“If God loves everyone, what do I tell those who ignore him?” Greg Albrecht
Greg, I am afraid that I have given my brother the wrong idea about the gospel, and about God’s love. Years ago I told him I’m convinced God will save everyone in the end. I still believe that but maybe it’s become for him easy to ignore pursuing a relationship with Jesus and the consequences of that. What do you suggest I do?
Your question is superb because it goes to the heart of the gospel, at least as I perceive it. Here are some similar questions, observations and even objections to the gospel that are often voiced: 1) Why should I try hard if God is going to save me no matter what! 2) If what I do doesn’t matter, then what’s the point of helping and serving others? 3) If God’s love is unconditional, then what’s going to stop people from taking advantage of him?
My sense of “what happens in the end” is that all humans have a choice – God does not force anyone to do anything or accept anything they do not wish to. Therefore, given human choice, I believe that some will turn their noses up at God and refuse his gracious love no matter how many times and how powerfully he approaches them and makes himself known. I cannot say that ALL will be saved in the end because that would be akin to a forced marriage with God. Thus I am not what some call a universalist, but on the other hand I dare to hope, given the life and teachings of Jesus and the teachings of the new covenant, that the vast majority will, in some way, winsomely become aware of God’s magnificent love.
I believe that God is gracious and loving and that his love does not at all depend on human virtues and deeds that are done in an attempt to earn his love. God’s love cannot be earned or deserved, and his love is for ALL the world. How and when he makes himself known and how he opens the eyes of those who are spiritually blind to his goodness is not something he reveals to us. God is God and he can do whatever he wants, and he does, and thank God for that!
Because of the gospel, which is all about the incredible, limitless love of God poured out without regard to humans who “deserve” it or not, I believe “in the end” far more people will be choose to be a part of God’s eternal kingdom than most religions believe. God will not neglect them, he will pursue all mankind with the same kind of zealous love. Religions, as you know, in order to stay in business, need to keep people in a state of anxiety about whether they will be saved, and the big club of eternal conscious torment in hell unless people measure up to religious standards has historically proven to be an effective way to keep people “in line.”
But keeping people “in line” is not the gospel. Jesus is not a drill sergeant. Jesus is not abusive or controlling. When one sheep wanders off Jesus leaves the 99 and goes after the one who is lost. Jesus is not about threats and condemnation.
The trouble is that religion at large (let alone individual humans who collectively comprise religious institutions) has a huge problem with comprehending the love, mercy and grace of God. We respond to cause and effect – rewards and punishment – blessings and curses. We humans, and our religions, cannot “get” why God is merciful and gracious and loving. The only way for humans to see and perceive the grace of God is for God to make the first move, as it were, reaching out to an individual with his gift of repentance – a gift which, if accepted, opens up the human mind and heart to the gracious invitation of God, one that is not based on I pat your back now you pat mine. It is obvious, from human history, that God does not “make the first move” in every person’s life in the same way. It is also obvious that we are not aware, regardless of a person’s religious affiliation or lack thereof, of the identity of all those who become or eventually become children of God, new creations in Christ. We don’t have a scorecard of who’s in and who’s out. Really not our business.
To your brother – have you in some way, because you have neglected to scare “the hell” out of him and because you have more graciously modeled and discussed the love, mercy, and grace of God in some way been a hindrance to your brother following Jesus? No, you don’t have that power, nor do I, nor does anyone. We are not able to “win” people to Christ or “lead” them to Christ (regardless of how religions throw around those terms) any more than we are able to lose them. God does not depend on our efforts to proclaim his love – thank God for that. Of course, Christ in us will enlighten others to himself and his love – when Jesus lives in us we reflect his love (which is different than manufacturing it). But no matter how hard we might try to either “turn someone on” to God or to “turn them off” God will prevail, and God will, in his time, way, wisdom, and mercy make himself fully known to that person. That is the love of God – that is the majesty of God – that is the power of God. He wins “in the end” – to him and him alone goes all the glory. We can rest assured, in peace, that God will “have his way” with ALL – including your brother. Your brother will, by the means and determination of God, have an equal opportunity to respond to God – for God does not play favorites, he is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34-35).