The Problem of EVIL and The Judgments of GOD
THE LINK between the here and the hereafter, for the unbeliever, is forged at the great white throne. It is the only conscious experience through which he passes from the present life to the consummation, when God will be All, not only in the saints, but in all of Adam's race. The mature unbeliever leaves this life unsaved, unjust, mortal, and at enmity with God. Having passed through the judging, his next conscious moment will find him saved (1 Tim.4:10), justified (Rom.5:18), vivified (1 Cor.5: 22), and reconciled to God (Col.1:20). I do not like the word "conversion because it seems entirely inadequate to describe the change in the believer. It would be far more apt if used of the change in the unbeliever, effected at the great white throne. Nothing can happen there which would interfere with the great object to which it is devoted, that of preparing the dead who are out of Christ for a place in Him, by sight, instead of by faith.
We must make a revolutionary revision of our entire outlook in regard to the future lot of the unbeliever. What is needed is a God's-eye view in place of man's. The judgment is not merely a futile attempt to deal out punishment to those who have already suffered and who will be tormented endlessly, without any regard to God's purpose in creation or the effect on His great name. It is His means of manifesting to men their utter failure to give Him His due. It will convince them that His sentence, condemning every son of Adam (Rom.5:18), is just and true. But it will also reveal His righteousness in Christ, Who will be their Judge, by means of which all can and will be justified, and thus the solid ground laid down for their reconciliation at the consummation.
The substitution of eternal torture for universal reconciliation has utterly distorted every aspect of the great white throne judging. This diabolical doctrine changes the motive of judgment from love to hate. Instead of a marvelous display of God's ability to help His creatures, it is debased to a vicious exhibition of His power to harm. Tremendous might is exercised in order to raise the dead, with no other reason than to associate their dire doom with Christ and His God. Few of them had ever seen Him. Most of them had never heard of Him. Now they are to exist forever in unutterable, unending torture, as a result of their meeting with the Saviour of the world! Would they not curse Him in their hearts throughout that long eternity of woe? What motive can there be for connecting a Saviour with such dire punishment? Is He there to mock them, to intensify their despair, to multiply their misery? If the uniform penalty of all who stand before the great white throne is eternal torment, then Satan, not Christ, should preside. The adversary, not the Saviour, should sit as judge.
The purpose of God absolutely requires that those who stand before the great white throne not only endure, but accept and acquiesce in whatever evil befalls them. More than that, since it is to lead to reconciliation with God, they must not merely acknowledge the justice of all that occurs, but must feel the positive goodness and affection that prompts even the severest infliction. Friends are not made by justice alone, but by the heart that underlies it. Then God will not let men guess at His goodness, as He does today. He will not hide his heart from them as He does now. All the secrets of mankind as well as the hidden motives of God will be revealed. Whoever realizes what God is about, must approve of it, no matter at what cost to themselves, for the goal is so good and glorious, that it is worth any amount of temporary affliction and distress.
The curtain that today conceals what man is and what he does will be drawn aside at the great white throne. This alone will condemn all mankind without further evidence. At the same time the covering which hid God from His creatures will be taken away. He will be seen in the Son of Mankind and His sympathetic acts. He will be revealed in the Son of God and His loving dealings. Not only the severity of God's justice and holiness will be endured, but its motive and object will be open for all to see, so that there will be none of the bitterness and rebellion and hate which springs from His unseen providence today. Those who need it will suffer, not as now, without any inkling of its benefits, but with a realization of their need of it, and of the end in view.
The idea that the account of each one will be balanced, so that every evil will be exactly compensated by good and every good by bad, is altogether contrary to God's purpose. Nothing but a neutral insipid stalemate would result from this, with neither God nor man any the better for all the travail of the eons. Evil is not simply to be replaced by good, but to be overcome by it. Evil will bring a tremendous harvest of good when the proper season has arrived.
What is the object God has in view by the apparent chaos of injustice in the world today? Is it not to demonstrate to men that He alone is the Disposer? If there is to be justice it must come from Him alone, not from fellow men, or any other source. As a whole, men will never get their deserts, and the harm done to them will never be avenged, unless the Deity steps in and does it for them. Men strive valiantly to establish justice. Their governments and courts, their laws and enforcement officers are all devoted to this end. But how futile are their efforts to rid the world of wrong! It is evident from their laws that they have lost sight of the divine Disposer, and are themselves unjust in their repudiation of His claims. This is what entails the retribution of injustice in dealing with the relation of man to man. Human laws differ from those given by God. He gave His once for all. Men have been making them for millenniums, and are making more today than ever, for they revolve about the creature instead of having a stable center in the Creator. At the great white throne man will recognize his own inability to make things right. This will lead him back to God and His just judgment.
The general notion that judgment is automatic, so that, even in this life, everyone gets his due; that good is rewarded and evil punished, not only by the laws of the land, but by the decrees of nature, is not confirmed by experience. Were it so, there would be no need of a judging in the future, and all would be prepared, at death, by reconciliation with God, to know Him as their All. One of the most perplexing problems of human history is the buffeting of fate, which brings one man more than his rightful share of good and another an undue amount of misery. In this life there is only a measure of reward and retribution. Few get their due deserts of either good or bad. In fact the most meritorious deeds, which involves loyalty to God and His Word, may bring the most suffering. It is evident that it is not God's intention that all should be set right before men die. If men were really logical, they would see the absolute necessity of a judgment to come, and not try to even up their scores in their present career.
Take the saints, for example. Now evil has the upper hand. Those who will live godly suffer persecution. The better they are the heavier are their afflictions. Yet these are light afflictions in view of the great weight of glory which they will produce. In this life our evil and good are not balanced, even though we have many spiritual compensations, and may, like Paul, delight in infirmities, in outrages, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake (2 Cor.12:10). In fact, for the present, it seems that the measure of success and reward in this era depends upon the repudiation of God and His Word, and even on opposition to His truth and those who seek to herald it.
The great white throne judging is not only necessary as the complement of man's experience in this life, but most desirable, because it will accomplish, for our relatives and acquaintances, the very thing which we would do for them now, if we possessed the power. At present, faith would turn them from enemies to friends of God. Then this will be accomplished by sight. Who, among the saints, has not wished that he could compel his associates to believe? If only some great miracle, some overwhelming event would show them the hand of God! In other words, we have more confidence in sight than in faith to bring the sinner to God. In fact, the saints are continually drifting in that direction. They try to produce evidence that will convince the unbeliever. That is just what God will do at the great white throne. All will be convinced by overwhelming evidence which they cannot resist. But this is not God's way today. Now faith must rest upon His bare word, without evidence.
Practically, the lot of the unbeliever does not include the first or second death, for these are not a part of his conscious experience. As a result, we should not look at the judging of the unsaved as a far-off, future event, but one which comes to him immediately after dying. So, also, we should not consider the reconciliation as taking place thousands of years after the judging (which, indeed, it may), but as the immediate result of it. The judging is the prelude to everlasting life, not eternal damnation, in the experience of the unbeliever. It is the transition between this life and eternal bliss, not everlasting woe.
Eternal torment makes the judging futile and foolish. Universal reconciliation makes it fruitful and wise. What profit is it to God to torture His creatures endlessly, when, if He is a deity of limitless power and infinite wisdom, He could save them and get from them the fruit of His labors, and enjoy the worship and adoration for which He created them? What would we think of a God Who would create billions of creatures to curse Him endlessly? No man would exert such power in order to turn his handiwork against him, unless he were demented. Why charge God with this insanity?
WHITE, NOT BLACK
The color of the judgment throne depends upon the outcome of the judging. Eternal torment demands that it be black. Reconciliation calls for white. The lives of most men are drab with toil and trouble, disease and death. If this is to be followed by an eternity of agony, surely no hue but the deepest ebony could possibly be used to accord with the tragedies to be enacted there. It alone could properly depict the hopeless and horrible fate to which everyone who stands before it is condemned. But white is the color of light and righteousness and holiness. Our Lord's garments became white on the mount of transfiguration (Matt.17:2; Mark 9:3; Luke 9:29). The messengers, commonly called "angels" are clothed in white (Matt.28:3; John 20:12; Acts 1: 10). Worthy saints are robed in white (Rev.3:4,5; 7:9,13; 19:14). They whiten their garments in the blood of the Lambkin (Rev.7: 14). Black is the symbol of darkness and death.
The present is a time of blackness and darkness. Men love the darkness because their deeds are evil (John 3:19). Even we were once darkness (Eph.5:5). The era is actually called "darkness" because that is its chief characteristic (Eph.6:12). There is no great white throne today. There is no divine standard of righteousness. As in a blackout, men grope their way about. They commit their shameful deeds in secret, unseen by their fellows. If there were such a white tribunal on earth, it would put an end to all this. No one would be able to hide. All would be open. Even our departure from God, our failure to give Him His right place in our lives, would be painfully exposed. On the other hand, is not this just what we sigh for when appalled by the prevailing wickedness? We are right, there should be light thrown into this darkness. Everything should be exposed and set right. That is what reformers aim to do. It will be done, but not now. That is the function of the great white throne.
But it will not be a mere reformation in which wickedness is punished and good rewarded. All will be condemned because they are not merely compared with their fellows, but with the glory of God, where all fall short. Not only will all be found guilty, but all will be set right, not only with their human associates, but with God, to whom they owe infinitely more than to their neighbors. This is the fatal lack in all other reformations. They do not go to the root of the matter, which is the recognition of God and the wrongs done to Him. Can we imagine such a thing today, which would bring all evils to light, especially that root of all wrongs, the neglect of God, and assign to each his appropriate penalty, so that all would be saved and justified and reconciled? Only the Judge that God has appointed could do that, and He will not do it until the proper time. Yet it may help us to understand and sympathize with that future judging, if we transfer it to the present. All good people would approve of it. So should we welcome the great white throne.
We must consider all things from God's viewpoint if we wish the absolute truth. His glory and honor should be our chief concern. For the ordinary saints this is difficult to do, because they see only a small segment of His operations, and this usually gives a false impression. It is only when we see the whole of God's purpose, the place of the eons in it, and the consummation, that we are able to fully understand any section of it. We must judge all from the end, the outcome, not from any part of the process. In order to reveal His heart, God may suffer the loss of His whole creation in the process, without being dishonored or disgraced, provided that all are saved at the end. If God, in His efforts to make Himself known, should lose all of His creatures, nothing could possibly remove the stigma of His defeat. Even if He should lose only a considerable part, the glory of His Godhood is irretrievably dimmed. All the explanations and excuses ever offered would never suffice to reseat Him on the throne of the universe, or guarantee the safety of those who have been saved from the wreck.
The great white throne has no rational place in orthodox theology. If all unbelievers are doomed to eternal torment, why expend immeasurable power in raising them from the dead, when they are already suffering, simply to condemn the condemned? To inflict punishment before trial is immoral and irrational, and a farce when the guilt is already settled, and the length of the sentence predetermined. The only possible place for an orthodox tribunal is immediately after death, and then only to determine the severity of the sufferings. There should be no necessity for a resurrection when the dead are already agonizing in hell. That is why so little is made of this great judgment. It does not fit into the orthodox scheme at all. It can only serve to drive the dead still further from the god who is the cause of their being and the source of their eternal woe. Its effect on such a god would be disastrous. He would be transformed into the fiend of hell, the destroyer of his own handiwork, the torturer of his own creatures, a god of hate, unable or unwilling to rescue the weak and erring souls which he had formed. They were intended for his glory. They turned out to his shame.
Annihilation is incompatible with a judgment. Is it not the height of cruelty to bring back to consciousness one who is doomed to eternal oblivion, merely to inflict further agony upon his soul? And when we reflect upon the tremendous expenditure of energy needed to raise billions upon billions of the dead, the marvelous miracle of rousing them from the unseen, all to no purpose except to enable them to suffer for their sins for a time, before they enter the portals of death once again, our heads and hearts revolt at the callousness of such a procedure. If it were merely a tremendous waste of effort, a futile gesture, it would not be so horrible. It has no warrant, and only serves to deluge the dead with another sea of misery beside that which they have already endured in this life, and all to no profit, either to themselves or to God. Indeed, it would not only add to their sufferings. Its chief result would be to detract from God's name and fame, and bring His glory into total eclipse. A god who is unable to avert such a fearful failure in His plans is not a god at all.
Judgment is a misfit in every theological theory yet propounded. It is inconsistent, discordant, irreconcilable with every plan that does not reclaim man. Its function is to set matters right between man and God, hence it is utterly unnecessary and useless if it produces more suffering for man and further defeat and disgrace for God. It is not judgment at all, but indiscriminating vindictiveness and malevolence if it only tortures or destroys without benefit to either the creature or the Creator. Once we realize what judging means in the Word of God, the great white throne becomes a pledge of universal reconciliation, not of eternal damnation.
Every human being, and, indeed, every living thing, is an exquisite and costly creation of God, infinitely more valuable than the highest achievements of human skill. Man cannot impart life or growth or sensation to any of his creations. All that he can do is to destroy these. What man would not do his utmost to save the work of a lifetime from destruction? And will not God do all that He can to reclaim the lost? Indeed, has He not already done all that is needed to protect His holiness in the sacrifice of Christ? The value of that offering is great enough to include all mankind, and embrace all creation. Now that the price has been paid, the ransom for all laid down, what can God do except to honor the work of Christ and apply the preciousness of His blood to those for whom it was shed? A judgment is just what is needed to accomplish this, where all who have not been won by faith will be reached by sight. There all the wrongs of His creatures will be righted, and they will see how unutterably they have wronged Him. Thus they will be brought to realize that God alone is their All.
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