Can all of this pain, suffering, and death have a purpose? What happens at the end of time and do we have a reason to rejoice?
I make known the end from the beginning, (Isaiah 46:10 NIV)
For as long as I can remember I’ve dreamt about the future. How does everything end? When I was in the church I believed that the end wasn’t the perfect happily ever after of fairytales, at least, not for those unlike me. The church told me I had the faith, the moral discernment, and the wisdom to chose the way out. It sounds terribly egotistical, but the Christian wives tale of God and Satan being in a constant war for souls, and those souls ultimately having the final choice in the matter, stuck with me. Was I going to let Satan win or was I going to do the right thing and accept Christ into my heart? Was I going to help God build His Kingdom or was I going to let him down and allow sin to consume my heart? As a young teenager at the time I had no idea what any of those things meant, but I knew they were frightful. I got “saved” because I feared ending up like those who had made the wrong choice.
Would you like to know what happened next? That fear never left. I could never be quite as good as I was told I should be. I was ashamed of myself, hated myself for failing each and every day. This failing God used to lead me to the amazing Gospel of Grace and an even deeper love for people, but when I look back on my life today the religious abuse I felt at the hands of Christianity (namely from church and theology) was something I would never wish on my worst enemy. Christianity nearly destroyed my life. If Christ did not have His hand upon me, I am not sure where I would be and today I believe it is one of the most toxic and destructive worldviews one can have. I’m going to let you lovely people in on a secret.
I have always been ashamed of Christianity.
There it is, my dirty laundry out in the open. I hated that I was, because I knew the words of Jesus as well as anyone (if you’re ashamed of me then I will also be ashamed of you), so I continually went back and forth. I knew God was real and I couldn’t deny that so I had to face up to the religion’s most pressing doctrines: Hell and sin. I’ve done a terrible job of it, I admit, because I loathed talking about those things, especially in a damning sense. Immediately, by naming any one of those doctrines, I placed myself on a pedestal of self-righteousness. An “us vs. them” mentality that I’ve come to realize is irredeemably toxic. I had to, because if I didn’t I would have had to face the fact that behind closed doors I couldn’t live up to those holy standards. Crucifying the old man day after day and striving to do the law, to pursue perfect purity and godliness through my own strength and ability? It is unachievable.
However, through suffering and heartbreaking trial the Lord has taught me that I am not my own saviour and I have no free will of my own. He is wholly, beautifully, and absolutely sovereign over all. I cannot do anything to save myself and I am completely and wonderfully helpless. My righteousness was a filthy rag and my sins, much too powerful for me to overcome, swept my shriveled form away like the wind. And then I realized that if I wasn’t my own saviour, despite my greatest efforts, how could anyone else be their own saviour? I realized the absolute truth of Paul’s words: There is no one righteous, no one understands, and no one seeks God (Romans 3:10-11).
But in the middle of humanity’s darkest time our saviour stepped forward. Jesus Christ took the sins of the world and the wrath justly prepared for us onto Himself and through His death He made peace with the world through His blood that was shed, saving everyone who is and was called a “sinner.”
Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all welcome, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, foremost of whom am I, (1 Timothy 1:15-16 CLNT)
I have had this verse framed and standing on my shelf for nearly ten years and it never excited me. Where it came from I do not know, it was simply given to me. A part of me wasn’t happy that it had inexplicably become my Scripture, because the church said it wasn’t as simple as that. Haughty theological theories like Limited Atonement were presented to me, so I simply shrugged and thought that the good news that verse was supposed to be wasn’t really good at all, since it surely wasn’t relevant for every sinner. I’d sooner have the atheistic worldview of a unified death as non-existence than to believe that there was a conscious eternal torment for those not chosen.
But once again, Christ eventually showed me I that wasn’t my own saviour. I had to come to the end of myself and realize that nothing I have came from my own hands.
And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. (1 John 1:14 NIV)
For God does not dispatch His Son into the world that He should be judging the world, but that the world may be saved through Him. (John 3:17 CLNT)
The world is looking for hope and certainty. The times we are living in are harsh, unpredictable, and depressing. It seems like there is no end in sight. The lost go to church and they’re fed the same vapid half-truths that leaves them starving for answers and, most importantly, peace.
Although this excerpt is a humorous example, it is an all too true example of a common Christian discourse,
- Reporter: Sally, I’m one of those people looking for God. Right now, I’m considering the Christian religion. But is it true that, even though Jesus Christ came to take away the sin of the world—I’m thinking of John 1:29 here—sin will still keep millions separated from God for eternity? This troubles me.
- Sally: Yes, that’s true, Jim. People have to ask Jesus for forgiveness. Otherwise, their sins will haunt them forever.
- Reporter: So Jesus really didn’t take away the sin of the world?
- Sally: He did and He didn’t…. (1)
The conversation continues with the reporter getting increasingly weary and frustrated,
- Reporter: Does Jesus accept me? Is Jesus my Savior?
- Sally: That depends.
- Reporter: Depends on what?
- Sally: It depends on whether or not you believe He’s your Savior.
- Reporter: He’s not my Savior until I believe He’s my Savior?
- Sally: That’s right.
- Reporter: Why would I want to believe something that isn’t true?
- Sally: Huh?
- Reporter: You just said that, until I believe, Jesus isn’t my Savior…. Why would I believe something that isn’t true? (2)
This is the hypocrisy of Christianity. Hopeful minds ask why their deceased loved ones aren’t saved if they never came to believe. Why couldn’t Jesus be their saviour? They’re starving for peace and Hell is all religion can offer. A God of love so magnificent that He can stand to see the vast majority of His creation be separated from Him, the source of all that is good, forever? He either does not want all to know Him or He cannot bring all to know Him, despite Jesus dying in the middle of our wreckage. If these are our only options then the atheists have some good sense. God is either malevolent or He is not God.
These are straight forward and honest observations from someone who sees past the piety and reverence. The church has answers to these, you will find a theology book with every single argument addressed. I’ve read them all and none of them have brought me into perfect peace.
But there is a secret. This secret has only been revealed to those with ears to hear for this current eon, as our apostle Paul so beautifully states,
For God had allowed us to know the secret of his plan, and it is this: he purposes in his sovereign will that all human history shall be consummated in Christ, that everything that exists in Heaven or earth shall find its perfection and fulfilment in him. (Ephesians 1:9-10 J.B. Philips Paraphrase).
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:18-19 ESV)
This is the good news. I know how it all ends for you and I and all. I know that the end is good, consistent with the majesty and love of God (as well as a God who is love), and not thwarted by evil. It is not a limited victory but a complete one, for He is a complete and perfect God. No matter who you are, what you’ve done, or where you’re going, your end is certain because it is in the loving hands of the Father and the earth-shattering accomplishment of the cross. We all aim to be, to find perfection and fulfillment, and in Christ we all live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).
So where does this leave the world today and how are we to see our fellow man? Paul relates to even greater effect what the work of the cross has done,
Yet all is of God, Who conciliates us to Himself through Christ, and is giving us the dispensation of the conciliation, how that God was in Christ, conciliating the world to Himself, not reckoning their offenses to them, and placing in us the word of the conciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19 CLNT bold mine).
My friends, this is the gospel: through Christ, God is reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their sins or offensives against them, but justifying them and bringing all of them into Him to proclaim His praise at the conclusion of the eons and evermore (Philippians 2:9-10). This truth He places in those whom He has called to teach it.
I mentioned in the beginning of this article that the true gospel has created in me a love for people so great that I cannot contain it. I love how Dean Hough of the Concordant Publishing Concern states it,
If we limit the work of redemption we must limit the love. And when we limit the love of Christ a coldness will creep into our hearts which cripples our testimony and our usefulness to Him. Yet how fervent is our joy and genuine our concern for others when we realize that Christ died for all. This is what presses out hatred and envy and prejudice, for if our Lord is so genuinely concerned with everyone that He endured the cross for the sake of all, indiscriminately, so will our love for all grow more truly (1 Tim.2:1-7). (3)
And what of the elect? Martin Zender makes a poignant point on their very purpose,
We must not fall into the Calvinist trap of thinking that God chooses the elect in order to damn the rest. No. God chooses the elect so that He can use them later to reach the rest. (4)
During the two eons the elect will reign with Jesus over the non-elect to achieve God’s good purpose for all, “that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father.” (John 5:22-23) This is the goal of judgement and because Christ is sovereign over all, His goal will be accomplished and His work on the cross known. Calvinist theology heralds the salvation of the elect without ever explaining what they are elected for. Why would one ever believe in such an empty end?
I once knew a woman who had, at the time, recently converted to Calvinist theology through the work of John MacArthur. I’ll call her Debbie. What Debbie said soon after her conversion shocked me. She said that if her children would end up (burning) in Hell for eternity, she would be at peace with that because it would be God’s sovereign will. John Piper would add that they are loved merely generically, while she is loved absolutely and in a way completely unlike her children (5).
This is the coldness of religious belief and the evil of self-righteous theology. The lack of humanity and love in her words is something I’ll never forget and Calvinist theology, which I despise with all of my being, is responsible. I cannot help but echo Paul’s words, “For because of you the name of God is being blasphemed among the nations …” (Romans 2:24 CLNT). It is because of this that the world questions the goodness of God.
Another member of the Body of Christ, Wes Fahlenkamp (6), noted a parallel between Limited Atonement and the story of Ben-hadad in 1 Kings that I’d also love to share here.
The man of God came up and told the king of Israel, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Because the Arameans think the Lord is a god of the hills and not a god of the valleys, I will deliver this vast army into your hands, and you will know that I am the Lord.’” (1 Kings 20:28 NIV)
Is Jesus Lord and saviour of only the elect or is He Lord and saviour of all?
With all of that being said, like John the Baptist, this I will now forever proclaim to the broken, the failures, the losers, and to me,
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV)
- Zender, Martin. How to Quit Church Without Quitting God: Why going to church today is unbiblical, un-Christlike, and spiritually risky (pp. 94-95). Starke & Hartmann, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
- Zender, Martin. How to Quit Church Without Quitting God: Why going to church today is unbiblical, un-Christlike, and spiritually risky (pp. 97-98). Starke & Hartmann, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
- –Unsearchable Riches Vol.65, p.219
- (Vessels of indignation: p.5)
- Piper, John. What is Definite Atonement, and Why Does it Matter?
- Fahlenkamp, Wes. The Biggest Jesus, Limited Atonement is a Doctrine Of Demons.