A Facebook friend posted a status today that said, something to the effect of, “Sometimes you just have to trust that evildoers (I believe he actually said wrongdoers) will get it in the end or you would go insane.” (paraphrased)
This is a sentiment I have heard over and over my whole life. Every time someone does something ranging from merely inconveniently bad (stealing our wallet/phone/car, et al.) that we can’t do anything about to the flat out horrifically evil (the Castro brothers of Cleveland, Ohio) that we can’t think of a punishment awful enough for, we say something like it. We like to think that God‘s punishment will be worse than anything we could dream up. We say things like,
“Vengeance is mine, says the Lord.”
“He/she will get their’s in the end.”
“I hope he/she burns in hell.”
But what if there was another option?
What if wrongdoers are in the end made to understand their wrongdoing and then transformed into who they were always meant to be? Wouldn’t that be better? Isn’t that a more satisfying and complete defeat of evil? Is not the love of Christ enough to consume even the vilest offenses of the worst of humankind and transform the evildoer into something beautiful? Who they once were would cease to exist and who they always should have been would be all that remains. Doesn’t that type of justice also account for the wrongs done to that person that contributed to their descent into darkness? Don’t get me wrong, I agree that here and now there must be consequences to evil behavior and there are some acts so heinous they are difficult to even comprehend. I understand that some people cause a legacy of pain so deep that we as humans cannot see a way to redemption. But isn’t that why we are not fit to judge? Is not our love incomplete? As I said in an earlier post,
People always say you should fear his [Jesus] judgement as he will be the judge on the last day. Personally, I think you should be super relieved and overjoyed that he will be your judge. If he is anything like he was on earth (which was the exact representation of who God is), he will find ways to forgive that you cannot even imagine. He will judge with mercy and compassion. This is the man who came to save all. Who died for all. He took the full weight of all the worst the world and humanity has to offer and he absorbed it and he looked it in the face and he pronounced love and forgiveness.
Why does this idea, that the evil could be redeemed and made right, make so many people mad? I think it because most of us hurt so badly for the people (sometimes others, sometimes ourselves) that the evil have wronged that we just don’t see how it is fair for them to receive mercy. Not now; not ever.
Jesus once told a parable about about some workers. He said he told the story to reveal a little bit of what the kingdom of heaven is like. In the story, the owner of a vineyard hires groups of workers throughout the day. In so doing the groups all work different amounts of time. At the end of the day, he pays all the workers the same amount regardless of how long they worked. Some of them get angry, and think they should get more for working longer to which the man in the story says this, “‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.”
I worship a generous God who forgives (thank goodness) when I would not, who loves when I cannot, and died for all regardless of what they had done or would do. He has set about making “all things new” and “restoring all things”, including humanity. Can you imagine a world where (insert the name of your favorite bad person here), instead of growing up to lead people to death, destruction and hatred, grew up to lead people to life, wisdom and love of the other? What if all their gifts had been used in the cause of love instead of hate? Wouldn’t that be a better world? What if in the end God gives us that kind of world? What if he lets us experience that kind of love? What if the people known to be most evil were transformed into who they always should have been? What if swords are really turned to plow shares, what if the lion does lay with the lamb? What if it is like none of us were ever damaged, or hurt or never damaged and hurt another? What if all evil is consumed by good, death is swallowed up by life and we each become who we were always meant to be? What if love wins?
What if as it says in 2 Cor 5 (*see footnote at the bottom of the post), Jesus actually died for ALL? What if God, through Jesus actually was reconciling the WORLD to himself? What if he really isn’t COUNTING THEIR TRESPASSES AGAINST THEM? And what if, what if God actually wants to make his appeal THROUGH US? As far as I can tell from the passage, Jesus, by dying secured victory over sin and death.
My husband pointed out an N.T. Wright quote and response he read online yesterday when he was proofreading my rough draft of this post. I thought it fit right in so I am going to share it.
“This is what happens when people present over-simple stories with an angry God and a loving Jesus, with a God who demands blood and doesn’t much mind whose it is as long as it’s innocent.“ You’d have thought people would notice that this flies in the face of John’s and Paul’s deep-rooted theology of the love of the triune God: not ‘God was so angry with the world that he gave us his son’ but ‘God so loved the world that he gave us his son’. That’s why, when I sing that interesting recent song ‘In Christ alone my hope is found’, and we come to the line, ‘And on the cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied’, I believe it’s more deeply true to sing ‘the love of God was satisfied’.” –N.T. Wright
It is not the wrath of the Father against the Son, much less the wrath of God against Himself, that is satisfied on the cross; but the justice of fair-togetherness: God willingly shares in the suffering both of sinners and victims alike. God doesn’t punish Himself, the Father isn’t punishing the Son (and especially not for something someone else did that the Son didn’t do!); but God is sharing in the suffering of punishment.
For sinners, the suffering is punishment. For God, the suffering is love for the sinners. (And abuse by sinners, too, willingly allowed by God. The sacrifice on the cross is a highly complex action. The intention isn’t complex, though: love for everyone, sinner and victim alike. ) –Jason Pratt
I do not claim to know for sure who all will be saved. But as Christine A. Scheller said in her article about Dallas Willard who passed away this week, “A consequence of Willard’s academic honesty is his unwillingness to state who’s in and who’s out spiritually, which bothers critics who worry that he is a universalist. He says he doesn’t believe anyone will be saved except by Jesus, but he adds, “How that works out, probably no one knows.”
I like that. I like to at least consider that there will be more people in on this thing we call redemption than we think.
Perhaps in the future when I am confronted by wrongdoers (as my friend called them), I might change my responses to, “Won’t he/she be surprised in the end?” and mean surprised by forgiveness. Or maybe, “Vengeance (repayment exacted for an injury or wrong) belongs to God” and remember that God tells me not to repay evil with evil. And rather than say, “I hope they burn in hell,” perhaps I will learn to say, “I hope they become who they always should have been.” I’m not there yet. I have a ways to go. What if you came with me?
*For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all,that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 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. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.