I affirm universal reconciliation. Meaning, even if there is a hell, it doesn’t last forever. To put it this way, I believe that when it is all said and done, we will all be reconciled to God and to each other. Naturally, many Christians want to then retort, “Well, then, Jesus is pointless.” But is he? Is he really?
I don’t think so.
For one, there are many universalists who believe that Jesus is the only way to be reconciled to God. They just don’t believe that the invitation stops at the point a person takes their last breath. They believe that postmortem repentance and salvation can be found. I would argue that for them, Jesus is then much more impactful in the grand scheme of things. Whereas the Jesus of most Christians either can’t or won’t save all, the Jesus of the universalists can and will.
Second, even if you take a more pluralistic approach to universalism, Jesus still plays a roll. As I talk about in my book Heretic!, Jesus is the perfect mimetic model to follow if we want to avoid rivalries and infighting. As the Gospel of John states over and over, Jesus only does what he sees the Father doing, which incidentally has nothing to do with engaging in mimetic rivalries and one-upmanship. It’s all about pouring himself out, in love, for the other. So, given how violent and horrible we humans have a tendency of being, Jesus comes in and shows us a better way. As the Gospel of Luke states, it goes something like this: “Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful.”
To my mind, Jesus should be able to stand on his own two feet, regardless of our eschatological affirmations. You should be able to strip away hell, universal reconciliation, and annihilationism, and still be able to affirm Jesus. Isn’t he the guy you all sing about on Sunday? Isn’t he the alpha and omega you claim he is? Isn’t he your “Lord and savior?” Well, if he is, then just because hell isn’t eternal doesn’t mean there is no point in him. Is he that meaningless to you?
Issues like this are why I can’t help but think that for many Christians, it’s not so much about who they are in Jesus, but about who they aren’t. Put this way: They don’t define themselves by Christ; they define themselves against who they are not. They aren’t “the world.” They aren’t the reprobate. They aren’t bound for hell. They aren’t the sinners. They aren’t this group or that group. Their thinking seems to go like this: If there is an “us,” there must be a “them.” Zeros and ones. Binary.
But Jesus is more quantum than binary. Christ is one man but Christ is also every human. In fact, I’ll agree with Fr. Richard Rohr and say that Christ is another word for everything. The Universe is Christ. Perhaps even the multiverse is Christ. Everything that was, and is, and is to be is Christ.
This is the type of Christ that Christians can’t wrap their minds around. They want the Jesus who saves them – emphasis on them. They don’t want the Jesus who breaks bread with Muhammad. They don’t want the Jesus who sits under the Bodhi tree with the Buddha. They want the Jesus whose anger burns against sinners. They want the Jesus with a tattoo down his leg, a sword in his hand, and the commitment to make someone bleed (to quote the always uplifting and never toxically masculine Mark Driscoll). In other words, they want a Christ made in their own angry image.
Fortunately, this is the Jesus many are rejecting in favor of the Jesus who taught us to love even our enemies. Unfortunately, it seems reasonable to think that the Christians will be the last to accept this Jesus. They want the binary Jesus of their own design, the one who fits neatly in their tiny theological box. Meanwhile, many of us are left awestruck by the quantum Jesus who not only fits in the box, but blows open all boxes. Indeed, that’s the Christ who, as I just said, is everywhere at all times. It’s the Christ in whom we live, and move, and have our being. That’s the Christ worth following, no matter which name you put to it.
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