Monday, January 14, 2013

How I Became a Universalist


It was not easy for me to become a Christian universalist, which is someone who believes that ultimately God will save all people through Christ. It was not easy because so many people I respect as Christian leaders dismiss universalism as heresy. It was not easy because I have a high view of the Bible, and it seemed impossible for me to square universalism with Jesus’s words about “everlasting punishment.”  It was not easy because I only knew a very small number of Christians who even were open to such an idea, let alone who fully embraced it. Yet, about a decade ago, I became a universalist. Here’s why.
From the time I began thinking theologically, I have been troubled by hell. I grew up in a rural United Methodist church, and I do not recall ever hearing hell talked about at church, but it is just in the air you breathe in this part of the Bible Belt. As an undergrad, I began seeking to reconcile the existence of an everlasting hell with a loving God, and I succeeded for a while. I came across C.S. Lewis’s writings, and embraced his defense of an everlasting hell as the necessary consequence of human freedom. People are not in hell by God’s choice, according to this view, but by their own. “The gates of hell are locked on the inside,” Lewis said. This free-will defense of everlasting damnation, which is very popular, has received a strong defense by several contemporary philosophers of religion, such as Jerry Walls and Jonathan Kvanvig, and these defenses convinced me for several years. Love requires freedom, so if God wants us to respond out of love for God, then God cannot make us choose for God. Case closed.
Over time, though, I started wondering about how we can speak of an ultimate divine victory over evil, which the Scriptures seem to clearly declare (e.g., 1 Cor. 15:28; Rev. 21:1-5), if there are some people who will forever resist God. How in any meaningful sense can we claim that Christ is truly victorious over evil if evil will always exist in the hearts of those who eternally reject him? Relocating the basis of hell from divine justice to human freedom solves one problem, but it opens up many more. How could God be happy knowing that some of the creatures made in his own image and likeness were forever damned? If we are to think of God as being better than any human parent, as Jesus taught us to (Luke 11:11-13), then how could God ever be content knowing that God’s children are forever lost?
Jesus seems to have raised this question in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). After the prodigal son has come home and the father has decided to throw a party, the older brother refuses to come in and so the father goes out to plead with him to come in. The story ends with the father outside the party pleading for the older son to come in. Are we to imagine that the father in this parable at some point will give up on the older brother, “respect his freedom,” and go back to the party? It seems that Jesus is telling us that God, precisely because his heart overflows with compassionate love, cannot rejoice and join the party until all his children are at home.
God is not a “gentleman,” as one pundit put it in the aftermath of the Connecticut tragedy, who leaves wherever he is not wanted. When a person rejects God, God doesn’t get offended and back off. According to Jesus, the good news is that God is a heartsick father who pursues, begs, pleads, refuses to give up, and does everything that God can bring that person to an awareness of their need for grace and to an awareness that there is more than enough grace to meet their need. Is it possible for some to forever hold out and refuse God’s offer of a loving embrace? Can some forever refuse to come home to the divine party?
While it may be possible, it seems to me to be a virtual impossibility, given the nature of God’s steadfast love. I do not believe that God will ever force anyone against their will to love and worship God, but from own experience, I know that God has the power to thoroughly change human hearts and set them free to seek joy where it may truly be found. If God can do that for people in this age, then I see no reason why God couldn’t do it in the age to come for those who resist here and now. While I still believe the gates of hell are locked from the inside, I also believe that Christ has descended into hell and has the keys to set the captives free (Rev. 1:18). That’s why I became a universalist.
This post was originally written for: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/2013/01/14/how-i-became-a-universalist-a-guest-post/#disqus_thread


10 comments:

  1. When I was seven years old a baby sparrow fell out of a tree in our yard. It didn't even have feathers or its eyes open yet. I picked it up in my hands to warm it and protect it. But some older boys grabbed it away from me and began doing unspeakable things to it while I cried and begged them to stop. Finally they threw its brutalized and lifeless body down in front of me and went away laughing. I picked it up and hugged it to me and just cried and cried. That was when Jesus came to me. No, I didn't see him and you can argue that I just imagined his presence, but that experience changed my life and I know it was real. Jesus bent over me and the little bird so that I felt surrounded by his comforting love. I asked him why that sweet little creature had to die when it had barely begun to live. Then I felt Jesus was crying, too. And I heard a voice in me that was not me saying, "This little one will live again, and you and I will both see it and share its joy."

    God does not want any of his beloved creatures to be separated from him forever and he has the power to see that they are not. I have never forgotten that day or that lesson.

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  2. Sorry, but firstly, animals have no eternal soul, so unless you went to heaven when you died, and God chose to grant you that very bird to own, and miraculously did so, it is not going to be there automatically. All the dead animals of Earth will not be in Heaven! Secondly, many people have had very seemingly real visions, or revelations,etc,that they THINK are from God, but they are completely out of line with Biblical teachings. I believe that God is extremely merciful,fair, just, etc and will weigh out each person's salvation, or loss of it, with the utmost care and consideration, not forgetting the ways they were brought up, abused, how they used their ability to learn of God and Jesus, or how they chose to deny them, but I guarantee that some people WILL and SHOULD go to Hell! God is not going to save some filthy reprobate, who never once gave the time of day to Him in any shape, word, or form, and FORCE him to spend eternity in His presence! Free will means it is our choice who we want to "hang" with for eternity. It's like, there are plenty of school ditching schlubs, who want great college degree paying jobs, but they chose to do a different thing with their time, rather than to learn, study, and use the opportunities given them to do so. They may want the rewards to be had, but they cannot expect to get such when they put no effort or love into such a nobel effort!

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    1. If that's the God you believe in, you are welcome to him. I hope someday you also will be overwhelmed by His love and see Him for who he truly is, not some collection of dead vitriolic words that speak hate and injustice.
      There is truly no love, justice or truth in the God you have described. You have created Him in your own image - one of revenge, of unspeakable acts that defy even what our own hearts would conceive of.
      This truly is a God of your own making!!

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  3. stupid hard hearted man.. If God looks at the heart your jn a precarious position yourself hard man.

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  4. Speaking of Stan Liesenring....The and the hard hearted.

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  5. The road is narrow. Period. The way is not easy. I certainly agree that God loves His creation deeply, but to say with certainty that God will redeem all people isn't mentioned in the Bible I read. The only way to the Father is thru the Son. The scriptures are clear to me. I don't have to wrestle with why God would allow bad things to happen to people. I know we are all sons of disobedience. We don't deserve His love at all. No one deserves Heaven, we all deserve Hell. It is the grace that Jesus provides thru His death that allows us to even be on the same playing field. He created us. We fell. Sin entered the world. We all deserve death. Jesus came and died to be the ultimate Lamb. His blood washes us. Without Him, we CANNOT be redeemed. How can this be denied?

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  6. You should read my book if you want to know more about where I am coming from. I actually don't deny most of what you affirm, and I provide sustained arguments about passages in the Bible that do in fact say that God will redeem all people. But if you are just writing to let me know you have it all figured out, then congratulations.

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    1. It seems you are unconventional in many areas, Reverend. Your congratulatory response seems facetious and short to me. I would assume that you would welcome any and all comments considering the fact that you have opted to make your blog viewable to the public. I haven't read your book and just stumbled across your blog - do I get a congratulations, too?

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  7. Hi Meagan, Thanks for reading. I have a smart-ass tendency in me that is hard to fight sometimes. You are right, I suppose my response was a bit facetious and short and not very helpful.I do try to interact with thoughtful criticisms, but since this person's assertions were all over the place and don't actually reflect my own views, that is why I referred them to the book. Thanks again for reading.

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