will they be given LIFE. Your solution is to address how those deserving of death will die; the real issue, though, is about LIFE, and to whom God extends it. Is life ONLY for those few in the history of the past 2000 years who have actually heard the Good News (received the greater light), or is it just possible that SOME who have not will still be saved? And if the answer to this is YES, then upon what basis are they saved?
I believe God has addressed that question in Scripture, which I sought to convey in my article “Grace and the Caveman” (and which Leroy has also addressed). God will judge HEARTS, and the response of those hearts to what God has given them in the way of a revelation of Himself. He has revealed Himself in many ways, the greatest of which, of course, is in His Son. But, as Romans 1-2 points out, He can be perceived in lesser revelations as well. Those who seek to the best of their ability and opportunity to live according to that available light will be judged by God according to how they responded to what they HAD, not according to what they did NOT have (a principle Paul even speaks of in his writings to the Corinthians). Jay, you even seem to agree: “I agree that God judges men by available light. We aren’t condemned for sins we can’t even know are sins. I think that much is clearly true. I agree that those who obey as much of God’s will as they know will be saved. That’s true, too. I just think that no one satisfies this test.
You are correct, brother!! No matter WHAT light is available to us (even the great light of the Gospel), NOBODY measures up. None are righteous, Paul says; ALL have sinned and are worthy of death … regardless of the level of revelatory light. And that applies to US as well. The solution is GRACE!!! Both for the “caveman” as well as for US. It is by GRACE we have been saved through FAITH, not of ourselves (works) lest any man should boast (Eph. 2). God will judge HEARTS. How have you (or they) responded to what has been given? Did you seek to live in the light given to you? Did we do so PERFECTLY? Of course not. But, His grace covers those who sought with all their hearts to do so.
Such grace is available to all men, even those with lesser opportunity and understanding than we have. Yes, to those of us who have been given more, more is expected. To those who have been given less, less is expected. But unto EACH there IS an expectation of God that we abide in the light given to the best of our understanding and ability. To those who do (and such will always only be a remnant), salvation will be extended by our merciful God.
I hope this helps clarify a few points, Jay. I really appreciate you, brother. May God richly bless you. Have a wonderful day!!
[My profound thanks to Al. Although we remain in disagreement, it’s wondrous to be disagreed with in such a courteous and loving manner. And there’s a valuable lesson in that. You see, unity comes not from agreeing on difficult doctrines such as available light. Unity comes from grace and faith in Jesus. And it’s just so refreshing to be disagreed with without being personally attacked or condescended to. We can all learn a lot from my brother Al. — Jay]