Don't unbelievers choose
their fate?

We're well aware that traditional teaching among Christians is that the benefits of Christ's sacrifice are only available to those who believe. "God doesn't send people to hell -- people send themselves to hell by choosing to reject the Christ's loving sacrifice on their behalf." Or to paraphrase C. S. Lewis, "hell is the place for people who get what they want -- and what they want is a life apart from God." Arminians and Calvinists have been debating this issue for centuries -- usually as it relates to "this life" -- whether people are chosen for salvation by God, or are free to choose in the present age.

To try and sort out the different perspectives that are at issue here, let's try to find some common ground and make some definitions that could help us harmonize the Scriptures. It will be unproductive to simply compile lists of scriptures that seem to favor each side, and then see which list is longer.

First, let's define the time-frames

The scriptures speak of 3 major "worlds" -- actually ages. Smaller sub-divisions of these 3 can also be noted. Peter speaks of the three as "the age that was", "the age that now is", and "the age to come." All Christians who are willing to look at the usage and lexicon definitions of the Greek word "aion" and its related cousins in Scripture, should be able to agree with us on this basic dispensational point.

Going back to Peter's definition of the 3 ages, he defines the first as ending with Noah's flood, the second as ending with Christ's return, and the third apparently as having no end. It is spoken of simply as the "age to come, wherein dwells righteousness."

The "age that was before the flood"

It seems that there should be little controversy about the first age of human history. It begins with the creation of man in Genesis and ends with the flood, 9 chapters later, when all but 8 people are wiped out in a flood. What became of the others? We'll save that question for later.

The "age that now is"

What do we agree on about the "age that now is", that is, the time between Noah's flood and the 2nd advent of Christ?

We'll propose a few scriptural concepts that seem obvious to us, and that should provide a basis for general agreement, while some details may still be open for discussion:

1. The "age that now is" is stated to be under the rulership of Satan. Now, we all know that God is supreme, and "rules in the kingdom of men" -- placing over it whoever he chooses - and sets up the "basest of men" in many cases. (Daniel 4:17) So any power that Satan has to rule in the kingdoms of this world is (a) usurped or pridefully, rebelliously seized by him, and (b) done so with God's permission. (Job chapter 1) So it is only by God's permission that Satan is referred to as the "god of this world (age)" in 2 Cor. 4:4. Satan has blinded human hearts in this age, with God's permission. Why does God permit this? Because as Jesus said, if everyone was able to see and hear the message of God now, they would all be forgiven and healed, and it is not God's time to do that yet. (See Matthew 13:11-15. This is an excellent scripture to consider in a discussion about whether unbelievers choose their fate -- because at first reading it sounds like they do.)

2. The "age that now is" is slated for destruction. Like the first age and the righteous age to come, it contains both a "heavens and earth". What does this refer to -- the physical planet and the universe, or sky which is above it? If so, we would be talking about 3 separate creations, and 2 complete annihilations of that which was created. "Third time's a charm".

Or is the "heavens and earth" a reference to the invisible rulership and the social structure of mankind? Try applying this verse in that metaphorical way, and what do you get? A simple insight that harmonizes many seemingly conflicting scriptures. Now, the clear promises that the planet was created to be inhabited and will last forever, harmonizes with the warnings about the "earth being burned up". It is society as we know it that will be destroyed, not the planet and not the people.

For example, when once we are willing to apply Peter's words to social change by God's incoming government, we discover that the word "elements" which Peter says will melt, is used elsewhere in Scripture -- and refers to the elementary principles of righteousness that the child learns in school. (Galatians 4:3) Look around society today. What is happening to the first principles, the basic building blocks of society, such as the sanctity of marriage, the natural love that exists between parents and children, the basic concepts of honesty, integrity, mercy. These things are melting away, and society is falling apart as a result. According to Attachment, Trauma, and Healing (p. 5) by Terry Levy and Michael Orlans, the number of children seriously injured by maltreatment in the U.S. quadrupled from 1986 to 1993. The authors stated that more than a million cases of serious abuse and neglect have been confirmed by actual investigation by child welfare agencies for the year 1995, and that surveys have indicated that the actual number is actually 10 to 16 million annually -- as of a decade ago. I believe are all living through the period predicted by Peter, and that we can expect conditions to worsen significantly before the "world to come, wherein righteousness dwells" becomes a reality.

The "Age to Come"

The great thing all people have to look forward to is what Peter called the "world to come, wherein dwells righteousness." This would be the "Day of Judgment", the "day of Christ", the "new heavens and new earth", the "holy city, New Jerusalem", etc. While it is obvious that a majority of Christians are still unwilling to admit that this time will actually involve a fresh start, a period of probation and opportunity for education and reformation for the world of mankind, we all ought to be able to agree with at least this much: (1) Christ will be in charge with his church, (2) the nation of Israel will play a leading role in the tangible, earthly part of that kingdom, and (3) Satan will be bound, unable to deceive the nations.

What About the Unbelievers Then?

It seems that there are only 2 basic options: either the world to come is a righteous world because all the unbelievers have been taken out of it, or because the unbelievers have been won over and have been converted or changed into obedient, loving, believers. Which is it?

Until we can complete this analysis in more detail, please check out the following pages on this site:

God's Goals

Why Jesus returns to earth

Will all people be saved?

The blessings coming to all people


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