Universalism in a Pluralistic Age—Part Two

A Wideness in God’s Mercy: God’s Personal Universalism

by Bruce Epperly

 
Epperly picAs he looks over Jerusalem, Jesus compares himself to a mother hen, whose desire is to protect her chicks. For Jesus, God’s love is like a mother – or a father – who is willing to do anything to save her child. Indeed, divine love is so great it goes to the cross for us and our salvation.
God loves too much, at least in the estimate of many preachers and theologians. They can’t imagine a god who chooses to have no enemies, who rescues the perishing and cares for the dying, even when they’ve gone astray. But, that’s precisely what God does: God rescues the wayward sheep, the coin caught in the cracks, and a son who purposely snubs his father. (see Luke 15) If anyone is not saved, it is surely not God’s doing or intention. “All who call upon God’s name will be saved” (Romans 10:13). What is it about “all” these preachers and theologians don’t get? [ene_ptp] While I have gained from the work of Augustine and Calvin, their vision of an omnipotent deity who is fully responsible for our salvation and either overlooks or predestines the majority of humankind is a far cry from Jesus’ message. Further, the notion that our salvation depends on the recitation of a few sentences is equally distant from the all-embracing love of God. For grace to be grace, there can be no conditions. There may be consequences as a result of our behaviors, but nothing we can do can nullify God’s love for us.   God never gives up on us, even when we give up on God. That’s the love of a parent, the love of a mother for her death row son, the love of a father for his addicted daughter. Isn’t God’s love as great as ours?
Divine universalism takes two forms: God’s intent to save all persons and God’s desire to be known by all creatures. In the first case, God’s love never ends and has no limits in time or space.   Not even death can defeat God’s love. This is in contrast to the beliefs of many orthodox Christians who see death as stronger than God, that is, if we die in sin or without a relationship with God, God gives up on us.
For God, death is a “comma” and not a “period.” Beyond the grave, I believe, God continues to work in our lives, enabling us to grow in love and grace and to eventually say “yes” to the One who loved us into life and received us in our deaths.
In the second case, God provides many ways for us to know God. God reveals Godself in every culture, historical epoch, and religious tradition. It is my belief that the omni-active, omnipresent God, is the ultimate source of spiritual diversity. God’s revelations are tailor made to the world’s differing cultures. Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam are not falls from grace, but revelations of divine love appropriate to their time and place. Moreover, the world’s various religious traditions are dynamic, not static, and evolving in relationship to culture and history. Today, the world’s religions are evolving as a result of their encounters with one another. This is as much a result of God’s doing as our own.
Furthermore, God approaches each person uniquely. God’s call is adjusted to who we are and to our spiritual maturity. In God’s universal love, God is the ultimate relativist, seeking a personal relationship with each unique human. God is a “different god” depending our life situation. That’s what it means for God to have a personal relationship with us.
I hope to expand on these universalist reflections later, but in the meantime, I solicit your questions and thoughts as we seek to be attentive to the One who loves us into life and whose love companions us into an everlasting adventure.
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5 Responses

  • I really appreciate your in depth exploration and the way you lead us into a deeper reflection on the relationship between God and all creation…With any speculative work, the question us always how we can be confident in our interpretation? There is always that element of unknown, of mystery…in my view awareness of God as mystery is itself revelatory. .thank you for your excellent theological work..Bob

  • Bruce, I was nodding in agreement on your first two paragraphs, very good. But from there on, I could not agree with you. Yes, I am a literalist, I guess you would call it, and don’t apologize for that. I definitely believe that we must receive the salvation God offers us through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross before we die, or it will be too late to change our destination. I base this on two things – Heb. 9:27 and the numerous testimonies of people who have died and come back to life to tell about it. “It is appointed unto man once to die and after that the judgment.” I sat in the car with a Christian speaker and author, Betty Malz, who gave her after death experience in her book, “My Glimpse of Eternity.” She did experience heaven, but her father’s prayers drew her spirit back to her body, and she had to recover from a burst appendix. She wrote another book, containing interviews with people who had experienced death and came back to tell about it. Some reported on the fires of hell! One person was a movie star you would know, but I won’t name her.
    As for Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims having “revelations of divine love appropriate to their time and place” and the world religions “evolving in relationship to culture and history” and “evolving as a result of their encounters with one another,” I strongly disagree! You have to consider the source of their revelations. For instance, Mohammed had seizures that he felt were demonic after the entity he called “Gabriel” visited him in the cave and gave him “divine” revelations. If you study the life of Mohammed, you will see that the entire religion is based on a false god and a false prophet. The barbaric radical Islam we see today is the fruit of Mohammed’s teachings in the Quran.
    The Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus are in bondage to false religions that are destroying them. The mission Jesus gave us is to bring them the good news, the truth that will set them free. He said to teach them all things He has commanded us (Matt. 28:18-20). Consider how Hindus will not kill rats and they overrun the land. They believe cows are sacred because of their belief in reincarnation. How ridiculous. They need loving Christians who will tell them the gospel and disciple them!
    Jesus has already told us, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man comes to the Father except by Me” (John 14:6). Can it get any plainer than that? As C.S. Lewis said, Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic, or the LORD He claimed to be, the Son of God. And Lewis was an intellectual of all intellectuals. He said you had only those three options. You could not call Jesus a “good teacher,” if He was not who He claimed to be.
    Your statement, “God is a ‘different god’ depending on our life situation,” does not line up with the Bible. The God I worship is unchangeable, stable as a Rock, and He became flesh and dwelt among us. You can’t mold Him into what You are comfortable with. On the contrary, we must “present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God … and do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind …” (Rom. 12:1).
    Sincerely,
    Nancy Petrey

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