Christians are usually caught off-guard when they are first introduced to the doctrine of Universal Reconciliation (UR). Since it challenges their understanding of the Atonement, many have become defensive of their model of Christianity. Since Scripture states that the wages of sin is death and that the second death is the Lake of Fire, many believe that Jesus came to save us from an all too real lake of burning sulfur; one in which people are tormented day and night—forever and ever. Therefore, when they witness Christians denying the doctrine of Endless Conscious Torment (ECT), they tend to either ignore the naysayers or they valiantly defend their doctrinal convictions.
When I started to doubt ECT, my Christian friends were compelled to rebuke me. I was told that I was wandering onto a slippery slope, which put me in danger of backsliding. At first, I felt alarmed. Was I sliding down a frictionless slope toward heresy? It surely felt like it at the time. I constantly caught myself arguing with myself: “You mustn’t accept CU, regardless of how much it comforts your soul.” It was heresy and I would not become a heretic.
However, as time went on, I realized that I needed to look into what actually makes heresy heretical. Did CU deny some essential truth of the Christian faith, such as the exclusivity of Jesus? It must have—since it apparently denied the reality of that from which Christ came to save us: ECT. Did Jesus come to save us from ECT? I did not, until that point, ask that question.
At the time, I was questioning so much of what I was taught as a child. Had I crossed the threshold of no-return? Could I escape this slippery-slope of death? Just how close was I to the fiery pit that I was questioning?
After seasons of doubt, I realized that I was not backsliding or even in danger of doing so. I was following biblical instruction. Scripture commands us to “test all things” and to “hold onto what is good and true.” Therefore, I decided to accept God’s invitation, to come and reason with him, rather than to blindly trust in what I was told is good and true.
Growing up, I was often reminded to beware of false teachers and to avoid strange theology; which sounds like great advice. Even though I was instructed to avoid false teachers, I was never taught how to identify them or their teachings. The company with which I surrounded myself identified strange doctrine as that which is unfamiliar or “unorthodox”; they assumed that one of the first steps onto a slippery slope included a willingness to entertain unorthodox ideas.
Backsliding definitely sounds like something which ought to be avoided at all costs, but what is it that constitutes backsliding? Is questioning orthodoxy spiritually unhealthy? Is it spiritually unhealthy to question the purpose of hell or any other particular concept? Does possessing great hope in the ultimate reconciliation of all things make one backslidden? Consider what Jeremiah had to say about this subject:
“Your own wickedness will correct you, And your backslidings will rebuke you. Know therefore and see that it is an evil and bitter thing—that you have forsaken the LORD your God. And the fear of Me is not in you,’ Says the LORD God of hosts.” ~ Jeremiah 2:19
Secondly, how are those who question orthodoxy forsaking the LORD? It seems to me that church authorities are the ones who feel forsaken. They are the ones fighting opposition, refusing to allow there to be diversity among their lambs. We who are committed to the testing all things are not forsaking the LORD. If anything, we are trying to escape religious oppression so that we may walk toward a less distorted image of Christ.
Finally, is the fear of the LORD necessarily in anyone who believes in any particular doctrine of postmortem judgement? What is the fear of the LORD, exactly? We know that it is the beginning of wisdom; but what is a fear of the LORD that gives birth to wisdom? Does it spring up from a fear of endless suffering in a fiery postmortem realm?
Why do so many Christians believe that God desires humanity to be enslaved and manipulated by such a fear? I cannot believe that it is so . . . not any longer. I have come to believe that the fear of the LORD is not a trepidation of postmortem possibilities, but a holy reverence toward he who formed our delicate souls. We who possess this great hope in UR are no more void of a fear of the LORD than are those who believe in ECT or Conditional Immortality.
The fear of the LORD may affect our understanding of postmortem judgement, but it does not constitute it. Given the criteria Jeremiah provided for being backslidden, one cannot say that questioning orthodoxy has anything to do with it. If anything, our desire to test theology, whether it is strange or not, reinforces our reverence toward God.
As a Christian who believes so strongly in the cross, I cannot imagine a scenario beyond one in which Jesus succeeds in drawing everyone to himself. He is a God who keeps his promises, after all.
At the end of the day, if believing in UR places me on a slippery slope, I am along to enjoy the ride! Christian Universalism is anything but heretical because it is built on a solid foundation—the unfailing love of God. The fear of the LORD may be the beginning of wisdom, but love is undoubtedly its end.