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pursuing the upward call with fear and trembling

just a 44 year old man seeking to share my meanderings with the world at large or the blogosphere at small

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Hopeful Universalism

There is soooooooooooo much being written out here in blogland. Alot of very deep,challenging,emotional upheaval and thought-wrenching stuff. The title of this post is where I find myself to be theologically speaking right now. I have never been one who held hardcore to the belief in hell as place of eternal torment for all nonchristians. I have questioned and pondered about how it fits in Gods plan, and the understanding that gehenna was the actual word and which meant something to the people of Jesus day very specifically has reall helped me in comingto grips with hopeful universal reconciliation.

The barriers to this hope are the whole notion of repentance and conversion. If God will save all ultimately then why is repentance called for?? Why evangelize and seek conversion??? Why not everyone just live however they want since all will turn out equally in the end??? I have no answers to these questions as they are the very questions i struggle to wrestle with myself. I see verses throughout Scripture which can support both sides. Some can lean toward a universal reconciliation, others can lean toward an exclusive reconciliation. If you have a decided upon position then naturally you will choose to focus on the verses which support your side, it is pure human nature to do so.

The love chapter in 1 Corinthians as well as verses in Romans 8 challenge me to accept my hopeful universalist position. Love always hopes,always perseveres, keeps no record of wrongs, love never fails. That is a condensed exposition of those verses but makes my point. An eternal hell where all suffer consciously for eternity seems to contradict what Paul says love is and does. God is love is the ultimate trump card to me, as Paul declares when speaking about every other attribute, including faith where he says it is all empty if you have not love. Romans 8 says that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ. Who is paul saying that too??? Dont even get me started on saying, *why the elect of course* LOL

Just a short sharing on where i am right now. Hoopefully anyone choosing to comment can stimulate more discussion and more thinking. I know similar themes are being talked about all around the net, just good to share my own 2 cents worth. Hope to hear from any and all.


At 1:52 AM, Blogger MistiPearl said...

Hello Robert my friend! I was wondering if you had read what David had written on his blog here: http://ddflowers.wordpress.com/2010/03/21/hell-eternal-torture/

Check it out and let me know what you think! :)

At 1:05 AM, Anonymous mariam said...

There are contradictory messages in the Bible regarding whether or not all will be saved. On the one hand there are many verses that support the universalist position. There are also clearly verses which support the notion that many will perish and be eternally lost. There are verses which support the idea that God is all-knowing and all-powerful and there are verses which seem to indicate that God does not always get what he wants and is surprised and disappointed at times. Whether you are a Calvinist, a gentler sort of exclusivist, an inclusivist or a universalist you will find verses to support your position and verses which you have to explain away. Similarly whether you are a determinist, a predestinationist or an open thesist you can quote verses to support your beliefs. Calvinists have to explain away verses like:

II Peter 3:9: "The Lord is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance"
I Timothy 2:4: “God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth"
Romans 11:32: "For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all"
Ezekiel 33:11: "As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn away from his way and live . . .."
1 Corinthians 15:22 "As in Adam all die, in Christ ALL will be made alive."
Colossians 1:20. "For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself ALL things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross."
Phil 2:10-11 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Romans 10:9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved

And we see that this opportunity is not only available to the living, that even after death there is the opportunity to respond to God’s call:

Romans 14:9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
1 Peter 4:6: "For this reason the Gospel was preached even to those who are dead."
1 Peter 3:19-20: "It was in the spirit also that he (Jesus) went to preach to the spirits in prison."

Why then is it considered somehow heretical or unchristian to believe in God’s desire for universal redemption and God’s sovereignty, which are clearly scriptural, because there are some verses in the Bible which seem to support that many will be punished after death, but it is not considered unchristian to believe that God, contrary to scripture, desires that most will perish or that God may desire that all be saved but His will is thwarted by the puny free will of man.

At 1:07 AM, Anonymous mariam said...

Some will say God does not want people to sin but they do sin, so this shows that God does not get everything He wants. To which I reply: “Yet.” It appears to us, because we are mortal and exist in the temporal realm, that God has not achieved His purposes YET. However, God is eternal, existing within and outside Time and He has therefore accomplished his purpose and His will is already done, even though we cannot yet see it. God has already defeated Sin and Death. He has already redeemed the world in his timelessness. Within our time, He is simply waiting for us to catch up.

I’m not ignoring the various scriptural references to judgment and punishment after death. One can hold to a universalist position and still believe that we will face judgment and that some, probably most of us, will still need to account and atone for our lack of love of God and our neighbour. Indeed Jesus himself says:
"Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.”
But does he not also describe leaving the 99 sheep safely in the fold to search out the one who is lost. We, like lost sheep, may have missed the narrow gate that leads us into God’s presence, but God will seek us out, and like a good shepherd, guide us home. Sometimes He may coax us and sometimes He may use a stick but eventually we will get there. The story of the rich man and Lazarus, while obviously a parable or fable, gives us some clue as to God’s intention regarding the next life and justice. God’s justice seems to be about fairness. We know that the poor man Lazarus has gone straight to the bosom of Abraham after his death. Jesus does not indicate that Lazarus was a particularly good or holy man, or that he had the right spiritual beliefs. The reason Lazarus went straight to heaven is that he had suffered enough in his earthly life. Nor is there any indication that the rich man was particularly wicked. He was probably a regular sort of well-off person, who went to synagogue, took care of his family, threw parties for his friends. He probably thought he was in with God because he had such a fortunate life. He was selfish, as many of us are, enjoying God’s many blessings, while failing to love the neighbour just outside his gate. And although there is a chasm between Hades and Heaven which Abraham says can’t be crossed, we know that the rich man can see Lazarus, we know that he can plead with Heaven and we know that he has not yet come to true repentance. Rather than asking for forgiveness he asks for those he loves to be spared. What we don’t know is what happens next. How long does it take for the rich man to get it? How long before he stops think about his own suffering and has remorse for the suffering he caused or could have prevented. How long before he cries, “God have mercy on me, a sinner.”

At 1:10 AM, Anonymous mariam said...

This argument about the nature of God and Heaven and Hell has been waged since at least the time of St. Augustine. I don't think the early Christians were quite as obsessed with identifying themselves as the "elect". They were engaged in the Great Commission - delivering the "good news" of God's love and redemption to those who had ever been downtrodden and downcast. Indeed Jesus reserved his harshest condemnation for those who saw themselves as the "gatekeepers" of God's kingdom - those who thought it was up to them to judge who was worthy of God's special favour.

Matt 23:13 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
Matt 23:13 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are."
John 5:39 You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

I always find it a little ironic that the most judgmental of Christians quote these verses to show that it's OK to be unforgiving and judgmental because Jesus was. Well, first of all they are not Jesus. Second of all the thing Jesus condemns most strongly is being judgmental, of adhering to letter of the law but not the spirit, of studying the scripture to justify their arrogance but missing the overall message of scripture. Jesus is the Word of God. It is in Jesus that we see the nature of God revealed. And Jesus preached to, healed and gave hope to the "non-elect". He brought them a message of redemption, the message that the God of Israel was their God too, the message that truth and salvation was there for all. He freely gave his life so that we could see the extent to which God would go to save us. This is not a distant, forbidding, wrathful God who hates us and cannot bear to be in our presence because we are so sinful. This is a loving, merciful, grieving God who will do anything to heal us and draw us back home.

At 1:11 AM, Anonymous mariam said...

So what really bugs some Christians about universalism? It doesn’t seem to be any more “heretical” that claiming the God does not, in fact, want to save everyone and plans to torment most of us for eternity. Or any more heretical than claiming that God isn’t able to get what he wants and is thwarted by our poor choices.

Reformers argue that universal reconciliation "cheapens" Jesus' sacrifice, because if God was going to save us anyway, why did Jesus have to die. To which I would reply, Jesus died to prove the depth of God's love for us and to show us that death itself could be defeated. He died to show us that, contrary to the teachings of the Pharisees, there was no barrier between us and God. With Christ's sacrifice on the cross, Satan was defeated, death was defeated, sin was defeated. That is what Jesus accomplished with his death. But the Calvinists would argue that Jesus’ death merely bought a ticket to heaven for a tiny fraction of humanity. And those were people God had already planned on saving anyway. How is that for trivializing Christ’s death?

Some argue that there is no point to evangelism if God is going to save everybody anyway. But what is the point of evangelism if God is going to condemn virtually everyone to endless torment? Now, there’s a bit of good news. Imagine you are your average heathen. You have a god that you have to appease by offering a few children now and then as human sacrifices. The Christian missionary introduces you to a God who probably plans to torment you and everyone you know for all eternity, unless you are extremely lucky and he has already selected you as one of the “elect”. I would probably calculate the chances and stick with Heathen God. A much more reasonable god than this Yahweh.

But why evangelize at all? Not to get into heaven but because we are broken and lost and we need God’s mercy in this life. Because we stand in loving awe of this glorious God, who can redeem anything and anyone. Because the more people who are filled with God’s love and the desire to do God’s will the better world this will be and the more pleased God will be. Because the sooner you repent the sooner you can begin living in the Spirit and the less you will have to answer for in the next life.

If people don’t fear God and fear Hell, how can we get them to behave? Something I learned when I was a teacher is that you can get children to behave using fear tactics, but they will only behave when they think you are watching and the fear has to be reinforced frequently with punishment. Nothing about the desire of the child to behave changes. In fact, if anything, they are more likely to behave very badly the minute your back is turned. God does not want us to obey Him because we are afraid of his wrath. He wants us to obey him because our hearts desire good and because we love Him. A true change of heart comes not from fear but from love.

And what if I am wrong? What if it really is Calvin’s god in charge? I could never love or wish to serve such a monster. Nor, apparently, would it make any difference what I wanted, as God has already decided my fate. Either way I am condemned. Either condemned to eternal torment in Hell or condemned to spending eternity with a being whose cruelty is so vast as to be unimaginable. I think I’ll take my chances and believe in a God of love.

So continue to pursue the upward call, Robert, but do it not with fear and trembling but with joy and hope.

At 5:40 PM, Blogger Robert said...

Mariam- love all you said in your cooments, you touched upon in a deeper way things i spoke of in my post, i really appreciate your perspective and insights. I agree fully about what you said in the end, choosing to take a chance on believing in a God of love. Pursuing with joy and hope is truly the ideal. I just have different things which cause the fear and trembling to be in there still. I hope to hear more as I write more miriam, you challenge my understandin gas well as my initiative to live beyond the fear and comfort zone Thank you my sweet friend!!


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