Universal Reconciliation or Christian Universalism is a concept that has gained momentum in recent times, particularly since the release of Rob Bell’s book, “Love Wins”.
This momentum has drawn criticism, particularly from the evangelical Church, with many people, from high profile preachers to lesser known online heresy hunters. Maybe even your own friends and family are going out of their way to berate the concept and those who advocate for it, even to the point of relegating them to the pits of a hell that they no longer believe in.
Many opponents of Christian Universalism believe that such a view is too soft on sin; that it allows everyone, no matter what kind of life they lived or which god(s) they believed in, to enjoy the benefits of an afterlife of bliss and joy in heaven. This view, they would say, leaves God (and by proxy, Jesus) impotent, and believing in him almost unnecessary at the end of day. God is loving and merciful, but he is also just, righteous and holy. And those attributes leave no room for unrepentant sinners to enter into and enjoy his presence in the next life. The wrath of God was satisfied in Jesus’ death and resurrection, they argue, but one still needs to accept and believe in Jesus’ saving work in this life and ask for forgiveness before it is too late.
These arguments are valid, and are grounded in Church traditions and in the holy scriptures of the Bible for those who look for them there. But these arguments also fail to understand exactly how Universal Reconciliation can be found in those same scriptures, and how well it addresses all of those concerns presented above. But the big problem with the rejection of Christian Universalism is that it has the potential to be life-changing, and even world changing. It has the ability to bring forth the Kingdom of God in the here and now, as well as in the next life. It is a subject that the Church would do well to investigate extensively, rather than writing off before truly desiring to understand what it teaches and what it asks of us.
A journey of peace
One of the first things you might notice once you honestly explore Universal Reconciliation, is just how loved you are, how wholly forgiven you are, and how nothing can actually separate you from God’s love. The cross is a finished work, and your reconciliation to the Father is complete. Gone is the desperate need to beat yourself up in repentance for every lie told or angry outburst or selfish manipulation. It is instead replaced by an overwhelming peace and presence of Love despite our feelings of unworthiness, much like the Prodigal Father of parable, who loves and embraces us before we can ever utter an apology. Forgiveness is freely given, and has been from the foundation of the world.
This is no licence to sin either, as surface arguments propose, because of the transformation that this Love bestows upon the heart. Accepting this Love for yourself reveals an inseparable union with the Divine Life that has always been in you, as a child and creation of God. We were created by love, to be loved. As beautiful as it sounds, this can be more than one could ever possibly hope for. And yet it also comes with another nasty truth. If we are truly loved this extravagantly, then so is Hitler, so is the serial killer, so are the people who bring us so much pain. This is too much to bear, or even consider for most. We figure that some must be unworthy of God’s love, and justify our feelings by projecting them onto God’s character.
Yet what we find in embracing this first step, is that we are really no better than those who we would deem to be our enemies. We have just as much potential for good and for evil as anyone else. Instead of hiding, suppressing or denying our faults and sins, we become more aware of how deeply they run, that they are a part of us and that we are still loved despite them and because of them, to the very depths of who we are. Every shadow is known and visible to Love. Embraced even. In that, all falsity and pretence is burned away, as the ego which tried to hide behind the ideal projected image is put in its proper place.
Unity with the other
None of us gets a better start at limiting our evil potential in this life. We might try to cover it up better than others, but the fact that we try only highlights how much the ego is in control, and how much more stock we put in appearances of “holiness” than in humility, love and service. To challenge this, Jesus commands us to love our enemies. Truly love them, not just give his teachings lip service. The enemy is just like you. And me. Just like us, they struggle with worthiness, value and identity. Often they, just like we do, force others to submit to their own interpretations of their value as a person, and what they think of ours. Some people use physical force to get this point across. Others have a better grasp on linguistic and verbal combat. And if we have felt overrun and abused by these tactics from others, the temptation to let God sort them out (read: send them to hell, fingers crossed!) can be very real.
Or maybe we have been a part of a community that views different people groups as immoral, or dangerous. Refugees, migrants, left-wing/right-wing political ideologies, the LGBTQI+ community; all in recent times have become issues that the societies of the western world have divided themselves over. The Us vs Them mentality around these issues has grown exponentially recently, proving that even in the Church we are wanting to create more enemies, rather than loving those we already have.
It is easy to make enemies. It’s an intrinsic part of human nature. By judging others in this way, we allow ourselves to feel better about our own shortcomings, or even ignore them in the heat of battle. We justify our own behaviour as necessary to defeat the evil we see in the other, and yet we don’t necessarily like what we are seeing in ourselves in those moments. The anger that rises in our hearts is too confronting for people who are supposed to be loving, and so instead of engaging it we excuse it for the greater good. And so our behaviour feeds a self loathing that exists deep down, and continues to torment us, whether we are aware of it or not.
A hell of our own creation
When we consider this hell we create for ourselves over our enemies, and the pain and agony that we then have to go through to genuinely forgive them, freely love them and unconditionally embrace them, one can begin to appreciate the truly transformational aspect of Universal Reconciliation. As Paul and Jesus both say (1 Corinthians 3:10-15 and Mark 9:49), we must all go through the fire to be transformed into that which we have always been. The false self, created by the ego’s collusion with sin, must be burned away, and there is no hotter crucible than the fires of forgiveness and love. No one gets away from this fire, as much as they try. We may even be tormented by it for an eternity if we choose to fight against it. Jesus led the way for us, showing us what it means to love his enemies, and when we thought we were his enemies, he gave us his forgiveness as well.
Universal Reconciliation is not soft on sin. It brings all of that, which was hidden, to the surface. It compels us to come to terms with our own shortcomings and to accept the forgiveness and the love of God for us still, in our darkest of moments. It brings a Light to our darkness that no fear of Eternal Conscious Torment in Hell ever could. It brings healing to people, to communities and to the world. But most of all, it stops any of us from believing in our own importance or worthlessness. And it destroys the ego’s love for both. Universal Reconciliation does not mean that everyone gets out of this life scot-free into the next. It means that eventually we will all be confronted with the log in our own eyes – our egos and our need for vengeance – and are offered to exchange them for a path of transformation and peace.
Ultimately, the Church must decide if it can trust in the transformative power of Love and let go of preaching the fear of hell to acquire a watered down version of that transformation. Either the Kingdom of God is a matter of individual purity and holiness, separate from sin and sinners, or it is a matter of love for enemies, for those who sin against us and whom we sin against. One is a pious rejection of sin, the other is a humiliating engagement with it. Only one of these options truly deals with and transforms our own sinful hearts. Love, revealed through Universal Reconciliation, truly is the light and salt that Jesus knew would bring people into the kingdom. It is a love that seekers of other faiths and of those of none can connect with, and through it, come to know their True Father, and their true family, as well.
Russell Croft has a heart for community and reaching out to the marginalised and forgotten. He is getting to know the God of infinite goodness and is living a joy-filled life with his wife Belinda and three children in South-East Queensland, Australia.
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