A REASON FOR HOPE FOR ALL- A POSSIBILITY

There is a significant amount of conversation these days about Hopeful Christian Universalism, meaning that the Bible gives us reason to believe and hope that through Christ all people will be restored and saved and enter the Kingdom. Most Christians are fine with thinking this is NOT the case and would rather trust the research and theology that has come to us mostly since the Reformation of the 1500’s.

Let’s consider the idea of judgment for a moment. I recently read a blog written by a friend from Long Island on this point: (This following is a paragraph from the blog.)

The message is clear. No matter who you are, rich or poor, known or unknown, cleric or laymen, artist or Pope, we all have the wonderful opportunity to look up and consider God in His marvelous creation. But if we do this, we must all also consider that we will all face Him in his judgment – and that is the part that many people want to forget. It is one thing to look at creation and think that God may have had a part in it, but it is quite another to think that we all are accountable to this same God.

Christians of the Evangelical sort make much of judgment, particularly final judgment which, depending on what verses we read, can be based on faith or faith and good works done in the body or how we used the talents God gave to us. This judgment, especially for unbelievers, is dark and filled with images of hellish eternal torment rendered unto us by the loving God who in Jesus told us to love our enemies.

I want to consider a passage that is most appropriate for this Holy Week. I believe it’s an alternate view. It is a Palm Sunday scene that takes place after Jesus had raised Lazarus to life. He is now in Jerusalem and at one point reflects on his imminent death. I will pick up the scripture from there: John 12:27 ff.

 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. 34 The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiahremains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” 35 Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.”

Now, here’s how I understand what is happening in this conversation. Jesus is speaking about his death on the cross and concluding that his death will bring about the judgment of the world. His death will bring the world into a crisis by which the love of God expressed by Jesus on the cross IS the judgment of the world that Jesus is taking into himself. Evil, sin and Satan will be defeated on the cross. Read Colossians 2:13-15 [NRSV]:

13 And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, Godmade you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, 14 erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.

See, this is the work of Jesus on the cross. To forgive us all, erasing all the legal punishments against us, and disarming Satan. Some will say it’s only true for those who believe. But in verse 32 of John 12, Jesus says that he is going to draw, pull, or drag ( Greek) all people to himself.

Now we can still say that this drawing does not save, only attracts more people. But left over from my Calvin days is the idea that such drawing is a work of irresistible grace on God’s part that will ensure that all people will come to Christ. It may be in this life and it may be that it happens after this life. I picture Jesus from his throne opening his arms of love to enfold the entire world for which he died. He didn’t die just for believers. Read I John 2:2: He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but for the sins of the whole world.

Having written this I need to say that there are scriptures that signify a severe punishment for unbelievers (in whatever way such people are determined) but there is much in scripture that leads us to conclude that God will restore his whole creation back to himself, even through penalty after death that lasts for a season or eon. See Colossians 1:20. But many Christians don’t want to study those passages or dwell on them lest they be led astray, they think. But we want to consider the whole counsel of Scripture. The early church Fathers did. Read what they thought of hopeful universalism before the 6th century. (Gregory of Nyssa, Origen, Clement, St. Jerome and others anyone can look up.)

My point is to say that God loves his whole world and wants the salvation of all to take place; and restoration of all creation is possible through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. I believe Jesus even puts an exclamation point on that possibility by forgiving the men who crucified him. So judgment may have taken place on what we call GOOD FRIDAY, only to be affirmed by the SUNDAY RESURRECTION.

I am hopeful that the God of love revealed in Christ will do more than we think or imagine in restoring all people to him. Paul writes that God is not counting the sins of anyone in the world against them (2Cor. 5:19). To me, that’s the Good News we can proclaim in Christ. That’s the kind of love that changes peoples’ hearts.

Grace does matter.

By the way, a wonderful book to read in the above vein is THE EVANGELICAL UNIVERSALIST by Gregory MacDonald.

God’s Big Tent

WHO will enter the Kingdom of God? Who can be saved — another way of expressing the question. I believe to some extent most of us are ‘hopeful evangelical universalists’. We believe in the God of love who sought to find his lost people, his lost creation. God covered the earth in a large tent, something like a tabernacle in the wilderness. God’s presence is that tabernacle, and according to the Bible, that presence has been poured out on everyone (see Acts 2).

Everyone who came into creation came spiritually and organically through Christ. All have been made in the image of God and God has particular love for every one of his children (see John 3). If that is true then let’s consider the following scenarios of children within God’s eternal care.

A child who tragically dies in infancy. My mom lost a child who had died even before she was born. Will these children be damned forever or brought lovingly into God’s Kingdom? The Bible doesn’t tell us but I believe they are with the Lord because I believe in a loving God. Now some Calvinists believe that it is possible these children will be damned because they are not part of what Calvinists term ‘the elect’, those favored by God for salvation. The term ‘age of accountability’ doesn’t enter the equation since there is none given in the Bible, only inferred by religious interpretation.

What about a mentally impaired person who knows not the right response to an offer of salvation from a well-intentioned evangelist? Maybe he or she can mimic the correct answer but certainly not from understanding. Again we are hopeful that God will welcome these people into salvation.

Next we consider a person who has grown up in India under Hinduism teachings. We say we don’t know. Very conservative people say they are not the elect by reason of God’s choice. See, these are theories and theologies and I believe they are wrong. Even if Romans 1 speaks about natural revelation, God is a free God, free to love; free to bring whomever God wants into the Big Tent. People who don’t even know they are God’s children will have such a revelation at some point.

Now we observe an eighteen-year-old woman who was severely abused by her father and at this point in her life cannot believe in a ‘loving heavenly father’ and will not accept God’s son. Never having been brought into a loving relationship with the Savior she dies in unbelief. Does God stop loving her and count her unworthy of his eternal grace? We hope not.

And all the good Samaritans of this world? These are people who have done such good that aligns with God’s will but haven’t confessed Christ. I have hope for them as well as the victims of wrongs like slavery, abuse, children who through neglect were allowed to die of hunger or disease, Jews and Russians who were cruelly executed. I read the other day about an execution in our ‘sane’ country where, in the opinion of some, any chance for salvation was killed in the execution of a criminal. Even Jesus wasn’t willing for that to happen.

If we are God’s children we are hopeful for everyone, even our enemies. I mean it’s even possible for Trump supporters to be saved. We’ve no reason to wish eternal torment on anyone if we are sons and daughters of our heavenly Father.

God’s tent is big, as big as the universe. Oh, it may be that some will deliberately walk or run from that tent, like the prodigal did, but even in that scenario the door is left open. If you read the end of the book of Revelation you will see that the door to the Kingdom is left open.

The big tent of God, the presence of God in Christ whose birth we celebrate, is the assurance of our hope. The Bible says in John 1:14 that ‘God came and tented among us.’ He walked and talked with us and thus the whole world, extending the invitation farther and farther and even into eternity.

God is hopeful too. He wants all his creation to be restored and he wants to reconcile the whole world to himself. God wants all to be saved. And since God is not a robot or mechanical manager he has the freedom to relate to all people, even after death. That’s God’s freedom and desire.

I don’t want my tent to be any smaller that my Father’s tent-house-mansion and Kingdom. Like God I desire all to be saved. And that’s scriptural. So I am what some would term ‘a hopeful Christian universalist’.

And that’s Good News for the world, as the angels proclaimed.

CRYSTAL CLEAR

So here’s the thing. There are so many things in Bible interpretation that are ambiguous: Atonement, baptism, prayer, as well as the meaning of faith and works.

Even the Reformers couldn’t agree and they split over the issue of communion (The Lord’s Supper). Even Paul said he had to ‘work hard’ so as not to be disqualified from salvation. (1Cor. 9:27)

And the issue of eternal punishment is not clear. Is it annihilation or fires or worms or darkness or is there a possibility that somehow God will bring all his creation back to himself?

I know that many Christians believe that non-believers or disobedient people may be tortured in everlasting torment. But that is mostly from presumptions we make having been brought up in a certain way. Listen, Christian people are not even certain what happens to the people who have never heard of Christ. They say things like ‘well they are not the elect’ or ‘God will do the right thing’. And what about the Jews and little children who are not of accountable age? And what does accountable means? I believe we are manipulating God into a box where we have taken away God’s freedom.

Is the eternal destiny of humanity so clear that some people can be so certain as to who is in and who is out? Doesn’t God judge the intention of the heart? It seems so in the Sermon on the Mount.  And do all our discernments about judgment make us judges ourselves?

And what about those men who crucified our Lord? Were they really forgiven? It all makes me dizzy. And then I know people who say that our little minds can’t understand how God works.

Well, I do. Amidst all the ambiguities of this faith one thing is Crystal Clear: God’s love for us. There is no doubt that God’s love is huge, beyond huge. When my mother use to tell her granddaughter that she loved her, her granddaughter would respond, “I love you more”. That’s what God says to us time and time again and especially from the cross. “I love you more.” And not for one moment do I think the love of God stops when our hearts stop beating. I’ve said before that everything I see now is through the lens of the Christ crucified for us.

We westerners (and you can check this out) have the propensity towards retribution and payback. Our idea of justice is that God will pay bad people back.  It’s probably why I like Westerns so much. But God’s idea of justice is….well, look upon the cross. There we see God’s idea of justice for humanity. We see Jesus loving, suffering, forgiving and dying for love. Death cannot prevent that kind of love from getting through to God’s creation. Never mind Jesus preaching to the imprisoned souls, whatever that means. Just think that God’s love fills eternity, all of it, forever and ever. If God’s love can continue in the ‘saved’ person’s life then why can’t it do remedial work in the other’s lives? Who knows? There might be remedial work to be done in the ‘saved’ lives. And it will be out of God’s love, not vindication or retribution. Yeah, that’s what I believe.

BLESSED ARE THE POOR????

There are parallel versions of the first Beatitude, words that Jesus spoke to the crowds and his disciples.  The first appears in Matthew 5:3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The second version is found in Luke 6:20. “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (NIV)

The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven are synonymous. Scholars say that Matthew, as a good Jew, would not want to use the holy name “God”. So here we have blessings for the ‘poor in spirit’ and the ‘poor’. There is really nothing blessed in being poor and living in the consequences of that poverty. So there is something else going on here. ‘Poor in spirit’ means spiritual poverty. Both mean scarcity of that which makes life flourish. So let’s consider another way of looking at these.

Some people like to think that the Beatitudes are Jesus’ challenge for people to climb some kind of spiritual ladder towards maturity; get to a place of spiritual poverty they suggest, or be grateful you don’t have a lot of material things. A friend who accompanied me on a trip to Haiti told the people that they were truly blessed because they didn’t have the distractions of material things that Americans have. Those words did not play well to the Haitian audience.

Late author and teacher Dallas Willard suggested that Jesus was probably wandering through the crowds saying to this one and that one, “You are fortunate (blessed) because the kingdom has come for you just as much as anyone else. Blessed are you spiritual nobodies. Christ has come for you too.”  Jesus does away with any sense of hierarchy or reward or even law. He is simply saying that no matter who you are or what your circumstances are at this moment; rejoice because you are loved by God. His presence, his kingdom is here for you. There is no exclusion in the kingdom of God. Whether we are poor of goods or poor of spirit we belong to God. 

We may be sick or healthy, gay or straight, republican or democrat. None of that matters. The kingdom of God is for all to enter. We might be bad or good. The kingdom is here for us. Certainly Jesus will have challenges for his disciples but these are not them. The whole world is blessed. Thanks be to God because there are people who think their circumstances in life exclude them. And in Luke you will see some circumstances of the proud and rich and arrogant that may well keep them guessing as to their place. But in kingdom reality all are welcomed, all are in for what God’s kingdom offers. That is the unconditional love of God. Even while we were enemies of God Christ died for us. Who could possibly be left out?

MOSQUITOS AND TICKS. WHAT’S GOD GOT TO DO WITH ALL OF THIS?

I can hear Job complaining to God right now; asking why coronavirus or any virus has to exist and destroy so much that is good in life. God’s response to Job might be that even viruses have good purpose. Ask a virologist. And as organisms, living things, they have a freedom to move hindered only by the ability of free human beings to destroy them. Having been the recipient of malaria through the bite of a mosquito, I understand this. It would appear that the human reach has not extended to the parts of the world where over 400,000 people die of malaria each year. I am somewhat certain that mosquitos have some beneficial purpose, food for bats for one thing. And if I were Job I certainly would ask God what the big plan for ticks was?

There is freedom in this creation. That’s what God intended. And this freedom is only bounded by God at work WITH his creation. God’s work involves a humanity first created to commune and work with God to care for all of creation. Think about Moses for a moment. He is said to have parted the sea but he was the human agent involved with God and with the natural element of wind. Moses was God’s partner. When we read the Bible we always read about humanity and God together: from Adam and Eve to Abraham to Jesus, humanity is freely working with God towards good, for the most part.

In these past painful weeks, with more to come throughout the world, we have witnessed the human community come together to fight; to limit a common enemy.

People on this earth are pursuing a good by all means possible, even at the risk of their own lives. Religious and non-religious folks have become a community to work out God’s good purposes. God doesn’t want this virus any more than you or I do. God is not punishing anyone or wanting anyone to suffer. Just consider what Jesus did to heal. It’s not as if God gave people demons and afflictions only to have his son work to get rid of them. Recall Jesus’ healing of the blind man. When Jesus was asked about who was to blame for the man’s blindness, Jesus responded that it was the fault of no one in particular but rather it was the will of God to get this man well and know that wellness was the will of the Father in heaven. What hurts and destroys is not God’s intention.

In Haiti there is a saying, ‘Bon Dye Pa Di Sa’ (God didn’t say that), in reference to why there is disease, earthquakes and such. No, God is at work to influence, to draw people together to fight, heal, and comfort. And yes, at certain levels people resist that influence because of their own egos. That is the risk of free will. God’s grace is making a difference as it has throughout history. The miracles of God will be found in the thousands of stories that will come out of this ‘evil’ experience.

Please realize that what I am writing is from a worldview that sees Christ as the best revelation of God’s will for his creation – that one day it will be brand new. For those who have died it IS a reality, even though it brings ache and agony to friends and family.

Right now through the medicine, intellect, faith, prayer, love, sacrifice and grief of millions of people on this planet, a difference is being made. There WILL be healing and good through God’s love and the efforts of humanity. That which intends evil can be changed into good by the grace and will of God working through his creation, particularly human agency.

May God grant special, willing and wise hearts of the government leaders and people of medicine to assist all humanity in the days ahead.

 

 

 

GOD’S NOT MAD AT US

Many folks think that talking about hell and God’s judgment will bring non-believers to faith. That might be good psychology but not good biblical theology. The scripture teaches that God is love. While there is talk about wrath, the presupposition with which I begin is knowing that God’s central essence, around which God creates and sustains his whole creation, is love.

God’s anger is really against the evil to which humans succumbed. Sin is the result of idolatry. Idols have been empowered by human worship, and God in Christ is out to destroy the power of that evil and thus allowing you and me to worship God. Look at the second commandment. In Exodus 20 God says that we shall not bow down and worship any idol. Worship is reserved for the one true God. When the Israelites were freed from Egypt they were to go and ‘worship’ God, not just take a nice trip to the Promised Land. We are created to worship and love God. That’s where the only real life is to be found.

Now let us realize that after all the idolatry God has made peace with his creation through the Son’s victory over death. In Colossians 1:19,20 we read ‘For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross’ (ESV).

Christ rescues us from the dominion of darkness. ‘He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son’ (Colossians 1:13 ESV). Christ has disarmed all the powers and authorities against us.

The Bible doesn’t say that God was so angry with the world that he sent his Son (John 3:16). Rather it says that God loved his world so much. It was love –  God wanting the best for his wayward children.

See, the God we know is fully revealed in Jesus Christ. And that revelation is Love. It is the self-giving of God for God’s creation in order to reconcile us with him. And we know that the Christ on the cross is there because of LOVE. So if we start with the presupposition of a loving God we will then look at all God’s revelation in Scripture through that lens. Certainly there are passages about wrath and anger and God being sorry that he created this world but those scriptures are ‘the dark side of love’, a side that while expressed is not enacted but through the pain of the cross.

Theologian Kazoh Kitamori, in his book ‘Theology of the Pain of God’, wrote that God’s love becomes the wrath of God in his response to sin. God is sorely against sin because it alienates his creation from him. And if I may be so bold I would compare this to a human father loving his child who is bent on living a life in opposition to the love the father has for them. Take for example when my son was little and insisted upon playing in the street. After three times of telling him not to, I resorted to what he might have considered my wrath as he felt the sting of my hand on his butt. But I prefaced my action by saying, ‘Son, this is going to hurt me worse than it hurts you.’

So when the Bible speaks about the wrath of God, it means that WE experience an alienation from God when we worship idols. God has left us to our own devices but God has always been about redemption, restoration, and reconciliation. Read the book of Hosea.

Let’s look at a few passages about the wrath of God. In Ephesians 2:3 we are told we are objects of God’s wrath. But read carefully and you will notice that God loves these objects of wrath (some translations say children of wrath). You will find God’s love expressed in verse 4: ‘Because of His great love for us.’ In the MSG Version we read, ‘It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us.’

In John 3:36 we read that, ‘whoever believes in the Son has eternal life but whoever rejects the son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains upon him.’ I believe this means that outside the Son there is the darkness of an unconscious life, which is then subject to the evil in this universe. And who really wants that kind of life? ‘All he experiences of God is darkness, and an angry darkness at that’ (John 3:36 MSG).

Now one more verse – Ephesians 5:6. After a litany of the bad things humans do, Paul writes: ‘because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.’ But there again it is the darkness of being apart from God that is experienced as wrath because remember, we were all disobedient to God, enemies of God and alienated until by grace through faith we stepped into the light of life. See Ephesians 2:4.

There are other passages but these will suffice to say that wrath is NOT the nature of God. That’s good news for all. God is not out to ‘get us’ but rather his purpose is to reconcile us to himself. As Jesus proved through the cross, this work of love pained him more than we can even imagine. That’s ‘costly grace’ that yearns for a response.

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE TIME HAS COME TODAY

The church and individual Christians, including yours truly, has for too long lived by law, exclusion, judgment, and even punishment. The time is right and the opportunity is now for inclusive love, barrier breaking and yoke removing love. The love of Christ knows no limits, sets no boundaries.

 

“God’s love is meteoric

His loyalty astronomic

His purpose titanic

His verdicts oceanic

Yet in his largeness

Nothing gets lost

No human, not even a mouse

slips through the cracks.” Psalm 36:5-6 MESSAGE VERSION

 

ONLY LOVE CAN LEAD THE WAY TO CHRIST

LOVE HELD HIM THERE

Christ did not die to remove us from evil by taking us to heaven. Christ died to destroy the power of evil within us. When Christ came to earth he brought the arrival of the Kingdom of God. In the death of Christ the power of evil was defeated. As the Gospel of John explains:  ‘In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ John 1:3,4 (ESV) Paul writes similarly in Colossians 1:13; 14: ‘God has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of his beloved Son in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.’

Jesus did on the cross what Israel of old could not do- be faithful to God and to God’s project of redemption for all creation. Israel had succumbed to evil inclinations and rebellion against God. And so God in Jesus comes to defeat that evil, not Israel but the forces and principalities of darkness. Romans 8:3: ‘For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh’. God wanted a relationship with God’s people. They wanted something more and so they got the LAW through which evil was happy to exert its powers. And then God in Jesus lured evil to its demise and stripped it of its power. Now through Christ the relationship of love has been established for good.

At the cross of Christ all the political and religious forces as well as the power of evil converged upon Jesus to rid the world of God’s saving love. But there on Calvary those forces of evil were led to defeat by God’s love. In the words of theologian N.T. Wright, Jesus bears the taint of evil, taking it away by exhausting its power.

It brings to mind the tactic of a boxer who allows himself to be pummeled by his opponent until his opponent is so exhausted that he is able to be defeated.

Evil tries its best to destroy our relationship with God like it did to Jesus in the Temptation in the Wilderness. God’s love gave Jesus and us a free will to love God or resist God and give room for evil. And the number one tool of evil is PRIDE. It is the living space in which evil thrives. But we need to know that evil cannot ‘take’ power. It can only be given power. Oh, it may whisper in the halls of Congress, on the battlefield, in relationships and in the courts of justice. It may utter a quiet invitation to walk away from God but the real power resides in the weakness of our surrender to Christ, trusting in his faithfulness. And that surrender in this world is necessary every day. It is a surrender to love, a love that never fails.

IT WAS LOVE, NOT THE NAILS THAT HELD JESUS TO THE CROSS. (Anonymous)

 

 

 

 

 

 

WE ALL NEED SOME LIGHT

John 1:4 -5 “What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; and the darkness couldn’t put it out.” (MSG)

John 1:9 “The Life-Light was the real thing: Every person entering Life he brings into Light” (MSG)

I love this section of John 1. It is so full of hope for not just believers but for the whole world. Christ’s life is the contradiction of darkness. And darkness comes in so many forms touching so many lives. When we are confused we say, “I am in the dark”. When we despair we say, “These are dark times.”

What this passage is declaring is that the Messiah came to bring life into the light of every person. There is a spark of the divine in each one and with it comes the hope that we don’t have to be despondent.

When God created everything the Bible says that God saw light as good and brought it OUT of the darkness and God’s desire for all of us is to have the hope that light can bring. God shed God’s light on the darkness of the souls of the world when Christ entered in to us. With God’s work in our lives there is no way for darkness to overwhelm us. Maybe I should say that we all face dark times, even as believers, but in the midst of that darkness is the reality of the light of Christ. If we don’t FEEL it then my encouragement to all of us is to believe it, believe that God’s Kingdom is a Kingdom of Light.

Look at what the Apostle Paul writes in Colossians 1:13. “God rescued us from the dead-end alleys and dark dungeons. He’s set us up in the kingdom of the Son he loves so much…” (MSG)

We all have places of darkness in our lives. We can probably name them to ourselves right now. There are places of brokenness and hopelessness. Maybe times when we willingly walked into darkness. There are situations where our darkness prevents us from seeing tomorrow. But please know, and I am saying this to me as much as anyone, that Christ sees tomorrow, all of our tomorrows. His light dispels the darkness ahead. I believe that. So much in Scripture affirms that.

At the time of Christ people had run out of hope and those who sat in darkness were waiting for hope. Maybe you are or someone you love is. I know for sure that there are a lot of devastated people in the world who need a little light right now. If it’s you then receive these promises in the passages above.

And there are people who need whatever light we have received through our own understanding of Christ. They need hope. They need people to stand with them against the darkness. It may be through money, our prayers, our presence, and certainly our proclamation of the Kingdom of God.

In this New Year I am hopeful that more light will be seen, received and lived in this world that God loves so much.

BUT WHAT ABOUT REPENTANCE AND FAITH?

So a good friend remarked to me some time ago, ‘If Christian Universalism is TRUE then what about repentance and faith?’ At first it sounded to me like, ‘doesn’t something have to be required to get in on this good deal of salvation?’ But it was a good question and one that is often asked of Christ centered Universalists.

But here’s the thing. Christ came to invade this earth and bring God’s Kingdom. Christ in his covert manner of incarnation came to take over what had become enemy territory. (I think C.S. Lewis uses that analogy.) And Christ’s presence, his teachings, life, death and resurrection were to reconcile creation to God by taking away the sins of the world. In 1John 2:2 we read that Christ is the atoning sacrifice for not only the believers’ sins but for the sins of the whole world. But that sounds too easy to think that the whole world is forgiven. Well, that’s what it sounds like in that passage above. But again, ‘what about the bad dudes who keep on doing bad and don’t ask for forgiveness or the people who worship other gods?’

Christ inaugurated a Kingdom. And Paul infers in Acts 17 that all are, in a fashion, ‘children’ in this Kingdom. The thing is that some people know it and others don’t or won’t. But God’s Kingdom affects everyone. God’s grace impacts the whole creation. God is involved in the lives of everyone in some way, some good way. But some folks don’t see it or won’t see it.

I love the meeting in Athens, Greece recorded in Acts 17 where Paul talks with non-believing (in the Judeo- Christian God) philosophers who have questioned his ‘new’ thinking. And he says at one point, “In God we (meaning all people) live and move and have our being” (vs. 28).

The MSG version has ‘we can’t get away from God.’ I like that. God is involved in every life since no life, none whatsoever, has come upon this earth except through Christ.

Now take for example when Paul writes in Romans 8, ‘we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…’ vs. 28. If you are a believer and know God’s love then you KNOW this truth and you find comfort and hope in this world that is foreign to other people. But if you are not a believer then what? God is working bad things into your life? Do you say to someone when bad stuff happens, ‘that’s the way it goes for unbelievers?’ Of course not. If we trust Christ we get to SEE what others don’t see. But it’s the same God who is working in God’s creation to bring everything and ultimately everyone to a place of a new heaven and new earth. And just as God has changed your heart (if you are a believer reading this) God is going to change all hearts in some way. We trust God to grace all lives either now or even post-mortem.

 

I had this thought this morning. It’s not new but worth repeating or re-emphasizing. Would the God who tells us to love OUR enemies -And here we need to read those verses from Jesus in Matthew 5:43-45a. 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

-would our God then go on to eternally torment HIS own enemies? I don’t think so. I am not positive but the big picture of God’s loving-kindness displayed through the cross of Christ causes me to consider that God loves His enemies too. And God’s love will conquer all evil.

So to get back to the unrepentant, unbelieving and even ‘bad’ ‘wicked’ people. Unfortunately they have not experienced the grace that others have. And the task of the believer in Christ is to share that good news to let others know they are included. They belong. They are loved. They are going to be with God. They are with God. That’s the good news. The word ‘Euangelion’ means good news and was used when a runner would come back to Rome to announce that an enemy had been defeated. Whether someone believed it or not, his or her life was impacted by this victory.

Blessed are the eyes that see all that now. I hope and pray that if you are reading this and have never trusted Christ for making this life so real and eternal, that you would say ‘yes’ to him even at this moment. Then you can know for sure what this good news is about.

Back to Acts 17 for a moment. Paul went on to say that God is commanding people everywhere to repent, meaning that God wants everyone to think differently about this earthly life. It’s not meaningless. It is full of the presence of God. God is everywhere at every moment gracing our lives, and moving this world closer and closer to God’s self. (Even if it doesn’t always look like it.)

God bless you and yours. That blessing is real.

george