The Haunted Wood

October 16th, 2019

I’m going to slowly tell the tale of my trip to Prince Edward Island with my childhood friends Darlene and Ruth to celebrate all three of us being 55.

After we explored Green Gables Heritage Place, we took the path through the Haunted Wood.

The story of the Haunted Wood is told in Anne of Green Gables. Anne and Diana thought the woods were boring, so they invented ghosts that inhabited the wood. Their imaginations were so vivid that they scared themselves. One evening, Marilla told Anne to borrow something from Diana’s house, but she didn’t dare go through the Haunted Wood after dark. Marilla would have none of that nonsense, and made her do it anyway rather than go around by the road. Well, Anne did it, but was terrified all the way.

Maud Montgomery confesses in her journals that she and her childhood friends did the same thing, and the Haunted Wood is a real trail.

Now, Green Gables Heritage Place is not the house where L. M. Montgomery lived. It was a place where some cousins lived, but she modeled Anne’s house after this one. And the path through the Haunted Wood from Green Gables leads to the site of Maud Montgomery’s Cavendish home (which was since torn down). So my friends and I took that path.

The island was much more hilly than I had realized. From the top of the hill before we got far into the wood, we looked back on Green Gables.

And here’s the barn on the property:

And see how the shiny Interpretive Centre looks a little out of place?

The trail wasn’t like I’d ever imagined it. For one thing, it was a longer trail than I’d guessed, going deep through the woods.

I was delighted by any bit of Fall Color we found.

Some parts were a bit dark and spooky even without imagining ghouls and even in the middle of the afternoon.

It wasn’t a long walk, but it was delightful. I got to thinking about how in the days before cars, children like Maud would take walks through the woods simply to get to school or to a friend’s house. No wonder it was such a big deal when a boy walked a girl home from prayer meeting!

We did notice many trees down from Hurricane Dorian, which had hit the island three weeks before. The path had been cleared and we saw much evidence of hard work — which made me feel better about Lover’s Lane being closed. They weren’t neglecting the tourist paths, but doing a thorough job — and it had clearly been a lot of work.

We had a lovely walk through the woods together.

After braving the Haunted Wood, we came to Montgomery Park, honoring the Founding Families of Cavendish and L. M. Montgomery. That will be my next installment.

Green Gables Heritage Place

October 4th, 2019

On the first day of our vacation in Prince Edward Island, after sleeping in to recover from our long drive, we drove a few blocks down the road to Green Gables Heritage Place!

I was a little taken aback by the shiny new Interpretive Centre and huge parking lot. It seemed so completely out of the spirit of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s times — yet it was precisely the popularity of her writing that made such a big centre necessary.

Once we got inside, the disconnect subsided. It was a very lovely presentation of the story of Maud Montgomery’s life, an interactive exhibit that you walked through at your leisure. I was glad that my friends were as interested in reading every panel as I was.

Now, I’ve read her Selected Journals and all her books, so the information wasn’t new to me. But I really liked how it was presented.

I got a special thrill out of seeing her actual typewriter:

And here’s the actual manuscript of Anne of Green Gables:

Have I mentioned that all three of us friends on this trip have different kinds of brain damage? Mine mostly manifests by getting motion sickness. Darlene and Ruth kept remembering important things and then forgetting little things. I noticed it at the Interpretive Centre when we walked into an orientation film about Green Gables in the middle. They started the film again, so we stayed to catch up the part we missed. But when we got to the part we’d seen before, neither Ruth nor Darlene remembered having just seen it! I went outside and took pictures while they watched the end of the film for the second time.

The former barn had more fun stuff. We all had to dress up as Anne!

Next to an exhibit about Anne and Diana’s vows of friendship seemed like the perfect place to take a picture of the Friendship Bracelets Darlene had gotten for each of us. On the side is engraved “A friend loves at all times” and “Proverbs 17:17.”

Once we got through the Interpretive Centre, the road was mostly hidden from us, and it did feel like we were back in Anne’s world.

And then it was time for a house tour!

Green Gables is interesting, because it’s a fictional place. Maud Montgomery never lived here, but she based the description in Anne of Green Gables on the nearby home of her cousins. So that’s the house that was renovated to look like the house described in Anne of Green Gables. It is a distance from the road (now filled by the parking lot), and it just takes a walk through the Haunted Wood to get to the home where L. M. Montgomery lived with her grandparents.

I never imagined Anne using a stove like this one!

And here’s the pantry:

I loved the geranium named “Bonny” in the window. We were told that in the days before screens, geraniums helped keep bugs from coming in the windows.

Here’s Anne’s room!

I was still excited by every red leaf I saw, and just loved this ivy on the side of Green Gables.

I wanted to go for a walk on Lovers’ Lane, but Alas! It was closed due to downed trees from Hurricane Dorian, which had hit the Island three weeks before. We saw trees down all over the island. They’d cleared the Haunted Wood Trail, but not yet with Lovers’ Lane.

I did cross the tape to take a picture of the beginning of the Lane, though.

We simply enjoyed the grounds, wandering around, taking pictures.

Have I said that my friends are true kindred spirits? I was so happy when I wanted to linger — that they wanted to linger, too. We all agreed that our families probably would have gotten impatient by then.

We finished off this first part of our day with a late lunch in the café — drinking Raspberry Cordial, of course!

Next — our walk through the Haunted Wood!

Road Trip to Prince Edward Island

September 23rd, 2019

We’re off! Between Saturday and Sunday, we really drove all the way to Prince Edward Island, Canada!

Ruth is posing by the car that was loaded up with stuff before I tried to put my stuff in. We managed it, somehow. (When we arrived, it turned out most of that was food. Darlene loaded the car with more and more food. I think we’ve got munchies for a month.)

Saturday, we drove through Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, and spent the night in Maine. The further we drove, the more colorful the trees became — getting the most colorful right as it got dark. We didn’t arrive until 10:30 at night, and had a feeling we’d be in for beautiful fall color in the morning!

Yes, it was a very long drive. The most harrowing part (for me) was driving in the outskirts of New York City. And it was already well into the afternoon, and we still had a long way to go. But it was Saturday, so the traffic certainly could have been much worse.

I was the one who booked the places where we’d stop for the night. So I was worrying that I should have picked something closer. Especially when we didn’t arrive until 10:30 pm. But my friends kept reminding me what a great time we were having — and that there was no pressure. The hotel desk was still open, so it actually wasn’t a problem. (I realized that planning trips makes me anxious that if anything goes wrong or turns out to be poorly planned, it’s All My Fault. But these friends assured me it’s all an adventure we’re on together. Such nice people to have with me!

Have I mentioned how blessed we are to have known each other for so long — Darlene and me since 3rd grade and Ruth since 7th grade. We chatted all during the drive, talking about our lives and where God has brought us. I love it that we all believe God has been so good to us. Even Ruth, with early onset Alzheimer’s, has been able to keep working and has her family looking out for her. She insists that God has been good to her, and her attitude is inspiring.

On Sunday, I was right — the colors were dazzling right from the start! Here’s a tree right next to our hotel. We liked the splash of color in the middle of green.

Maine was amazing. We were on a road winding through hills and forests — with trees as far as the eye could see. In some spots, there would be bright splashes of color; in others, it would be a gentle shading. But taken all together — it was glorious. We had beautiful sunshine and bright blue skies and we were driving through forests and over hills and into valleys.

In the middle of the day, we crossed into Canada:

Then it was more driving through beautiful New Brunswick — until just as the sun was setting, we drove over the longest bridge over water that freezes, the Confederation Bridge — and arrived in Prince Edward Island.

Then Google Maps led us a winding journey — even on a dirt road! — in the dark, across the island. For the second night in a row, I had trouble spotting the actual place, but eventually we arrived at Cavendish Lodge and Cottages and checked into our cottage for the next six nights! Hooray! We’ve arrived!

Prince Edward Island Prelude

September 18th, 2019

I’m going on a road trip with my friends to Prince Edward Island!

Here’s the background. I’ve known Darlene (on the right above) since we were in 3rd grade together in California. I’ve known Ruth (on the left) since 7th grade. Darlene’s a little younger than me, and Ruth’s a little older, but for 18 days after Darlene’s birthday and before Ruth’s, we are all three the same age.

So the year we were fifty, I think it was Ruth (who turned fifty first) who said we really should get together to celebrate when we are all three fifty years old. Darlene and I live near each other close to DC in northern Virginia, but Ruth lives in California, and it seemed like an awesome reason to take a trip together.

Darlene suggested that we go to Prince Edward Island — somewhere I’ve always wanted to go because I’m an L. M. Montgomery Superfan. I’ve read and own all her books and all her Selected Journals. (Just learned that her Complete Journals are out, and I’m buying them.)

Ruth said it was too expensive for her at that time, since she was flying from California anyway. So that year, we did things in the DC area, including a trip to Shenandoah National Park, where the picture was taken.

However, we all decided together that we would plan to do a trip to Prince Edward Island together when we are all 55. That time has come! And we’re really doing it!

It turns out it’s a whole lot cheaper if we do a road trip. And then we’ll have a car on the island, anyway. So we’re driving on the weekends, Darlene and I sharing the driving, and we’ll stay in Cavendish — L. M. Montgomery’s hometown — during the week. Even paying for lodging for a night on the way there and back, this will be cheaper than getting flights, especially since we can split the costs of lodging and gas, but not the cost of flights.

We also suspect it will be a gorgeous drive through New England in the Autumn. We hope there will be some Fall Color — there’s not much here in Virginia yet. And it’s going to be so much fun spending the time with each other. (That’s what I say before the trip, anyway!)

There is a sad note to all of this. We got the very bad news that Ruth has early onset Alzheimer’s. This actually makes a road trip all the better. Her husband says that she’d have trouble with connecting flights. But he can put her on a direct flight to us, and then we’ll have her with us the rest of the way.

I’m afraid I think it’s sadly funny that all three of us going on this road trip are brain damaged. I’ve got a hole in my cerebellum from my stroke in 2011. The main effect that’s left is I do get motion sickness more easily than before. So I’ll sit in the front seat and navigate. That makes sense anyway, since Darlene has memory issues from a brain injury in 2005. So I’m in charge of our itinerary, because it’s easier for me to remember details.

But all this means that we are utterly determined to have a fabulous time! I am also planning to bring my laptop and blog about our trip to be sure my friends can remember the amazing time we’re going to have together.

I’ve been getting ready for the trip as well by rereading my L. M. Montgomery books. So far, I’ve finished 11 of the 24 books she had published in her lifetime, so it’s only a start, but it’s been delightful. I’m planning that we’ll see the several L. M. Montgomery sites, but also do lots of hiking and walks on the beach.

It’s going to be a fabulous way to celebrate friendship at fifty-five!

Transcending – The Council at Jerusalem

September 15th, 2019

My series Transcending: They’ll Know Us By Our Love is about why the church should welcome and affirm LGBTQ people, with a special emphasis on transgender people, like my own daughter.

Let me sum up what I’ve posted so far:

The Situation told how my church at the time was considering adopting a policy that declared that marriage is only for one man and one woman for a lifetime and that when transgender people attempt to change their bodies in any way, that’s opposed to God’s design. I disagreed strongly with that position and still hoped they would not adopt the policy.

In Creation, I looked at the one Bible passage the leadership came up with in saying that transgender people changing their bodies is opposed to God’s design. This is not at all consistent with any other policy at that church, as they freely allow people to make any other changes to their bodies: wear glasses or braces, color their hair, get any other surgery, get cochlear implants.

In The Science, I talked about a few (only a few) of the many studies that would seem to indicate that gender is something we’re born with — and it doesn’t necessarily match our external genitalia. So it is biological — in the brain.

In Self-Definition, I talked about how abusive it is to refuse to adopt someone’s definition of themselves because you think you know better.

In What Does the Bible Say? I looked at what the Bible says about transgender people and also what it says about making up policies against them.

In Not Conforming to the World, I talk about how the church should be more welcoming and affirming of outsiders, not less.

In Choice and Non-Choice, I present some of the multitudinous evidence that LGBTQ people are born that way, created by God that way. The only choice they face is whether or not to admit to themselves and to the world who they truly are.

In Interpretation, I pointed out that believing that same-sex marriage is sinful or a transgender person changing their bodies is sinful depends on your interpretation of only a few passages of Scripture. That interpretation is questionable and many, many Christians interpret them differently. Indeed, I quoted a scholar of ancient Greek and Roman literature who makes a strong case that we should interpret them differently.

In Gender-Expansive Children, I looked in detail at a position paper put out by the American Academy of Pediatrics as to best practices for supporting and caring for transgender children. Since then, I’ve found position papers from many more medical and psychological organizations. At one point, I hoped to look at more of them in detail. But wait a minute — why is a church arguing that transgender people shouldn’t get the most accepted medical treatment because they don’t think it’s effective? And that argument did come up. It’s pretty easily refuted with these papers and studies — but even if the established treatment were ineffective in making transgender people more satisfied with their lives (It’s not!), what would that have to do with whether it’s sinful or not? (If you’re actually contemplating medical or surgical treatment — by all means look up the studies and the statistics on effectiveness. But even if it were ineffective, that doesn’t make it sinful to try it.) This post and the paper quoted concludes by advising parents the same way the church should also be advising them: “they do want parents to assure their children that they are loved unconditionally, ‘however they express themselves and whoever they grow up to be.'”

I wrote Saying Farewell after my church did in fact adopt the policy.

My Gracious Argument post reflected some things I learned in this highly emotional discussion.

It’s been two months since that last post, and I’ve been thinking about posting more ever since, so I do have a lot to cover. I will try to make this coherent!

First, I do want to state that I am extremely happy with my new church, a local United Methodist Church. Now, the United Methodists as a whole do not have any policy about transgender people. They also allow women to be pastors, so they more genuinely reflect Galatians 3:28 — “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

The denomination as a whole is not yet affirming of same-sex marriage — but the pastor of this church is one of the leaders in the movement to change that. When I went to a congregational meeting and he explained how the prophetic tradition calls us to change — it brought tears to my eyes that instead of arguing with the pastor, the pastor was presenting biblical arguments for being inclusive.

I’ve been thinking about the Science of Gender, too. Scientific American recently published a blog post titled “Stop Using Phony Science to Justify Transphobia.” It explains how we get our biological sex in detail. And we discover: It’s complicated!

I’ve had several different people who believe transgender people are sinning tell me that even if my child gets surgery, that won’t change “his” DNA.

So I asked them, Oh, have you had my child’s DNA tested, because I never did?

More than one person scoffed at my question — but it’s completely legitimate, as this article explains: “Biological sex is far more complicated than XX or XY (or XXY, or just X). XX individuals could present with male gonads. XY individuals can have ovaries.” And then it explains how that works.

I’ve heard an anecdote that a high school biology teacher stopped having his students test their DNA, because any time someone came out with chromosomes different than expected, that kid would get very upset. And this happened often enough, he had to stop that experiment. I’ve also read stories of people who found out as teens or adults that internally they had intersex characteristics. One person found out when they were getting ready to have gender confirmation surgery. Another person found out that was why they were infertile. Our bodies are complex. Chromosomes do not absolutely define your gender, or even what sex organs you have.

You can read the blog post and read the studies it links to about how scientists have worked to figure out how the body forms organs of one sex or another (or both). It’s complicated. It turns out that many factors come into play, even environment.

The paper makes a strong — and scientific — case that sex is not binary. The process of forming gender is long and complicated and not as simple as what chromosomes a fetus has. Do people really believe that just because God created Adam and Eve male and female, God will now make sure that every step of the process of forming biological sex in every single baby will always go smoothly?

Even my former church said that it’s not sinful for intersex people to change their bodies. But apparently they only accept as intersex people who are visibly neither distinctly male nor female. However, with that admission, they are acknowledging that the process of forming biological sex does not always go smoothly. Yet they’re assuming it’s only going to deviate from the “norm” in ways that we can see from outside the body. That doesn’t match many intersex people with internal organs of both genders. How much testing will they do to determine whether people are sinning or not?

As the Scientific American blog post sums up: “the science is clear and conclusive: sex is not binary, transgender people are real.”

Okay, all that is background! Now for what I wanted to talk about: The Council at Jerusalem in Acts 15.

I’m still reading through the New Testament on a schedule put out by my former church, and we recently read Acts 15. Verse 19 jumped out at me:

It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.

The background of the Council at Jerusalem was that many Gentiles were turning to God. And many Jews, who were the first followers of Jesus, thought that the Gentiles should follow the Law and become circumcised in order to be saved.

This was a big controversy — they had believed you approach God by keeping the Law. But they held a council and listened to the leaders who had seen Gentiles receive Christ, and they concluded that following Jesus was not the same thing as keeping the Law.

Honestly? I think a church having a Code of Conduct or a “Christian Living Statement” is setting up new rules, new laws.

I also think it’s interesting to look at the rules the leaders at Jerusalem did send out:

Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.

This is the one time you see the New Testament church setting up rules — and three of the four are no longer anything anybody ever worries about.

And even those rules were presented as suggestions, not as requirements in order to be members of the church. The letter to the churches says, “You will do well to avoid these things.”

We are no longer under the Law. We are under grace.

Paul expounds on this controversy and these ideas in the book of Galatians. In the first three chapters he talks about faith and works of the law — the very passage that culminates in these words:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ.

We have established that gender is not binary and transgender people are real.

Now let us not make it difficult for the transgender people who are turning to God.

Let us neither make it difficult for the gay person or the lesbian or the nonbinary person.

Many Christian Jews of Paul’s day honestly believed that in order to approach God, a person needed to be circumcised. But the leadership came to see that rule was only making things difficult that should not be difficult.

Coming to God and being part of the body of Christ isn’t supposed to depend on following rules. Walking with Jesus is about love.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” (I Corinthians 12:21)

Let’s not make it difficult for anyone who’s turning to God. The body of Christ needs every part.

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body — whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

That’s I Corinthians 12, and you see that again Paul is saying that we need everyone, all types of people.

Please look out before making up rules. Let’s not make it difficult to be part of the body of Christ.

Shouldn’t they know us by our love?

A Universalist Looks at the New Testament — Jude

August 19th, 2019

In my series, A Universalist Looks at the New Testament, I’m going through the New Testament and pointing out verses that look different if you don’t start with the assumption that the hell Dante wrote about is real. I’m a Christian Universalist who believes that through Christ, God will save everyone, though many will face judgment first, judgment that will be corrective, judgment that will help them finally see the light. And I believe this fits well with what the Bible teaches.

The book of Jude is about judgment coming to ungodly people. I don’t disagree. It’s meant as a warning, and should be taken as a warning.

However, there’s strong evidence that where the translation seems to indicate the judgment is eternal — that is not a good reflection of the original.

Look at verse 7, which talks about Sodom and Gomorrah: “They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.”

In the first place, Sodom and Gomorrah is not still burning. In the second place, the Greek word used here is eonian, which means “of the eons,” or “of the ages,” and can indicate an indefinite period of time, or just fire in another age.

Here’s how the Concordant Literal New Testament translates it: “a specimen, experiencing the justice of fire eonian.”

Verse 6, before that one, in the New International Version says, “And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling — these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.”

Hold on! If they are bound for judgment on the great Day — then how would those chains be everlasting?

Verse 13 has more, saying in the New International Version, “They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.”

The Concordant Literal New Testament puts it this way: “wild billows of the sea, frothing forth their own shame; straying stars, for whom the gloom of darkness has been kept for an eon.”

So yes, there will be judgment. But in the great love of God, the judgment has a purpose. It’s not suffering for the sake of suffering, as if that would make up for sin. It’s to turn sinners back to the Lord who loves them; it’s to heal their flaws in purifying fire.

Let me close with the benediction at the end of Jude from the Concordant Literal New Testament. It’s less smooth English, but you see that it doesn’t diminish the glory of this passage:

Now to Him Who is able to guard you from tripping, and to stand you flawless in sight of His glory, in exultation, to the only God, our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, might and authority before the entire eon, now, as well as for all the eons. Amen!

A Universalist Looks at the New Testament – I John 2:2

August 1st, 2019

In this series, A Universalist Looks at the New Testament, I’m pointing out verses in the New Testament that seem to teach that God will save everyone. In today’s reading from I John, we came to a verse that seems very clear: I John 2:2 —

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. Was his death effective?

A Universalist Looks at the New Testament: I and II Peter

August 1st, 2019

In my series, A Universalist Looks at the New Testament, I’m going through the New Testament and pointing out verses that look different if you don’t start with the assumption that the hell Dante wrote about is real. I’m a Christian Universalist who believes that through Christ, God will save everyone, though many will face judgment first. And I believe this fits well with what the Bible teaches.

I’m not going to linger in the epistles from Peter. They do talk about judgment, but nothing that says it will last forever.

A couple of places have some interesting talk about preaching the gospel “to imprisoned spirits” and “even to those who are now dead” (I Peter 3:19; 4:6). I’ve never heard a great explanation for these verses from the traditional perspective. From my perspective I take it as evidence that hearts can change and decisions can be made after death.

In II Peter 2:4, the Greek word Tartarus is translated “hell.” This is the only time this word is used in the Bible, and it is not described as a place of eternal torment, but a place where angels are imprisoned until the day of judgment.

In talking about the day of judgment in II Peter 2 and 3, there are fearsome descriptions of destruction. II Peter 3:7 says, “By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.”

This is talking about the earth being destroyed — but I don’t think even those who hold to the traditional view think that the earth will burn eternally. So you could use this passage to support the annihilation of the wicked, but not the eternal torment.

And I still think it can fit with judgment coming after death — maybe even consisting of a purifying fire.

II Peter 3 has more to say:

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

The earth will be “destroyed” and made new. Perhaps that will also be true of the wicked?

Don’t forget that II Peter 3:9 also tells us God’s desire for humans:

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

I think of the day of judgment as God’s last resort to bring about that repentance. But it’s what He wants for everyone. Will God succeed?

A Universalist Looks at the New Testament: James

July 30th, 2019

In my blog series, A Universalist Looks at the New Testament, I’m going through the New Testament and attempting to show that the Bible actually does support the idea that through Jesus, God will eventually save everyone.  (In fact, this is what the early church taught for its first 500 years.)

I was going to skip the book of James, because I don’t think its verses make a case either for or against universalism.  But there are places in James that do discuss judgment, so I want to talk about them.

Let me state right from the beginning that Christian Universalists like me do believe there will be judgment.  The part we challenge is the idea that this judgment will consist of unending fiery torment for ever and ever after death.  A lot of that interpretation rests on a few places in the Bible where the Greek word “eonian” is translated “eternal,” when in Greek, it didn’t mean that at all.  “Eonian” is “of the eons” or “of the ages.”  It can be a very long, an indefinite period of time, but there are many examples where it’s used to describe something that does, in fact, end.

But in James, that word isn’t even used.  We’ve only got judgment.  Some of the instances, it’s not even clear whether the judgment discussed will come before or after physical death.

Here’s a passage from James 1:

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.”  For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

Sin leads to death.  I’ll agree with that.  It may be figurative, it may be literal, but it does not necessarily mean unending fiery torment after physical death.

Here’s a passage about judgment in James 2:

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.  Mercy triumphs over judgment.

It talks about judgment without mercy will come – and yet so many, many other passages in the Bible tell us that our God is rich in mercy.  I still do not think that “judgment without mercy” could possibly mean unending fiery torment.

And here it seems appropriate to quote George MacDonald’s Unspoken Sermon on “Justice,” where he argues that mercy and justice are not opposed to one another:

‘Mercy may be against justice.’  Never – if you mean by justice what I mean by justice.  If anything be against justice, it cannot be called mercy, for it is cruelty. To thee, O Lord, belongeth mercy, for thou renderest to every man according to his work.’  There is no opposition, no strife whatever, between mercy and justice.  Those who say justice means the punishment of sin, and mercy the not punishing of sin, and attribute both to God, would make a schism in the very idea of God….

Punishment is for the sake of amendment and atonement. God is bound by his love to punish sin in order to deliver his creature; he is bound by his justice to destroy sin in his creation. Love is justice–is the fulfilling of the law, for God as well as for his children. This is the reason of punishment; this is why justice requires that the wicked shall not go unpunished–that they, through the eye-opening power of pain, may come to see and do justice, may be brought to desire and make all possible amends, and so become just. Such punishment concerns justice in the deepest degree. For Justice, that is God, is bound in himself to see justice done by his children–not in the mere outward act, but in their very being. He is bound in himself to make up for wrong done by his children, and he can do nothing to make up for wrong done but by bringing about the repentance of the wrong-doer. When the man says, ‘I did wrong; I hate myself and my deed; I cannot endure to think that I did it!’ then, I say, is atonement begun. Without that, all that the Lord did would be lost. He would have made no atonement. Repentance, restitution, confession, prayer for forgiveness, righteous dealing thereafter, is the sole possible, the only true make-up for sin. For nothing less than this did Christ die. When a man acknowledges the right he denied before; when he says to the wrong, ‘I abjure, I loathe you; I see now what you are; I could not see it before because I would not; God forgive me; make me clean, or let me die!’ then justice, that is God, has conquered–and not till then….

Justice then requires that sin should be put an end to; and not that only, but that it should be atoned for; and where punishment can do anything to this end, where it can help the sinner to know what he has been guilty of, where it can soften his heart to see his pride and wrong and cruelty, justice requires that punishment shall not be spared. And the more we believe in God, the surer we shall be that he will spare nothing that suffering can do to deliver his child from death.  If suffering cannot serve this end, we need look for no more hell, but for the destruction of sin by the destruction of the sinner. That, however, would, it appears to me, be for God to suffer defeat, blameless indeed, but defeat….

I believe that justice and mercy are simply one and the same thing; without justice to the full there can be no mercy, and without mercy to the full there can be no justice; that such is is the mercy of God that he will hold his children in the consuming fire of his distance until they pay the uttermost farthing, until they drop the purse of selfishness with all the dross that is in it, and rush home to the Father and the Son, and the many brethren–rush inside the center of the life-giving fire whose outer circles burn. I believe that no hell will be lacking which would help the just mercy of God to redeem his children.

So what he’s saying is that judgment comes to bring our heart to the right place.  This doesn’t change after death.

But I haven’t finished going through the book of James.  There’s more about judgment in James 5.  As you read this, it does talk about judgment happening at the Lord’s coming.  But there’s still absolutely nothing said about how long the judgment will last.  And there’s absolutely nothing said about this judgment being simply to blast people and not to correct and teach them.  There’s nothing to contradict what George MacDonald has said about judgment above.  This passage is still a case of, “Stop sinning of your own accord, so that you don’t need God’s judgment to stop you!”

Here’s James 5:1-7 –

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you.  Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes.  Your gold and silver are corroded.  Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire.  You have hoarded wealth in the last days.  Look!  The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you.  The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.  You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence.  You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.  You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming.  See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains.  You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.  Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged.  The Judge is standing at the door!

James is all about the practical living out of the Christian life.  And part of that is to live with mercy, for God himself is merciful.  But if judgment is what it takes to turn us to God, judgment will come.

A Universalist Looks at the New Testament: Hebrews 8 and 10

July 27th, 2019

A Universalist Looks at the New Testament is a blog series showing that you can make a strong case from Scripture that all will be saved. I’m going through the New Testament and pointing out verses you might not have noticed if you simply assume that the Bible teaches that sinners will be tormented through all eternity.

I’m going to finish up the book of Hebrews by looking at verses in chapters 8 and 10. Chapter 8 is a relatively straightforward passage. It’s quoting Jeremiah 31 and talking about Israel. But if everyone in Israel will be saved, why not everyone on earth? It seems like an equal miracle to me. Here’s the passage:

This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel
after that time, declares the Lord.
I will put my laws in their minds
and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,
For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.

All of them will know the Lord, from the least of them to the greatest. It’s hard to imagine that happening here on earth.

Hebrews 12 is more difficult for a universalist. But before I type it out, notice that nothing is said about how long the punishment will last. Nothing about everlasting torment. It also seems to be talking to some extent about the judgment of believers. (“The Lord will judge his people.” They’re sanctified by his blood.) Here’s the passage, Hebrews 12:26-31 —

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Let me also note that instead of “raging fire,” the Concordant Literal New Testament translates that “fiery jealousy.”

As I’ve said many times, I believe in judgment — what I don’t believe is that the result of that judgment will be punishment without end. There will be punishment — or more accurately translated, correction. This passage suggests that some believers may also encounter judgment.

George MacDonald, the writer who first convinced me of universalism, likes to quote Hebrews 12:29 — “for our ‘God is a consuming fire.'” He suggests that all of us will encounter the purifying fire of God’s love. And that fire will burn away the impurities of sin in us, a refiner’s fire.

To the extent that sin has become entwined in our characters, become a part of who we are — to that extent is how much suffering we will experience when we encounter that fire.

Again, there’s nothing here that suggests that experience will never end.