From the time I was a child, when I first learned that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, my Saviour and my Lord; I believed. Call it faith, and perhaps there was some respect for my Sunday School teachers, but I believed. And as I grew older and considered the evidence for myself, I continued to believe.
And from the time of my childhood I believed that the Bible was the Word of God. It was God revealing Himself to the world. Again, as I grew older and considered the evidence for myself, I continued to believe.
Never miss a local story.
But I had questions. Learning about God in Sunday School and from the Bible was one thing. But I was forced to also consider how God was working in my life and in my world. How did these real life experiences relate to what I learned about God in Sunday School, and from the Bible?
I learned that Jesus came to this earth to die for my sins; that I might have eternal life. I learned that He was the “exact representation” of God Himself, giving us a clearer picture of God. I learned that love was the most important thing, and that God loved the world so much that He sent Jesus. I learned that love was the summary of all of God’s laws and commands.
And I learned that those who accept that Jesus Christ is the Saviour in this lifetime will go to heaven when this life has ended. But those that do not accept Jesus Christ in this lifetime, regardless of how good or bad they lived their life, would go to hell where they would burn in torment and agony for eternity.
A short life, with eternal consequences, based on a single decision made while we have the chance.
“Yes, God is love, but He is also holy and requires justice,” I was told. And while it did not seem to make total sense to me, if the Bible says this is how it is, then so be it. The Bible was quite clear. There are two destinies ... eternity in heaven, or eternity in hell.
I guess I never had much of a problem with Adolph Hitler in hell, or those who commit heinous crimes. But what about faithful Jews, for example? They were certainly faithful in seeking God in a way they thought was right. Having been raised in a Jewish family, in a Jewish school, with Jewish friends; with all of the evidence being presented to them telling them that the Messiah was still to come ... it didn’t seem fair that they would be in the same place as Hitler and the others.
But that’s what the Bible says. It is quite simple, isn’t it? It’s black and white; heaven or hell; no second chance once this life is over.
I thought about people growing up in other nations, in cultures and upbringings much different from mine. I was raised in a Christian home. I was taught that Jesus Christ was the Saviour since day one. I was in Sunday School every Sunday.
I thought about young men just like me that were growing up in India. They were raised in a Hindu home. They were never taught about Jesus Christ. Maybe a missionary had reached them, but then I thought about all of the cultural pressure that told them that Jesus Christ was not the only path to salvation.
It didn’t seem fair. But rules are rules. God is holy, and He cannot stand to have sin in His presence. So to get to heaven and to live in God’s presence for all eternity, a person either had to live a perfect life (which no one can possibly do), or God would need to cleanse him and forgive him. God chose Jesus Christ as the means to accomplish that. So those that accept Jesus Christ as their Saviour are forgiven and will one day be given a glorified body and will live forever in heaven.
But what about my friend in India, who perhaps lived an even better life than me. Maybe he was less selfish than I. Maybe he helped other people more than I. But if he died without accepting Jesus Christ as his Saviour in this lifetime, he would stand before God on his own merits. He would be found guilty, and condemned to hell.
“God,” I would plead, “isn’t there a way my Indian friend can still be forgiven? Can’t you still give him a glorified body fit to live in heaven? If you gave him a glorified body just like mine, wouldn’t he be just as fit for heaven, to live in your presence, as I?”
I remember the Bible saying that salvation was a gift from God so that we who receive that gift have no right to boast. But I guess I do have some right to boast. After all, I’m smarter than my Indian friend. I made the right decision, and he did not. My wisdom in making this decision certainly shows some intelligence on my part, doesn’t it?
I remember a friend of mine who died from cancer while I was on my senior trip in high school. He was only 18. I don’t know if he accepted Jesus Christ as his Saviour or not, but I think about God’s justice, and I wonder why he would give me 49 years to make the right decision, and Bill only 18. But maybe since Bill suffered with cancer for several years he had time to thing about eternity, and maybe he made the right decision.
I had another friend whose brother was hit by a car and killed as he rode his bike alongside a country road. He was only 17. I guess that’s old enough to make your own decisions, but when I was 17 I don’t think I considered eternity all that seriously, since I thought I would have many years left. Jeff didn’t have that chance.
One man lives to be 80 years old, and in his final 6 months, after living a sinful life, he accepts Jesus Christ as his Saviour. Heaven!
Another man lives to be 17 and is killed in an instant. He was told about Jesus Christ, but he did not make the right decision. Hell ... forever!
“Not fair,” I thought, “but this is what the Bible says.” To me there seemed to be a big conflict between love and justice; a big chasm. But I never doubted that the Bible was God’s Word, and it is indisputable truth. Who am I to question God? I would give my friend in India a second chance after death. I would give Bill and Jeff a second chance. But the Bible made no provisions for second chances. This is the way God set things up. These were His rules, and this is His world.
As I grew older I began to lose a few aunts and uncles that I loved very much. I’m not sure where they stood with God. Some were a bit wild as far as I could detect, but I loved them, and I always thought that God loved them too!
I remember talking to some friends when I attended seminary, and we discussed what it would be like in heaven, when we find that our loved ones aren’t there. One friend believed that God would kindly wipe away every memory of that loved one. I can enjoy heaven because I will have forgotten that my loved ones ever existed. This thought did not bring me great comfort. Having five children of my own I wonder what it would be like to die, and to forget that I even had children, if they didn’t make the right decision. I could better understand why some people who are not Christians have purposefully rejected Christianity, because they knew their sons and daughters and brothers and sisters made the wrong decision, and they were not intrigued by a heaven where these loved ones would not be present.
I thought again about friends my age that were dying without having accepted Jesus Christ. And I think about Saul (Paul) who was on a rampage pulling Christians right out of their homes and having them tortured and sometimes killed. But did God punish Paul? Paul had a “hardness” about him, like Osama Bin Laden. Paul condoned killing Christians and he believed he was right in doing so; even that he was serving God in doing so, like Osama Bin Laden. Paul was killing innocent people, like Osama Bin Laden. But did God give up on Paul? No! He met Him on the Road to Damascus, and struck him down, and spoke to him from the heavens, and set him straight.
Why couldn’t God do that to my aunts and uncles. Why couldn’t he do that with my friend in India. It didn’t seem fair.
It worked out quite well for Paul. God struck him down, but he didn’t kill him. It seems that it would have been awfully hard for Paul not to make the right decision. He was blinded and helpless. Jesus Christ actually appeared to Paul and spoke to Paul. I guess that was the only way to reach a hardened guy like Paul.
But why couldn’t God do the same with everyone who needed that kind of treatment, so as to save them from spending an eternity in hell?
While in seminary I also came across the great preachers of old. I am told that Jonathan Edwards could really preach. He could hold his congregation spellbound. As he preached they would drop to their knees, repent, and receive Jesus Christ on the spot. In one of his sermons Mr. Edwards talked about heaven, and how the joy of those in heaven would increase even more as they looked upon those being tormented in hell. Could this be so? I guess I could somewhat understand people enjoying Hitler being tormented after the things he did, but what about Aunt Martha? There is no in-between. It’s either heaven or hell. Could my joy in heaven increase as I looked upon Hitler and Aunt Martha being tormented in agony with no means to escape?
More recently I began thinking about the Garden of Eden. After all, wasn’t it Adam and Eve that brought death and punishment upon us in the first place? They lived in Paradise; the perfect place. God was right there in their presence. They ate from the tree of life. There would be no death. It was perfect ... or was it?
If Paradise was truly perfect, what was the serpent (Satan) doing there? He was evil, with the intent of luring Adam and Eve into sin. It doesn’t seem fair. If Paradise was really Paradise it would seem that the serpent wouldn’t be allowed in, and Adam and Eve wouldn’t have been tempted, and perhaps they wouldn’t have sinned, and maybe we wouldn’t be in this mess today.
I thought this through. God placed Adam and Eve in Paradise, knowing they would be tempted, and knowing they would fall, since He had foreknown since before the disruption of the world that Christ would be a flawless and unspotted lamb. (see 1 Peter 1:20) But still He created them! And He continues to create men and women to this day, who live in a world filled with temptation, where some will accept Jesus Christ and others will not, so that He knows as He creates that some of His creation is bound for the eternal torments of hell.
As I thought about all these things, and as the gulf between God’s love and His justice seemed to grow larger (according to my reasoning), I began to reconsider some Bible passages that seemed to conflict.
The Bible says that God is the “Saviour of all mankind, especially of believers.” (Note that this does not say “exclusively” of believers.)
1 Corinthians 15:22 “As in Adam all are dying, thus also in Christ shall all be vivified.”
Romans 5:18 “Through one offense for all mankind for condemnation, thus also it is through one just award for all mankind for life’s justifying.”
John 1:29 “Lo! the Lamb of God, which is taking away the sin of the world.”
Colossians 1:20 “Through Him to reconcile all to Him (making peace through the blood of His cross).”
2 Corinthians 5:18 “All is of God, who conciliates us to Himself through Christ, and is giving us the dispensation of the conciliation, how that God was in Christ conciliating the world to Himself, not reckoning their offenses to them...”
Romans 11:30 “For God locks up all together in stubbornness, that He should be merciful to all.”
1 Timothy 2:6 “One Mediator of God and mankind, a Man, Christ Jesus, Who is giving Himself a correspondent Ransom for all.
John 12:32 “I, if I should be exalted out of the earth, shall be drawing all to Myself.”
Philippians 2:9 “Every knee should be bowing ... every tongue should be acclaiming...” (Isaiah 45:23)
These passages seemed to be in direct conflict with passages that talked about SOME not being saved. According to my Christian friends, it’s quite simple. Since the Bible says that those who do not accept Jesus Christ in this lifetime will spend eternity in hell, these “ALL” passages must refer only to ALL who accept Christ. Now I don’t see this restriction in the context of these passages, but it’s the only explanation that makes God’s Word consistent, instead of contradictory.
But isn’t it God’s will that ALL are saved?
1 Timothy 2:4 “God, who wills that all mankind be saved and come into a realization of the truth.”
And doesn’t He cause all things ultimately to operate in accordance with His will?
Ephesians 1:11 “...Who is operating all in accord with the counsel of His will.”
No. My Christian friends tell me that even though God “wishes” that ALL would accept Jesus Christ and be saved, He gives us free will.
So we have free will, but we’re basically very fallible and weak, and to make things even more difficult we find that Satan is alive and well in this world, tempting us and leading us astray at every turn.
So even though it is God’s desire that all are saved, it will not happen because He will not force anyone to make a decision against their will.
The good news is we have been given free will (although some will disagree, also with strong Biblical support). The bad news is that many will make a wrong decision in this lifetime, since they were not as smart as others so as to make the correct decision in this lifetime, and perhaps they had less time (17 years instead of 80) to make the decision, with Satan chomping at their heels at every turn.
So God will be All in all, when all is said and done (1 Corinthians 15:28), and Christ will have accomplished the purposes of God through His death and resurrection, but the bottom line is there will probably be more souls burning forever in torment than those in heaven.
These seemed like huge contradictions in Scripture, but my faith in God’s Word never waivered. I may not understand the ways of God, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t true.
I am so thankful to have escaped “the organized church” … to have come to see the problems and inconsistencies in our modern English Bible translations … to have come to see that the correct handling of the Scriptures will show us that when the Bible says ALL it truly means ALL.
I now see that truly the Word of God is perfect, and it is totally consistent. There are no contradictions, and also no need to impose restrictions on the “ALL” passages. It is only because of the errant English translations that these restrictions have arisen. It is only because of the errant English translations that there has been a great gulf between God’s love and His justice. It is only because of the errant English translations that Christians argue with other Christians about things in the Bible that seem to support our various positions.
God will one day execute full justice, His holiness will prevail, death will be abolished, every knee will bow before Him (finally), and He will be All in all. (1 Corinthians 15) He is not willing that any should perish. (2 Peter 3:9) His will is that all will be saved, and even now He is in the process of causing all things to work in accord with His will.