2. Why Judge Ye Not?

“And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?” Luke 12:57

It is easy, when reading the words of our Lord, to pass over some sentence of his which is couched in a larger context, and therefore to fail to see some great truth. We are eager to get to the heart of his meaning, the kernel of the truth, and, from this earnestness, we do not let our eyes rest and our hearts dwell on absolutely all that he says. We would do well to remember the words of the Canaanite woman: even the crumbs can be eaten, if they fall from the Master’s table.

This problem of not seeing our Lord’s words is compounded by the fact that, in many Bible translations, we have for us inserted paragraph breaks and summary headings, as well as superscripts and footnotes and commentaries. Such things serve to distract us from dwelling on the words of the text itself. When meditating on the words of Jesus, as well as those of the writers of the Epistles, it is of benefit to remember three things. First, our Lord spoke native Aramaic, probably of a Galilean dialect, not English or even Greek. Second, the Greek of the text is already both a language and a country removed from Christ the historical man himself. And, third, in the original text there is no punctuation: that is, there are no periods or commas, nor are there phrases and sentences which are woodenly interchangeable with our English phrases and sentences and their theologically loaded implications. The more one spends time with the Greek of the New Testament, the more one shall see that this third point is so.

Allow me to present an example. In the first case, I present the text as it reads from a common translation of the English Bible. In the second, as it reads as a transliteration of the Greek. Both are from Mark 14:21.

1). For the Son of man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.

2) For indeed [the] Son of man goes as it has been written concerning him; woe however to the that-man by whom the Son of man is betrayed; good for him [it would be] if had never been born the man-that.

Now, do you see the possible difference in meaning here? In the first rendition of the text, the structure of the sentence demands that it to mean that it were better for the one who betrayed the Son of man never to have been born. In the second rendition, however, it is more naturally seen as it being good for the Son of man had not the betrayer been born. Thus here is a case which, by the mere movement of words and placing of commas, we arrive at completely different meaning of the text of the New Testament, nay even of the words of our Lord. Indeed the meaning is as different as that between night and day, one may say even of Molech and Jehovah. For the first rendition can be read, as fit in with its earlier context, as implying that Judas was predestined to do that which brought upon him a necessary fate so terrible it would be better if he had never been born. It may suggest that it may be have been better if God had never created Judas at all; as if Judas himself had any choice in either his being born or the fact that such a God could predestine his damnation. Yet in the second rendition we can more clearly glimpse a hint of that infinite compassion that Christ I think had for Judas, and, indeed for every man. It was the same compassion that groaned in his breast when, after Judas betrayed him with a kiss, said, “friend, why have you come?” For Jesus pronounces woe upon Judas in this second passage, not because of a divine fate which he could not withstand which made him betray the Son of man, but because of how low he had sunk, and how terrible his agony and self loathing must be, when he came to see that he had freely betrayed one who loved him so dearly. What more terrible thing can befall a man, than that he betray an innocent friend? Nay, a friend who loved him so much that he would gladly be tortured and crucified for his sake? And yet before we pass judgment on Iscariot, let us look into our own hearts, and see if we have not ourselves taken money from the world and helped drive the nails through the hands of our Lord.

Note well my point here. It is not to squabble about which interpretation of this verse is correct. Indeed, for the purposes of argument, I could be mistaken altogether, and Judas could have been divinely determined to betray Christ and so be consigned to Hell because of it. I mean only to show, not the right meaning of a particular text, but the possibility of the wrong meaning of it. If it is so easy to misinterpret the very words of Christ, and to draw from them interpretations and implications so vastly different, we ought to approach the New Testament with a certain profound awareness of this fact.

Neither is my aim to cast doubt upon the inspiration of the Scriptures. Though, should such a doubt arise consequently from what I shall say, I would not for that reason be silent. There are far worse things than to doubt the infallibility of the Bible, my friends. For assent as to inspiration is purely a matter of intellect, and may be held by even the most wicked willed heart. The demons believe in God, you will remember, yet that does not stay their hand; and many a man has tortured and enslaved and pillaged with the words of the New Testament on his lips. Yet I will go so far as to cast doubt upon, not the Bible, but our understanding of it, to say this. Unless you have asked yourself what you would do were you to read something in the Bible that contradicted your own purest notions of goodness and the loveliness of God, and unless you have answered which you would trust – your own honest conscience, or the words written down in the book – you cannot know God.

Suppose you read in the New Testament something from the mouth of Christ that seemed to contradict your best and truest notions of what is best and true: yea notions you may have heard from his own mouth before. Or suppose you were a modern Abraham who became convinced that God had commanded you to make a bloody sacrifice of your son. Let us go a step further. Suppose that you read in a letter from Paul some passage which seemed to logically imply that you ought to slay in your heart and mind all love you have for your fellow man and humanity, they being but potsherds to be broken and cast aside at the arbitrary will of one to whom you must bow unquestionably in obedience. It matters nothing to my purpose whether the text actually does say such things. It matters only that it could, or, if it could possibly seem to say so to you, for the two are the same. What would you do, dear brother or sister? What would you do if the Bible told you to murder every love and joy and dream you ever had, and to worship and adore – or to try thy best to adore – all that seemed to thee wicked? Would you turn to the commentary of some learned theologian to see what mazes of words could be strung to make the text unsay what to you it plainly and undeniably does say? Would you go to some saint to get his spiritual understanding of the passage and to try to conform your mind to what he had of his own labor began to believe he understood by the words? If so, what good would such a thing do? Ah, you would take the whole question off yourself, and have another answer it for you! You ought to know, friend, that buying the knowledge of God at that price would make it of no worth. For the decision – the settling of the question – must come from within you, from thyself. Thou must choose what thou shalt think, and thou shalt be the better for it, even if thou art factually mistaken, if thou choose what seems right and true. If thou art mistaken, the Lord of life and truth will set you right, so long as you keep following what thou knowest and seest to be his truth, his light, his will. If this were not so, we could not trust him. The burden – the step out onto the shaky bridge – you must take up and do, else the entire investigation, the entire reading of the scripture, the entire attempt to know God and be a disciple of Christ, is of no use.

And besides, even supposing some deliverance did come on some difficult passage by some other person, are we to imagine that for every subsequent dilemma we encounter there will always be similar clarity given? A thousand such dilemmas arise to the thinking mind who tries to be good and understand the words of the New Testament; and the more one thinks and the more one tries the more certain are such things to arise. There is no getting around the fact: at some point we must look at the thing ourselves, and with our own eyes, and speak our own judgment on the matter.

What, would you have another man live your life for you? Would you have him raise your children and love your wife and direct every impulse of your soul – not to mention the most religious and God oriented? Would you have a man think for you and feel for you? Would you have him be a child of God for you. Would you have another be you? Would you, man or woman, have another look up into the face of Jesus for you?

It cannot be so, friends. It is dreadful to come upon the fact that we must be, that we must meet the burden of existence, must wrestle it, must cry out in the midst of our struggle with it, and grope for some solid ground on which to stand to fight against it. I well remember the discovery – like an earthquake of the universe rocking the depths of my soul – that I am my own self, my own choosing me; and that the decision of being lay in my lap to do with what I would, though I knew not where to turn with it nor where to direct my steps. Yet for all that, the fact remains unshakable. In some deep region of the spirit, we cannot escape our individuality, our own personal response to being – to God himself. The sooner we admit this, the better. For the sooner we can then cry out to the Father, knowing better our needy condition. “Lord, we know we must live in the midst of nauseating uncertainty, reaching into regions of profoundest depth in consciousness and feeling. How we wish for some sure footing on things: some pure light, some faith! Help us, father, in the midst of such an existence, be!”

Ah, brother. Until you can see that you owe your allegiance first to what seems to you good and right and true and of God, and only secondly to something else and it only insofar as it gives you clearer light into what you can already see, you are the slave to the thoughts and religion of other men. Such thoughts which, by the way, for all you know, may not even have been in the minds of the men who you think they belong to, or at any rate who may have been in their minds, indeed, but not with the logical implications that you extract from their words. I can well imagine meeting Saint Paul and describing to him the system that some theologian contrived out of the few letters of his that we have in our Bibles, with all its logical deductions. I can well imagine, I say, showing him such a thing, and hearing him exclaim “God forbid!” In his own explication of what he meant, may he not reference other letters of his, myriads it may be perhaps, to modify and clarify those of his that have been twisted, much in the same way that we now use the epistles of the New Testament to modify and clarify some single letter or passage in it themselves? Then again I would not be surprised if Paul could not quote a single line of his own inspired words in the Bible, him having his essential life, every moment, by the Spirit rather than the letter.

Do not be afraid of this fact, but know it well, yet neither take it further than need be: the same book in thy hands called the Bible has done tremendous benefit to humanity; but it has also done tremendous harm. In every age there are men and women who use it to justify actions which the best Christians in subsequent ages abhor with utmost loathing in the name of Christ himself.

To whatever revelation or knowledge may exist in any man, be he an Einstein or an Aquinas or a preacher or a Paul, it does no good to the one who cannot understand what is said. In that sense – in that sense – it is useless, and can serve only to darken the mind and further the distance from the light of the one who assents to what he does not see as true. Where truth is not seen but still sworn to in allegiance can be nothing but falsity and dishonesty, and serves naught but to increase doubt and put plaque in the arteries that long to have flow strong in them the life blood of Jesus.

I have nothing to do with apparent discrepancies in the Bible regarding facts, such as whether or not Judas hanged himself, or fell off a cliff, or did both. Rather, I speak here only regarding teachings and pictures of God which themselves reflect on and carry implications regarding his nature and the person of Christ. Let us go back to my initial hypothetical. Let us suppose Scripture says – which it in fact does say – that God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. Further, let us suppose that the Bible says – which it in fact does say – that God is love, and desires all to be saved, and takes no delight in the death of the wicked, and that he is the universal Father who causes it to rain on the just and unjust alike. Thus we have on one hand a scriptural datum – God’s absolute loveliness and perfection. But let us suppose, on the other hand, that we read a passage in the Bible which seems to logically imply something about God that is inconsistent with this picture. Suppose, hypothetically, we were to read “God delights in torturing the innocent and extracting pain from the defenseless for all eternity.” Now, of course there is no such verse in the Bible. But again I want only this hypothesis in front of the mind to bring out my point, which is this.

If you cannot answer what you would do in the face of such a glaring contradiction, you cannot really know the true God, if He is good. 

If our theory of scripture leads us to conclude that God is “beyond our categories of good and evil” or that God is not what we mean when we call him Good and Loving, may the real God himself help us find another theory of scripture! For if God is in fact good and not evil – if we really can apply words to him – then we have by a mere theory of inspiration forfeited the only real way we have for knowing him in the first place.

A being to whom nothing is true or false, or everything true and nothing false, is a being unintelligible, for it may be true to deny that which we affirm of him. If therefore God really is good and not evil, if he really is love and not hate, then certain things will be true of him and certain things false of him. He will not delight in suffering for example. He does desire all to be saved. But if we say that we cannot “really” know that God is what we mean by good, then, if God were in fact really what we meant by good, we would be paralyzed in principle from knowing so. Us negating the very thing necessary to gain knowledge in the first place – namely, our own intuitions of what goodness already means to us – we would be incapable of growing in our knowledge of goodness, and therefore God, as well.

Again, to learn what something is like is to be able to form some positive conception about that thing – to be able to make statements that are true and deny things that are false about it. But if, when we run into passages in the Bible that would seem, when taken to their logical conclusions, to make God’s character no different than Satan’s, and if we accept those passages as telling truths about God even though they seem to us wicked, then there becomes no way to differentiate God from Satan. A consequence of this being that we can either form no positive conception of God, since anything at all may be true of him, or form no conception of him which is different from the devil’s. Once this occurs, friends, we have lost all ability to ever approach a good God, if such a one exists.

Consider the following train of thought. A certain reading of Paul can imply that God has predetermined some of his creation to be eternally damned and suffer unimaginable torture, apart from and before any action on the part of the creature itself. On such a reading, the creature cannot help but go the fate that such a god has predestined it to go. Consequently, on this view, God intends this – he intends to create beings in whom for all eternity he generates a necessary and infinite desire for himself, and in whom also he has eternally decreed never to give them (though he could) the very thing he is creating them to want. Nor does he take them out of being: but rather he makes their state something which itself deserves further punishment, and serve to heighten the blessed in heaven who were arbitrarily spared a similar fate.

I ask, if this picture of God can be accepted while also maintaining that God is “love” and “good” what possible picture of God could not be? If you grant that God can torture sentient beings forever who he need not have created, and who he could have saved if he wanted, simply because he enjoys it or because he can or even for any reason at all, what possible moral action would be inconsistent with his goodness? Could not such a being do anything at all, and he still be loving and good? Such an approach to God, where one attaches any possible action to his character while simultaneously affirming that that character is still “love” and “good,” makes meaningless the very words “love” and “good” to begin with. And therefore it renders knowledge of the truly good and loving God impossible.

Any idea of God or theory about how we come to know him in a text which destroys our ability to distinguish between good and evil and love and hate ultimately refutes itself. For if our theories of knowledge entail that we cannot know God’s nature as positively good and infinitely trustworthy and altogether lovely, then for all we know, God may punish us for doing exactly as he commands us to do in the very Bible itself which leads us to such conclusions about him. If all our “whites” are really God’s “blacks” what he conceives of as heaven may be what we conceive of as hell. His evaluation of meaning may be so different than ours that he may delight in torturing obedient souls rather than disobedient; and there may never be a reconciliation amenable to our intellect as to why this is so. It may just be.

“The ultimate question is whether the doctrine of the goodness of God or that of the inerrancy of Scriptures is to prevail when they conflict.” When the two are at odds, we must hold to the goodness of God. This is not to spite the Bible, but to honor the one who gave us the Bible. For accepting a notion of Scripture which entails that God is either evil or beyond the categories of good and evil altogether refutes itself, in that it denies the possibility of any such being as a good God who could give the Bible to us in the first place for our benefit.

I know the weight and force of the Bible, brothers and sisters. I know the power and feeling and life it holds in many a mind and many a soul. I do not wish to dispute this truth with any man. But I do wish to ask questions about what the implications of the words of the Bible – at least as this or that man may understand them – mean. Does that trouble you, friend? Does it frighten you to suppose that the words on the pages that you have held so dear to your heart, and built up into a world-system of comfort and answers, may be such as to have never been uttered by the Lord or thought by his followers? Is the very hypothetical that I ask you to form where you must ask what you would believe were the Bible to say something false, is this very question something which you shrink from, nay cannot even possibly entertain?It is no matter. Thy turning the question aside will not move the question one inch. Neither does it remove the fact that you are already doing the very thing you claim to be too blasphemous to entertain. Or do you not think that you are reading the Bible and taking some of it as it seems right to you, and leaving other things, as they seem too terrible? Dost thou pluck out thy eye when thou lookest with envy? And if you do not, is it not because, regardless of what the words say on the page, the Lord could not have meant that – that is, what he said, what is plainly on the page.

Here I repeat the question: when the two conflict, what should thou trust – the goodness of God, or the Bible? It sits immovable, as uncompromising as the choice between life and death, between Christ and the world. One must encounter the Word oneself. It matters not what conclusions other men have reached about it if you cannot see their conclusions yourself. All their answers and every book of theology ever written could be piled on top of each other from the beginning of the world, and such will not tip the scales one mite in favor of thy own answer to the encounter. You must live and be and think. Do you see how useless fear is, how pointless evasion? You but postpone the inevitable, must answer in either case. Indeed you already do answer, every time you read the Word and take it into thy heart and mind and try to assimilate it into thy life. You are just as of yet unaware of your own answering thus far. Perhaps the next step for you is simply to become aware of this fact: no other man can stand between you and the words of Christ. There is no authority which you can hide behind, no other’s feet you can stand on, but those of your own. You have been doing it, perhaps at unawares, all your life. Continue to do so now, with more conscious intention, boldness, freedom, and honesty.

Or do you say that you have never yet come across such a passage which you suppose is inconsistent with what your God given conscience tells you is true? If that is honestly so, then I have no more to say to you. If you have not yet found any such thing, I think you shall, if you come to the Word seeking answers to the questions of life. And if you do not ever come to such a crisis, then you shall never be in the danger of falsely listening to the voice of God or Christ, since the dilemma on which the whole problem can even possibly arise will never be before you.

Yet I would press the man who answers but faintly, or who has not yet answered in the full at all. Have you never questioned the Bible? Has you not ever had one inkling of a feeling that the words you read did not exactly ring true to the truest and highest and best notions in thy breast? Or if thou hast not questioned the book itself, has thou not at least questioned thy own understanding of it purpose? Has thou never even asked thyself what it is and what it means, and what, if it was sent by God, it was intended to do? If you have not asked or felt these things, I do not blame you, though truly I cannot understand you. I only ask you to ask yourself: are you being true soul – that is, a true lover after the truth? Do you desire it with your whole being? If so, then you are my brother or sister, and we fight on the same side. May the Son of man come quickly, and find such faith on earth when he does alive in our own hearts.

Or do you, friend, sometimes sensing the truth approach –  it may be in the form of an uncomfortable question or unwanted logical deduction – do you shut the door of thy mind to her and sit content with thyself? Dost thou remain comfortable in thy own small world that thou hast conceived and spun out of thy own wishes or the thoughts of other men? Does such a possibility not even frighten you? Or, if it does frighten you, does it do so enough to make you long to cast off what appears to be true for very truth itself? If such ye are not, ask thyself, what could the Bible say, that ye would not accept unquestionably? Nothing at all? But what if it called black white and white black, or asserted any manner of evidently self contradictory conscious fact? If there is nothing that you would not accept and would not believe, I have no more words for you. The man who could believe anything is one who could also believe nothing. He is not sturdy enough to stand up and walk of himself, let alone to grapple with. He is such as to hold that either his best or his worst notions are equally consistent to describe an All Perfect God.

I will be misunderstood if what I have written leads any to believe that I hold that Paul or the writers of the New Testament spoke falsehoods about God or misunderstood Christ’s teaching or that Christ himself was anything less than the perfect God-man. With all my heart I believe that the New Testament is the closest thing to Jesus Christ himself as may be come across in our world today. Do you agree? If so, yet see, how even in such a thought, the preeminence of Christ holds sway with you. For the New Testament is the thing which approximates to the standard, which is Jesus. It is not Jesus who approximates to it. What we must therefore use then to interpret and read the Bible, is none other than the person of Christ himself, the Son of man, who “reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature.”

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1. A Stranger They Will Not

“When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” John 10:4-5

The image of our Lord as a shepherd and we his sheep, is, I think, unique as an image of tenderness and love, specifically because it points to our ignorance, and at the same time our innate trust in, Christ. There is also the fact, sweet beyond utterance, that the shepherd’s intention of leading his sheep through the door of life is so strong that he is willing to lay down his life for them. The sheep of the Lord are not therefore something he is indifferent to, mere objects which would not bother him if they were to go astray. They are so precious to him that he will freely give away that which is most important to him for their sake: that is, his very life. There was never a lover of human person more tender than our Lord, for all tenderness finds its very source in him. All self-sacrificial love, all gladness in beholding the happiness of the beloved, all swelling and burning of the breast towards the other, all aches for unity and friendship and closeness and comfort, yea all willingness to go to the extremity of action and conscious feeling: all these things are rooted in the very heart of Christ.

If you ask a man why he follows another man, he may give you all sorts of reasons: he may say that he agrees with the man’s cause or hopes to benefit from him in some way, say financially or spiritually. He may look up to the man and find him a worthy example of how he should live: he may seek to model himself after him in his relations public or private, or in how he handles his business or leisure. A man may also, though he would be reluctant to say so, follow another man because he deems that man so much higher and wiser than himself that he sacrifices his own self-searching after truth and instead relies upon an insight that, though he does not see it himself, yet believes that the other man sees more clearly.

In this image of ourselves as sheep, however, we see a more penetrating and profound – indeed a more mysterious, and yet at the same time simpler – reason why we follow the Lord. We follow him because we know his voice.

What does it mean, friends, to know the voice of the Lord? Ah, we do know what it means. And yet, who can give proper utterance to the deep thought? It is the simplest and most difficult thing in the world.

To know the voice of the Lord is, I think, to hear him, and to feel that it is him. I say, to know the voice of Christ is to hear in the depths of one’s being a voice which, for the moment (it may be for the most fleeting of moments) rises above others and asserts itself by the mere power of its own essential life. The mode in which we hear this voice is, and I believe must be, infinitely variable: now in the dim recesses of conscience, now in the face of a loved one, now in the words we read in the New Testament, now in the cloud in the sky. Yet at the root of it all, still the same, is the voice of the Shepherd.

It does not surprise me that the sheep in this passage, since they are sheep, have no conscious awareness of the voice that they know. They do not hear the voice of the Lord and think, “now, this could either be the voice of the shepherd, or the voice of a stranger. However, based on theory x and y, and y and z, therefore, we conclude, it is probably the shepherd. Therefore, we will go ahead and follow him.” No. Sheep do not think that way. They simply hear the voice, and, knowing it, follow it. How many will come at length to realize that, though they thought they were following the voice of Jesus, they were in reality following only their own voice which they dressed up and justified to themselves as the voice of Jesus? The supposed their own voice sounded enough like the voice of Jesus to make not much of a difference to them whether they should make an honest inquiry or not of the fact! Why then should they be troubled about it? How little some may care to hear the voice of Christ!

I do not say we should never test the spirits, brothers and sisters. And no man who knows me even an ounce will say that we ought not to think and weigh and consider very carefully all the things that we believe about the Lord and his Father. I mean only to highlight that there is a path to life in this single aspect of obedience. I am speaking of the phenomenon of hearing the Lord and, feeling, prior to any reflection, that it is the Lord, and that we ought to obey, and then acting, before all second thoughts and what-ifs and self deluded justifications spring up into the mind. There is I say a path to obedience in this which is in principle impossible in any other circumstance.

The Lord came indeed to make us into such as would have a will fully unified with that of the Father, the Father who is ever pouring out his own will into our hearts. But to be so united with God requires us to hear him and obey: not to hear, to consider obeying, and then to obey. When we hear Him speak to us – when we feel him tugging at our hearts, and know that it is Him – our first impulse should be to do, not to think.

I well know all the criticisms that attend such a view. It is indeed very dangerous. Dangerous to man and to men. Dangerous to man: for who knows what the Lord will ask him to do? Dangerous to men: for, they not being all of one mind, discord will necessarily arise. Brother may think the worst of brother, and a man’s best friend can become to him a bitter foe. But that is as it must be, until all the flock has come in. Yet it seems to me that the danger in the opposite direction is, for all that, very much the greater. For which is worse: the man who follows his own conscience, and prays and thinks and does as honestly as he might with the light that he sees, and who lets the Lord set right all else that is wrong; or the man who, never making up his mind whether what he sees is a light or a mere sunspot in his own eye, never goes about responding to anything he feels upon his conscience, unless he has analyzed it such that it is obviously the “reasonable” thing to do? Or, what is more. What about the man who, not seeing a light at all, tries to convince himself, perhaps off the testimony of another, that he does see one? Is the honest man not better than he? And would it matter even if that other who he blindly followed was a great man – indeed a saint, or the Son of Man himself – if the man who was listening and squinting his own eyes did not see the truth of what was said? In both cases it seems to me, the one who moves when the God nudges is the one most likely to grow in the right direction. Though he may make many missteps along the way, nevertheless, he has still set off walking.

I wonder sometimes if the only doctrine Jesus cared about was anything other than telling men that they had a loving Father, and that their one way to life was to do all that lay on their heart to be at one with this Father, and to love their neighbors as themselves. This is how the Lord goes before us as our Shepherd, giving us a way to live. He tells us this one great truth: God is thy Father: listen to Him. And we his sheep, with slow, dumb, yet trusting hearts, hear this and know it, and follow after.

Although this following we do is of the utmost importance – indeed, it is the very sap and blood life of our being – our Lord here speaks another truth, just as important: the sheep do not follow a stranger. Rather, they flee. And why? Because they do not know a stranger’s voice.

There are many metaphysicians of the noblest sort who tell us that God is the strangest of all beings. To even call God a “being,” they say, is erroneous. God is “beyond being.” At most we can but negate God – to say what he is not. For any notion we have, we must ultimately say, “God is not that.” To such thinkers I ask: did our Lord ever suggest – ever even come close to suggesting – that his Father was like that? What would it mean, if he called God Father, but that our God was not a Father? Yet we learn not from Greeks and Pagans, but from Christ.

No doubt we cannot comprehend God, and no doubt our concepts and words point to some reality far too grand to grasp in single utterance or even infinite human thought. But we surely do have some true notion of Him. Else Jesus Christ did not speak truly when he told us about Him.

A God that we can describe in no other way than abstract negations is a God that has not been described. In what way have we distinguished him from nothing, from non-entity? We end with a concept either meaningless, or utterly unknowable. And yet how can a man love something utterly unknowable? The heart cannot yearn for that which it has no notion of. Desire presupposes, if not clear knowledge, at least the existence of that which it is reaching after that it knows as vaguely desirable. I hold the greatest reverence for all those ancient thinkers who say that God is “beyond being” and who divide god “in himself” and god as he “appears to us.” But at the same time I reply to them with my heart’s cry: what good to me is a God I cannot know, a God whose essence lies inaccessible behind what is and must forever be a false appearance? I need not a being indistinguishable from the abyss or the void. I need not a great chasm of unknowable nothing, an unspeakable it, with my own stunted ideas vomited forth upon it subconsciously to and fro. Is what I think about God simply a mirrored reflection of my own small claustrophobic self onto the universe, onto my God?

How terrible is such a thought! Who hopes in God but does not also hope that he is the ultimate deliverance from the self, not the banishment of that self to itself forever! Oh friends, I need not a least known, but a most known God. In short, I need a Father! A stranger will not do. However such may sound to you, dear brother, I do not know any other voice.

“Ah,” one may reply, “by desiring such a human notion of God, you are saying nothing about God in himself. You are only proving your own need to be needed, your own need to have another depend on you and care for you.” To which I reply, “of course I am!” Am I to be faulted for that? What human heart can say that they are content to be the child of a God that does not care for them? Nay, a god that is indifferent to them, a god that does not care that they care or that they are? A god that has made them for some purpose they cannot tell, or perhaps for no purpose at all, which amounts to the same? Who does not yearn beyond all depths of feeling to hear his maker say, “well done, my child“?

Let me also ask: who made this desire in us? If we need to be needed, why is this? We did not cause my own neediness. We come into the world almost entirely as one great need. Indeed our whole lives can reasonably described as one perpetual, infinite need. Such a thing must have come from God, from the hand of the Maker, for how else could it be here. Yet would a good God make such a need unless he planned on meeting it? An unknowable god may – for that matter an unknowable god may do anything, and as such is not worth worshiping, for he may damn you for doing the very things which he commands you to do, his character being as equally unknowable as his nature. But what about an all perfect Father? Could you ever hope or desire anything at all that an all perfect Father has not made you to hope for and desire in the first place? But then, such a God being all good, would he not also have made the fulfillment of those hopes and desires? Are we to suppose God creates a hungry belly but no food to satisfy it? Never. If he has made the belly, he has made the food as well! Ah, can you see it? The greater our desires, and the greater the goodness of God, the more confident we must be that our very desires themselves have been created for no other reason than to be filled by God. What a hope: to be created and loved into being by an all loving God!

Surely no one will tell me that I ought to believe in an unknowable negation, a thing which I can form no notion of? For what kind of obligations do I have – indeed could I have – either correctly or incorrectly towards such a thing? And how can I believe in that which I can form no positive notion of?

There are many theologians of today that will tell you that God is “unrelated” to the world. That is, they will tell you that the creation makes no difference to Him: the whole thing could be consigned to an eternal Hell or raised to an infinite heaven and each creation would point to the same God. He would be precisely the same, whether all his children were lost, or all came home to glory. Such a God is not the God of Jesus Christ. It is the god of the Greeks – as honestly and piously as some may think the two are the same – mixed with pagan notions of justice and power. There is a reason why Aristotle’s god could not know the world, friends. It is because he could not create it, let alone love it into being and have it as a reflection of his own very self. My aim is not here to say that it is, in fact, impossible to reconcile these two pictures of God – the Jewish and the Greek – nor to show how the Creator’s unrelatedness to his creation may still be true, and yet point to, not an unrelated abyss, but a closest union between himself and what is made. I may yet endeavor to do that sometime. My point for the present is only to show the danger in taking one’s eyes off the Son, and allowing them to linger on some other thinker and some other system; rooted, it may be, in profoundest knowledge of being, yet not consciously nourished by Christ crucified.

I believe that the god described by the pagan Greeks is harmless in itself. Indeed if I was not a Christian, or if I thought Christianity was impossible to believe, I may well hold to such a view: an all good actus purus, never creating nor loving, yet ever drawing, the world, for all eternity, towards itself; and the world, always straining to union, but never quite able to do so. The transcendence of the all-good would overcome the nihilism of the never-being-able-to-attain of the world. To believe that something existed, absolutely perfect, itself subsistent life and being and joy, would be better to believe that the good as such was not strong enough to be eternal and imperishable and ultimately triumphant. But, thank God, we have the words of the Bible in front of us, and that which is self evident within us, which tell us that human beings were made in the image of God, and that our race is destined to a glory unspeakable which has not entered into human heart to conceive. Thank God we have the Spirit of the Maker – the Father – that highest Good, that being of subsistent life, who himself testifies with our spirit, and groans within us with words unspeakable. Thank God we have Jesus Christ, who delivers us from profoundest nihilism yawning wide when we contemplate the incongruity between the indifference of the deity, and the divinity of humanity.

To believe that the world makes no difference to God requires one to simultaneously affirm that all that is not God – and therefore all that is the world – is worthless. It is to say, in a word, that God neither knows nor loves the world as a thing worthy of attention. It is to call it less than that which arouses anger in the most righteous heart; indeed to call it no more than nothing at all. For the eyes of the pagan deity take no notice of the creation. Its gaze is identical whether it is all in Hell, or all in Heaven; whether it was never made, or was made with the highest aspirations and then annihilated. Since, too, this deity’s judgment is the law of being, it must be that all created goods are just as it thinks, or fails to think, that they are. If it thinks they are worth keeping around or perfecting, though they have existed and been loved by heart of man ever so dearly, such must be so. If this were not so the deity would count them worth ennobling and beautifying and redeeming. Nay, in the heart of such a being – if one could describe it as possessing anything like conscious thought or feeling or will – what is made was not even worth making, else, his action having gone into the production of things, he must needs then be concerned – infinitely concerned – with perfecting what was made and pouring forth on it all the rays of his own essential plenitude of joy and life and bliss.

Note well the problem. It is not that those things this uncaring deity makes may be eternally lost in hell fire or annihilation. It that they ever could be. It is that the god who gives them being is such that it makes no difference to him, one way or the other. What does it matter whether in fact his creatures may go wrong, if he does not care at all if they did? In his eyes their well being doesn’t even rise to the level of notice; for they are, in the most metaphysically literal since of the word, worthless, valueless, yea being-less to him.

What a lonely, dreary life! To be constantly killing and careless of the things we come to love! Everything we come in contact with, everything in which we delight and think good, would be, in the eyes of such a god, something that may as well never see the glory of heaven! Why then ought these things we love endure? Why then ought we to care for them to? Why pray for thy friend, let alone thy enemy, if the god above cares not a wit for them? If god could either damn or save each man indifferently, then each man himself is an indifferent thing; therefore, not worth saving. Why, then, pray for his salvation? Yea, why let thy heart groan for even thy own salvation; or thy wife’s or child’s? Such would be an offense against the objectivity dignity of the person’s worth – or, rather, unworth. Such desire would, in fact, be a sin, an inappropriate valuation given to created being which ought not to be given it, akin to wishing that the wicked man be rewarded for his wickedness or the good man punished for his righteousness. If the whole human race could as easily perish in oblivion or be sentenced to eternal pain, then not one of us, in our most pitiable condition, is worth the dignity even of a sigh, let alone a tear. For god, who gives all creatures their objective value, has not invested us with such a dignity.

Do you say that, in fact, he has so invested, at least some of his creatures, the dignity of being his children? I say, if we all come into the world in a state not naturally children of God, then this helps not at all. For until such an act on God’s part, no human being is worthy of love. Yet then for every child born we ought not desire its continuance – its salvation – since in itself it is not naturally worth love, worth perfecting, worth the glory of heaven. Therefore – goodbye human race. In my heart I believe you a good thing. But in the heart of god, from the moment you come unwillingly into being in the mystery of the universe, you are no higher than the nothingness out of which you are made.

Oh, Lord God, may such a thing not be! If so, goodbye new formed eyes of the child, opening for the first time! Goodbye family with bonds as hard as iron and roots as deep as an oak tree! Goodbye joyful laugh of friend and tender gaze of lover! Goodbye ties of youth and old acquaintance, both barely remembered, but longed to be united to again! Since none of you all are worth anything in yourself and since god need not keep you around why ought I defy his almighty opinion? Indeed is it not my duty to bend my conscience to his will, which is law? Therefore I must become such that I care not if anything I’ve ever loved is saved or even worth being saved since no creature I’ve loved is really worth saving! For God is totally indifferent to the world! Such an Aristotelian metaphysic is compatible with any revelation of god as concerning his creation, is it not? The same god could either damn or save every creature! What a woefully useless and pointless theology: one that can lead equally either to universal hope or despair!

Not saintliest monk in barest cell has ever fully sacrificed all created goods in honor of what he deemed the absolute will of such an unknown deity. Let him who has had but a glimpse of such a soul wrenching cosmos, set before him as a horrid possibility, confess, that to think that God is nothing but an Unknowable, is the same as to think that God may be the most terrible demon that can be imagined. Such a god may demand anything, yea even the slaying of every precious thought that has ever faintly swept across thy breast. It may demand, not the outward murder of thy brother or sister, but the inward murder of them, where thy heart no longer cares whether they find bliss in heaven or torment in hell.

To suppose such a god exists, is the same as to suppose that any being you can imagine may exist: therefore, that no being, or the most terrible, may exist. It is to suppose that thy highest duty in life may be to kill all thy hopes and cares and joys and loves and to be content with an eternity of nothingness, with all thy friends and loved ones having returned to the abyss, if, indeed, they ever existed. Words cannot be put into the feeling of such a nihilism, such a Negation of All. Even the faintest idea, however small a joy it may have been, would be nothing but one more indifferent dream of meaninglessness to murder on the altar of obedience to the unknowable, never knowable, It.

To believe in such a god, friends, is worse than to believe in no god. It is to believe in the antithesis of God. Thank Jesus Christ that the God of the Bible pours out created goods on mankind knowing that mankind is perfected by its very act of loving these things themselves. Such a God is one who says himself that it is not good for man to be alone and that the creation he made was very good. It is a God who says with his Father-Heart that he shall see the travail of his soul and be satisfied.

The unknown god, precisely because he is unknown, and in principle cannot be known, is for that very reason capable of whatever supposed harm or wickedness the mind can imagine, and infinitely more. To suppose there is some limit or standard to which God himself approximates which somehow reigns in his actions is to already suppose such a god is not really unknown but known, at least this much. Ask thyself, could god create a world in which he commands all souls to do what is impossible for them to do, and still damn them for not doing it? If he cannot, then there you have it. He is at least known in this respect: he cannot do something that terrible. At least that is incompatible with his Fathergood! But if God can do anything conceivable – and an unknown Almighty can do anything conceivable – then no such thought is possible; no such Fatherhood able to be invoked as a safety value. But then the worst imaginable world may indeed be this world, for why wouldn’t it be, seeing as this being has no reason to make a world in which anyone is ever eternally happy? Yet how can a man trust a being like that? It would be as rational to trust in a fiction of his own wishful imagining. Therefore we must necessarily believe that God is good, yea infinitely so, else we cannot even hope he exists, or keep our sanity!

I do not know how to properly ascribe either necessity or contingency to our Maker. I do not want to say that he must create. Yet neither do I believe that he has no desire to spread his own heart out as infinitely as he can to all the things that his divine imagination can pour forth. Between these two uncertainties, however, there is one thing that I assert as true. Although it may be that God could still be God had he not created, God could not be God unless, supposing he has created, he loves everything he has made as profoundly and deeply as he loves himself. For all things spring from God, from the abundant hand and heart of the Father. Therefore each thing He has made must have, somehow, God himself in it. In the same way that a painting has a piece of the artist in it and a newborn soul has a piece of its parent, so too must a piece of God be in everything he has made. Therefore God in knowing creation must see his own beauty and goodness in each created thing, each uniquely mirrored God-speck of gratuity. For the creation is God’s own gift of himself, to himself; and in his pouring out of himself onto others like himself, he thus gives to himself all the more.

For this reason God must love each created thing; for in loving each thing, he is loving himself. For God then not to care about what he has made or for Him to be indifferent to it would be for him not to care about or be indifferent towards Himself, towards his divine self-reflecting creation. Such would be for God to make a thing in his own image and then not care what became of that image. It would be for him have a universe of children and then not care whether they grew up to be a kings or criminals, or even whether they grew up at all. Brothers and sisters, believe not such things about God. Believe in no God a thousand times faster than let thy mind suspect that there exists a god that is indifferent to the world. Does the notion creep into thy mind, perhaps against thy will? So be it. Do not give the thought dignity enough to even allow it to alarm you. The thing is absurd. And even if it were not, what would be the point in believing it? If God does not care about you – or cares about you just so much to want to damn you – what would it avail you to believe in some notion of him arrived at by a metaphysical argument? Do you think your assenting to his existence would cause your chances at heaven to be any greater?

If we cannot believe that God loves us with an infinite, unfailing Fatherly love, what hope is there for us? Who are we to trust in, and where are we to turn? Certainly not ourselves, wretched things, came from we know not where and able to control not even our next impulse! Certainly not to the abstract philosophical concept of the pagans, taken out of proportion and to extremities, who define god such that he can no longer be thought a he or a whom but simply an it. Nay, if we are to trust in anything at all, it can only be in the God of Jesus Christ. But if then in that God, God must be himself worthy of trust. It is only God’s necessary Fatherhood, and the impossibility of him being anything else, that gives us any ground for our hope. For if God can even possibly be otherwise, our hope can possibly be groundless!

I know many will say that, only those whom God has elected are his children. Others are not naturally his sons and daughters, but sinners, who deserve nothing but eternal separation from Him at best, or infinite torment at worst. Yet what does this word “naturally” mean, when we are talking about that which ultimately springs from God’s creative hand? What we are naturally, we cannot help but being. Yet if I am not naturally God’s child, how am I naturally a sinner? How could any man be anything but a sinner unless God had made him such? Yet if God did not make him such, if, that is, he is naturally a man capable of good, then is there not, in germ, the potential for greater, yea closest possible, union with the Father? If a man is able to be good, he is able to be closer and more like God. And if we can grow closer to this God’s heart, we must be more than worthless sinners! We cannot be antithetical to God’s being, as that which is totally other and worthless and incapable of goodness, else we could never approach or approximate, never even possibly be united to Christ and raised into the glory of heaven.

If we cannot approach God because we are depraved, then must not the Creator have made us this way? Or if he did not make us this way, then at least he made Adam that way, or whatever being first entered into God’s universe wherein God never intended to save it. For who made it that sin, and therefore separation, and therefore damnation or annihilation, was possible, and that such a chain ensues? Who grounds such a horrible fate, that one sin – and was it only possible, or necessary? – who, I say, makes it the case that such a sin should lead to such a consequence, that all who come after have no hope of salvation unless God indifferently lifts them out of their necessity towards evil? Whoever made such a system, and whoever gave it live utterance of being, himself commands the impossible, and punishes that which he has willed into existence. Or does he not will it, but tolerate it with a heavy heart? And yet if so why does he go on damning those who cannot repent? But how can God tolerate that which he has purposefully created which cannot be other than his predestining has made? Is he unhappy with what he has unilaterally determined? The potential for eternal punishment was either intended by the will of God, or it was not. If it was, he must have positively willed the unspeakable outcome, at least possibly, for some. It may be, you say, on certain grounds having to do with things outside of his control, such as creaturely freedom. Yet these grounds are ones he has lain down and decreed, along with their consequences, all the same. They have all sprang from his loving and creative hand. On the other hand, if the possibility was not made and intended by God and is something he does not wish, then of all hearts of love God’s himself is to be most pitied. For he cannot help it that so many billions upon billions come into being and may possibly be lost to him forever! For all he knows and can control, every soul he makes may be destined to eternal ruin! Poor denizen of torment, unable to deliver himself or his children: a God with no God to save himself from himself, or who is bound in the chains of the laws of being he eternally finds himself with, is a thought terrible beyond utterance.

I know well all the reasons men will say that some are lost, and I know well I have not met them all in what I have said here. To do so is not now my intent, though there may be a time for that. In the end all their reasons amount to the same: God either intends, or suffers, the ultimate destruction of some of his creation, beings which he has made of his own choice with the potential for infinite happiness. I cannot tolerate either alternative. For then I either cannot love God, or I pity him beyond words.

Surely no man will tell me that Christians must believe, on pain of damnation, that we have no reason to hope that such a being as we understand by the notion all perfect Father exists? And yet, that is all we need brothers and sisters. The smallest crack, however faintly we may perceive the light shining through, to allow us to hope that what we think we see may indeed be more glorious than we can imagine. Let unwavering certainty and metaphysical systematizing wait – until the next world, if need be. Let us find whatever space we need to make hope possible, and our spirits shall not fail us!

If you desire this not, brother or sister, then so be it. I have no more to say to you, nor do I care to incite further argument. What I write is not for such as you, at least not yet. I speak only to those who can hear of what I know. What else can I speak about? I speak of how I hear the Shepherd speak; and I flee from what seems to me the voice and look of a stranger. If I am in error, all the more reason ought those with knowledge to be tender to me, for my ignorance is come by honestly. I am simply trying to answer the question Jesus posed when he said, “why judge ye not even of ourselves what is right?”

A Meditation on Apokatastasis

 

If God may save or damn any man (and if it is therefore possible for any man to be saved or damned) then no man is of himself worth saving. If men were inherently worth saving then God would save them all: otherwise he would be failing to do what ought to be done. Yet many theologies teach that God does not save all. Therefore it must be that all are not worth saving. That is, since every man who is saved may possibly not be, then each man who is saved is not of himself worth saving.

But if no man is worth saving why should we care if any are saved? Why should I care and desire the salvation of wife or child or friend if these are not worth saving, if in fact in the eyes of God they could be either saved or damned indifferently? To desire the salvation of something that’s not worth saving would be like desiring that a pile of poo would be saved, or a pebble, or an atom, or a vacuum of empty space. In fact such a desire would be an act of injustice, for we would be desiring the naturally unlovable to be loved. This view taken to its logical conclusion means that we ought to cease to care for any and all created good – even ourselves – since none of it is worth saving or redeeming. None of these things have of themselves any redeeming qualities, anything worth perfecting, anything worth loving. We therefore have no reason to want their redemption or perfection or even their continued existence. In fact since they do not deserve these things, to want such goods for them is unjust.

What a lonely, dreary life! To be constantly killing and careless of the things we come to love! Everything we come in contact with which we delight in and think good, is, in the eyes of God, something that may as well not be saved! Goodbye wife and mother and brother! Goodbye new formed eyes of the child, opening for the first time! Goodbye joyful laugh of friend! Goodbye tender gaze of lover! Goodbye bonds of youth, goodbye old acquaintance, barely remembered, but longed to be united to again! Since none of you are worth anything in yourself and since God need not keep you around I ought not care whether you reach beatitude or not. I must become such that I care not if anything I’ve ever loved is saved, since no creature I’ve loved really is worth saving! And since indeed much of it God will not save!

What man can live this way? God himself says it is not good for man to be alone. And the apostle’s breast burned in love for his brethren, so much he says he wished he could be accursed for their sake. Did not God say that the creation was “very good”?

Note well the problem I am pointing out. It is not that such creatures we love will be lost (though that is true.) Rather, it is that they could be. It is that they are such that they really of themselves are not worth anything: that the goodness in them is not really good in the sense of worth keeping around. It is that they are, in a word, worthless: not that they they actually will or will not be saved.

But if things really are worth saving, must God not save them all?

I end with this passage from George MacDonald from his book At the Back of the North Wind.

“Do you remember what the song you were singing a week ago says about Bo-Peep—how she lost her sheep, but got twice as many lambs?” asked North Wind, sitting down on the grass, and placing him in her lap as before.

“Oh yes, I do, well enough,” answered Diamond; “but I never just quite liked that rhyme.”

“Why not, child?”

“Because it seems to say one’s as good as another, or two new ones are better than one that’s lost. I’ve been thinking about it a great deal, and it seems to me that although any one sixpence is as good as any other sixpence, not twenty lambs would do instead of one sheep whose face you knew. Somehow, when once you’ve looked into anybody’s eyes, right deep down into them, I mean, nobody will do for that one any more. Nobody, ever so beautiful or so good, will make up for that one going out of sight. So you see, North Wind, I can’t help being frightened to think that perhaps I am only dreaming, and you are nowhere at all. Do tell me that you are my own, real, beautiful North Wind.”

Union

The idea that the human spirit can contemplate

loving something forever

is the most moving thing in the world.

For a heart to give birth to the thought

“I shall give myself to thee forever”

is a mystery most profound

which surpasses all knowledge

and the words of infinite worlds.

 

In it is the bottomless mystery of love itself.

For when a person desires to love something forever,

he is,

subconsciously,

imitating the life of God:

the mystery of existence itself.

To wish to give oneself to another presupposes a knowledge of

the good

and the beautiful

and the lovely:

for one can only want what appears to be

good and beautiful and lovely.

This desire also presupposes

separateness and relationality:

for one can only desire union with that which is in some way

distinct from oneself

and which can be related to.

But the desire is not merely for the sake of giving

so that the other may have:

but also so that the one given

is united to that which is being given to.

Thus I want to give myself to my wife,

not only so that she may have me,

but so that I shall be united to her, and so have her.

This phenomenon of self-gift:

how mysterious!

How profound!

What other desire is there,

than the desire for unity,

a unity so close that there remains

no space of separation left between –

no way in which a closer unity would be possible?

For a heart to be united to another –

for a spirit to join another such that the two are in no sense separated –

what other desire is there?

This desire we must turn

to the beating heart of Christ:

for his heart is itself united to the source of all life

and love and goodness and beauty

and being itself.

We must seek ever more

to draw those we love and wish to be united with

into this union with the Lord.

For once all are perfectly united,

all shall be perfectly satisfied,

and all shall be perfectly joyous,

as the one desire of the human heart

– unity –

is perfectly fulfilled.

Look Around Thee

Look around thee

oh man

and behold all that comes to thy eye.

All that thou see will perish.

There will be a time when these things are no more.

You know this.

And yet

you live your life as if these things were your end

your infinite good.

Yet no infinite good can pass away.

Therefore fix in thy mind

every morning, and at mid day, and every night

this truth:

there is one but everlasting and infinite good.

And it is only in this that thou canst find what thou seekest:

joy

peace

fulfillment

ecstasy

beauty

and overflowing.

The End

The end

It is coming to an end
right now
for many across this transient globe
this life which passes like a mist
where we can vaguely recall
but one experience
in a thousand.
It is coming to an end
right now
for many sons and daughters
father and mothers
and children on the cusp of breaking out of their former husk
and experiencing life anew
in wonders various and sublime and terrible and startling
of which no one could guess,
except he lived them himself.
It is coming to an end
right now
for many older and for many younger than ourself:
to whom compared our life has been short
or long.
It has came to an end
already
for all those who have gone before
those moments uncountable of conscious life
now vanished
who we see as our comrades and our elder kinsmen.
As nothing the universe now counts them:
names innumerable, unknown to any now living,
but names that once reigned eternal in the soul itself
who once lived
who once breathed
who once held life to be an infinite gift.
Two things I take
from musing on all these kinsmen
those who are meeting or have met their end.
The first:
one day it will be so
for us
once for all.
This fact cannot be turned aside.
Let us reckon this often
and not shame the sacrifice of our forebears.
The second:
where reason fails us
and gives no certainty
let us live in the widest hope which this privilege affords:
where ignorance gives room,
let us not be satisfied with less than the infinite.

Sent from my iPhone

Universal Reconciliation and the New Testament Pt 1

Below I offer notes I’ve made on various eschatological passages of the New Testament. They are meant as notes only.
Colossians 1:15-23
This passage speaks of the fact that Christ is the first born of “every creature.” And that the entire cosmos was created through Christ and “for” him. It also speaks of the church as being “the beginning” and “the first born.” This makes little sense unless there are things that came afterwards (i.e. “second borns) who are not identical to those in the Church. Futher, Paul tells us what “pleases” the Father – namely the Incarnation (i.e. the “fullness” of deity dwelling in Christ) and the reconciliation of all hostile things through the peace of the cross. Paul also shows the preciousness of the humanity of Christ: for we are reconciled in “his body of flesh”, which indicates the union of Christ’s human nature to his divinity, since the flesh of a mere man could never reconcile us to God. Note then that these two things is what please the Father: the incarnation and reconciliation. There is no mention of ECT or even judgment. Also note that the “all things” that the Father is seeking to reconcile parallel the all things which Paul said were created by Christ: “things in heaven and on earth” – as if to indicate, the entire cosmos. The question is, is ECT or CI compatible with the teaching of this passage that God will *reconcile* “all things” to himself?
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Before this passage note that Paul “delivers to Satan” Hymenaeus and Alexander, but not to destroy them in the sense of ensuring their eternal torment, but for a corrective purpose – “that they may learn not to blaspheme.” (1 Tim 1:20). This we have an example of a redemptive destruction that involves a handing over to Satan. To the passage at hand: Paul says we are to offer prayers, supplications, intercessions (interesting word) and thanksgiving for “all men” ( “thanksgiving” is often overlooked – he is advising we be thankful, even perhaps for men who wrong us.) Paul also says that God “desires all men to be saved” and that Christ “gave himself a ransom for all” and that Christ is the “one mediator between God and men.” Now, God either desires absolutely all to be saved or he does not. If he does not, then he desires some to be damned, and it follows that Christ was not a ransom for everyone nor is he mediator for every one. This interpretation seems to contradict what is laid down in the passage. The passage could be interpreted in a Calvinist sense in which the “all” refers only to “all kinds.” However, the text does not contain those words and it is not the natural reading. In fact, the common argument that “all kinds” or “all classes” of men is implied because Paul first references “kings” and those in high positions, appears very weak. For if Paul intended to be describing the many “classes” of men God wanted to save, he would have actually given some examples of different class. Instead he simply mentions those who are in positions of authority (i.e. he mentions only one class of people.) One more note: some translations have “God *will* have all men be saved” rather than *desire.*
1 Corinthians 5:5
This verse plainly shows that there can be the “destruction” of a person, given as a punishment, with the end in view of saving the one punished. Paul says the person is to be given over to Satan so that his “flesh” may be “destroyed” but his spirit saved. There are several interesting things to note here. First, the word “flesh” in Greek is “sarkos” – the word continually used in Paul and the NT to mean the carnal and weak part of human nature. It is often juxtaposed to the spirit: see for example the famous passage at the beginning of Romans 8 where Paul describes this dichotomy. The second interesting point is that the word used here for “destruction” (olethros) is the same one used by Paul in 2 Thess. 1:9, a verse that is used by ECT and CI views alike. So, it has been shown by Scripture that it cannot be the case that destruction necessarily entails annihilation or eternal torment. Further, it has not been shown positively anywhere that it in fact can.
Romans 11:28-36
This passage describes enemies of God as also being elected and “beloved.” It’s main emphasis is that God permits the contrasting groups of people to be disobedient so he can highlight his own mercy and saving power and show that God loves both Gentiles and Israelites: “God has consigned all to disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.” I don’t see here any explicit teaching on UR but I do see a sort of universal principle of God’s dealings with the disobedient. If in the end there is a third group – a group who God permitted to be disobedient but never showed mercy to – this would be an awkward display of the principle of God’s wisdom and judgment that Paul is highlighting here. The passage ends by claiming that all things are directed and tend toward God: “from him and to him and through him are all things.”
Ephesians 1:9-12, 21-23
Here Paul expressly declares the “mystery” of God’s will: to unite “all things” in Christ. This he goes out of his way to qualify: all things are “things in heaven and things on earth.” He further says this gathering together will come to pass “in the fullness of time.” Such uniting was a “plan” that God purposed to bring about. Paul also says that God works all things in accordance with his will: therefore it stands to reason that God will in fact accomplish his purpose of uniting all things – things in heaven and on earth – to himself by redeeming them through Christ’s blood. More is said at the end of the passage about the “age to come” where Christ puts all things “under his feet” and “fills all in all.” No mention is made of ECT.
Romans 5:16-19
The comparison is made between Adam’s transgression, which spread to all, and Christ’s obedience and act of righteousness, which spreads to all. The parallel is straightforward: however many were affected by Adam will be affected by Christ. How many were affected by Adam? All mankind. Therefore, all mankind will be affected by Christ. In what way will they be affected? Paul says: they will be made righteous, will be acquitted of their sins, and given life. The same mass of people who are made sinners by Adam and condemned, Paul says these same will be “justified” by Christ’s act. It is interesting to note those who think that all mankind inherit Adam’s guilt apart from any choice from themselves, and yet they deny that Christ’s act of righteousness will be similarly applied to all mankind. The logic of the parallel is simply this: all that are guilty of “condemnation” due to original sin by birth (and therefore whatever that entails on ECT or CI eschatologies – e.g. Hell) shall be justified for eternal life due to Christ’s obedience by birth.
1 Timothy 4:10
This verse is straightforward. It says God is the savior of all, “especially of those who believe” implying that God saves others besides “those who believe.” I’ll let it speak for itself.
1 Peter 3:18-23
In this passage we read Christ after he died “went and preached to the spirits in prison.” These people Peter tells us are those who were destroyed in the flood and were formerly disobedient. This verse overthrows two major assumptions of the ECT view (and even the CI view), for in it we see a) that what God destroys in the flood, he can still save (CI often use 2 Peter 3:6 to teach eternal destruction, but the same that “perished” are here preached to) b) after death, Christ’s power to save can still reach souls. (Chapter 3 vs 6 also says the gospel was “preached to those who are dead.”)
Romans 8:20-23
Here we read that the whole creation – that which was “subjected to futility” – groans for its own redemption. The parallel Paul makes is that the entire created order is under a curse, and it is this entire created order which will one day be liberated. Can this passage be true if ECT or CI are true? If so, in. what sense are the finally lost “freed”?
Matthew 18:11, Luke 19:10
Here we read that Christ came to save that which was lost. This word – “lost” – is used by in CI and ECT views to refer to those who either are tormented forever or are annihilated. But this single verse shows that just because a thing is “lost” (in Greek “apollumi” – a word that is used by CI to describe annihilation), it need not be irremediably lost. In fact Scripture speaks of many things being destroyed or lost that both ECT and CI do not believe are ultimately so: e.g. God destroys [apollumi—Septuagint] the blameless and the wicked (Job 9:22); and The righteous perishes [apollumi—Septuagint], and no man takes it to heart (Is. 57:1). In each case what is meant in the text is not absolute destruction where one is annihilated or tormented forever but only a relative destruction (otherwise we must conclude that the righteous go to Hell or are annihilated.) Several other verses are like this. The point is “death” and a state of “lostness” in Scripture need not imply something irremediable. Actually, they are a necessary condition for our salvation in the first place. We must lose our lives to find them (Matt. 16:25); the grain of wheat must fall into the ground and “die” before it produces grain (John 12:24); the “lost” coin is that which is found (Luke 15:8) the “lost” sheep is what’s hen shepard saves (Luke 15:6)
1 Corinthians 15:21-28
As many as die in Adam are made alive in Christ. To show that this resurrection does not mean simply the resurrection of the body after which there is a final destruction or torment, Paul says those made “alive in Christ” are done so in different orders. Some there are who belong to Christ, and others who, evidently, do not. There are “powers” and “authorities” and even “death” that are said to be destroyed or abolished, but no rational beings. Also it says that Christ must reign “until he puts all enemies under his feet” and that everything must be “subjected” to Christ. Now, that subjection, whatever it means, cannot mean total annihilation of what is subdued or torture or a forced bowing of the knee, for Christ, after he has completed his reign, is “subjected” himself to the father. This is followed by saying that God may be “all in all.” (The RSV renders it as God bein “everything to everyone.”) The passage thus indicates a universal harmonious and voluntary subjected of the entire created order to God through Christ in which all humans are alive.
1 Corinthians 15:51-55
Preceding this passage Paul speaks of the fact that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, but that we must shed our current body and put on a new one – one that is imperishable. Now he says also that at the last trumpet “the dead will be raised imperishable.” This same imperishable substance is given “immortality” which swallows up death. There is no distinction or mention of some of the dead being raised and given perishable bodies or imperishable bodies that are eternally tormented. In fact, the very same class of people who are raised from the dead (which are everyone believes *all* people) will, according to the logic of Paul’s argument, be raised to immortality. The passage reads as if Paul says “at the last trumpet, all the dead will be raised and given imperishable bodies that shall never die.”
Ephesians 4:4-6
We have here asserted the universal fatherhood of God. He is the father of all and “over all, through all, and in all.” Vs. 10 says that Christ ascended into heaven so that he could “fill all things.” There is no mention of anything being outside of God in some state of eternal separation, whether that be annihilation or eternal conscious suffering.
Philippians 2:10,11
Here Paul says that every knee will bow and confess that Jesus is Lord “to the glory of God the father.” Further on, in chapter 3:21 we read that Chris has the “power” to “subject all things to himself.” The question then is, which form of confession and bowing the knee glorifies the father most? A forced submission, or a voluntary one? Remember, the text says that Christ has the power to subject all things to himself. What kind of subjection – assuming God could do either – is more glorifying?
John 3:16,17 and John 6:52
The text reads that God loved “the world” and that Christ came to save “the world.” One can interpret that to mean less than the world, or to limit Christ’s saving power and God’s saving intent, but doing so requires stretching the text past its surface reading. Likewise the second text reads that Christ gave his flesh for “the life of the world.” Thus he gives his body either for the world, as the text says, or for less than the world. The second meaning is possible, but one must stretch the text. One also wonders why the word “world” was used in the first place.
Jude 1:7
Here Sodom and Gomorrah are said to undergo a punishment or penalty of “eternal” fire. Now there are two things to note here: a) this word, eternal, is a derivative of aiónios, the same word that is translated in Matthew’s parables of the sheep and the goats as “eternal” when used of the goats’ “eternal punishment.” It is also the same words used to describe the “eternal fire” prepared for the devil and the angels in this chapter of Matthew. In other words, what is being told about in the case of Sodom we know to be a definitive judgment that lasted for a time and then came to an end. The same words are used to describe the punishment of the unrighteous in Matthew’s gospel, without elaboration as to what that entails. It is then not unreasonable to interpret the less clear judgment (found in Matthew) with the more clear one (found in Jude.) b) In Ezekiel 16:53-55 the Lord prophecies that he will “restore the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters.” And that Sodom will “return to her former state.” Taking all of Scripture together, then, we have in the case of Sodom an example of i) eternal destruction by fire and ii) a restoration of the very thing that is destroyed. This example alone is enough to show not only that this kind of judgment is one which God performs, but also the danger in taking an unclear or incomplete reference in Scripture regarding judgment and extrapolating that in a way involving absolute finality.
Titus 1:2, James 1:13
These verses tell us there are things God “cannot” do: lie or be tempted. Therefore there are certain things that are unworthy of God because of his character. It is reasonable then to think that there are certain actions towards his creatures which God is incapable of, such as tormenting them forever or annihilating them. If he cannot lie to his creatures, is it likely he could inflict pain on them for no remedial purpose or take them out of existence altogether?
Matthew 24-25
We have here the passage of the sheep and the goats. There are two important things to notice. i) This particular parable is only one of several given in a single discourse. Christ gives several images, each with different outcomes, which describe the end of the “age” he is referencing. These outcomes are: a) being cut in pieces and put with the hypocrites, which entail weeping and gnashing teeth; b) being shut out from a wedding feast; c) being cast into outer darkness; and d) being punished with eternal fire. ii) It must be noted that Jesus’ whole discourse in chapters 24 and 25 is unbroken, and his speech is in response to the disciples asking him “what will be the sign of the end of the age?” Thus, all the parables are given in response to this question. What is more, Christ says that all the things which he is foretelling will come to pass in the lifetime of some of his listeners: “truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” Therefore evidently all the parables that Jesus mentions will have already came to pass, prior to, at the latest, 100 A.D. It seems reasonable then that these two chapters of Matthew refer to the destruction of Jerusalem.

Acts 3:17-26.

Here we find one of the first sermons, and by Peter himself. For those who do not listen to Christ, their “soul will be destroyed.” This is a quote from Deut. 18:18-21. This OT prophecy actually says that of those who do not hear the prophet (i.e. Christ), God will “require it” of them. We are not told what this means. The OT passage further goes on to give an even worse judgment to people who make false prophecies. These people will “die.” So evidently “destroyed” as used in Acts isn’t described as eternal torment in the OT where the quoted prophecy was given. In fact it gives a worse punishment for people who do something worse than “not listen.” Furthermore, the purpose, as described in Acts, of Christ coming is to bless those who are in sin, and to turn “every one” of them from their iniquities (vs 26). It is not to torment these sinners and unbelievers. What is more, some translations say that Christ was even “appointed” to come for those who had crucified his very self (vs 20, ESV, RSV). Lastly, note the mysterious idea of “heaven receiving Jesus until the restitution of all things” that evidently the prophets had spoken about “from of old.” No explanation is given of this “restitution” but it is at least consistent with a final reconciliation of all.