Depression Due to Lack of Faithfulness? Yes!

When I used to get into my depressive episodes, I thought that the idea of me not having enough faith as the reason for my depression offended me. After all, do you not see the loneliness, the isolation, the sadness, the constant anxiety I go though? And you dare to tell me all of this is because I don’t believe God enough? How dare you!

But the more I’ve thought about it and the more I’ve grown and matured in my mental and Christian experience, the more that mantra is strangely true. The Scriptures talk about a God who promises grace (2 Cor 12:9), forgiveness (1 John 1:9), joy (Psalm 16:11) and eternal life (John 3:16) to those who repent and believe in Him. And unlike us, who always make and break promises, He always keeps His promises (Deut 7:9). If I actually believe these promises, I have no reason for depression. I have hope, I have gladness and ecstatic feelings of God’s love in my heart that enriches the soul. 

But what if I don’t believe His promises? Then what can I believe? How can I be sure that things will get better, that the lonely nights and depressive episodes will come to an end? If I don’t believe these things, I have no secure basis for hope, and I will once again enter the cycle of self pity and depression until I break and may do something that I will regret, both now and in the life to come. 

Case in point: the amount of time I spend in worship, in prayer, and in study of the Scriptures is undoubtedly tied to my mood. The more I do these things, the more uplifted I feel, the more positive my outlook, and the more willing I am to go and do the work of God. But if I stray away, I descend into dark and gloomy places which drag me down into grief, anger, lust, and selfish feelings which pull me away from God and others. God is life and light (John 1:4), and the closer I am to Him, the closer I am to life and light as a result.
Scripture confirms this worldview. The Word of God is the spiritual food we must live by, unless we starve ourselves of what our souls need.

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

– Deuteronomy 8:3

So in short, yes, my depression is linked to my faithfulness. May the Lord increase my faith (Luke 17:5)!

Begotten or Only? Or Both?! The Nature of Christ and the Relationship of the Son to the Father

holy-trinity

Any student of church history would acknowledge that controversies concerning the nature of Christ are nothing new. From the Arianism of the 3rd and 4th centuries to the Jehovah’s Witnesses of modern times, the divinity and Sonship of Jesus has been the subject of church councils and theological debates throughout the centuries. And as history has shown us, this is no little issue either. What you believe about the nature of Jesus has major consequences for theology.

Today, I am tackling an issue of Christology that many people would not find to be so major: is Jesus begotten from the Father, or is He the unique Son of God? At first glance, this does not seem to be a big deal. They do, after all, seem to represent the same idea regarding Jesus’s sonship. Or is it a more important issue than we surmise?

John 3:16

Without question, the most popular and well-known verse in the church, as well as popular culture, is John 3:16. Countless sermons and commentaries have been poured over this verse, and for those who are un-churched, you’ve probably seen “John 3:16” many times at football games, plastered across signs and eye black.  For most of us, we can scan through the verse without comment or thought about its meaning or its implications.

You are probably most familiar with the King James version of this passage, which goes as so:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

In recent years, however, you may have noticed a trend in how this verse is translated:

NIV: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

ESV: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

ISV: For this is how God loved the world: He gave his unique Son so that everyone who believes in him might not be lost but have eternal life.

NRSV: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

NABRE: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.

As noted above, most modern translations drop the word “begotten” from the verse entirely. Oddly enough, this trend is not bound to evangelical circles either. Liberal translations such as the NRSV and Catholic translations like the NABRE also remove “begotten”. As I will argue below, the dropping of one word has big implications for interpretation and theology.

Only or Begotten? What’s the Difference?

In one sense, the terms “only” and “begotten” can be interpreted as interchangeable. One can argue that “only” can carry the same sense as “begotten” because of 1. the word for “begotten” in the Greek text (see below), and 2. the meaning that can be assumed from the text. Surely, if we read our English Bibles, we can understand that Christ is the only unique Son of the Father in the Trinity without having to make unnecessary additions to Scriptures, right?

On closer investigation, “only” in reference to Christ’s relationship to the Father is a poor term to describe the Godhead. One reason for this is the ambiguity that naturally arises concerning Jesus’s divinity. Christ can certainly be called God’s only son without having to affirm the Son as divine. This is what the fourth-century church leader Arius proclaimed, arguing that Jesus was not in of himself divine but was the first and greatest of the Father’s creations. If “begotten” is retained, we then now see that Christ’s begotteness  means that Christ shares His Father’s nature, thereby being at one with the Father in divinity (John 10:30).

Another reason against the word “only” for describing Christ’s nature revolves around another Christian doctrine, namely that of adoption. By entering the family of God, we inherit the right to become sons and daughters of God, though not ourselves becoming divine. As the Apostle Paul writes, “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!'” (Rom 8:15). Becuase of this, Christ cannot be the only son of God, as the saints themselves are also sons of God. By being “begotten”, Christ stands alone among all the children of God. He is not creaturely or created like the adopted saints, but has and always will be God’s “biological” son, not merely adopted as such.

μονογενη

The Greek word for “begotten” in the text is μονογενη (monogene). It could literally be translated as “unique/one of a kind” (μόνος=only, alone/γένος=family, offspring), and is used several times throughout the New Testament as well as the Septuagint. Almost every time in the Scriptures, μονογενη is used to refer to a biological child:

Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah. And behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his only child; besides her he had neither son nor daughter.

– Judges 11:34 (LXX)

O daughter of my people, put on sackcloth And roll in ashes; Mourn as for an only son, A lamentation most bitter. For suddenly the destroyer Will come upon us.

– Jeremiah 6:26 (LXX)

As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her.’

– Luke 7:12

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son;*

– Hebrews 11:17

There are instances, however, where it may be ambiguous as to whether μονογενη means only biological son or daughter. One of the most cited examples used against the “begotten” translation comes from First Clement, a letter written by the early church father Clement of Rome. In his letter to the Corinthians (not to be confused with Paul’s letters to the Corinthians), Clement describes the mythical creature of the phoenix as an allegory of the resurrection:

Let us consider that wonderful sign [of the resurrection] which takes place in Eastern lands, that is, in Arabia and the countries round about. There is a certain bird which is called a phoenix. This is the only one of its kind, and lives five hundred years; and when it reaches the time of its dissolution that it should die, it makes for itself a coffin of frankincense and myrrh and other spices, into which in the fulness of time it enters and then dies. But as the flesh rots, a certain worm is engendered, which is nurtured from the moisture of the dead creature, and puts forth wings. Then when it has grown lusty, it takes up that coffin where are the bones of its parent, and carrying them, it journeys from the country of Arabia even unto Egypt, to the place called the City of the Sun—and in full daylight and in the sight of all, it flies to the altar of the Sun and lays them on it. And this done, it then returns. So the priests examine the registers of the times, and they find that it has come when the five hundredth year is completed.

– First Clement 24

Many scholars, including Christian scholars such as Richard Longnecker (“The One and Only Son”), have used this passage to argue against translating μονογενη as “begotten” because it is not implied that the phoenix is the offspring of anything before it. By this line of reasoning, the phoenix must be considered “one and only” because the phoenix has no biological parent that is the same in nature as its offspring. The argument falls flat, however, because the offspring of the phoenix, the regeneration of itself, can still carry the same meaning of being “begotten”, being both unique as well as arising out of the same nature as its predecessor (Herodotus, Histories 2. 73).

Another example used by some scholars to demonstrate the variety of meaning for μονογενη is by the fifth-century philosopher Parmenides, who writes that Being is “ungenerated [ageneton], imperishable, whole, unique [monogenes], and without end” (Parmenides B.8:4). There are two major problems with this argument, one of which is the ambiguity of the passage. Further research into this fragment of Parmenides’s writing has shown that the wording may had been corrupted, weakening the veracity of using the passage as evidence against its translation. And even if μονογενη had been a part of the original work, too much time had elapsed between Parmenides and the Gospel of John (almost half a millennium!) to ascertain whether or not the word still carried the same meaning as it did for John.

Due to the great weight of the evidence for the traditional rendering of μονογενη and the weak evidence for the “only, unique” translation, it is the opinion of this writer that the Greek word carries the sense of the person/object being the only biological/natural offspring of its parent/descendant. Consequently, there is no strong reason from Scripture to exclude “begotten” from John 3:16 or the other passages in John (1:14, 1:18, 3:18) on lexical or theological grounds. But what has the Church thought about this?

The Begotten Son of God in the Early Church

The concept of Jesus being the only Son of God has been a doctrine historically affirmed by the Church at various times, starting with the Apostles Creed:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth;
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son Our Lord

What is meant by being the Son of God, though, was a major point of contention in the early church, and this controversy soon morphed into the major theological conflict of the 3rd and 4th centuries. On the one side were the Arians, named after Arius, the priest of Alexandria. The Arians affirmed that “there was a time when He was not”, that Jesus was the Son of God in that He was the first and greatest of God’s creations, thereby making Him a creature created by the Father and stripping him of any divine claims. On the other side were the orthodox Christians, spearheaded by Alexander of Alexandria and, more famously, Athanasius of Alexandria. The orthodox affirmed the Trinitarian aspects of God, holding that while Jesus was functionally subordinate to the will of the Father, He still was ontologically equal to the Father in divine nature. In other words, Jesus is subordinate to the will of the Father in the Godhead, but in nature He is equal to the Father. This was the position that prevailed at the Council of Nicaea in 325. Controversy continues for more than half a century (including a reaffirmation of the Arian position at Sirmium in 357) until the orthodox position was affirmed again at the Council of Constantinople in 381, a position officially defined in the Nicene Creed:

We believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
begotten from the Father before all ages,
God from God,
Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made;
      of the same essence as the Father.

Ever since, the Church has essentially affirmed the words of the Nicene Creed with regards to nature of the Son with the Father. Arius has gone down in Christian history as a notorious heretic and branches of Christianity such as the Unitarians have been labeled as heterodox and not within the boundaries of classical Christianity. Today, the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, and most Protestant churches have held to the divinity of Christ and His relation to the Father as begotten from Him.

Conclusion

Words can carry a great deal of weight. The removal or addition of even one word can change the entire meaning, and in fewer places is this truer than in the establishment of doctrine.  In this case, the dropping of the word “begotten” from Christian translations affects how we see God and how we understand who Jesus is. Most likely, the dropping of the word was not to dismiss the doctrine of Christ’s relationship to the Father. This was probably done out of convenience to the reader in order that the Bible is easier to read. At the same time, there comes a point when we cannot sacrifice important doctrines for convenience, especially on matters of theology and Christology.

*According to Scripture, Abraham had more than one begotten son, as Ishmael was also a son of his body (Gen 16:15). The  author of Hebrews of course knew this, but highlighted Issac because he was the son through whom the convenant was to be established, making Issac Abraham’s “true son”.

 

Does God Hate? Why He Does and Why That’s a Good Thing

Hey guys. It’s been way too long since I’ve last posted anything on here. My life’s been pretty crazy and I apologize for the hold-up! Well anyway I wanted to get an article out for now, but I’m also working on a few other posts in the meantime that, God willing, I will have out soon. God bless!

I will first start off the post with a question: what do you love? It has been said that what we love defines who we are. If we love our family and our friends, things that are good and right, chances are that you would reveal yourself to be a good and caring person. But if you do not love your family or your friends, clinging instead to not so good things, your character will most likely be called into question.

The same thing goes with the character of God. God is a being whose very nature is love (1 John 4:8). He is portrayed as “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exod 34:7). Because He is a God of love, the Lord likewise commands us to love our neighbors (Lev 19:18). Jesus takes this command and expands it to include love for our enemies and persecutors (Matt 5:44). Out of love springs God’s other attributes: compassion (Psalm 78:38), mercy (Psalm 25:6), gentleness (Matt 11:29), and kindness (Psalm 145:17). His love is so great, in fact, that God sent His only begotten son into the world in order to save (John 3:16-17).

Save us from what, we might ask? From God’s wrath against sin. But is not God a god of love? That He is, but the love of the Lord goes much deeper than the superficial, shallow feelings that pervade today’s culture. Today’s church does good to discuss the love of God, but it is often at the expense of the other side of the coin: the Lord’s concern for justice as well as holiness (Isa 5:16). He is concerned for these things so much, in fact, that there are things that the Lord cannot tolerate, or dare I say, hate.

God Hates Sin

Proverbs 6:16-19 explicitly lays out a summary of what the Lord hates, things which are also equated in other passages in the Old Testament as an “abomination”,

There are six things that the Lord hates,
    seven that are an abomination to him:
haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
    and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
    feet that make haste to run to evil,
a false witness who breathes out lies,
    and one who sows discord among brothers.

Because of our fall from grace, humanity has neutered the seriousness of sin. It is something we do everyday of our lives, consciously or unconsciously, so at times we may forget or be unaware of sin’s dire and fatal consequences.  While sin may not seem so serious to us, it is most certainly an offense against God. Because God is wholly good, He is perfect and without any error or imperfection (Deut 32:4) and accordingly, God cannot even bear the sight of sin (Hab 1:13). While we may wrong each other in gross and wicked ways, the ultimate injustice committed is against Him (Psalm 51:4). So great is this offense that the penalty for sin, any sin, is death (Ezek 18:24, Rom 6:23), and creates a chasm between man and God (Isa 59:2). Sin is a destroyer that disrupts the harmony between the Creator and the created, a soured relationship that grieves God against those whom He made (Gen 6:6). As a result, any offense against a holy God inevitably results in judgment, crimes which in His perfect justice must make the world answer for (Isa 13:11).

God Hates Evildoers

In a culture where we love to say that God loves everyone equally, the biblical portrait can ring as offensive to modern ears. To a degree, this statement is true. After all, it rains on both the just as well as the unjust (Matt 5:45), and if God truly hated all of us, none of us would be here today. Even in the light of the grotesqueness of our sin, God allows us to live and sometimes even thrive on this Earth. This is what theologians call common grace, a grace that, while not salvific, shows a degree of love to all people.

Nonetheless, the testimony of Scripture is clear: God cannot love equally, and especially cannot stand those who do evil.

The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers.

– Psalm 5:5

Every evil of theirs is in Gilgal; there I began to hate them. Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of my house. I will love them no more; all their princes are rebels.

– Hosea 9:15

“I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.”

– Malachi 1:2

From the biblical perspective, those who sin are not children or friends of God, by stand against Him as His enemies (John 8:42-45, Col 1:21). Those who continually to do evil and show no sign of contrition or repentance are those who love evil, an antithesis of who God is: a lover of good. Likewise, God hates men who do evil because they act contrary to God’s nature, and place themselves squarely under God’s wrath (Rom 1:18). When all is said and done, evildoers will have no place in the new heaven and new Earth, condemned to eternal separation from God’s goodness and mercy (Rev 20:10, 21:8).

But while God hates evildoers, He does not necessarily rejoice over their demise. In fact, as much as the Lord may despise what they do, God still longs for them to repent and return back to Him, as Ezekiel writes,

“But if the wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed and observes all My statutes and practices justice and righteousness, he shall surely live; he shall not die.All his transgressions which he has committed will not be remembered against him; because of his righteousness which he has practiced, he will live. Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord God, “rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?”

– Ezekiel 18:21-23

Scripture proclaims a message of repentance, not of universal condemnation. It is a call to save sinners out of the desire of God to show mercy upon them (Matt 9:13). God’s love extends so far as to show us His love in the death of His son despite our condition (Rom 5:8-9). And if we turn back to Him in repentance, God is faithful to forgive us (1 John 1:9). The testimony of men such as Saul of Tarsus confirms that even enemies of God may still be saved.

This does not change the fact, however, that a change of heart is necessary to be in God’s good graces. People must discontinue their previous lives and bear fruits of righteousness (Gal 5:22-23), showing their renewed faith by their good works (James 2:14-26). If no repentance is shown, and if we continue to do evil works despite the grace that has been shown to us, we are still destined for wrath (Luke 13:3).

Why God’s Hate is a Good Thing

There are several reasons as to why God’s hatred is necessary to the Gospel.

  1. God’s Hatred Of Sin. God hates sin so much that even the tiniest infraction is death. While this means that we all fall under God’s condemnation, this should also be good news because this means that God takes wrongdoing seriously. When injustice happens in the world, where people are brutalized and wronged on a daily basis, God is disgusted and repulsed at such gross behavior. And while God allows these things to happen for a time, it will not last forever, and the day will come where they must account for their actions (Matt 12:36). If they show no repentance, they will receive the condemnation due to them for their evil (2 Thess 2:9). The judgment of the wicked is of great comfort to the saints.
  2. God’s Hatred Increases His Love. If God loved everything and everyone, that love wouldn’t be so deep, would it? But because God hates sin, that makes Him jealous for us. We were made for God (Isa 48:10-11), so therefore He is jealous for our love and our adoration (Exod 20:5), and hates persons or things that may stand in our way of glorifying and enjoying Him. In fact, God is described as a pursuer, one who goes out of His way to find those who are lost (Luke 15:3–7). . And because we are sinners, this makes God’s love incomprehensibly deep.
  3. God’s Hatred Strengthens Our Ethic. As stated above, God has a deeply profound hatred for sin. And if God hates sin, so should we (Psalm 97:10). When evil happens against us or another person, we should not let the action slide. On the other hand, we must be willing to forgive, as we by God have been forgiven (Eph 4:32). Because God loved us while we were sinners, we must reflect that same love to others (1 John 4:19). Profound grace from God must be reflected in us too, and if we do not shown that same grace to others, God does not abide with us (1 John 4:20). If that person wrongs you and does not change though you showed love, let it go. Leave it to the Lord (Rom 12:19).

Conclusion

Every hear the old cliché “hate the sin, love the sinner”? For many of us, we hear it all too often. But in a sense, the saying is true. We are not requested to hate sin; we are required to hate any wrongdoing. As for loving the sinner, our Lord commands us to love even our enemies and pray for those who hurt us. Through this ethic, we prove ourselves to be of God.

As for God Himself, He likewise hates our sin, much more so than we can ever dare to imagine. But unlike us, out of the jealousy for His glory and His people, God also hates anything that stands in between those things which He desires. That includes any person, any idol, any object that distracts or goes against Himself or us. A perfect God who loves but also has concern for His own perfection cannot act in any other manner.

The good news is that He is so full of grace and love that even the worst of all humans can come to Him in repentance and have the slate wiped clean. Let us turn back to the God who promises infinitely more than sin could ever promise!

 

 

 

What I Believe

With all this stuff flying around about elections, I figured this would be a good time to make affirmative statements about what I believe. I wanted to do this at this time not only to fulfill the curiosity of the reader, but also because I want to come to terms with what I believe about my faith. Consequently, I’ve had to do a lot of reflection on my Christian convictions about God, Jesus, salvation, the Bible, the church etc. So I hope this is as helpful for me as it is for you.

A Long Way

But first, a little backstory. My mom was a Baptist, the denomination I was raised in. My father, on the other hand, was Catholic, and as a result I was christened in the Catholic Church. But I was dedicated in the Baptist church, the one in which I grew up in and spent most of my life in up to around a year ago. From there I’ve been attending a few evangelical churches along the way, currently attending an urban church in Philadelphia.

Though my parents were big influences spiritually, the biggest impacts on how I’ve thought has come from my grandparents. On my father’s side, both of my grandparent’s were devout Catholics. Whenever I went over their house, I could guarantee that either the Yankees would be on TV or EWTN! From them, I learned how to love, how to be kind to one another, and how to live a life dedicated to God. On my mother side, I must give a large amount of credit to my grandmother. Originally Catholic herself, she has been a faithful member of my hometown’s Baptist church for many years, and is an admirer of the word of God and Charles Stanley. From her, I also learned to love the Scriptures, to stand firm in my convictions, and to be a faithful member of God’s body, the Church.

Now growing up, I thought I got it. I read the Bible a lot, went to church a lot, was involved in church activities and the church youth group. I even got baptized (or rebaptized I guess). I thought I needed to know what I needed to know and that was that. And then my parent’s got sick. And then I went off to Temple for a semester and came back home. And then I had a crisis when I no idea what I was going to do with my life.

It was March 2011, and I decided to go visit my friends’ in North Jersey for the weekend. One night we went for a walk, and while they walked ahead I lagged behind. That’s when I began to pray more earnestly to God than any other point in my life to reveal Himself to me. Well in full force He did, and never did I feel the highest of highs and the lowest of lows at the same time. I finally got it. My life was never the same after that, and today my faith grows stronger and my understanding ever deeper.

What I Believe

But enough about that. Let’s get down to the basis of my belief. I’m not going to try to create my own statement of faith, per se, but I am going to work off the historic creeds, confessions, and beliefs of the church to construct the core of what I believe. What I write is admittedly flawed and to be judged by the standards of the ancient beliefs of the Church and, ultimately, Scripture. The two basics I’ll cover today will be my faith based on two tenets: the Bible and the creeds/confessions.

The Bible

I’ll make this as brief as I can. The starting point of my faith, as it is for all Christians, is the Bible, contained in the 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament as represented in most Protestant canons, 66 in all. This excludes the Apocrypha (also known as the deuterocanonical books) as well as extra-biblical literature such as 1 Clement and the Shepherd of Hermas, which while these books are profitable for reading and reflection, are not authoritative on points of Christian life and practice (see my article on the Apocrypha for more). In accordance with ancient church belief and modern statements such as the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, the Bible is the authoritative Word of God, inspired by Him through the hands of human authors and, while the writers were errant themselves, wrote words that were inerrant, wholly and totally truthful on all that it testifies. It is without parallel or comparison, therefore taking precedence over any church tradition, doctrine, or belief which may come into conflict with it. If any church tradition comes into conflict with Scripture, that tradition must be scrutinized by the inerrant standard.

On the other hand, the author recognizes that there are many approaches and interpretive methods employed for us to come to grips with the words of Scripture. This truth is evident in the field of hermeneutics, where allegorists such as Origen of Alexandria, literalists such as many Protestants, or post-modern interpreters of our day all have contributed greatly to our reading of the Bible. Also, the fields of biblical studies and archaeology that have arisen in the last three centuries have illuminated, confirmed, and sometimes even corrected our previous notions on how Scripture works and the cultural milieu from which it came from. The above does not, however, change the essential essence of the word of God, which is completely truthful irrespective of fallible methods of interpretation, the opinions of the Magisterium or any other governing authority on interpretation, or the flawed character of man.

Creeds and Confessions

Broadly, I am a Reformed Christian, something I’ve become more and more of since my days at Eastern University. As such, I not only hold to the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, as God’s inspired and inerrant word, but I also bind myself to the creeds and confessions as authoritative, but not ultimate, standards for Christian belief and interpretation. Likewise, I hold that the Christian belief is rooted in the ancient words of Scripture which dictates and oversees the ancient, Gospel-centered beliefs of the Church. Below are the handful of ancient creeds that are accepted universally among Orthodox Christians that I also ascribe to. In other words, one cannot reject the teachings of the four creeds and consider themselves within the catholic (universal) church:

Apostles’ Creed:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.  He descended into hell.

The third day He arose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.

Amen.

Nicene Creed:

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.  Through him all things were made.  For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.  For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.  On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.  He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father [and the Son].  With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets.  We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.  We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.  We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.  Amen.

Chalcedonian Creed:

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.

Athanasian Creed:

Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith.  Which faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.  And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance.

For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit.  But the godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, is all one, the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal.

Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit.  The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated.  The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible.

The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal.  And yet they are not three eternals, but one Eternal.

As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated, but one Uncreated, and one Incomprehensible.  So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty, and the Holy Spirit Almighty.  And yet they are not three almighties, but one Almighty.

So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.  And yet they are not three gods, but one God.

So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Spirit Lord.  And yet not three lords, but one Lord.

For as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge each Person by Himself to be both God and Lord, so we are also forbidden by the catholic religion to say that there are three gods or three lords.

The Father is made of none, neither created, nor begotten.  The Son is of the Father alone, not made, nor created, but begotten.  The Holy Spirit is of the Father, neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.

So there is one Father, not three fathers; one Son, not three sons; one Holy Spirit, not three holy spirits.

And in the Trinity none is before or after another; none is greater or less than another, but all three Persons are co-eternal together and co-equal. So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.

He therefore that will be saved must think thus of the Trinity.

Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.  For the right faith is, that we believe and confess, that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man; God, of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man of the substance of his mother, born in the world; perfect God and perfect man, of a rational soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father, as touching His godhead; and inferior to the Father, as touching His manhood; who, although He is God and man, yet he is not two, but one Christ; one, not by conversion of the godhead into flesh but by taking of the manhood into God; one altogether; not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person.  For as the rational soul and flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ; who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead.  He ascended into heaven, He sits at the right hand of the Father, God Almighty, from whence He will come to judge the quick and the dead.  At His coming all men will rise again with their bodies and shall give account for their own works.  And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.

This is the catholic faith, which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.

Fast forward a thousand years or so to the Protestant creeds and confessions. For a comprehensive Catholic statement of beliefs, I suggest reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992), a great starting point for the Catholic as well as the merely curious, but cannot be recommended if one is a Protestant. As a Reformed Christian, I subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith, as well as the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms. Don’t worry, I won’t print the entire texts here of those! Below are a few confessions and catechisms I agree with on many points, albeit with disagreements:

  • Augsburg Confession (Lutheran)
  • Book of Concord (Lutheran)
  • Heidelberg Catechism (Reformed)
  • Thirty-Nine Articles (Anglican)
  • London Baptist Confession of Faith

Conclusion

I think these will give you a good, general idea of where I stand theologically. Sorry if I seem all over the place at times, but that’s kind of where I stand at this moment. I understand that my conscience has been my ultimate judge of doctrine, even though I attempt to fall in line with what the church has and is teaching. I am also aware that my views are subject to change. In five years, I could be a Catholic for all I know!

At the same time, I believe that this journey that I’ve walked is not unique to me. Every Christian is subject to the teachings of Scripture and to the doctrines of the church, but the choice of whether to be in communion with the Holy See or be a practicing member of a Methodist church falls on the believer. People’s beliefs also change and develop over time, just as mine has even in the last several years. I hope and pray that as we walk through life, we together can work towards understanding the truth that our Lord has revealed to us.

God Bless!

 

 

The Few Observations of a Suicidal Christian

Standing on a bridge spanning the Delaware River in December of 2014, I wanted to end it all. I had one foot on the bridge, another hanging over the abyss. All I had to do was take that one final step and it would all be over. The four years preceding that night were a very painful part of my life, and I wanted it all to just go away. Perhaps God would forgive me for doing this, but honestly, I didn’t care. Anything other than this place was good enough for me.

Almost two years later, I am still here. I moved to Philly in May, I’m working a good job, and I’m trying to work my way back to grad school for a M.Div. To say that I am in a better place than I was then is an understatement. But that doesn’t mean my depressed thoughts still linger, doesn’t mean I have very dark and lonely nights. Depression is an illness that I constantly battle; it very well may be one I will fight for the rest of my life. But at the very least, I still have that one light burning in a gloomy soul. That light, my Lord, is why I am still here.

What is more amazing, however, is the amount of people I run into that also battle depression. Behind the facades of happiness and contentment are really tortured and life-battered believers who find it hard to reconcile the promises of God and the reality of life. But why are so many of my Christian brothers and sisters shy away from the subject?

Depression and Society

Even in our world where mental illness awareness is on the rise, most people just don’t want to talk about it. To be fair, it’s not a very fun thing to talk about. When you’re out with your friends or at a social gathering, chances are that the topic of discussion on a night out is how dark people’s thoughts are. At the same time, like other social issues, depression and suicide cannot simply be swept under the rug, especially at a time when suicide rates keep climbing at a staggering rate.

For instance, in an April article by the New York Times, the suicide rate has not only increase in every American age demographic (with the exception of older adults), but has also plateaued at a 30-year high. That’s right; a 30 year high! This also includes increases in suicide rates irregardless of sex or (except black men) race. Despite increased awareness in recent years, the suicide rates have not gotten any better; they’ve only gotten even worse.

Why is that?

Dramatic Societal Shifts

2016 has been a chaotic and transformative year in the United States, but the ever-evolving society has seen huge changes in not only our institutions but also in our culture. Divorce rates have risen while the marriage rate decreases, leaving more and more people isolated and alone. Suicide rates among transgendered persons are very high, fueled not only by societal expectations but also the agony of gender confusion. While men’s suicide rates are more than 3x that of women, rates for women are spiking. Notoriously high rates among Native Americans are only getting higher, exasperated by issues of poverty and alcoholism. We can go on and on, but you can see the point.

As much as statistics can help us understand what’s happening here, they’re just that: numbers. They can only tell us so much. What’s really going on here is deeper and more widespread than stats can produce.

A Jar’s Need for Filling

Human beings can best be described as jars. That is, we are creatures that need filling. None of us are made whole; if we were we would have no needs. Meaning and purpose to our lives is paramount to our survival, but we quickly realize that because we are not whole, it is impossible to find meaningfulness within ourselves. Something outside of ourselves needs to fulfill our purpose.

We look everywhere to fill the chasm, whether that be family, romance, friends, hobbies, or money. But even then these things can not fill us wholly. Even the most successful people find it hard to get by despite everything they have. In fact, suicide rates are increasing dramatically among white, middle-aged men, the least likely group you think would be wanting to end their own lives. This demographic, one who often have good jobs, plenty of friends, a wife and children, and a busy schedule are finding out that all of these material things are not fulfilling them like they should. When these sectors of their lives fall apart, that makes their situation even more dire.

When we realize that nothing on this Earth can be fully satisfying, we naturally look to something even higher than we are to find satisfaction. Religion has been the traditional answer to people’s quest for meaning and purpose, and understandably so. Now, when I call something “religion”, I do not necessarily mean the belief in a deity. Personally, I define religion as anything beyond ourselves that we ascribe to for self-worth. If it cannot be in God, then we worship something else, whether that be the sciences or nature. By this definition, even ardent atheists who are classically irreligious are by human nature deeply religious in their convictions.

The Need for God

With that in mind, now let’s turn to religion as most people understand it: the belief in God. There are many benefits to Godly convictions. After all, the belief in a god (or gods) that created human beings, that is accessible to us for intervention in our lives and who (potentially) promises us an even better existence than the one we are in all appeal to the soul’s longings. For many in our world, the God of the Bible has been their solution.
You would think, then, that depression and suicide rates would be lower among Christians. Well, that’s not entirely true either. In fact, Christians die by suicide at almost the same rates as anybody else, religious or non-religious. That alone raises the puzzling question: why?

The Universal Condition of Suicide

As mentioned above, human beings all have a desire for purpose, a longing for meaning, something that we need fulfilled. This goes across the board, whether you are an atheist or a fundamentalist, black or white, male or female. This fullness and totality of being is found in the God who made everything and everyone. But because of the universal human nature, we are born apart from God, and therefore are missing God’s fullness, bringing about a spiritual death to all mankind (Rom 5:12). As long as we remain in our human flesh, the fullness of being will never be there.

The same even goes for the Christian. Although in Christ all are made alive (1 Cor 15:22), the sanctification of our souls is an ongoing process that continues throughout our whole lives and is not fully brought to completion until the passing from this life into the next. Even the psalmists cry out to God for Him (Psalm 42:1-4). Christians will still have dark and depressing days where they get angry, frustrated, and even shed tears as to their own circumstances. Sadly, even some find no other alternative to their woes.

The Church’s Lack of Emphasis

Another aspect to consider is the church’s response to the problem, which frankly has not been ideal.  Like the three friends of Job, many church leaders and congregants give us answers that simply are inadequate, insensitive, and sometimes even wrong. To avoid potentially giving a wrong answer, some shy away from the matter altogether. This is not to say that all the blame must be placed on the Church. Depression and suicide are far from easy issues to tackle. Nonetheless, the response from our brothers and sisters simply remains too cold.

But what has the church historically taught on the issue of suicide? Are they saved? Do people who commit suicide go to hell? Is it a mortal sin?  Firstly, I want to take a brief study of the Church’s long-standing views on the act of suicide, then maneuver to a look at the biblical instances of suicide.

The Ancient Church’s Teaching on Suicide

Whether you study the Church Fathers or read modern theologians, the Church has universally frowned upon the act of suicide. Augustine of Hippo called the act self-murder, writing in City of God,

“…certainly he who kills himself is a homicide, and so much guiltier of his own death, as he was more innocent of that offence for which he doomed himself to die”

The view of suicide as a crime against oneself has prevailed throughout. Thomas Aquinas, for instance, discusses suicide in his writing pertaining to murder (ST II-II.64.5), going so far as to state that no repentance for such a crime is possible. John Calvin’s sermon on Job gave several comments on suicide, including the fact that, “…it is not lawful for the faithful to dislike their own life, and to wish so for death”.

In the medieval period, suicide (or the attempting thereof) was a criminal offense. The bodies of the dead were refused Christian burial, and those who did survive their attempts faced excommunication from the Church, a severe penalty in its time. Because suicide was a mortal sin (I.e. Aquinas), the believer had shown no repentance, could no longer show repentance, and, unless someone prayed to God on their behalf, the person was cast into hell.

There have been, of course, several exceptions given throughout the history of the Church. Certain circumstances allowed for a person to take their own life for a righteous cause. One notable instance was from John Chrysostom, who defended the suicide of Pelagia because she had done so to protect her own chastity, thereby becoming a martyr in the process (PG 50:579). Those who commit suicide in the pursuit of martyrdom, then, were in the right because they sacrificed themselves for a more righteous cause. This is in contrast to the Donatists, early heretics whose “church of saints” included many who actively sought for martyrdom.

Willful suicide otherwise, however, is still held in low esteem. The Catechism of the Catholic Church emphasizes suicide as a conscious violation of the fifth commandment not to murder (2325). The Protestant theologian John Macarthur likewise calls suicide an act of self-murder (“Can one who commits suicide be saved?”), as did Pope Shenouda III of the Coptic Orthodox Church, who refused to conduct funeral masses for those who took their own lives (The Ten Commandments, III). The debate on whether willful suicide is sinful is hardly even a debate.

The real question that theologians have wrestled with is this: is suicide an unforgivable sin? Some like Clement of Alexandria (The Stromata 4.4) and Aquinas have argued as such. But many theologians, particularly modern theologians, take a different view of suicide. Martin Luther erred on the side of caution when he wrote that those who commit suicide are not necessarily damned (Luther’s Works, American Edition, Vol. 54, p. 29). The Catholic Church is ambivalent on their fate, not placing blame on those who are mentally ill and  leaving it more into the hands of God to determine their destiny, allowing the living to pray for the souls of the departed (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2283). But more on that later…

Biblical Suicides

There are several instances of persons throughout Scripture who had taken their own lives. The first of these was Abimelech’s, the son of the judge Gideon, who had his armor bearer kill him rather than have it be said that a woman killed him in battle (Judges 9:54). In an act of taking vengeance upon the Philistines, Samson is given the strength to collapse the pillars holding him up, killing him in the process (16:30). To avoid humiliation at the hands of his enemies, Saul falls on his own sword and dies (1 Sam 31:4).

Among those who have committed the act, there have been biblical figures who have themselves been subject to suicidal feelings of their own. Job, deep in the wallows of depression and suffering, declares how he hates his own life and wishes for its end (Job 7:15-16). Likewise, the prophet Jeremiah goes as far as to curse the day of his own birth (Jer 20:14-18). Neither of these two men went through with the act, but their woeful cries signaled the deep and dark sorrow of their own souls.

But perhaps the most infamous of suicides in the Bible, and the one most worth of note here, is that of Judas Iscariot, a disciple of Jesus who betrayed him. The fate of the treacherous disciple is recorded in the books of Matthew and Acts:

Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers. Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.”

– Matthew 27:3-10

In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.)

– Acts 1:15-19

Issues of consistency aside (hanging vs. falling), the motivation of Judas’s suicide comes into full view in the Gospels. A man who was a seedy character (John 12:6), one who had Satan enter into him to accomplish the betrayal (Luke 22:3) had now seen the reality of his actions and now faced overwhelming regret. The guilt of his sin, the betrayal of his own Lord, is too much for him to overcome. But is guilt a viable reason to defy God and decide their own fate?

The Example of Peter: Staying Alive

Here, it would be helpful to compare Judas to another disciple: Simon Peter. Earlier in Jesus’s ministry, Simon proclaimed Jesus the son of the living God (Matt 16:16), and was one of the more prominent disciples. On the night Jesus was betrayed, Peter denied Him three times as He had foretold (26:69-75). Just as Judas had betrayed his master in the eyes of men, so had Peter denied Jesus in that matter also. Due to this action, Peter also became wrought with grief over the denial of his Lord.

The major contrast between Judas and Peter, however, was in their response. In contrast to Judas, who in his guilt took his own life, Peter persevered. While Judas ran away from his sin, Peter would later use his experience to strengthen his brethren (Luke 22:32). In the midst of his own despair, Peter would go on to be redeemed back, and become the most prominent of all the apostles, always named first among the list of their members (Acts 1:13). In other words, he is the anti-Judas.

I bring this up to signal the proper mode of response to depression: the mode to persevere. The guilt Peter was so great that he went away and bitterly wept over the open betrayal of Jesus. It would have been no surprise, then, if Peter decided to share the same fate as his fallen counterpart. But the Lord had prayed for him to endure, supplying him with the strength he needed through the tortuous three days between the denial and the resurrection. And because he endured, he would become a catalyst God would use for changing the lives of millions. If God preserved Peter, although he denied His son, how much more will He preserve us?

Final Thoughts on Suicide

The testimonies of Judas and Simon Peter are worthy of note for us who struggle with depression and suicide. It paints for us a picture as to who we should be when troubles come (Peter) and how not to be (Judas). The call to be strong is a universal exhortation throughout Scripture (Josh 1:9, 1 Peter 4:11), a call to not run away from the problems and pressures of the world but to confront them, a call not to wallow in ourselves but be a light and an example for each other. As hard as it may get, we can never lose sight of the future blessings and glory that await us (Rom 8:18).

As to my own personal opinions on the matter, I shall remain brief. Firstly, in agreement with the teachings of Scripture and the theologians of the church, I am convinced that suicide is contrary to the law of God. The taking of one’s own life stands in direct contrast to the created order and is contrary to the life-giving character of God, who finds such actions repugnant to his good and righteous will. Suicide is a tragic and devastating consequence of the fall of man that is never to be condoned or practiced.

As to the salvation of Christian souls who commit suicide, I personally cannot say.  But I can say this with confidence: if the souls of suicidal Christians are spared from eternal punishment, they will still miss out on many things. They will miss out on gifts in the present life and in the life to come (Matt 6:20). They will miss out on the blessings they would have received in this life, any new lessons and opportunities, any new friendships or relationships. But even more than that, the action of suicide leaves chaos and sorrow in its wake for the loved ones who are left behind. The negative act leaves indelibly negative consequences for the living. For those of you who think that no one will care if you die: you are dead wrong.

To close, I’ll leave you with advice. I do not know what your life situation is at this moment or what it may be down the road, but I can tell you this: every life is precious in the eyes of the Lord, including yours. You are made in the image of our God, who took so much care and attention to detail to create who you are. So precious was your life, in fact, that the Son of God humbled and humiliated Himself to make you His own. Your life is blood-bought, and that fact alone makes your life infinitely worth preserving. If you are facing despair and feel that you have nowhere else to turn, turn to our loving and gracious Lord. It is in Him that He will provide you with all your needs (Phil 4:19), the one who will equip you with the strength, wisdom, and joy to live the blessed life, regardless of what will happen. Press on when you feel like you cannot anymore; a future glory awaits.

Soli Deo Gloria, forever and ever!

 

 

Crown of Thorns

crownofthornsWhen the Lord first came to me

He placed a crown upon my head

But something was not right about this

For from my brow I profusely bled

My eyes became scarlet orbs

My nose oozed crimson juice

My mouth was spitting up blood

And my ears were pierced and bruised

My face turned swollen and red

My body a twisted mess

But the worst part about all of this

Was the horror inside my conscience

My mind was black and cold

My heart so dark and void

My insides together groaning

All hope now seemed destroyed

“Can you bear this” he said

“The crown I place on you

Today its painful and dreary

But tomorrow it shall make you new”

“But Lord” I replied

“Why must I suffer so?

You promised me eternal life

And now you will bring me low?

My spirit is weak and timid

My soul a worthless waste

Just take me now and kill me

So death I can finally taste”

“I give this to you” He said

“Because you are my Son

My sons are not worthless men

Your war was already won

I won it for you long ago

When I once was on Earth

Lowly and humble I came

To give my children new rebirth”

“But Father” I replied

“My crown is heavy and dull

It feels like I’ve lost everything

Like I haven’t won at all!”

“Who are you” He cried

“To say who won the war?

Am I not God Most High

The King before you were born?

I fashioned the world and its subjects

I choose who lives and who dies

I made the fish that inhabit the sea

And the birds that fill the skies

Every blade of grass, every grain of rock

All living and non-living is mine

I rain down water from heaven above

And make the sun so brightly shine

Isn’t it enough for me, then

To fight the battle you can’t?

To spare you from the torment of hell

And grace upon you I grant?

You do not realize it now

And you may not until you come home

But I love you and always will

More than you could ever know”

“Will you be with me” I said

“When the crown so scalds my head

On days when I want to run away

And days when I want to be dead?”

“You will bear the crown” He said

“Because you have been elected

You are forever mine to love

And made to be perfected

This crown is not an easy crown

It’s the one I had to wear

The one I wore to Calvary

With the cross I had to bear

The thorns pricked and prodded

The vines tightened their grip

Much torment came from my crown

Even more so than the whip

All thought I lost, too

When I was in the grave

Not knowing the glory that was to come

When I rose again from the cave

I still wear this crown today

For I have conquered death

And so will you someday

When you draw your final breath

So bear for now your crown of thorns

It will not be for long

Though the pain may seem intolerable

The crown will make you strong

The swelling will indeed subside

The blood be wiped away

The cuts will be removed

The debt I already paid

Only remain in my love

And keep me in your mind

Then peace for your soul I promise

And comfort in me you will find”

Are Bible Passages Still Relevant to Us?

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Well, another migraine is in the books! Since I got time today to write (and in memory of Gene Wilder), I felt that there was no better way to make good use of my day off than to ask a very important question: how does the Bible apply to us today?

A Marker of the Times

If you are Bible-savvy, chances are that you have heard of one of the more popular Christian publications today: the Life Application Study Bible. Published by Tyndale and released with several Bible versions, this series of Bibles are directed mostly at evangelical Christians, right down to what Bible versions are utilized (KJV,NIV,NLT, etc). The primary aim of these Bibles, however, is to highlight how the collection of books well over 2000 years old can still apply to us today (hence the title “Life Application Study Bible”).

Honestly, it’s hard not to see its appeal. People do not want the Bible to be a relic of the past but read it as an indispensable guide to life that is timeless in its message. At the same time, however, we run into many problems with this interpretive method if not exegeted carefully. The most glaring problem is how we use these verses, namely, how we take these passages and apply them to modern life. An all too modern tendency (especially in American evangelicalism) is that instead of reading the Bible with the historical and theological contexts, we strip the passages of any original meaning and instead use them to satisfy our own preconceived notions of how they should function. In other words, the Bible refers to us today and no other time period, a method most notoriously used in modern apocalyptic works of fiction (i.e. Left Behind) but has also been manipulated for merely “heart-warming” purposes instead of “heart-cutting”.  The consequences of such irresponsibility  can be disastrous.

To highlight this problem, I will first explain an example of this hermeneutic in action, and then go on to explain how we can both appreciate the context and yet at the same time allow these verses to speak to us today.

Jeremiah 29

One of my favorite passages in all of Scripture comes from Jeremiah. You may have heard it before:

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

– Jeremiah 29:11

Even in our darkest of days, verses like the one above give us great comfort. The promise of a future and a hope (or maybe more accurately, a future with a hope) helps us to see the light at the end of the tunnel, that those who trust in the Lord need not fear about what may happen to us. We run to these passages when we cannot find respite elsewhere, strengthening us for what may come.

What we often tend to forget, however, is the context of the biblical passages. Let’s look at Jeremiah 29 in full. This section of the book starts as such:

These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.

– Jeremiah 29:1

You will quickly see where the problems of modern application lie. Verse 11 is written in the era of Exile, to a people that had been taken from their homeland and forcibly moved to a foreign nation. Exile was the promised punishment for disobedience (Deut 29), and likewise because of that disobedience God’s people faced the fallout of that (2 Kgs 25). It was the most traumatic event in the history of the nation, a sign that God had given them up to their enemies.

And yet despite the hopelessness the people of Israel now felt, not all was lost. Jeremiah, the persecuted prophet before the Exile, now plays the role of comforter. In his letter to the exiles, Jeremiah encourages them to thrive in Babylon (29:5), to marry and grow (v. 6), and to pray for the city of their residence (v. 7). Then Jeremiah makes a stunning statement,

For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the placeswhere I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

– Jeremiah 29:10-14

Earlier in Jeremiah, God promised destruction (25:8-11). But now, God is promising a future restoration for his people. Instead of being wiped off the face of the Earth never to be seen again, a remnant is left to continue the patriarchal promise, with the assurance that one day the exiles will return (23:3). It is the promise that when the Israelites return to God, that God will return to them and restore then (4:1). The outcome? A future and a hope that God will rehabilitate what Israel has squandered.

So what does this have anything to do with us (if anything at all)?

Never Ignore the Historical Context

The first thing we must always keep in mind when reading Scripture is to not forget the milieu of Scripture. Spanning a period of well over 2000 years, the biblical narrative encapsulates various stories from various time periods, from the Egyptians (1400-1200BC) to the Babylonians (500BC) to the Romans (63BC-AD70). Along with that, the Israelite story was constantly changing. They were once slaves in Egypt (Deut 6:21) but then became an independent nation(s) (1 Sam-2 Kngs) only to become subjugated to the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and the Romans. Historical events play a pivotal role throughout, and each greatly affected the direction of the overarching story.

In a sense, the Bible is the product of another era. The work of ancient Israelites and writers in antiquity, they understood the world differently, spoke different languages, and lived much more archaic lifestyles that leave many of us shaking our heads. Because the world of the Bible is so alien to us, it is easy to shove the context aside when picking and choosing the verses which suit us best. But in order to entirely understand the messages of Scripture, the whole counsel of God must be declared (Acts 20:27).

The Value of Scripture

The other side of the coin is that the study of Scripture is paramount to the life of the believer, and that it is the inspired Word of God passed down for the edification of the believer. This core belief is exemplified in Scripture itself:

Be careful to obey all these words that I command you, that it may go well with you and with your children after you forever, when you do what is good and right in the sight of the Lord your God.

– Deuteronomy 12:28

Your word is a lamp to my feet
    and a light to my path.

– Psalm 119:105

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

– 2 Timothy 3:16-17

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

– Hebrews 4:12

For our purposes, let’s zero in on the exhortation from 2 Timothy. There are several attributes of Scripture that are beneficial to the reader:

  • It is profitable for teaching
  • It is profitable for reproof and correction
  • It is profitable for training in righteousness

The ultimate purpose of Scripture may be summed up right here. The Bible was not handed down in order to make us feel better, to boost our self-esteem, or used to pull out some inspirational verses every once in a while. Sure, Scripture is capable of doing all these things, but the Bible’s primary purpose is to sanctify the believer. In teaching, the believer is equipped to promote and proclaim the Gospel. In reproof, the believer is corrected and redeemed back to God. In righteousness, the believer is drawn ever closer to God and to see Him and His word as the ultimate treasure.

The Timelessness of Scripture

Despite the age of the text, the Scriptures carry a timeless message. It was not written to be a book left in the past, but is a collection that must be passed down to our descendants (Deut 4:9). It was meant to be read by us and to be declared to everyone. As the Psalmist writes,

I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, forever; with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations.

– Psalm 89:1

If the word of God was meant to be a dormant text, it would have remained so, only to be another relic that archaeologists and historians would study over to find clues about the past. But because our Lord Himself teaches us to teach others to observe His commandments (Matt 28:20), the words of Scripture are carried forward and taught and studied even today.

What Do We Do With Jeremiah 29?

This brings us back to the original interpretive problem: what do we do about passages such as Jeremiah 29:11? With the points made above, let’s break the verse down.

1. Never Ignore the Historical Context. Jeremiah 29:11 was written in the context of Exile, in an era where the Israelites were facing the prospect of being cut off from their land forever. But because of God’s love for His people, He promises to return the remaining exiles back to Israel one day, where they will worship Him and remain faithful to His word.

2. The Value of Scripture. Because the promise to return from exile is coming from the inspiration of God, and because of previous testimony about God Himself testifies to His faithfulness (Deut 7:9), we can be assured that the promise of Jeremiah 29 will come true. Indeed, the exiles eventual return from exile in 539BC confirms the faithfulness of God to His people, solidified in the promises of Scripture. His word can indeed be trusted.

3. The Timelessness of Scripture. This is not the only place where God promises to reconcile His elect back to Himself. In fact, His promises extend far beyond the return to land and fortune, but to an everlasting promise that far exceed the promises of this world. God promises a future where a new heaven and a new earth will emerge (Isa 65:17-25, Rev 21) and that those who believe in God will have eternal life with Him (John 3:16). The promise of a future and a hope extend beyond the grave.

In short, verses like Jeremiah 29:11 have both an immediate context and a future context. The immediate context in Jeremiah 29 is the Exile, a particular era of history. The future context, however, extends the promise not only to us today but also in the days to come. Because of the immediate context, the people of Israel could say confidently, “Yes, God does promise us a future and a hope.” Because of the future context, those of us here today can say, “Yes, God does promise us a future and a hope.” They are both the same statement and these statements are both true. If one were true and the other false, that would invalidate the promises of God. But because the promises speak to believers both here and today, we can read Scripture in a far more fulfilling manner than if we only believed that the messages primarily pertain to us.

Conclusion

We all pick and choose verses, don’t we? There are just some that are more appealing to us and better fit our own personal situations than others. But by doing so, we not only cut ourselves off from believers of the past, but we also miss out on the greater fulfillment of meaning that can be extrapolated from Scripture. The example used above is a clear example of this. There is nothing wrong with having our own favorite

Now don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with having our own favorite verses and passages we like to read. At the same time, remember the whole counsel of God, not just bits and pieces, and that all of Scriptures is inspired, not just certain parts, and remember how it has affected the past, not just what it means for us today.

Above all, do not forget the promises of God. There is a future and a hope in Him!

 

An Ode of Praise to Our God

Glorious Yahweh

Father of Light

Furnished with majesty

Dominion and might

Healer of nations

Heaven’s delight

Fountain of mercy

That washes blight

 

Beautiful Jesus

Son so Divine

Purer than silver

And gold refined

Love incarnated

Two of one mind

God and human

One of a kind

 

Magnificent Spirit

So gracious a dove

Worker of miracles

Revealer of love

Mover of conscience

Sent from above

God of humanity

And nature thereof

Commentaries: Why They Are Helpful and What You Should Look For

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The literature on the interpretation of Scripture is endless. Since we all seem to have our own opinion on what passages mean and how they are supposed to be read, it should come as no surprise. Especially for more difficult verses and books, we often need guidance from other seasoned interpreters to help guide us through. But even if we don’t need help finding out what a passage means, commentaries and other guides are treasures in of themselves, providing us with valuable insight and discussion on just about every topic.

Commentaries on the Bible have existed since the early days of the Church, and to help sift through the voluminous collection of writings, we should first discuss why they are helpful in the first place. For the merely curious or even for the veteran of biblical studies and theology, there are several great reasons why we should consult commentaries:

  1. Interpretation is not individual. A too common mistake made by many Christians today is that we feel that we do not need any other input to help us read Scripture, so we set out on our own to find out what passages mean. I often call this the “Bible says it, I believe it” approach because it is assumed that the Bible is clear in all that it says, so therefore we can interpret it without consultation. The main problem with this approach is that a lot of the Bible can be hard to understand or even be offensive to us, and even if some passages can be understood on its own, it is because those passages were expositioned to us by trained pastors and scholars, not necessarily conclusions we come to.. Individual interpretation can lead to disastrous conssequences for how the Bible is read and taught.
  2. Theological Strengthening for Laymen. The Bible is full of curious and odd verses, and no matter how trained someone may be theologically they still may not understand what something means without research. If a layman is not sound on his understanding of Scripture, the Church suffers for it. For the many pastors who work in our church today, commentaries are a necessary tool for sermon preparation and presentation, which in turn only benefits the other church leaders as well as the congregation.
  3. The Strengthening of the Regular Reader. A large majority of us who walk into church every Sunday never had the same kind of education pastors had and most likely never will. Most of us will never pick-up a commentary to read and that’s ok (that’s what we have pastors for, right?), but for those who yearn to dive deeper into Scripture’s treasures as well as prepare them to “Declare the whole counsel of God” as it were (Acts 20:27), a good commentary would be a great place to start.

As you can see, commentaries are excellent for Bible study and interpretation. But before you go running out buying some, there’s still several other things to consider.

What Are You Buying It For?

This should be the first question you ask yourself if you’re looking into commentaries. If you’re a scholar or a teacher of the Bible in any capacity, commentaries are a must. But if you’re an average joe, wanting to be smarter than everyone else is not a good reason to spend your money, nor is using commentaries so you can stay locked up in your room and never have to talk to anyone about hermeneutics. If you are looking to consult commentaries, do so for the strengthening of your faith.

How Much are They?

Commentaries are far from cheap. If you’re looking into a particular series, be prepared to pay a lot out of pocket to obtain them. If you’re going to get them online (ala Logos Bible Software) expect the price to be in the hundreds, and possibly thousands. Consequently, you should see what others recommend before you go picking some up. Commentaries are a big investment, but it’s worth it as long as you make good use of them.

Which Ones Should I Look At?

If you want commentaries and can afford them, then it’s time to do some research! Commentaries have many purposes in mind, stemming from all backgrounds and all viewpoints. Many have specific concerns and aren’t for everyone, so be aware of that when you’re ready to buy. I’m very roughly splitting the types into four categories below:

  1. Technical/Critical: These commentaries are usually targeted at seminary students and scholars, addressing the issues of the Bible’s text, history, languistics, and context to name a few. For instance, the International Critical Commentary (ICC) is written by scholars generally from a critical persuasion (but not always), while the New International Greek Testament Commentary (NIGTC) is a series specifically written to address the underlying Greek text in depth. If one can face up to the challenge, the insights to these commentaries can be invaluable.
  2. Pastoral: These commentaries tend to play down the critical textual and historical issues, instead focusing on the expositional meanings of the text. These are “pastoral” to address pastoral concerns for the Church, exegetically focused on sermon preparation and for the spiritual uplifting of the layman. Because of its theological focus, the quality of commentary can widely vary, as well as depend on religious considerations (Protestant, Catholic, Jewish etc.). A good example of this type of commentary would be the Expositor’s Bible Commentary (EBC).
  3. Social: The post-modern era has produced a collection of commentaries not necessarily for critical study nor pastoral use, but solely for the purpose of addressing a certain people group and their issues. These commentaries include the True to Our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary, the Women’s Bible Commentary, and the Queer Bible Commentary. Because they target a specific audience, they may not be useful for critical and pastoral study, but they are nonetheless worthy of consultation if one wishes to see minority views on the Bible.
  4. Historical: Technically, these would probably fall under Pastoral Commentaries, but they are in a class of their own here because of their importance to biblical interpretation. These commentaries concern past views and interpretations of the major figures of church history, ranging from the Church Fathers roughly to the 1800s including prominent 20th century theologians. Whether you want to read John Chrysostom’s Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles or Calvin’s commentary on Genesis or Karl Barth’s on Romans, these are critically important voices of biblical hermeneutics even today.

Of course, I would find it hard pressed to find any commentary that fits perfectly into these molds. I would argue that most commentaries today would use all four of these approaches in their work. Nonetheless, finding what commentaries emphasize what is needed in order to determine which one works best for you.

To review all these series would take too much time than it’s worth for this post, so if you want a helpful website to navigate your way through the string of commentaries that have popped up, bestcommentaries.com would be a good site to check out!

Approach with Humility

Finally, a word of caution. I have consulted many commentaries in recent years, especially in college and with this blog. Some have been amazingly good, while others…well let’s just say that there are good reasons why some have never been reprinted. Nonetheless, I have to keep reminding myself when I write this: I’m not even seminary-educated yet. Some of these men and women have been in the business for a long time and have a greater wealth of knowledge than I do. Humility is key to reading these understanding them properly. This is important not just for me but for all of us as well try to interpret the Word of God.

If you’re ready dive in!

 

 

 

 

Biblical Conundrums: John 3:16-17, 1 Timothy 2:1-6

unitarian-1

We all want to be saved, don’t we? I can’t imagine anyone who likes the idea of their friend or family member going to hell when they die. Hell, after all, is a cruel and unusual punishment for those who are basically good people. Maybe, perhaps at the least, the Stalins and Hitlers of the world will be the small minority that must suffer its torment, while the rest can bask in the glory of heaven. Or maybe even the atoning sacrifice of Christ is enough to cover ALL sin that’s ever been committed, allowing everyone who has ever lived to spend eternity in bliss.

This idea, or universalism, has become quite popular in our modern age. The exchange of ideas through the phenomenon of globalization has allowed people to interact with others who just a century or two ago would never have imagined they would be able to talk to. A Christian believer in America can easily jump on the Internet and have a chat with a Buddhist or a Muslim or a Hindu, so it should come as no surprise that a lesson or two can be learned from those of different background. At the same time, the concept of truth has been radically redefined as well, leading inevitably to the growth of syncretic or mixed faiths or downright agnosticism. If we cannot know what the absolute truth is, how can we know where people will go after they die and how can we tell people we have the truth about the afterlife when their vision is different from ours?

For Christians, the question goes right back to the authority of Scripture and what it says concerning these matters. For many, however, the proof of universalism may come right from its very pages.

A Short, Short History of Christian Universalism

First of all, before we address the verse at hand, we should note how Christian Universalism has developed throughout church history. In its primitive forms, several prominent theologians have advocated for an amended universalism or universal reconciliation; that is, there will be those that will be sent to hell, but they will not be there for eternity, and after a stretch of time they will be reconciled back to God and delivered from hell’s torments. In his First Principles, Origen wrote about how even Satan himself could eventually be saved,

…who are called the devil and his angels….after having undergone heavier and severer punishments…improved by this stern method of training, and [are] restored…and thus advancing through each stage to a better condition, reach even to that which is invisible and eternal…

– On First Principles, I.6.3

Origen, however, represented a view that was hardly a majority view in the Early Church. His views, grouped together into a worldview known as Origenism, were highly disputed, and were purportedly condemned in the Second Council of Constantinople in 553. Some other theologians (Isaac of Nineveh) also advocated an universalist viewpoint, but for the most part Christian Universalism was a fringe sect until the Enlightenment.

Freedom from the grips of the medieval church, along with the intellectual counter-reaction to Calvinism’s staunch doctrines of hell and predestination, precipitated a climate for universalism to come to the fore. Writers such as Jeremiah White, Peter Boehler, and George de Benneville all argued for an universalist theology, and its views were very much popularized across the pond in England. But even still universalism was not held but any of the major theologians of the time, including John Wesley or George Whitfield.

That all changed when Friedrich Schleiermacher, perhaps the most influential liberal theologian of modern times, wrote about it. According to Schleiermacher, all men were elected to be saved by Christ, taking on a quasi-Calvinist view of predestination but instead expanding the predestined to not only an elect minority but to the entirety of humanity. It was also at the time of Schleiermacher that the Unitarians, called as such because they denied the Trinity, became a major religious movement and consequently developed an universalist theology, where they continue today as the Unitarian Universalists, a denomination of nearly 1 million people.

Today, Christian Universalism is gaining more ground. It’s beliefs can be found across denominational lines, most prominently in the liberal wings of the Catholic faith as well as in Protestant Mainline groups where universalism is not an official doctrine, but has nonetheless gained a foothold in the laity and in the congregations. Popular writers such as Rob Bell argue against hell all together (see Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived). Others, such as Karl Barth, do not advocate universalism per se, but do not rule out the possibility of all people being saved either.

With such lofty claims that go against the grain of more conservative Christianity, there must be some backup for arguing for an universalist position.

John 3:16-17:

For God So Loved The World

It is without question that John 3:16 is the most popular Bible verse today. You see it everywhere on church sings and sporting events. It has been the subject of countless sermons and commentaries, a go-to verse of what the Gospel is. Unsurprisingly, it has also become a popular verse to prove that there is biblical justification for the universalist position.

In case you’re only of the few who don’t know what this verse is, here it is along with the verse after it,

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only [begotten] Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

There are two key phrases in this passage that need further comment: for God so loved the world and the world might be saved through him. In the Gospel of John, the term “world” does not mean just the Jewish world or the Roman world, but it is clear from the context that it means the whole world and all that live in it. John 1:9 states that the light “gives light to everyone”, pertaining to a universal context. Later in the chapter, John the Baptist proclaims, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (1:29). If God, who sent His own Son to take away the sin of the entire world and came in order that the entire world may be saved, why shouldn’t it mean that all people will be saved?

Well, I can give a few reasons…

Whoever Believes in Him

The primary argument against Jesus’s belief in universalism is Jesus’s own words. The key phrase in this respect is that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. As stated above, God has love for the world, so much so that he sent His Son. But there is a stipulation for salvation: those who believe in Jesus will be saved. A blanket salvation irregardless of belief or unbelief is not enough. The very next verse confirms this clause,

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

– John 3:18

Here, Jesus makes a clear distinction between those who are saved (the un-condemned) and those who are unsaved (condemned). Those who are not condemned will receive the reward, i.e. eternal life. But for those who are condemned for their unbelief, they will not receive the reward, i.e. eternal death. The Gospel is for the whole world, but Jesus makes clear that not everyone will believe, and those who do not believe will not receive the reward.

Other passages in John strengthen the case against an universalist Lord. Perhaps the strongest affirmation of exclusive salvation comes from John 14:6,

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

In countering this statement, many Christian universalists have argued that He is indeed the way to salvation, but He has made that way available to all. The argument is defeated, however, when including other passages such as John 3:18, which states that Jesus is the way to salvation, but belief is required. If Jesus accepted all people, that would include those who do not believe in him, people who want nothing to do with the Lord and his grace. John’s Gospel ensures that those who reject God and his grace will not obtain the same afterlife as those who are God’s elect.

1 Timothy 2:1-6

The Desire for All to be Saved

The second proof-verse for the universalist view comes from the Pastoral Epistles, so named because it is addressed to church leaders to deal with “pastoral” issues. Here, a call to pray for all people is made, including a very interesting statement pertaining to the topic at hand,

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people,  for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior,  who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.

– 1 Timothy 2:1-6

In examining this passage, several important questions arise? Does God really desire the salvation for all people?  What does “all” even mean? How does this verse affect our definition of Christ’s atoning work if his sacrifice was really for the ransom of all people?

For proper interpretation, the major point of contention is what “all” should mean here? If “all” is to be interpreted as every person on Earth, then this passage insinuates that God not only desires salvation for everyone, but that because of that desire, he sent Jesus as a ransom for all people, thereby sparing everyone from punishment. If “all” means only certain groups of people or people of all races, nations and classes, then God’s desire is to only save the elect, and that Christ’s work was only atoning for the sins of those elect individuals (hence the Calvinistic doctrine of “limited atonement”).

All Nations

In the opinion of the writer, the second option seems the more likely for several reasons. The first reason is the previous exhortation to pray for the kings and other leaders. This inclusion of prayers for kings is not incidental, but it is a confirmation that people of all backgrounds, whether that be kings or the poor, will be among the chosen to be saved. If this is what “all” here means, than it fits much better into the context of commanding the faithful to pray for the leaders and kings.

The clincher for “all” meaning “all groups of people” is the inter-biblical evidence. The Lord commands the disciples to make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19). Revelation 15:4 states that all nations will come worship God. Not how neither passage states that disciples will be made of everyone, nor will it mean that everyone will come and worship God.Contra Schleiermacher, the elect is not all people of the world but chosen people not dependent of race, sex, age, ethnicity, nationality, or disability but on bestowed grace.

Hell, No!

Despite the evidence to the contrary, the universalist will reject the argument based on the Bible’s stance on one controversial subject: the doctrine of hell. There are few doctrines so hotly contested as this one, and perhaps none that disturbs the soul so deeply. We loathe the idea of people going to hell (as we should), and I would be hard pressed to find any Christian who rejoices over people going to hell, let alone anyone who wants hell to exist. The idea of eternal torment after death with no hope of escape is so horrific that we are compelled to ignore the idea altogether. Many Christians even modify the doctrine to avoid its horrors (see C.S. Lewis on modified annihilationism).

Naturally, eternal, conscious torment is a classic obstacle to the universalist ideal. If you can remove hell, or at least an eternal hell, then we effectively remove the barrier between heaven and men, thereby paving the way for the salvation of all men. If there is no hell, there is no fear of punishment or retribution for what we do in this life. We can do as we please and still be assured of our place in heaven after we die.

The removal of hell, however, creates many problems of its own.

First are the sayings of Jesus. Jesus, the loving gracious being that everyone loves to tout, absolutely affirms that hell does exist (Matt 10:28, 23:33). According to the Gospels, hell is a fiery furnace (Matt 13:42), a place of anguish (Luke 16:23-24), totally dark (Matt 22:13), an existence separate from God (Matt 8:12) and most horrifically, it is eternal (Matt 25:41). Other passages in the Bible confirm the teachings of Jesus (2 Thess 1:8-10, Jude 7, Rev 20:14-15).

Second is the problem of God’s nature. The Bible affirms that God is love (1 John 4:8), that it is steadfast and overwhelming (Exod 34:6-7), and that it is everlasting (Jer 31:3). At the same time, however, God’s loving nature is intertwined with his holiness, and his holiness has within it an attitude of executing justice and righteousness (Deut 32:4). A true god of love would not let sin go unpunished (Hab 1:13) and a true god of justice would make sure that the justice is served (Ezek 18:20). To undermine this key attribute of God would not only underplay the seriousness of sin, but would also weaken the doctrine of God’s love.

Third is the pointlessness of proclamation of the Gospel. As stated before, Jesus told his disciples to proclaim the gospel to all nations (Matt 28:19). But if there is no hell, there is no Gospel. Now before you freak out about that last statement, let me explain. The heart of the Gospel is that the Son of God came to die for the propitiation of sins (1 John 2:2). Jesus came to save us from something. But if hell does not exist, what did he come save us from? What did he so tortuously die for? Sure there will be no hell, but the mission of Jesus now becomes moot. The death of the Son of the Creator of the universe becomes very pointless. That is, of course, unless we are saved from hell.

Fourth is the undermining of morality. It has been said before that people are only good because they are afraid of going to hell. In a way, there is truth to this, but the statement is misleading. On the one hand, religion does not in no way determine how good or bad someone is; the law of God is written on the hearts of all men (Rom 2:15). On the other hand, the justification for moral conduct falls apart when no ultimate punishment for sin is enforced. If there is no hell, there is no justification for loving or helping others if all of us will go to heaven anyway. Hitler and Mother Theresa will both go to the same place, while the cries of the oppressed who wish for justice for the wrongs against them will go ignored. But if there is a justice-loving God, he would simply not let these crimes slip.

At first glance, the idea of no hell sounds very nice. But after examination the no-hell theology crumbles under its own weight.

Conclusion: The Gospel Proclaimed to All

The concept of universalism has grown in the past several centuries for a variety of reasons, and its not hard to see why. I mean, who doesn’t want to go to heaven? Who doesn’t want to live forever in joy and happiness? I do, and if you’re still reading this I bet you do to.

The idealism of universalism, however, cannot hold up to the reality. The reality is that the heart is sick and needs healing beyond ourselves (Jer 17:9), that we are destined for destruction unless we have an intervention from a higher power (Matt 7:13). By the grace of God there is a way to avoid this path, a way to both acknowledge the reality and embrace the heavenly idea, a message that is available to all who listen and accept (Mark 4:20).

Embrace the Gospel.