Thinking out loud.
Today is Good Friday.
A friend of mine said that Jesus died for everyone’s sins, for the world – for Hitler’s sins.
I’ve been reading journalist Peter Maas’s 1996 book on the Bosnian war, Love Thy Neighbour.
Human sin goes very wide in the book. The criminal averted eyes of Western leaders come off as hardly less heinous than the concentration camp guard who roped a Muslim’s genitals to a motorcycle and accelerated away.
Maas has sensitive insight because he doesn’t demonize the Serbs; he makes the potential demonic to be as wide as the human race, including a good selection of his own self-protective actions.
Do anyone’s sins, say, those of pedophile rapist Major Michael Pepe, keep one from God’s kind presence?
If Jesus died for Hitler’s sins, is Hitler to enjoy eternal life?
Universalism is the belief that every single human being, good, bad, and mediocre, will be saved at the end.
Probably universalism is not usually meant when Christians affirm, “Jesus died for all.”
But if a sufficient sacrifice exists for my sins, then how can God be so unjust as not to accept it?
The whole point of Jesus’ death on the cross is that his sacrifice avails for my past deeds, my present deeds, even, when they come, my future deeds.
If I keep faith with the Son of God, he will justify me finally as he has already done incipiently (Romans 3).
And he knows those who are his, so he knows already whether I will hit some event in future which is just too big for my puny faith, and when I will turn away from him saying, Impossible.
Many must have lost their faith in the Holocaust, in Bosnia, in Rwanda, perhaps after 9-11.
To the contrary, many realized that these horror show events just put the theodicy question in the starkest possible form: “Is the monotheist’s God really just? Is he fair?” And they may have decided to believe, no matter what.
Maas met a faithful Catholic who gave the affirmative answer, and says that he has been wondering about her ever since. Was she naïve? Or was she exactly correct?
Maybe one could say that God is good to us so that the horror shows are repeated relatively rarely – though, again, someone else could beg to differ.
If God saw the need for a sacrifice for sin to the amazing, awful extent of his own Son, you could say that he is not naïve about human negative potentials.
God on the cross is the only God worth worshipping, as many have observed, and from which many have turned away. The event is an interpretive crux, so to speak. “Who is God? Can I believe in him in this evident hell?”
Were Hitler’s sins forgiven? If Hitler died repentant, the answer would be yes. So we do not know.
If we take the evidence of those in the May 1945 bunker and the fact of his suicide, again, not conclusive evidence, we say: Probably he died unrepentant. The sacrifice which my friend attributed to Herr Hitler remained, er, inert, unactivated, unactualized.
I prefer to say that Hitler had no sacrifice, but maybe it seems like splitting hairs. Hitler had a potential sacrifice, but in fact, that is, most likely, Hitler had no sacrifice because he had not picked it up and presented it to God.
So Jesus did not die for Hitler’s sins, that is, most likely not.
Jesus died for the sins of those who would repent and believe.
If we believe that God knows everything – indeed, works everything out for good – then he also knows who will believe, who will take for themselves that sacrifice.
God knows the names of the metaphorical 144,000 who stand before his throne.
God knows the names of the uncountable multitude, both of the stars in the sky and of his people in the Book of Revelation chapter 7.
Just read a genealogy in, say, Genesis. God knows his people. This foundation stands, sure and certain: The Lord knows who are his.
Perhaps you are familiar enough with theology to know that what you are reading is partly canned and partly fresh.
You may know that there is such a theology as Calvinism. You might know that it is said that “five points” sum up Calvinism.
In fact, the five points are not a summary of Calvinism.
The five points really only disagree with five other points, from a dissident theologian named Arminius.
Arminius’s five points basically say that humans make up our own minds or else God is not fair.
The supposed ability to decide is the essence of free-will theology. If God ordains or God allows (how much difference is there, really?) then God is not fair. He is a despot.
Okay, I can hear howls of protest.
But if God withholds some power or some favour that is needed for satisfactory performance, then how different is that than God acting to bring X about?
The basic thing is, if good happens, thank God. You did not make it happen.
If bad happens, put your hand over your mouth and do not blame God.
Either good or bad, one must revere and be in awe of God.
Isn’t respect the message of Job’s book of wisdom?
The God who makes things happen is the Big God. That is Augustine’s God, controversial from Day One, but the only God who can hold the water we need him to hold.
The five points of Calvinism are not divisible. They go together. They make sense together. They form the acrostic T.U.L.I.P.
The five points are:
- Total Depravity. Humans, not as bad as could be, are infected by sin in every capacity, every thought, every action. Nothing is unstained.
- Unconditional Election: you did nothing to make you right with God before he chose you. This is cause for humility, big-time.
- Limited Atonement: Jesus died for the elect, not indiscriminately for the whole world, though potentially (all these words are tricky) potentially for the whole world should the whole world (have) repent(ed). Jesus died for the true church, that is, the elect within the large number of outward, professing, Christians.
- Irresistible Grace. Human will is bent away from God from conception onwards. God makes your will truly free at the point you accept Christ. It was never free before. Christ looked like stupid humiliation to you before. When God changes your way of thinking, you think Jesus looks so amazingly good, because God freed your will: “Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin and nature’s night. Thine eye diffused a quickening ray. I woke, the dungeon flamed with light.” Funny to quote a Wesley on this, since John and Charles were not five-pointers at all, but he has this exactly right.
- Perseveance of the saints. If you are his, you will keep going, right to the end. The challenges to faith will not fell you, though you can be practically wrecked by them. Look at Job. But he still kept believing, like the Catholic woman in Bosnia. He belonged. She belongs.
The Lord Knows Who are His. TULIP.
OKAY! you say. Enough. Yes, it is Good Friday so some soul searching is in order. This stuff is deep enough – though not likely precise enough.
If you believe, you are not your own; you were bought with a (steep) price.
Let’s honour God and rely on him the way we really are relying on him. Faith is a victory, and that’s apparent in Tulip.
And the human action prayer starts to look like the most amazing thing in human experience period. God is at work in you to will and to do. Wow. Awe.
Your comment is totally welcome.