Does God view unrepentant sinners as stains upon His good creation?
If this is true then God must eventually eliminate these stains either by obliterating them entirely or by removing them from His creation where He can no longer see them and be disgusted by the sight of them anymore.
These two options would correspond to the ideas of 1) Annihilationism, where the wicked are finally rounded up and euthanized like unwanted stray cats taken by Animal Control or, 2) Eternal Conscious Torment (ECT), where the wicked are captured and carried away, to be eternally separated from God in a place of utter and complete hopelessness forever.
I know that many Christians are comfortable with either one of these options, and they both seem to have biblical support, but honestly doesn’t this sound straight up EVIL? Could either of these future options REALLY BE carried out by the actions of our Father in heaven revealed by Jesus? According to Jesus, His love for all of humanity is actually UNCONDITIONAL. Jesus said that men love their friends, and men love the people that love them back, but God is different because He even loves His enemies:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)
God is perfect because His love is unconditional, and we are called to love everyone, even our enemies, with that very same perfect love. Now THIS was a revelation to the first century Jews whom Jesus was speaking to at this time! All that they knew about God was based on their limited knowledge as far as it was revealed in the Old Testament. In their Scriptures there is a perspective that God ONLY loves the Chosen People and that He hates and curses all of the enemies of the Chosen People. Yet Jesus taught and demonstrated that this is truly NOT the case! God loves everyone because He views everyone as His lost children. Yes, even the unbelieving Gentiles were viewed by Jesus as children of God! That is what Jesus taught, and this is proven by Paul’s sermon to the Greek pagans in Athens:
“…and 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, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘FOR WE ALSO ARE HIS CHILDREN.’ Being then the CHILDREN OF GOD, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” (Acts 17:26-31)
If this is truly the case then we need to reconsider our understanding of God’s attitude towards sinners. Yes, even towards UNREPENTANT sinners. He still views them as His children. They may be lost and they may be ignorant, but they are still His kids. They are not STAINS to be obliterated or taken out of His sight after His patience runs out, but are rather lost children who WILL BE restored. In other words, when God looks down at us He sees that the sin is the stain, NOT the sinner.
The Good News is that we can look to Jesus as the model of what it means to be a son of God. The life of Jesus was characterized by His complete conviction that He was a beloved Son of God, and from that conviction there flowed a sinless life. Even death could not hold Him and His true eternal identity was demonstrated and confirmed in the Resurrection!
We are ALL beloved sons of God, even unrepentant sinners! In times of ignorance this was not understood, yet Jesus came to reveal and teach this Good News! Yes, we love, because He FIRST loved us (1 John 4:19). While we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the WHOLE WORLD (1 John 2:2). Yes, here is where the amazing truth shines through as explained by the Apostle John:
“Jesus is the propitiation for OUR sins…” – Yes, speaking of the followers of Jesus who are repentant sinners now walking in the truth of their identity.
“…but not ours ONLY, but ALSO for the sins of the whole world.” – Here speaking of the world full of ignorant and UNREPENTANT sinners!
If Jesus was the propitiation for the sins of the entire world then this means that God is no longer holding the sins of the unrepentant against them. He can’t because Jesus took care of that! God’s attitude of love towards ALL MANKIND is clearly taught by Jesus, and then demonstrated by the epic world-changing event of the Cross. By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us (1 John 3:16).
But what about unrepentant sinners? Certainly they must be PUNISHED! What about JUSTICE?
Do you know that “eternal punishment” as the phrase appears in the New Testament is better translated as “age-appointed discipline”? The two Greek words in question are aionios and kolasis. The Greek word that unequivocally refers to “eternal” as everlasting and never-ending is actually aidios, and this word NEVER appears in the New Testament in connection with sinners or final judgment. Aionios, on the other hand, means “enduring through or pertaining to a period of time.” [See the book on the right, pp. 197-204, Kindle version].
Regarding kolasis, Bible scholar Richard Murray explains that the root of this word traces back to a meaning associated with the pruning of trees. If mere punitive punishment were in mind here the Greek word timoria would have been used instead of kolasis. Aristotle wrote that kolasis is a form of punishment that is in the best interest of the one being punished. It is a form of DISCIPLINE (“For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” Heb 12:6). On the other hand, timoria is a form of punishment connected with eye-for-an-eye retaliation or vengeance that is given for the satisfaction of the punisher. Jesus is clear (Matt 5:38-44) that this type of retaliation for evil is NOT practiced by God, nor should it be practiced by His children!
Our worldly forms of Justice are all built on retaliation and eye-for-an-eye punishment. From the beginning this is how communities established laws to rule by fear. Yet God’s form of Justice is completely different! He doesn’t rule between victim and victimizer and then dole out punishment and pain-for-pain to make things “even.” No! He recognizes that true Justice can only come through restoration and reconciliation between victim and victimizer. In His wisdom God recognizes that sin can only be cured through healing NOT retaliation, and this is released through forgiveness and NOT punishment. That IS God’s Justice!
What I am saying is that Jesus truly did win a TOTAL and COMPLETE victory over sin and death, and He truly demonstrated God’s love for everyone and His desire that ALL be reconciled. The Cross did not change God’s attitude towards us, rather it was a brilliant epic demonstration of God’s forgiveness and love for us, intended to change our attitude towards Him! We have heard how the Apostle John described it, and now here is how Paul describes it:
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling THE WORLD to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)
According to Paul our job is to announce the reality that THE WHOLE WORLD is ALREADY reconciled to God. The sins of unrepentant sinners are NOT being held against them! They have been forgiven, and there is nothing standing between God and His children. We must implore people all over the world to WAKE UP to this amazing reality that we are reconciled to God. Our time of ignorance is OVER! We are ALL God’s beloved children!
So what happens to those who never wake up in this life to this amazing reality? What happens to people who live their entire lives as if they are “children of the devil” (1 John 3:10)? Well the Bible is clear that they will not step immediately after death out of this life and into the Kingdom of Heaven. There is a “fire” waiting for them. There is regret, anguish, torment, and kolasis.
Let’s look now at how Jesus Himself deals with this issue. Note that He clearly states that He was sent NOT to condemn, but to save the world through Himself. Again, Jesus saves THE WORLD. All of it! Let’s read what Jesus says:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that THE WORLD might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:16-21)
I know you are now thinking, “What about those who live their entire lives HIDING from the Light, whose works are entirely evil?” Yes, what about people like Hitler and Stalin and Osama bin Laden? Do you know that their works do not change the reality that they remain and always were beloved children of God?
Yes for THEM, we think that either Annihilation or Eternal Conscious Torment would simply be JUSTICE! Yes, God, do it! Make them FEEL the pain they caused, and then destroy them or cast them away! But do you recognize that such a sentiment does not come from God? He has no desire for retaliation or vengeance, He merely desires Hitler to know that he is a beloved son of God. Do you realize that Adolph Hitler was born with a micro-penis and deformed testicles? Now where’s the JUSTICE in that! My God, the deck was stacked against him from the very start! These are the things that God knows, and they impact His desire for TRUE and final Justice very deeply…
At the very beginning of the early Church, when it was led by kind old men who personally knew the Apostles, or by men who were discipled by men who knew the Apostles, there was another teaching about the final end of unrepentant sinners. In fact, for five hundred years this view was actually the DOMINANT view in the Greek-speaking part of the Christian Church!
During this time there was a very small minority of church leaders who believed that the wicked would suffer never-ending torment, and a larger group who believed in simple Annihilation of the wicked, but the majority view was that in the end unrepentant sinners -all of them- would eventually be reconciled and restored into the family of God.
1. Eternal Conscious Torment
Let’s recognize and just be honest that if the first two options are realized then Jesus did not win a decisive victory over Sin, because Sin in the end prevails and prohibits a vast multitude of children from ever being restored to their Father. Would a human father be okay with that? Does that sound like Victory?
Just think about it. God is love. Jesus demonstrated true love by dying on the Cross, and now our goal is to grow in intimacy with God and be filled with His love, a love which even reaches out to unrepentant sinners. A love which never fails! A love which keeps no record of wrongs! A love that sees every human being on this earth as a treasure and as a beloved brother or sister and fellow child of God. Now also imagine that we enter the eternal state and we find out that some of our family members did not make it. It does not matter if they have been destroyed, or have been eternally removed from us, either way they are not there. Would you feel compassion for them? Would you feel this as a personal loss? Would you shed tears? Of course you would, because that is the nature of true love! It binds us together, even if it is only a one-way love! Yet God promises us that one day every tear will be wiped away. Does this mean that we just “get over it”? Or, another possibility that is imagined is that our memories of our eternally lost loved ones will be erased, and we will simply become ignorant and move on unaffected by our loss. Yet this does not ring true because Jesus said that the TRUTH will set us free, not blissful ignorance!
These are the kinds of things that the early Church grappled with. Love was real to them, not a mere doctrine. They had the passionate love-filled testimony of the Apostles still ringing in their ears! And it was more than just WORDS. They witnessed their own leaders serving them as Jesus served, and dying for them as Jesus died! This was not hypothetical love that they knew as a mere concept! This was a REAL love, and when they turned to the Scriptures they easily identified all of the amazing and clear promises that speak of universal reconciliation. It was easy for them to see and to confidently assert that LOVE WINS in the end because LOVE NEVER FAILS. God would have it no other way! Even if ninety-nine out of one hundred were saved, God would still seek out that last lost sheep, and even death would not be a barrier!
We’ve heard from John and Paul, now let’s allow Peter to speak and hear his words that were spoken at Pentecost:
“And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also. But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the period of RESTORATION OF ALL THINGS about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time.” (Acts 3:17-21)
Do you see it here? Peter speaks clearly that Jesus came to restore us back to the refreshing presence of the Lord, and that Jesus will remain in heaven until the RESTORATION OF ALL THINGS (apo-kata-stasis). Note also that this is not a NEW teaching, but will happen in fulfillment of what God has ALREADY spoken through the prophets of Israel!
Really??? Does the Old Testament speak of universal restoration? My goodness, yes! That is a theme that is pervasive from Genesis to Malachi. God will restore ALL THINGS! Even unrepentant sinners? Yes, because ALL means ALL. For instance, Ezekiel 16:49-63 even predicts the restoration of Sodom! Those evil unrepentant Sodomites saved and redeemed? Yes of course! God is not talking merely about the land and the buildings. Come on, if that is what restoration means then that is a completely hollow and meaningless restoration! No, God is talking specifically about his lost children, even if they are the wickedest of the wicked. Yes, He plans to restore even them!
Now are you beginning to understand why the Gospel is Good News? There is no dark edge to it, there is no sorrow on the other side. None! God is Light and in Him is no darkness AT ALL!
“But what about the books!?” you demand. “Yeah, the Book of Life and the names written down and the judgment and the fire and the Second Death and all that sobering stuff!?”
Well, if God is Love, and His love is expressed by forgiveness, and He no longer counts our trespasses against us, and love keeps no record of wrongs, then perhaps we need another perspective on Revelation 20 and the final judgment?
What do you think will happen to evil, wicked, unrepentant sinners (Yes, like Hitler!), who lived their whole lives apart from LOVE itself, desperately hiding from the Light like cockroaches scurrying under baseboards, who carried out wicked deeds motivated by bitterness, whose very identities were built upon false desires, who all of a sudden are called to wake up, like Lazarus, by the booming voice of Jesus, and then suddenly the LIGHT is turned on and now there is nowhere to hide from LOVE!
My God, can you imagine the sorrow, the weeping and even the gnashing of teeth, as the very LOVE that gave birth to the Universe permeates these lost and broken souls? Perhaps you are even weeping tears right now just thinking about it! Can you imagine the remorse that will pour forth when the reality of their forgiveness suddenly becomes clear to these minds that had been blinded to truth and bound by deception?
One other thing, let’s not pretend that the Lake of Fire is the place where God honors the “free will” of unrepentant sinners. Their “free will” choice to reject Love in their lifetimes was a choice made from a place of absolute bondage. Must God respect and honor that bondage forever? Not a chance. Jesus came with a mission to destroy that bondage, and here in the fire is where the last of it is burned away.
You see, the Second Death of Revelation 20 is NOT the place where Man’s choice to refuse LOVE is honored. Rather, the Second Death is the place where Man’s choice to refuse LOVE is over-powered! And then Death itself is cast away!
Let’s not pretend that this will be a pleasant experience! The intense shock of this moment will produce an epic identity crisis, on a level completely unknown in the history of all mankind! This will be a place of DESTRUCTION. Here is where false identities and the twisted desires that formed them will absolutely PERISH! I’m sure you read this word while reading John 3:16 above. Well, this is the place where “perishing” happens. This is the place where kolasis happens, and where yes, pain and torment, happens. But only as a result of being confronted with Truth and Love. There is not an ounce of retribution here. Not one ounce! This is not payback time, this is healing time!
In this place of fire everything that is not conformed to LOVE will vanish. I don’t know how long it will take, and I don’t know how much of the conscious self will survive. I suppose it will be different for every single person that successfully hides from God during their entire lifetime, but I am CONVINCED, that NOTHING that was originally born from the heart of God will be touched. God will see His children restored, no matter how long it takes or how destructive or painful or traumatic it must be. This is how Jesus won our Victory, decisively and completely, on that Cross on Calvary. This is how the words of the prophets will be fulfilled and the old creation will be transformed into the New Creation, where sin and death have no place.
This is universal restoration: APOKATASTASIS!
Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” AND EVERY CREATED THING which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, AND ALL THINGS IN THEM, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.” (Revelation 5:11-13)
October 31, 2016
Yes, this is my Halloween message!
For further reading that is absolutely necessary to confront the demonic and twisted doctrine of eternal conscious torment (and its related doctrinal derivatives) I suggest the following page for a comprehensive reading list:
Eclectic Orthodoxy: Readings In Universalism
According to the editor of this page the single most impressive work on the subject of biblical apokatastasis is “The Inescapable Love of God” by Thomas Talbott.
For a shorter article by the same author on this subject, which makes some very convincing points right off the bat, CLICK HERE. Or go here to his personal website where three chapters of Talbott’s book can be downloaded in pdf format.
For myself I have been greatly edified and encouraged by two amazing books by Bible scholar and “hopeful universalist” Brad Jersak:
A More Christlike God : A More Beautiful Gospel
If you know the love of God it is OK to be led by your heart!