Over at The Gospel Coalition, in a post titled Why I Don’t believe in the Universal Fatherhood of God, Justin Taylor posted an excerpt from one of my all-time favorite preachers, Charles Spurgeon:
“Believe the doctrine of the Fatherhood of God to His people. Abhor the doctrine of the universal Fatherhood of God, for it is a lie and a deep deception.”
Contrast this with a story I heard told once that’s always stuck with me. The angels were gathered around God’s throne, watching as Moses led the Israelites to the shores of the Red Sea. The Egyptian army was hard on their heels. The angels whispered among themselves, “What would the Lord do to rescue His people?” To their surprise, God parted the waters, led His people through and swallowed the Egyptian hordes behind them. The angels broke out in raucous celebration. Until they noticed that God wasn’t joining in. In fact, he was weeping. “Lord,” one of the angels said. “Aren’t You happy? You saved Your people.” The Lord replied, “But did you see how many of My people I had to kill?”
Perhaps it’s a matter of semantics. An adventure in hair-splitting. But I think we lose something vital if we disregard the concept of the Universal Fatherhood of God too quickly.
Yes, Scripture designates only those who are “born again” (Jn. 3:3) as children of God.
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name (Jn. 1:12 NKJV)
If a person is given the right to become a child of God, then they must not be one. And that “right” must be exceedingly precious.
The Bible is narrow in this regard. Racial and cultural distinctions notwithstanding, Scripture seems to define only two categories of people: the saved and the unsaved, the lost and the found. The differential between the two may not always be clear (see the Parable of the Tares and the Wheat, Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43), but Scripture is clear about a divide. The lost — those who have not “received” or “believed” (Jn. 1:12) — are never called children of God.
And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. (Eph. 2:1-4 NKJV)
Notice, before they were “made alive” they were “dead in trespasses and sins,” considered “sons of disobedience” and “by nature children of wrath.” Romans 9:8 is equally blunt: “those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God.” And then Jesus told the Pharisees, “You are of your father the devil” (Jn. 8:44), without blinking.
So much for the Universal Fatherhood of God.
But having said all that, Scripture declares that all people are God’s creation (Col. 1:16), fused with His image (Gen. 1:26), and madly loved (Jn. 3:16) by Him. God is not indifferent to death or suffering or injustice simply because the victim is “dead in trespasses and sins.” And this is the problem I have with opponents of the Universal Fatherhood of God concept: They don’t envision a God who weeps over killing His children, the Egyptian army.
In fact, they don’t envision the Egyptian army as His children.
I’ve always loved the Apostle Paul’s approach to the Athenians on Mars Hill in Acts 17. His apologetic tactic smacks of the Universal Fatherhood of God concept:
“He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need. From one man, he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries.
“His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and exist. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ And since this is true, we shouldn’t think of God as an idol designed by craftsmen from gold or silver or stone.” — Acts 17:24-29
“We are his offspring,” whether Jew, Greek, Sudanese, or Indian. “He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need” of every Muslim, Buddhist, Jehovah’s Witness, or Scientologist. “He is not far from any one of us,” whether we worship Him, curse Him, or deny His existence. He gave “life and breath” to the Egyptian army. And He took it away.
The Universal Fatherhood of God is the basis for respect and dignity for all human beings, not just the saved. Furthermore, it acknowledges that God is wildly in love with EVERYONE and constantly seeking to draw us into a deeper, fuller, truer relationship with Him. This doesn’t mean everyone makes it to heaven. This doesn’t mean we aren’t by nature “children of wrath.” It means that even as children of wrath, God “fathers” us, showering us with blessings and knocking incessantly upon the door of our heart.
It means that God weeps for His children. Even dead Egyptians.