Lou: What about the accusation that God is unforgiving? Consider Adam and Eve. It is their very first offense, and they have to leave their garden home. Why couldn’t God have been the way Jesus said we ought to be, forgiving “seventy times seven”? Matthew 18:21-22. Why couldn’t He have just said, “Well, you’ve made one mistake, that’s your first, we’ll overlook that”?
Graham: If sin were merely breaking the rules, if sin were merely a legal matter, He could have forgiven and let it go. In fact, I believe He did forgive Adam and Eve. He treated them like the father of the prodigal son treated him. The father forgave his son even as he left home. He regarded him with forgiveness even as he wallowed in the pigpen. The problem with a focus only on forgiveness is that sin changes people. Forgiveness does no good in the long run unless one responds. Forgiveness by itself doesn’t heal the damage done by sin. It is not that God is unforgiving, but that, having sinned, we are changed. And what is needed is not so much forgiveness as healing the damage done. So I would say that of course God forgave Adam and Eve. But that was not all that they needed.
Lou: We’re back to that crucial point that you made rather early on; it matters how we understand what went wrong, the sin problem.
Graham: Sin is not so much a legal problem as a real problem. It calls for healing and not just some kind of legal adjustment.
Lou: Back to Satan’s accusation that God is severe. I can hear someone saying, “Isn’t death too severe a punishment for not loving and obeying?”
Graham: If death were a penalty, that would be incredibly severe. But if it’s a consequence, that’s something else entirely. Death tells us that sin is a very serious matter. It changes us. But unfortunately, we often speak about death as an imposed sentence or penalty. That puts God in a very severe light. Death is ultimately a consequence of sin and not a penalty that God imposes on us.
Lou: In the book of Revelation, God is described as resurrecting the wicked at the end of the Millennium. Why does God do this? They are wicked and rebellious. They are lost anyway. Why not just leave them asleep? Isn’t it harsh to bring them back to life only to let them burn up?
Graham: I imagine the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah arising at the end of the Millennium (Rev 20:5), looking around and saying, “Here we go again!” It seems cruel and inhumane to resurrect them, doesn’t it? There has to be a purpose.
The word “millennium” means a thousand years. The Millennium of Revelation begins with the Second Coming of Jesus and the resurrection of the righteous (Rev 20:4-6). At that time Jesus takes the righteous to heaven (John 14:1-3), while the wicked die and/or remain in their graves. At the end of the thousand years is the third coming of Jesus and the resurrection of the wicked.
Why would God resurrect the wicked after all that? What suffering that would cause! How terrible to be in the New Jerusalem and see one’s loved ones outside (Rev 20:7-10). God would only do this if it said something of very great importance that would contribute to our understanding and to the security of the universe. For example, we might wonder why Uncle Bill is not in the Kingdom. Uncle Bill was the one who said, “If you’d just prove it to me, I’d come in.” And you see Uncle Bill out there. He is looking at the New Jerusalem. He sees Christ in His human form at the apex of the city. Here’s all the evidence, plain to see, and Uncle Bill is not moved one bit. In fact, Revelation goes on to say that Satan moves among these rebels who have been resurrected and he deceives them into marching against the New Jerusalem as if to destroy Christ again (Rev 20:8-9). And you will be able to say, “God, your diagnosis was right. More time and more evidence would not have done Uncle Bill any good.” The cause of his death is something much more important than simply imposing a penalty for his refusal to believe. Uncle Bill is simply not safe to save. God shows him all the evidence at the end of the Millennium, and he still does not respond. You’ll weep when you see it, but Uncle Bill will not respond. So these events will be a final demonstration of the character of God and, by contrast, the characters of Satan and all who follow him.