The “Sovereignty” of God Goes to YouTube

Recently, I wrote a response for a YouTuber in regards to God and the Problem of Evil. Here is a slightly abridged excerpt of my comment below.

*******************************************************************

It is my belief that a Christianity that claims to have the answers is simply naive, or deceptive, or both. As much a Christian–myself included–may not want to admit it, we don’t have answers for the questions that plague humanity the most. There is a reason that the famous Problem of Evil is the principal barrier to Christian belief.

Yes. The “answers” that some have to offer are generally, utterly unsatisfying to most of us for whom the realities of Holocaust, twisted systems of justice, horrible and intolerable forms of sexual slavery, and a war-torn world loom ever closely. I am thrilled to say that Jesus Christ is far more than he often sounds. Jesus Christ is not a magic formula for enabling the love of God to extend to humanity. Jesus Christ is the very incarnation of the love of God, the image of the invisible God whose love has extended to humanity from the beginning.

I will not pretend to answer your question satisfactorily. For indeed, I do not know it. I do not believe that a Christian answer to human suffering can now be known, though it would seem to me that the likes of Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky, and Moltmann have come close to it. The Christian’s hope is in that which is unseen. The Christian, on the evidence that God loves humanity enough that Christ died for us, trusts him to bring to completion in the end that which he has begun in Jesus.

You raised some pretty heavy claims that I do have some thoughts for, however.

1) “The All-loving God of Love is able to destroy satan and Hell for that instances but CHOOSES not to so HIS blessings get more shine?” No. If a Christian says this, I am afraid I would have to side with you, rather than them. I do not believe we can know why God chooses not to destroy Satan and hell now. We as Christians do believe, however, that he will. According to Christianity, “The reason why the Son of God [Jesus] appeared was to destroy the works of the Devil.” There is no act of evil or violence committed now that will not be undone and restored one-hundred fold. A Christianity that does not teach restoration and reconciliation falls short of the “glory of God.”

2) “The God of Love that CREATED us will send us to hell if we choose not to bow down to him?” I have two responses to this objection. i) God does not send to hell (gehenna). People go on their own. It is my opinion that the Gospel According to John actually teaches that, in a very real fashion, people are already in hell now. To be in hell is not to have Jesus Christ. I can say this is true in my own life. I have found no more beautiful picture in all of physics, chemistry, mathematics, philosophy, literature, or anywhere else that exceeds the beauty of the God whose purpose would be the sacrifice of His “only Son”. Those are the lengths that God took to restore humanity. This restoration is not finished, but it has begun. ii) According to Christianity, everyone will ultimately choose to bow down to God. The traditional view has been that those who choose not to have God would not benefit from being saved from hell. It would be kind of forcing Adolph Hitler to hang out with a Jew. (In the analogy, the person who does not have faith in Jesus is like Hitler and God is like the Jew. It would not necessarily be kind for the Jew to force Hitler to hang out with him. All analogies break down, but I’m sure you can follow the picture.) In this light, hell is always understood as a mercy. God is giving the person what they want–a reality without him. I personally believe that throughout the coming eternities, God will actually find a way to save everyone out of hell through faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ. The earliest Christian commentator to explicitly believe this was Origen of Alexandria (circa 170 A.D.) and he was absolutely brilliant. Do not let modern Christians fool you into thinking that there is only one way to understand the Eschaton (the end).

3) “So God created Man…and Man has too suffer for eternity if they don’t
bow down to God..So the All Powerful and Loving God is punishing HIS
creation for not doing what he says..right” You have very nearly arrived at the heart of Christianity. You are able to see that formulated this way, this cannot be what the God of love is doing. The Problem of Evil must be understood in alternative terms. Otherwise, Christianity simply is not true. Some of my favorite Bible verses say something like this: “For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.” (Lamentations 3:31-33 English Standard Version.)

My friend, I am here to tell you that you are right. Something seems horribly wrong with the world and the universe. Based on what we can reasonably deduce, it hardly seems possible that an all-powerful AND all-loving God could possibly be behind it; however, I am here to tell you that faith is the evidence of things hoped for, and the certainty of things not seen. If Christianity is true, then this is true: “For God loved the world like this: that He gave his only son, that whoever trusts in him should not remain lost, but experience true living.” (John 3:16, my translation/paraphrase.)

I believe that you are made in the image of a loving God. That is why you look with disgust upon the evil in the world. My friend, I encourage you to take comfort in the fact that the Lord of Life and Love hates evil even more than you do. We do not know why he tolerates it, contrary to the claims of some, but we know that if he exists that he does tolerate it, and that based on the cross of Jesus Christ, we have positive evidence that God is able and willing to take the horror of our world and make something good out of it in the future, “so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow… and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10-11.)

Anyways. That’s my take on Christianity. I believe for a certainty that you will find joy and life if you look for them in Jesus.

How I am an Evangelical, but am not an Evangelical

The Baptist historian David Bebbington of the University of Stirling in Scotland tags Evangelicalism, a popular denomination of Christianity in America with very strong roots in Protestantism and the so-called Great Awakenings, with four central identifying marks.

  1. Conversionism — No one is a Christian by default
  2. Crucicentrism — The cross of Christ is God’s central salvific act
  3. Biblicism — The Bible in its historical-grammatical sense is God’s authoritative self-revelation
  4. Activism — God has a mission for humanity.

Based on these four marks, I actually consider myself an evangelical. Why?

I agree with conversionism in principle; however, I would not formulate it as belief in inherited guilt. If conversionism requires such a formulation, then I would not agree with it. Personally, I think Crucicentrism and Biblicism could be combined into a single factor, namely, belief in God’s self-revelation. In my opinion, the cross is a truer revelation of the character of God than the Bible. Why? The Bible is just words on a page, but the crucifixion is God on a cross. If only I could convey to you, reader, the sheer magnitude of the last four words of the previous sentence. Thankfully, there were people in the world like St. Matthew, the Apostle Paul, and there are still people in the world like Jurgen Moltmann, David Bentley Hart, N. T. Wright, and Marilyn McCord Adams, who really capture this beautifully. I believe in activism–because a Christianity that does not believe that our decisions in this life matter is, in my view, heterodox.

So there you have it. I am an Evangelical. However, I think that:

  • Donald Trump would be an awful president.
  • Gay marriage should be legal.
  • There are worse problems in America than abortion.
  • Women can operate in clerical roles.
  • Victims of spousal abuse should leave their spouses. Paul says something to the effect that a sinner in the church should be “…handed over to Satan for the destruction of [the] flesh so that [the] spirit may be saved…” It astounds me that abusive husbands are given a free pass by many in the American Evangelical church.
  • Classic Rock is some of the best music around.
  • The universe is very old and God utilized evolution in creation.

Etc., etc., etc. So am I an Evangelical? According to Bebbington, yes. According to American “Evangelicalism,” probably not.

 

Coming to Terms with Complexity in Doctrine

Recently, I have come to realize that many of my recent posts have turned into bonfires for straw men. PSA is hardly what I made it out to be, and non-universalism has a number of ways of making sense of the love of God. By responding to projections rather than propositions, it seems as though I’ve failed to represent these very complex ideas well and in so doing have rendered my responses meaningless, at best.

As an author, I would like to offer a sincere apology to my readers for that. You deserve better from a man claiming to represent Jesus Christ.

Do I agree with PSA? Maybe a lot more than I know think. Do I think that universal reconciliation (UR) is necessary to uphold the love of God? No, Christians have been doing so for many years without UR. It is not on me to suddenly resolve the many mysteries that lie within the Christian Faith. Perhaps my Modernism would do well to become post-marked.

At the end of the day, I am in awe of the God on a cross. His grace still amazes me. His love is still a mystery. (Philips, Craig, and Dean, anybody? =) ). The road is narrow that leads to life, and those who find it are few. May we all be among the few now.

Sincerely,

~ David Abrams

By No Means Clear the Guilty: Why I Reject PSA

PSA (Penal Substitutionary Atonement) is considered by some a central dogma to Christian faith. I disagree, and here are two of the many reasons why.

  1. PSA can make retaliation seem like God’s central act of righteousness. Jesus, on this view, becomes a wall, standing between us and his otherwise wrathful Father. This line of thinking is dangerous in a number of ways. For one thing, it implies that Jesus does not reveal the Father. In the words of Gregory Boyd, “Calvary conceals God as much as it reveals him.” It is more than telling that one of modern Calvinism’s strongest paradigms is the so-called “Hidden will” of God.
  2. PSA can render the atonement immoral. George MacDonald said something to the effect that PSA presents Him who “will by no means clear the guilty” as “satisfied by the suffering of an innocent.” Hebrews 9:22 does not constitute an objection to this line of thinking, for Heb. 9:22 leaves entirely unanswered the question of how the shedding of blood results in the remission of sins. It would be unthinkable to claim that the act of bloodshed itself cleanses sins. There is something more to it than that. PSA says that it is the innocence and Divinity of Christ that make it more. I say that it is symbolic of the love of God, which covers a multitude of sins.

Personally, I see PSA as an attempt to make salvation coherent in light of a flawed view of justice. George MacDonald’s sermon, “Justice,” strongly challenged my old view of the atonement and ultimately was one of the straws that broke the back of my judicial camel.

Scripture and Universalism: A Clarification

Dear friends,

I want to be clear about something. Universalism makes the most sense of  the Bible to me; however, it does not to everyone. That is fine. I would trouble you with nothing more than to avoid what has been strangled with blood or sacrificed to idols and to abstain from sexual immorality.

In other words, I realize looking back on my previous post that I spoke quite harshly in several respects. I am sorry for that. Christian eschatology is a very tough and touchy subject, and, if we’re being 100% honest, the Bible is not necessarily crystal clear itself as to the “physics” of eschatology. It is fine for one to be a Calvinist, and there are absolutely understandings of Calvinism that do not make God out to be wicked. It is fine for one to be an Arminian, and there are certainly approaches to Arminianism that find a victory for God even in the lostness of one of his creatures. I do not have a problem with Calvinist or Arminian approaches to living out the kingdom that actually result in just that–living out the kingdom.

What I lack respect for is the kind of “religion” that Jesus so adamantly opposed, a largely skewed interpretation of the Scriptures that results in a lifestyle of practical atheism. I loathe the religion that says in its heart, “There is no god.”

In my case, I have come to a point in which the best moral and intellectual framework that I am capable of exercising forbids my conscience from accepting non-universalist approaches to Christian eschatology. Do I think that everyone deserves heaven? I would argue that that is the wrong question. A better question is this: how will the Almighty God of Love resolve the disobedience in the creation? I think that Paul answers that question for us.

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:18-19)

“For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.” (Rom. 11:32)

In my view, we cannot put a limit on a loving God.

*********************

Could I be wrong? Absolutely. Should it change our response to the crucified God? Absolutely not.

Scripture and Universalism

Recently, I submitted a post for review to a forum on The Evangelical Universalist. It was in response to several people who asked for Scriptural support for Universalism. My reply is beneath the asterisks below.

***********************************************************************

I have several thoughts that have led me to believe that what I will call “Eventual Universalism” is a Scripturally supported belief. I will attempt to explain them briefly here.

Growing up a Calvinist, I struggled with simultaneously believing that “God is love” and that God’s design was reportedly going to inevitably end in the permanent damnation–whether expressed as eternal conscious torment, or permanent annihilation–of almost everyone who has ever lived. Noah’s flood is but a taste of the terror that God will unleash, according to that paradigm. (Let’s be clear–I believe that God’s judgment will be like Noah’s flood. 2 Peter is apparently very sold on the idea; however, we cannot extend analogy beyond reasonable bounds. God’s judgment on the people in Noah’s day was a mercy, for he sent them from living death to rest among the dead in Sheol. So a Hebrew would have likely believed.) Worse yet, as a Calvinist, I believed that the road to hell was paved by God Himself, and its inhabitants driven to “destruction” not by their own volition, but by a slavery that the Lord of Life could but refuses to deliver them from. And yet, “God is love.” God is not love in such a vision, and, in my view, not just, either. No father is called just for raping his daughter. And yet, the Calvinist would have us believe that God rapes almost every human who ever lived. And Universalism is the blasphemy?

Naturally, I could no longer accept such a low doctrine, that the Lord of Life populates the afterlife’s death row. I turned first to Molinism with Kenneth Keathley, and second to Arminianism with C.S. Lewis and N.T. Wright. Clearly, if the so-called “traditional view of hell” is true, it is not true because God has willed it. If it is true at all, it *must* be true because God has willed for other wills to strive victoriously against his own. (But wait… That sounds kind of like… Blasphemy.)

The above paragraphs represent VERY SHORT and VERY ABBREVIATED types of struggles that lead me to rethink my interpretation of Biblical eschatology. In short, it basically came for me to where the views I had grown up believing were the only options for Christians seemed to me more blasphemous, low, mean, and wicked than Universalism. (By the way, Universalism actually has the potential to make God *more* just. This idea of love bowing to punishment is kind of destroyed by the cross. Penal Substitutionary Atonement, which I have also come to reject, is a sad attempt to circumvent reality of the God who loves the sinner before his reform.)

Below, I will present the straws that broke the back of my eschatological camel.

“We must all die; we are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. But God will not take away life, and he devises means so that the banished one will not remain an outcast.” (2 Samuel 14:14)

If the woman speaking to David the King was right about God (I believe she was, and would cite the cross of Christ as evidence), what should we prima facia expect “eternal punishment” (Matt. 25:46) to look like? What should we prima facia imagine that the Creator God Almighty revealed in a King on a cross will do in the hereafter for those “who are perishing?”

Let’s not even rely on imagination. Let’s go to Scripture.

John 6:44 is in my view one of the most grossly interpreted texts of the Bible. In the English Standard Version, it reads thus: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” The Greek word rendered “draw” can be also be translated “drag.” I prefer this translation, because it seems to me more realistic. So who is the Father drawing? I believe that Jesus answers that question in John 12:32. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw *all people* to myself” (asterisk emphasis mine). If Christ truly reveals the Father as an image and not a mirage, who is the Father dragging to himself? *All people.*

So that is one case. Well and good. Are there other verses from Scripture that support Universalism? I think so. I will list a few below.

“Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:18-19. For how many men will the act of righteousness bring justification and life?)
“And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, the Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob…” (Rom. 11:26)
“For God has consigned everyone to disobedience, that he may have mercy on everyone.” (Rom. 11:32. How many does God want to have mercy on?)
“If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:15. Doesn’t Jesus say that a person who follows him in this life *will* have fruit? And yet Paul has it that a person with no good fruit will be saved.)
“When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.” (1 Cor. 15:28. How many will be subject to the son?)
“…that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Cor. 5:19. God is reconciling the entire world to himself. Who is going to be left out?)
“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11. Shall we imagine that the tongue that confesses the Lordship of Christ is not a repentant tongue?)
“This is good and pleasing in the sight of God our savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4. Shall we imagine that God is *incapable* (Arminianism) of accomplishing or *unwilling* (Calvinism) to accomplish that which he desires?)
“…for we have set our hope on the living God, who is the savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” (1 Tim. 4:10. For how many people is the living God the savior of?)
“He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole cosmos.” (1 John 2:2. To how many does the atonement extend?)
“By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life… Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 21:24-27 and 22:1-5. Why is it specified that the gates will never be shut? Why is the image of the Book of Life from the Pentateuch, a Book whose entries can be changed, the image that is used in Revelation to describe the saved? Why does it say that no longer will there be *anything* accursed? Why doesn’t it say no longer will anything be accursed *in the holy city?* Why is it that not “anything” will be accursed?)

Anyways. These are only a few passages that to me seem to point towards Universalism, if we are open to their leading. It is unfortunate to me that many are *not* open to their leading, but I am thankful for a God who justifies the ungodly, so that neither I nor my theological “enemies” need be right before we are loved by God and might right with him through faith in Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace and Lord of Life.

As an appendix, I would point out that the Greek word “eternal” has more to do with a quality than a duration. Strictly speaking, the word should mean without beginning or end, if taking absolutely literally (as many seem intend on doing). If “eternal punishment” (Matt. 25:46) obviously has a beginning, why should we imagine that it *cannot* have an end?

*** At the end of the day, our faith should not be in Universalism or Particularism, but on Christ and him crucified, foolishness to the academy and a scandal to the religious. It is on him that my hope is set. ***

P.S. Please feel free to question and criticize my views. I love dialogue that is fueled by the desire to “seek the Lord and live.” (Amos 5:6)

************************************************************************

Dear reader,

The same invitation is extended to you. Please feel free to question, criticize, and reject my view.

Sincerely,

~ David Abrams

We Shall see Him as He Is: 1 John 3:1-3

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies herself as he is pure.

(1 John 3:1-3, paraphrased from the English Standard Version.)

This is one of the most beautiful passages in all of Scripture to me. God–the Father of all, as J.R.R. Tolkien names God in The Silmarillion–will appear, and with him, the form of the children of God, the form so precious to God that the imprisonment of everyone to disobedience (Romans 11:32) was worth it all. And even further still, by some miracle, “we shall be like him.”

The offer to be like God, the ancient serpent’s false offer to Adam and Eve, will actually be fulfilled by the true, great, and precious purpose of God Himself. The father of lies will surrender to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The prowling lion will be defeated by the Lion of Judah. He who is in the world is lesser than He who is in us.

God Himself, through the hope-giving of the Holy Spirit, will purify us as he is pure, so that when he appears we shall be like him.

I can only exclaim with Paul the Apostle,

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

(Rom. 11:33-36 ESV)

“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 118:29 ESV)

02/12/16… Already?

Wow. Time is sure flying. There are not enough hours in the day to get things done.

Today, I’m preparing a presentation about a potential organic polymer (plastic) semiconductor for use as a potential field-effect transistor for organic photovoltaic (OPV) cells. I’m trying really hard, but… Grad school’s difficult. It’s stressful. I’m a newlywed. I’m trying to be empty before the God and Father of my Savior, Jesus Christ, who has caused me to be born again to a living hope. There is just so much to do, I do not know where to start.

The Shouting Skies: Meditations of a Young Scientist

I am a chemistry student studying for my Ph.D. My research interests primarily include polymer (plastic) solar cell development and the selective binding of lanthanide/actinide elements.

One Psalm that really bothered me in my undergraduate days reads like this: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.” (Psalm 19:1-3 ESV.) In those days, I would gaze at the sky, begging God to be real. The Psalmist told me that the sky proclaims God’s handiwork, but I just couldn’t see it then. Maybe the skies were lying, or worse, silent. Maybe ‘God’ was just a sick card played by an already troubled deck. It was in my darkest hour that the hope of ‘eternal life’ found me again.

Now, I cannot look at the sky, or a molecule, or DNA, or the sea, or listen to a piano, a guitar, or a violin, without experiencing God. The heavens do declare the majesty of God. The skies do scream his name. May his name be written on our hearts and paved into our lives.