I’d like to quote from an excellent blog post from John Pavlovitz’ blog, “Stuff that needs to be said.”
I hope you subscribe to his blog. I love his approach.
I had a great birthday. January 12 was a happy day for me, all day long. But a couple of days later I discovered what a big tragedy it was… an earthquake hit Haiti, killing maybe 100,000 people.
Aside from the small donation I sent to World Vision, there isn’t much I can do. I can urge you to support Haitian rescue efforts. I can express my thanks to Doctors Without Borders and others who were already there, hard at work. My impact is ridiculously puny.
But perhaps to salve my conscience I’m going to use this as the occasion for my re-entry into the blogosphere, a year and a day after my last post here on HappyGod.
Since my topics are God and what’s wrong with the world, let’s talk about Pat Robertson. Not the man, but his ideas. OK, alright, let’s talk about the guy too, and his habit of rushing in where angels fear to tread. (Thanks, Alexander Pope, for helping me break the spirit of Matthew 5:22 without disobeying the letter!)
Sometimes we’re confronted with foolishness that is so laughably evil, so hatefully dumb, that all we can do is gape in amazement. Where do I begin?
Keith Olberman was articulate and strummed some chords I wanted to hear:
Whoopi Goldberg and friends were similarly indignant and equally articulate about Dr. Robertson…
Other worthy comments are all over the web:
Ambassador from Haiti weighs in
Even God weighs in (humorous press release, via Andy Borowitz, in which God distances himself from the Christian right)
I’m going to leave Pat Robertson squirming in the discomfort of his own religious hotsauce, and come back tomorrow with some historic perspective on the real cause of Haiti’s disproportionate suffering.
The world has lost Randy Pausch. Temporarily. The Carnegie Mellon prof who gained acclaim and then wrote a best-selling book about dying of cancer has passed away in the last few hours. He was 47. His story is particularly touching to me because he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at precisely the time that my wife was initially diagnosed with the same illness. Our initial scans showed a mass on her pancreas and a number of spots that looked liked metastasized tumors on her liver. We spent several weeks contemplating the possibility that Beth would be gone within 3 months to a year, just like Randy’s family. Thankfully for us, when we went to the Mayo clinic a more focused scan revealed that the local doctors had seen false positives. But the confrontation with death left us with a deeper sympathy and deeper sense of purpose for living well and loving much. Randy’s response is bittersweet to say the least. While we admire his refusal to whine or complain, we cannot help but ask why death happens, and what the purpose of human life might be, if there is one at all. For myself, times like this make me embarrassed to have to identify with the Christian community… because the dark side of orthodoxy is that it believes, and sometimes even says out loud, that people like Randy are “lost”… a euphemism for an eternal destiny of hopeless, conscious torment “in the hands of an angry God.” Randy brings a tear to most of our eyes when he chooses to be satisfied with the amount of life he has enjoyed. He is thankful for his parents, thankful for his job, thankful for his family and the many dreams he has been able to achieve. But as a participant in the Christian community I’m embarrassed to say that the ugliness of Calvinist or even Arminian theology casts the darkest of shadows on every life, no matter how well lived, which does not end with the unqualified acceptance of their Molechian concept of deity. I know my Christian brothers who believe in hell would be offended by my comparison of their faith to the “God of drums” — the awful pounding of sacred drums to drown out the screams of children thrown, alive, into the red-hot arms of a flaming deity. And yet that is the unvarnished truth when you really face Christian doctrine head-on without flinching. Am I right? Challenge me if you think not. I am crying right now, in grief for Randy’s wife, his kids, his many friends and colleagues, his students. What a great man he was. But I am also deeply happy, because the Bible is so crystal clear, so brightly unambiguous, that orthodoxy is dead wrong and doomed to full disclosure and embarrassment; and that Randy has not delivered his last lecture. Randy will be back … with songs, with joy, with the same humility and fun-loving spirit that he carried into the grave. If I read Isaiah correctly, the karma of Randy is far closer to the truth than what Isaiah called the “refuge of lies”. I’m well aware of the proof texts that folks use, and I have spent years in sweet fellowship with good Christian brothers and sisters who are persuaded that these lies (which originated in the Garden of Eden) are true. But the hail that is now decimating the Christian church and making this the post-Christian era is forcing Bible-believing Christians to re-examine the Bible and see what it really says. And to admit that if God is indeed love, there is no way he’s got a guy like Randy Pausch on the wrong side of eternity. No way.
I’m happy to rediscover Judith Hayes, the Happy Heretic. I’m a happy heretic myself, being convinced that most of Christianity is dead wrong about the end game God has planned.
In her most recent post, Judith points her incisive wit at the 7 visions of Hell described in an article she reviews. All the views, though nominally Christian, are not only illogical and wrongheaded, but unbiblical.
In the Bible view, Hell is always 52 degrees … a little chilly but you won’t care because when you go there, you can’t feel anything anyway. And everyone goes there — including Jesus. And no, it’s not the body that goes there, it’s the soul — the existence or conscious life, which is clearly said to die, not live immortally. (Jesus’ soul went to hell — hades, oblivion — while his body lay in a tomb).
And in the Bible view, Hell (oblivion — the condition of death inhabited by the children of Adam) is cast into the “Lake of Fire” — eternal oblivion, absolute destruction. How does one absolutely destroy the condition of death for all the souls who have died since Adam? Well, the Bible makes that clear, too: you resurrect them out of death — all of them.
In the Bible view, Death also gets cast into the Lake of Fire. Are we tormenting Death here? No, we’re also obliterating the process of Death, and the sentence of Death that was given to all human beings way back in Genesis. That whole dying process, that whole engine of despair and pain, of what God told Adam would be “dying though shalt die” will go out of existence… along with all the things that were invented to make it either easier (guns, ammo, bombs) or less painful (doctors, hospitals, clergymen). All gone. Foof.
Oh, and Judith, don’t worry. I’m not saying you have to do anything about meeting God right now. When he’s ready, he promises to introduce himself to everyone, and at that point participating in his pleasant society will be strictly voluntary and with no strings attached (other than the kind of rational interactions and mutuality that I can tell you would find appealing, according to Revelation 22:17.)
Judith is asking the same questions that I think God is asking the Christian church today. He is poking them in the chest, demanding that they answer the questions that Judith so eloquently articulates:
Will we ever stop this nonsense? Will the day come when we stop screaming threats at each other about some outlandish place of torture in some invisible, unknowable afterworld? When will we cease to believe in this maliciously cruel myth called Hell? When are we going to learn to appreciate our wonderful world and our all-too-brief visit here? When will love and tolerance finally dominate hate? When will….oh, the hell with it.
The answer of “will the day come…?” is found in Isaiah 28:15-18
Conversing with his friend Samir Vesna on pp 129-130 of A Generous Orthodoxy, Brian McLaren writes,
Restorationists… often refer to themselves, Samir says, as a remnant…. “We’re not small because we’re ineffective, or lazy, or ingrown, or otherwise unattractive; we’re small because we’re a faithful remnant! Everone else has compromised…. We’re the few, the committed, the faithful, the proud. (Oops.)…Samir has seen a lot of this remnant thinking in restorationist territory; he sees how destructive it is.”
McLaren goes on to mention how Samir preached about Moses, who was essentially offered the status of remnant by God when the nation of Israel lapsed into idolatry. Moses didn’t take the bait, but pleaded with God to preserve and continue investing in Israel, rather than starting over with Moses as a new patriarch. Moses, who really was a faithful remnant kind of guy, set an example for all who wish to be similarly faithful by showing a willingness to be sacrificial in his love, and eager to bless even the errant members of God’s heritage. McLaren concludes:
Samir asked his friends with a remnant mentality: what is a truly faithful remnant like? Its members do not turn inward in elite self-congratulation…. No, the faithful remnant “after God’s own heart” turns its heart others-wise, outward, toward the unfaithful, in loyalty and love. True faithfulness bonds the hearts of the faithful to their unfaithful neighbors.
If Christ’s faithful church is a “remnant”, it has been learning not to subscribe to the destructive, oppressive orthodoxy of earlier times. It has been “a generous orthodoxy” which is patient under injustice, hopeful that in due time God would bring justice; like Jesus, encouraging the bruised reeds and smoking flaxes of the world; — and pre-occupied with trying to get its own actions brought into harmony with God’s word and spirit.
When I imagine what a generous orthodoxy can become, I realize I must seek to honor both conservative and liberal heroism. And when I do, I want to consider myself both liberal and conservative. I must learn from their mistakes, and when I do, I don’t want to be boxed in either category. Instead they can look up for a higher way and look ahead to the new fields of opportunity and challenge that stretch from here to the horizon….
In my own journey I was once characterized as a liberal, and my response was that I am only liberal if one takes a rather narrow slice of conservatism.
That is the trouble with labels — they are snapshots taken by someone else, usually with a macro lens and with a specific point of view. And yet labels are the stuff that Protestantism consists of.
So I greatly appreciate, and strive to copy in my own ministry, the inclusive, kind, non-polemical, post-protestant spirit I observe in Brian, in Jim Henderson, and in other “Revolutionaries” I am meeting.
Where are these attitudes taking us? As Brian put it, into new fields of opportunity. New fields that were anticipated, as usual, by the Master himself.
Matthew records a most amazing promise, a signed blank check that empowers all followers of Jesus, whatever label they answer to:
And Jesus said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings out of his treasure things new and old
To me this means that any scribe or writer/teacher of the Word — (greek, grammateus) — is like a steward who is empowered to bring from the storehouse both old things and new. The old things, it seems to me, are what the Bible says directly, what we learn from the text itself … things that all disciples of Christ have seen more or less clearly. The new things, to my way of thinking, could be realizations about spiritual truths, about the fulfillment of prophecy in our own time, and insights into the character of God that come from our personal walk — meditations, interactions with others, etc. There is room here for the rational as well as the mystical/poetical insights that Brian writes about in the next chapter of AGO.
Knowing God is the very fountain and purpose of eternal life, and all who have experience with God, as students of his word, are enriched and empowered to record meaningful insights along their way. These are the sources of one type of the heroisms, plural, that Brian refers to (it seems to me), coming from both sides of the spiritual aisle.
Think of all the scribes, past and present, who have recorded their insights and yet whose works are lost to us because they were not part of our particular ism.
It is for this reason that I feel called to disregard sectarian fences and to pray to God for the strength to make the assembly and compilation and comparison of all these different heroic threads — writings from every Christian stream of thought — for the edification of the present and future generations of disciples. That is what my dream of the Grammateus Institute is all about.
For me, this is one of the great, new, fields of opportunity created by the convergence of Web 2.0 technology and an Emergent, Revolutionary ethos among Christian brothers and sisters.
My apologies to anyone who may have missed me during thee last month.
But it’s a new year, and I’m kicking it off with a post spurred by a refreshing post I just found at Rondam Ramblings.
Ron Garrett points out that just the mathematics of the idea that unbelievers of this life will spend eternity without the possibility of peace and repentance, is too awful for words. The darkness of “Christian” eternity for the masses of mankind is infinitely more evil than slavery, or the Holocaust, or any of the millions of lesser evils spawned by men and devils.
I gave Ron my take on the matter at http://rondam.blogspot.com/2005/12/queasy-about-christ.html
I hope that eventually my Christian brethren wake up to the simple common sense of folks like Ron Garrett, and re-examine the Bible to see that it really speaks of a loving God …. who loves his enemies just as he commands Christians to do, and provides the opportunities to learn valuable lessons and gain the humility and breadth of experience they need to freely choose ways of peace and justice as their way of life. That’s the kind of love God wants from his creatures — service to each other, appreciation for each other and a willingness to listen to God’s wise insights into how to live in harmony while treasuring diversity.
I’ve been a Civil War buff for years, and a Lincoln buff. I’ve never read anything that would indicate what my evangelical brothers would call “saving faith” in Lincoln’s life. A few who knew Lincoln claimed him to have such faith. Some of Lincoln’s own words are laced with religious language. His mission in life was certainly, on balance, a moral mission. But as the above article documents (though with evident bias), Lincoln could not find in orthodoxy a creed that he could subscribe to without reservation. For example, the above article (lifted directly from a 1936 book by Franklin Steiner called Religious Beliefs of our Presidents, quotes Curtis:
“Abraham Lincoln’s belief was clear and fixed so far as it went, but he rejected important dogmas which are essential to salvation by some of the evangelical denominations. ‘Whenever any Church will inscribe over its altar as a qualification for membership the Saviour’s statement of the substance of the law and the gospel, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and thy neighbor as thyself,” that Church will I join with all my heart and soul.'” (Abraham Lincoln, p. 375.)
Like me, Lincoln was troubled by the inability of orthodoxy to provide a reasonable explanation for all the misery in the world, or for the redress of wrongs that are obvious on all sides in human history. It troubled Lincoln that, on the one hand, orthodoxy teaches that a man can escape all consequences of a lifetime of debauchery or exploitation, simply by saying a few words on his deathbed. Steiner documents that Lincoln was equally troubled by the orthodox concept that a person who, like Lincoln himself, finds the traditional church’s formula for salvation inconsistent, or unconvincing, will be remanded to an eternity of torment as a result.
For example, Steiner quotes William Seward’s recollection of a time when Lincoln read a newspaper clipping to make a joke in one of their meetings:
“I recall President Lincoln’s story of the intrusion of the Universalists into the town of Springfield.
“The several orthodox Churches agreed that their pastors should preach down the heresy. One of them began his discourse with these emphatic words: ‘My brethren, there is a dangerous doctrine creeping in among us. There are those who are teaching that all men will be saved; but, my dear brethren, we hope for better things.” (Travels Around the World, p. 545.)
The Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry argues on this text that God only wishes or desires men to be saved, but that man’s choices will trump God’s preferences; and they present the idea that the only opportunity to avail oneself of the sacrifice of Christ is in this life. According to them, once you die, it’s too late.
Does this verse prove that God will save all people? No, it simply states that God “will have all men to be saved.” The word “will” in Greek is “thelo.” It means “will” (1 Cor. 7:36), or “desire” (Mark 9:35; Phil. 4:16). God desires that all people be saved. But, not all people will be saved.
I need to respectifully disagree here. Let’s talk about “thelo” first. This is what the Blue Letter Bible lexicon says (Strong’s #2309):
1) to will, have in mind, intend
a) to be resolved or determined, to purpose
b) to desire, to wish
c) to love
1) to like to do a thing, be fond of doing
d) to take delight in, have pleasure
So, out of 210 occurrences of this word, the vast majority are translated “will”, meaning, most commonly, to will, have in mind, intend; to be resolved or determined, to purpose.
Now, if this were a man we were talking about, I don’t suppose it would make much difference whether we said “will” or “wish”, “desire” or “intend”. But this is God we are talking about. This verse is saying that God purposes, or intends, or if you prefer, takes delight in, the idea that “all men be saved.”
Those who ascribe to God greatness, sovereignty, all power, etc. can’t have it both ways. Either he has the power to do what he wills or purposes to do, or he does not. To those who read the Bible and take it as God’s word, there is a real challenge here. God states that he will accomplish all he says (Isaiah 55:11); that he will do all he intends, indeed, all he pleases.
In fact, an excellent source for just how much God claims the power to accomplish what he intends, is the Calvinist listing of God’s sovereignty at mslick.com
I readily concede that many verses also indicate that in the end, there will be unrepentant sinners who will not be saved eternally, that is, will not gain everlasting life. But I think there is a much better way to understand the 1 Tim 2:4-6 verse and many others. The key is in looking more closely at what is meant most often by the term “saved” or “salvation”.
In mainstream Christian teaching, when it says “saved”, it is assumed to mean “given eternal life irrevocably”. I don’t agree that this is what is meant by most scriptures on the topic. For example, the 1 Tim. 2:4-6 verse introduces an apositive phrase that restates the meaning in different words. It says, “to come to an accurate knowledge of the truth.”
I believe that is the solution to the problem. God has willed or intended, purposed since the beginning of time, that mankind will be saved and come to an accurate personal knowledge of the truth. Salvation is not, in this limited sense, a guarantee of eternal life, but rather a guarantee of release from “the fall” and “original sin” as a Calvinist would put it. In Adam’s fall, we sinned all. In Christ, we are restored all. All. A-L-L. Jesus Christ tasted death for every man. All people will experience this “good tidings of great joy.” The Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces. The ransomed of the Lord will return, the stumbling blocks will be removed, the highway will be a wide, easy road of holiness, which the unclean shall not pass over, but it is FOR the UNCLEAN. The wayfaring, man, though a fool, (though an unbeliever or atheist or backslid Christian or worldly Christian or unregenerate Christian or violent, nasty quasi-Christian, or Nazi or Moslem or Buddhist or Satanist in previous times) will not err therein.
Now, once the people learn God’s ways, learn to speak the language of God’s grace, come to bow their knee to Christ and acknowledge God’s glory, then there will still be a test, as Jesus describes in Matthew 25 and Revelation 20. It is not a foregone conclusion that all those who know the truth, and have the ability to obey the truth, will indeed pursue and love the truth. Some will choose to forget God, and they will be returned to sheol — oblivion. (The Psalm 9:17 text just cited clearly refers to people who come to an accurate knowledge of the truth, and then turn away from that knowledge. You can’t forget unless you have already known.) Only this time, the 2nd death, will be permanent. No resurrection.
There is so much more. Another day to explore it some more.
But in summary, I am happy, and I believe God is happy, because there is a plan in place that is sensitive and generous in spirit, as Lincoln was. It is a plan that includes the likes of Lincoln, who did not apparently arrive at a conviction that Jesus was his savior, but who did hope that God is good. As Steiner put it:
An old edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica says: “His [Lincoln’s] nature was deeply religious, but he belonged to no denomination; he had faith in the eternal justice and boundless mercy of Providence; and made the Golden Rule of Christ his practical creed.” The 14th edition of this great Encyclopædia speaks more precisely: “The measure of his difference from most of the men who surrounded him is best gauged by his attitude toward the fundamentals of religion. For all his devotion to his cause he did not allow himself to believe that he knew the mind of God with regard to it. He was never so much the mystic as in his later days and never so far removed from the dogmatist. Here was the final flowering of that mood which appears to have lain at the back of his mind from the beginning — his complete conviction of a reality of a supernatural world joined with a belief that it was too deep for man to fathom. His refusal to accept the ‘complicated’ statement of doctrines which he rejected, carried with it a refusal to predicate the purpose of the Almighty.
One of the toughest lessons I had to learn as a father was trying to find ways of making consequences “fit”. To feel corrected rather than abused, a child must sense proportionality.
Punishment is a loving thing for a father to concern himself with, because if a father does not correct a child early and often, the child will suffer greatly throughout his life, as his inability to say “no” to himself brings a cascade of disasters from the world around him and the rebel within him. Immediate response by their parents is especially helpful in the early years — children benefit from consistent results, arriving predictably and soon from their experiments with disobedience. Sam Stalos, of Denison University, has lectured effectively on the importance of consistent parental response to their children. Reb Bradley has a slightly too-terse but incisive view of this in “Child Training Tips.”
The trouble is, immediate response for a hothead like me is apt to be angry. It took me a number of years to learn to manage my own emotions to the point where I could teach my children lovingly without over-correcting. Of course, now I’m the master of that… right kids?!
The other potential extreme, lethargy or equanimity, is equally or even more dangerous. Children sometimes act up to get attention, and if a parent disengages out of fear of over-reacting, that hurts the child, too.
I mention these points as a backdrop to the concept of God’s wrath espoused by Calvinist evangelicals such as John Piper or John MacArthur, Jr. I consider these fellows my brothers in Christ, though I presume that attitude would not be reciprocated, in view of my multiple heresies.
I am still working on an answer to the first of 4 thesis statements Piper makes about God’s wrath — that it is eternal — that is, never ending.
Yesterday I argued that the scriptures balance the view by stating that God’s wrath is indeed momentary in the scope of cosmic time, and even in the scope of promised human experience. God stated that he did not create the earth in vain — to be burned up. Rather, he made it “to be inhabited”. As Jesus said, God is not the God of the dead, but the living. He intends to have a living creation, in fellowship with him, a family on earth as well as in heaven.
Today I will simply state that the punishment chosen by God must, by his own definition, fit the crime.
Property crimes are also fairly simple: make restitution, with an added penalty attached. And if you couldn’t pay, you became the indentured servant of the person you stole from for up to 7 years. Here’s an excellent summary of Old Testament and New Testament laws against stealing.
Reciprocity, or tailoring the punishment to the crime, was thus an important part of God’s law.
Augustine said, “God judged it better to bring good out of evil than to suffer no evil to exist.”
I agree with that, but the conventional Christian view of redemption doesn’t bring an adequate good out of the permission of evil. It doesn’t bring proportional good to most of the Jews, most of the East, most of the West.
Romans 1 and 2 are pivotal to an understanding of how God views human sin. A careful reading of these passages reveals proportionality, not the mainstream notion of infinite payback for finite sin. The ultimate penalty is cited clearly: death. Nothing about hell, nothing about torment. Just death. Those who commit sin are worthy of death.
And death would be eternal if God were not to interrupt it with a resurrection — so that’s where the “everlasting” or eternal idea comes from, Biblically.
Jesus said the same thing in his clear words about “eternal hell” — Gehenna — in Matthew 10. There he said,
Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul. Rather, fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.
Check out the word for “destroy” and you will find that it does not mean “preserve alive in torment.” It means obliterate, annihilate. Both the soul, the conscious existence, and the body, the form and structure, are terminated in the condition he calls “Gehenna.” It is permanent death, not eternal torment, which the Bible sets out as the consequence of sin.
It’s very important to me to understand why God would be happy. I don’t suppose most readers are all that familiar with the Calvinist teachings on this, but Calvin (and Augustine before him) claimed that God’s people would be sitting on the edge of heaven, looking down at hell where they could hear the cries of pain and agony of sinners for all eternity, and they would praise God for this. Their, and God’s happiness, would be magnified by the realization that bad people were getting what they deserved. But I agree heartily with atheists such as Chad Docterman who say infinite payback for finite sin is unfair.
So if God is a happy God, a happy Father, I’m looking for Biblical perspectives that maximize the number of sinners who repent, and minimize the number of sinners who ultimately fail to “get it.”
While death would be a reciprocal penalty for sin, God is not reciprocal with man. Where sin (and therefore death) abound, God’s grace abounds even more. We just haven’t seen it all yet.
I’ll have more on reciprocity tomorrow.
I love the premise of “Desiring God” — that our chief end is to delight in God, enjoying Him forever. It can and should be “all joy” to know, and be loved by, the great and good God of the Universe. But when John Piper gets to describing what God is doing, and how the heavenly Father is treating the people he created, I see a disturbing picture that fails to find a balanced vantage point, an internally consistent understanding of God that harmonizes all that the Bible says about His attributes of love and justice. Let’s start with the first of brother Piper’s statements about God’s “final” wrath — that it is “eternal — having no end.” He leads with the following statement in support of his proposition:
In Daniel 12:2 God promises that the day is coming when “many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”
Let’s look at Daniel for a minute to see what he is arguing. In verse 1 he talks about the beginning of Messiah’s rule, when it starts to make an impact on the world scene. And he talks about 2 resurrections: those who awake to olam life, and those who awake to olam contempt.
Now, there is no question that olam, a Hebrew word for indefinite time, can and often does mean “everlasting”. There is also no question that the life of the righteous who are awakened at the beginning of Messiah’s rule do indeed live beyond the age of Messiah, into the unlimited future — everlastingly. I would argue, however, that the contempt referred to here is limited by other scriptures to the age of Messiah — the “judgment day”. As such, this scripture is focusing on the experience of 2 classes of people who are awakened and dealt with by God during the day of the Lord: those who were already proven righteous beforehand, and those who arrive without having done “the good deeds”, as John 5 describes it. For them, the age of Messiah will be an age in which abhorring or contempt will be their experience.
Take a look, for example, at another use of olam with regard to God’s wrath: Isaiah 57:16. There God says that he will not be always angry. How long is he angry? a long and indefinite period of time (olam in the sense it is apparently being used in Daniel 12:2); but not FOREVER (olam in the sense it is apparently being used in Isaiah 57:16). How long will he be angry and exert pressure on the sinners? Apparently, until the heart becomes contrite, and humility appears. Until that time, there will be no rest for the wicked. Or as the Psalm I quoted yesterday puts it, “call his wickedness to account till you find none.” (I think a number of passages make it clear that God has set aside one day of 1000 years to do all this — it won’t go on longer than that.) At the end, there will still be some who are incorrigible in their wickedness, as Revelation 20 makes clear. Their fate? Revelation 20 calls it the “second death”. The next verse here in the Psalms states, “the strangers are perished out of his land.” He will judge the fatherless and the oppressed, so that the man of the earth may no more oppress. (Psalm 10:18) He is trying to teach as many as become willing to learn. Those who refuse after God’s amazing grace has attempted with sweetness and fury to reach them, will perish — vanish, die, be exterminated according to Strong’s.
The problem God has with sinners is their sin. His hand is not shortened, it can save. But God is working with people in a way that is respectful of the condition he created them with — free moral agency. Unlike Satan, who dominates and enslaves, God allows even sinners the individuality of their will, such that they are able to choose not to be contrite, not to submit to God. Granted, as long as they remain in sin, in one sense they are not “children” of God until they come back to him in the only way he has appointed — repentance from sin and faith/obedience in the Son. But all people, including those still rebellious, are God’s creation, and God has promised some things for all of them.
Some nuts are really tough for even God to crack. Human fathers find this, too. Some of my kids were so responsive that I could catch their eye and melt them. Others needed direct, vigorous confrontation and the imposition of consequences to turn their behavior and, more importantly, their attitudes.
This variety of the tools of love needed for different folks is described in Isaiah 59.
Again, it is talking about the same group of people Daniel refers to, those whose sins have kept them from having a familial relationship with God. In 59:18, 19, God spells out the principle he uses in meting out vengeance — according to their deeds, he will repay. There is reciprocity there, and the penalty is appropriate to the sin. More on that tomorrow.
Still, hope is held out because of the power and commitment of God: (Isaiah 59:20)
And come to Zion hath a redeemer, Even to captives of transgression in Jacob, An affirmation of Jehovah. (Young’s Literal translation)
This is the verse which Paul quotes in Romans 11:26, to support his conclusion that “all Israel shall be saved.” Paul reads it as meaning, not that the Redeemer will only benefit the repentant, but that he will succeed in turning the “captives of transgression” toward righteousness. He will be a victorious Redeemer.
The Redeemer that is referred to, in the context of Isaiah 59, is Christ, of course, but I believe that Christ in the full, composite sense is meant. The entire body of Christ, the church and its Head, is what both Paul and Isaiah have reference to. For example, in Isaiah 59 God muses that there is no man that can accomplish this redemptive work, this intercessory work, on behalf of the rebellious of Israel. So he sends “his right arm” — a reference to Jesus. And this man puts on a helmet of salvation, covers himself with a breastplate of righteousness, and wears the garments of zeal, of vengeance. (See Isaiah 63 for further description of how Jesus is the agent of vengeance, paying for the sins of the world with his own blood).
All studious Christians will recognize these elements of the Redeemer’s clothing, the breastplate etc., as being descriptive of the soldier’s garb that is also given to Christians who follow in Jesus’ steps. (Although in this life Christians are told vengeance is not appropriate to them, it is promised as a reward in Revelation 2:27, and it is spoken of as what we are being prepared for in 2 Corinthians 10:4-6).
No question, the Bible is difficult to understand. And it doesn’t work to try and erect competing lists of “proof texts” to see whose list is longer. Let’s roll up our sleeves and earnestly try to catch the spirit of God, what the attitude of God is toward human beings.
I believe the harmony is found in recognizing that God’s anger is “for a moment“, and his mercy or undeserved kindness will indeed “endure forever.”
(Psalm 30:5, Psalm 136)
Remember. The Daniel text, and other seemingly harsh texts, must be harmonized with the picture of a father that Jesus gave us in the parable of the prodigal son. The father is willing to let the son squander his inheritance until he comes to his senses — and then he is ready to meet him more than halfway, helping restore and welcome him back to the fold.