The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Q&A with Derek Flood- author of "Healing the Gospel"


Sorry Derek, I thought you objected to the position that God judges people in this life (hence he doesn’t act against sin by punishing them). My apologies if I don’t understand everyone’s view very well. I’m just trying to figure out what everyone believes LOL!


People make the Trinity waaaaay too complicated. So while I could probably give you a 3 page treatise on the Trinity, I think instead the best advice I could give you is this: Don’t worry about it. It’s a waste of time. It’s vanity. Don’t get dragged into these kinds of theological spinning of gossamer webs. They are a distraction. Focus on loving God and loving others.

When you say you want God/Jesus to show you he is real, that does matter, because that’s about relationship. I have a free e-book on this that you might like: Intimacy with God. I’d also recommend Hannah Witall Smith’s Christian Secret of a Happy Life (an awesome book from the 1800’s)

It is hard because God is invisible. I struggle with it every day. But I do think that it is possible to hear God speaking directly into your life and to be shaped by his love in a personal and life-transforming way, so it is not just theory and theology but a life-giving loving relationship where our heart cries out “Abba, Dad!”


Okay, I’ll try this one more time… :smiley:

Punishment sucks. Judgement sucks. They are not from God. They are from the devil.

We may look at natural consequences and interpret them as “just punishments” but they are at best a bitter comfort.
Arnold Schwarzenegger cheats on Maria and his marriage falls apart. Can we call that the punishment for his sin? I suppose so, but how does that help Maria? Her marriage fell apart too. How does that help her? It doesn’t. She has been betrayed, and lost her marriage. That sucks. That is not justice.

Or how about the addict who OD’s on meth? Can we call that the “punishment” for his sin? I suppose so. You sew what you reap, right? But how does that help his mom who now has a dead son? How is that “justice” for her? It’s not. It’s death and death sucks.

We may wish that we lived in a world were bad people suffered for what they did. But we simply don’t. The people who suffer the most are the victims not the perpetrators. So if we really want to see justice, we will not find it in punishment–neither in the consequences of hurtful actions that we falsely attribute to some punitive deity, nor in our inflicting hurt on others. The way we bring about real justice is by working to heal and make things good. By undoing the work of punishment. By opposing that fake justice that is really death.

True justice does not come from a volcano, it comes from us when we love. Especially when we love the unlovable.

Jesus when he came among us did not say to anyone “See it’s just and right that this has happened to you” and then leave them that way. He opposed those “judgements” by undoing them all. He healed people. He forgave people. He loved people. That is what justice is. Justice is not punishment. Punishment is what the devil does, not what God does. That’s what Jesus tells us.

God’s justice is about healing, not hurting. True justice is about making things right again. It’s about mending broken relationships, and raising the dead, and making something beautiful out of our broken lives.

Do I believe that death and suffering exist? Of course. But they are not good. They suck. Jesus came to end them. That is what justice looks like. That is what we need to be working towards. Not calling it good and right, but opposing it, working to love the unlovable, and to heal our world. Overcoming evil with goodness.

You may not agree. But that’s the way I see it.


Thanks Derek. I’ll check out your free e-book. :smiley: I don’t really worry about the trinity thing, it’s more a frustration at not knowing what is correct. But if God wants me to be sure, then He will sort it in time. :wink:


That is a powerful statement to make. :open_mouth: I don’t know if it is true. It doesn’t ‘feel’ right. The first part is right- yes, punishment and judgment suck. But… Jesus talked of a kolasis in Matt 25 for the ‘goats’. He associates it with weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt 25:30,46). If we believe that this ‘kolasis’ is remedial, then as unpleasant as it is, it is for their eternal good. The ‘goats’ are going have to go cold turkey it seems.


Thanks for reiterating for the 14th time what your position is regarding punishment. My apologies for having to put you through the grind.

Ok, I hope you and Dave can understand why someone like me doesn’t quite get it. I knew you had issues with punishment but now you express your objection to judgment as well. I, like Cathrine, don’t see things that way so it’s hard to find our place of agreement.

Why does judgment suck? It seems to me punishment and judgment sucks for those who persist in doing evil, not for those who live by faith. Isn’t that Paul’s point in Rom 1-3? Paul explicitly states that those who practice evil don’t deserve life (Rom 1:32), nor will they escape God’s wrath (Rom 2:2-5) and that God will give to those who persist in pursuing evil there will be wrath and anger (Rom 3:8).

I recall your discussion with Peter Gurry and from the comments there at The Rebel God, Peter seemed to reject your interpretation of Rom 1-3.

Since these themes are all connected perhaps you might walk us through your interpretation of Rom 1-3. I think it might be helpful because this type of language, used by both Jesus and the apostles (wrath and judgment), seems to drive us EU to conclusions different than Ultra-Universalism’s conclusion that when the resurrection occurs - everyone gets resurrected to eternal life.


The conservative way of reading punishment is this:
Punishment is bad. Bad people are punished cuz they are bad. Don’t be bad or God will torture you forever in Hell.

Conservative universalists recognize that torturing someone forever is horrible. They don’t like that, but want to stay conservative. So they take all the verses that threaten punishment, and read them as saying “for your own good”

So it’s basically exactly the same conservative reading from before, the only difference is that now that punishment that was originally meant to suck (and thus frighten you into compliance) is now called good. So now famine and cancer, along with whipping kids are now called “good”.

I disagree with that reading. It may feel like a good solution because it appears to make God look good, but calling horrible things good is actually really hurtful (someone being raped or losing their child is now something God did “for their good” rather than something horrible that God hates as much as they do and wants to bring healing to).

I’d say that it is a good start, but underestimates the problem. I’d say that the conservative reading is not just wrong at the very end, it is wrong all the way through. Because it takes the yucky violent God of the Old Testament and projects that on to Jesus. In doing this, it misses the entire point of the New Testament which is the interpret the Old Testament through the eyes of Jesus.

What most people don’t get about Jesus is that he is almost always messing with his audience. He is provoking them. He’s being ironic, sarcastic, hyperbolic. He is trying to shock them, to pull the rug out. That’s why his audiences react the way they do…They are blown away… They get mad.

So in the sheep and the goats parable Jesus takes the familiar story they all told about how the good religious people would get rewards and the bad sinners would get punished, and he completely reverses that. Jesus basically says “you guys love judgement? Here’s your judgement then: you “good” guys are all gonna lose, and they are all gonna win because you are not loving.”

It’s sarcasm. It’s humor. It’s completely reversing their narrative with the intent of having them stop judging those people they considered bad and worthy of judgement, and instead telling them to help them.

His point is not to affirm judgement as good, but to call people to love, thus having us act to undo that “judgement” of suffering.


My interpretation of Romans 1-3 is discussed in my book in chapter 2 and the appendix. So if you have not read it and are interested, that would be the place to find it.

It is very different from a hyper-Calvinist reading, which is why a student from Dallas Theological Seminary like Peter does not like it. However it echoes the views of some pretty major Pauline scholars (for example James Dunn and Michael Gorman). So I think it is a pretty solid reading.



Sorry to jump in here, but I’ve been following along (and I love the spirit of this dialogue by the way).

You wrote:

So is ALL punishment bad? See, I’m a licensed professional counselor (deal with abused people all the time), and I’m also a dad. Last week my 12 year old son was very disrespectful to my wife,was ranting and raving, yelled at her, said she treated him like dirt and accused her of lying because of a misunderstanding of what chores/homework he would have to do before getting to watch TV). MY wife calls me on my way home from work, tells me the story, and we decided to punish him by taking away all his privileges (dessert, TV, video games, friends over, in other words, being “grounded”) for about 5 days. We did still allow him to play sports, btw. I would also say that we “judged” his behavior, as being wrong. And he responded well to his punishment. I did not engage in a power struggle, get angry, or argue with him over his behavior. (I wish I could say I always responded well). He was truly sad about his loss of privileges. His behavior was much improved, and in addition to that I was able to have some good conversations, some father/son time, affirm him in his performance in his lacrosse game. And so I believe that the punishment and the relational building were both helpful to him, were both motivated by love on my part. I think the punishing and the **judging **(of his behavior, not of him as a person) actually created psychological space for him to reflect on his behavior, learn, and allow for my relational “connecting” with him to be even more meaningful to him.

And so when I conceive the afterlife it is of a purgatorial universalism, it is along these lines with God the Father acting this was towards his lost children.

I have a hard time understanding how this punishment and judgment I exercised is wrong. I also believe that these are appropriate words to convey my interactions.

I’d be interested in your (and other’s) comments.




In order to respond I am going to ask you a number of questions, one at a time, in a way similar to a conversation. I realize that this is a bit odd on a forum because of the time delay. So please bear with me. First question:

In your professional judgement, would you say that your actions caused your child psychological trauma?


Hey Derek,

No, I would not say that my actions caused him psychological trauma.




Thanks, I agree. Next question:

What forms of punishment would you say could cause psychological trauma, and therefore be considered to be abusive?


Physical punishment could cause psychological trauma. Abuse is typically framed as physical, verbal, sexual, or emotional.

Now, the DSM-IV-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Text Revision) under the diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD the following must be present:

*"The person has been exposed to a traumatic event in which both of the following were present:
(1) the person experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others.

(2) the person’s response involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror. Note: In children this may be expressed instead by disorganized or agitated behavior"*

So,physical punishment, physical neglect, verbal threats, and sexual abuse and neglect can be traumatic as well.

But just because a punishment is physical, based on our definitions above, it is not necessarily abusive and/or traumatic.



I’ve long agreed that “justice” means restoring wholeness, “putting things right.” But it seems a non-sequitur that God must have no purpose in allowing painful consequences to perpetrators. There may be other bases to conclude that working through such painful events of evildoers is immoral or unBiblical, and in no sense ‘from God.’ But I don’t see how your definition of justice disallows this (we seem back to the mystery of why an able God lets evil suffering continue).

Of course, Matthew 25 IS provocatively “reversing their narrative” and “calling them to love!” But I’m not seeing how it follows from that, that Jesus must simply be using “humor,” or is denying the concept of judgment.

You are quite correct that classic universalists appeal for their hope by reinterpreting texts on painful judgment as potential steps toward restoration, rather than signifying hopeless retribution. My fear is that insisting that all painful notions of ‘judgment’ have no place in God’s purposes, requires us to oppose conservatives’ conviction that the Bible plainly sees God’s purposes as profoundly being carried out even in this world’s suffering. Thus, arguing that a good God opposed to it somehow stands by, makes it hard to have Biblical folk consider the whole new paradigm of universalism.

I agree that there is a profound Biblical trajectory toward the Jesus who condemns our use of violence (and that Christians have been perversely resistant to this). But I suspect that our best hope of getting evangelicals to recognize that, is to first change their whole paradigm of a God whose purposes are concluded with a supposedly valuable retribution. Convincing them that the Bible’s God has no ‘judgment’ at all seems to me to make that crucial goal harder.


Hi Caleb

I think there is a huge difference between withdrawing privileges and causing harm/hurt physically or psychologically. Going by what you said, it sounds as though your son was not humiliated or belittled, as well as not subjected to pain or injury or real privation – and that is a big advance on whooping someone into fear and submission. And that may be the best a human parent can do, given our resources.

Having said that, we do not have within ourselves limitless life and energy and creativity and generosity – but God does. That is why we cannot extrapolate from the “best” a human parent can do and conclude from that that God is limited to what is available to human parents.

It is clear from Jesus’s death and resurrection that God does not make things right by depriving us of what we have, even temporarily, but by giving overwhelmingly what he has and is, by filling death until it has nothing but life in it; by filling with health so that sickness and deficiency are impossible.

The biblical words for “judgement” don’t mean punishment, they imply liberation –

Judge me, O God, and plead my cause against an ungodly nation:
O deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man. (Psalm 43:1)

YHWH, you have heard the desire of the meek: You will prepare their heart, you will cause your ear to hear;
To judge the fatherless and the oppressed, That man who is of the earth may oppress no more. (Psalm 10:17-18)

In the New Testament, the word is also related to separating out – removing the harm, de-toxification, in other words, healing. It sounds a lot more like staying at a health spa than being subjected to pain and harm.


Thanks. Next question:

What would the effect be for someone who had been abused (as you define it above) to tell them that this was something that they “deserved” and that was “good for them”? How might that damage this person too be told this, especially by a person they regarded as an authority figure (such as a parent)?


Round and round we go with definitions. The problem with allowing for a loose definition as that it makes discussions like this quite difficult.

It seems fallacious to conclude:
A) Some punishments are traumatic.
B) God does not cause trauma.
Conc: God does not punish.

We could change A to:
A) All punishments are traumatic.

But that would be obviously invalid (unless Derek, Dave or Ruth want to illustrate why it is valid).

As Caleb has illustrated with a real example, he exacted punishment without causing trauma to his son.

Of course this is where Derek objects to the definition and defines once again that he’s referring to punishment that is traumatic. But that just leads us back to the beginning – then God can punish so long as it’s not traumatic/harmful/abusive.

But as I’ve argued before then why not say “God is not abusive” or “God is not violent”.
The use of “punishment” or “punitive” is the real problem and my sense is that the real reason punishment is rejected by some is to protect the notion that God does not re-tribute because that would threaten the very objection to retribution or Ultra Universalism which is held by traditional Christians.

I consider Bob a good teacher and being my father in law, I’m blessed. One of the best things he’s taught me is to find good in the things we deem as bad. This is one issue where I would have to say that traditional Christianity got partly right, they simply lacked love as part of their equation – and still do.


Hey Ruth,

I believe that it *was *painful psychologically to him. He was very upset over some of the privileges he lost and cried (not in a petulant tantrum, but true tears of sadness). But I don’t believe it was harmful. If we can punish in a way that does not harm, than why can’t God?


Because Jesus didn’t, and he said his father doesn’t - “He makes the sun shine on the good and the bad, and sends the rain to the just and the unjust.”

It’s simple: if Jesus did it, the Father does it; if Jesus didn’t do it, the Father doesn’t do it.


Is it possible that our earthy model, like your father - son example Caleb, mostly effects behavior but does not fundamentally change the underlying cause of the behavior? As a result of the punishment, were the thoughts, actions, and feelings of animosity your son was displaying towards your wife replaced with love and compassion, etc.?

Maybe this is one point where the extrapolation fails? Truly changing a heart or sin sick soul maybe is beyond our earthy working model of punishment?