Stick in the spokes of grace

A cartoon by nakedpastor:

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(link)

One of the appeals of Christian universalism* is that it allows God’s redemptive work in and through Jesus to be much broader than we have traditionally allowed–it sees God’s grace reaching as far as he desires, which is to everyone (see 2 Peter 3:9).

The traditional view of eternal punishment in hell for some (many? most?) seems, on the face of it, to be kind of like a stick in the spokes on the bicycle of God’s redemptive work.  God desires everyone saved, but there’s a catch and there’s apparently nothing God can (or will?) do about it.

I don’t presume to know scripture well enough and certainly don’t understand God nearly well enough to to have any sort of answer on this, but I continue to ponder it, because there seems to be a disconnect in scripture between God’s intentions and the actual outcome (as per the traditional view).

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*Nakedpastor is not necessarily endorsing a Christian universalist worldview with this cartoon.

7 thoughts on “Stick in the spokes of grace

  1. Toni

    “I don’t presume to know scripture well enough and certainly don’t understand God nearly well enough to to have any sort of answer on this, but I continue to ponder it, because there seems to be a disconnect in scripture between God’s intentions and the actual outcome (as per the traditional view).”

    This is obviously one of your key issues.

    [Terry Thomas voice]
    Well it’s about time you did, dear boy.
    [/Terry Thomas voice]

    Get in there and read your bible, get convinced either way, know the will of God, fast and pray about it. Just stop the “I don’t know enough” cop out stuff and FIND OUT for yourself. If you think God doesn’t answer this kind of stuff then maybe it’s time to start asking Him seriously.

    🙂

  2. Linea

    But, Toni, expressing an opinion of this sort “I don’t know enough” is not so inconsistent with the Bible I don’t think. There is the parable of the workers who all were given the same payment for their work, which seems to ssay something about final rewards. And the rebuke of Jesus to his disciple who wanted to know the state of grace of a fellow disciple seems to say, “Worry about your own relationship with me and not about that of others.”

    Maybe feeling that there may be something to universalism is more a statement of “I don’t know enough to judge others,” rather than “I don’t know enough to have an opinion,” on what I believe about myself and others who believe in Christ as the way to eternal life.

    Now, that may not make sense to you – that one could know the good news of Christ and still wonder if universalism fits with his teachings. Jesus himself seems very non-judgmental – except of the religious rulers.

    And it is probably a statement about our times and our reluctance to appear intolerant or exclusionary.

    In any case there may be some truth portrayed in the cartoon and it caused me a chuckle.

  3. Marc Vandersluys

    Toni: You’re right to a degree. And I am trying to find out but haven’t reached that point.

    That said, I’m not sure

    a) that thatpoint is reachable (without drawing on the tradition as well 🙂 )
    b) that’s it’s necessary to reach that point. I’m beginning to think more and more that it might be better (or more honest) to remain agnostic about final things like that.

    I do tend to “hide” behind not knowing and that’s because

    a) I don’t know.
    b) universalism is a hot topic and one to which many evangelicals would not be amenable–I would hate to be labelled a heretic for something I’m only thinking about rather than declaring.

  4. Andrew

    I think you’ve got the right approach, Marc.

    There’s no achievable definite answer to the issue. Even the authors of the various books in the bible appear to have diverging views on what, if anything, happens after death and about ultimate judgment and what that may mean.

  5. Marc

    In reply to your comment, Andrew, I will say this: your comment will not mysteriously and suddenly appear to put a stop to further comments.

  6. Ang

    “God desires everyone saved, but there’s a catch and there’s apparently nothing God can (or will?) do about it.”

    I guess that would be where our free will comes in to play.

    You mentioned 2 Pet 3:9 when referring to Christian universalism and the appeal of it. I am wondering what people then feel Matt 7:13-14 is saying to them when it states…”Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

    To me it is stated pretty straight forward where 2 Pet 3:9 states that that is what He desires not that that is what He will do for us. We were given free will and need to make that choice for ourselves. If we didn’t have the free will and didn’t need to make that choice why didn’t He just create us and place us directly in Heaven with Him? Skip the whole middle step?

    Just questions that are jumping forth from this. I look forward to hearing your opinions.

  7. Marc

    Ang: The free will issue is the biggie in discussions about hell.

    The phrase “God desires” is actually my wording, not the Bible’s and is, in retrospect, much more passive phrasing than found in translations. The NIV translates it “not wanting”; KJV “not willing”; ESV “not wishing”.

    That said, here are some relevant translation notes from the Net Bible:

    the term “wish” (a participle in Greek from the verb boulomai)…often represents a mere wish, or one’s desiderative will, rather than one’s resolve. Unless God’s will is viewed on the two planes of his desiderative and decretive will (what he desires and what he decrees), hopeless confusion will result. The scriptures amply illustrate both that God sometimes decrees things that he does not desire and desires things that he does not decree. It is not that his will can be thwarted, nor that he has limited his sovereignty. But the mystery of God’s dealings with humanity is best seen if this tension is preserved. Otherwise, either God will be perceived as good but impotent or as a sovereign taskmaster. Here the idea that God does not wish for any to perish speaks only of God’s desiderative will, without comment on his decretive will.

    Of course, there are other verses to consider, besides just this one: it’s just the one that came to mind.

    The broader question is this: we can agree that God is willing or wishing or wanting all to be saved. Even if that is only a passive (desiderative) description, the next question is, is it within God’s power to save everyone? The knee-jerk answer by most of us is, “Yes”. But the problem is, if that’s true, why doesn’t he?

    But I better not get into it here. I highly recommend the first several chapters of McDonald’s The Evangelical Universalist (because I haven’t finished the rest yet), in which McDonald examines the philosophical/logical problems with the traditional view and suggests that it’s possible for God to save everyone while at the same time preserving their free will. (Note once again that McDonald, while a universalist, also believes in hell, but that it will eventually be empty of people).

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