A Parable

On the great Day of Judgment all of humanity was called before the Judgment Seat of God. There the angels sorted the people.

On the right side of the Judgment Seat was a small group. These were the elect. The angels moved among them and gave each person a small golden box.

On the left side of the Judgment Seat was a vast multitude, as far as the eye could see. Here were all the others, every person who had ever breathed in God's creation. Men and women, the elderly and children, from every tribe and nation across the eons. Billions upon billions of souls. Like the sands on a seashore. These were the damned.

After the Great Sorting the King Upon the Throne delivered his Judgment. To those on the right he said, "You are the elect, the few I have predestined from the beginning of time to share in my bounty and live in the Holy City. I also have a gift for you. Inside the golden box you hold is this gift, the gift of eternal life. Come into your rest!"

Turning to the vast multitude on his left the King continued, "You are the damned. Although it is in my power to do so, I have chosen not to save you. To bring glory to myself I have chosen to save only these few. So depart, you wicked ones, into the fires I have prepared for you before the beginning of time!"

There was a great and heavy silence in heaven as these terrible words of judgment were uttered.

This stillness was broken when a small, lone figure on the right side of the Judgment Seat stepped forward and away from the elect.

It was a young girl. She moved slowly to the foot of the Throne and there she kneeled. The Heavenly Host held its collective breath.

The girl began to speak with a trembling voice.

"Most Holy God, Lord and King. I have no right to speak to you. No right to make a request. But as I look on the vast multitude of the damned my heart breaks within me. These are the ones you have asked me--for my whole life and with all the strength I have--to love, and serve, and forgive. And I do love them as you have taught me to love them. And there are so, so many. And I also know that I deserve the same punishment that they deserve. Your salvation is a gift freely given and I deserve it no more than any other human being.

So this is my request, Most Awesome King. I ask that my gift be given to one of these. Save one of them rather than me. Please number me among the transgressors. I wish to give my life so that another might live."

And with a trembling hand she set her golden box on the ground before the Throne.

A tremor of joy pulsed through the Heavenly Host as a smile broke out upon the Face of God. And then stepping down from the Throne, where he had been seated quietly watching at his Father's Right Hand, came the Lamb Who Had Been Slain.

The Prince of Heaven came forward and lifted the face of the young girl, the holes in his hands visible to all. The Image of the Invisible God spoke tenderly, with tears in his eyes, "Well done--very, very well done--my good and faithful servant."

And then the Lamb Who Had Been Slain stood and turned to the elect, each clutching at their golden box.

To these the Crucified One declared, "Depart into judgment, you who never knew me."

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76 thoughts on “A Parable”

  1. Do you think there's a possibility that your parable risks falling into the same trap as the "elect"? 

    For all our sakes, let's hope He was just kidding!

  2. It makes an interesting point, Richard, but I don't think it reflects what is true. In fact I think you are contradicting some of Jesus' parables at multiple points. Grace to you.

  3. I know what you mean...the idea of the majority being condemned to eternal conscious torment is enough to blow anyone's mind.  As I see it, unless my mind is significantly and thoroughly changed upon meeting God face-to-face, such that I am enabled NOT to give a @#$% about anyone else -- particularly the "needy" (e.g., those who needed more grace during their earthly life but apparently did not receive it or rightly apprehend it) -- then I can't imagine how the masses of human beings being sent to hell for eternity will not deeply disturb me.  Who could actually enjoy heaven's "reward" after that horrific scene?

    I think I can safely say that I definitely understand what God requires of me:  Love Him; love others (friendly or not).  I think I can honestly say that I try to obey this central, all-important dual-command and frequently (in my estimation) fail at achieving the standard set by Jesus.  So, if failure to love perfectly is the litmus, I'm betting that I end up in hell.  Or, when this life ends, I will simply cease to be, forever.

    Even as imperfect as my attempt to love God and others happens to be, I *STILL* cannot imagine wanting to celebrate in heaven, while even the most despicable human being roasts in hell, eternally apart from God.  What kind of God???

    In order not to drive myself completely insane (short trip, I know), I try not to think about afterlife issues all that much anymore.  I have my hands full attempting to do the right thing, moment by moment, in *THIS* life.  If I can figure all of this immediate stuff out, and manage not to screw it up royally, I figure the eternal business will work itself out.  ~Peace~

  4. A comment that might help clarify what I'm up to.

    While the parable has an eschatological frame it isn't a story about who is or who is not going to hell.

    The parable is about who gets the heart of God right.

  5. For those who have been slain for their faith, maimed, cut apart, burned, raped because they belived in Jesus Christ and were willing to die for their faith... I cry foul. Your parable altough poigmant and sentimental has a basis for salvation based on works, something we do to obtain Gods's favour, and although you bring a strong emotional response to the picture of the judgment day, you have only switched the punishment from one group to another based on a personal view of who should merit favour and who should deserve justice. The Day of Judgment will be about God and His right to judge ... nothing more, nothing less

  6. I'm sorry, I don't want to be a pain, but isn't the point that those who get the heart of God right are the good guys, and those who don't get it are still lost?  And then too, the point that I was trying to (probably awkwardly) make is that mental assent to a belief in the goodness, mercy, and perfect love of God is one thing.  Living as though one actually believes what I think is true, or say is true...well, two different things.  This life is pretty hellish a lot of the time, for so many people.  Annihilation is sounding more attractive to me as an eternal option, the more I think about it.  Sigh...

  7. Susan, you'd never be a pain. No worries.

    First off, it's just a story. It could mean lots of different things. Things I might not even have intended it to mean.  So what it means is really up to you and other readers.

    As to my purposes, the question I was struggling with was this: WWJD? Yeah, that's right, What Would Jesus Do? In the frame of the story--Judgment Day--what does Christlikeness look like? In my imagination it looks like what the girl does, her request to be "numbered among the transgressors" and to die for others. And so I have Jesus come down from the Throne to confirm that.

    As to the ending I struggled with that. In some ways I wanted to end the story with Jesus's affirmation, "Well done good and faithful servant." But I went on to add the final line of judgment. Less to say that those people are going to hell than that view of God stands under judgment.

    In short, the story isn't about God judging people but God judging various theological views.

    Crudely, I'm sending the doctrine of election to hell.

  8. Thanks, I see.  Maybe it is peculiar to those who are recovering from fundamentalist/Calvinist indoctrination (and/or a person with my psychological bent), but the guilt/shame/judgment/punishment paradigm is very hard to shake -- and that's on a good day.  It's better for me not to "go there" at all in my thinking.  I rail against any theological perspective that emphasizes punitive justice (sometimes vocally and obnoxiously, I'm afraid.)  But, when I calm down and can think more Jesus-like (or as I imagine Him to be), I feel sad in a "Father, forgive them; they know not what they are doing/saying."  Of course, no one who believes something passionately wants to be patronized or pitied.  So I just keep asking for patience and some supernatural (Holy Spirit-like) ability to love people with whom I disagree.  Answers to those prayers seem slow in coming.  Avoiding/withdrawing from conflict has been my go-to strategy, when I don't know what else to do.  I have great respect for the wisdom and healing grace that your words speak here at the blog and in your books, Dr. Beck.  A lot of the time I am working hard just to absorb what you are talking about, so I apologize if at times I make no sense!  Thank you for your hospitality toward me here in the discussions.  ~Peace~

  9. "but the guilt/shame/judgment/punishment paradigm is very hard to shake -- and that's on a good day"

    Sort of like the way Venom crawls all over Spiderman. Only it has a Loki-like army who think they are the soldiers of the Lord. Sorry to mix up the comic book metaphors ... Avengers opens today, and I have boys.

  10. I am glad that they all had the option that the little girl had before they made their final selection of the golden instead ;-)

  11. The first time I visited here was when you posted on what CS Lewis, NT Wright, and Rob Bell had to say about universalism.  You quoted NT Wright's statement from Suprised by Hope: something to the effect that those in hell are "beyond pity".  I think about that quote every time people (myself included) speculate about how the "saved" will view the "lost" at or after the final judgement.  I like a lot of what Wright says and in this case he does a admirable job of attempting to come to grips with eternal conscious torture, but I'm not sure I buy it.

    Clearly God is going to have to change our hearts when we get to eternity: either (1) he will have to take away our sense of love and pity for the lost (some of whom will be our friends and family) so that we can enjoy eternity; or (2) he will give us a new sense of love and mercy that will help us to reconcile with those who committed evil acts during their lives.

    Which of these sounds more like the God we worship?

  12. wow brother beck
    it almost brought tears in my eyes.....what a wonderful parable....the young girl is like mother Mary, tender and loving, gentle and meek in spirit, faithful to the Lord's words...it reminds me of Mark 10:15 : I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."

  13. In short, the story isn't about God judging people but God judging various theological views

    Out theological views are our beliefs, God judges everyone based upon what they believe about God and His salvation provided through Jesus Christ

  14. I'm not sure I see that in Jesus' words, if by beliefs you mean a cognitive assent to a systematic theology.
    In  Matt. 16:27, Jesus says the criteria of judgment will be to "recompense every man (Note: it doesn't say "the elect" or a particular group) according to his deeds." The way I understand James 2:26 is that belief is not just a mental checklist, but what one actually lives out.

  15. "...a basis for salvation based on works"

    I disagree. Our faith--what we truly believe about God and what He wants us to be--is only truly shown through our actions. If you live a merciful, grace-filled life, it's a good bet you have a better understanding of who God is and what salvation means than someone who lives a self-centered life. In the parable, the others of the elect focused on their own salvation above the others and their lost condition. They felt bad, but didn't do anything to try to make it better. And as for your last sentence, in this parable, it is God's right to judge that comes through in the end. Also, we can't take this literally. Dr. Beck never said that the lost were then saved just that the "saved" became lost. If we take this literally, there is one young girl in heaven and everyone else is lost. It's not about judgment but about the heart of the faithful Christian and that the heart should reflect that of Jesus. The Judgment was simply the setting. 

  16. brother Richard, and brother Adrian

    we are all nuts, we follow the biggest nut of all - Jesus - this one is
    other like anyone the world has ever seen or will ever see. He is not
    buddha preaching nirvana, nor Mohammad with a sword, nor like Vishnu the

    this one lays down his life for his enemies. No self preservation.


  17. When I was an Evangelical, I was deeply devoted and involved in outreach which included churches, rescue missions, high school auditoriums, soup kitchens, and street corners from Prince Edward Island (Canada) to Chicago, Pittsburgh to Detroit, Baltimore to NYC, and Newark to Boston.  I met thousands of people.  That was 40 years ago, but some in my own family are still at it, at least now with me as target audience.

    No one back then ever gave any thought to how one might "feel" when entering heaven about those that were going to hell.  That would have robbed us of the pleasure of speculating about it here and now.  But seriously, this has got to be one of the biggest changes which I have seen in the church since I left.  I mean -- no one ever brought this subject up back then.  So I must assume something ELSE has changed -- not necessarily within the church, but in our society at large.  Just now it's a puzzle.

  18. Yes. Numbered among the transgressors. Good company. :-)

    I like this Stringfellow quote: "The first place to look for Christ is in hell."

  19. I think what you are getting at is the same as what I said the other day, that sometimes a gardner will prune away even a good branch. That said.... 

    Personally, I don't buy the "eternity of conscious torment" thing. And I really really can't imagine living more that a few thousand years as Marshall, who I know as rather a clumsy idiot. OTOH, this morning's meditation is Psalm 27:4: if God thinks I can be trusted in the temple, not to knock over the candles, and He has a use for me sweeping up or trimming the wicks, I think it would be wrong for me to swap Orders with anybody else. I will go where He puts me, whatever.

  20. so first the damned are seemingly judged and condemned, and the the elect are.  same difference.  that sort of theology is offensive and dull.  count me out. 

  21. This scares me worse than the traditional concept of hell ever did?

  22. I read this quote by John Muir recently and found it interesting.

    "Among our best games were running, jumping, wrestling, and scrambling. I
    was so proud of my skill as a climber that when I first heard of hell
    from a servant girl who loved to tell its horrors and warn us that if we
    did anything wrong we would be cast into it, I always insisted that I
    could climb out of it. I imagined it was only a sooty pit with stone
    walls like those of the castle, and I felt sure there must be chinks and
    cracks in the masonry for fingers and toes. Anyhow the terrors of the
    horrible place seldom lasted long beyond the telling; for natural faith
    casts out fear."

  23. Perhaps this story is meant to make a point rather than to lay out a precise doctrinal statement about hell.  Not unlike Jesus' teaching on the subject, actually.

  24. You're right. The parable isn't about who is or is not going to hell. It's not about hell at all. It's an imaginative exploration of the doctrine of election from the inside out.

  25. Hi Susan,
    "...the idea of the majority being condemned to eternal conscious torment is enough to blow anyone's mind. "

    We'd think ... And what's creepy is MANY Christians we know (and I mean veteran Christians, pastors, long-time Bible teachers,  music ministry leaders, children's ministry leaders, missionaries, street witnessers, etc)  endorse eternal torment without batting an eye.  If that's not enough, they can discuss eternal torment at length (with a straight face), very assured they themselves are beyond the same well-deserved fate (whatever it is they think they're doing correctly). Furthermore, many of these appear to be endorsed by God in their ministries, their answered prayers, etc.  This makes it appear that God validates the doctrine of eternal torment. 

    My crisis of faith was provoked by 1) a 2-year intense personal trek through the entire Bible and 2) the prospect of
    eternal fiery torment in hell.   At the time (only 7 years ago), I not only accepted hell as orthodox doctrine, I was
    gearing myself up to stand firm on that while starting a long awaited "music ministry" dream.
    But the prospect of hell haunted me, and drove me to extreme/sustained dispair. A long time ago, I asked God to show me the truth, no matter how painful.  I also asked God to destroy my dreams of "music ministry" if he saw I was going to be another blasphemer towards His name.  I'm kind of hoping He did what I asked - and I'm kind of hoping he turned me around and is continually revealing His very mysterious love and mercy (the possibility of universal reconciliation) - apparently the best kept secret ever.  Sorry - I went off here.

    I am guessing Dr. Beck threw this "Parable" out just to stir up the pharisacal pot.
    Take care Susan N - I'm grateful to you for being real.
    Gary Y.

  26. Hi Patricia!  Of all the superheroes, the favorite in our family is Spiderman.  As my daughter explains, he isn't vengeful like Batman, but recognizes the responsibility that comes with power.  :-)  But v.3 sure was creepy -- Ol' Spidey could be corrupted!  Shocking!!

    My best strategy for dealing with the inner critic (of guilt/shame/etc.) is to befriend her.  In other words, be as kind to myself as I would be to others (and hope they would be towards me.)  Sometimes that works...

    Have a great time at the movies with your boys.  :-)  My son's 12th birthday is coming up later this month, and we have a family tradition of spending the day together, doing whatever the birthday child wants to do.  A movie matinee always ends up in the plan.  The Avengers has already been named as my son's choice for his birthday movie this year.  In year's past, we've seen Iron Man, Pirates of the Caribbean, Transformers, oh my!  I am playing beauty spa operator for my daughter today.  She is going to the prom tonight.  It's a big moment for her (and her mama).  Feels like a reenactment of The Princess Diaries in our household just now!  ~Peace~

  27. Dr. Beck, this is a bit off topic but some of the comments sparked a thought: do you think there is a particular predisposition, be it intellectual, emotional, spiritual, that allows a person to respond to such threats to life and salvation without innate fear? I'm sure it's relatively too simplistic, but it just seems that many people just can't handle that sort of threat to their own salvation or current life, they are unconsciously too wrapped up in self-preservation to acknowledge their existential, intellectual, emotional, and/or spiritual reaction to such threats. It might be one of those things that if they were cognizant of their internal processes, they might respond differently. What is it that predisposes a person to this sort of defenseless perspective or, on the other side of the coin, what predisposes a person to a sort of reflexive and reactive self-preservation? It doesn't seem to be the content of their thoughts or beliefs. Is it more character oriented? A personality trait? Or just luck of the draw, roll of the dice, cast of the lot?

  28. Hi Susan, I've had to stand up to the inner critic, because I finally recognized it as the voices of those who have been scapegoating the hell out of me since childhood. At the time, I was too young and inexperienced to grasp what was really going on. But when confronted, there's been no apology or acknowledgment. So, per Matt. 18:17-18 and Luke 17:3, there comes a time to just walk away. You don't make things right, or prevent more evil,  by pretending they don't matter with blind forgiveness. 

    My youngest tried out for and made the jazz band for next year, so we're celebrating with a movie this weekend. The current jazz band recently had a concert here with guest solo artist Lenny Pickett (the cool, screamin' sax of the SNL intro -- that's him. He's the SNL band leader). He has a 9th grade education, is mostly self-taught, and very introverted. He impressed, musically and personally, and he hung out and signed autographs for the kids.

    My boys love all the comic book movies. My oldest, an engineering student, has all kinds of dreams of building cool gadgets of crime fighting. And also building clean water wells in 3rd world countries. That's my kiddo.

    Hope your daughter has wonderful night.

  29. Great, great questions. I think you've put your finger on the root dynamic. And obviously, I've written a great deal about how existential anxiety affects Christian beliefs.

    But as to the causes behind that anxiety it's likely a lot of things. I wouldn't think one variable is the switch. All of the things you mention would seem to be implicated.

    For me, it all comes to a head in your view of God. Does God, ultimately, have your back? I think so. God is love. And from there flows everything in my spiritual life and in my responses to others as a Christian.

  30. This is complete heresy. Once you accept that this story has an "eschatological frame" but isn't about who's going to hell, then it is the same slippery slope to saying that Genesis one has an "ancient near east cosmological frame" to explain human evil. No, clearly this parable was meant give us an innerrant, exact picture of what judgement day will be like. Do not be deceived by those who say otherwise!
    :-D Sorry, I had to use my rusty fundy exegesis skills to get to the true meaning of this parable.

    Loved it. Keep up the good work. 

  31. Yea I can see how my god (or this thing that I think is God) is the end of the spear that ripples down through the shaft of our conceptual/existential frameworks. That makes a lot of sense to me and I agree that, for me, God's love and goodness are, at the end of the day, non-negotiables.

    But to challenge myself, I often question whether even this is ok. Am I still making God in my own image, or at least what I want him to be? Do I even have the existential freedom or openness to consider a God that I might not have right, or one that I might not particularly like?  Do all of these things that I want him to be have any bearing upon what he actually and objectively is?  

    From so much conversation in theology, mine included, I get a subtle sense that it is no longer God in control, but our own minds that are reigning Him in to make him what we believe him to be. We talk as if what we say and think of God, just objectively is. Maybe this is an inkling of the essence of faith, I'm not sure. We make bold, grandiose statements about God (or heaven or hell). It's like we are trying to cement our theories in reality, or we are presenting them as reality rather than mere theories based upon a leap of faith. This obviously this doesn't necessarily discount any of our beliefs about God, I think it just testifies to the reality that I am a severely limited being challenging an eternal, omniscient being as to what is reality. It's not the validity of these claims, but more how they are presented and perceived that I take issue with. And I don't want to put a damper on conversation, but I think it is helpful in moving our theological conversations towards that sort of defenseless state of being and engaging. 

    So if it all comes to a head in our view of God, can we still have the existentially defenseless disposition to acknowledge that that view is itself not God and not necessarily determinant of absolute reality?

  32.  Great questions!  I love it! 

    I can't speak for anyone else, of course, but in my case there is just
    too much cognitive dissonance. Take, for example, my better half.  She
    NEVER worries about this stuff.  Never contemplates it at all.  Assumes
    she is "going to hell", because that's what her Granny told her as a
    child.  (The same woman who made everyone sit still through thunderstorms because "God was talking", yet would not plant corn until "the signs were in the feet".)  And seems genuinely not to care.  Neither of us has ever
    regularly attended church as adults, and both of us were mistreated
    terribly as children by devout Christian family members. 

    years of marriage, and I still cannot pin her down as to her beliefs.  And yet -- she is the most kind, loving, giving, forgiving, and
    unselfish person I have ever met.  She is not perfect, but darn near
    close.  Everybody who knows her loves her.  If I believe in God at all, it's because he sent her to me, and gave us our child.

    Me?  Much more selfish, although I try not to be.  Basically, I'm just
    plain tired of worrying about it.  Still, here I am........

  33. After dealing with the physical repercussions from a nasty fall last week, annihilation is sounding more attractive to me these days,too!

    All theologies are man made; who knows which is correct.  I keep trying to divorce God from the theologies people have constructed about God through the ages.  "Systematic Theologies" may keep theologians busy but those of us who live in the nitty-gritty of everyday life need a reality beyond words to cling to. 

  34. Yea that's typically where I am. I'm more driven to do what's right than I am to think about whether I'm in heaven or not. I just don't care. It's not really relevant to me at this point. I'll never know for sure one way or the other so why bother? The world right before me is complicated enough. I'd rather focus on trying to overcome my selfishness and reach out to other people in love and embrace than whether my beliefs are "orthodox" or whether there really is a heaven or hell. Since I can't know for sure either way, they seem to me to be secondary matters. What I think about them isn't going to change whether they are there or not. 

  35. Election and judgement aside (both of which I believe though modified from most Reformed thinkers), I think it contradicts the many parables where Jesus is teaching that we should be ready when the Master returns.

  36. Thanks Richard, I like this. It is the kind of musing I do when confronted by grace and calling. I have been reading Leslie Newbiggin on election in his 'The Open Secret'. The fourth chapter explains the missionary model of election. Essentially, God elects a few for the sake of the many. He uses the story of Jonah as the great archetype. Jonah is elected but not for his own sake but for the sake of Nineveh whom he personally does not want saved and cannot understand God's graciousness towards. He asked by God to bring God's message of renewal to them without any promise that he would ultimately be the beneficiary. What does that look like for Christians? I tend to think that it looks like being prepared to give up our spot for the sake of another in Christ's name.

  37. To say that God's people don't get His heart right is just nonsense. People here twist things and take them out of context to try to demonize God's children.

  38. I understand the need to walk away from certain toxic people and places, and also the reality that what has been absorbed from these experiences isn't so easily left behind or magically erased.

    In my own case, I think the exposure to extremist (fundamentalist/Calvinist) religion -- which didn't happen until I was 10 years old -- created the perfect storm.  What I mean is that based on my childhood up to that point (parents divorced when I was 2.5yo and much bitter feuding among those invested in me defined my early life.  From my earliest memories, I felt "conflicted" in many ways.  Add to that the very likely possibility that even with the perfect environmental conditions and generally happy childhood experiences, my personality type would have predisposed me to be INFP/INFJ anyway.  Given those two factors (nature and previous nurture), the particular indoctrination that I received as my initiation into faith in Christ was a very, very bad fit for me as an individual.

    I'm pretty sure that some people can and do thrive within such a severe theological framework, but not me.  Not then, and not now.

    Congrats to your son, Patricia!  I hope he has a great year with the jazz band.  :-)  Both of your boys sound like terrific kids, and if you're like me, this would be a cause for tremendous joy and gratitude to God.  The "generational curse" ends -- or the buck stops -- here, with me/us.  If it's the only thing I accomplish in this life, then I would be content just to know that the script had been flipped for my children and their future.  My daughter had a perfectly enchanted prom.  She just got home an hour ago (after-prom party until 6am!)  We both are pretty sleep-deprived; though I tried to sleep after dropping her off at the after-prom party facility at 12am, I had a hard time in sleeping.  It wasn't that I worried about my daughter...exactly the opposite.  She was so happy -- and I couldn't stop thinking about how happy that makes me!  Coffee is my salvation this morning.  ;-)  It's been nice to see you and talk with you, dear friend.  ~Peace~

  39. I'm sorry that you have had this health set-back, seniorcit.  I hope that the healing will be quick and complete.
    You have expressed my thoughts on systematic theology.  Precisely.
    What it comes down to for me is not so much the set of beliefs that one confesses as right and true, but that those beliefs translate into a life that looks like Jesus.
    I pray that your present reality will include people who come with real, concrete help in the ways that you need it.  "Jesus with skin on," as an acquaintance of mine used to say.  ~Peace~

  40. Gary, no need to be sorry.  I think (based on personal experience) that it's very important to be able to tell our story -- especially the painful parts, to know that we've been heard -- really listened to, by others with a compassionate "ear," and in that way come to trust that a) we're not alone, and b) there is healing and hope for a better way forward in our faith.  I don't have it all figured out (it's obvious the moment I open my mouth or type a sentence, isn't it?), but like you, I am very grateful for people like you and Dr. Beck with whom I can learn and sort this stuff out.  Thanks for sharing your story.  I'm glad you are finding your way; this encourages me.  ~Peace~

  41. Love it.  Brings an interesting observation to my mind; can it in fact be love if we are only loving for the sake of our eternal destiny?  More of an exchange, a giving of one thing in return for another.  I think this captures the essence of God's heart perfectly, giving something and putting yourself in a position of loss for the other...emptying oneself I would say.  Thanks Richard for sharing.

  42. Susan,

    I once had a theology professor who said he didn't believe in God until he had his coffee!

    Susan, Patricia,

    You are both dear sisters and may both of you have God's peace.  I know how hard it is when I beat myself (and others) up.  I have learned not to do that.  What I am still learning is not to beat myself up for beating myself up--if you see what I mean.


  43. Hi Susan, and George Cooper,
    Thanks, both of you. There's been a very sad turn of events here. Yesterday a 17-year-old girl from my son's school died. She was in band, and he is more withdrawn today.

  44. Very thought provoking post and one that is ever present for those of us who strive to emulate Jesus.  Even at best "...we never failed to fail it was the easiest thing to do."   We heed warnings, adhere to His promise of love, hope, mercy.   One of my favorites:  James 2:13, "...Mercy triumphs over judgment!"

    I love your blog, Dr. Beck!  Thank you for causing us to think...and study!

  45. Hi Gary,
    Like you, I've been haunted by hell since I was a small child, preached at about how worthless and hell-deserving I was. And I totally believed it. Totally.  I don't know if there is anything more demoralizing than getting it from both realms, church and family, of being told how you're deserving of ECT, and just by breathing in and out, you're a sinner of totally depraved proportions when you're not even old enough to DO anything. And those who proudly and staunchly defend such assertions care nothing for those on whom they inflict such a characterization, threatening, "Believe and love God or ELSE, you worthless sinner!" And then characterize THAT as LOVE. -----NOT!

    Susan, like you, I'm praying that I'm the generation that is able to absorb it without passing it down to my kids. It may be my only achievement in life, if I'm able to at least protect my kids from having their lives haunted with a sense of worthlessness. Life is heartbreaking enough as it is.

    I think Dr. Beck's creative and scholarly deconstruction of systemitized theologies, and their practical effects is so therapeutic (I hope he never tires of doing this), as well as the community here where others like me can find each other. Ya'll are my friends.

  46. Patricia, oh no; I'm so sorry.  My heart goes out to the family of the girl who was part of your son's band.  The death of a child is so sad, and hard to grieve -- even for grown-ups.  It takes years of experience to gain the vocabulary, even, to articulate the gamut of emotions contained in grief and loss.  Sometimes there just are no good words.  Thinking of you with prayers for comfort and healing,  dear friend.  I would give you a hug right now, if I could.  (Love), Susan

  47. "...a basis for salvation based on works"
    I agree.  I see too much of this view creeping in and undermining the long-established position of PSA held by most mainstream and evangelical churches.
    Last week I read a quote/parable from a very respected Christian leader who said in effect that ungodly people who care for others have a better chance of getting into heaven than those who faithfully serve God in their churches.  Not sure if I will read any more from that leader- be on guard against his influence,  his name is Jesus.

  48. Truly heartbreaking, because it's not just a death -- it's a suicide. It hasn't been reported in the news yet, but the kids all know.

  49. interesting, that for at least some of us, it sounds exactly like who is and isn't going to hell.

  50. Sorry, Dr. Beck. This parable is heretical, self-serving, pretentious, and self-righteous.

    If you really wanted to illustrate your point, then you might as well exegete Matthew 25 about the parable of sheep and the goats. That would work better to convince those who would disagree with you.

  51. Thank you, Susan.  I appreciate your good wishes.  No bones broken and the bruises are gradually disappearing.  I go in for a cardiac evaluation next week as this is my 3rd fall in the last few months and we need to find out what's causing them. 

    I agree with Madeleine L'Engle when she said that her theology was always subject to change.  I change.  Why shouldn't my understanding of God, limited as it is, also change.  To be truthful, I understand God more fully when I watch a tree in the garden burst into green life in the spring or see the sky full of stars on a clear winter  night.  Why should we limit God to all the tomes of organized theology written through the centuries.   All the "ologies"......soteriology, ecclesiology, eschatology and more.  Topics for discussion, but they're only man's opinion.

    I was amazed to read in one of Eugene Peterson's books that he thought one could have too much Bible study!

  52. Heretical? What's heretical about it? What creedal statement am I denying in the parable?

  53. I think I see your problem. In the last line you say the parable is trying to "demonstrate how salvation works." That's not what the parable is doing at all. The story isn't presenting a soteriological scheme or a hypothetical judgment scenario.

    I mean, given how the story plays out, only one person--the young girl--gets saved. And even that isn't stated directly. Maybe no one gets saved. More, the elect go off to an unspecified "judgment." Maybe that's a 10 minute timeout. Who knows? The parable isn't trying to be specific about salvation or judgment.

    This isn't a sketch of how salvation works. It's a parable, a P.A.R.A.B.L.E.

    To the one that has ears...

  54. I think this is exactly why Tolkien disliked allegory. People get too literal about every nook and cranny and rather than enjoying where a story takes them, they dissected it with their analytical prowess.

  55. Reminds a bit of one of my favourite passages from from Geoge Macdonalds book Robert Falconer (Chapter XII. Robert's plan of salvation). where Robert is talking to his Granny he would do if and when he gets to heaven.....
    'Weel, gin I win in there, the verra first nicht I sit doon wi' the lave o' them, I'm gaein' to rise up an' say—that is, gin the Maister, at the heid o' the table, disna bid me sit doon—an' say: "Brithers an' sisters, the haill o' ye, hearken to me for ae minute; an', O Lord! gin I say wrang, jist tak the speech frae me, and I'll sit doon dumb an' rebukit. We're a' here by grace and no by merit, save his, as ye a' ken better nor I can tell ye, for ye hae been langer here nor me. But it's jist ruggin' an' rivin' at my hert to think o' them 'at's doon there. Maybe ye can hear them. I canna. Noo, we hae nae merit, an' they hae nae merit, an' what for are we here and them there? But we're washed clean and innocent noo; and noo, whan there's no wyte lying upo' oursel's, it seems to me that we micht beir some o' the sins o' them 'at hae ower mony. I call upo' ilk ane o' ye 'at has a frien' or a neebor down yonner, to rise up an' taste nor bite nor sup mair till we gang up a'thegither to the fut o' the throne, and pray the Lord to lat's gang and du as the Maister did afore 's, and beir their griefs, and cairry their sorrows doon in hell there; gin it maybe that they may repent and get remission o' their sins, an' come up here wi' us at the lang last, and sit doon wi' 's at this table, a' throuw the merits o' oor Saviour Jesus Christ, at the heid o' the table there. Amen.'

  56. Here is a rough translation if the old Scots is too difficult:
    'Well, if I get make it there [Heaven], the very first night I sit down with the others, I'm going to rise up and say - that is if the Master, at the head of the table, doesn't ask me to me sit down - and say "Brothers and sisters, all of you listen to me for a minute; and O Lord! if I say anything wrong, just take the speech from me, and I'll sit down dumb and rebuked.  We're all here by grace and not by merit, except his, as you all know better than I can tell you for you have been here longer than I have.  But its just tearing my heart apart to think of them that are down there.  Maybe you can hear them.  I can't.  Now we have no merit, and they have no merit, and for what reason are we here and them there?  But we're washed clean and innocent now; and now, when there is no weight [of sin] lying upon ourselves, it seems to me that we might bear some of the sins of those that have many.  I call upon all of you that has a friend or a neighbour down yonder, to rise up and taste not a bite or sip more until we go up altogether to the foot of the throne, and pray the Lord to let us go and do as the Master did before us, and bear their griefs, and carry their sorrows down in hell there; then it maybe that they may repent and get remission of their sins, and come up here with us at long last, and sit doon with us at this table, all through the merits of our Saviour Jesus Christ, at the head of the table there. Amen.'

  57. That does seem to be the case. Though I am not complaining. Just trying to nudge interpretations toward what I was thinking when I wrote it.

  58. I found this to be a very sad parable.  I wonder how the little girl felt about God after she made her sacrifice.  I'm sure she was shocked to see her family (supposedly) and friends and all those she was with lose their salvation because of her sacrifice.  Sure made God look like something you did not intend.  To be angry at those who are pious and judgmental is no different than being angry at those who are evil.  I know this is a parable, and an attack at systematic theology, however, it sure didn't bring any peace and forgiveness to my heart...

  59. Eh. Eschatology + Salvation + Sacrifice obscures the whole picture. It's like mixing metaphors. Probably only understandable to those who are regularly active in these commentaries, imho.

    Anyways, I'm going to take a leave of silence. Laters.

  60. As a kinda existential Buddhist myself I think the crux of this story is something completely different.
    The girl correctly identities that heaven is not something any God (or Buddha) can dish out. Genuine eternal life is not a payment for the way of the cross, it is the way of the cross.
    The girl knows that heaven as a big pink cloud palace is actually hell if the world still suffers. Meanwhile if she is being compassionate some plane of eternal fire is really heaven.
    Gods actions at the end of the story are irrelevant.
    I expressed it in my own fable at http://humblewonderful.blogspot.com.au/2011/09/i-trust-in-god.html?m=1

  61. Is this really a parable? Wouldn't you classify it more as a fable? :)

    It does have shades of Romans 9... "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy ..." but even in my wildest interpretation of scripture I could not see these events unfolding. However, using the parable to understand the "heart condition" that we ought to have is spot on.

  62. Love the parable, Richard, and the twist it gives to the way we tend (or are taught) to understand things. A fine piece, at the level of Peter Rollins' parables.

  63. Thanks for this interesting parable.  It is nice to think that the self righteous will get theirs, except that thought probably places me among the self-righteous.  It is always a hard trail to follow - what we do matters - except that it doesn't?

  64. For my part, I wasn't really wanting to say anything about self-righteousness per se, though that is a part of what I'm concerned about.

    At root, the parable is a thought-balloon wondering about the notion that salvation/election is a possession that one group has in relation to another group and what the Christlike thing would be to do in that regard. As I read Jesus, he'd give his life away to save someone else. And if that's the case, if we saw someone act like Jesus on Judgment Day, then I wonder if that doesn't internally undermine how we've tended to think about elect and the damned.

    And, yes, such questions should call into question all forms of self-righteousness. My own included.

  65. Yes, it's a parable. And yes, it does exactly what a parable is supposed to do. By turning a common story, cultural assumption or myth on its ear it makes a point. As usual with parables, even Jesus' parables, it's not interested in being doctrinaly or theologically consistent or correct. It's interested in saying something that the hearers would find shocking or troubling so that a point can be made for those that have ears to hear.

    I, for one, think the point comes through loud and clear. It's an awesome point. It should make people squirm.

    My wife, who was raised by a nominally Jewish father and a nominally Christian mother, and who is a confessed Christian herself, has always said that if her father ends up being sent to eternal torment she will demand to be sent there with him. That used to really bother me, and I used to spend a lot of time trying to "teach" her from the scriptures how wrong-headed she was. Well, she ended up teaching me a thing or two instead. And thank God for her I say.

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