The Judgments of God--Part 2
Jul 14, 2008
There are two "horns of the bull" that we must avoid. They are the two extreme positions. The first is the position that God's judgments are so extreme that He would torture people in the most extreme manner--endlessly. The second extreme is that God judges no one, but allows them to do as they please in their life time, and then, when they die or at the resurrection, they are welcomed into His presence as full-fledged sons of God.
The view of eternal torment recognizes God's sovereign right to do anything He wants to do, because as Creator He owns all things. However, this view usually says that even God cannot save those who did not accept Him as Savior in their life time. It matters not if they personally rejected Jesus Christ, such as the Pharisees who heard Him speak, or if they never heard of Jesus Christ at all, such as a man living in a far-off land during the Dark Ages.
In my childhood, we were told that the fire of hell would not be quite so hot for those who had never heard of Jesus. Small comfort that was. I wonder how hot hell would be if you cut its temperature in half. What is half of infinity?
I was also taught that even God Himself was incapable of saving anyone, once they had gone to hell. People spoke of visions in which Jesus led them through those hot cells in hell. Jesus pointed to the tortured people and said, "Even I can't save them now." So much for God's sovereignty. And one might question His wisdom as well, for how wise could God be to devise such a plan that would lose most of the ones He loves? Is "free will" really worth such a price?
And then we must wonder why it is that the wages of sin is torture. It seems to me that this tortures the Scripture to make it confess man's traditions.
The doctrine of eternal torment has caused more people to reject Christ than have ever been saved by it. Yet I have heard many times that eternal torment is necessary, because without such a threat, very few would want to be saved. Really? Is God so vicious and so bad tempered that no one would love Him or even want to follow Him unless they were threatened by torture?
Oh yes, they say. If there is no eternal torment, then why am I trying so hard to live a good life? Why not just go out and be hedonistic like the rest of the world?
Such a statement, of course, is very revealing. It shows that they do not really love God at all. They only fear His ability to torture people eternally. If torture is the only motivation to obey God, it is no wonder that most of the world rejects such a god.
The fact is, God is love. This does not mean that God refuses to judge sin, but His judgments are righteous and are the expression of His character. Anything that is not within the character of God is sin. That is why the law reveals the mind of God. The dim light of the Old Covenant, which did not enjoy the advantages of Pentecost, made it somewhat difficult for men to understand the law. Thus, the law came to be interpreted in ways that presented God as a stern and impersonal Judge, rather than as a loving Father. But Jesus came to correct our view of God, so that we would know Him in a better way.
The judgments of God are eonian, not "eternal." The Greek word comes from the word aion, which means "an age; eon." They are not unending. They pertain to an age, a limited period of time, because they are designed to correct sinners, not to consign them to an eternal state of separation from God.
The judgment is pictured in terms of "fire." God Himself is a consuming fire. He is a passionate God. The Hebrew word for an "angry God" actually means a passionate God. He is a consuming fire. The law, which expresses His character, is also called "a fiery law" (Deut. 33:2). The law is the fire which judges mankind in order to correct all men and bring them into alignment with His character.
The judgment pictured in Daniel 7 is a fire that proceeds from the throne. A throne is a symbol of law, and the one who sits upon a throne rules and judges the people by law. God's throne is the Ark of the Covenant, in which are the two tables of the law.
But there is no torture prescribed in the divine law, because torture is not a fruit of the Spirit.
It is unfortunate that so many do not realize this, because they have turned millions of people aside by presenting such an unjust God who would be willing to torture people for the smallest sin. It is also unfortunate that the extreme view of divine judgment has caused an equal but opposite reaction among those who reject eternal torment. This reaction says that there is no judgment at all. It says that there is no need for correction. None of this down here on earth is real at all. It's just an illusion. Sin is redefined as mere ignorance, rather than as an offence against God and our neighbors.
This other extreme view has nullified the cross itself, for it makes Jesus' death unnecessary and even a bit tragic.
Many Universalists put away the law along with the Old Covenant, and thus put away all judgment for sin. After all, Paul says that where there is no law, there is no transgression (Rom. 4:15). The law defines sin (1 John 3:4), and if there is no law against a particular action, then it is not a sin (crime). If you repeal all laws, then there is no such thing as sin any more. In other words, all acts that once were sin are legalized when you put away the law, and for this reason, there can be no judgment or correction when a person harms his neighbor or worships false gods.
I do not believe that God legalized sin in repealing His law, for, as Paul asks in Rom. 3:6, "otherwise how will God judge the world?" That, of course, is the point. Universalism today is largely a lawless religion, teaching that God will NOT judge the world, though Scripture teaches the contrary. That is why I am not a Universalist. I am a Restorationist. The world needs to be restored, because it has a very real problem with sin, as defined by the mind of God in His law.
This judgment/correction will be eonian in its duration, and "fire" pictures the passionate nature of God to accomplish His loving purpose to a successful conclusion. It is the baptism of fire, by which the Holy Spirit convicts of sin and righteousness, burning the dross within us so that we may attain to the fulness of the stature of Christ. We either allow the Holy Spirit to do this work in us today, or the Holy Spirit will surely do that work in us when He judges the world.
Hebrews 6:2 speaks of eonian judgment as if it is part of the "milk" of the word, the foundational teaching of the Word. I find it interesting that Universalists often argue that all men will be saved on the grounds that aionian does not mean "eternal." When they have finished proving their case, then they toss out eonian judgment altogether and say that there is no judgment at all. How does that work?
Personally, I believe in eonian judgment. I don't believe in no judgment, but neither do I believe in torture as righteous judgment.
My friend, Mark Eaton, who has studied Greek extensively, writes this:
"The word 'Judgment' comes from the Greek word krino, which is a legal term, meaning to make a crucial examination, to form a distinction, or to make a decision based on the correction of information. A good paraphrase [of John 5:30] would be, My correction based on information is just. To put it in modern terms, this is NOT the evidence that has been submitted. This is the process after all the evidence is in. This is the correction that is made after the weight of evidence is presented. Jesus' death revealed the weight of evidence; now correction is being processed!"
This is the final part of a series titled "The Judgments of God." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones