Sunday, 16 June 2013

Is Our Pendulum Stuck?

Strange as it may sound, sometimes I’ve been accused of thinking too much. Sometimes that thinking takes me out of the realm of the status quo. Many throughout history have also thought out of the realm of the status quo, and while that thinking may have been rejected at first, right or wrong, it has also sometimes become the accepted norm; such as the introduction of institutionalism into the faith, the Crusades, the clergy-laity divide, the Protestant Reformation, Pentecostalism, etc, etc, etc. Having said that, I guess I’m in good company.

One such area that has often gotten me some backlash is my interpretation of these verses from the Apostle Paul:
“What shall we conclude then? Is there injustice upon God’s part? Certainly not! For he says to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will mercy and I will have compassion (pity) on whom I will have compassion. So then [God’s gift] is not a question of human will and human effort, but on God’s mercy. [It depends not on one’s own willingness nor on his strenuous exertion as in running a race, but on God’s having mercy on him]. 
“For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, I have raised you up for this very purpose of displaying My power in [dealing with] you, so that My name may be proclaimed the whole world over. So then He has mercy on whomever He wills (chooses) and He hardens (makes stubborn and unyielding the heart of) whomever He wills.
“You will say to me, Why then does He still find fault and blame us [for sinning]? For who can resist and withstand His will? But who are you, a mere man, to criticize and contradict and answer back to God? Will what is formed say to Him that formed it, Why have you made me thus? 
“Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same mass (lump) one vessel for beauty and distinction and honorable use, and another for menial or ignoble and dishonorable use?” (Romans 9: 14-21; Amplified)
Have we created God in our own image?

What came to mind as you read the preceding verses? Did it make you want to shout a big “Amen?” Did it make you squirm as you subconsciously began to recite all sorts of seemingly opposing verses? Did it make you wonder if the Apostle Paul wasn’t speaking out of two sides of his mouth? Did you see heresy? Did you see truth?
The longer I’m a Christian, the more I’m convinced that we like to think of God only in certain ways. For example, we like to think of Him only in terms of His love, which is good and right, but in the process we also reject other parts of the story, such as the preceding verses, because they somehow seem not to fit with the god we’ve created.

Let’s get really controversial for a moment (and see if I cannot offend someone again). Many today seem to question the existence of hell, thinking it inconsistent with God’s love. What if hell itself was actually a very loving part of God’s creation in that through it God finally deals with the unrighteousness of man? Is this thought inconsistent with the cross of Christ? No doubt some would say so. Let’s ask ourselves a question: Would heaven be quite as glorious if all the Pharaohs and Hitlers and Stalins and Neros and Osama Bin Laden’s were all seated at the same Messianic banquet table with you and me and the rest of the Christians from throughout history? As strange as that sounds, maybe they will. Certainly the universalist would have us to believe that. But if they aren’t seated with us at the Messianic banquet, then where are they seated? Thankfully God alone decides all that.

However, lest I digress too far, the point I wish to make has nothing to do with the “hell” question. I mention it simply to illustrate that, just as Paul wrote in Romans chapter nine about God showing mercy to some and not to others, there are plenty of parts in our New Testaments that will leave us squirming in our theological pews. Why? 
“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12; NIV).
I find it audacious to think that we, mere mortal and fallible human beings, should be able to fully understand the mind of God this side of Heaven (and maybe even the other side too). And yet I’m sure that we’ve all done that a time or ten, haven’t we? From time to time we’ve all come across so sure that we’ve got God all figured out, when more than likely, all we’ve done is to create God in our own image. Ouch.

No doubt some will object saying something to the effect of, “the Holy Spirit told me, or showed me that … ,” but then along come the next ten born-again and Spirit-filled Christians who also claim the same thing, and suddenly we’re faced with twelve different opinions and interpretations of the same topic. Who is right? Who is wrong? Is everyone right? Is everyone wrong? Hmm.
“Now we see but a poor reflection ...”
In the end, these are just my humble musings and I really don't pretend to have an answer. Feel free to share your thoughts; I'd love to hear them. Peace & Blessings.

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  1. "Many today seem to question the existence of hell, thinking it inconsistent with God’s love. What if hell itself was actually a very loving part of God’s creation in that through it God finally deals with the unrighteousness of man?"

    I agree that hell, even the traditional view thereof, is consistent with God's love, and that via eternal punishment God expresses His love for creation by finally dealing with unrighteousness.

    However, just in case the "many" you have in mind are evangelical conditionalists (a.k.a. annihilationists), it's worth noting that what drives us to our position concerning the nature of eternal punishment as annihilation is primarily exegesis, not emotion or philosophy.

  2. A number of people these days beg the question, "How could such a "loving God" send people to Hell?" My response: "How could such "loving people" thumb their noses at a loving God and have the audacity to expect a "free pass" to Heaven? Doesn't work that way." Then they get offended and I really don't care because it's the truth. They can't handle the truth, so they try to do away with it.