Posted by: Jonathan Stepp | August 15, 2008

What about Non-Believers?

If all humanity is in Christ then what is the difference between a believer and a non-believer? A friend recently asked me a question along these lines. Specifically he wondered: “If not believing the truth about our adoption brings about suffering then why do many non-believers seem to be happy and even lead charmed lives?” Here are some thoughts I shared with him:

1. Since all humanity is united to the Father, Son, and Spirit through the incarnation of the Son, whatever love and joy a non-believer experiences has to be coming from the Holy Spirit. If I see an apple I know it comes from an apple tree, if I see love and joy I know they came from a Holy Spirit “tree” because they are the fruit of the Spirit.

In this we see the gracious, loving nature of God the Father, Son, and Spirit. He does not withhold himself from humanity until we believe correctly or act correctly. In the incarnate Son, Jesus, God gives himself freely to the human race. If he did withhold himself until we believed or acted correctly then he would remain forever self-contained and we would remain forever devoid of any love or joy because we can never believe or act correctly without the Son sharing his correct belief and action with us.

2. People often look and act happier than they actually are when they’re around others. Just because a non-believer seems as joyful as a believer and seems to be leading a “charmed” life doesn’t mean that he is. The real question, according to Jesus, is what’s happening in our hearts and souls? In his heart the believer knows and believes he is a child of the Father and rests in that assurance. The non-believer is also a child of the Father, through the incarnate Son, but he lacks assurance and identity because he does not believe the truth about himself.

3. Ultimately, we cannot go on forever believing a lie about ourselves and not experience negative consequences. This what the scripture means when it talks about hell. Eventually we will all stand before Jesus and the truth of our adoption and inclusion in the Triune Life will be fully revealed. If, at that point, we persist in believing a lie we can only experience the suffering that comes from thinking we are not children of the Father when in fact we are.

Imagine the pain and agony of a child who, wrongly, believes his Father doesn’t love him and want him. That is hell. The child may be able to forget about it for a while and go play but eventually the loneliness and pain returns. The problem that a non-believer faces is that eventually his wrong thoughts about himself and God are going to catch up with him. When that crisis comes he faces the choice that we all face: to repent and believe the truth about our identity as beloved children of the Father or stubbornly keep believing a lie and continue struggling with the suffering that comes from believing a lie.

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Responses

  1. In “Dogmatics in Outline,” Barth writes of the profound difference between believers and non-believers and relates that difference to the subject of faith:

    “Where Christians faith exists, there God’s congregation arises and lives in the world for the world…as the manifestation of the Servant of God, whom God has set there for all men, as the Body of Christ…Faith is obedience, not just a passive accommodation of oneself. Where there is obedience, there is also choice on man’s part; faith chosen instead of its opposite, unbelief, trust instead of distrust, knowledge instead of ignorance. Faith means choosing between faith and unbelief, wrong belief and superstition. Faith is the act in which man relates himself to God as is appropriate to God” (p. 29, Harper, 1959).

    Thus Barth posits a HUGE difference between the experience of a believer as compared to that of a non-believer. But that difference should not be seen as believers included in and non-believers excluded from God. God has united himself to all humanity through the person and act of Jesus Christ.

    And now the Spirit invites all people to believe into that truth. This belief – this personal faith – has profound consequences, but it, in itself, does not create the inclusion.

    John refers in his gospel and epistles to unbelief as humanity’s greatest sin (and the source of all sin). Indeed, to refuse to believe in (and thus trust in and rely upon) Jesus as the source of our union with God (and thus of our life) has horrific consequences both now and forever. Thus the Spirit’s invitation to all humanity is to repent, believe and take up one’s cross and follow this Jesus who is our life.

  2. Wow brother.
    “All humanity is in Christ”? Automatically?
    Somehow have we overlooked the bible? What books are you reading?
    We are only in Christ if we are born of the Spirit of God. It has nothing to do about how we “feel about ourselves”. Before coming to Christ we are sinners dead in trespasses and sins. There is no spiritual life within us. We must be born of the Spirit to be able to understand the things of God. First things first my brother.
    Richard

  3. Ted: Thanks for another great quote from Barth!

    Richard: I believe the question we have to ask ourselves is this: does Christ get us into himself or do we get ourselves into Christ? In other words, is salvation a gift or is it something we earn by believing the right things?

    The bible says that Christ has given himself to us. Rom. 5:8, 18, Eph. 2:6, Col. 1:20.

    We can’t get ourselves into Christ by our belief, we can only believe that Christ has gotten himself into us.

    If we say that we can get ourselves into Christ by our belief then we have to ask: how much belief does it take? How long must we believe? What happens if our belief wavers? Do we hop in and out of Christ on a day to day or moment by moment basis depending on how strong our belief is at a particular moment in time?

    Martin Luther once said that faith is like an eye, it does not create what it sees but it is the means by which to see that which exists.

    Humanity’s inclusion in the Trinity is what exists in the incarnation of the Son. Faith is the eye by which we see this truth.

  4. What has changed since the incarnation two millennia ago? When all humanity was adopted and included in the Triune life. Evil societies and cultures continue. Seemingly unabated. Suffering seems to be equally distributed among all mankind. Believers and non-believers alike. If it is God, at His initiative, who has entered into communion with all humanity, shouldn’t there be some manifest evidence that is clear to all. If rejection is possible, then there has to be something tangible to reject. Perhaps adoption and inclusion is something that awaits in the future but spoken of, in a Hebrew way, as already having happened.

  5. I would argue that much has changed in the two millenia since the Son’s incarnation.

    The world of Jesus was filled with far more slavery, oppression, starvation, infant mortality, infant murder, rape, and darkened superstition than our world is today.

    Life is still often difficult and there is still too much injustice and suffering in the world, but the overall trend for 2,000 years has been a steady upward trend in the life humanity – especially in those times and places where people have believed the most strongly in the truth of our adoption.

    There is evidence of God’s entrance into communion with us: none of us would want to go back in time and live in the world of the 1st cen. because we know human existence was worse before the Son’s incarnation than it is now.

  6. I appreciate the issue with which Three Who’s and a What wrestles. Perhaps he is saying something along these lines: “The presence of evil is evidence of the absence of God.” Thus the evil we see in the world today (and I think we must not be naive about who terrible and pervasive it truly is), says to us that most of humanity is separated from God.

    But I think this reasoning embraces a false premise. To the contrary, we know of God in Jesus as the one who loves and embraces sinners and takes upon and into himself our sin. The presence of sin in the world can not speak to us of the absence of the God we know because we know Jesus.

    In Colossians Paul says that God, in Christ, has already (at the cross of Christ) reconciled to himself “all things” and that “all” certainly includes all humanity (see Col 1:18-20).

    However, Paul notes that some (most?) of humanity, through reconciled to God, remains “alienated” in its individual and collective mind (see Col 1:21). This alienation has horrific consequences and explains the prevalence of evil in a world that, in God’s mind, is reconciled to God.

    So in God’s mind, humanity is included – reconciled – adopted, in Christ. All are his dearly loved children.

    But not all know this and live accordingly. They remain alienated in their minds, and alienation that is exhibited in “evil behavior” (Col 1:21b).

    So what is needed is not to posit a distant, separated God. To do so is to deny the truth that is in Jesus and thus to go “barking up the wrong tree” to solve the problem of evil in the world.

    The answer is to declare the truth (the Good News) of humanity included in God and to invite people to believe into this truth. In believing, they will be reconciled to God in their minds – aligning their thinking with the truth of the reconciliation they already have with God in Christ.

  7. Thanks for more great comments, Ted. I would also add that even though we interpret our suffering as a sign of our separation from God that it is actually a sign of our union with him in the Son.

    If we were disconnected the twisting of our lives would not hurt – just as it would not hurt to twist my arm if it were disconnected from my body. If someone twists my arm it hurts because it is connected. Because we are included in the Triune Life we experience pain when we act in ways that twist our experience of that Life.

  8. No Ted,
    I’m not thinking, “The presence of evil is evidence of the absence of God.”
    Not quite.
    Rather, “The presence of evil is evidence that God has chosen to allow it.”
    To Jonathan who thinks things have gotten better in the world since the incarnation, I would say millions over the centuries and today bear witness against you.
    Suffering knows no boundaries and their is no barrier that guarantees us protection from it. We all live in the midst of an evil world and believers and non-believer will experience it. Some in ways that do not fit our concept of God.
    I’m not speaking without hope, but in the hope that those who have the responsibility to help others to come to know and trust God will not paint rosy scenarios that lead to crises in faith.

  9. Dear Three:

    In your first post you wrote, “If it is God, at His initiative, who has entered into communion with all humanity shouldn’t there be some manifest evidence that is clear to all?”

    What I’m trying to understand is your underlying *point of reference.* It seems to be that the presence of evil in the world is conclusive evidence that God has NOT (yet) united himself in communion with all humanity through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension.

    My reply is that the presence of evil in the world (which I agree is very real and prevalent) does NOT constitute the disconfirming evidence as you assert that it does.

    The evidence we must look to is not what we see in the world, but what we are told, by revelation, concerning who is Jesus Christ. And that revelation – given to us in Holy Scripture – is that Jesus has, indeed, united all humanity to God in himself. And now all human life is “hidden in Christ.” Indeed, this universal union is not often visible to us in the world. It’s like the “yeast” that infects the “dough” – not visible, but doing its work nonetheless.

    I think it’s important to distinguish the *objective and universal* inclusion of all humanity in Christ from the *subjective and personal* experience of and participation in that union. Believers personally and subjectively participate. Non-believers, though included, are not active participants (though all the good they experience is a result of the union which they are not directly aware of).

    So the mission of the church (the assembly of believers) is to be Christ’s Ambassadors – agents of the Holy Spirit, telling all who will listen of the union they have with God in Christ. By believing this message they do not bring about that union – indeed it has existed in Christ from before the foundation of the world (in God’s sovereign plan) and historically, in our time, from the Christ event which occurred nearly 2,000 years ago. By believing they do begin to personally and actively participate in their inclusion – they abandon the alienation toward God that exists in their mind with the evil behavior that their alienation spawns.

    So my bottom line is this: don’t allow what you see in the world to disconfirm the revealed truth about who Jesus is and who all humanity is in union with Jesus. Rather declare to all who will hear what truly is *good news* – Jesus has reconciled you to God, now *be* reconciled in your own mind.

    Hope this helps.

  10. Here’s a thought from Karl Barth that might be helpful:

    “The world with its sorrow and its happiness will always be [only] a dark mirror to us, about which we may have optimistic or pessimistic thoughts; but it gives us no information about God as Creator” (Dogmatics in Outline, p. 52.

    And I would add that it gives us no information about God as Redeemer. All such God-knowledge (which includes true knowledge about humankind) comes only by revelation which is in Jesus Christ.

    Keep in mind that Barth, who believed in universal inclusion, is the same Karl Barth who saw and directly confronted the appalling evil of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime. Barth was not one to turn his eyes away from the terrible evil present in a world that is included in God’s love and life in Jesus.

  11. Jonathan,

    You mentioned that our suffering from evil is to be seen as a consequence of humankind’s union with, rather than separation from God. This is Karl Barth’s assertion in “Dogmatics in Outline”

    “Complaint and accusation [about human misery and evil], which again and again break out from the depths of creation, actually acquire strength from our recognition that we men are the object of the divine compassion. Only from the depths of all that God has done for us can it be made clear that we find ourselves in misery. Who then is aware of man’s real wretchedness, save he who is aware of God’s mercy?” (p. 71).

  12. Thanks, Ted, you’ve given us a very helpful perspective on evil in relation to the gospel.

  13. This dialogue was awesome. It helped me and edified me tremendously and made me want to buy Dogmatics In Outline! Thanks Ted for the quotes….WOW

  14. […] public links >> agony What about Non-Believers? Saved by kagomegirlwhit93 on Mon 29-9-2008 Game Diary – August 11, 2008: They Mostly End The Same […]


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