I just wanted to blog a bit about my recent "conversion" to Christian Universalism. In this one, I'll tackle my "reason" and "experience" and a tiny bit about "scripture." In later posts, I'll elucidate more on tradition.
Caveat: For Christians who have become concerned about my soul, and I say this in the kindest way possible, really, there is no need. If, in fact, one is "saved" through a relationship with Jesus, through his death and resurrection, and by being empowered by His Spirit to follow the Way, I'm committed to this path. If there IS an eternal hell, which I highly doubt, I'm committed to Jesus and his Godde, so the point, for my personal soul, is moot.
Since I find it disrespectful, in most cases, to attempt to evangelize (unless one displays explicit interest in knowing more about my beliefs), it will not change my behavior. Nor will it make me complacent. I believe that showing love, undeserved, lavish, generous and selfless love! is the best way to relate to other people in any situation. I also believe there can be no strings attached when it comes to loving someone. Loving someone, with strings attached, even "Goddely strings," because you want to save their soul, I feel, is ultimately selfish...More for me than them.
Ok. Caveat over.
The other day I went to an orientation to volunteer with domestic violence survivors. The other women, all fellow volunteer hopefuls, seemed strong, and resolute, and beautiful in a way that transcended physical attractiveness. As the volunteer coordinator spoke, I sensed Godde's spirit in the room. Specifically in the form of wings like a brooding, mother bird.
The VC talked about helping survivors, getting them on their feet, providing care for them and their children. And, of course, to me, at that moment, this lady was the most beautiful woman in the world. And then, a disturbing thought entered my mind: "what's the point of helping people in this world who are hurting when, probably, at least some are going to go to Hell anyway? Who cares if women are getting beat up on this side when, at the end, Godde is gonna have to punish them some more?"
And then another thought exploded in my head: "What the HELL is my theology of Hell doing to me?"
There had to be something wrong with it, I knew, if it could ever lead to such a heartless, though thankfully, momentary, sense of apathy. Why care about victims of state sanctioned torture? Or rape victims? Why care about the starvation in the horn of Africa? Why care about earthly suffering at all? Why not just sit back in my wheelchair and wait for Jesus to return and blast all his enemies (very hypocritically, I thought), whilst he commands me to forgive mine. I mean, there's a lot of ass kicking my flesh would like to be doing lately...although that wouldn't be very Christ like.
Right? Or, it wouldn't be very like the pre-Easter Christ. But yannow, when the Resurrected Lord returns, he's gonna be a very, very angry rambo...
My BS detector started sounding at its loudest setting. And, I knew, the Godde of Jesus was in that room. Even if Jesus' name was never mentioned. The hesed, womb-love, or compassion, of Godde which motivated Her to send Her son in the first place was...The blessed trinity squatted down in the middle of our table...
Of course, this got me thinking. As I'm wont to do anyway. But, my thoughts pushed me over the edge this time...I've been flirting with this "heresy" for a while anyway but with therapy and with my new volunteerism, the light bulb went on...
Something had to give. I couldn't worship or love Godde with everything I had, nor could I love my neighbor as myself, if I held on to a belief I've been coming more and more to disbelieve. Ok. So, every theological belief, traditionally sits on reason, experience, tradition, and scripture. All of the above describes some of my experience. I'd like to talk about scripture and reason now.
1. My Reasons:
Theologically, as well as philosophically, eternal conscious torment in Hell does not make sense knowing what we "know" about Godde's character...
Let's just say, as many Christians believe, Godde is a just, all-knowing, all-wise, all-loving, and all-powerful being and that this Godde decided to create a world. In this world, He limited themselves and allowed their creatures to reject them: the source of being. Let's grant, that from the beginning, She knew (the actual or metaphorical) Adam and Eve would mess up and eat the (actual or metaphorical) fruit and that as Jesus, She'd have to incarnate, suffer and die for every sin committed on the Earth.
Now, She will have, also, not doubt, been aware that a vast majority of people in the world would reject Jesus. We're talking billions here who have either never heard of Jesus, or who have rejected Jesus because of 1) Christian hypocrisy or church scandals or because they, as LGBT folks, have felt condemned by Christ followers 2) who have rejected Jesus because they were raised to believe their religion was the only right one (just like many Christians have been) or 4) religion sounds supersticious to them 5) any other reason one could imagine.
It does not follow that an all wise, all loving, or even a just Godde would create a world in which a majority of its inhabitants would be punished forever. Even if, as many will assert, he assumed the maximum risk by becoming human and allowing himself to be killed, he still gambled with the lives of billions. Not one of us chose to be born.
We may choose to sin knowingly, or unknowingly. This doesn't leave us guiltless or innocent. It leaves us dependent on Godde's care and compassion. Which, at least as I have experienced, is kind, immediate, and ungrudgingly given.
But, as orthodox Christianity holds, since Adam and Eve, we've been born with a tendency toward choosing sin. Nobody chose that either. Now, factor in all the bad parenting, religious indoctrination, abuse, injustice, and messed up stuff in the world. Nobody chose that either. All that life stuff also clouds one's view of life and relationships. And even Godde. It just doesn't make sense Godde would create a world in which all this could go SO WRONG, without also knowing there'd be a happy ending for everyone, ultimately. Godde, I believe, is strong enough to save everyone. Loving enough to want to. And wise enough to figure out how without short-circuiting our free will.
Of course, one could say of eternal conscious torment in Hell, "God's ways our not our ways." Although, in context, verses like these in the Bible invariably refer to Godde's ways being more merciful and compassionate ways than ours...
There are many texts to support universalism, especially ones in Colossians which speak of all things reconciled in Christ (ALL things? Even unrepentant, vile, filthy sinners??? *note sarcasm*). But I'm not gonna sit here and prooftext at great length. Any yahoo can pick up a Bible and interpret selectively, can make it say whatever they want. (See Lydia Pearl and To Train Up A Child...)
I just want to claim here that it's a legitimate interpretative framework from which to read the Bible. Or, I don't believe it's heresy.
Calvinists pick it up and have to ignore the fact that in some places it seems to claim Godde's love is universal. Calvinists do it. And gracefully.
Arminians pick it up and have to ignore the fact that in some places it seems to claim that Godde is both able and willing to save everyone. Arminians do it. And gracefully.
Christian Universalists have to deal with places in which it seems to claim punishment is forever. It has be done. And gracefully. But I don't really have the energy to get into that here. See tentmaker.org.
There's a sense of unknowing and tension that each belief system has to deal with, and so I can't with complete integrity say: THIS IS WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS. It's just what makes most sense with my reading.
Of course, there is one scripture I'd like to discuss (PROOFTEXT ALERT). The one that says "every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father" Romans 14:11. This is the one that clinches it for me, personally.
Some human kings would make their conquered foes bow and humiliate themselves before the victors. They would be forced to do this. It doesn't make sense that the Jesus, as recorded in the scriptures, would somehow magically enjoy "lording" his victory over (in John 13 (I think), he says the greatest disciple is the servant of all) his human foes at the end of time. Especially if the "Godhead was pleased to dwell in him bodily" and especially if he was "the image of the invisible God." If, as we believe, all sin was placed on him, why is punishment eternal? Throughout the gospels, Jesus served and loved others. And taught his disciples to do the same. Why, at the end of time, will Jesus change?
Furthermore, what kind of forced worship of Jesus would be glorifying to Godde? (Especially since as my Arminian background insists, Godde prizes and respects our free will...)
An abused wife could have sex with her husband against her will but who would say that is glorifying to the rapist husband? We'd say he was acting like a jerk and was probably abused himself and we'd try to get him some therapy...There's no glory there at all. Even if it is Godde.
To my mind, with Godde to maintain consistancy in his character, She'd only accept freely given, and freely chosen worship. Since worship, after all is an act of the heart. Which leads me to suspect eventually, everyone will love her, and see Jesus as he is: the Shepherd who leaves the 99 and goes after the lost one until he finds it.
Rob Bell is not a universalist. But I am. It's my conviction that love wins...