The Wrath of God and Christian Apologetics

Many people today feel that the notion of a wrathful God is unworthy and should be scrapped. In particular, they feel that the notion that God could be wrathful means that God is somehow touchy, irritable, easy to alienate, and profoundly unloving and, well…unlovable. That is because we all know of all people who are broken like this and who are touchy, irritable, easy to offend, judgmental and unloving, and they are indeed profoundly unlovable. Some people, such as saints or mothers, might find a way to love them anyway, but normal and healthy people are usually well-advised to give them a wide berth. It was no doubt the popular depiction of Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament, as wrathful and irascible, that provoked Richard Dawkins to describe Yahweh as “the most unpleasant character in all fiction”. And Mr. Dawkins is hardly alone. Many people today find the concept of a wrathful God unpleasant.

I suspect, though no statistics exist to support my suspicion, that this conviction about God’s unpleasantness is rooted in Evangelical soteriology. When I was an Evangelical in my teenage years in the Jesus People I believed that everyone who was not a confessing Christian—i.e. who was not an Evangelical—was going to hell. That is, I believed that everyone in the world, being sinful, had already been condemned. I had not read enough Church history to know about St. Augustine or his very western doctrine of original sin (i.e. original guilt), or his assertion that all unbaptized babies dying in infancy were lost because they were born with the guilt of Adam’s sin. I did not know about how Calvin inherited this system as did the rest of the West. All I knew was what my fellow-Evangelicals told me, and we knew that unless a person had asked Jesus into their hearts and said “the sinner’s prayer”, that person was doomed. If they died before they had asked Jesus into their hearts and been born again, they were sure to go to hell when they died. This conviction certainly made us zealous in our evangelism. It also made our evangelism a lot harder than it might have been.

This all contributes to the popular idea present in the minds of many that all Christians assert that all non-Christians are going to hell. This notion produces a kind of disconnect in the hearts and emotions of those non-Christians exposed to this idea. They look at their average non-Christian person and have trouble believing that they are bad enough to deserve an eternity of punishment. They ask, What about the persons who have never really heard about the Christian Faith? What about kind pagans? What about self-sacrificing and good, but not really religious secular people? Is it fair that they all be swept into the lake of fire simply because they never said the sinner’s prayer? If God is such a character as to condemn these people to an eternity of torment simply because of their unintentional omission, that God does indeed sound unpleasant, if not perhaps more than a little pathological. Who could love such a deity? And who could believe the Christians when they asserted that such a deity was a God of love?

On one level, however, pretty everyone admits that a doctrine of divine wrath and of hell makes sense. When one looks steadfastly at certain individuals, one sees that admitting them to paradise as they are outrages justice. Please note: the outrage consists in admitting them to eternal bliss as they are, with no admission of the guilt of their crimes and no shred of remorse for them. One thinks of war criminals, of Hitler, Stalin, Joseph Mengele, and a multitude of others who crimes are so heinous that they cry to heaven for judgment.

Everyone with a functioning conscience admits the justice of divine wrath upon such crimes, and therefore upon such criminals. If they repented and wept a little for the suffering they caused, they could perhaps be forgiven, and their crimes provoke less outrage. But admitting them to eternal bliss while they still persist in their hateful attitudes and would recommit their crimes if given half a chance—that is what provokes the outrage. The victims of their crimes deserve something, and to admit their tormentors to bliss while they still breathed unrepentant hatred for their victims would be to inflict even more suffering upon the victims. In this sense, the wrath of God is good news. It assures the victims that the universe was on their side, and that the truth will finally somehow prevail. The earth will not forever cover their blood which cries for justice. Eventually their case will be heard, and the real criminals condemned.

Most people acknowledge that divine wrath must finally fall upon such criminals. But to include our Uncle Walt in such a category and to send him to hell as if he were as bad as Hitler just because Uncle Walt never said the sinner’s prayer seems profoundly unjust. It is the lumping together of Uncle Walt with Adolf Hitler that provokes secular derision, makes the popular doctrine of a wrathful God seem profoundly immoral, and deprives Christianity of much of its credibility.

So, what about our Uncle Walt? That is, what about moral people who are doing the best they can according to the limited light they have received who never got around to saying the sinner’s prayer or becoming practicing members of a church? What of those people whose only exposure to Christianity consisted of hypocritical and abusive clergy and of grinning and greedy televangelists? Are they to be condemned because they could not recognize the love of God and His saving Gospel in such a distorted Christianity? St. Augustine would answer (no doubt quite sadly and reluctantly) “Yes”, since they were born condemned and burdened with the guilt of original sin. Their condemnation by God was nothing personal; it was not God’s fault if they were born guilty, but Adam’s fault. (Of course this answer does nothing to add credibility to the apologist’s case for Christianity, for most people would not unnaturally retort, “Why should I be condemned for someone’s else’s mistake?”) But St. Augustine’s answer is not the only one on the market.

I would suggest that a closer reading of the New Testament yields a rather different answer. In this alternative reading, a man is not condemned for Adam’s fault, but only for deliberately turning away from the light which he has received. To be condemned by God, one must deliberately and stubbornly bang the door in God’s face, refusing to accept the light that had been given. That is the teaching of Christ: “To whom much is given, much is required” (Luke 12:48). If a man has been given spiritual light, then he is responsible to live according to it. But if a man has little or no spiritual light, and therefore thinks that Christianity consists of believing The Gospel According to Televangelist Greedy, that man is not responsible for living according to the light he had never received.

Israel in the time of Jesus did not believe that every Gentile was doomed to Gehenna, nor that every Jew would be saved. Most believed that God would judge all men according to the lives they lived and according to the repentance they offered and the striving to please God they attempted. Jesus said as much when the rich young ruler asked Him, “What good deed shall I do to have eternal life?” Christ answered him, “If you would enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:16-17). The rich young man responded that he had done so, and still felt a void in his heart. Christ further said that if he wanted even more, if he wanted to become perfect, teleios, he should sell all that he had and come follow Him. The rich young man was not up to the challenge of becoming teleios as Jesus’ disciple and entering the Kingdom even now in this life. But his failure did not mean that Christ’s answer to his first question was unreliable, or that the young man had spoken falsely when he said that he had kept the commandments. Indeed, in Mark’s version of that exchange Christ, upon hearing the man’s confession of righteousness, “loved him” (Mark 10:21).

What God demands of people is a life of striving to keep His commandments, of loving Him and striving to love one’s neighbour. If one does this, Christ assured another inquirer, “you will live” (Luke 10:25-28).

This is not simply the teaching of Christ, but of His apostle as well. In Romans 2:1-16, St. Paul considers the case of a righteous Gentile, one who had never heard of God’s Torah. If such a Gentile lived wickedly, refusing love for God and neighbour, sinning apart from the Torah, such a man would perish without the Torah. But if he did “by nature” [Greek physei] what the Torah required, he was a kind of Torah to himself, even though he did not have the Torah, for he showed that what the Torah required had been written on his heart. God shows no partiality: He will render to every man according to his works. To those like the righteous Gentile who by perseverance in doing good sought for glory and honour and immortality, God would give eternal life (v. 7), and to those who were factious and disobeyed the truth they had received, but obeyed wickedness, God would give wrath and fury (v. 8). There would be tribulation and distress for every human being who did evil, but glory and honour and peace for everyone who did good (v.9-10).

One might ask: then why preach the Gospel? Because the Gospel is more than simply fire insurance for the afterlife. It is how a man becomes teleios, and a son of God, and an heir of the Kingdom, and how one finds liberation from the demonic powers of this world. It is the only way to find healing in this age, and joy and peace, and transformation by the Spirit of God. Such salvation is only found in Jesus Christ and His Church. Apart from Him we remain mired in sin and under the tyranny of the devil. Those in such a mire might finally be spared if they persevered in doing good and kept God’s commandments. But who would not want liberation and joy in this age, and a tremendous reward in the age to come?

I suggest that this reading of the New Testament yields a different view of God than the one which necessarily consigns all non-Christians to hell. God is still of a God of wrath and severity to those whose unrepentant hearts push away the light He gave them and slam the door of salvation in His face. But He is a God of kindness to all who embrace the light they have received. Such a deity may indeed be justly described as loving and lovable. More than that, He is good and philanthropos, the lover of mankind.


  1. Wrath of God would mean that we have gone too far – crossed the line as in trespassing and in doing this will bring it upon ourselves to undergo the wrath. By being obedient to God, we attain the purity and peace to come into His presence. By not being obedient to God, we coming into wrath – being farther away from God instead of closer. (hope this makes sense…..)

    Thankyou and God bless!

  2. This was (is) very good and I definitely related to the evangelical mindset. I did plenty of “soul winning.” I do have a question. An honest question, from one who has come a long way down the Orthodox path. As an Evangelical I would have protested that this sounded like salvation by works. How would you respond to that?

    1. The “salvation by works” so abhorred by Evangelicals is not what Paul was talking about. He was talking about “works of the Law“–i.e. a Jew trusting that he was saved and acceptable because he was a Jew. Paul was clear: it was not the hearers of the Law who were justified (i.e. a Jew who heard the Torah read every Sabbath), but the doers of Law who were justified (Romans 2:13). The idea–championed by Luther–that the quality of our life and our deeds has nothing to do with how God deals with us is foreign to the New Testament.

  3. In the New Testament and following church history we see examples of righteous pagans/non Christians whom God blesses by sending someone who can preach the gospel to them. It seems if one truly seeks the light, God will make sure more light finds them. It doesn’t make much sense from the Calvinist paradigm, but it certainly appears to be what is actually happening in reality.

  4. Fr. Lawrence,
    I wouldn’t argue that the quality of our life has nothing to do with how God deals with us, but you do something in this article that I often see in Orthodox blogs — you quote from Romans 2 but ignore Romans 3.
    Spending a fair amount of time in Romans, it seems obvious that Paul is laying out a progressive argument — i.e., it wouldn’t be wise to quote from Romans 1 and then say that God is done with Gentiles because they’ve gone their on way. There’s more to the line of thought, followed up with Romans 2, 3 and so on.
    So in Romans 2, St. Paul turns his attention to the Jews to show that they are no better than the Gentiles he just talked about in Romans 1. There we learn that ‘the doers of the law will be justified’.

    But he’s not done! St. Paul goes on with his argument and in chapter 3 gets to the real problem, “There is none righteous, no not one”, “There is none who does good, no not one”, and he’s still speaking of the Jews here. Concluding that there are no righteous Jews, and having already concluded that the Gentiles have all gone their own way, he sums up the problem with “all have sinned and gone their own way” (both Gentile and Jew). So it’s not works of the law that make one “righteous” with God (as the Jew would think).

    Paul is still not done. He crescendos at the end of chapter 8 where he further elaborates on the questions of chapter 7. We can’t read 6 and 7 without finishing all the way to the end of 8. The same is true of the next segment that starts in chapter 9 — people often quote here and fail to read the rest of the argument which culminates at the end of 11.

    To summarize, it doesn’t seem proper to quote from chapter 2 in support of ‘works’ without reading the rest of Paul’s thoughts, where he comes to an altogether different conclusion. Paul is leading his reader through the common thoughts, objections and problems of the Jewish and Gentile Christians he worked with everywhere in his missionary work. Just because he says “doers of the law will be justified” doesn’t mean he’s actually teaching that, rather what he’s teaching is _not_ that… he’s just leading his readers along in the line of questioning that he’d obviously heard everywhere else.

    Again, I’m not responding to your article to say that works don’t matter. They do matter, but we have to put them in perspective — we cannot ‘do the law’ (or do the fasts, the prayers, the Liturgies, et al) to gain a relationship with God. Rather, we do these things because we already have a relationship with God. God must be in the beginning of everything… the beginning of our relationship, our deeds, our fasting, our love to our neighbor. If he’s not, then we’ve put the cart before the horse and have become Jews with a new form of ‘law’. We don’t present our bodies to God as ‘doers of any law’, but it is **by the mercies of God** that we present our bodies a living sacrifice.

    1. Thank you for your comments. An examination of Romans 1-12 is beyond the scope of a comments section (or of a blog post). I think, however, that we may be speaking about two different things. Paul is speaking in Romans about why the Gospel is the same for both Jews and Gentiles, and he does indeed conclude his long argument with the observation that through the Gospel one receives the Spirit of God which breaks the power of sin in a way that the Law was powerless to do. (He says the same thing in 2 Corinthians 3.) Both Jews and Gentiles were all “under sin” (Rom. 3:10), but both Jews and Gentiles can share liberation from sin’s power by the Spirit of God. (Luke’s summary of Paul’s teaching in Acts 13:39 says the same: through Christ anyone can be freed [literally, “justified”] from everything from which one could not be freed by the Law of Moses.) Paul was looking at the bigger picture of all that Christ offered us in the Gospel. In my blog post I was focussing more narrowly on a different question: what does God require of a man so that he can avoid hell? My main focus was on Christ, who said that if a man kept the commandments and loved God with all his heart and loved his neighbour, he would live (Matthew 19:17, Luke 10:25-28) and not perish in hell. I mentioned Romans 2, extracting it from its wider context, because in Romans 2 Paul makes this same point. Christ also spoke of something beyond merely being saved from hell—namely, becoming “perfect”, teleios, receiving the Spirit of God (Matthew 19:21, John 7:37-39). It was this further reality that we receive through the Gospel and of which Paul was speaking in Romans. I mostly agree with your summary of Paul’s argument in Romans. But my blog post addressed a different question.

  5. Much as I love you, Fr. Lawrence, I have to take issue with parts of this post.
    You seem to be saying the good deeds, being kind, etc., are sufficient for Heaven and eternal life, but that the Gospel is for the here and now. If that’s the case, why do the hard work of being Orthodox?!
    I’m afraid all of Uncle Walt’s or even Aunt Matilda’s good works are just buckets of menstrual rags (Is 64:6). Is that what they will present to God Almighty? Further, many of those “self-sacrificing and good, but not really religious secular people” are either trusting in their innate goodness to get a pass on Judgement day, or are indeed self-righteous, and, at some levels, no different than Pharisees. Lastly, you say “…that man is not responsible for living according to the light he had never received.” Partly true, no doubt, but it is not all about passivity. For we are all expected, I think, to search for the truth, and some who have “little or no spiritual light” just haven’t sought it. Some are just lazy, or preoccupied with self, pleasure, and ‘the world’, all things Christ warned about. In the “kingdom-of-Heaven-is-like” parable of Matthew 22 many were invited, but “they took no notice; one went off to his farm, another to his business, and others….” Although these were not guilty of monstrous crimes like Hitler, they still missed the wedding feast. “Seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.” Did Christ really speak of passively inheriting the kingdom of Heaven? “The kingdom of Heaven…and the violent take it by force.” Without the Gospel, the grace of the sacraments, the ‘putting on Christ’ through baptism, etc, I’m afraid all such Uncle Walts will be like the bloke in Matt 22:11-14 who was not dressed for the wedding feast. He was not allowed to stay.
    Finally, although Paul alludes to law-keeping gentiles in chapter two, he repeats a quote in Romans 3: “There is no just man, not one; no one who understands, no one who seeks God.” Although pagans COULD be saved, it appears they are not interested.

    1. Thank you for your love, and your comments. Just a brief reply, leaving the rhetoric of Isaianic menstrual rags to one side. I quite agree that many secular people are guilty of laziness and that a truly good heart will search for the light. Some pagans are not interested in the truth or in seeking for the light, but some are, and are doing the best they can with the light they have received. It is these to whom Paul refers in Romans 2. Not all secular people are self-righteous or preoccupied with pleasure.
      Also, I note that you did not interact with the words of Christ in Matt. 19:17 or Luke 10:25-28 where He dealt with this specific issue more plainly than in His parables and where He gave a straight answer to a straight question. I would like to emphasize again that this post was not dealing with the issue of what God offers us through the Gospel or why we should work hard at being Orthodox. The Gospel offers us more than simply a way to avoid hell. If offers us liberation from sin’s grip, transformation, sonship, and a whole lot more. My sole topic was what God requires in someone if that person was to avoid hell. It is very easy to mix the two questions up and to condemn more harshly than we should. For example, even prior to Christ, not everyone in Israel was unrighteous to the point of condemnation. St. Luke says that Zechariah and Elizabeth, to name but two, “were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord, blameless” (Luke 1:6). That is, they loved God and their neighbour, and (according to Luke 10: 28) could expect to live. More would be available to people like them after Pentecost. But the subject of what Christ’s bestowal of the Spirit makes available to us was not discussed in this post.

      1. True, Father, Christ said those things in Matt 19 and Luke 10. But who can actually keep ALL the commandments, and who can love God with ALL their heart, soul, and strength? These are impossible to do in the flesh, and without a doubt “Uncle Walt”, good, salt-of-the-earth uncle though he may be, is NOT doing them. I’m not sure most Orthodox Christians, certainly not me, are succeeding in these more than they are failing, and this is with the grace and help of the sacraments, the mentoring of priest and deacons, and all the intercessions of the saints. So finish Christ’s reply to the rich young man: do all these things, “and come, follow me.” It is not complete without His final phrase. Nor even possible without it. To suggest people can succeed is to offer false hope. I don’t even think the rich young ruler was truly succeeding. He went away heavy-hearted, and in the subsequent verses Christ says how hard it is for the rich to enter heaven. Do we truly think that all our beloved Uncle Walts are better at keeping God’s commands than that rich, young ruler?
        Didn’t St. Paul even posit that the (or a) purpose of the Law was to prove we couldn’t keep it?
        And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
        You seem to be separating ‘escape from hell’, and “what the Gospel offers us.” The Gospel offers us a cross to bear! At least in this life. And theosis IS the escape from hell. Paul said, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” Jesus said, “”I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” How does that jive with your premise that those good but irreligious secular folk are going to escape hell? Your posts are usually SO profitable. But what is the purpose of this one, one whose gestalt seems to be, “be good, and you will go to heaven”? Christ, in that same passage, said “One alone is good.”

        1. You are confusing sinlessness with righteousness. What Christ said God required was a life of loving Him and striving to love our neighbour, not sinlessness. What saves us is this faith, faithfulness–in Greek pistis. Christ’s counsel to the rich young ruler “come follow Me” was not part of His answer to the question of how to live, but how the rich young ruler who had kept the Law could overcome the void he felt in his life and become teleios. Our message to the world is not “Be good and you will go to heaven”, but “Come, follow Christ”. In this post I am not describing what our message to the world is, but focusing upon the question of the fate of people who have had little light and have not heard the Gospel, but are still seeking for the truth as best they can.

          1. Re: this focus, that is fine. I am not trying to maintain that any or all those who never knew either of the Jewish Yahweh nor of our Christ are bound for hell. Only God knows.
            But what then? Where do the ‘righteous’-but-not-sinless dwell after the Resurrection? In God’s presence? Isaiah, when he experienced that presence, said “Woe is me, for I AM RUINED, for I am a man of unclean lips…and my eyes have seen the king, the LORD of Hosts.” Is Uncle Walt more righteous than Isaiah??

          2. I am not sure I understand your question. Righteous people like Zechariah and Elizabeth dwelt in a place of peace after they died, as did the Lazarus of our Lord’s parable in Luke 16:23 and the souls of righteous of Wisdom 3:1. After the Resurrection of Christ and His harrowing of hell, they dwelt with Him in the presence of God. Like Isaiah, no one is worthy of the divine Presence, but God allows them to dwell with them anyway in His love, just as He accepted Isaiah and called him to serve Him despite his unworthiness.

          3. (While the iron is hot…)
            Thank you for your patience with my persistence.
            You write: ” Like Isaiah, no one is worthy of the divine Presence, but God allows them to dwell with them anyway in His love, ” That’s true. But something has to happen first. First the angel came to Isaiah and touched his lips with the hot coal. For the ‘atoning of his sins’. This is the whole gist I believe, in your and my disagreement. Sin cannot dwell in the presence of God. So the “good” must also be made perfect, i.e. sinless. God didn’t tell Isaiah, “oh your lips are clean enough”. The angel purified them. Allegorically of course. But allegory meant for our instruction.
            Your good but not sinless Uncle Walt will never stand in God’s presence. None of us will unless we are made perfect and sanctified and yes, sinless, by the atoning work of Christ. That’s theosis. “Good” isn’t good enough. And there is no middle ground, no ‘demilitarized zone’, where your righteous but not sinless, not-quite saints can survive. At the parable of the Last Judgment, there were goats and sheep. Left and right. Nothing in between.
            There is one mediator between God and Man, the God-Man Jesus Christ. If you preach a different gospel, well I’m disappointed, to say the least. And if yours is the teaching of the whole Orthodox Church, then I’m wondering why I converted from Protestantism.
            with much love,

          4. No problem, Shannon. Happy to persevere for a while when a post is irenic and on topic as yours is. Let’s each have another go before giving it up and perhaps continuing offline.
            In Isaiah 6, the coal was intended to prepare Isaiah for the specific task of ministry, not to make him acceptable to stand before God in the Temple. That it why it touched his lips and was followed by his commissioning.
            Israelites such as Isaiah and Zechariah and Elizabeth were acceptable to God in their righteousness even though they were not sinless because of sacrifice—in Mosaic religion, the sacrifices of the portable shrine/ immovable Temple which allowed the holy God to dwell in the midst of a sinful people. It is true that God’s holiness is threatening and dangerous to sinful man; sacrifice is required.
            Here, however, is where Christianity differs from Judaism: it says that those Mosaic sacrifices were never effectual in themselves, but were only pledges of the one true and effective sacrifice of Christ. It was His sacrifice that retroactively allowed Yahweh to dwell in the midst of His people in the Old Testament times (Hebrews 9:15) and that now washes clean the whole world. This is where we agree. The point of my article is that it is not necessary for Uncle Walt to confess Christ in this age; if he is oriented toward the light and doing his best to love God and his neighbour and responding fully to whatever light he received, he too will be spared on the Last Day. But like everyone else, he is only saved by the Blood of Christ. Our disagreement, I think, comes down to this: I suggest that Uncle Walt can only be saved by Christ’s Sacrifice, but he does not need to know about the Sacrifice in this age to be saved.

          5. Father:

            I think my inexactness of expression (or ours) may be part of our disagreement. I sense you seem to agree that sin cannot stand and exist in God’s presence. And pretty certain you would agree that, after the Resurrection/in the afterlife, to be absent from God means to be present in hell or Hades or the Lake of Fire (still fuzzy on the differences), there being no middle ground nor any Purgatory. So I think what made me stumble on your original post was the absence of any mention of sanctification/forgiveness/absolution and theosis for Uncle Walt. To me, a glaring omission which hinted, if not at universalism, then at a cheap salvation or a muddied, sin-admitting Heaven, which would be little different than earth itself. Likely, you took that sanctification of Uncle for granted, and therefore unwritten.
            So I agree that our disagreement boils down to your last statement: “I suggest that Uncle Walt can only be saved by Christ’s Sacrifice, but he does not need to know about the Sacrifice in this age to be saved.”
            Of that, I’m not so sure; this deserves some thought. We all would like to think so, even have personal reasons for hoping so. We certainly hope so for previously isolated tribes and nations un-reached by Jews of the old covenant or Christians in the New. But what of those who have heard the Gospel and rejected it? I anticipate you will return to “the light they have received”. What of the Uncle Walts who were never abused by clergy and who had better (if not perfect) examples of the church than just iffy television evangelists?
            As far as “doing his best…to whatever light he received”, my ex-wife had a longstanding conviction that EVERYBODY was doing their best, given their circumstances, origin, and capacities (well, everybody but ME!) You see the boundaries get pretty fuzzy, and can easily trend to universalism.
            Edging me towards your opinion is the knowledge that Christ indeed forgave some who either did not repent (his persecutors from the Cross) or did not ask to be forgiven (the paralytic in Matt 9:2). Of course such forgivings are not synonymous with salvation. In the case of the centurions, it may only have spared them guilt for the crimes at hand. But for Christ’s combined healings with forgiveness, I suspect these were salvific in nature, particularly if they maintained faith in the One they had encountered.
            But where is Uncle Walt’s encounter with the Way, the Truth, and the Life? You say it might wait until the next life. But does that not risk making the Church superfluous?
            God’s mercy is so great as to be unfathomable, I have been taught and believe. Yet Christ’s words are true: “Many are called, few are chosen”; the broad and narrow paths to destruction or to life; and many other such sayings. Makes me not optimistic for Uncle Walt. And continually reinforces my own fear of God.
            Thank you.

  6. Oh, this too:
    And if God accounted Zechariah and Elizabeth righteous, it included “walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord,” and this means they were keeping the Temple requirements, and therefore doing it “through Christ”, the ultimate sacrifice. They were not distant pagans who were keeping the law unto themselves. They were not succeeding apart from Christ.
    There is only one man who ever went to heaven based solely on his own law-keeping. One. When Christ said “One alone is good,” it was Him.

    1. Zechariah and Elizabeth were not living “through Christ” and His sacrifice since He had not yet been born, much less sacrificed. The text does not say they were sinless, but “blameless”–in later Pauline terms, they were living a life of faithfulness, of pistis. In the terms St. James would later use, they were saved by their works. Once again there is a confusion of righteousness (which is possible) with sinlessness (which only Christ achieved).

  7. Christ was the fulfillment of the Law. His work enabled and will enable the Resurrection of all saints, including the Old Testament ones. All the Old Testament saints would have had no hope apart from the Incarnation, Death and Resurrection of Christ. Time and sequence mean nothing to God.

    1. It is true that Christ’s death ransoms those saints of the Old Testament and brings them to God’s Presence after the Resurrection of Christ and will raise them and all of us on the Last Day. It is not true that time and sequence therefore mean nothing to God’s purposes and timing. That is why John said in John 7:39 that the Holy Spirit could not be received by us until after Christ had been glorified. God is not bound by time and sequence, but we are.

  8. Father,

    Many thanks for this. Your essay puts me in mind of an atheist friend of mine. His parents divorced and also left the Roman Catholic church, and so he was raised in an Evangelical church. I would count him as one whose sole experience of Christianity was of the sort you described above, and one of the breaking points was this very injustice – his pastor gave a funeral for a murderer who shot himself just after the murders. “Why should that creep get a Christian funeral while upstanding atheists like me are damned?” he has often asked.

    I pray for him, and we do debate the existence of God, but he still carries such resentment and anger at the “God” he was taught that he may never believe again. So I pray that he be shown the light.

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