Sunday, March 20, 2016

An atheist postulates

"Seems to me that if God is going to compel anyone after death to force them to be tormented in hell, why doesn't God use the compulsion of sanctification, and say 'Ok pal, you didn't let me do this before, but now I'm going to clean you up'…if God is going to compel anything after death, why not compel sanctification?"

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Don't work at cross-purposes to God (Kicking against the goads*)

I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. We all fell to the ground and I heard a voice saying... 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.'” (Rom. 26:13-14)

Do you ever feel a bit of empathy for Saul on the road to Damascus? He was zealous and really on a mission for God (so he thought). Remember when Jesus said, “...the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God.” (John 16:2) Yep, that was Saul. It appears he was really doing the best he could with what he believed to be true.

Have you ever looked back at some action you took in the name of the Lord, and realized your zeal was not based on God's truth? I know I have. Applying the 'truth' without love can get really ugly. “...They are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.” (Rom. 10:2)

As I have studied Scripture and specifically looked carefully into judgment and final punishment, I wonder if orthodox thinking causes modern-day Christians to repeat the mistakes (dare I say sins) of the past. Paul said, “I was ...extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” (Gal. 1:14) Taking a rigid stand for tradition may or may not be a good choice. Standing on God's word alone in the humble awareness that we do not know all of God's ways may be the better direction. “It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good...” (Gal. 4:18).

Remember when Peter thought he was justified to rebuke Jesus? The Lord was explaining how He was going to suffer and die at the hands of the religious leaders and Peter said, “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns. (Matt. 16:21-23)

How easy it is for us to have merely human concerns and outlooks. Somehow, many of us have become convinced that God's justice requires some souls to experience an eternity of suffering. We have been taught about the concept of the 'immortal soul' – and we accept it. Brothers and sisters, these are not biblical ideas!

I sense we should be careful not to fall into the same spirit of the workers in the parable of Matthew 20 who agreed to a denarius for a day's work. Other workers were hired later in the day, some only working one hour. When the time came to pay the workers, the owner paid those who had worked only part of the day a whole denarius.

So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 'These who were hired last worked only one hour,' they said, 'and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.' But he answered one of them, 'I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?'”

So the last will be first, and the first will be last.

It may be that those we look at in judgment, those we are certain will 'go to hell', will receive as much and seemingly more grace and mercy than the so-called righteous.

Yes, each one will receive what is due him, according to God's great justice, according to what he has done. “...Great are Your purposes and mighty are Your deeds. Your eyes are open to the ways of all mankind; You reward each person according to their conduct and as their deeds deserve.” (Jer. 32:19)

However, careful study of Scripture reveals that eternal torment is not part of God's wonderful plan of renewal. Neither is it taught that those who haven't had the chance to hear the name of Jesus on this earth will be mercilessly thrown into fiery torment forever. The irredeemably wicked and God's enemies do have an awful fate, excluded forever from God's kingdom and the gift of eternal life.

...behold, these are the wicked...Then I perceived their end... You cast them down to destruction. How they are destroyed in a moment! They are utterly swept away...For behold, those who are far from You will perish; You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You.” (See Psalm 37)

And from the New Testament, those that reject Jesus are left with

...only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” (Hebrews 10:27)

If final punishment does not include this merciless idea of a hell that boasts eternal torment, then we are working at cross-purposes to God when we teach it. The biblical evidence is such that it is worth a second look. After all, it is hard to kick against the goads.

* 'Apparently, "to kick against the goads" was a common expression found in both Greek and Latin literature—a rural image, which rose from the practice of farmers goading their oxen in the fields. Though unfamiliar to us, everyone in that day understood its meaning.

Goads were typically made from slender pieces of timber, blunt on one end and pointed on the other. Farmers used the pointed end to urge a stubborn ox into motion. Occasionally, the beast would kick at the goad. The more the ox kicked, the more likely the goad would stab into the flesh of its leg, causing greater pain.' - Chuck Swindoll

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