Heading towards heresy.

[Sorry to have been a bit quiet for a week or two, life has been slightly taken over by finals, but they’re all done now and I’m finally free to sleep when I want, eat when I want, and write blog posts when I want.]

'Range Sunset' photo (c) 2013, Nick Mealey - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I don’t especially want to be a heretic. But I tend towards it when I let myself imagine and dream and wish…

What I’m about to float is not a new declaration of faith, a statement of beliefs, or a redefining of personal doctrine. I’m not saying I believe this or that I can’t see the problems with this train of thought. I just wanted to dream, just for a minute.

I want to dream about a horizon that is so far beyond our gaze.

I want to dream about a mountain top that is as yet beyond our view.

As we’ve looked at our Bible overview in Focus at Church this year, we’ve taken note of the shape of God’s promises and his plan. We’ve described its like a mountain range. Beginning with Abraham, God makes sets of promises to his people: he promises to make them a nation, to give them a land, to have a covenant relationship with them, to bless them and others through them. As these promises begin to be fulfilled, we get closer towards a peak, where God’s people are living in God’s land under God’s rule and blessing. At the time, each fulfilment looked like the big peak. The mountain climbing perspective is such that you can only really see the peak you’re focusing on getting towards. But when you get there, you can see further. You look beyond the first mountain, and see that there is another. 

There are more peaks in the mountain range, and so too over the story of the Bible, there are many peaks in the fulfilment of God’s promises.

'2010_04_10_lhr-iad-bos_0041' photo (c) 2010, Doc Searls - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

God rescues the Israelites out of Egypt, to worship him freely. He makes a covenant with them and gives them the law.

Peak. But there’s more.

God leads the Israelites across the Jordan, into the land he had promised them. He brings judgement on false gods and sets up his people as a witness to the nations around them, to draw them in as Israel demonstrates the goodness of their God by the way they live out his law.

Peak. But there’s more.

Having judged and exiled his own people for continually turning away from him, God makes new promises. He’ll restore them to the land and bring them back into peace and blessing. He’ll be shown to be God, not just of Israel but of the whole world, welcoming in worshippers from all corners of the globe. As Persia defeats Babylon and Cyrus allows the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple, these promises are at last also fulfilled.

Peak. But there’s more.

God promises that he’s sending someone, that he himself will come to his people. He promises a new kind of relationship with them, that he’ll give forgive them their sin and give them a new heart. Prophecy goes quiet and decades turn to centuries of waiting, so these promises become precious and their fulfilment longed for. Enter Jesus. He comes claiming the kingdom of God is at hand, that in him it is brought near. In his teaching, revealing the Father. In his healing, bringing heaven to earth. In his death, uniting God and humanity. In his new life, making hope secure for all who trust in him.

Peak. But there’s more.

A group of frightened, confused followers huddle for fear of being associated with the crucified Messiah. Then wind blows and fire ignites and they’re filled the Spirit of God who enables them to preach. As they share the message of forgiveness and new life through Christ, people from many nations come to be part of the kingdom of God. As the Church grows outwards, the message begins to reach the corners of the earth.

Peak. But there’s more.

One day, we’re promised, there’ll be a final fulfilment. Jesus will return, to finally recreate and restore and renew. There’ll be a new heaven and a new earth, and those who have trusted in Jesus will be with him forever, and all evil will be judged and destroyed. We’ll be safe for eternity and all will be right.

The End.

The ending to the story makes me uncomfortable sometimes. The bit where only the people who believe in Jesus are welcomed into the kingdom. When we did our Bible study on The End last week, we talked with joy about the ending for us, the intimacy with God, the community with one another, the everlasting worship around God’s throne. But we didn’t mention much about the judgement, the burning sulphur that came in the same passage of Revelation 21. It’s the uncomfortable part of The End, as we know it.

What if there’s more? What if that’s not the end?

At each of those peaks in the story of the Bible, there were hints that there might be more. There were prophecies that didn’t quite fit with the current situation, there were promises that sounded too good to be true in this life. There were poems, metaphors, dreams just daring God’s people to believe that he could do even more.

I don’t think the Bible promises universal salvation. It tells us that salvation is through Christ, and it commands us to share that good news. It sends us out as ambassadors of God’s unfailing love, to embody it with our lives and our selves, to offer it as an open invitation. That’s all.

But what if there are hints of more? What if the promise that “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” really means all creation?

What if, when God works “through [Christ] to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross”, that really means all things?

What if, when “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”, that means everyone could be included in that everlasting worship around the throne?

Could we dream of another peak of another mountain, one the Bible doesn’t show us but might dare us to imagine? Could we take to heart the promise that God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine”? Could we really think that God loves everyone, more than we do? Could I take my love for my friends and family, my longing for them to eventually come to know God’s love for them, as a hint that he wants it infinitely more? Could I believe that if I can imagine it, God can do much more?

Tell me why I’m wrong if you like. Pick apart every verse I’ve drawn on, show me the context. Remind me why it’s good that God judges those who reject him, tell me again how the door of hell is shut from the inside not the outside. But don’t stop me dreaming, not just for a moment.

Shane Claibourne ended his letter to his “nonbelieving, sort-of-believing, and used-to-be-believing friends” like this:

“In closing, to those who have closed the door on religion — I was recently asked by a non-Christian friend if I thought he was going to hell. I said, “I hope not. It will be hard to enjoy heaven without you.” If those of us who believe in God do not believe God’s grace is big enough to save the whole world… well, we should at least pray that it is.”

I’m off to start praying.

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About Claire

@claireylegs Keen on Jesus. Keen on justice. Ministry assistant in the Great North East. Blogger. Find me in: coffee shop / church / pub / bed.
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13 Responses to Heading towards heresy.

  1. Lasseter says:

    Well, now, Claire, if you were Orthodox, you would probably not be so worried about being a heretic here. 😉 Although there is some controversy in contemplating the ἀποκατάστασις in Orthodoxy, the desire by God for all to be saved and His love for all of His Creation are not particularly controversial notions in our Church, and considering them is no automatic conferral of the label heretic. Issac of Nineveh (also known as Isaac the Syrian), for instance, struggled with the hope that all might be saved, and he was no heretic.

    I am wary, by the way, of anyone who expresses certainty of the eternal condemnation of any human person.

    And just for larfs:

    • Claire says:

      HA, that was amazing, thanks so much! I might also go and look up Isaac of Ninevah, I like the idea of saints who struggle. Thanks for you input, always much appreciated.

  2. Dave Doran says:

    Joy!

  3. Carwyn Graves says:

    You definitely need to read Tom Wright on all of creation being liberated…..:) (apologies if you already have) I think we definitely should dream away, but not at the cost of discounting what we’re told in no uncertain terms is deadly serious. But oh! what a dream!

  4. Matt Lynch says:

    This is from my really bad memory, but Noel Moules says something along the lines of this, that God loves the hell out of everyone. There’s more I’ll find it and stop wasting your time on scraps of tape

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  6. Nicole says:

    I feel this way too. I used to be very stringent in my beliefs in only those in the here and now being saved. But versus like you mentioned and others have given me hope. One of these versus is 1 Timothy 4:10 “That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.” Also that “God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.” (Romans 11:32). Also Romans 5:12 and many other verses. How can we say that the “Last enemy to be defeated is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26) if God will keep spiritual death unending in certain persons until eternity?

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