Friday, June 21, 2019

What are the 'Works of God' in John 9?

In the story of the man born blind in John 9, the disciples asked Jesus whether he had sinned or his parents to cause him to be born blind. If you ask the average evangelical Christian to read the first few verses of John 9 and then ask them the question, “Why was the man born blind?,” in many, if not most, cases they will respond, “For God’s glory.” Indeed, if you had asked, “According to this passage of Scripture, why was this man born blind?” they would have the same answer.

Now I have no doubt God’s glory is involved in the lives of those afflicted with various things, and in the life of this man born blind. However, the words “God’s glory” (or any directly relevant variant) just isn’t in the text. In fact, John 9:3 states in part, “that the works of God should be made manifest in him,” (KJV) “that the works of God might be displayed in him” (NIV, ESV, NASB).

So a relevant question for understanding what’s going on in this text is “what are the works of God in the book of John?” I will suggest the works of God, for John, can be found in the theme of John and in a passage (really, more than one) of John. The theme of the Gospel of John is “believe.” John basically tells us this near the very end of his work, when he says he has written these things so that his audience might believe on the name of Jesus (a theme he repeats in his epistles, specifically 1 John). With this in mind, check out John 6:28-29: “… ‘What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.’”

These are obviously non-meritorious works (that is, it’s not a belief that earns you salvation), but rather the belief (faith and trust) in the Son of God for eternal life. Following Christ is what John is all about. So what are the works of God in John 9 that this blind man was meant to display? Faith in Jesus Christ, the Lord, the Savior, the Son of God and God the Son (see John 9:38 for the resolution).

What difference does it make? The main difference is one’s theology of suffering. While belief in Jesus obviously redounds to God’s glory, if you think God has people endure pain and suffering merely for his glory, God simply uses people to attain ends. This devalues God’s creation and, ironically, God himself. Instead, we ought to recognize God does things for his glory, and for our good—and not just instrumentally. Jesus’ purpose in this story is to show his mission—to seek and save that which was lost.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Do We Really Want All to be Saved?

Evangelical Christians sometimes claim that we are “hopeful universalists.” This term can have a couple of different meanings. One is that we aren’t sure whether or not universalism is true, but we hope for the best. Another is that while we think universalism is not true, we wished it were. This is more or less not “hopeful” universalism as “wishful” universalists, but more people are familiar with the former term, so I’m co-opting it. I have said that I fall into this camp of people who think universalism is false, but wishes it were true. I began wondering, though, if I really didwish it to be true.

On the surface, this seems like a crazy question. Of course I want everyone to go to Heaven! But wanting everyone to go to Heaven as a collective group isn’t the same thing as wanting each individual person to go to Heaven. For one, I don’t know each individual person on Earth. But for another, there may be times where, though saddened, it’s appropriate to be satisfied with the result of eternal separation from God (indeed, I’ll argue briefly there are some cases where it would be inappropriate not to). I used the term “satisfied” in the previous sentence, and while it’s not quite right, I hope to explain where I am coming from.

Suppose someone engages in Hitler-like eugenics and genocide. Suppose they further do not repent, growing even stronger in their evil the more they are challenged. Suppose finally this person explicitly wants nothing to do with God and Jesus, and openly mocks them, claiming they hate God. While I am convinced God is—and we should be—grieved that one of his creations has made that choice, I think we intuitively perceive that this is just, and even a rightresult. It’s not the way things were meant to be, but it’s the right result: a defeat of evil, cast away from God and his redeemed creation.

If this is right, then universalists must maintain that there is a conversion for every such person; otherwise we have a situation which is fundamentally wrong. This is something, no doubt, most Christian universalists are happy to do. But it’s worth pointing out that even for those of us who wished universalism were true, there are some times where the only appropriate response is eternal separation from God. What do you think? Let me know in the comments!