It won’t be their world anymore: Universalism with boudaries

I really don’t know what I believe about the afterlife.

Ever since I gave up the idea of an eternal hell, I’ve found myself able to embrace many different theories with some comfort.

As a Christian, though, I find particular comfort in the idea of a future Kingdom of God.

I am inspired and energized by the hope against hope that what’s next is some kind of Kingdom ruled by a Love and by a just God.

However, this idea has a lot of baggage surrounding it–mainly the idea that anyone who isn’t a Christian doesn’t get to take part.

I don’t buy that. That’s one reason why I’m a Universalist.

But when I talk about my faith like this, people often want to know, do I think everyone, even oppressive people will be a part of the Kingdom, since I don’t think it’s going to be just Christians?

If you know me or have read my writing, you know that I’m passionately against oppression, so I thought I should address this.

I’m going to start by saying that I believe in justice. I’m going to continue by stating the fact that rejecting the idea that only Christians can get into heaven does not mean that I am rejecting justice.

A world where a Muslim woman cannot take part in the Kingdom of the God that she also worships because she doesn’t believe that Jesus was God is hardly just. A world where an atheist that believes in love is rejected from a Kingdom of love is hardly just.

And a world filled those who have dedicated their lives to oppressing others, but happen to believe in Jesus could hardly be a just one.

The idea that Christians “go to heaven” and non-Christians do not is not even just in the first place. Not even close.

So we have a hypothetical afterlife. You don’t have to be a Christian to get in. This afterlife is one where people are free from oppression and sadness, where love is what reigns.

What about the oppressors?

Obviously, anything I say about the afterlife is speculation, but based on my knowledge of the Bible and my desire for justice, here are some thoughts as to how a Universalist view point can fit with a belief in justice.

When I think about the Kingdom of God, based on the glimpses of it that I see in the Old and New Testaments, I see a world free from oppression, from poverty, and from war.

Swords are turned into plowshares, tanks into tractors, assault weapons into wind turbines.

The mighty are brought down from their thrones and the powerless are exalted, and they meet somewhere in the middle on a plain called equality.

Can those who, in this life were oppressors enter this kingdom?

I’d say yes.


It won’t be their world anymore.

ImageThis will be a world where Love has already won. This will be the world beyond the barricades.

This will not be the world that tells rape victims that they should have been dressed more modestly. This will not be the world that tells LGBT people that who they are is a sin. This will not be world of Gulags and gaschambers and lynching trees. This will not be the world of genocide and force sterilizations. This will not be the world where people protest the firing of football coaches that cover up the rapes of children. This will not be the world where pastors can say that women should stay with abusive spouses for a season. This will not be the world where people care more about the feelings of abusers than about the safety of survivors.

This will not be that world.

This new world will belong the peacemakers, the poor, the persecuted, the hungry.

This will be their world.

I don’t like the idea that the oppressed go to heaven and the oppressors go to hell (or are annihilated or whatever) because most people fall into both categories. We are hurt by the world and we help the world hurt others.

I believe that we will all get a second chance–both at freedom from oppression and at freedom from our sin of being an oppressor–in this new world.

But there will be boundaries.

There will be no rape culture. There will be no excuses for abusers. There will be no injustice. Those who wish to abuse won’t get the chance and they won’t find protection in this new world.

Those who are still in love with an unjust world might exist in the Kingdom of God, but they will not find heaven there.

I don’t know what will happen to these people, but I definitely don’t think they have to be eternally tortured or destroyed in order for justice to happen. I think we need to get beyond an idea of justice that requires “redemptive violence,” though I’m still not sure what this would look like.

Obviously no one can know what actually happens after death and this is all speculation, but this vision for the future gives me hope. This is how I reconcile Universalism and justice, and this is a world that I work toward even now.

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  • Sheenagh

    Those who wish to abuse won’t get the chance and they won’t find protection in this new world.
    This is a really interesting and powerful idea – thanks for writing about it. One biblical image that really strikes me is that of God putting a new heart and a new spirit in us. One consequence of this (I think – as you say, this is speculation!) is that those who were abusers in the old/former world won’t want to abuse in the new world. When they meet God, there will be realisation that their actions and views were oppressive and not just the wish, but the ability to start anew. (I think this realisation may well be painful – not as a punishment, but because realising how much harm you’ve done to others often is.)

    The only reason I’m not a full universalist is that I think people will still have the option to reject the Kingdom on offer. No one will be forbidden from living there, but some may choose not to. (I don’t think this is an eternal choice – perhaps it could be revisited?). It may be that some are so wedded to their status that they don’t want to live in a better world. And any God who respects free will would have to allow them to make that choice.

    • I would probably hold that view as well–of having the choice to not live in a better world. I’d like to think that the doors will always be open, too.

  • I really love this and it mirrors my own thoughts.

  • Are you familiar with the idea of inclusivism? It expands the boundaries of the Kingdom beyond that of “Christians only” (exclusivism), but is still in keeping with historical Christian orthodoxy and scripture. It also leads to a re-envisioning of heaven and hell. If it’s okay, I’m going to do two links: one deals with inclusivism, the other with hell. I think they encapsulate much of what you are thinking about here



  • This is really interesting- maybe you’re right. 🙂 I’m kind of questioning the idea of hell lately- I always believed in hell (of the eternal infinite torture variety) because “that’s what Christians believe”, and always had to argue for the “no, a loving God totally CAN be compatible with the idea of hell” because it was us vs them, and that was the side that Christians had to argue for. …right.

    Also the part about “if only Christians get into heaven, that’s NOT just”- yeah, that’s a good point. I know the counterargument is “no, it’s not just, because everyone deserves to go to hell, and only by God’s mercy do some get saved” (because apologetics, in my experience, is about memorizing counterarguments, not actually thinking through whether I agree with them) but I’m not a fan of that counterargument- if everyone’s supposed to go to hell, maybe that’s God’s fault, not ours. If your entire class fails the test, maybe you’re a bad teacher.

    So I like your thoughts in this post, and I’ll be questioning and thinking about this stuff more. 🙂

  • I LOVE this, Sarah! It encompasses so many of my questions and reflections about the Kingdom of God.

  • Thank you, much appreciated! Wanted to share a bit of an article written by J.S. Thompson on the subject matter titled “Criminals and Punishment for Crimes in the Afterlife” as follows…

    Those who commit heinous crimes and get away with it on the earth and many of those who were caught and punished have a big surprise awaiting them when they die. When these criminals die, they are met by their family as we all are, but they are also met by the family(s) of the victim(s)! For most of us, when we leave the earth, it is a joyous occasion, the best day of our lives but for those who have harmed the innocent, it is tragic! Criminals find out very quickly that they are in peril, as they stare out across the sea of angry faces.

    A life review is a very advanced 3D interactive film and all of us get one shortly after we die to the earth and are initiated into the next society, or what I refer to as “solamenta. A life review is like a debriefing of our short time on earth.

    Out there we are represented by large families that are responsible for our actions while we are on the earth. When a crime is committed, there is a prearranged punishment awaiting the criminal that has been established and agreed upon by both the family of the criminal and the family(s) of the victim(s).

    It is not about revenge, it is about transformation! It is well known by those out there solamenta, that transformation and true positive evolution is a product of accountability; accountability for crimes and proper praise and reward for accomplishments. Here on the earth, judicial systems are not always fair but these disparities are made right solamenta. Out there, the truth can be seen because it has been recorded! Out there, there is no doubt about who was right and who was wrong when all of the evidence had been documented and recorded! Unresolved issues follow us into our next lives. So purging the negativity and weakness of character is imperative. We do not get out of anything… ever! [more….]

  • I take a similar approach to C.S. Lewis. I love what Aslan says to Emeth in “The Last Battle”:

    “But I said, alas Lord I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash.
    He answered, Child all the service thou hast done to Tash I account as service done to me.”

    That’s not quite the same as “it doesn’t matter what you believe because all religions are equally valid”, but it makes a lot more sense than “everyone who isn’t a Christian gets a one-way ticket to hell NO EXCEPTIONS!” I believe salvation is much more nuanced and far deeper than the superstitious way most evangelicals see it. Restoration to God involves more than reciting the magic words for instant pseudo-righteousness. He can communicate with people and lead them in ways that are beyond our understanding, no matter how much some churches want to put Him in a tiny box and declare themselves the sole owners of His saving power. Nobody is ever going to convince me that people who never got to hear of Christ (or people who go through their entire lives never being able to develop a positive relationship with Christ because Christians have done so much damage to them spiritually) are instantly doomed. If someone who does not know the name of Jesus acts like a more mature Christian than the pastor of a famous mega-church, that is still God at work.

    That being said, I don’t believe in hell in the sense that it involves eternal torture. The way evangelicals traditionally view hell is very far removed from the original Jewish line of thought because it’s so wrapped up in European paganism (kind of ironic when you hear someone say you’re going to roast in hell for celebrating Christmas because it’s too pagan, heh…). I lean more towards annihilationism, but again I don’t think it involves torture, simply eternal non-existence.

    I don’t believe Jesus died to save us from God’s wrath, but to prove the destruction caused by sin costs all of us dearly (including Him!) and lead us to salvation by gently coaxing humanity towards His deep and abiding demonstration of love and self-sacrifice. We become saved by following His example and asking for His help to reach it, not by groveling at His feet and begging Him not to torture us worthless creatures. I think God respects us a lot more than that.

    That being said, while the universalist belief is very comforting in some ways, there are problems with it. For one, would God have to brainwash everyone in order to get them to be good to each other in heaven? As crazy as it sounds, I think some people in the world would prefer to be wiped out over having to truly love their neighbor, and God gives them that choice. You KNOW there are some Christians out there who would be offended and disgusted by a God who actually – really and truly – is about love.

    Adding on to that, how would you reconcile free will with universal salvation?

    • Jim Fisher

      To add to your comment, Kat, I love C.S. Lewis’ view of all of this in “The Great Divorce”. In there, the choice to remain in Hell is a exactly that … a choice. That to me makes a whole lot more sense than the picture painted by Dante.

      Because I have had an NDE, I bring a unique perspective to the table which does not fit into the confines of a blog comment. I short, I find Sarah’s perspective very similar to mine. A lot of the fear-based thin Evangelism makes no sense. We need something thicker, and we all are playing a part of bringing that into the continuing Story of God.

      • Peter P

        Jim – I would be fascinated to hear what light if any your NDE shone on the permanency or temporality of hell and on universal salvation. I had a very small NDE myself – just went half way up the tunnel – so no great theological revelations – but I’ve read 1,000s of NDE accounts and some suggest universal salvation is God’s ultimate plan, others less sure, all completely reject any idea of God sending anyone no matter how evil to hell. Souls go to hellish realms but under the weight of their own moral trajectories and interests. Several NDE’s (e.g, Howard Storm) are clear cut cases of going to hell and then being rescued when they call help as it were.

        • Jim Fisher

          Peter – I have purposefully shied away from reading or listening to other NDE accounts. I do not want the experiences of others to color in the blank or colorless spaces of my own experience. I want it to remain pure and mysterious. Yes. I have been through the “tunnel”. Yes. I heard the music. Yes. I felt the presence of the saints and the hosts of heaven. Yes. I felt the presence and touch of God-Jesus-HS which pushed me back down into my body and back into life … after death. Heaven is for real. I know that, not with my mind, but with all of my body and soul. Hell? Not sure. I am very comfortable viewing that as a human choice to not want to be accepted, to not want to be in community with those of us who have been or will be in heaven. Does that work for you?

  • Just found your blog and have really been enjoying reading your thoughts. Hope you don’t mind if I jump into the conversation here, because this is something I’ve been pondering myself lately.

    I don’t know if you’ve ever read the “Anne of Green Gables” series, but in the final book of the series, “Rilla of Ingleside” there is a passage where the schoolchildren are discussing what terrible punishments they would like to give the Kaiser of Germany (the book is set in Canada during WWI). Most of the children have ideas of violent retribution… boiling in hot oil and the like, but one little boy says he’d like to turn the Kaiser into a good man, so that he’ll realize the gravity of what he did, and feel remorseful over it his entire life. In his eyes, that would be the “worst punishment of all” and would “serve him exactly right.” It’s an interesting idea of justice and I think it nicely applies to heaven.

    I have to think heaven is a world where we are all forced to look at the very worst of ourselves, and truly feel the remorse and regret for what we’ve done. I know there some things that already make me squirm when I remember them… the way I treated my father growing up, the boy we bullied in youth group for being too “effeminate” (blech… I don’t even like admitting it!) that sort of thing. If the “judgement” is that we’re forced to take a long look in the mirror and really feel the pain of our shortcomings, then I imagine heaven would feel very hellish for everyone at first, and for some longer than others.

  • “Those who are still in love with an unjust world might exist in the Kingdom of God, but they will not find heaven there. ”

    This. This So much. I think when the Bible says “they will not inherit the kingdom of God,” this is exactly what it had in mind. And this is what many orthodox Christians teach.

    I know there’s a lot of bad people in this world, such as mass murders, that have repented, but it doesn’t bother me that they will go to heaven. It bothers me more that others (according to traditional evangelical taught) will not go to heaven. I’m okay with a god who gives too much grace, but not one that withholds grace.

    • Jim Fisher

      Well said!

  • I’m just beginning to consider universalism, so thanks for the insight into it.

  • This is a beautiful version of the future, and one I can get behind quite easily. It actually remind me of Tolkien’s thoughts about what happens with the elves. Elves are immortal but when their bodies die they get sent to the Halls of Mandos, where they are healed of all their wounds. They don’t get out, however, until they are restored to such a condition they can live at peace with their neighbors, and their neighbors are ready to receive them in peace. The real kicker? Probably the most hated elf of all time has a crucial role to play against Tolkien’s version of Lucifer. No lasting peace, no perfection, until we are all repaired and rejuvenated.

    I see tones of this in your view of heaven. There is justice, but this justice is reparative, not about inflicting harm in the right degree. We could all do worse.