Does everything really work out in the end?

If the answer to the question above is “No” then Christians don’t have a message to preach. Christians preach the Good News (and only good news), so where’s the good news in even the hint of things not working out in everyone’s life in the end? We have to say everything’s going to work out in the end.

But is it fair to say that to a person who’s dying of cancer that everything will be OK, when it’s obvious he’s not going to get any better than he is right now? His life can only get worse. But in movies, over and over again, people try to comfort the victim of a crime or illness with, “You’ll be fine, I promise.”

It’s a well-meaning attempt to comfort, but it’s also trying to be God, because no human can promise anything and guarantee the result. All sorts of things can happen that prevent a promise being kept. A simple statement of reassurance to someone like, “I’ll be there at 6:00 pm, I promise,” is highly risky, because an accident could happen on the way, another more pressing need may take priority, a stomach bug may suddenly strike, a babysitter doesn’t turn up on time, the taxi you’re in gets a flat tire, or life is so busy you forget the time. It happens. But we still think we can make promises and keep them.

But only God can make promises because he lives outside our realm of time, chance and accidents. He doesn’t get stomach bugs. Nothing, therefore, can stop him promising that everything will work out in the end, because it’s within his power to do it.

But how does that help someone whose life is only getting worse? How can you comfort him when it’s obvious he’s not going to get any better, and he won’t be OK? And what do you say in reply when he says, “It’s all well and good you telling me God works out everything in the end, but look at me, things aren’t working out in the end for me, are they?”

There’s only one answer to that, because if it truly is God’s promise to work out everything in the end for everybody, which being God he can do, and especially since Christ died for everyone, then if a person isn’t getting any better it can’t be the end yet for him, can it? Not getting better is just part of the journey that hasn’t ended yet. Even if the person dies, it must mean there is more to come for God to be true to his promise to make everything work out eventually.

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Standing our ground and preaching good news only

I can see why there are Christians who resist universalism, the belief that God’s going to save everybody, because it could easily get people thinking they can do what they like and it won’t matter, or they won’t take God seriously if they don’t fear hell.

But hell and threats were never the tools God equipped us with to reach people in the first place. There was only one piece of equipment God gave us to work with, and that’s “setting forth the truth plainly,” 2 Corinthians 4:2. The truth being? Verse 4, “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ,” because in Christ we see the glory of God (verse 6). What people plainly need is the right picture of God as seen in Jesus Christ, because that’s the best way of stirring “every man’s conscience,” verse 2. 

So what is the right picture of God as seen in Jesus Christ? It’s that Christ “died for all,” 2 Corinthians 5:15, and from that point on God is “not counting men’s sins against them,” verse 19. That’s the good news we hit people with, not vivid pictures of hell or threats of eternal torment. Paul makes that clear when he asks the question in Romans 10:14, “How , then, can people call on the one they have not believed in?” – or why would people even bother turning to God at all? – and Paul’s answer in verse 15 is,  “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

In other words, stand our ground and preach nothing but good news because that’s God’s way of getting through to people. It’s no guarantee they’ll get it, just as Israel didn’t, verses 18-19, but it’s still our most powerful weapon in commending ourselves to people’s consciences, 2 Corinthians 4:2. Just tell them the good news of God’s glory as seen in what he’s already accomplished for all humanity in Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit takes it from there.

We see how it works in Galatians 3:1. First of all, the beautiful feet of someone bringing good news strode into Galatia, and “Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.” No talk of hell, but instead what Jesus did for all humanity by his death. Result? When the people believed what Jesus had done by his death, God then gave them “his Spirit,” verse 5, who then proceeded to “work miracles among you.” Preach the good news of God’s glory, as seen in Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit takes it from there.

It’s tempting to say God’s not going to save everybody to wake people up and urge them to make a decision, but that’s not the method God chose.

“Yes, it’s good news, BUT….”

Isn’t there that niggling thought when talking to someone about Christianity, that we’re preaching a mixed message? It sounds like great news in 2 Corinthians 5:19, hearing that “God has reconciled the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them,” but it also sounds awful in 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9, hearing that Jesus “will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel” with “everlasting destruction.”

It makes things very awkward, because if we say “the Christian message is nothing but GOOD news,” how do we answer all those verses that are nothing but BAD news? We can’t ignore them. The Bible talks openly of Hades and Gehenna, of eternal punishment and fiery judgment, of the Lake of Fire and a second death, and it describes hell in vivid terms that are deeply disturbing. So how on earth do we stick to good news when we’ve got all these other horrific pictures of hell and eternal destruction to contend with as well?

It’s a challenge that Christians have met quite differently. Some don’t hide the bad stuff, and instead rather relish the chance to use threats of hell and eternal destruction to get people’s attention, but in so doing they bury much of the good news under a mound of fear and loathing. Other Christians stand their ground, meanwhile, believing the gospel should be nothing but good news, so they seek ways of explaining how all that bad stuff actually turns out to be good stuff after all.

Imagine the challenge for that second group, though, trying to explain what Jude said about Sodom and Gomorrah in verse 7, as to how those two cities “serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.” Sodom and Gomorrah were burnt to a crisp as “an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly,” 2 Peter 2:6. You can’t get much clearer than that. The ungodly end up as smoking ruins. How do you explain that to someone as “good news”?

But you can, because in Ezekiel 16:53 God says, “I will restore the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters,” and in verse 55, “you will return to what you were before.”  God’s going to rebuild those two cities one day, which then begs the question as to what Jude meant by “the punishment of eternal fire.” Clearly it means eternally burnt until God raises them up again. In the meanwhile their destruction serves as a visible deterrent to anyone thinking “sexual immorality and perversion” are acceptable (Jude 7). There’s a GOOD news purpose, therefore, behind “eternal fire”. Would the same good news purpose apply to all those other “bad stuff” verses too, then?