Q&R with Brad Jersak – “It is a dreadful thing…” (Hebrews 10:31)?
Hi Dr. Jersak,
I am enjoying your books a lot. Some of those ideas I am sharing also with some of my friends that are believers.
Today after a discussion, one of them mentioned a verse: “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). My question is how this verse can be reconciled with a Loving Father’s heart. Your comments are highly appreciated.
I would classify Hebrews 10:31 as one of those judgment texts that identify God himself as the consuming fire, as in Hebrews 12:29 or Malachi 3:1-4 or 1 Corinthians 3:11-15.
How then do we harmonize these Scriptures with those visions of our Father as ultimately merciful–the Father who welcomes his children home or the Judge whose verdict is “mercy triumphs over judgment” and who has always been “gracious, compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness”?
Ah yes … “ultimate” … there’s the hint. We need not negate either set of texts if we understand they are consecutive. First judgment (penultimate) and then Mercy (ultimate). And if they are read consecutively, then the judgment passages must be read as restorative rather than retributive. That is, all the judgments of God are aimed toward restoration and the divine Fire (God himself) does not consume his beloved children–rather, it burns up everything in us that is “not love’s kind” (cf. Isaac the Syrian, George MacDonald).
On the one hand, this is very good news because it speaks of ultimate redemption. On the other hand, we refer to it as a dread judgment because God’s fiery love will expose and consume all those worldly attachments that hooked into our flesh and the idols that were so precious to us will go up in smoke. If we wasted our lives on that stuff (our performance, our reputation, our accumulated goods, etc), I can imagine many will shed a flood of tears … perhaps we even will weep, wail and gnash our teeth (yes, even ‘believers’) when our conscience condemns us for every time we rejected or neglected perfect Love.
But again, that judgment, however dreadful, will be penultimate, because we read in our Scriptures that the same One who frees us by fire will, thereafter, also (ultimately) wipe every tear from our eyes and welcome us home in love. As Christ himself promised, “If I am lifted up (signifying the Cross), I shall draw all men to myself” (John 12:32).
For a little more detail on this penultimate/ultimate distinction, check out this post: https://www.ptm.org/q-r-luke-1323-28, where I discuss Jesus’ judgment rhetoric in Luke 13.