The Scandal of Forgivness, Part 1

(Note: this is adapted from a sermon I preached at my church on October 30, 2011)

I regard Revelation 22:17 as one of the most extraordinary verses on evangelism in the bible. There John says, as a kind of summary of his grand vision:

“The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.”

Note the four invitations, increasing in scope, and progressively revealing God’s extravagant generosity. First, the Spirit and the Bride say ‘Come’. For John, the Spirit is most likely the Spirit of Prophecy, and the Bride is the Bride of Christ (the Church). So the first invitation is the witness of the prophets (who spoke the word of God) and that of the Church, who is His promised Bride. It is thus the witness of God’s chosen people throughout history. The second invitation is to whoever hears this message. In effect, then, the gospel message (‘Come!’) was revealed first to Israel and is now made available to anyone who hears it. Third, whoever has thirst is invited to come. At this point the invitation is rendered universal. In the final clause of the verse what is offered is explained: whoever wishes let him receive the free gift of the water of life. A free gift. No charge. To whomever desires it.

To view this from another angle, because God’s gift of eternal life is completely free and open to all, the only way to miss out on eternal life is not to come at the call of Jesus.

I compare this passage to a kind of cosmic wedding invitation. The Spirit and the Bride send out invitations. The original invitees turn and invite others. Then, word gets out that the drinks are good (and that it’s essentially an open bar) and that everyone is welcome. Anybody who is thirsty can show up and find what God offers. In one sense we could summarize God’s mission in the by observing, essentially, that He encourages wedding crashers.

This Divine generosity is extravagant beyond our wildest imaginations. He gave the life of His son so that we could get salvation as a gift. And so we can rightly use words like profligate, extravagant, liberal, abundant, and mind-boggling to describe His giving.

However, at the very same time this generosity—God’s generosity—also causes us some problems. Not because something is wrong with God, but because something is wrong with us. And with this extravagant generosity I perceive two problems. Let’s discuss the first one today.

The First Scandal

If God’s generosity really is this good—this extravagant—then to our thinking there are going to be some surprises in heaven. Because if all it takes to receive the water of eternal life is coming to God, answering God’s call, then heaven is going to look different than we expect it to, isn’t it? There are going to be some people in heaven we weren’t expecting to see there. There are going to be some people missing from heaven that we thought should be there.

The divorce between our way of thinking and the economics of God’s Kingdom is stems from the reality that Christianity has never been about how good you are as a person; you cannot earn salvation, you can only receive it. The key that opens the door to eternal life is the simple matter of whether or not you have received Christ as your Lord and Savior. And as a direct consequence of these economics there will be surprises in heaven.

Jeffrey Dahmer was a mass murderer in the Milwaukee area not all that far from where I grew up. He would drug, rape, kill, and cannibalize young men. After he was caught he was tried and found guilty in the murder of fifteen different boys and men. Before he died (he was beaten to death while in prison) he accepted Christ and was baptized. If you have doubts, you can go and read the personal account of the minster met with and baptized Dahmer. There you can hear about Dahmer’s remorse for what he had done.

When we look at Dahmer, we’ve got to let John’s words echo in our minds: “Let whoever wishes take the free gift of the water of life.” Not ‘whoever was good,’ but whoever wishes.

There will be surprises in heaven.

Mahatma Gandhi is a renowned and revered world leader—known for his self-denial, his love for people, and his non-violent leadership that guided India toward independence. Yet Gandhi refused Christianity. Speaking of this rejection, one author wrote the following:

“When asked why he did not embrace Christianity, Gandhi said it offered nothing he could not get from his own religion, observing, ‘…to be a good Hindu also meant that I would be a good Christian. There is no need for me to join your creed to be a believer in the beauty of the teachings of Jesus or try to follow His example.'”

Gandhi admired Jesus from a distance, but he didn’t come to drink at the fountain. He claimed that the followers of Jesus were too unlike Jesus for him to be one of them. His critique may have merit, but from what we know of faith, Gandhi, with all his goodness, is not in heaven.

Does this seem unjust to you? Dahmer, the mass murderer in; Gandhi, the great hero, out? Are you bothered by God’s forgiveness?

I stress again, against this, that you cannot earn salvation, you can only receive it. And furthermore if you think that one person deserves salvation while another person hell, then you understand neither God, generosity, forgiveness, or salvation.

The operation of God’s Kingdom economics is insanity by the standard of our world. Our world thrives on what is deserved, or at least on what it perceives as deserved. Against this metric of desert God has declared His own ways—His generosity, forgiveness, and salvation—in his word to us. Consider with me for a moment Matthew 20:1-16, and we’ll see together a parable that Jesus taught on Kingdom Economics.

 1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

   3 “About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.

   “He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. 6 About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

   7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

   “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

   8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

   9 “The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

   13 “But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

   16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Workers in the morning are people who come to faith early in life. As the day progresses we find people who come to faith later and later in life. The last people basically accept Christ on their deathbeds. Everybody gets the same wage: eternal life; the water of life. Does that seem unfair to you?

In response God basically says—to both them and us—”It’s my money, I’ll spend it how I want;” or, “It’s my salvation, I’ll give it how I want.” And then He goes on to say, “Are you envious because I am generous?”

Does God’s generosity bother you? Does God’s forgiveness leave you angry? Do you think God is unjust for forgiving some people? Does your sense of justice matter more to you than God’s forgiveness?

The truth of the matter is that Kingdom economics are an economics of extravagant generosity. Forgiveness is lavish. Price is no object. Because the same God Who gave His only son for the salvation of the world will spare no expense to bring sinners into His Kingdom.

I admit, freely, that this doesn’t make sense by the world’s standards. I admit, freely, that on paper God’s forgiveness is absolutely nuts. And I recognize that this aspect of forgiveness bothers a lot of people, and that it especially bothers people outside our faith. The people who look at Christians from the outside see Gandhi and see Dahmer and conclude that we’re crazy, or stupid, or both.

But all I can say to those people is that they just don’t get it. They don’t get that Christianity is about forgiveness. They don’t get what lengths God went to to offer us that forgiveness. They don’t get that nobody purchases salvation. And I think a real part of their frustration is the powerlessness that we feel in the face of God’s generosity. It pulls the rug out from all our efforts to impress God. God’s forgiveness makes it so that there is nothing we can do to win God’s favor. As a result they reason, and we reason in our hearts as well, “If Gandhi isn’t good enough, then who is?” And they’re right to think that, but they aren’t prepared for the real answer: “No one is.” Nobody’s good enough. Nobody’s got it together. They don’t get that you, and me, and Dahmer, and Gandhi, and the Pope, and Hitler, and Mother Teresa and Stalin are all on the same level. They fight for Gandhi, not because they care about Gandhi per se, not because they are motivated by compassion for his soul, but because they are selfishly concerned about themselves. They don’t really care whether or not Gandhi gets salvation, but whether or not they can earn it; in short, they ask about Gandhi because he is a clear example of human merit. “Don’t his good deeds count for something?” they ask. But the answer is “No.” Nothing we’ve done can earn us our salvation and no sin we’ve committed can keep us from it. Salvation is God’s generous gift to an undeserving world; the only thing we can do to prevent ourselves from receiving it is reject the gift. And so I think what really bothers us is that in the face of God’s forgiving generosity we are all rendered utterly powerless.

In all this, God’s ways frustrate the logic of our world. As Paul announces in 1 Corinthians 1:18-19,

“the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.'”

And then he concludes, in verse 25,

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”

Kingdom economics are an insane economics to the world; but they are the salvation of God to us.

And that is the first reason why God’s forgiveness is so scandalous. Scandalous because free. Scandalous because without merit or desert. Scandalous because we are made completely powerless in its face. All you can do is receive it.

(Part 2 of the scandal coming soon.)

17 comments on “The Scandal of Forgivness, Part 1

  1. Very powerful message. A truly inspired sermon. Keep up the good work and post often!
    One question: In Revelations 22:17, don’t you think that means The Holy Spirit? Do you believe there are more than one or that the “Spirit of Prophecy” is just one manifestation?

  2. jmichaelrios says:

    Hey Brother,

    I don’t in any way rule out the Holy Spirit, but I suspect that John has something else in mind here. Consider, for a moment, Revelation 19:10 (which is just before this passage) where John says this:

    “At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”

    For John, and I suspect for the early Church as well, a big part of the Spirit’s role was speaking through the prophets to prepare the way for Jesus. It’s fair to suggest as well that when John speaks about the “Spirit” speaking in his book, he means both the Spirit of Jesus and the Spirit of the Prophets–i.e., that we need to listen to the living voice of Christ speaking through the scriptures and actively to the Church right now.

    I also think my interpretation fits well with the theology of Revelation as a whole. (I’ve just finished teaching through the book, so it’s fresh in my mind.)

    Thanks for the comment–it’s good to clarify those things.

    Jeremy

  3. Jeff Fuller says:

    I’ve always loved the parable of the workers. The wage thing DOES seem so wrong, but…how could the absolute perfection of Heaven be portioned out otherwise? How could God give one person seven-eighths of Heaven, or another person only a tenth? It would be like saying that infinity can be divided unequally.
    One point: you mentioned heavenly gate-crashers. I get it, but I’d also point people to the parable of the guy without wedding clothes at the banquet. His reception was rather different. “What are you doing here? Get out.” I can just see someone taking your point and running with it to the, “oh, basically everyone will be saved,” extreme.

    • jmichaelrios says:

      Hey Jeff,

      I like the image of seven-eighths of heaven–it’s a helpful image to clarify some of the Kingdom economics a little :)

      I had the Matthew 22 parable in mind as I wrote this. If you go back and read it through, you’ll find that the first seven-eighths (haha) of the parable are exactly as I see John’s command in Rev. 22:17. It’s the last eighth that’s odd. But I think we can see that it gives us additional information, not contrary information–namely, that those who come to the wedding must be prepared to celebrate (cf. Luke 15), or that they need to know they are coming to a wedding. It seems, in some ways, that while there are uninvited guests, there are no ignorant guests. The ‘clothes’ then are a symbol of the guest’s (a) genuine receipt of the invitation, (b) acknowledgment of what God has done (salvation), (c) gratitude to God for His generosity, and (d) submission to the purpose of God in creation/salvation (we wear appropriate clothes to show that we agree with what God is doing in our lives). Clothes, I take it, are as sign that we are seeking to live in accordance with God’s kingdom.

      Regarding the potential hints of universalism, in the passages we’ve considered from both John and Matthew it’s clear that there are conditions for receiving this gift–namely, coming. If you don’t receive it, it is of no benefit to you. The other condition (mentioned just above) would seem to be a kind of ignorance.

      Thanks for the thoughts, Jeff–good stuff.

      Jeremy

  4. Jill says:

    Hi Jeremy,
    I stumbled upon your blog yesterday and read through several of your posts. I was particularly appreciative of The Scandal of Forgiveness posts. Thanks so much for sharing. I think as Christians, we often forget that forgiveness, like running a marathon or learning to play the guitar, takes practice. Often life-long practice. Thanks for reminding us of this.

    I also want to point out the important distinction between forgiving someone and condoning their behavior. When we forgive someone we are NOT condoning their behavior. What they did was still wrong, hurtful, damaging etc. In forgiving, we are not saying that it’s okay they hurt us, but rather that we are forgiving them as Christ forgave us.

    • jmichaelrios says:

      Hey Jill, thanks so much for taking time to respond!

      I totally agree about the distinction between forgiving and condoning. It’s another one of those things that we struggle to understand. As Christians we use terms like “love the sinner but hate the sin” and onlookers think, again, that we’re nuts, talking out of both sides of our mouths at once. The difficulty, of course, is embedded in this scandal–God’s forgiveness is just so extravagant that we bend our brains to make sense of it.

      I think again that the cross is what keeps us in check–that someone else paid the cost of our forgiveness, and that the cost was death. We’ve got to remember the irony that God’s forgiveness, though freely given, was dearly bought. By extension, that’s why our forgiveness, when we offer it to others, costs us something personal as well. It is not the same as forgetting a wrong, it is personally embracing the cost of someone else’s wrong. It hurts me to forgive someone else. This brings a little nuance to Jesus’ command to “Take up your cross daily,” doesn’t it? As Christ bore the cross of forgiveness for me, so I bear the cross of forgiveness for others. In the divine economy, however, it is a blessed pain.

      Peace to you!

      Jeremy

  5. Brian says:

    Respectfully, I find your moral argument flawed. Gandhi and Hitler are on the same level obliterates moral categories like love and hate, collapsing them into relativism. I think theology is always best tested against the golden rule. Think of the best pastor you know of. If you like, think of Billy Graham. Now imagine, in the afterlife, that it turns out the Muslims are correct. This pastor (or Graham) would be shocked to his core but if the God made clear that this was the true state of things, the pastor would probably state – quite honestly – that he did the best he knew to do. He is imperfect, with an imperfect brain and heart and only limited life experiences. If the deity then sends him to hell anyways, I would state clearly, that I think that is morally corrupt. Billy Graham in hell because he *honestly* got it wrong? If you send Graham to hell because he made an honest mistake, then talk of love and forgiveness are empty.

    That is what you advocate here. If Christ can forgive the unforgiveable (say murder), then why not the forgiveable (honestly not knowing Christianity is true)? And what do words of love and forgiveness mean in the face of the act of Gandhi burning (or otherwise suffering)? And beside him, I understand, are the victims of Auschwitz who also did not accept Jesus. Your theology yells cruelty so loudly in this instance that I can’t hear what else you are saying.

  6. jmichaelrios says:

    Thanks, Brian, for taking the time to leave a response. I confess, however, that I’m not quite sure how to respond in turn…

    I think the best thing to do is to address a few sentences at a time.

    First, you say “Gandhi and Hitler are on the same level obliterates moral categories like love and hate, collapsing them into relativism.” I’m not sure what you mean by relativism, which states there is no absolute moral standard. Far from that, I am observing that there is a deeper, more essential standard which governs the judgment of human beings–that is, acceptance of the forgiveness of Christ. This is not relative at all, but utterly and completely absolute–it is the, central absolute against which all other actions do indeed become relative. In other words, private morality, of whatever character, is of no saving value in the Kingdom of God. That does not mean that we have permission to be immoral, but only that our moral actions are in themselves insufficient to merit salvation (which is by grace, through faith, not by works).

    Second, you present the scenario where the morally good person faces God at judgment and discovers he was wrong about salvation. “If the deity then sends him to hell anyways,” you posit, “I would state clearly, that I think that is morally corrupt.” But observe here that you have placed yourself in a position of judgment over God, at which point I must necessarily question the moral, spiritual, and intellectual authority with which you can do this (and, perhaps, advise you to reread the last few chapters of Job). Now, to be fair, I don’t believe that everyone understand perfectly, or believes perfectly for that matter. We are all imperfect in our attitudes and movements toward God. “There are no final words,” one of my teachers says, “but that doesn’t mean there aren’t sure words.” In other words, just because all are flawed in some sense does not therefore imply that nobody has better answers than others. We must seek, with the knowledge available to us, to approximate our thinking and lives as best we are able to the truth of God as revealed in Christ.

    That truth, apparently, stated by scripture and the teaching of the church, is that salvation is never earned, but only given as a gift. Christ alone ‘earned’ salvation on our behalf. We participate in his salvation through faith, and receive that salvation consequently as a gift. Human morality plays no part in the metric of forgiveness.

    Finally, you observe Gandhi, Auschwitz victims, and the apparent cruelty of a theology that assigns them to hell, stating that “Your theology yells cruelty so loudly in this instance that I can’t hear what else you are saying.” If you are having trouble hearing already, I’m not sure you’ll hear the answers I have to give at all. Still, I’ll venture a few. First, that this post is titled “The Scandal of Forgiveness.” And yes, I believe God’s forgiveness is scandalous–scandalously generous, and scandalous to our sensibilities. Forgive me if I find that your taking offense at this teaching is precisely what the title predicts. Second, observe that what you have stated is that human merit counts for something in salvation–but the scriptures testify otherwise (as stated above). Third, and finally, the only answer to the suffering of the world, which is indeed terrible, is, I believe, the suffering of Christ on the Cross. He absorbed in his body the suffering and evil of the world so that we could be reconciled to God. Human evil is cruel, but we have never been so cruel as when we crucified Christ. All this I point out so that I can say that I don’t believe God is cruel, but rather that He loves us enough to take our suffering into Himself. There is a great mystery here, but the cross of Christ is our only salvation. Pointing to other evils, then, cannot and should not take our focus from the cross.

    Peace to you,

    Jeremy

  7. Laurie Wolpert says:

    I’ve always struggled with the idea that a good person who does not believe in Jesus goes to hell, while a morally bankrupt person goes to heaven by professing the faith. I actually think this post reveals in some sense why. If Jesus died so that all might be saved, is the assent merely a recognition of Jesus’s work and the acceptance of mercy of a gift that can be never be taken back? If so, why is Ghandi in a different position than anyone else? Why can’t he just accept the gift when he meets God for himself? “And so I think what really bothers us is that in the face of God’s forgiving generosity we are all rendered utterly powerless.” Doesn’t that really put us in all the sam position? If so perhaps hell is like the door in C.S Lewis’s depiction, that we could walk out of any time but choose not to. Or perhaps Ghandi’s statement was entirely accurate- that God did work through the Hindu religion to find Ghandi, and perhaps on a much deeper level than many Christian lives? Bonhoeffer said when he read the story of Ghandi’s repellence for a sin committed by one in his community, he considered him a “heathen Christian”. Jesus did say you will know the tree by its fruits, and Ghandi’s fruits were very good. Surely inside Ghandi lived genuine goodness, faith, and piety. It’s not that Ghandi was a works oriented person who disguised a bad inner character, its that Ghandi’s outward actions revealed a good inner character, although many of us might balk at some of the extreme asceticism or moral positions practiced by Ghandi.

    Furthermore Brian’s post makes sense from a human perspective, which is the only one we are going to get in this lifetime. Dahmer created and spread great evil on Earth, despite his bedside conversion. Ghandi released millions from an oppressive colonial system, although it certainly did not solve all of the problems of India today. We ought to hold up Ghandi as a moral example of what to do. We ought to repudiate Dahmer’s legacy on a human scale. Sin is still sin, and goodness is still goodness. God’s mercy should not cancel out the real ramifications of our actions, and often times the revelation of God’s mercy threatens, at least in the way its presented by preachers, what good and evil mean in human terms. Perhaps that is the “scandal of the Gospel”, but I think people are on to something when they react strongly to the collapse of not “morality” but goodness. Surely God’s mercy is not a nullification of honor and justice, but an extension to even dark places. One should not use a Christian faith to trample on what, in my humble opinion, are very right ideas of what it means to be good in this lifetime. Love is not license and the collapse of all human standards does not pave the way for Jesus so much as it seems to open the door to sin and evil abounding in the name of grace, which Paul cautioned against.

    • jmichaelrios says:

      Hi Laurie,

      The answers, if they are there, have to come from scripture rather than our speculation. Once again, as before, this is a place where our emotions must serve the truth as revealed, rather than shape the truth as we’d wish it to be. What we know from scripture is that 1) Hell is real, 2) Salvation is freely offered, 3) Salvation is not given based on merit, 4) those who accept this salvation with repentance are redeemed, 5) those who do not are not. For the past months I’ve been working through a close reading of Romans, and Paul hammers this out again and again and again and again and again (I’d put more agains, but you get the point). The stump imagery in Romans is perhaps pertinent here: it’s not that we have something in ourselves, it is that we depend *entirely* on something (i.e., Someone) else.

      Goodness, indeed, is real, and goodness is also an intended product of the gospel (so if we are gospel-people we cannot continue to participate in evil–see Eph. 5). But goodness does not, and has never, saved us. We cannot earn salvation by any means.

      Every Blessing,

      Jeremy

  8. Laurie says:

    I agree that Paul makes a strong case for redemption through Jesus Christ alone. However, there hints in Paul of deeper mysteries of God that indicate we do not know precisely how God will redeem all people. “For God imprisoned all men in disobedience so that he might have mercy on them all” For know we know in part, but someday we will know in full”. I think this is why speculation about Ghandi bothers me, and maybe others. It seems to say see, goodness is worthless, and God is capricious. That is a stance that inspires fear, which perfect love casts out. Slavery was not roundly condemned by Paul, probably because nothing in culture suggested that the culture was prepared for it at the time. The seeds of Christian love, though, will eventually realize one cannot call someone a brother and exploit them. Maybe this is why people, right or wrongly, react strongly against hell. Could not God’s love even reach down there? Obviously the Bible treats Hell as real, but since we are only seeing part, its hard to say how the story will end.

    • jmichaelrios says:

      “I agree that Paul makes a strong case for redemption through Jesus Christ alone. However, there hints in Paul of deeper mysteries of God that indicate we do not know precisely how God will redeem all people.”

      Paul may hint at “deeper mysteries,” and at time he may use language that is more vague, but the way to interpret what is unclear is by looking at what is clear, as the way to find your way is to locate a fixed point. And the clearly marked, repeatedly marked, almost monotonously droned point of reference is that salvation lies in Christ alone, and belongs only to those who call on Christ’s name. Whatever else we say about faith, this point remains perfectly fixed for us. I suggest to you that if we move from it, we cease to be Christian.

      But watch carefully a logic that renders God capricious–first of all because it sets you as judge above God. Are you fit to judge the almighty? Do you have the knowledge and moral character to make judgments of his choices? This, indeed, is the deeper mystery–and you quoted it–that God has consigned all men to judgment. And he has done this to all men to show that nothing they brought to the salvation table was suitable for exchange. Nobody is good enough, ever. But the second half of the clause is that God did this “in order that he might mercy all.” Don’t glaze over the subjunctive there–it is the opportunity to mercy all, not the obligation, or even the necessity. And furthermore, it is that God has done this so that nobody, from any time, from any heritage, or any genealogy whatsoever, has salvation in themselves. No, salvation is the business of God alone. That is what that verse is saying.

      Now, I was careful above to say that goodness is not worthless. And, if anything, my close reading of Romans has reinforced the fact that goodness is the essential byproduct of a genuine Christian life. But as long as you think goodness gets you anything–like merit–it is an idol that God will smash. There is self-resignation here. Goodness is called from you. You get no credit for goodness. The moment you try to get credit it becomes an idol which you are using to bargain with God. God does not bargain.

      Please forgive me for speaking presumptuously (and I genuinely mean that, since we don’t know each other), but I think you are warring between the way you want things to be, and the way that the Scriptures reveal our faith. You are holding on to your idea of love, of goodness, and of how God ought to be, and those ideas are becoming idols which will, if un-smashed, keep you from God in time. I’d like to point you to the following post, where I deal with the idolatry of human knowledge more fully: https://jmichaelrios.wordpress.com/2012/02/01/the-one-way-ladder-on-the-doctrine-of-god/

      Blessings,

      Jeremy

  9. Laurie says:

    I actually did read that post, although it wasn’t the first time I heard that argument made. I agree with you mostly, especially in an era where human desires seem to be the only important quality for if something should be done or not, but I also feel like arguments of the “only God is truth” variety can be a bit styming. If God came to men in the form of Jesus (since we don’t have Jesus now) what else are we to do but to interpret the Bible as closely and carefully as possible? However, don’t reasonable Christians ever differ in their interpretations? (they certainly seem to when reading great theologians). Is it wrong to interpret God’s mercy for all to mean that very possibly good people are there if God so wills, assuming one is honestly and sincerely looking to the Bible, and hopefully with a genuine spirit? Does God refute all of our wishes and hopes, or just some of them?

    • jmichaelrios says:

      “Is it wrong to interpret God’s mercy for all to mean that very possibly good people are there if God so wills, assuming one is honestly and sincerely looking to the Bible, and hopefully with a genuine spirit? Does God refute all of our wishes and hopes, or just some of them?”

      Well, yes, if interpreting God’s mercy means making God out to be a liar. Remember Malachi 3:6, “I the Lord do not change, so you, O Israel, are not destroyed.” God’s laws and character are unchanging realities. If God were to alter the plan of salvation–which again is laid out not only in Romans but the whole Old Testament (see esp. Isaiah), then *that* would be true caprice, like a feint, or a “just kidding!” The idea that God has a second plan of salvation for particularly good people, or National Israel, is reprehensible because it makes God out to be a liar.

      And I want to hazard that the answer to your final question is also ‘yes’. God does indeed refute all our wishes and hopes–not in outright refusal, but that we always ask for less than He actually gives us, so that even in saying ‘yes’ to our requests God says yes in His own way rather than ours. Furthermore, as long as the wish is *our* wish, a thing we possess, a thing we bring to God with a sense of dessert, then He always in mercy says ‘No.’ This is an idea that I deal with at length in my book Ordinary Prayer.

  10. Laurie says:

    Well I appreciate the time it took to write back. I still remain unconvinced that God does not have a plan for Ghandi, and I can’t help but note that you actually use him as an example on your other website, in which a Christian interviews Ghandi and found himself edified by Ghandi’s example of self-sacrifice and discipline One is reminded of the parable of the two sons, one of whom said “I will not go” but went, and other other who said “I will go” and did nothing. Certainly, Ghandi seems like the first son.

    Ultimately,Ghandi’s final destination is far above my pay grade. However, I do admire Ghandi greatly and I think the work he did he is so commendable and like Jesus that it’s hard for me to listen when people use him as an example of how you can be good and still be condemned. All those people in India have souls too, and they were oppressed by people for hundreds of years who professed Christian values.

  11. Laurie says:

    Also, I don’t think I’m making God out to be a liar. If God is good, then I don’t think its wrong to trust him that he will act in a good way, even if we accept that his version of God is far preferable to ours. A child trusts in a good father to do good, and behind the question of heaven and hell I think most people are asking if God is trustworthy, not if God will conform to our values.

    • jmichaelrios says:

      I think that this will be my last comment for the time being, and it is only to say that the question of God’s trustworthiness is tied to His consistency, and that if you feel God is untrustworthy for judging all people by the same absolute standard, then your idea of ‘trust’ is something you are holding over God. It is a false idea, and therefore an idol.

      In the end, I think the kernel of your problem is faith: will you believe God and His word or not? Don’t waffle on interpretations, don’t throw up smoke screens of half-logic, don’t hide behind the emotions of culture. Either God’s word is true or it is not. Either salvation is in Christ, through faith, to those who have heard and believed the gospel, or it is not. And if it is not, then the God we claim is our Saviour has lied, and that would be the greatest untrustworthiness of all.

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