Universalism pisses a lot of Christians off. Not all of them, but a lot of them. I would know; I’ve been a Universalist in some capacity for nearly a decade and I’ve pretty much seen it all. Typically, these “Jesus-loving Christians” stick to the traditional insults like wolf in sheep’s clothing, heretic, apostate, and the like. But sometimes these shining lights of love take it a step further by wishing we could go back to a time when it was okay to lynch folks like me. One so-called “follower of Jesus” even said they had the skills to find out where I lived so they could come pay me a visit (I’m of Sicilian heritage so I know what this “Don” meant by that).
But what about a theology of all-inclusive love pisses Christians off so much? Shouldn’t they be happy that God’s love and mercy are wider, higher, deeper, and broader than anyone could ever imagine? I mean, I’m assuming the angry Christians who slide in my DMs to let me know how vile I am also sin once in a while, if not on the daily. So, shouldn’t they be at least a little bit relieved to hear how God’s not going to destroy them like the pathetic vermin the Bible says they are?
One would think.
But such is not the case. If anything, it does the opposite. Why is this?
There are probably a couple of reasons.
I. “What’s the point in following Jesus?”
Their logic goes like this: If everyone is or will be saved, what’s the point in following Jesus? Yes, I’ve seen this question in various forms more times than I’d like to think. That’s why it was the first question I tackled in my ridiculously popular book Heretic!. These folks think that if all are going to be saved anyway, what’s the point in giving their lives to Christ? To my mind, this says more about them and their desires than anything else. They see following Jesus as a burden, one that needs an eternal ultimatum to make it “worth it.” But doesn’t following Jesus stand on its own? Shouldn’t we want to follow the one we claim as “Lord” without needing a cookie as a reward?
Furthermore, if Christian Universalism is true, then Jesus is still the savior and Lord. In other words, it’s better to know the truth now than later. Also, just because there are not everlasting consequences doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences at all. And look, I don’t think those who don’t happen to have Jesus in their lives are going to be punished, but the point being: Those who do believe this can still believe it and not demonize those who think the consequences have some sort of lasting effect. In other words, you can still believe in some sort of afterlife punishment for getting things wrong and reject eternal torment. It doesn’t have to be such a starkly binary, all or nothing, proposition.
II. Their life’s work has been undermined
Many Christians take the “Billy Graham” approach to soul saving. Not that they put too much effort into evangelizing, but their whole approach is a bit “turn or burn.” My grandfather in law (God rest his soul) literally said as much when I came out as a Universalist. He was a pastor for decades and when he found out I believed in universal reconciliation, he said I was undermining his entire life’s work. To some degree, I can’t disagree with him all that much.
There is a difference, though. Like I said above, just because there aren’t everlasting consequences to our actions doesn’t mean our decisions don’t matter. Of course they matter. Life just isn’t a high-stakes game of the greatest kind, nor should it be. We have limited capacities so holding us to an eternal standard is a bit overkill, is it not? Plus, if God created all of us, and then either sends us to hell or allows us to go to hell for all eternity, isn’t he the one who is ultimately responsible? You wouldn’t, in all of your infinite wisdom, create an airplane and then when it fails to fly, go all “Office Space” on it for time-everlasting, would you? (If you don’t understand the reference, click this link). Then why argue for a God who does this to beings created in his image and likeness? It makes no sense.
III. If there is an “us,” there has to be a “them”
Typical human thinking goes like this: If there is an “us,” there has to be a “them.” In some instances, this is all fine and good. For example, a part of why I love sports so much are the rivalries. I’m a die-hard Red Sox fan, so naturally I hate the Yankees. As much as it pains me to say this, I’m also a huge Tottenham Hotspur supporter, so I hate Arsenal. I’ve been a bitter, Stanley-cup-less San Jose Sharks fan for over 30 years, so it’s obvious as to why I hate the Ducks and Kings. In all these instances, it makes for more engaging club/team support. And I get that.
But when it comes to matters of faith (or politics), we need to rid ourselves of this binary thinking. Throughout history, too often this has led to great human suffering. We kill and maim and pillage because, as the prophet and poet Bob Dylan once said, God’s on our side. That’s how it always goes. God is with US, which means God is obviously against THEM. So, if we are “going to heaven” when we die, there must be a group who “goes to hell.” If there are “the elect,” there certainly must be “the non-elect.” If there are the righteous (us), there certainly must be the wicked (them). It almost always plays out like this, but shouldn’t.
And look, at the end of the day, I’m not asking for people to drop their doctrines and embrace Universalism the minute they hear about it. Typically, beliefs don’t work like that. Wrestle through things. Ask hard questions. Sincerely seek. But don’t be so damn quick to react with such vitriol and disdain the minute you hear a doctrine that upends your so-called pious sensibilities. You end up looking like the judgmental jerk the Bible so often warns others about. To quote the apostle Paul, “Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.”
And so, if you hate Universalism so much, maybe you’ll find yourself among the lost, wishing the so-called heretics and apostates you demonized and hated so much were actually correct. Because the last time I checked, some of y’all Christians are among the least loving and most judgmental folks I’ve ever come across, and I’ve met a lot of people. At least consider this.
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