“God desires everyone to be saved,” so Scripture tells us. Not just a few, not just a certain group, not just the perfect, not just the good enough even, not just the go-to-church-every-week crowd, perhaps not even just Christians. Because the writer of First Timothy tells of this divine yearning to save absolutely everyone, as if the cross and the empty tomb were for everyone! But that can’t be completely true, can it?
Or at least we can make the verse work in a way that makes more sense to us obviously know-it-all human beings: God can desire to save everyone, yes, but that doesn’t mean it will actually happen that way. Now obviously we can debate this until the end of our mortal time, but one thing is for certain, throughout the entirety of Scripture: we know-it-all human beings get undeniably zero say on who gets in or not. We have no control whatsoever. Only God can decide that, because only God has the power to save us from ourselves. Only God can invade death and come out with life. But of course that doesn’t stop us from trying to have even the slightest influence on the eternal equation.
If only we could somehow sway God to give up on the whole mercy and love thing for the people we just flat-out don’t like, the ones who have made our life completely miserable time and time again, no matter how many second, third, and umpteen chances we give them. Or at least the people who ruin families and entire communities with heinous violence and utter disregard for human life. Surely God has no desire at all to save them, right? That verse cannot be completely accurate.
But what about the children who grow up with no mention of God, including Jesus Christ, Who loved them to the point of death? What about the children who grow up in the Congo and have no experience whatsoever beyond genocide on a daily basis; who only know how to respond to violence with just as much violence to defeat it? Or even children on the streets of Chicago, where the homicide rate continues to put an entire metropolis to shame? What about those who are killed before they even have a chance to read about this God, Who for some reason beyond our comprehension, “desires everyone to be saved,” including the children who knew absolutely nothing about it before hatred and lust for power stole their life away far, far too soon?
Yes, God should most certainly extend mercy and love to the children, but what about all those adults who know better, who even know about this God of compassion, and yet go on living as if there’s no God at all to impact their life. What about the ones who read their Bible on a daily basis and still go on defrauding and scheming just as frequently? What about such hypocrites? Surely, there has to be a line to this God loving absolutely everyone to the point of wanting them to be part of a Kingdom of eternal peace and harmony.
If God really does have this idea set in mind to save everyone, what does that do for us human beings? What’s to stop us from taking advantage of such stubborn compassion? What’s to stop us from misbehaving to epic proportions, living this life completely obsessed with whatever we want, disregarding everyone else? Wouldn’t it be so much better if we had to do something, if we had to live well enough, in order to convince God we are worth it, that we are worth saving, after all?
But that’s not the way this God works, is it? That’s not what the cross and the empty tomb were for long ago. God never laid out a conditional framework for humanity when the Son hanged there on the cross. Jesus didn’t wait to walk out of the tomb until we human beings got a certain something right. God’s love was the pre-cursor. Mercy and compassion saved us. We didn’t save ourselves. We still can’t, and that is just as great of news as “Christ is risen indeed!”
That also means that everyone is fair game, not just for saving for eternity; but everyone is fair game for love, for mercy, for kindness, for forgiveness, for grace, for hospitality, for genuine care, not just from God, but from us. Everyone is fair game to instill hope for them and our entire communities. Everyone is fair game for ministry to happen in their life, for them to experience that no one is beyond the reach of God’s holy activity transforming their life. No one is beyond that hope of the Greatest News of all time taking over their life.
It is a bitter pill to swallow for us know-it-all human beings, especially us Christians, who think we have this God figured out by now. But another set of great news is that we still have not even come close to understanding how truly vast the mercy of God really is, not only on Calvary long ago, but still to this day, and for eternity. We have absolutely no idea what this God is capable of saving from the absolute worst of circumstances this world has to offer. But God knows how, and God will most certainly take care of us and all the ones we have given up on along the way. Because God is more than capable of saving the whole world again and forevermore! And for that, we most certainly give thanks to God indeed! Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Nan Dehnke, Pastor
Office: Mon - Thu: 9 a.m. - Noon