Category: Engaging People

Surprising Fire

Fire is an important image in the Bible about God’s presence. God appeared in a burning bush to Moses, in flames over Mount Senai, and in a pillar of fire over the tabernacle. And so the flames at Pentecost: this is the marking out of temple space—places where heaven and earth meet, become where God’s appearance manifests itself.

The Bible Project, Acts E2: Pentecost and the Expected Unexpected Spirit

(I experienced shivers down my spine as I wrote something very similar just minutes before I heard the above podcast)

Unlike earthly fire, God’s fire isn’t indiscriminate but only eradicates evil to refine and purify. For example:

I will turn my hand against you and will burn away your dross completely; I will remove all your impurities.

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, and in his hand was a glowing coal that he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your iniquity is removed and your sin is atoned for.”

Look, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.

Isaiah 1:25, 6:6-7, 48:10, CSB

Isaiah being purified by glowing coal in The Bible Project's excellent video on Holiness
Isaiah’s shock at being purified by God. Image: The Bible Project’s video on Holiness

I will put this third through the fire; I will refine them as silver is refined and test them as gold is tested. They will call on my name, and I will answer them. I will say: They are my people, and they will say: “The Lord is our God.”

Zechariah 13:9, CSB

Yet he knows the way I have taken; when he has tested me, I will emerge as pure gold.

Job 23:10, CSB

For you, God, tested us; you refined us as silver is refined.

Psalm 66:10, CSB

But who can endure the day of his coming? And who will be able to stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire and like launderer’s bleach. He will be like a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver. Then they will present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.

Malachi 3:2-3, CSB

The crucible is for refining silver and the smelter for gold, but the one who purifies hearts by fire is the Lord.

Proverbs 17:3, GW

each one’s work will become obvious. For the day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire; the fire will test the quality of each one’s work. If anyone’s work that he has built survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will experience loss, but he himself will be saved—but only as through fire.

1 Corinthians 3:13-15, CSB

This is why the Holy Spirit, whilst described as fire, doesn’t eradicate people. For example:

John answered them all, “I baptize you with water, but one who is more powerful than I am is coming. I am not worthy to untie the strap of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
Luke 3:16, CSB

They saw tongues like flames of fire that separated and rested on each one of them. Then they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them.
Acts 2:3-4, CSB

In everything give thanks. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not extinguish the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt.
1 Thessalonians 5:18-20, EHV

When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the Spirit of judgment, and by the Spirit of burning.

Isa 4:4, BRG

Showing hospitality to someone who has enmity towards you is “fiery” in this sense.

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.
Romans 12:20, CSB

In my next post, God willing, I’ll look at how this, somewhat surprising, image of refining fire needs to inform the way we interpret verses about fire at the end of the age and in the ages to come (which providentially, The Bible Project discussed a few weeks ago).

Checkmate C. S. Lewis

Title titled
C. S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy, 247

In a chapter titled, “Checkmate”, C. S. Lewis describes his own conversion, which demonstrates that even when people make free moves, God will always checkmate them in the end.

I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England … a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape. The words compelle intrare, compel them to come in, have been so abused by wicked men that we shudder at them; but, properly understood [my emphasis], they plumb the depth of the Divine mercy. … His compulsion is our liberation.

C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, 228–29

Looking back he realised that because he chose God it was free choice—an overwhelmingly superior choice. Had he rejected God, it would’ve have been because he was enslaved to a sick, sinful delusion.

… before God closed in on me, I was in fact offered what now appears a moment of wholly free choice. I say, ‘I chose,’ yet it did not really seem possible to do the opposite. … You could argue that I was not a free agent, but I am more inclined to think that this came nearer to being a perfectly free act than most that I have ever done. Necessity may not be the opposite of freedom…

C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, 224

Imagine a firefighter at the top of a ladder imploring someone to escape the flames. Surely if the person “chose” not to come, they’d be considered insane—not pejoratively but literally unable to make a rational free choice? Because of this, the firefighter may need to drag them to safety so that they can come to their senses. Likewise, our loving Father doesn’t abandon us to our own misguided “choices” but instead shatters our delusions, frees us from our enslaving sin, and heals our minds. In doing so, God comes inside, lifts us up so together we can unlock the door (I highly recommend reading the article Free-will Theodicies of Hell, where Thomas Talbott fleshes this out).

Jesus is a king because his business is to bear witness to the truth. What truth? All truth; all verity of relation throughout the universe—first of all, that his father is good, perfectly good; and that the crown and joy of life is to desire and do the will of the eternal source of will, and of all life. He deals thus the death-blow to the power of hell. For the one principle of Hell is “I am my own…

George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons—Kingship (emphasis mine)

Lastly, consider the context of Lewis’ MacDonald quote (“The one principle of Hell is ‘I am my own'”) at the start of his “Checkmate” chapter. Immediately preceding the bit that Lewis quoted, MacDonald explained that Jesus reveals all truth universally, including the truth that the glorious goal (“the crown”) of all life is to choose (“desire and do”) the will of God, thus defeating hell—all the deluded, sinful, egotistic pride.


The above post is based on Thomas Talbott’s The Inescapable Love of God: Second Editionp199-200

Ultimately, evil is unstable and unchoosable

Over the last few months, I’ve been reflecting on what God’s response to hell was, is, and will be, and how that shapes our response to it. My sermon, God went through hell so we can too, engages with this but in this post, I want to respond to the objection that those in hell may not want God to rescue them—that “the doors of hell are locked on the inside.” (C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 130)

There are times when we do “lock the door”—when we try to shut God out, try to run away from home. Initially, that may even seem desirable and pleasurable. The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) initially was very confident that he didn’t need the father—that he could go it alone (v12-13). At that point, he certainly didn’t imagine he’d ever need forgiving or saving.

However, proud, egotistical hedonism is a path to hell—becoming lost and dead (v14-15).

One of the things I’ve noticed as a clinician and as an observer of people, in general, is that I’ve never ever seen anyone get away with anything and Jacob doesn’t get away with any of this. He is humbled by his eventual experiences and he learns that he did it wrong.

Jordan Peterson, Jacob’s Ladder, 2h7m38s

Thankfully, evil doesn’t have God’s sustenance and strength—it is inherently unstable, it collapses, it shatters, it falls apart, revealing that it’s utterly pointless, boring, disappointing, unattractive, undesirable, and repulsive—utterly unchoosable.

The nature of evil is unstable and passes away. It did not come into existence in the beginning with the creation … and it will not continue to exist eternally …. Consequently, in that life which lies before us in hope, there will remain no trace of evil.

Gregory of Nyssa, On the Titles of the Psalms, 155 (translated by Ilaria Ramelli)

A modern example would be Russell Brand—he made a living out of his infamous lifestyle but things slowly fell apart. He got to the point where he woke up.

My route to spirituality comes through addiction, so it comes from desperation and fear and this sort of defeat, destruction, annihilation of self in a very humiliating way, I suppose… So, I had no choice but to embrace spiritual life, but now I am grateful for this. It makes sense of my life.

Russell Brand, The Second Coming of Russell Brand

Hopefully, you won’t need to go to the same extremes but even if you utterly destroyed your life—literally end up dead—the underlying truth is universal. Whether it be in this life or the next, we need to turn back to God—to be found and made alive (v24, 32). This can only occur because the Father forgives (v20), transforms (v24), and restores us (v22). Indeed, the Lost Sheep/Coin parables show that God even goes out and finds us—which is what Jesus did and the Spirit continues to do.

You always have the opportunity to return to the proper path … There’s no easy out … but there is that positive idea—that’s continually represented—that the individual is the source of moral choice. And the individual is prone to genuine error and temptation in a believable and realistic way but that that doesn’t sever the relationship between the individual and the divine, and the possibility of further growth… thank God for that because without that, who would have a chance!

Jordan Peterson, Jacob’s Ladder, 2h1m24s

As the Prodigal Son shows, delusions take time to break but break they must as darkness cannot withstand Light, ignorance and lies cannot withstand Truth, hate cannot withstand Love, death cannot withstand Life, and evil cannot withstand Good.

There’s no evil so evil that good cannot triumph over it.

Jordan Peterson, Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors, 2h8m47s

Only the Good brings the real joy, meaning, and life with God we were created for.

Google’s definition of “reform” includes “cause someone to relinquish an immoral, criminal, or self-destructive lifestyle” and “make changes in something [such as the trajectory of your life] in order to improve it”. So it makes sense to describe both the Prodigal and Brand’s experience as reform. However, we all need God to reform us—especially those in hell, who are the most lost, sick, and deluded. This is why Jesus went there after His crucifixion, and this is why the Spirit continues to work wherever there is hell—and invites His Body and Bride to do the same now and in the future.

Jordan_Peterson_and_Russell_Brand
Jordan B. Peterson photo © Jesse Blayney 2018. Russell Brand photo via Pinterest.

Give Jordan Peterson a fair go mate

Australia’s largest Christian newspaper, Eternity News, published an article titled, The never-ending search for masculinity (excerpts below). Journalist Tess Delbridge introduced Jordan Peterson and shared an assessment of him by prominent Sydney Anglican minister, Michael Jensen.

I like Delbridge and Jensen, and I appreciated them doing an article on Peterson but their evaluation often seemed unfair. It appeared they were assessing Peterson against an Evangelical preacher or theologian but Peterson is neither. I think it would’ve been far more helpful to compare him to others who have secular, scientific backgrounds, like Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins.

Peterson deserves a fair go, so below I’ve pushed back against the criticisms.

Peterson himself is not a Christian. … Peterson said he was not ready to declare whether or not he believes in the historical resurrection of Jesus. “I need to think about that for about three more years before I would even venture an answer beyond what I’ve already given,” Peterson said.

It’s not as simple as that. Only a few months ago, Peterson considered himself to be a Christian:

Timothy Lott: Are you a Christian?

Jordan Peterson: I suppose the most straightforward answer to that is yes.

Am I Christian?

However, it appears Peterson was told he wasn’t a Christian because he didn’t affirm the Ecumenical Creeds, and to his credit, he took that feedback onboard and has now stepped back from that label while he carefully looks into the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection. (From what I’ve observed, over the past few years he been slowly moving towards orthodox Christianity—possibly even Eastern Orthodoxy—rather than away from it.)

 

Jensen says Peterson “is both massively appealing and interesting and also potentially dangerous for Christians because he doesn’t really understand grace.”

I think it’s a shame Peterson doesn’t talk explicitly about grace very much and I’d love to see an interviewer press him about it, but I’d be hesitant to conclude that he doesn’t understand it. For example:

The Christian doctrine elevated the individual soul, placing slave and master and commoner and nobleman alike on the same metaphysical footing, rendering them equal before God and the law. … This was partly accomplished through the strange Christian insistence that salvation could not be obtained through effort or worth—through “works.”141

141. Ephesians 2:8—2:9 reads, for example (in the King James Version): “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” A similar sentiment is echoed in Romans 9:15—9:16: “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.” The New International Version restates 9:16 this way: “It does not, therefore depend on human desire or effort but on God’s mercy.”

Jordan Peterson, 12 Rules for Life, p186

I’m really puzzled as to why Peterson is described as “potentially dangerous for Christians”. Most Christians I know, already understand grace, and so wouldn’t be trying to learn about it from a non-Christian… Christians should be able to discern whether Peterson’s suggestions about everyday living are compatible with Christianity—most clearly are (e.g. speak the truth).

He’s after self improvement, and so his book (12 Rules for Life), appealing and inspiring thought [sic] it is, asks you to pull yourself up by your moral bootstraps. It says, ‘Wake up, get over it, be disciplined.’ And that is Pelagianism …

Michael Jensen

Peterson is encouraging so much more than mere self-improvement:

You should aim at the highest good that you can imagine and that would be a good that includes everyone. So if I wanted what was good for you, say, if I genuinely wanted it, I’d want it in a way that was good for you now and good in the long run—and good for you and your family and your community and may be good for me too. … I think that’s a good definition of love is—that you actually want the best. You want the best possible outcome and in the Gospels, of course, that’s extended even to your enemies.

Russell Brand & Jordan Peterson – Kindness VS Power,  48m 56s

If someone hasn’t read much of the Bible, they may think Jesus is promoting self-improvement, as he often does teach about being disciplined—changing our attitudes and actions (e.g. Sermon on the Mount, the Great Commandments, take up your cross). Sure, further reading reveals Jesus also said that we can never be good enough to earn salvation (God’s pardon is free). But my point is, simply teaching people to, “Wake up, get over it, be disciplined”, doesn’t imply Pelagianism (particularly when Peterson isn’t even discussing a way to be made right with God).

Was the Prodigal Son being a Pelagian by waking up and walking towards what he knew was good (his father)? Of course, walking would be futile if there wasn’t the father running towards him with open arms—graciously forgiving and restoring. However, Peterson already sees that as we try to crawl towards the transcendent Good (our Father), he starts to transform us (e.g. Pinocchio being transformed from a puppet into a real boy). I’d love to see Peterson more fully articulate God’s role but I think the concepts are already there, at least in embryonic form (a great start for someone who says he’s still learning about Christianity).

The trouble is, what we know as Christians is that in order to improve yourself, you can’t start with determining to improve yourself, you must start with grace. You must start with your own helplessness and your own sins.

Michael Jensen

Sure, Peterson’s approach starts with human suffering, which is a result of us becoming self-conscious of our significant limitations (see his lecture on the Fall), but his very next move is to acknowledge that each and every person sins—misses the mark—unnecessarily increasing suffering, which is evil:

As the great Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn insisted, the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.

Jordan Peterson, 12 Rules for Life, p47

Peterson acknowledges that each of us needs help:

Gratefully accept an outstretched helping hand. … note the reality of the limitations of individual being… accept and be thankful for the support of others—family, friends, acquaintances and strangers alike. … we don’t have to strive alone

Jordan Peterson, 12 Rules for Life, p365

It’s possible to see glimpses of Christianity in Peterson’s work because he is reading the Bible as part of his research

Not only does Peterson read the Bible, he spends heaps of time reading Christian commentaries before reading the Bible out loud to millions of people. For Christians who believe one of the primary ways God works is through the public reading of Scripture, what he is doing is way more than offering “possible” “glimpses”! Additionally, he openly says that many of his core propositions are Christian truths. He frequently quotes, and actually puts into practice, what Jesus taught (e.g. the truth will set you free, love everyone, be humble, courageous, and self-sacrificial).

his references to Christianity are removed from their historical contexts.

He regularly states that he’s not qualified, nor trying, to teach the historical context of the Bible. Instead, he is showing how the Bible and psychology are mutually reinforcing in so many ways—which is mind-blowing (some would say miraculous) given how ancient the text is.

“So [in Peterson’s teachings] you’re never going to get the true Jesus,” says Jensen. “You’ll get Jesus as a good teacher…”

But Jesus is more than just a good teacher, and that will never come through in Peterson’s work.

“The thing I think Peterson misses out on is that actually Jesus Christ is the better story. He’s a better story for all human beings,” says Jensen.

I’m baffled by these statements—numerous times Peterson has said Christ is way “more than just a good teacher”! For example, Peterson sees Christ as the Logos who brings good order out of chaos by speaking truth. He sees Christ as the divine individual and the ideal person/story—the archetypal hero—to be imitated by all humans. He sees Christ as overcoming the temptations we face (see “Evil, Confronted”, 12 Rules for Life, p178-185).

Jesus is the model for modern men. The truly masculine is actually the one who loves through sacrifice to glorify the other.

Michael Jensen

I reckon Peterson would heartily agree, although he’d probably say “encourage, embolden, edify”, rather than “glorify” (which requires explanation).

Peterson can take feedback but let’s give him a fair go and show him some of the grace that’s so central to Christianity.

Jordan_B_Peterson
Jordan B Peterson

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?).

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

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:

a. for the evil to be acknowledged rather than ignored.

b. for the evil to be stopped rather than for it to continue.

c. for the awful damage done to be healed rather than for it to consume the victim. And,

d. 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