Mercy for all
When people gathered in churches across America and other countries on the day of mourning, September 14, 2001, they came to hear words of comfort, encouragement, and hope. However, a number of conservative Christian church leaders - against their intent to give hope to the grieving nation - unwittingly spread a message that fueled despair, discouragement, and fear. That is to say to people who had lost loved ones in the attack, relatives or friends who had not yet confessed to Christ. Many fundamentalist and evangelical Christians are convinced that anyone who dies without professing Jesus Christ, if only because he has never heard of Christ, will go to hell after death and suffer indescribable agony there - from the hand of God, which the same Christians ironically speak of as God of love, grace and mercy. "God loves you" some of us Christians seem to say, but then comes the small print: "If you do not say a basic prayer before death, my merciful Lord and Savior will torture you forever."
The gospel of Jesus Christ is good news (Greek euangélion = happy customer, message of salvation), with the emphasis on "good". It is and remains the happiest of all messages, for absolutely everyone. It is not only good news for the few who became acquainted with Christ before death; it is good news for all of creation - for all people without exception, even those who have died without ever hearing about Christ.
Jesus Christ is the offering of reconciliation not only for the sins of Christians but for those of the whole world (1 John 2,2). The creator is also the reconciler of his creation (Colossians 1,15: 20). Whether people learn this truth before they die does not depend on its truth content. It depends only on Jesus Christ, not on human action or any human reaction.
Jesus says: "So God loved the world that he gave his only begotten son so that all who believe in him are not lost, but have eternal life" (John 3,16, all citations revised Luther translation, standard edition). It is God who loved the world and God who gave his son; and he gave it to redeem what he loved - the world. Whoever believes in the Son whom God sent will enter into eternal life (better: «to the life of the coming age»).
With no syllable it is written here that this belief must come before physical death. No: The verse says that believers "are not lost", and since even believers die, it is obvious that "lost" and "dying" are not the same thing. Faith prevents people from being lost, but not from dying. The loss of which Jesus speaks here, translated from the Greek appolumi, denotes a spiritual death, not a physical one. It has to do with final annihilation, eradication, disappearance without a trace. Whoever believes in Jesus will not find such an irrevocable end, but will enter into life (soe) of the coming age (aion).
Some will still enter into their lifetime, as walking on earth, for life in the coming age, for life in the empire. But they represent only a small minority of the "world" (cosmos) that God loved so much that he sent his son to save them. What about the rest? This verse does not say that God cannot or will not save those who die physically without believing.
The idea that physical death obstructs God once and for all the possibility of saving someone or making someone believe in Jesus Christ is a human interpretation; there is no such thing in the Bible. Rather, we are told: Man dies, and then comes the judgment (Hebrews 9,27). The judge, we always want to remember that, will be thank God none other than Jesus, the slaughtered Lamb of God, who died for human sins. That changes everything.
Creator and reconciler
Where does the view come from that God can only save the living, not the dead? He did overcome death, didn't he? He rose from the dead, didn't he? God doesn't hate the world; he loves her. He didn't create man for hell. Christ came at that time to save the world, not to judge it (John 3,17).
On September 16, the Sunday after the attacks, a Christian teacher before his Sunday school class said: God is as perfect in hatred as in love, which explains why there is hell as well as heaven. The dualism (the idea that good and evil are two equally strong opposing forces in the universe) is a heresy. Didn't he realize that he was thus shifting dualism into God, that he was postulating a God who carried and embodied the tension of perfect hatred - perfect love?
God is absolutely righteous and all sinners are judged and condemned, but the gospel, the good news, initiates us into the mystery that God in Christ accepted this sin and this sentence on our behalf! Indeed, hell is real and terrible. But it was precisely this terrible hell reserved for the ungodly that Jesus suffered on behalf of humanity (2 Corinthians 5,21:27,46; Matthew 3,13; Galatians).
All people have been punished with sin (Romans 6,23), but God gives us eternal life in Christ (same verse). Therefore it is called: grace. In the chapter before, Paul puts it this way: «But gift is not like sin. Because when the many have died through the sin of the one ['the many', that is, everyone, everyone; there is no one who does not bear Adam's guilt] how much more is God's grace and gift given to the many [again: everyone, absolutely everyone] by the grace of the one man Jesus Christ » (Romans 5,15).
Paul says: As hard as our punishment is, and it is very hard (the verdict is in hell), so she withdraws from grace and the gift of grace in Christ. In other words, God's word of reconciliation in Christ is incomparably louder than his damnation word in Adam - one is completely drowned out by the other («By how much more»). Therefore Paul can tell us in 2 Corinthians 5,19:5,15: In Christ «[God] reconciled the world [everyone, the" many "from Romans] with himself and did not count their sins for them [more] .. . »
Back to the friends and loved ones of those who died without professing their faith in Christ: does the gospel offer them any hope, any encouragement as to the fate of their loved ones? In fact, in the Gospel of John, Jesus says in verbal speech: "And I, when I am exalted from the earth, I will draw everyone to me" (John 12,32). This is good news, the truth of the gospel. Jesus did not set out a schedule, but he stated that he wanted to draw everyone, not just a few who managed to get to know him before their death, but absolutely everyone.
No wonder Paul wrote to the Christians in the city of Kolossae that God had "pleased", mind you: "pleased" that through Christ he "reconciled everything to himself, be it on earth or in heaven by making peace through himself Blood on the cross » (Colossians 1,20). That's good news. And, as Jesus says, it is good news for the whole world, not just for a limited group of the elect.
Paul wants to let his readers know that this Jesus, this son of God raised from the dead, is not just an interesting new founder of religion with a few new theological ideas. Paul tells them that Jesus is none other than the creator and sustainer of all things (Verses 16-17), and more than that: that it is God's way to bring absolutely everything back in alignment that has failed in history since the beginning of history (Verse 20)! In Christ - says Paul - God takes the ultimate step to fulfill all the promises made to Israel - promises that one day he will forgive all sins in a pure act of mercy, comprehensively and universally, and make everything new (see Acts 13,32: 33-3,20; 21: 43,19-21,5; Isaiah 8,19: 21; Rev.; Romans).
Only the Christian
"But salvation is only intended for Christians," howl the fundamentalists. Sure, that's right. But who are "Christians"? Is it just those who parrot a standardized repentance and conversion prayer? Is it just the baptized by immersion? Are they only those who belong to the "true church"? Only those who get absolution through a legitimately ordained priest? Only those who have stopped sinning? (Did you do it? I didn't.) Only those who get to know Jesus before they die? Or does Jesus himself - in whose nail-pierced hands God has put judgment - ultimately make the decision who belongs to the circle of those to whom he shows mercy? And once he is there, he decides who has overcome death and who can give away eternal life to whom he wants, regardless of when he makes someone believe, or we meet the all-round defenders of true religion , this decision instead?
At some point, every Christian has become a Christian, that is, brought to believe by the Holy Spirit. The fundamentalist position, however, seems to be that it is impossible for God to make a person believe after he dies. But wait - Jesus is the one who raises the dead. And he is the one who is the victim of reconciliation, not only for our sins but for those of the whole world (1 John 2,2).
"But the parable of Lazarus," some will argue. "Doesn't Abraham say that there is a huge, insurmountable gap between his side and the side of the rich man?" (See Luke 16,19: 31.)
Jesus did not want this parable to be understood as a photographic portrayal of life after death. How many Christians would describe Heaven as “Abraham's bosom,” a place where Jesus is nowhere to be seen? The parable is a message to the privileged class of Judaism in the first century, not a portrait of life after the resurrection. Before we read out more than Jesus put in, let's compare what Paul wrote in Romans 11,32.
The rich man in the parable is still unrepentant. He still sees himself as rank and higher than Lazarus. He still sees in Lazarus only someone who is there to serve him. Perhaps it is reasonable to assume that it was the rich man's persistent disbelief that made the gap so insurmountable, not an arbitrary cosmic necessity. Let us remember: Jesus himself, and only He, closes the otherwise insurmountable gap from our sinful state to reconciliation with God. Jesus emphasizes this point, this statement of the parable - that salvation comes only through faith in him - when he says: "If you do not hear Moses and the prophets, you will not be persuaded if someone rises from the dead" (Luke 16,31).
God's purpose is to bring people to salvation, not to torture them. Jesus is a reconciler, and believe it or not, he does an excellent job. He is the savior of the world (John 3,17), not the Savior of a fraction of the world. «Because God loved the world» (Verse 16) - and not just one person in a thousand. God has ways, and His ways are higher than our ways.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says: "Love your enemies" (Matthew 5,43). One can safely assume that he loved his enemies. Or should one believe that Jesus hates his enemies, but demands that we love one another, and that his hatred provides the explanation that there is hell? That would be extremely abstruse. Jesus calls us to love our enemies because he also has them. «Father, forgive them; because they don't know what they're doing! » was his intercession for those who crucified him (Luke 23,34).
Certainly: Those who reject Jesus' grace even after getting to know them will ultimately reap the fruits of their stupidity. For people who refuse to come to the Lamb's meal, there is no place other than extreme darkness (one of the pictorial expressions with which Jesus describes the state of alienation from God, the distance from God; see Matthew 22,13:25,30;).
Mercy for all
In the letter to the Romans (11,32) Paul makes the astonishing statement: "For God has included everyone in disobedience so that he may have mercy on all." In fact, the original Greek word designates everyone, not some, but all. All are sinners and all are shown mercy in Christ - whether they like it or not; whether they accept it or not; whether they find out before death or not.
What more can one say about this revelation than what Paul says in the next verse: "Oh what a depth of wealth, both the wisdom and knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are his dishes and his paths beyond exploration! Because 'who recognized the Lord's meaning or who was his counselor?' Or 'who gave him something beforehand that God should reward him?' Because from him and through him and to him are all things. Glory to him forever! Amen" (Verses 33-36).
Yes, so unfathomable are his ways that many of us Christians simply can not believe that the gospel can be so good. And some of us seem to know God's thought so well that we just know that anyone who is not a Christian at death is going straight to hell. Paul, on the other hand, wants to make it clear that the indescribable extent of divine grace is simply unfathomable to us - a mystery that only reveals itself in Christ: in Christ, God has done something that transcends the human horizon of knowledge.
In his letter to Christians at Ephesus, Paul tells us that God intended this from the beginning (Ephesians 1,9: 10). It was the underlying reason for the calling of Abraham, for the election of Israel and David, for the federal decisions (3,5-6). God also saves the "strangers" and non-Israelites (2,12). He even saves the wicked (Romans 5,6). He literally pulls everyone to himself (John 12,32). Throughout the history of the world, God's Son works “in the background” and does his redemptive work of reconciling all things with God (Colossians 1,15: 20). God's grace has its own logic, a logic that often seems illogical to religious people.
The only way to salvation
In short: Jesus is the only way to salvation, and he draws absolutely everyone to himself - in his own way, in his time. It would be helpful to clarify the fact that human intellect cannot be grasped: there is nowhere else in the universe than in Christ because, as Paul says, there is nothing that was not created by him and does not exist in him (Colossians 1,15: 17). The people who ultimately reject him do so despite his love; Jesus does not reject them (he doesn't - he loves them, died for them and forgave them), but they reject him.
CS Lewis put it this way: “In the end there are only two types of people: those who say to God 'your will be done' and those to whom God ultimately says 'YOUR will be done'. Those who are in hell have chosen this destiny themselves. Without this personal decision, there could be no hell. No soul that seriously and permanently strives for joy will miss it. Whoever searches, finds. Who knocks is opened » (The Great Divorce, Chapter 9). (1)
Heroes in hell?
As I Christians so about the meaning of the 11. Heard the preaching of September heroic firefighters and policemen who sacrificed their lives trying to save people from the burning World Trade Center. How does it agree that Christians call these rescuers heroes and applaud their sacrifice, but declare that if they have not confessed themselves to Christ before they die, they will now be tormented in hell?
The gospel explains that there is hope for all who have lost their lives in the World Trade Center without prior confession to Christ. It is the resurrected Lord that they will meet after death, and he is the judge - he with the nail holes in his hands - ready to embrace and embrace all of his creatures who come to him. He forgave them before they were born (Ephesians 1,4; Romans 5,6 and 10). This part is done, also for us who believe now. The only thing left for those who come before Jesus to lay down their crowns before the throne and accept his gift. Some may not. Perhaps they are so rooted in self-love and hatred of others that they will see the risen Lord as their archenemy. It's more than a shame, it's a cosmic catastrophe because he's not her archenemy. Because he loves her, anyway. Because he wants to gather her in his arms like a hen her chicks if they just let him.
However, if we believe Roman 14,11 and Philipp 2,10, we can assume that the vast majority of people who died in that terrorist attack will happily rush into Jesus' arms, like children in the arms of their parents.
"Jesus saves", Christians write on their posters and stickers. Right. He does it. And he is the beginner and accomplisher of salvation, he is the origin and goal of everything created, all creatures, including the dead. God did not send his son into the world to judge the world, Jesus says. He sent it to save the world (John 3,16: 17).
Regardless of what some say: God wants to save all people without exception (1 Timothy 2,4: 2; 3,9 Peter), not just a few. And what you still need to know - he never gives up. He never stops loving. He never ceases to be what he was, is and always will be for people - their creators and reconcilers. Nobody falls through the mesh. Nobody was made to go to hell. If someone does go to hell - the small, meaningless, dark nowhere corner of the realm of eternity - it is only because they stubbornly refuse to accept the grace that God has for them. And not because God hates him (he doesn't). Not because God is vengeful (it is not). It's because he 1) hates the kingdom of God and rejects his grace, and 2) because God doesn't want him to spoil the joy of others.
The gospel is a message of hope for absolutely everyone. Christian preachers do not have to work with hell threats to force people to convert to Christ. You can simply proclaim the truth, the good news: «God loves you. He is not angry with you. Jesus died for you because you are a sinner, and God loves you so much that He saved you from everything that destroys you. Then why do you want to go on living as if there was nothing else but the dangerous, cruel, unpredictable and merciless world you have? Why don't you come and start to experience God's love and taste the blessings of his kingdom? You already belong to him. He has already paid off your sin. He will turn your grief into joy. He will give you inner peace that you have never known. It will bring meaning and orientation to your life. It will help you improve your relationships. He will give you rest. Trust him. He is waiting for you."
The message is so good that it literally gushes out of us. In Romans 5,10: 11, Paul writes: "For if we have been reconciled to God by the death of his son when we were still enemies, how much more will we be saved by his life after we are now reconciled. Not only that, but we also boast of God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. »
The ultimate of hope! The ultimate of grace! Through Christ's death, God reconciles his enemies and saves them by Christ's life. No wonder we can boast of God through our Lord Jesus Christ - through Him we already participate in what we tell other people. They do not have to go on living as if they have no place on God's table; he has already reconciled them, they can go home, they can go home.
Christ saves sinners. That's really good news. The best that can ever be heard by man.
by J. Michael Feazell