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*****Knowing the Heart of God

by George MacDonald

compiled, arranged and edited by Michael Phillips

Reviewed March 22, 2002.
A Sonderbooks' Best Book of 2002 (#1, Nonfiction Rereads)
Bethany House Publishers, 1990.  357 pages.
Available via  (I’m also willing to loan it out!)

A few years ago, I read a book that changed my life.  Discovering the Character of God, also by George MacDonald and compiled by Michael Phillips completely changed my view of God.

Now, I was brought up in a Christian family.  I attended a Christian high school and Biola University, where every student gets a minor in Bible.  This book talked about God’s love for the world in a way I’d never heard before.

I’d been hesitant to mention this book to my friends, because I didn’t want them worrying about me and my new, radical ideas.  Don’t worry.  George MacDonald loved Jesus tremendously and did believe that salvation comes through faith in Christ.

Where his ideas get unusual is that he believes that God is truly not willing that any should perish.  He believes that in fact “at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Did he believe in hell?  Yes, but essentially he believed that it would not last forever, that a person would get out when he had “paid the last penny.”  He viewed hell as a last resort by a loving Father.  If his child insisted that he wanted nothing to do with Him, the Father would regretfully send him out of His presence.  There the child would finally come to his senses and go back to the Father--as pictured in the parable of the prodigal son.  (Notice that the son did not have to pay a price for rejecting the Father, nor did his older brother have to pay a price for him.  The Father simply took him back as soon as he saw the error of his ways.)

My first reaction to these ideas was, “Wow!  Wouldn’t that be wonderful?  Too bad that it’s not what the Bible teaches.”  Isn’t it though?  George MacDonald, who spent his life studying the Scriptures, believed that it does.  I’ve spent the last few years looking at the Bible with new eyes, trying to see whether these things are true, and I honestly think that he may be right, even though it goes against almost everything I was ever taught about the Bible.

You can see why I’m hesitant to share this.  I do not want to start a controversy.  This doesn’t match any church’s statement of faith that I’ve ever read.  However, the more I read of George MacDonald’s work (This one, Knowing the Heart of God, explains the ideas even more clearly.), the more I feel joy and wonder at such a loving and amazing God who has figured out a way to draw all men to Himself.

At first, I thought that this idea would destroy all motivation for evangelism.  (If all will eventually come to Christ, why bother?)  However, I’m finding that just the opposite is true.  When I work at the library, and an especially distasteful person comes in, perhaps reeking of smoke, perhaps rude about the waiting time to get on the internet--If I think of that person as someone who will, one day far in the future, be in heaven with me, then I can’t exactly write him off.  God loves that person and will transform him some day into the person he was created to be.  So I am compelled to at least treat him with dignity.  And if there is some way I can help God move people along in their paths toward being the people God wants them to be, then that is all the better.

In some ways, it makes evangelism easier, because I’m not trying to tell them about a God who’s going to blast them if they don’t toe the line.  Instead, I can tell them about a Father who loves them so much, He’s willing to do anything to bring them to Himself.

Please don’t settle for my short and inadequate explanation of these ideas.  If this intrigues you, or if you completely disagree, please read George MacDonald’s ever so much more eloquent explanations.

Mind you, C. S. Lewis obviously did not agree that everyone would end up in heaven, but he did write that he “regarded George MacDonald as my master.”  (He does seem to agree with the idea of our spiritual growth continuing after death in his book The Great Divorce.)  Even for those who don’t completely agree with all the repercussions of his writings, this great Scottish preacher who loved the Lord with all his heart had much to teach us.  Michael Phillips has put his works into a wonderfully accessible form, combining sermon excerpts with sections from George MacDonald’s novels, providing a picture of the ideas from the sermons. 

I’ve been going through this book slowly in my devotional time.  Now I’ll start on another volume.  Meanwhile, I’m compiling a list of verses that seem to teach what George MacDonald says they do.  How wonderful to know that God is not an ogre from whom we need Christ’s protection.  As Jesus said Himself, “No, the Father Himself loves you.”  That is the wonderful message of these books.

Reviews of related books:
Exploring Universalism

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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