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Saturday, December 09, 2006
(11:37 PM) | Stephen:
Heaven is a Wonderful Place*

Sanpete in comments to this post says:

Scripturally it seems to me that universalism has an uphill fight. It's a simple enough idea, but none of the biblical writers seem to have been let in on the idea, or to have let us in on it. The Christocentric variety has fewer scriptural barriers, and even has the suggestive idea of teaching the gospel to the dead in its favor (1 Peter 4:6).

Certainly, that 1 Peter verse is usually front and center for anyone who wants to argue for a Christocentric universalism. Here's an interesting verse from Paul that may have something to bear on this idea as well:

"Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?" 1 Cor. 15:29

Chris, the other contributor who seems to be way too busy, has written some interesting things about baptism for the dead, and I'm hoping that bringing this up here will spark some more thoughts and provoke him to post.

There isn't much else in the Bible that directly talks about this, as Sanpete noted. But I wonder if the Bible is as black-and-white on the issue as most people think. Certainly there is a profound misconception regarding the nature and purpose of Hell, never mind that for the Hebrews there wasn't such a thing.

Yet there are some sections of the Hebrew scriptures that talk about God's love reaching even to those in the grave (Sheol), such as Psalm 139 - though it's quite dangerous to develop our theology from the Psalms.

What it really comes down to is how one is going to approach and interpret the Bible. It is not possible to overstate the impact that the Enlightenment has had on the way that people approach their faith in general and in the area of Biblical studies in particular. We are a reductionist people; everything must be broken down to its simplest components so that it can be understood. This is no less true when trying to put together a Biblical theology than it is when trying to map the human genome.

The problem is that this approach gives an incredible amount of weight to individual verses, which then must be weighed against other incredibly weighted verses in order to finally come to a conclusion. That is why the various contradictions and discrepancies in the Bible cause people so much trouble. Some find them to be an impassable roadblock on their faith journey, while others - who find them equally troublesome - decide to attempt the task of convincing themselves that what they plainly see is not what is actually there, but is rather a coherent and self-legitimizing narrative that flows from verse to verse, chapter to chapter, book to book.

But this isn't the only way. I believe that the reason these books - oral traditions from various peoples and even other religions, scraps of writings combined into "books," letters, histories from people who would not understand a word of a standard modern history - the reason these are all put together into one greater Book is because there is something greater than consistency or lack of contradiction that ties them together. This something is unfortunately incredibly hard to define or even find. But it's there. If we just look past the superficial views of a thundering "Old Testament" God and a super-nice Jesus and his benevolent Father in the New, then we can see the character of the one God that is presented and how this character is always in play.

And this character can best be expressed by the word "love." Yeah, that comes from 1 John 4. But it's there. The other things that we learn about God is that he is creative, from the Creation itself to the ways in which he works to redeem human beings. He is relentless, he never gets tired, he never loses interest, he never forgets his promises, his covenants, his children.

Universalism of any kind runs counter to bunches of verses. But a relentless, creative, loving God is not going to be dissuaded by verses or theologians or Church doctrines. And this kind of God I can see working and working until all are with him.

*It's a lyric from an incredibly stupid song. And I've been to church camp, so I know from stupid.

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