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Is "APOCATASTASIS" a HERESY, a HOPE, or a DOCTRINE?

What is APOCATASTASIS? The Apostle Peter was the first to use the term in the following passage: "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord. And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of RESTITUTION (Greek "APOCATASTASIS") of ALL THINGS, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began." Acts 19-21.

APOCATASTASIS was one of the great Church Father Origen's favorite topics. "When the Son is said to be subject to the Father, the PERFECT RESTORATION OF THE WHOLE CREATION is signified, so also, when enemies are said to be subjected to the Son of God, the SALVATION OF THE CONQUERED and the RESTORATION OF THE LOST is in that understood to consist." Origen, De Principiis, Book III, Chapter 5, Section 7, Anf, Vol. 4.

Origen was the first Christian Systematic Theologian. A fundamental and essential element of his theology was the doctrine of the universal restoration of all fallen beings to their original holiness and union with God. God's mercy and goodness are all- inclusive and ultimately irresistible. Hellfire is corrective and purgative, not punitive and eternal. This doctrine was called APOCATASTASIS, "the restitution of all things" pursuant to Acts 3:21. New Testament Scripture is clear that there will be apocatastasis, which the NSRV translates as "universal restoration" in Acts 3:21.

This dynamic is repeated in Revelation 5:13, Phillipians 2:10 and 1 Corinthians 15:22-28, which also describe the apocatastasis to come in the future age of Christus Victor. EVERY knee of EVERY creature will bow in worship, and EVERY tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. EVERY creature in Heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and in the sea, shall bless the Lamb forever and ever. The end result is that God will be ALL IN ALL! We don't yet see this full reconciliation of all creatures back to their creator, but we will.

But, many challenge this idea as heretical. They say that billions upon billions upon billions of lost souls will never be reconciled to God----- neverrrrrrrrrrrrr! Not after a year in Hell, a decade, a lifetime, a millennium, a million years, or a trillion years there. These eternally unreconciled souls will be tortured and tortured and tortured and tortured and tortured and tortured--- FOREVER!

But, others fervently disagree. They believe that this harsh view of Hell is incompatible with the revealed character of God. They believe God's love wins in the end by converting all men to salvation, whether it be in this life or the next. They believe Jesus to be Salvador Mundi, the "Savior of the World" entire.

So, the question we face is this: is APOCATASTSIS a hope, a heresy or a doctrine?

Is APOCATASTASIS a HERESY? No, not if Apocatastasis was the prevailing doctrine of the Church for its first 500 years. In the first five centuries there were six known theological schools. Four of them taught that all men would EVENTUALLY be rescued from Hell: these being the theological schools at Alexandria, Antioch, Caesarea and Edessa/Nisbis. One school, Ephesus, taught Annihilationism (that sinners are totally incinerated into nothingness in Hell). Only one theological school, Rome/Carthage taught eternal punishment. Source: The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Universalism Entry, p. 96, Baker Book House.

"The main Patristic supporters of the apokatastasis theory, such as Bardaisan, Clement, Origen, Didymus, St. Anthony, St. Pamphilus Martyr, Methodius, St. Macrina, St. Gregory of Nyssa (and probably the two other Cappadocians), St. Evagrius Ponticus, Diodore of Tarsus, Theodore of Mopsuestia, St. John of Jerusalem, Rufinus, St. Jerome and St. Augustine (at least initially [However, even after abandoning the doctrine of apokatastasis himself, Augustine very interestingly recognised that a great deal of Christians in his day did embrace it, 'indeed the vast majority' (immo quam plurimi). These very numerous Christians, 'albeit not denying the Holy Scripture, do not believe in eternal torments' (Ench. ad Laur. 29) page 683]), Cassian, St.Isaac of Nineveh, St.John of Dalyatha, Ps. Dionysius the Areopagite, probably St. Maximus the Confessor, up to John the Scot Eriugena,28 and many others, grounded their Christian doctrine of apokatastasis first of all in the Bible." Page 11, The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis: A Critical Assessment from the New Testament to Eriugena, by Ilaria L.E. Ramelli (2013). Ramelli's work is comprehensive (800 pages) on this and her credentials beyond reproach. I daresay its the most comprehensive and scholarly book on the subject ever written. She is working on a shorter user friendly version soon to be published.

Thus, the weight of evidence is that Universalism was a, if not the, traditional doctrine of the Church. The Evangelical Alliance Commission on Unity and Truth Among Evangelicals (ACUTE) stated in its 2000 Report that differences of opinion regarding the duration and quality of Hell are "less essential" to Evangelical faith, which I take to mean non-heretical.

Is APOCASTASIS a HOPE? Karl Barth and many others believe APOCASTASIS is best presented and understood as an implied possibility to "hope for" rather than a doctrine to dogmatically declare. This is why it is often called "the blessed hope."

Barth called eternal Hell an "impossible possibility." It's possibility seems to be a clear and present danger because of the evil that men do. But, Hell's impossibility seems just as clear when we see the infinite love which permeates the nature of God. This love leaves the ninety-nine to go after the one. This love joyfully meets every prodigal with a warm embrace when he or she is ready to return home. This love was willing to forgive all from the cross because they knew not what they were doing in crucifying the Lord of glory.

Eternal torture simply does not fit the nature of this love. As F. F. Bruce said, "Eternal conscious torment is incompatible with the revealed character of God." See Timothy Dudley-Smith, John Stott: A Global Ministry, The Later Years,(Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter Varsity Press, 2001), 2:354-355. For this reason, we may HOPE that God's unsurpassed love will ultimately trump and redeem man's unsurpassed evil.

Is APOCATASTASIS a DOCTRINE? Theologians like William Barclay, John Baillie and John A. T. Robinson believe that APOCATASTASIS is thoroughly scriptural. There is a strong line of Scriptures which promise that all men, even the enemies of the Gospel, will come to a saving knowledge of God, preferably in this lifetime, but certainly in the next. The title of Robinson's book on this subject, "In the End God" is self-explanatory. Under this view, post-mortem conversion is a possibility.

Whereas some hard-liners like thought it the highest degree of faith to believe that God is merciful who saves so few and damns so many,others have preferred to believe that the highest form of faith is to believe that God will ultimately save all men from all evil in all ages for all time.

The evil of men and fallen angels simply can't outlast and out-maneuver the love of God. A man can perhaps avoid and deny God during this earthly existence, but in the afterlife the crisis heightens and intensifies. God will send wave after wave of His love and forgiveness to the soul trapped in his own Hell. The soul may scoff, sneer and spit at this love - - at first. The sinner may keep it up for days, months, years or millenniums, but God will not quit. His love will wait out the sinner.

God's love will minister truth to the sinner in and through the sinner's delusions. God's love will torment the sinner because of the sinner's hatred of good. Evil can escape God only by believing lies about God. But, as God strips away the lies, the sinner will wail in pain and travail as these fig leaves are wrenched away from him one deception at a time. These fig leaves make up the false identities behind which the sinner has hidden from God. As the fig leaves go, the sinner's nakedness and shame before God is revealed.

In this process, repentance is birthed and Jesus delivers this soul from Hell. This is what is meant when Jesus is said to have preached (evangelized) to all the lost in Hell (1 Pet. 4:6) and then led captivity captive by harrowing and emptying the power of Hell (Eph. 4:8-10; Col. 2:15).

Under this view, Hell is infinitely intense because Jesus is saving us to the uttermost parts of our deepest being, but Hell is not of infinite duration because evil can't resist God eternally.

Jesus did not suffer the pangs of Hell in infinite duration, but He did suffer them in infinite intensity. If the nature of Hell was endless torment, then Jesus should still be there and in fact should never leave there. Since He is not there now, and never will be again, we can know that His full payment for our sins was of infinite intensity rather than infinite duration.

The major difference between Jesus' view of Hell and our view of Hell is that Jesus knew that the Father would not abandon Him in Hell (Acts 2:26-28). We, however, with our limited faith in His goodness and power to save, believe that Hell is eternal abandonment by God. Jesus knew better, and so can we. God will not eternally leave any soul in Hell. This belief works both as a hope or a doctrine, but it is NOT a heresy.

Let me leave with you with a few special passages that establish the Scriptural reality of APOCATASTASIS: As you read these passages, remember that "ALL" MEANS "ALL:"

"I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men. . .For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; WHO WILL HAVE 'ALL' MEN TO BE SAVED, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth." 1 Tim. 2:1,3-4.

"For therefore we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the SAVIOR OF 'ALL' MEN, specially of those that believe." 1 Tim. 4:10. ("Specially" at Strong's 3122 means "in the greatest degree").

"EVERY MAN'S work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be BURNED, he shall SUFFER LOSS: but HE HIMSELF SHALL BE SAVED; yet so AS BY FIRE." 1 Cor. 3:13-15.

"For as in Adam ALL die, even so in Christ shall ALL BE MADE ALIVE. But EVERY man in his own order: Christ the first-fruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put ALL enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. For he hath put ALL things under his feet. But when he saith, ALL things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put ALL things under him. And when ALL things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put ALL things under him, that GOD MAY BE 'ALL IN ALL.' Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?" 1 Corinthians 15:22-29.

THE BENEFITS OF SPIRITUAL SPECULATION: RE-IMAGINING HELL THROUGH OLD TESTAMENT TYPES, PARABLES AND ANALOGIES

We are called to "spiritually speculate" on the things of God. Jesus taught primarily in parables, metaphors and analogies. It takes our Spirit-led imaginations to successfully pierce these wonderful mysteries.

Jesus did not teach explicitly what the Kingdom of Heaven was, but rather He taught what the Kingdom of Heaven was like."All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world. Matt. 13:34-35.

Jesus activated our imaginations so that we could use our understanding of things we already experientially know (farming, shepherding, etc.), and then apply this knowledge to understand the Heavenly realm through Spiritual speculation.

If Heaven can only be understood by analogy, so too must Hell. "Whereunto shall we liken the Kingdom of God? Or with what comparison shall we compare it" [or the Kingdom of Hell]? Matt. 4:30.

Let us start by looking at a well known Old Testament story that has been frequently seen as an allegory of Hell for the last 1,500 years.

JONAH AND THE WHALE. Jonah "in the belly of a fish" (Jonah 2:1-10) was used by Jesus as a type and shadow of His suffering in Hell for three days. Matt. 12: 39-40. Jonah believed he had been in the belly forever(v. 6), when in fact it had only been three days. Jonah in fact called the whale’s-belly "the belly of Hell" (v. 2).

Thus, Jesus and Jonah both referred to it as a type of Hell, yet it was not in fact eternal. From Jonah's viewpoint, it certainly seemed eternal and hopeless, yet God was working repentance in Jonah's heart during this three days in Hell.

For Jesus it was different. Even though he suffered infinitely intense torment over His three days in Hell, He was aware of something the hopeless Jonah did not have the faith to know: "Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope: Because thou wilt not leave my soul in Hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption." Acts 2:26-27. The following verses, Acts 2:29-31, confirm that this above-quoted passage is referring to Jesus' persevering confidence during His worst moments in Hell that the Father would not abandon Him.

Perhaps this is why Jesus holds the keys to Hell and death(Rev. 1:18). The key out of Hell is the hope that God could never abandon His children to eternal torment. Jonah thought God would abandon him forever. Abraham thought God would abandon the rich man to eternal damnation in Luke 16:19-31. But, hallelujah, they were wrong!

"I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of Hell and of death." Rev. 1:18. "Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all Heavens, that he might fill all things.)" Eph. 4:8-10.

NINEVEH'S REPENTANCE. Saint Jerome (347-420) said, "I know that MOST persons understand the story of Nineveh and its king, to be [a type and shadow] referring to the ultimate forgiveness of the devil and all rational creatures." Homily on Jonah.

If true, then there are a whole lot of sinning men and sinning angels in need of a "soul- transplant." God's purging fire will separate our false sin-identities from our true identities. Each of us has a true name (nature), or essential self, which only God knows.

Unfortunately, the identities we create for ourselves during our lives here are often false, warped and artificial.

If Satan is a false identity of Lucifer, is it possible that at the day of final judgment, "Satan," as the "false self" of Lucifer, will be cast into the lake of fire along with Hell and death (Rev. 20:14; 21:4) and all other former things. Yet, Lucifer's "original self," the angel God created to be good, will be saved, "yet as by fire." (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).

Can such a thing be possible? When the Scriptures say that all the unbelievers, liars, fearful, idolaters, whore-mongers, etc. shall "have their part" (Rev. 21:8) in the lake of fire, which is the second death; does this mean that the only "part" of us to go into the final flames will be the false identities of evil we have worn as fig leaves? Will we "ourselves be saved, yet as by fire?"

Is this possible? Dare we hope it? Dare we believe it?

"That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in Heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Phil. 2:10-11.

"For as in Adam ALL die, even so in Christ shall ALL be made alive. But EVERY man in his own order: Christ the First-fruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith, all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that GOD MAY BE ALL IN ALL. Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?" 1 Cor. 15:22-29.

SCARECROW PARABLE: There is a Batman villain from the comics named Scarecrow. His evil power was to spray a toxic gas which would produce fearful hallucinations in whoever breathed it.

In this delusional state, every perception was twisted into fearful torture. If anybody moved to help these infected people, the helpers would be perceived by the infected as monsters on the attack. No matter how harmless and helpful the gesture, it would be perceived as an act of aggressive terrorism.

What if God's love is perceived the same way by lost souls after death? To these souls' guilt-ridden and pride-driven minds, the loving arms of Jesus extended to them might appear as monstrous claws seeking to kill them. C. S. Lewis adopted a similar theme in The Great Divorce, where Heaven seemed horrible to the inhabitants of Hell due to their self- created delusional states.

If this is the case, we can see God's challenge in trying to minister to these deluded souls so that, bit-by-bit, the effects of the Scarecrow gas dissipate so that true repentance can come. One gets the flavor of this dynamic in Romans 12:20-21. "Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good." Rom. 12:20-21.

THE CHRISTMAS CAROL: Ebenezer Scrooge's nightmarish journey as described in the classic "Christmas Carol" would be an illustration of what such a redemptive journey through Hell-fire might look like. For Scrooge, his journey was intensely revealing, painful and heart-breaking, but ultimately redemptive.

Scrooge was not even aware that his own repentance and redemption was the Lord's endgame. He was too busy suffering at the realization of his past, present and future sins. And, in fact, Scrooge's journey appeared to be outside of time as we know it. The mistakes of whole life were played out before him in just a few earthly hours, yet for him it appeared to last a very long time.

As previously cited above, this same dynamic plays out in the story of Jonah. Jonah "in the belly of a fish" (Jonah 2:1-10) was used by Jesus as a type and shadow of His suffering in Hell for three days. Matt. 12: 39-40. Jonah believed he had been in the belly "forever" (2:6), when in fact it had only been three days. Jonah in fact called the whale's belly "the belly of Hell" (2:2).

Thus, Jesus and Jonah both referred to the whale's belly as a type of Hell, yet it was not in fact eternal. From Jonah's viewpoint, it certainly seemed eternal and hopeless, yet God was working repentance in Jonah's heart during this three days in figurative Hell.

Would God not have the same type of cosmic "elbow room" to take our souls on such a "Scrooge-like" and "Jonah-like" post-mortem journey to repentance? Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation, certainly allowed for this possibility: "God forbid that I should limit the time of acquiring faith to the present life. In the depth of the Divine mercy there may be opportunity to win it in the future." Martin Luther's letter to Hanseu Von Rechenberg, 1522.

INSANE ASYLUM: What if Hell, from God’s viewpoint, was a medical facility for the criminally insane, the fearfully delusional and the murderously mad? What if Hell, from God's view, was man-made - - fig leaves of delusions behind which the fearful and unbelieving hide from God?

What if God patiently endures and ministers to these sick people in, through and around their delusions? What if God uses the spiritual "shock treatment" needed to awaken these poor souls to the truth - - a truth which will set all men free - - God loves them and gave His life to cure them from their sicknesses?

Let's consider Adolph Hitler as an illustration. Hitler was one of the most evil men who ever lived. But, what if God took Hitler's soul on a cosmic journey right after Hitler's soul left his body? What if this journey had a purpose - - to take Hitler back to the point where it all went wrong, to show him the gravity and immense sufferings he caused, to reveal all the bitter roots of his evil. What if this journey, because of Hitler's intense will to evil, APPEARED to take months, years, or centuries by our measurements, but in the reality of God's timing could take place in a wink of an eye.

But what if God's irresistible goodness eventually, ultimately and totally outlasted and overcame Hitler's defiance. Hitler's "wood, hay and stubble" would be burned off and he would suffer much loss, but he "himself would be saved, yet so as by fire." Similar examples of this dynamic can be seen in The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens; Joseph's treatment of his brothers (Gen. 42-45); and in the movie The Three Burials.

Let's not be like Jonah, who was "angry" with God when Nineveh repented. Let's not be like the older brother in the Prodigal Son story, who was angry when his father fully forgave and restored the younger brother who had been lost in sin. Let's be open to the idea that God will reconcile all things to Himself without the use of eternal torture. Let's use our sanctified imaginations to believe a better ending to Jesus' story than to believe the vast majority of humans who have ever lived will ultimately spend eternity writhing in Hell with no hope or possibility of reprieve. God is better than that, MUCH BETTER!
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When viewing eternal truths, we need to have more confidence in God's ability to rescue us than in our own ability to destroy ourselves.

Is our will to self-annihilate STRONGER than God's relentless will-to-all-goodness which seeks to save us from the gutter-most to the uttermost?

Given the eternities to come, can any man steadfastly withstand Abba's divine love for thousands, millions, and trillions of years? Is our stubbornness and rebellion THAT strong? Do we give ourselves too much credit here? Do we count ourselves capable of eternally immunizing ourselves from being overwhelmed by the love of God, not just in this age, but in all the ages to come? Do we really have that much power?

I think I will push all my chips to the center of the table and invest all that I have and all that I am on this lovely idea of God below stated so eloquently by William Law:

"This is God’s unchangeable disposition towards the creation; He can be nothing else, but all goodness towards it because He can be nothing towards the creation but that which He is and was and ever shall be in Himself . . . an eternal unchangeable will to all goodness, and which can will nothing else to all eternity, but to communicate good, and blessing and happiness and perfection to every life, according to its capacity to receive it. Had I one hundred lives, I could with more ease part with them all, by suffering one hundred deaths than give up this lovely idea of God."

Let's focus on God's ability rather our own. Only then will the dynamics of the eternities come into alignment.
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Here is a key to rightly understanding the destructive "wrath of God" so rampant and widespread in the Old Testament.

The Old Testament uses the term "the wrath of God" to describe what the New Testament calls "the works of Satan."

Their problem was one of definition and differentiation. The Old Testament saints had a largely UNDIFFERENTIATED view of God and Satan. They believed Satan was God's "left hand," His "angry voice," His official "minister of wrath, His obedient "death angel" who always was just carrying out the Lord's express orders.

Old Testament saints wrongly included Satan in their "functional" definition of God. Whenever there was temptation, destruction, wrath, and death, all activities which the New Testament would later assign to Satan, the Old Testament would instead attribute these destructions to God Himself. They would not pray against the wiles of the devil, the way the New Testament instructs, but would rather beg God to stay His own wrathful hand. Satan was nowhere in their causative equation. God was the ONLY cause of both good and evil.

The New Testament, by contrast, better DIFFERENTIATES the identities of God and Satan. What is joined at the conceptual hip in the Old Testament is gradually separated and severed in the New. Jesus, it could be argued, IS the DYNAMIC DIFFERENTIATION of God's image from Satan's image. He is the refining fire which burns all the unworthy attributes the Old Testament God out and away from the pure and perfect divine nature.

So, when we see the Old Testament appears to say "by the letter" that:

-- "the Lord said" this or that horrible thing

-- "the Lord did" this or that horrible thing

-- "the Lord commanded" people to do this or that horrible thing

KEEP THIS KEY IN MIND. Their functional definition of "the Lord" in the OT often included BOTH the attributes of Yahweh and the attributes of Satan. "The Lord" could refer to God's saving virtue OR to Satan's killing wrath. They were wrongly joined at the conceptual hip. But Jesus came to forever separate and sever their connection.

Once we know the "personality" of Jesus, we will never again be able to assign the "functionality" of Satan to our heavenly Abba.
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Jesus said, "If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true." John 5:31.

If we have to notoriously declare (for the benefit of others) that WE only speak as the Lord gives us utterance, or that WE only act as the Lord leads--- then that is a "red flag" indicator that we most likely aren't.

Don't get me wrong.

Our glorious goal should be always to be led by the Spirit in all our ways-- both in word and deed. The sons and daughters of God are those led by the Spirit of God (Romans 8:14). But, in openly telling others that we should be received and believed as one speaking and acting the words and deeds of God, we are setting ourselves up for prideful failure. We are not inerrant, no matter how diligently we apply ourselves to following the promptings of the Spirit.

There is an eastern saying that applies here. "If you meet someone on the road claiming to be Buddha, kill him." The point is that anyone who would have to openly declare himself a Buddha (or any kind of divinely enlightened sage) would never actually be one. Jesus only on rare occasions vocalized His divinity with words. He was too busy "being" divine to have to verbally brag about it. That's the real goal.

If we believe that God has led us to do or say a specific thing, then let's just do or say it without any attendant "thus sayeth the Lord" fanfare. Making any sort of open or notorious claim to speak or act for the Lord is fraught with prideful peril. Let's let the Spirit be the one to confirm and take pleasure in our words and acts. We should act and speak for an audience and approval of one-- the ONE.
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We must allow the character of God translate all Scripture rather than allowing the dead letter of Scripture to translate God's character.

I think we often see "in" the Bible what we bring "to" the Bible. If we bring a heart in awe of God's love, we will see the glory of Jesus behind and between the words. Jesus did, after all, tell the Emmaus disciples that they ALL spoke of Him in some non-literal and non-obvious way. Luke 24:26-27, 31-32, 44.

But, conversely, if we bring a scoffing and cynical spirit to our reading, then we will slam it shut in disgust. And, if we bring a wrathful heart to the Bible, the Bible becomes an armed and dangerous document-- a weaponized manifesto of death and wrath.

So, the key to "right-Bible-reading" is "right-Spirit-leading." James and John read it with a "wrong-spirit" and wanted to call down killing fire on the Samaritans. Luke 9:51-56. Jesus read it with a "right-Spirit" and knew His Abba wanted Him to save men, not destroy them. Knowing which Spirit we "are of" makes all the difference.

So let's don't blame the Bible for the wrath that men see and do. The Bible merely exposed the wrathful spirit from which they were already operating. Another man with a Spirit-quickened conscience can read the same passages and come away with an entirely different message.

The Bible then is a perfect diagnostic tool. "A man sees in the world [or in the Bible] what he carries in his heart."- Goethe

Even the literal imperfections of the Bible are perfect, for they perfectly diagnose, expose and reveal both our hidden and not so hidden carnal wrath, SO THAT we can THEN eliminate it through the renewal of our minds.

Readers come to the Bible table ALREADY full of hidden (and not so hidden) wrath.

"Dead letter" Bible reading doesn't PRODUCE our wrath. It REVEALS it. It reveals that we ALREADY have wrathful hellfire and brimstone in our hearts before ever literally reading about in the Bible. Reading about it just brings it to the surface so that God may confront it through His stirrings of our consciences.

And THIS is why God can still use our lazy, hasty, and literal Bible misreadings as a diagnostic tool. It diagnoses our violent impulses, homicidal hearts and mean ignorance of God's goodness.

This process allows the Holy Spirit to come and convince us that sometimes the literal "by the letter" Bible reading is OF a different spirit than the Spirit OF God.

The promptings of our Spirit-quickened consciences prick us whenever we use the Bible to justify wrath and cruelty. Some respond to these promptings through great searchings of heart and wrestling a of resolve, while others reject those promptings through greater hardenings of heart.

But, God wants every reader to have an epiphany about "by the letter" Bible reading as follows: "This just can't be right. This is not the Jesus I hear speaking in my heart. This can't be the right way to read this. There has to be a better way, a non-literal way. The New Covenant Scriptures written on the spiritual tablets of my heart inform me better."

Millions have already had this epiphany and refuse to read Scripture by the letter. They read it allegorically and pneumatically instead. But, millions haven't. Millions do harden their hearts to any such Spirit promptings.

God wants us to use the Spiritual reading to OVERCOME our pre-existing wrath which our literal "by the letter" reading painfully exposes.

I have said this many times, but the Holy Spirit doesn't test us on Bible knowledge, but the Bible does test us on Holy Spirit knowledge. So, I am NOT in favor of demoting the Scriptures as non-vital. But, I AM in favor of demoting literalism.
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2 weeks ago

The Goodness of God

If it's not of Jesus, it's not of the Father.

If it's not of the Spirit, it's not of Jesus.

If it's not of love, it's not of the Spirit.

Let me put it another way. If, in our heart of hearts, we can't see Jesus ever doing something cruel or oppressive, then we must likewise refuse to see the Father willing it from heaven, or the Spirit sanctioning it on the earth.

If it's not good, it's not God.
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2 weeks ago

The Goodness of God

My approach to theology is a little different.

Eschatology doesn't bring me rapture.
Ecclesiology doesn't ring my church bell.
High Biblical Criticism leaves my inspiration at low tide.

But let me tell you what primes my spiritual passion pump.

Practical theology. Practical mysticism.
Practical wisdom. Practical love.
Practical power. Practical meekness.

What do I mean by "practical?" Simply, that which I can "relate to" and "draw inspiration from" throughout my day.

Theology you can touch, taste and feel. Theology with a heartbeat.
Theology that doesn't bash you over the head or hit you under the belt.
Theology that warms the heart, energizes the mind, and quickens the body.
Theology that doesn't direct me to judge others' motives, but to purge my own.

If I can't use my theology TODAY, HERE and NOW in my practical walk with God to be a loving son to Him, then I'm just not interested. We can't live off of somebody else's theology. If we can't understand our chosen theology enough to actually internalize it, apply it and draw ongoing life from it, then it simply has no "practical" value.

Theology to be truly practical, must, above all else, be personal. Nothing could be more personal. Practicality makes perfect.
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3 weeks ago

The Goodness of God

I never get tired of thinking with or toward God.

But, I sure do get exhausted thinking without or away from Him.
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3 weeks ago

The Goodness of God

The term “theodicy” refers to a branch of theology which deals with the justification of God’s goodness in the presence of evil.

The difference between New Testament theodicy and Old Testament theodicy is light years apart. We should study the Testaments from that angle, an angle which reveals why the Old Testament needs FURTHER and SHARPER differentiation regarding its image of God. The Old Testament has the attributes of God and Satan (whether you see him as a dark dynamic or a dark angel) commingled and confused.

Jesus is the revealed nature of God who is only light and love. He came in the New to fully differentiate our image of God from our image of Satan. Jesus revealed that Satan is NOT God's left hand, NOT His angry voice, NOT His official minister of wrath. Jesus is God's ONLY hand. And that hand is light only and in it is NO darkness. All Satanic qualities are due to the angelic and human misuse of free will.

To the extent the Old Testament contradicts that view, it is less informed because it came at an earlier developmental stage where discernment and differentiation of the divine nature had not yet been mystically revealed and theologically honed.

Again, Jesus is the revealed character and nature of God. The New Testament was written in the wake of men who were with Him, touched Him, learned from Him, and who claimed that it was normative for those who believed IN Him to be mystically indwelt BY Him.

But who would want to be indwelt by a God who, if all we knew about Him came from a literal reading of the Old Testament, which on occasion paints Him as a child-drowning, infant-burning, throat-slitting, plague-sending, people-smiting killer.

The New Testament now fills in the gaping holes in knowledge about God's nature which the Old Testament left us. And when these gaps are filled, the semantic content of the Old Testament changes into Christological manna.

Jesus taught us that when evil “tares” are sown among good “wheat,” that it is not God who does it but rather, “An enemy hath done this.” (Matt. 13:24-28). The Apostle John commented very clearly that God’s purpose was not with evil but against it. “He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.” 1 Jn. 3:8. Jesus came to destroy the evil works of Satan by overcoming them with the Father’s goodness. “How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.” Acts 10:38. Satan comes to “steal, and to kill, and to destroy” but Jesus came that we “might have life” and “have it more abundantly.” (Jn. 10:10).

Jesus’ major point to us was to show that His Heavenly Father was always and only good. No Old Testament saint knew God as “Abba,” an Aramaic term used by Jesus as a title for His Heavenly Father which essentially means "beloved dad.” Jesus came to reflect the Father’s love which never gives His sons “serpents” or “stones” or “scorpions,” but instead freely gives His sons “bread” and “fishes” and “eggs” and most importantly “the Holy Spirit.” (Lk. 11:11-13). This passage says that if Earthly fathers “being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your Heavenly Father give . . .” (Verse 13). This is the same Father to whom James refers to in the following passage: “Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the Heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (Jas. 1:16-17).

James strongly warns us to, “LET NO ONE SAY . . .” God is related to evil in any way, and “DO NOT ERR, MY BELOVED BRETHREN . . .” by saying that anything other than good and perfection EVER "cometh down from the Father of lights. . ." (Jas. 1:13,16). This was the message of the Gospel - - God hasn’t, doesn’t and won’t allow evil. “This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all”. 1 Jn 1:5.

In God’s eyes, evil has never been something to “allow,” but rather is a malignancy which must be overcome. “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good”. Rom. 12:21. What’s radically different about God is that He always overcomes evil with the power of perfect goodness. God the Father is this way (Matt. 5:44-45,48), God the Son is this way (Acts 10:38), and so must we be this way as the body of Christ (Rom. 12:21). “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect." Matt. 5:48.
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3 weeks ago

The Goodness of God

The Law doesn't tell Jesus what to do. Jesus tells the Law what to do.

"And Jesus said unto them, 'The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.'" Mark 2:27-28.
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3 weeks ago

The Goodness of God

"CHEAP JEDI-MIND TRICK" ALERT #1

BEWARE the false premise. This trick tries to get you us see two dynamics as mutually incompatible so that we must choose one to the EXCLUSION of the other.

We end up painting ourselves into an overly-radical corner by demonizing one option and divinizing the other.

For instance, when somebody tells us that:
--we must choose experiencing God's presence instead of the Bible,
--we must choose Jesus instead of Christianity,
--we must choose love instead of truth,
--we must choose relationship instead of doctrine,

ALERT, ALERT, ALERT: we are being Jedi mind-tricked.

All of these forced options above are false premises. None of them are mutually exclusive. In fact, they should be complementary dynamics which can bring needed synergy and symmetry to our lives. False premises need to be debunked the moment they raise their deceptive heads.

For instance:
--reading Scripture can be wonderful way TO experience God's presence,
--the Christian expression of faith can be a great way of choosing Jesus,
--truth and love are brothers who dwell in perfect unity, not enmity,
--true doctrine enhances, not harms, relationships (ex. 2 great com.)

So, how do we fix the false premise?

First, we examine the two premises being presented for any kind of complementary connection. If we can see the two dynamics EVER effectively co-operating with one another, then reject the premise that one must be chosen to the exclusion of the other. Look for ways to integrate and balance the two into a synergistic balance. This is the golden mean.

Nothing is wrong with prioritizing one dynamic OVER another. The problem comes when we choose one dynamic to the EXCLUSION of the other.

Let's just be careful. There is a lot of false-premising going on out there. We mustn't let a cheap Jedi-mind trick manipulate us into a place of radical resentment towards dynamics which should work together instead of against each other.

"It's good to hold on to the one and not let go of the other, because the one who fears God will be able to avoid both extremes." Ecclesiastes 7:18.
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4 weeks ago

The Goodness of God

How did Paul "persecute God?" By wrongfully committing wrathful acts in God's name. (Acts 7:59-8:3; 9:1-5).

How did Moses "fail to sanctify God's name?" By wrongfully committing wrathful acts in God's name. (Numbers 20:7-12).

How did James and John "fail to know what spirit" from which they were operating? By committing wrathful acts in God's name. (Luke 9:51-56).

How do WE persecute God, fail to sanctify His name, and fail to know what spirit from which we are operating? All together now...... "By wrongfully committing wrathful acts (thoughts, words, deeds) in God's name (i.e. with us wrongfully presuming God's approval and support)."

Or, put another way, if we eliminate committing acts of wrath in God's name, then we WON'T persecute God, we WILL sanctify God's name(nature) within us, and we WILL know what spirit we are operating from.

"I will therefore that men pray every where , lifting up holy hands , WITHOUT WRATH and doubting." 1 Timothy 2:8.
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4 weeks ago

The Goodness of God

In the Gospels, Jesus never saw a tomb he didn't empty, nor a curative need He didn't fulfill.

Jesus had this thing about tombs. He just couldn't let them remain occupied. Including His own.

Jesus also has this thing about genuine needs. He can't let them remain unfulfilled.

Jesus is calling every part of us which seems dead to "Come forth" into the light of His countenance.

Let's take the grave clothes off all our issues of sadness, badness and madness.

Let's clothe ourselves instead in His glorious garments of goodness, greatness and gladness.

Empty tomb, full heart.

Razed Hell, risen Son

Stingless death, limitless life.

No more tears, no more fears. The nightmare is over.
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4 weeks ago

The Goodness of God

Is the book of Revelation really the violent blood-fest many believe it to be?

The purpose of this discussion is not to explain ALL the mysteries of Revelation. Rather, I want to highlight the key dynamics of how to read, interpret and understand the book in light of what we now know about God's goodness.

In many ways, Revelation is the "final exam" for understanding the goodness of God. If we don't already know the nature of God, we will never understand the book of Revelation. As Revelation 5 clearly shows, ONLY the divine nature and wisdom of Jesus is WORTHY and ABLE to unseal and open the mysteries of the book.

People usually advertise Revelation as revealing a God who is incredibly violent, wrathful and destructive. Yet, is this true? Is this violent image the true Lamb of God portrayed in Revelation? NO!

Actually, Revelation is chocked full of various themes of God's non-violent goodness:

1) Death and Hell will be destroyed by God's goodness (20:13-21:4).

2) Satan is overcome by our non-violent and sacrificial worship of God (12:11).

3) God's goodness makes all things new--- we receive a new name (2:17; 3:12), God creates a new Jerusalem (3:12; 21:12), we worship God with new songs (5:9; 14:3), there is a new Heaven and a new Earth, and ALL things are made brand new (21:5).

4) The words "worship" and "worshipped" appear more in the book of Revelation than in any other book of the Bible (4:8-11; 5:8-14; 7:11; 11:15-17; 14:7; 15:1-4; 19:10; 22:9). Some commentators actually believe Revelation is just one big worship service.

5) The Lamb shall be our ABSOLUTE and ONLY source of provision--- no more hunger (7:16), no more thirst (7:16), no more tears (7:17; 21:4), and even no more sun or moon, for the Lamb will be the light (21:23).

6) The theme of universal salvation is broached in Revelation 5:8-14, where "every creature in Heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that are in them, sing, 'To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!'" Certainly sounds like all creatures, great and small, are reconciled back to worshipping God here--- bar none. Hallelujah!

7) The Marriage Supper of the Lamb is described, a celebration which joyfully heralds the defeat of evil and the full orgasmic union of Christ and His bride (19:4-10, 11-21).

BOTTOM LINE: Revelation is chocked full of goodness themes. It is not a book primarily about wrath and destruction, but rather life and restoration.

SO WHAT EXACTLY IS GOING ON IN REVELATION?

Have you ever been listening to your car radio, and because of poor reception you begin to hear two different radio signals at once? I remember driving late one night on a long road trip. I couldn't find a clear channel to listen to, but I did turn the dial to a setting where I could hear BOTH a Gospel music station AND a talk radio show where alien abductions were being discussed. Sometimes the stations alternated so that I could hear each station clearly for a few moments as the signals fought back and forth for dominance, while at other times they both played over each other simultaneously so that all I could hear was a garbled mess of mixed signals.

Well, this is exactly what is going on in Revelation. We are hearing more than one signal, and both are battling for dominance in our hearts. And often, those signals produce oxymoronic messages. The definition of "oxymoron" means, "A rhetorical figure in which incongruous or contradictory terms are combined, as, for example, in the following terms--- 'a deafening silence' and a 'mournful optimist.'"

The book of Revelation is full of oxymorons. "The wrath of the Lamb" is an oxymoron (6:16). Lambs don't have wrath. These images conceptually clash. "The wine of the wrath of God" is an oxymoron (14:10). Wine is a symbol of celebration, not wrath. Again, these images simply do not blend.

Lets consider some other oxymoronic imagery which pervades Revelation. Jesus is initially called the Lion of Judah in Revelation 5, but for the rest of the book is always referred to as "the Lamb"--- hardly the picture of a wrathful killer. Jesus is pictured with "a sword coming out of His mouth" in 19:15, an "image-clash" between "speaking words of truth" and "hacking enemies to death." In this same passage, Jesus is "treading" grapes in a winepress to make "the wine of the fierceness of His wrath." But again, wine is a symbol of celebration and joy, not of anger and wrath. These images clearly contradict each other, and so should give us pause when we seek to interpret them.

Violent images continually converge with non-violent images. "The wrath of the Lamb," (6:16) and "the wine of the wrath of God" (14:10) and "the winepress of the wrath of God" (9:15) and "the marriage supper of the Lamb... where ye eat the flesh of kings, captains and mighty men" (19:9) are all so contradictory. A lamb as an image of wrath? Wine, normally a symbol of joy and celebration, used as a symbol of wrath? A celebratory marriage feast where we eat the flesh of sinners? Jesus is portrayed as wearing a robe dipped in blood (19:13), but the blood is not His enemies but His own. Oxymoronic images abound all through the book of Revelation.

What is going on here? Often, when oxymorons are profusely used as they are here, it is often because the author's intent is for us to totally deconstruct our presuppositions. By crashing these contradictory images into each other, the better truth then survives and arises victorious.

It is a battle of imagery where instruments of peace overcome brutal instruments of war. Swords are conceptually hammered into plough-shares. Instruments of wrath become attached to symbols of joy and celebration instead. God overcomes evil one way and one way only, with goodness. This is not theology but poetry. We need to see it as such and keep focused on the end of the matter: tears done away with, death done away with, pain done away with, Hell emptied, a new heaven and a new earth.

The book of Revelation is written in a style known as Jewish apocalyptic literature. It is heavily metaphorical, feverishly symbolic and incredibly non-linear in its exposition. Theologians warn us NOT to read it literally for theological doctrine, but rather to read it poetically for mystically moving imagery.

In the first place, Revelation was mediated by angels according to 1:1. However, all the other New Testament books were directly inspired by the Holy Spirit without the need of any mediator. This by itself should give us pause, because ANY writing mediated by a third party is once removed from direct communication. The five books of the Law, which no man could fully understand or keep, are the only other Biblical books which are said to have been mediated by angels. And it is clear that all the Old Testament saints distorted and deformed the true spiritual meaning and application of the Law (Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19).

The longer the chain of custody is between any two communicators, the more likely it is that some part of the message can become distorted. And, here in Revelation, it is impossible to know exactly how many angelic mediators are involved because it is written in the first person, but clearly more than one narrator is speaking to us. Sometimes it's John's voice speaking, and at other times John is quoting other celestial figures he encounters.

"When one works through Revelation 6-16, one needs to be prepared for shifts in points of view. Sometimes the perspective is that of those on earth; sometimes it is the heavenly viewpoint through the so-called hymnic interludes." Ben Witherington III, THE NEW CAMBRIDGE BIBLE COMMENTARY: REVELATION.

Remember, there is "a war in Heaven" going on in this book (12:7). Enemy angels are all over the place (12:7-10). There is chaotic, pinball-like activity swirling all around, which mandates that we can't automatically assume that every angel we encounter in Revelation is necessarily serving God.

FEAR VERSUS AWE, BEAST VERSUS LAMB, CHRIST VERSUS ANTI-CHRIST

Simply put, there are two spiritual stations transmitting here in the book of Revelation. One dial is set on "awe" and the other is set on "fear." Which station you set your heart on will determine how you read and understand Revelation.

The ancient Jewish rabbis taught that there are two types of fear, LOWER FEAR and HIGHER FEAR. The definition of LOWER FEAR is simply TERROR and FRIGHT. Conversely, HIGHER FEAR is defined as AWE and WONDER. We are called to have HIGHER FEAR "toward" God, but NEVER the LOWER FEAR "of" God.

The book of Revelation is the Biblical battlefield where our inner "fear" battles our inner "awe" for supremacy in our view of God, a boxing ring where "violence" and "peace" clash for dominion in our hearts, a wrestling mat where "wrath" and "love" grapple each other for kingship of our soul.

In fact, our whole faith walk carries this same continual conflict. We are constantly challenged to either see God as love, or to see Him as wrath. If we are fearful, we will see God as hard and harsh. But, if we see God as Jesus saw Him, our hearts will be pure and we will rightly see the Father of lights as He truly is--- loving and heroic. To the pure God appears pure, but to the twisted God appears twisted (Titus 1:15; 2 Samuel 22:27).

The final battlefield is in the heart of every man. What motivating force will finally win the day--- the fear of wrath or the awe of love? In this type of Armageddon, "Perfect love" casts out all fear, wrath and violence (1 John 4:8). The "peace" of God rules our hearts and crushes Satan under our feet (Romans 16:20). The awe and wonder of God is the beginning of wisdom, and we are to abide in it all the day long (Proverbs 9:10; Proverbs 23:17).

But, more than "just" fear versus awe, the competing spiritual radio signals also have the image of Christ as the Lamb of God combatting the image of the Anti-christ as the image of the Beast.

There are several similarities between these two competing images. The Christ-Lamb has a white horse (19:11), but the Anti-christ Beast also has a white horse (6:2). The Christ-Lamb has horns (5:6), but so does the Anti-christ Beast (13:1, 11-12; 17:12). The Christ-Lamb has a sword (1:16; 2:12, 16; 19:15, 21), but so does the Anti-christ Beast (6:4, 8; 13:10).

But, there are very many distinguishing marks between the the two competing images. The Lamb loves (1:5-6; 5:9; 7:17), but the Beast coerces (6:4, 8; 12:12, 17; 13:4, 7). The Lamb liberates (1:5; 2:7, 11; 3:6; 7:9-17; 20:4-6; 22:1-3), but the Beast kills and drinks the blood of it's victims (14:8; 16:6; 17:6; 18:24). The Lamb celebrates with victory songs (5:9-10; 14:1-3; 15:2-4; 19:6-8), while the Beast makes war on the saints (13:7; 19:19). The Lamb is faithful and true (3:14; 19:11), while the Beast seduces people with deceptive images and half-truths (13:13; 17:4-5; 20:8; 22:15). The Lamb and His people worship God alone (4:1-11; 5:9-14; 7:9-12; 15:2-4; 19:10; 20:4; 22:9), while the Beast usurps allegiance and worship to itself (13:1, 5-8, 15; 17:3; 19:20).

In short, the Lamb prioritizes worship, servanthood and sacrifice. The Beast prioritizes wrath, coercion and idolatry. The Lamb martyrs, while the Beast murders.

A THOUGHT ABOUT READING THE BOOK OF REVELATION "BY THE LETTER"

It is heartbreaking to see people entrenched in "by the letter" Scripture reading. The Bible warns us on its face NOT to do this, but "by the letter" Bible reading goes on and on and on and on. And God's character gets maligned and maligned and maligned and maligned------ and it is always from people who are reading the Bible "by the letter."

The following passage has got to be the most ignored Scripture in the Bible:

"And we have such trust through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us ABLE MINISTERS of the new covenant, NOT 'of' the LETTER but 'of' the Spirit; for THE LETTER KILLS, but THE SPIRIT GIVES LIFE." 2 Corinthians 3:4-6

We are able, able, able, able ministers to read the Scripture by the life-giving Spirit and NOT by the KILLING LETTER. People in who wrath lies hidden again and again get snagged by literalism, always by literalism. And God becomes cast as the devil. God becomes the killer of men, not Satan. God becomes the afflicter of men, not Satan. God becomes the wrathful destroyer, not Satan. Yet the Scripture says "the letter kills." How does it kill? One way is by making God out to be a killer.

Hebrews 2:14 clearly says Satan, not God, has the power of death. God simply does not kill--- it is NOT in His nature. If Revelation appears to say BY THE LETTER, literally in other words, that God DOES kill, then we must back off the literal in favor of the spiritual meaning.

This exact same dynamic occurred in an Old Testament event recorded BOTH in 2 Samuel 24:1 and I Chronicles 21:1, where 70,000 Israelites die because of David's sin in numbering Israel. In the Samuel version of events, "the wrath of the Lord" caused David to sin. But, the Chronicles version claims that "Satan provoked David" to sin. We know that the Chronicles lines up with what Jesus taught us about Satan as the author and finisher of our sin (John 8:44; 1 John 3:8). Thus, here we redivide the literal BY THE LETTER reading of Samuel in favor of the higher spiritual reading. The point is that if Scripture ever mistakenly calls "Satan's destructions" the "wrath of God," then we are compelled to correct and clarify the passage under the authority of 2 Corinthians 3:4-6.

You want to know the best, and really only, reason we should never say God kills or ordains evil? Because the Spirit of Christ within us does NOT bear witness that He does. If you honestly believe the Holy Spirit has revealed Jesus to be a wrathful and vengeful killer, afflicter and smiter of unbelieving men, then go for it. Fire and brimstoners unite. But, if, on the other hand, the Holy Spirit speaks a different tone about God, a tone of light, love and perfect mercy, then go with it where it leads. Just don't let "by the letter" Bible reading be your guide, for it surely kills the truth. Make sure the Spirit is your central source of conviction.

Finally, consider the words of John Wesley when responding to by the letter scriptural arguments that God is the source of evil:

"You represent God as worse than the devil; more false, more cruel, more unjust. But you say you will prove it by Scripture. Hold! What will you prove by Scripture? That God is worse than the devil? It cannot be. Whatever that Scripture proves, it can never prove this; whatever its true meaning be, this cannot be its true meaning. Do you ask, What is its true meaning then? If I say, I know not, you have gained nothing; for there are many Scriptures the true sense whereof neither you nor I shall know till death is swallowed up in victory. But this I know, better it were to say it had no sense at all, than to say it had such a sense as this. It cannot mean, whatever it means besides, that the God of truth is a liar. Let it mean what it will, it cannot mean that the judge of all the world is unjust. No Scripture can mean that God is not love, or that His mercy is not over all His works." Wesley's Journals, Vol. VII, p. 383.

Armed with this mindset, we then can better translate the tough passages of Revelation. For instance, we know that when Jesus is talking about killing Jezebel's children in 2:20-23, He is not referring to "literal children," but rather to "sinful impulses" birthed by the Jezebel spirit. Jesus does "kill" sinful thoughts, emotions and ideas, but He kills them with the anointed truth of His love.

Concerning other difficult passages, we know that when Revelation describes the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in 6:1-8, these represent demonic forces of plague, war, famine, and death (see the NIV Study Bible note on this passage). Just because Jesus warned us of these attacking forces does not mean He sent them. We know better. God frequently warns His children of approaching danger. It is men who mistakenly take the warning as an indication that God actually sent the destruction. This is like blaming the fireman who heroically rescues us FROM the fire for CAUSING the fire itself.

Another tough passage speaks of the demanded blood revenge cried out by martyrs who have been killed (6:9-10). Yet, we know martyrs don't talk or feel this wrathful way. We know this from Jesus' dying remark from the Cross, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." We also know it from Stephen's last words as he was being stoned to death, "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge." Both of them forsook revenge, not demanded it. We know that revenge is simply not in the divine nature (Matthew 5:38-48). And any verse in Revelation, or anywhere else for that matter, which paints God as a torturer, a wrath monger, a mass murderer, all just simply can't be literally true.

The point of Revelation is to allow WRATH and LOVE, FEAR and AWE, BEAST and LAMB, CHRIST and ANTI-CHRIST, to fight to the death for the core motive of our hearts. God's goodness WILL win this Armageddon. Mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:13).

Revelation may be the last book in the Bible, but it is not the last word. Jesus is the first, middle and last word. Only Jesus is worthy and able to unseal and open the mysteries of Revelation. Listen to Him! Like a brave fireman warning us of danger and instructing us how to avoid it, Jesus in Revelation is our heroic rescuer. Never think of Him as otherwise.

The overcomng spirit of love and patience we are to take from reading Revelation is wonderfully exemplified in the following quotes, with which I want to close this discussion.

"In Revelation 17:14 we hear of war against the Lamb. It raises important questions of how Christians could help to stop the cycle of violence or violence's glorification. There is a story from the fourth century A.D. about a monk named Telemachus who once paid a visit to Rome and attended a gladiatorial fight held in the Roman Colosseum. Disgusted and horrified by what he observed, he hurled himself into the arena and stood between the gladiators seeking to prevent either of them from being killed. But, in the process he himself was killed. This repulsed various of the observers, who one after another got up and left the Colosseum. It is said that this action precipitated the end of the gladiatorial games in that venue." Ben Witherington III, THE NEW CAMBRIDGE BIBLE COMMENTARY: REVELATION.

"Revelation is more a book about terror defeated than terror inflicted... which is why worship and liturgy are such a central feature of the book." Barbara Rossing, THE RAPTURE EXPOSED: THE MESSAGE OF HOPE IN THE BOOK OF REVELATION.

"We must say to our white brothers all over the South who try to keep us down: we will match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering with our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with spirit power. Do to us what you will, and we will not hate you. And yet we cannot in all good conscience obey your evil laws, because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Do to us what you will and we will still love you.... Say that we're too low, that we're too degraded, yet we still love you. Bomb our homes and go by our churches early in the morning and bomb them if you please, and we will still love you. We will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We will so appeal to your heart and your conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory." Martin Luther King.
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1 month ago

The Goodness of God

Great actors incarnate their roles going deep within. Shallow actors imitate their roles based on a mere surface reading which requires no inner journey.

Method actors give brilliant performances when they find the "core motive" underlying their scripted lines. This allows them to actually incarnate the spirit of their character and give authentic and inspired (in-spirited) performances which bring their audiences to rapture.

Put another way, actors "unlock" the mystery of their character's written lines ONLY when they discover the motive of their character's heart.

So too with God. The "written lines" (i.e. the semantic content) of Scripture only become coherent when we find the "core motive" of the divine nature which inspired them. Then, and only then, can we understand, embrace, and incarnate the truths of Scripture.

Attributing mixed, malicious, or mundane motives to God leads us to poor readings and even poorer actions. The end result is that "misattribution" of the divine motive leads to "misunderstanding" and "maligning" the divine nature.

Here is the key to always remember. Jesus IS the revealed "core motive" of God. That motive, announced by the angels, is simply this-- "peace on earth and goodwill toward man" (Luke 2:14). Until we believe this, and only this, we will mix the divine motives with human malice. We, in effect, weaponize our image of God whereas Jesus sought only to tenderize it.

Like Moses' sin in Numbers 20 of "striking the rock" in anger two times rather then "speaking to the rock" in love one time (as God had instructed), we too misrepresent the divine nature when we add human wrath and pettiness to His motive. Scripture calls this sin "failing to sanctify the Lord's name," (i.e. sanctifying His nature). Sadly, this sin kept Moses from entering the Promised Land. And it can keep us from experientially entering in as well.

Jesus was the ultimate method actor because He discovered and displayed His Father's core motive. And this motive only and always acts out of curative love. Love which believes all things. Love which hopes all things. Love which endures all things. Love which never fails.

Jesus, as the divine Logos, is the expressed motive of God. Through Jesus' characterization of God, we discover this fundamental truth-- God is love. And this love relentlessly rescues, restores, and replenishes us with peace, wholeness, and the limitless fruits of His goodwill.
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Great actors incarnate their roles going deep within. Shallow actors imitate their roles based on a mere surface reading which requires no inner journey.
Method actors give brilliant performances when they find the core motive underlying their scripted lines. This allows them to actually incarnate the spirit of their character and give authentic and inspired (in-spirited) performances which bring their audiences to rapture. 
Put another way, actors  unlock the mystery of their characters written  lines  ONLY when they discover the motive of their characters heart. 
So too with God. The written lines (i.e. the semantic content) of Scripture only become coherent when we find the core motive of the divine nature which inspired them. Then, and only then, can we understand, embrace, and incarnate the truths of Scripture. 
Attributing mixed, malicious, or mundane motives to God leads us to poor readings and even poorer actions. The end result is that misattribution of the divine motive leads to misunderstanding and maligning the divine nature. 
Here is the key to always remember. Jesus IS the revealed core motive of God. That motive, announced by the angels, is simply this-- peace on earth and goodwill toward man (Luke 2:14). Until we believe this, and only this, we will mix the divine motives with human malice. We, in effect, weaponize our image of God whereas Jesus sought only to tenderize it. 
Like Moses sin in Numbers 20 of striking the rock in anger two times rather then speaking to the rock in love one time (as God had instructed), we too misrepresent the divine nature when we add human wrath and pettiness to His motive. Scripture calls this sin failing to sanctify the Lords name, (i.e. sanctifying His nature). Sadly, this sin kept Moses from entering the Promised Land. And it can keep us from experientially entering in as well. 
Jesus was the ultimate method actor because He discovered and displayed His Fathers core motive. And this motive only and always acts out of curative love. Love which believes all things. Love which hopes all things. Love which endures all things. Love which never fails. 
Jesus, as the divine Logos, is the expressed motive of God. Through Jesus characterization of God, we discover this fundamental truth-- God is love. And this love relentlessly rescues, restores, and replenishes us with peace, wholeness,  and the limitless fruits of His  goodwill.

1 month ago

The Goodness of God

Never dive into an empty pool. Seems like obvious advice, but.....

I recently received an excellent question about the spirituality of the "right and wrong" external absolutes the Law imposes. The book of James actually says that if we break ANY point of Law, then we are just as guilty as if we had broken EVERY point of the law (James 2:10). But, is THAT chilling truth really the Lord's ultimate purpose of the Law, to condemn and crush us all with the avalanche of guilt and failure the Law snowballs our way?

Surely not.

Here is another, and perhaps more profitable, way to re-frame the question: "Is our impossible compliance with the rigid external absolutes of the Law the eternal goal of our faith?---- OR rather, is the Law a temporary 'stepping stone' realization to help us find the real ultimate goal-- life in the Spirit?"

Paul said "the Law is not of faith (Galatians 3:12), a stunning declaration which should give us all pause before we dive into its rigid, concreted and condemning absolutes of right and wrong. It's like diving into a pool with no water. All who dive headfirst into it break themselves on its hard surface.

Absolutes of the Law only come into play as temporary tutors to those who aren't acting from the indwelling Spirit of Christ. The Law simply diagnoses and exposes our fundamental soul-sickness which comes from "self-righteousness" RATHER than the "righteousness of God."

The "righteousness of God" is the state of eternal being which blossoms from our yielding to the indwelling Spirit. The Law simply shows how impossibly harsh and unforgiving is a Spiritless reality. The realization of the toxic effects of "faithless" and "Spiritless" living which come from "self-righteousness" should drive us all to cry out for Jesus' Spirit to indwell and incarnate us.

Once this occurs, the absolutes of the Law are shed and shredded like a dead cocoon inhibiting the growth and evolution of a butterfly. The cocoon helped for a season, but is now cast aside for a greater reality. The beauty and the bounty of the Spirit has come. It's time to fly with the Lord as our wings. We now have His very nature illuminating our decisions and empowering our actions. The lifeless cocoon of Law has been fulfilled and transfigured and into the Spirit.

The Law proceeds "toward being" while the Spirit proceeds "from being." This difference makes all the difference.

Simply put, our own cursed self-righteousness needs to be replaced with Christ's very own divine righteousness. Theologians call this upgrade the "Propassions of Christ," His very mental and emotional states imparted to us through His indwelling Spirit. Jesus transfigures our souls by transfusing His nature into our whole being.

That's the only endgame of the Law-- to expose our desperate need for a spiritual transfusion, and then to quickly offer that transfusion as a free gift. Now THAT'S a pool worth "cannon-balling" into with our whole heart.
...

Never dive into an empty pool. Seems like obvious advice, but.....
I recently received an excellent question about the spirituality of the right and wrong external absolutes the Law imposes. The book of James actually says that if we break ANY point of Law, then we are just as guilty as if we had broken EVERY point of the law (James 2:10). But, is THAT chilling truth really the Lords ultimate purpose of the Law, to condemn and crush us all with the avalanche of guilt and failure the Law snowballs our way?
Surely not. 
Here is another, and perhaps more profitable, way to re-frame the question: Is our impossible compliance with the rigid external absolutes of the Law the eternal goal of our faith?---- OR rather, is the Law a temporary stepping stone realization to help us find the real ultimate goal-- life in the Spirit?
Paul said the Law is not of faith (Galatians 3:12), a stunning declaration which should give us all pause before we dive into its rigid, concreted and condemning absolutes of right and wrong. Its like diving into a pool with no water. All who dive headfirst into it break themselves on its hard surface. 
Absolutes of the Law only come into play as temporary tutors to those who arent acting from the indwelling Spirit of Christ. The Law simply diagnoses and exposes our fundamental soul-sickness which comes from self-righteousness RATHER than the righteousness of God. 
The righteousness of God is the state of eternal being which blossoms from our yielding to the indwelling Spirit. The Law simply shows how impossibly harsh and unforgiving is a Spiritless reality. The realization of the toxic  effects of faithless and Spiritless living which come from self-righteousness should drive us all to cry out for Jesus Spirit to indwell and incarnate us. 
Once this occurs, the absolutes of the Law are shed and shredded like a dead cocoon inhibiting the growth and evolution of a butterfly. The cocoon helped for a season, but is now cast aside for a greater reality.  The beauty and the bounty of the Spirit has come. Its time to fly with the Lord as our wings. We now have His very nature illuminating our decisions and empowering our actions. The lifeless cocoon of Law has been fulfilled and transfigured and into the Spirit. 
The Law proceeds toward being while the Spirit proceeds from being. This difference makes all the difference.
Simply put, our own cursed self-righteousness needs to be replaced with Christs very own divine righteousness.  Theologians call this upgrade the Propassions of Christ, His very mental and emotional states imparted to us through His indwelling Spirit. Jesus transfigures  our souls by transfusing His nature into our whole being. 
Thats the only endgame of the Law-- to expose our desperate need for a spiritual transfusion, and then to quickly offer that transfusion as a free gift. Now THATS a pool worth cannon-balling into with our whole heart.

1 month ago

The Goodness of God

Here is a powerful defense for allegorical bible reading from one of the most universally honored church fathers, Gregory of Nyssa. Spend some time chewing it over. It will be well worth it.

Here is Gregory's hermeneutic in a nutshell: reading Scripture is all about turning the words of Scripture "over and over in our minds" until we receive a "spiritual benefit" consonant with God's goodness.

Here it is in more detail.

"Since some ecclesiastics deem it right to stand always by the literal meaning (lexis) of the holy scripture and do not agree that anything in it was said through enigma and allegories (ainigmata kai hyponoiai) for our benefit (opheleia), I consider it necessary first to speak in defense (apologeisthai) of these things to those who bring such accusations against us, because in our view there is nothing unreasonable in our seriously studying all possible means of tracking down the benefit (ophelimon) to be had from the divinely inspired Scripture.

Therefore, if indeed the 'literal meaning' (lexis), understood as 'it is spoken' (hos eiretai nooumene), should offer some benefit, we will have readily at hand what we need to make the object of our attention. But if something that is said in a 'hidden fashion' (meta epikrypseos), with certain 'allegories and enigmas' (hyponoiai kai ainigmata), should yield nothing of benefit according to 'the readily apparent sense' (to procheiron noema), we will turn such words as these over and over in our mind.

This is just how the Logos that teaches us in Proverbs has instructed us to understand what is said is either a 'parable' (parabole) or 'dark saying' (skoteinos logos) or a 'word of the wise' (rhesis sophon) , or as one of the 'enigmas' (ainigmata) (Proverbs 1:6). When it comes to the 'insightful reading' (theoria) of such passages that comes via the 'elevated sense' (anagoge), we shall not beg to differ at all about its name whether one wishes to call it tropologia, allegoria, or anything else [type, shadow, anti-type, metonymy, etc.] -- but only about whether it contains 'meanings that are beneficial' (ta epophele noemata).

For indeed the great apostle (ho megas apostolos), when he said the law was 'spiritual' (Romans 7:14), and encompassed in the word "law" also the historical narratives (ta historika diegemata) ..., employed his exegesis in accordance with what suited him , with an eye to what would be beneficial (kechretai men te exegesei kata to areskon auto pros to ophelimon blepon). But he was not concerned with the name (onoma) by which he necessarily had to dub the form of interpretation [he used] .

Rather, in one instance (nun men) he said He 'altered his voice' (Galatians 4:20), when he was going to translate the narrative into a proof (metagen ten historian eis endeixin) of the divine plan about the covenants. But then, after mentioning the two children of Abraham -those born from the slave girl and from the free - he named the theoria reading about them an 'allegory' (allegoria) (Galatians 4:24).

But still on another occasion (palin de), after Paul narrated some events of a story, he said, 'these things happened to them typikos ("by way of example"), but were written for our admonition' (1 Corinthians 10:11). And again, after saying that the plowing os should not be muzzled (Deuteronomy 25:4, quoted in 1 Corinthians 9:9), he added to it, 'God does not care about the oxen,' but that 'for our sakes entirely this was written' (1 Corinthians 9:9-10).

And in another place he calls less distinct perception (amydrotera katanoesis) and knowledge that is partial (ek merous gnosis) a mirrored reflection and enigma (esoptron ... kai ainigma) (1 Corinthian 13:12).

And still again he calls the process of shifting away from material matters and toward spiritual matters a 'turning to the Lord' and 'taking way of a veil' (paraphrase of 2 Corinthians 3:16, citing Exodus 34:34). In all these different tropes (tropoi) and terms for the theoria-meaning (he kata ton noun theoria), Paul instructs us in a single form of teaching (hen didasklias eidos): it is not necessary always to remain in the letter (paramenein to grammati), on the grounds that the immediately apparent meaning of the things said (tes procheirou ton legomenon emphaseos) in many instances causes us harm in the pursuit of the life of virtue.

But (in that case) it is necessary to pass over to the incorporeal and spiritually intelligible reading with insight (he aulos te kai noete theoria), with the result that the more corporeal meanings (somatikoterai ennoiai) are converted to an intellectual sense and meaning (nous kai dianoia), in the same way that the dust of the more fleshly significance (sarkodestera emphasis) of what is said to be 'shaken off' (Matthew 10:14).

This is why Paul says, 'the letter kills, but the spirit gives life' (to gramma apokteinei, to de pneuma zoopoiei) (2 Corinthians 3:6), since oftentimes with biblical narrative (historia), it will not provide us examples (hypodeigmata) of a good life if we stop at the simple events (pragmata)."

Gregory of Nyssa, Commentary on the Song of Songs, prologue, quoted in PAUL, THE CORINTHIANS AND THE BIRTH OF CHRISTIAN HERMENEUTICS, by Margaret Mitchell, Cambridge Press, pages 1-3, 2010.
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1 month ago

The Goodness of God

Here is an interesting example of Paul allegorizing the entire sacrificial system of the Old Testament into an entirely different New Testament reality. Here, Paul changes the entire imagery of sacrificial language-- the "presenting" of "acceptable" "bodies" of "holy" "sacrifice."

RATHER than just forsaking such images as barbaric and outmoded, Paul instead "beautifies" and "transfigures" them into something wonderful and internal.

"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptableunto God, which is your reasonable service.And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." Romans 12:1-2.

Rather than applying the sacrificial system in any literal way to justify the actual killing of living creatures, Paul now exhorts us instead to be "living sacrifices" without the necessity of "killing"(hardly an Old Testament notion). By submitting our bodies and minds to spiritual renewal, we are offering the only sacrifices that God truly values, a willing mind and earnest heart. The only thing that DIES in this process is our own carnality.

Paul here COMPLETELY usurps the religious, cultural, historical, and traditional meaning of "sacrifice" and transfigures it into a higher and better New Testament realty. Paul didn't take his readers back to the Old Testament meaning, but, rather, renovated the Old Testament meaning by allegorizing it to the New Testament reader so that it better resonated with the divine nature of God.

Paul continued to hone and expand this interpretive key to Scripture, as did the other New Testament writers. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in Hebrews, chapters 8 and 10. Here, the voluminous Old Testament passages about the "tabernacle" and "priesthood" and "sacrifices" are all allegorized as "shadows of heavenly things" within us rather than literal and external realities on earth.

We really need to let Paul teach us how to read the Old Testament. It's mind-blowing.
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