Question #1: Bob,
One thing that really concerns me is the eternal fate of some of our
young fighting men in Iraq who have not , as far as we know, made a
decision for Christ. These 18 thru 22 year olds lay their lives on the
line for the cause of suppressing terrorism and the insurgency in Iraq.
It is almost unthinkable that a single one of these precious young men
would be shot or blown up by a terrorists truck bomb and then face an
angry God who would condemn them to hell! I would not have the courage
myself to fight in a war unless I knew beyond reasonable doubt that I'd
be in the presence of Jesus if I died...secure from an eternal hell.
I'm not saying here that these young fallen military heroes earn their salvation by being martyrs in the war against terrorism. They have to be saved by FAITH in Christ, just like everyone else. What I am saying is that many of these young heroes would be just as dedicated to the cause of Christ as they are in performing their military duties, IF ONLY they saw the Gospel of Jesus properly presented and lived out. But most of these young men have not seen the true Gospel lived out, through no fault of their own. What they have seen is a caricature of Christ! They see hypocrisy, sex scandals, conflicting teachings, and the general failure of professing Christians (myself included) to live up to what the Bible teaches.
One thing I read in your e-mails is that gives me hope for these young soldiers is that God will save everyone truly willing to be saved. While Romans teaches we are all without excuse, it is also true that Jesus on the Cross prayed: Father, forgive them, they know not what they do. Certainly, these young men, not knowing their Master's will, should be beaten with few stripes if any at all! I can only speculate, but wonder if God makes provision for them the somewhat the same way He does for babies who die before reaching the age of accountability. Possibly, when the soul leaves a dying young soldier's body, it will have illumination that allows it to make an informed choice for or against Christ.
It truly does tug at the heartstrings when a young man (or young woman)
dies in defense of the rest of us, and seems especially tragic upon
contemplating the possibility that death occurs without faith. I would
temper this with two observations, however. The first is that God knows
everything. We say that and mean it, but to truly understand it with
depth is a life-long thing. I can certainly look back at my own life and
see how the biggest disasters I experienced and the biggest mistakes I
made were all carefully woven into the plan of God for my life. God knew
and planned for everything in more detail than I can even come close to
imagining now, but I have gained at least a dim understanding of His
perfect providence and provision from what I have seen with my own eyes.
This perfect, loving, merciful and just superintendence of history falls
to the lot of all who believe in Jesus Christ, and it is also correct to
say that even for those who do not and will not believe, God goes to
extremes on their behalf. He wants all to turn to Jesus (Ezek.18:23;
Matt.18:14; Jn.12:47; 1Tim.2:4; 2Tim.2:24-26; 2Pet.3:9). After all,
Jesus died for the sins of all, including those who fail to turn to Him
and even those who forthrightly reject Him (Jn.1:29; 12:47;
2Cor.5:14-15; 5:19; 1Tim.2:4-6; Heb.2:9; 7:27; 1Jn.2:2; 3:5). Since our
Lord has already born every sin of every human being, obviously He knows
us all very personally, knows us better than we know ourselves, and
would also know with complete certainty what, if anything, would turn us
to Him in a way that would not violate the cardinal principle and rule
of life on this earth: we must all make our own decisions for Him or
against Him –
we cannot be coerced. So whatever else we may think and
however else we may feel, we should not think that somehow God is
"dropping the ball" in such circumstances. From my understanding of Him
and His character, the sacrifice of one and only beloved Son, Jesus
Christ, and the specific scriptures, I would conclude as I would in all
other such cases that no one goes to hell who does not merit it on the
basis of their own choice, whether actively rejecting God or passively
refusing to seek Him out. And I would further maintain that this will be
made clear in the case of any and all at the last judgment where "the
secrets and intents of the hearts" of all are made manifest (Rom.2:16;
1Cor.4:5; cf. Matt.10:26; Mk.4:22; Lk.2:35; 8:17; 12:2). God knows what
truly motivates us, and what we really are thinking.
The second caveat is that negativity towards God often develops quite young and is often a very firmly formed part of a person's character from a very early age. That does not mean that such people are "bad" or cannot be "good" according to many of the values that we endorse and hold dear, even as Christians. Some of the greatest heroes and patriots in our country's history were undoubtedly not true believers in Jesus Christ. God, the Master Potter, knows even before we make such choices what sort of a "pot" we are. That does not mean that we are absolved from making the right choices, especially the key choice of faith in Christ – far from it. Rather it means that we can have the utmost confidence that if a person is at all inclined to choose for Jesus that God will do everything possible without violating that person's free will to facilitate that positive choice. But true free will means that what is important to God (and should be to us as well) is a legitimate, sincere, deep commitment to our Lord. Only we can make and maintain that commitment and only God can know if we are really so inclined. And, as I say, this is sometimes obvious from an early age. I had a friend who was sharing the gospel with a pre-adolescent child and after telling the child that "if you believe in Jesus you will live forever with God" received the dismissive reply "Oh I don't believe that". It was an honest response, however tragic.
It has been many years, but I have very vivid memories of my years in service and the young men I met and their attitudes to such things. I had the opportunity to spend a significant amount of time with the army as well as being on active duty with the USMC for over four years. In seminary, one of my fellow students remarked upon learning of my ex-service status that he, an ex-army chap, had found service "just so secular". Indeed, and very carnal as well. It may well be that things have changed since the 70's. The service was looked down upon in those days, and seems to have attracted a better crop of people since. Yet I would doubt the secular and carnal nature of it has changed much – in my studies of military history is seems that with few exceptions service life has ever been such. What I am getting at here is that these are young people, true, but they are not babies. They are adults in every way and see themselves as such. And while it may be true that their life-experience limited in time yet often intense does not really give them the depth of perspective they may think they possess, it is true that they generally have more life-experience of all sorts than may commonly be supposed, and also that they have lived long enough and seen enough to have made informed choices about eternity and their attitudes toward God and His Son. In my experience and estimation based upon my understanding of scripture, it is very unlikely that any of them who are not believers would be apt to change their point of view no matter how long they might live. On the other hand, whatever else we might think and however else we might mourn the loss of those of them who fall as believers, it is certainly true that at the very least we make take comfort in the fact that all opportunity for falling away is removed by an early death in the case of all followers of Jesus Christ, just as a blessed eternity with Jesus begins immediately upon departing this earth (Phil.1:21-23). So even though we may choose to see such events as untimely, God always knows the right time for all of us. Keeping a particular individual from death is easier for God than we could ever imagine (nothing is impossible for God), so that we may rest assured in faith that no one is being cheated out of salvation because of events that we inevitably will view as tragic.
Everything I read in scripture reinforces the principle of the importance of the choices we make here in life (e.g., Ezek.33). I don't find any support for salvation after death (in fact, just the opposite: Lk.16:19-31; cf. Heb.12:17). Once the spirit leaves the body (the "soul" is just a synonym for the heart or life, at least as it is employed in scripture; see BB 3B Anthropology, section II.4 "The Dichotomy of Man"), all opportunity for moral choice comes to and end. Finally, as to your statement, "While Romans teaches we are all without excuse, it is also true that Jesus on the Cross prayed: Father, forgive them, they know not what they do", you should know that this verse is not genuine. Luke 23:34a does not occur in some of the best and earliest manuscripts (and while it was written by the prima manu in Sinaiticus, the queen of the uncial manuscripts, the contemporaneous master corrector deleted it). It is easy to see why the verse would be added: Stephen makes a plea for the forgiveness of those who are stoning him to death at Acts 7:60 – should our Lord have done less? But what the inventor of this false verse failed to grasp was the fact that, indeed, while Jesus could die for the sins of the world, the one thing He couldn't do was to die for the unbelief of the world. Unbelief is the "unpardonable sin" (see the links: "The Unpardonable Sin" and "Apostasy and the Sin unto Death"), and for Christ to have exonerated unbelief in any part would have had repercussions throughout the entire plan of God which are unfathomable (and impossible because, ultimately, such blanket forgiveness would in effect compromise the righteousness of God, something that can never be). So we are back to choice and the principle that God knows all who want to have a relationship with Him and who are willing to accept the sacrifice of Jesus in place of their own works. Sadly, that number is, in percentage terms of the human race, exceptionally small. But the one thing I believe we can say with assurance is that no one, including those whom we rightly lament as dying too young, will ever fail to have a "fair chance" for eternal life (and I suspect that when we finally see all the truth in the presence of God, it will be made clear that all who would come to Christ and stay faithful to Him ultimately did).
In the One who died for us all, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Dear Dr. Bob,
Happy New Year!! A quick question: Would you explain Matt 11:25-26 for my bible study group. No one in the class knew what Jesus was saying and none of the study bibles that were available said anything to clarify. I knew you could answer it!
Always good to hear
from you - and thanks for your confidence (hope I can justify it with
this response)! In this passage, Matthew 11:25-26 (see too Luke 10:21),
our Lord expresses a point of truth that, as with the rest of Jesus'
teachings, is also taught both in the Old Testament and later in the New
Testament epistles. Thus, for virtually every point of Bible teaching,
we are blessed to have three different approaches to the same basic
truth. I believe that our Lord is expressing the same principle that
Paul does in 1st Corinthians 1:17 - 2:16 to the effect that the wisdom
of this world cannot approach the wisdom of God and, indeed, cannot even
truly understand it. This sentiment of the essential foolishness of
human wisdom is also found in the Old Testament (e.g., Is.24:19, which
Paul actually quotes at 1Cor.1:19; cf. Job 5:12-13; Is.44:25; Jer.9:23).
But perhaps the key element of this passage in Matthew which is
essential to fully grasping its complete meaning is Jesus' use of the
word "infants" (KJV "babes"). Our Lord is clearly contrasting "the wise"
(from whom the truth is hidden) to "babes" (to whom it has been
revealed). It is therefore certain that our Savior means "babes" in a
spiritual sense (since literal infants, etymologically in the Greek
"those who do not yet have the power to speak", clearly are not yet able
to understand any sort of complex verbal communication, much less divine
revelation). We can see precisely what Jesus means by this analogy by
examining Matthew 19:14:
Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."
Matthew 19:14 NIV
By the phrase "such as these" our Lord makes a very helpful and useful
analogy between literal small children and adults who are also true
believers (or those with the hearts to become true believers). The
haughty, the proud, the arrogant, those who are wise according to the
wisdom of this world, would never deign to come to Him. Only those of us
who approach Him with the simplicity of faith of a little child are able
to understand, because truth can only be received in humility. Truth has
to be believed, and to believe something that cannot be proved takes
childlike faith, the same faith that we had in our parents when we were
very young, when we believed the information they gave us even though we
had no way to verify it. Later on in life, human beings tend to become
skeptical and demand "proof". This is not a bad thing where the world in
general is concerned. The ancient Greeks had a saying, "For life, you
need first to learn to swim, and second to learn to disbelieve". In a
world of coasts and islands and ancient sea transport, swimming was an
essential survival skill and these world-wise ancient Greeks saw
skepticism in regard to our fellow man as only just second in importance
in terms of survival.
But when it comes to God, when it comes to salvation, when it comes to the heavenly wisdom which comes down from the Father of lights, when it comes to the gospel of Jesus Christ, the very opposite is true. When it comes to the truth, we need to suspend our normal skepticism and instead believe everything God tells us. Just as we used to believe our parents as small children, so now we ought to believe our divine Parent, our heavenly Father, since everything He tells us is absolutely the truth. If, instead, we approach the Bible with the same human, worldly skepticism we employ elsewhere, we will never understand what God is telling us, because divine truth cannot even be perceived unless it is believed. We have to have faith that it is true before we can really understand it, because such true wisdom is not perceptible to the empiricism of eye and ear – only God can tell us what is really true:
"No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" (quote fr. Is.64:4). But God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.
1st Corinthians 2:9-10 NIV
Thus when our Lord rejoices that our Father has revealed to "infants"
what He has hidden from the wise, He is saying that only those who
approach Him and His Word with that same humility of faith that
characterizes the very young can ever receive the revelation of the
truth, whereas all those who attempt to filter God's truth through a
prism of skepticism, holding themselves back from anything they cannot
verify empirically, have, in effect, blinded their eyes to this same
truth. This is a cause for rejoicing indeed, because it shows God's
grace and mercy towards all who will come to Him in genuine faith,
regardless of their worldly limitations, whereas those who are
stiff-necked and refuse to accept the truth of what He says because of
their stubborn adherence to worldly, material standards, are not
accepted even though they may possess many of advantages which the world
prizes. That is why it says . . .
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.
1st Corinthians 1:18a NIV
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.
1st Corinthians 1:27a NIV
Thanks be to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who has confounded the
worldly wisdom of the wise and made available to us who believe with
simple child-like faith all the treasures of the true wisdom of God!
In my last letter I
mentioned how I could not just take the 1611 word for word translation
King James literally without strong investigation. (The NIV is my favorite translation) The way the King James uses the word "Damnation" one might conclude that a believer loses his salvation every time that he knowingly sins (consider I Corinthians 11:29; 1 Timothy 5:12; Romans 14:3; James 5:9! In other passages where 2919 krino, 2632 katakrino, 2917 krima, 2020 krisis. (looking in Vines Expository Dictionary and Strongs Concordance) the type of judgment meted out by God depends on whether it is given with or without mercy (James 2:12). Here is how I see it.: any of the above Greek root words can be used to denote eternal judgment when referring either to unbelievers or to apostate believers who have totally turned their backs on Jesus Christ. But these same root words can also be used in the context of sentences of corrective discipline for believers (judgment tempered with mercy) ...the severity of the sentence tailored to the offense of the individual believer. 1 Co 11:29-32 is a case in point.
Here is what I think happens when a believer occasionally knowingly misses the mark. Discipline, sometimes severe, comes. It is no light matter to knowingly disobey God! Isaiah 54:5-8 describes what happens: For a brief moment I abandoned you; but with deep compassion I will bring you back. In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you, says the Lord my redeemer. The abandonment here is not the total abandonment that occurs when God forsakes one who has willfully forsaken Him. While Jesus never leaves a sinning believer who has not totally destroyed his faith, He does turn His face away from us at that moment since he cannot be part of a sinful act. The abandonment spoken of in Isaiah 54:7-8 can be the loss of assurance of salvation and the comfort of Gods presence...given in corrective measure to draw us back when we confess ) (1Jn 1:9) David spoke of this in Psalm 32: 2-5.
As to your general
point here about the misleading language of the KJV, I would say "yes
and no". I am no expert on the topic of early 17th century English, but
it does strike me that the meanings of words changes over time, and this
may well be a case in point. "Damnation" nowadays is used for eternal
condemnation almost exclusively, whether that is meant in a literal or
figurative sense, but it seems likely from its use in the KJV that it
meant at the time "judgment" in a more general sense. That is, "KJV
damnation" might be eternal, or it might be some sort of punishment or
discipline confined to time. The NIV whose language is of course
contemporary uses, as you suggest, the word "judgment" in most places
where we find "damnation" in the KJV, so that in the NIV we have the
opposite phenomenon: a general term for judgment which could be eternal
punishment in some contexts but is not necessarily so. The issue is
somewhat complicated by the fact that there are several Greek words
employed for these ideas (as you have discovered), and while they are
mostly based upon the same root (krin), there are differences which can
be difficult to parse out. Clearly, there is a big difference between
the judgment of divine discipline meted out to believers in time for
sinful behavior and the judgment of eternal condemnation meted out to
unbelievers after death for a life of willful rejection of Jesus Christ,
the only path to eternal life: the former resembles a father correcting
his beloved child; the latter is the ultimate consequence for arrogantly
replacing God's will (for one's salvation) with one's own (in rejecting
Jesus Christ). This is a very quick synopsis of an involved subject
covered in (what some find excruciating) detail in the following study:
Bible Basics part 3B: Hamartiology: the Study of Sin
Rather than advance a definitive theology of judgment here, I will content myself with saying that God is just, so that His character requires judgment upon all sin and evil (His holiness demands it); but that God is also love, so that His character leads Him to provide a solution to all guilt for sin and evil (His goodness proffers it). For God is life, so that His character induces Him to reconcile love and justice for the benefit of His wayward creatures (His faithfulness ensures it). All this is bound up in the sovereignty of God wherein He has sovereignly chosen to provide grace through His love and goodness, mercy without compromising His justice and holiness, and peace producing life for us out of His absolute faithfulness. Our part is response to Him and His provision which is centered, focused and based upon the Person and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Bending our free will to His divine will results in blessing; resisting Him who has done everything for our benefit is what results in judgment. This judgment may be short or long, large or small, the ultimate form of which results from the ultimate and final rejection of Him and His Son. It is this, final and willful rejection of the truth that leads to the judgment for which we now reserve the word "damnation".
I think that in general we are saying the same essential thing on the subject of judgment here. For more you can see the following link:
Bible Basics part 1: Theology: the Study of God
In our merciful Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,