Matthew Roark
September 18, 2023
Question #

How to interpret Matthew 10:28 in a more lovingly universalistic way?


How can I interpret Matthew 10:28 in a way that is lovingly universalistic? Thank you.


This is a frightening verse indeed. Destruction texts are always difficult. When we read them our fears kick in, those give way to doubts, which then call into question everything we have been so sure of — and pretty soon we cannot see the good God intends for us.

With this verse — or any like it — I suggest you bear in mind that destruction is a step toward more life, not the final end so many imagine it to be. And this is more than wishful thinking.

The pattern of destruction followed by more life can be seen all around us, at all times, and throughout the universe. We see it in natural processes, like in the dirt when a seed dies to become the first green sprout of a new tree, or through a telescope when a star dies to become the raw material for new planets and new stars. We also see it in human activities, like when an old dilapidated house is bulldozed to make way for a new house to be built, or in a classroom when ignorance is destroyed in the mind of a student and is replaced with new knowledge. This pattern permeates world. You might even describe the pattern as change itself. But it always, always, always brings about new life. If you can’t see the new life coming out of destruction, you need to broaden your perspective.

It is a biblical pattern as well. Here are a few examples — Noah and the flood. The nation of Israel and her many destructions/exiles (Babylonian, Persian, Roman) followed by restoration to the land. Saul of Tarsus who was destroyed on the road to Damascus so he could become Paul the Apostle. And the best example is our God, Jesus Christ, who was destroyed on the cross, but rose again to life.

And even when God doesn’t show us the restoration, He promises us it will happen: Egypt and Assyria (Isaiah 19:23-25), Moab (Jeremiah 48:47), Sodom and Samaria (Ezekiel 16:53-55), Israel and the Gentiles (Romans 11:25-26), — and all the other verses that promise the restoration of humanity and the cosmos.

So I suggest you keep this pattern in mind. Realize that destruction is a part of growth, not the final end, and you will always come up with a more lovingly universalist interpretation. The sad fact is a soul can sometimes be so joined to evil that the best thing for it is to be destroyed — or maybe our souls are always being destroyed, each time rising again, fresher, healthier, wiser, and more like God. Either way, God is the physician of our souls. He is the potter and we are the clay. He can reshape us into His image again no matter how far we fall. This reminds me of a line from The Old Man and the Sea: “But man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” Hemingway is right.

Matthew Coleman

Matthew Roark is co-founder and editor of Mercy On All. He lives in Kentucky with his abundantly beautiful wife and three children. He is an avid reader and enjoys all things J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and George MacDonald.