In Chapter 11 of William P. Young’s “The Shack,” the story’s protagonist, Mackenzie, encounters a mysterious female figure who represents Wisdom, (no doubt inspired by Solomon’s personification of the virtue in the book of Proverbs.)
In talking with Wisdom about the senseless kidnapping of his daughter, Mackenzie shouts, “Yes! God is to blame!” To which Wisdom responds, “…If you are able to judge God so easily, then you certainly can judge the world.”
A fascinating conversation then unfolds:
Again she spoke with no emotion. “You must choose two of your children to spend eternity in God’s new heaven and new earth, but only two.”
“What?” he erupted, turning to her in disbelief.
“And you must choose three of your children to spend eternity in hell.”
Mack couldn’t believe what he was hearing and started to panic.
“Mackenzie.” Her voice now came as calm and wonderful as first he heard it. “I am only asking you to do something that you believe God does. He knows every person ever conceived, and he knows them so much deeper and clearer than you will ever know your own children. He loves each one according to his knowledge of the being of that son or daughter. You believe he will condemn most to an eternity of torment, away from His presence and apart from His love. Is that not true?”
“I suppose I do. I’ve just never thought about it like this.” He was stumbling over his words in his shock. “I just assumed that somehow God could do that. Talking about hell was always sort of an abstract conversation, not about anyone that I truly…” Mack hesitated, realizing that what he was about to say would sound ugly, “not about anyone that I truly cared about.”
“So you suppose, then, that God does this easily, but you cannot? Come now, Mackenzie. Which three of your five children will you sentence to hell?”
Mackenzie, of course, cannot choose between his children, and instead asks, “Could I go instead? If you need someone to torture for eternity, I’ll go in their place. Would that work? Could I do that?” To which wisdom responds, “Now you sound like Jesus. You have judged well, Mackenzie. I am so proud of you!”
“But I haven’t judged anything.” Mack offered in confusion.
“Oh, but you have. You have judged them worthy of love, even if it costs you everything. That is how Jesus loves.”
Clearly, Young isn’t a big fan of limited atonement.
The story calls to mind a quote from Spencer Burke, who has said, “Most Christians have conceived of a God who is less forgiving and less compassionate than they are.”
Those who know me well know that for years I struggled with this issue, to the point that I almost left the Christian faith altogether. Anytime I questioned the idea of God damning the majority of the human population to hell, I was told that this subject was not negotiable, that God picks and chooses who He wants to save and we can’t do anything about it.
I’ve often been told that the reason I have a problem with the idea of people suffering eternally without the chance to be saved is because my sense of justice has been perverted by my sin nature, that it only seems unfair to me because “God’s ways are higher than our ways.” Ironically, I recently discovered that the context of that commonly-quoted verse is not about God’s mysterious wrath but about His mysterious mercy. The preceding verse declares, “He will have compassion on [the sinner]…for He will abundantly pardon,” and then continues, “for ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.” (Isaiah 55:7-8)
God does not relinquish His sovereignty by extending His abundant grace to sinners. His ways are higher than our ways in that He does not need to satisfy His vengeance in order to retain His sense of power and majesty. Jesus asks His disciples to love their enemies so that they may be “perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48) Perhaps we have created God in our image in that we expect His justice, like ours, to favor retribution over forgiveness. But based on all that I have since learned from Scripture and all that I have experienced in my life, I expect that it will be God’s mercy-not his wrath-that prevails and astounds us at judgment.
I've come to believe that His love is unlimited and eternal, and with Him there is indeed “abundant redemption.” (Psalm 130:7) When Jesus hung on the cross, when God had been insulted by mankind to the highest degree imaginable, Jesus said, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Now, there is the mystery. There is the higher way. There is the thing that my perverted sense of justice can never comprehend.
It is not that God is less compassionate than us; He is more compassioante, more loving, more forgiving.
(More on how my thoughts in this area have changed in next week’s posts about religious pluralism.)
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