Positive, upbeat attempt to defend God and get folks to warm up to the God of the Bible. When I think about my own foolishness, and yet my eagerness to defend God, it’s no wonder the Bible speaks of him as being wounded in the house of his friends. Isaiah 42:14 describes how God feels, holding his peace while ignorant enemies curse and mock, and even worse, ignorant “friends” make outlandish and confusing claims.
But the funniest thing about our world is that foolish folks like me comprise God’s PR firm. And boy, does God need a PR firm. A tsunami strikes and leaves 200,000 dead and millions in despair. And God gets blamed. A tornado strays from the cornfields into a town, and the “In Good Hands” people write down, “Act of God”. My, how God’s “actions” speak louder than the words of His defenders. On that score, the best we have are things like the everystudent.com website, which tries valiantly but in vain to apologize for Him. A few are comforted, and even fewer find real faith; but most folks continue to wonder why God, if He’s good, doesn’t do something to offset the incredible evil in the world. Or if He’s God, and wishes He could, why isn’t He God — powerful enough to take on the evil, and WIN?
Here’s my take. Hold traditionalist Christians’ feet to the fire. Make them explain their beliefs. Sooner or later, they will start to see that the Bible is more hopeful and positive about God’s plans than they have acknowledged thus far. Don’t give up. The traditionalists have some things right, and the Bible is a good thing, the only thing worth searching for answers. But some of the answers are not emerging, it seems to me, from a traditionalist paradigm.
I would encourage such to explain why children die. Die of AIDS, starvation, abortion, disease. Die, often, at the hands of their parents. Is it because God wants them in heaven? Is it because they did something bad?
Perhaps if they honor the Bible they’ll say, “the children didn’t do anything bad, but they were ‘born sinners.'” OK — so children are born with a sin nature — they were condemned by their heredity, to be born imperfect and dying, in an imperfect and dying world. Fine. So where do they go when they die? “Oh, not sure, but they sure couldn’t go to hell — they don’t deserve that. God is merciful. He’ll deal with it.” (Encourage further discussion by asking…) When the kids grow up. And like kids, they become thiefs, beggars, or fools. And then they die, without accepting Christ. What becomes of them? The traditionalist is stuck. He hears himself say, (if Arminian) “they were free to choose, and they rejected Christ.” But were they born sinners? “Oh yes, they disobeyed God back in the garden of Eden. We all blew it.” Yes, I’ve heard many a preacher say, “we all deserve hell, because we rebelled against God.” (The Calvinists would never make that mistake. They can see that the adults, like the children were slaves of sin, and unable to make a decision to break free. So they say that God ordained some to hell, and some to heaven. No real choice in the matter at all, but strictly up to God’s grace. Whereupon the Arminians, Wesleyans, etc. say, “What Rot! God ordains people to eternal hell?!! No way! God wishes they would turn away from it, but they CHOOSE to rebel! It’s their own fault!”
(Check out John Wesley’s words against Calvinism: (Sermon 55, p1: – http://www.godrules.net/library/wsermons/wsermons55.htm) “Whatever the generality of people may think, it is certain that opinion is not religion: No, not right opinion; assent to one, or to ten thousand truths. There is a wide difference between them: Even right opinion is as distant from religion as the east is from the west. Persons may be quite right in their opinions, and yet have no religion at all; and, on the other hand, persons may be truly religious, who hold many wrong opinions. Can any one possibly doubt of this, while there are Romanists in the world? For who can deny, not only that many of them formerly have been truly religious, as Thomas a Kempis, Gregory Lopez, and the Marquis de Renty; but that many of them, even at this day, are real inward Christians? And yet what a heap of erroneous opinions do they hold, delivered by tradition from their fathers! Nay, who can doubt of it while there are Calvinists in the world, — assertors of absolute predestination? For who will dare to affirm that none of these are truly religious men? Not only many of them in the last century were burning and shining lights, but many of them are now real Christians, loving God and all mankind. And yet what are all the absurd opinions of all the Romanists in the world, compared to that one, that the God of love, the wise, just, merciful Father of the spirits of all flesh, has, from all eternity, fixed an absolute, unchangeable, irresistible, decree, that part of all mankind shall be saved, do what they will; and the rest damned, do what they can!”
* * *
But wait, I thought you said the poor innocent children don’t deserve hell, that wouldn’t be fair. When did they start to deserve it? Was there a moment in their life when they began to actually do stuff that made them worthy of eternal torment?
If they die “in their sins” is it the sins they committed in this life that put them over the edge, or is it the sins they committed when they were in their forefathers, way back in the Garden? Let’s be explicit, and let’s be precise. Well, the traditionalist may finally say, I don’t know precisely, but I know one thing. There is none righteous, no not one. And the gift of God is eternal life.”
Of course, in more manly times, the traditionalists were at least consistent. They woudn’t let babies into church until they were baptized, because babies were going to hell — they were born in sin. So medieval churches had baptism fonts outside the church where the babies could get sprinkled and saved.
What’s the solution?
Believe the Bible. Hell and death will be thrown in the lake of fire, too. Rev. 20:14 What could that possibly mean? Well, if “thrown into the lake of fire” means tormented forever in conscious suffering, it doesn’t make much sense to me. But if “thrown into the lake of fire” means annihilated, destroyed, then that makes sense. Hell and death will be annihilated. How does one annihilate death? By doing what Acts 24:15 and John 5:25-29 and 1 Cor. 15:22 say will happen. All the dead will come to life again. You destroy death by universally, in every instance, replacing it with life again. So other scriptures agree “Death will be swallowed up in victory.” Isaiah 25:8 All the dead will be brought back to life. All the tears will be wiped away. Revelaton 21:1-4 All the sickness will be over. How does one destroy “hell”? The same way, because “hell” = hades, and hades means oblivion, the condition of slumber or sleep of the dead. When no one is sleeping in death any longer, hades is destroyed.
But “wait,” says the traditionalist, “that’s too good to be true. God can’t just let everybody off the hook. People are SINNERS! Why should I be a Christian now, if all the sinners are going to be let off the hook?”
That’s a good and fair question. And my Bible, which I secretly changed so it would be different from all other Bibles, gives me the answer. Because my Bible says, Jesus “is the satisfaction for our sins. (that is, the sins of believers, the sins of the church.) You see, I can say with the traditionalists, “God is satisfied by Jesus’ blood — He looks at the sins of believers like me and Jerry Falwell, and he doesn’t even see our sins. Though they were scarlet, they become as white as snow. Ain’t it grand? Christians aren’t perfect, they’re forgiven.” Well, I cheated. That feeling felt so good to me that I decided to help out all those poor unbelievers so I added in my Bible, “And not for ours only, but also for the sins OF THE WHOLE WORLD.” (1 John 2:2) Isn’t that great? that way, I can make Jesus into a satisfaction for EVERYONE’s sins, and then they don’t all have to go to hell, after all!
Here’s another verse I made up that makes me feel better: the disciples saw a man that had been blind since he was born, and they asked him who had sinned, the man who was blind, or his parents? (John 9:1ff) Of course, the Arminian would say, it had to be his parents, right, because that poor little fetus couldn’t have sinned in its mother’s womb. But if there were any Calvinists in the audience, they would have said, “Duh! It had to be the FETUS who sinned, — more precisely, who was BORN IN SIN — because it rebelled against God representively, in Father Adam.” Fortunately, I was able to erase Jesus’ answer — I can’t even remember now whether he was a Calvinist or an Arminian. But what I wrote fits my thinking mighty well, because in my Bible Jesus says, “Neither! (Neither explanation is correct) — but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.”
That’s sweet, isn’t it? The man was born blind so that Jesus could come along and heal his blindness, and then people could see that God is not only good, but also powerful. If the man hadn’t been blind all those years, no one would think it was a big deal to cure his blindness — so when God finally got around to it, it proved He was a mighty God indeed! And during all those years when the man was blind, his parents were saddened, the self-righteous religious people thought they were better because they weren’t blind… well, when God finally did something good for that poor sucker it gave everyone a chance to reflect on what Goodness was, after all. Goodness was having mercy on someone in distress, not wearing white robes with blue fringes and thinking they were “holier than thou.” Goodness was being patient, not giving up on God when things weren’t going poorly. Goodness was hoping, and praying, and waiting for the Messiah to come.
Now, if there was only that one example of God’s goodness and power, I would have a weak case for my belief. So I had to change some more verses in MY Bible so that I could convince myself that what happened to that one blind man was really supposed to be a picture for EVERYONE who has ever lived, for ALL victims of all the “acts of God” and “just wars” and “accidents” and such. Now, that was tough, but I managed to find a way to explain away all the results of all the bad things I could think of. Like slavery, in which Christians gave rum and guns to African tribes so they could capture and sell millions of boys and girls to Christians who could bring them through the Middle Passage to the New World, which God had opened up so that the slaves could make sugar and cotton so that the Christians there, who were given the land by God so they could escape from being burned at the stake by other Christians, could sell the sugar and cotton to the smart Christians in England who knew how to turn the sugar into Rum and the cotton into uniforms for the soldiers who would protect the Christians and keep order while honest, hardworking Christians were making more guns and jewelry and other trade goods to give to the Africans who had such hard work to do, constantly filling all those ships with boys and girls. And that was just one thing I had to try and make up a solution for. There was also the Bubonic plague, which killed millions and millions of nice, God-fearing Christians who were embarrased by their ugly disease and killed millions of Jews for causing it. And there were the Indian wars, when good Christians had to exterminate all those red-skinned savages who refused to believe in the Savior, especially after they lost their worthless land to all those Christians who, after all, really needed and were just responding to the grace and generosity of Providence. As the French used to say, “God is on the side of the fat cannons.” And there was the Holocaust, in which millions of Christians had to protect their fatherland from the terrible scourge of brown-eyed savages or flat-nosed Pollocks or hook-nosed Jews. That one was especially tough to explain away, since it perfectly fit the traditionalists picture — Jews, who had rejected Christ long ago, deserved hell anyway, right? So the Nazis simply did what Martin Luther and other great Christians had said God was doing all along — preparing fiery pits where they could be disposed of with maximum suffering. Just like Dante, except Zyklon B is much faster and more efficient than all those primitive fire pits and such. 20th century technology was so much more Godlike than Renaissance imaginations!
Well, I looked and looked and finally, I found a verse I could twist without changing too many words, to make my Bible more comforting to me. So here’s what I came up with: Instead of Isaiah the prophet saying of God, “He formed the earth in pain, He formed it to be desolated” which of course is what the traditionalists keep telling us — that God is sovereign and that there is supposed to be all this pain so that we all know who the Boss is, and that once he’s saved the few, the proud, He will then come and really teach the Sinners a lesson and burn the whole earth up, and then the few, the proud, can watch from Heaven and praise God for his love (of them) and his Justice (in punishing everyone else forever for their rebellion) (believe me, I did not make this up, this is vintage Calvin and Jonathan Edwards) …. well, I changed a few little words in my Bible to make it more pleasing to ME — “Thus says the Lord that created the heavens; God Himself that formed the earth and made it; He created it not in vain, He formed it to be inhabited.” Now, isn’t that slick! Just a few letters, and I feel better! God is interested, not only in heaven, but also in the earth, and his plan is for the earth to be inhabited, lived in. What a concept.
It’s amazing what you can do when you are determined to find a storybook ending to the human race … a “they all lived happily ever after” kind of make-believe…..
Please forgive my sarcasm in the above post. Some of my best and dearest Christian friends find themselves on both sides of this controversy described above, and others rejoice with me in the hope of the ultimate salvation of all men from the hereditary curse of death. Here’s a very simple description of what I consider to be the essence of true Christianity, and the basis of faith that can and should unite all believers, and make them good examples of humility to unbelievers, who I am not at all worried about. You’ll find this at http://www.fwponline.cc/v20n1reasoner2.htm
It is a conversation between John Wesley, an Arminian, and Charles Simeon, a Calvinist. Simeon speaks to Wesley on December 20, 1784:
“Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions…. Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart?
Yes, says the veteran, I do indeed. And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?
Yes, solely through Christ. But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?
No, I must be saved by Christ from first to last. Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?
No. What, then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother’s arms?
Yes, altogether. And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly kingdom?
Yes, I have no hope but in Him. Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things wherein we agree.”
Here’s my main tome on what the Bible says about salvation…. http://www.whyjesusdied.com