Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Judgment Day - Are We Out of Sync With God?

Judgment Day (May 21, 2011) has now come and gone, and Christians have once again given the non-believing world an occasion to mock and blaspheme God!

The gigantic earthquake that was predicted did not occur. The relatively few “true and wise” believers who boldly proclaimed that we could count on it because “The Bible guarantees it!” were not suddenly taken out of this world to enter eternal bliss. And the wrath of God was not poured out in terrible fury on the rest of mankind as never before in the history of the world.

I, personally, was encouraged to see that this prediction of the End was confined to a generally small group of people - it was not a band wagon that the majority of Christians jumped on. However, the whole event seems to me to be indicative of a deeper problem that has pervaded the evangelical church for a long time.

Somewhere along the line, Christians came to believe that unless God intervenes in some very dramatic way, sin will win. On a level playing field, evil will grow more and more powerful until God has to personally step in and do something supernatural to stop it. And, even then, evil will continue to be one of the most significant aspects of God’s creation for it will exist eternally in Hell. In effect, we have come to believe that, ultimately, Love Loses.

In my previous two blog posts,[1] I pointed out that there were well respected leaders in the early Christian Church who were convinced that God would one day defeat sin and death completely and restore all of His creation to its initial perfection, and that this belief was not considered heretical at a time when Christianity was making its most profound mark on the history of the world. Yet, when the idea that Love actually Wins was suggested by a prominent evangelical pastor in the twenty-first century who asked some very honest questions, it was soundly condemned by a large percentage of the evangelical community because it didn’t fit in with what has become the “tradition of the elders.”

But, is that tradition consistent with what Scripture teaches? Or, is it possible that we, like the Judgment Day enthusiasts, are out of sync with God?

In September of 1782, another pastor published a notice in a Baltimore newspaper that similarly asked honest questions that suggested that love might ultimately win in the end. The writer of the notice asked his readers to consider a few philosophical questions relating to the purposes of a sovereign God. Did God have a good plan for the final state of mankind from the beginning? Is it possible for God to finally fail in accomplishing any of His intended purposes? Does God change His mind? These and the other questions he asked created quite a stir in the city. He wrote in a style consistent with his time, but, like Rob Bell, he asked some honest questions that we would do well to consider:

I. Must not God who is the Builder of all creation, in creating such noble beings which are superior to all the rest of His lower creation, have had some particular and grand design concerning the final state of those beings?

II. Is it possible for any being inferior to God, by freedom of will or anything else, to prevent the effecting of that which God intended to effect? No doubt, many may oppose and thereby involve themselves in ten thousand sorrows, but is it possible for God to finally fail or have any of His intentions frustrated?

III. Is God, who is infinite in knowledge, capable of a succession of ideas?

IV. Was it essential for God to hate a part of His creatures? Or, did sin produce such a disposition in God and thereby cause Him to act toward some of His creatures in a way contrary to what He essentially intended?

V. If the devil’s design in introducing sin into the world was to ruin a part or the whole of mankind which God originally designed for happiness, and the devil’s design should be effected in any wise, will it not thence necessarily follow that the devil has manifested himself more powerful in effecting his designs than what God has in effecting His?

And if, in consequence of this, God should become an enemy to some to whom He was once a friend, will it not follow that the devil by introducing sin into the world has produced a change of disposition in God towards some of His creatures, while the devil himself remains unchangeably the same in disposition that he was from the beginning of his existence as a devil?

VI. If it be a truth that there is a part of mankind for whom Christ did not die, can it be the duty of that part to believe that Jesus is their true and full Savior? And if they were to believe it to be a truth that Christ did not die for them, could that belief make them happy or save them from endless woe?

VII. If God’s word shall accomplish that which He pleases and prosper in that whereto it was sent, and God pleases that all should obey and believe the truths therein contained, and His word was sent to accomplish that pleasure, what must be the final result?[2]

Rob Bell and this eighteenth century pastor asked sincere questions that thoughtful people everywhere have asked and continue to ask. Sincere questions that are not answered satisfactorily never go away. The Judgment Day enthusiasts were clearly out of sync with God. We need to make sure that we are not.

[2] Rev. Abel Sarjent, from Universalism A History, Volume I, Richard Eddy, DD, Universalist Publishing House, Boston, 1884,pp. 396-397, reprinted here with some minor modifications.

No comments: