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Sunday, July 12, 2015

"Why did you start there?"

Dear Readers,

Will God save all people? Or will most suffer in incredible misery forever? Or will most be utterly annihilated?

Your starting point in the Bible on this important subject is vital in determining what conclusions you will come to. Your starting point will also greatly affect your understanding of God and His ultimate purposes for all people.
Image result for starting line
"Everybody else starts here. Right?"

It's possible, and sometimes pretty easy, to use the Bible to justify almost any belief imaginable. The Bible is a big book that speaks to almost every area of life. And one verse or a handful of verses skillfully plucked from the Bible can be made to look like a rock-solid foundation on which to build a complete set of beliefs about God, man and life. People who are at polar opposites on a biblical subject can simultaneously sound very convincing with their arguments, leaving someone seeking the truth confused.

I know from personal experience that choosing a side on important biblical subjects can be difficult when opposing sides present their cases very well. I've been deceived before. There may be things in my life right now that I am deceived about. Never forget that our enemy, Satan, is the master deceiver. But I will continue to seek the truth. And I encourage you to do the same.


The question I must ask myself 

 (and I hope you ask yourself) is this: 

"Do I want any of my beliefs to be based on verses that contradict God's clearly revealed will?"

I hope your answer is a reasonably loud, but not obnoxious "No!"

The point of this article is to ask, "Why do you start where you do in the Bible on this issue?". I also want to tell you my reason for starting where I do.


Will the judgment end?

There are three main camps trying to make their voice heard on the subject of the duration of God's judgment on those who are not followers of Jesus.
  • Salvation for all (Universalism) - the eventual end of punishment and judgment, and the eventual reconciliation of every individual with God
  • Annihilation - the eventual complete destruction and non-existence of mortal people who didn't know Jesus in this life. They won't live again after their annihilation, thus their judgment is eternal. 
  • Eternal conscious misery - God's never-ending, punishing judgment of immortal people who did not know Jesus in this life


Striving for coherent and consistent beliefs

Jerry Walls, Professor of Philosophy and author of the book Hell: The Logic of Damnation, said it very well in the documentary Hellbound?

"Any honest person has to recognize that there are three kinds of texts in the Bible. There are texts, which on the face of them, clearly seem to teach eternal conscious misery. There are texts, which on the face of them, seem to teach annihilation. There are texts, which on the face of them, seem to teach that everybody's gonna be saved. No matter what position you've got and you take, you've gotta find a way to making those three sets of texts coherent and consistent with each other."  

Here are the three sets of texts shown in Hellbound?:

Eternal Conscious Misery                 Annihilation                               Universalism 
Isaiah 66:24                                                     Matthew 19:29-30                        John 12:32
Daniel 12:2                                                        Matthew 25:46                               Acts 3:21
Matthew 5:22                                                   John 3:16                                          Romans 5:18
Matthew 5:29-30                                            John 3:36                                         Romans 11:32
Matthew 7:13                                                   John 4:14                                         1 Corinthians 15:22-28
Matthew 10:28                                                John 5:24                                         2 Corinthians 5:9
Matthew 13:38-42                                         John 6:40                                          Philippians 2:9-11
Matthew 13:49-50                                         John 6:47                                         1 Timothy 2:4
Matthew 25:31-46                                         John 6:54                                          Titus 2:11
Mark 9:43-45                                                   John 6:68                                          Hebrews 2:9
Luke 12:5                                                           John 10:28                                       1 John 2:2
Luke 16:19-26                                                  Romans 5:21                                   2 Peter 3:9

To make all of these texts coherent and consistent with each other, as well as the rest of the Bible, is not easy. But if it's true that "God is not the author of confusion" (1 Corinthians 14:33), and that He does not contradict Himself, then you should believe it can be done and strive to do it. The reward of a coherent belief system is worth the effort.

Each set of verses above is not exclusive to each group. As a Christian universalist, I believe all of these Bible verses. But I may not believe a particular verse as it's written in the King James Version or the New International Version of the Bible. Sometimes you have to dig a little deeper than what a particular version of the Bible says. When this is done, all of these texts can be made coherent and consistent with each other. But the key is having the right starting point.

Judgmental Universalism

I've spent time in each of these three camps. In my opinion, all three groups have convincing arguments.

I first believed, taught and preached for about 17 years the eternal misery of those who do not believe in and follow Jesus in this life. Then for about a year and a half I believed in the ultimate annihilation of unbelievers. I am now a "judgmental universalist" and have been since 2009. As a judgmental universalist I believe that God will save all people and reconcile them to Himself. But I also believe that before they are saved, those who don't follow Jesus in this life will go through God's proper judgment. It will be very horrible (Romans 2:1-11), but also tolerable (Matthew 11:24). Their judgment is a result of their unforgiven sin due to the fact that they did not come to know Jesus in this life.

Contrary to this, there are many universalists who think God will save all people, but that He won't judge anyone. They believe God is smiling down approvingly on all people as mankind lies, hates, kills, rapes and abuses its way through history. Make no mistake - God will properly judge all sin.

The little god who couldn't

If you believe in the eternal torment or annihilation of unbelievers, you are in essence believing that God is not able to get what He wants - the salvation of all people. 1 Timothy 2:4 tells us clearly that God wants all people to be saved:

[God our Savior] wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (New International Version)

                   and from the King James Version,

[God our Saviour] will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.

In this verse the Greek word that is translated as wants in the NIV and will in the King James actually means that God is determined to save all people.

If you believe in annihilation or eternal torment, the question you must answer is, "Why can't the Almighty God get all that He is determined to do?". Maybe you've never thought about your beliefs in this way. If you believe in eternal torment or annihilation, you are - probably without realizing it - essentially saying that God is not sovereign, or He is lacking in some other way, making Him unable to achieve His perfect will. The end result in your belief system is that God fails - He does not get what He's determined to do and has worked throughout history to achieve. Christian universalists believe that God is eventually one hundred percent successful in His plan to save all people through the work of Jesus.

Do you have a solid biblical reason why the Almighty God can't do what He is determined to do with His own creation?  

I discussed some verses about universal salvation with a man who has been a pastor for over 40 years. At the end of our discussion he said that maybe we just don't know what God wants. Really? His reasoning wasn't very biblical. Is 1 Timothy 2:4 unclear? Though there are many mysteries in the Bible, God does make many aspects of His will crystal clear. And when He does we better pay attention.

The following verses should convince you that God is able to get what He wants and save all people:

Ah Lord God! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee. ( Jeremiah 32:17 - KJV)
          and God Himself says,
 Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh: is there any thing too hard for me? (Jeremiah 32:27 - KJV)

Are you going to tell God He can't save all people because it's just too hard?

We can all just get along

It's important to find common ground for all sides. I believe this can be done with 1 Timothy 2:4 which again says,

[God our Saviour] will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. (KJV)

The reason I chose this verse as a common-ground starting point is that Christians on all three sides of this very important issue believe that God wants to save all people. This is because no one can honestly ignore the power of this one verse. I have yet to meet a Christian who says God does not want to save all people. So this is our point of agreement. 

You'll notice if you look at the Scriptures listed under Eternal Conscious Misery, they all seemingly contradict God's desire/will/determination from 1 Timothy 2:4. 

Why would anyone base their beliefs on verses that seem to contradict God's clear desire? I think tradition, limited information, and peer pressure could be the main culprits. There are surely others.

I'm not picking on anyone who believes this way. I believed in eternal conscious misery for many years. I was never taught the other sides - annihilation or the salvation of all. When I first encountered them, I was resistant to believing tham because they went against everything I had been taught up to that point. Plus, I didn't personally know anyone who believed these teachings. "What would my friends think?" "Will they reject me?" These are all very real and very powerful emotions and questions I struggled with. Some people  never get past these initial questions, and out of fear, don't pursue the issue any further. But I realized I needed to "grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3:18). This is how I became a Christian universalist.  

You'll also notice as you look at the verses listed as starting points for those who believe in the salvation of all, they are all in agreement with God's desire/will/determination from 1 Timothy 2:4.

If your starting point is contradicting God, I urge you get a new starting point, regardless of what you see "everybody else" doing. You won't be alone, though you will be in the minority. There are a lot of people who do believe that the Almighty God will accomplish His will and save all people. 

I ask you to try to understand the seemingly contradictory Scriptures in light of the verses that are in agreement with God's plan. From my study of this subject, if you dig deep enough, you can harmonize all of these verses with God's determination to save all people and bring them to the truth.

If you don't feel like digging that deep (it is a lot of work), or don't know how, I suggest my book - Jesus and Hitler - at the top of this blog. It's a deep look into the Scriptures to see the big picture of God's plan to save all people. Click on the book above and you will go to Amazon where you can get a paperback copy or download to your Kindle.

Please let me know your starting point on this important issue. Also, let me know what you think of this article.

Follow Jesus,

I occasionally offer the Kindle version of Jesus and Hitler for free download. Click on the book above.


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