One of the contrasts you often hear about Catholics and Protestants is that Catholics believe in merit and Protestants don't. Protestants believe in Sola gratia and Sola fide, "grace alone" and "faith alone." For Protestants no moral work we might do has any bearing upon our relationship with God. For Protestants any work we might perform before God is rubbish and "filthy rags."

Call me a heretic, but I'm sort of with the Catholics on this. I believe in merit. I think God is happier with some Christians than with others.

(The corollary here is that I also reject the notion that "all sins are equal" in the sight of God. I think that's crazy talk. There's a difference between stealing paper from work and, say, rape, child sexual abuse or genocide.)

Some of my feelings in this regard have to do with how I was raised in my faith tradition. We preached that a person could fall from grace and that "faith without works is dead." To be sure this led to a lot of toxic outcomes, breeding in my people a paranoia about being sent to hell if they weren't good enough. So I'm not apologizing for the theology, just telling you how my religious imagination has been formed. I have a sort of "put up or shut up" attitude when it comes to Christianity.

But the other thing to consider here is the biblical witness regarding merit. For example:
1 Corinthians 3.10-15
By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.
Grace and merit are both on display in this passage. We see grace in the fact that the foundation is Christ. And if that foundation is in place the person is saved, even if they build with "wood, hay or straw." Even though these people live less than commendable lives they will be saved, but "only as one escaping through the flames."

But merit is also on display in that those who build with gold, silver, and costly stones will "receive a reward." Those who don't will experience salvation but also a "loss." There is a test coming, a test that will examine the "quality of each person's work." And some of this work will last and some won't.

The point being, what we do matters. Eternally. I believe in grace. But I also believe that many spiteful and hateful Christians are building with straw. These individuals will be saved, but they will also suffer loss. In hell I think. They will escape through the fire.

But others are building with gold and silver. Christians visiting the sick. Clothing the naked and feeding the hungry. Is this merit? I don't know. But these seem to be works which will survive and last for all eternity.

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43 thoughts on “Merit”

  1. For Protestants no moral work we might do has any bearing upon our relationship with God. For Protestants any work we might perform before God is rubbish and "filthy rags."

    When Isaiah points out (64:6) that all 'our' righteous deeds are like a filthy garment he is talking about people who are like ones who are 'unclean.'   So, first, one would have to know who that is.

    Colossians (1:9-10) reveals that one can indeed please God when they are 'filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.'  And, this can only be accomplished by one who is filled with, or completely under the control of, the Holy Spirit.

    Thus I would express your two statements above somewhat differently.  For Protestants all works have bearing upon a believer's relationship with God; but, not on his position before God.  For Protestants any work we might perform in the flesh is rubbish and 'filthy rags' and any work which we might perform while filled with the Holy Spirit are pleasing to God.

    One can "visit the sick," "clothe the naked," and 'feed the hungry" in the Spirit or in the flesh.  In the later case, God is not pleased.

  2. I think this is really helpful. I do want to quibble a bit. Doesn't the perspective that everything I do matters in the kingdom operationalize a motivation set apart from the actual work one does? For example, I may clothe the naked, but does it matter whether my motivation is simply to help a brother or sister (Christ in his most tangible for us now) out in their time of need or that my motivation is to establish a better kingdom life / doing this work for the sake of some Christ who is distant and heavenly who will reward me later? In my own observations and personal experience, this seems to very much be a matter worth considering. 

    Do we serve our brother in that act of service or do we serve Christ? It seems within a mature Christian perspective, this is a false dichotomy wherein both are found to be in the same act - we see Christ in that other person and learning to love and serve this brother or sister, Christ benefits. Yet for many, much of our service is done for some distant spiritual God for the sake of eventual reward - a result, perhaps, of a theology which deeply separates the physical life of experience right before us with the spiritual realities that are distant and something other. So perhaps just from this tradition and framework, building kingdom realities and serving Christ can become disconnected with reality here and now. Obviously, to the naked [not all of them, just the one's we are trying to clothe] my motivation doesn't matter, so the objective goodness of the act is present whether it is done "of the flesh" or "of the Spirit." But whether it is done "of the flesh" or "of the Spirit" has to do with my own life and relation to Christ, and in his eyes an act "of the Spirit" holds more merit than a selfish or misguided act "of the flesh." In a sense when we construct our buildings, outwardly they may look of silver and gold and function properly, yet for some, that is only a veneer to mask the wood, hay and straw of poor and selfish motivation, of work done "of the flesh." I think part of the work of redemption and restoration that Christ accomplishes may be the purification of these stones - that they may be made of silver and gold throughout. Yet their inconsistency does not stop God from using them for his kingdom work right now, however misguided.  In fact, He continues to use the worst of our blocks, the ones of only hay and straw to build his kingdom and accomplish his purposes. But does that mean we build with cheap materials? By no means!Thanks, David, for a great supplement to Dr. Beck's post.

  3. Amen!

    "How does it help, my brothers, when someone who has never done a single good act claims to have faith? Will that faith bring salvation? If one of the brothers or one of the sisters is in need of clothes and has not enough food to live on, and one of you says to them, 'I wish you well; keep yourself warm and eat plenty,' without giving them these bare necessities of life, then what good is that? In the same way faith, if good deeds do not go with it, is quite dead."
    (James 2:14-17)

  4. Interestingly, I was hit with this one this week as my book, "The Cost of Community", was accused of advocating merit over God's work:

    As my friend recently quoted, "Grace isn't against effort it's against earning." - Dallas Willard.

  5. That's a good point. To clarify, I'm not working with a behaviorist frame, suggesting that raw behaviors alone are what deserves merit. Any slicing behavior away from mental states is introducing a distinction I'm not making. Motivation and intention and all a part of what I'd label merit.

  6. According to my understanding, the reason there is so much confusion on this point is how the Reformation interpreted Paul's discussions about "works of the Law." Paul is talking about Jews and Gentiles. The Reformation missed that that thought he was talking about moral performance. And people have been confused now for over 500 years.

  7. 1) I would think this would be a better claim for purgatory than hell - right?
    2) Can I sell you an indulgence from the bank of the saints?

    Just a bit more seriously, that passage is in the context of divisions in the church.  Isn't this directed more at different doctrines of different churches?  Some are straw and others are gold, but don't spend too much time arguing about whose is better.  Holding a simple faith (i.e. Jesus is Lord) is better than complicated divisions and arguments.

  8. (The corollary here is that I also reject the notion that "all sins are equal" in the sight of God. I think that's crazy talk. There's a difference between stealing paper from work and, say, rape, child sexual abuse or genocide.)

    Yep.  Jesus himself admitted some sins were greater than others:

    Jesus answered, "You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin." -- John 19:11

  9. Jesus also spoke of "the weightier matters of the law": justice, mercy and faithfulness. Along with "the greatest" commandments.

  10. I think that part of the protestant problem with merit is they think of it like a kind of currency and imagine some extrinsic award which you then purchase with your merit. We also like to imagine extrinsic punishments which we "earn" through our sins.

    In truth as I read passages like the one you've highlighted it sounds to me like the "reward/punishment" scheme is much more intrinsic. The reward you get for accruing merit in your life IS your merit. There isn't some class system in the Kingdom where some people are better than others, but any kindness you did echoes into eternity. The people you were kind to remember it and remember you for it. You get the pleasure of seeing your work endure.

    Similarly the punishment you get for sin IS your sin. It's knowing that your works had to be destroyed because they could not endure in the Kingdom. The difference here is that no ledger is kept. No one knows or cares how much sin was erased from your pages. There is fundamental equality in the enjoyment of all the good things of God's Kingdom, but those who are living meritorious lives now can celebrate the eternal quality of their work.

  11. I love Paul Anderson Walsh's idea that Grace works. It hit me one day that distribution of wealth, when forced is socialism/communism, but when done out of love is Christianity. 

  12. You sure about that?
    Jesus seems to have a different opinion (Matthew 25)...and the doers were surprised that what they did was noticed.  Seems that they just 'did it' without conscious consideration if they were doing it in the flesh or in the spirit.

    Food is food, drink is drink, clothing is clothing, shelter is shelter- however given.

    'In the spirit' has a slightly obscene connotation, as if someone is trying to primp their otherwise good and generous act with an additional layer of ....merit?

  13. Faith or Works?......and the answer is.....YES! Maybe faith secures us of a place in the presence of our Father. Perhaps works will determine how we intially percieve that experience. I believe God is Love and the fire we read about in 1 Corin 3 is an expression of love. Depending on whether we've built with wood hay stubble or gold silver and pearls, that fire will be experienced by us as radiant light, illuminating our entrance into eternal glory; or as raging flames consuming all that defiles until we too see and enter glory. Perhaps all will pass through the fire of God's love but depending on our life here on earth our intial percption of it may be quite different.    In Hope.

  14. We are truly living in a unique period when the Holy Spirit indwells each believer and enables them to please God.  Matthew 25 and the passage about the ones who didn't know when they did it to Him happens after His return.  The comment about the Spirit and the flesh relates to the body of Christ now, before His return.  The Holy Spirit does not indwell believers during the period in Matthew 25 when these believers 'do their good deeds.'

    Sorry you get that connotation regarding the Spirit.  It has nothing to do with merit.  Either one is submitted (oooops, another charged word!) to the Spirit or they are doing their 'good deeds' out of their flesh.  Nothing good comes from the flesh.

  15. 2 cents..

    My understanding is that Catholic doctrine (not Catholics in general; for I'm convinced that not all Catholics believe or understand their own doctrine...same with many Protestants) speaks of "Merit" in regards to actual salvation...not rewards. Christ is indeed the door to the Father...but one's works earn merit to be allowed to go through that door. As a person in the reformed/Calvinistic camp..(curious if I'm the only one who reads your blog) I would have to conclude that is indeed heresy. For God's grace alone is indeed what SAVES us. (Romans 5:8-9 / Ephesians 2:1-9). One must ask, "What "good work" did the thief on the cross do of whom Christ promised that he would be with Him that very day?

    While I don't feel confident I understand exactly what the passage a non universalist I would obviously differ in seeing the "flames" spoken of in the 1st Corinthians verse is speaking of Hell. My suspicion is that Paul is simply stressing that a redeemed person who's life is not fruitful with good works will simply be SAVED...and that somehow, perhaps at the judgement seat of Christ, they will understand this. Perhaps, in a sense, they will feel the heat of the hell they were saved from more so than one who's life was filled with works done out of thanksgiving and joy.

    This of course leads me to what is a very difficult doctrine for me...the idea of "rewards". Mainly because at first, I'm tempted to see a contradiction....for if the new creating is to be "painless" and absent of could some people have rewards while others don't? Would that not invoke "regret" among those who were unfruitful in life and thus invoke pain?

    The only way I can put the problem to rest in my mind is the analogy I've heard before involving lovers of music. Some remain only listeners....while others train, through hard "work" to learn to play music. When the symphony finally plays the concert, two joys are simultaneously happening. One group is being filled with the joy of hearing the music....yet the other group is in fact experiencing "greater joy" of actually playing the music.

    Now before the show...waiting in their seats, the audience may indeed feel a sense of "regret" that they never learned music for their own. However, once the show is underway and the 4th movement in Beethoven's 9th is filling the auditorium, no one is pondering regrets....only joy. And at that exact moment...the greater joy doesn't fill the lesser with regret.

    I'm not unaware that the analogy can't break down at some point....I'm only arguing that perhaps it's something like that in the end. Perhaps when we stand before God there will be the sting of regret to many...but once the concert begins...once the wedding is underway and God's glory is shining at full strength, there will be only joy, only peace...and some will in deed know it better. I think there is an image of this in the 12th chapter of Lewis's "Great Divorce" when the main character watches the honoring of a lady who's earthly life was rich with good deeds.

    Lastly I would agree that not all sins are equal...however I have to ask myself this question....what is worse; to "think" of sleeping with another mans wife....or to do it? Jesus seems to say that your ultimately guilty either way. I would consider this image; if you jump from a plane...your speed will increase as you fall. To me...sin is like the acceleration....the farther you fall, the worse it gets. Either way....both lead to death. Only by Gods grace does he catch you before you hit the ground.

    sorry for writing a comment longer than the article...just felt like typing.


  16. curious if I'm the only one who reads your blog

    I don't think so. A good bit of what I write wouldn't be offensive to Reformed/Calvinist readers. Though they do have to tolerate my occasional rants. My apologies to all Reformed/Calvinist readers. May Christ have mercy.

    sorry for writing a comment longer than the article

    No worries at all. I liked how you puzzled it out for yourself from your own perspective and didn't feel the need to correct me. That's exactly what I do with people I disagree with.

  17. While it’s probably true that protestants have been confused for 500 years, we Catholics have certainly been confused for 1500 years.  So when it comes to choosing a religion why not go with the one that has the most practical experience where it really matters?  Now Mbrowns comment above that “distribution of wealth, when forced is socialism/communism, but when done out of love is Christianity,” while catchy, seems a bit simplistic as well as a bit of a jab to those of us with Marxist affinities.  But what is it called when our charity, good works, distribution of wealth, whatever, is done out of guilt, or a sense of duty, or for a tax break, or in order to incur a sense of obligation and debt in the receiver, what if it’s just another manifestation of my will to power.  In short, even if we could parse the relationship between grace and works (which I don’t think we ever can), even then how would we ever be able to truly understand ourselves enough to sus out our own motives, faith, pathologies?  As Derrida put it in The Gift of Death (sorry for the long quote):

     “How can another see into me, into my most secret self, without my being able to see in there myself? And without my being able to see him in me. And if my secret self, that which can be revealed only to the other, to the wholly other, to God if you wish, is a secret that I will never reflect on, that I will never know or experience or possess as my own, then what sense is there in saying that it is my secret, or in saying more generally that a secret belongs, that it is proper to or belongs to some one, or to some other who remains someone. It's perhaps there that we find the secret of secrecy. Namely, that it is not a matter of knowing and that it is there for no one. A secret doesn't belong, it can never be said to be at home or in its place. The question of the self: who am I not in the sense of who am I but rather who is this I that can say who? What is the- I and what becomes of responsibility once the identity of the I trembles in secret?”...The concept of responsibility is one of those strange concepts that give food for thought without giving themselves over to thematization.....This paradoxical concept also has the structure of a type of secret--what is called, in the code of certain religious practices, mystery....The exercise of responsibility seems to leave no choice but this one, however uncomfortable it may be, of paradox, heresy, and secrecy. More serious still, it must always run the risk of conversion and apostasy; there is no responsibility without a dissident and inventive rupture with respect to tradition, authority, orthodoxy, rule, or doctrine.--p. 27

    Truth is, we’re not ever going to get this figured out once and for all.  And to even think that we can is perhaps the greater sin?  Maybe the “paradox” Derrida invokes is that no matter what we do, the best we can hope for is do like thieves on a cross.  Obliged.  


  18. You might be interested in Gary Anderson's (Catholic OT Scholar) book, Sin: A History where he discusses the history of the predominant metaphors for sin in the Bible, particularly sin as a debt to be repaid. He argues this metaphor, unlike sin as a burden to be born, has a natural corollary: good deeds as a credit. It is all very interesting, and would reinforce what you say above.

  19. Your opinion is of course common sense. Of course God is happier with some believers than with others, and of course stealing paper or gossip =/= rape.

  20. First, I just started reading your blog about two weeks ago and am enjoying it. I agree with you on this post. You are on to something about us being accountable for our actions regardless of our protestant state. It's a heart issue. If you earn merit as means of grace or getting on God's good side, then you missed the point. It's His Grace that saves you. At the same time, if your interpretation of Grace does not motivate you towards action, then you have missed the point. Your works illustrate your relationship with God. 

    As such, there is only one true goal ... to glorify Him. In that righteous pursuit, you will find both grace and works have a place in your salvation process. If you choose that, then your works are motivated by Him and the grace fills in the gaps when you fail. 

  21. Agree totally. The Protestant teaching that justification is by faith alone is true but incomplete. "Faith without works is dead" according to James and works and gifts such as prophecy are worthless without love, according to Paul. And Jesus teaching was that not all who cry "Lord, Lord" would enter the kingdom of heaven, and in one of his parables taught that even prophesying and casting out demons was not enough, but that inasmuch as we fed the poor, visited the sick and those in prison we did the same to him and were acceptable. So the overall teaching seems to be that unless we do good works with love for our fellow humans then even faith is not enough. I like the idea that originally goes back to a Quaker preacher (and later revived in Jewel's song!) that we are God's hands on earth...

  22. I like your musical analogy. I think it has merit ;-)

    For me the analogy started breaking down when I began to wonder how God would weave the screams of the damned into the symphony.

  23. David- I would like to drill down into your reasoning that anything 'in the spirit' pleases God, anything 'in the flesh' doesn't.
    Consider a simple act such as,helping a motorist change a flat tyre. A Christian come along and does it, a bikie comes along and does it.  The motorist gets her tyre changed in either case, she is thankful to either, the help given to her is identical.  Yet God is pleased with one act and displeased with the other act?  It doesn't make sense.Come to think of it, there was a somewhat similar story given by someone as a parable about showing love to your neighbour....I believe he gave credit to the bikie type for showing love to his neighbour?On a personal note- I had something similar happen to me.  Flat tyre in the pouring rain, and was helped out by a 'gang' of bikies.  I was very thankful for their kindness, handshakes all round.  And thanked God for their kindness.  I suspect He was pleased.too!Now scale that up to the bigger stuff.  At a personal, corporate, even national level.  If we rightly on God's behalf decry acts of violence or negligence against the needy and should we too recognise and acknowledge acts of love and kindness.  To decry without matching recognition on the grounds 'that wasn't in the spirirt' is, well....mean spirited at the least.

  24. Stuart,

    I'll try to respond; but, I can assure you that my reasoning is not relevant here.  I can also assure you that if I am stuck with a flat tire or are without food, etc. the human who provides these to me is surely appreciated, regardless of who he is or what he looks like or why he did it.  Also, since I believe in the complete sovereignty of God, it was He who was behind their 'good deeds' and He is the one who really deserves my thanks.  Now, whether He is pleased or not by their actions is an entirely different matter.  Further, whether their actions were motivated by 'love' or something else is not something I can discern with any degree of accuracy.

    You said regarding 'good deeds' -- "Yet God is pleased with one act and displeased with the other act?  It doesn't make sense."

    To you and me, right.  But, what we are talking about is how God views it.  Rather than me trying to explain my reasoning, how about seeing how God explains it in Romans 8:1-14.  Not the easiest passage in the world to unravel; but, I think it directly addresses this issue.  Let me know how it hits you.

    You also wrote:  "To decry without matching recognition on the grounds 'that wasn't in the spirirt' is, well....mean spirited at the least."

    Yes; but, since, unlike God, neither of us can possibly know if something is done 'in the spirit' or 'in the flesh,' it really isn't that we are going to be mean spirited for this reason.  A reasonably health human has little trouble distinguishing good deeds and evil deeds and most likely will respond accordingly.  God, on the other hand, is not so easily impressed by any of us fallen sinners.  Nevertheless, He is pleased when one of His children (saved sinner) responds to the leading of the Holy Spirit to help with that flat tire, etc.

  25. "the more I know, the less I understand..." Don Henley
    Someday David, I really hope you understand just a little less, and then you will likely have more joy. That is my genuine wish for you, and it is not meant to be mean spirited, honestly.

  26. I'll offer a quote here from the man who was my adviser in seminary.

    "In the story of Jacob, we discover the difficulty of trusting in the promises of God, especially when they have been given to a previous generation. Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, had been called a righteous man (Gen. 15.6). As conceived in the modern era, righteousness is seen as conformity to a set of moral values and codes. However, from a Biblical perspective, righteousness is understood as faithfulness to a relationship. A righteous person was one who was faithful to the claims of all of his relationships. This does not mean that a righteous person does not conform to a set of values and codes, but that he or she can conform because of faithfulness to the relationship to God and a community of faith. In short, one does not keep a set of moral values to become righteous, but righteousness occurs because of the faithfulness of a relationship and the end result is that one will cherish keeping the moral values." Winn Griffin

    Protestants, of which I am one, over emphasize Paul's statement that "we are not under the law" and conclude that we are somehow exempt from the character described by the law. We are exhorted time and again to be intentional in our walk of relationship with God which means that we are to walk with intentional regard for others. This is after all, the real definition of "agape".

  27. Are you saying that God wants us to remain children in the faith even though He gave us this big book to help us mature?

    If you really are concerned for me, what is it specifically that you think I think I know that you think I would be better off not being so sure of?

  28. Your destiny after the death of the body-mind-complex that you now identify with and call you, will be exactly the same as it was the very moment that you began to go through the dying process - nothing more and nothing less.
    Which is to say that whatever it was that you were actually dramatizing and doing on a day-to-day basis before you died will be the almost immutable cause of your future destiny, which will most probably be via your next incarnation in this Earth world.
    Which is also to say that there IS an immutable LAW of karma which patterns/governs everything that we do.
    Everybody thus generates their own destiny, and eventually their karmic come-uppance too.
    Everything about your now-time present life, in this and every past & future moment, is the product (manifestation) of your past karmas, most of which are of course completely unconscious - such is the horrible truth of our usual individual and collective dreadful sanity.

  29. Paul was a grumpy old curmudgeon at times, wasn't he!  As you say, Rom 8 paints a very black and white picture, with no middle ground.  And if I took that passage without consideration of any moderating passages elsewhere, I would be inclined to agree with you.

    But there ARE moderating passages elsewhere, and if I place the content of the gospels against the letters of Paul, I do find contrasts.  Jesus showed himself to be more understanding and forgiving of human nature- gentling them into the kingdom. Paul at his grumpiest has no truck with that- he uses hard logic with no wiggle room.   Jesus seems to adopt an encouraging 'you are very near...come closer' while Paul folds his arms and says 'there is a big jump!'.

    There is probably room for both- each appeals to a different personality perhaps.  I must admit in my 20s I saw things pretty black and white and was a big fan of Paul and his theology.  Now I am somewhat older and greyer, I do find my views are 'softer'.  Experience?  Senility?   Maybe both!

    We are at different points on a continuum, but we can live with that.

  30. Paul's theology???

    Jesus and Paul in conflict???

    Moderating passages???

    God's truth is dependent on human personality???

    The solution is context.  Jesus and Paul are talking to different people at different times; Jesus primarily to Israelites before the cross and Paul primarily to Gentiles after the cross.  Huge factual difference.

    Do you think that Paul is just being, . . . . well . . .  just Paul, when he says in 1 Corinthians 4:16 “Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me.” or in 1 Corinthians 11:1 “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” ?

    No need to respond; just go in peace.

  31. I can respect that frustration.

    I guess for me, I see it in the same light as watching a great artist at work before his painting of a landscape is complete.  I may, as an observer, say to the artist half way through, "No Stop!  It's perfect!  Don't add anything else!"....and yet...the artist all of a sudden paints a giant black streak across the canvas which, at the moment...has totally ruined it.  However in the end....I come to see it was a branch in the foreground that ends up helping the snow capped mountains stand out that much more to my eye.  I think the doctrine of hell to a lot of people is like that black streak, and we live while the painting is still being made.

    Another idea is when I think how much I dislike "darkness" opposed to a sunny, blue sky day.  And yet...the shadows of leaves on a tree are extremely beautiful to me.

    Lastly, (to point to Lewis again)..I would agree with his take on the nature of the damned.  I don't believe their screams are that of a tearful, regretful soul who now, somehow have come to see the beauty of our God; who is simply replying "Toooo Late!  You had your chance!".  I believe they are screams of anger and hate towards the God they always rejected (and still do even in hell).  Lewis describes it perfectly to me in the sense of at the end of all things...there are 2 kinds of people; those who say to God, "Thy will be done"...and those whom God says to, "Thy will be done".  Or at the end of the Narnia series when Aslan stands at the gate of paradise and divides creatures by those who love him...and those who he is a disgust to.

    Somehow, in that perspective, when Revelation says that "the smoke of hell goes up forever in sight of the blessed spirits" somehow is bearable.

    Any thoughts?

  32. I'm a big Lewis fan. Have been reading (and re-reading) him all of my life. I definitely think the ideas and the imagery you invoke have a lot of value and certainly have truth in them.

    I used to land on Lewis's notions regarding hell, the ones you have noted along with the idea that hell is locked from the inside. And I certainly still think there is a lot of truth in them. Since you seem to respect Lewis, I wonder if you have read any George MacDonald? His writings, of course, were hugely important to Lewis as well as Tolkien. If you have not read it check out this from his Unspoken Sermons it was quite an eye opening experience for me when I first read it.

    Finally, although I think this Lewisian notion regarding hell is preferable to the more medieval notions, it is certainly not wholly arguable from scripture. One of the places people most often go to in making an argument about Hell is the story of the rich man and lazarus (Luke 16). The words of the rich man don't seem to have any notion of anger and hatred towards God. They are simply the anguished words of a tormented man who is begging for relief. So in the end, for this reason and many others, these ideas, though helpful, do not solve the problem. And so I have taken what I believe to be the greater balance of scripture, along with it's overarching themes, and have concluded that hell, though it is certainly something, is not a place of eternal conscious torment (regardless of which side it's locked from) but is rather the white hot fire of God's love that will purify and cleanse all of creation, including all creatures, and aid in the full reconciliation of everything (and everyone) to God in Christ.

  33. I will confess I have probably read more "about" Macdonald than his writings themselves. A few short essays of his and the beginning of "Phantastes" (haven't finished it) are the extent of my direct reading of his. I think I have a grasp on his views regarding universalism, and how he "loathed the god of Jonathan Edwards" as he put it. I feel like Lewis lovingly and respectfully rebukes his universalist views in the 9th chapter of The Great least that's how I read it.

    I understand the use of the parable of Lazurus as the objection. However, just as Lewis argues in the chapter "Hell" in "The Problem of Pain" how one cannot limit one's image of hell to only ONE of the three symbols Jesus uses to describe it (Punishment, Destruction, Privation), I think I would equally argue that you can't limit one's understanding to only one parable. For I would suggest that the focus or emphasis of the story of the rich man and Lazarus is not so much the "nature of the heart of the damned", rather the fact that riches in this life do not mean riches in the next. Secondly, if you were to lay all theological understanding of the afterlife on this one parable than you would come away with the idea that being poor is a guarantee ticket into Heaven. And even still...I still am not sure i would abandon the Lewisian notion even in this parable. The rich mans begging doesn't to me imply a "changed man"....only a caught man. A man who if we're given the relief he's asking for, may very well continue in the pride and arrogance of his heart. Like a murderer who hates the lifelong prison cell he's in...but would quickly kill again if released.

    I guess I would have to ask this question. Can you honestly say that a view of universalism comes SOULY from an observation and understanding of scripture? Meaning....can you truly say , "When I come to the bible....this is what it's clearly teaching"....or, would it be fair to say that your view is more described in a statement that would go something like "This is what the bible SEEMS to say...but surly that CANT thus, this is what the bible must MEAN"?

    For to me, the bible (both old and new testament) is simply too clear that...regardless what you believe about the nature of is certain that not every soul will inherit the new creation. I feel it's a thousand times easier for me to even consider the notion of annihilation over universalism. For if the eternal shame and contempt mentioned in Daniel 12:2 are not REALLY eternal...then should we question the "life" in the very same verse as well?

    I believe the white hot fire is something that by Gods mercy happens to a sinner in this life....but hell is not a cleansing is the outer darkness...the trash...the void. For the weeds are not gathered at harvest to be transformed into weed...they are thrown into the fire.

    I by no means think that believers are in this life to come to a full understanding of the justice of this. I believe it's one of the truths that force us to bow before God in submission to Him, trusting that he does all things good.

    John Piper (who I'd guess is not that popular on this blog) puts it well in this quote..

    "I am not ignorant that God may not have chosen my sons for his sons. And-, though I think I would give my life for their salvation, if they should be lost to me, I would not rail against the Almighty. He is God. I am but a man. The potter has absolute rights over the clay. Mine is to bow before his unimpeachable character and believe that the Judge of all the earth has ever and always will do right."

  34. I mistyped. I meant to say "for weeds are not gathered at harvest so that they can be trasnsformed into WHEAT".

  35. I can only thank God that John Piper is not MY father. Although I do believe that he is doing the best he can with what he understands. And I do not doubt or question his love for his sons within the confines of his worldview.I can certainly assure you that if, through some horrifying turn of events, it turns out that Piper's theology is correct and, even worse, it turns our that god has not chosen my daughter but has chosen me, I will beg god to send me to hell with her. In fact the only way I could worship such a monster would be through force and compulsion.Before you start being horrified at what I have said, just remind yourself that, in Piper's view (and possibly yours) god not only knew I would write this before the foundation of the world, he determined that I would do so. Presumably this somehow brings him glory.If you're still reading, let me say that the God I see revealed in Jesus bears very little resemblance to Piper's god. I say these things not to show disrespect for God, but to bring MORE glory to God. The God I see revealed in Jesus and the full arc of scripture will have nothing less than that EVERY knee should bow and EVERY tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. And what would bring more glory to God, that MOST of god's creation would do this through compulsion and gritted teeth as they are faced with (or already enduring) eternal torment from which they have no escape even if they wanted it, or that ALL would do this freely and gladly having finally come to the place of complete restoration and reconciliation with God through Christ?Unless ones theology requires that many be elected for damnation, the only enemy that could thwart this glorious purpose of God is death. Thankfully we know that death has been defeated.

  36. First and foremost let me stress I don't claim to know anything about your daughter or her eternal destination, nor yours for that matter.   Anything I say, I'm trying to say it with utmost respect to your family.   If I fail, please forgive me.
    I'm not so much horrified at what you've said as I am feeling a gulf between us in regards to what we think God's word says.  When you say "Presumably this somehow brings him glory", my first reaction would be to go to Psalm 139:4-6, Isaiah 55:8-9, Daniel 4:35, or (my favorite) the 38th, 39th, 40th, and 41st chapters of Job which, in my opinion, best expresses God's reaction of man's confusion to His ways (including His sovereignty over our will) which in short and modern day language is a big,  "Who the heck are YOU?"  The bible's over arching message is filled with this idea.
    I believe one of the problems today with liberal theology is that it takes "God is love" and turns it into "God is a god of LOVE".  What I mean is that God's nature (Love) is magnified over WHO and WHAT He is in regards to man and creation; namely...HE IS GOD.  This minimization I believe is entirely unbiblical.  For while I believe that God's nature is of love (which includes justice)...I also submit that this nature is equally "unsearchable and inscrutable" and "no one truly knows His mind." (Romans 11:33-34)  We are therefor at liberty to acknowledge we may not understand fully the goodness and justice of things that His word proclaims (Eternal hell, Election), but NOT at liberty to use our present confusion to deny, change, or choose to interpret His word to fit our present taste.
    For example..Lewis on the subject of hell wrote - 
    "There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power.  But it has the full support of Scripture and, specially, of Our Lord's own words."
    I would argue this is a prime example of a point where Lewis succeeds and MacDonald, while I no doubt has much good to say, fails.  Lewis acknowledges the frustration....but equally acknowledges that he was not God.  In the end he appeals to Scripture, and not his own flawed, unglorified emotions.
    I believe that it is leaning on such inadequate emotions which lead us to assume that a God who would grant mercy to one, and justice to another would be "a monster".  Or to think that one could somehow, finally in the presence of God, desire to be cast into hell to "be with a family member" (which, respectfully, doesn't make any sense because one would not "be with them".  You're picturing hell from Bon Scott's imagination of hell -" friends are gonna be there too!" -Highway to Hell )
    Lastly; I would differ with you on the subject on what would "bring God glory".  Again, I would argue that the method in which your talking is still in line with what I said above about "an unglorified state".  You and I cannot determine what "bring's God the most glory".  God's word is where we go to find this out.  For I believe God didn't need to create us at all to bring himself Glory.  And; if he chose not to save anyone but allow them to continue in the blackness of their hearts, bringing a "just" judgement upon them....he would be glorified in his Justice.  In the end, I believe God is saying in Romans 9 (which I know every universalist will accuse of me misinterpreting).."THIS is what I'm doing to maximally illuminate my glory, my beauty, and my honor to my creation; I create to display justice...and I create to display mercy.  Now AS my me."

  37. Peace to you as well. I appreciate your heart and your spirit. We can certainly agree on one thing, that being our inability to fully comprehend God. One other thing is certain: if death is not the end then one day we will no longer see through a glass darkly. For better or for worse, we will see God as He is. The beauty and goodness that I see shining through Creation, even in its fallen state, gives me great hope that I will rejoice in what I find.


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