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

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.

Can a loving God judge evil & hold people to account?—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? (below)
  3. The Ring of Truth, the Keeper of the Holy Quran, & a Visceral Struggle
Amy Orr-Ewing by Alex Baker Photography
Amy Orr-Ewing by Alex Baker Photography

Justine: You’re listening to Life & Faith from the Centre for Public Christianity. As an apologist, Amy often finds herself defending the Christian faith. She comes across all sorts of pat dismissals of faith: “Science disproves God”, “All religions are the same”, “How can God be good if there is so much suffering in the world?” But as soon as I asked her about the objections to faith that she must come across daily, she was quick to call me out on describing them as “pat”. She actually takes each objection seriously, she listens, she takes the time and care to engage with every question that comes her way.

Amy: I would try and be careful not to ever minimize someone’s objection to faith as something “pat”. I think that most of the articulations against God are actually pretty heartfelt. We live in a culture that’s very apathetic about religious things so when people do articulate, “How could there be a God of love and this horrendous abuse has happened to me or my child or my friend?”, I think that’s a real objection that is both intellectual and personal, and that deserves the time for us to at least try and respond to. Another question that we find a lot in the West is that whole search for meaning in significance and purpose, “Why am I here?” and “Is this enough, is the material, sort of materialistic life that I’m living is that all there is to life?”

We live in a culture that’s very apathetic about religious things so when people do articulate, “How could there be a God of love and this horrendous abuse has happened to me or my child or my friend?”, I think that’s a real objection that is both intellectual and personal, and that deserves the time for us to at least try and respond to.

Simon: Let’s talk about one of those, some people want to talk about the character of God, and they often draw the distinction between this God of the Old Testament who—in some people’s minds—appears sort of violent and angry and a fearful kind of presence, and then the New Testament where they say it’s all lovely and kind and merciful. What’s the challenge there, of course, is trying to match up those two. Now, of course, the people who wrote about that God of the Old Testament thought he was good but how do you address that quite complex problem?

Amy: I think that lots of people have this idea that in order to be loving God couldn’t also hold people accountable or judge evil. But actually when we dig into that preconception, I think we discover that most of us don’t really believe that. Let me give you an example: 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.

See love and justice go together, and when we read the Old Testament we see a loving God who is also a God who judges evil—that’s actually the same as the God we read about in the New Testament. Now in the Old Testament one of the means of his judgment, within a very limited time period, is war. Now, we can say, “Well, we don’t like that idea.” We read it today through our sort of Western eyes and think that doesn’t make sense to us. But I think if we understand it within a framework of a loving God who judges evil perpetrators on behalf of the victim, it begins to make a bit more sense.


Amy Orr-Ewing gives a longer response to this important question in an article that I engaged with: Engaging Orr-Ewing: How Could a Holy/Loving God Send People to Hell? I’ve also engaged her pertinent question, “What does love cause us to feel about perpetrators?”.

A surprising conversion, an unusual childhood, & an apologist’s apology—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 (below).
  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.
Amy Orr-Ewing at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics
Amy Orr-Ewing at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics

Justine: From the Centre for Public Christianity, you’re listening to Life & Faith. I’m Justine Toh.

Amy Orr-Ewing is the director of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. She’s addressed audiences from Westminster, to the White House, speaking about the truth and beauty of the Christian faith. But her story starts right here, in Australia.

Simon: You were born here we understand?

Amy: That’s right.

Simon: But you did leave when you’re two years old so I’m going to say, “Welcome home!”

Amy: Thank you!

Simon: Great to have you here. So tell us about…

Justine: Amy was back in Australia as a speaker for our annual Richard Johnson Lecture and while she was in town, Simon and I couldn’t miss the chance to have her on the show. Next week Amy will be back this time telling us about her doctoral studies on a remarkable woman—who was a contemporary of Tolkien and C. S. Lewis and deserves to be much better known than she is—Dorothy L. Sayers. But this week we’re focusing on Amy’s story and it turns out in the years that Amy’s parents were in Australia they experienced a couple of life-changing events. Yes, one of them was the birth of their daughter but they also experienced an unexpected challenge to their faith, or rather their atheism.

Amy: My dad had grown up in a very strongly atheistic home. My grandfather was an East German scientist and absolutely committed atheist who forbade any talk of God in the home and forbade anyone reading the Bible even. So my father had grown up in a strongly atheistic context with no sort of churchy conditioning and whilst here (in his thirties, happily married to my mum, two fantastic children, great lifestyle, loved the life here) he began to just ask questions (“When I get to the end of my life, when I’m retired and I look back what will it all have been for? Is this enough?”), and that sort of question worried him. A colleague at the University took him along to hear a Christian speaking—an apologist actually—speaking about the resurrection of Jesus. He said that it sort of struck him as quite odd frankly but that there was one thing that this guy said that sort of was like a bit of a dagger to the heart, which was, “The only reason you should be a Christian is because it’s true.” My dad thought religion is about superstition, it’s about wish-fulfilment. Truth and God are opposite categories—it’s a category mistake. But that worried him and then a few weeks later he had an extraordinary personal encounter with Jesus Christ and ended up kneeling on the floor thinking, “I need to say something to respond to Christ, to his offer of forgiveness to me” and thought, “I don’t know what to say I have no religious upbringing”, and he found himself just saying, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” Later he bought a New Testament and found himself reading that in Mark’s Gospel, which was slightly surprising.

The only reason you should be a Christian is because it’s true

Simon: Wow! Coming to Australia for spiritual enlightenment—that’s the path that people come on in the tourist brochures. Now you are also a believer these days, you just believe it because your parents were?

Amy: That is a great question. I think because my mom and dad were intellectuals—and none neither of them were kind of conditioned by the Church—I had a slightly unusual upbringing in terms of a Christian family, in that they encouraged us to question, to read, and to come to conclusions ourselves—both my sister and I. Growing up in Britain as a Christian I was always the only churchgoer in my class at school, there was a tremendous amount of peer pressure to disbelieve. So I think that that encouragement from them to own this yourself, or not, was incredibly important. And for me that journey of questioning took me to Oxford—to university to study theology—where every presupposition about the Bible, about God, about faith was challenged.

Simon: Daily!

Amy: And to the nth degree! And it was my experience that the Christian claims and the Bible stood up to that scrutiny. I remember sitting with the Dean of my college—I was at Christ Church towards the end of my degree—and him saying, “We haven’t cured you of your religion have we Amy? We’ve tried everything but it hasn’t worked!”

But seriously, for me it has been my experience that if something is true, it stands up to scrutiny and questions are not to be feared—that the pursuit of of truth ultimately, for me, has led me to Jesus Christ.

If something is true, it stands up to scrutiny and questions are not to be feared

Justine: Before we get more into that question, can I just rewind you a little bit? I read that when you were 15 you actually had cancer. You’ve talked about how you were the only believer in your disbelieving class so when you’re 15 and get this diagnosis, all the other girls your age are mooning over rock stars or something like that but you’re grappling with the experience of disease and thinking about God in the midst of all that. What was that like?

Amy: I think the strongest memory I have from that time is the contrast from the fear and anxiety that was absolutely overwhelming. When the consultants sort of blurted out this diagnosis I was with my mom in the hospital and it was not done kindly at all—I mean she was horrified, and the shock of that and the sort of sense of just waves of blackness overwhelming me. And then over the next few days processing that and actually reading the Psalms, I found to be an extraordinary experience because here was an opportunity to vocalize what I was feeling: frustration with God, questions, fear. And then to experience actually meeting God, or God meeting me, in that place.

I think today, certainly in the context where I am, there’s an epidemic of anxiety related experiences, particularly for young people. In my life it was through that that the God that I was questioning and had kind of an intellectual path to come to know about him (“Was this really real?”, “Was this substantial?”), that that actually then overlapped and intersected in my own experience, and God met me in the pain and suffering of this world.

Justine: And so these days you must draw upon that union of that intellect but also that life experience, in order to do your work as an apologist? Now, can you take us through that because it sounds like you go around apologizing for things but it’s not quite like that is it?

Amy: No. Yeah, it’s a slightly unfortunate word, I think, “apologist”. It comes from the Greek word apologia, which really means to give a reasoned defense. It’s what a defense lawyer would stand up and do when you’re in court in order to persuade people of your case. So yeah, apologetics is really about grappling with the intellectual dimensions of the deepest questions: about whether God exists, about whether this is fair and just, does the way the world is cohere with the Christian worldview? But it’s not only intellectual because we as human beings are more than just brains on legs—we think (and obviously that’s really important) but life has other dimensions. How we feel, what we experience, the capacity—the possibility—of relationship, that desire, that thirst for meaning and purpose and fulfillment. Those different dimensions of human experience, Jesus speaks into all of them. So for me, any apologetic—any reasonable defense of the Christian faith—needs to engage at those different levels.

How we feel, what we experience, the capacity—the possibility—of relationship, that desire, that thirst for meaning and purpose and fulfillment. Those different dimensions of human experience, Jesus speaks into all of them.

Simon: Now despite that clarification of the definition, there are nonetheless plenty of things that Christians ought to feel sorry for or be apologizing for. What do you say to people who say, “Well, yeah, I’m okay with Jesus but gee, Christians have been rubbish!”

Amy: I’m right there with you. My friend is a brilliant Christian writer in the UK—called Dr. Elaine Storkey. She says, “The Church recruits from the human race.” There’s no expectation in the Bible that there’s a sort of moral bar that we have to have reached in order to own the name Christian. A Christian is simply someone who’s recognised our own brokenness and sinfulness and need for forgiveness. And therefore it ought not to surprise us that a lot of the brokenness that is in the world is also in the Church. So I think as the Church we do have a lot of apologizing to do for things that have been done in the name of Christ and in the name of the Church that do not legitimately represent Him.

How Long is Forever?

My transcript of the above:

Eric: Hey there folks. It’s Hell Week on The Eric Metaxas Show. Chris Himes it’s Hell Week.

Chris: Yeah, I thought it was just the thermostat but no, it’s the theme.

Eric: We’re talking about hell. It’s such a serious topic that I have to joke around. We’re talking to George Sarris. George, we just have a few minutes left in this program, we’re going to have you back for a second program because there’s just so much talk about. So tell us—people are listening all over America, all around the world—what else do we need to know about hell?

George: The biggest issue that most people have relates around Jesus’ words in Matthew chapter 25 verse 46, where it says, “Those who are following God will go into life everlasting and those who are not will go into punishment everlasting.” So the real issue is the word of “everlasting.”

Eric: Okay. And, by the way, you’re Greek, I’m Greek, just so happens the New Testament was written in Greek.

George: Amen.

Eric: So what is the word?

George: The word is aion. It does not mean never-ending. What it means is, “the end is not known”. Not never-ending, the end is not known. For example, if you’re in the middle of the ocean and you look around, you say, “Wow, there’s no end to this ocean, it just goes on and on.” There is an end, you just don’t know where it is.

Eric: So it means “seemingly endless”?

George: Well, not necessarily even “seemingly endless”, it just means “the end is not known.” For example, Jonah, when he’s in the belly of the great fish, he says, “The earth beneath him barred him in forever” (according to the English versions) but what it means is “The earth beneath barred me in for, I don’t [know], for this extended period but I don’t know what it was.” It was only three days—that’s how long he was in the belly of the great fish.

Eric: Right.

George: It talks about the sacrifices in the temple of the Lord will go on forever. No, they just went on until there’s no more need for them—when Christ came there was no more need for those sacrifices at all. In fact, if aion actually meant “never-ending”, the Jews of Jesus day would have had an unanswerable objection to Christianity because they were told, according to their scriptures, that the sacrifices in the temple were to last “forever” but they didn’t, they lasted only until Christ came. The reason [they didn’t make this objection] is because the word “forever” didn’t really mean forever in the original language.

Eric: Now that’s the Hebrew obviously.

George: That’s correct—that’s olam. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, they used aion in place of olam in just about every single place. So they’re pretty much synonymous at that point. It means “an age”. What Jesus is saying, by the way, in Matthew chapter 25 verse 46, is that, “There will be punishment in the age to come, there will be life in the age to come.” But they don’t have to be the same. If I said to you, “Dwight Howard is a tall man he’s standing before the Empire State Building, which is a tall building.” Does that mean the Dwight Howard and the Empire State Building are the same height? No, the word “tall” is a relative term relating to what it’s modifying. The same thing with aion, it’s a relative term, depending on what it’s referring to. If you’re referring to God it’s referring to something everlasting.

Eric: So it doesn’t necessarily mean “infinite”?

George: That is correct. It means “the end is not known.”

Eric: Okay. Wow! Speaking about the end, this is the end of this program. We’re going to do a second program with George Sarris. The book is Heaven’s Doors: wider than you ever believed. Thanks for listening.

Hell: Has It Always Been Forever?

Transcript of George Sarris‘ latest video (above):

You are going to die. It makes no difference if you are rich or poor, wise or foolish, educated or uneducated, successful or unsuccessful. You are mortal, and you are going to die!

Most of us don’t want to hear those words. But whether we like it or not, you and I, and everyone else, will someday end up just like those buried here—dust to dust, ashes to ashes. For that reason, death has always occupied the minds of the living. And, more particularly, what happens after we die? That is a question that everyone thinks about at one time or another. That is the question everyone wants to know the answer to.

Coupled with the reality that we will all die is the fact that life just isn’t fair. Some people inherit great wealth and live in luxury every day. Others are born into extreme poverty. Some, through treachery and deception rise to positions of tremendous power and authority. Others through no fault of their own, experience cruelty and severe suffering as a result. Some people grow up in families where the message of God’s saving grace through Christ is heard every day of their lives. Others never hear that message—not even once before they die.

Because of these inequities in life, almost everyone agrees that, somehow, something has to be done in the world to come to even things out. And, most have concluded that there is some kind of balance scale on the other side on which humans are weighed. Those who are good will go to an eternity of bliss in Heaven. Those who are found wanting will be punished forever in a place of anguish and misery—a place called Hell.

Contrary to popular opinion, however, the idea that Hell will last forever has not always been the teaching of the Christian Church. In fact, during the first five hundred years of its existence, a prominent view in the Church—and, according to some scholars, the majority view—was that Hell is temporary in its duration, and that it actually has a positive purpose. It is one more tool that God will use to defeat sin and death completely, and ultimately restore all of His creation to the perfection He intended.

These early Christians believed that God doesn’t defeat evil by simply shutting it up in a corner of His creation and leaving it there forever—like some kind of cosmic graveyard keeping those who are there imprisoned throughout eternity. Rather, He will destroy evil by transforming the hearts of evil-doers—ultimately making them into those who love goodness. At the very end of time, God will actually get everyone He created into heaven.

Wow! Can God really be that great? Is God’s grace really that powerful? Does God’s work in the hearts of men and women actually extend into the age to come?

Most people today don’t think so! But, some very important and influential early Christian Church leaders did.

One was a man known as Clement of Alexandria. Clement was born in Athens about AD 150—within a couple of generations of Jesus and His disciples. He believed that God is absolutely good, and absolutely sovereign. For him, to believe that God is unable to save all was unthinkable because that would be a proof of His weakness. To believe that God is unwilling was also unthinkable because that is not the attribute of a good Being. For Clement, God is the Lord of the universe, and He has arranged all things with a view to the salvation of the universe.

Clement of Alexandria
Clement of Alexandria

Clement saw God as a devoted Father. Earthly fathers don’t punish their children to hurt them. They chasten their children with a view to correcting them. And, that’s what God, our Heavenly Father, does. Punishing for the sake of punishing would simply be returning evil for evil. God doesn’t do that. He chastises for the good of those who are chastised.

Those are pretty bold statements. But, Clement believed in a very bold God—a God whose sovereign power coupled with His unfailing love for all enables Him to ultimately bring about the complete restoration of all.

Another one of the early Church Fathers who believed in ultimate restoration was Gregory of Nyssa. Gregory died around AD 395 and is still revered as one of the greatest of the early Church Fathers. In fact, the Seventh General Council of the Church held in the year 787 honored Gregory by naming him “Father of the Fathers.”

Gregory of Nyssa
Gregory of Nyssa

Does God punish forever with terrifying pain? Gregory didn’t think so. He explained that the thoughtless or immature think this, and fear it—with a good result—it motivates them to flee from wickedness. However, those with more maturity understand the true purpose of after-death punishment—it is a remedial process instituted by a good God to, in Gregory’s words, bring back man, His peculiar creature, to the grace of his primal condition.

Gregory was convinced that evil, in the end, will be completely defeated. God isn’t going to just pack it up, stick it in a corner of His creation and let it go on forever. Evil will become non-existent. Divine goodness will prevail. God is not a loser, and in the end, no single being created by God will fail to achieve the kingdom of God.

Wow! That is a powerful God! With ideas like that, no wonder the early Christians ended up taking over the Roman Empire!

What is Hell?

My transcript of the above:

Eric: Hey there folks—it’s The Eric Metaxas Show. It’s Hell Week on The Eric Metaxas Show. Chris Himes did you know it’s Hell Week?

Chris: Hell-o—I can’t stop.

Eric: Yeah. We’re talking to George Sarris. The book is Heaven’s Doors. I want to be real clear, even though you take what some people call the Universalist position, you’re not saying, “Hell does not exist”?

George: That is correct.

Eric: Okay. If somebody says, “You’re going to hell”, what is hell?

George: Hell is a place where you experience the consequences of your actions—just like it is here on this earth. One of the major people in the early church was a guy named Theodore of Mopsuestia, and his basic position was that sin leads to misery. So eventually if you continue to pursue sin, you will become totally miserable. At that point, you’re open to experiencing the love and grace that God offers—and God doesn’t give up.

Eric: Okay. So let’s pick a name out of a hat: Adolf Hitler?

George: Why don’t you talk about the Apostle Paul?

Eric: Why?

George: Because he’s a great example of that. He actually persecuted Christians and put them to death.

Eric: But…

George: But what did God do? He didn’t just punish Paul, he transformed Paul. The goal that God has for mankind is not just to punish, it is to transform.

Eric: Ok. But I’m saying if the goal is to transform Hitler…

George: He doesn’t get transformed in this life so God has ages (because scripture talks about not just an age to come but ages plural to come).

Eric: Aionion

George: He has ages to work in Hitler’s life to bring him to a point where he understands his need for grace.

Oil On Canvas
“Cain or Hitler in Hell” by George Grosz

Eric: Okay. So the thing is that you’re saying that, “Yes, hell is actually hell but it is to bring the worst sinner ultimately to repentance.”

George: That is correct.

Eric: But you still say that hell is horrible?

George: Yes. I mean, if you do some crime and you’re put in jail, just because you don’t get the death sentence, doesn’t mean that jail is really a wonderful place to be. Depending on how long you’re there, is not a comfortable place to be, this is intense, it’s severe. The the punishment, the consequences of whatever it is. Just talk to a recovering alcoholic or talk to somebody that’s been involved in some kind of sin in their lives. Were they happy? No, they’re experiencing all kinds of negative consequences—breaks up of marriages, breaks up of relationships with their children, physical diseases or problems that come along, etc. Those are not positive things at all but at some point, if they can acknowledge their need, then God’s saving grace is available to them in Christ.

Eric: What do you say to somebody who says the scripture says clearly, “Once we leave this life, that’s it”?

George: Where does it say that? The only verse that I’ve ever been able to come across it says that… where it says, “It is appointed unto man once to die and then the judgment.” It doesn’t say what the judgment is. [It] just means that once you die you come before God and then God makes a decision. Is he going to send you to hell for however long it is? Are you going to go to heaven? Those are judgments that God makes but it doesn’t say anything about the fact that God is going to stop being God. He’s not going to stop being gracious. The grace of God continues on into the ages to come. Why is it that people would believe that God is willing to forgive Adolf Hitler right up to the very point of, you know, five seconds before he dies if he repented—truly repented—then he would be saved and he brought into heaven, but five seconds after he dies, “Sorry too bad”? God doesn’t change!

Eric: Okay. So what do your detractors say? In other words, answer some of the things that the detractors of this view would say to you if they were sitting here?

George: The first thing they would say is that, “Scripture obviously teaches this because it says in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus that whoever’s in hell can never get out of it.” First of all, it doesn’t say that. Number one, the word that is used there for hell is actually Hades—it’s not hell—and Hades, as a place of punishment, will empty itself. That death and Hades will be thrown into the lake of fire—that Hades will release those who are captive in it. When Jesus talks about the gates of Hades not being able to withstand his church, the gates of Hades are not offensive units, they are defensive. The Christian churches on the attack against the gates of Hades. We are going to destroy the gates of Hades and of hell and of death, and we’re going to bring deliverance from it.

Eric: See this is, I confess, that I hope that’s true and I think every Christian has to hope that’s true too.

The Day of the Lord

My transcript of The Bible Project animation is below:

Jon: “The Day of the Lord.” It is a phrase in the Bible that religious people use, usually when talking about the end of the world.

Tim: Yeah, things like Armageddon or the apocalypse. You might be familiar with this image of Jesus returning on a white horse. He has got sword to bring final judgment.

Jon: Everyone wants to know how will it all go down.

Tim: So a lot of these images come from the last book of the Bible. But to understand them, you have to go back to the first book.

Jon: When the story begins, we watch God create an amazing world. Then He gives humans power to rule over it on his behalf.

Tim: But the humans are tempted by this mysterious, unhuman character, who offers them a promise: you could define good and evil on your own terms and put yourselves in God’s place.

Jon: Which is what they do. And the resulting stories are about the broken relationships and violence that results.

Tim: Yeah, this promise creates huge problems. Now everyone has to protect themselves and fight for survival. They are all using death as this weapon to gain power.

Jon: It all leads to a story about the building of the city of Babylon.

Tim: Or in Hebrew, “Babel”. Everyone comes together to elevate themselves to the place of God. God knows how devastating this could be: a whole culture redefining good and evil, as if they are God.

Jon: So God confuses their language and scatters them.

Tim: Now from here on Babylon becomes like an icon in the biblical story. It is an image that represents humanity’s corporate rebellion against God.

Babylon becomes like an icon in the biblical story. It is an image that represents humanity’s corporate rebellion against God.

Jon: And the next time we see it is in the story of ancient Egypt.

Tim: Yeah, Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, feels threatened by these immigrant Israelites. He starts killing all of the boys and enslaving the rest.

Jon: This is really evil.

Tim: Yeah, Egypt is like this bigger, badder Babylon. They take care of themselves at the expense of others, by redefining evil as good. And so God turns Pharaoh’s evil back on him. His pride drives him forward and he is swallowed up by death.

Jon: Now after this great deliverance, the Israelites sing a song about how God is their warrior who liberated them from evil.

Tim: The Israelites referred to this moment as “The Day”.

Jon: The day they were rescued from a corrupt human system.

Tim: And every year since then, the Israelites have celebrated the day of their liberation with the symbolic meal of a sacrificial lamb. It is called “Passover”.

Jon: Eventually Israel comes into its own land, have their own kings, and they face new enemies.

Tim: So that past Day of the Lord—celebrated every Passover—begins to generate hope that God will bring “The Day” again to save Israel from new threats.

Jon: Now out in the hills was a sheep herder named Amos.

Tim: He was appointed by God as a prophet to announce shocking news to Israel that God was bringing another Day of the Lord against his enemies. This time, the target is Israel.

Jon: Ah, what?

Tim: Sadly, Israel’s leaders had also redefined good and evil for themselves, resulting in corruption and violence.

Jon: So God’s people have become like Babylon? The oppressed become oppressors. Babylon seems like a trap no one can escape.

Tim: So the day of the Lord comes upon Israel. They are conquered, taken captive into exile. From then on, Israel suffered under the rule of continuous oppressive empires.

Jon: This is the story Jesus was born into.

Tim: Yeah, in his day the oppressive empire over Israel is Rome.

Jon: So, is Jesus going to confront Rome, take him out?

Tim: Well, no. Jesus saw the real enemy as that mysterious, unhuman evil—the evil that has lured Babylon, Egypt, Rome, Israel. All humanity has given in to evil’s promise of power. This is what Jesus resisted alone in the wilderness, when he was tempted to exploit his power for self-interest.

Jesus saw the real enemy as that mysterious, unhuman evil—the evil that has lured Babylon, Egypt, Rome, Israel. All humanity has given in to evil’s promise of power. This is what Jesus resisted alone in the wilderness, when he was tempted to exploit his power for self-interest.

Jon: But he didn’t. And after that he started to confront the effects of evil on others.

Tim: Yeah, He started saying that he was going to Jerusalem—for Passover—for a final showdown to confront the evil of Israel and Rome by dying.

Jon: Dying? I mean, that feels like losing.

Tim: Jesus was going to let evil exhaust all of its power on him, using its only real weapon: death. Jesus knew that God’s love and life were even more powerful, that he could overcome evil by becoming the Passover lamb, giving his life in an act of love. Something changed that day. When Jesus defeated evil, he opened up a new way for anyone to escape from Babylon and discover this new kind of power, this new way of being human.

When Jesus defeated evil, he opened up a new way for anyone to escape from Babylon and discover this new kind of power, this new way of being human.

Jon: Okay, so something changed. But, the power of evil is still alive and well. We keep building new versions of Babylon.

Tim: Right, so the last book of the Bible, the Revelation, points to the future and final Day of the Lord. It is when God’s kingdom comes to confront Babylon the Great, this image of all the corrupt nations of the world.

Jon: Yeah, this is it. Armageddon. Final judgment! How is Jesus going to finish off evil?

Tim: Well, it is not how you would expect. In the Revelation, the victorious Jesus is symbolized by a sacrificial bloody lamb… When Jesus does arrive in the end, riding his white horse to confront evil, he is bloody before the battle even starts.

Jon: Pre-bloodied? That is a strange image.

Tim: Yeah, it is because Jesus is not out for our blood. Rather, he overcame with his blood when he died for his enemies. The sword in his mouth is a symbol of Jesus’s authority to define good and evil, and hold us accountable when he brings final justice once and for all.

Jon: And so, in the meantime, the Day of the Lord is an invitation to resist the culture of Babylon.

Tim: It is a promise that God will one day free our world from corruption and bring about the new thing that he has in store.

[The Day of the Lord] is a promise that God will one day free our world from corruption and bring about the new thing that he has in store.

The reforming effect of reformed drug traffickers—Andrew & Myu’s legacy

Andrew Chan & Myuran Sukumaran
Andrew Chan & Myuran Sukumaran (Photo: news.com.au)

My transcript of Keeping the memory of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran alive:

Andrew West: Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were two Australian drug traffickers. But by all accounts they were totally reformed—committed to spending their lives in Indonesian jails trying to reform other criminals. Myuran became an acclaimed artist; Andrew an ordained minister. But two years ago, this weekend, they were executed by firing squad. Pastors Christie and Rob Buckingham of Melbourne’s Bayside Church walked with Andrew and Myuran as they prepared to die.

Christie Buckingham is back in Bali this week, determined to end the death penalty everywhere, this time with the help of young filmmakers.

Christie Buckingham: Thank you Andrew, lovely to be with you.

Andrew: Christie, two years after the executions of Andrew and Myuran, can I ask what the feeling is inside Kerobokan prison?

Christie: Yes, well, as a matter of fact, yesterday being ANZAC Day was the day that they were given their 72-hour notice and that was such an unbelievable day. Obviously, the prisoners are still not recovered or even been able to fully grieve the loss of these two men, simply because life inside prison is about living each day. The legacy that Andrew and Myu have left—in terms of leadership—has been fantastic but these guys were friends of many people inside the prison including the guards. So the loss is very felt—very felt this week.

Andrew: Yeah. Can I ask you personally—because you and your husband Rob became great spiritual partners to both Andrew and Myuran—can I ask how you are both feeling on this second anniversary?

Christie: Firstly, Andrew, thank you for that compliment but I would like to say that there have been many people—there were many people—that were part of Andrew and Myu’s journey. I just feel this incredible sense of loss, an unbelievable sense of waste, and—I will admit—some anger because President Jokowi talked about (and does talk about) his war against drugs and he killed two of his greatest weapons! Had there been courage there to allow the boys to go into different prisons and start up other programs so that it would have stopped others (who were going to be released) turning to crime.

Had there been courage there to allow the boys to go into different prisons and start up other programs so that it would have stopped others (who were going to be released) turning to crime.

Again, that would have been the way to go. So there’s this great sense of still being confused, confounded by the total lack of any consideration for what is happening worldwide in relation to the death penalty, and any recognition that the fact is, that it is not a deterrent against drugs.

Andrew: Yeah. Can I just ask you, Christie, if you could recall just those last couple of hours that you spent with the boys?

Christie: Yes, I will never forget them, personally. I have never seen… Obviously as a pastor and as a minister, and as a person growing up in Northern Ireland and seeing many fatalities as the course of life, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so profound. I’ve never seen, or ever walked, people to their certain death, singing the praises of God. I’ve never seen people express such courage, such forgiveness, and such kindness in such a powerful and tangible way in the midst of such horror.

I’ve never seen, or ever walked, people to their certain death, singing the praises of God. I’ve never seen people express such courage, such forgiveness, and such kindness in such a powerful and tangible way in the midst of such horror.

And I would like to take this opportunity, Andrew, of thanking people around the world for their prayers because they were certainly felt—by the boys and by myself and the other spiritual directors. There is absolutely no question that in the midst of that horror and that horrendous act, that God was very close.

There is absolutely no question that in the midst of that horror and that horrendous act, that God was very close.

Andrew: And we should remember, of course, that Andrew Chan became an ordained minister, which was, I guess, something [that] added to the impact of what happened to him, in a way, don’t you think?

Christie: Absolutely, and even on the night of his execution, I remember with great distinction hearing the chains of the men walking in the pitch darkness and for the first moment my heart sank because I heard them as the world saw them—as condemned men. And out of the darkness, Andrew sang a song, “Savior, you can move the mountains”. And Andrew was just an incredible individual. I remember saying to him one day, “Andrew, this must get on top of you” and he said, “Well, when it gets on top of me, instead of me telling God how big my problems are, I tell my problems how big my God is!”

“Well, when it gets on top of me, instead of me telling God how big my problems are, I tell my problems how big my God is!”

And that’s Andrew in a nutshell.

Andrew: One way, of course, to keep alive, not just the memory of Andrew and Myuran but the cause (the cause that you and Rob have dedicated yourselves to) of fighting the death penalty, is through a movie that’s being produced, Execution IslandThe producers are looking to crowdfund this movie [I’ve made a donation as I think it’s a powerful and important story to share]. What are you trying to do with that movie Christie?

Christie: Well, there’s a couple of things. It’s a very real fact… I mean there’s two movies being produced at the moment:

—A documentary that is really based on Myuran’s art and his legacy (and that as an argument against the death penalty), linked with a hybrid documentary, and that is called Guilty. And that’s talking about the actual area of rehabilitation.

—The other one is the film called Execution Island, which is being produced by Three Kings Pictures. It’s talking about basically how faith, not only faith but your values, can see you to the end. And I think it’s a real encouragement to know that Myuran’s family was a Christian family and Myuran, in particular, I remember he said, “Everything’s coming back! All the songs I learnt, all the things, it’s all coming back!” and he said it was like having a box of things put aside, that you didn’t use for a while, and then you brought out—then you remembered them dearly. And Myu was a deep thinker and he was into philosophy and also just really engaged in deep conversations about faith. And so the movie will talk about how their faith kept them—kept them and their family strong. And like I say, there were many people involved in that faith journey and they were model prisoners as the guards described them and they certainly have got a lot to say in relation to: “You have control over yourself, even though you don’t have control over your environment.”

[Andrew and Myu] certainly have got a lot to say in relation to: “You have control over yourself, even though you don’t have control over your environment.”

Andrew: And just finally, have you kept in touch with the families?

Christie: Yes, absolutely! In fact, I was speaking to Myu’s mother just yesterday. She, in particular, is getting strength out of the fact that knowing that we are all doing what we can to speak up against the death penalty. In 2017, killing people on purpose—instead of reasonable prison sentences—is just no longer something we even need to consider.

In 2017, killing people on purpose—instead of reasonable prison sentences—is just no longer something we even need to consider.

Andrew: The Reverend Christie Buckingham. She and her husband the Reverend Rob Buckingham of Melbourne’s Bayside Church, walked with Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran in their last years, before they were executed two years ago in Bali. Christie, thank you for being with us on the Religion and Ethics Report.

Christie: Thank you so much Andrew, wonderful to speak with you.

Andrew: There is a link to that crowdfunding website on our home page at the RN web site.

What is God like?

My transcript of the above:

Eric: Hey there folks. This is The Eric Metaxas Show. Chris Himes we’ve got something very special for our listeners today.

Chris: Ah, do we?

Eric: Yeah, we do. What the heck, this is Hell Week on The Eric Metaxas Show. People don’t realize that this is what we like to call Hell Week on the show because we’re serious Christians; we take the concept of Hell very seriously.

Chris: Sure.

Eric: But the question is, “What about it?” George Sarris, welcome on the program.

George: Thank you very much, it’s a delight to be here!

Eric: George I’ve known you for a long time and the reason we’re having you on today is first of all because I’ve known you for a long time—you have a lot of credibility with me. The book you have written (it just came out) is titled Heaven’s Doors and then the subtitle is Wider than you ever believed. I read the book and I was very impressed with the way you dealt with this. I want to ask you your story. How in the heck did you come to write an entire book on the subject of hell?

George: Yeah, that’s a very good question. I guess my life really got transformed in 1969. I was a junior in college, back then, during the height of the Vietnam war era and God touched my heart—transformed it. And I was really excited about this great God who I heard about and so I ended up going on Campus Crusade for Christ staff for four years after that. And then I went to seminary—wanted to be an educated layman.

George Sarris
George Sarris (Photo: HeavensDoor.net)

And so anyway, I went to seminary but there was an issue that bothered me, “Why would an all-powerful, all-wise, all-loving God, either cause (if you’re a Calvinist) or allow (if you’re an Arminian) billions of people to suffer consciously forever??” It just didn’t seem to make sense to me. So I decided to use that topic as an issue for a research paper and what I discovered was absolutely shocking to me! During the first five centuries of the Christian Church the dominant view was that God was ultimately going to restore all of creation.

Eric: Now, I’d never even heard that until I read your book!

George: There were basically six centers of Christianity back then: two of them (Alexandria and Caesarea) followed the teachings of Origen and they favored Ultimate Restoration; two of them (Antioch and Edessa) followed the teachings of Theodore of Mopsuestia—who most people have never heard of.

Eric: Gesundheit.

George: Thank you very much. One (which was Asia Minor) followed Irenaeus and he believed in Annihilation, and then only one (northern Africa) followed the teachings of Tertullian and Augustine.

So the dominant view was really that God is going to ultimately restore all creation.

Eric: So Tertullian and Augustine believed in conscious eternal punishment?

George: That is correct.

Eric: Okay, so they did but Irenaeus did not.

George: That is correct.

Eric: And Origen did not.

George: That is correct.

Eric: Okay.

George: Nor did Gregory of Nyssa. Gregory of Nyssa was a major person. In fact, when the Nicene Creed was finalized, he actually added the phrase, “I believe in the life of the age to come” to the Nicene Creed. And he was probably the strongest supporter of Ultimate Restoration of any of the Early Church Fathers.

Well I wrote a paper (got an a-minus in the paper) in my seminary. I kept it as a private hope for a long time because nobody thought this is gonna work. And then in 2007 decided to look a little more carefully into the issue. I knew at some point that I’d have to do that and, as I did, I ended up writing the book. And it was just exciting to me because I had a look into all those issues. What about the the phrase of Jesus where he says to Judas that, “it would be better if you had never been born”? I mean how’s that fit into this whole idea of Ultimate Restoration? How about repentance is impossible? Or in Hebrews, “it’s impossible for someone who has once known God to then be returned.” So I had to deal with all those various issues.

Eric: So these are scriptures that people who don’t believe in your view would use to say, “how can you possibly get around the scripture?” and since you believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, you had to deal with that.

George: That’s correct. And I became convinced that scripture actually teaches that God is ultimately going to restore all of creation. That was what was an amazing thing to me—that God is not this weak individual. If you’re an Arminian, God is weak—he wishes that he could save everybody but, “son of a gun, I just can’t!”—or he is cruel, if you’re a Calvinist, it’s because God could have saved all but he chose only to save some.

So I thought, I don’t see God as being cruel, I don’t see him as being weak. I see him as being all-powerful, all-loving, all-wise. Why could he not accomplish what he set out to do?

Eric: Ok, now the people who take the Armenian or the Calvinist view, they would never say he’s weak and they would never say he’s cruel. Just to be clear, they would put it differently but I think your average person thinks that and says, “I don’t get this.”