Yes, God is our perfect Heavenly Father, but are we his good children?
While putting my thesis into words I conducted an informal interview for feedback. Talking out ideas with others can be very useful to develop one's own understanding. Good questions can also be very useful to get to the heart of the matter with others. Jesus asked his disciples questions frequently. So I asked numerous people this question:
What would be your reaction if you learned that the grace of Christ ultimately saved all mankind in the end, both believer and unbeliever?
The following answers expose serious problems in the average evangelical Christian's understanding of grace.
1. "You have a case of optimism out of control."
That was one response and the namesake of this book. The response offers a thumbs up for trying, but still only smiles at me as if I were insane.
2. "That would not be fair after all our effort."
This response indicates a serious misunderstanding of grace. Biblical grace is at least defined by most Christians as God's unmerited favor toward the redeemed, even if there is disagreement on the details. Some have used the acronym G.R.A.C.E., (God's Riches At Christ's Expense), to define salvation very simply. That being the case, then grace is already unfair by definition. We all deserve eternal death for our sin, yet God graciously decided to save his people. How is it then sensible that one saved person could say it is "not fair" that another person is also unfairly saved - regardless of the circumstance? If even one is saved, that is already unfair. What would be the problem with God unfairly saving a few more or all? It may be that the one quoted above has never really received grace in his heart, but has only memorized the traditional Christian lingo.
3. "Then there would be no reason to refrain from sin."
This response is very similar to the one above and likewise indicates a serious misunderstanding about grace. This person must believe that he is saved from condemnation by his efforts to refrain from sin. He must imagine that he has refrained from sin just enough when compared to other worse sinners. He must think that he has made the grade and is saved while the others are condemned. But just where does he draw the line? Just how good do we need to be in order to be saved? Are we saved if we are "not terrible?" Are we saved if we are simply a positive number on the scale? Or is it much tougher -- do we need to be almost perfect? No. None of these human scales of righteousness are sufficient. According to God's word and his perfect holiness, absolutely no sin or impurity can stand in his presence. None! Simply trying to refrain from sin is not enough for a sinner to gain Heaven. Furthermore, Christians do not obey Christ because of the threat of Hell, but because of his unconditional love! This person's argument against God's love for all mankind is instead an awkward testimony to his own unbelief and self-righteousness.
4. "Well I guess that would be okay, whatever God decides."
This response is deadpan apathy. Yikes! Understanding grace in one's own life seems like a reason for deep passion and empathy towards others. One would think that seeing grace in another person's life would also be a reason for great joy. The grace of God, when understood -- even minimally -- breaks us out of our self-centered shell to know love for someone else besides ourselves. It is like welcoming a new family member into the household. It is cause for celebration! So how could someone who understands grace, even in the least, have such an apathetic response to the question? It would be like receiving a million dollar inheritance, being cured of cancer, and getting married to the girl of your dreams all on the same day. Then when you learn that the same thing happened to your brother and neighbor you respond by saying, "Whatever." Again, the one quoted above may say he is saved by grace, but deep inside, something in his heart has grown foul.
5. "That would probably be awesome in heaven, but it is certainly not great now."
This ambivalent response is hard for me to understand. On one hand there is an intellectual agreement that this would be awesome. Yet on the other hand there is a very bold confession of a sinful attitude. Perhaps the one quoted is just a painfully honest hypocrite. Perhaps, the question caught him off guard and there was a guarded response. Perhaps there is wishful thinking fighting with doubts. Whatever the reason, the expected high flying joy is definitely having trouble taking flight.
6. "There must be a compromise between Arminian and Calvinistic thought."
Another insisted that there must be a compromise between Arminian and Calvinistic thought. He felt it may not be immediately evident, but there must be ground to stand on between ALL or PART of God's role in redemption, or a line to stand on between ALL or PART of mankind. However, neither the theologian Boice, nor the philosopher Lewis thought there was ground in the middle. Realistically the only place to stand between those options is 1) do not know, 2) do not want to know, or 3) do not care. Yet most people attempt to straddle the fence, like the one quoted above. Understandably, it is a challenge to our understanding. The Bible is clear that people are punished in Hell, so the ALL for ALL combination does not seem like a viable option at first blush. However, are we willing to have hope that the grace of Christ will even conquer the gates of Hell as he promised in Matthew 16:18 (WEB)? "I also tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my assembly, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it."
7. ... [no response, silence, next subject] ...
The most curious response I received was absolutely no response, silence, and a turn to the next subject. I can at least relate to the sinful hearts expressed above because of my own sinful heart. However, to have zero response seems the oddest response of all to me. Perhaps we are so calloused and spiritually desensitized that thoughts of God, judgment, eternal bliss, and eternal damnation no longer evoke any emotion whatsoever. Then again, Jesus faced the same challenge in his own generation as recorded in Matthew 11:16-19 (WEB). His contemporaries would neither dance nor mourn when he spoke the truth.
16) But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces, who call to their companions 17) and say, "We played the flute for you, and you didn’t dance. We mourned for you, and you didn’t lament." 18) For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, "He has a demon." 19) The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, "Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!" But wisdom is justified by her children.
Jesus also told a parable relevant to the responses above. The Parable of the Wedding Banquet in Matthew 22:1-14 (WEB) gives us a picture of apathetic responses to a wedding invitation. Verse 3 says "[the king] sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the marriage feast, but they would not come."
Each of the Christians quoted above wants to come to the "wedding banquet" of Jesus. However, the banquet they imagine is not very joyful. There is no celebration of the victory of God's grace over sin for mankind. Instead it sounds more like a poo poo party.
Though, one person replied to my interview question,
8. "That would be plain awesome."
This response seems like the only sensible reaction for someone saved by grace.
I know my question and the responses above do not offer any additional Biblical defense for my position. However, they do reveal that the hearts of those professing to be Christians quoted in #1-7 above are not standing on ground more solid than I. In fact, those quoted are standing on very shaky ground. Moreover, the most common evangelical Christian responses were incriminatingly devoid of grace. The Bible says, "For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks" (Matthew 12:34 WEB). The answers from these mouths have exposed some fairly wicked hearts. I can understand each of them too well. All is not lost, however, for these ugly responses barely come close to matching my own sin.
Forgetting what is behind, let's continue learning about the grace that has covered all. Lord willing we will discover if there are solid Biblical answers to the many objections that Jesus Christ is the savior of all mankind.