One of the several views of pareschatology Rob Bell puts forth in Love Wins is that of Universal Reconciliation (which I have spent buckets of digital ink arguing against, when it was presented as a certainty, so I don’t want to re-hash those arguments). Even though he doesn’t ultimately espouse UR as his view of the afterlife, Bell makes this comment about this view (that – in the end – God will find a way to save everyone, through His love and persistence):
“Whatever objections a person might have to [Universal Reconciliation], and there are many, one has to admit that it is fitting, proper, and Christian to long for it.” (111)
Scot McKnight, following up on this observation of Rob’s had this to say:
I recently talked with a significant Christian evangelical leader in the USA who said this to me: “If you don’t long for that, you need to spend more time with God.” And he was most decidedly not a universalist.
And the leader Scot spoke to was right. As Christians, it should be our desire that God might find a way that nobody would spend eternity in hell – be it literal fire, eternal conscious torment, empty separation or annihilation. As one writer put it:
While I do believe in a literal hell for those who do not have a relationship with Christ, I take no pleasure in that. Is it Christian to take satisfaction in people going to hell, or would you be ok with God devising a means that everyone made it? I will have no disappointment in discovering that people that I didn’t think would make it, made it, because I am fully convinced that God is just and will do right.
With this as a background, it now brings me to a question, a lament and a thought.
The Question, the Lament and the Thought
Quite often in the discussion since Love Wins‘ publication, I have seen/heard the basic question:
If God saves everyone in the end, what is the point of following Him now?
I’ve seen this question, and its variations, in multiple articles and comment threads, and – in particular – howled by some of the harsher critics. And I have to say … Really? So Jesus’ life, teaching, death and resurrection are meaningless if nobody ends up being tortured forever?
And what’s funny is that, in the past I’ve observed that, in its practical effects, it seems that Fundamentalist Christianity is little more than a viral marketing campaign for fire insurance – where eternity is everything and the temporal is an afterthought – in stark, ironic juxtaposition with the focus of the ministry and teaching of Jesus Christ.
This observation has been met with lots of denials from folks that their faith, and their view of Christianity, is one of marketing fire insurance, and that such a categorization is unfair.
But they are also the same people who ask “What is the point of following Jesus if everybody were to be saved in the end?”
And that very question proves the lie of their denial of vocation – an insurance salesman/woman. The question, itself, becomes somewhat damning, because all of the insistence that theirs is not a theology of evacuation evaporates in the same facade as Queen Gertrude in Hamlet – the lady doth protest too much, methinks.
This is so incredibly sad, and when I hear it, it becomes no wonder to me why Christians are stereotyped as such an aloof, humorless lot.
We might protest that we’re not just insurance salesman (whether the pushy, street-corner variety, or the personal one-on-one type), but we don’t see any real benefit prior to our demise (or, at best, we pay it lip-service by trying to compare the length of time after death to the short span of life).
We might defensively proclaim that we do not hold a theology of evacuation, but we see no true and lasting point of what we do today, apart from that which secures our (or someone else’s) seat at the banquet tables after our earthly bodies become worm food.
And when we do this, we’ve completely missed the point. We do not need hell, we do not have the need for God to create people solely as “objects of wrath” for our benefit, we do not need natural or man-made disasters to prove the “wrath of God” to us.
As one of the PPP writers, Phil, noted to me:
I didn’t marry my wife out of fear of not marrying her. I married her because I couldn’t imagine my life without her, and because I was captivated by her.
And this should be our attitude towards Jesus, the bridegroom of the Church, to which we belong – Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Reformed, non-denominational and all flavors between – We should not choose Jesus out of fear of an eternity without Him. We should choose him because we cannot imagine our lives without Him, and because His presence captivates us.
Everything else should be icing on the cake – including eternity.