Sunday, March 27, 2016

God's Unconditional Love

One of my dear Christian friends does not agree with my hypothesis (as he calls it) of universal reconciliation.  His main reason?  He disagrees with my basic concept of God's unconditional love for his creation. Nowhere, he says, does the Bible say that God's love is unconditional.
He feels that God's love has conditions attached to it - conditions like our attitude to God, our willingness to repent of our sins, etc.

I guess he is correct in the sense that the Bible does not have the phrase 'unconditional love' in its text. But neither does it have the word 'sovereignty' or 'universal' or 'evangelical' or several other English words that we use to express a Biblical concept or theological idea. It is the concept or idea that is important and that needs to be based on Scripture, not whether an English word that English-speaking people use to describe that concept is in the Bible.

My evidence for God's 'unconditional' love?  Just a few brief references.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. [Rom 5 : 8]
For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, ... [2 Cor 5 : 14]
When we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. [Rom 5 : 6]
Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." [Luke 23 : 34]
Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification for all people. [Rom 5 : 18]
But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
[Matt 5 : 44, 45]

I use the term 'unconditional' to mean constant, dependable, (which are probably unbiblical words also) just like the sun is constant and doesn't depend on conditions outside of itself to determine whether it radiates heat and light or not. Sometimes we see or feel the sun differently because of overcast conditions or we are indoors, but the sun is still the same, doing the same thing all the time. Its performance (character) remains constant - it is in this sense that I would say it is unconditional, even though how we experience it is dependant on certain conditions.

In a similar way, how things experience the sun is dependant on their personal condition. For example, sun shining on clay and ice-cream produces very different effects.  The condition of the recipient determines the outcome, in the same way, as my friend points out, that people in different conditions experience blessing or discipline or hardship under exposure to the love of God.

In summary I believe God's love is unconditional (constant, perfect, reliable) even though it produces different effects due to the different conditions on which it falls.  For me, God's love is always perfect, operating for our good, whether in blessing or hardship, as it works all things towards God's predetermined glorious end.

What is your opinion of using 'unconditional' in this way?
Blessings, Barry

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

That Unpardonable Sin

I know we have discussed this before (about 5 years ago), but today I was prompted to post a fresh thought on this most interesting verse.
Here it is ...

Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. [Matthew 12 : 32  NIV]
Firstly, let's make the obvious comment.
There is no unpardonable or unforgivable sin.  How can there be?  

Regardless of what this verse might or might not say, Jesus died on the cross and paid the penalty for all our sins, as we have been assured many times through the Bible.  For example 1 John 2:2; 2 Corinthians 5:19.

Secondly, by looking at our verse here, we can see that this is also true.
All sin against Jesus will be forgiven - a statement of assurance.

Sin against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven in this age (the age in which Jesus lived and spoke these words) or in the age to come (the church age in which we are currently living). 

However, the age after that, which includes the judgement pictured by the Great White Throne and the purification and cleansing pictured by the Lake of Fire, will surely look after this sin.

Whatever speaking against the Holy Spirit means or includes, it must wait until a future age to be forgiven. This seems to indicate that people who have committed this sin will miss reigning with Jesus in his kingdom, will not be resurrected until the final age begins, so will be among the last to be prepared for eternal fellowship with God.

Blessings, Barry

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Punishment has a Purpose

In an email discussion with a dear friend who does not agree with me that God's plan is to reconcile the world to himself at the consummation of the ages, he points to the punishments handed out by God, mainly in the OT but also in the New, to demonstrate God's intention to exclude unbelievers from ever enjoying peace with God.

He suggests that because the wrath of God, which leads to vengeance, punishment and death, is an integral part of God's character, it will not change, but continue throughout time, and beyond.
He implies that this "fact" combined with the belief that all decisions effecting eternity are made during lifetimes on earth, shows clearly that most of creation will not make it into eternity.

In my response I suggest that God's wrath is directed towards sin, those things that cause us to miss the target of bearing the image of God, and needs to be seen in relation to his love, mercy, etc..
Interestingly, he has written a paragraph which describes this beautifully ...

There are a number of aspects to the judgment and ‘wrath of God’ that is worth mentioning and which have partially been alluded to. First is that the love of God and the wrath of God are perfectly compatible and can perhaps best be seen in the Cross which shows us the self-giving gracious act of God’s Son paying the price of the wrath of God against sin which Jesus bore. God’s anger and wrath is against sin or sinners that profane his holiness and righteousness, that hurts others, that reduces our love for God and one another. God has in view our good and anything that interferes with that is the object of his anger and wrath. Our lack of wisdom cannot often see what is good for us individually and collectively but God has total supreme wisdom and all the attributes of his character, his love, mercy, grace, holiness, justice, patience, compassion, faithfulness, wisdom, sovereign power and yes wrath…. work together seamlessly.
I have followed up with the following comments ...

If "God has in view our good" and we believe God when he says he is the Saviour of the world (1 Tim 4: 10), then however God interacts with us, even bringing death, has to be seen for our good in some way and a part of the process of fulfilling his role as Saviour of the world.

If we believe God when he says he will bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ (Eph 1:10), all aspects of his character and dealings issuing from them must be working towards this end (even if our lack of wisdom prevents us from seeing it).
In other words, God's wrath, punishment, vengeance, etc. are not ends in themselves, but stepping stones to God's predestined end.

This is why I consider our starting point to be vital in appreciating what God might be doing in his various interactions with mankind.

My starting point, illustrated by 1 Tim and Eph and other references, allows me to see that no matter what calamities have eventuated in someone's life on earth, even destruction by God himself, God's love and predetermined plan will always bring them into sweet fellowship with God in the future.

Those with a Calvinistic starting point, belief that God has divided humanity into two groups, the elect and the lost, do not allow millions of people to ever see the love, kindness, mercy or grace of God, or allow the work of Christ on the cross to be as successful as God designed it would be.

Those with an Arminian starting point, belief that mankind has free will and chooses his own eternal destiny during his lifetime on earth, not only confine those who make poor choices to be forever lost, but proclaim that God's will can be trumped by man's will - God is not sovereign.

Believing what God himself says in His Word about his intentions for his creation produces a Biblically more consistent theology for me.

Blessings, Barry