Saturday, June 06, 2015

What Sort of Heart?

This quote has stuck with me over the past couple of weeks, maybe because it is not just those who would like the Bible to teach universal salvation that see this type of thinking as the ultimate expression of moral goodness:

“What sort of a heart could approve of eternal death for some? The doctrine of Universal Salvation teaches that all will have eternal life, including Satan and the demons. And that one day, all will have the same nature as God. What sort of a heart could not approve of Universal Salvation, eternal life for all?”

It boils down to this: anyone who wouldn’t grant eternal bliss, joy, happiness and God-likeness to Satan, Hitler, Stalin and every liar and murderer in human history that hates and rejects the Son of God is, well ... insufficiently morally developed.

But is it really a given that a “loving” person ought to express limitless leniency and withhold judgement forever, despite being despised and rejected by men, and that such a person should uncritically and passively grant his enemies a blessed eternity even as they continue to spit in his face? Is no argument to the contrary even conceivable?

How far has our modern concept of “tolerance” been bent?

What sort of heart could conceive of eternal separation from the Creator? What sort of heart could conceive of the Lake of Fire?

I think the answer is any heart that retains respect for the ancient concept of justice. And if we are to give any sort of serious weight in the discussion to the teaching of the word of God, it should become evident rather quickly that the scripture is filled with cries for exactly that:

The Heart of the Cursed Earth

First, the earth itself, which groans under the burden of the curse, cries out for justice.
“Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth.”
I’ve never seen a tree sing for joy. I’ve never seen a field exult. I’m actually looking forward to it. I love the idea of a redeemed creation.

But look what they’re excited about: They’re excited that the Lord Jesus Christ is coming to judge the earth. They’re excited that righteousness will be vindicated, that wickedness will receive its recompense, that the lies of Satan, in all their grubby cunning, will be exposed and thoroughly declaimed.

Creation is excited because it has suffered immeasurably in at least the last seven thousand years because of the sin of Adam, and when Jesus Christ ascends the throne and judges, all that will be set right.

The Heart of a Faithful Jew

Second, the believing Jew, looking forward to the ultimate fulfillment of the promises to his forefathers Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David, cries out for justice:
“O Lord, God of vengeance, O God of vengeance, shine forth! Rise up, O judge of the earth; repay to the proud what they deserve! O Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult? They pour out their arrogant words; all the evildoers boast. They crush your people, O Lord, and afflict your heritage. They kill the widow and the sojourner, and murder the fatherless; and they say, ‘The Lord does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive.’ ”
How much persecution have the people of Israel endured over the centuries? I mean, really, has there ever been a nation in the history of humankind to suffer such serial predation and relentless animosity? Can you really blame them for crying out for some kind of final accounting with respect to the blood shed year after year over the span of millennia?

I can’t.

The word of God sets its imprimatur on this sentiment. The Psalms ring out with the requirement that God judge those who have persecuted his chosen people.

The Heart of a Christian Who Loves His Saviour

Really? The heart of a Christian should cry out for judgement on the wicked? When we have been told to love our enemies? Actually, I think so. Paul tells the Corinthians:
“If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed,”
Paul, as much as any follower of Christ, was surely aware of the injunction to “bless and do not curse”, since he was the one who wrote it.

And yet Paul makes it clear that if one insists on rejecting the person of the Son of God, one is literally “under a curse”, and rightly so. In fact, he pronounces it himself. The Lord Jesus and his sacrifice is the one chance we have to take a pass for all the things we have done in this life and to avoid standing in the presence of God clothed in the filthy rags of our own righteousnesses.

For those who reject Christ and decide they’d like to drag others down with them (or, in the unlikely event we think Paul made a typo the first time), he repeats it twice in Galatians:
“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”
That might not seem loving to some, but I’m with Paul on this one.

The Heart of Christ

The teaching of the Lord Jesus, while clearly in some instances primarily intended for Jewish ears, echoes both the need for justice and the inevitability of it.
“And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.”
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”
Without a doubt the Lord Jesus here anticipates a future judgement with eternal consequences. If he contemplated only temporary, remedial punishment, how could there be distinctions in judgement, such that some results would be more or less “bearable” than others?

The earth cries out for justice. The nation of Israel cries out for justice. The believer in Christ, while compelled to love all, still recognizes judgement as both inevitable and necessary, and the Lord himself confirms the reality of it.

What Sort of Heart?

I used to be terrified of the prospect of judgement as a child growing up in a Christian home. I have outgrown that terror. Oh, I am respectfully fearful, in the sense that the prospect of the judgement of the Lord of my service for him governs and guides (most of the time, I hope) my daily actions.

But I have learned as I observe the world around me that judgement is more than inevitable. Judgement is more than necessary. Judgement is actually infinitely desirable and praiseworthy. And there is nobody better, nobody more qualified, nobody more deserving in the entire universe to exercise judgement than the Lord Jesus Christ.

What sort of heart (other than a materialist, determinist heart convinced that we are all the sum of our meaningless atoms) could conceive of a story such as ours without an ending, without a moral, without comeuppance for the villain (or villains); a story, essentially, without any meaning or purpose at all?

So what sort of heart rejoices at the prospect of judgement?

Any heart even slightly in tune with the word of God.

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