Dr. Stephen Jones’ Weblog Entry from 11/01/2010
When Paul speaks of conciliating “the many” and “all men” in the fifth chapter of Romans, he is describing the effects of the divine love that he has already defined earlier. Whereas the love of man is normally limited to his friends, the love of God extends to His enemies as well.
It is for this reason, Paul says, God was in Christ conciliating the world–not waiting for them to become His friends, but dying for them while they were yet enemies.
The world–and even the Church itself–scarcely appreciates or even comprehends the depth and breadth of such love. The Church doctrine of divine retribution proves its lack of comprehension, for it denies any beneficial effects of that divine love upon those who die without having conciliated God in return.
To all of these unreconciled ones, many in the Church teach, the divine deadline is each man’s point of death, whereupon God’s demonstration of love is suddenly transformed into a demonstration of divine wrath. Those who refused outright to conciliate God in return are said to be tormented for eternity in unimaginable pain and torture, while those who had never heard of Christ are sauteed lightly in a mere one million degrees.
By such theology, divine love will save but few, having failed in large part through the contrarian will of man. It is as if two nations were at war, having irreconcilable differences, and one wise and loving King (God) decides to sue for peace, knowing that it takes two to make a fight. This loving King had been wronged, but decided to pay the law’s penalty Himself, forgiving the wrong and satisfying the demand of the law. He then sends ambassadors to the other side, carrying a white flag, bearing the message of peace and conciliation: “I no longer hold your transgressions against you.”
The result of such love is to cause a few on the other side to lay down their arms and join the side of the gracious King. But then we discover that there was a deadline to respond, after which time love is replaced by the wrath of a rejected lover.
Only then is it clear that the King’s “conciliation” was really a disguised ultimatum. Love was only temporary. Love failed to secure the desired end, having been thwarted by the will of man. Men’s theology insists that God remains a God of love, and yet He is somehow forced by His own law to incarcerate and torture the unreconciled ones for eternity. This idea of a God of love, helpless in the face of His own law, being forced to torture the unreconciled once they have passed the deadline sums up the knowledge of God held by a great portion of the Church.
Such a theology is based upon false assumptions. It is assumed that death is a deadline for repentance, whereas Paul says that “every knee will bow.” It is plain that only a few knees bow to Christ during their life time on earth, so it is equally plain that the rest of those knees must bow after they have died. Furthermore, every tongue will confess that He is Lord, and Paul tells us that no man can confess that He is Lord except by the Holy Spirit. Further, these knees will bow and these tongues will confess “to the glory of God the Father.” Where is the glory in a confession extracted by torture? What glory is it to force a sinner to his knees and wrench from him a feigned confession?
It is further assumed that the divine law demands a burning hell for unbelievers, when in fact the law demands “burn for burn” only in cases where a man has burned someone else without repenting. Even such judgment is limited, because the basic principle of divine law demands retribution in kind only. Man alone extends such retribution to eternity.
The word translated “eternity” in Scripture is nearly always aeonian, which pertains to an eon (age), a time period having both a beginning and an end. While man may extend this time of judgment into eternity, God does not. Furthermore, God’s justice proceeds out of His character of Love, and so the purpose of justice is to correct, rather than to destroy. Divine retribution is not an admission of failure to rehabilitate, for “love never fails.” In fact, if the love of God fails to bring even one man ultimately into the fullness of the stature of Christ, then love has failed to accomplish its stated goal.
Sin misses the mark. Is God, then, a sinner? Is He a failure? A thousand times NO.
Men also excuse God for unending divine retribution by insisting that man has done it to himself by his own free will. But this is inconsistent theology. One man’s sin was imposed upon “the many” apart from any decision by their own free will. God imputed Adam’s sin to all succeeding generations even though they had not sinned in the similitude of Adam’s sin (Rom. 5:13). Man’s mortality is proof of this. If the law of imputation of Adam’s sin must affect all men negatively, how can men apply the same law unequally to Christ’s conciliatory work on the cross?
The law judges impartially and with equality (equity). The will of man was not consulted before imputing Adam’s sin to all; neither was the will of man consulted before imputing the righteousness of Christ to all. Both were acts of God alone. Hence, God was in Christ conciliating the world by the standard of divine love alone. By such love Christ dies, not for His friends alone, but also for His enemies.
This is the whole point of distinguishing man’s love from God’s love. Many men will die for a friend or family member, but Christ has died for the ungodly and even for those who hated Him.
Is there no lasting beneficial effect of such love upon the one who dies without conciliating God in return? Is God so helpless? Is He a God who weeps while torturing people in order to conform to a law that would go against His loving nature? No, the law is the very expression of His character, and hence, the law is based entirely on love. On love hangs the entire law and the prophets.
No law is based on love unless it is designed to correct the lawbreaker. The conciliation will have its full effect because it was not based upon the will of man, but upon God’s will alone. Man’s opposition will not succeed in the end, because his will is not stronger than God’s, nor is he capable, in the end, of resisting such perfect love.
All of man’s resistance is time-based and is therefore limited in duration. The authority that men enjoy, based upon the Dominion Mandate in Gen. 1:26, is no match for the sovereignty of God that He retained for Himself. There is no force on earth that can prevent the divine plan from being fulfilled. The devil does not win in the end, nor does God play the role of the sore loser.
The law of God is an expression of love emanating from His very Being. Hence, it is described as “fire” (Deut. 33:2), even as the baptism of fire is, to us, the saturation of His character and essence. There is no fire of God that can be separated from His love, for God will be God, and He must always be true to Himself.
While the “lake of fire” is indeed a place of divine judgment, it is where all men learn the character of God. Even believers today are in training by means of the baptism of fire. We are trained now in order to obtain a better and earlier resurrection. He is the Savior of all men, especially those who believe.
This “fire” is also the glory of God which came down upon Sinai and which will ultimately cover the whole earth (Num. 14:21). God will be glorified, and every creature in heaven and in earth will be found praising Him when the four beasts finally say “Amen.