The Problem of EVIL and The Judgments of GOD
GOD HAS A GOAL. He intends to become All in all His creatures (1 Cor.15:28). He will accomplish this by way of reconciling all His enemies by the blood of Christ's cross, by justifying, vivifying, and saving all mankind at the consummation (Col.1:20; Rom.5:18; 1 Cor.15:22; 1 Tim 2:4; 4:10). But before this there is a long and painful preparatory process, a weary way which leads His creatures to this consummation, much of which is as dark and distressing as the goal is bright and filled with blessing.
Almost all of us are short-sighted. We see a part of the way but we do not see the end. We confuse the going with the goal. Our translations are partly to blame, for they fail to clearly mark the fleeting nature of the process, as it is in the original. And if an honest attempt is made to carry this across in a concordant version, it clashes with our conventions and our hard hearts. God grant that we may faithfully witness, in our renderings, when God reveals a fact, and when it is only a temporary process, for this He has clearly indicated in the Original.
Judgment is God's strange work. He uses it on the way. Men make it the end. No matter how an unbeliever is dealt with, whether he dies as a result of sin, or by the direct intervention of God, whether he be cast into outer darkness or into Gehenna, this is not his end. All who do not belong to Christ will be roused from the dead and judged before the great white throne. There they are not forgiven, or saved, but judged. But this is not their end. All these will be cast into the lake of fire, to suffer the second death. Even this is not their end. God does not reach His goal in any of His disciplinary measures. These only prepare His creatures for it. Let us not confuse the going with the goal.
Very little is said to us about God's goal until Paul completes the orbit of God's Word with his later revelations. Hints there have always been by which hearts in tune with God have been filled with high hopes. But it is not until the meridian sun of God's grace has come from behind the clouds of sin and law, to reveal the deepest recesses of God's immanent love to the most undeserving of the race, it is not until the truth for the present was made known that God tore aside the veil of the future completely, and gave us a clear and unclouded view of His ultimate. Once we revel in this we will never go back to previous revelation on this theme, for like the curtain of the tabernacle, it seems to hide, rather than reveal the full blaze of the Shekinah glory.
The usual way is to view the goal in the darkness of the way. We go back to passages which deal with judgments and allow them to throw their dark shadows across the consummation. We should believe that God will justify all mankind (Rom.5:18), and view the previous judgments in the light of this final achievement. We bring up passages which tell of death, to darken God's declaration that it will be abolished. We should believe that God will make death inoperative at the last, and view the previous passages in this glorious light. We turn to texts which prove that unbelievers will be lost or destroyed, and, with these passages, dim the great declaration that God wills the salvation of all. We should illumine them with the later and higher revelation. We find God's enemies in the fiery lake at what seems to be the close of revelation, and misuse this fact to deny God's declaration that all will be reconciled (Col.1:20). We should not take one to destroy the other, but believe both, for reconciliation follows estrangement, and it alone accords with God's final goal.
How perverse and blind have we often been! When God says all, we have said some. When God speaks of a very small fraction of mankind, such as the living nations who stand before Christ to be judged according to their treatment of Israel--a mere handful as compared with all mankind--then we extend their sentence to all! Faith has almost fled from the earth. What calls itself faith is mostly a masquerade, for it refuses God's Word for the traditions of men, yet insists that it is genuine.
Let us allow the light of the latest revelation to illumine the earlier, partial unfolding, and let us not use the earlier to eclipse the latest, the highest, and the only complete unveiling of God's mind and heart.
The past eons seem to be replete with failures on God's part. Adam sinned and offended, and brought the whole human race into the service of sin and the doom of death. Could not God have prevented this by prudent provision? Thereupon the race that sprang from him became so wicked that they had to be almost wiped out by a deluge. Why did not God foresee this and forfend the evil? Thereafter the nation of Israel was segregated to be a blessing to the balance. But they became worse than the rest and even crucified God's Christ, so seemed to utterly fail to fulfill their function. Failure! Failure! Failure! All that God did seemed to end in futile failure. Both creation and revelation were full of evidences of God's infinite wisdom, yet His dealings with mankind apparently showed the reverse. He seemed to pyramid one failure upon another.
To the human, unanointed eye the present operations of the Deity are the greatest failure of all. In almost every avenue of life the mortals that He made fall short. They excel principally in evil and death-dealing devices. But the greatest of all failures is Christendom, His avowed representative on earth. Notwithstanding its immense privileges, its tremendous advantages over Israel, it has sunk even lower than the favored nation. Only the eye of faith on earth can see the multifarious wisdom of God in these apparent failures, for only those whose hearts have been opened to the secret which He concealed from the eons hitherto, are able to apprehend the vastness of the wisdom therein displayed.
THE REALIZATION OF GOD
THE KNOWLEDGE of God's Word is good, an acquaintance with His ways is better, but a realization of Himself is best. Faith accepts His sayings, confidence acquiesces in His ways, love rests in His essence. Let us believe what He says, and we will not only delight in what He does, but exult in what He is. How few of His saints are found with even the first of these favors! Faith they have, but so scant, so adulterated with credulity, and so faltering, that God's ways are dark and inscrutable, and He Himself is hid behind a thick curtain of ignorance and tradition. Alas! even to His children, He is the great Unknown and Unknowable, the Distant, the Unapproachable, even the Dreadful Deity.
The attitude of scant faith is clearly revealed when its own welfare is at stake. It does not deem it safe to leave the future in God's hands, without some definite promise, some written bond, that will hold Him to His Word. It is this trembling unbelief which changes God's eons into eternities, for it rightly reasons that, if the eons end, there is no certainty of future bliss, unless they leave their fate in the hands of a God Whom they do not fully trust! It is true that God has made no "promises" beyond the eons. As He gives us deathlessness and incorruptibility, why should we be concerned about "eternal" life? Where there is no death, such a "promise" would only reflect upon His character, and our future welfare is far more dependent on His integrity than on His declarations.
It will be seen in the Scriptures that the abundance of promises decreases rapidly once the millennium is past. Not many refer to the new earth and the new heavens. There is hardly a specific engagement on God's part beyond the eonian times. Why should there be? There is no need for many promises when all men are vital with life and where sin has been repudiated, where faith is replaced by sight, and all are subject to God. Where there is no sin there can be no salvation, where there is no enemy there can be no rescue. With God the All of all hearts, the present is bliss and the future felicity, and there can be no concern, no anxiety as to either.
There are saints who would be in despair if the promises in the Bible should suddenly be revoked, and they should be left entirely at the mercy of God, without any recorded document to which they could hold Him. But can they hold Him? If He is not to be trusted without a definite promise, can we be sure that He will stand by His Word? Promises are expedient and gracious, a help to confirm faith, and we would not be without a single one of them. Yet our confidence should not rest in the promises but in Him Who made them. We should be more than willing to trust Him when and where His promises do not reach.
Scant faith is afraid of the consummation. Israel's promises on earth and ours in the heavens come to a conclusion when Christ abdicates the throne. We will no longer reign, for all rule will be abolished. Our eonian mission will be fulfilled, for all will be reconciled. True, there is no death, so we cannot die. Deathlessness indeed is ours, yet we have no written assurance of peace or happiness or glory in that consummation. To the average saint, it looks like a leap in the dark, or into an abyss without a bottom. There is nothing on which faith can fasten--except God! And is not this precisely what He wishes? Then He will be All in everyone. Faith, promises, and all such crutches will be past. They would only mar the perfect and mutual confidence which will exist between God and His creatures. It is not a leap in the dark, but a serene entrance into light and love unlimited.
The overwhelming glory of God's grand ultimate has been utterly wrecked by current unbelief, and the substitution of such a fearful future for God as the annihilation of the bulk of His creatures, or their far more heartless and hideous torment for all eternity. Let us for the time consider these only as they affect God's glory, not human welfare. If He is a real God, then all destiny is the deliberate fruit of His efforts. Even if He is the subordinate deity of Christendom, Who has lost control of His creation and cannot do what He would, these destinies are foreseen and allowed by Him, and He makes no adequate effort to prevent them. Say what you will, they make it impossible for even His saints to trust Him as they should.
If He is such a God, the thought will arise, Could He not save the bulk of His creatures in the past, how can He preserve His saints in the future? If sin came in and ruined His fair creation against His will, what will hinder a repetition in the eternity to come? Even if we believe His promises, can we rely upon His love and power when they have been fulfilled, and there is no further guarantee? The more closely one considers the false doctrines of annihilation or eternal torment, the more it will be apparent that they make it utterly impossible for God to gain the full confidence of His creatures. The usual result is His dethronement by the doctrines of free will and divine irresponsibility in the past and present, and by the utter eclipse of His ultimate goal in the future. An annihilator and tormentor eternal cannot become All in all, not even if we make the all a tiny residue.
Here we have the secret source which supplied the mistranslations everlasting and eternal. And this shows why saints are so slow to give them up. They cannot trust their God, and must have a public record to bind His actions in the future. He has promised them eonian life. If this is not eternal, they are not sure--in fact, they are afraid--that He will take life from them when it comes to its end. Can we not see how the promise of "eternal" life really defeats its own purpose? It is given that the saints may get to know God, yet, being endless, it implies that they never attain this goal. As it denies the possibility that He shall be All in them, it totally defeats the object for which it is given, of making them so utterly content with Him that they not only are willing but eager to leave themselves in His heart, without a single assurance from His lips. What He is, is enough!
It is the office of faith to transfer us, in spirit, to this consummation, even in the midst of our present career, while everything visible still seems the very reverse of God's ultimate. Perhaps never, in the history of mankind, has there been such marked distrust, between men as well as toward God. Confidence is going or gone. Faith is vanishing. And I, for one, freely confess that, without a knowledge of the consummation, when God will reconcile all and become All in all, I could not have confidence in a deity who allowed the world to work itself into such a mess, and who can do little more for most men than to sweep them into destruction, extinction or torment. I, too, would fear that such a god must be put under bond to perform His oaths, and even then--? But now, how can I distrust Him? Mankind is just where He has brought it. The effect of all the present evil and distress will be salutary. God will get glory out of it, and men will be prepared by it to appreciate the gifts He has in store for them.
Here we have the great contrast between man's miserable self-made destinies and God's grand and gracious goal. Man not only destroys God's creatures, but undermines His deity and robs Him of the appreciation of His heart's handiwork. God's goal not only upholds His deity but gives His creatures such confidence in Him that all concern as to His love and power disappears. They willingly, yes eagerly, leave themselves in His hands without any assurance whatever on His part as to His intentions. Faith and hope are no longer needed, so they vanish, and only love remains. Knowing Him as God, limitless in power and wisdom, and as essential Love, they prefer to remain in fond anticipation of that which the ear hears not, to which the heart of man cannot ascend, that which God makes ready for those who are loving Him. They rely on His Word, they delight in His ways, and they revel in the appreciation of Himself.
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