Am I a universalist?

A few weeks ago, I enjoyed an engaging e-mail conversation with a writer friend about deep theological things. In between the e-mails, I started thinking about why I began to question what I'd been taught in the first place.

I believe it was my experience of the results of the doctrine as I had been taught it and this is what I perceived:

Lack of peace: If all who do not accept Jesus (in the current protestant definition of it) are going to hell, then the whole world has an ax hanging over it. No matter how much we think about love, the fear remains. I can't truly be at peace if the people I meet—and even some of my own friends and family members are about to be tortured forever. Every funeral becomes a weight. I can barely get out of bed.

Insecurity: More personally, I start to believe that even though I've "checked the Jesus-box" that I'm not good enough. After all, if others can get caught on that technicality, couldn't I be too? That insecurity haunts me. Convinces me that God doesn't really love me. It keeps me from truly trusting the one who made me.

Justified Grievance: Conversely, there are some we believe completely deserve hell. We see them as more deserving of punishment than ourselves...the guy who cuts us off in traffic, terrorists for sure, even other political parties, yada, yada. We see ourselves as better than them which impairs our ability to love.

All of this creates an atmosphere of punishment, grievance, fear and continual judgment as we sort people deciding if people are in or out. If they are "in" they are safe. And if they are "out" they are bad. We cannot love without an agenda. And oh-yeah, why bother with the planet? God's about to blow it up anyway.

If the doctrine as it is defined is accurate, then in our current context, billions would be excluded based on timeline and geography alone. If God is good—and I mean better-than-us-good—then maybe the fault isn't with God but rather in our understanding. 

My experience of these aspects of the doctrine along with a deep belief in the character of God as good made me begin to read scripture differently.  I wanted to see it without the years of programming. As I read, I noticed that there is a lot of holistic language there that gets ignored.  And as I read, my beliefs began to shift. I believe that everyone is saved—they just don't know it yet. And in believing that, I see the parity between myself and others. The guy in the store who isn't bound for hell? I treat him differently. He is like me. I am free to love people without an agenda.

Most importantly, I stopped seeing myself as "bad in my heart" and began to uncover my Imago Dei. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control rule not because I am saved and others are not, but because I know I am connected to love. Not through avoiding punishment, but simply because there is a God who is love.

I believe the only power left to Satan—maybe the only one he ever had—is deceit. And I believe it is rampant in the church. Counteracting that deceit—receiving sight, so to speak—requires a willingness to change what we see.

It is scary to let go of our need to be right and to acknowledge our need to be loved.

People think and believe many different things, but the need for love is universal. I believe that is why love is the central commandment. Not believe.

This centering around love is not fueled by some "pie in the sky" idea of utopia—man has tried and failed at that many times. Rather, it is orchestrated by the Holy Spirit who is drawing all men to the Father.

I believe that Christ is at the center of this story and that as we love we become part of that story too. 

It occurs to me that if Jesus' sacrifice is the only way that any of it is at all possible, then that is not universalist at all. "No man comes to the Father except through Me," remains. And that is decidedly singular.


Jenny said...

Thank you my friend for your beautiful formula of love and acceptance. Only humans can make such a simple thing so clouded.

steven harrell said...

This is one of my favorite conversations. I'm reluctant to self-identify as a Christian universalist, but I've been swimming in it for awhile now and find it harder and harder to go back.

Cathy_H said...

@Steven tomorrow I publish some of the pushback. It is a conversation with a lot of views.

I hadn't heard the term "Christian Universalist" before. I keep thinking that one day, we won't need the labels. (grin)

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Maira Gall