Hell and the God "behind the back" of Jesus Christ

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Hell and the God "behind the back" of Jesus Christ

Postby Gregory MacDonald » Sat Feb 05, 2011 1:21 am

Warning: the following post is me in my slightly more assertive and provocative mode. I hold those who take different views from me (i.e., almost every other Christian theologian in the world) in high esteem. So the following comments are intended as constructive and not critical in any hurtful way. I fully appreciate why those who differ from me hold the view that they do.

I have a theological worry about the idea that the end of the story for some/many human beings will be eternal destruction, whether that be annihilation or eternal conscious torment.

Setting the Scene
As Christians Jesus Christ is the starting point and the ending point for our theological reflections. He is the definitive revelation of God and of God's kingdom purposes. And thus all our eschatological reflections and speculations must be utterly reconfigured around Jesus.

Christ, as Second Adam, represents all of humanity before God. He is the eschaton made flesh. The "Last Things"—the coming of final judgement and resurrection—have erupted into the present in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

So eschatological speculations on the final state of humanity must take Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, as definitive. In his risen body the destiny of humanity is revealed.

My Worry
My theological worry is simply this: to me, the suggestion that some (indeed, many or even most) people will never experience salvation sounds very much like the claim that something other than Jesus Christ is definitive for the shape of the future.

The suggestion that God's final victory will involve the irreversible destruction of many/most people sounds to me like something other than the resurrection of Christ is being allowed to govern our understanding of "God's triumph." The idea that God can "reconcile" some creatures by forcing them to acknowledge that he is the boss and then destroying them is, to me ear, a call to allow the understanding of "reconciliation" to wander free from its anchoring in the gospel.

The proposal that we need to allow God the "freedom" to decide the "end of the story" and that universalism is a presumptuous attempt to snatch such freedom from God sounds to me like an exhortation that we find another God "behind the back" of Jesus Christ. God has already shown his hand in the story of Jesus. He has already chosen, in his freedom, to "be our God." (And what kind of "freedom" are we being asked to allow God here? The freedom to damn people he could just as easily redeem? To me, this sounds like the "freedom" for God to be someone other than God. Such a "freedom" is, to my mind, an imperfection and unworthy of God).

As an aside, and with all due respect to all my friends who are "hopeful universalists," I will now explain my theological problem with "hopeful universalism."

Whilst I can appreciate that hopeful universalists seek to be humble before God and before mystery (and I am very much in favour of humility and mystery), I do think that such hesitancy is problematic. To say, "My hope is that God will save all but I cannot say with certainty that he will" sounds to me like the following:
"I hope that God will utterly triumph in the end but I cannot be sure that he will";
"I hope that God will be all in all—it is a live possibility—but we cannot be dogmatic."
To me such "hopeful" universalism sounds like the worry that perhaps God's reconciling action in Christ will, in the end, fall short for some reason.

Eschatological universalism is nothing more than a claim that the end of the story cannot be anything other than an empty tomb. Anything less is not a divine triumph but a divine failure because on any other scenario the future of the world is being shaped, not by the redeeming action of God in Christ but by sin; not by the Second Adam but by the First.

If we wish to know the future of humanity we look to the risen Lord. End of story.
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Re: Hell and the God "behind the back" of Jesus Christ

Postby amy » Sat Feb 05, 2011 10:11 am

Thanks for this, Robin! These are my sentiments exactly. It's really been troublesome to read Calvinists, like Fowler, that say, as Universalists, we are defining God too much by love and taking away His freedom. I agreed with this statement wholeheartedly:

You said...God has already shown his hand in the story of Jesus. He has already chosen, in his freedom, to "be our God."


I think, for many, the cross is but an uncharacteristic, atypical, one time act of grace on God's part and the grace stops there. They are thankful for the act that resulted in grace for them, but are not as convinced that God is really about grace for all or that it's possible for God to reach all with it.

You said...The proposal that we need to allow God the "freedom" to decide the "end of the story" and that universalism is a presumptuous attempt to snatch such freedom from God sounds to me like an exhortation that we find another God "behind the back" of Jesus Christ.


It certainly seems like another God to me, that doesn't faithfully draw all to Himself or doesn't elect to.

I'd like to share what you've written, though I'm not sure others will be able to appreciate it because, in their minds, it's out of the question that God can/will reconcile all. My dad, Bob Wilson, and I are just so amazed at how receptive folk are in the UK to the possiblity that God will reconcile all. We don't quite have that kind of receptivity here in the USA.
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Re: Hell and the God "behind the back" of Jesus Christ

Postby AllanS » Sat Feb 05, 2011 2:02 pm

Who can say? Perhaps, tragically, God isn't love. Perhaps, in his freedom, He one day changes his mind about saving anyone. Or maybe the materialists are right after all, and God is a figment of our collective imagination.

I cannot know who God actually is, but I can (must) choose which God I will worship. For me, a God who would rather die than see his people destroyed is worthy of worship. This is the God I choose to serve. If this isn't what he is really like there's nothing I can do about it.
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Re: Hell and the God "behind the back" of Jesus Christ

Postby nimblewill » Sat Feb 05, 2011 3:00 pm

Whilst I can appreciate that hopeful universalists seek to be humble before God and before mystery (and I am very much in favour of humility and mystery), I do think that such hesitancy is problematic. To say, "My hope is that God will save all but I cannot say with certainty that he will" sounds to me like the following:
"I hope that God will utterly triumph in the end but I cannot be sure that he will";
"I hope that God will be all in all—it is a live possibility—but we cannot be dogmatic."
To me such "hopeful" universalism sounds like the worry that perhaps God's reconciling action in Christ will, in the end, fall short for some reason.


Its not that I don't believe that God will utterly triumph in the end; I do, or that He will be all in all; I believe that too. I am a hopeful universalist in that I hope that what I believe is a correct understanding of what those two things mean.

Maybe this is what AllanS was saying as well?
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Re: Hell and the God "behind the back" of Jesus Christ

Postby auggybendoggy » Sat Feb 05, 2011 5:47 pm

I cannot know who God actually is, but I can (must) choose which God I will worship. For me, a God who would rather die than see his people destroyed is worthy of worship. This is the God I choose to serve. If this isn't what he is really like there's nothing I can do about it.


Alan,
I agree with you but one caveat; I think Jesus does reveal to us who he is and that we can know him. I believe one major revelation regarding our knowing God is done indirectly. On one hand scripture declares no one has seen God but on the other hand Jesus informs us that if we look upon him then we have seen The Father (God). I'm not saying Jesus is the Father but I believe he's making it clear that to know him (Jesus) is to know God and to be one with him. So I think you do know who God actually is becasue he's revealed in Christ.
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Re: Hell and the God "behind the back" of Jesus Christ

Postby Bob Wilson » Sat Feb 05, 2011 7:09 pm

Nimblewill,

I think you and perhaps Allan are using "hopeful" in a different sense than Robin. I believe he would agree that we don't profess to have a kind of certitude that means it's impossible that we are incorrect about universalism. Thus he would agree that he is a "hopeful dogmatic universalist," (acknowledging that it is possible that he has read things wrong), wherein 'dogmatic' emphasizes only his disagreement with those who seem to argue that we can never conclude that Scripture points to a universal outcome, because that would deny that God has 'freedom' to still do whatever He chooses. Assuming God can not violate what he has revealed of himself in Christ, Robin believes that the only boundaries on what we can believe about God is what amid our hopefulness we are most convinced that Biblical revelation discloses about God and God's plans.
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Re: Hell and the God "behind the back" of Jesus Christ

Postby Alex Smith » Sat Feb 05, 2011 7:33 pm

Gregory MacDonald wrote:And what kind of "freedom" are we being asked to allow God here? The freedom to damn people he could just as easily redeem? To me, this sounds like the "freedom" for God to be someone other than God. Such a "freedom" is, to my mind, an imperfection and unworthy of God
AllanS wrote:For me, a God who would rather die than see his people destroyed is worthy of worship. This is the God I choose to serve. If this isn't what he is really like there's nothing I can do about it.
I agree, there does seem to be some things unworthy of God and somethings worthy of God and hence our worship.

AllanS wrote:I cannot know who God actually is, but I can (must) choose which God I will worship.
I assume because we are finite and He is infinite, so we can never take a step back and look at all of God. God is too big for a finite mind to fully comprehend. We require the infinite to step into our reality and partially reveal Himself, which is who we understand Jesus to be, both the infinite and finite, as one. Like Aug said. I'm guessing you'll say, "Why do we pick the NT revelation and not Quaran or Joseph Smith?". Well...

I agree Bob, defining how "hopeful", how "confident" and how "certain" we are of a belief is tricky. I usually, end up saying, "I'm as certain as I can be of anything", which sort of avoids the question.
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Re: Hell and the God "behind the back" of Jesus Christ

Postby AllanS » Sat Feb 05, 2011 10:54 pm

Alex Smith wrote:I agree, there does seem to be some things unworthy of God and somethings worthy of God and hence our worship.


Worship means "worth-ship". I cannot rejoice in the worth of a God I secretly judge to be unworthy. It's literally impossible.

AllanS wrote:I'm guessing you'll say, "Why do we pick the NT revelation and not Quaran or Joseph Smith?". Well...


The God I find in Christ is more worthy of worship than the God I find in the Koran, in the Book of Mormon, in the Gita, or in "On the Origin of Species". Of course, not everyone agrees with my judgment. Nothing has changed since Joshua: "Choose this day whom you will serve, but for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

I agree Bob, defining how "hopeful", how "confident" and how "certain" we are of a belief is tricky. I usually, end up saying, "I'm as certain as I can be of anything", which sort of avoids the question.


I am absolutely certain of my hope: I hope God is good, wise and powerful, and that he will save all created beings from the ruin of sin. Is this God objectively real or merely my fantasy? I cannot know, but I am so inspired by this hope I choose to act on it nonetheless. And here's my experience: the more I act on this hope, the more subjectively certain I become of it's objective reality.

Jesus said, "Follow me", and "God gives his Spirit to those who obey." The more the disciples followed and the more they obeyed, the more they were enabled to believe.
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Re: Hell and the God "behind the back" of Jesus Christ

Postby TGB » Tue Feb 08, 2011 5:35 am

Robin: Whilst I can appreciate that hopeful universalists seek to be humble before God and before mystery (and I am very much in favour of humility and mystery), I do think that such hesitancy is problematic. To say, "My hope is that God will save all but I cannot say with certainty that he will" sounds to me like the following:
1) "I hope that God will utterly triumph in the end but I cannot be sure that he will";
2) "I hope that God will be all in all—it is a live possibility—but we cannot be dogmatic."

Tom: What if I were to express myself this way:

3) I believe God will utterly triumph in the end and that God will be all in all, but I want to admit that I may be wrong about what such triumph will look like. From my present perspective it doesn't look like final triumph is compatible with the final annihilation (or loss) of some, but I concede that in the end if it these are ompatible, I'll see how that is so. In the meantime my energies and passions are entirely invested in the final redemption of all.

This way I agree (against 1 and 2) that God WILL utterly triumph in the end and be all in all. I'm just admitting that my present grasp of things is finite and limited.

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Re: Hell and the God "behind the back" of Jesus Christ

Postby auggybendoggy » Tue Feb 08, 2011 2:28 pm

Great point TGB! It makes me stop and ask how do I not believe in something I hope for? Is this possible? It might be but at least I've never thought about it. If I hope that God will save me, will I believe he will? Seems logical to conclude one would believe in whatever he does hope for. Of course I hope Denver will win the Superbowl next year, but I don't believe they will :)

You might say that "Believe" is a sort of flexible word, one which can mean different things depending on the intention of it's use.

My hope that God will return results in my belief in God returning. If I had no hope in it, then why would I "BELIEVE" in it - in other words, it's simply a cognitive thought. Such as believing that Jesus is the Son of God results in you will not perish!
We all know that such "belief" entails every morsel of our being and compels us to do what we believe in (or what we hope in).

Aug
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Re: Hell and the God "behind the back" of Jesus Christ

Postby TotalVictory » Sun Feb 13, 2011 5:44 pm

Yes Robin: this is very good - and hard to see how one already there with you on Universal Restoration (eg me… and most of us here) would not like it.

But I think maybe you are being just a bit hard on those who might gravitate towards a “hopeful” stance. For many reasons…

1) To adopt a hopeful stance really could be an acknowledgement that there might just be some heretofore unthought of ways in which God really has (in effect) tied His own hands (God certainly has rendered Himself awfully vulnerable in HIs dealings with us after all) in the saving of all. It might just be a humble awareness that we more than likely do not know everything about salvation just now.

2) While being “hopeful” might seem rather “weak” from where we as the more convinced stand, it’s appropriate to acknowledge that for many, it is a chasm too far from ECT/annihilation straight to Universalism. Having the option to be of the “hopeful” variety serves, I believe, as an acceptable mid point -- and the only stepping stone perhaps possible for many between ECT and UR. ie some may in fact need to “stew” in the bath of “hope” before stepping forward into full conviction. Just because most of us here sped right through this stage need not mean the stage doesn’t have its uses.

3) I think it’s only fair to simply admit that for many, they really are following what they believe to be the preponderance of the evidence; evidence which pulls them towards ECT. Should this pull prove irresistible, the only possible way forward for those worried about God’s character may well be via the hopeful route.

4) The rush of the historic tide towards the belief in ECT is, to be honest, almost too much for many isn’t it? The hope it is not so stands then, for them, as bright beacon upon which to align ones travel.

Thus even if it is “only” the hopeful variety, at least Universal Reconciliation is being contemplated. And lets not forget the work of conviction is the Holy Spirits…

All that said, I think it’s proper to review some aspects of human understanding that cause barriers against the embrace of UR.

First, there is this almost universal belief that sin must be punished even apart from punishment as discipline. The possibility that what God really wants is remorse and confession and turning away to a better way becomes almost incidental to what is seen as absolute; punishment for it’s own sake. Punishment as end and resolution and “satisfaction” in itself. As if God somehow cannot let anyone stroll the streets of gold until He has extracted His pound of flesh as-it-were.

Second, we have this ingrained certainty that there are always winners and losers and the only task is to find oneself on the “right team” at the end. There is simply no place for the notion that with God, everyone is a winner; that there will always be room in heaven for everyone. Thus, in a sinister way, our “salvation” somehow comes at the “expense” of another who was less fortunate. Can there be any doubt that human nature always seeks to discern reasons why it is we who deserve that crown/reward in stead of that recalcitrant rebel over there?

Third, there remains a kind of denial as to the exact and full extravagance of the victory God has achieved in Christ! You spoke of this when you spoke of

“the claim that something other than Jesus Christ is definitive for the shape of the future.”


That something of course is the human rebel himself; ever seeking to become his own god. But as you say, this simply does not comport at all with the nature of God’s accomplishment through Christ at the cross. Yet folks do not let themselves embrace the completeness of that Victory. And the reason they don’t is so that they may retain some fragment of their human autonomy and prominence; and it goes by the name of “free will”.

Lastly, you speak of the God who hides His true self behind Jesus. The god who maybe plays with words and plays politics. The God of the fine print and of accounting. The God who might say, after drawing us in with the wonder of this Christ, that it depends on what the “meaning of ‘is’ is”. ie never underestimate the wariness of the savvy human as he approaches God and finds His offer perhaps more extravagant than even he imagines possible…

Good stuff Robin!!

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Re: Hell and the God "behind the back" of Jesus Christ

Postby Gregory MacDonald » Tue Jul 26, 2011 9:33 pm

Thanks for the interesting discussion guys :)
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Re: Hell and the God "behind the back" of Jesus Christ

Postby akimel » Wed Oct 19, 2011 2:36 pm

I guess I would describe myself as a "hopeful universalist." I fully agree with Robin that there is no other God than the one given in Jesus Christ. (I learned this long ago from T. F. Torrance.) But I cannot be a dogmatic universalist because the Church catholic has refused to dogmatically advance a dogmatic universalism--in fact, quite the contrary.

Is it possible for an individual to freely choose an eternal existence in opposition to Jesus? I find it impossible to insist that this cannot be the case. I recognize this possibility within my own soul. I hope and pray that this is not so.

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Re: Hell and the God "behind the back" of Jesus Christ

Postby revdrew61 » Thu Oct 20, 2011 2:25 am

akimel wrote:Is it possible for an individual to freely choose an eternal existence in opposition to Jesus? I find it impossible to insist that this cannot be the case. I recognize this possibility within my own soul. I hope and pray that this is not so.

Aidan, I would argue that this possibility is only in us because we don't yet see things fully and clearly (1Corinthians 13.12), and that when we are fully informed, it will not be possible. God will never give up in his search for every last lost sheep, but our running away won't go on forever. The rebellion of even the hardest creature will falter eventually, especially when fully informed. God's free will prevails over ours. In the end the only thing which cannot fail is the love of God (1Cor 13.8). What do you think?
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Re: Hell and the God "behind the back" of Jesus Christ

Postby Melchizedek » Thu Oct 20, 2011 4:05 pm

Gregory MacDonald wrote:Warning: the following post is me in my slightly more assertive and provocative mode. I hold those who take different views from me (i.e., almost every other Christian theologian in the world) in high esteem. So the following comments are intended as constructive and not critical in any hurtful way. I fully appreciate why those who differ from me hold the view that they do.

I have a theological worry about the idea that the end of the story for some/many human beings will be eternal destruction, whether that be annihilation or eternal conscious torment.

Setting the Scene
As Christians Jesus Christ is the starting point and the ending point for our theological reflections. He is the definitive revelation of God and of God's kingdom purposes. And thus all our eschatological reflections and speculations must be utterly reconfigured around Jesus.

Christ, as Second Adam, represents all of humanity before God. He is the eschaton made flesh. The "Last Things"—the coming of final judgement and resurrection—have erupted into the present in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

So eschatological speculations on the final state of humanity must take Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, as definitive. In his risen body the destiny of humanity is revealed.

My Worry
My theological worry is simply this: to me, the suggestion that some (indeed, many or even most) people will never experience salvation sounds very much like the claim that something other than Jesus Christ is definitive for the shape of the future.

The suggestion that God's final victory will involve the irreversible destruction of many/most people sounds to me like something other than the resurrection of Christ is being allowed to govern our understanding of "God's triumph." The idea that God can "reconcile" some creatures by forcing them to acknowledge that he is the boss and then destroying them is, to me ear, a call to allow the understanding of "reconciliation" to wander free from its anchoring in the gospel.

The proposal that we need to allow God the "freedom" to decide the "end of the story" and that universalism is a presumptuous attempt to snatch such freedom from God sounds to me like an exhortation that we find another God "behind the back" of Jesus Christ. God has already shown his hand in the story of Jesus. He has already chosen, in his freedom, to "be our God." (And what kind of "freedom" are we being asked to allow God here? The freedom to damn people he could just as easily redeem? To me, this sounds like the "freedom" for God to be someone other than God. Such a "freedom" is, to my mind, an imperfection and unworthy of God).

As an aside, and with all due respect to all my friends who are "hopeful universalists," I will now explain my theological problem with "hopeful universalism."

Whilst I can appreciate that hopeful universalists seek to be humble before God and before mystery (and I am very much in favour of humility and mystery), I do think that such hesitancy is problematic. To say, "My hope is that God will save all but I cannot say with certainty that he will" sounds to me like the following:
"I hope that God will utterly triumph in the end but I cannot be sure that he will";
"I hope that God will be all in all—it is a live possibility—but we cannot be dogmatic."
To me such "hopeful" universalism sounds like the worry that perhaps God's reconciling action in Christ will, in the end, fall short for some reason.

Eschatological universalism is nothing more than a claim that the end of the story cannot be anything other than an empty tomb. Anything less is not a divine triumph but a divine failure because on any other scenario the future of the world is being shaped, not by the redeeming action of God in Christ but by sin; not by the Second Adam but by the First.

If we wish to know the future of humanity we look to the risen Lord. End of story.


Amen, dude. :ugeek:
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Re: Hell and the God "behind the back" of Jesus Christ

Postby Juan C. Torres » Wed May 16, 2012 9:39 pm

"The proposal that we need to allow God the "freedom" to decide the "end of the story" and that universalism is a presumptuous attempt to snatch such freedom from God sounds to me like an exhortation that we find another God "behind the back" of Jesus Christ. God has already shown his hand in the story of Jesus. He has already chosen, in his freedom, to "be our God." (And what kind of "freedom" are we being asked to allow God here? The freedom to damn people he could just as easily redeem? To me, this sounds like the "freedom" for God to be someone other than God. Such a "freedom" is, to my mind, an imperfection and unworthy of God). "

I couldn't agree more with the paragraph above.
It just never made sense to me why universalism robs God of His freedom.
You are right...God freely bound himself to us all when he chose to be our God and Saviour.

God wills the salvation of all and He will accomplish His heart's desire.
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