The Evangelical Universalist Forum

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


I unfortunately lost my longer response so let me try and be brief:

From a psychological perspective, the issue is neither the intensity of the pain involved, nor is it the intent. The decisive factor is the damage that is caused, specifically in the form of psychological trauma.

So what we have found is that inflicting physical harm on someone is not good for them or corrective, but in fact results in severely damaging them. That’s why we have laws prohibiting it.

I don’t actually think that. I was trying to say the opposite actually. I do not see suffering as being caused “on purpose” by God for some higher purpose, I see it as the result of the fall (i.e the work of the devil), and as something that God is working against.

Derek, I fear you’ve reversed what I said. When I said it is “UNbelievable” to you that “God allows suffering,” I am recognizing precisely that you “do NOT see suffering as being caused on purpose” Thus, don’t my three objections to that belief still invite explanation?

Derek you said

In my experience, it seems good often punishes wickedness in order to correct/restore. Parents punish their children in order to teach them that consequences follow bad behavior. In scripture, it seems to follow this same pattern, God disciplines his children and can restore them by perfecting them through suffering.

My real point was that I don’t see the atonement as God pounding on an innocent man so he doesn’t have to pound on us. I see the atonement as a love letter, not about punishment (not even restorative punishment). But that does not require me to abandon all forms of punishment. I feel as though some people argue by reducing punishment to one form - abuse. I see this also done with anger. I hear Universalists say “God is not angry” and I see Paul include anger in his love list in Cor 13. So I think it’s quite ok to say God is angry with us when we do evil, but that’s not the same as saying God hates us when we do evil - something Christians often do.

Still, I’m open to you being right and love the discussion. I think there is truth to what you’re saying, from a certain point of view.

So thanks again Derek,


Ah, okay, thanks for clarifying. So your questions were:

This seems to be to be related to the classic debate between Arminianism and Calvinism. Both claim biblical support. Both have pretty wide acceptance among evangelicals. Both have verses that are challenging, similar to how there are verse that seem to speak for and against universalism.

In really basic terms, the difficulties with each position are these:

Arminians would tend to say that God cannot violate freewill. That puts us in a bind, because how can God save us then? This is I think what you are referring to
Calvinists would tend to say that God is doing this all on purpose. That creates a problem of God’s character. Many people find this even more problematic (I share this concern).

This brings us to the 3rd question: How can we hope?

I don’t know if God can prevent evil. I simply observe that God does not prevent evil. Rape happens. The Holocaust happened. So what’s going on? Is God good but not sovereign (Arminianism) or sovereign but not good (Calvinism).

My first answer is that I think it is good for us to struggle with this because we care about people. So I would never want us to have an answer that would cause us to passively accept suffering. I think God wants us to be upset and for that to translate into loving action to alleviate suffering where we see it.

But if I was trying to make sense of things, I think I would make the observation that God does not stop natural processes from happening – whether that is a tornado or a person with a gun. I wish he did. But experience seems to show that God does not.

So if God cannot or will not prevent bad things from happening, then how can we trust God? Here I put my hope in the Christ event. I see that God is with us in our darkness, and I see that he has risen and overcome death. What this points me to is the belief that God does not (as they thought/hoped in the OT) act with force. Perhaps we wish we lived in a world like that, but for better or worse we simply don’t. What I see instead at work is the persuasion of grace, the moving of the Spirit. I have experienced how God’s loving grace has turned my own life around, and how it has melted hearts of stone, and healed deep wounds. So while it may seem foolish to put my hope in that in a world with real evil and hurt, that is what I am doing. That I think is the foolishness of the cross. I bear the firstfruits in my own life, and I look to love overcoming all of our stupidness and folly with love. On some days I struggle and have doubts, on my better days I hold on to that hope.

Can you give me an example of where you have experienced or witnessed God punishing wickedness?

The examples you gave were of parents (which is not the same as God), and Scripture (which is not the same as experience).

Also,the specific Scripture example you site is not of God punishing the wicked, but of correcting children. I don’t think we should assume the two are equivalent.

Further, the specific context of the passage you mention in Hebrews is to encourage believers to endure hardship in the form of unjust persecution, arguing that it will work towards the strengthening of their character. I do not see it directly saying that God is doing this to them, rather it is drawing a parallel and saying that in the same way that something hard can be good in one case is also true in another. Key here is that the suffering they are enduring is unjust suffering.

Derek, That insight in the last paragraph particularly is why I don’t think that there is any real solution to Theodicy outside of universalism. If we have no hope that God will make all right in the end, then we really have no hope at all.

I meant good punishes wickedness. But I’ll answer as if I had written God. No, I’ve never seen God stick his hand out of the sky (if he’s got one lol) and wack guys like hitler in the head. But then again, I’ve never seen God change a life either by doing anything tangible in this world. I credit it base on belief.

My point is that
A) in my experience in this world I literally see good (law) punish bad people (murderers or robbers).
b) My understanding of scripture is that it too endorses that good things (God) punishes bad people.

God is in the business of correcting people. That we agree on.

I would think we also agree on that - those who practice evil (violence lets say) will inherit violence.

I originally said “there is suffering for those who practice evil” so allow me to translate that:
There is a sword for those who live by the sword.
There is trouble for those who practice trouble.
That which you reap, you will sow.

I don’t think we disagree on that. Our difference is really (I think, correct me if I’m wrong) what is morally ok for God to do and what is not. Where you say that it’s illegal for people to break the bones of a child in order to correct them, we say it’s not illegal for a parent or doctor to break the bones of a child in order to heal them - as Pratt said earlier.

Again, I feel there’s a fallacy being demonstrated that: All punishment is abusive.

You yourself said “not all punitive consequences are evil” but then that means some punishment is good - and can’t that be from God? Jason has been arguing that it will seem to us to have harsh/severe form and probably even appear to us to be retaliation (by God), but I would assume that our irrational epistemic vision can keep us from recognizing that some suffering, however unpleasant, God causes in our lives is for our benefit.

So it seems to me your argument is: All punishment is evil, therefore God cannot punish.
If you argue some punishment is good, then can God do some punishments for corrective measure?

** also, I’m hearing you and I’m sympathetic.

Hi Auggy,

Thanks for your willingness to engage me in this discussion. I hope we can reason together.

I think you have identified the essential difference between our understanding. I realize that labeling or categorizing others as EU or Ultra-U is convenient but quite frankly I think it sets up more barriers than facilitates the flow of ideas. I try, but do not always succeed, to evaluate the merits of what a person is saying in the discussion at hand without prejudicing it with some prior assumption of where they are coming from. Actually, I am very sympathetic with Karl Barth’s position that he did not want to be labeled as an universalist. Sure everything that he said about the triumph of God’s grace through Jesus Christ screams that very conclusion and his opponents saw it and hurled their denouncements of “miscreant heretic” at him. But universalism is really an abstract concept that can be found in belief systems as diverse as gnosticism and Buddhism and yet they are definitely not the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

So all that being said I should disclose that I know I am definitely the odd-man out here. Not because I may be considered an “ultra” but because I am not, nor ever have been, an evangelical of any kind, or Protestant Christian for that matter. Aside from being raised as a Romanian Byzantine Catholic (hows that for an obscure church), which is my primary experience of church, I have had limited in-person involvement with protestant, arminian style Christians. However, I have through my own studies going back to 1974 a pretty good understanding of reformation theology and in 1981 I began to read Barth, Ellul and Moltmann and then the unlimited dimensions of God’s grace began to be revealed to me. But I have been in exile from Christianity for most of that time since and this has given me the perspective of the outsider closer to all those who are considered unbelievers while being a believer myself.

This question of Theodicy, the fancy word for how God relates to and fits in with all of the real world ugliness, pain and death suffered by this world is for me the the essential heart of the Gospel. My understanding of that essential heart of the gospel comes from the Crucified God and not the Sovereign God of the universe. Sovereignty is an interpretation imposed on the biblical witness whereas the crucifixion of Jesus is central to it. Sovereignty stems from theistic concepts of God that have informed the Christian understanding of the biblical narrative and creates untenable tensions such as: a good God who is love and is also all powerful and thus why is the world such a sorrowful, suffering, mess. My understanding of universalism is not coming from the starting point of the sovereign God who is in control, but from the Crucified God who accepts responsibility for the state of the creation and risks all that he is by taking on the consequences of a broken world in order to heal it and from there takes it into a new direction that is infinitely beyond creation-in-the beginning.

I suppose I once did long, long ago. But I have a problem with the word righteousness. It is often understood to mean moral virtue and purity; the antithesis of sin which is seen as immorality and impurity. About a year or so ago I came across a very import piece of information regarding the Greek work dikaiosune which is translated as righteous in every English translations that I can find. However, the third edition of the B.D.A.G Koine greek lexicon translates it as equitableness or even-handedness and fairness. This is one of those keywords in the scripture when accurately translated unlocks a host of previously hidden implications and dispels a lot of erroneous theological notions. The Koine papyri discovered in Egypt a century ago have slowly and carefully been studied by biblical scholars over the course of many decades and only in the past few decades are the results of their efforts being disseminated to the larger public.

So the righteousness of God formerly believed to be about the holiness and moral perfection of God in contrast to the uncleanliness and moral depravity of sinners, is a false dichotomy. The righteousness of God is in truth the equitableness, even-handedness of God who makes the sun shine and rain fall on both the just and unjust. Through Jesus the equitableness of God is made real to a world being crushed by the inequitableness of the powers and the men who serve those powers. So the equitableness of Jesus is not imputed, or credited to us; it is freely given to us and all creation so that ultimately because of Jesus’ singular, prodigious act of courage and selflessness at Golgotha he will make the dream and will of the Father come true: where all that He is is freely given and available to all that there is–the Equitableness of God fulfilled.

Auggy, one of the problems is the use of the word punish. The common dictionary definition of that word is: to subject to pain, loss, confinement, death, etc., as a penalty for some offense, transgression, or fault: to punish a criminal. This is clearly not what God does to sinners, not if we are to see God as the one revealed in Jesus. If that common definition is not your intended meaning then it would be a good idea to find a more appropriate word, or words, to accurately convey what you want to express.

So regards to Paul, what Paul is saying is not the problem per say, it is what the translators/interpreters of the English versions of what Paul wrote that is the problem. Righteousness/dikaiosune is a case in point and of course EU Christians are well aware of the aionos problem and how that has muddied the scriptural waters. So when we reference certain specific texts to make a larger more sweeping point we need to tread carefully. Exegesis is interesting and has value and I certainly appreciate the value of etymology, but the truth of the matter is that it is very unlikely that we will ever have an English translation of the Bible that will start from scratch using the best available Hebrew and Greek manuscripts using the latest findings of Hebraism and the Koine Greek papyri that will give us a more accurate reading of what the original authors of the Bible meant.

However, the Spirit of Jesus is alive and present in the world and continues to bear witness to the Crucified Risen One. I don’t think there will be another iteration of the gospel proclaimed as a message by Christians who finally got it right somehow. I think the next iteration of the gospel will not be a message proclaimed by Christians but an event: The aionian gospel that precedes the fall of Babylon (the death-dealing institutions and powers that deceive and oppress the world).

Frankly it is too late in the world for this exegetical debating among the Christian inner circle. It has contributed precious little to a world that is in desperate need for the good news of a God who is not against them but forever for them. I suppose my odd and peculiar way of trying to articulate the gospel seems to be deluded magical thinking to some, because of my radical understanding of what the universal implications of Jesus’ resurrection are i.e. changing the past and transforming physical reality by a union of the space of God (heaven) and that of the created universe (Earth and all the rest). Some may think this is some newfangled whacked out version of “pie in the sky” looking for the great deus ex machina to save us and fix our unfixable world. But if someone gets that impression it is either due to my failure to articulate my view well or their inability to give it a fair and open-minded reading.

Does my understanding of the Gospel discount the importance and significance of challenging the death-dealing powers and offering compassion and sustenance to those who are victims of the inequitableness of this world? Not as far as I am concerned, to the contrary it gives me all the more reason and stamina to make the effort to challenge the status quo and extend myself to those who are marginalized and victimized by the world as it is. The “here and now” is all we got at the moment but the “here and not yet” is not something we achieve by our world building efforts through social, political and technological progress. It is the gift of God made real through the death and resurrection of Jesus. All those acts of compassion and fair treatment and alleviation of suffering done by countless individuals are not lost but will be integrated into the new creation–they do indeed matter now and in the “not yet.” The last couple centuries of apparent progress for those privileged to live in the western societies and born into favorable circumstances is the real delusion. That window of opportunity is now rapidly closing and fewer and fewer will be able to pass through it, and even those few, i.e. the one percenters, will also eventually reap the whirlwind which our civilization has sown.

Thanks for your engagement Auggy, I really do get the impression that you, like I, are seeking the truth as far as we are able to perceive and understand it.


Hi Derek

So glad you are talking about this.

It so happens that today I ran across a piece complaining that where the author lives, legislation to prevent violence towards children is being proposed that would include the violence that is euphemistically termed “spanking”.

I thought of how Jesus touched children – only to bless, to heal, to liberate, and to free – just the same as when he touched everyone else.

I thought of how he spoke to the parents of his day: However bad you are, you do know what it is to do something good for your child: it’s clear to you that giving him bread to nourish him, give him energy, and take away his hunger pangs, is good, whereas to give him a stone that will break his teeth and give him pain, is not good. Giving him an egg, containing protein and sulphur and vitamins for healing and growth is good, whilst a scorpion will cause him suffering and fear. Feeding him a fish to make him feel satisfied and make his brain and heart healthy is good; but what child could trust a parent who brought them a snake to hurt and poison them?

Yes, thank you. This is how we know what God is like: what Jesus is like.

I’d say considerably more than “slightly” different!

The way you put the question on so many minds is, “How can a good and all powerful God allow evil or suffering?” You also say, “this world is full of injustice and pain that God apparently can’t stop”.

Finally, you want to put your hope in “the weakness of the crucified God”.

All of these things that you’ve said here, when I pull the threads together, seem to be saying this:

God is good. He is not all-powerful: instead he is the crucified God, the one whose very weakness is what overcomes the world (this must be so, as the world operates on power and can’t be overcome by him being just like it).

The only way “all shall be well” is not, as the character says to Alyosha, by making the victim love the monster, nor by making the monster experience hell: “What good can hell do, since those children have already been tortured?” No, the only way is to make it right - so right that the children have not been tortured, so right that the monster has never become a monster and done those monstrous things, so right that the mother has never suffered the anguish and grief.

Jesus’s apparent failure in being crucified is exactly how God’s “weakness” and “madness” make everything right and new. He doesn’t overcome so much as overwhelm, overfill, over-satisfy, over-give, overflow. The light has come into the darkness and the darkness can’t engulf it; the darkness doesn’t even really exist – so it simply ceases to be, when there is so much light.

I too appreciate your heart and your willingness to discuss such wonderful topics.

I’m afraid I simply don’t resonate with much of what you say simply because we speak different languages. I ask about the Pharaoh and you come back and tell me the translations are wrong. Of course I’ll trust the majority of the translations. Yes I know none of them are perfect, but that’s all the more reason to trust your interpretation even less. I say that with respect, not as an inflammatory remark. What else can I do?

I trust the many translations that Paul raised the argument that so many reject when he writes “So some of you will object, how can God blame us who resist his will” - an obvious foresight of Paul’s as he sees the obvious - If God hardened the Pharaoh to disobey his command and then punishes him for doing so, God must be unjust or unfair. But why would I accept your view over Calvin’s? My point isn’t that I accept Calvin’s view because he’s John Calvin, rather because it’s what the writer says that makes sense to me. I understand the Calvinists, I understand the Arminians, but your explanations are esoteric to me. Again I say that with respect, I know you really believe what you believe. I simply don’t understand why.

You say:

What you don’t seem to explain is why the warnings of post mortem punishments - an axiom amongst most religions. Why the warning that people will not escape the wrath of God? Why the language of a God who punishes the wicked. I tend to think that your conclusion is mostly driven by a need to disprove retribution or punishment. That is what I see at the heart of your argument - a clear need to stand up against what you think is evil; ie retribution. I simply think it’s fallacious to say “all punishment is evil”. And if it’s not evil then there’s no reason to reject God can punish.

Blessings to you

And I’m committed to writing shorter posts. These long stataements are killing me LOL!

Not sure if you’ve had a chance to read Derek’s book, but he’s got a very interesting and illuminating discussion of daikaiosune in one of the appendices of the book, very much in line with what you’re saying about it.


It is the warnings of religion that the Gospel is the antidote for. My stand is not against a negative: retribution which has no more substance and reality than the darkness, but rather a stand for the positive: the creative and liberating justice of God revealed in Jesus. As I concluded in my previous post, the Gospel will not come to light through exegetical debates that will produce another version of the gospel as a message/dogma, but instead as an event that will be revealed equitably and openly to all as an unequivocal transforming event. Until then we carry on the best we can.


Hi Mel,

Thanks for the heads up. I do have his book and will check that out.


Julie ferwerda was telling me about that translation of diakaiosune.

The sin of sodom seems to come to mind as a token example.

Dave I love hearing your vision. It’s like a harmony to mine.

A few thoughts.

-In the book Boundaries with Kids, Christian authors Henry Cloud and John Townsend differentiate between “hurt” and “harm”. I think this is something of what Derek is getting at when he uses the term abuse. There is a difference between an appropriate spanking vs. wounding, bleeding and scarring. There is a difference between putting a child in time out for an appropriate length of time vs. locking them in the basement or closet for prolonged periods.

-Hebrews 12:11 “No discipline is pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it will produce a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who are healed by it”

-Philip Yancey has written a lot about this. One fabulous book he wrote with surgeon Paul Brand, and leprosy expert is entitled The Gift of Pain. With lepers, it is precisely their inability to feel pain that causes them harm. They step on a nail and don’t realize it. The foot becomes infected and must be amputated. The ability to feel pain can actually prevent further harm.



Wow. This is, as Craig Revel Horwood is fond of saying, an *a-ma-zing *thread. :smiley:

Huge thanks to Derek, Dave, Jason, Melchie, Bob, Auggy, Ruth and everybody else who has contributed to a truly enlightening and fascinating discussion. So many things that have been said here have by turns spoken to my heart and challenged my beliefs.

At the moment I am still trying to process all that has been said here. And frankly I’m not sure I have the brain power to process all of it successfully. :smiley:

One - for me at least - radical concept is that of a God who is *not *sovereign, *not *all powerful. God’s power to achieve all that it is logically possible to achieve has always been a foundational doctrine for me, and one I find hard to let go of. I am not opposed to the concept that God deliberately limits His power - temporarily at least - in order to achieve His ultimate loving purposes. Although I think the Arminians take this self-limiting of God a step too far in saying that God allows His creatures to destroy themselves irrevocably.

But then again, along with Ivan Karamazov - and at least some participants here, I reckon :smiley: - I find any theodicy which does not actually ‘undo’ all evil, all pain, all suffering, which does not right every single wrong fully and completely and hence enable us to say with Julian of Norwich that ‘all manner of thing shall be well’ - unsatisfactory. For me, only UR can deliver that.

Personally I think the reasons why God ‘allows’ suffering may well be unknowable this side of the veil. Maybe even in the eschaton we may not fully understand. But we must be healed. The mother of that child thrown to the dogs must be healed, as must the child and the torturer. While I may not be able to understand why there is suffering in the world, I cannot believe that the God who flung the stars into the heavens and who reveals Himself as sacrificial love in Christ on the cross will not somehow bring all this healing about. If that involves some cataclysmic shift in the space-time continuum (or whatever, don’t know much about this sort of stuff :smiley: ), then so be it.

Melchie quoted Derek thus:

I say Amen to that, Derek. I finished your book this morning. It is a wonderful piece of work. Thank you so much.

Peace and love to all



We are both esoteric and odd in the way we articulate and express our vision and that is why it is often received with a perplexed silence, or dismissed as the musings of someone who doesn’t quite have both feet firmly planted on the ground. What is needed is not more verbiage either written or spoke, what is needed, desperately needed, is for the Living Word to do a new thing and make real the resurrection for everyone, believer and non believer alike.



This would be God acting as Superman, intervening to foil specific acts of violence and cataclysmic events. That would be a piecemeal and grossly inequitable approach to “salvation.” To truly heal the world and make it whole it must come as a healing transforming event, an act of creation, that touches everyone and everything at once. Nothing less than that will do. The fact that we are even discussing Jesus at all is solely due to the unprecedented event of his resurrection which is the overturning of the most fundamental natural process of all: death.

Resurrection does not come to the world by incremental evolutionary processes or by a gradual conversion/enlightenment of individual human beings over many centuries. It is an act of creation that is solely the prerogative of the creator and it will come in a moment of time, the last moment, to all of creation and bring the life of God to and across the full expanse of all time and space–the equitableness of God fulfilled.

I really appreciate the vision of God being with us in complete solidarity with us in our suffering through the darkness of this world. A deep meditation of Golgotha is what kept me from killing myself on more than one occasion. But only recently have I begun to see the other side of the Christ event–the resurrection, in a new light that is changing my outlook and experience of life. But as enlivening as that is to me it is not the hope fulfilled for a world in desperate need for true healing and liberation. My experience is not a hope, there is no longer a need for hope once the thing hoped for is experienced. For the relatively few individuals that have had that first fruit experience there are countless many of others that are born into misery, suffer, and then die never having experienced it. My hope is for them, that the God who subjected himself to violent death on the cross at the hands of the death-dealing powers of this world is the real God who will bring real, meaningful, abundant life to all those who have only known a life of suffering and victimization at the hands of the powers of this world. Only universal resurrection can do that.


I thought it might be helpful to include here some of the Q&A session from the book’s press kit in order to further our conversation here:

***1. Healing the Gospel is focused on understanding the meaning of the cross. Why should the average Christian reader be interested in a book on the atonement?

Most of us were taught that Jesus needed to die to appease a wrathful God’s demand for punishment. This brings up a number of difficult questions: Does that mean Jesus died to save us from God? How could someone ever truly love or entrust themselves to a God like that? How can that ever be called “Good News”? It’s questions like these that have made so many people want to have nothing to do with Christianity.

These are deeply relevant questions for us to face that have a profound impact on our relationship with God and others. Countless people filling our pews have adopted a hurtful view of God and themselves which has led them to internalize feelings of shame and self-loathing. Others have lost their faith entirely, unable to worship a God who seems to them to be a moral monster. Faith motivated by fear, threat, and feelings of worthlessness. How could things have gone so wrong? When did the good news become bad news?

Healing the Gospel is about breaking away from that hurtful image of God and instead learning to understand the cross in the context of grace, restoration, and enemy love.

***2. Many people would say that the idea that Jesus died to appease God’s demand for punishment is simply what the Bible teaches. How would you respond to that?

First, I would want to stress that this has not always been how Christians understood the atonement. For the first thousand years, the work of Christ was understood primarily in terms of God’s act of healing people, and liberating them from the bonds of sin and death. This understanding is known as Christus Victor. But gradually there was a shift towards a legal focus, and with it a focus on violent punishment. With this shift the message was flipped on it’s head: instead of the crucifixion being seen as an act of grave injustice (as it is portrayed in all four Gospels), it was now claimed that God had demanded the death of Jesus to quench his anger. Not coincidentally, this coincided with increased violence perpetrated by the church, and it went downhill from there.

As a society we’ve increasingly come to recognize the damage punishment can do―not just in the realm of religious violence like the Crusades, but spanning a wide scope of issues ranging from how we raise our kids to international conflict. Across the board we have come to see that restorative justice works and punitive justice doesn’t. It’s about making things right, rather than perpetuating hurt.

At the same time, it has been deeply ingrained into our thinking that God demands retributive justice. For many Christian this is inseparable from how they understand salvation. Consequently, in an effort to be true to the teachings of the Bible, many Christians struggle to believe it, even though it seems immoral and hurtful to them. They hate it, but think this is what God wants them to believe.

Healing the Gospel takes a deep look at the Bible and makes the case that this view is neither representative of Jesus and his teachings, nor is it reflective of the New Testament. Rather, it is the result of people projecting their worldly understanding of punitive justice onto the biblical text. Jesus was focused on confronting those cultural and religious assumptions. What we see in the New Testament is the gospel understood as God’s act of restorative justice. This is the master narrative of the New Testament, and entails a critique of the way of retribution and violence rather than a validation of it.

***3. But doesn’t that entail being soft on crime, and not taking sin seriously? How can God be just if there are no consequences?

There most certainly are consequences. The choice is not between action and inaction, it is between allowing hurt to be perpetuated or acting to repair the harm. The Greek word for “saved” used throughout the Gospels is sozo, and it means both “saved” and “healed.” This is deeply significant because it reflects the fact that salvation is not conceptualized by Jesus in a legal framework, but in terms of healing and restoration. We see in Jesus that God’s response to sin is not to punish it, but to heal it. In other words, the guiding metaphor here is not sin as crime in need of punishment, but sin as sickness in need of healing. It’s a model of restoration not retribution.

This entails a much deeper understanding of sin because it recognizes its deep roots, and offers a real solution that involves changing a person’s heart, whereas a legal focus stays on a superficial level of outward behavior, and only perpetuates hurt through punishment.

In short, love heals. The real problem I think is that people don’t trust in love and so they revert to punishment and fear. But that is not the gospel. Real justice is not about punishment, it is about making things right. Likewise, biblical mercy is not about looking the other way, it is precisely about seeing. Compassion means that we do see the real problems and hurt around us, and therefore act in compassion to help. Justice is not in conflict with compassion, on the contrary real justice only comes through acts of compassion.

4. What about the the many passages that seem to support Christ being punished instead of us? For example Jesus is described as our sacrifice, and the book of Hebrews says that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (Heb 9:22)

This is an important question, and Healing the Gospel spends a considerable amount of time carefully looking at key passages like this one in order to articulate an understanding of the cross that is at the same time both life-giving and grace-centered as well as thoroughly biblical.

In this particular example, it’s important to note that you have only quoted half of the verse. Context matters. The full verse reads: “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” So the stated purpose of the sacrificial blood is not to appease, but to cleanse, to purify, to make holy. We see this theme of sacrifice understood as cleansing repeated throughout Hebrews. It tells us the sacrifices were a symbol of the reality in Christ, and the focus is on how Christ acts to make us pure, cleansed and holy.

We see this in Paul too: A central focus of Paul’s throughout his epistles was on how we are to follow in the way of the cross, which is the way of enemy love. If we instead see the cross as focused on appeasing God’s anger then it ends up standing for the opposite: As if to say we should not act in retribution, but God apparently does.

Here’s a really simple rule of thumb: If our understanding of the cross completely contradicts everything Jesus taught and demonstrated in his own life, then we are probably missing the point. The things we see Jesus doing in the Gospels are there as a context for us to get what his cross was all about. Paul understood this, and said that we need to follow in that same way of the cross. This is the way of enemy love which God demonstrated in Jesus, and which we are to follow.

There is therefore no contradiction between how God treats his enemies, and how we are called by Jesus to treat ours. Show me someone who has forgiven a great wrong done to them―or even more, show me someone who has forgiven a great wrong done to someone they love dearly―and I’ll show you someone who understands the cross better than all the theologians in the world. We fail to understand the cross because we have not plumbed the depths of what great love can bear. Really getting the cross doesn’t come through study, it comes through discipleship. The more we grow to be like Jesus, to see people through his eyes, to love as he does, the more we understand his cross.