Archives For universal salvation

Here we are at the end of my study into universal salvation as presented by Philip Gulley in his book “If Grace Is True”. It took a lot longer to get here than I originally thought but this is a very serious subject so I shouldn’t be surprised. I am still not totally in the camp of universal salvation but I am definitely leaning pretty severely that way. I guess the lingering doubt has to do with all the years that it was drilled into my head that Jesus’ sole purpose for coming was to die for me a sinner. That type of guilt trip is hard to counter. As I am reading  the Bible going forward I will do so with universal salvation in mind and see if that affects my thoughts.

On reason I am leaning toward universal salvation is I’m sure a push back against being told all those years that God viewed me totally as just a poor miserable sinner. I know the apostle Paul almost fixated on that but I really don’t remember many words from Jesus emphasizing it.  I grew up with a very low sense of self-esteem and I’m sure the “poor miserable sinner” mantra  being drilled into me contributed toward that feeling of incompetence. I have eventually come to see God not as a wrathful being but a God who has agape love for all his creation. Yes, he is likely disappointed in our obedience to his demand to love each other but since agape love is all encompassing he loves us despite that falling. Why shouldn’t God’s total and unending love be the primary lesson for all who grow up in a Christian family? Why do we need to fear God when He says he is all about love?  I wonder how much different the world would be if more Christian kids were taught that God loves them and wants them to accomplish great things in their lives?

What if universal salvation is true? What are the consequences? To me they are many and significant. Christians spend so much time trying to get sinners to come to Jesus but if that has already been taken care of then we seem to be wasting our time doing something that is already a done deal. If we want people to understand who Jesus was then the best way to do that is to live our lives as Jesus taught us. He gave us that message more time than I can remember.

Of course if universal salvation is true then we can no longer believe that we will be the only ones in heaven. We can’t believe that the other 39,000 versions of Christ are wrong. We can’t make enemies of those of different faiths. Universal salvation makes the crusades and all the other murderous ventures that occurred in the church’s history totally senseless. It also takes  power away from the myriad of “fire and brimstone” religious leaders and put it back on God and His love where it belonged all along.

When it comes right down to it God said he wants everyone to come to him. Who am I to try and deny him that power??

Emptying Hell…..

April 16, 2013 — 2 Comments

If Grace is trueIt’s taken me many years to empty hell. As a child, I was taught only Christians would be saved. Billions of non-Christians would crowd hell. The thought of non-Christians in eternal torment didn’t disturb me because I’d been told Christians were good people and non-Christians were bad people. Since I grew up in a Midwestern American town where nearly everyone belonged to a Christian church, I had little opportunity to test this assumption. Non-Christians lived in the big city or in foreign countries—the places where we sent missionaries. I remember the first time I seriously questioned this worldview.

I was in college when I saw the movie Gandhi. I walked out of that theater forever changed. In Gandhi, I encountered a good man who was also a non-Christian. In fact, his commitment to love and mercy far exceeded that of many Christians. While he never acknowledged Jesus as Savior, he lived the way Jesus commanded us to live.

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-03-17). If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (Plus) (pp. 162-163). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

After finally accepting God’s love I find it strange to believe that he is going to damn the vast majority of those he loves to an eternal anguish.  We spend less than a century on this earth in one degree of happiness or another and then billions, if not trillions of centuries in total misery and anguish. That is just not the God that I have come to know.

I too grew up in a very sheltered life in a small midwest town. There were no visible minorities there and there certainly were nothing but Christian churches of one flavor or another in the area. It was not until I went to college that I was exposed to anyone outside my usual cliche. Things would change rather dramatically for me during those years.  I learned that everyone who didn’t go to a Christian church were not bad guys. Many seemed to share the same level of morality that I did during those years.

It was later in my life than it was for Mr. Gulley that I saw the movie Gandhi but it also affected me greatly.  I went on to learn more about the man and the religious stands of his version of God. Gandhi was a man of infinite morals. He understood thing about loving your fellow man that I still can’t fathom. Why would God send him to hell while giving me a place in heaven.

I like the idea of emptying hell. Is God really going to eternally condemn those stubborn souls who fail to recognize him during their utterly brief time on this earth?

If Grace is trueI discovered the meaning of salvation. Salvation comes with believing God loves you unconditionally. It is abandoning the misconception that you are rejected because of your bad behavior or accepted because of your goodness. Only when we repent of this self-absorption and focus on God’s love can this love alter us. Then and only then can God transform hearts darkened by sin and soften hearts hardened by self-righteousness. It is from this self-absorption that we must be saved. Often, when I speak of my belief in the salvation of every person, someone will object that without the threat of hell, people would sin wantonly. They consider the possibility of eternal punishment as the only deterrent to human selfishness…..

The message of Jesus—that salvation is a matter of abandoning self-absorption and being transformed by the love of God—became obscured. Within two hundred years, salvation would mean believing “Jesus was the only begotten son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made” (Nicene Creed). We were no longer saved from our self-absorption. We were saved from the sin of not believing certain things about Jesus. Those who believed these things were saved, and those who didn’t were damned. Whether people lived the way of Jesus became irrelevant to some and secondary to many. Salvation became a status, easy to achieve and verify. This misunderstanding persists.

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-03-17). If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (Plus) (p. 154). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

I very much like what Mr. Gulley says is the meaning of salvation and that is to believe that God loves you unconditionally.  The meaning of salvation has come to mean too many different things for different Christians. There are many denominations including the Lutheran ones I have recently been a member of who says that our salvation is a gift from God but then, contrary to their own dogma, go on to put conditions on salvation. They say if you don’t jump through all their “belief” hoops then your salvation is not assured.

As Mr. Gulley mentioned in the book many believe that only the threat of hell will keep us from going to the dark side of life. They consider  eternal punishment as being the determining factor of sticking to our faith.  I love the saying that our self-absorbed choices by their nature separate us from God and our fellow human beings. Sadly our obsession with self is very contrary to Jesus’ basic message to us.

I am a major advocate that the church rather quickly turned from our faith in the words of Jesus into a set of beliefs about him is the major problem with the fractured church of today. We are all so convinced that we alone have the only path to salvation figured out. Everyone else is wrong outside of Christianity and even within it to one degree or another.  As Jesus himself said his command to love God and to love each other trumps everything else in the law or the prophets. It is the totality of his message he brought to earth with him.  Why do we continually put obstacles into that simple path to understanding? Why do we want to obscure the real meaning of salvation?

If Grace is trueSince the very beginning, the disciples of Jesus have tried to destroy the opposition. Instead of patiently awaiting the transformation of others, we’ve quickly divided the world into “us” and “them.” We haven’t even reserved this distinction for those of other religions. We’re intolerant of any deviation from the party line. Catholics thought Protestants apostate and damned. Protestants returned the favor, then splintered into a variety of denominations. Many of those knocking on doors and sending missionaries overseas remain convinced their version of the Church is the only true Church.

This exclusive understanding of salvation has its comforts. It allows us to feel special, righteous, and part of the “in” crowd. However, in an increasingly pluralistic world, remaining comfortable with theological exclusivity is more and more difficult….

More disturbing are encounters with gentle, humble, compassionate people who understand salvation differently. What if they’re right and we’re wrong? Most of us ignore that question.

Limiting our interactions to those like us is one cure for discomfort. Another is to redouble our efforts to recruit more disciples to our group. There is strength in numbers. When denominations announce their membership or religions count their adherents, they imply numbers are an assurance of salvation….

We are uncomfortable with the thought that God might be at work in all the world, in all people, and even in all religious systems. Sadly, I’ve discovered that traditional Christianity, Islam, and Judaism share one common belief—they are certain God won’t save everyone.

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-03-17). If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (Plus) (pp. 157-159). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

The fights within the Christian church are the most troubling to me especially those over what to believe and that is almost all of them.  We have drifted so far from Jesus’ teaching to be one and he and the father are one.  Are there really any real Christian churches among us?  This troubling doubt about the homogeneity of the church has caused me to gradually migrate over into the spiritual but not religious category. The zeal that we all use to differentiate ourselves from other Christians, let alone those of other faiths, totally turns me off.

As Mr. Gulley says above I think a primary cause for this division within the church is seeking a cure for discomfort. We just don’t like to believe things that we are uncomfortable with. We want to be with others who think like we do; we just don’t like conflicts in our lives and particularly in our religious lives.  Counting membership is very important to every church I have been a member of. It is not good enough to call someone to Christianity but  instead they must be a part of our sub-sub-sub set of Christianity.

I’m sure it terrifies many Christians to think that maybe God will save everyone in the end and that what we believe in not as critical to our salvation as how we live out our faith.  Being a follower of Christ is not about getting more members, it is about loving each other and loving God.  I like the Lincoln quote about whether God is on our side or are we on God’s side. As for me and my house we will let God be God and not try to take any power from him. If God wants to save us all by one method or another it is certainly not my place to question it.

The one thing I like about the emergent trend now taking over the church is that they say they might not have it right about everything they espouse. Admitting that you could be wrong about some things is the beginning of bringing Jesus’ church back together.

Banner - Aside 2

‎”Can you imagine our Savior dying for all of us, yet we have to argue over just whether he dident die for us personally, and not for you. Sometimes you wonder if His lessons of sacrifice and devotion was pretty near lost on a lot of us.” – Will Rogers, 7 April 1935

Those who follow my at my other blog at RJs Corner know that I am an avid Will Rogers fan. I quote him often on that site. But, when I came across this quote I knew it was time for him to appear on Red Letter Living.  Will was not a very religious man; he spent little time talking about that but he did get it down with this quote. Since the quote aligns with my current study of universal salvation it belongs here.

I don’t think that Will is the only person who might be an agnostic to think about the idea of God’s grace. Will is troubled here with the idea that Jesus’ death was not for all. Most religions today believe that one of the reasons for Jesus coming to earth was to satisfy God’s wrath. That is God had to punish someone for the world not turning out as he had wished. So, he took on a human form as Jesus and allowed himself to be killed for our sakes.

Will Rogers here is lamenting the fact that so many who call themselves religious seemed to think , even in Will’s day, that Jesus’ sacrificial death was meant for them only and excluded those who saw religious things differently than they do. As Will said I think that the real messages of sacrifice and devotion is pretty much lost on a lot of us.  We just don’t seem to get it that God loves each and every one of us and not just a select few.

Did Jesus put conditions on his sacrificial love for us?  That is one of the primary things to think about when it comes to universal salvation.

Gracae Book CoverI’ve never experienced a God of wrath. I’ve heard such a God preached. I’ve read of such a God. I’ve encountered wrathful people who claimed to be acting on God’s behalf. I’ve even allowed such sentiments to tarnish my view of God. Yet, in the midst of all these distortions, I never experienced a wrathful God.

The God I’ve experienced is the God of Jesus—a God of unlimited patience, infinite love, and eternal faithfulness. Jesus described a God who waits long through the night, with the light lit and the door open, confident his most defiant child will one day realize his love and turn toward home. Jesus revealed a God who loves the unlovable, touches the untouchable, and redeems those thought beyond redemption. He said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you” (John 15:9). My earliest experiences were with the love of Jesus.

I want to start off this mini-serious around the book by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland entitled If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person with a quote from the beginning pages. Being I buy most of my books from Amazon I can review a few pages to decide whether I want to purchase the book.  When I read these words I knew this was a book I wanted to learn more from.

I must admit that most of my church experiences have not aligned with the assumption that God will eventually reconcile all souls back to him. Especially from my Protestant years, I was taught  that I was to fear a wrathful God who would send me to an eternity of pain and suffering if I didn’t do what the church leaders told me to do. I was told to fear the power and wrath of God or risk eternal damnation. I was told that God only viewed me as worth no more than a piece of snot but he loved me anyway.

I was told that all the bad things that have happened in my life was probably just God getting back at me for things I had done in my life. It was his retribution for not being perfect. But even with all this rhetoric about a vengeful God I, like the quote above,  can’t say that I have ever really experienced a God of wrath.  I have encountered wrathful people inside and outside the churches I have attended over the years. They insisted on telling me week after week that people like us, that is those who made a declaration of faith in the beliefs they espoused and attended their particular version of church were saved from God’s wrath but just about everyone else would not make the cut.

When I dared to go off on my own and study the words of Jesus without those fearful words being chanted in my ears I discovered a different God. Now I will admit that there are some words attributed to Jesus that I can’t yet understand (I will have to do another series on that topic) but the vast majority that I do presently understand is about a God of love. One who has an agape, that is unconditional and infinite, love for me and all those he created.  With this new view of God I am beginning to align with Mr. Gulley’s notion that God will save every person.  How he is going to do that is not up to me and my petty understanding of him.  I just know that he is an all powerful God and if he loves us as the Bible proclaims then he will eventually bring us all back to his fold.

Much more about this and the book in the following posts.