Last night at Superbowl LVI, the Los Angeles Rams defeated the Cincinnati Bengals, 23/20. In sports, we accept that there must be winners and losers. But does this have to be true in religion? When it comes to the gospel, it must be good news for all, if it’s good news at all.
What’s the News?
Suppose you just read about an earthquake that killed ninety percent of the population of China. You wouldn’t say, “Oh, that’s good news, because everyone I know is okay.” Well—maybe some people would say that, but you’d think they were horrible. A report about the destruction of anyone’s life is still bad news—even if others escaped unharmed.
When Christians present bad news as good news, it’s still bad news. Suppose the news anchor read the next story, “This just in…the entire population of Montana was unaffected by the earthquake that killed a billion people in Asia.” You’d look askance at the newscaster who tried to present this as a human interest piece. Salvation for Montana doesn’t diminish the devastation in China. The real news story is the people who are dead and suffering, not the ones who are okay. That’s where the world’s focus needs to lie.
Good News for Whom?
When the Israelites stood before the walls of Jericho, they didn’t blow their trumpets and declare, “Good news—we’re here!” Instead, they told the inhabitants, “We’ve come to wipe you out!” Every man, woman, and child in Jericho met their end in that campaign—not glad tidings for those victims of genocide. Others whom the Israelite aggressors conquered met a slightly better fate. While the invaders slaughtered all the males and older women, they kept the young girls for sex slaves. Sure, they survived. But those who lived didn’t throw a celebration to declare the good news. Why?
Because good news must be good for all, or it isn’t good at all. When most of the people you love are destroyed by an enemy, you don’t rejoice in your own survival. You experience extreme survivor’s guilt and wish you had perished along with your people. You spend the rest of your life traumatized, mistrusting your captors, and perhaps plotting your own escape or revenge.
Message of Violence
The violent gospel message is one of the reasons why so many are escaping the Evangelical church today. Most Evangelicals believe God didn’t save anybody until 2,000 years ago, and that now only those who receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior are saved. Somehow, they call it “good news” when they declare to the world, “The majority of you are going to hell, but a handful can be saved.”
Evangelicals have no problem with the idea that God loves the whole world yet chooses eternal conscious torment for most of the world’s population. They don’t understand why more people don’t convert, when by doing so the prostyle must accept that God saved them while torturing most of their friends and family for eternity. It’s estimated that 117 billion humans have lived on earth, with a current 7.7 billion occupying the planet now. Are we to believe that a loving God who considers each individual soul to be precious and made in God’s image, purposed from the beginning to consign most of them to damnation, while saving only a few? If this is the good news, for whom is it good?
What Kind of Heaven?
What kind of heaven would it be, to know that your loved ones are burning on the other side of the chasm? Some Evangelicals answer that you’ll be so enraptured in God’s presence that you won’t care. But if this is so, it defies the loving and compassionate spirit that God wants to generate within believers. Others quote that God will wipe away every tear from your eye–suggesting that God will wipe the memory of the damned from the minds of the saved. If this is so, it means salvation is blissful ignorance—which violates wisdom as a fruit of the Holy Spirit. If salvation involves more enlightenment and not less, then this means the saints in heaven won’t be able to ignore the suffering of those in hell. If this is salvation, it certainly isn’t good news.
Nine years ago in a former blog, I balked when I first read Rob Bell’s Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. While I admired much of what Bell says about universal reconciliation, I couldn’t quite accept it. I landed on the Evangelical argument that says, “God demonstrates grace by giving everyone a choice to receive Jesus and escape damnation.” But this ignores the notion that God created the system in the first place. It pretends that God didn’t concoct the whole scheme of damnation for the majority and salvation for the few. If we accepted that God created a universe like that, we’ll have to admit that God is sadistic at best. Offering Jesus as a way out for some doesn’t absolve God of the guilt of torturing most of God’s own children forever.
I’ve come to believe that universal reconciliation is the only view that makes sense for the Christian who believes God is genuinely good. Evangelicals will point to the scriptures about hell. I’ll leave it to Rob Bell and other theologians to argue. The fact is that there are more verses that talk about universal reconciliation than talk about hell. Check out Keith Giles’ article, “76 Bible Verses to Support Universal Reconciliation.” You’ll find that God is more than willing to save everyone. This grace does not violate our free will, because God’s grace is so compelling that eventually, every soul will want it.
In the Superbowl, there must be winners and losers to make the game any fun. But if some are born for salvation and others destined for damnation, that’s not fun for anybody. You wouldn’t call it good news if China were wiped out, but Montana was untouched. So, why would you call it The Gospel if most of the world is headed for hell while a handful of Christians are saved? Good news is only good if it’s good for everybody. Salvation is a blessing not because it’s offered to all, but because God gives it freely to everyone.