God’s Plan: Mercy and Justice for All
A LAYMAN AT A CROSSROAD
How does a fellow explain the doctrine of eternal conscious torment (ECT)? I have read what others have studied and written about it. I have researched it. I have preached it. I realized how wrong I was; how flawed my understanding of God could be. I have concluded the doctrine of eternal conscious torment is a false doctrine. This doctrine is widely held in the Body of Christ, especially in Western churches.
I have read about Universal Reconciliation and studied it. I have learned God will reconcile all to Himself. I have given sway to God. He is exposing eternal conscious torment as a false doctrine. I am thoroughly grateful to God Almighty for showing me the error of my thinking and of my preaching. I am grateful He changed me.
I did not ask God to lead me to Universal Reconciliation. He directed “the blessed hope” be exposed to me. By His amazing grace I am truly seeing the Light. I am freed from the burden of preaching eternal conscious torment. I am liberated now to preach the freedom that comes in knowing Christ and fully understanding God’s love for all mankind.
The Father is showing me the better way. His Way expresses His love without condemning any person to eternal conscious torment. I am free to preach God’s love for all; free to preach His mercies are limitless; free to preach the Gospel of Christ that does not condemn. I am freed to preach that He will reconcile all to Himself.
Traditionalist orthodoxy teaches God has created many people for the singular purpose to torture them eternally in a place they call “hell.” Proponents of Universal Reconciliation conclude God’s will is that all men be saved and that He accomplished His purpose at Calvary.
The Traditionalists describe “hell” in numerous ways. These descriptions are horrendous and there seems to be an unwritten rule that each description must be more horrendous than the description preceding it. In a Traditionalist nutshell “hell” is a place of fire. The fire has qualities of torment and healing. The flame cuts open and then sears the wound closed. There are qualities of ice in hell. Hell is compartmentalized and the worst of the worst suffer greater degrees of torment. In Hell the really bad guys have to be restrained from tormenting the least in hell. In the Traditionalist’s Biblical worldview “hell” is eternal and “hell” is God’s justice.
Universal Reconciliation proves itself to be true by way of scripture. Universal Reconciliation sweeps away support for eternal conscious torment.
He made me hungry for His Word and to know better. I am dependent on the Holy Spirit to satisfy my hunger. He has blessed me with a desire to know Him better. He leads me to want to be near Him. He draws me to Himself. I am changed. I am confident that God is love.
1 John 4:8
He who is not loving knew not God, for God is love.
God’s love for me forces me to examine my beliefs. I was trained by Sunday School teachers, preachers, pastors, church elders and my parents. My learning built my beliefs and established my doctrines. One of those doctrines is that God would subject His enemies to eternal conscious torment.
I was taught what the Traditionalist was teaching. I was taught that persons not appealing to God for salvation through Christ Jesus would be divinely and justifiably sentenced by God to an eternal conscious torment. I taught others what I was taught.
I am responsible for the things I say and for the things I preach. I am responsible for my part in advancing the false doctrine of eternal conscious torment. I have confessed to Him and He remembers my sins no longer.
God leads me to believe that His essence is love. How can I continue to rationalize the eternal consequences to anyone not professing a faith in Him? Traditionalists teach the consequences for failing to believe in the saving grace of God is a righteous judgment of eternal conscious torment. Their doctrine of eternal torment is at the command and the will of an all-loving God.
I am convinced the doctrine of the Traditionalist “hell” is not true.
The Traditionalists teach traditions of men. The Traditionalist doctrine of eternal conscious torment seems to have won the fight for the minds of men especially the minds of men in Western cultures. The ancient tradition of eternal punishment prevails. It prevails when it should not.
I am compassionate and supportive of orthodox Christian teaching in almost every respect. I have been a member of a Southern Baptist church, a Pentecostal church, a Methodist church, an Independent Bible church and most recently no church.
I believe in the same things most orthodox Christians do with the exception of this one doctrine. I believe God will reconcile all men to Himself and it will glorify Him. I believe it is His purpose, His will to save all men and to reconcile them to Himself. I have not always believed this way.
For the past many years my heart and mind have been struggling with the traditions of men. There appears to be a need to split into like minded groups. Like minded groups form over their particular traditions. Denominational-ism has its root in the splits into like minded churches. Traditions separate us.
Denominational-ism is a very serious problem by itself. A greater problem exists with the theological concept of eternal punishment. Almost all Christian denominations share the doctrine of eternal conscious torment even as they disagree on much else. Eternal conscious torment is steadfastly a Traditionalist doctrine.
Many, perhaps even most, Christian theologians proclaim from pulpits throughout the world that people who do 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. These are flesh and blood, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers. According to Traditionalist doctrine those people remaining in rebellion and opposed to God suffer an unimaginable punishing fate.
The doctrine of eternal conscious torment is particularly troubling to me. Think the consequences through. There are children who choose to believe science over scripture. There are children who find pleasure in the world over peace in The Word. Many children know of the Truth, but have chosen to ignore it. The Traditionalist doctrine of eternal conscious torment declares these children are condemned by a loving Father to suffer eternal punishment.
Imagine the hearts broken for years thinking of beloved children never perishing, but always and eternally tormented because their parents are unable to persuade their child. 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.”
Traditional Calvinism explains this kind of dilemma simply. A Calvinist will say that God has chosen not to choose that child. The Calvinist will say that God exercised His Sovereign will to choose one sinner over others. The Calvinist will have everlasting life in the Lord’s presence. Unfortunately, the default outcome is that most of our sons and daughters are to linger in unspeakable torment for all time. Why? Because God did not choose them.
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 among His elect. It is impossible for me to find joy in such a thing especially in light of their doctrine of eternal conscious torment. I would rather give my life for my child’s if the Father would permit such a barter.
Traditional Arminianism would explain this dilemma as simply as the Calvinist, but with a slight variation. The Calvinist reports that it is God Who chooses. The Arminian declares that God has given free will to each and every man. Each and every man exercises his freedom to believe Christ is his Savior or to not believe in Him. Arminianism explains a child’s free will is greater than God’s will. Arminianism declares 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 our child would ever suffer agony in this temporal world much less in an endless hereafter. We did not teach sons to make the right choice. We did not 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 according to the traditions of the Calvinist and of the Arminian. Most of 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.
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.
I have sorrow that rests in my failure to teach my children enough about God. Did I have a part in their spiritual choices? Could my weakness cause them a judgment of everlasting sorrows and anguish? Not only my own children, but what about all the other children of God I’ve preached to?
My words are often mutterings. My speech is drowned out for the sake of tears. I blubber and cry out to the Creator of all, “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.
I believe every person’s case is well known by God. He will make all His creation right with Himself. He intercedes for us all.
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. My children, your children, our children are of consequence to Him. 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 my children? Is His purpose for them to suffer agony forever because they rebelled? Is it part of our God given purpose to agonize for our children? Should our joy that we are ones God knows as His own “…beforehand, ordained as His to be conformed to the likeness of His Son…” outweigh the sorrow that our children are not known by Him?
I pray you see the dilemma. Any Christian parent can say, “God loves me. I love Him. I am saved. My child loves me, but does not love Him. My child is not saved and will suffer unimaginable torments because he does not love God. My son in torment while I enjoy paradise?! My Father loves me, but hates my children?!” These sentiments are not congruent.
Calvinism would probably answer the dilemma with something like this, “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.
Arminianism 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 unbelieving, rebellious children’s eternal situation to be? I do not think I am overstating the Arminian view at all.
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 from us. 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 none of my children, that no child, will be abandoned because they do not believe. Is there a special circumstance I fail to read in scripture?
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 who do not choose Him will be punished eternally as well. Choose the last and your Father’s love is abundant and certain, even for those who hate Him.
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: each 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 that 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, not 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 other theological branches are not the determiners 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…” There is nothing that can come between us and God’s love for us.
Mr. Knoch continues, “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 likely any person rejecting the belief that God will eternally torment unbelieving souls will be called a heretic or worse.
Think through the consequences of eternal punishment. Ask yourself how our Father whose love is limitless would deliberately and consciously create any man to be tortured in eternal punishment. It is by God’s will that He created each of us in our mother’s womb.
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 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. The Psalmist is pointing to 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 by Him.
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 His Holy Word 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.
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 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 events starting in the New Testament. On that point we can all agree.
Adam lived. He sinned. What was God’s atonement for Adam’s sin? Is the price eternal conscious torment? It is not. God would have said that was the case if that was the price. Cain killed Abel. Cain was punished to live banished from God. Cain died. What was God’s atonement plan for Cain? What was God’s atonement plan for his victim, Abel? Is the price eternal conscious torment?
What was the atoning sacrifice for all the people who lived from the time of Adam to Noah and from Noah to the time of Moses and The Law? Is the price eternal conscious torment? It is not. The Law only applied to Israel. God supplied Israel with the Law and intended Israel to keep it. We know Israel frequently failed to keep the Law.
No other nation was given a path to reconciliation with God. How did the atonement work them?
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 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 sins of the past 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 future.
Peter Hiett is a Pastor leading The Sanctuary Downtown in Denver, Colorado. He points us to Matthew 8 in which Jesus heals a leper and cleanses him. This act of love is a “sign that He takes our curse.” Christ Jesus tells the healed man to give a sacrifice for the gift he received. That sacrifice in accordance with Moses’ command would be testimony of the gift. The sacrifice of a lamb is what is commanded.
As Mr. Hiett points out that before the lamb was sacrificed two sparrows were. “…First it involved a ceremony with two birds; two sparrows. Two sparrows ‘taken outside the camp.’” The worshiper was to kill one of the two birds in an earthen vessel. The priest would dip scarlet, hyssop, cedar and the living bird into the vessel of blood. The living bird would be declared clean and released to fly away.
Mr. Hiett reminds us that Christ Jesus was taken outside the camp. Mr. Hiett reminds us, too, that we are earthen vessels. His blood was shed and it mixed with water. We are baptized with water. One died and all are freed to fly away.
“For 1200 years,” writes Mr. Hiett, “The Jews did that and didn’t know why, but they saw it and felt it. Their redemption cost life. Paul said, ‘We are always carrying in our body the death of Jesus so the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.’ And ‘we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show the transcendent power belongs to God.’ And, ‘one fine morning when this life is over, I’ll fly away. Like a bird through prison bars has flown, I’ll fly away.’ Because Jesus did not. You see, you are worth far more than a sparrow. You’re worth Jesus. But, that’s not your doing. It’s His. You don’t make yourself valuable: God makes you valuable. And, there’s nothing more valuable than you, by grace.”
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
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.
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.
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, please consider 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. And, to call that righteous judgment or to call it Holy diminishes God’s love to something sinister.
These verses speak to 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.
Calvinism and Arminianism 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 traditions of men.
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.
I have arrived at this crossroad. I cannot continue on the path that teaches eternal conscious torment. There is only the path that leads to the blessed hope that God wills all people be saved and that He will be “all in all.”
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.
From this day forward and in as many places as I am able and that He ordains 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.
Teaching that unbelievers will be eternally punished in a place called “Hell” is cruel and is, in my humble opinion, untrue. In all things remember this. God is love.