Saturday, 25 June 2016

Does all really mean all? – Revisiting Universal Redemption

A few years back when I first decided to study the different views of hell I wrote a blog post on Universalism which is the idea that all people will eventually be saved. In my original post I dismissed it rather nonchalantly and have felt ever since that I needed to revisit it with something a bit more thorough. Over the last few years I have continued my study and while I am more convinced than ever that scripture teaches conditional immortality as opposed to universalism or eternal conscious torment, I do feel that I have a better understanding of where Universalists are coming from these days than I had previously. In fact, I can appreciate their understanding of the character of God more than that of the traditional view which paints a picture of a merciless judge whose anger is never satisfied and looks nothing like Jesus. Nevertheless, I think that they are in error and that the consequences of it are rather grave (pun intended).

So let’s get right to the question in the title of this post, does ‘all’ mean ‘all’ in the sense that Universalists believe it does? These are some of the scriptures that you might find come up in these sorts of conversations:-

Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.  - John 12:31-32

Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.  – Acts 3:20

Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. - Romans 5:18

For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. - 1 Corinthians 15:22

When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all. - 1 Corinthians 15:28

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. - 2 Corinthians 5:18-19

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment — to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. - Ephesians 1:7-10

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. - Philippians 2:9-11

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. - Colossians 1:19-20

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” - Revelation 21:5

The case for Universalism might look compelling from the texts above nevertheless I believe that the ‘all’, the ‘everything’ and ‘the world’ as they are referenced above refer not to every human being but rather to all who are in Christ and the creation as a whole one day being redeemed. There are several reasons for believing this which I will lay out point by point while simultaneously revealing why I find universalism to be incorrect.

It’s not faithful to Jesus’ own teachings

One thing I admire about universalism is the focus it has on the person of Christ. I believe it accurately paints God as merciful, gracious and loving toward all. I too believe that God’s mercy, grace and love are beyond measure and comprehension! Likewise, I also believe that God desires that none would perish and that He wills for all men to be saved. I believe that God looks exactly like Jesus but it is precisely for this reason that I find it ironic that many Universalists cite Jesus as the reason they hold to their view. I had already started writing this article when I came across Benjamin Corey’s latest series of posts; he believes that the scriptural evidence points toward conditional immortality but has confessed that he is attracted to the idea of universalism, one of the things he said in a recent post is “the more I see God as revealed in Jesus, the more this position (universal redemption) seems to be the one most consistent with the doctrine of God as exampled by Christ”. This seems to be a common idea in the writings of Universalists which I find puzzling because Jesus’ own words throughout the New Testament seem to contradict the idea that all will eventually be saved. While I am in full agreement with them about the character of God as revealed in Jesus, I do believe it is dangerous to separate His character from His teachings, consider the following verses for example-

Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, only those who actually do the will of my Father will enter. – Matthew 7:21

Work hard to enter the narrow door to God’s Kingdom, for many will try to enter but will fail – Luke 13:24

Jesus spoke often in this way and one has to ask, if ‘all’ means ‘all people who ever existed’ then what does ‘not everyone’ mean? It does not say that some will struggle to enter before eventually coming right. The idea Jesus gives is that the road that leads to destruction is a busy one in contrast to the road that leads to eternal life and that it is final in its destination.

Jesus’ parables seem to contradict universalism

Many of Jesus parables provide insights into the final judgment as well. The story of the wheat and the weeds reveals how the weeds will be gathered together and ‘burned up’ (Matthew 13:24-43).  The parable of the evil farmers says that those who the kingdom is taken away from will be ‘broken to pieces’ (Matthew 21:44). Similarly, the parable of the Great Feast says that those who ignored the Kings invitation were ‘destroyed (Matthew 22:7).

One of the things that I find to be vital to universalism is the idea that life after death is eternal for everyone and that there will be opportunities in the afterlife for repentance and union with Christ. But looking at something like the story of the ten bridesmaids in Matthew 25 where five of them ran out of oil and they were excluded from the marriage feast gives no indication that there is hope of a second chance for those who woke up too late to enter the party. These are all words from Jesus’ own mouth and it is just a few examples from one of the gospels. Similar words and parables are spoken elsewhere as well (consider Luke 19:27) but I feel the point has already been made that a Christ centered eschatology requires a holistic approach to both how He lived and what He taught.

A common false assumption

Many of the lists I see where scriptural evidence for universal redemption is presented use verses like 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 to point out that Christ died not for our sins only but for the sins of the whole world and that God is no longer counting the sins of people against them. But I think it is a faulty assumption to tie forgiveness of sins and eternal life together as though they were the same thing. Yes, forgiveness is essential to restoring a right relationship with God but consider a practical example of what I am trying to say. If I forgive someone who has wronged me I have no ill feelings toward them but it does not necessarily mean that any sort of a relationship has been established between us because they might still wish evil on me.

Forgiveness is the first step toward reconciliation but it remains of no value to the offender if they do not receive it and make amends. Consider the men who crucified Jesus, His words to them were, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do”.  Does this mean that His executioners were ‘saved’ because they had received forgiveness? I don’t think so; I just think that Jesus was not holding their sin against them. If I were in his place I probably would have been thinking, “these guys are gonna poop in their pants one day when they see me at the pearly gates” but, fortunately for us, God is not like me. This is why Paul follows verses 18 and 19 with verse 20 which says,”We speak for Christ when we plead likewise that you be reconciled to God”. Would the prodigal son have been restored to his position in the family if he had never gone home and instead remained in the mud with the pigs? No, there is no indication that the father in that story held anything against his son for wasting his inheritance but there is also no reason to believe that the son would have eventually benefited from his father’s love, mercy and grace had he never returned home.

Over a hundred verses suggest otherwise

There is a common saying that scripture should interpret scripture. In another post I have shared well over a hundred verses that speak of the end of those outside of Christ in descriptive language, using terms and phrases like perish, destruction, destroyed, the second death, consumed, burned up, melting away, ash and ‘as though they had never been’. Unlike eternal conscious torment which relies on three New Testament verses from two different books and universalism which relies mostly on some of Paul’s words and the last two chapters in book of Revelation, conditional immortality draws from almost every author and book throughout the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation.

While I do not think that we should count up our proof texts in deciding on a winner, I do think that the weight of scripture leans one way and that the verses that are less clear should be interpreted in light of the ones that are more plainly understandable. A piece of the puzzle can be misleading when it is not viewed as part of a larger picture.

Does God always get His way?

While universalism makes room for hell, judgment and even free will, I think the idea that all mankind will eventually see things God’s way is a misplaced hope. Irresistible grace applied to the scripture that says that God desires that none would perish and all would be saved would contradict scriptures like Jude 10-11 and all of the other verses that speak of men perishing. If immortality or eternal life is a gift of God to those who are in Christ alone, it seems a dangerous assumption to say that that life will be eternally sustained (even if it takes a billion years) for those outside of Christ until they eventually repent of their own free will. The only scripture that comes close to saying something like that is Revelation 21:25-27 but I do not think in light of everything else we read in the Bible that infinite opportunities for repentance would be the best interpretation of those verses. The gates that are never shut simpy indicates to me that there is total peace and no outside threat to those in the New Jerusalem.

Does rejecting universalism limit grace?

Universalism says that “Love never fails” and that “God’s mercy endures forever”. Does rejecting universal redemption then reject these scriptural sayings? I believe not, for as someone once said, the immortal God came as a mortal man to earth and conquered death so that mortal man could live forever. On the cross love defeated the enemy we call death, this is the very definition the Bible gives us of love (1 John 3:16) thus Jesus, with his last breath, could whisper, “It is finished”. There is however I believe a place away from God where failure IS a certainty; a place where death IS inevitable, not because God failed but because men failed to recognize love and mercy when it was extended toward them.

Some may struggle with the idea of a loving and good God that pushes the ‘destruct’ button or the ‘torture them forever’ button on the wicked and I am one of them. I have written about that elsewhere so I will not repeat what I said over here again (though I would recommend reading that article by clicking over here). What I will say here though is that I agree with C.S. Lewis when he said that “The doors of hell are locked from the inside”. Sometimes, love and grace do not get there way, we see it now and we will see it later on before it can be said that Christ has become ‘all in all’. It cannot be said that it is a failure of love, grace and mercy if some are lost then anymore than it is a failure of love, grace and mercy when accounting for evil in the present. We know a day is coming when all the pain, the hate, the death and evil around us will be no more but we cannot deny its current reality.

What Christ in all means

Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.  – Acts 3:20

When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all. - 1 Corinthians 15:28

The popular view of hell imagines a future creation where Christ one day reigns in and through a small percentage of humankind while the vast majority of people suffer eternal conscious torment. I picture this (for illustrative purposes only) like heaven being located in, let’s say Australia with a giant wall built around it and every other place on earth is then hell where most of humanity went. In this view God’s justice is never in all eternity satisfied as He continually needs to torment those who rejected Him. This does not fit well with what I believe scripture teaches about the restoration of all things in Christ.

Universalists try to fix this by saying that hell will one day be empty; it is essentially in their view a place that is constantly decreasing in population. This makes more scriptural sense but ignores most of the things we have discussed above regarding the destruction of the wicked. So I agree that hell will be a place constantly decreasing in population, how I see it though is that hell is a place outside the city of God (Rev 21 & 22), a place where people have being left to their own destructive devices (Romans 1:25), a place where evil runs its natural course until one day there is nothing left but what is in Christ.

The strongest among you will disappear like straw; their evil deeds will be the spark that sets it on fire. They and their evil works will burn up together, and no one will be able to put out the fire. – Isaiah 1:31.

God as all in all then must refer to a new creation where, like in Genesis, we can say that everything, not just people but everything, the whole of creation is very good indeed. This leaves no room for continued evil but it does not necessarily mean universal redemption either. For me, conditional immortality is the logical conclusion to arrive at.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Unchurching by Richard Jacobson book review

I received a pre-release review copy of Unchurching from Speakeasy. As soon as I heard of it I jumped at the opportunity to get my hands on a copy because I am a huge fan of Richard’s ‘Church Anarchist’ animated videos. If you have never seen them before, I highly recommend clicking here and checking them out. They are short, easy to understand and great at communicating simple truths about the differences between organic churches and institutionalized ones.

Richard’s book, much like his videos, reveals that he is a great communicator. I have probably read around 20 books on what it means to be the church, most of which were from the perspective of house/organic churches and I am glad to say that this is not just more of the same recycled information again. Unchurching adds fresh perspectives to the conversation while still covering the essentials as to what it means to be the body of Christ here on earth. One of the main themes in the book explores what it looks like to live in community and how to pursue that using the biblical illustration of the church as a family. He also takes a look at the priesthood of all believers, how institutional churches actually stifle it and how we can rediscover it once again. Two main ideas stuck out here for me; firstly, Richard’s perspective on how the 5-fold ministry equips the body for ministry is out of the box and refreshing. Then secondly, his treatment of the subject of men and woman as equals is fantastic. He takes us beyond the usual quibbles over headship and goes right back to Genesis starting with the first man and woman revealing God's original intentions for them.

I won’t go into his explanations here but I will comment that for the church to truly be one and for the priesthood of all believers to be fully realized I think Unchurching is a great catalyst for believers who are seeking to take a step in the right direction and realize it as more than just a doctrine that we give lip service to.

What I found to be most insightful and unique to this book though is the discussion around the institutional churches identity and how it is affected once it has taken the step to incorporate itself. There is a little bit of a history lesson showing where corporations come from as well as some legal talk explaining what corporations are. In essence, a corporation is a fictitious person that exists in perpetuity, so, when a church incorporates itself, it is the corporation rather than the congregation that legally becomes a church. What that boils down to is that you can leave a ‘church’ as can every other person who attends it and yet still have a 'church' in theory (even if it's just an empty building) which is alien to how scripture speaks about the community of believers. Richard then asks the questions, has the church in the process of gaining limited liability and tax exempt status sold its birthright? And what does the church lose when it does not value its identity? Regardless of how you answer these questions they are important ones to be asking.

I enjoyed this book even though it is, as the author states himself, meant for a specific audience. This book is primarily meant for those who are ‘unchurching’, not because they have given up on God but because they sense there is something more to being a community of Christians than attending certain programs in specific buildings on specific days. Unchurching is not about ‘unchurching’ at all but about pursuing a deeper relationship with God and those around us. Only those who are looking for that already will probably see it in this book and that is probably how it is meant to be anyway.

Unchurching has not being released yet, I was fortunate enough to receive an advance copy for review purposes but you can read a sample portion of the book as well as keep up to date with news related to the official release by clicking over here.

Monday, 20 June 2016

The Gospel Next Door - book review

I grew up with what I assume to be a pretty standard understanding of the gospel story. Jesus died for our sins so that one day when we die we can go to heaven. Our time on earth could be thought of as a doctors waiting room where we simply hang around running down the clock, staying vigilant lest we don’t hear our name called out when it’s our time to move on to the great physician in the sky.

This is not the story of The Gospel Next Door though. Marty Troyer has delivered a message to us that the gospel is good news right now. This Jesus who brought good news to the poor, who healed the brokenhearted, set the captives free and gave sight to the blind is very much alive today in you and me and His heart has not changed. We are all missionaries’ right where we live, not in the traditional sense of the word but rather as Gods children on earth with the potential to powerfully impact our communities right where we live.

This book is full of stories from the authors own life as well as the people around him which connects the gospel to who God is and what it looks like when His people start to practically demonstrate the life and love they find in Him to others. The stories that are shared are really what make this read so powerful; it’s not just a neat little doctrine we can jot down in a notebook and forget about but a challenge to the church to recognize where God is at work in our community and to join in with Him. To quote Marty himself, “Love is possible. Hope is possible. Joy is possible. Taking risks, overcoming fears, dealing with negative emotions and anxiety, moving beyond habitual disobedience – are all now possible. The welcome and integration of strangers, extravagant generosity and simple living, serving the marginalized, working for the common good: these, too, are possible. I believe if God brought Jesus back to life, then even I can change!”

The Gospel Next Door moves beyond simple statements about loving and serving others. Whole chapters are devoted to exploring the devastation of war, to exposing modern day slavery and how our lifestyles unwittingly support it. One of the chapters explores the Black Lives Matter movement. All three topics revealed a degree of ignorance in my own heart toward the injustices in this world which I often simply never saw. Marty’s pastoral skills must have been at work here though because rather than shame, I felt encouraged to move forward from where I am. I am excited about the prospect of growing more and more into the role of seeking the shalom of my own city. Whether it is in paying attention to the things I consume and how they affect the people and environment to how I directly interact with those around me.

By the conclusion of this book I felt like an Esther, called to a time and place such as this. The gospel is about more than just sin management and the afterlife. Participating in restorative justice is a powerful way to prophetically claim the kingdom of God. This book reveals that far better than I can, I hope the Gospel Next Door falls into as many hands as possible.

If you would like a copy, it just went on sale today and you can get it on Amazon by clicking over here.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Women as equals in marriage and the church

This will be one of those posts that is bound to go down like a hotdog stand at a vegan festival. Nevertheless, I feel that it is important enough that I should put it out here. The idea that there should be a hierarchical structure within our churches and marriages separating men and woman is so deeply ingrained in our culture that few are even willing to consider that it might actually be unhealthy for us. Even now I can hear the objectors saying things like “but doesn’t it say somewhere in 1 Corinthians that the head of every woman is man” and elsewhere that “wives should submit to their husbands?” and the answer of course to both of those questions is yes, it does affirm both of those things in the Bible and we will address those scriptures and others as well in their proper context as this article progresses to gain a better idea of what scripture is actually communicating to us. For now though, I want to back up a bit and lay the correct framework for this conversation to be set in.


Let’s start with the idea of oneness that is so prevalent in scripture. Going all the way back to Genesis we see that mankind was created in God’s image. God created and named humans ‘Man’ or ‘Adam’ (5:2). This does not come across in our English translations because the Hebrew word usually gets translated into multiple English words (man, mankind, Adam, human etc) but the reality is that Adam and Eve were meant to be one much like the godhead is one. Eve was bone of her husband’s bone and flesh of his flesh, God’s ideal had no hierarchy, man ruling over woman would only come later as a result of the fall. We see this in verse 16 in Genesis 3 where God tells Eve that part of the curse now on creation would include her desire will be to control her husband yet he would rule over her. The very first thing we read after God stops speaking in this section of scripture is that Adam named his wife “Eve” (in verse 20) and then God goes on to make them some clothing to hide away their nakedness. In some way then, Adam and Eve had experienced an immediate separation in oneness as a result of their sin.

It’s important to note that man ruling over woman was part of the curse because Christ came to redeem creation from the effects of the fall and as Christians we have generally taken to working with Christ in this. Paul says that we have been given the ministry of reconciliation. So we seek to prolong life with medication and healthy living; we invent ways of making child birth safer and less painful and we build machines that make farming easier. Yet the only part of the curse we have seemingly sought to uphold is that “man is to rule over woman”. So with that in mind let us go back to some of the most often cited scriptural arguments against gender equality and see if there is possibly a better way of understanding those verses in light of the rest of scripture.


But there is one thing I want you to know: The head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. – 1 Corinthians 11:3

This is probably the most famous of the ‘headship’ verses; we also see something similar in Ephesians 5:22 as well though so we will take a closer look at both passages. It is pretty clear in both instances that man is the head of woman; what is unclear though is exactly what that means. In English, we use the word head to refer to someone in a position of authority; we have titles for such persons as ‘Head coach’, ‘Head of Department’ and ‘Head Chef’. But we have to understand that to a first century Greek-speaking Jew the word ‘head’ did not carry that connotation at all. To speak of the head as a person who was over others would make no more sense than it would to directly translate the word ‘cool’ in reference to something you considered to be awesome. Rather, when scripture refers to man as the head it should be understood to be saying that man is the source of woman. This should be obvious just by paying attention to the context of what Paul was saying. Consider verses 8 and 12 from the same chapter:-

For man did not come from woman but the first woman came from man...for although the first woman came from man, every other man was born from a woman, and everything comes from God. 

Paul is not in 1 Corinthians 11 saying then that men are to exercise authority over woman at all, rather, he is addressing a woman’s authority to pray and prophecy (see verses 5 and 10) because she is from man just as man is from woman (see verses 11 and 12a) and both are from God (verse 12b). Notice also how verse 12 reverses the order by saying that every other man is born from a woman, the idea expressed is not one involving hierarchy.

Likewise, Ephesians 5:21-33 can be read in a similar manner to 1 Corinthians 11. Most people summarize this portion by simply saying that woman should submit to their husbands and husbands in turn are called to love their wives. But there is so much more going on here than our 21st century eyes can see. Let’s start with verse 21 which says:-

And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

The next 12 verses should be read in light of that statement; following this Paul reiterates to the woman that they should submit to their husbands as to the Lord. Then to the husbands he takes things even further, in Paul’s day woman were seen as little more than a man’s property, they had no rights, although a man could easily divorce his wife a woman could not do the same, a woman could not even testify in court. Into this context Paul says that a man should love his wife in the same way that Christ loved the church (verse 25). The whole idea here (as well as in chapter 6) is not about levels of authority but about following Christ’s example in serving and laying down our lives for others. When one loves as Christ does as husbands are instructed to do, it is almost impossible to see the difference between submitting and loving. Paul’s message to the husbands in this portion of scripture is not a ‘how to rightfully rule over woman’ but rather a reminder of his complete unity with her in Christ.

For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself (v28)...a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one (v31).


Like the verses about men being the head of woman, there are several scriptures that tell woman to submit to their husbands.1 Peter 3:1 and Titus 2:5 would be good examples. Interestingly, my NLT says in 1 Peter 3:1 that wives “should accept the authority of their husbands” which is a far cry from what the Greek actually says. Perhaps the translators decided the opposite of ‘submission’ was ‘to have authority’. This is simply not something we can conclude to be consistently true though, if scripture tells us to “be subject one to another” then everyone is to be under one another’s feet, assuming the role of a servant as we lift others up and serve the body.

The New Testament consistently calls us (not just woman) to submit to one another, children to parents, wives to husbands, slaves to masters, citizens to governments etc not because slavery, governments and male dominance are good things but because in doing so we are following Christ’s own example (Luke 2:51, 20:25 etc). And just as the New Testament calls for submission to one another it simultaneously and consistently warns us against exercising authority over others:-

"And Jesus called them to him and said to them, 'You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.' – Matthew 20:25-28

Even the church elders in chapter 5 verse 5 of 1st Peter are told to be subject one to another, they are warned in verse 3 not to lord over people but instead to lead through their example alone. The issue of trying to lord over another person is the same thing that Paul addresses in 1 Timothy 2:12 when he says that he does not permit a woman to rule or to have authority over her husband. The issue here is not a rebuttal of equality but of one trying to usurp another.

Following Christ’s example

So are wives supposed to submit to their husbands? Absolutely! Are husbands the heads? Yes! Now in light of everything I have said so far let us reconsider how we understand both of those answers. As followers of Christ, we are not called to exercise authority over anyone. Rather, we are called to love, serve and lay down our lives for everyone. The greatest must be like the least, the first as the last, take for yourself the lowest seat at the table and so on.
Husbands - love your wives as Christ in His self sacrificial way loved the church (1 John 4:10, John 3:16, Romans 5:8). Headship does not mean that you are the final and chief decision maker in your marriage. In fact, the only example in the New Testament we see regarding decision making within a marriage calls for mutual agreement (1 Corinthians 7:5). Interestingly, the verse just before this one is another which suggests mutual submission and equality (The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife).

In conclusion, Christ came to overturn the curse and we should live in light of it and work with Him as ministers of reconciliation. If you are using headship and submission as a means of getting your own way then you do not understand headship or submission.

Christ’s prayer for the church was that we, like mankind before the fall, would be one as He and the Father are one.

I am not only praying for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one – as you are in me, Father, and I in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe that you sent me. I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. – John 17:20-23

And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:27-28

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Lord Willing? - Book review

My son was born with a congenital condition known as a hypospadias, which basically means that his urethra's opening was not where it should have been. We were told upon a visit to the Urologist that they would have to do corrective surgery when he was eighteen months old as his body was not big and strong enough to do the required reconstructive surgery before then. The day of the operation and the week thereafter were truly the toughest thing that I have ever had to endure. I lost my father when I was fifteen years old and I have experienced other valleys along the way as well that are simply part and parcel of living here on earth yet nothing can compare to the pain a parent goes through when their child is suffering.

Even though this was a fairly standard, low risk operation, it destroyed me to see my son in such pain, unable to even stand up for several days and screaming in agony every time he had to pee. I remember praying to God, sometimes thanking Him that we lived in a time and place where things like this could be fixed. Other times I was practically begging Him to remove the pain that my son was experiencing, then on other occasions I would be furious with Him for not honoring my previous request for healing. Never before had I felt so helpless in a situation and I am so thankful that those days are behind us and that everything turned out well in the end.

This brings me to Jessica Kelley’s book Lord Willing?, where she vividly retells the tragic story of her four year old son Henry's death from a brain tumor and where she explores what God’s role in that process was. The book starts with a bit of a background story as to how she went from believing that God was in total control of everything that happens on earth and that all of the pain and suffering around us was somehow allowed or designed by God to ultimately bring glory to Him. To how she eventually came to reject that views in favor of a what she calls the warfare worldview which states that although God is all powerful, He is not all controlling and does not specifically allow bad things like cancer, murder and sex trafficking to happen. This view states that the love of God demands that there was a degree of risk involved in creation. Hence the death, disease and destruction that we see all around us today are not the results of the will of God but rather the fruits of a fallen creation. For example, while Gods will can be seeing in the command “thou shall not murder”, some people choose to walk a path contrary to that will. Murder therefore is clearly not part of God's will. Throughout her testimony Jessica Kelley keeps pointing us back to Jesus, back to the cross and reminds us that the full revelation of what God is like was revealed on Calvary, this is what love looks like and she continually urges us to trust in this image of God.

The book continues with the story of the discovery of an aggressive brain tumor in her son, the treatment thereof and then finally the death of four year old Henry. It was absolutely heart wrenching to read and at times I simply had to put the book down because the emotion was just too intense for me to press onward. Jessica has done a masterful job in retelling her story, recalling the ups and the downs, the good and the bad, the beauty of life and the ugliness of death in a manner that makes Lord Willing? so very human and easy to relate to.

From there on things shift more toward a theological discussion. Things that have been mentioned briefly up until this point, whether on the side of the more traditional ‘blueprint’ worldview or the lesser known ‘warfare worldview’, both get a thorough scriptural examination. While I might disagree with or admit uncertainty about some of the ‘nuts and bolts’ of what is presented, I am in full agreement with the overall model and picture that this book provides. There is evil in this world which God is at war with. We see it in Jesus when He cast out demons, healed the sick, raised the dead and rebuked a storm. But in war bad things happen, there is pain, there is suffering and there is loss. Yet when tragedy comes we can be certain that God wins in the grand scheme of things and that while He is still opposed, He is working to bring about good even when His will is thwarted.

My hope is that this book will fall into the hands of as many people as possible because to some degree or another we all experience suffering and loss and, in those moments, what we believe about God will either push us away from or toward Him. I believe that this book is a great tool in helping people to see God more clearly, I hope that it will help people to stand against evil and say, “this is not of God” and in the midst of life’s greatest trials we can with full assurance run toward Him and know that there is comfort in His arms, that He is good, loving and trustworthy.

I cannot recommend Jessica's writings highly enough. You can purchase Lord Willing by clicking over here and you can read her blog by clicking over here.