“God’s Plan” and Israel Folau
A few weeks ago, Wallabies superstar Israel Folau caused an online furore stating that gay people will go to hell unless they repent. His comment was in response to a question from an Instagram user, Mike Sephton, who asked: “what was gods [sic] plan for gay people??” His comment has since been deleted, but Folau replied to him before the comment was removed: “HELL … Unless they repent of their sins and turn to God.”
The background to this exchange is worth noting. Two weeks before the post, Folau tore his hamstring quite severely in the opening minutes against the Brumbies and was told he would be on the sidelines for a month. Naturally, he found missing three or four games so early in the season to be disappointing and frustrating, but, by his admission, he “accepted the news and started looking ahead.”
That afternoon he posted the following on Instagram, referring to James 1:2-4: “Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials, because the testing of your faith produces endurance … so that you may be lacking in nothing.”
The question about God’s plan for gay people was asked in the thread of that post. Folau later wrote, “My response to the question is what I believe God’s plan is for all sinners, according to my understanding of my Bible teachings.”
I want to make it clear that this blog is not written to criticise Israel Folau. I’ve not met him, and I don’t stand in judgement of him. I also uphold his right to free speech, to state what he believes the Bible teaches, and to answer questions as he sees fit. He is a Christian man and, as such, he is my brother in Christ. I encourage you to read his follow up piece, “I’m a sinner too,” in which he humbly gives some helpful context to his earlier comments.1
What I want to address in this blog, however, is where I differ from Israel Folau about “God’s plan.” His answer went straight to addressing sin, and so the plan of God for sinners is hell. My question is, “Is hell God’s plan for people?” The simple answer is “no.”
Do I believe in hell? Yes, I do. But hell is NOT God’s plan for people – forgiveness, salvation and reconciliation are. That’s why the apostle Paul wrote these words to Timothy, “I urge, then, first of all, that prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people … [because] this is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4). It appears that God’s plan is for His people to be deeply committed to praying for others “to come to a knowledge of the truth”. God’s plan for people is to know the truth, not go to hell!
In another letter, the apostle wrote, “this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So, we are Christ’s ambassadors…” 2
There’s some great truth in these verses about God’s plan for the human race. “Reconciling” (in the original Greek language) was an accounting term that referred to the correct exchanging of money. If you’ve ever visited a foreign country, you’ll no doubt have had the experience of exchanging Australian dollars for the local currency, and you’ve checked to make sure you haven’t been short-changed. That’s what God has done for every human being “through Christ”. His plan was not to short-change us because we are sinners; in fact, while He was counting out righteousness (right relationship with Himself), He was NO LONGER COUNTING PEOPLE’S SINS AGAINST THEM. How sad it is then that so many Christians today are known as sin counters.
The apostle also says that those of us who have been reconciled to God through Christ, have now been given the message of reconciliation as though we were Christ’s ambassadors. If you are a Christian, your central message is that of reconciliation. You are Christ’s ambassador, that is, a person who is respected as trustworthy and knowledgeable to communicate the opinion of the one they represent; in this case Jesus Christ. 3 If God doesn’t count sins, why should His people? If God’s plan is reconciliation why should any of us communicate His message as hell?
Sadly, people in Australia read comments like those from Israel Folau and, once again, hear a message from a Christian that is not a Christian message at all. God’s plan for people is not hell. God’s plan is reconciliation. After all, that’s the wonderful message He has given His people to share with the world. It’s good news not bad. It’s a message that attracts and does not repel. Let’s get the message right!
 2 Corinthians 5:18-20
Rob Buckingham is the founding pastor of Bayside Church, Melbourne, Australia.
Image courtesy David Molloy, Wikipedia Commons
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