At a Crossroad: “Traditions of Men”

 

Since 2012 my heart and mind have been struggling with the theological concept of eternal punishment.

Many, perhaps even most, protestant theologians proclaim from pulpits throughout the world that people who choose to not believe Jesus Christ is their Savior will suffer unending torment in a place called “hell.” These unbelievers are real men and women. These are real people who like believers were knitted together in their mother’s wombs by an eternal Father.

This idea is particularly troubling to me. There are children who choose to believe scientists over scripture. There are children who find pleasure in the world over peace in The Word. There are children openly living in sin and who explain it all away in human logic.

Many children know of the Truth, but have chosen to ignore it.

Imagine the hearts broken for years just to think of beloved children never perishing, but always and eternally tormented because their parents are unable to persuade them. Prayers go out to our Lord, “Please, Father, change my child’s heart. Make her see that You are her Savior. Make him see that Yours is the path to true freedom. Show my children Your will for them.”

A Calvinist will explain the dilemma simply. He will say that God has chosen not to choose that child. The Calvinist will say that God exercised His Sovereign will to choose me for everlasting life in His presence, but by default chose most of our sons and daughters to linger in unspeakable torment for all time.

By the Calvinist’s reckoning I should be joyful in my life as a follower of Christ and give glory to my God for choosing me to be His elect. It is impossible for me to find joy in such a thing. In this kind of theology I would rather give my life for my child’s if the Father would permit such a barter; my life for my child’s.

The Arminian would explain my dilemma as simply as the Calvinist, but with a twist. The Calvinist reports that it is God Who chooses. The Arminian declares that God has given free will to man and that man exercises his freedom to believe Christ is his Savior or not. The Arminian will say that a child’s free will is greater than God’s will. He will state with clear conscience that most of our sons and our daughters have chosen to walk in the world and to place their allegiance in their flesh. Because of their choices our children will suffer agony forever.

It is never our will as our child’s father or mother that any child would ever suffer agony in this temporal world much less in an endless hereafter. In both cases, Calvinist or Arminian, we have failed our children! We didn’t teach sons to make the right choice. We didn’t love our daughters enough so our Lord would choose them. Our prayers according to the Calvinist and the Arminian are falling on deaf ears. God may hear our prayers, but His mind has already been determined. Our children are condemned to eternal punishment.

Scripture teaches that the Spirit of God helps us in our weakness. He helps me in my weakness.

Romans 8:26-27
And in the same way the Spirit does help in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray, but the Spirit Himself pleads our case for us with groanings unutterable. And He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the set-apart ones according to Elohim.

My weakness is in the plight of my children. My sorrow rests in my failure to teach them to choose God or in God’s choice to abandon them to everlasting sorrows and anguish. I have prayed and continue to pray that my Father will reach from heaven and save my children. I pray that He will save all children.

My words are often mutterings. My speech is drowned out for the sake of tears. I blubber and cry out to my Creator and theirs, “Please, Father, save them. Teach me what I need to say to them to persuade them to look for You. Please change their heart toward You. Love them Lord as I love them. Please.”

I do not believe my prayers are falling on deaf ears. I do believe the Spirit knows my heart and that He hears my prayers. My case is well known by my God. I know that I am right with God and that He has set me apart from the world. Because of that I know He intercedes for me.

Paul continues in his letter to the Romans:

Romans 8:28-30
And we know that all matters work together for good to those who love Elohim, to those who are called according to His purpose. Because those whom He knew beforehand, He also ordained beforehand to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, for Him to be the first-born among many brothers. And whom He ordained beforehand, these He also called, and whom He called, these He also declared right. And whom He declared right, these He also esteemed.

I love Him. Our children are of consequence to us and I know they are precious in His sight. I am confident that I am called to a purpose that He defines for me. What do I make of His call for our children? Is His purpose for them to suffer agony forever? Is it part of our God given purpose to agonize for our children? Should my joy that I am one who God knew as His own “…beforehand, ordained as His to be conformed to the likeness of His Son…” outweigh the sorrow that most of our children are not known by Him?

The Calvinist would probably answer, “You have indeed been chosen. God knew you and he knew your children beforehand. He created them after all. He created you for an eternity in His presence and He created them for an eternal punishment. God is Sovereign. He is the potter. We are His clay. He creates us and molds us for His purpose.”

Am I taking too great a liberty with what a Calvinist might propose the eternal outcome for our unbelieving children is to be? I think my description is apt and correct.

The Arminian would likely answer, “You are chosen by God because you chose to believe Him. It was your free will, given by God, to choose Him. He does not want those who do not choose Him. He creates all men, but gives them over to their respective free will. Your children, for any number of reasons choose to reject His saving grace and choices have consequences.”

Am I taking too great a liberty with what an Arminian might propose our children’s eternal situation to be? I do not think I am understating the Arminian view at all.

Moving on with Paul’s letter to the Romans (Ch. 8):

Romans 8:31-32
What then shall we say to this? If Elohim is for us, who is against us? Truly, He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up on behalf of us all – how shall He not, along with Him, freely give us all else?

There is nothing in heaven or on earth or under the earth that can remove His love for us all. His love for every person He created is clearly shown. He “…did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up on behalf of us all….”

I am His. By Paul’s reckoning I am a child of Elohim. He is for me not against me. I believe His Son was obedient to the Cross. There is no doubt in me that Christ was crucified, buried and raised again. “…How shall He not, along with Him (Christ Jesus), freely give us all else…?”

Based on this passage alone I am confident that no children will not be abandoned because they do not believe. That is unless there is a special circumstance I fail to read in scripture. Do I?

In what context shall we see “all.” Is it “all” that He chooses? Is it “all” that choose Him? Or is it “all” He created? Be careful which “all” you choose. Choose the first and your Father will have created billions upon billions with His express intent to punish them eternally. Choose the second and your Father will surrender His Sovereign will to the capriciousness of men and those will be punished eternally as well. Choose the last and your Father’s love is abundant even for those who hate Him.

Continuing this portion of Paul’s letter to the Romans (Ch. 8).

Romans 8:33-39
Who shall bring any charge against Elohim’s chosen ones? It is Elohim who is declaring right. Who is he who is condemning? It is Messiah who died, and furthermore is also raised up, who is also at the right hand of Elohim, who also makes intercession for us.

Who shall separate us from the love of the Messiah? Shall pressure, or distress, or persecution, or scarcity of food, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it has been written, “For Your sake we are killed all day long, we are reckoned as sheep of slaughter.” But in all this we are more than overcomers through Him who loved us.

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor messengers nor principalities nor powers, neither the present nor the future, nor height nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of Elohim which is in Messiah Jesus our Master.

The Calvinist and the Arminian will see themselves as the “chosen ones.” One will be chosen because our Father ordained him to be a “chosen one.” The other will be chosen because he, himself, chose to be a “chosen one.” Please forgive me this observation: either of these positions is highly arrogant and completely self serving. Either of these positions gives its adherent an unfair and inappropriate means to elevate themselves at the expense of every other person disagreeing with their chosen “chosen one.”

The Calvinist will say, “I was chosen by God, therefore I am greater in the Kingdom than the one not chosen.” The Arminian will say, “I chose God, therefore I am greater in the Kingdom because I chose to be chosen.”

Consider we are all chosen, the third choice above. Will anyone bring a charge against any of us? We are all God’s chosen. God alone declares what is righteous. If it were up to our own devices, strength, and intellect none of us would be chosen. We would all fall short of His prescribed righteousness. None of us would come close; not Calvinists, Arminians, nor any other theological branch.

It is Christ Jesus Who determines our righteousness. It is the Father who determines our punishment. Calvinists, Arminians or any other theological branch is not the determiner of our fate. Remember, there is nothing that can separate His creation from His love. Nothing can split us away from the love of the Father.

A. E. Knoch explains in his commentary on the New Testament that God’s love for his creation is never weak or failing. “God’s love never lets us go. The trials and tribulations we endure are not tokens of His displeasure. They are all tempered by His loving heart. A sense of His love hovering over us

in the midst of our distresses is the most blessed of all balms and will enable us not only to endure them but to enjoy them.”

All that the evil one can throw against us cannot take us from God’s love. Neither can all the “great forces of the universe arrayed against us…” come between us and God’s love for us.

Mr. Knoch further states, “Life may lead us far from Him, but not beyond the reach of His love. The present perplexes us, the future fills us with fear, but only when we lose the sense of His love. Powers, celestial or terrestrial, are subject to His sway. Nothing above or beneath nothing at all has the power to break the bond that binds the humblest and most unworthy saint to the throbbing breast of our great and glorious God. This is more than salvation from sin! This is reconciliation!”

Everything is subject to God even a so-called eternal torment. The most vile man was created by God and is loved by Him. The most disgusting acts committed even in His Name cannot separate His love from us.

What will the Calvinist say? The Arminian? It is most likely any person rejecting the beliefs they espouse will be called a heretic. It is more than probable the Calvinist’s church would ostracize such a man as Mr. Knoch. The Arminian church would likely call him or men like him blasphemers and cast them out of their churches.

Take a moment to think through the consequences of eternal punishment. Ask yourself how our Father whose love is limitless would deliberately and consciously create any man that He knew to be tortured in eternal punishment?

Consider this: it is by God’s will that He created each of us in our mother’s womb. The Psalmist says this about himself.

Psalm 139:13-18
For You, You possessed my kidneys, You have covered me in my mother’s womb. I give thanks to You, For I am awesomely and wondrously made! Wondrous are Your works, And my being knows it well. My bones was not concealed from You, When I was shaped in a hidden place, knit together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body. And in Your book all of them were written, The days they were formed, While none was among them. and for his infinite mercies And how precious are Your thoughts to me, O Ěl! How great has been the sum of them! If I should count them, They would be more than the sand; When I wake up, I am still with You.

We apply these verses to our own lives. “Kidneys” is the heart of a man. Our hearts were possessed first and always by our Creator. “He knitted us together in the wombs of our mothers.” God by His will determined to create us. His creation is awesome and wonderful.

The Psalmist recognizes in his core that God is his Creator. God knows all there is to know about the Psalmist. The man’s bones, his form, everything about the man is known.

Each of us read these scriptures and declare that God has determined the number of our days. We take these verses personally and apply them to ourselves. He knows our innermost thoughts. He knows everything about us. We declare that His thoughts about us are precious. We make His love for us a personal, magnificent, all consuming love.

His mercies are infinite. That is what the scripture teaches.

Are these infinite mercies only for those who believe Christ Jesus is their Messiah in this age alone? If that is the case in Whom did this Psalmist believe? Have the infinite number of mercies diminished because Jesus fulfilled the prophecies about Him? Are these infinite mercies rendered moot because God gave His only begotten Son?

The answer is a loud “No!” The life, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus magnify God’s infinite mercies. What greater mercy could the Father have on His creation. His Son’s sacrifice for the sins of all is mercy manifest to a fallen, crippled world.

God chose to create us. We did not choose to be created. Neither were any one of His created beings accidents of evolution. He chose each and everyone of us before the creation of the earth.

Still not convinced. I understand the reluctance to examine long held doctrines and beliefs.

The earth has been established for at least 6,000 years. There are good minded men and women who would argue that the earth has an age of unknown billions of years. Certainly we can all agree that the recorded history of the world is at least 6,000 years. Over 4,000 of those years are recorded in the Old Testament. The balance are recorded historical events starting in the New Testament. On that point we can all agree.

In OT times what was mechanism used by God to find a man sufficiently righteous so as to allow that man access to God’s presence? What was the atonement offered?

In a nutshell, the Israelites would meet annually, perhaps more often in the year, and give a perfect animal to the Levite priest. The Priest would then prepare the animal for sacrifice and the animal’s blood would be captured in a cup. All of this was given to God with the prayer of forgiveness for the sins committed in the previous year. The blood would then be taken outside the Temple and the Priest would sprinkle the sacrificed blood on the man and his family.

The previous sins would be forgiven. However, new sins would begin to accumulate almost immediately. Another atoning sacrifice would be required at some point in that man’s near future.

This atonement was provided to the Israelites. Scripture teaches that God chose Israel to be His favored nation not because they were the largest and strongest, but because they were small.

Deuteronomy 7:6-11
For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. He has chosen you to be his people, prized above all others on the face of the earth. It is not because you were more numerous than all the other peoples that the LORD favored and chose you – for in fact you were the least numerous of all peoples. Rather it is because of His love for you and His faithfulness to the promise He solemnly vowed to your ancestors that the LORD brought you out with great power, redeeming you from the place of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. So realize that the LORD your God is the true God, the faithful God who keeps covenant faithfully with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, but who pays back those who hate him as they deserve and destroys them. He will not ignore those who hate Him but will repay them as they deserve! So keep the commandments, statutes, and ordinances that I today am commanding you to do.

God chooses Israel to be a nation after His heart. He gives Israel a means to remove the stain of past sins. All the other nations are not given the means to absolve sins. Does this mean that the multitudes of people which are not Israel are to suffer eternal punishment? God did not give them a way to make things right with Him.

We cannot read these verses and conclude only Israel will be saved. Those who love Him and keep His commandments will be saved.

We have the advantage of hindsight. We know that Israel did not keep His commandments. We know that Israel did not keep their faith in Him. They did not love Him.

Those who fail “…to love Him and keep his commandments…” will not be ignored. Those will be a people “…who hate Him….” “He will repay them as they deserve.”

Is this repayment eternal torment? If you answer yes, do you see what this means? God created millions if not billions of human beings with His expressed intent to punish them in a fiery hell forever. That thought is too much for me to fathom. It is ludicrous in my view to think that an all loving God created any man only to cast him and others like him into eternal fire.

At verse 10 in the scriptures quoted above speaks of God’s destruction of those who hate Him; those who will not or cannot keep His commandments. These verses cannot be construed to mean God punishes these people forever. At most these verses speak to the concept of annihilation. Even complete destruction is more loving than eternal punishment.

I don’t have the desire to argue virtues of Calvinism or of Arminianism. These are schools of theology devised by men for themselves. Their ideas and theologies have successfully caused the formations of multiple denominations that are no longer similar to the church Christ established. Calvinism and Arminianism are not alone in the divisions caused by men. I bring these two up only because I know a little about them.

Therein lies the crossroad where I once stood. I have preached Calvinism and now I regret it. I preached against Arminianism, but did not really understand why. I stood in pulpits and told good church-going folks that any human being that did not believe in Christ Jesus would never perish, but would be tormented by fire forever.

James 3:1
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, knowing that we shall receive greater judgment.

This is an admonition God’s Spirit led me to when He first called me to preach. It was clear to me from the beginning that what I preached would have an impact on the people the Lord put into my path. I praise God for correcting me at this stage of my life, but there remains much that the Lord is challenging me to say.

I will never again let eternal punishment hold sway in my heart or pass my lips. From this day forward and in as many places as I am able I will preach the love of God. I will preach that His mercy is so great that even those who hate Him will be reconciled to Him.

The Spirit of God led me to read the studies of learned men. Many have long since passed. There are works dating back to the 1600’s that have been published to the Internet. There are books in libraries written by Bible scholars that declare God’s Holy Word in Truth.

I suspicion many men and women will disagree with me. They will immediately conclude that I am a self proclaimed arbiter of what is Truth and what is not. Hopefully, the following pages will dissuade them of that opinion.

Understand this: I am writing this to prove God’s infinite mercy more than to disprove eternal punishment. However, there will be references to the latter and not in a good light. The teaching that unbelievers will be eternally punished in a place called “Hell” is cruel and is, in my humble opinion, untrue.

There are traditions of men that should be examined fairly and those too will be discussed.

In all things remember this. God is love.

About Jim Barnes

A man seeking to please the Lord. A man striving to abide in Christ Jesus. A man whose hope is to see just one more come into the fold.
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One Response to At a Crossroad: “Traditions of Men”

  1. Carissa Brown says:

    Love you!!! Thank you for sharing with is with me!!

    Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android

    Like

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