Regarding my post on evil on Tuesday, I was asked how I would define the difference between evil and sin. As I said in that post, I define evil as an action or experience which we perceive in a negative way. Sin is a bit trickier, but not much once you deconstruct it a little. As most Christians are no doubt aware, “sin” literally means to “miss the mark.” From what I can tell, to sin is essentially to fail to be perfect at something, so if I am playing golf and fail to get a hole-in-one on every shot I have technically sinned. From a theological perspective “sin” would be simply failing to do something God wants me to do or doing something God doesn’t want me to do (not being perfect from His perspective, in other words). What makes this interesting is that something can be evil and not sinful at the same time, and vice-versa as well. For instance, if God tells me to kill a random person on the street it would be evil but not sinful for me to do so, and likewise it would be sinful but not evil for me not to do so. Let me know if that makes sense.
It seems that most people, whether they be religious or not, believe in something called evil. The problem is, there is actually no such thing as evil because “evil” is really nothing more than an English word we use to label an action or experience which we perceive in a negative way. If nobody had emotions or the ability to feel discomfort or pain then nobody would believe in evil. This goes for good as well, by the way.
One key to understanding all of this, at least from a Christian perspective, is to remember is that evil and sin are two completely different concepts.
Here’s something I wrote back in April of 2004 on my old blog. I find that it rings just as true today as it did then:
I’ve made lots of friends over the years, both with fundamentalist* Christians and otherwise and I’ve noticed something interesting. It seems that my non-fundamentalist friends are the only ones that I can be completely myself with (this includes Christians who are not fundamentalists). I have begun to wonder if it is even possible to actually be true friends with a fundamentalist because if you admit to them that you might drink the occasional beer, that you might be pro-choice, that you might not be convinced that premarital sex is necessarily a sin, or that you might not be convinced of any number of doctrines their denomination believes in, you will quickly become a pariah among those you thought were your good friends, or at the very least you will find these “friends” looking down on you. I think that all of this is because while the non-Christian relationships are based on actual friendship and the non-fundamentalist Christian relationships generally are too, the fundamentalist Christian relationships seem to be based more on having common doctrinal beliefs and religious rules, and on maintaining an appearance of piety with each other rather than on genuine friendship. I’m not sure what to do with these thoughts though, unfortunately. I should also point out that these observations are not always strictly the case, I do have at least one or two fundamentalist friends who seem to accept me for who I am, though I do occasionally find myself curious about whether they are looking down on me behind my back and what they are saying to others about me when I’m not around (not that it matters, but I do get curious every now and then).
*By “fundamentalist” I am refering to the more conservative, often evangelical Christian who insists on living more by “the law” or flesh than by the Spirit.
Someone I follow recently asked the question, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Well, presuming for a moment that the Bible is meant to be taken as literally as most evangelicals seem to believe, what does it say that I have to do (and avoid) in order to go to heaven and not get sent to hell? Here are some of the requirements I’ve managed to find in Scripture so far:
– Say the right things.
For by thy words thou shalt be justified. — Matthew 12:37
– Do the right things and avoid doing the wrong things.
And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life. — John 5:29
For you render to each one according to his works. — Psalm 62:12
When the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness … and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul. — Ezekiel 18:27
For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. Matthew 16.27
Who will render to each one according to his deeds. … For not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified. — Romans 2:6, 13
For we must all appear before the jugment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. — 2 Corinthians 5:10
Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works. — 2 Corinthians 11:15
The Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work. — 1 Peter 1:17
I will give unto every one of you according to your works. — Revelation 2:23
And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. — Revelation 20:12-13
– Feed the hungry, give beverages to the thirsty, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and those in prison.
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. — Matthew 25:34-36
– Have faith.
A man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. — Romans 3:28
Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. — Romans 5:1
A man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ. — Galatians 2:16
For by grace are ye saved through faith. — Ephesians 2:8
– Have faith and do works.
Faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. James 2:17
– Believe in Jesus.
Whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. — John 3:16
He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life — John 3:36
Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved. — Acts 16:31
– Just ask.
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.– Matthew 7:7-8
– Be born again.
Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. — John 3:3
– Hear the words of Jesus and believe in whoever sent him.
He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life. — John 5:24
– Be born of water and the spirit.
Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. — John 3:5
– Be washed by the Holy Ghost.
Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost. — Titus 3:5
– Be converted and become like a little child.
Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. — Matthew 18:3
– Believe and be baptized.
He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved. — Mark 16:16
– Call upon the name of the Lord.
Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. — Acts 2:21
– Confess with your mouth “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead.
If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. — Romans 10:9
– Follow the commandments (at least some of them).
If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. — Matthew 19:17-19
Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life. — Revelation 22:14
– Keep the commandments (at least some of them), sell everything you own, give all your money to the poor, and follow Jesus.
And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? … Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother. And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up. … lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.– Luke 18:18-22
– Be poor, not rich.
Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. — Matthew 19:23-24
But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation. — Luke 6:24
Ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. — James 5:1
– Keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.
Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus. — Revelation 14:12
– Endure to the end.
He that endureth to the end shall be saved. — Matthew 10:22, 24:13, Mark 13:13
– Avoid judging other people.
Judge not, and ye shall not be judged. — Matthew 7:1, Lk.6:37
– Have lots of babies (if you’re a woman) and make sure they don’t backslide when they grow up.
And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. — 1 Timothy 2:14-15
– Be given by the Father and come to the Son.
All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. — John 6:37
– Be chosen (predestinated) by God.
For many are called, but few are chosen. — Matthew 22:14
For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate … Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.– Romans 8:29-30
For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth. — Romans 9:11
He hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love. Having predestinated us … according to the good pleasure of his will. — Ephesians 1:4-5
– Be more righteous than the scribes and Pharisees.
Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. — Matthew 5:20
– Eat Jesus’ body and drink his blood.
Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. — John 6:53-54
– Don’t blaspheme the Holy Ghost.
And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven. — Luke 12:10
– Mutilate your body whenever it offends you.
And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. — Mark 9:43-48
Okay, that’s all I could come up with for now, but I’m sure I missed some so I hope somebody can fill me in on the rest because I don’t want to risk going to that place where I have a worm that doesn’t die (no idea what that means but it doesn’t sound fun) and there’s a fire that isn’t quenched.
The above list should get us asking ourselves why we choose certain Bible verses over others when it comes to salvation (not to mention everything else, but we’ll focus on soteriology for now). Many of those verses, if taken literally, contradict each other, yet seem to clearly tell us that the requirements in each verse is necessary for salvation. Many Christians take the last half of Mark 9:43-48 literally when they want to prove that there is an everlasting torture chamber called hell, for instance, and yet they don’t seem to take the first half very seriously or else we’d see a lot more blind and disabled Christians. So, what reasons do we use to justify picking the particular verses we prefer when it comes to soteriology and deciding that the rest of the verses are not meant to be taken literally?
The following is a post I made (edited slightly for this blog) on a friend’s message board in response to a poll question asking It’s Simple, Right? We Just Do What The Bible Says…
“Most evangelicals, working with a presupposition called Sola Scriptura, often seem to believe that the Bible is a simple and straightforward book that interprets itself, while almost completely ignoring both cultural and historical context.
Most assume that that they should interpret the majority of passages literally (except for when it contradicts one of their own pet doctrines, of course), completely ignoring the fact that much of Scripture is a series of figures of speech (similes, metaphors, implications, parables, mysteries, allegories, myths, visions, signs, types, shadows, examples, imagery, enigmas, symbols, codes, idioms, poetry, euphemisms, sarcasm, irony, puns and other plays on words, hyperbole, anthropomorphisms or personifications, condescensions, diminutives, association or metonymy, appellations, paradoxes, numerology and possibly gematria, to name just a few).
They also make the mistake of trying to interpret it with a modern, western mindset, forgetting that it was written mostly from and for an ancient, eastern mindset (or series of eastern mindsets evolving over the centuries).
All of that is important, but perhaps even more important is the fact that the book we call “The Bible” isn’t one book at all but rather a series of books and letters written by many different authors who did not all know or believe the same things and did not all write univocally (yes, different authors of the Scriptures that evangelicals use did contradict each other in places, and yes, this is okay once we realize that Scripture was never meant to be read with a western, historical-literalist mindset).
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, God did not write the Bible using automatic handwriting. Most evangelicals will agree with this statement, of course, but will then turn around and insist that every word in the Bible is true and every statement accurate (not counting the few parts that they agree must be figurative since the passages contradict evangelical theology or just make no sense if interpreted literally). The problem is that if every word in the Bible is true, every statement 100% accurate, then God would have had to have used some form of automatic handwriting because there’s no way human authors are going to get it that right otherwise (and just as an aside, claiming that God inspired the Bible simply because the Bible says so is circular reasoning, but we’ll get into that some other time since I do believe that God did inspire it somehow).
I would suggest that Biblical interpretation might actually be one of the most difficult things that a modern, western layman can do, and that most of us are not even slightly qualified to dig into it. That said, I hope that with a little Wisdom and the help of the Holy Spirit we might be able to at least figure out part of what God might be trying to tell us through Scripture.”
This is an introduction to the topic of Universal Reconciliation (also known as Universal Salvation, the doctrine of Apocatastasis (or Apokatastasis), and Christian Universalism, among other names), the Christian doctrine that all people will eventually be (or already have been) reconciled or saved by Christ.
I have included many different articles on Universal Reconciliation by many different Christian Universalists here. Keep in mind as you read that, while there are Universalist denominations out there, Christian Universalism is technically not a denomination at all but is rather a soteriological model just like Calvinism and Arminianism are. Keep in mind as well that not all Christian Universalists agree one hundred percent with each other on every aspect of theology any more than every Calvinist or Arminian does.
I’m providing these resources to demonstrate that Scripture seems to teach Universal Reconciliation over the alternative views of soteriology, and also to show that tradition and basic common sense back it up as well.
Articles on Universal Reconciliation and Related Topics:
– Hope Beyond Hell: The Righteous Purpose of God’s Judgment (PDF document)
Speaking of figures of speech in the Bible, Scripture is full of all sorts of them:
– images and imagery
– puns and other plays on words
– hyperbole and other exaggerations
– anthropomorphisms or personifications
– association or metonymy
– compound associations
– near associations
– circumlocutions or periphrasis
– numerology and possibly gematria
– omitted nouns
– omitted verbs
– unfinished sentences
– omission or non-sequence
(To name just a few, I could go on)
Remember that just because a passage seems like it should be interpreted literally in Scripture doesn’t necessarily mean that it definitely should be.
One thing that can frustrate a Universalist to no end is the fact that Universal Reconciliation seems to be one of the clearest doctrines in Scripture yet most Christians can’t seem to see it at all. Most Christians interpret certain parables, metaphors and other biblical figures of speech as teaching Everlasting Torment (often refered to as ET) in hell for all non-Christians even though these passages are clearly teaching something completely different (what they’re actually teaching is not what I’m getting at right now so I’ll save that discussion for another time).
The thing we have to keep in mind (and this is something I have to continuously remind myself of) is that it is not their fault that they are interpreting Scripture this way. The fact that we have had centuries of indoctrination in the concept of ET aside, I believe that God has predestined most Christians to believe in ET in order to fulfill His ultimate purposes for creation. I’ll get more into the idea of God’s sovereignty when it comes not only to our salvation but also to our theology at a later point, I just wanted to get that out there for now.
A lot of people have asked me over the years, “what if you’re wrong about Universalism?” I could go (and have gone) into all sorts of reasons as to why I believe I’m right, but truth be told I could be wrong. I mean, I believed in Everlasting Torment in hell for about 20 years and then decided I was wrong about that, so I could someday decide that I’m wrong about this as well. All of the philosophical, theological, and Scriptural reasons why I believe in UR aside though (and there are a lot of reasons), if I am wrong I’d rather err on the side of mercy than on the side of wrath. I would rather make the mistake of believing that God is more loving than He really is than the mistake of believing that He is more wrathful than He really is. I would also rather make the mistake of believing that God had a properly thought out plan that ends well for everybody before He even started creation than make the mistake of believing that He was willing to leave the eternal destinies of humanity up to chance and our flawed abilities to make good choices.
I know some people (some are friends, so if any of them are reading this post, please keep in mind that this is not a criticism) who, while believing that UR (Universal Reconciliation) is the most accurate (or likely the most accurate) soteriological model, don’t actually like to be refered to as “Universalists.” This is mostly because “Universalism” is often used to refer to the concept that all religions are the same and all paths lead to God (also, many don’t want to be confused with those in the Unitarian-Universalist denomination). While this is a valid (and common) meaning for the label “Universalism,” I believe that the teaching that Christ saves everyone is a perfectly valid meaning for the label as well. By the definition I personally use for the word, if you believe that everybody ends up in the same place at the end of time you are a Universalist, whether you believe that everybody gets there through Christ (as I believe) or you believe it’s through whichever religion they happen to follow.
That said, for those believers in UR who prefer not to be labelled Universalists, everyone has the right to call themselves whatever they want. It is only a word, after all, and as Humpty Dumpty put it in Through the Looking Glass, “When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”