Parry—Creation: all things are from him and for him

All Christians are universalists about creation—God created all things, through his Word. And creation is not simply about origins (everything comes from God), but about purpose and destiny. Created things have an end, a destiny, and that end, as the beginning, is God. The end of creation is there in its beginning: creation is from God, for God, and oriented towards God, reaching towards its potential and completion in God. So the question of universalism and hell can be framed in terms of whether or not God will bring all creation to the goal for which he intended it. Yes . . . or no?

Let’s get more specific. Take humans—the subject of this debate. Christians agree that all humans are created in the image of God (Gen 1:24–26). But while God did create humans as “good,” he did not create humans as finished and completed creatures—he created them with a destiny to grow towards. This telos of human creatures is, in community, to be filled with God and to image God in the world.

Furthermore, humans find their sense of fulfillment and happiness in God. We all long for happiness; as Jerry Walls puts it, “We have a built-in hard drive to desire happiness . . . .”1 That is how God made us. And this desire cannot be fulfilled without being rightly related to God. Augustine famously put it this way: “our hearts are restless until they find rest in you” (Confessions I). So our story of creation already includes a notion of the goal for which God destines humans—and that goal is not everlasting alienation from God.

The gospel revelation of Jesus Christ deepens and sharpens our understanding of the human telos. The risen and ascended humanity of Christ is the climax of our human nature. One day we shall be like him (Rom. 8:11; 1 Cor. 15:12–57; 1 John 3:2). For us, being human is a yet-to-be completed journey. Jesus is the only person ever of whom it can be said that he is fully human. Humanity has reached its goal in him. And in the gospel it becomes clearer to us that the creation of humanity was always a two-phase project: the first Adam was earthly; the second Adam was heavenly (1 Cor. 15:42–49). Humanity was made with a destiny, and that destiny was to be conformed to the image of the true human, the origin of the new, phase-two humanity—Jesus. This theology is foundational for universalism. Humans have been created to grow towards God, their destination. They are not created for hell, but for theosis.

Creation

Fall

Genesis suggests that the move from phase-one to phase-two humanity was interrupted by sin. Sin is the creature’s attempt to interrupt the reditus, the return to God, which is the goal of creation. As such, sin represents a rupture in creation. It corrodes human be-ing at every level and makes it impossible for us to reach our destination. Instead we spiral away from God, the source of life, into corruption, decay, and death.

All Christians are universalists about sin—all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). Without divine redemptive grace human beings (and creation as a whole) are doomed to futility.

Might hell be able to build on the foundation of this plot-twist? Do we deserve divine punishment? Yes. Do we deserve divine rescue? No. But, remember, even broken humans are still in God’s image (Gen. 9:6), still valuable, still beloved:

[A]ll creatures participate in God’s goodness, especially rational creatures who were made in God’s image. . . . The rational creature is, essentially, a being bearing the divine image and ordered toward union with God. . . . God can no more cease to value rational creatures—even if they fall into sin—than He can cease to value Himself, because rational creatures are a reflection of His own essence. Therefore, He is always faithful to them, even when they are unfaithful to Him, and must seek to destroy their sin.2

John Kronen and Eric Reitan, God’s Final Victory

To hate creatures made in his image, even fallen ones, would be a form of indirect self-hatred, and this God cannot do. Thus, Jürgen Moltmann: “God is angered by human sin not although he loves human beings but because he loves them. He says No to sin because he says Yes to the sinner.”3

Anthony Bloom, former Metropolitan Bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church in Great Britain, once stated:

Every one of us is in the image of God, and every one of us is like a damaged icon. But if we were given an icon damaged by time, damaged by circumstances, or desecrated by human hatred, we would treat it with reverence, with tenderness, with broken-heartedness. We would not pay attention primarily to the fact that it is damaged, but to the tragedy of its being damaged. We would concentrate on what is left of its beauty, and not on what is lost of its beauty. . . . We must learn to look, and look until we have seen the underlying beauty. . . . Only then can we even begin to do something to call out all the beauty that is there.4

Blogger Alvin Rapier, commenting on this quote and annihilationism, writes:

If humans are like damaged icons and annihilationists hold that God completely annihilates human beings through the fires of hell, then the doctrine of annihilationism makes God the Great Iconoclast, the destroyer of human icons. God would be destroying the very Creation meant for communion, repeating the actions of the iconoclasts that were condemned in the Seventh Ecumenical Council. Instead of treating these icons “with tenderness, with broken-heartedness” and calling out the beauty that is there, as Bloom stated, annihilationism holds that God inflicts “capital punishment” upon these images, that the fires of hell will consume them, similar to how the iconoclast extremists “tore down icons from their places in churches and broke them up and burnt them” (Stephen W. Need, Truly Divine and Truly Human, 132). The God of annihilationism is the God of the iconoclasts, the ultimate destroyer of God’s images.5

So building a doctrine of eternal hell on the doctrine of the fall may prove harder than we may at first think. Hell’s defenders should try to do so, but they will have to wrestle with the wider biblical metanarrative in which the fall is located. Will God allow sin to thwart his creational purposes to beautify the cosmos? The answer comes, as we’ll see, in the gospel story. Sin may be as deep and dark and deadly as it can, but Christ annihilates it! The first Adam may have wrought havoc, but the Second Adam more than undoes that destruction (Rom. 5:14–21). Where sin abounds, grace abound all the more (Rom. 5:20). One problem with hell is that is makes the victory of Christ over sin sound something of a damp squib. Sin wreaks havoc in creation, but praise be! Grace undoes a bit of what sin does! Where sin abounds, grace abound quite a lot. Is that divine victory over sin? It looks at first blush like a doctrine of hell is a doctrine in which Satan achieves a big chunk of what he set out to do. And if the Augustinian tradition is correct and most people are forever damned then eschatological victory is in danger of sounding like celebrating the divine triumph after hearing the following soccer score:

Satan, 5; God, 1.

“Hooray! God has won!” For Augustine, this score counts as a win because God wanted Satan to score 5 and only wanted one goal himself, and because he plans on beating up Satan after the match. Yet that still sounds like another way of saying that God wanted to lose.


1. Jerry L. Walls, Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory: A Protestant View of the Cosmic Drama (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2015), ?.
2. John Kronen and Eric Reitan, God’s Final Victory: A Comparative Philosophical Case for Universalism (New York: Bloomsbury, 2011), 38. Some readers will be uncomfortable associating the divine image with rationality. If that is you, simply substitute “human” for “rational” in the passage.
3. Jürgen Moltmann, The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology (London: SCM, 1996), 243.
4. As quoted in http://www.stmaryorthodoxchurch.org/orthodoxy/articles/quotes
5. Alvin Rapier, “God the Great Iconoclast? A Theological Critique of Annihilationism.” Blog post (16 Dec 2014) on www.thepoorinspirit.com.


Above is the third section of the excellent talk Robin Parry gave at the 2015 Rethinking Hell Conference (video below). See here for more.

Parry—Hell in the Context of the Biblical Narrative

Exitus et reditus

The first part of the material that follows can be found in a modified form in my contribution to the forthcoming Four Views on Hell counterpoints book, published by Zondervan. Everything starts and ends with God. Paul writes that creation is “from” God, “through” God, and “to God” (Rom 11:36). God is the context of the world—the origin and the destiny of creation. That basic pattern informs Christian theology: exitus et reditus—“going forth” from God and “return to” God.1 It forms the very broad theological framework within which we must operate.

Consider the Christ hymn of Colossians 1.

For in him [the Son] all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. … God was pleased … through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Col. 1:16, 19–20

We see here a story that begins with the creation of all things through Christ and runs on to the reconciliation of the same all things through Christ (i.e., the all things that have been created).2 Exitus et reditus. Avoiding the universalism in this text remains a significant challenge for those who believe in eternal hell—eternal hell, after all, does not seem much like reconciliation!3 But I’ll say no more on that now.

So I propose we explore this Christ-centered creation-to-new-creation plotline as a context for considering hell. This hermeneutical judgment—that Christ is the norm for interpreting Scripture—underpins my entire approach. And already we may catch a possible glimpse of a red flag: might an eternal hell foul up the “reditus” of creation? How can creation return to God . . . if it doesn’t ever return to God?


1. The exitus-reditus model was adopted and then adapted from Neoplatonism.
2. While sin is not mentioned, the fact that reconciliation is required clearly presupposes it.
3. Some argue that reconciliation here means, “to put in order.” So, we are told, believers are “reconciled” by being saved, while unbelievers are “reconciled” by being damned. The problem here is that this proposal runs roughshod over the concept of reconciliation in general, and of the concept of reconciliation in Paul in particular (Rom. 5:10; 1 Cor. 7:11; 2 Cor. 5:18–20; Eph. 2:16; Col. 1:22). Being defeated and condemned is not being reconciled! Rather, this reconciliation is spelled out in terms of “making peace through his blood shed on the cross.” Try as I might, I struggle to see how “making peace” through the cross can concern damnation, even if the damned acknowledge the justice of their punishment.


Above is the second section of the excellent talk Robin Parry gave at the 2015 Rethinking Hell Conference (video below). See here for more.

I go into Colossians 1 in detail in Everyone Being Reconciled To Everyone Else One Day – The Bible’s Overall Story Part 3.

Parry unpacks the “Christ-centered creation-to-new-creation plotline” over 71 pages of careful, biblical exegesis (he did his Phd on part of Genesis) in his book, The Evangelical Universalist, resulting in the summary diagram below:

The Big Picture of the Bible
The Big Picture of the Bible—Diagram 4 of “The Evangelical Universalist”, p129

Parry—Burning Love: The Theological Hermeneutics of Hell

One of the fascinating things about the history of universalism in the post-Reformation period is that the doctrine seems to be “rediscovered” over and over again. While we can trace universalist genealogies in the post-Reformation period, the more interesting feature is just how many folk seem to stumble into it for themselves without having had it passed on to them. Some folk have unexpected religious experiences that lead them to become universalists; others, simply reflecting on the Bible come to believe that it teaches universalism; yet others find that wresting with the tensions in Christian doctrine draws them to the larger hope. But from the seventeenth century onwards we find universalism in Protestant countries breaking out again and again, here and there and everywhere. And when one genealogical line dies off, as many do, new ones spring up, often unconnected to earlier movements.

Why? My conviction is that a part of the answer to this question lies in the following claim: universalism feels like a better “fit” within Christian theology than the alternatives, at least at face value. As such there is an internal pressure generated by various Christian doctrines that pushes in universalist directions. The doctrine of hell puts a blocker on that push, but in so doing it generates a build-up of unresolved theological pressure that sometimes needs to be released. One of the ways that it can be released is by pushing out eternalist interpretations of hell (like a cork from champagne) and embracing universalism. So I think that if every Christian universalist and all their universalist materials vanished into thin air today, we would not have to wait long before some Christian was led to “rediscover” universalism again.

Think of Christian theology like an incomplete jigsaw: how do we know which pieces do and do not fit into the gaps? The clues are provided by the shape of the gaps left by the pieces that are already in place and by the image contained on them. My suggestion is that there is no obvious hell-shaped hole in this puzzle. Hell, understood as one’s eternal fate, has been squashed and squeezed into a space in the jigsaw, but the shape and the picture on the piece are not quite right. The space clearly has to do with judgment and punishment, so the hell piece is not completely out of place, yet something is wrong with it and this creates a niggling sense of dissatisfaction. That this is the case is indicated not merely by the fact that some people throw the piece away and seek out a piece that they think fits better, but also by the lengths those who support the inclusion of the piece go to to defend its appropriateness. Hell, they acknowledge, does appear not to fit, but they insist that upon closer inspection we can see that things are otherwise.

Now the salvation story that the church tells seems to me to generate, by its own internal narrative logic, certain expectations about the appropriate end to the plot. While we may well expect that the journey towards the end will involve judgment and punishment, the narrative logic does not lead us to expect it to end in eternal damnation for some/many/most people. Eternal damnation sounds more like the unexpected twist at the end of a Hammer Horror film. Or, to use a musical analogy, it is like a discordant note sounded at the end of a Mozart symphony. Instinctively we feel that it doesn’t fit, and indeed that it is rather ugly.

The universalist proposal is that in fact it does not fit; that the Bible does not actually teach such a doctrine; that many in the early church never accepted such a doctrine; and that we’d be better off throwing the rogue jigsaw piece away and replacing it with a piece that fits the gap better in terms of its shape and its picture.

Universalists also worry that insisting on retaining the eternal hell piece does damage to the rest of the jigsaw. By forcing the piece into a gap it does not fit, the surrounding pieces are squashed out of shape. Perhaps they are even repainted somewhat to make them blend in better with hell. When we let the hell piece call the shots and we reshape the jigsaw around it, the end result is a distorted picture.

To drop the barrage of analogies (jigsaws, movies, stories, symphonies), what I am saying is that the doctrine of hell may lead to our reconfiguring the other parts of orthodox theology to relieve the pressure—perhaps God did not create everyone for beatific union with God, perhaps some were created and eternally destined for damnation. Perhaps Jesus does not represent humanity, but a subsection of it. Perhaps he died for a few people, rather than all. These ideas do serve to relieve some of the pressure on hell, but they do so at a cost. It is a cost in all sorts of areas—at face value such notions are unbiblical; they are theologically problematic; they are arguably not true to the pre-Augustinian Christian tradition.

What we need to remember is that when we speak about hell, we are never simply speaking about hell. We are also implicitly speaking about creation, about humanity, about sin, about justice and punishment, about atonement, and about God. Every hellology implies a theology, every doctrine of eschatological punishment implies a doctrine of God.

When considering which account of divine judgment to embrace we are always doing more than simply exegeting this passage or that passage of the Bible. We are also, always, looking at the big picture. We need to remember that for Christians biblical texts are only authoritative when understood within their context in the canon of Scripture and in light of the rule of faith. So an atomistic approach to the topic that builds everything on the interpretation of a handful of passages will never do. Those passages will factor into Christian reflection, but only as located in a wider context. So today I want to briefly sketch out the narrative logic of the biblical plotline as I see it so as to make clearer the jigsaw pattern that I think a doctrine of final punishment has to fit comfortably within. A caveat: for reasons of time limit I am going to skip over a critical part of the story—that of God’s way with Israel. So I must simply register here that I do not think this part of the story optional, but to open it up would lead us into areas we have no time to handle. Also, I must stress that I will not be looking at the exegesis of any of the hell texts—this is an important task, but there is no time. My purpose is a tad more modest. I am hoping to offer something like the initial stages of a prolegomena to the theological interpretation and appropriation of such texts.


Above is the first section of the excellent talk Robin Parry gave at the 2015 Rethinking Hell Conference (video below). See here for more.

Sarris & Rankin Debate—Will Hell Eventually Be Abolished? part 2

Below is my transcript of John Rankin’s’ 15-minute opening presentation in the above video of the Mars Hill Forum debate titled, “Will Hell Eventually Be Abolished?” (for George Sarris’ opening presentation see Sarris & Rankin Debate—part 1).


John Rankin: So will hell eventually be abolished? The question covers much territory and I will look at it through the proactive lens of freedom. The entire Bible is understood through the storyline of creation, sin, and redemption. In Genesis 1-2, in the order of creation, we have the foundation for, and the gift of, human freedom. In Genesis 3 we have the brokenness of human freedom and then the promise of this restoration through the coming Messiah. Now, the very word “redemption” means to buy back out of slavery, and thus the formal doctrines of creation, sin, and redemption can be spoken of as freedom, slavery, and return to freedom.

Our first concern is to understand the nature and name of the one true creator. In Genesis 1, the Hebrew word for the Creator is Elohim and in its grammatical usage, it simply means that the one true God of the Bible is greater than all the so-called gods of pagan religions. Elohim is greater than the human concept of number. In Genesis 2, the name Yahweh Elohim is introduced and at the burning bush in Exodus 3:14-15, Elohim defines his name for Moses. He calls himself ehyeh, the first person singular imperfect tense (don’t worry about the grammar) of the verb “to be”—the “I AM”. This means that he who is, always was, and always will be. The grammar that he is greater than space and time. And thus he tells Moses to call him Yahweh Elohim, where Yahweh in the Hebrew is the third-person singular imperfect for the verb “to be”—”he is”. In other words, “I am” azegna (sp?) “he is” as Yahweh. It’s the same: first person, third person, “he is”. “He is eternal existence”, “he is the creator”. Then Yahweh tells Moses that his name is forever—where the word forever is olam—and the sons of Israel are to remember his name from generation to generation. And when Jesus calls himself “I am”, he is calling himself ehyeh. Therefore he’s calling himself God. Thus the one true creator, Yahweh Elohim, is he who is greater than space, time, and number, and Jesus—as the incarnation of Yahweh Elohim—is the one who in being greater than time, space, and number, comes inside time, space, and number to save us. Only by starting here can we grasp the question of the duration of heaven and hell. Time is defined by Yahweh Elohim in the biblical revelation, not by us.

Our second concern leads us to the question “what is the nature of salvation?” in Genesis 1-2. Well, there is none, for there’s nothing yet to be saved from. Only after the introduction of sin does the need for salvation arise. And the purpose of salvation is to restore us to the original promises in creation. In Genesis 2:7, human nature is defined by the Hebrew term nephesh, which means soul or personhood. It is the word that refers to the throat and neck region—and indicates the nature of being needful of Yahweh’s breath and the ecosphere in order to live. Indeed, before the advent of human sin, when trust in Yahweh and one another is in place, with every breath we take we are grateful—the dependency of nephesh is our strength.

So let me take a quick survey: How many people here do not like a good back rub? It looks like we have unity so far… Let me give you two choices:

  1. Give yourself the back rub? Any takers? Unity continues.
  2. Have someone you love and trust give you the back rub?

But who among us would receive a back rub from someone who has a contract on our life? In other words, when we’re in a position of need and trust we are strengthened and we thrive. But if we are in a position of need and distrust is the norm, we are weakened and life can be in danger.

In the first case we have nephesh in the order of creation and the second we have its violation in the sin nature. Salvation restores us to the freedom of nephesh and, if you please, the freedom to receive the best possible back rubs.

The living and preaching of the gospel in a broken world seeks to touch the nephesh of the image of God and all people—and to show how Jesus alone fulfills it. The many who seek the mercy of God will find it in him and a few who love bitterness will not. And for those who have not heard the name of Jesus lived and/or preached, when they see Jesus on the final day they will either love or hate him. As Jesus speaks of those who love the light because of their pursuit of the good versus those who love darkness due to their evil deeds—nephesh honored or nephesh rejected—gratefulness for every breath given or disdain for the giver.

The first introduction of freedom is found in Genesis 1:2 and 2:1. In Genesis 1:2 the earth is formless and empty and the Spirit of Elohim hovers over the abyss, theum. This is the Hebrew word describing that which is outside of the creation, a bottomless pit of no boundaries, no life, no light, no heat, no identity, no hope—that is nothing.

There’s a foundation for the use of the abyss (abusan in the Greek) in the New Testament, which interfaces greatly with the language and images of Hell—of final judgment. Thus we note the language of the abyss before the creation and after creation but it does not exist within the good creation itself.

In Genesis 2:1, the text speaks of the creation of the heavens and the earth being completed in their armies. This means that in Genesis 1:2 these armies are already in place. It is a reference to the holy angels and a view of the fallen angels led by Satan. Essentially Genesis 1:2 assumes the freedom that all angels were originally given to accept the goodness of Yahweh Elohim or to reject it. Genesis 1:1 equals the first words in scripture, “in the beginning Elohim created the heavens and the earth.” Yahweh Elohim is sovereign and he has all power. And then in verse 2, we see that the angels have freedom from before the creation—sovereignty and choice, the great debate. Thus we have set the stage for human freedom.

As the first words of the Bible start with God’s sovereignty, his first words to Adam start with freedom. In Genesis 2:15, Yahweh Elohim calls Adam to work and quote unquote, “Guard the garden.” The Hebrew word for guard is Shamar, a crucial word across the entire Hebrew Bible. Adam is being called to guard the garden from the intrusion of the devil. He had already violated freedom and wants Adam and Eve to do likewise.

Then we read in verses 16 through 17 (when I quote the Bible I’m quoting translations straight from the Hebrew or the Greek), “And Yahweh Elohim commanded the man, ‘In feasting you shall continually feast from any tree in the garden but you must not eat from the tree in the middle of the garden, for the moment you eat of it in dying you shall continually die.'” Now a common translation of verse 16 is, “you are free to eat”, but the Hebrews is far more dynamic, acalltocael. This is the infinitive absolute and an imperfect tense for the verb “to eat”. And what it means is a feast that is always full in the moment and never ends. The grammar is clear, “in feasting we shall continually feast”, is a metaphor for freedom and it means a feast that is always full in the moment and never ends. This is the only positive definition of freedom in all human history—a freedom for the good. Whereas, in all pagan religions and secular constructs, the best hope is a freedom from a violation of evil. Adam and Eve had an unlimited menu of good choices, the metaphor of freedom, and this includes the Tree of Life, which, as they eat of it, they will never die.

Does anyone here who does not enjoy a feast with family and friends? The biblical metaphor of freedom is attractive to all people and the mission of the gospel is accordingly to bring true freedom into an enslaved world.

Now Genesis 2:7-17 is a whole unit where three realities are profiled: good versus evil, freedom versus slavery, and life versus death. In verse 9, in the middle of all the good fruit of the garden, we learn of the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The second tree refers to:

  1. The knowledge of everything that only Yahweh Elohim can possess, and also not be tempted or poisoned by evil.
  2. For man or woman to eat of it is to say Yahweh is not good.
  3. Thus it is to play God in redefining good and evil, calling Yahweh evil.
  4. It is to consume evil and be destroyed by it—only Yahweh Elohim can understand everything, including good and evil.

And so he is telling us that, “Don’t eat this fruit because you can’t understand everything and especially evil because if you try to digest evil you will die”—that’s the prohibition.

Now as we look at verse 17, which we’ve already quoted, “In dying you shall continually die.” And here we get to the nexus, to the crucial point about the debate over hell. The grammar is the same as in verse 16 but with opposite purpose, “a death that is full in the moment and is never ending.” So to disobey God is to have the fullness of death and it never ends—this is the grammar in Genesis 2:17.

As the forbidden food is eaten, the Tree of Life is forsaken, and thus death gradually wears down the human soul. Hell is the biblical language introduced later, used especially by Jesus in referring to final judgment. And all biblical language of freedom versus judgment starts in Genesis 2:16-17. Life, the good, and freedom never end. For those who say yes to Yahweh Elohim—to Jesus. Death, evil, and slavery never end for those who say no and refuse to repent. Life multiplies in the presence of King Jesus. Death ever shrinks humanity in the presence of the devil and his demonic horde in the abyss.

Thus what we have here is a level playing field to choose between heaven and hell. We have the freedom to choose hell if we so please. The choice is either to feast or die. But why would the good Creator allow us such proactive freedom?

First, being made in the image of God as finite creatures, we are made in the image of the infinite one who is fully free in his sovereign power.

Second, Yahweh Elohim as the Creator only does the good. For if he were to do the evil he would be a destroyer, which is one of the names of Satan (and the reality of all pagan deities). If Yahweh Elohim were to do evil he could not be the creator and could neither make nor sustain the universe and human life.

Third, and therefore, freedom is the power to do the good since it is creative but if freedom and goodness were forced on us it cannot be freedom, it cannot be good, it is slavery and evil, and Yahweh Elohim is neither a slave master nor evil. He will not force the good on us.

Thus unless we are free to say no to the good creator, we are not free to say yes. If we believe that Yahweh Elohim were to restrict anyone’s freedom to say an ultimate no to his love, and thus to cajole them into heaven one way or another, this equals:

  1. An unbiblical view of love, and
  2. It makes Yahweh Elohim into a pagan deity.

In this debate, there are those who, like George, see a dichotomy in the possibility that hell can be chosen forever. It goes like this: God either has all power and doesn’t want people to be saved or God is weak and does not have the power to save all people (George mentioned this earlier). But this dichotomy fails to understand the goodness of Genesis 1 through 2, where Yahweh Elohim is all-powerful, he is free, we are free, and he honors our freedom—this is biblically radical love. Thus as Adam and Eve choose death and as we all follow suit in the sin nature, Yahweh comes to us in Jesus the Messiah to rescue us but the good gift of freedom to say no remains in place.

Will hell ever be abolished or empty as George believes? No, to do so would violate the very goodness of Yahweh Elohim and his gift of human freedom.

We can conclude with two simple observations:

  1. Yahweh Elohim desire is for us to choose his freedom, which is the power to do the good and in His goodness, he does not manipulate our freedom.
  2. Heaven is for the many who love mercy, hell is for the few who guard bitterness.

There are very many outstanding questions I’m sure. Questions are intrinsic to biblical freedom so let them fly and let’s enjoy ourselves in the presence of King Jesus.

Thank you.


I know very little Hebrew but a Thomas Nicholson helpfully suggested:

Regarding Rankin’s main point about the Hebrew grammar in Gen. 2:16+17, I have my doubts. But I would love you and others to chip in on what I now write.

In these two verses, he refers to the two instances of infinitive absolute plus cognate verb in the imperfect:

VERSE 16 in feasting you shall (continuously) feast from any tree in the garden

VERSE 17 but when you eat the forbidden fruit: in dying you shall (continuously) die.

Certainly, the Hebrew imperfect can be “continuous” in the way that the Hebrew perfect cannot. But surely he’s wrong to imply that with the addition of the infinitive absolute, the phrase must now mean “continuing on throughout all eternity”.

All the main translations take this “infinitive absolute + verb” phrase in its usual emphatic or intensive sense — using words like “surely” feast or “certainly” die.

According to the Grammarians, if the cognate verb had come first, followed by the infinitive absolute, it could possibly mean “continuity” — but this is not the case here.

AFTER THOUGHT: Or is he saying that within the theological context of the Eden account, this grammatical phrase can be stretched to include a concept of going on for ever? And yet he kept referring to the grammar being right, so I’m not sure. In any case, I don’t think he has the grammar right — I think he’s miss-reading the meaning of the Hebrew “infinitive absolute + cognate verb”. But I would really like other opinions on this. Thanks!

Rankin’s argument seems to end up being similar to C. S. Lewis’—the type of freedom God gives humanity means He can’t save/draw/win-the-hearts-of at least some people. I think Reitan and Kronen comprehensively refute this in God’s Final Victory: A Comparative Philosophical Case for Universalism (see also Talbott’s approach that I discussed in Engaging Orr-Ewing: How Could a Holy/Loving God Send People to Hell?).

Sarris & Rankin Debate—Will Hell Eventually Be Abolished? part 1

Below is my transcript of George Sarris‘ 15-minute presentation in the above video of the Mars Hill Forum debate titled, “Will Hell Eventually Be Abolished?”


Host: The format for tonight’s forum is each of the speakers will present for 15 minutes, then they’ll have a discussion between two of them for about 20, we’ll take an offering at that point and after that, we’ll have Q&A for half hour or so. So that’s the form and we’re going to start with George Sarris.

George Sarris: I want to start by asking you three questions.

First question is: how much are you worth? And I don’t mean that in a financial sense like how much is your net worth, I mean how much are you worth as a person? How much are you worth to those who love you? How much are you worth to God who created you?

Second question is: I want you to think of some people that you know and love, how much are they worth? Again not in a financial sense but how much are they worth as a person? How much are they worth to those who love them and how much are they worth to God who created them?

The third question: I want you to think of some people you don’t like, or some people that may have hurt you, or whose lifestyles you don’t approve of. How much are they worth? Again how much are they worth—maybe not to you but to others who love them and everyone is loved by someone—how much are they worth to God who created them?

The basic message of my book is that in God’s eyes you and every one of them is priceless. The question John and I are discussing tonight is “Will hell eventually be abolished?” So it would seem appropriate to begin by asking what is hell? That word has been defined in different ways down through the centuries: from a place of literal fire; to a kingdom of darkness ruled by the devil and his demons; to what is the most common definition today: separation from God.

But for most people holding to the traditional view of Hell, two components are primary: First, hell is a place or condition of conscious misery and second that misery will never ever, ever, ever, ever end! I said that a little dramatically because in my experience most people—Christians today—have never really thought through the implications of what they say they believe. Punishment for sin is not the issue. We see sin punished all the time in this life and God has made it clear that there is punishment in the age (or ages) to come. But punishment that never ends is a completely different matter. It brings to mind cruel tyrants who torture their subjects who don’t do their bidding. Endless conscious misery is the most horrific thing you can possibly imagine and if you really believed it was true, you would be weeping almost every moment of every day over the fate of those who are lost and especially those you know personally.

I wrote my book to show that that understanding of Hell was not the teaching of the early Church, it is not the teaching of the Bible, and is contrary to what the scriptures reveal about the nature and character of God. What the early Church believed is important because they were closest to Jesus and the Apostles, they read the New Testament in their native tongue, they had the greatest impact on the surrounding culture of any time in history, and they established the faith that we now profess. They were the ones who wrote the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed to explain clearly what true Christians believed. They were the ones who formulated the doctrines of the divinity of Christ and the Trinity. And they were the ones who set up or who put together the 27 books that we call the New Testament. During the first 500 years after Christ, the dominant view within the leadership and laity of the church was that God will ultimately restore all of his creation.

Clement of Alexandria was one—born around AD 150. For him to believe that God was unable to save all was unthinkable because that would mean God is weak. To believe that God is unwilling was also unthinkable because that would mean that God is not good. For Clement, God is the Lord of the universe who will ultimately bring about the salvation of the universe.

Another leader in the early Church was Gregory of Nyssa. Gregory added the phrase, “I believe in the life of the world to come”, to the Nicene Creed, and is still revered as one of the greatest of the early Church fathers. Gregory explained that in due course evil will pass away into non-existence, it will disappear utterly from the realm of existence. Divine and uncompounded goodness will encompass within itself every rational creature—no single being created by God will fail to achieve the kingdom of God.

Even Saint Augustine—the most influential supporter of endless punishment in the early Church—acknowledged that in his day some, indeed “very many”, deplore the notion of the eternal punishment of the damned and their interminable and perpetual misery. Conscious suffering that never ends was not the teaching of the early Church.

And it’s also not the teaching of Scripture, even though most people today think it is. Four different words in the Bible have been translated to the English word “hell”: Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, and Tartarus.

Gehenna is the one most commonly translated that way in modern versions. Gehenna was well known during the time of Jesus as a specific location near Jerusalem that had been associated with child sacrifice in the past and was then most likely used as the common dump of the city. It was a place people could actually visit. And it spoke to Jesus and his listeners of repulsion, shame, and horrible death—instead of experiencing honor like their ancestors whose bodies were treated reverently when they died, those cast into Gehenna would experience the immense dishonor associated with those whose bodies had been thrown out into a dump to become an object of scorn for the masses. In an honor-shame culture like that in the ancient, and even modern Near East, that would be a fate worse than death. Gehenna didn’t mean punishment beyond the grave—endless punishment—in the Old Testament, during the time of Jesus, it didn’t mean that in the literature outside of the Bible, and it didn’t mean that for Jesus and the Apostles in the New Testament.

The passage most often used as the clearest statement in the entire Bible that punishment in hell is endless is Matthew 25:46. In that verse, Jesus himself says that the wicked will go away to “eternal punishment” but the righteous to “eternal life”.

The first thing to point out in that passage is that the word translated “eternal”, doesn’t mean “never-ending”. It actually means “the end is not known”. It refers to a period of time longer or shorter, past or future, the boundaries of which are concealed, obscure, unseen, or unknown. For example, numerous times the Septuagint—the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament that Jesus and the Apostles used—the same adjective in this verse, “eternal”, is used to describe the statutes governing the sacrifices and offerings made by the priests. They were said to be “eternal statutes” but they didn’t last forever, and were never intended to last forever. The Old Testament sacrificial system was designed to be replaced one day by the new covenant in Christ. In Micah chapter 4 verse 5 (and 17 other places in the Septuagint), the phrase “forever and ever” literally means “to the age and beyond”.

The second thing to note is that when the same adjective is used twice in the same sentence it does not necessarily mean the same thing each time. For example, if an NBA basketball player we’re standing in front of one World Trade Center in New York City, you could honestly say, “a tall man is standing in front of a tall building,” but no one would think you thought that the man in the building were the same size! The adjective tall derives its meaning from what it refers to. In the first instance to a man, in the second to a building. In Matthew 25:46, the adjective that Jesus used [aionios] “eternal” refers to two completely different things: life and punishment. Eternal life is the divine life that comes from God—that life never ends. Eternal punishment is the divine punishment that comes from his hand—the duration of that divine punishment may certainly be temporary, lasting as long as it’s necessary until it accomplishes its purpose. The verse should be translated, “the wicked shall go away to the punishment in the age to come and the righteous to the life in the age to come”.

So what does the Bible actually teach about the salvation of mankind? We’ve been so accustomed to thinking that only a few will ultimately be saved that we often completely overlook the message that is at the heart of Christianity. Jesus Christ is the savior of the world not just the savior of part of the world. The angel who appeared to the shepherds on the night of Jesus birth did not say, “I bring you good news of great joy there will be for some of the people,” he just said, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” When speaking to the crowd after his triumphal entry, Jesus said, “when I am lifted up from the earth will draw all people to myself.” In Romans, Paul said, “as in Adam all die so in Christ all will be made alive.” The Apostle John told his readers that, “Christ is the atoning sacrifice for our sins and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” The message at the heart of Christianity is that Jesus Christ came to redeem all mankind. Endless conscious suffering in Hell was not the teaching of the early Church, it’s not the teaching of Scripture, and it’s also contrary to what scripture reveals about the nature and character of God.

It’s not uncommon to see a bumper sticker on a car or graffiti on a wall that says, “God loves you”. They’re so common that it’s almost become a cliche but is it true? Does God really love you? The religious leaders of Jesus day didn’t think so. They thought God only loved people like them. So Jesus told them three parables to show them God’s heart. The Good Shepherd is not satisfied with the restoration of 99 percent of what is his, he seeks until he finds the one lost sheep. The woman with ten silver coins is not satisfied with 90 percent of her wealth, she searches until she finds the lost coin. The prodigal son’s father waited until his son returned after completely messing up his life. He welcomed him joyfully and his son was restored. “God is not willing that any should perish but desires that all will come to the knowledge of the truth.”

Scripture says there is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord. No plan of his can be thwarted—nothing is impossible with God. What Scripture reveals about God that his love is unconditional, his power is irresistible, and he never gives up.

Let me close by making a few observations about free will, since that’s a major focus of John’s position. Only God has absolute free will, only he is free to accomplish all that he desires. He gives each person some free will but always within limits and in the context of his absolute free will. For example, none of us was given the freedom to choose when we were born, where we were born, who our parents would be, what our physical stature or mental capacities would be, whether we’re male or female, or even when and how we will die. We have no control over many of the factors that directly impact the situation and decisions that we make every day. Joseph didn’t choose to be made second-in-command in Egypt, God arranged the circumstances for that to happen. Jonah ran away from God but God’s will prevailed and Jonah found himself in Nineveh proclaiming the message that God had given him. Scripture is clear when it says, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, he directs it like a watercourse wherever he wishes. The mind of man plans his way but the Lord directs his steps. Many are the plans in a person’s heart but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” God is not helpless in the face of mankind’s free will. God specifically said that “he desires that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” God specifically said that “one day every knee will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will freely and joyfully confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” Will hell eventually be abolished? Yes, it will. When all is said and done, all those who were created by God will walk through Heaven’s doors and “God will be all in all” after “the restoration of all things” the final word will once again be, “God saw all that he had made and it was very good!”

Thank you.


God willing, I’ll get an opportunity to transcribe the rest of the debate over the next week or so…

The Value of Teaching—Paul’s 3rd Missionary Journey

A couple of times each year I preach at my church. This time I look at Paul’s 3rd Missionary Journey in Acts, focusing on how teaching and learning enabled the disciples to spread the good news of Jesus to the ends of the earth.

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My overview of Acts is based on The Bible Project’s summary videos that take you through this slide:

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It’s too much to digest all at once so I’ll zoom in and highlight some key points…

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This book is the sequel to the Gospel of Luke and probably should be called, The Acts of Jesus & the Spirit—as they appear throughout the narrative.

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In chapter 1, Jesus says to His disciples, “You’ll be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea & Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And this is basically how the book of Acts unfolds.

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Chapters 2-7 shows this being fulfilled in Jerusalem.

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The disciples receive the Holy Spirit and become the New Temple

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—the place where people could encounter God’s generosity and healing presence.

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Sadly the establishment didn’t like this and so started killing them and driving them out of the city. However, this didn’t stop God’s plans. Indeed it allowed the Gospel to go into Judea & Samaria, and beyond.

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Chapters 8-12 shows how the mostly Jewish, Jerusalem-based, Jesus community became a multi-ethnic, international movement.

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Along the way, we have Jesus appearing on the road to Damascus and miraculously converting Paul from being the greatest opponent of Christianity to its greatest advocate.

Slide12.pngWe then have God giving Peter a vision showing him that no food is unclean, this is paralleled with the Holy Spirit coming to the nations showing that no person is unclean—that even non-Jewish people like you and I, can become Christians.

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And we have God establishing the church in Antioch—the launching point for Paul’s three missionary journeys.

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Paul’s first missionary journey—about 10 years after Jesus’ resurrection—is to Asia Minor (now called Turkey).

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There’s a brief pause, for the groundbreaking Jerusalem Council, that clarified that being part of Jesus’ community isn’t based on ethnicity or obeying the OT Law but simply on trusting and following Jesus.

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Paul then goes on a second missionary journey, this time to Asia Minor and Greece.

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And finally a third missionary journey, again to Asia Minor and Greece. It’s this third journey that I’ll be focusing on today.

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So that’s where the journey fits in the book of Acts. Now I’ll look at when and where the journey took place historically. Paul’s 3rd missionary journey took place over 5 years, between AD 54 and AD 58, which is now about 20 years after Jesus’ resurrection.

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Source: Interactive Map of Paul’s Third Missionary Journey

Hopefully you recognise most of the places on this map—around the Mediterranean we have Europe, north Africa, and the Middle East. The orange dots in the middle are the places Paul visited on his third missionary journey. Zooming in…

Map of the Apostle Paul's third missionary journey
Source: The Bible Study Site

Paul started at Antioch (near modern day Aleppo, which we’ve been hearing about in the news). He then travels to Tarsus, Iconium, and Ephesus. He stays there for around three years before a full-on riot occurs and he needs to escape north, to Macedonia. He then travels down through Greece—probably stopping at Athens and visiting early Christian communities we might recognise, such as the Philippians, the Thessalonians, and the Corinthians. Paul then starts to head back, visiting Troas and Miletus (where he catches up with the Ephesian church elders), before he sails across the Mediterranean to Tyre. He finishes up in Jerusalem.

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So that’s when and where the journey took place historically. But you may be asking, as I was when I was preparing this talk, how on earth is this journey relevant to me today?? So I sat down and made a list of themes in the 3 chapters…

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These are important themes and I’d encourage you to read through the chapters and think about them but I’m actually not going to talk about any of them because another theme really stuck out: learning and teaching about Jesus accurately is important. So I’ll look at examples of that and how they responded to opposition it generated, then I’ll look at what was taught about Jesus, and how can we learn about Jesus today.

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So, the theme of learning & teaching about Jesus accurately appears throughout the journey but I’ll just look at 3 examples of good teaching and 3 examples of bad teaching. The first example is of Apollos, Priscilla and Aquila in Ephesus.

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There’s quite a few things we can learn here. First, even if we’re talented and educated, we must always be willing to listen and learn more. This allows us to cooperate, which benefits us and those around us. In this passage we see it allowed Priscilla and Aquila to privately and gently teach Apollos one-on-one. However, it also shows that there’s a time and place for Christians to debate publicly. God willing, there will be a great example of that next month when Samuel Green does a public debate with an Islamic scholar.

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The next example of the importance of teaching and learning is Paul in Ephesus.

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The last example of how enthusiastic they were about teaching, is Paul in Troas. (Admittedly not every teacher is like Paul but I think it should cause us to pause before we complain about sermons going for more than 10 minutes). These examples also show how teaching and encouragement are closely tied together. And as I learnt last night watching The Bible Project’s Word Study: Shema – “Listen”, when we truly listen and learn, we will put what we learn into action.

So those were 3 examples of prioritising good teaching but now I’ll look at 3 examples of bad or false teaching and ignorance.

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The first is of a group of Jewish exorcists who obviously didn’t properly comprehend the significance of Jesus but nonetheless were trying to invoke his name for their business. Unfortunately for the group, the demons weren’t fooled and they were humiliated. Not only does it show the danger of ignorance, I think there’s a lesson here about not treating Jesus as a genie to do our bidding. That instead, we should be respecting Him as both a person and our King—that our priority should be doing His will.

Our 2nd example of bad teaching is linked to the first.

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There are some falsehoods, such as sorcery, that shouldn’t be taught.

The last example is where Paul warns the Ephesians about false teachers.

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We need to test teaching, especially when there’s any money or self-promotion involved.

So when we go around teaching people about Jesus, encouraging believers, and generally promoting Jesus, sometimes we will be opposed, particularly if someone feels their power or wealth is being threatened. We see an example of this in Acts 19: 23-41.

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Demetrius the silversmith and his mates were making lots of money making idols but Paul had persuaded many people that handmade gods aren’t really gods at all so they incited a riot and dragged Paul’s travelling companions into the amphitheater.

As an aside, I’ve been reading through the OT and last night I read Habakkuk and noticed this interesting link: idols can’t teach us, whereas God has been teaching humanity from the very beginning, especially through Jesus who was a Rabbi (a Jewish teacher), and the Holy Spirit is also described as a teacher.

Anyway, back to the riot. I came across a fascinating study a few months back:

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Because the Christian movement was non-violent, it was really hard to pin anything on them, and that helped it spread much further than the many futile armed rebellions. Throughout Church history, and continuing today, the non-violent approach has assisted Christian communities to grow despite persecution. So both morally and pragmatically, if someone opposes you, I recommend a non-violent response.

Now, a significant part of the way the early church taught and learnt was through literature. They read the OT scrolls and the letters that the Apostles wrote. They also reproduced and shared them so the message could go viral. Coincidently, The Bible Project podcast discussed the book, Destroyer of the gods.

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Their passion for literature allowed them to witness much further than any individual could physically travel—to the ends of the earth—all the way to us today!

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Eternity 80 – Is God Dead? The Case for Christ

So far the entire Bible has been translated into 648 languages, the NT into another 1432 languages, and portions of it into another 1145 languages—all up, it’s about 5 times more translations than any other book ever. If we keep up the momentum, every language on the planet will have some Scripture by 2033! The other exciting thing is that the advent of the Internet and smartphones means even more people can get access to the Bible in their language.

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Paul’s teaching about Jesus can be summed up as follows:

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I realise we’re all at different ages and stages of life, so what “valuing teaching and learning” looks like will vary. However, most of us have access to either a computer, tablet, or smartphone so we can easily check out:

The Bible Project logo
The Bible Project

They’re a non-profit organisation that produces high quality, short, free animated videos of the books of the Bible as well as the themes within it. Follow them on:

They also produce free reading plans, study notes, and posters.

I’ve watched almost every video they’ve done and listened to their podcasts for hours. It’s been really helpful for understanding the Bible better. I can’t recommend it enough!

Tim & Jon: Is Hell really outside creation & rationally chosen?

I love The Bible Project. Truly, it’s the best online Bible resource I’ve ever come across. I’ve been a monthly supporter since the early days, I’ve watched most of their 134 videos and soon will have listened to all of their podcasts. Jon Collins and Tim Mackie are easy to listen to, full of interesting insights, and express a genuine curiosity and desire for truth. I particularly love the way their work paints a beautiful, grand, biblical metanarrative showing God’s wonderful intentions for humanity in Eden, the amazing lengths He’s gone to throughout history (and especially through Jesus), and anticipating an exciting, joyful, glorious future with God in the New Creation.

However, I find that the clearer the biblical metanarrative is presented, the more jarring Eternal Conscious Torment becomes… So I was intrigued when Jon Collins and Tim Mackie discussed this in their Day Of The Lord Part 6 podcast episode. The context is that they have been discussing and comparing the OT warrior savior images (e.g. Isa 63) and modern movies (e.g. The Magnificent Seven), with the NT warrior savior images (e.g. Rev 19:11) and the Cross. They conclude that:

Tim: [In Revelation, John is] constantly taking aggressive, violent, Old Testament “Day of the Lord” imagery and saying the Cross was the Day of the Lord. It was the fulfillment of those images and it did not involve God killing his enemies—it actually involved the Son of God allowing Himself to be killed by them.

I think it’s inescapable. This is why readings of the book of Revelation that, I don’t know, help people look forward to some future cataclysm of violence, where Jesus comes of the sword cutting people apart—to me it’s not just a misreading of Revelation, to me it’s a betrayal of Jesus. Because what you’re saying is, “Oh, Jesus used the means of the cross but that was just like his way of being nice for a little bit but really he’s…”

Jon: “Ultimately he will use [death and] the threat of death as his true power to bring justice.”

Day Of The Lord Part 6 (24m 8s)

(As an aside, this is similar to what William Cavanaugh said to me in Was God Violent To Jesus? Is Jesus Coming Back Mad As Hell?—Cavanaugh Interview)

What they discuss next is what I’ll focus on as it raises many questions.

Tim: Yeah. And I’m not saying that there isn’t a reality to final justice, where people suffer the consequences of their decisions if they don’t yield to Jesus—I’m not saying that. But what I am saying is the New Testament is transforming these violent images of the Day of the Lord in a really important way—that had gone largely unnoticed by the modern Western Church. Because we love Denzel Washington [hero in The Magnificent Seven] strangling the bad guy to death.

Jon: Yeah, it feels good.

Tim: Yeah, it’s satisfying.

Day Of The Lord Part 6 (25m 29s)

I believe strongly in the reality of final justice (indeed it’s one of the reasons I started this blog) and that there are unpleasant consequences to giving our heart to anything other than our loving Father. I think seeing evil being stopped is satisfying, and rightly so. However, an issue arises when the method of stopping an evil (e.g. a “bad guy”) is evil (e.g. strangling someone). Our conscience should make us feel conflicted about that “solution”. Thankfully, there is a method of stopping evil that isn’t evil—that method is love—doing good to those who sin against you, melting their hearts, transforming them from foe to friend—rebel to follower of Jesus.

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

1 Peter 3:9, BSB

If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head [melting his opposition?]. Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.

Romans 12:20-21, CSB

Tim continues:

Anyhow, that’s how the Day of the Lord comes to its completion in the last book of the Bible. It’s this paradox. Here he defeats the armies of evil and then (in chapter 20) Babylon, Death, the Beast (the dragon), they’re all cast into the Lake of Fire. They are assigned—they’re quarantined—to a place of eternal self-destruction, and that’s the defeat of evil. And you could say that’s a violent image, but it’s interesting, it’s people being consigned or handed over to what they’ve chosen, something that they’ve chosen, which is destruction.

Day Of The Lord Part 6 (26m 4s)

Respectfully, there’s a huge difference between quarantining something and defeating it. Quarantine may be a necessary step to stop the spread of a plague but it’s only when it’s completely eradicated that it is defeated. Leaving evil quarantined is even worse than quarantining a plague and walking away:

  • it’s an affront to God’s holiness.
  • it’s a thwarting of His good purpose for humans, their telos, that He first articulates in Genesis 1-2 and ultimately in Christ.
  • it’s a denial of the praise and honour God rightly deserves.
  • it’s a failure to bring restorative justice, leaving countless broken relationships festering, unhealed forever—victims never receiving apologies, nor closure.

Eternal self-destruction is even worse than suicide, it’s never a rational choice, it’s a sign of a severe, unhealthy delusion about what is good and what is evil. It’s what God has been working to fix since Genesis 3, which they seem to acknowledge in other episodes:

Tim: … the Old Testament becomes a story of the family of Abraham but all within that larger story of what is God going to do to rescue the world from itself…

The Bible as Divine Literary Art (35m 3s)

But back to the episode I’m focusing on:

Jon: Yeah, how did how did Butler talk about it? He talked about it as creating a place for that to exist but not inside of creation.

Day Of The Lord Part 6 (26m 50s)

A very confusing suggestion, because far as I know, there’s only one thing outside of creation, and that is God Himself… everything else is part of, within the category of, God’s creation. “Creating a place”, surely makes it creation?

Tim: Yeah, if somebody refuses, like Pharaoh, to acknowledge Jesus as their Lord (using Pharaoh as an icon or Babylon), then God will honor the dignity of that decision and allow people to exist in that place.

Day Of The Lord Part 6 (27m)

Pharaoh’s “refusal” is a contentious issue—I highly recommend reading Talbott’s discussion of Romans 9:17-18, in light of Romans 11:32 (p19 of chapter 5 of his book, which is freely available here). Anyway, even assuming Pharaoh freely rejected God, I don’t think it’s honoring to let someone essentially put themselves into a state of neverending suicide. I don’t think it’s a real, informed, rational decision. So I don’t see it having any “dignity.” Again, it’s a topic that Talbott has comprehensively addressed in his book, The Inescapable Love of God, but if you don’t have time to read or listen (there’s a great audiobook!), then I encourage you to read his Free-will Theodicies of Hell post (which I drew on in Engaging Orr-Ewing: How Could a Holy/Loving God Send People to Hell?).

Jon: Yeah, “confinement”, I think was the term.

Tim: Confinement, yes. But what God won’t allow is for that evil to pollute or vandalize his creation anymore. And so the end of Revelation is the New Jerusalem and then outside the city are… “So wait I thought they were in a Lake of Fire?” (in chapter 20) But then (in chapter 22) the wicked are just outside the city… So these images are that God will contain those who choose evil. And the point is that he won’t allow them to ruin his world anymore.

Day Of The Lord Part 6 (27m 17s)

I’m really not convinced that evil can be adequately confined in that way because humans (and God) are so deeply interconnected, we’re relational beings. When loved ones suffer, we suffer, God suffers. That suffering is polluting and vandalizing—it’s ruining any chance of harmony—of the promised Shalom. How can someone possibly be happy while their son, their mother, their husband, or their best friend is still destroying themselves? (And for some believers, all their family and loved ones are non-believers) If they are just outside the open gates, they can probably see, hear, and smell(?!) their torment.

At the end of Revelation, the only thirsty audience the Spirit and the bride (Christians) have are the wicked outside the gates. Perhaps, when the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!”, everyone who is thirsty actually comes!

Overcome evil with good

God Never Gives Up!

My transcript of the above video:

Eric: Hey there folks, it’s The Eric Metaxas Show. I’m talking to George Sarris about his book: Heaven’s doors. The subject is hell, although you said it was heaven. You go into the definitions of a lot of the words in your book, which is another reason that I respect you, even though I’m not sure if I agree with your ultimate conclusions. I was fascinated that I’d never read this before. Even to look at the different meanings where it says “hell” in Scripture, you know that word could be Gehenna, it could be Hades, it could be Tartarus, it could be… What are those different words? What do they mean?

George: Yeah, that’s a good question. In fact, it’s kind of interesting because the word that is normally translated “hell” in the modern versions, “Gehenna”, that is translated as “hell”. Gehenna was a dump, it was a dump outside of Jerusalem. It refers to the Valley of Hinnom or the Valley of the sons of Hinnom, in the earlier times in the Old Testament. It was a place where, I think it was Ahaz and Manasseh, had offered child sacrifice. And so Josiah comes along, he desecrates the valley and it became a common dump for the city of Jerusalem, where they put dead bodies of criminals, animals. You had worms, you had fire there, to purify—that’s what the fire was there for, that’s what the worms were there for—they were there to purify this unholy place. And so it’s really interesting because in the time of Jesus, Gehenna was a place you could go visit.

Eric: We just have few minutes left George. What should we add to this conversation?

George: One of things I say my book is that God’s love is unconditional, God’s power is irresistible, and He never gives up. And I think the one of the key things is looking at the book of Revelation. The book of Revelation is fascinating. Most people look at it as if this is what’s going on in hell. Actually, what’s happening in Revelation happens on earth, until the very end of the book before you get into anything that’s even after earth. All the plagues, all these other things are happening on earth—they’re not talking about the future in hell. But in chapter 5, John says, “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: ‘To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!'” Who is it that’s proclaiming this? Every creature. Where are they? Everywhere in creation. What are they doing? They’re praising the God of heaven and the lamb.

Then at the end of the book of Revelation—which is really fascinating—the gates of the New Jerusalem are never shut; the tree of life, it’s always bearing fruit; the leaves from those the trees, are for the healing of the nations; there’s no longer any curse; there’s no longer any more tears. And then the invitation is given, it says, “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come!'” Well who they saying “come” to? Those outside the city because the gates are open. Who’s outside the city? Those who are in the Lake of Fire. The Lake of Fire is a refiners fire that purifies—I talk about that more in my book. But the bottom line is, they are invited to come into the New Jerusalem because the Bride are the believers that are already there, the Spirit is already there. Who are they giving the invitation to? Those outside the gates, who are allowed to come into the gates of the New Jerusalem.

Eric: Wow. The highest compliment I can say is this really makes me think, and it’s just so fascinating to me. I keep saying that this is such a hot button issue—no pun intended. So even though I’m not endorsing your position, I’m allowing you to present it because I read the book and I’ve known you personally—your faith—you’re not some quote unquote “liberal Christian”. And so I thought, “Hmm, interesting” and you actually care about what the Scripture says because you believe in the inerrancy of Scripture. That is usually not the position of Universalist. I’m fascinated.

George: Yeah, most of people that I talked to are just kind of shocked that I actually believe in Scripture. The pastor of the church that we ended up going to, I went up to him the very first Sunday that we were there. He wanted to know why we were there and I thought I might as well mentioned to him what happened.

Eric: Right.

George: And he said, “George I’ve never heard that position from a biblical perspective—I would love to talk to you about it.” So for the next several months, he would take 20 pages at a time and we’d end up reading—meeting together—we’d talk over those 20 pages, and for a couple hours at a time because he was fascinated by what was there.

Eric: Well I confess that I am fascinated so I want to thank you George for helping open up the conversation.

George: It’s a privilege and I’m very, very grateful.

Eric: The book we’ve been talking about is titled Heaven’s Doors by George Sarris. This is The Eric Metaxas Show. Go to metaxastalk.com

Engaging Orr-Ewing’s “What does love cause us to feel about perpetrators?”

A few years ago, I lived in the inner city in London, my husband was a pastor there, and I had a very good friend who at that time was the same age as me (late twenties). We were very different, from very different socioeconomic backgrounds, she had five kids, lived on quite a high floor in a block of flats. She also had about four dogs. None of the dads of her children were still around, in fact, one of them was in prison (he was a crack dealer, very violent man, she had a restraining order against him). She became a Christian and we became very good friends—we met weekly.

One day, her ex-partner (the father of one of her children) got out of prison and he came to her apartment and broke in and beat her virtually to death. I’ll never forget seeing her. When I saw her—it was just incredibly shocking—she was unrecognizable. Now, in that situation, what did I feel—what did love cause me to feel about the perpetrator of that violence? Love meant that I cried out for justice for her.
Amy Orr-Ewing, The Ring of Truth (12m 53s mark) or my transcript

Love causes us to cry out:

  1. for the evil to be acknowledged rather than ignored.
  2. for the evil to be stopped rather than for it to continue.
  3. for the awful damage done to be healed rather than for it to consume the victim. And,
  4. for the perpetrator to fully comprehend the evil, violence, and damage done, and to respond in genuine repentance, to completely turn their life around, dedicating the rest of their life to making amends and seeking to see domestic violence end everywhere.

I would suggest that d) is actually the only way to completely stop evil, because until d) occurs, the evil and hatred continues to fester and grow in the perpetrator. Tragically, unless the victim can reach the point of gracious forgiveness (which doesn’t mean ignoring the evil or allowing it to continue) the evil will continue to cause them harm, potentially consuming them with hatred. (This doesn’t to imply the onus is on the victim to act, nor that the responsibility for reconciliation is on their shoulders).

When d) occurs obviously it’s easier for the victim to forgive but sometimes it’s actually the victim’s forgiveness that causes d) to occur. How many perpetrators have turned around because of Jesus’, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”, or because of Gladys Staines’ remarkable forgiveness of her family’s murderers, or Mandela’s forgiveness, or Eric Lomax’s?

But our forgiveness today can’t just be conditional on repentance, which may not occur in this life. It has to be freely given whether or not it’s going to provoke immediate repentance. It is actually for the victim’s own healing and peace that they forgive. Ultimately, it’s the only—albeit extremely difficult—way forward (and this may not be possible until Christ returns).

It is quite easy to put ourselves in the position of someone like Orr-Ewing, witnessing the awful wrong perpetrated against her friend. We recognise that feeling of righteous anger that she refers to. What is more difficult to do is to put ourselves in the position of someone who dearly loves the perpetratorperhaps his mother or brother? What would the love of the perpetrator’s mother cause her to feel? Surely, she would yearn for a), b), c), & d) to occur? This doesn’t mean she is callous towards the victim in this scenario. She wants the wrongs righted. She is angry and ashamed of her son. At the same time, she longs for him to repent and be changed, and to somehow undo the damage he has caused. This is the position of our heavenly Father. He deeply loves all His children—victims and perpetrators—those who love Him and those who still hate Him. The righteous son and the prodigal son. His love doesn’t discriminate.

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children [imitators] of your Father in heaven. For he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. … Be perfect [in your loving], therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:44-45,48, CSB

God instructs us to imitate His love of those who show Him enmity. How does “love your enemies” influence our view of justice? It may well still include punishment but unless it results in d), I can’t see true healing, reconciliation, harmony, and Shalom ever occurring.

Finally, we must remember that we’re all sinners—perhaps not perpetrators of domestic violence but it’s hard to avoid being complicit in some sort of violence in this world—don’t we all nail Jesus to the cross? There’s also some link between the forgiveness we give and the forgiveness we receive:

forgive us our sins, as we also forgive those who sin against us. … For if you forgive other their offenses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others their offenses, neither will your Father forgive your offenses.

Matthew 6:12,14-15, MOUNCE

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Ephesians 4:32, NIV

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Colossians 3:13, NIV

I also think there’s some link between our cry for justice and the justice that is brought upon our own sins.

For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged

Matthew 7:2a, NIV

So I think we should to cry out for justice but justice that moves us all towards God’s Shalom.

Jesus is Justice
Jesus is Justice

The Ring of Truth, the Keeper of the Holy Quran, & a Visceral Struggle—Orr-Ewing interview

The Ring of Truth is the first part of a two part interview of Amy Orr-Ewing by the Centre for Public ChristianityI’ve transcribed it and posted it in three posts:

  1. A surprising conversion, an unusual childhood, & an apologist’s apology.
  2. Can a loving God judge evil & hold people to account?
  3. The Ring of Truth, the Keeper of the Holy Quran, & a Visceral Struggle (below)

Justine: Amy is not only a prolific speaker, she’s a writer as well. One of her recent books is called, Why trust the Bible?

Image result for amy orr-ewing why trust the bible

Amy: The Bible describes the real world as we know it. It has the ring of truth, this is not a sort of religious mythical bubble that we need to jump into, that only makes sense internally if we just close our minds to the real world that we experience. The Bible is trustworthy because it diagnoses the human condition that you and I experience. It speaks of it in real terms—with empathy about the darkness and violence of this world—and it introduces us to the God who’s entered this real world in the person of Jesus. So I think we can trust the Bible in those kind of existential terms.

The Bible describes the real world as we know it. It has the ring of truth…

But secondly, historically it is my experience through studying the manuscript tradition—through studying the historical process of the transmission of the Bible—that this stands up to rigorous scrutiny. That the source material for the Bible is vast. That where there are differences between manuscripts, those differences are not covered over in English or other language translations. There’s an openness about the process of transmission and I think that makes it trustworthy.

Justine: It’s also a book that you’ve seen has had an impact in some quite surprising places. I read that you went to Afghanistan when you were 19—you have all these wonderful stories in your biography—and you presented the Bible to someone in that circumstance didn’t you?

The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

Amy: Yes, while I was a theology student at Oxford I was also not just studying Christian theology but studying Islamic thought as well and a small team of us went to Afghanistan. We ended up going the weekend after the BBC had been in town doing their groundbreaking documentary on the Taliban. We got the opportunity as theological students to interview the Education Minister, the Religion Minister, and the Foreign Minister and the Keeper of the Holy Quran (the Religion Minister). And in the process of that interview in their military headquarters we also gave them Bibles, saying, “We think this is the most precious gift one human being can give another.” And they were all heavily armed, we did wonder what was going to happen next, let’s put it like that, and you could cut the atmosphere with a knife. But the Keeper of the Holy Quran took hold of the Bible and looked at it and he said, “I know exactly what this book is, I’ve been praying to God for years that I could read this book. Thank you for bringing me this book, I’ll read it every day.” And that just struck me as amazing, that at the heart of one of the most violent regimes the world has known, there was someone who was wanting to read the Bible but had never had the opportunity.

At the heart of one of the most violent regimes the world has known, there was someone who was wanting to read the Bible but had never had the opportunity.

Simon: That is very surprising! Now Amy, while we might come to accept that the Bible is trustworthy in the way that you’ve described it, is it relevant? I mean, what does the Bible have to say to a complex modern society or even my own life in that place?

Amy: My experience is that the Bible has relevance today because it introduces us to the person of Jesus, who came in history, was God incarnate—God making himself known to us in human form—and that truth connects with our reality, the reality of our brokenness, of our anxiety, of our pain, of our sin, of our shame, because in Jesus, God deals with the human condition by going to the cross and offering us forgiveness, offering us new life.

It’s interesting to me that the primary image that Jesus used for what it means to come to know God is the image of birth. Now, as a mother of twins and another little boy, it strikes me as odd that a single, 30 something year old, ancient near-eastern male would invoke the image of birth. Birth is overwhelmingly, excruciatingly painful. It’s a visceral struggle for life over death. There’s blood, there’s guts, there’s gore in the process of birth, and Jesus says coming to know God is so real that the image I’m going to use to describe this is: it’s like being born. There was no life and now there is undeniably this screaming baby, there’s life! How much more relevant could things get? God is saying that coming to know him is like being born all over again. This is ontological, this is real, this is visceral, it’s undeniable when this has happened.

Jesus says coming to know God is so real that the image I’m going to use to describe this is: it’s like being born.

Justine: From the Center for Public Christianity, you’ve been listening to Life & Faith with Justine Toh and Simon Smart. Amy Orr-Ewing joins us again next week to talk about Dorothy L. Sayers, one of the first women to graduate from Oxford and a force to be reckoned with.

Amy: She disliked the idea of arguing for women’s equality on the basis of calling women a class. So she’s saying we’re not a special class of human we’re actually human.

Justine: You won’t want to miss the conversation. Sign up for our newsletter at PublicChristianity.org or subscribe to our podcast on iTunes—just type “Life & Faith” in the search box to find us. While you’re there, please leave us a rating or a review, we want to know what you think of the show and it helps other people find it as well.