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Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Inbox: Message and Motive

“All your goats are belong to us!”
An anonymous reader takes issue with an older post on the error of universalism:

“Why so angry?”

Good question. It was April 2014 when I wrote that one as part of our “Heavenly Myths” series. I’ve lived ten lives since then, it seems to me. I couldn’t remember how I was feeling at the time if my life depended on it. Maybe I was a bit ticked about something.

So I went back and read the post and … nope, not even close.

The Teaching of Hell

But let’s let our reader say the rest of his piece:
“The teaching of hell is erroneous. In my experience the ones promoting it are those that are angry themselves and have not known or understood the ultimate love and mercy of God because they have hatred hiding in their hearts for those that do not agree with them. When I was younger I taught the hell doctrine almost strictly out of anger toward those I felt morally superior to.

The doctrine of eternal damnation is an egotistical doctrine for those who are yet ‘in part’ (1 Corinthians 13). Sadly, so very few people today understand the true depths of God because they are selfish and cling to doctrines of men.”
Okay. Fair enough. It’s evident I and our reader disagree about the subject of hell, and therefore about the nature of God. Anonymous says he used to teach the doctrine of hell out of anger, and that he’s convinced other people who promote it are angry, so it’s not surprising he might believe I’m motivated by the same things that motivated him back in the day.

The Real Question

Not really. Most of my anger these days is reserved for my own behavior, but that’s neither here nor there. I believe in hell not because it suits me but because it truly doesn’t. In fact, I find myself quite suspicious of any doctrine that fits my personality like a glove because I don’t trust my own flesh.

But truly, my motive is kind of irrelevant, isn’t it? The germane question is not whether the people preaching a doctrine are fired up about some aspect of it, or whether it makes them feel good. No, the relevant metric is whether the doctrine is actually true. Does it accord with scripture? That’s the only thing that matters.

(I’m not dodging the subject of hell, by the way, but we’ve covered that at length on this blog. Anybody still interested in posts dealing with the universalist error can find plenty of relevant scripture here, here, here, here, here and here.)

No, in this case it’s the question of motive and message that interests me. Suppose I’m actually motivated by a sense of moral superiority or a desire for others to get what’s coming to them. Hey, it’s not impossible! But it’s also not particularly significant even if it turns out to be true.

Less-Than-Perfect Motives

In fact, no less a luminary than the apostle Paul had issues with preachers driven by less-than-perfect motives, as he tells the Philippians:
“Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”
The envious preached Christ, and Paul rejoiced. Paul’s rivals spread the gospel, and he was thrilled.

What can we learn from that? I suggest that the motive of the preacher is relevant if we are discussing his heavenly reward, but that knowing his motive tells us nothing whatsoever about the truth of his message.

For that, we need to go back to the Word.

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