God is Just

Derek Ouellette —  May 28, 2011 — 41 Comments

Hot Topic: God is Love.

Favourite Bible Verse: 1 John 4:16

Spectacles of choice: Love of God trumps all

I really think and am persuaded that there is am imbalance today when discussing the nature of God and determining what we think is permissible for God to do or not to do. A favourite bible verse is 1 John 4:16 because there we are told that “God is Love”. Here we learn that love is not just another “attribute” of God lined up next to the rest. Rather we learn that “Love” is a description of his ontological being. “Love” doesn’t just describe his character or attributes, it literally describes God’s existence. He has compassion, he has anger, but he is love.

Love conquerors all.

Fine then. I’m with you. I share that view. But I don’t want to leave it there because to do so would require a serious revamp of the biblical testimony, of God’s dealings with sin and with sinners, of God’s wrath and of his judgments and of the many frightening images revealed in the scriptures about the fate of all those who, well, reject God’s love.

As Evangelical Christians we hold that the Bible is our final arbiter on all matters pertaining to the faith. So we need to be careful not to oversimplify any aspect of God, because doing so will almost surely result in spot-reading God’s Word to avoid those parts we don’t very much appreciate.

For example, many of my friends have taken “God is Love” as the bees knees of biblical statements. But I don’t think I’ve heard any of these same friends ever quote 2 Thessalonians 1:6: “God is Just“.

And why not?

Only they can answer that. Maybe they are unaware of that verse, or perhaps they don’t think its very relevant or maybe they just don’t like it or perhaps they think “God is just” is speaking in terms of love or non-punishment because God’s justice was poured out on the cross? For, as the argument goes, how can a loving (← the spectacles) God send the vast majority of every person who ever lived to hell simply for not knowing God or not obeying the gospel of Jesus Christ?

But the passage leaves little wiggle-room for what “God is Just” means:

“This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10)

1. When Jesus comes it will be to judge. I’ve said before that I don’t believe universalism is an Evangelical option. That is because I don’t believe the scriptures can be used to support the idea that in the end all will be saved. I don’t mean to imply that someone who holds to universalism is not a Christian, or even that that are not Evangelical. Only that by holding to universalism they have abandoned an Evangelical approach to the faith (sola scriptura) in this area.

2. The question of salvation is this: do you “know” God and “obey the Gospel of Jesus Christ”. Because condemnation is reserved for those who do not. How that works out is a matter of dispute even among Evangelicals, but it seems everywhere in the New Testament that the way to come to “know” God and “obey” the Gospel is through faith.

3. Punishment: Everlasting ruination and exile. The punishment is spoken of in terms of “Everlasting” which, given the context, seems to strongly imply “unending”. The word “destruction” does not mean “extinction” as in “annihilation”, but rather “ruination” implying the consequence of loss that goes with complete undoing. To use N.T. Wright’s terminology: the individual will no longer be “human” in any proper and definable way such that they will never bear the image of God again. And all of this will be in a state of eternal exile from God.

4. But salvation is for those who believed the testimony of the apostles. Paul is confident that this includes the recipients of his letter because their “faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of” them has for each other is increasing. Jesus said that they will know us by our love for one another(John 13:35). This is the evidence that Paul sees as pure and sincere faith.

This is why I feel we need to resist the contemporary pressure in which I feel Evangelical Christianity is being strained under. The issues at stake in today’s debates have ginormous repercussions. How we understand salvation, the Gospel and the message hangs in the balance. If we tell everyone that everyone is going to be saved when we are taught through scripture that salvation is through a relationship with God and obedience to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and that there will be eternal consequences for those who remain separated from God, I cannot see how we will not be held accountable. At the very least our compassion should move us not to preach universalism.

The Gospel has always been the Christian hope. Altering the message of Christianity to make it more palatable for our contemporary society (2 Timothy 3:13) will not change the truth of the Gospel of Jesus and the message of his Apostles.

Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000259010675 Kyle Pitts

    I completely agree with your assessment. One thing I would add is the strong Pelagian society we have become, altering the Gospel so that it is more palatable is futile.

    When somebody over-emphasizes God’s love to the extreme what becomes their view of Scripture? What is the over-emphasizers interpretation of Psalms 5:5 or 2 Kings 2:23-24?

    One thing I had to realize is that God can do whatever He wants.

  • Jon Sellers

    God’s attributes are not in competition with one another, nor any conflict. God’s justice,wrath etc are also necessary expressions of his righteousness, holiness and love. Because He is holy He cannot let sin and evil continue forever. When He brings all things under His feet and makes Christ all in all then holiness will not allow sin or evil to be a part of that. God is love, God is just, God always does what is right and best according to His wisdom. So while He endures sin and evil for a season, it cannot be allowed to remain.

    These eternal attributes of love, justice, righteousness and holiness will remain as they are essential attributes of God. His wrath is an expression of these toward sin. When sin and evil are done away with there will be no need for wrath to be expressed.

    Very well done article.

  • http://morganguyton.wordpress.com Morgan

    Do you think that believing the right thing about hell is what is required for us to be saved? If it is, then that’s Pelagianism. If it isn’t, then accept your “weaker” brothers and sisters for whom hell is a stumbling block and pray that they and you would come to a deeper, more integrated understanding of God’s just love that helps to knock down all stumbling blocks.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000259010675 Kyle Pitts

      If a true doctrine causes somebody to stumble there are some serious problems with that believer. I do not understand your connection between doctrinal purity and Pelagianism, could you explain further?

  • http://hiddenirony.wordpress.com James

    Hey Derek,

    While I appreciate your thoughts, as someone who is currently on the fence on this issue and has been researching universalism to try to make some sense of things and make an informed decision, I find this post pretty unhelpful for a few reasons.

    1. Demonstrating a proof-text doesn’t get us very far, when a universalist could do the same thing. A universalist can give texts as well that they could say leave little wiggle-room as to Christ’s universally saving death and resurrection. Responding to that with a proof-text of your own doesn’t really do much. In the end, whether you are a universalist, a calvinist, or an arminian, you’re going to have some awkward texts to deal with. This is one of the awkward ones for the universalist, but there are awkward ones for the calvinist, and awkward ones for the arminian as well.

    2. To say that universalists have a lower view of scripture and thus shouldn’t be considered to holding to evangelical beliefs is simply not true. As I stated above, there are scriptures supporting universalism as well, and there are many universalists who base their beliefs primarily on scripture. That you disagree with someone’s interpretation of scripture does not entail at all that they do not take scripture seriously.

    3. You seem to have evangelical universalism confused with some kind of Christianized pluralistic universalism. You say, “If we tell everyone that everyone is going to be saved when we are taught through scripture that salvation is through a relationship with God and obedience to the Gospel of Jesus Christ…” One can completely believe that salvation is through a relationship with God and obedience to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and also believe in universal salvation. Exclusivism and Universalism are compatible.

    4. Many universalists are willing to talk about “problem verses” such as 2 Thess 1:6. Gregory McDonald in his book, “The Evangelical Universalist” speaks at some length about this piece of scripture. There are alternative ways of translating and understanding this passage (just as those who believe in the traditional view of Hell have alternative ways to read the universalist texts.)

    5. I have seen both universalists and those with a traditional view of Hell pit love and justice against each other, as if they are two separate parts of God that are at odds with each other. This seems to be what you’re doing here. I personally feel that any view we have of…

    • http://hiddenirony.wordpress.com James

      It looks like my post was too big and it cut off the rest! Luckily I copied it before posting. Here’s the rest:

      …God has to be more holistic, viewing any of God’s action as holy *and* loving, rather than one at the expense of the other.

      Anyway, in the end, I appreciate your thoughts, but it seems to me you’re basing your ideas of universalism on what a certain sect of Christians are saying about it, who are doing a massive redefinition of Hell, love, and justice. But we don’t need such a major overhaul to get to universalism. I would recommend reading two books, “Universal Salvation: The Current Debate”, as well as “The Evangelical Universalist”, by Gregory McDonald. I have found these books very helpful in understanding universalism from a very evangelical position.

      Peace,
      James

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      Hey James, I appreciate the push-back. I read your recent post and it seems you imposed your recent epiphany of universalism on me and what I’ve said. So let me take a moment to respond.

      1. It seems you and I have different ideas of what qualifies as a “proof-text”. I see proof-texting as that venerable dogmatic approach in which someone simply tosses out, without engaging, a series of verses and assumes that by doing so they have made their case and won the argument. In contrast I’ve engaged a representative text but I am fully aware that I have not “won the case” as it were. That wasn’t my goal. (As a side note, your comments seem to assume that all options are equally valid as long as each has proof-texts on their side. I don’t share that assumption.)

      2. I don’t know anyone – except perhaps Evangelical Universalists – who would make the claim that the universalism debate is on par, in terms of being faithful to the biblical testimony, with the Arminian/Calvin debate. When most, (by no means all!) Christian universalists readily acknowledge that their position is not clearly taught in the bible, it seems to me the Evangelical universalists is, as J.I. Packer says, “a human wish seeking divine warrant”. Because universalists can proof-text the bible in order to find some support does not make it Evangelical any more than to say that because Christadelphians can proof-text the whole bible to “prove” that the devil isn’t a real person, they too must be Evangelical. I am surprised that you give such weight to the universalists proof-text as if that’s all the Historic Tradition has done for the past two thousand years on this subject.

      At this point I’ll reiterate something I thought I made clear in the post: I am not saying “universalism” is heresy, or that those who hold to it are not “Christian” or even – as I said – that they are not “Evangelical”. There are Christian unversalists who are not Evangelical and some Evangelical universalists who I think are inconsistent.

      3. You write: “You seem to have evangelical universalism confused with some kind of Christianized pluralistic universalism.” This is another case where you’ve imposed your epiphany of universalism onto me, as you write on your blog:

      “Most people don’t understand the difference between pluralistic universalism (all roads lead to Heaven) and Christian universalism (salvation is only through faith in Christ and his saving work on the cross, but all will eventually come to that faith.)”

      You’ve anxiously included me in “most people”, but when you quote me you’ve done so out of context by cutting off the quote. It was the second piece of that quote (“…and that there will be eternal consequences for those who remain separated from God”) that showed that I was also talking about Evangelical universalists and not just pluralistic universalists (like John Hicks). I recognize that Evangelical universalists affirm that all will be saved by Christ, which happens to rule out the second part of that quote.

      4.You’ve surprisingly accused me of pitting love and justice against each other. I say surprisingly because the original intent of the post was to marry that which is commonly torn asunder these days: “God is Love” at the expense of “God is Just”. I affirmed first that God is Love, but then went on to show that God is Just as well. So I don’t understand your charge.

      In short, I found your push-back to be more an anxious attempt to prove your own post (the ignorance Christians have toward universalism), rather than accurately reflecting my post.
      Blessing!

    • http://hiddenirony.wordpress.com James Palmer

      Hi Derek,

      I feel you misunderstood my post, but then, it’s clear you feel you feel I misunderstood yours! Anyway, I will post this reply in hopes for further clarity, and I thank you for your clarifications.

      1. My apologies if I used the term “proof-text” incorrectly. My point was that pulling out a single passage is only going to get one so far – a Universalist can do the same thing with Romans 5. I never stated that the ability to “proof-text” makes all cases valid… my point was that we need to avoid the pitfalls of proof-texting altogether, regardless of one’s side.

      2. Perhaps there are many universalists who really do see universalism as “a human wish seeking divine warrant”. I’m not sure what to say to that, except I’m not particularly interested in that kind of universalism. If that is the only kind of universalism you’re arguing against, then I can say bravo and leave it there, as I agree with this. But it’s not the only kind of universalism there is. In the past, the major universalist movements have been because those following the movement thought the traditionalists were not being scriptural enough.

      3. My apologies for only partly quoting you. I suppose I just think if we’re going to argue against universalism, we must argue against it in its most positive light. That’s the principle of charity (and I’ll apologize again for probably not fully implimenting that principle in my quote of you.) So to my mind, in making up my own mind on universalism, I need to find that form of universalism that would be the closest to being convincing to me. To reject a pluralistic version of universalism is not of interest to me because it’s not even on the table of possible considerations.

      4. I find your post to be pitting love and justice against each other as it seems you are stating that love is for certain circumstances and justice is for others. What I want to know is how Hell is loving justice, rather than how a loving God can suspend that love to torment one of his creation / children out of justice. So I will grant you that you are trying to marry the two together, but in my personal opinion, I see it as not quite enough.

      So anyway. My main point was that I found your post unhelpful in my own search. Perhaps I was wrong to state that you don’t understand Evangelical Universalism, but I do find your argument against universalism isn’t really against Evangelical Universalism (at least not the version…

    • http://hiddenirony.wordpress.com James Palmer

      … of it I’ve been reading about), so in that regard, I still find it unhelpful. However, it’s always good to discuss these things. I also notice that you talk of me “imposing” things on you, and being “anxious”, so I want to apologize if my tone came across that way – I enjoy your posts and I enjoy the interaction we’ve had here and on facebook, and I look forward to reading more about what you have to say.

      Blessings,
      James

    • http://hiddenirony.wordpress.com James Palmer

      Derek,

      Not to spam you at all, but I just posted another blog post on Universalism, entitled, “Is Universalism Heresy?” It is not in the least meant as an explicit response to your post here (I’ve planned to publish the post for a few days now, and I understand you’re not arguing that its heresy), but I think it does respond to a couple of ideas you talk about or allude to. Anyway, feel free to check it out if you’re interested.

      http://hiddenirony.wordpress.com/2011/05/29/is-universalism-heresy/

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      Hey James,

      I appreciate the clarification and am sorry that you found the article unhelpful for you. I will try harder next time. :) I do hope someone found this post helpful. At the very least – and this might be a bit selfish – but it was good for me to “get it out” if you will, as it help me to work things out a bit more (as this discussion has).

    • http://hiddenirony.wordpress.com James

      Hey Derek,

      My apologies if my original response came across as harsh – I realize it did (or at least it would to me, but I’m not very thick-skinned.)

      I have to admit, after your post about a year ago defending the legitimacy of open theism and exposing the misconceptions about it, I truly expected a similar post about universalism. Instead you went the total opposite direction, and it surprised me (I actually had to double check that this was really your blog after I read it the first time!)

      So my reaction my have been partly due to that surprise.

      Blessings,
      James

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000259010675 Kyle Pitts

    “who are doing a massive redefinition of Hell, love, and justice.”

    Say what????

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000259010675 Kyle Pitts

      Barnabas (70-130 AD), Letter to dignetus (125-200), Martyrdom of Polycarp (135 AD), Hermans (150 AD), Justin Martyr (160 AD), Theophilus (180 AD), Irenaeus (180 AD), Clement of Alexandria (195 AD), Tertullian Mark(197 AD), Minucius Felix (200 AD) I could go on for a long time, Hell presented as eternal punishment is strongly supported by many of the Ante-Nicean Church. Eternal punishment is not a new or redifined doctrine but a doctrine that is as ancient as our Scriptures.

    • http://hiddenirony.wordpress.com James Palmer

      Kyle,

      Sorry if my post wasn’t clear. I was referring to universalists who do major redefinitions of those terms. For instance, Rob Bell states that he believes in Hell, but he (in my view) drastically redefines it so that it looks very little like the traditional view of Hell.

      I wasn’t referring to those who take the traditional view of Hell at all. I was just pointing out that one can be a universalist without such a radical redefining of the character of God or of the concept of Hell.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000259010675 Kyle Pitts

      James, Cool, thanks for the clarification.

  • david syme

    Can you give me the book where this is said, please.

    To use N.T. Wright’s terminology: the individual will no longer be “human” in any proper and definable way such that they will never bear the image of God again. And all of this will be in a state of eternal exile from God.

  • Josh

    I agree with Jon Sellers that “God’s attributes are not in competition with one another, nor any conflict.”
    I strongly affirm that we shouldn’t say “God is love, but…”
    Rather we should say “God is love, and so…”

    Richard Rice in The Openness of God writes:
    “From a Christian perspective, love is the first and last word in the biblical portrait of God. According to 1 John 4:8: “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” The statement God is love is as close as the Bible comes to giving us a definition of the divine reality…
    So the statement God is love embodies an essential biblical truth. It indicates that love is central, not incidental, to the nature of God. Love is not something God happens to do, it is the one divine activity that most fully and vividly discloses God’s inner reality. Love, therefore, is the very essence of the divine nature. Love is what it means to be God…
    (Love) is the basic source from which all of God’s attributes arise. This means that the assertion God is love incorporates all there is to say about God. In Barth’s words, “All our further insights about who and what God is must revolve round this mystery – the mystery of His love…
    A doctrine of God that is faithful to the Bible must show that all of God’s characteristics derive from love.”

    And I believe that God is just (and wrathful/angry) precisely because He is loving! Even God’s eternal dealing with evil is a loving act for all of creation and (I would argue) even the receivers of eternal destruction to put them out of their misery and free creation from chaos/evil.

    The issue is: Who is God? What is his heart? What drives Him? What are His desires? Why did He create creation, and particularly us?! I believe the Scripture answer that particularly in the revelation of God in Christ and the NT bold proclamation (i.e. Good News) which is a continuation (and climax) of the Biblical narrative – that God is love and He wants relationship with us. Did God create us to love us or to show us wrath? God in His infinite wisdom knew the way things were most likely to play out (how bad things could/would most likely get), but He chose to create anyways!

    Why? Cause he wanted to show unending wrath to most of humanity? Or was it for love and relationship?

    One point of possible disagreement with Jon though is that if God’s “wrath is an expression of these toward sin. When sin and evil are done away with there will be no need for…

  • Josh

    One point of possible disagreement with Jon though is that if God’s “wrath is an expression of these toward sin. When sin and evil are done away with there will be no need for wrath to be expressed.”
    If we are to affirm a traditional hell perspective of eternal torment though, God’s wrath is unending against those that reject Him. From that view, God perpetuates the evil’s existence and His wrath against them eternally.

  • http://hiddenirony.wordpress.com James Palmer

    To throw on a completely different thought, the idea of eternal hell as being justice also has many philosophical and theological problems. These are probably the 2 issues that speak to me the most at the moment:

    1. Hell as justice diminishes what Christ did on the cross. If he paid for all our sins (including the sin of rejecting the gospel), then God can not be under an obligation to punish us further for those sins. If justice was fully served on the cross, then further punishment merely for the sake of punishment would actually be unjust. This reasoning is why so many theologians, like C.S. Lewis, describe Hell as being “locked from the inside.” It is us that keep us in Hell, not God, because it does not make sense for us to be there eternally for justice when it was already served on the cross. So the only thing keeping us in Hell would have to be ourselves.

    2. There is an irony to eternal conscious torment as justice, because justice in this case is *never* served. At any given point in the future, there would still be those being punished to serve justice. But if they require punishment for eternity, then there can be no point where one can say, “Justice has been served.” The universe would be one in which God never really puts an end to evil.

    Anyway, there are non-universalist ways to address these issues – my point is not to push for universalism, but to portray eternal conscious torment as punitive justice seems, to me, to be an unacceptable way to view it, and a great deal of Biblical scholars (discounting Calvinists, I suppose) would agree.

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      Hey James,

      You’ve offered much here to engage with, but instead I’d like to ask you about something you said above:

      “In the past, the major universalist movements have been because those following the movement thought the traditionalists were not being scriptural enough.

      Can you give me examples? My experience, whether through books I’ve read, blogs I’ve encounter or universalists I’ve spoken to, the major reasons for the movement seem to be philosophical and theological and only after that do they return to the scriptures to ask if we have been “scriptural enough”. Even your own comments above seem to move in this direction. I’m not saying there are no examples, only that my experience has been without exception, the opposite.

      P.S. Thanks for the book suggestion, “The Evangelical Universalist”. I’ll look into that one.

    • http://hiddenirony.wordpress.com James

      “Can you give me examples?”

      I’ll try to dig them up later. I’ve seen it mentioned twice in the few books I’ve mentioned, but haven’t actually noted what or when the movement was. So I’ll take a look.

      I would also recommend engaging in the Evangelical Universalist forums:
      http://www.evangelicaluniversalist.com/forum/index.php
      I have engaged a couple times with the people on this site, and so far all those I talk to take a very high view of scripture and see it as their primary source of revelation about God.

      As far as philosophy goes – most philosophy I read about universalism is still taking it’s premises from scripture. Applying logic and reasoning to those premises to come to a conclusion does not seem a-scriptural to me. This is certainly how I attempt to approach it.

  • http://web.me.com/craigadams1/ Craig L. Adams

    So this is a Love vs. Justice thing? Really? I keep hearing this but I don’t get it.

    How about this. God is Love. The basis of human freedom is God’s love. Such freedom implies that a human being can therefore reject the love and purpose of God. This argument would make God’s Love the basis of the notion of Hell.

    And, it is precisely the concept of Justice that Paul is struggling with when he discusses the fate of the Gentiles. God will be just with all people because God is the God of all people. The common objection that infinite, unending, eternal torture for finite sin is a Justice objection, for crying out loud.

    I’m sorry, I just don’t get how this is a Love vs. Justice thing.

    • http://hiddenirony.wordpress.com James Palmer

      Craig,

      I don’t view this as a love vs justice thing as all. But some do, or at least phrase it that way. As soon as you say, “God is just, *but* God is loving”, or “God is merciful, *but* God is holy”, then I think you’re pitting things against each other that shouldn’t be. The word “but” shouldn’t come into play when talking about the various natures of God.

    • http://web.me.com/craigadams1/ Craig L. Adams

      Oh great, James, now I have to worry about the Conjunction Police. :-)

      I’m probably just ranting and need to cool off (again).

      I understood Derek’s post to be suggesting that the Traditional Concept of Hell (everyone is going there except Christians, and we’re not too sure about all of them) can be defended on the basis of God’s Justice. Maybe I misunderstood. But, I have heard this idea being put forward ever since the Love Wins controversy started. And, I honestly don’t get it. It sounds nuts to me. What on earth kind of justice are we talking about? Maybe we should look at the Biblical concepts of Justice / Righteousness first.

      Because in the Bible God’s salvation and the vindication of God’s people is often spoken of as being rooted in God’s “righteousness.” When we come to Christ it is Justification by faith — and it is God Himself who has provided a way for me to be justified.

      So, we could say that God’s salvation is rooted in God’s righteousness! In fact, if anything, that might be more in tune with the Biblical usage of the related words.

    • http://hiddenirony.wordpress.com James

      Hey Craig,

      Yes, call the conjunction police! Haha… I think perhaps my point is better explained this way:

      If God IS Love, then *ALL* his actions must be loving actions, and be completely loving actions.

      This is why we can’t pit justice against love. It’s also why we can’t say that justice fills in the gaps where God’s love doesn’t exist, because there are no such gaps. When we start saying that God loves in this situation, but God is just in that situation, then we are denying that God IS love.

      If there are just actions that are devoid of love, then that would disagree with the statement, “God is love.”

      So if God is sending people to Hell (whatever Hell may be), I just want to know how that is compatible with “God is Love”.

      In defense of eternal conscious torment, Danial Strange, a Calvinist theologian, offers this thought in defense of God being Love:

      “It may also be worth considering that in their very punishment of hell, God is giving a privilege to the lost – the privilege of displaying his justice and his victory in the spiritual war.”

      I find I have to reject this kind of thinking out of hand. But it is, as far as I have seen, the best way to reconcile the two ideas from a Calvinist point of view. Anyway, my point isn’t to pick on Calvinism, but just to point out that reconciling the idea that “God is Love” with “God sends people to Hell” is a real difficulty that philosophers and theologians continue to debate, and I don’t see a real consensus ever occurring.

    • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

      I want to attempt to make something clear, because I think we are all kinda saying the same thing: God is Love should not and cannot not be pitted against his attributes. BUT (and there is that conjunction… call the police!) these days I hear so much talk of the love of God – this sort of fuzzy-wuzzy stuff – that people cannot imagine God doing something that they wouldn’t do (on their most “loving” days of course, like when they bring their child to a theme park and buy them all the sweet little candies they want). The post was meant to address this lopsided approach to God on a grander scale.

      I unexpectedly (because it wasn’t my intent) turned my attention toward universalism (with a notable shot across the bow of annihilism) because through discussions, books and blogs, the common starting point I hear from them is: “God is Love, therefore God would not….” (the fuzzy-wuzzy stuff I was talking about). As a side note I tried to keep universalism(s) boiled down to its (their) common denominator: that all will eventually be saved. (This view is shared by all the variegated forms of universalism.)

      So no Craig, my goal was not to defend hell on the basis of God’s justice (but I suppose that was what I was implicitly doing, that stupid subconscious of mine!). And no James, I did not want or intend to pit God’s love against God’s justice. “But” is indeed a readily accessible and most useful conjunction. No, it would not be appropriate to say, “God is Love” but “God is Just”. However, it would be appropriate to say, “God is Love” but “God is Just” also. Here the conjunction does not take away from the holistic goal that the statement is striving for, but adds to it. When people say “God is Love” but “God is Just” I think most people mean that God is just also (<-- another useful conjunction). If in charity we accepted what people mean by that statement, we would save on a lot of typing and a lot of debates. One last note: Craig, your insertion of a study of the dikaios and its cognate family group intrigues me much and would be a most valuable study. Can you recommend any sources? Also, how would you apply this thought to our passage in 2 Thessalonians where it is not simply discussing God's vindication of his people, but also punishment on them who do not know him? Here "justice" is employed not in terms of vindication, but in terms of dealing out punishment?

    • http://web.me.com/craigadams1/ Craig L. Adams

      Derek, thanks for the clarification. Yeah, I think several of us in this thread are largely on the same page on this. I’m fine with taking a new look at the doctrine of Hell, refining what we believe, etc., etc. I’m not at all okay at this point with discarding it. Both Determinism & Universalism are distasteful to me — and for very similar reasons. And, yes, it’s my essentially “Holiness” perspective.

      Re: Righteousness. I’m also thinking of the usage of the Hebrew term tsedek and it’s cognates as well. Just look, for example, at the ways “righteous” “righteousness” and “vindication” in the Psalms.

      And, just for the record I’m with you on the sentimentalization of our ideas of love. Love is not indulgence!! Love does not say “Oh, it’s okay” when it isn’t! And, so forth.

      • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

        Hey Craig, I knew that (that you were thinking of tsedek too!). Have you ever read Paul Among Jews and Gentiles by Krister Stendhal? So far his is the best look I’ve read on the using of tsedek in Hebrew.

    • http://web.me.com/craigadams1/ Craig L. Adams

      Sad to say, I have not read Stendahl. Most of the books I have read are packed away in boxes in our storage unit anyway — I have no idea when they will ever again see the light of day. One of my NT professors at Asbury (Joseph S. Wang) was insistent on this point: our common concept of “righteousness” (thus, also “justice”) is not at all the same as the Biblical concept of righteousness — largely because of the relational dimension of these ideas as they are used in the Scriptures.

  • http://web.me.com/craigadams1/ Craig L. Adams

    Oops. That was supposed to be: “The common objection against infinite, unending, eternal torture for finite sin is a Justice objection, for crying out loud.”

  • http://web.me.com/craigadams1/ Craig L. Adams

    And, what about this: God is Holy. God desires holiness in human beings. For a human beings to be holy they are to love God with all their heart, mind, soul and strength — and to love their neighbors as themselves. Heaven and Hell cannot be a matter simply of “right opinions” and emotional experiences, and joining a church, etc. etc. It cannot be an in-club thing that allows us to feel superior to other people, judge their lives, and live however we please.

    I very frankly do not want to discard the concept of Hell because it seems to entail (for me!) discarding human freedom, moral responsibility, right and wrong — pretty much all the significance of human choices in the here and now. But, there are times — many times! — when I find the current discussions around this issue a distraction for the main thing: loving God, serving God, genuinely caring about others. It focuses our attention on supposedly “right” opinions & “right” experiences — as if that were the issue.

  • http://www.classicalchristianity.com Mike Spreng

    I do not teach universalism as dogmatic but I also do not condemn it. You can find a scriptural theme for it just as you can with what I call the doctrine of corporeal torture. “Eternal damnation” can have to do with the fact that your condition post-mortem is “outisde of time,” which is what eternal means. To say that corporeal torture goes on “forever and ever” is simply hard be dogmatic about. The theological pillar I think of Universalism is post-mortem sanctification as well as Christus Victor, both which are biblical and historical.

  • http://www.classicalchristianity.com Mike Spreng

    Is God really “just?” I think he can be, in the sense of our personal relationship with him, which is what I think St. Paul is saying in that verse. But the very essense of God is not just, if it were, we would not be able to ever be in communion with him and would be destined to hell.

    • http://web.me.com/craigadams1/ Craig L. Adams

      Mike, as I understand it, God’s righteousness includes the desire to make things right. Thus, God is spoken of as saving and vindicating God’s people in his righteousness. (See above.) I’m sorry I don’t have time to develop this idea at length, but a word study of the related words would show that God’s people have hope in God because God is righteous!

    • http://web.me.com/craigadams1/ Craig L. Adams

      Hey Mike, nice web site. You are in my RSS feed now. (Of course, so are a lot of people….)

  • http://vagantepriest.blogspot.com/ FrGregACCA

    Derek writes, “For example, many of my friends have taken “God is Love” as the bees knees of biblical statements. But I don’t think I’ve heard any of these same friends ever quote 2 Thessalonians 1:6: “God is Just“.

    And why not?”

    Well, to start with, because that is not what the text actually says. I’m not sure what translation this is, but it is very paraphrastic. “God is love” is, however, an extremely literal translation of the Greek text: “Ho Theos agapay estin”.

    That is not to deny that “God is just”; however, “just” here is a predicate adjective, not a predicate nominative noun, as in “God is love”. Therefore, “just” is attributive, not ontological. We see the inherent, ontological love that God is in the fact that God, the Most Blessed Trinity, is the Eternal, Archetypal Community. IOW, “love” goes to the core of what and who God is in a way that nothing else does or can.

    So what is divine justice then? Well, if you had had read “River of Fire,” Derek, you would know that God’s “justice” is first and foremost Divine faithfulness to His covenants, God’s ultimate covenant being the one made with, in, and through Christ. Hence, St. Paul is saying here that the People of God, the members of Christ, will be vindicated in the end, regardless of whatever persecution they must endure here and now, and that those who persecute Christ’s flock can only look forward to destruction.

    However, it is not even clear that St. Paul is writing about humans here: “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of wickedness in high places”. If this does speak of humans, the context is not garden-variety damnation, but the fate of those who persecute the Church and do not repent.

    Once again, however, one cannot successfully defend inevitable universalism in a Christian context, any more than one can successfully defend its converse, limited atonement, within the fullness of the Apostolic Tradition. One can, and should, however, hope and pray for the ultimate salvation of all. To do otherwise is to fail to embrace the Divine desire itself that “all be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth”. Therefore, neither answer which posits an inevitability is correct in that both short-change human freedom and the Calvinist answer gives short-shrift to God’s desire that all be saved as well, and, indeed, given what salvation really is, in order to actually BE…

  • William Mayor

    As I see it too many people are trying to take a single statement about God, apply their own defition to it, and then make a theology off of it. And at that point I admit that I also do this to an extent.

    However, my starting point is not a statement that God is …, but rather that humanity is created in the image of God. Thus I look to what is unique about humanity within creation and then see if I can apply it back to God. Doing so resolves many of the issues about God is …, because so many of these fit within the uniqueness of humanity, or if not actually due to our fallen nature, at least potentially or ideally.

  • brad dickey

    Well, I’m gonna raise some eyebrows here.
    I agree God is love. A big problem is the Church today is a peddler of cliches and lack the desire to learn the thoughts. Behind the cliches. Love, agapao,means what? The most commom answer is “god’s love”. Really? Isn’t that really losing the point with a cliche. While God’s love to us is agapao, agapao is not god’s love. Or, would we call rape, a loving act of God? (Septuagint). It is in this case a love DEMONSTRATED and thus verified by an action. Charity, service, washing feet, sheep goats. Parable feeding, clothing the ooour.

    And it is a command from the christ Himself that we attain to, and achieve, that same love on earth. (Matt 5:48 in context)

    The churches, mostly that is a goal to ‘strive for’ but wont happen wwhile you kive. So, we render mat 5:48 as the holy red Herring that jesus set us chasing? Well, isn’t that special, Jesus teaches the truth with lies if that Kat accurate.

    The severity of God is love and we are to be like HIM, in that regard is a matter of Xian maturity. Consider 1j 3:6, if you still sin,(act not in agapao), you dont yet know Him and have not met Him.

    Now you can still be saved by grace, but you aren’t mature in Him. In 1st chapter you see john’s group is IN fellowship with god, but the receivers are not yet there, 3-7. John hopes to get them there. In vss 8-10 you see Christ is their mediator. They are not yet living in Love, but are being led there. And when that darkness washes away, will be there, 2:6.

    We are taught such a watered down version of Scripture, I assume to not scare folks from the pews, that the understanding of the commoner can’t even fathom a God of justice. Well you have the God hates fags people, no gay marriage people, bomb abortion clinics people, those that use His justice as an excuse to spit their venomous hate on the world, but they aren’t the example of the church Jesus taught either.

    The john tetzel teachings used today, fire and brimstone, say magic prayer get magic bath, eat milk and cookies once a month and go to heaven, meet Ricardo monteban, and every desire will be met, is making God look more lime Santa Claus, than a loving just God.

    Yes it frustrates me. Yes I expect the standard emails. I hope you consider those vss

  • http://www.livingngrace.com Luther

    It is easy Believism wrapped in Pelagiansim shrouded in post-modernism. The ” God is Love ” and nothing else crowd look at the entire history of God and man through that one verse. It is their lens through which to interpret the entirety of Scripture. They are wrong. One attribute of God does not overshadow or dominate His totality, His being. He cannot be love if He eternally neglects the hurts done against those He loves. Love demands justice and the righteous wrath that emanates from His Holy nature is why Scripture says, ” our God is a consuming fire “.