oes God “force” His salvation on people and make them love Him like a “Stepford Wife”? Or does He just provide all that He can do to save us and let our “free-will” be the deciding factor?
There are two radically different arguments for the necessity of an eternal hell depending on whether you are a Calvinist or an Arminian. The Calvinist defends eternal hell on the basis of election. Romans 9, separated from its context (chapters 9-11), is used to defend the doctrine based on the prerogative of God to do what He wants with His creation “for His own glory,” even eternal damnation. (In this paradigm somehow human responsibility is still claimed as operative even though man is deemed predestined to either salvation or eternal conscious torment.)
Arminians, such as Roger Olson or J. P. Moreland defend the existence of eternal hell on the basis of human freedom. The argument goes, to quote Olson: “I would have to wonder how a God of love can enjoy love from creatures that is not given freely.”
Moreland adds, “He has made us with free-will and…God will have absolutely no choice but give us what we’ve asked for all along in our lives, [even if it] is separation from him. And that is hell.” This position assumes that universalism (as well as Calvinism) must have God “forcing Himself” on those who don’t really want Him and who have not freely chosen Him. But we think that there is a third way: Have you considered God just might be the Ultimate Romancer?
The following sermon will not challenge the theology of Calvinists except in the scope in which it is applied. The fact that God’s grace and love will prove to be irresistible for whomever God sets His mind to save will not offend those of the Reformed camp. They are already there. But it does not appear the Arminians have considered this as seriously as they should. And that is because it always came with the other “baggage” of Calvinism, that of election unto damnation which to the Arminian is considered “morally reprehensible.”
So if you are an Arminian, try and be open to the fact that the God whom we are told is “perfect” and never “misses the mark” just might be perfect at romancing the world to Himself…!
If you are a Calvinist let your desire that this be true lead you to consider the Scriptures that clearly say that He loves the whole “world” and “is not willing that any perish but all should come to repentance” and that “His love never fails” and “His mercies never come to an end.”
Partial sermon transcript from Peter Hiett, The Sanctuary: The Divine Romance:
Last week we reached the end of the Gospel of John and it didn’t end with the Great Commission. Matthew ends with “Go disciple;” Mark with “Go proclaim;” Luke with “Be my witnesses.” Now Jesus commissions His disciples in John’s Gospel. But it doesn’t end with what we must do…But with what Jesus did do:
“Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” John 21:25 (ESV)
And if we take John literally, the World itself is something Jesus did. All creation is something Jesus did. He is the Word through whom all things are created. Yet, maybe John is referring to what Jesus just did in chapters 20 and 21: His Resurrection appearances.
But, now after the Resurrection…it’s hard to nail Jesus down. It’s like He’s everywhere and can show up anywhere and you won’t always know its Him. We just preached on most of these appearances: In John 20 He’s like, present but hidden in the garden, by the tomb. He waits for Peter and John to leave. He lets Mary weep. She’s seeking Jesus (a dead Jesus) and the living Jesus is seeking her. In John 20:13 Mary said to the 2 angels:
“They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”
[Jesus is playing dumb…teasing, coaxing, drawing out this desperate longing in Mary’s soul – “Whom do you want?” “Make a wish.”]
Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!”(which means Teacher). John 20:13-16 (ESV) (Mary jumps on Jesus; clings to him and won’t let go.) Jesus says, “Mary, don’t cling to me for I have not yet ascended to the Father.”
Well I think there are some amazing theological reasons Jesus appeared as the gardener (reasons we talked about a few weeks ago). But Jesus does it again, later that day, but not as a gardener. John doesn’t record it but Luke does in detail. Jesus appears as a traveler on the road to Emmaus. He just walks with these two guys, probably for hours: “But their eyes were kept from recognizing him,” says Luke. He does the same thing. He plays dumb and asks them about their conversation. They say they had hoped that this “Jesus guy” was the Messiah. Then Jesus (incognito) explains all the Scripture pertaining to Him. He stays with them and when He breaks the bread at supper – they recognize Him. “Their eyes are opened,” says Luke.
He vanishes and they say, “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked and opened Scripture out on the road?” That night the disciples are locked in a room, when according to John 20, Jesus just walks through the wall. Thomas isn’t there. Jesus lets Thomas hope and long for 7 days, and then does it again and Thomas goes nuts crying, “My Lord and my God.” Then in John 21, Jesus appears on the Sea of Galilee. Once again they don’t know it’s Him. He just watches them struggle. He’s present but hidden and He plays dumb. He teases their longings:
“Do you have any fish?”
“Throw it on the other side.”
Even the fish work for Him. He’s controlling all the circumstances. They recognize Him and go nuts with joy and have breakfast. Jesus asks Peter three times for three denials – “Do you love Me?” I think Jesus enjoyed forgiving Peter. And then John says, “There are also many other things Jesus did…” Maybe He’s doing this kind of stuff all the time. But why didn’t He just walk through the wall in my 7th period Jewelry Making class and say, “Repent Brad ”? Why didn’t He manifest just once in Jerusalem or Rome? Why doesn’t He materialize on the set at CNN for Anderson Cooper? [They could get it on video and we’d be done with this whole evangelism thing, right?]
What’s Jesus doing?
Jesus is hiding
So what’s Jesus doing? …What’s Jesus doing?
What’s Jesus doing?
…Manipulating all the circumstances but enticing hearts
…Making people seek
…Present but hidden
…Playing hard to get; all so He can be got
What’s Jesus doing – that He must do Himself?
Not with a program,
What’s Jesus doing? That He won’t let someone else do for Him?
What’s He doing? …I think He’s doing what He said He’d do:
…And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. John 12:32-33 (ESV)
What’s He doing? He’s romancing His Bride. He said, I will “draw” (helkuso in Greek). It’s a fishing term as in “to draw in a net.” In John it means “to draw to one’s self in love” according to the Theological Dictionary of New Testament Theology. It means to woo a lover” writes D. A. Carson. It means to control everything except the one thing you want most – a human heart that loves in freedom. It means to entice, romance or allure. It’s what Jesus said He would do and what the prophets said God would do.
In Hosea, God says he’s just gonna decimate Israel because she’s played the whore and then He says:
Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley at Achor (trouble) a door of Hope. Hosea 2:14 (ESV)
He’s gonna take her camping and romance her in the wilderness – good strategy.
In Isaiah He gives Israel a divorce (Isaiah 50:1). Then He says in Isaiah 54:5-6
“…for a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. For your Maker is your husband.” Isaiah 55:3
“I will make an everlasting covenant with you.” Isaiah 62:5
“I will rejoice over you as a bridegroom over his bride.”
In Ezekiel 16 He says
I married you and you played the whore so I’ll pour out my wrath and then I’ll have compassion on Sodom and Samaria and you too Jerusalem. I will quiet your arrogant boasting when “I atone for you, for all that you have done,” declares the Lord.
On the Cross, God atoned for all we have done…formed an everlasting covenant and Jesus is the door in the Valley of Trouble. He said, “When I’m lifted up, I will draw (romance) (entice) all people to myself.”
Last week we preached that each person is a Love story that God is telling, with His Word, who is Jesus. What’s He doing? He’s romancing His Bride.
It was 1977; Masterpieces of American Literature, Heritage High School – Mrs. Rydberg read the seating chart: She placed Hiett next to Coleman. It was a miracle and sign from God. Under my breath I muttered, “Thank you Jesus!” I was sitting next to a total “hottie.” And then and there I had a mission – “helkuso” I would romance her to myself.
I would do it (no one could do it for me).
I was the bait; she was the catch.
I would be present to her every Monday, Wednesday, Friday during American Lit…present but hidden.
Hidden as her future lover, spouse and lifelong companion.
Unbeknownst to her, I would manipulate circumstances. I would control the environment to be conducive to love.
I would allow her to steal my junior thesis and forgive her (just to demonstrate my grace).
If all went according to plan, I’d take her to scary movies (just so she’d cling to me.)
I’d take her to the wilderness hiking, camping and I would be her strength.
But for now I’d play dumb (that would be easy). I’d be subtle (that would be hard). I’d advance and withdraw. Maybe even play hard to get. And I’d use words like seeds…
Creating a longing within her.
Hope in her.
Faith in her.
Love for me in her – Love.
That means I couldn’t force her. I couldn’t argue her into love with me, or threaten her into love with me. It would be her free decision…but created by me with romance. She’d choose because she was chosen. I would romance her to myself such that on the day that I dropped to my knees and said “Would you marry me? Form a covenant with me?” she’d go insane with joy.
I romanced her:
Present but hidden…
But now imagine if that first day in English class I would’ve sat down next to Susan and said,
“Hey you’re a ‘hottie’ and I’ve decided you’re going to marry me; give birth to 4 children by me; wash my dirty underwear and love it. If you disagree, you need to know I’m the logical choice. I have a 3.2 GPA and I’m a Christian and you’re not. So, if you don’t date me, you could burn in Hell. So hope in me; have faith in me; love me; date me now!”
If I did that, she’d have totally freaked and run out of the room.
When Jesus appears to John in all His glory – the Glory of His Love. When Jesus appears to John on the Island of Patmos, John drops as if dead. When Jesus appears to Paul on the Damascus road, Paul is literally knocked over and blinded by the Light – the Light of Love. In 2nd Thessalonians 1:9, He writes that those who disobey the Good News will be destroyed by the Glory, from the face of Christ. If right now you were to truly see…that every atom in your body only exists because He continually wills it. And that you have continually rejected Him and yet He continually and absolutely desires you. If you saw Him, who is Love, right now as He is in all His glory, you’d die.
So, Jesus is present, but hidden…preparing your weak little heart for that day…present but hidden…
Like a gardener asking questions
Like a hitch hiker on the road to Emmaus
Like a guy on the beach offering advice
Like a baby in a manger
Or “someone sick or in prison” like “the last and least”
Drawing love out of you
Inspiring love in you.
Present but hidden like a word, a thought, an idea,,,
“The mere idea of you, the longing here for you.”
He is the Way, Truth, Life, and Light. John tells us “the only way to the Father is through Jesus the Son.” But John also tells us “He’s the light that enlightens all men.”
“He’s the only Way, but the Way descends into Hell and ascends in order to fill all things.” (Ephesians 4:9-10)
I’m just saying Jesus is still present, but hidden.
What’s He doing? Is He a stalker? What’s He doing?
He’s “romancing all people to Himself.” (John 12:32)
I didn’t write it. It’s in the Bible.