This is a follow-up to part 1.
My previous post explained the problem I have with the absence of the Christian God in daily life. To be more accurate: I have a problem that God says He wants to get into a relationship with people but does not get involved Himself in reaching out to those people. Everywhere I looked, it was the same conclusion: it is 99.9% work that is done through people without any supernatural explanation needed. So how does one deal with this?
How I Dealt With This Dilemma
There are a whole string of responses to this dilemma; some of you have highlighted a few in responses that I have received. Thank you for that! I have had multiple internal ways to deal with this problem, but none of them were satisfactory. We could easily create this into a whole book, but let me just leave it at the highlights:
Justification 1: “It is not up to us to say who is going to hell (or the ‘lake of fire’)”
The Bible, and especially Jesus, made it crystal clear that you need to believe in Him, or face eternal consequences:
John 3:18 “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”
2 Tess. 1:8-10B: “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed.”
For a lot more verses: see this link.
Imagine if your friend killed somebody while driving drunk. There is damning good proof on tape and an alcohol test was taken because he was caught on site. You know that the law says very clearly that he will get 20 years in prison. Your friend has no idea about the judicial system and asks what you think will happen. Is the honest response really “not up to me, who knows, you may get away with it”? Of course not. You know better than that. It is a white lie.
The Christian God is very clear about eternal consequences of having faith or not. The issue is not where the ‘exact’ line is drawn between ‘saved’ and ‘not saved’. The issue is that God is absent and seems not so worried at all to get the message across to the ‘not saved’, given the endless possibilities at His disposal for doing just that.
Justifaction 2: There is no eternal suffering; you just die when thrown in hell (annihilism)
Next to this being “unbiblical” (see those verses), it still does not solve the dilemma. Why would God not get involved in people’s lives so they may live in this relationship with Him? This is only a decrease of the punishment, but it is a punishment nonetheless. The same goes for the even less Biblical notion of Universalism, that everybody will get ‘saved’ in the end. Still the question remains why God is not getting involved in people’s lives right now so they can enjoy His presence already? Is your father really that great a guy if he only decides to show up 100 years after you were born?
Justification 3: Free will: God will not ‘force’ his love upon you, you have to choose freely
The free will argument is also an emphatic response, as it portrays God not as a dictator who shoves His will down your throat, but more like a gentle lover. If you don’t want His offer, fine! He will leave you in peace.
I find two things strange about this:
First: Why doesn’t He present the case clearly and convincingly, if the consequence is eternal death? Who would say people have free will in choosing A or B, when they never heard there was anything to choose from in the first place?
Secondly: Which father is absent in the life of their children, and then is surprised they did not love him? Which lover never shows up at a date, and then is surprised that his partner questions their relationship?
Justification 4: You are right; God simply does not want to save everyone, only the elect (Calvinism)
This response makes the most sense, from an intellectual point of view. This view says that yes, God is absent from many people’s lives, because He is just not going to make them believe. The Bible even says He has ‘destined’ them for destruction (Romans 9:14-22).
There are multiple problems with this stance. God is behaving totally erratic this way, with eternal consequences. He simply chooses some people at random (the elect); the rest can literally ‘go to hell’. This view only works when you look at the ‘elect’ and you feel a safe part of that. But as soon as you focus on the non-elect, this becomes something so cruel that many strict Calvinists live a life of near desperation because they are afraid they will not be part of the ‘elect’.
Next to being cruel, it also clearly contradicts other parts of the Bible. There are many references to ‘everyone’, ‘the world’, ‘the cosmos’ in relation to Gods love and the “atonement” of Jesus Christ. If one looks closely at Calvinist theology, you will see that this aspect of God’s love for the world has been clearly edited out of their thinking (insiders: for a great example, look very closely at article 2 of the Canons of Dordt).
This has huge consequences for mission. Why are we in mission? We are trying to ‘reach out’ to people with the message of God’s grace. We live among them for years, decades. We pray all the time for their salvation. But they may simply not be part of the elect. Your feelings of empathy for those people are not shared by God himself. God’s love is at random, and we can only hope to catch some glimpse of grace. What a horrible life that would be.
Justification 5: The Devil is stopping people from believing
This view states that God cannot fully show his ‘case for Christ’ because the devil is somehow ‘in the way’ or ‘hindering our thoughts’ or ‘tempting us to unbelief’.
Interestingly, in the Old Testament the devil is nearly never mentioned. He comes around for example in the story of Job, but he is only doing to do what God allowed him to do in the first place. In the New Testament there is much more about the devil, but there the victory is always clear as well.
It is completely inconceivable that a God, who can control 10 to the power 80 atoms in this universe, could not get a message of love across to one of his tiny little humans, because one of his other creations (the devil) is somehow “in the way”. It does not compute. It would mean that the Satan is such a powerful enemy to God, that we as humans are utterly unsafe, because God cannot even get a message across to us anymore (while He clearly could do it in the Bible). In fact, such beliefs are much more closely linked to polytheism (like Hinduism or the ancient Greek panteon) than monotheism if you think about it.
Justification 6: Change the Topic!
“But… I know that God exists because A, B or C (or fill in your own argument here: ….).”
This is not an answer at all to the problem of an absent God in mission. It is an argument for the existence of God, or maybe the involvement of God in your life, but it does not explain the consistent absence of the necessary ‘good news’ of Jesus Christ in the life of most people.
So How Did I Deal With This?
From my responses it may seem that I never believed any of this. But to a degree, I have actually been going back and forth between exploring these responses quite a lot in my life, especially the last few years. Although I found the answers unsatisfactory, I still kept on believing, even going into mission itself. I only thought that was a minor issue.
How on earth can a believer go on, with such an internal conflict in faith? That is what I want to explore in another post, in a separate series that will intertwine with the rest: What Kept Me In?