Thursday, July 17, 2014

Stained glass

"I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well."  (Psalm 139:14)

Have you seen "The Princess Bride", the movie inspired by William Goldman's 1973 novel?

After his defeat in their dramatic fencing duel Inigo Montoya, the great swordsman, says to the Man in Black, "Kill me quickly." The mysterious masked man replies, "I would sooner destroy a stained glass window than an artist such as yourself." And so he spares Inigo's life.

Imagine if you will that God sees each of us as unique works of art, made by His own hand. Would he easily destroy a beautiful stained glass window that He designed, piece by delicate and colored piece? More than that, would he torture his beloved creation - for eternity?

I think about this frequently. (If you know me, no rolling your eyes here!)

Do you ever people-watch? Maybe at the airport or an event like the fair where all kinds of people are passing by, each unique and each a soul that God created. Do you wonder what will happen to them in eternity? I look at each one, and ask, "What about that one, God? What will happen to her? Where will he spend eternity? There are so many - where are they going?"

I just read another teaching about hell on the internet (my husband showed it to me on Facebook). Here is a quote from Marc at "At this time, there’re over 7,000,000,000 (billion) souls on planet Earth, all created by the Lord Jesus Christ for His and His Father’s good pleasure. Most, His holy Word proclaims, are destined for eternal destruction…the place called hell. What kind of a God would knowingly do that? The real living and just holy God, our Master." (my emphasis)

Marc goes on to excitedly and proudly reprint a teaching about hell from Edward Donnelly. Among other things, Donnelly states, "The last book of the Bible shows us the sinless inhabitants of heaven praising and thanking God for hell… Like all else in creation, hell exists for God’s glory." and also, "God rules in hell as He rules in heaven."

I'm sorry but that those kinds of statements just turn my stomach. I just feel sick to hear Bible teachers glorifying hell and practically bragging about how terrible and tortuous it will be to "most" of God's created souls. I wonder if God is as gleeful about His "justice" and righteous judgments?

Wouldn't it be helpful to know how God feels about His creation - what His desires are for us?

Oh, what do you know - He does let us know in His word:

"God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them."  (Gen. 1:27)

"Gracious is the LORD, and righteous;Yes, our God is compassionate."  (Psalm 116:5, 103:8, 111:4, 112:4 plus lots more)

"My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them."  (Psalm 139:15-16)

"For the LORD takes pleasure in His peopleHe will beautify the afflicted ones with salvation."  (Psalm 149:4)

“For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord GOD. “Therefore, repent and live.”  (Ezek. 18:32)

“Say to them, ‘As I live!' declares the Lord GOD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will you die, O house of Israel?' " (Ezek. 33:11, 18:23)

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you…"  (Jer. 1:5)

"Bring My sons from afar and My daughters from the ends of the earth, everyone who is called by My name, and whom I have created for My glory, whom I have formed, even whom I have made.”  (Isaiah 43:6-7)

“Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; For I am God, and there is no other… The word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back, that to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance."  (Isaiah 45:22-23)

"By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
as He will bear their iniquities.
He poured out Himself to death…
He Himself bore the sin of many, 
and interceded for the transgressors. 
All of us like sheep have gone astray, 
Each of us has turned to his own way; 
But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all 
To fall on Him."  (Isaiah 53:6,12)

“If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!"  (Matt. 7:11)

“Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven."  (Matt. 23:9)

“So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him."  (Luke 15:20)

“For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”  (Luke 19:10)

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him." (John 3:16-17)

“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep."  (John 10:11)

“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.  (John 15:13)

"He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist…"  (Acts 17:26-28)

"But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."  (Rom. 5:8)

"For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life."  (Rom. 5:10)

"For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works…"  (Eph. 2:10)

"For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him."  (Col. 1:16)

"God our Savior… desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." (1 Tim. 2:4)

"He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world."  (1 John 2:2)

"We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us…"  (1 John 3:16)

"In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins….We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world."  (1 John 4:10,14)

"We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love…"  (1 John 4:16)

"The Lord is not slow about His promise… but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance."  (2 Peter 3:9)

“Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”  (Rev. 4:11)

Now don't think I am promoting universalism here because of the verses I have highlighted. It is clear from Scripture that there are wicked ones that are headed for destruction. "The wicked will perish; And the enemies of the LORD will be like the glory of the pastures, they vanish - like smoke they vanish away." (Psalm 37:20) God desires that every soul be saved, but He also allows us the ability to reject Jesus and eternal life.

The question is, will God really let billions of souls plummet helplessly and ignorantly into the lake of fire? Will He then keep them 'alive' to torment them for ever and ever and ever? And that is God's justice?

I received a comment from a reader about all the Scripture evidence that I use in my studies: "…but it is good to remember that love is the best and ultimately the only real argument [against eternal torment]." His point is not about abandoning God's word for philosophic reasoning, but to really grasp God's love and His purpose for our creation. What has He done and what will He do to save His people? Is God's arm too short, as it says (Is. 59:1)?

Does this idea of suffering in a place of horror that lasts through eternity really line up with the character of our compassionate Father who has knit each one in a unique way? For myself, there is no ring of truth in it.

Of course, there is a Day of Judgment, a day of wrath. But does this wrath go on forever? No, not forever. There is a time when God's wrath is finished (Rev. 15:1). Is our God one who goes on punishing, goes on hurting, goes on inflicting pain? "For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime." (Psalm 30:5)

Eternal punishment truly has no end - whatever is thrown into the lake of fire, which is the second death, will never be recovered. Satan, the wicked, Hades and even Death itself will be thrown in and destroyed - forever (Rev. 20:14-15).  In God's mercy and justice, He will rid His creation of evil forevermore (Rev. 21:8,27) "Behold, I am making all things new." (Rev. 21:5)

I think God's mercy will extend beyond what we imagine. His love is so powerful. Just think about the Jewish Christians who struggled with the idea that the Gentiles were fellow heirs of eternal life! Let's not be like them and instead desire, along with our Father in Heaven, for the salvation of as many as will come.

"Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; 
And you who have no money come, buy and eat. 
Come, buy wine and milk 
Without money and without cost."  (Is. 55:1)

I know that the second letter to the Corinthians says that we are temples of the living God (6:16) and Ephesians says we are "being built together into a dwelling of God" (2:22, also 1 Pet. 2:5) but I also like to imagine us as stained glass windows - fragile and beautiful and designed by God Himself. With such love He cares and preserves us - thank you, Lord Jesus!

Do you think God's character allows for eternal conscious torment? I take all feedback seriously.

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I understand this is a difficult subject and there are different views from folks who all value God's inspired word. I value your feedback, corrections and questions. Please leave a comment!