Sarah Moon and unmerciful #universalism

A week ago, ex-evangelical blogger Sarah Moon wrote a post titled: “When my abuser is welcome at the table, I am not,” taking aim at the presumptuousness with which some progressive Christians champion a table where everyone is welcome. A friend had told Moon that she should be grateful Jesus died for the man who raped her and she should accept him as her fellow forgiven sinner. Though Moon wasn’t necessarily writing about life after death, the pain she shares illustrates the problem with universalism. Wouldn’t God be lacking in mercy for the victims of abuse to force them to spend eternity in communion with their abusers?

A couple of years ago, I read two important books that have done a lot to shape how I think about heaven and hell. They were Miroslav Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace and Hans Boersma’s Hospitality, Violence, and the Cross. Both of these works argue that God has a duty to those who have put themselves under the protection of His mercy to keep them safe from those who would harm them. God must exclude in order to embrace.

As the host of a colossal party for all of humanity, God’s goal is for every guest to be perfectly welcome. The problem is that in order to have a perfectly hospitable space, sin cannot be welcome because sin creates an inhospitable environment. This means that people who have locked themselves into a defiant self-justification of their sin cannot be welcome for the sake of those who would be hurt by their sin.

Obviously, it wouldn’t be hospitable for God to allow brawls to break out on the dance floor in heaven. But what about gossip and snubs and evil eyes and the saccharine malicious banter that Southern Belles are so good at? Will it really be a place where everyone is welcome if God unconditionally accepts any of these “civilized” forms of wickedness that make people cry and want to leave the party early?

Somehow I will have to be transformed so that all my sardonic, condescending thoughts about other people that arise from my insecurity are simply wiped out, leaving me a genuinely good-natured person instead of someone who makes spiteful cynical assumptions about genuinely good-natured people. The word that’s used in the Bible for the radical transformation that I need is glorification.

The universalists are basically saying that God will glorify everyone into genuinely good-natured people, whether they want to be or not. So it would essentially be a spiritual lobotomy. I don’t think that God is going to make such a unilateral dictatorial move on us after a lifetime of letting us decide to what degree we will trust Him and follow His will. If someone has been lobotomized into “niceness” by God, how is that person even a real person? How is that any different than those scary movies like Pleasantville in which people are basically robots of good-naturedness?

I don’t think God will force glorification on us; I think He will glorify people who want to be glorified. And to want to be transformed in that kind of way, you need to know that you’re not okay just the way you are. The way that I became okay with the fact that I’m not okay is because Jesus gave me a cross where I can take my sins whenever they are brought to my attention.

If I didn’t have a means of dealing with my sin, I wouldn’t face it. I would just come up with spin-doctored explanations of my interactions with other people that preserve my infallibility at all costs. I’m still a cantankerous, inhospitable person even though I know that Jesus has won victory over my sins; I can’t imagine what a jerk I would be if I didn’t know that.

I haven’t studied other religions like Buddhism or Islam in any real depth. I don’t really have time to do so. Perhaps they have a means of preparing the human heart to be purged of the sinful dispositions that would make us rotten party guests at God’s eternal gala. I don’t know. I do know that the taste of freedom I’ve received from Jesus’ cross makes me ache for the day when God will burn off everything that makes me an obstacle to the welcome that He wants others to experience at His party. And I feel confident that God cares deeply about victims of abuse like Sarah Moon and He is absolutely committed to making His table a safe place for them, even if it means that some people get left out of the party.

None of us have the authority to tell anybody else who they’re supposed to forgive, in what way, and under what terms. I do not have the authority to declare redemption and reconciliation over abusers who have done horrible things to other people. Only the one who was raped by Roman nails has the authority to do that, and He doesn’t love abusers more than their victims. So I’m not sure that a sinner’s prayer or any other supposedly guaranteed hand-stamp forces Jesus to let you into His party with the people that you hurt.

The flippancy with which evangelicals understand “getting saved” reveals how profoundly Protestant ethics has been damaged by our lack of a sacrament of penance. There are plenty of supposedly “born-again” Christians who don’t look anything like Galatians 5:22 fruit. Though I don’t have the authority to say they can’t go to God’s party, I don’t have the right to proof-text verses from Romans at God if He shuts some of them out.

All that being said, I don’t think it’s wrong to hope that in some ridiculously wonderful way, God can transform everyone into whatever they need to be so that nobody is unwelcome at His party. The closer we grow to Christ, the more fervently we should pray for God’s reconciliation and healing for all people, though we should never presume to declare with certainty what can never be more than an absurd hope. One thing I trust with much greater certainty based on the promises of scripture is that God will do whatever it takes to make His table safe for everyone: every victim of rape, torture, abuse, murder, or any other horror. He will not betray those who have put their trust in His mercy.

49 thoughts on “Sarah Moon and unmerciful #universalism

  1. I am so thankful for Mirslov’s work “Exclusion and Embrace,” It really helped me heal and bring some forgiveness to my oppressors. I don’t have to have “trolls” in my inner-circle, but I can offer them some love. if love covers a multitude of sins, and it covered my crazy ass, then I hope it will cover all those who hurt me, too.

  2. How bout we look at Jesus’ wedding feast parables?

    Luke 14:15-23
    Matthew 22:1-14

    People are excluded. I’m not excited about that or even suggesting that I’m not one of them. Its just clearly there in the text. Granted, the whole wedding feast parable and those excluded may not be about after-life at all. More than likely its about the Messianic Age, and Jesus is making a subtle jab at those who think they’re fine because they’re physical descendants of Abraham.

    Either way, it demonstrates that the Host doesn’t let some get in even though they were invited and I believe that is a principle about His nature and and character that we can pick up on throughout scripture and church history of scriptural interpretation.

    Using the Wes. Quadrilateral we could say Christian Universalism may have reason on it side, but it’s VERY weak church history (Yes, I know Origen and Gregory), and the weakest of after life position scripturally (if we were to just list off proof texts for each position), and we can scrub personal experience because..unless your a full preterist, the day of judgement hasn’t occurred and no one has gone to the lake of fire or entered into everlasting life with their resurrected body and come back to talk about.

    • It’s both radically inclusive (he goes to the highways to gather guests) and exclusive (he throws out the guy who didn’t wear a tux).

    • But where in those parables does it say that they will be excluded forever? Certainly not in Luke. As well in Matthew it says that they will have age abiding CORRECTION (aionos is better translated as ages, and this is how the early Greek Christians understood the word).

      In the Matthew text is uses the words aionos Kolasis. Aionos means ages (and the Bible when read in context FORCES it to mean ages), and Kolasis means correction, not punitive punishment, or better yet pruning, as in the pruning of a tree to take away the bad and leave the good.

      So therefore the goats will have age-abiding correction in the lake of fire, while the sheep will have age-abiding life in the City of God. Once all of the goats repent and enter into the city of God, Jesus will have fulfilled his mission, he will give over his reign to God and God will be all in all.

      Plus, in regards to church history, some of the earliest church painting show Jesus carrying the goats on his shoulders, in other words he’s saving the goats as well.

      The church history isn’t as weak as you might think. There’s not only Gregory of Nyssa and Origen, but also Gregory Nanzianus, Macrina the Younger, Didymus the Blind, Clement of Alexandria, John Scottus and the list goes on. These were founding fathers that, in some cases, helped to decide on the scriptures, gave us the doctrine of the Trinity, and were integral to the Nicene Creed. In fact Basil the great, in his writings, said the most people in his time believed that there would be an end to the punishments. Augustine, the first to dogmatically teach eternal hell, said in his writings that most people of his time believed in UR, and called them “tender hearted doctors”, but he did acknowlege that they views didn’t block them from being orthodox, to his mind.

      Plus. The original Greeks were largely believing in ultimate reconciliation AND THEY THOUGHT AND READ IN THE GREEK LANGUAGE THAT THE BIBLE WAS WRITTEN IN.

      It wasn’t until the Bible entered into the Latin language that UR was largely lost, especially after Augustine used philosophy to try and understand what the word aionos means, getting it different from how the Greek Christians, and other Greek writers, understood the word. Augustine, in his writings, also got various other words wrong, such as translating bassinosos as “torment” when it is better translated as something like “testing with a touchstone”.

      Evidence points to the fact that MOST Christians before Augustine believed in UR. It was something that was lost in the Western church, but there have always been hints of it in the Eastern Church, and it can be found in the Syrian, and especially the Ethiopian Orthodox church. Still to this day.

      This thought of saying that UR has the weakest defense scripturally, is quite simply not true. The various texts that SEEM to be teaching eternal hell can easily be shown to not be referring to that. The various texts that teach UR are rock solid and really can’t be refuted.

      The Lake of fire is not everlasting. In Revelation it says that Jesus will be reigning for the ages (aionos) of the ages (aionos). In 1 Corinthians 15 it says that Jesus will eventually be giving up his reign. If Jesus is eventually giving up his reign, then he won’t be reigning eternally, so therefore the aionos of the aionos as mentioned in Revelation cannot mean the eternities of the eternities (as if eternities of the eternities even makes sense) but must be reigning for the ages of the ages.

      So therefore the Lake of Fire is burning for the ages of the ages, not the eternities of the eternities, and simply can’t be burning eternally.

      Plus, as I touched on earlier, Revelation says that people will walk into the City of God. By that time the only people who are not in the City of God are those who are in the Lake of Fire, so the people who are walking into the City of God are coming out of the Lake of Fire.

      Go research UR some more, read up on it and study it. Once one is truly educated on the subject often end up believing in UR, as it has an incredibly strong scriptural foundation (I’d say unbreakable.) Not to mention what Holy Spirit is saying.

      UR is making a comeback in our day, largely because of the spread of understanding and knowledge through the internet. The internet is becoming like the printing press in the reformation.

      • I did notice how the “kings of the Earth” enter into the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21:24. https://morganguyton.wordpress.com/2013/05/05/the-kings-of-the-earth-and-the-new-jerusalem-revelation-2124/. Revelation simply isn’t a systematic, coherent vision. If it were there wouldn’t have been any kings of Earth by that point because the Earth’s population had been decimated two or three times over. I also notice in 22:14 where it says, “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” Taken at face value, this passage seems to suggest a baptismal “washing of robes” that could occur *after* the New Jerusalem is established. To be fair, the “open gates” in the context that it’s seems more like a reference to the general safety of the city (there will be no more need to keep bandits out) as opposed to its openness to outsiders.

      • Also when Jesus said “age abiding correction” that means that they will be corrected. One that is corrected and repentant IS safe to be at the table with others.

      • I think a referene to the general safety of the City is accurate. people can’t come in until they are repentant and cleansed. It’s clear the the Gates are always open for them. It also says that the people in the City of God are to be reigning for the ages (aionos) of the ages (aionos). Once again if Jesus will be subjecting all to God, and then giving up his reign, that means that those reigning in the City of God will not be reigning forever, which adds argument to the idea that aionos can’t refer to eternities of the eternities, but must refer to the ages of the ages.

        The Kings of the Earth are mentioned throughout Revelation, and are the big bad guys throughout the whole text. But then at the end of the book we see their restoration.

        A agree that Revelation isn’t a systematic coherent vision. But it certainly doesn’t teach eternal torments as many say. The opportunity for repentance in the afterlife IS in the text.

  3. There are a couple of false arguments here. As to the idea of fairness to good people related to Hitler. If Hitler was to spend eternity in hell for rejecting Jesus, then that would mean that a great many of the Jews he was responsible for torturing and murdering would as well. Where’s the justice FOR THEM? Also. What about if one of Hitlers henchmen would repent before he dies. That would mean that this man would bet into heaven, and the Jews he tortured and murdered would spend forever in hell. Where’s the justice to that.

    Where’s the justice in the idea that many people reject Christianity partially because of abuses, ingnorance and cruelty found amongst Christians. If Christians have a part to play in people’s rejection of God, and we do , otherwise the Bible wouldn’t say for us to be witnesses, then where is the justice in that.

    As well. Christians that believe in Ultimate Reconciliation aren’t really progressive in a certain sense, but rather regressive. Back to the early church where a great many Christians believed in UR, including prominent fathers that helped to define the Bible, the doctrine of the Trinity, and the Nicene Creeds. Gregory of Nyssa being one of these, who has always been held in the highest esteem by the church.

    Also. When it comes to free will, people seem to forget that God stands outside time and has known the future. God knows whether or not everyone will eventually come to him in their free will. Thus we can have the ultimate reconciliation texts in the Bible, because God knows that everyone will eventually repent. And by the way. There are MANY ultimate reconciliation texts in the Bible that CANNOT be disproven. The texts that seem to refer to eternal hell can easily be shown to not be referring to this.

    The vast majority of people who believe in UR believe that there WILL be a correction in the afterlife for sin. They just believe that this correction is restorative and not and endless pointless punitive vengeance. They believe that it will be TRUE justice.

    All throughout the Bible punishment has a definate limit, including in the New Testament where Jesus mentions on of the biggest sins of all, worth his mentioning, being unforgiveness. In this he says that the person will be thrown to the jailers UNTIL his crime is paid in full. The word until in Jesus saying means that once the persons crime is paid in full the punishment will end.

    If one was to add up every sin a person made, it would not equal an eternal punishment according to God’s view of justice.

    There are many books coming out that give an in depth study of Ultiame Reconciliation.

    A couple I would Recommend.

    Her Gates Will never be shut – by Bradley Jersak.

    the Christian Universalist by Gregory Mcdonald.

    One one seriously studies this, they will find out that the great many Christians before Augustine (who was the first Christian to dogmatically teach hell, hundreds of years after Christ) believed in UR, and that it has an INCREDIBLY strong Biblical foundation.

    • Regarding your first paragraph, I agree that the nihilistic infinite perfectionist God of evangelicalism is a perverse caricature that isn’t even Biblical. The key difference in my position is that I don’t think God’s “justice” is based on His “honor” abstracted from the concerns of His creatures. God’s justice is always something He enacts out of solidarity with His creatures. I don’t think it does anything positive for the victims of sin to see their abusers tortured eternally, but I also can see where someone like Sarah Moon is coming from. We don’t know what will happen. I’m okay with hoping for UR, but not with asserting it as irrefutable fact.

  4. I remember feeling a bit “wrong” when I first read of Jeffrey Dahmer and how he accepted Jesus on death row. You almost want someone like that to be beyond grace. But then I realize that if Dahmer is not beyond grace, no one is beyond grace. Or guilt that leads to repentance.

    Hope. For everyone. And for the abused, I think Heaven is big enough to have them somewhere where they can heal.

    • I guess the way I see it is God is always willing. The danger is for us to become so hardened that we’re basically immunized against God’s love.

      • I just wonder if that really is possible though…to become so hardened…maybe in this life..but the next, where the presence of God will be completely immediate. I dunno it just doesn’t make sense to me, but I could be wrong.

  5. This question is a difficult one but I think that is why Jesus says there is nobody who is good but God. In other words, we are all the murderers, rapists, etc. So while someone may have sinned against us, we sinned against others. That is why we need Jesus’ righteousness in order to get a seat at the table. None of us deserve to be there so we can’t judge God for why some are there and some are not.

    I really wish Universalism was true. But the bible makes it pretty clear it is not.

    • The Bible actually doesn’t. If you go study UR you’ll find out that the Bible in its original languages teaches UR and that the majority of Greek speaking Christians, who read the Bible in its original languages, believed in UR.

      Look into it. There is much to read on the subject that will prove UR to be true.

      • It would be helpful to see what verses you identify as support for your view. Romans 11:32 is one that comes to mind for me. I’m not unsympathetic to it, but I’m unwilling to go whole-hog with it.

      • I’ll throw out a couple of texts. I’d note that this is only a brief look. There is so much more that could be written.

        In the Gospels Jesus says that he will “Drag all mankind to himself”. In the original languages this is all mankind, not “the elect” that Calvinists would like to say.

        In Act 3 it talks about the covenant with Abraham. In this covenant God has promised father Abraham that he will bring all of their seed out of their wickedness. All of Abraham’s seed is EVERYONE. God has covenanted to bring everyone out of their wickedness, which would mean a true conversion.

        In 1 Corinthians 15:22 it says: “For even as in Adam ALL are dying, thus also in Christ shall ALL be made alive.” All that died in Adam will be made alive in Christ.

        Now I know that this text has been debated, but was is absolutely undebatable is the text below it. 1Corinthians 15 “For he must be reigning until he should be placing ALL OF HIS ENEMIES UNDER HIS FEET”……. For He subjects ALL under his feet…… Now whenever All shall be subjected to him the son himself shall also be subjected to him, Who subjects ALL to Him that God may be ALL in ALL.

        So here we see that ALL of God’s enemies will be subjected to God, and that this is the same subjection by which Jesus will be subjected. Which means that it is obviously a loving subjection.

        If ALL of God’s enemies are subjected to God in a loving subjection, then WHOSE LEFT?

        Now. With this idea of subjection of enemies, I’ll go to Hebrews 10:12 – 13

        “Yet This One , when offering once sacrifice for sins is seated to a finality at the right hand of God, waiting furthermore till His ENEMIES may be placed as a footstool for His feet…..”

        When one looks at Hebrews 2 they see that this bit about enemies subjected underneath Christ’s feet is mentioned there.

        Hebrews 2: 7 – 8 – “With glory and honour thou wreathest him, and dost place him over the works of Thy hands. ALL does thy SUBJECT UNDER HIS FEET, For in the subjection of ALL to him He leaved NOTHING unsubject to Him.”

        So her we again see that Jesus will subject all to God, and that nothing will remain unsubjected to Him. That doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for doubt.

        Now. Continuing with this idea of subjection there is

        Ephesians 1:22 – And subjects ALL under his feet and gives Him as Head over ALL, to the ecclesia, which is his body the complement of the one complement the ALL in ALL.

        It’s important to note here that the ALL mentioned here ISN’T the ecclesia. The ecclesia being the Christians. So the ALL that he’s talking about being subjected are not the Christians. Therefore it is ALL of humanity.

        Then there is the business about the Lake of Fire and the city of God. What people that teach eternal hell miss, is that the lake of Fire, in the original languages, is burning for the ages of the ages, not for the eternities of the eternities.

        But it then later talks about people walking into the City of God, AFTER the Christians are in there. Where are they coming from, if not the Lake of Fire. By this time people have been separated into the City of God and the Lake of fire.

        the “Lake of fire “and the “City of God”

        Revelation 21:1

        “…. and I perceived a new heaven and a new earth for the former heaven has passed away and the sea is no more. And I perceived the Holy City Jerusalem descending out of heaven from God.

        Revelation 21: 22

        For the city has no need for the sun and the moon.

        So from this one knows that Christians are placed into the City of God (or are the city of God) in a future time, after the earth as we know it has been destroyed and the sun and moon are no more.

        We also know from Rev. 20: 13 – 15 ,that the unrepentant in this life, are at this time in the lake of fire.

        So at this point the goats have been separated from the sheep.

        But now, look at Rev 21: 23 – 27. this text clearly says that people will walk into the City of God (being Christians), which exists at a time after the heaven and Earth have been destroyed and the sun and moon are no more. Which means that people will be able to, and will be, walking into the City of God in the afterlife.

        As well, by this time there are only two camps of people, being the goats in the lake of fire, and the sheep in the heavenly city. Those who believe in eternal hell believe this.

        So with this in mind my question is who are the people walking into the City in Rev 21; 24 – 25 and where are they coming from. They of course have to be coming from the “lake of fire” because at this point it is the only other place that is left. People can’t be walking from the City of God into the City of God.

        Rev 21: 27 says that no one will walk into the City except those who are written in the Lambskin’s scroll of life, and we know that one gets written into the scroll of life when they repent and become a Christian. So therefore those who are judged and thrown into the lake of fire, not having been written in the scroll of life, will eventually be written into this scroll upon repentance and will walk into the City of God in righteousness, seeing as Rev. 21: 29 says that no evil – doers will be allowed into the city.

        References to Isaiah in Rev. 21

        In the New Testament there are many references to the Prophet Isaiah, which usually highlight some prophecy that was fulfilled by Jesus. Matthew’s gospel frequently demonstrated how Jesus became the fulfillment of Isaiah’s messianic prophecies, however the other Apostles frequently quoted from Isaiah, as did Paul who did so more frequently than Matthew.

        With the exception of the book of Psalms, no other Old Testament book is quoted or referred to more times in the New Testament than Isaiah. Thirty one of Isaiahs’s sixty – six chapters are quoted in the New Testament. The favourite chapter of Isaiah is Isaiah 53, which prophesies of the suffering servant of Messiah, being Jesus Christ.

        The favourite use of Isaiah by Matthew, as he quoted from this book, began with “That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying……” This phrase was used to introduce verses from Isaiah giving prophetic evidence for Jesus.

        As well Isaiah 40:3 is used in all four gospel accounts as both a prophecy about the prophet Johns ministry and a deeper teaching on what he was saying when he said “perpare ye the way of the lord” (Mathew 3:3)

        In Matthew 13: 14 – 15 Jesus specifically referred to Isaiah 6: 9 – 10 in his teaching.

        In Jesus teaching on Jerusalem and the last days he borrowed some phrases from Isaiah 13:10 about the sun being darkened and the moon not giving her light as one of the signs of the times (Matthew 24:29; Mark 13: 24.)

        In summary in the New Testament writers had a tradition of using the prophecies in Isaiah. Jesus used Isaiah passages as he taught, referencing quotes to support and verify his teachings. The New Testament writers also showed that the Isaiah texts were prophetic in regards to aspects of Christ and his kingdom.

        Possibly one of the New Testament texts that has the most references to Isaiah is
        Rev: 21.

        Now read Isaiah 61 and you will surely notice that these scriptures are using the exact same language and context as Rev: 21. Isaiah 61 is talking about the nations that have been judged in the “day of the lord” which is mentioned in Isaiah 13. As touched on before the Isaiah text is a deeper teaching on the Revelation text that references it.

        Have a look at how Rev. 21 references Isaiah 61

        Rev 21: 23 – 27

        And the nations shall be walking by means of it’s light, and the kings of the earth are carrying their glory into it.

        Isaiah 61: 1- 3

        Arise – shine For thy light has come. And the Glory of Yahweh on you (Jerusalem) has beamed. For lo! Darkness covered the earth, And deep gloom the people – But on you beams Yahweh, And his glory on you is seen. So shall nations come to your light And Kings to the brightness of your dawning.

        Rev. 21

        And it’s gates should under no circumstances be locked by day; for there shall be no night there. And they shall be carrying the glory and the honour of the nations into it.

        Isaiah 61: 11

        So will your gates be open continually. Neither day nor night shall they be shut – That they may bring unto you the riches of the nations, and their kings be led.

        Rev 21:

        And I perceived the Holy city, new Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.

        Isaiah 61: 14

        Then shall come unto you, bending low The sons of them who had humbled you. Then shall bow down, unto the soles of your feet, All they who had despised you – And they shall call you (Jerusalem) the city of Yahweh.

        Rev 21:

        And the city has no need of the sun nor of the moon, that they should be appearing in it, for the glory of God illuminates it, and it’s lamp is the Lambkin.

        Isaiah 61:18

        Violence shall no more be heard in you land, Wasting nor destruction within your boundaries, – But you will call your walls victory and your gates praise. You will no more have the sun for light by day, Neither for brightness will the moon give light to you, – but Yahweh will become your age – abiding light. And God your adorning. Nor more shall go in you sun, Nor your moon withdraw itself, – For Yahweh will become to you, an age-abiding light, So shall be ended the days of you mourning. And your people shall all of them be righteous………That I may get myself glory.

        Here we see that Rev 21 makes nearly exact references to Isaiah 61 and Isaiah 61 is talking about the nations coming into the city through the gates that are always open, upon repentance after being judged. Therefore this is the meaning for text in Rev 21.

        As well here is a prophetic statement in the Psalms.

        Psalm 118: 19 – 21

        Yah chastened me sore, But unto death did not deliver me.

        Open to me the gates of righteousness, I will enter therein, I will give thanks unto Yah. This is the gate for Yahweh, Such as are righteous shall enter therein, I will thank you because you have answered me, And have become my salvation.

        Rev: 21

        And the nations shall be walking by means of it’s light, and the kings of the earth are carrying their glory into it. And it’s gates should under no circumstances be locked by day; for there shall be no night there. And they shall be carrying the glory and the honour of the nations into it, and under no circumstances may anything contaminating, or one who is making an abomination and a lie be entering into it, except those written in the Lambkins scroll of life.

        It is clear from this, that Revelation 21 is talking about the people of the nations repenting and walking into the City of God (New Jerusalem) after being judged in the “lake of fire”.

        This shows a fulfillment of the promise that God covenanted with Abraham.

        There are also references in the other prophetic books in regards to walking into the city through it’s gates, being related to repentance after judgement.

        God has covenanted himself to the human race through Abraham, and in this covenant he will not give up on us or forsake us, and he will not fail us.

      • As well I’d note Hebrews 8:10 – 13

        “For this is the COVENANT which I shall be covenanting with the house of ISRAEL…. … And I shall be to them for a God, and they shall be to Me for a people…….For ALL shall be acquainted with me. From their little to their great. For I shall be propitious to their injustices And of their sins and their lawlessnesses should I under no circumstances still be reminded.”

        Notice that this covenant was made with the house of Israel, not individuals. In Acts the Christians discover that Christ’s death was for the gentiles as well as the Jews. So what we have here is a covenant, promising that ALL shall be acquainted with God, and that their sins are taken away.

        So now there are two covenantal promises in place. The Abrahamic covenant that humanity will be taken away from their wickedness, and the New Covenant, whereby all humanity will be acquainted with God.

        These are blood covenants. God WILL fulfil them.

      • Here’s some more on the book of Romans.

        I’ll start with.

        A look at the use of All in Romans.

        Romans 3: 21 – 24

        Yet now, apart from law, a righteousness of God is manifest (being attested by the law and the prophets), yet a righteousness of God through Jesus Christ’s faith, for All, and on All who are believing for there is no distinction, for All sinned and are wanting of the glory of God. Being justified gratuitously in His grace, through the deliverance which is in Christ Jesus.

        The book Hell Yes/ Hell no by John Noe, PH.D. says the following.

        What possibly might be the proverbial “800 – pound gorilla” in this area of argumentation and one that just might tip the scales in the Christian Universalist’s favour is Paul’s parallelism in romans 3: 23 – 24. Notably, it comes first in his epistle and sets the precedent. Most significantly, Paul’s “all” here is only mentioned once. It is the singular subject of his entire statement. However, the same two consequences, results, and conclusions apply to this singular “all” group. And since Scripture cannot contradict Scripture and assuming Paul is consistent, the force of this singular “all” in this verse must override any divergent or dichotomous interpretation or understanding arising from his dual use of “all(s)” later on – as being two different groups – i.e., one inclusive and one exclusive. In my opinion, this precedent-setting verse cannot be stressed too strongly. What a critical function this singular “all verse performs. But if Paul’s dualistic use of “all(s)” in five later verses are two different subject groups – one inclusive and one exclusive, then Romans 3: 23-24 is not only contradictory, it’s a false statement.

        Now that this precedent has been mentioned I’ll move on to one of the most contested ALL texts, that also quite possibly makes the clearest ultimate reconciliation statement. Romans 5: 12 – 21

        First a look at this text in the light of the “high jump format” as explained by Kenneth E. Bailey in his book “Paul through Mediterranean Eyes”

        A number of times Paul composes a homily using what I have called “the high jump format.” This can be simply described as “ring composition with an introduction.” It can also be seen to have four distinct parts. These are like a “high jump.” The high jumper starts with a short sprint. Then comes the ascent, the crossing of the bar and finally, the descent on the far side. The climax of the jump is the crossing of the bar. In like manner, a biblical homily is at times composed of (1) an introduction (the sprint) followed by (2) a series of ideas (the jump) that come (3) to a climax (the crossing of the bar) and conclude (4) with a presentation in reverse order of the original series of ideas (the descent to the ground). Paul uses this style often.

        taken from (Paul through Mediterranean Eyes – Kenneth E. Bailey – 2011 – InterVarsity Press)

        As mentioned in Romans 5 one can find a perfect example of this “high jump format”.

        Romans 5: 12 – 21

        1) The introduction

        Therefore, even as through one man sin entered into the world, and through sin death, and thus death passed through into all mankind, on which all sinned – for until law sin was in the world, yet sin is not being taken into account when there is no law, nevertheless death reigns from Adam unto Moses, over those also who do not sin in the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of him who is about to be.

        2) The series of ideas

        But not as the offense, thus also the grace. For if, by the offense of the one, the many died, much rather the grace of God and the gratuity in grace, which is of the One Man Jesus Christ, to the many superabounds.

        For, indeed, the judgment is out of one into condemnation, yet the grace is out of many offenses into a just award. For if, by the offense of the one, death reigns through the one, much rater, those obtaining the superabundance of grace and the gratuity of righteousness shall be reigning in life through the One, Jesus Christ.

        3) the climax

        Consequently, them, as it was through one offense for all mankind for condemnation, thus also it is through one just award for all mankind for life’s justifying.

        For even as, through the disobedience of the one man, the many were constituted sinner thus also , through the obedience of the One, the many shall be constituted just.

        4) the Conclusion

        Yet law came in by the way, that the offense should be increasing. Yet where sin increases, grace superexeeds, that, even as Sin reigns in death, thus Grace also should be reigning through righteousness, for life eonian, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

        But also note how this text can be placed in three separate but linked together themes, which are shown by their numbering.

        Romans 5: 12 – 21

        (1)

        Therefore, even as through one man sin entered into the world, and through sin death, and thus death passed through into all mankind, on which all sinned – for until law sin was in the world, yet sin is not being taken into account when there is no law, nevertheless death reigns from Adam unto Moses, over those also who do not sin in the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of him who is about to be.

        (2)

        But not as the offense, thus also the grace. For if, by the offense of the one, the many died, much rather the grace of God and the gratuity in grace, which is of the One Man Jesus Christ, to the many superabounds.

        (3)

        For, indeed, the judgment is out of one into condemnation, yet the grace is out of many offenses into a just award. For if, by the offense of the one, death reigns through the one, much rater, those obtaining the superabundance of grace and the gratuity of righteousness shall be reigning in life through the One, Jesus Christ.

        Consequently, them, as it was through one offense for all mankind for condemnation, thus also it is through one just award for all mankind for life’s justifying.

        (2)

        For even as, through the disobedience of the one man, the many were constituted sinner thus also , through the obedience of the One, the many shall be constituted just.

        (1)

        Yet law came in by the way, that the offense should be increasing. Yet where sin increases, grace superexeeds, that, even as Sin reigns in death, thus Grace also should be reigning through righteousness, for life eonian, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

        So here is what Paul is saying in these three sections

        1) Therefore, even as through one man sin entered into the world, and through sin death, and thus death passed through into all mankind, on which all sinned – for until law sin was in the world, yet sin is not being taken into account when there is no law, nevertheless death reigns from Adam unto Moses, over those also who do not sin in the likeness of the transgression of Adam, who is a type of him who is about to be.

        Yet law came in by the way, that the offense should be increasing. Yet where sin increases, grace superexeeds, that, even as Sin reigns in death, thus Grace also should be reigning through righteousness, for life eonian, through Jeus Christ, our Lord.

        2) But not as the offense, thus also the grace. For if, by the offense of the one, the many died, much rather the grace of God and the gratuity in grace, which is of the One Man Jesus Christ, to the many superabounds.

        For even as, through the disobedience of the one man, the many were constituted sinner thus also , through the obedience of the One, the many shall be constituted just.

        3) For, indeed, the judgment is out of one into condemnation, yet the grace is out of many offenses into a just award. For if, by the offense of the one, death reigns through the one, much rather, those obtaining the superabundance of grace and the gratuity of righteousness shall be reigning in life through the One, Jesus Christ.

        Consequently, them, as it was through one offense for all mankind for condemnation, thus also it is through one just award for all mankind for life’s justifying.

        Now some have looked at what Paul was saying earlier in Romans 2:10 to argue that in the above text the words the many and all mankind mean Not Just the Jews but also the Greeks. In other words, that this text says: Consequently, then, as it was through one offense for not just the Jews but also the Greeks for condemnation, thus also it is through one just award for not just the Jews but also the Greeks for life’s justifying.

        Yet later on in Romans Paul says the following.

        Romans 11: 25 – 32

        For I am not willing for you to be ignorant of this secret, brethren, lest you may be passing for prudent among yourselves, that callousness, in part, on Israel has come, until the complement (fullness) of the nations may be entering. And thus All Israel shall be saved, according as it is written.

        “Arriving out of Zion shall be the Rescuer. He will be turning away irreverence from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them. Whenever I should be eliminating their sins”.

        As to the evangel indeed, they are enemies because of you, yet, as to choice, they are beloved because of the fathers.

        For unregretted are the graces and the calling of God. For even as you (being the Gentiles) once were stubborn toward God, yet now were shown mercy at their (being the Jews) stubborness, thus these also are now stubborn to this mercy of yours, that now they also may be shown mercy. For God locks up All together in stubbornness, that He should be merciful to All.

        Here Paul clearly says that All of Israel shall be saved, which happens after the fullness of the nations enter. He then says that God has made a Covenantal promise to turn away the Jews irreverence and to eliminate their sins. Therefore God will have mercy on All the Jews and the the fullness of the nations, being that they were all stubborn and God will be merciful to All.

  6. Seems like the argument is always about the ‘what’, never about the how. What I believe is disconnected from how I believe it. And in so doing removes any real commitment to said belief. I can just pick it up and lay it down based on the *new* book just published.

    So if I believe forgiveness of my tormentors is a part of being in a particular group (like a group that believes Pluto to be a planet) but then I read a post, a book, attend a conference that explains a better way of dealing with that, well, I can just change. Does God double predestinate? Does he universally save all? How exactly does evil start and end? Tell me whose side to be on!!

    And so we turn to the experts. The expert Tweeters, bloggers, writers and professors. They will tell us. They will enlighten us. Which beats turning to an expert priest or a Pope. Thats so 1013. To say nothing of turning to the god of your own understanding, alone. Of course, you may have to pick a side still. Progressive verse Evangelical but then you can at least both claim not to be as sinful as the fundamentalist.

    How do you know anything dear reader? Does everything depend on you objectively coming to an objective conclusion? Good luck, as you’ll be at it awhile. To be sure, If I want to know how to fix my toilet, I turn to experts. I may even read and study enough to accomplish my own plumbing. But is the gospel message and its call to *discipleship* just for the the deep thinker with time to spare? For those graced with an income to read book after book and attend conference after conference with a mastery of the language to astound and impress? Or is discipleship also for the impoverished with a 3rd grade reading comprehension and a life of compromises to all sorts of evils?

    Because if it is, then what needs redefined is not topic _____ or theological hot button _____. But HOW you know what you know.

    How you know something always determines what it is you know. The problem as I see it isn’t that I lack knowledge. Good heavens, to my shame I have it in such abundance that I’m in despair and am perpetually indecisive!

    What I cannot do is appropriate what I know. Make it my own. Become the subject. Risk all and live as if it mattered. Now, anyone can do that. The dumbest leper can. The lifelong drunk. The abuser as well as the abused and trampled, the middle income suburbanite and his Tycoon boss.
    But no one can do it for any of these. For faith and its ensuing discipleship will always remain a different kind of knowing than knowing about Pluto and plumbing.

    For those who prefer a story….
    So…an ordinarily honest person who feels impelled to witness in one way or another for the truth against the untruth that prevails precisely because it is regarded as the truth. He is well aware that there is danger, but he is willing to expose himself to it.

    And yet he perhaps has not quite understood himself. He is, however, entirely convinced of the truth of what he wants to point out; he is convinced to such a degree that he is involuntarily –ah, human heart!– constrained to believe that if only it is heard it must triumph, win people to its side.

    So, then, he speaks out – but strangely enough he encounters opposition everywhere; he reaps ingratitude in every form, not only form those from whom he had expected it, but also from those for whose sake he had thought he ought to witness to the truth – just as, for example, Moses had his grief not only with the Egyptians but also with the Hebrews, for whose sake he had exposed himself to all the troubles and dangers.

    Now this person becomes uneasy; he is oppressed. So he has recourse, as usual, there where he is accustomed to seek help – to Governance. He lays out his distress–what will Governance reply? Kind and gentle as always, Governance replies: Is it not true that you wanted to practice self denial; can you deny that it worked out that way; right now the opportunity to practice it is indeed before you.

    Let us suppose, then, that he answers: Yes, that I understand; now I understand it. But, to be honest, I did not understand it quite that way when I decided to act and began. I feel as if the sea is getting too rough for me.

    What will Governance probably reply? Kind and gently as always, never cruel, Governance says: Yes, yes, my little friend, when you have humbled yourself under this and learned humility from this little lesson, then we shall help you out of this again.

    But something else could happen. As governance is explaining to the struggling one how it all hangs together, that precisely this is part of true self-denial, a transformation takes place in him. Like a child’s surprise when it suddenly understands, like the blissful surprise of a girl in love when she suddenly understands that what she had interpreted as testifying against her being loved actually testifies to it–so also is his surprise. He says, what I suffered or that which pained me was really that in this adversity I saw proof that everything had gone wrong for me. But now when you, kind Governance, explain it to me and explain yourself to me, I now wish only to remain out there in an understanding with you. – S. Kierkegaard

    • I’m having a little trouble following what your argument is and what you’re responding to. Please help.

  7. “The universalists are basically saying that God will glorify everyone into genuinely good-natured people, whether they want to be or not.”

    I think that this statement is inaccurate, though it seems to be a common assumption about Christian universalism. Perhaps there are some that hold it, but in the strains of universalism I’ve read, it’d probably be more accurate to say:

    “The universalists believe that God, being all powerful, all wise, all loving, and all patient, will use every means at His disposal to eventually draw all people to willing reconciliation with Himself.”

    That is, not that he’ll make sinners good against their will, but He’ll continue to pursue sinners until every last one has willingly chosen Him. In this framework, even hell itself serves as a refining fire to discipline those who have not yet bowed the knee to Jesus. This isn’t so much different, I think, from Evangelicalism’s teaching that God uses various circumstances and means to draw us to Himself. The primary difference I see is whether or not that process continues after death.

  8. “the problem with universalism”

    Is there a forgone conclusion that there is one (the definite article– “the”– denotes this) problem with universalism and the very unfortunate persons involved in the situations that gave rise to this blog connote the definitive problem?

    This is what I trust: God’s table is so expansive (and God’s party-organising-wait-staff are so good at pastoral care) that the seating chart is such that Sarah would never have to fear seeing her rapist (much less come into contact with him) at God’s party.

    If one’s snapshot of God’s party– universalism– is not panoramic enough to imagine that Hitler would never be sat anywhere near any one of the millions he was responsible for snuffing out, working to death and/or incinerating, perhaps it’s still a lack of understanding on our part, not God’s part, that is the problem– really “the” ultimate problem.

    If all things are made new at God’s party, where there is no sorrow or pain anymore, where tears of past abuse and its after effects are all passed away (something about God’s ability to rewire our memory in glory?) would Sarah and her abuser even recognise one another at the party, even if they ignored the pastorally-care-organised-seating-chart?

    If universalism is correct and right, wouldn’t any earthly conception of it be limited?

    Our Muslim friends are prone to say, when really difficult things prompt them to be unable to agree (theologically) with one another: God/Allah knows best. This means we surely don’t. Not even the most clever and contemplative of us.

    The so-called friend of Sarah and Abe’s who suggests they– like all humanity?– must be willing to welcome her abuser (what? at their table for three!?!?), show grace and forgiveness, and be grateful that God has forgiven him are not unlike Jobs “friends”.

    In his book, The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness, Simon Wiesenthal addresses this quandary. A German soldier asks forgiveness of a Jew who survived a death camp. Does the Jew have to forgive the German, simply because the German requests forgiveness? Is it wrong to withhold forgiveness when asked in this specific a way? Do humans forgive or does God forgive? If God forgives, does the Jew, or any other human, have to forgive as well?

    For that matter, did Jesus ever forgive anyone? Or did Jesus simply affirm God’s forgiveness? If Jesus was the Universalist, are we to follow him so closely that we are just as universalist? Or do we affirm that he was the most/best Universalist and recognise that we will not attain his understanding of God’s universalism?

    I think our message to Sarah– so as not to be mistaken for one of Job’s so-called friends– may be, “if God forgives your rapist, let God do that; God doesn’t expect you to do so, ever.”

    When Saddam Hussein was wreaking havoc near the Arabian peninsula, the Saudis were known to say (because one Muslim may not curse another Muslim– not unlike Jesus’ commandment to refrain from referring to one’s brother as ‘thou fool’): ‘May Allah bless Saddam… and keep him far from me’.

    Sarah may say” ‘May God bless my rapist… and keep him far from me’. But none of her so-called friends may tell her to do so.

    p.s. Are human penal systems related to God?

    • Maybe I should have said it’s _my_ problem with it. I hear what you’re saying. I just think people can articulate these things in ways that are presumptuous and disrespectful to those who have suffered tremendous evil.

  9. According to evangelical Christianity, Comrad Duke who oversaw 17,000 people murdered during the Khmer Rouge and repented, was saved, and was baptized gets to go to heaven but all those he murdered goes to hell because they were Buddhists. Universalism is not the confusing one here. It’s evangelicalism.

    • Yeah that’s messed up. I don’t buy into the nihilistic conception of judgment that evangelical Christianity espouses.

        • The Anselmian nonsense: God expects perfection, we’re not perfect, therefore God wants to burn us forever unless we “accept Christ” whatever that means. It makes a mockery out of justice. I think God does justice; I don’t think it’s even Biblically supportable to say that “justice” is if you weren’t perfect, you don’t “make the cut” unless you’ve got the Jesus badge. That way of telling the story is based on a complete misinterpretation of Romans 3. See my post “Removing the linchpin of Christian hate.”

      • interesting. Yeah…see I’ve always seen it, as not about what we DO, but who we know, and not so much as a “badge” but as a relationship that matters. God matters. A reaction to him needs to happen. Those who love God are making the right choice (according to my belief), those who don’t aren’t. There’s ignorance of God and I can live with those being in Heaven, or being given a choice when they die to choose or not choose, but those who don’t want God, and have made that choice in full conscience, you can’t force heaven on them. Now they could have made that choice for completely legit reasons ( a bad representation of God for one by the Church or whatever) and rejected for all the right reasons. Yet when they die they still don’t get Heaven or have to make a choice based on the right representation, etc. Those who don’t want God do have to experience a time of rehabilitation in hell, punishment and torment not so much because God is punishing them, but because our very being cries out for God, and being without Him hurts…Hell is sort of a further distancing from God…and it’s painful…this Earth X A million…and God continues to pursue them…and even if it takes eternity I believe all will eventually say “yes.” of their own full choice and volition. I guess that’s what makes the most sense with me. The reason that it’s not about our works, or lack of goodness/abundance of it, and simply about the relationship now is all thanks to Christ’s victory on the Cross, which, Him being a omnipresent being, everywhen, has touched all of time.

  10. I was a little confused with your post and with Sarah’s as well, partially because it seems like progressive Christians are talking out of both sides of their mouths. On the one hand we seem skittish of sending people to hell (which is why so many folks loved Rob Bell’s Love Wins), but then we also don’t think people who abuse or rape should be let into heaven (if we believe in the afterlife). I get what you are trying to get at, it’s just that I see a disconnect between this view of God as the big huggable god, and this other view of God as protector.

    I guess I go back to the view I had way back in college as an evangelical- that is that God is both loving and just. The righteous will reside in God and have life, while the evil will perish. I don’t know who is who, so I’m not going to say people will go to hell or not.

    I think we have to figure out both in this life and the next what it means to welcome people. We really don’t mean that “all are welcome” because that would mean anyone who could harm our community could just walk on in. That makes sense, but I wish progressives were more honest about that. God isn’t Santa Claus.

    Don’t know if any of this makes sense.

    • It makes sense. I think what you’re hearing are folks who tend to self-identify in the “progressive” camp pushing back against some of the troubling double-speak that they’re hearing within that camp.

  11. I think it is our relationship (good or bad standing) with God that does matter – and will matter in eternity.

    When I look at Romans 7 & 8 I see a concept of a dual nature within the believer. A living, spirit made righteous by faith that is UN corrupted by the sin nature (the inner man) surrounded by corrupt, sinful, sin natured body of flesh. These two struggle in the place they overlap – the mind.

    Romans 8:3 (NASB) 3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh,

    So sin is condemned in our flesh. When the law is fulfilled in us and our physical bodies die, our sin n nature die with it. We are given a new body that is UNcorrupted by sin and death that doesn’t have a sin nature. We will be restored to the state of sinless perfection we had prior to sin and death entering the world. Our bodies will be like our spirit – cleansed of all unrighteousness.

    • Morgan you said, “Somehow I will have to be transformed so that all my sardonic, condescending thoughts about other people that arise from my insecurity are simply wiped out, leaving me a genuinely good-natured person instead of someone who makes spiteful cynical assumptions about genuinely good-natured people.”

      I whole heartedly agree with this-

      Hebrews 2:14 (NASB) 14 Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil,
      Hebrews 2:15 (NASB) 15 and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.

  12. Heaven and the afterlife are so far beyond what we can know. I have to have confidence that in the case of the abused that every tear will be wiped away. And the sinners can be reconciled. How? I have no idea. But the fact that God is merciful means more than we can ever know.

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