After reading several books on universalism, I'm now convinced that God's final word to us is not condemnation but reconciliation.
Sodom was a very wicked city. When angels went to investigate, the men wanted to rape them. The city was judged and destroyed and only Lot and his daughters manage to escape. Everyone knows this story and nearly all, myself included, believed that was all there is to Sodom's story.
In Ezekiel 16, Ezekiel chastised Jerusalem for her unfaithfulness to the Lord, calling her an "adulteress wife" and "prostitute". Ezekiel wrote, "Your older sister was Samaria, who lived to the north of you with her daughters; and your younger sister, who lived to the south of you with her daughters, was Sodom." Sodom had done "detestable things" and "therefore [the Lord] did away with them as you have seen." Jerusalem was then told she is just as evil as Sodom and Samaria.
Then suddenly, starting at v. 53, the prophecy turns to images of reconciliation. The Lord says through Ezekiel, "However, I will restore the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters and of Samaria and her daughters, and your fortunes along with them...your sisters, Sodom with her daughters and Samaria with her daughters, will return to what they were before; and you and your daughters will return to what you were before" because the Lord will "make atonement for you for all you've done."
The last word the Lord speaks is not condemnation but reconciliation and restoration. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
Another passage in the bible where judgment is followed by reconciliation and redemption is Isaiah 19.
The chapter begins with judgment against Egypt. They will be handed over to "a cruel master", the Nile will run dry, and the people will lose hope. "The LORD has poured into them a spirit of dizziness; they make Egypt stagger in all that she does, as a drunkard staggers around in his vomit." and "They will shudder with fear at the uplifted hand that the LORD Almighty raises against them."
Then Isaiah makes an interesting claim about the purpose of God's judgment on Egypt. "The LORD will strike Egypt with a plague; he will strike them and heal them. They will turn to the LORD, and he will respond to their pleas and heal them."
The chapter ends with an incredibly beautiful picture of Israel and her two despised enemies, Egypt and Assyria. "In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. The LORD Almighty will bless them, saying, "Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance."
Judgment yes, but it is not the final word.
There are probably other passages in the bible where judgment is followed by words of peace and reconciliation. Gregory MacDonald, in the Evangelical Universalist, outlined a very interesting one in Revelation that takes place in New Jerusalem. If his reading is right, and it does seem very plausible, then the last, last word God speaks to fallen, evil humanity is peace and restoration. The gates of New Jerusalem are never closed.
I take hope that there maybe more to the stories of Uzzah (the guy who reached out to steady the ark after the oxen stumbled and was struck dead by the Lord), the people who died vomiting after eating quail in the dessert, Ananias & Sapphira, Judas Iscariot and all those millions of anonymous people who lived brutish lives and died ignoble deaths.
As Jesus Christ was dying on the cross, he said, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." Surely that global statement encompasses all of humanity.
Great stuff here, Caroline! I'm actually preaching a sermon on this very topic tomorrow--how judgment serves God's greater purpose of reconciliation. I believe this final word of reconciliation has already been spoken, and it's pronounced JEE-Zuhs. This Word confronts us and demands that we deal with it. I'm not a universalist now, but I hope to be one someday--on that day (that I hope will come) when the scales fall off the eyes of the last straggler.
Some passages of Scripture to add to your pile, out of the most 'judgmental' books of the Bible:
"The fierce anger of the LORD will not turn back until he fully accomplishes the purposes of his heart" (Jeremiah 30.24; 32.20).
And what is the purpose of the LORD's heart?...(Ephesians 3.11-12) "His eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence."
"Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth…Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear…All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame" (Isaiah 45.22-24).
And what does shame accomplish?...(Psalm 83.16)..."Cover their faces with shame so that men will seek your name, O LORD."
The book that really helped me was "The Evangelical Universalist" by Gregory MacDonald (which is a pseudonym). Like him, I'm now a hopeful dogmatic universalist. Hopeful because we hope it's true. Dogmatic because the position is biblically supported. I think Karl Barth had the same opinion. I'll have to ask my pastor who is a Barthian.
I almost hesitate to push this viewpoint because people are already having a hard time dealing with some of the ideas Baxter Kruger espouses and I don't want to make it ever harder. But it is a logical next step especially after reading Brian McLaren's "The Last Word and the Word After That."
If only universalism was not so anathema in Evangelical mindsets. And why should it be so repulsive? I would think that people would gladly embrace this doctrine if they knew it was biblically sound.
I once thought it was beautiful heresy; now I have hope it's a beautiful truth of our Father who loves and never stops loving.
One of my favourite passages in this vein is Psalm 87. The translation is uncertain (the version below is New Jerusalem Bible) and I'm always worried I may be misinterpreting it, but it seems to me to have a suggestion of universalism. It's a poem about Zion, and reads:
With its foundations on the holy mountains,Yahweh loves his city,he prefers the gates of Zion to any dwelling-place in Jacob.He speaks of glory for you, city of God:"I number Rahab and Babylonamong those that acknowledge me;look at Tyre, Philistia, Ethiopia,so and so was born there."But of Zion it will be said,"Every one was born there."Her guarantee is the Most High.Yahweh in his register of peopleswill note against each, "Born there",princes no less than native-born;all make their home in you.
What does any of you think about that?
Gregory MacDonald (or whoever he is) proved philosophically that universalism is superior to exclusivism in that it best reflects God as revealed by Jesus Christ. Therefore, we need to read the bible with Christological/Universal Atonement/Triumphal glasses. So sure, Psalm 87 pictures God's delight in recording His former rebels as being born in His city.
Thomas Talbott in "Toward a Better Understanding of Universalism" an essay in Universal Salvation? The Current Debate. [Perry and Partridge, 2003] said that because
a) the Calvinists have a strong, biblically sound argument that God is sovereign and
b) the Arminians have a strong, biblically sound argument that God desires all men to be saved
Universalism should be the logical conclusion that reconciles both sides
However, he notes with some chagrin, that while Calvinists and Arminians are very willing to consider the other mistaken but not heretical, they are both united in believing universalism to be heretical.
Caroline wrote: >>I'm now a hopeful dogmatic universalist"--I think Karl Barth >>had the same opinion. I'll have to ask my pastor who is a Barthian.
>>I'm now a hopeful dogmatic universalist"--I think Karl Barth >>had the same opinion. I'll have to ask my pastor who is a Barthian.
Barth says: "I don't believe in 'Universalism' or any other '-ism,' but I do believe in Jesus Christ the Savior of all men." My understanding is that he's more "hopeful" and "dogmatic" on that one. Baxter too. There's a good MP3 discussion on just that topic on Baxter's site: Faith, Repentance, Universalism - August 4, 2006
My take on it is that in the incarnate Christ, the Father has bound us to himself in a way that is universal, unconditional, irresistible and unbreakable. And as Baxter says, to the Deistic mind that sounds like universalism. But I think it's a mistake to say the "being in God's presence forever" is necessarily something that will make everyone happy. Our Father's loving presence with us forever is universal, but I believe that what we choose to believe about God and about ourselves is what decides joy or misery.
Thoughts? Enjoying the conversation!
I just listened to the podcast and I'm really impressed by how gracious Baxter Kruger is. I saw him on August 30th and talked to him about universalism and he listened so graciously to all I said. Meanwhile there was this podcast on the web....
Anyway, these are my random thoughts post-podcast.
I was dead in my transgressions (Eph. 2:1, Col. 2:13) when the irresistible grace of God turned my face toward him. (Note conscious resistance to using transactional language). C.S. Lewis wrote of his conversion experience:
"You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England."
I may not have been as reluctant but I'm sure I was 2X as ignorant. I was converted by a presentation of the Bridge Diagram (that outlined my separation from God) and I said the Sinner's Prayer. Nevertheless, something fundamental (no pun intended) and monumental changed in my life, changed in my inner being. Now, if God can reach me, dead as I was, just as He reached all the other dead people around me, why can't He reach the dead dead (if there is such a thing). Romans 14:9 says Jesus Christ is the Lord of both the dead and the living.
The main thrust of Universalism is the possibility of post mortem conversion. I agree with what was said in the podcast that hell is being stuck in a relationship that I abhor with no possibility of escape. But can a person reject the one who is Love and Goodness personified forever? The good shepherd did not rest until he found his lost sheep even though he had 99 safe at home. The bible says that, eventually, every knee will bow and every tongue confess.
C.S. Lewis continues:
"I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape?"
Years after saying the Sinner's Prayer, I heard Baxter Kruger teach. That's years of believing I was once separated from God just as my family still is, years of believing, teaching and selling the wrong gospel, years of... well, you get the picture. Now if I had died pre-Baxter, where would I be in the Eschaton? I think, like a lot of fundamentals in many different religions...in heaps of trouble! because we have so much invested in what we thought was the right way to think about God.
Here's the million dollar question: would God have left me, or any of those fundies, in our ignorant, rebellious state for eternity?
The final words from C.S. Lewis' story:
"The words compelle intrare, compel them to come in, have been so abused by wicked men that we shudder at them but, properly understood, they plumb the depth of the Divine mercy. The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation."
all quotes: Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis
Both Baxter Kruger and Brian McLaren are very clear and consistent in denying that they're universalists. Does anyone know the reasons why?
I guess by now, the community knows I'm the avowed Universalist (hopeful and dogmatic like Gregory MacDonald, whoever he/she is). I'm a very recently born again universalist. I have been born again Calvinist/Baptist for many years prior to that. I'm open to any reasons why I should rethink my position on Universalism.
I'm open-minded. Really. At least open to moving as far right as say, Karl Barth. (Not that I've read any unadulterated (i.e. not summarized and dumbed down) stuff of his)
Don't worry dear, very few have read unfiltered Barth.
My best understanding...They feel that dogmatic universalism means that, in the end, human freedom doesn't count, isn't really real. People are free to reject God, but he'll wear them all down eventually, just because he's bigger. Again, this is my non-Calvinism showing, but I really dig the whole idea of freedom (though I confess that it's still a mystery to me).
The gospel of our relation to God is connected to the inner relations of the Trinity. Father, Son and Spirit are distinct but not separate. Unified yet free. Our relation to our Father is that he has unified us with himself forever. There is no such thing as human separation from God, any more than there is any separation between Father and Son. But he also grants us DISTINCT-ness, free personhood. And to me, a dogmatic universalism says that this distinctness is an illusion. That God is a bully that pushes us around 'for our own good.' That we are neither separate nor distinct from God, that we are robots that he made to play games with, rather than lovers to dance with.
This is SUCH a helpful conversation for me to have!!! Caroline, you're making me sharpen my thinking in such useful ways, I can't tell you how much I appreciate our interaction.
I'm off to a denominational conference from Wednesday to Monday. I'll be giving my massive workshop on Hell. Pray I don't get crucified!!!
You're a brave soul! Jean Paul Sartre says, "hell is other people."
I rewrote the article "Trinitarian Universalism" on wikipedia and I referenced both Baxter Kruger and Brian McLaren. I hope it doesn't get them into trouble. For Baxter, I referenced Divine Dance and Jesus and the Undoing of Adam as support for Trinitarian ideas, not Universalism. For McLaren, I referenced Generous Orthodoxy for his great concept that judgment is salvific.
Talbott, the guy who wrote the Inescapable Love of God which inspired the Evangelical Universalist, posited that, after death, our eyes will be opened and we'll see spiritual reality. He said it would be incoherent and basically insane for a person to choose alienation and rebellion after he sees who God is, what sin is and what he is becoming. Therefore, he thought it moral to abrogate such a person's will in the same way we stop people from jumping off bridges or cutting themselves. Those actions/choices aren't sane.
Talbott also speculated God will heal people of all the mental blocks and emotional issues they had that would prevent them from accepting Him as Father. He's not called the Hound of Heaven for nothing.
For the Universalist's idea of hell, check out the wikipedia article titled Trinitarian Universalism
This is the link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trinitarian_Universalism
Trinitarian Universalists believe that God is too good to condemn humanity.
I agree that God is too good to condemn anyone. Anyone who is in hell is there because they have literally told God where to go. They have outrightly rejected him and don't want anything to do with him. God has simply allowed them to have their wishes because he's not a manipulating control freak who forces people into his presence. People don't have the will to accept God but only to reject him.
I am a great fan of C.S. Lewis', The Great Divorce and that book shaped my beliefs about hell for many years. I think many Christians believe as you do.
My beliefs changed when I read this argument from Thomas Talbott (I think). For someone to choose hell/alienation/nothingness over God who is love/reality, he would have to be ignorant, deceived or insane. God is able to fix or heal all three conditions and He will present and represent His offer of salvation because love always hopes and always perseveres.
He is the Hound of Heaven. Actually, the man who wrote the poem, Hound of Heaven, Francis Thomson, was a Catholic who became addicted to opium. By the time this poem was published, he was penniless and homeless.
This is the first stanza (and the most famous portion of his poem)
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; I fled Him, down the arches of the years; I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears I hid from Him, and under running laughter. Up vistaed hopes I sped; And shot, precipitated, Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears, From those strong Feet that followed, followed after. But with unhurrying chase, And unperturbčd pace, Deliberate speed, majestic instancy, They beat - and a Voice beat More instant than the Feet - "All things betray thee, who betrayest Me."
The rest of the poem tells about how the author tried to hide and run from God. My favourite is the last part and this is God speaking to Francis.
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee, Save Me, save only Me? All which I took from thee I did but take, Not for thy harms, But just that thou might'st seek it in My arms. All which thy child's mistake Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home: Rise, clasp My hand, and come."Halts by me that footfall: Is my gloom, after all, Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly? "Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest, I am He Whom thou seekest! Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me."