Ambassador of Reconciliation
4/18/15 at 09:49 PM 23 Comments

The Three Witnesses

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A Love Story c2002 by Jack T. Chick, LLC

When you share the gospel, do you tell people about how much God loves them? Do you also warn them of the terrible fate that awaits them in hell if they refuse to repent and turn to Christ?

If your answer to both questions is “Yes,” let
me ask another question: Do you ever feel at all conflicted about declaring that this God who loves people so much that He gave His Son for them will allow people to suffer endlessly for failing to trust Him?

How do you explain the seeming conflict to anyone who might ask?

1) There is no conflict; it is only our limited human reasoning that sees a conflict.

2) God’s ways are higher than our ways (Is. 55:8-9); we cannot comprehend the wisdom of His ways.

3) God is infinitely holy; sin against an infinite God requires infinite punishment.

4) God’s love demands that He punish sin; He does it to provide justice for His loved ones.

5) We all deserve condemnation; it is only by God’s grace that anyone is saved.

6) God does not force anyone to go to hell; it is their own choice.

7) God is sovereign; He chooses whom He will save and we are not to question Him.

8) All that happens is to the glory of God; defeating and punishing sin brings glory to Him.

9) I do not concern myself with great matters; I have quieted myself like a weaned child with its mother (Ps. 131:1-2).

10) Other: Fill in the blank.

Which of these explanations make the most sense to you? Which are satisfying to your heart and mind? Or do you feel a nagging uneasiness that none really satisfy your soul?

I used to struggle with this dilemma. I thought that you had to accept eternal damnation if you wanted to be a good Bible-believing Christian. I used a variety of explanations like these to justify it in my own mind and try to convince others.

As I wrestled with this problem, the best I could do was keep coming back to #9:

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;

I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me. (Ps. 131:1-2)

None of the explanations gave real rest to my soul, so I tried to stop reasoning it out and just trust.

As a young Christian, I figured that a big part of my problem was immaturity; as I matured in the faith and came to know God better, my heart would be more in tune with His heart, and I would be better able to accept His ways. However, my uneasiness with eternal conscious torment (ECT) did not diminish over the years but rather increased. As I got to know more intimately the character of God and understand more deeply the work of Christ on the cross, the idea that billions of human beings would be lost forever and would suffer endlessly seemed more and more incompatible with God’s nature and purposes.

The Pentecostal Mission
Latino Heaven and Hell

Gradually I came to realize that my resistance to eternal hellfire did not spring from immaturity or from rebellion against God’s revealed truth. Rather, it was the work of three witnesses: my conscience, the Holy Spirit, and the Word of God.

Some will say that our conscience cannot be trusted, that it is just human feeling. And yet, the Bible says that even unbelievers have a God-given sense of right and wrong:

For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus (Rom. 2:14-16).

Though it is marred by sin, all people have an innate sense of good and evil. Even in the absence of any law, those inner moral principles tell us what is right and wrong. Our conscience is certainly not infallible and not the final authority, but if it tells us that something is desperately wrong with the idea that people will be tormented endlessly with no hope of relief, we should pay attention.

In addition to our conscience, believers have the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth (Jn. 16:12). The Spirit of truth lives with us and in us and teaches us all things and reminds us of what Jesus said (Jn. 14:17, 26). Beyond the general revelation given to all, Christians have the laws of God placed on our hearts and minds and illuminated by the Holy Spirit:

And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us…”This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds” (Heb. 10:15-16).

The Holy Spirit helps us to know the character of God as revealed by Jesus. He develops in us the fruit of the Spirit, which is the essence of God’s own nature: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If something is incompatible with these qualities, it is not of God. We should be asking, “Is eternal damnation consistent with the nature of God as exemplified by Jesus Christ and expressed by the Holy Spirit?”

Finally, we have the witness of the Word of God. Although believers in ECT find support for their doctrine in Scripture, the witness of the conscience and of the Holy Spirit should alert us to the fact that perhaps that interpretation of Scripture is mistaken. It violates clear teachings of the Bible, and any passages that seem to support it should be re-examined in light of clear revelation about the nature and purposes of God. For example, God Himself declares that the idea of burning people in fire never even occurred to Him; it was the evil work of godless people involved in Baal worship:

For the children of Israel and the children of Judah have done nothing but evil in my sight from their youth.…They built the high places of Baal in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin (Jer. 32:30-35).

The true God never dreamed of burning human beings even temporarily, never mind endlessly—such a thing is an abomination to Him!

There is abundant evidence in Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, that God’s ultimate purpose is not to abandon most of humanity to endless torment but rather to redeem and restore all of creation.* If the witness of your conscience and the Holy Spirit and the Word of God makes you at all uneasy about ECT, please pay attention and keep searching for the truth!

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*More than half of my 100+ blog posts present the wonderful good news that God will redeem His entire creation and not leave anyone to suffer eternal conscious torment. For a complete list of essays with the URL and a brief description of each, click here.

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As I indicated in the article, I have not always believed in ultimate restoration. Like most of my pastors and teachers and Christian friends, I accepted the idea that unbelievers would spend eternity in hell for their rejection of Jesus. Back in the mid-80s I learned that my friend George Sarris had some crazy notion that everybody would be saved but I thought, “Well, obviously that’s wrong,” and I dismissed the idea.

I didn’t really think about it again for more than 20 years. By then George and his family had moved away, but we stayed in touch and occasionally saw each other. At the wedding of the son of some mutual friends, I asked George about it out of curiosity, and he offered to send me a paper he had written for a seminary class. Reading that paper did not convince me that God is going to redeem everyone, but it did give me permission to explore the idea without fear that I would be at risk of falling into heresy.

As I began to consider that maybe, just maybe, Jesus actually would save the world, my heart felt “a thrill of hope.” I started reading everything I could find on the subject, including going back and reading the Bible with new eyes, and little by little I became thoroughly convinced that Jesus is indeed the Savior of the world and will accomplish the salvation of the world.

One book that was instrumental in this journey was The Inescapable Love of God, by Thomas Talbott, Sr. From it I learned that God’s love is more powerful than all sin, more than able to overcome all our resistance and rebellion and draw every single human being to bow the knee and acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord. I was also pleased to find out that my aversion to the idea of eternal conscious torment is not from a rebellious heart or a rejection of the Bible, but is actually the witness of my God-given conscience and of the Holy Spirit, along with the clear message of redemption throughout Scripture.

I am absolutely delighted that two key mentors in my life—one a personal friend and one a friend through his writing—have teamed up to produce a resource that will get the word out about this wonderful good news and be a blessing to many. The audio version of the second edition of The Inescapable Love of God, narrated by George (who is also the professional narrator of the whole NIV), is due to release soon. If you are already leaning toward universal redemption, this book will solidify your convictions. If you are skeptical or have never considered it or are dead-set against it, please read or listen with an open mind and open heart!

http://theologicalscribbles.blogspot.co.uk/2015/04/thomas-talbott-audiobook-coming-soon.html

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