Saturday, April 16, 2011

How I reconcile different biblical views of eternity

Instead of using words like "traditionalism", "universalism" and "Calvinism", I'd like to change the language into something more approachable. How about these words:

1) Judgment
2) Mercy
3) Divine plan

I think we have a love/hate relationship with those three things:

1) We love judgment sometimes because it fulfills our sense of fairness, but we'd hate that to mean that we or our loved ones must suffer in eternal torment.

2) We love mercy because, well... who wouldn't? But we hate that it seems to conflict with our sense of justice, and isn't all this stuff on earth a charade if God's mercy just sends everyone to heaven anyway?

3) We love that God has a master plan, but hate the idea that any of it might overrule our free will.

My picture of eternity embraces all three of these concepts without conflict. Here's how:


I've never met a human being who was 100% pure, good and blameless. We all have junk, and we'll still have some of that junk when we die and will carry that junk right to the gates of heaven on judgment day.

So what happens with our junk when we get to heaven? I don't think God snaps his fingers and makes it vanish, because even though the junk is bad it's a very real and core part of my soul at that point. To delete it like a rotten computer program not only fundamentally changes my personality, but it does so in the cheapest way possible!

I do believe that God wants me to release my baggage, but I think it will be a process. One that is undeniably painful, possibly slow, but ultimately much more rewarding and powerful than just having my issues washed away.

I think God will give us perspective to see how our faults have hurt others and hurt ourselves. He'll give us the ability to empathize powerfully and see ourselves through the eyes of our friends and enemies. We'll gain understanding in whole new ways about the consequences of sin, and how our bad choices caused so much hardship.

When it's my turn, God will probably show me things like how my anger crushed my children's spirits. How my emotional apathy left others cold and unfulfilled in their hour of need. How my selfishness held me back and caused me to miss so many beautiful moments and relationships that would have blossomed in the cause of shared generosity.

This will suck, no doubt. It's judgment; it's not supposed to be fun. But I think it awaits every one of us, and that the purpose is redemptive.

God doesn't want us to just make it to heaven however possible so he can erase the bad stuff. He wants us to genuinely progress into the best version of ourselves that He intended all along, and will give us the tools, the time and the support to get there.

That's why I believe the stakes of righteousness are indeed high in this life. The lessons we learn now save us pain both today and later on. The ripple effects continue through eternity.


I've never met a human being who was 100% vile, evil and free of virtue. We all have spots of nobility, and we'll still have that when we die and will carry that right to the gates of heaven and beyond.

But in the section above I said that I also think we'll bring baggage with us into the next life. And if we're still walking around with baggage, we're going to need lots and lots of God's mercy.

I think He'll have more than enough, and it will work seamlessly with his judgment.

Think about it -- judgment left to run untethered means massive consequences for small offenses. You call me a name, I have you fired. You cut me off in traffic, I shoot you. You hurt my child, I kill your whole family. You make some bad choices for a few decades, I condemn you to eternal punishment with no chance of escape? Those sentences don't fit the crimes.

But if mercy runs untethered, then no growth happens and the lack of justice saps the meaning out of our choices. A kid gets whatever they want, they turn spoiled. A man of power lives above the law, he never confronts his personal demons. A female celebrity listens only to her adoring posse and feels like a helpless victim when things go wrong in life, because surely it's not her fault.

We need both mercy and judgment working together to become better people. I do help my kids experience consequences for their actions, but only in the context of a relationship with me that includes unconditional love. I'm a very imperfect father but I understand that for my kids to be their best, I have to display mercy, and give them the confidence that they are always mine, no matter what. That there are very few guarantees in life, and one of them is my love.

God does that too, and will keep offering us His love and mercy as we move through His judgment.

Divine Plan

We ascribe a lot of different character traits to God based on the bible: love, faithfulness, righteousness, even jealousy! But one I rarely see, and I believe is a crucial and endearing part of His character, is stubborness.

It takes a stubborn soul to peg Moses as a leader after 40 years in Egypt and 40 years as a secluded rancher. It takes a stubborn soul to stick with the nation of Israel for centuries as their faith wavered up and down. It takes a stubborn soul to look at 12 fishermen, yokels and backbiters and say with confidence, "this is my tribe, and I'll make something great out of them."

I can't read the bible with all the obvious stubborness of God and think that He'll give up on the majority of His creation on judgment day. That soul by soul, eternity is sealed after a few short years of human life. He's too stubborn for that, and I think He'll wait us out.

I believe the bible passages that say God is redeeming all things back to Himself, and that this whole universe is a one-way road headed home. There are plenty of exits and detours along the way, but God's got all the time in the world. There's no need to force people to do anything, or overpower our free will. He'll offer a path of judgment that will make us face up to our shortcomings, all within the context of mercy and patience.

So I do think eternity will include judgment. For everyone.

And I think eternity will include mercy. For everyone.

And I think that everything is going perfectly to plan, and that your free will is 100% intact and you can take things at exactly the pace you want in your walk towards God. The slower you go, the tougher it might be and the longer it will take, but what is time to God?


Logan said...

Amazing post Michael. Your thoughts never cease to amaze me. Yet another reminder that God's mercy and justice are not in conflict. Thank you.

Don said...

If you ever decide to run for state or national office, you got my vote.

Bob said...

Ditto what Don and Logan said.

More sermon material?

Debby said...

What amazes me about you is that you know the same stories I do, however, you see things that never even occur to me.

You're a genius. Really.

Redlefty said...

Ok wow I think you guys may have gone a little overboard with the praise on this one, ha!

My process, as boring as it sounds, is a combination of methodical thinking and heart reflection about how life works here, and see if any of that might apply to how the next life works.

I could obviously be wrong about all of it, but somehow I doubt God will just rewrite the rules in the next life. I have a sense that the core principles of the universe will still be in place after death, but what we will gain is time, and perhaps perspective.

With enough time and a large enough perspective, I think all of us can experience something very incredible, and that's a journey I can look forward to.

The whole cloud/harps thing never appealed to me much anyway!

RedWifey said...

I totally echo everything they've said, Michael!

Your thoughts amaze me sometimes how you construct harmony out of dissonance. I would TOTALLY vote for you if you ran for public office. And you ARE a genius.

And I'm totally unbiased!


MamaRose said...

FIRST OFF, I TOTALLY AGREE WITH EVERYONE'S COMPLIMENTS & ASSESSMENTS OF YOU, our DEAR MICHAEL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!--and, I'm NOT surprised--your Dad & I KNEW we had a 'VERY SPECIAL' boy with a VERY DEEP mind when you started asking us questions--before 2 years old that 'normal' kids don't EVEN/EVER think of--or, at least, NOT UNTIL a LOT LATER in life!!!!!

I AGREE that our God is ALL-MERCIFUL & NON-judgmental & ALL-LOVING & WANTS THE BEST FOR ALL OF US!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

HE ALSO WANTS us to CHOOSE him, with/in our FREE WILL--and, we DO that by OBEYING HIM--ALL of HIS WILL that we know/are AWARE OF, at the time & MORE, as we LEARN MORE.

I also believe, though, that we are TOTALLY FORGIVEN, as we ASK HIM & JESUS'S BLOOD covers/takes care of ALL OUR SINS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
YES, even HERE while we're LIVING ON EARTH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I DO LOVE the idea of 'harps, robes, and crowns'--IN HEAVEN.

There are still MANY things that I do NOT understand--WHAT does it mean when the Bible says he's going to CREATE/MAKE a 'NEW HEAVEN & NEW EARTH'??????????

I'd, personally, like to BE/GO INTO that NEW HEAVEN--and, maybe, just MAYBE, that 'NEW EARTH' will be for the folks who lived here & DIDN'T 'GET IT' their first time--like you suggested??????????


Matthew 7:21--"NOT everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will ENTER the KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. BUT ONLY he WHO DOES the WILL of MY FATHER who is in Heaven." vs. 22--"MANY will say to me ON THAT DAY, Lord, Lord, did WE NOT PROPHECY IN YOUR NAME, and IN YOUR NAME DRIVE OUT DEMONS & PERFORM MANY MIRACLES? vs. 23--'THEN, I will tell them PLAINLY, I NEVER KNEW YOU. 'AWAY FROM ME, YOU EVILDOERS."


So, WHAT does this MEAN--when/if 'folks who THOUGHT they were 'RIGHTEOUS' & DOING GOOD DEEDS, IN JESUS'S NAME?????????????

I think it SHOULD make us THINK MORE THAN ONCE about what we believe, for sure, where taught, in the past!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Your ideas SOUND ok/good to me, but I'm just not so sure that any/ALL of us get a 2nd chance--when our God has GIVEN US ALL SO MUCH, ALREADY, TO BEGIN WITH!!!!!!!

I do believe there are other stories in the Bible that 'tell' us that our God IS A GOD of 2nd CHANCES!!!!!


LOVE YOU BUNCHES!!!!!!!!!!!!! Mom
OH, and I'd VOTE FOR YOU, TOO, if/when you EVER decide to 'run for ANYTHING'!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Bob said...

Moms are great, aren't they????