Saturday, February 24, 2024

Our Eyes Look Up To You

With repentance, hope, and the prospect of returning to the heart of  God — the fellowship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit — and so be properly aligned with everyone and everything, and at peace within ourselves, it is renewal we now seek. We learn to offer up our ways and our days, that they may be filled with God. For we have had enough of the twisted ways of the world, which drain our days dry. We long to be free of their grip.

Our Eyes Look Up To You
(Psalm 123)

We are servants of the Lord
Our eyes look up to You
Send forth Your word once more
The people of Your covenant renew

O Maker of our days
We make our life Your home
We offer up our ways
And lift our eyes to You upon the throne

Have mercy on us, Lord
And conquer every part
Of everything that seeks
To rule within our hearts
Our eyes look up to You

We are servants of the Lord
And waiting at Your hand
We pray that we might see
The glory of Your name throughout our land

Have mercy on us, Lord
And conquer every part
Of everything that seeks
To rule within our hearts
Our eyes look up to You
© 2001 by Jeff Doles

The Pilgrim Psalms project is now streaming at Amazon Music, Apple Music, Pandora, YouTube, Spotify, and wherever you enjoy music. It is also available for download at Amazon and iTunes.

Many thanks to the singers and musicians whose creativity and generosity provided such wonderful support to the recording of this song. And special thanks to my brother Greg Doles, who prodded and poked and cajoled me into bringing to completion what I had begun so long ago, and to his amazing skills and instincts as a record producer and soundsmith, as well as being a talented musician and songwriter himself. So, in addition to my vocal and acoustic guitar on this track, we have:

Drums – Max Billingsley
Bass – Doug Mathews
Piano – Gary Ripple
Electric Guitar – Jeff Jackson
Backing Vocals – Greg Doles / Jeff Doles / Stephanie Robinson

Friday, February 23, 2024

Christ of the Fiery Eye

Here is one of the three main Bible passages used by many evangelicals in an attempt to shut down any idea of Christian universalism. Does it succeed in doing so? I don’t think so, but consider for yourself.

In flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power. (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 NKJV)

Here are several brief points I would note in response (and have done in discussions of this passage on Facebook).

The Fire
The fire of God is purgative. The God who is a “consuming fire” is the same as the God who is love. So, whatever the consuming fire of God is, it is always about love. God’s fire is a refiner’s fire (see Malachi 3; 1 Corinthians 3), not for the purpose of destruction, or retribution — God is love, and love is not retributive (see 1 Corinthians 13) — but for restoration. 

In Revelation 19:12, the eyes of Christ are like “flames of fire.” Nothing can be hidden from his penetrating gaze — he sees all. The flames are the consuming fire of God’s love, a refiner’s fire burning away all evil yet preserving in us what is good, what comes from God.

The Vengeance
The vengeance God metes out is not about retribution — for God is love, and love is not retributive. In Romans 12, Paul tells us about the “vengeance” of God. God does not repay evil with evil but with good; God overcomes evil with good.

The Punishment
The “punishment” is not retributive — God is love, and love is not retributive. The Greek word is tino and refers to a recompense. But again, Paul shows us in Romans 12 how God pays back: not with evil but with good; God overcomes evil with good. The vengeance and punishment of God are about chastening, for the purpose of correction and restoration.

The Duration
The Greek word translated as “everlasting” (or “eternal”) here is aionion and refers not to endless duration but to an age; generally, it is the age that is to come (and which is already breaking into this present age). The chastening punishment Paul speaks of here may be in the age to come, but it is not of endless duration. For chastening always has an end in view: the correction of an offender.

The Destruction
The “destruction” (Greek, olethros) itself is not endless. Nor it is retributive — God is love, and love is not retributive but corrective and restorative. In 1 Corinthians 5:5, Paul uses olethros concerning the man who was having sexual relations with his father’s: “Hand this man over to Satan for the destruction [olethros] of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” The purpose of this was not the final destruction of the man but for his ultimate salvation and restoration.

The Presence
“From the presence of the Lord” does not mean that those undergoing such a terrible experience are shut out from the presence of the Lord. Quite the opposite, it is exactly the presence of the Lord — the overwhelming glory of God’s presence — that causes the distress felt by those who turn away from the love of God. They cannot escape the glorious, loving presence of God, yet they are unable to bear it — until the consuming fire of God’s love has burned away every wrong, dark thought about God that prevents them from seeing God as he truly is: self-giving, other-centered love, revealed in the crucified and risen Christ. There is one other place in the New Testament where we find the expression, “from the presence of the Lord,” and that is in Acts 3:20, where Peter says, “so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” It is not about being shut out from the presence of the Lord but, rather, what proceeds from the presence of the Lord. 

See also From the Face of the Lord

The icon form above is Christ of the Fiery Eye, from whose face nothing is hidden.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

The House of the Lord

Having begun in repentance, and with our eyes lifted up in hope, there is now joy at the invitation to go up to the true home of the heart, the House of the Lord. We have been here before. We were born for it. It is inherent to our being. Though we may have often departed from it, it has never departed from us. It has remained in us as our longing — and our belonging. And now we remember, and now we rejoice. For the House of the Lord is not only our dwelling place in God; it is God dwelling us — in the fellowship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The House of the Lord
(Psalm 122)

I was so glad when they said,
“Let us go up to the House of the Lord”
I was so glad when they said,
“Let us go up to the house of the Lord”
You and I are the House of the Lord
He shall dwell in our praise
He shall dwell in our praise
And see His love displayed

Well, I looked down and I saw my feet
Within the walls of the House of the Lord
I looked down and I saw my feet
Within the walls of the House of the Lord
Let us give thanks to the Lord
He shall dwell in our praise
He shall dwell in our praise
And see His love displayed

Pray, pray, pray
Pray for the peace of the House of the Lord
Pray, pray, pray
Pray for the peace of the House of the Lord

You and I are the House of the Lord
He shall dwell in our praise
He shall dwell in our praise
And see His love displayed
He’ll see His love displayed
© 2001 by Jeff Doles

The Pilgrim Psalms project is now streaming at Amazon Music, Apple Music, Pandora, YouTube, Spotify, and wherever you enjoy music. It is also available for download at Amazon and iTunes.

Many thanks to the singers and musicians whose creativity and generosity provided such wonderful support to the recording of this song. And special thanks to my brother Greg Doles, who prodded and poked and cajoled me into bringing to completion what I had begun so long ago, and to his amazing skills and instincts as a record producer and soundsmith, as well as being a talented musician and songwriter himself. So, in addition to my vocal and acoustic guitar on this track, we have:

Drums – Max Billingsley
Bass – Dave Murphy
Hammond B3 – Gary Ripple
Piano – Gary Ripple
Electric Guitar – Jeff Jackson
Backing Vocals – Greg Doles / Latora Desue

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Who Follow the Way

There are many who profess to be Christian, to be “born again,” to know Christ, who may even do many things in the name of Christ, yet do not follow him or do what he says. They are putting forth a false self that Christ does not recognize.

Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!”

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash. (Matthew 7:22-27)
On the other hand, there may be many who have never heard of Jesus Christ, but who follow the way of Christ, obey the truth of Christ, and experience something of the life of Christ at work in them. For Christ is the Light of the World, the True Light who gives Light to everyone who comes into the world (John 1:9). And, “The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people. It trains us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:12-13 NET).

In Romans 2, Paul speaks of those who possessed the Law of Moses but did not obey it, and also of those who, though they did not know the Law of Moses, yet they lived by its precepts, written in their hearts. Who was in a better condition?

Likewise, there may be many who respond to what Light they have been given by our Lord Jesus, even though they do not understand who he is — but how well do any of us understand who he is? They somehow hear his voice and follow him, even if they have no explicit knowledge of him. I have more hope for them than I do for those who profess to belong to Christ yet do not follow him.

My continual prayer is that God lead all to see, know, love, trust and follow Lord Jesus. How that comes about, and in what order, is in God’s hands, and I am content to leave it with him to do according to his mercy and wisdom. My confidence is that, whatever happens in the meantime, in the end, God will be “All in All” (1 Corinthians 15:28).

There may be many who
Follow the Way of Christ,
Live the Truth of Christ,
Experience the Life of Christ,
And so know Him, though they
Do not yet know His name.
Then let us look for Christ
In everyone we meet.

Christ is the only
Way to the Father,
But there are many
Ways to Christ. And
There is no road
He won’t come down
To find you and me.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

My Help Comes From the Lord

Having begun in repentance (see Too Long Living In A Land With No Peace), the journey of The Pilgrim Psalms proceeds to having hope, the lifting up of the head. Looking to the source of our help. Looking to our heart’s true home, which is in God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Feels a little bit Reggae to me.

My Help Comes from the Lord
(Psalm 121)

I lift my eyes to the hills
Where does my help come from
My help comes from the Lord
Not from the idols on the hills
They cannot save themselves
My help comes from the Lord

He don’t sleep, He don’t slumber
I know that He won’t let me go under
He is the maker of lightning and thunder
I lift my eyes to the Lord

He will keep me on the way
And He will not let them harm me
My help comes from the Lord
In the night and in the day
My comings and my goings
My help comes from the Lord

He don’t sleep, He don’t slumber
I know that He won’t let me go under
He is the maker of lightning and thunder
I lift my eyes to the Lord

And in a world that is filled with upheaval
I know that He will keep me from evil
He is the watcher over His people
I lift my eyes to the Lord
© 2001 by Jeff Doles

The Pilgrim Psalms is now streaming at Amazon Music, Apple Music, Pandora, YouTube, Spotify, and wherever you enjoy music. It is also available for download at Amazon and iTunes.

Many thanks to the singers and musicians whose creativity and generosity provided such wonderful support to the recording of this song. And special thanks to my brother Greg Doles, who prodded and poked and cajoled me into bringing to completion what I had begun so long ago, and to his amazing skills and instincts as a record producer and soundsmith, as well as being a talented musician and songwriter himself. So, in addition to my vocal and acoustic guitar on this track, we have:

Drums – Max Billingsley
Bass – Dave Murphy
Hammond B3 – Tracy Collins
Electric Guitar – Jeff Jackson
Backing Vocals – Greg Doles

Monday, February 19, 2024

The Last Word on Everything

The Last Word on all things, the ultimate condition of everyone and everything, is this: God will be All in All. It is the final horizon for all things. There may be many horizons between here and there — St. Paul describes such in 1 Corinthians 15 — but this is the final one.

For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ, the firstfruits; then when Christ comes, those who belong to him. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when he has brought to an end all rule and all authority and power.

For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be eliminated is death. For he has put everything in subjection under his feet. But when it says “everything” has been put in subjection, it is clear that this does not include the one who put everything in subjection to him. And when all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will be subjected to the one who subjected everything to him, so that God may be All in All. (1 Corinthians 15:22-28)

This is the final word on all things, and it is a good word, because God is good — indeed, goodness itself. The final word is Love, for God is Love, and does nothing that is in any way inconsistent with Love. 

It means that whatever may happen in the meantime, in the end God will be All in All. Which means that Love will be All in All. It is the Good News of the Gospel — and it cannot be undone!.

Friday, February 16, 2024

The Wrath of Divine Love

The Bible does speak about the “wrath” of God. But it is a wrath against sin, not against persons. God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world (John 3:17). What God does condemn is sin, which is destructive to the world God created. It was sin, not persons, that Christ condemned through the Incarnation and the Cross.

Paul speaks about the wrath of God in Romans 1, and he tells us how it is revealed. Three times he says it: “God gave them over ...” to impurity, to dishonor their bodies among themselves (v. 24); to shameful lusts (v. 26); to a depraved mind (v. 28). It is not retribution — God is love, and love is not the least bit retributive.

Why did God give them over to their impurity and depravity? Was it for their utter destruction, never to be redeemed? No! But for the same reason Paul instructed the Corinthians to deal with the man who was sleeping with his father’s wife: “hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5:5). It was that the man might be saved.

And again, Paul speaks of those who did not hold firmly to the faith but rejected it and made a shipwreck of it; “Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme” (1 Timothy 1:20). In both cases, it was for the sake of the ones being handed over, that they might ultimately be redeemed.

So it is also in Romans. At the end of the long argument Paul makes in Romans 9-11, he concludes this: “For God has consigned all people to disobedience so that he may show mercy to them all” (Romans 11:32). So, why did God “hand them over” in Romans 1? It was not to finally abandon them to eternal conscious torment but that he might finally have mercy on them.

The wrath of God is not the manifestation of some dark, vengeful, retributive impulse in God — such a thing would not be worthy of the God who is love, the God who is fully revealed in Jesus Christ. A deity who possessed such a dark nature would be no better than Zeus, and not worthy of worship. Rather, the wrath of God is the manifestation of his love, in order to show mercy to all.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Too Long Living in a Land with No Peace

As we enter the season of Lent, it is very like the journey of The Pilgrim Psalms. It begins in repentance, an awareness that we have for too long been living in a land with no peace, among a people and a culture that offers no peace. It is a recognition of the distance the heart has come from its true home, and a longing to return once again.

Too Long (Psalm 120)

Too long, too long
I've been living in a land with no peace
Too long, too long
Living in a land with no peace
I cried out to the Lord to rescue me
It’s been too long

Too long, too long
I've been living with these lying tongues
Too long, too long
Living with my own lying tongue
I cried out to the Lord to rescue me
It’s been too long

They think I’m crazy
And they look at me oddly
When I turn and walk away
Maybe I am crazy
But I just want to be godly
And I can't stay another day

It’s been too long, too long
Living in a land with no peace
Too long, too long
You’re looking at a man with no peace
I cried out to the Lord to rescue me
It’s been too long
© 2001 by Jeff Doles

The Pilgrim Psalms is now streaming at Amazon Music, Apple Music, Pandora, YouTube, Spotify, and wherever you enjoy music. It is also available for download at Amazon and iTunes.

Many thanks to the singers and musicians whose creativity and generosity provided such wonderful support to the recording of this song. And special thanks to my brother Greg Doles, who prodded and poked and cajoled me into bringing to completion what I had begun so long ago, and to his amazing skills and instincts as a record producer and soundsmith, as well as being a talented musician and songwriter himself. So, in addition to my vocal and acoustic guitar on this track, we have:

Drums – Max Billingsley
Bass – Doug Mathews
Fender Rhodes – Tracy Collins
Electric Guitar – Hart Hogan
Backing Vocals – Kwando Lynch and Christina Chang

 

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Death and Ashes, Fire and Love

It seems almost a cruel trick for Ash Wednesday to fall on St. Valentine’s Day. One is the remembrance of our mortality, the other of love. The imposition of ashes on our forehead speaks of our inescapable death — dust to dust, ashes to ashes. But the mark we are given on this day is cross-shaped, and points to what is stronger than death. The ashes are traced in the Sign of the Cross, for it is in the Cross of Christ that we encounter Love, poured out for our sake. It is finally what the Incarnation is about, for in it we see what it means to be God, and what it means to be human. It is to love without limit and without end — Self-Giving, Other-Centered, Cross-Shaped Love.

This Love is stronger than death. For it has gone through death and come out the other side, “trampling down death by death,” as the Orthodox like to sing, and bestowing Life. And just as death cannot finally be resisted, and we all must die, even so, Love, which is stronger than death, cannot finally be resisted. For we are created by God, who is Love, to be like God, and so to be like Love. It is inherent to what it means to be human.

But, of course, St. Valentine himself understood this very well, who gave his life for the sake of Love.

The perfect Scripture for this day, to me at least, is from Song of Solomon, which I follow up with a couple of quotes about it from the early Church:

“Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, he would be utterly despised.” (Song of Solomon 8:6 ESV)

“When death comes, it cannot be resisted. By whatever arts, whatever medicines, you meet it; the violence of death can none avoid who is born mortal; so against the violence of love can the world do nothing. For from the contrary the similitude is made of death; for as death is most violent to take away, so love is most violent to save. Through love many have died to the world, to live to God.” — St. Augustine of Hippo, Explanations of the Psalms 48.12

“Let the love of God be stronger than death in you. If death releases you from the desire for everything, how much more appropriate is it that the love of God should release you from the desire for everything.” — John of Apamea, Letter 45, To Hesychius.

Friday, February 9, 2024

The Cross and the Consuming Fire

There is no “hell” as such. There is an idea that has been cobbled together and weaponized by certain strands of Christianity and labeled “hell,” but such a realm is not found in the Bible. There is Hades, certainly, the realm of the dead, which has been defeated by Christ, through the Cross and Resurrection. 

And there is Gehenna, which is not an other-worldly, post-mortem experience but a geographical location outside of Old Jerusalem. It was the place of historical judgment warned about by the Old Testament prophets. In the Gospels, it is the prophetic warning of the historical judgment that would soon befall Jerusalem.

But there is no “hell” as such. Yet there is most certainly divine judgment, which is the putting right of all things. It is not retributive in nature, for God is love, and love is not retributive. But it is restorative, for that is the way of Love. The judgment of God is nothing other than the self-giving, other-centered love of God, revealed most acutely through our Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross. Looking to that moment, Lord Jesus announced, 

Now is the judgment of the world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all to myself. (John 12:31-32)

The Cross is the place of judgment, and it is there that whatever does not belong in us, because it does not come from God, is done away with, so that only what does come from God remains. It is the place of divine fire, the refiner’s fire, the fire of God’s love — and Lord Jesus tells us that we must all be salted with it (Mark 9:49). For the God who is a Consuming Fire is none other than the God who is Love. So the fire of judgment is not retributive but purgative and restorative.

For those who are unprepared for the fiery love of God that purges and refines us, and turn away from it, it may seem a great torment until it burns away the bondage and the blinders and finally sets us all free. Those who turn toward God’s consuming love will experience it as it truly is — the utterly self-giving, other-centered love of God, revealed supremely in Christ on the Cross.

A Haiku on Hell
Scripture tells us that
God is a Consuming Fire,
and that God is Love.

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

The Pattern and Paradigm of Scripture

Allegory and typology are somewhat fluid; there are no hard and fast definitions for them when it comes to the Scriptures. What is important is to see the pattern and paradigm of Christ and the gospel in the Scriptures, as much in the Old Testament as in the New. 

For according to our Lord Jesus Christ, the Scriptures are about him. They must be opened by the Lord to our understanding, our minds must be opened up to them by the Lord, and our hearts must be unveiled in order to see — and that unveiling happens only when we turn to the Lord Jesus. It is only then that we see that all the Scriptures are about him.*

To read the Scriptures, then, we look for Christ and the gospel throughout. Not as something to be read back into the Scriptures but, rather, as inherent in the Scriptures, as being what they really are about from their beginning. For until we read them as the testimony of Christ, we are not yet reading them as Scripture.

____________________

* Luke 24:27-32,44-45
  John 5:39,46
  2 Corinthians 3:14-16.

Monday, February 5, 2024

The Pilgrim Psalms Project

This is a project that has been a long time coming. I began writing it over 30 years ago, and it has been in studio production over the past two years. And now, thanks to my brother, Greg Doles, who prodded and poked and cajoled me into bringing to completion what I had begun so long ago, and to his amazing skills and instincts as a record producer and soundsmith, as well as being a musician and songwriter himself, and thanks to the generosity and artistic genius of so many musicians and vocalist friends and family — fine players all — I am delighted to announce that it is now complete.

The Pilgrim Psalms is a collection of 15 songs based on Psalms 120-134, the “Songs of Ascent.” It was first inspired not only by the psalms themselves, but also by Eugene Peterson’s book on them, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. These psalms describe a pilgrimage. They are thought to have been sung by Israelites making their way up to Jerusalem for the three great festivals: Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. The journey begins from far away, in homesickness and repentance. It ends in Jerusalem, at the Holy Temple, with all worshiping the Lord together, one in heart and mind. For these “road songs,” the psalms they have sung along the way, have brought them together, refocusing their hearts toward the Lord and each other. And it is for us today, as the people of Christ, as we learn to travel together, becoming of one mind and heart with our Lord Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. And so shall we find ourselves standing within the New Jerusalem, the Holy City, and heavenly, whose gates are never shut. Come join the journey!

The Pilgrim Psalms is now streaming at Amazon Music, Apple Music, Pandora, YouTube, Spotify, and wherever you enjoy music. It is also available for download at Amazon and iTunes.

Many thanks to the singers and musicians, whose fine talents and generous spirit have added so greatly to the whole project, lifting it above and beyond what I had dared to hope when I first began. So, in addition to my own vocals and acoustic guitar are:

  • Backing Vocals by Greg Doles, Jon Doles, Heather Doles, Kwando Lynch, Christina Chang, Latora Desue and Stephanie Robinson
  • Keyboards by Gary Ripple and Tracy Collins
  • Drums by Max Billingsly and David Lynch
  • Bass by Doug Matthews and Dave Murphy
  • Electric Guitar by Hart Hogan and Jeff Jackson
  • Cello by Mark Ford

 Thank you all very much!

Saturday, February 3, 2024

The Secret of Humility and Hope

All things — which is to say, everything that exists, that has being — are created by Christ, through Christ, for Christ, and in Christ (Colossians 1:15-17). So, everything is sacred, from the lowliest and most mundane to the most heavenly and exalted. All share in the same being, the one being that comes from God, who is not merely a being (not even the greatest of all beings) but is Being Himself. Further, all things in heaven and on earth share in the same destiny, set from before the foundation of the world, that, in the fullness of the times, all be brought together in unity and headed up in Christ.

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment — to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” (Ephesians 1:7-10).

That being so, then whatever things we think are the most lowly and least valuable have the same source and origin, and the same destiny as do we. For we share the same stuff, the same sacred substance as they. We are a part of each other and participate in the same being with each other, sharing in the same existence with each other. This is cause for great humility, and for great honor and respect toward even those things that seem the least.

On the other hand, whatever things we think are most wonderful and exalted also share the same source and origin, and have the same destiny as do we. We share with them the same sacred substance, participating with them in the same existence. And this is cause for great hope for ourselves. 

The secret of humility and hope is that they go together. In hope there is humility, and in humility there is hope.




Wednesday, January 31, 2024

The Holiness of God and the End of Evil

What does the holiness of God finally require? Is it the everlasting punishment of sinners, as some have imagined, a view that has been known as the Eternal Conscious Torment position? That has several serious problems — biblical, linguistic, theological, moral, and philosophical — but the one I want to  focus on today, and the point of comparison in this little article, is the final disposition of evil.

At the cross, God did not condemn sinners, nor Christ in the place of sinners. But God condemned sin itself. “For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3).

Should we suppose that God condemned sin through the death of Christ only to let it forever remain in some corner of creation? That would make no sense. Yet that is what the idea of Eternal Conscious Torment logically leads to. If it were true, then sin would never be finally dealt with; it would always exist in the world, in the hearts of rebellious sinners, and would forever be a blight on God’s good creation.

The Annihilationist view, that the wicked are destroyed after a period of punishment, at least sees the final elimination of sin and evil, and so it is at least a more coherent view. But it also sees the elimination of part of God’s creation, of beings created in the image of God. What a terrible cost that would be. And to the extent that God allows his own creation to be destroyed at the hands of evil, would that not be a defeat for God, for Christ, and for the cross?

Either view would mean that where sin abounded, grace did not abound and was not even equal to the task. Yet, Paul declares the opposite, that where sin abounded, grace much more abounded: “Now the law came in so that the transgression may increase, but where sin increased, grace multiplied all the more, so that just as sin reigned in death, so also grace will reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:20-21). Paul uses a Hebrew rhetorical device here, expressed in Hebrew as qal va-homer, “how much more,” arguing from the lesser to the greater. In this case, it means that where sin increased, how much more did grace abound! 

But what does the holiness of God require? Nothing short of the condemnation and removal of sin and evil, so that there are finally no more rebellious sinners, but all will have become saints through our Lord Jesus Christ, holy before the Lord. It means that God will be “All in All.”

“Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he ‘has put everything under his feet.’ Now when it says that ‘everything’ has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.” (1 Corinthians 15:24-28)

The only view that sees sin and evil finally and thoroughly rid from the created cosmos, without the final destruction of any of God’s creation, is Christian universalism; also known as universal reconciliation, or universal restoration, or in Greek, Apocatastasis.

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Neither Payment Nor Penalty

The Cross was not about a debt paid or a penalty satisfied, though some have taken passages such as Colossians 2:14, as teaching such. But this passage does not describe some cosmic debt service or penal satisfaction. Rather, it shows us the obliteration of all written charges against us; not by payment but by crucifying them, putting them to death. They were simply removed from all consideration. Why? Because as Paul shows in verse 13, though we were dead in our transgressions and in the “uncircumcision” of our flesh, Christ nevertheless made us alive with him, having forgiven all our sins.

And even though you were dead in your transgressions and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, he nevertheless made you alive with him, having forgiven all your transgressions. He has destroyed what was against us, a certificate of indebtedness expressed in decrees opposed to us. He has taken it away by nailing it to the cross. Disarming the rulers and authorities, he has made a public disgrace of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 1:13-15 NET)

This forgiveness was not the result of the Cross but was the cause of it. The Cross did not win God’s forgiveness for us but revealed God’s forgiveness to us. We see this also in Romans 5:8. “But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

If the Cross reveals God’s forgiveness, then it is not about payment of debt. There is either debt payment or debt forgiveness. If a debt is forgiven, then it is not paid; if the debt is paid then it has not been forgiven but paid. There is no such thing as a debt that has been forgiven yet still must be paid.

So, what happened at the Cross was not about a debt paid or a penalty satisfied before God could forgive us. Rather, it was the greatest revelation of God’s forgiveness.

The Cross was about destroying everything that was against us. Not only the indictment, which was not satisfied but, quite the opposite, completely set aside, but also the “principalities and powers,” the “rulers and authorities,” the dark spiritual entities behind human institutions and powers, which rise up against God to enslave us. They have been completely disarmed and no longer have any power or authority to hold us in bondage. They have been put to open shame by the Triumph of the Cross. The author of Hebrews puts it this way: 

Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14-15)

The power of death has been destroyed, so also the one who held the power of death (which was not God but the devil). And so also the fear of death which so long held humankind in slavery to sin. We no longer have to fear death; we no longer have to be in bondage to sin, to our desires, to our passions. Now we can, as Paul says, reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to God (Romans 6:11).

This is the work of the Cross and the meaning of the gospel. Not the payment of some penalty to satisfy God, but deliverance from, and the destruction of, all those things that worked together to destroy us.

Monday, January 15, 2024

The Cross, Creation and the End of Evil

Why is there evil and suffering in the world? Here is a different take that comes to me the more I meditate on how central Christ crucified and risen is to everything. Here it is for your consideration, and it goes like this:

First, understand that evil is not a thing in itself, and has no existence in itself. Evil is nothing more than the lack of good, therefore the lack of thingness. For Christ, the Creator of all things, creates only the good. So, the evil we see is the void, the nothingness into which Christ, the Logos, speaks the world into existence. 

Christ crucified and risen is both the beginning and the completion of all creation. For he who is the firstborn of the dead is the firstborn of all creation (Colossians 1). The cross is the very center of time and eternity, yet it encompasses time and eternity. Christ crucified and risen is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.

When we see the Cross, we are witnessing evil, the darkness and chaos of non-being, doing the very worst it can do to God, even to the point of crucifying Christ. But the moment of the Cross and Resurrection is the very undoing of all evil, chaos and darkness. It is the very moment of Christ creating the heavens and the earth, the moment of humankind being made in the image of God, to be like God.

So, if we want to know what the creation of the world looks like, look to the cross, to Christ crucified and risen. If we want to know what the end or consummation of the world looks like, look to Christ crucified and risen. If we want to see what the defeat of all evil looks like, look to Christ crucified and risen. 

It is all accomplished there, certainly in eternity, but also in time. For the Incarnation of Christ is the union of eternity with time. We can see, in time, where it is all done in eternity. We can point to it and say, “There it is, right there!” We can be immersed in it and taste it on our tongues in the sacraments. Everything in time, both forward and backward, is worked out from the Cross.

The Cross means that we no longer have to understand time as neverending cycles, or in linear fashion, with “before” and “after,” for our eternal Lord Jesus Christ has united himself with time. Now we can see the consummation of all time and the unveiling of history right there at the Cross, in Christ crucified and risen. 

This, I believe, is the point of the book of Revelation, the Apocalypsis, the Unveiling that “pulls away the curtain” to show us the Lamb of God, slain from the foundation of the world, seated upon the Throne, making all things new. And this is why we find, in Revelation, the most exquisite worship, because it is in worship of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world that we behold everything — the Beginning and the End, all fulfilled in our Lord Jesus Christ.

“The darkness is passing away,” John the Elder tells us, “and the True Light is already shining” (1 John 2:8). At the Cross, we can simultaneously witness the passing away of darkness and evil, and the shining of the Light of Christ, who is the True Light that gives Light to everyone in the world (John 1:9).

Sunday, January 14, 2024

The Problem of the Will


The problem of the human will is not that of wills that are free but must somehow be persuaded to choose God and the good. Rather, the problem is that of the human will bound in darkness and the fear of death — until the love of God penetrates and sets it free.

Freedom of will is not the ability to choose between good and evil, based on nothing inherent in the chooser. Otherwise, there would be nothing to differentiate the exercise of the will from random events.

Rather, freedom of will is the ability to act according to one’s true inherent nature. The true and inherent nature of humans is that of persons created in the image of God and to be like God. Being thus created, our true and inherent will is to seek God and the good — that is when the will is competent. A will that is competent is one that is fully developed, fully informed, and not beset by hindering factors. But where one is not mature, or has been deceived, or is bound, we cannot say that their will is free.

So, for example, Lord Jesus said that whoever sins is a slave to sin (John 8:34). One who is a slave to sin does not have free will, for their will is in bondage, and not able to act according to their inherent nature. For another example, from the cross, Lord Jesus prayed for those who were crucifying him (which would include us all), “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Their will was not free because it was not fully informed.

In the case of Adam and Eve in the garden, their will was not competent because they were deceived, bound by the deception of the devil. St. Irenaeus of Lyon, one of the Church Fathers from the 2nd century, taught that Adam and Eve were deceived because they were not yet mature.

God’s plan of salvation, enacted through Christ, does not require that God ignore, override, or otherwise cancel out the free will of anyone. Quite the opposite, Christ has come to set free our human will, so that we may act according to our true nature as persons created to bear the image of God and to be like God.

In the Incarnation, God and humankind are united in Jesus Christ (this is why the Cross and the Resurrection are effective for our salvation). So, Christ himself is our true nature. The love of the Father, the life of Christ in us, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit work in us to free us — mind, heart and will — from the deceits of the devil and the fear of death, so that we may may be and act as we truly are in Christ.