Thursday, September 5, 2013

Checkmate For Hell - Part 4: Move 8

This is part of an ongoing series of blog posts, meant to be read in order.  In the first post, I introduced the concept of Universalism, and introduced the concept that I would be defending my position through a series of "chess moves".  I mentioned that I believe I have checkmate in 2 moves, but because a lot of questions would be left, I would use a series of further moves to keep the king in checkmate while I systematically removed the rest of the pieces from the board.  I would highly suggest you read the previous parts of this series before reading this one:
Part 1: Moves 1-3
Part 2: Moves 4-5
Part 3: Moves 6-7

So let's move on to move number 8:

Chess Move #8
In 1 John 2:1-2, we are told:

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.  He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

The word that is translated as “advocate” is parakletos, and a better translation might be “defense attorney.”  Now, many people have turned this into an image where Jesus defends us in court with God the Father being the angry judge who demands punishment.  But Jesus has made many statements along the lines of John 10:30, where he tells us that he and the Father are one.  So why would we think the Father has a judgmental, angry personality if Jesus is the complete opposite?

Also, it’s interesting to note that the same word, parakletos, is used for the Holy Spirit:

John 14:15-17
If you love me, keep my commands.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

John 15:26-27
When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me.  And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

Jesus changes our image of God from an angry judge to a defense attorney.  In John 8:1-11, we see Jesus acting both in the role of judge, and of defense attorney when an adulterous woman is brought to him.  In refusing to let anyone else stone or condemn this woman, Jesus has taken on the role of the defense attorney.  Jesus does judge her when he tells her “Go now and leave your life of sin.”  He has pointed out her destructive behavior and commanded her to turn from it – because God loves this woman!  Love does not condemn when we disobey – love is saddened because it knows the natural consequences we will face for this destructive behavior.  But rather than condemn her, Jesus is standing on her side as a person, and the people he seems most angry with are the stone throwers.

Later in, in Acts 9:1-22, Jesus is also Paul’s defense attorney.  It is hard to imagine a more hard-hearted person than one who would travel around stoning Christians simply for being Christians.  Paul was full of rage and addicted to control.  But Jesus showed love to him, even in his unrepentant state, and softened his heart.  Jesus loved and healed Paul – and what did Paul do to deserve this?  Nothing.

The good news of the Gospel of Jesus is not that God loves repentant sinners, but that God loves unrepentant sinners.

Perhaps the most dramatic statement of Jesus as defense attorney rather than prosecuting attorney is Jesus’ final words on the cross.  The cross shows us a juxtaposition of two realities: the depth of destruction caused by unloving behavior, and the even greater depth of love in God’s response.  Rather than condemning those who subjected him to such a violent, cruel, senseless death, Jesus says in Luke 23:34:

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.

Jesus left many clues throughout his ministry that God is our defense attorney, rather than our judge or prosecuting attorney.  In Luke 4:14-30, Jesus proclaims his mission using the words of Isaiah 61:1-2.  But why are the people so angry with him to the point of wanting to throw him off the edge of a mountain at the end of this story?  When Jesus quoted Isaiah 61:1-2, he skipped a sentence at the end of verse 2 – a verse about the day of God’s vengeance -  and then he goes on to speak of how prophets are not accepted in their hometown, citing stories about the prophets showing God’s mercy to a Sidonian and a Syrian.  This angered the Jewish leaders because the implication was that Jesus was removing the promise of vengeance towards Israel’s enemies, and proclaiming God’s favor upon them.

Jesus also told parables that illustrated how God loves the unrepentant sinner.  In the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-30, Jesus is portraying an image of the worst kind of sinner to his audience.  This prodigal son, in demanding his inheritance before the father died, was basically saying to his father "I wish you were dead."  Now, this story is often portrayed as if the prodigal son did repent before returning to the father.  Scholars, however, indicate that the prodigal’s motive at this point is more likely self-interest – he’s hungry.  James Burtchaell writes:

The ruined and desperate son heads home not because he is repentant but because he is starving.  The story never suggests that he has had a change of heart; only a change of diet.  He is still the same schlemiel [Yiddish equivalent of “jerk”] of a son who comes scuffing up the road to the homestead.

Another indication of the son’s unrepentant state is in verse 20 – while the son “was still a long way off,” the father saw him and ran to him.  These words are not meant to indicate geographic distance from the father, but rather his emotional distance – his hard-hearted lack of repentance.  The father offers love and reconciliation to his son before the son has truly repented and without ever asking for an apology or a change of heart.  Then, later on in the story, the father forgives the elder son before he repents too.  The elder son has also insulted the father by arguing with him in public.  But the father still promises him: “everything I have is yours.”

But Jesus left more clues, because this parable was preceded by two more that offer the picture of God loving the unrepentant sinner.  In Luke 15:3-7, Jesus tells a story of a lost sheep, and in Luke 15:8-11 he tells a story of a lost coin.  In each of these stories, God is the one who takes the initiative and seeks out the unrepentant sinner while they are still lost in their sin.  It is this fact that truly gives the other 99 sheep security – God’s determination to seek out the unrepentant sinner assures the rest of us that He will never let go of us.

“But what about the passages where Jesus is referred to as the judge?”, some may say.  The tendency is to think that at the last judgment, Jesus goes through a radical personality change when He becomes judge.  But Jesus does not suffer from multiple personality disorder - in Hebrews 13:8 we are told that “Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”  And what is a profound mystery to us in our humanity is that Jesus is the judge who doesn’t judge: in John 8:15 Jesus tells us that he passes judgment on no one.

But wait, let me ask this: if Jesus is the judge AND defense attorney, how could we possibly lose that case?

Another example we could give of how Jesus was a defense attorney might seem strange at first – the one example in scripture where we see Jesus visibly angry: at the temple when Jesus drove out the money changers.  Those with views of God as a wrathful God have a hard time understanding what’s going on here – they think the anger displayed is all about God being mad that business is being conducted in the temple.  But what is really going on here is that this business was keeping common people from drawing near to God.  Common people were not being allowed to bring their own sacrifices, but were being told they had to buy sacrifices from the business of the temple, and were not allowed to use money from their culture but had to subject themselves to the unfair practices of money-changers who would short change people.  And so the religious elite were constructing a wall between people and God, and this infuriated Jesus – it’s the only example in the Bible of him being visibly angry.

In the time that Jesus lived, it was common practice for people to curse their enemies.  In Bath, England, archaeologists have uncovered scores of tablets with prayers on them, and these are referred to as “curse tablets”, because this was the most common type of prayer.  People would give the name of someone who hurt them, and ask the gods to bring down vengeance.  An eloquent example of this comes from a curse tablet found in Rome:

I invoke you, holy angels and holy names … tie up, block, strike, overthrow, harm, destroy, kill, and shatter Eucherios the charioteer and all his horses tomorrow in the arena of Rome.  Let the starting-gates not [open] properly.  Let him not compete quickly.  Let him not pass.  Let him not make the turn properly.  Let him not receive the honors….  Let him not come from behind and pass but instead let him collapse, let him be bound, let him be broken up, and let him drag behind.  Both in the early races and the later ones.  Now, now!  Quickly, quickly!

But Jesus said:
Matthew 5:43-47
You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.  He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that?

This was not conventional wisdom – it was a stark contrast to the common views of the day.  And there’s something you need to understand about Jesus.  People often talk about how some people “talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk.”  But Jesus taught by example.  In his wonderful book “Who Is This Man ?: The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus”, John Ortberg tells the story of how Jesus taught the principle of loving your enemies by example:
One day Jesus drops a bomb.  It’s early in his ministry, things are going well, and he has drawn a crowd so large that he must teach from a boat in a lake so all can hear.  That evening he says to his disciples, "Let’s go over to the other side."

That’s the bomb.  The "other side" is something of a technical term.  Jesus is not talking just about geography.  The other side of the lake was the region of Decapolis, the "ten cities."  This was largely enemy territory.  Its inhabitants were pagan people.

Ortberg then explains that Decapolis is where the seven nations of Canaan settled, and how their pagan religions exalted violence and sexuality and greed.  In this culture, the pig - which was regarded as unclean in Israel - was viewed as sacred and used as part of their worship.  The Jews actually believed that Satan lived on the "other side", and no one would go to the other side for fear of the consequences - especially not a rabbi.  Also, Decapolis was a center of Rome's power - home to a military base of over six thousand soldiers.  Ortberg goes on:
Jesus casually suggested one day, "Let’s go over to the other side."

What was he doing?  Didn’t he know that the kingdom is for our side?  It’s almost as if he didn’t know that this is the other side.  It’s almost as if he thought it’s his side.  It’s almost as if he thought every side belonged to him, or that he belonged to every side.  It’s almost as if he thought that all the peoples of the earth were now going to be blessed through him – even the seven nations of Canaan.

So Jesus and the disciples go to the "other side."  What they find there was quite unlike what had become Jesus' usual reception of large crowds.  Instead, they found one lone demonically afflicted man.  This man runs to Jesus and kneels at his feet - the demon possessing him demanding to know what Jesus wants.  Jesus asks the demon its name, and the response is heavy on the symbolism: Legion.  Legion was the name the Romans - the oppressors of the Jews - used for a company of soldiers, and this area housed one of the largest of Rome's legions.  The spirits asked to be sent into a herd of pigs - again, heavy on the symbolism.  In 1 Maccabees, Jews had been commanded to eat pork by Roman soldiers and were slaughtered when they refused.  Furthermore, the symbol of the Roman Legion in that area was a boar's head.  So the pig, as well as the name "Legion", were both symbols of the oppression of the Jews.  Jesus casts the demon into the herd of pigs, which rushes to its destruction - a symbolic reversal of the story in 1 Maccabees through the liberation of a man from the "other side".

When the people of the area come and witness the scene, their response provides some very interesting psychological analysis.  Here was a man who had reportedly been causing a lot of trouble – the story tells us that he had been chained before and had broken his chains in an extraordinary feat of strength.  You’d think the townspeople would thank Jesus for taking care of their problem, and maybe even do as the Jews and bring him more of their sick for healing.  But instead, they begged him to leave.  Ortberg explains:
Why?  Because he had power, but he wasn’t one of them.  He was from the wrong side.  And he might use his power to hurt them.

Jesus agreed to go.  The man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him.  Jesus, who up to now had been telling everyone, "Follow me," said no.  He said, "Go tell your story."

Imagine this man’s feeling when that boat rowed away and he wasn’t in it.  But he did what Jesus asked.  He told people in Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him.  "And all the people were amazed."

Here’s the rest of the story.  Jesus returned to Decapolis a short time later.  This time great crowds came to see him.  "They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was.  And wherever he went – into villages, towns or country side – they placed the sick….  They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed."

In other words, the seven nations of Canaan were praising the God of Israel.  The first time Jesus went over to the other side, nobody was home except for one pathetic wretch.  The second time he came, it was one of the most dramatic responses in all of the New Testament.  People were more receptive to Jesus here than any other place he had ever gone.

They had heard that this Jesus cared about someone on "their side.”

Now, when you hear this story, do you really think that the God whom Jesus represents is planning to throw a majority of the people of this world into eternal conscious torment?

Jesus taught by example.  He told us to love our enemies in Matthew 5:43-48, and then he repeatedly showed us how to do that.  And then, in verse 48 of the passage, he said:
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

He said “be perfect”, right after talking about loving enemies.  And he implied that the heavenly Father is perfect at practicing this.  This suggests that, rather than being infinitely offended by every petty offense as some would ask us to believe (see "infinite punishment to serve a finite crime" in Chess Move #3), God is infinitely merciful.  Or in other words, as the Bible says,
God's love and mercy endure through the ages (Ps. 106:1; 107:1; 118:1; 138:8; and over and over in Ps. 136).
Robert Ingersoll once said:

They say that when God was in Jerusalem he forgave his murderers, but now he will not forgive an honest man for differing with him on the subject of the Trinity. They say that God says to me, "Forgive your enemies." I say, "I do;" but he says, "I will damn mine." God should be consistent. If he wants me to forgive my enemies he should forgive his. I am asked to forgive enemies who can hurt me. God is only asked to forgive enemies who cannot hurt him. He certainly ought to be as generous as he asks us to be.

I wonder if God really is not as generous as He asks us to be?  If Jesus said that the Father was perfect right after talking about loving enemies, do you really think there's a time limit on that?  Do you really think that perfectly practicing the act of loving your enemies involves throwing them into, or even allowing them to endure eternal conscious torment if there is any possibility of sparing them from this fate?

Tune in next time for some more chess moves:

Chess move #9: No fear.
Chess move #10: Wasn’t Origen a heretic?
Chess move #11: What about the wrathful God of the Old Testament?
Chess move #12: Calvinism is Totally Depraved
Conclusion: Testing the fruits.

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