Question: Could God be less compassionate and harsher in His judgments than us?
Draft: Aug 28/2017
This question came in…
[Original question text in BLUE; all else is mine]
“You made a comment on your piece titled gutripper stating that it would be weird if the effect was superior to the cause, i.e. God versus human. Something came to mind that has been bothering me about that statement, but perhaps you have a great answer (and I hope you do). What has been bothering me is the notion of - what if God chooses not to be as rational, compassionate, loving, etc. as humans do. Not that he does not have the capacity for it, he just chooses to ignore it
Good question, imo.
The core of my reply (at this philosophical and/or theological level) would be to argue that ‘the superior’ would also include the ethical and/or personal and/or emotional dimension. To apply this to this situation, OUR compassion and OUR tolerance of weakness and OUR passion for righteousness and OUR commitment to goodness/forgiveness/reconciliation cannot be “MORE THAN” or higher in intensity or more developed that the Cause of that. For example, God’s passion for goodness cannot be LESS THAN our (weaker) passion for goodness. And ‘passion for goodness’ CANNOT be divorced from ‘action / activity for goodness’.
IOW, if God had a greater CAPACITY for goodness (than we do), but does not ACT in accordance with that CAPACTIY, then He is ‘less good’ than we are—because we ‘act more goodness-ly’.
So, I think the ‘effect cannot be greater than the cause’ principle would extend to the ‘action’ (and the choices that produce that action) and not just ‘capacity’.
But there is a huge gap between saying that God cannot CHOOSE to be “less good” than He is in His nature, and saying that God’s definition of ‘good’ is the same as ours. Our definitions of good (that we ‘judge’ God by) might be different than His (e.g. Roman elites considered status-negating mercy and compassion and equality to be inferior values—if values at all), but—if my principle holds—they can never be ‘more good’ than His definition. We will discuss further below, when we get to your hypothetical about being ‘too compassionate’.
(There is, btw, a theological position that defines God as being in FULL action, without any 'potentiality' left: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Actus_purus)
“and actually views humanities wide spectrum of thoughts and reasoning as wicked, and quite frankly, beyond the scope of what God chooses to experience.
I don’t doubt the truth of this statement at all. God explicitly states that ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts; and My ways are not your ways’—but the contrast He makes is one of truth/good/beauty and faithfulness versus our ‘lower’ unrighteous ways. So, Isaiah 55.8-9:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your way and my thoughts than your thoughts.
“Verses 8–9 do not refer simply to the inscrutable character of God’s ways and thoughts; for, in the light of v.7, it is clear that there is a stress on the moral difference. God’s thoughts and ways are in fact governed by righteousness—his righteousness—and his effective word therefore accomplishes a moral purpose, the reclamation of the sinner from the error and wickedness of his ways.” [Geoffrey W. Grogan, “Isaiah,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel (ed. Frank E. Gaebelein; vol. 6; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986), 6313.]
“These verses state one of two reasons why humans should seek the Lord and turn from their wickedness. As Alexander points out, one can understand v. 8 (and 9) in three ways. The first is that although human thoughts would say that forgiveness is impossible, God’s thoughts are not human. The second is that although human thoughts would say that God’s covenant promises to Israel have been nullified by Israel’s sin, God will keep those promises anyway. The third is that humans should turn from their sinful ways and thoughts because those are not God’s ways and thoughts. Each of these may be paralleled with other passages in the Bible, so it is not a matter of what is in keeping with biblical theology. Instead, it must be a matter of what is in keeping with the context. In that case, as Alexander and others conclude, the third option must be the correct one. The repetition of ways and thoughts from v. 7 suggests that what is wrong with human ways and thoughts and requires one to turn away from them is that they are not God’s thoughts and ways. This same point is made in Prov. 16:1–3 (cf. also Prov. 3:5–6; 21:2), using the same words (derākîm, “ways,” v. 2; maḥšebôt, “thoughts,” v. 3).” [John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66 (The New International Commentary on the Old Testament; Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), 444–445.]
“The word maḥšĕbôt, here translated “thoughts,” contains the idea of calculations, devices, or plans. Human maḥšĕbôt are characterized more often than not by sinful deviance (Gen 6:5; Isa 59:7; Ezek 38:10; Ps 56:6), stubborn resistance to God (Jer 18:12; Prov 15:26) and a misguided sense of self-sufficiency (Isa 65:2… There is therefore a close connection between maḥšĕbôt so understood and dĕrākîm, “ways,” in the sense that one’s way of living morally is dictated by the “devices and desires of the heart” (The Book of Common Prayer).” [Joseph Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 40–55: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (vol. 19A; Anchor Yale Bible; New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008), 371–372.]
“The appeal, to leave their own way and their own thoughts, and yield themselves to God the Redeemer, and to His word, is now urged on the ground of the heaven-wide difference between the ways and thoughts of this God and the despairing thoughts of men (Isa. 40:27; 49:24), and their aimless labyrinthine ways. Vv. 8, 9. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith Jehovah: no, heaven is high above the earth; so high are my ways above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts.” The kī (imo) introduces the undeniable statement of a fact patent to the senses, for the purpose of clearly setting forth, by way of comparison, the relation in which the ways and thoughts of God stand to those of man. … On what side the heaven-wide elevation is to be seen, is shown in what follows. They are not so fickle, so unreliable, or so powerless.” [Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament (vol. 7; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996), 535.]
So, even though God KNOWS our thoughts and chooses NOT to ‘live or think that way’, that does not actually impact my first point above. Humans exalt the vile, embrace deceit, and value arrogance/elitism. God repudiates such and chooses NOT to embrace those perspectives/values, and instead, provides Himself as the paradigm and definition of the spectrum He chooses to live/think/do. E.g. Paul’s injunction in Ephesians 4-5 to ‘be imitators of God’—in a family model:
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
“Such statements introduced by καθὼς καί have been called “the conformity pattern” and function within exhortations to show Christ’s or God’s saving activity as prototypical for believers’ conduct (…). Here, as in later instances in 5:2, 25, 29, καθωνς has both comparative and causal force. What God has done in Christ for believers, which has been the theme of the first half of the letter, now provides both the norm and the grounds for believers’ own behavior. God’s forgiveness of them becomes the paradigm for their mutual forgiveness. … γίνεσθε οὖν μιμηταὶ τοῦ θοῦ, ὡς τέκνα ἀγαπητά, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children.” Both the οὖν, “therefore,” and the repetition of the same imperative γίνεσθε, “be,” from 4:32, make clear that this exhortation is drawing out the consequences of the previous one. The readers’ forgiving of one another, just as God in Christ forgave them, entails their becoming imitators of God. They are to make God’s activity the pattern for their lives. Their depiction as God’s dearly loved children makes clear the basis on which the demand for imitation is made (…). Believers have been adopted into God’s family (cf. 1:5) and should exhibit the family resemblance. It would be incongruous to be God’s dearly loved child and not to want to become like one’s loving Father.” [Andrew T. Lincoln, Ephesians (vol. 42; Word Biblical Commentary; Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1990), 309–310.]
And Jesus’ words in Luke 6.35-36:
“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. “
And the similar version in Matthew 5:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” [Mt 5:43–48.]
“The purpose (ὅπως, hopōs, in order that) of loving our enemies is to emulate the benevolent character of our heavenly Father. Loving one’s enemies is first compared to God’s love and beneficence for people (5:45). Then two rhetorical questions call on disciples to practice a higher righteousness than the tax collectors and pagans do (5:46–47). There is no reward in being like tax collectors who merely reciprocate the love shown to them. Neither is there anything praiseworthy in reciprocating the greetings that come from one’s fellows (ἀδελφοί, adelphoi, brothers), as the Gentiles do. It is clear that action, not emotion, is called for here, since disciples are not only to pray for enemies (5:44) but also to do them good (since God does; 5:45; cf. Luke 6:35; Ps. 145:9; Acts 14:17) and to greet them respectfully (Matt. 5:47). This last action may imply a wish for their welfare (Gen. 43:27; Exod. 18:7 LXX). Jesus’s words contradict a Zealot mentality, since the “enemies” of Jewish disciples would certainly include the Romans. Matthew 5:9 has already spoken of how the disciples’ role as reconcilers in the world manifests their filial resemblance to the heavenly Father. Other NT texts stress how Christians’ love for people, especially enemies, marks them as members of God’s family (Eph. 4:31–5:2; 1 John 4:7–12; 1 Pet. 1:14–25). Loving one’s enemies is imitating God.” [ David L. Turner, Matthew (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 176–177.]
Now, strictly speaking, those paradigms of morality do not answer the questions you are raising—especially the one below.
We know firsthand that our best ethical stances do not ‘predict’ what is right to do in any given moral conflict, since there are often multiple ethical principles which apply, often no easy way to prioritize apparent conflicts between them (e.g. do we lie to Pharaoh so he kills fewer Hebrew babies or do we tell the truth and trust God to miraculously deliver them?), and/or often no easy way to discern the proper timing and/or sequence of implied actions (e.g. do we condemn the criminal to death under justice and THEN express mercy through legal pardon or substitute—“I give my life as a ransom for many’-- or do we LEAD with forgiveness even if not sought?—‘Father, forgive them for they know not what they do’).
And we make moral judgments on the basis of our personal ‘hierarchy’ of ethics. We judge others as being ‘too soft on crime’ and turn around at label others as ‘too legalistic’ or ‘unrealistic’. The best example I know of this is the ‘problem of evil’. A major part of that discussion has to do with how a ‘perfectly good deity’ could ‘allow suffering or gratuitous evil’ (‘not hard enough on crime’).
Or consider the question I had to explore in the article on God’s non-intervention versus His (apparent) commands for us TO INTERVENE (see “God is either malevolent or impotent--He expects us to intervene in crime situations but He doesn't!” at http://www.christianthinktank.com/2stds.html).
“I am trying to word this so you can understand it as I reason it in my mind so let me give you an example. Human X is really compassionate, so much so they just cannot tolerate to witness suffering. This spectrum of compassion was created by God, but God believes Human X is too compassionate, and really, God’s threshold of compassion was drawn light years before the threshold drawn by Human X.
This example is pretty close the issues I look at in the article above.
We would have to carefully define what ‘too compassionate’ meant, especially in the distinction between ‘feeling compassion’ and ‘acting compassionately’.
If by ‘cannot tolerate to witness suffering’ you mean they DO SOMETHING (or more specifically, “GIVE ALL THAT THEY HAVE” to ELIMINATE suffering), then we are into all the moral ambiguities and (apparent) conflicts I mentioned above. Which suffering to they choose to alleviate? In what order? What about suffering they CANNOT remediate? Do they deprive their families of food to alleviate the hunger of others? Do they ‘rob from the rich to give to the poor’? Etc.
And when they hit a legal constraint that stops them—e.g. the sufferer is 5 feet over the national border and they cannot do anything BUT watch them suffer, we get closer to the conflicts again—the issue of governance and non-intervention ethics (as per the article).
When there are constraints on acting to reduce, eliminate, or offset suffering, what remains is the FEELING and/or EMOTION of compassion. Can someone BE ‘too compassionate’ in that sense? We might say ‘yes’, arguing that if the emotion of compassion overwhelmed a person to where they could not function socially, in their family, in their job (as a contribution to human life itself), then they were “OUT OF BALANCE” or something like that, but not really that they were ‘too compassionate’ per se.
We might say, rather, that their compassion level was FINE, but their commitment to other values was LACKING, DEFICIENT, or NOT EQUAL to their feelings of compassion.
But here we are into the area of ethics—deciding which landscape of values are appropriate. And so I think your example might not reflect your original question closely enough.
The ‘threshold’ word makes me think it is might be about action (how much compassion do you have to FEEL before TAKING compassionate action), but other wording suggests to me that you are considering the option that God just ‘shuts His feeling level down, once He gets to a certain amount of emotion’. Of course, we humans do that—we can only see so much suffering, violence, homeless at street intersections, and appeals for aid to starving or sick kids before we just cannot take any more pain—and we have to get ‘back to work’ at our desk, or have to engage our families, and can only pray and cry-in-silence for so many we see.
I personally do not believe that God has that option, as the all-seeing, all-knowing, and—in my perspective—the all-suffering one. I don’t believe for a minute that God does not experience the sum totality of all cosmic suffering, all at once, all the time, and to a degree of suffering way beyond what we dull-hearted and calloused-over-a-lifetime and self-protective creatures could ever experience.
“The righteous man swears to his own hurt” says the Psalmist, and I believe God’s heart carries the burdens of us all, ‘too compassionate’ for His own good. Aslan’s eyes were always sad, even when laughing and loving…
But fortunately, you will bring this even further into detail in your next section--
“I came along this line of reasoning as I have sifted through various preachers, websites, and other material. Some of them portray God as being more simplistic than humans, e.g., God does not consider the aggregate data, just sees things black and white. Did X happen, then regardless of the mitigating circumstances, Y is the punishment. If that is true, then it is possible God is not as loving, compassionate, or sensitive as humans are – matter of fact, God regards humanities view of compassion as too far reaching (even defining them as flaws and wickedness).
This portrayal of God by these others is the exact reason why we have to have a ‘revealed religion’. Humanity’s ‘projections’ and ‘speculations’ of what God is ‘like’ (especially in matters of character, values/morals, and choices) have so little credibility to them—in my opinion, and more importantly, in God’s own ‘opinions’ – smile.
If an invisible and transcendent agent does not DISCLOSE to others His/Her/Their inner life, then it remains unknowable—with any real certainty. We can ‘guess’ what God is like from His effects (e.g. God the Creator must absolutely LOVE diversity, as inferred from the massive diversity within the created bio-sphere alone), but those are extrapolations/interpolations. They could be 100% correct, but we cannot be 100% certain that they are—there are just too many ‘differences’ between the Creator and the Creation that might qualify or negate any extrapolations from a limited subset of the observable data.
The problem of evil is a great example of this—gratuitous evil is a minor subset of our experience, but it is used by some to make judgements on God’s character or power—and therefore upon the question of His existence.
In the case under discussion here—in which you have given a great example of how important this is—we are blessed to have such self-disclosure, and even better, we have it exemplified in action/history.
To set this up correctly, all we have to do is note that A SINGLE EXCEPTION to the ‘mitigating circumstances are ignored by God’ is enough to bring the position down. In other words, all we have to do is find ONE EXAMPLE of where God did not do the “Y” that should have followed the “X”. If one such example exists, then we have concrete proof that God does not work under a simplistic, mechanical structure like that.
Although the biblical theme of God’s forgiveness BY ITSELF is clear enough to subvert that ‘inescapable judgement’ position, the data of scripture furnishes us with many examples of ‘unexpected leniency’ and/or ‘gratuitous forgiveness’. Here are a couple that spring to my mind immediately:
· Jesus’ cry on the cross—“Father, forgive them FOR THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO”
· Paul’s statement in 1 Tim 1:13: “... though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy BECAUSE I HAD ACTED IGNORANTLY IN UNBELIEF”.
· The pardon of the MAJORITY of Israelites who ate the Passover in uncleanness under Hezekiah (2 Chron 30:17-20): “For there were many in the assembly who had not consecrated themselves. Therefore the Levites had to slaughter the Passover lamb for everyone who was not clean, to consecrate it to the LORD. For a majority of the people, many of them from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet they ate the Passover otherwise than as prescribed. For Hezekiah had prayed for them, saying, “May the good LORD pardon everyone who sets his heart to seek God, the LORD, the God of his fathers, even though not according to the sanctuary’s rules of cleanness.” And the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people.”
· Jesus gave the example of David eating the Consecrated Bread (Luke 6:1-5): “On a Sabbath, while he was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?” And Jesus answered them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those with him?” And he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”
One final statement makes an explicit CONTRAST between ‘inexorable judgment’ and ‘forgiveness for a purpose’ (Ps 130:3-4):
If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.
“If the prerequisite for our hoping in God to deliver us is our own moral perfection, then we truly have no hope. If God were to hold us personally accountable for our sins with strict justice, then who could ever survive? The truth is that God does not punish us for all our sins, nor does he deal with us as we deserve (103:10), for he is “a God of forgiveness, gracious and merciful, slow to become angry, and rich in unfailing love” (Neh 9:17). His forgiveness has, as one of its goals, the restoration of our relationship with him, “that we might learn to fear [him]” (130:4b).” [Mark D. Futato, “The Book of Psalms,” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol 7: The Book of Psalms, The Book of Proverbs (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2009), 394.]
“The individual’s present suffering, as often in the OT, is assumed to be the result of his personal wrongdoing. Yet he derives comfort from the known character of Yahweh as a God who forgives (cf. Ps 86:15): this divine quality transcends human sinfulness. The rhetorical question in v 3 concerning this sorry state expects a negative answer. If Yahweh kept a strict tally of human sin and acted on it in speedy punishment, none could go uncondemned at the bar of divine justice that providentially controls man’s life (cf. Ps 75:8 ); none would survive (cf. Gen 6:5–8). Yet the psalmist dares to bring a reminder that God desires not the death of a sinner but restoration to life (cf. Ezek 18:32; 33:11)—to God’s greater glory. Forgiveness increases the sinner’s reverent awe of and trust in Yahweh” [Leslie C. Allen, Psalms 101–150 (Revised) (vol. 21; Word Biblical Commentary; Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002), 256.]
Closely related to this is another explicit statement in Psalm 103:9-10, 14, showing that God factors our ‘weakness’ into His actions:
He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever.
He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.
The LORD is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him.
For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust.
“The first four clauses (vv. 9–10) each begin with the Hebrew word lōʾ (“not”). Verses 9–10 announce the good news of God’s mercy in terms of the negative—what God will not do—accuse, deal with us according to our sins, or repay us according to our iniquities. By casting the language in the negative, the psalm implicitly affirms the legitimacy of the Lord’s judgment, but also announces the end of judgment. Similar to Isa. 40:1–3, the implication is that the sin of the people is real, that both the judgment and the sentence from God were just, but also that the time for mercy either has come or will come soon … The Lord loves with the parental love of a merciful father to his children (keraḥēm ʾāḇ ʿal-bānîm). The Lord knows how we were formed—a reference to creation (Ps. 94:9; 95:5), here especially to the gestational period of human formation (139:16). The Lord remembers that we are dust—a reference to both human sin and human mortality. The confession is that because Israel’s Lord is also the heavenly father who created humanity and knows human fallibility, frailty, and finitude, he therefore shows the mercy of a loving parent toward imperfect children.” [Beth Tanner and Rolf A. Jacobson, “Book Four of the Psalter: Psalms 90–106,” in The Book of Psalms (ed. E. J. Young, R. K. Harrison, and Robert L. Hubbard Jr.; The New International Commentary on the Old Testament; Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014), 765-6.]
So, in the specific case of ‘mechanical judgment’, God’s self-disclosure explicitly repudiates that and God’s actions in history demonstrate the opposite. [We will talk about an objection to this interpretation later.]
“There are a few theological camps who got me thinking this way. A frequent argument from those camps would be if someone commits a mortal sin (they do not all call it that, but that is what it means essentially) and said person dies committing that sin, then they are resigned to hell forever (even if they were in fact a believer – someone like David comes to mind).
There are several traditions that use that same concept of ‘mortal sin’ but use different terms. Some would call the choice to do a mortal sin a sign of ‘unbelief’ (temporary or permanent) which would trigger eternal condemnation.
For this purpose here, we could differentiate between different types of judgment events in the life of a person, distinguished by the SCOPE of events used to base the judgement on:
· Judgement solely based on the current/immediate-present STATE of the person at death (i.e. were they in a ‘sufficiently’ morally-clean and theologically-clean state when they died);
· Judgement based on the totality of events in one’s life up to the point of death (i.e. was the ‘average of good and bad’ positive or negative; or was the cumulative sum of “good and bad” over some threshold; or was the ‘trend line’ of good and bad “trending up” toward the good at the time of death?);
· Judgement based on some past act or state (i.e. putting one’s faith during childhood in Christ as the rescuer from judgement).
We will use these distinctions below.
But there is a more important distinction that needs to be made here, because much of the data used to support theories of judgment deals only with physical death (the ‘first death’) and not with eternal judgment (the ‘second death’).
Most of the passages that are used by proponents of ‘mortal sin sends you to hell’ position are about temporal judgment and not about eternal judgement (according to my understanding of those texts).
So, for example, we can look at John’s famous passage in his first epistle (I John 5.16-17):
If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.
This is a rather obscure passage, and could not REALLY support the view that there was a ‘category’ of ‘mortal sins’ – since there is no means to separate the two in the passage (just not enough data to build a whole major doctrine on). Commentators simply are stumped on this. Here are some of the ‘guesses’:
“sinning in a way that does not lead to death … a sin that leads to death. What is the difference between the “sin that leads to death” and “the sin that does not lead to death”? Some commentators (Marshall 1978:274; Burge 1996:216) point out that these two kinds of sin are spoken of in the OT: (1) unconscious or accidental sins (Lev 4:2, 13, 22, 27; 5:15–18; Num 15:27–31); and (2) intentional sins, which could be punished by exile (Num 15:30–31) or death (Deut 17:12). But how this applies to Christians is not totally clear. --- This much, as modern readers, we can understand quite clearly. But what John asked his readers to specifically pray for is somewhat beyond our ability to grasp because we are not told what the sin that “leads to death” is (5:17). Evidently, his readers knew what he was saying, but we don’t exactly know. F. F. Bruce said, “The distinction is one which John’s readers were expected to recognize. But it is difficult to see how they could recognize the distinction except by the result. Elsewhere in the NT instances occur of sins which caused the death of the persons committing them, when these persons were church members” (1970:124).” [Grant Osborne, Philip W. Comfort, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol 13: John and 1, 2, and 3 John (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), 372.]
“The thorniest question of interpretation in this passage has been the meaning of the phrase mē (v. 17 has ou) pros thanaton, “not unto death.” To what is the author referring? There have been several alternatives in the history of the understanding of these verses. Some think that the main distinction is between serious and less serious sins, between so-called mortal and venial sins (a distinction from later moral theology), or between deliberate and unintentional sins (an ethical distinction from Judaism not made elsewhere in the Johannine writings). Others raise the possibility that “sin unto death” means sins whose result is the actual physical death of those who had sinned (e.g., Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1–11; cf. 1 Cor. 11:29–30). In this case the writer would be prohibiting prayers for the dead (Bruce, Epistles, pp. 124–25), but this seems unlikely. --- More possible is the understanding that the Elder is referring to the apostasy from the community of those who had been believers” [Thomas F. Johnson, 1, 2, and 3 John (Understanding the Bible Commentary Series; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011), 136.]
“What exactly is the “sin that leads to death”? That John’s readers understood the precise distinction between “a sin that does not lead to death” and a “sin that leads to death” is likely. For the modern reader, however, such precise understanding is difficult, if not impossible, to attain” [Daniel L. Akin, 1, 2, 3 John (vol. 38; The New American Commentary; Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001), 208.]
“The basic problem here is that of the two kinds of sin mentioned by John. He obviously could assume that his audience knew what he was writing about, and therefore he had no need to explain what he meant. Presumably, therefore, he did not mean anything particularly recondite. We may begin by noting that the terminology used here, sin that leads to death, is found in a number of Jewish writings, but there it refers to sins which lead to the physical death of the sinner. Although the New Testament knows cases of persons who suffered physical death for their sins, it seems unlikely that this is what is meant here. Presumably in that case the fact that a sin was of this kind would be recognized only by the severe illness or actual death of the person concerned. But there is no indication that John was thinking of death in this sense. A more profitable approach is to observe that in the Old Testament and Judaism there was a well-recognized difference between two kinds of sin, the unconscious or unwitting sins, for which forgiveness was provided by the annual sacrifice on the Day of Atonement, and deliberate or witting sins, for which the sacrificial ritual provided no forgiveness. The latter could be atoned for only by the death of the sinner. This distinction between sins which could be forgiven and those which led to the death of the sinner may well be part of the key to the problem.” [I. Howard Marshall, The Epistles of John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978), 247.]
Most of the guesses made take the position that ‘life’ and ‘death’ here refer to ‘eternal life’ and ‘eternal death’, but I cannot find a strong reason to accept that. Almost every other type of example of ‘observable sin resulting in death’ are about physical life and death, so I side with Ryrie and Hodges on this:
“5:16 sin leading to death. Believers can sin to the point where physical death results as the judgment of God (cf. 1 Cor. 11:30). The Greek reads sin, not a sin, in verses 16 and 17, implying not a single act but acts that have the character of sin leading to death.” [Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible: New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update (Expanded ed.; Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), 1998.]
“5:16–17. As everywhere in John’s epistle, the words his brother refer to a real Christian. If then, such a brother is seen sinning a sin which does not lead to death, Christian love should move one to pray for him. --- This verse might have been better translated “which does not lead directly (or immediately) to death.” --- God sometimes inflicted death immediately in response to certain sins of Christians. The two obvious examples are Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1–11), and the Christians at Corinth who ate the Lord’s Supper with unconfessed sin in their lives (1 Cor 11:27–32). --- John states that there is sin leading directly to death and that he is not saying (I do not say) that a Christian should pray about that. There is no command to pray for such sin, although also there is no command not to either. In other words, if a Christian suspects that a sin leading directly to death is being committed, he is free to pray for the sinning believer, but without any certainty about the outcome of his prayer. Although there is no guarantee, it is always possible that God may “relent” from His judgment. --- What may a Christian expect when he prays for cases where the sin is one which does not lead directly to death? He (God) will give life for those who commit sin not leading immediately to death. Since the death in question for the sinning brother is not eternal (John 11:26), there is no reason to take life here as eternal either. Since, however, all sin leads ultimately to physical death, to turn from sin leads to a lengthening of one’s physical life.” [Zane C. Hodges, “The First Epistle of John,” in The Grace New Testament Commentary (ed. Robert N. Wilkin; Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), 1226–1227.]
The closest parallel is probably about physical death too—in James 1.15 and 5:20:
But people are tempted when their own evil desire leads them away and traps them. 15 This desire leads to sin, and then the sin grows and brings death.
“Death, then, is the grandchild of sinful lust or desire. Death is the cul-de-sac into which one’s lusts can lead him. This point is reaffirmed by James in 5:20, The truth that physical death is the ultimate end of sinful conduct is stated repeatedly in the Book of Proverbs (e.g., 10:27; 11:19, 12:28; 13:14; 19:16). Since James is writing to his Christian brothers, it is plain that even a born-again Christian can flirt with premature physical death by indulging in his sinful lusts. This is an extremely serious consideration. But immediate repentance from sin, that is, a turning from the error of his way (5:20), can cut the sin off before it is full-grown and thus save the sinning one from death.” [Zane C. Hodges, “The Epistle of James,” in The Grace New Testament Commentary (ed. Robert N. Wilkin; Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), 1105–1106.]
My brothers and sisters, if one of you wanders away from the truth, and someone helps that person come back, remember this: Anyone who brings a sinner back from the wrong way will save that sinner’s soul from death and will cause many sins to be forgiven.
“And these endeavors were well worthwhile. In fact, anyone who turns a sinner from the error of his way (hodou, “road”) is in reality turning him aside from a sinful path that can lead him to his physical death (see 1:15). Thus a Christian’s efforts for the restoration of his brother to the pathway of obedience are life-saving in scope. If successful, he will save a soul (psychē, “life,” “person”) from death. But he will do more than that, since a restored sinner receives the gracious forgiveness of God. Thus the many sins created and multiplied by a man who turns away from God are all removed from view when that man turns back to God. The word rendered cover here (kalypsei) means “conceal.” The restored sinner’s multitude of sins are now out of sight through the pardon he has received. And the loving brother who turns him back is credited not only with the preservation of his fellow Christian’s life, but also with making him clean, as if his efforts have removed from view all the unsightly moral disfigurements which sin creates, (though, of course, only the Lord actually cleanses anyone). Thanks to such personal involvement, the formerly erring Christian is both physically alive and spiritually clean.” [Zane C. Hodges, “The Epistle of James,” in The Grace New Testament Commentary (ed. Robert N. Wilkin; Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), 1142.]
“5:19–20 any among you. The reference is evidently to Christians, and the death is physical death, which sin may cause (1 Cor. 11:30).” [Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible: New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update (Expanded ed.; Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), 1974.]
But in any event, we simply cannot use this passage much due to the uncertainty of what John is talking about.
My thought is, what if God is that simple and instead of giving the person a chance to repent and/or take into consideration the circumstances leading up to said mortal sin, there is just a blanket judgement because God does not consider the circumstances as humans do. Now, I am not saying there should not be consequences, but it seems reasonable those circumstances would play a part in deciding what to do.
There are a couple of issues/considerations/questions here:
One. The ‘no chance to repent’ phrase could mean that after the sin was done (and the person entered into the ‘state of sin’), there was no time lapse before judgment (for eternal state/destination). This scenario would require the death (and post-mortem judgment) to be immediately after the sin was committed. The time sequence would somehow have to be so compressed that there is not even a MOMENT’s gap for the perp to say in their head “what have I DONE?!” There aren’t a lot of ‘big sins’ in which this compression could occur. If suicide is considered to always or sometimes be a ‘mortal sin’, then that MIGHT be a case of this. But it would have to be a fast-acting type of suicide (e.g. gunshot wound to the head) and not something like suicide through sleeping pills (in which there is plenty of time between taking the pills and actually losing consciousness).
Two. Or the ‘no chance’
could mean that even though there WAS a time gap between sin and physical
death, that God would not take into
account any POST-EVENT contrition, repentance, restitution, or even
‘judicial consequences” (e.g. a murderer sentenced to die by the state).
Three. But this second scenario cannot really be true either, because we have TONS of data in which God specifically uses phrases like ‘turn from your sins’, ‘go your way and sin no more’, and other such exhortations to sinners. The types of sins indicated in the texts don’t seem to be only non-mortal (e.g. venial) sins at all. Even though most of the warnings are about judgement leading to PHYSICAL DEATH (and not necessarily ETERNAL DEATH), the principle would still apply and would be an ‘exception’ to any ‘no consideration for post-sin moral recovery’. A classic passage on this from Ezekiel shows that periods AFTER evil as well as after GOOD can be used to reverse a previous state (of course, this is for temporal death without an indication of how it might after eternal judgment):
But suppose the wicked stop doing all the sins they have done and obey all my rules and do what is fair and right. Then they will surely live; they will not die. Their sins will be forgotten. Because they have done what is right, they will live. I do not really want the wicked to die, says the Lord GOD. I want them to stop their bad ways and live. --- But suppose good people stop doing good and do wrong and do the same hateful things the wicked do. Will they live? All their good acts will be forgotten, because they became unfaithful. They have sinned, so they will die because of their sins.” [Ezek 18:21-24]
Four. This second scenario is likewise improbable, due to the fact that some judgments that SHOULD BE immediate are not. That is, God doesn’t execute the sinner at the point of sin—indicating that something else OTHER THAN ‘strict judgment’ is at play. The fact that common grace and even semi-good deeds are subsequently done by the perps illustrates that there is nothing ‘strict’ about it—at least not in day-to-day life. Any law in the Hebrew Bible which had a capital punishment as its consequence should have been followed instantly by death—if God held this strictly. Adultery and murder were such, yet David was not killed by God immediately afterward—and his case shows that post-evil actions ARE somehow considered (as God blessed him with Solomon). The commandment of ‘Thou shalt not kill’ is worded very strictly (there are no circumstances mentioned in the text or context, that would create exceptions like justifiable homicide in self-defense or wartime actions or even capital punishments by the law), yet we KNOW these exceptions were widespread: Moses killed the Egyptian, Solomon had Shimei executed, Paul was forgiven for being an accomplice at the death of Steven, wartime causalities were standard (but often required compensatory actions by the military leaders), and the Avenger of Blood was held guiltless in the Old Testament. God Himself ordered the execution of many criminals. None of these SHOULD have been allowed under a ‘strict interpretation’ of the 10 Commandments, and therefore these situations all are evidence against the ‘strict view’ of those teachers.
Five. There ARE judgments/punishments that God decrees that are NOT mitigated or over-ridden, but these do not (apparently) overshadow all subsequent life-choices (whether good or ill). For example, David’s punishment for Uriah/Bathsheba was that a ‘sword would not cease from his house’—the conflict with Absalom was a punishment, but this didn’t stop God from blessing David with Solomon’s accession or with allowing his ministry through the Psalms to continue. So, even if a punishment were irreversible, it would not in itself be the whole story or the dominant principle at work in someone’s eternal fate.
Six. We have a surprising richness of biblical data that shows or suggests that God definitely factors circumstances into all such judgements—even to the point of STOPPING sin that MIGHT have been ‘mortal’ in consideration of prior situations. Apart from the forgiveness passages, here’s another of my favorites—the case of Abraham and Abimelech in Genesis 20:
“Abraham left Hebron and traveled to southern Canaan where he stayed awhile between Kadesh and Shur. When he moved to Gerar, he told people that his wife Sarah was his sister. Abimelech king of Gerar heard this, so he sent some servants to take her. But one night God spoke to Abimelech in a dream and said, “You will die. The woman you took is married.” But Abimelech had not gone near Sarah, so he said, “Lord, would you destroy an innocent nation? Abraham himself told me, ‘This woman is my sister,’ and she also said, ‘He is my brother.’ I am innocent. I did not know I was doing anything wrong.” Then God said to Abimelech in the dream, “Yes, I know you did not realize what you were doing. So I did not allow you to sin against me and touch her. Give Abraham his wife back. He is a prophet. He will pray for you, and you will not die. But if you do not give Sarah back, you and all your family will surely die.”
Seven. God even considers some ‘contextual’ factors in ‘sizing’ a good work or evil deed. The story of the “Widow’s mite” shows how God ‘relativizes’ this act (Luke 21):
While Jesus was in the Temple, he watched the rich people dropping their gifts in the collection box. Then a poor widow came by and dropped in two small coins. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “this poor widow has given more than all the rest of them. For they have given a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has.”
As do the passages that speak about antecedent knowledge being a circumstance (Luke 12.47) and antecedent power being a circumstance (John 19:10-11):
And a servant who knows what the master wants, but isn’t prepared and doesn’t carry out those instructions, will be severely punished. But someone who does not know, and then does something wrong, will be punished only lightly. When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required. (Luke 12.47)
Why don’t you talk to me?” Pilate demanded. “Don’t you realize that I have the power to release you or crucify you?” Then Jesus said, “You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above. So the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin.” (John 19.10-11)
Eight. Although most of our data deals with judgments within history (which should—on the principle of ‘simple strictness’ be the same for eternal judgements, btw), we have an interesting case concerning one eschatological judgment. Jesus speaks about the judgments ‘according to revelation given’.
Then Jesus criticized the cities where he did most of his miracles, because the people did not change their lives and stop sinning. He said, “How terrible for you, Korazin! How terrible for you, Bethsaida! If the same miracles I did in you had happened in Tyre and Sidon, those people would have changed their lives a long time ago. They would have worn rough cloth and put ashes on themselves to show they had changed. But I tell you, on the Judgment Day it will be better for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to heaven? No, you will be thrown down to the depths. If the miracles I did in you had happened in Sodom, its people would have stopped sinning, and it would still be a city today. But I tell you, on the Judgment Day it will be better for Sodom than for you.” [Matt 11:20-24]
Notice that judgment on Tyre and Sidon is ‘softened’ because of a hypothetical circumstance – ‘they WOULD HAVE repented’ (but they DIDN’T in history, so the judgement –had it been ‘simple strict’—could not have been lessoned). This shows that God’s judgment is very, very complex and very, very cognizant of ALL of the relevant variables / circumstances embedded in any act of sin (or righteousness, btw).
Now we are at my question, what if God chooses not to look at all the aggregate data even though he could. I do not believe they have the evidence on their side, but I am not sure I am thinking about this correctly either.
Of course, being omniscient, there is no way God could not ‘LOOK at all the aggregate data’, but you are obviously talking about Him USING ALL the data to arrive at a judgment.
We have already surfaced a ton of data to show that He factors in other circumstances, but there is another biblical theme that reveals that an act is ONLY defined by the motivation that precedes it. God looks at the heart and motives that PRECEDE a sin or a good work, and this argues for a non-strict view.
[Many biblical passages deal with hypocrisy, in which a ‘good work’ (in a strict sense) is turned into an ‘evil one’ based SOLELY on the motivation. Jesus’ denunciations of some of the Pharisee practices would fall into this category.]
Examples abound, but here’s two—one from the OT and one from the NT:
In Isaiah 1:11-15, God faults the Israelites for their sacrifices, burnt offerings, incense, holy festivals, fasts, and even prayer—all ‘good works’ (if under ‘simple strict’ perspectives) because of their ‘sinful context’:
“What makes you think I want all your sacrifices?” says the LORD.
“I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fattened cattle. I get no pleasure from the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to worship me, who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony? Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts; the incense of your offerings disgusts me! As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath and your special days for fasting— they are all sinful and false. I want no more of your pious meetings. I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals. They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them! When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look. Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen, for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims. “
James speaks about motivation as well (4:2-3):
Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.
I think the only way to really get an answer to ‘how God sees/judges’ is on the basis of what He specifically TELLS US and what historically HE DOES. And these two strands of data – as seen in the many examples and points above—indicate strongly that He factors EVERYTHING relevant into His judgments.
In fact, I am not sure I can surface a single example in Scripture where He seems to ignore or discount what we would consider a ‘relevant circumstance’. It is always the ‘spirit of the law’ this is used—not just the ‘letter of the law’.
For example, one person I read says that David and Peter lost their salvation when they sinned, but go it back after repenting; again, I do not believe the evidence points to this, but maybe I am missing something.
I cannot imagine how somebody could defend that position. Honestly, what text would they use to defend a statement that David ever ‘lost his salvation’? Even in the worse of his sin, he did not pray that God would ‘restore his salvation’ but rather that God would restore the “JOY of his salvation’ (Ps 51.12).
Psalm 51 is David’s re-approaching God for forgiveness and reconciliation and cleansing, but these terms are common to ‘everyday sin and forgiveness’, not just to ‘eternal life’. The appeal to ‘take not your Holy Spirit from me’ (i.e., it wasn’t even taken away between the sins and this Psalm of confession) has to do with service and not with salvation:
“In the OT economy, the Holy Spirit was particularly related to service, rather than salvation. See note on Judg. 3:10; note on Rom. 8:9. Here David is asking God not to take away his service as the anointed king of Israel (cf. Saul, 1 Sam. 16:13–14)…. The presence of the Holy Spirit in the OT was selective and temporary, whereas today it is universal and permanent among believers.” [Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible: New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update (Expanded ed.; Chicago: Moody Press, 1995)]
“The Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul as soon as the Lord’s Spirit came upon David to anoint him for kingship (see v. 13). This statement is not relevant to the issue of whether people can lose their salvation; it is not describing the Holy Spirit’s role in individual regeneration in a NT sense. Rather, in light of v. 13, it should be seen as being about gaining or losing the Spirit’s empowering for the role of king” [Crossway Bibles, The ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008), 518.]
We just don’t have fine enough granularity of data to assert that David somehow ‘lost his eternal life’ in this instance, and the fact that God did not kill him before he had time to ask for restoration to service argues that judgment for mortal sins is not instantaneous and irreversible. To be sure, David was disciplined for this—his child died and trouble was decreed for his family thereafter—but the Davidic covenant was not revoked (which it should have been under a ‘lost salvation’ scenario).
Same thing with the case of Peter.
If the teacher/writer you refer too is somehow referring to Peter’s multiple denials of knowing Jesus on the night of the betrayal, there is zero textual data to support the view that he ‘died spiritually’ (in the eternal life sense) and later was ‘born again-- again’—a ‘third birth’.
The only piece of data we have about this event specifically states that Peter’s ‘faith will not fail’. And if ‘salvation is by faith’, then he didn’t lose his salvation at all…
“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to test all of you as a farmer sifts his wheat. I have prayed that you will not lose your faith! Help your brothers be stronger when you come back to me.” [The Everyday Bible: New Century Version (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2005), Lk 22:31–32.]
And this passage deals with service (and not ‘eternal salvation’) as well:
“Jesus’ prayer that Simon’s faith would not fail (v. 32) has occasioned discussion over whether it was or was not answered. The verbal phrase “may not fail” (mē eklipē, GK 1722) probably means “may not give out” or “may not disappear completely” (as the sun in a total eclipse). If this is correct, then Jesus’ prayer was certainly answered. Peter’s denial, though serious and symptomatic of a low level of faith, did not mean that he had ceased within himself to believe in the Lord. Nevertheless, his denial was so contrary to his former spiritual state that he would need to “return” (epistrephō, GK 2188; NIV, “turn back”) to Christ. The whole experience, far from disqualifying Peter from Christian service, would actually issue in a responsibility for him to “strengthen [his] brothers.”” [Walter L. Liefeld and David W. Pao, “Luke,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland; vol. 10; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 10317–318.
“If Peter’s “faith should … fail,” that would not affect his eternal salvation at all. While some teach that Jesus’ prayer keeps the believer saved, His intercession here rather keeps Peter safe from a spiritual defeat that would hinder or derail his future usefulness in ministry. The granting of eternal life (John 4:24–25) and justification by faith (see Rom 5:1) represent an irreversible bestowal granted to the believer once and for all. Peter would return to Jesus as His faithful follower with the spiritual resources to strengthen other believers—potentially especially those who had failed their Lord and needed reassurance of future usefulness to their Master.” [Alberto S. Valdés, “The Gospel according to Luke,” in The Grace New Testament Commentary (ed. Robert N. Wilkin; Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), 340.]
As I see it, the data of the bible is clear that ‘cleansing for eternal salvation’ is something that is done ONCE, but ‘cleansing for daily needs’ is something that is done over and over and over.
One image of this is in the Gospel of John (chapter 13), where Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, and Peter disputes with him:
Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end. It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him. When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.” “No,” Peter protested, “you will never ever wash my feet!” Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t have any part with me.” Simon Peter exclaimed, “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!”
Jesus replied, “A person who has bathed all over does not need to wash, except for the feet, to be entirely clean.
In verse 10, Jesus uses two different words for ‘bath/wash’:
“A person who has bathed all over (louw) does not need to wash (niptomai) except his feet”
“Verse 10 teaches an important lesson about the difference between justification and sanctification. The person who has had a bath is the one who has been cleansed of sin by the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus. This is justification. The perfect participle ho leloumenos (“the person who has had a bath”—the bathed one, GK 3374) suggests an action in the past, the effect of which continues in the present. There is no need to bathe again. Once a person has received the cleansing benefit of Jesus’ sacrifice, there can be no reason why the process should be repeated. On the other hand, the cleansed person now needs only to “wash his feet.” This is sanctification. Believers, through continued contact with the uncleanness of a world separated from God and prone to act out of their old nature, need to be continually cleansed from their daily contact with sin. This is why we pray, “Forgive us our debts,” and, “deliver us from the evil one” (Mt 6:12, 13).” [Robert H. Mounce, “John,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland; vol. 10; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 10548.]
“Jesus’ response to Peter’s emphatic resistance, “You shall never wash my feet!” comes in two parts (vv 8b and 10), both dealing with fellowship. The word translated “part” (meros) is a term related to fellowship and rewards. It is not a synonym for those who have eternal life. It concerns the right to serve Him now and to rule with Him eternally (see Acts 1:17, 25; Rev 20:6). Evidently if Peter had persisted in refusing to let Jesus wash his feet, he would have lost his position as a disciple. 13:9–11. Peter then completely changes his tune. A minute before he gruffly refused footwashing. But now he says, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!” He clearly does not wish to lose his part in Jesus’ band of followers. Jesus’ response to Peter’s offer is revealing. This footwashing incident illustrates perfectly the truth John would later write about in 1 John 1:9. The metaphor of being clean refers to positional forgiveness—what Paul calls “the washing of regeneration” (Titus 3:5). All the disciples, except Judas (John 13:11), were believers and were “clean” in their position before God. However, even clean people need cleansing in order to keep their part in Jesus’ service.” [Robert N. Wilkin, “The Gospel according to John,” in The Grace New Testament Commentary (ed. Robert N. Wilkin; Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), 438.]
“Little did Peter know that “the basis of the cleansing foreshadowed by the washing of his feet lay ahead in the hideous ignominy of the barbarous cross” (Carson 1991: 464). However, what Peter failed to understand, and what emerged as an additional lesson, is that “the initial and fundamental cleansing that Christ provides is a once-for-all act. Individuals who have been cleansed by Christ’s atoning work will doubtless need to have subsequent sins washed away, but the fundamental cleansing can never be repeated” “ [Andreas J. Köstenberger, John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004), 406.]
Ignoring the theological implications of this on again / off again salvation (though if you ever felt inclined to comment on that, I would be interested in what you had to say), would you say it is possible God thinks in the prescribed manner? And either way, can you think of any evidence that supports either side?
I cannot really get into the ‘on/off’ thing much here (although my position should be obvious from the above). Suffice it to say that I take the words “and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish” (John 10.28-29) very literally.
“As a result Jesus gives them eternal life. While it is common to point out that “eternal life” is more qualitative (it is “the life of the Eternal One”) than quantitative, here the second feature is emphasized by the clause that follows, “and they shall never perish.” “They have,” as Jesus said in 5:24, “crossed over from death to life.” And this life, which is the life of the Eternal One, is a life that never ends. “When we’ve been there ten thousand years,” writes the hymnist, “bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’d first begun.” --- There is no portion of Scripture that has brought greater comfort to those who are troubled that God might somehow relinquish his hold on them and they perish than these words of Jesus: “No one can snatch them out of my hand.” The preservation of the sheep is the task of the shepherd; it is up to him to keep them safe. And one can be absolutely positive that the good shepherd will never let any of his sheep wander beyond his care. The salvation that we received in response to our faith is a salvation that cannot be lost, because it is safeguarded and guaranteed by none other than Jesus Christ himself. Morris, 521, writes, “Our continuance in eternal life depends not on our feeble hold on Christ, but on His firm grip on us.”” [Robert H. Mounce, “John,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland; vol. 10; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 10507–508.]
People who received eternal life by simple faith in Christ can manifest massive amounts of ungodly behavior, but they still are defined as children of God by their entry in the Book of Life. Believers can forget that they were saved/cleansed (2 Pet 1.5-9), they can be completely carnal (I Corinthians 3) to the point of becoming sick or dying physically before their time (1 Cor 11:30), denying that they know Christ (the example of Peter), lying to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5), false teaching (the bad guys in most of the scary passages in the Book of Hebrews), and according to the image in Luke 8, they can even ‘stop believing’:
“8:11-12. Jesus reveals that the seed symbolizes “the word of God.” He then explains the significance of what happens to the first seed, the one that falls “by the wayside.” This represents “the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.” This highlights the power of God’s Word to save people. It also brings the devil back into the narrative, who ironically after futilely trying to use God’s Word to defeat the Messiah (cf. 4:1–13), endeavors to nullify its power to save. Finally, it specifies belief as the sole condition for salvation (cf. 7:50) and points out that this first group represents unsaved people—the only one of the four kinds of soils designated as such. --- (8:13) In contrast to the first group, these people “believe for a while.” (This seed sprang up, according to v 6.) The text does not signify a qualitatively different kind of belief, but rather a chronologically shorter one. Neither does it imply that continuance in belief achieves salvation since the one who believes receives salvation as the immediate consequence of believing (cf. v 12) and can go in peace (cf. 7:50). But the parable as a whole deals with more than belief; it also focuses on endurance and fruit-bearing, as the final seed in the series demonstrates (cf. 8:8). The believer can experience the initial joy of salvation and then proceed to develop further and endure “in time of temptation” or testing. The fact that these “fall away” indicates previous participation in the discipleship and growth process. God guarantees a believer’s eternal salvation as a gift by faith alone, but the process of discipleship, although rooted in God’s grace, demands faith and works—effort and cooperation in obedience to Him.” [Alberto S. Valdés, “The Gospel according to Luke,” in The Grace New Testament Commentary (ed. Robert N. Wilkin; Denton, TX: Grace Evangelical Society, 2010), 263–264.]
But this is a whole different issue—but that is where I stand personally, and I have a bunch of stuff in the audio sections of the Tank (especially on the Gospel of John and the Book of Acts) where I talk about this.
But back to YOUR question on ‘any chance’ and ‘any evidence’?
I think we have seen that there are a gazillion data points to contradict the ‘simple non-contextual judgment’ position. This applies both to good-acts and bad-acts.
So the data –at all that we have to work with—strongly supports the ‘God is greater and fairer in His judgements that we could be or we are’.
I hope this helps—