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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Thoughts on Trinitarian Universalism

Oh blog, my little corner of the web, I neglect you badly these days. It's just that I have a house and a husband and lots of little music students to attend to, not to mention theological questions swimming around in my head.

Please forgive the messily-written processing that sometimes takes place here. That is how I learn, absorb, and remember - by having some sounding-board for my thoughts and a place to gather them all together.

If you read my post recommending Nathan Alterton's blog posts regarding hell, you may not be surprised by this: I'm afraid I may be leaning toward a type of Christian universalism; not the Unitarian type we often associate with the word "universalism" but rather a distinctly Christian Trinitarian universalism. I feel like I'm intellectually and spiritually on the brink of this great leap - believing something so opposed to the view of eternal torment most evangelical Christians hold - and it's rather frightening.

Nathan's dad has two posts of his own on the topic: How Broad a Salvation? and Part 2 of the same. He presents additional thoughts and considerations but doesn't necessarily eschew the view of universal reconciliation. He brings up interesting points about the Kingdom of God.

Gregory MacDonald (a pseudonym) has a couple of interesting and relevant blog posts: Reasons People Think Evangelicals Cannot Be Universalists and Responses to Evangelical Objections to the Orthodoxy of Universalism:

"'Evangelical' universalists arguably have a very biblical and robust notion of divine love (or so I argue in my book). They do not need to imagine that God is a soft touch who would not dream of punishing anyone. Their understanding of divine love seeks to be shaped by its revelation in Christ. And they have a strong view of divine justice. Indeed, they think that every divine action is a manifestation of what P.T. Forsythe called, "holy love." It is not that some divine acts are loving (like saving people) whilst others are just (like sending people to hell). Rather all God’s deeds are loving and just. Whatever hell is we must not suppose that it is the action of justice as opposed to love. It is, they think, an act of severe mercy – of 'holy love.'"

I've been thinking about The Great Divorce. It doesn't exactly paint a picture of universal reconciliation, but rather a bus filled with passengers with the option to disembark, leave hell, and be in the presence of God. This 'Great Divorce' of good and evil is voluntary. The interesting part, of course, is that most of the passengers continue to choose separation from God. If one loathes God and all goodness, truth, and beauty, one does not want to be in the presence of Him, after all. But, in this view of heaven and hell, the choice between the two continues beyond our earthly lives.

"There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.' All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened." - C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

George MacDonald said, "Every soul that is ultimately lost is a defeat of the love of God," and "Every attribute of God must be infinite as himself. Mercy, for example, cannot be temporary but eternal." He also wrote in David Elginbrod, "...God loves, yea, is love. Therefore hell itself must be subservient to that love and must be an embodiment of it." According to this article in Christianity Today, he was known to ask, "Which is stronger? The love of God or the will of man?"

Do I believe in universal salvation? I wouldn't go that far right now. But perhaps (and I am simply positing here) the work of universal reconciliation is already accomplished, as the blood of Christ reconciled us to God while we were still sinners and were His enemies. This reconciliation does not require faith because it is already reality and was accomplished through grace. The enmity between God and man was reversed 2,000 years ago, and the sins of the past, present, and future forgiven. Now this does not necessarily mean everyone is saved. Whether one spends eternity with God or apart from Him may still hinge on individual choice, but perhaps physical death is not the final cutoff point in this choice; perhaps there is a possibility of post-mortem repentance and salvation. Given this proposed picture of life after death, will everyone ultimately choose God, accept His mercy, and be saved? I don't know. Maybe.

I'm feel as though I'm seeing for the first time a fuller scope of salvation, one that culminates in a beautiful, beautiful restoration of all things.

I'm surprised now that I didn't see it before, in Gregory of Nyssa, in George MacDonald, and in so many others - particularly early church fathers. But I suppose if you are taught in church and Sunday School to believe that all Christians think this one certain way about damnation and punishment, it can be difficult to see past that and glimpse that in fact, in the early church, a belief in universal reconciliation may have been the prevailing Christian thought.

Is it the truth? I don't know. But as I survey this other option I have the odd sense of being Chesterton's explorer: sailing the whole world and coming back to my starting point thinking I've discovered a new land, viewing home as something new and different, only to find it the same familiar home I left. I remember things my parents said and quoted to me over the years that may have quietly, subversively gone against the traditional evangelical view of hell. So perhaps it's not so odd that I'm considering this now, after all.

In addition to contemplating universal reconciliation, I'm also grappling with salvation (perhaps taking issue with the legally-based concept of justification-sanctification-glorification I was taught in youth group and considering differences between having our sins forgiven and 'being saved'), imputed vs. imparted righteousness, and the efficacy of prayer.

I wish I could say I'm doing this grappling in a methodical, productive way, but the truth is I just feel overwhelmed and confused.

I guess I've been feeling spiritually and mentally adrift lately, and by lately I think I mean for years now. I'm searching for orthodoxy, doctrine, and truth, yet I don't feel grounded in a church body of believers with whom I can grow and learn. I'm praying to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and if God weren't so good I think He'd be tired of my supplication, "Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief."

My Dad says, "Humans trying to understand God is like trying to teach an ant quantum physics!" I feel like a little ant, indeed.

1 comment:

  1. Hey girl, I want to come see you and we can talk about mercy and grace and salvation as much as you like - I think that sounds like fun. Something I don't have much time for right now in the midst of everything - but on vacation, now, that is a different story! Are you still ok with a weekend in August? Email me if there are any days I should avoid while I'm trying to figure out this trip, ok?