Thesis:In defense of the "Cosmic Ogre" it must be said that He is only an "Ogre" in the eyes of those without love.
Introduction:Our focus last week was upon the declaration by Paul that "ignorance" of God's larger plan would lead men into the kind of pride that destroys them. He said that the Gentiles were in serious danger of being "sensible in their own eyes" (no small danger) and that the solution to that danger was the awareness that it is God'sPlan that enables their participation in their blessed state, not their initiation of whatever sort it might be. They were branches on a condemned, lawless, wild olive tree until they were cut off from it. At that point, they were in grave danger of becoming dead sticks, ready for burning. But God, before they became those dead sticks, grafted them into an olive tree that had a root that communicated richness to all of the branches in the tree.
The "problem", at that point, was the question of whether these grafted branches would do any better at producing the desired fruit than had the natural branches that had been cut out because they did not so produce. It is this problem to which Paul has turned his attention with his teaching about how it is God and His Plan that has brought the experience of blessing to those who have the experience, not something inherently superior within themselves.
However, there is a perennial problem attached to Paul's dogma that I plan to address this evening: the accusation that Paul's God is a "Cosmic Ogre". Though those words may not be the actual ones used by the many who reject Paul's doctrine, the concept is pretty pervasive. It boils down to the charge that it is not "fair" for God to be the One Who decides whom He will graft into His tree.
I. The Foundations of the Accusation.
A. Paul's recognition that if one gives human beings any way at all to exalt themselves over others, they will take it and run with it ... and destroy themselves as the consequence.
B. Paul's argument that it has been a pattern in God's Plan to "permit" the development of hardness when He is perfectly capable of engaging the process and blocking it.
a. There have been three major biblical/historical demonstrations of this "permission" (Adam to Abraham; Abraham to Christ; Christ to the present).
b. Paul's own testimony of "salvation" as the "chief of sinners" is sufficient evidence that God has the ability to block the incipient hardness (though there are countless demonstrations of His saving ability in all of history).
C. Paul's argument in this text is that God has permitted an incipient hardness to develop in Israel while simultaneously determining to overwhelm that hardness in the nations.
a. This means that God can, but often does not, prevent the incipient hardness.
b. This means that God couldsave more than He does and that He couldlet more perish than He does.
c. This is the basis for the charge that God is a Cosmic Ogre (if He can save and does not, He is an ogre).
II. The Problems With the Accusation.
A. The first problem is this: it does not change anything (Enduring rebels are still sent to eternal condemnation).
B. A second problem is this: the "satisfaction" of embracing rebellion for cause is pretty fleeting (once the smugness of "self-justification" has worn off, what does the rebel have left? ... a habitation where the fire is not quenched and there is weeping and gnashing of teeth is not mollified much by dead smugness).
C. A third problem is this: it is too short sighted.
1. The fact that even God has "can'ts" (things He cannot do) must be handled with understanding.
a. God cannot make powerful wrath known without legitimate cause (Romans 9:22).
b. But neither can God communicate eternal life to anyone who must be kept ignorant of His essential character.
c. Thus, not even God can "save" without making Himself known, nor can He make Himself known without expressing His eternal wrath.
2. That anyone thinks that "if God can, He must" is indication of ignorance of the distinction between Law and Grace ("must" is a legality and "Law" is subverted by "Grace").
D. A fourth problem is this: it is too un-loving; containing the very faults that the self-justifiers find so "ogreish" in God.
1. Jesus was willing, in love, to be the object of the Father's "powerful wrath" and He did not consider the Father an ogre.
2. Paul, in a lesser, but similar, way was willing to become the object of the Father's powerful wrath because he loved greatly (Romans 9:3) and he did not consider the Father an ogre.
3. Where is this kind of love in the strutting arrogance of the rebel? (they are not even willing to endure the wrath because they deserve it, let alone endure it because they want to spare someone else from it).
E. A fifth problem is this: it accepts the legitimacy of wrath if the object brings it on itself as an exercise of its own "will".
1. There are a few of the "ogre-yellers" who demand universal salvation as God's only protection against their charge (as if an elephant needs protection from a flea), but the large majority will say that if God gives a creature a "real choice" (i.e., an "unfettered will") and the creature "chooses" to be a rebel, then God is not an ogre (in other words, if God will make the decisions of men sacrosanct, He can be a Judge without being an ogre).
2. The problem here is that some people are still cast into the Lake of Fire when all people deserve to be.
F. And a sixth problem is this: it ignores what Jesus said in John 3:17.
1. In that text we are told that Jesus did not come to condemn, but to save.
a. The fact is this: God did not need to create humanity and let it drift into sin so that He would have a valid basis for the demonstration of His wrath and power.
b. He already had that basis in the angelic rebellion.
c. He created humanity to make His mercy, grace, and love known.
1) Those characteristics were not as "obvious" in the angelic reality since there was to be no redemption for angels.
2) Well, then, why does God not save all "humans" and only condemn "fallen angels"?
a) What would that demonstrate?
i. To answer that we have to understand Hebrews 2:7-9 (a text tells us that "humans" are "lower" than angels in some way).
ii. This means that God, in order to make Himself known on multiple levels, created two distinct classes of creatures of sensibility; one that sin would immediately put beyond redemption, and another that sin would not immediately put beyond redemption. [In other words, the level of "sin" that an "angel" would have to commit was greater than that of a "human". It is the degree of "Sin" that makes redemption an issue, not the fact of it.]
iii. This, in turn, means that "angels" were created with a greater understanding inherent within them (perhaps because of their immediate proximity to God) than "humans" inherently have. [This is the principle of Luke 12:47-48 (knowledge makes a difference in judgment). Thus, it is the ignorance of humanity that makes redemption possible to them, and it is this that makes the redemption of all of them unfeasible: redemption is a "knowledge" issue.
b) Where would it demonstrate it?
i. Even though God has a sufficient base for the demonstration of His power and wrath in the angelic rebellion, He does not have that base inthisworld where "humans" must find out what is true. Humans cannot understand "grace" where there is no demonstration of "law".
ii. Thus, the application of "law" in the human realm requires the death of some and the death of many only testifies as to how hard it actually is to get people to buy into their own depravity.