Fun topic for a blog post eh?

Last Sunday my pastor's sermon topic was mercy, (Oct 24, Mercy – The Capping of the Tree mp3) and how God's justice and God's mercy are flipsides of the same coin. They are both intrinsically part of Him and inseparable from His nature. It's His merciful love that saves some from the just punishment that we deserve by the gracious giving of Himself in the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus. To quote a Relient K song, "And this life sentence that I’m serving, I admit that I’m every bit deserving, but the beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair"

At this point, I begin talking to myself, asking questions and attempting to answer them as they come up in my mind …

But how can people be punished eternally for finite sins?

The traditional argument in defense of eternal punishment is that sins against an infinite God necessitate an infinite punishment. In our society, we consider the death penalty to be more severe than life imprisonment; if that's the case, an "afterlife sentence" (so to speak) in hell would be a lesser punishment than annihilation.

But there is another option to the (as far as I know) more traditional conception of hell … Dr Shepherd (author of the quote in the "God's Love is Not Tame" post) defends conditional immortality (see page 3 of PDF, these are his cursory notes from his systematic theology class) as at least a scripturally defensible position (following Clark Pinnock et al). I don't know if he personally holds that position but he sees it as a viable option.

But what about …
1) infants
2) kids
3) mentally disabled people
4) those who've never heard
5) people who call themselves Christian but act like jerks

1) I don't know for sure
2) I don't know for sure
3) I don't know for sure
4) I don't know for sure
5) According to Matthew 7:21-23 (et al), these "Christians" have more to worry about than anyone fitting into categories 1-4.

Re 1-4 above, since scripture doesn't definitively give clear answers, I don't feel as though I need to be concerned about it. If God is truly both perfectly just and perfectly merciful, then whatever He chooses to do will be both merciful and just. To quote a certain famous president, it's "beyond my pay grade" to speak too definitively about 1-4 where scripture is silent.

That said, it's currently my opinion (held loosely in my hand; an opinion being differentiated from a conviction or persuasion) that for 1-3 there is at least a decent case that they will not be in hell. (See for example Ron Rhodes, The Wonder of Heaven, 159-171. Most of those pages are available for viewing for free via Google Books.)

But how come there will be so few in heaven? Jesus said "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it." (Matthew 7:13)

Jesus did say that, but this doesn't necessarily mean the majority of people who live throughout history will be in hell. If it is true that people who are in categories 1-3 above go to heaven when they die, the number in heaven becomes larger. And when you consider that the population of the world is higher than it has ever been and nearly 1/3 of it is Christian, that number increases further.

Now, even if the "many" in this case is a relatively small number (percentage-wise), still, to God who wills that all be saved (1 Timothy 2:4) any at all who end up otherwise will seem like "many"; God laments even one who chooses to live apart from Him and the purpose and destiny that He planned for us.

But if this is what God is like then I don't want any part of him.

Sadly then it may be the case that you will be given your wish. What else could God do in that circumstance?

Disclaimer: As always, my opinions (musings) here are subject to change as I learn more and grow deeper in my faith. Also some thoughts may be poorly phrased, or just plain erroneous. Hopefully not … but please try to interpret me charitably. Oh, and as I tell my Sunday school class, whenever I make a mistake, it's on purpose just to test you. 😉

Thinking about how both God & evil can coexist … given this proposed dichotomy: "God can either do literally anything and everything, or he cannot":

If God can do literally anything and everything, this includes things that are contradictory. Ex, he can make a square circle, or can create something the smells purple. If this is so, there is no problem with God's goodness and the existence of evil in the world, because since God can do anything, such seeming contradictions should not faze us.

On the other hand, if God cannot do literally anything and everything (as is suggested in the Bible, ex God cannot lie), then this means that there are certain things that God cannot do. Thus, it is at least possible that the existence of free-willed creations (which could freely choose evil) and God's omnibenevolence (perfect goodness) and omnipotence (all-powerfulness) are not incompatible, since it may not be possible for God to have the former (free will) without the latter (evil) to some degree.

This is part of the argument given in Alvin Plantinga's landmark (but difficult since it's written for philosophers) book God, Freedom and Evil … at least, as I understand it. (Short essay based on the book is available here.) He goes into considerably more detail in that book and no doubt with much more precise terminology and philosophical acumen than I have here. Not sure why it suddenly came to mind today, but thought I'd type it out. It makes sense in my own head … :)

As a follow-up to the previous post, "Out of Nothing", here is a short 5 minute video where William Lane Craig addresses the question "Could the Universe Have Simply Popped into Being?" via Lee Strobel's site. It provides a more succinct reply to the question than the videos I linked to in my previous post. [HT: TruthBomb]

Click the "more" link to view (the embedded video unfortunately auto-plays so I had to add the extra step to avoid it playing every time people came to the site).


I just started reading through John Bunyan's classic The Pilgrim's Progress (I read part of it for one of my classes, but have never read through it in its entirety) so there may be most posts of this nature in the coming days/weeks. :)

Skeptic: There is no right interpretation. In fact there have been lots of interpretations over the many years since the Bible was written. Who are you to say you know what the Bible means? We can't know what it really means.

Christian: So let me see if I understand you correctly. You're saying that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that there is no salvation without Him.

Skeptic: What? No, that's exactly what I'm not saying! I'm saying you can't conclude that, there are many valid interpretations of the texts.

Christian: So you're saying that there is only one correct interpretation and we should try to find it.

Skeptic: No, no, why are you twisting what I'm saying? You know I'm not saying that.

Christian: Are you saying I am interpreting your words incorrectly?

Skeptic: Yes, you are!

Christian: So, it seems to me that a person could be interpreted wrongly. If that's the case, then some interpretations about what the biblical authors wrote could similarly be wrong, couldn't they?

There are no doubt passages of the Bible that are difficult to understand. Perhaps, for some, we will never be sure of the correct interpretation. But most are not so difficult, and even some of the difficult ones are only so because we choose to make them so. As with most things in life, the interpretation with the best reasons to back it up "wins"; we make educated inferences to the best explanation. There ARE correct interpretations of the texts. That doesn't mean I claim to be 100% right about all of mine, but since I believe there are right answers, and I care about finding them, I will be willing to change my mind if I am convinced otherwise.

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