Archive for the ‘Universalism’ Category

Biblical Interpretation

Monday, September 18th, 2017

All this is to say that if you find yourself agreeing with my interpretations, don’t assume traditionalists are thick-headed or hard-hearted for not seeing what we see. On the other hand, if you find yourself disagreeing with my interpretations, don’t assume that your viewpoint is unquestionably the “real biblical position.” Christians have been reading the same Bible and holding greatly different beliefs for over two thousand years now. Awareness of this historical fact alone should make us quick to listen to others, and slow to assume our position is the obviously right one. It should also give us pause before accusing someone of denying biblical authority just because they question the legitimacy of our interpretations. In other words, in questioning hell we are not throwing away the biblical puzzle pieces we do not like, we are simply questioning if the picture on the lid that we have received from the dominant tradition actually gives us the best way to put all the pieces together. Perhaps there is a better picture that can make room for more of the pieces to fit together better. At this point we need to acknowledge that people who disagree with our own biblical interpretations are not necessarily denying the Bible, but simply questioning the lenses through which we currently see the Bible.

— Heath Bradley, Flames of Love, p. 5

Good News!

Monday, August 7th, 2017

If the message that Jesus came to bring is that most people will actually spend an eternity experiencing the most horrible torment conceivable, well, to be honest, I can think of much better news than that! That theological vision does not strike me as good news at all. It certainly does not set my heart on fire with a joyous desire to share this news with as many people as I can. In fact, when I thought that this view of things was indispensable for Christianity, it made me feel anxious to think about and embarrassed to talk about. God, it seemed to me, had a dark side underneath the veneer of grace and goodness, contrary to how John summed up the meaning of Jesus’s message that “God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).

There is, however, a theological vision that does strike me as good news, indeed as the best news possible for the world. It is a vision that fills my heart and soul with grateful awe and joyful excitement. It is a vision that I believe is Christ-centered, biblically-grounded, spiritually-compelling, and life-inspiring. In this book, we are concerned with understanding and evaluating a specific Christian vision of God and God’s relationship to humanity known as Christian universalism. Although this view will be fleshed out throughout the book, we can define it initially and simply as the belief that ultimately every person will be saved through Christ.

— Heath Bradley, Flames of Love, p. 2

God Gets the Last Word.

Sunday, July 2nd, 2017

I believe hell is very real, yet I also believe that a God who is love is also real, and that this God gets the last word.

— Heath Bradley, Flames of Love, p. 1

Destroying Sin

Friday, May 5th, 2017

Punishment, I repeat, is not the thing required of God, but the absolute destruction of sin. What better is the world, what better is the sinner, what better is God, what better is the truth, that the sinner should suffer — continue suffering to all eternity? Would there be less sin in the universe? Would there be any making-up for sin? Would it show God justified in doing what he knew would bring sin into the world, justified in making creatures he knew would sin? What setting-right would come of the sinner’s suffering? If justice demanded it, if suffering be the equivalent for sin, then the sinner must suffer, and God is bound to exact his suffering, and not pardon; and so the making of man was a tyrannical deed, a creative cruelty. But grant that the sinner has deserved to suffer, no amount of suffering is any atonement for his sin. To suffer to all eternity could not make up for one unjust word.

An unjust word is an eternally evil thing; nothing but God in my heart can cleanse me from the evil that uttered it. But it does not follow that I saw the evil of what I did so perfectly that eternal punishment for it would be just. Sorrow and confession and self-abasing love will make up for the evil word; suffering will not. For evil in the abstract, nothing can be done. It is eternally evil. But I may be saved from it by learning to loathe it, to hate it, to shrink from it with an eternal avoidance. The only vengeance worth having on sin is to make the sinner himself its executioner.

— George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons, Third Series, “Justice,” quoted in Discovering the Character of God, p. 259

True Deliverance

Saturday, August 13th, 2016

It is true that Jesus came, in delivering us from our sins, to deliver us also from the painful consequences of our sins. But these consequences exist by the one law of the universe, the true will of God. When that will is broken, suffering is inevitable.

But in the perfection of God’s creation, the result of that suffering is curative. The pain works toward the healing of the breach.

The Lord never came to deliver men from the consequences of their sins while those sins yet remained. That would be to cast out the window the medicine of cure while still the man lay sick. Yet, feeling nothing of the dread hatefulness of their sin, men have constantly taken this word that the Lord came to deliver us from our sins to mean that he came to save them from the punishment of their sins.

This idea has terribly corrupted the preaching of the Gospel. The message of the Good News has not been truly communicated. Unable to believe in the forgiveness of their Father in heaven, imagining him not at liberty to forgive, or incapable of forgiving forthright; not really believing him God who is fully our Savior, but a God bound — either in his own nature or by a law above him and compulsory upon him — to exact some recompense or satisfaction for sin, a multitude of religious teachers have taught their fellow men that Jesus came to bear our punishment and save us from hell. But in that they have misrepresented his true mission.

The mission of Jesus was from the same source and with the same object as the punishment of our sins. He came to do more than take the punishment for our sins. He came as well to set us free from our sin.

No man is safe from hell until he is free from his sin. But a man to whom his sins are a burden, while he may indeed sometimes feel as if he were in hell, will soon have forgotten that he ever had any other hell to think of than that of his sinful condition. For to him his sin is hell. He would go to the other hell to be free of it. Free of his sin, hell itself would be endurable to him.

For hell is God’s and not the Devil’s. Hell is on the side of God and man, to free the child of God from the corruption of death. Not one soul will ever be redeemed from hell but by being saved from his sin, from the evil in him. If hell be needful to save him, hell will blaze, and the worm will writhe and bite, until he takes refuge in the will of the Father. “Salvation from hell” is salvation as conceived by such to whom hell, and not the evil of the sin, is the terror.

— George MacDonald, The Hope of the Gospel, “Salvation From Sin,” quoted in Discovering the Character of God, edited by Michael Phillips, p. 39-40.

No Limit to God’s Forgiveness

Saturday, February 20th, 2016

Believe not that there is a limit, an end, to God’s forgiveness, and his redeeming love and power. Believe it not, lest you justify your unforgiving heart and thus not be forgiven yourself, but go down with those your brothers to the torment, from where, if God were not better than that phantom many call God, you and the rest of them should never come out, but whence assuredly you shall come out when you have paid the uttermost farthing. Out you shall come when you have learned of God in hell what you refused to learn of him upon the gentle-toned earth, when you have learned what the sunshine and the rain could not teach you, nor the sweet compunctions of the seasons, nor the stately visits of the morning and eventide, nor the human face divine, nor the word that was nigh thee in your heart and in your mouth — the story of him who was mighty to save, because he was perfect in love.

O Father, thou art All-in-all, perfect beyond the longing of thy children, and we are all and altogether thine. Thou wilt make us pure and loving and free. We shall stand fearless in thy presence, because perfect in thy love. Then shall thy children be of good cheer, infinite in the love of each other, and eternal in thy love.

— George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons, First Series, “Love Thine Enemy,” quoted in Knowing the Heart of God, p. 349

Making Us Capable

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

“Do you mean that God never punishes anyone for what he cannot help?”

“Assuredly. God will punish only for wrong choices we make. And then his punishment will be redemptive, not retributive: to make us capable — more than merely capable; hungry, aching, yearning to be able — to make right choices, so that in the end we make that one supreme right choice our wills were created to make — the joyful giving up of our wills into his!”

“How do you prove that?”

“I will not attempt to prove it. If you are content to think of God as a being of retribution, if it does not trouble you that your God should be so unjust, then it would be fruitless for me to try to prove otherwise to you. We could discuss the question for years and only make enemies of ourselves. As long as you are satisfied with such a god, I will not try to dissuade you. Go on thinking so until at last you are made miserable by it. Then I will pour out my heart to deliver you from the falsehoods taught you by the traditions of the elders.”

— George MacDonald, The Landlady’s Master, quoted in Knowing the Heart of God, p. 308-309

Grace Gets Out of Hand

Friday, December 25th, 2015

Philip got out of God’s way. He remembered that what makes the gospel offensive isn’t who it keeps out, but who it lets in. Nothing could prevent the eunuch from being baptized, for the mountains of obstruction had been plowed down, the rocky hills had been made smooth, and God had cleared a path. There was holy water everywhere.

Two thousand years later, John’s call remains a wilderness call, a cry from the margins. Because we religious types are really good at building walls and retreating to temples. We’re good at making mountains out of our ideologies, obstructions out of our theologies, and hills out of our screwed-up notions of who’s in and who’s out, who’s worthy and who’s unworthy. We’re good at getting in the way. Perhaps we’re afraid that if we move, God might use people and methods we don’t approve of, that rules will be broken and theologies questioned. Perhaps we’re already afraid that if we get out of the way, this grace thing might get out of hand.

Well, guess what? It already has.

— Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday, p. 39-40.

Created in Love

Sunday, October 11th, 2015

Had this simple yet profound truth ever penetrated into the hearts of the teachers of God’s people, how revolutionary would have been its effect! True, with their lips they have preached the glad message “God so loved the world,” yet they have been even more zealous to confine His love to those who believe, since they could hardly reconcile eternal torment or annihilation with the operations of love. May He broaden our hearts and widen our understanding! All that God does is done in love. Creation as well as redemption and reconciliation have their roots in the divine affection. And for this very reason it is that all are lost and all will be saved, some indeed by faith, during the eons, yet others by sight, through judgment, all through the deliverance wrought by Him in Whom they were originally created.

— A. E. Knoch, “The Supremacy of Christ,” in Unsearchable Riches, First Quarter, 2015, Volume 106, Number 1, page 21.

Unconditional Love

Friday, November 23rd, 2012

Jesus touched and healed anybody who desired it and asked for it, and there were no other prerequisites for his healings. Check it out yourself. Why would Jesus’ love be so unconditional while he was in this world, and suddenly become totally conditional after death? Is it the same Jesus? Or does Jesus change his policy after his resurrection? The belief in heaven and hell is meant to maintain freedom on all sides, with God being the most free of all, to forgive and include, to heal and to bless even God’s seeming “enemies.” How could Jesus ask us to bless, forgive, and heal our enemies, which he clearly does (Matthew 5:43-48), unless God is doing it first and always? Jesus told us to love our enemies because he saw his Father doing it all the time, and all spirituality is merely the “imitation of God” (Ephesians 5:1).

— Richard Rohr, Falling Upward, p. 103