Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

The Inescapable Love of God

posted by Scot McKnight

GregMacd.jpgWhen it comes down to the bottom argument in Robin Parry’s (aka, Gregory Macdonald’s) book The Evangelical Universalist  we find an argument about God’s love.

So far we’ve seen his case rest squarely on the impermanence of one’s state as a result of death and, perhaps even more logically crucial, on the inescapable love of God.
Do we underestimate God’s love?
He argues, with JI Packer, that God’s love is seen in how God acts in the Bible. Parry argues that we know God’s love, in the first instance, as a result of learning to love in this world — and he’s not being a liberal here — but even more particularly by examining what the Bible says. 
God’s love is elective and covenantal. Furthermore, God’s love is compatible with God’s wrath and discipline and punishment and exiling Israel. And he’s big on not making God a God of love and a God of justice/holiness but a God of holy love and loving holiness. God always acts in love, and this leads him to his big point:

God’s love for Israel is compatible with Israel’s punishment but not with their eternal punishment (102). In the end, there is grace and love and life. God’s love is cruciform and Christ died for all. God’s wrath, then, is a means to an end: discipline and restoration. For Parry, hell is the severe (but) mercy of God.
Thus, “I suggest that the problem is not that the universalist sentimentalizes God’s love and forgets his wrath but, rather, that the traditional theologians underestimate God’s love and unhelpfully disconnect it from his justice” (104). And I want to add a problem here that I see in this whole issue: for many of the traditionalists, and I consider myself one, the issue paradoxically becomes one of works. That is, it wouldn’t be fair to give humans the option of repenting at the hands of God’s severe mercy. Since when has grace been fair? Well, this is a thought that has come to me many times when observing this discussion. I remain unconvinced of Parry’s case, but he’s presented his call reasonably well.

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Ted M. Gossard

posted January 1, 2010 at 7:14 am

Come again? I’m not sure what you mean Scot in tying works over to God’s fairness or lack thereof in grace. Do we know how to measure fairness to begin with? How can we view it, or really understand it as God does? Fairness is important for us to take seriously in life in the sense of justice, but ultimately we must leave it with God.
I do like Parry’s emphasis on keeping God’s love and holiness/justice together. Though I’m not convinced that we can demonstrate from Scripture that hell is ultimately God’s severe mercy for those so punished.
I remain unconvinced as well in regard to evangelical universalism, though I could wish it is true. I’m just not convinced Scripture really tells us that.
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posted January 1, 2010 at 9:22 am

it seems to me that “grace” and the means by which it has been given to us has never been “fair” (in human estimation).
Jesus, the Innocent One, died for sins he was not culpable for.
The One who knew no sin became sin…
Sounds pretty unfair to me.
It seems that the Cross pretty much obliterates our understanding of fairness and justice. If this is the case, then I can see the strength of the evangelical universalist position because it continues to overturn the human economy of justice and fairness that is found in The Cross…and maybe even hinted at in the Incarnation itself…

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Stephen Erickson

posted January 1, 2010 at 9:46 am

In my personal walk I have found this very issue to be crucial. I spent 20 years or so in mental ascension to the ideas of religion and of the Father I wished to serve. It was His Love that drew me to Him, however I was challenged in attaining the proper way to live to meet that love. Love and holiness/justice remained at odds. I was drawn to the writings of Dr. Andrew Murray and others and discovered that the purpose of the Law and justice of Father were to show me the impossibility of performance related salvation. If I could live a holy life then Jesus would not have to have died for me. Absolute surrender brings with it this realizations as well as the opportunity for faith to be assured that a Just and loving Father would keep me in this “Impossible ” Task. For what is impossible for man is possible for God. Intellectualism and mental ascension turned out to me to be a form of self glorification and in fact was disguised rebellion. The divine requirement of “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and mind and strength” is another “Impossible goal without the divine intervention brought about through a constant fellowship with Him who is able.
As to hell being a mercy, I agree that it is just that no one is going anywhere without their conscience decision to go. And I know many who are content to rule in this life (rebellion) as they see fit and are content to die when it is done. The wide role of self, fear, control, and rebellion leads to destruction, while the divine Grace and Love of the Creator given freely through the Holy Spirit opened to us through the precious shed blood of Jesus is for me a much better alternative. But it takes serving Father on His terms and not on ours. The last revelation as to Sabbath rest might very well be resting from striving in our own strength to even serve God on Our terms. Submit, relay, depend entirely on the ability of Father to save and to have us through personal revelation live to perfect Kingdom principals.
EPH 3 is one backing scripture that fits for me.

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posted January 1, 2010 at 1:35 pm

Thanks for making it personal Stephen.

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posted January 1, 2010 at 1:40 pm

God’s mercy and holiness are not 2 seperate things. There is not a word in the english language that can portray it but it’s more like mercyholiness. This is shown in the temple with the law being in the mercy seat. The law signifies God’s holiness and it is always paired with his mercy.

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Willie B.

posted January 1, 2010 at 2:44 pm

I do not understand the “fairness” point that Scot wrote addressed at the end of this post.
I do think that it is here, the case about God’s “inescapable love” that the universalist has the strongest argument. If it is divine love pitted against man’s free will or hardness of heart, then don’t you think God is going to win every time (if He really tries to bring about a person’s salvation)???
In the end, divine love has to be the victor. C. S. Lewis’ claim that many people will be successful rebels to the end is unacceptable. God is not a loser. Evil will be defeated. Justice will reign. and As Luther once said, there is no such thing as “all justice.” justice is always a servant to peace!!! Millions of people suffering hell is not “peaceful.”
and If justice is defined how N. T. Wright frequently puts is-a matter of “putting the world to rights”-how does one consider the eternal damnation of persons in any sense, a matter of putting the world to rights. It is only a multiplication of horrendous evil for a person to be separated from God eternally. It is a perversion of what is good, and as my NT prof in undergrad often said, Biblically-evil IS a perversion of the good.
I hope Parry is right. The Bible full of warnings about God’s wrath and justice. One cannot skip over it. But I hope God’s reconciling love has the final word. It’s the only thing that makes sense to me.

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Willie B.

posted January 1, 2010 at 2:47 pm

I wish one could edit comments they’ve made; I hate grammatical mistakes.

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posted January 1, 2010 at 3:54 pm

The hardest thing I have had in considering universalism is the bit about us having choices even AFTER we die. I was OK with my inclusivism because that took into consideration the decisions that people make while they are still alive. But, if our souls are immortal and our souls are the “real” us, then that soul must have the ability somehow to think and decide even if it is apart from the body. I don’t really know. In fact, I need to do some more reading up on what we can really consider or know the soul to be.
Happy New Year to you all and peace to all of us!

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posted January 1, 2010 at 9:23 pm

I welcome any discussion that helps correct our understanding of “holiness” as essentially a category of “ethical perfection”.

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Ing'utu Njebele Buckmire

posted January 2, 2010 at 3:36 pm

The grace of God seems unfair with human reasoning but who is man to question God. Thank you for this article

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posted January 2, 2010 at 7:06 pm

One thing I am fairly certain of: Mercy (Love) trumps judgement. Psalm 136. His love endures forever. James 2:13 For (A)judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. (NASB). 1 Cor. 13. Willie B. (#6) expressed it well above.

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Josh Rowley

posted January 2, 2010 at 8:36 pm

“I suggest that the problem is not that the universalist sentimentalizes God’s love and forgets his wrath but, rather, that the traditional theologians underestimate God’s love and unhelpfully disconnect it from his justice.”
A compelling statement to my ears.

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John W Frye

posted January 3, 2010 at 2:42 pm

I know this is a general statement but I suggest that the Book of Hebrews does not envision in any way a universalist vision of eternity. It is inescapable that human decisions in time shape and prepare humans for their *eternal* destinies. I do not believe the universalist vision takes seriously enough the place of human decisions in shaping eternal destinies. This discussion is not only about God–his love or his justice or his holiness, or his just, holy love. It is about God’s creation of humans with the ability to make weighty decisions and respecting that reality in the very humans he created in his image.

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posted January 3, 2010 at 4:03 pm

It does take humans decisions into account because it doesn’t deny God’s judgment or hell as the consequences of a life of sin outside Christ.
It just doesn’t hold to a “closed system” understanding of hell.
It holds a picture of God from Scripture that is so patient that he waits for and eagerly anticipates our return even after we’re dead to him – much like the prodigal Father waiting for his son who was dead to him.
What kind of boundary is death to a God that overcomes through Resurrection?

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Willie B.

posted January 3, 2010 at 9:07 pm

In response to John Frye (post #13)concerning God respecting the decisions of man.
For me, it is hard to understand how “free will” could be considered a great enough “good” to be considered a “defeator” of horrendous evils (evils which prima facie you could doubt whether the participants life could be considered a great good of value to him/her on the whole; in other words an evil which you would think it would have been better if that person had not been born at all).
this is in a nutshell Marilyn McCord Adams argument which she puts forth in her book “horrendous evils and the goodness of God.” it is the philosophical side of the debate.
but I for one, was taken aback by how compelling her arguments for universalism were, grounded on this notion that evils must be defeated and they must be defeated within the lives of the individual who participates in them (in contrast to most theodicy attempts which respond in the form of generic of global goods-for example, greatest possible world theodicy). hell obviously turns out to be the paradigmatic “horrendous evil.”
but, it is here, the issue of free will, where i think a non-universalist will really have to dig his/her heels in and say that man’s free will really is a greater enough good for justifying God’s allowance of horrendous evils (hell).
i know i haven’t defined all the terms here and some of the philosophical arguments can get quite technical, but take it for what its worth.

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posted January 4, 2010 at 3:13 am

I’ve always been struck by, and not entirely sure what to make of, Jesus’ parable about the owner who pays his workers all exactly the same whether they have worked all day or only the last few minutes.
Mercy does weigh or parcel out its mercies according the deeds or misdeeds of humans.
If God can be merciful to a deathbed confession, why wouldn’t he save everyone?

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