From the archives: It Won’t Be Their World Anymore: Universalism With Boundaries

From the archives: It Won’t Be Their World Anymore: Universalism With Boundaries May 17, 2013

This post was originally published on January 31, 2013 at

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.

This 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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  • Annie Stepka

    Sarah- this makes me think of one of George MacDonald’s sermons about justice. Here’s a link if you are interested.

  • This is very late, but in case you see this: the story about the children thinking of tortures is older than that. I read it in Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery, set in Canada during World War I. There’s a scene where a group of little children talk about what they would do to the German Kaiser (who was then a figure in popular consciousness very similar to what Hitler is now) if they could punish him for the pain inflicted on their families, and it was the pastor’s son Bruce who said, “I would make him a good man. A very good man. The best man in the world, if I could.” His reasoning, of course, was exactly what you described.