A few weeks ago, I wrote a post called “Heading towards heresy” in which I began to explore the idea that God could, in the end, reconcile everything and everyone to himself. I had so many interesting conversations after starting that discussion that I’ve asked a few friends to contribute guest posts on the theme of “Hope for everyone?” If you’d like to contribute a piece, from any point of view, do get in touch.
Today’s post is by Matt Lynch, an English and Theology graduate who spends his time working with young people in his local community in Birmingham – take a look at his great social enterprise, Gear Up.
This will not be the most scriptural article you might read on the subject of universalism, so this is a warning for those looking for one, stop reading now.
The majority of apocalyptic texts were written in Palestine, from a Jewish tradition and into a culture that makes little sense to us. The texts were always written during times of persecution and many Old Testament and New Testament apocalyptic texts have been lost from the canon of the Bible. The apocalyptic accounts vary greatly between each other, but the difference in style between Jewish and Christian is hard to separate. So the canonical texts have been chosen because they fit some agenda or propaganda of a time long since passed.
Another reason not to rely heavily on the canonical texts is the dangerous tendency to interpret these complex pieces of literature. How many times has the world been supposed to end in your lifetime because of what someone has said the Bible says? It is all too easy to find websites that teach you to read secret codes that predict the future just after it has happened. (I have just discovered that World War 3 will begin before the 5th September 2013).
I do not claim to be an expert on this topic; I have not done much reading or been to many lectures on this. I think that there are important things that we can work together to transform, instead of worrying about God’s action once this life has finished. It is also quite hard to filter the crazy voice from the well thought through voice without getting too deeply involved than I have time for. However, I shall try to cobble together my thoughts from various sources.
I love the Narnian vision at the end of The Last Battle, with the transformation of the whole creation, the entire universe into its real nature and essence. Everything becomes much more real, there is no room for negative emotions or evil. Everyone is desperate to run and run and discover more beauty and truth shouting, “Further up and further in!”.
That is how I see heaven; it is not a new place. It is this place transformed to perfection. We will not be going to heaven. It will be coming to us and will transform us into a liberated community living alongside redeemed nature. God will shake the hell out of the earth and we will be refined and purified like precious metal through fire.
Another place we will not be going is hell. Hell is about the complete destruction of evil, not where sinners are punished. Jesus has come to renew everything and says so himself (Matt 19: 28).
God is not love and God’s love is not perfect. God’s love is more than love, more than we can imagine and it is more perfect that any human can understand. Surely this means that God’s love is too perfect to allow anyone to suffer eternally.
This does not mean there is not a time of judgement. A lot of the above is paraphrasing Noel Moules from his book, ‘Fingerprints of Fire… Footprints of Peace’ and here is what he writes about judgement:
“Finally, the centrepiece of universalism is judgement. Mishpat is the moral process of putting everything right, not a legal statement about who is right and wrong. It is a spiritual and practical process to make relationships right, not a legal mechanism to punish wrongdoers.
This process involves bringing together all aggrieved parties into the presence of God, where the Spirit of truth discloses everything and nothing is hidden. The voice of the offended is clearly heard; those who have committed injustice are confronted with the harm they have inflicted. Everyone and everything that has suffered wrongdoing will be satisfied. Nothing whatsoever will be left unresolved.
This is no purgatory with its emphasis on individual purification, but rather the full restoration of relationships with all the vulnerability that involves, and the resulting anguish that needs to be assuaged…
Universalism is popularly dismissed by mainstream Christians as a soft option in the light of the traditional view of judgement and punishment. However, properly understood it is by far the toughest option. It takes evil and its consequences seriously and does not cease working until every broken relationship is put right. It uniquely sees the extravagant goodness of God embrace every person and particle of the universe as part of the renewed heaven and earth.”
Mishpat is defined by Noel Moules as the process of putting everything right with a combination of justice and judgement. This process establishes God’s shalom.
Everyone sees or “experiences” God and God’s love. There is no gate which separates people from the fullness of God, and from this experience of wholesome healing, forgiving and transformation we enter into the fullness of eternal life. Everyone is taken seriously, not only the person doing wrong but the person who has been wronged. It is restorative justice for the whole of time and for every broken relationship and hurt.
There is no punishment for wrongdoing, it is restoration of our relationships, recreation of our human nature and liberation from all evil. This, at the moment, describes how I see what happens once this life is over.
These are the books used in writing this article:
Lewis, C.S. (1956) The Last Battle. London: Harper Collins
Moules, N. (2012) Fingerprints of Fire … Footprints of Peace: A Spiritual Manifesto from a Jesus Perspective. Winchester: Circle Books
Russell, D.S. (1964) The Method and Message of Jewish Apocalyptic. London: SCM