Since I am still away from home and on holidays with friends, I have not had the "privacy" to do any serious study or to write a well-thought through post. But I have been doing a lot of thinking in the "privacy" of my mind, so I am writing this from some of that thinking.
Most Bible students try to understand the Bible and form their theological views using two rules:
1. Allow the clear, straight forward verses to help us understand the meaning of difficult or more complex verses.
2. Force the interpretation of verses that challenge a particular theological view we hold into harmony with the verses that support our already-formed view.
The first of these seems sound and sensible, so I won't comment on it any further.
The second raises some problems.
Firstly, it raises the prospect of us using our current understanding (theology) as the only determiner of the meaning of some difficult verses, thus hiding other possible views from our consideration.
Secondly, it raises the possibility of starting with the wrong set of verses to determine our theology and then trying to make everything else fit.
Let me give an example of this second problem that is very relevant to the topic of this blogsite.
Most people use the verses that describe God's judgement and punishment to form the view that all those who do not get to hear about Jesus and accept him as Saviour before they leave this planet will be tormented in hell forever. We shall call these the judgement-punishment verses - JP verses.
The verses that talk of God's salvation for all and promise that He will be glorified in all things at the end of the ages are paraphrased or interpreted to fit that torment-hell view. We shall call these the universal reconciliation verses - UR verses.
Mainstream christianity always seems to start with the JP verses and the torment-hell conclusions they invite and either ignore the UR verses or interpret them in a way to fit. There seem to be very few people who start with the UR verses and the obvious conclusions they demand, and try to interpret the JP verses in a way that is consistent with these conclusions.
Let's be more specific.
JP verses include verses like .....
"Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on them." [John 3 : 36 TNIV]
"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." [Matt 25 : 46 TNIV]
"Then I saw a great white throne ..... The dead were judged according to what they had done ..... All whose names were not found written in the book of life were thrown into the lake of fire." [Rev 20 : 11 - 15 TNIV]
UR verses include verses like .....
"As in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive." [1 Cor 15 : 22 TNIV]
"..... we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, and especially of those who believe." [1 Tim 4 : 10 TNIV]
"He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. [1 John 2 : 2 TNIV]
Taking a particular example, readers starting with Rev 20 : 11 - 15 quickly draw the conclusion that unbelievers will be tormented in hell forever. They then paraphrase 1 Cor 15 : 22 so that it reads something like "For as in Adam all die, so all who are in Christ will be made alive." to fit in with their conclusion from Rev 20, and not contradict it.
However, readers who start with 1 Cor 15 : 22 and draw the conclusion that everyone will be saved eventually, then see all of God's judgements and punishments, even the lake of fire, as remedial and, like all good parents, God is using these to produce better attitudes and behaviours and attitudes in His children so that their relationship with Him will eventually be restored.
So where is our starting point? Do we start with a God of unconditional love who desires all his children to be saved and in relationship with him eventually, or with God as an angry, vengeful judge who will punish forever his rebellious children (and those of his children who have never heard of Jesus)?
Is the gospel we proclaim one of good news for all, or a mixture of good news for some and very bad news for others?
Jesus said the truth will set us free. Does the truth of Jesus' death and resurrection set all of his creation free, or only those chosen to belong to Him during their short lives on this planet?