In an online debate I was recently listening to, I heard a former Christian claim that the New Testament actually portrays God worse than the Old Testament, because only the New Testament teaches the doctrine of eternal torment in hell. He said that this doctrine amounts to “infinite punishment for finite crimes,” an idea which is cruel and terrible beyond description.
I actually agree with this conclusion, but the thing is, the Bible doesn’t really teach eternal torment! For the purposes of this post, I don’t really care if you believe the Bible is divinely inspired or superstitious nonsense; I simply hope to show is that the Bible itself makes a much stronger case in favor of the idea that all people will ultimately be reconciled to God through Christ, than the idea that anyone will be eternally tormented.
I‘m going to examine a few of the Bible’s passages which seem to most clearly and powerfully teach the ultimate reconciliation of all people, and in an upcoming post I’ll examine the most popular verses that are used to support eternal, conscious torment. Genuine, divine love, 1 John says, actually casts out fear, but it is fear which lies at the root of many of the ideas about God we have created. There is much we have to learn.
On to the scriptures:
Philippians 2:9-11 ESV: Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, (10) so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, (11) and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
1 Corinthians 12:3 ESV: Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.
1 John 4:15 ESV: “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.”
Revelation 5:13: “And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
Most Christians know the first passage, which says that EVERY knee will bow and tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. (The passage from Revelation 5 says the very same thing). To me, it seems this verse by itself should settle the question of whether or not all are reconciled to God in the end, and settle it in the affirmative! Does it not state that everyone eventually comes to salvation, since everyone eventually confesses the Lordship of Jesus Christ and brings God glory? As a matter of fact, it DOES say that, and says it plainly! I’d also point out that while there are scriptures that seem to teach eternal torment, this verse is just as, if not more, plain and powerful than any of them. An interesting question, which I won’t get into here for the sake of space, is why Christianity doesn’t accept that this verse teaches ultimate reconciliation.
A friend of mine pointed out to me that this verse from Philippians 2 powerfully aligns with 1 Corinthians 12:3, the second passage above, which says that ONLY “in the Holy Spirit” can someone truly confess the Lordship of Jesus. This means that those in Philippians 2 who are kneeling before Christ and confessing his Lordship and bringing God glory (which is ALL people) are “in the Holy Spirit.” Therefore, to believe in eternal torment, you are forced to claim that even though EVERYONE will “confess Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father” and will be “in the Holy Spirit,” they will still be eternally tormented. Really? That’s quite a claim, and is not at all what this passage is saying.
1 John 4:15 adds even more, going so far as to say that those confessing Jesus Christ are both indwelt by God and dwelling in God! That is such a mind-blowing statement! Here’s the truth: what we are reading about in Philippians 2:9-11 is the ultimate reconciliation of all people, since John tells us that in the confession of Jesus Christ as Lord that EVERYONE will make, they have come to dwell in God and be indwelt by God! Is God going to eternally torment Himself?! No! What could such a radical statement mean other than they are reconciled and united with the Father! They are sons and daughters! As 1 Corinthians 15:28 (ESV) says:
“When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.”
2 Peter 2:9 KJV: “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished…”
This verse places people into two categories: the godly and the unjust. Interestingly, it does NOT say either group, even the unjust, will be tormented (nor does it mention a thing about eternity). Instead, it actually teaches the unjust will be chastised and corrected.
Correctly interpreting this verse hinges on the meaning of the word “punished,” which is translated from the Greek word kolazo, which does not mean inflicting some sort of pain as a “repayment” for evil (which is very un-Christlike and therefore un-Godlike anyway). Instead, kolazo means chastisement in order to correct. Eternal torment cannot be “corrective,” as it never changes or ends!
The primary meaning for kolazo given by the popular and respected Strong’s Greek dictionary is: “To lop or prune, as trees or wings.” According to Greek scholars, kolazo was originally a horticultural term for pruning, which is the practice of cutting off certain parts of a plant to promote its
health and fruitfulness. No one prunes a plant to “punish” it, but to benefit it. Over time, kolazo came to denote a similar idea with respect to people – “pruning” them (which is admittedly painful) so they will come to live properly. The point is, the intention and ultimate outcome of kolazo is correction and restoration – especially since the one doing the pruning is a loving and wise Father!
Interestingly, the Greek language does have a word, timoria, which means punishment in the sense of vengeance or repayment for evil. Arisotle, the famous Greek philosopher (who I’m pretty sure knew ancient Greek better than you or I), made this distinction between these two words in Rhetoric 1.10.17: “But there is a difference between revenge (timoria) and punishment (kolasin); the latter is inflicted in the interest of the sufferer, the former in the interest of him who inflicts it, that he may obtain satisfaction.” So, kolasin is in the interest of (that is, beneficial and corrective), to the one being punished, while timoria is “beneficial” only to the one doing the punishing. Paul, when describing his persecution of the believers in Jesus, used timoria to describe his actions. He certainly wasn’t concerned with the well-being of those he was persecuting, only with meeting and satisfying his own thirst for perverted justice and revenge. But God, and certainly love, is not like that. God is love, remember? He’s not wrath…and he never has been. Love is always ultimately merciful and restorative. Hence the use of the word kolazo. The source and heart of the universe is one of love and restoration. How glorious!
Here is how this verse more accurately reads: “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be corrected…”
1 Timothy 4:10 ESV: “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.”
This verse says God is the savior of “ALL PEOPLE,” as many other verses say. And that’s what it means. Period. It also says that those who believe are “especially” saved. But what does that mean? The Greek word for “especially” is malista, and it means “chiefly, most of all.” It does NOT mean “only.” So the ones “chiefly” saved, the ones “saved to the uttermost,” as Hebrews 7:25 says, are those who believe. But they are not the only ones saved – ALL PEOPLE are ultimately saved. Believers are the ones who, in this life, recognize their inheritance as sons and daughters through Christ and are freed from ignorance, religion and fear to commune with the Father and manifest His love. They lose the things that hinder the Life of the Spirit within, seeking to grow in their salvation, and they will not have to undergo the painful purification of fire that awaits many.
Mark 9:43, 45, 47-49 ESV: “(43) And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. (45) And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. (47) And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, (48) ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ (49) For everyone will be salted with fire.”
Verse 49 alone should cause some very serious reconsideration of the idea that Jesus thought of hell as a place in the afterlife where unbelievers are eternally tormented in fire. Christianity often uses verses 43-48 to support this doctrine, but in my experience verse 49, which is essential to understand Jesus’ point, is almost always neglected. In this critical verse, Jesus plainly says EVERYONE will be salted with the very same fire he was just associating with hell! (Pay attention to words/phrases like “all men,” “everyone” and “all,” as they are used surprisingly often).
Look again: Jesus speaks of the “unquenchable fire” of “hell” in verses 43 and 47-48, and then immediately, in verse 49, says EVERYONE will be “salted” by this fire! So if the fire of hell is eternally tormenting, then was Jesus teaching that everyone will eternally burn in hell for eternity? Obviously not! So, if we actually care about what Jesus meant, more than trying to support what we already believe, we have genuinely consider that what Jesus meant by “hell” and “fire” is different from what modern Christianity says.
I’ve written about the word “hell” extensively in recent posts, but please allow me to give a very brief refresher. First, the English word “hell” is a very bad translation, because it has meanings that the Greek word it is translated from never had. In this passage, the Greek word translated as “hell” is Gehenna, which literally means “The Valley of Hinnom;” a valley near Jerusalem which is mentioned several times in the Old Testament and is still in existence today. Yes, the “hell” Jesus spoke of was a nearby valley, not any afterlife destination! According to the Bible itself, this valley was used by the ancient Israelites to conduct pagan human sacrifices in fire, and King Josiah ordered the items Israel had used to worship foreign gods to be destroyed there. There is also some evidence that in Jesus’ day, Gehenna was used as garbage dump where trash and dead bodies would be burned.
The important thing to understand is that those Jesus knew that those he was speaking to would NOT have thought of anything like our idea of “hell” when thinking of Gehenna. It went without saying that Jesus was NOT claiming that all unbelievers or wicked people would end up burning eternally in this small nearby valley. Jesus’ hearers would have understood he was using Gehenna metaphorically for a place of wickedness and destruction.
Another very important distinction to understand – the reason Jesus said EVERYONE will be touched by the fire of hell is because it is not wicked individuals, but wickedness which is destined to be consumed in fire. Consider this: if we believe heaven/the Kingdom of God is a place of pure love and perfection in the Spirit, where people truly love each-other as themselves and honor God in all things, then it’s clear that selfishness, oppression, and all other impurities must and WILL be eradicated. It’s also clear that even “believers” have things that need to be eradicated, given up or changed in order to fully walk in love. In the verses above, Jesus was (as he often did) using a familiar thing – the nearby valley of Gehenna, which was associated with fire and destruction, as a metaphor for the destruction of wickedness that must happen within EVERYONE. Paul, as you will see below in the passage from 1 Corinthians 3, writes about this very same idea in even more detail.
Even if Jesus wasn’t talking of eternal torment, his words are undeniably serious and sobering. His primary point seems to have been that it’s better to willingly make even drastic sacrifices and painful changes during one’s natural life, than to enter the age to come with impurities and hindrances that both slow your progress and have to be burned up anyway. This is a serious thing, but far, far different from: “quit sinning or the God of love will ensure you are eternally tortured.”
Last, a quick point about the word “unquenchable.” It does not mean “never-ending.” Unquenchable fire simply means that this fire cannot be stopped, put out, or “quenched” until it consumes all that it can. In verse 48, when Jesus mentions the worm that doesn’t die and the fire that isn’t quenched, he was actually quoting Isaiah 66:24, and seems to be prophesying the coming destruction of Jerusalem and it’s temple – an event which he talked of several times, said those in his generation were going to experience, and which took place in 70 AD.
1 Corinthians 15:20-22 ESV: (20) But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (21) For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. (22) For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
Romans 5:18-19 ESV: Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. (19) For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.
These verses strongly support (actually outright state) that all people will be “made alive,” “justified,” and “made righteous” in Christ. EVERYONE. Yes, it’s true!!! To say you believe these passages but simultaneously say you believe in eternal torment in hell, you essentially have to claim that Paul meant for the “all” or the “all men” who died in Adam to somehow be different than the “all” or “all men” who will be made righteous, justified, and alive in Christ. Such a conclusion is plainly not true. So if all men are ultimately made righteous and given life, how are they condemned to hell to be eternally tormented? THEY AREN’T! These are plain and powerful passages, my friends! It’s time to look at scripture in a new light.
What I believe Paul is basically saying is that Jesus’ obedience was like a reversal of the events of the Garden of Eden, which brought about the self-awareness, fear and sense of separation from God that plague so many still today. Here’s the key thing though: our condemnation in Adam wasn’t about our choice, and neither is our righteousness in Christ! This is absolutely the truth that the Bible declares!!!
Think about it: whatever it means that all were condemned in Adam, did you have a choice in it? Did you do anything to bring it about? Could you resist it? No, no, and no. You weren’t born yet, and even if you were, it still wasn’t up to you. In the exact same way, Paul says that being made alive in Christ is not about our choice or even our actions, but about what God in Christ has done. There are limitations to the power of our choice and things we simply cannot avoid or change. Trying to resist or change the finished work of Christ in bringing righteousness to all men is like trying to resist gravity or stop the sun from rising. It’s beyond our capability (deeper, actually) and thank God for that! If all were condemned in Adam, then since the cross, all men are, right now, righteous, made alive, and justified. That’s what Paul wrote!
Of course, there is still evil in the world, because there is a difference between being made righteous in God’s sight and given Life, and actually knowing this and walking accordingly. It seems to me that our choice, to the extent we have it, is to begin to willingly let go of the fear and hurt and self-preservation and unbelief and indoctrination (all of which are spiritually classified as “death”) that we once walked in, to seek and allow for the expression of the divine righteousness and Life that is already within as our true nature.
Those who resist the accomplished, present reality of reconciliation with God and cling to lies and to what is dead are not bound to be eternally tormented, but they will have to undergo much “fire” to burn away the death and darkness they clung to, leaving them with little left, they will have forfeited much of the glory they could have manifested, and they will hinder others from seeing the glory of God in them.
John 12:32 ESV: And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
2 Corinthians 5:14-20 ESV: For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded (deeply recognized) this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; (15) and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for (actually AS) themselves (no longer identifying with their previous, false identity of a sinner, separated from God, which “died”) but for (AS) him who for their sake died and was raised (we are the body of Christ, right?). (16) From now on, therefore (because we have concluded that “all have died”), we regard no one according to the flesh (we don’t “regard” that which is dead, even though many remain in it). Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer (no longer as a flesh-and-blood man!). (17) Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation (no longer to be identified as a mere human). The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (18) All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself (God made peace toward men) and gave us the ministry of reconciliation (to remove fear and bring about peace from men toward God); (19) that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation (this message: God has reconciled with us – there is no wrath or judgment, only love – so reconcile with Him and live from the divine Life within). (20) Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
Bear with me a bit as I try to unpack this and show how it relates to universal reconciliation. Let’s start with John 12:32, which hinges on the understanding of the word “draw.” It’s easy to say that “draw” means “invite,” and therefore that Jesus was saying all would be “invited” to him, but those that reject this invitation will be damned. However, as we saw in the previous verses from 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 5, Paul wrote that all people, apart from their choice or will, will be made righteous and made alive in Christ, just as all were condemned in Adam. This lines up perfectly with what Jesus was saying, because in saying all men will be “drawn” to him, he was saying that everyone, apart from their own will, were and will be included in the cross of Christ. Jesus didn’t just “invite” men to the cross, they were drug there.
The Greek word for “draw” is helkuo, and is probably best translated as “drag.” Helkuo is used six times in the New Testament, and I looked at each of the other 5 times it is used. Four of them have to do with being apprehended and taken against one’s will (such as being captured and drug to jail), and one was in reference to a sword being “drawn” (taken and used) by its owner. In none of these cases does “draw” involve any choice at all! It always references a force at work which is stronger than the subject’s will. Once again, I believe the death of Christ at the cross is even stronger than the stubborn will of men, and that even without their acceptance, as Paul said later: “one died for all, therefore all died.” It wasn’t and isn’t a choice!
The longer passage above from 2 Corinthians 5 deals with this same idea of ALL being included in the cross of Christ. I believe 2 Corinthians 5:14 in particular contains a CENTRAL truth, spoken from the perspective of the mind and heart of God: since Jesus died for ALL, then ALL have died. Again, this is just like the previous passage which says that in the same way all were condemned in Adam, all will be made alive in Christ. The most holy and righteous person “died” in the cross of Christ right along with the most wicked. It’s stated plainly, but it helps to understand what it means!
In looking at the underlying Greek text and thinking about this idea many times over the last decade or so, I believe a more literal, accurate and deeper way of interpreting and understanding this statement isn’t that Jesus died “for” all, but that Jesus died AS all. Just as Adam was somehow a representative of all, so was Jesus Christ. Think about it: how else could Paul make the claim: “Jesus died = all died,” unless Jesus died AS all! If Jesus only died “for” me, then I could dispute that “I died.” But I can’t really dispute that “I died” if Jesus died AS me, even in a representative sense. Paul wrote about this in many other places, including Colossians 3:3, which says: “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Do you see the pattern? Paul didn’t say that we needed to die, or that some died, but simply that all “have died.” This is deep and amazing stuff!
I believe Jesus was saying that ALL people, in a spiritual sense, and apart from their will, would be “drawn” into him at the cross, and that this means his death was to be, in some sense, as ALL men. There is no eternal torment for anyone, because all have already died! You don’t (and can’t) torment what is dead. You burn it up and get rid of it. So if “you” died, then who is the “you” that now lives? The truth is, the only “life” in any of us is Christ, the Spirit of God! It’s in there, and connecting with it and hearing the Father is the essence of why Jesus came and what he was about.
After claiming that Jesus died as all, beginning in verse 16 Paul says: “therefore,” (meaning “because”), Jesus died and therefore all died, God has reconciled the world to Himself and is not counting people’s trespasses and sins against them! God is not counting sin against who? Against the ALL MEN who died in Christ. This forgiveness of sin is the outcome of Christ’s death as all! If God is not counting anyone’s trespasses against them, where is this supposed wrath and eternal torment coming from that Christianity seems to feel obligated to constantly bring up? It doesn’t exist, not as we think of it. Paul plainly wrote elsewhere (like Romans 4:15) that wrath was a result of the law, which is taken away and which no one alive today was ever under to begin with. No law = no wrath.
1 Corinthians 3:11-17 ESV: (11) For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (12) Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw– (13) each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. (14) If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. (15) If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (16) Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? (17) If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
I don’t see this passage mentioned very often, but I feel it is one of the primary writings in the Bible that deals with both the way the purifying fire of God works, and with the outcome of the things we do while in these physical bodies. I’ll admit it’s not the simplest passage, but what does seem plain is that Paul meant for what he wrote to apply to ALL people, since he uses the terms “no one,” “anyone,” and “each one.” While Christianity typically teaches that unbelievers will be “eternally lost” and tormented in hell for their sins, Paul says here that there are only two results based on the actions “anyone” takes in this life: to receive a reward, or suffer loss but be saved. If those are the two outcomes, and if even those who suffer loss and whose work is “burned up” are saved, then where is eternal damnation? The answer: only in our imagination.
I chose this passage because in it Paul seems to clearly refute two common ideas about hell which Christianity teaches. First, contrary to the teaching that the “fire” of judgment day is reserved for the wicked and unbelievers, Paul (just like Jesus) plainly taught that it applies to EVERYONE. Second, contrary to the teaching that this fire is a source of punishment and retribution, Paul says that it serves to “disclose” and “reveal” the true motives and substance of our works; saying that the fire will “test what sort of work each one has done” (v. 13). When Paul writes that “each man’s” work will be “revealed by fire,” the Greek word for “reveal” is apokalupto (from which we get the English word “apocalypse”), which means: “to uncover, to disclose, to make known.” Here is the point: revealing the true nature of men’s hearts and eradicating impurity there, NOT punishment or vengeance, is the purpose of the “fire” mentioned many times in the New Testament. This includes the lake of fire in Revelation and the fire of gehenna (hell) that Jesus spoke of.
Christianity often interprets things written in the Bible as physical, when the author is simply using physical things to represent spiritual realities. This passage is one such case. There is no physical fire being discussed here – how can physical fire burn up “works,” or “test what sort of work” men and women have done?” Does someone being saved “through fire” mean they only get second and third degree burns instead of burning to death? Of course not. These are metaphors. I believe deeply that “fire” represents nothing other than the pure Spirit/presence of God Himself, a presence of love at such an incomprehensible intensity that everything except what was forged in and by this fire to begin with will be “burned up.” Like the author of Hebrews wrote: “our God is a consuming fire.” The only “work” that survives is work that was forged in the fire to begin with – that is, work that was done from and in union with the Spirit of Christ within.
With regards to those who suffer loss as their work is burned up, it’s enlightening to know the word “loss” in the passage above is the same root word Paul uses in Philippians 3:7-8 (ESV) in which he says: “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…” This “loss” isn’t being eternally tormented in hell, as Paul himself said he experienced this “loss,” though he experienced it willingly, while in his physical body.
To understand what this loss is, think about this: what exactly did Paul lose in knowing Christ? It’s nothing as simple or shallow as sinful actions or physical possessions. No, first and foremost, he lost his treasured identity as a holy and zealous Pharisee – an upholder of the law of Moses and an opponent of all that opposed it. According to Paul himself, before he met Christ, being a Pharisee was his entire identity and existence, and no doubt he was 100% convinced he was on God’s side and ready to die for what he believed. But on the road to Damascus, he encountered the fire of God’s presence of love, and allowed it to begin to consume the lie of who he thought he was. Later, Paul was able to see and say, in Galatians 2:20 ESV:
“I (false identity/adamic-life/self) have been crucified with Christ. (I now see that) It is no longer I (false identity/adamic-life/self) who live, but Christ who lives in me. And (now that I see this,) the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in (many translations: “the faith of”) the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
The loss that Paul suffered in order to gain Christ is the same thing Jesus talked about when he spoke of cutting off your hands or feet or plucking out your eyes in order to enter the Kingdom of God or to “enter life.” It has to do with shedding what is dead and false in order to walk in Life and truth. In the same way, I believe everyone, including Christians, must lose any identity apart from a son or daughter of God and member of the body of Christ on earth, and then allow the Spirit to lead them. This is separate and above any religion. It’s an inward Life, the same that was in Jesus.
This loss that is required can happen now, willingly, or later, in the lake of fire. When scripture speaks of the wicked being “consumed” and “destroyed,” the words themselves tell you there is an end to it. This process of “burning up” in order to be saved is what it is speaking of. In this way, the two outcomes for “anyone” are to receive a reward, or to suffer the loss of what was impure and carnal in order to be saved through this fire. In a very real sense, the fire isn’t retribution, it’s salvation! Obviously, to see your work survive and receive a reward is far preferable than watching and feeling all you did and all you thought you were burn up, but nevertheless, salvation ultimately reaches ALL.
Hebrews 1:3 ESV: “He (Jesus) is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature…”
John 14:9 ESV: “Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”
Luke 6:32-36 ESV: “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. (33) And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. (34) And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. (35) But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. (36) Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
These verses speak for themselves, really. First, we are told that Jesus Christ is the radiance of God’s glory and THE EXACT IMPRINT of His nature. Jesus seems to have known this, as he said that to see him was to see the Father. Nowhere in all of history can we get a clearer image of God than in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. So then, perhaps Jesus’ most important and all-encompassing teaching was what is known as the “sermon on the mount,” or the “beatitudes.” In this sermon, Jesus teaches over and over that those who express the divine nature will love their enemies radically – they will be kind and do good to those who oppose them and do evil and harm to them. In doing this, Jesus said they are being like God who is also “kind” to the “ungrateful and evil.” Jesus NEVER said this kindness ends at physical death, to be replaced by its exact opposite! God doesn’t change when we die. Our physical bodies are just shells in the first place!
Of course, love desires to see men repent of wickedness and begin to follow the way of love and unity as soon as possible, and love may expose hypocrisy and wickedness (as Jesus did very forcefully). But there is no good reason to think there are basically two Gods – a merciful one before physical death, and a wrathful one after. Jesus never taught this. Jesus didn’t even condemn or punish someone who was caught in the very act of adultery – a terrible sin in his day!
I know that God can do what He wants, no matter how I feel about it. But here’s something to think about – the self-sacrifice, mercy and love that humans find beautiful, and which are part of nearly all of humanities’ oldest and most treasured stories, is part of the divine nature within us all! In other words, mercy and love and bravery are beautiful and appealing to us, because they are divine qualities that the divine within us rejoices in! Didn’t Jesus say to be merciful, as God is merciful? Fear, hate, greed, oppression and the like are ugly to us because they are contrary to our truest, deepest nature. So if it’s the divine within me that finds mercy beautiful, something that isn’t merciful isn’t divine.