Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Letter to a Progressive Universalist

You claim that:

  • The God who created us loves us so much that he/she/it would never subject any of her creation to an endless hell. This is just a primitive and barbaric idea.

However, if this idea is so “primitive and barbaric,” why then have all societies made use of punishment, sometimes even the most extreme form – capital punishment? Not only do we punish, but we also regard such “barbaric” behavior as just, even cleansing. Often, it is only punishment that is able to satisfy and enable us to move on. If we are supposed to model ourselves after your god’s “love,” then we shouldn’t punish. Instead, we should fire the judges and police and close down the prisons.

You admit that some form of punishment is necessary. However, if it is necessary for human earthly society, perhaps it is also necessary for heavenly society! From where then does your confidence arise that there will be no future judgment of humanity?

Also, you want to dismiss the twin concepts of justice and injustice as if they are irrelevant. In doing this, God then is deprived of any just rationale to give the unrepentant what they deserve – whether eternal death or eternal torment. Instead, according to you, all deserve eternal life.

While you reject the idea that God will judge, you stand firm on the idea that God will love and give everyone a free pass into heaven. How can you retain the moral absolute of love and not judgment? Instead, it seems that these two concepts are inseparable. If God loves, He will judge, if only to remove the evil from the midst of those He wishes to protect.

To take this reasoning one step further, if God is not just and righteous, it is difficult to account for the suffering in this world – natural and man-made. If God was just love and not punitive, why would He allow suffering? Why wouldn’t He have stopped a Stalin or a Hitler? Instead, this world should have been without suffering. But if there is suffering and judgment here, perhaps we should expect that it will follow humanity into the next life. This is precisely the Apostle Peter’s argument about the flood and other catastrophes (2 Peter 2, 3) – If God has judged in the past, we must take Him seriously about His promises to judge in the future. (Interestingly, approximately 270 people groups retain a tradition of a world-wide flood!)

Now let me take a bolder and more personal tact. I think that we are intuitively aware of the reality of an ultimate punishment. For one thing, the Bible claims that we have this awareness and are therefore accountable:

  •  Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (Romans 1:32)

How do “they know God’s righteous decree” of this eternal punishment? The Bible claims that this knowledge is wired into us (Rom. 2:14-15). Let me try to give some supportive evidences.

Universally, we experience guilt and shame – feelings that inform us that there is something the matter with us. However, along with these feelings, we also sense that we are vulnerable to and deserving of punishment.

We desperately attempt to bury or compensate for these feelings. Sensing that we are unworthy, we feverishly try to prove our worthiness through many different means – power, sex, popularity, prestige and attainments. Here in Facebook, it seems to take the form of vanquishing our opponents through argumentation or ridicule.

Why should we be so obsessively driven in this manner, unless we were trying to address a deeply felt threat? If feeling worthy or deserving were just a need, the urgency of the need would disappear once fulfilled, as when we fill our hungry stomach. However, we never arrive. Consequently, we are obsessed with trying to prove our worthiness. This suggests that the real problem lies deeper than just a hungry stomach or an aching ego.

Any reminder of our inadequacy is met with hatred. Because we never address the real problem, it continues to fester, leaving us vulnerable and defensive. Consequently, we often resent those we perceive as good, because they make us look bad, uncovering our deeply seated sense of doom.

Jesus exposed our unworthiness and was hated for it: “The world… hates me because I testify that its works are evil” (John 7:7). Consequently, we can more easily be forgiven for stealing one’s car than one’s honor and self-respect. Why? Because we intuitively know that our ultimate welfare rides on our worthiness.

Christians have often asked this question of non-Christians:

  •  If there is a heaven, do you deserve to go there?

Ninety five percent answer “yes.” When asked “why,” they inevitably answer, “Because I’m a good person.” Although they do not admit it, this answer means that they regard themselves as more deserving of heaven than 90% of others. This reflects the fact that we refuse to see the real self. Instead, we manufacture a worthy self. Why? We can’t endure the idea that we are not deserving. Why not? We intuitively know that there is nothing more important than our worthiness! Without it, we face judgment.

When we fail to convince ourselves of our worthiness, we compensate by punishing ourselves. We do this in a variety of ways. We hurt, deprive, and even deprecate ourselves. We try to pay the price that we intuitively know that we deserve. Primitive peoples had a keen sense of their moral indebtedness, and tried to pay off their gods through sacrifices, convincing themselves that these offerings were adequate and that, through them, they could stave off the punishment they knew they deserved.

Ironically, when we truly acknowledge our overwhelming indebtedness and inability to manipulate God with our attainments or sacrifices, as if we have the power to control the outcome, we are ready to receive the mercy of God through Jesus the Messiah.

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