Can God’s Will be Thwarted?

Many Evangelical Christians describe themselves as ‘bible-believing Christians’ - as if other Christians aren’t. And yet, some also have an annoying habit of ignoring those bits of the bible which don’t ‘fit’ their chosen narrative, or which are otherwise ‘awkward’ (though, to be fair, I think we all do that - the bible is an awfully long and complex collection of writings).

For instance, a favourite evangelical verse is Romans 3:23:

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

which is frequently used when trying to convert people, to convince them that they’re sinners on the way to hell. But the second part of the antithetical couplet, in verse 24, is all too frequently forgotten about or ignored, because it doesn’t seem to fit that ‘neat and tidy’ narrative:

and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Some English translations have two ‘alls’ in this couplet, and some biblical scholars have been known to argue that each ‘all’ refers to a different group of people. But in the Greek version there is just one ‘all’ (Greek πάντες - pantes - meaning all or everyone). Therefore what it says, essentially, is that everyone has both sinned and been justified by Christ. It is plain and simple, and, if we’re truly being honest, there is no getting away from it, or denying it: to do otherwise is to do violence to the biblical text. It’s by no means the only place where such things are said - there are a large number, once you start to see them (and I may get around to exploring a few more in the future)… But they don’t fit the ‘narrative’ the church (particularly the evangelical church) likes to teach, so they tend to be ignored.

That narrative has everyone who isn’t ‘in’ God’s kingdom being automatically ‘outside’ - i.e. condemned to hell. According to most evangelical churches’ way of looking at it, the number of people who are ‘in’ is almost vanishingly small compared to the number of those who are ‘outside’. I’m not sure why we should want that to be the case, nor why we would believe God’s character to be such that He wants that either - if God doesn't really want to save people, why did he bother to send Jesus?

Personally, I believe that scripture teaches us that ultimately everyone is ‘in’; I don’t believe that, ultimately, anyone is ‘out’. As my friend Bishop Cyril Ashton said to me a couple of years ago - ‘I believe that the devil is sitting all alone in hell, feeling very sad and lonely.’

I don’t believe that, ultimately, God’s will can be thwarted - He is, after all, God.

I don’t believe that God can fail if He says that He is determined or desires that everyone be saved; if He does fail, then, I’m sorry, but to my mind that ‘He’ isn’t really God.

I believe that the bible points us to Jesus - to the incarnation - to the time when God became a human being and lived among us. Jesus is the man/God, the God/man - He exists on a scale that we can relate to. He is real; I believe He loves me and absolutely everybody else, far more than we can imagine or understand, and that He has made a way by which everyone can, and ultimately will, somehow or other, be reconciled to God. Look at Jesus’ character in the gospels - who does He exclude? The only people He appears to exclude are those who seek to exclude others from God’s kingdom (so, if you’re trying to limit ‘access’ to God’s kingdom on some grounds or other, even if those grounds appear to be ‘biblical' - beware!).

I believe that God is utterly transcendent - we cannot even begin to comprehend God. As I said in my previous post, if we think we understand God, then what we understand is not God... We are, in effect, making God in our image. And we are humans, not Gods - we are small-minded and unimaginative in comparison. If God says something is His will, who are we to say He ‘can’t’, even if, the way we read the bible, it appears that the ‘can’t’ might be written down there for all to see. But might that not mean, rather than us being right, and that God isn’t going to ‘save’ everyone, that actually we’ve misinterpreted what it says? Is that a possibility? Maybe it is, given what Romans 3:23-24 actually says!

I think there is more than adequate scriptural evidence (which I may begin to explore in a later post) to back up my assertions here; it is also perfectly possible to come up with explanations as to why the passages which are taken to mean that most people do not find themselves ‘on the side of the angels’ are frequently interpreted incorrectly (and again, I may look at those too, later).

This process of explaining what I believe and why is, actually, incredibly difficult - each ‘piece of the puzzle’ sits alongside others, and doesn't make much sense on its own. Like a jigsaw, the picture isn’t a picture until it’s assembled, and each little bit is just a blob of colour until it’s joined to its neighbours. And there have been years of encountering God, praying, thinking, reading, reading some more, and lots and lots of writing - and I need to find a place to start and ways to explain it which make sense without (at least to begin with) much context. So this is that start - there’ll be more to follow later…

God bless you!

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2022