Kids are rambunctious, unruly, always looking for, well, trouble. At least, goat kids are. It’s a good thing they’re so cute.
In my last post, I talked about the parable of the sheep and the goats and suggested an alternative title: The parable of the small, tame, four-footed herd animals and the baby goats. I dunno. Somehow I don’t think it’ll catch on, even for the sake of more precise speech. If you haven’t read it, please go back and do that now. Otherwise, you’ll miss reading it, and I would regret that because it’s really, really good.
So the wee goats don’t make it, at least not at this time. Why? Is it because they’re reprobate? Created for the purpose of glorifying God by displaying His just wrath in their eternal torment in hell? Nah . . . That’s Calvinist talk. I grew up Arminian, and Arminians believe that people send themselves to hell while God stands by helpless because of our free will. But let’s not get off on THAT again!
But why don’t the baby goats make it? They believed themselves to be sheep. They followed the Shepherd (or some shepherd, anyway). They did miracles and stuff. How could this be happening to them? They prayed the Prayer, for, um, Pete’s sake! Jesus says the words they never thought they’d hear, at least not directed at them! “I never knew you!” Impossible!
“You never fed Me when I was hungry or clothed Me when I was naked or cared for me in sickness or in prison — when you didn’t do it for the least of these, you didn’t do it for Me.” Jesus takes this metaphor of the church as His body the distance. If we fail to care for one another, He takes it personally.
‘Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say to you, Inasmuch as you did it not to one of these, the least, you did it not to me. And these shall go away to punishment age-during, but the righteous to life age-during.’ (Matthew 25:46 RYLT-NT)
So that’s it. No more baby goats, right? All gone. Aren’t you just a little bit sad? Yes, they were a pain, but they were just kids. We loved them. He loved, them, didn’t He? And now it’s all over. They’re going to burn and burn and burn and there’s never, ever going to be an end to it. And if they were our own children or parents or spouses or bosom friends, it just doesn’t matter. It’s too late for them. Turn and walk away. The Shepherd will wipe our tears and take away the pain. Maybe he’ll even wipe out the remembrance of them.
And to make matters worse, it’s ALL OUR FAULT because we failed to persuade them to become mature. Why didn’t we try harder?! Anguish — in eternal bliss? Yet how could it be otherwise? We have been commanded to love these goats, but our Father has stopped loving them and that’s that. But wait. I thought we were supposed to learn to love our enemies in order to be LIKE our Father? There’s something here that doesn’t make sense. Has the unchangeable God suddenly changed, and left us behind? Or are we to become as unfeeling, as unloving as He?
I’m sorry — I don’t mean to be blasphemous. I absolutely do NOT believe God is like that AT ALL. He is love. John the beloved said so, and John should know. He knew Jesus like no one else, and to see Jesus IS to see the Father. But this leaves us with a problem, and as the problem can’t be with scripture, it must be with our interpretation. We need to look at another word. We already know there’s controversy over the translation of “aion/aionios” as “everlasting” or “eternal.” But what about punishment?
God is Love, but you’ve got to understand . . . He is also Just. People say this all the time. I agree that He is just, but the phraseology kind of pits God against Himself — His justice against His nature, which is love and light according to John. How about this? God is love, and because He is love, He is also just. He will not leave inequity unpunished. But what is punishment?
What is punishment when you punish your children? Why do you do that? Does it last forever?Are you trying to get even with them? (God forbid!)
The word used here for “punishment” (and most other places in the NT) is “kolasis”. Its origin is in gardening terminology and it refers to pruning trees. Do you prune a tree in order to destroy it? To cause it pain or to hurt or punish it for being a bad tree? Likewise, “kolasis” is always used of corrective punishment in Greek secular literature, and we may draw from that, also so used in the NT. There is a word for the sort of punishment given for the sake of the punisher — “timoria.” It denotes retribution and revenge. “Timoria” is a return of evil for evil, and that’s something Father told us not to do. Not only that, but He says it’s something He doesn’t do. We’re supposed to be perfect, just like our Father, and we’re to love our enemies. If we’re supposed to be like Him, and the way we’re to do this is to love the unlovely, then that means He loves them too. That’s what He’s like, and He doesn’t change. (Mat 5)
In the end (of this present evil age), then, the mature four-footed grass eaters follow the Shepherd into aionian life and the pesky kids go for a term in reform school. But there’s something else here — something troubling. If the punishment isn’t everlasting, how can we be sure that the life is everlasting? I’ve discussed that in some earlier posts, but I think I could talk about it as it specifically relates to this passage . . . next time.