HELL 10

This series must be read in order. Begin with HELL 1 here.

I was talking to one of my best friends by phone the other day. She was seeking advice from my wife and I about a very difficult situation in which she finds herself with her mom, who is older and essentially wheel-chair bound.

Her mom owns a house, but is unable to live independently and care for herself. Seriously concerned about her well-being, my friend welcomed her into her own home and began caring for her.

Unfortunately, this is not what her mom wanted. She insisted upon returning to her own home, even if it meant putting herself at serious risk. And being that my friend does not have a legal right to make decisions on behalf of her mom, and being that her mom is of the right mind to make decisions, my friend complied with her mom’s wishes, even though she believed that it was to her mom’s detriment.

She could not force or impose her will on her mom.

Even though she loves her.
Even though she wants to care for her.
Even though she wants better for her.
And even though she can visualize her living a life in greater wholeness and fulfillment.

Her mom said that she would just prefer to go home in isolation and face death.

The truth is that one can’t force a person to receive or reciprocate love, or force a person to want a better life for themselves. And even though one may be able to visualize, and even long for, a person to live in greater wholeness and enjoy the loving community of others, it can still be refused.

Although highly historically symbolic, if the book of Revelation gives us a glimpse of where this future trajectory in God is ultimately heading, we find that our future is not being whisked away to a disembodied Heaven, but resurrected into a renewed and restored creation in which God’s habitation is now among us. While all of creation has been groaning as a woman in labor, that which is being birthed in the present, and then fully delivered in the future, is a new creation.

Although it is impossible to imagine Heaven and Earth coming together as one, like a marriage, and even more impossible to imagine this union giving birth to a new creation, we are given images of what it might actually be like in Revelation.

In this marriage of Heaven and Earth, God’s dwelling is now among us and there is wholeness, completeness, and harmony in all things. And it is in this place where we at last find perfect union with God within ourselves, with other people, other cultures, other nations. It is where we each bring our pains, our burdens, our heartaches, our failures, our misgivings, our injustices, our tears and they are all wiped away in mercy and healing and restoration. In this new creation, there is no more death and no more sorrow.

And the community that lives in this city of new creation is full of life and love and celebration. It is a community in which creativity flourishes, in which occupation animates the spirit, in which serving others is our greatest gift. And it is a community in which the lights never go out and, despite the unfounded belief by some that there is a wall to keep others out, the gates of this city will never close.

This community never stops loving and never closes the city gates on anyone. Their invitation for others to join the celebration and feast at the table never ends.

This may be surprising to you, but the text also suggests that there will be those who have chosen to live outside of this city of shalom, outside of this community of life and love. That may be why Jesus says that the path away from life is wide and leads to apóleia. While apóleia is typically translated as destruction, it can also mean to be cut off from what could have, or what should have, been. It is a loss of well-being.

That is the judgment and punishment of God. It is God allowing a person to walk away from life and love and everything that makes them fully human and fully alive.

God can’t force a person to receive or reciprocate love, or force a person to want a better life for themselves. And even though God can visualize, and even longs for, a person to live in greater wholeness and enjoy the loving community of others, it can still be refused.

But the fundamental difference between our life experience now compared to our life experience in the new creation is faith.

While faith in the present is the belief in things unseen, in the new creation there will no longer be faith. We will finally be in the presence of God’s love-essence and will no longer need to have faith in what is unseen because it will be fully revealed. While humanity has walked in dark shadows, grasping the walls in faith to find our way forward in God, in the new creation we will finally see and experience this love with no need for faith.

What we have only tasted in part in the present, will be fully realized in the Age to Come.

And I wonder, in light of this fully realized future reality, who will be able to stand before this cosmically-sized love of God without being completely transformed?

In my opinion, no one.

That’s why I believe all will ultimately be saved.

I imagine each of us falling to their knees and saying, “My God, my God. I never knew.”

For our God is a consuming fire. And it is this love-essence that cleanses, purifies, and brings to the surface the truth of our lives and who we have been. It’s no wonder that John the Baptist said that there would be one after him who would baptize with fire.

For it is in this fire where one faces opportunities lost and injustices inflicted in their lifetime and views them in light of God’s eternal love. This experience may elicit anguish, consuming sorrow, and shame, but surrounded by the loving kindness of God, it is also the place where self-reflection and contemplation meet and transformation begins.

And in the distance is the loving community of God with gates and arms open wide. Like the father awaiting his long lost son, they are all standing united at the city gate welcoming home every prodigal, reminding them that they have always been worthy, they have always been loved, and that they have always belonged.*

If you are having trouble with this idea that God will be generous in mercy in the Age to Come, it is for this reason that Jesus told the parable of the Workers in the Vineyard.

In this parable, the landowner paid the same amount to those hired late in the day, as he did those who had worked all day. As you can imagine, this angered those who had been working all day. But in response to their anger, the landowner asks them if it is not lawful for him to do with his money as he wishes. He then calls out their agony at his generosity.

The point of the story is to be joyous when God surprises us by rewarding everyone equally, even when others join in at the last moment, even when they miss all of the work in the vineyard, and only drink the wine at the Wedding Feast.

So whether it is in this parable, or in any other parable or teaching that reveals the wisdom of God, it never makes sense to our limited human wisdom. Our every inclination in trying to understanding the way God works has always been wrong. God’s kingdom-ethic is always upside-down and always antithetical to our ways.

So as the overwhelming majority of Christians believe that 95% of all humankind will burn in Hell for eternity at the hands of a retributive God, I am inclined to go with the God of unconvention, the God of surprises, the God of restoration.

The God who says that the ways of human beings are not his ways. The God that cares more deeply about the integrity of the heart than religious pretense or ritual. The God that partners with and elevates the outcast, marginalized, and stigmatized as the greatest in his Kingdom. The God that takes the seat of least importance in the back of the room rather than the seat of honor in the front. The God that leads by serving. The God that blesses when cursed. The God that turns the other cheek when hit. The God that forgives when being tortured. The God that loves by dying. The God that wins by losing.

I am putting all of my chips in on that God.

The God that just might have the audacity to restore EVERYTHING and have mercy on EVERYONE, even and especially when the so-called wisdom of the overwhelming majority says that it should all be destroyed by fire and sent to Hell.

And if this is really who God is, who will we be in the Age to Come?

Will we be angry and indignant at the unending patient mercies of God to redeem everything and everyone? Will we be the accusers who say, “But not that person! They don’t deserve it!” (Even though we all know that none of us deserve it). Will we be the people who gnash our teeth because we refuse to ever be in community with that person, that group, that nationality, that race?

Or, will we be on tippy-toe among the crowds lining the streets in celebration for the God who never abandons and who tirelessly seeks out the one? Will we be standing at the gate with our arms open wide joyously welcoming every person home into this community of shalom? Will we be standing among the multitudes in exaltation as Christ baptizes them in the Lake of Fire and then raises them up transformed as a new creation in this resurrection life?

For it is in this, the greatest story ever told, that God will be all in all. For every knee will gladly bow and every tongue will confess, but it will not be as a result of fear or threats of punishment of Hell, but because of the goodness and mercy of God and a love that reveals and transforms the hardest heart. We are not being saved from Hell, but being invited into the love of God. And it is in this love that every disparate part, in heaven and on earth, will be brought back together in wholeness and unity and harmony.

This is the renewal of all things.
This is the restoration of all things.
This is the reconciliation of all things.

This is salvation for all people.

And behold, all things are made new!

Peace and love…

Brandon

 

*I believe the model for this is in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. In 2 Corinthians 2: 5-8, Paul writes, “If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you to some extent—not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.”

 

Additional Quotes from the New Testament and Early Church Fathers

We can set no limits to the agency of the Redeemer to redeem, to rescue, to discipline in his work, and so will he continue to operate after this life. – Clement of Alexandria

Our Savior has appointed two kinds of resurrection in the Apocalypse. ‘Blessed is he that hath part in the first resurrection,’ for such come to grace without the judgment. As for those who do not come to the first, but are reserved unto the second resurrection, these shall be disciplined until their appointed times, between the first and the second resurrection. – Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (340-397 A.D.)

All men are Christ’s, some by knowing Him, the rest not yet. He is the Savior, not of some and the rest not. For how is He Savior and Lord, if not the Savior and Lord of all? – Clement of Alexandria

In the liberation of all no one remains a captive! At the time of the Lord’s passion the devil alone was injured by losing all the of the captives he was keeping. – Didymus, 370 AD

Mankind, being reclaimed from their sins, are to be subjected to Christ in he fullness of the dispensation instituted for the salvation of all. – Didymus the Blind

For the wicked there are punishments, not perpetural, however, lest the immortality prepared for them should be a disadvantage, but they are to be purified for a brief period according to the amount of malice in their works. They shall therefore suffer punishment for a short space, but immortal blessedness having no end awaits them…the penalties to be inflicted for their many and grave sins are very far surpassed by the magnitude of the mercy to be showed to them. – Diodore of Tarsus, 320-394 A.D.

The Son “breaking in pieces” His enemies is for the sake of remolding them, as a potter his own work; as Jeremiah 18;6 says: i.e., to restore them once again to their former state. –Eusebius of Caesarea (65 to 340 A.D). – Bishop of Caesarea

These, if they will, may go Christ’s way, but if not let them go their way. In another place perhaps they shall be baptized with fire, that last baptism, which is not only painful, but enduring also; which eats up, as if it were hay, all defiled matter, and consumes all vanity and vice. – Gregory of Nyssa, 335 to 390, Oracles 39:19

For it is evident that God will in truth be all in all when there shall be no evil in existence, when every created being is at harmony with itself and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, when every creature shall have been made one body.” He also says elsewhere, “Wherefore, that at the same time liberty of free-will should be left to nature and yet the evil be purged away, the wisdom of God discovered this plan; to suffer man to do what he would, that having tasted the evil which he desired, and learning by experience for what wretchedness he had bartered away the blessings he had, he might of his own will hasten back with desire to the first blessedness …either being purged in this life through prayer and discipline, or after his departure hence through the furnace of cleansing fire. – Gregory of Nyssa, 335-390

Wherefore, that at the same time liberty of free-will should be left to nature and yet the evil be purged away, the wisdom of God discovered this plan; to suffer man to do what he would, that having tasted the evil which he desired, and learning by experience for what wretchedness he had bartered away the blessings he had, he might of his own will hasten back with desire to the first blessedness …either being purged in this life through prayer and discipline, or after his departure hence through the furnace of cleansing fire. – Gregory of Nyssa, 335-390

So then, when the end has been restored to the beginning, and the termination of things compared with their commencement, that condition of things will be re-established in which rational nature was placed, when it had no need to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; so that when all feeling of wickedness has been removed, and the individual has been purified and cleansed, He who alone is the one good God becomes to him “all,” and that not in the case of a few individuals, or of a considerable number, but He Himself is “all in all.” And when death shall no longer anywhere exist, nor the sting of death, nor any evil at all, then verily God will be “all in all” – Origen, De Prinicipiis, 3.6.3

In the end and consummation of the Universe all are to be restored into their original harmonious state, and we all shall be made one body and be united once more into a perfect man and the prayer of our Savior shall be fulfilled that all may be one. – St. Jerome, 331-420

It appears to me that there is a deed that the Holy Trinity shall do on the last day, and when that deed shall be done and how it shall be done is unknown to all creatures under Christ, and shall be until it has been done. — This is the great deed ordained by our Lord God from eternity, treasured up and hidden in his blessed breast, only known to himself, and by this deed he shall make all things well; for just as the Holy Trinity made all things from nothing, so the Holy Trinity shall make all well that is not well. – Julian of Norwich, 13th Century Christian Mystic

I know that most persons understand by the story of Nineveh and its king, the ultimate forgiveness of the devil and all rational creatures. – Jerome, 331-420

And all people will see God’s salvation. – Jesus, Gospel of Luke

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. – Jesus, Gospel of John

For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. – Paul, Letter to the Corinthians

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. – Paul, Letter to the Corinthians

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. – Paul, Colossians

Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. – Paul, Romans

For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all. – Paul, Romans

As a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. – Paul, Letter to the Ephesians

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. – Paul, Letter to Timothy

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people. – Paul, Letter of Titus

That in the world to come, those who have done evil all their life long, will be made worthy of the sweetness of the Divine bounty. For never would Christ have said, “You will never get out until you hqave paid the last penny” unless it were possible for us to get cleansed when we paid the debt. – Peter Chrysologus, 435

I am of the opinion that He is going to manifest some wonderful outcome, a matter of immense and ineffable compassion on the part of the glorious Creator, with respect to the ordering of this difficult matter of (Gehenna’s) torment: out of it the wealth of His love and power and wisdom will become known all the more—and so will the insistent might of the waves of his goodness. – St. Isaac the Syrian

The Word seems to me to lay down the doctrine of the perfect obliteration of wickedness, for if God shall be in all things that are, obviously wickedness shall not be in them. For it is necessary that at some time evil should be removed utterly and entirely from the realm of being. – St. Macrina the Blessed

The wicked who have committed evil the whole period of their lives shall be punished till they learn that, by continuing in sin, they only continue in misery. And when, by this means, they shall have been brought to fear God, and to regard Him with good will, they shall obtain the enjoyment of His grace. – Theodore of Mopsuestia, 350-428

In the present life God is in all, for His nature is without limits, but he is not all in all. But in the coming life, when mortality is at an end and immortality granted, and sin has no longer any place, God will be all in all. For the Lord, who loves man, punishes medicinally, that He may check the course of impiety. – Theodoret the Blessed, 387-458

HELL 9

This series must be read in order. Begin with HELL 1 here.

Let’s take a moment to put our humanity into perspective.

If a person is microscopic when viewed from less than a few miles away and less than a nanoparticle when viewed from the moon, what is a person in a universe that is 46 billion times 5.8 trillion miles to its outer edge?

I hate to say it this way, but from a size perspective, we are nothing.

And if God created this universe, then is God not larger and even more pervasive than the entire universe? And if God’s very essence, God’s very composition, God’s very DNA is love, then is this love not even more immense and even more unbounded than the utter vastness and expansiveness of this universe?

Even more, if God’s love is that immeasurable, that unfathomable, that exhaustively immersive, then how do we, as nearly nonexistent human beings, measure up within that love?

If we are nearly nothing in relation to that love, can we really be that much of an offense to such an overwhelming love? Can we really be that deserving of an eternity burning in hell?

As those who are beloved, worthy, and valuable to this love, who are made in the image of this cosmically-sized love is this the answer is an unequivocal no.

From the very beginning of creation, God declared that this creation was good and that we were very good. And despite all the ways we have lived in relational disunion from God (sin) and then lived out of that disunion (sin), and even despite the ways in which we have each participated in and perpetuated injustice toward others, this love has always been patiently, mercifully, and gracefully welcoming us back into a relationship that restores that original goodness.

That is where this story has always been heading.

So it’s important for us to always be reminded who God really is and what God is really up to in history. Because once we lose sight of these truths, we can very quickly, and oh so easily, begin creating a god in our own image, a god that isn’t cosmically-sized in love with a heart for making all things whole and all things new, but a god that is very small, very conditional in love, and as punitive and vengeful as we are.

The questions that each of us need to continually ask ourselves are, “What God am I seeking and pursuing? What God am I trying to find in the text and in the stories? What God does my heart really want to discover?”

In the parable of the Sheep and Goats, if you want to find an angry, retributive god that sends the unjust to eternity in Hell, you will find it. But if you trust that God is more than a monstrous caricature, and actually the God that we see in the life of Jesus, then maybe there is more to the story.

The most important Greek phrase in the Sheep and Goat parable is kolasis aiónios, which is translated into English as eternal (or everlasting) punishment. The traditional understanding of that phrase, as you may surmise, is that a person is cast into Hell for eternity.

There are two problems with this translation and then the subsequent belief.

The word aiónios does not mean everlasting or eternal. It means an age.

The former indicates an unending duration of time, while the latter indicates a definite duration of time.

My favorite example to prove this, and to show again how biased the translation is toward what they need it to say, is Matthew 28:20.

The verse reads, “I will be with you even until the end of aiónios.

The translators were forced to actually translate aiónios accurately as “age,” because there is no such thing as the “end of eternity” or the “end of everlasting.” Because neither eternity, nor everlasting has an end.

The word aiónios means age and it has a definite duration.

So at the very worst, punishment (kolasis) for the unjust is for a definite period of time. It is not unending. It is not for eternity. It is not everlasting. It is not forever.

So what exactly is the nature of this punishment (kolasis) for the unjust?

According to David Bentley Hart, “The word kolasis originally meant ‘pruning’ or ‘docking’ or ‘obviating the growth’ of trees or other plants, and then came to mean ‘confinement,’ ‘being held in check,’ ‘ punishment,’ or ‘chastisement,’ chiefly with the connotation of ‘correction.’”

Kolasis implies a punishment for the sake of growth. It is not retributive.

So if the parable of the Sheep and Goats is indicative of some sort of future punishment for the unjust, it is a corrective punishment for a definite duration with the ultimate hope of restoration.

But the parable suggests that the punishment of the unjust will be in fire. How does a fire equate to corrective punishment with the hope of restoration?

In a previous post, we discussed the parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus, the parable of The Unmerciful Servant, and Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. What we discovered was that when one faces the refining fire of God’s love, it reveals the truth of who we are and how we have treated others. But, it is a punishment, not for the sake of retribution, but for the sake of individual transformation and the full restoration of a person into a right relationship with God and with others.

This does not mean that it won’t be painful or that it won’t elicit a consuming sorrow.

It absolutely will.

Facing the truth of one’s life, especially the truth of an unjust life, in the light of a love that is more immense and immeasurable and immersive than the entire cosmos, in the light of a love that swallows each one of us whole as a microscopic piece of dust in the universe, will absolutely produce immeasurable sorrow and regret.

In religious circles, this would be referred to as repentance. But there is significant religious baggage with that word that has completely distorted it and made it unrecognizable in its original form. To understand the true restorative heart of God, it is essential that we see clearly repentance (Greek metanoia).

In Greek mythology, Kairos was the god of opportunity portrayed as a man with winged-feet who was always on tiptoe, indicating constant movement. Kairos was adorned with a long, single lock of hair that extended from an otherwise bald head. It was understood that as Kairos, or opportunity, passed by, there was a fleeting moment in which one could seize Kairos by the lock of hair before the moment, or opportunity, passed.*

The deeper meaning was to seize the opportunity at the right moment before it was lost, or before it passed.

However, when opportunity was missed, a shadowy, cloaked goddess named Metanoia stood in the wake of the missed opportunity. Metanoia symbolized the regret of missing the opportunity at the right moment. But there was also something more that Metanoia offered to those who were left in the path of a missed opportunity and the regret that accompanied it, a chance to reflect and then transform.

Metanoia, Greek meta-”after” and nous- “mind,” is an afterthought or reflection of a missed opportunity, which can elicit a feeling of regret, but that can also result in a change or transformation in one’s mind, in one’s heart, in one’s life. While there is an obvious element of regret inherent in metanoia, it does not come as a result of threats or shame or damnation.

Metanoia comes from self-reflection and contemplation after missing an opportunity and then facing the truth of one’s life in light of God’s loving kindness.

That is where transformation begins.

The refining fire of God’s love does not confront in hostility or wrath. It surrounds us in compassion and mercy to reveal the truth about ourselves with the hope of transformation.

But we all must face it.

Some will face the fire of the Spirit in this lifetime and be transformed, but others may not. Either way, you will ultimately face the refiner’s fire. Facing the fire is not for the sake of torment by a wrathful God. Facing the fire is done in the hope of one’s transformation and restoration into a right relationship with God and others.

This understanding gives us insight into the fires of Gehenna that Jesus referenced a handful of times throughout the Gospels.

Gehenna is an Aramaic rendering of the Hebrew word Ge-Hinnom. It was a valley, a real physical location, southwest of Jerusalem, where tradition states worshippers of the pagan deities, Baal and Moloch, sacrificed children by fire.

Interestingly, when this location was translated by King James in the Old Testament, it was left as Hinnom, indicating a physical location. However, when it was translated by King James in the New Testament, Gehenna was translated as Hell and somehow made the leap to mean an eternity of punishment in the fiery flames.

The problem with the connotation of Gehenna as eternity in Hell is that the two leading rabbinic schools of thought at the time of Jesus, Hillel and Shammai, each believed that the idea of Gehenna symbolically meant the place of punishment and purification for a limited duration.

The concept of eternity in Hell would have never entered their minds as the possible meaning of Gehenna.

So the fundamental question is, “Was Jesus talking about an eternity in Hell when mentioning Gehenna? Or, was he using Gehenna to speak to the prevailing belief at the time that it was a place of punishment and purification for a limited duration?

Being that Paul never once mentions Gehenna, or anything resembling eternity in Hell, a single time in his writings, but only that one must ultimately face the refiner’s fire to test one’s life, one must conclude that Jesus was not talking about eternity in Hell, but something else entirely.

While it’s clear that eternity in Hell is not supported by the biblical narrative, it’s unclear as to whether all will be restored.

In my opinion, God can’t override the free will choice of any single individual. So there is a distinct possibility that there will be those who, despite experiencing the love-essence of God and facing the truth of their lives, are not consumed with sorrow and who shake their fists and resist the open-armed God who welcomes them into a life of shalom. And for those who adamantly choose non-life, there is nonexistence.

However, as one who imagines that this narrative is truly the greatest story ever told, and as one who believes that no one can ultimately resist the cosmically-sized love of God, and as one who has hope that the accomplishment of God’s love through Christ is more impossibly beautiful than anything we could ever in this lifetime comprehend, I believe that there will be a restoration of all things, that includes even the hardest heart and the vilest offender.

And I have a great argument to back it up. Read HELL 10 here.

Peace and love…

Brandon

 

*Myers, Kelly A. Metanoia and the Transformation of Opportunity. Rhetoric Society Quarterly, Vol. 41, No. 1, pp. 1–18.

HELL 6

This series must be read in order. Start with HELL 1 here.

I remember watching the Christmas classic Home Alone for the first time when I was about seventeen years old. If you haven’t seen this movie, it is about an extended family rushing to leave for a Christmas vacation, but through the rush of the early morning chaos, they accidentally leave eight-year old Kevin at home.

Running through the early part of the movie was a rumor in which Kevin believed that a scary-looking, bearded, old man named Marley had murdered his family and half the neighborhood with a snow shovel and was storing them in garbage cans full of salt. Marley was known by those who heard the rumors as the “South Bend Shovel Slayer.”

And as you can imagine, while Kevin was trying to overcome his fear of being left at home alone, he had a couple of encounters with old man Marley that further terrified him, not least of which was their encounter at a church service on Christmas Eve.

Although petrified upon facing the old man, Kevin discovered from Marley that all of the rumors and mischaracterizations about him were untrue. Not only was he at the church that night to watch his granddaughter sing, he was also secretly hoping to reconcile a broken relationship with his son. In one of the most revealing lines of the movie, Marley tells Kevin, “You don’t have to be afraid. There’s a lot of things going around about me, but none of it’s true.”

I’m not much for movie examples like this, but it could not be any more perfect in the way that it captures how the majority of Christians misconstrue God as a violent and retributive deity, while God is really a god of peace and love and wants to reconcile with every child.

There are bits and pieces about God that have been read flatly from the Old Testament. There are passages and parables about God that have been taken out of context from the New Testament. There are words about God that have been egregiously translated by committees trying to maintain doctrines, theologies, and beliefs developed hundreds of years after Christ but that the majority of Christians now believe as orthodox teaching.

Like old man Marley, people have formulated ideas about God and what God must be like. One could say that, “There’s a lot going around about God, but none of it’s true.”

I recently asked a few dozen of my Christian and post-Christian friends how they have always understood “God’s wrath.”

Taken together, their responses described a schizophrenic deity that sometimes loves people so much that he would be willing to die for them, but then at other times, a deity that views people, especially non-Christians, as objects of impending vengeance and destruction who he dangles over a chasm of hell-fire for simply existing, or for not loving him back the right way.

It’s the open-armed God of love and restoration inviting us into a relationship of shalom, but whose dark side, the wild-eyed and vindictive god of retribution, is always around the corner ready to bash in our skulls if we step out of line.

And just so you don’t think I am over dramatizing the bloodthirsty monster god motif, Brian Jones writes in his book Hell is Real (But I Hate to Admit It):

Jesus rescued you from falling into the hands of Someone larger than your mind can conceive, stronger than the combined strength of a trillion nuclear explosions, a holy God destined to unload the complete, unrestrained force of His wrath on you for offending His holy nature.

Hell isn’t your friend’s biggest problem; God is. Hell is simply the end result of God’s justified wrath. It’s the final permanent expression of his anger towards those who have purposely chosen to reject His lordship over their lives.

There is no other way to say it, but this mindset is sick and twisted and sadistic.

And it is heartbreaking how a God described by Jesus as love-essence and who was enfleshed so beautifully in Jesus, has been reconstituted into a distorted and monstrous deity that hates us so much and thinks so little of us that the only thing that would satisfy his wrath and keep his “holiness” intact is to “violently torture his son his on a cross.”

But even if your image of God is not quite so horrific and contorted, you may still be wondering how God is going to deal with serial killers, sex traffickers, genocidal maniacs, perpetuators of systemic enslavement and oppression, rejectors of God, and the like.

These people deserve God’s wrath for the way they have shaken their defiant fists at God and hurt other people along the way, right?

I guess it depends on what the word “wrath” actually means and then toward what end we are ultimately moving.

I submit that the word “wrath” isn’t “like a trillion nuclear explosions” unloading God’s fury and rage on the unrepentant. Even more, I submit that the end toward which we are moving with God is not retributive in nature, but rather restorative.

Let’s start with the Greek words for wrath.

There are only two words in Greek that have been translated as wrath in the New Testament. They are orgē and thumos and neither mean anything close to the meanings we now associate with God’s wrath.

Understanding each word will be absolutely essential as we look at parables and other passages throughout the New Testament that mention God’s wrath.

Orgē, which is translated as wrath throughout the New Testament, means a settled anger.

It is not explosive rage or vengeance. It is not hostile or retributive.

Orgē “proceeds from an internal disposition that steadfastly opposes someone or something based on extended personal exposure.” (Source: HELPS Word-Studies, Gary Hill)

In other words, as a person exists in relational disunion (sin) with God, and then continually lives out of that disunion by perpetuating wrongdoing and injustice (sin), it angers God.

But it is a settled and controlled anger.

Not explosive.

God longs for all of creation to exist in shalom, for each of us to live in oneness and wholeness with God, within ourselves, and with others. However, when a person rejects this freedom and love in God and then goes on to abuse others and perpetuate injustice, it angers God.

But it has nothing to do with an outburst of rage, vengeance, or retribution toward anyone.

It is an anger, but again, it is settled and controlled and fixed.

The other Greek word, which is also translated as fury or wrath and which is now my favorite Greek word ever, is thumos.

Despite what your Greek translation books state, thumos is an ambiguous word that is difficult to translate. It is better translated as “spiritedness” than “wrath.” (Classical Wisdom)

Plato used an allegory to demonstrate this spiritedness in which two horses, one black and one white, steer a chariot. The dark horse represented man’s desires, which can be chaotic and lawless. The white horse represented the spiritedness of thumos, which can be noble, courageous, and heroic. The idea was that when both horses are in balance the charioteer can successfully navigate the chariot.

To take this idea of thumos further, it is one’s passion that can manifest in a variety of emotions, from love to joy and from grief to anger. The key is how the thumos is harnessed. Plato suggested that the spirited energy and passion of thumos can be guided either toward negative or positive ends. But when directed positively, it can be guided in beauty, truth, and goodness. And on that positive end, thumos stands up for what is right, is ready to defend what is good and right, and is even willing to sacrifice itself when opposed, surrounded, and ready to be killed.

This is why it is dangerous to flatly translate thumos as anger or wrath. Because in verses attributed to human beings, thumos may very well mean anger or wrath, as the black horse of chaos and lawlessness overrides that which works toward beauty, truth, and goodness.

But when thumos is applied to God in Jesus, it is a spiritedness and passion to stand up against injustice and lawlessness. It is the deep resolve to defend the cause of the weak, the outcast, the downtrodden, the marginalized, the victimized, and the oppressed. It is the passion to sacrifice, even to the point of death, for beauty, truth, and goodness to flourish for all.

And I don’t think it is any coincidence that when thumos (thymou) is mentioned in Revelation 19, it is Jesus who rides in on a white horse named Faithful and True. Yes, the white horse motif not only captures all of the cultural nobility of the time, but in light of our discussion on the spiritedness and passion of Plato’s white horse, it captures so much more.

For it is Jesus, in his passion, who stands up against the oppositional forces in honor, not to wage a retributive war against evil, but to sacrifice himself in order to demonstrate that it is love, not vengeance, which is victorious.

It is Jesus whose robe is described as sprinkled in blood (his own blood) before the battle even began. It is Jesus who tramples the winepress of his own passion. It is Jesus whose sword is the truth of all that is good and righteous and pierces the hearts of all mankind. And it is Jesus and his kingdom of love that prevails and will shepherd all people justly.

Had the New Testament writers wanted to use a Greek word that implies supernatural anger and rancor and the “ultimate sanction against taboo behaviors,” they would have chosen a word like mênis.

But they didn’t.

They used orgē and thumos.

God’s orgē is settled and controlled and solidified against those who reject the life found in God and who perpetuate injustice. But it is the spirited passion of God that stands in truth and love against injustice and lawlessness and that consumes like a refiner’s fire so only beauty, truth, and goodness remain.

In HELL 7 we will explore Romans 9, the parable of Lazarus, and the parable of the unmerciful servant that discuss God’s wrath in order to determine if God is working toward a retributive and punitive end or a restorative end.

Peace…

Brandon