One of the biggest objections to universal salvation is the idea that somehow, believing everyone might be saved makes evangelism unnecessary.
“Many of the greatest missionaries used the threat of hell as part of their message,” some Christians say. “If everyone eventually gets to heaven anyway, what’s the point of being a Christian, or living a holy life now?”
It might surprise some people, then, to know that I believe in both the possibility of universal salvation and the importance of evangelism.
Until rather recently, I wasn’t completely clear why. But over the last few months, it’s become clear why I believe in both of these things – and why they ‘re connected.
When we look at the world around us, it should be clear that we don’t need to believe in an eternal hell to see why it’s important to have faith in God. Even a casual glance is enough to see that there’s plenty of evil and suffering, plenty of hell, right here and now!
That’s why I feel called to share my faith, and why I feel there’s an urgency involved in sharing the gospel.
Now is the time to turn to God, not so much to avoid hell after we die, but to have the strength to get through the hell that’s happening all around us.
The Bible tells us that “in the last days distressing times will come. For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, brutes, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim 3:1-5).
All we have to do is read the news to see that this is indeed happening. War, poverty, greed, racism, and lust are everywhere – along with an ever-diminishing sense of the importance of honesty, civility, and community, and an ever-growing threat of economic and environmental breakdown.
And while many people hold to “an outward form of godliness” (they go to church, pray, and may even study the Bible), we have yet to see a godliness that has true power to change people on a nation-wide level.
That’s why I believe it’s so important, perhaps more than ever before, for people to turn to God. But my sense of urgency isn’t related so much to what particular religion (or lack thereof) a person practices, but to one specific truth: we are all one.
I’m convinced that the biggest cause of evil and suffering in the Western world is our dualistic worldview – our insistence on separating people into categories of good and evil, saved and damned, friends and enemies, etc.
This view can be seen in many popular slogans: “every man for himself”,” second place is the first loser”, “look out for number one”, “God helps those who help themselves”, etc.
It’s at the heart of almost every political campaign, as candidates try to outdo one another in promises of who can most effectively “take care of the bad guys.”
And it’s a big part of American religion, as well. Indeed, some have gone so far as to say that heaven is precious precisely because it’s limited to a few!
To be fair, this sort of dualism is reflected in some parts of Scripture. Even Jesus speaks of a separation of sheep from goats (Matt 25:31-46).
But as I have noted before, the Bible also frequently speaks of God’s desire for cosmic oneness, for making all things new (Col 1:20, Rev 21:5, etc).
Since both views are expressed in Scripture, neither should be ignored by the church. But Western Christianity has, on the whole, emphasized the dualistic parts of the gospel almost to the exclusion of the message of oneness. It’s almost as if we want some people to go to hell!
As long as we hold onto this dualistic worldview, it doesn’t really matter what religion we practice (or don’t). We will continue to see life as a contest in which some must lose, and the result will be more war, more poverty, more racism, more bigotry and more destruction of every kind.
These are all the fruits of our self-centered Western worldview, and unless something changes quickly, massive suffering is on the way.
In visions I have seen four specific calamities on the horizon – race riots in every major city in the U.S., the collapse of the American economy, the shutdown of the electrical grid, and finally, a series of environmental disasters the likes of which the world has never seen.
What should we do, in light of such possible disasters? Some say we need to elect better leaders; others say we need to focus on our individual choices and how they effect global justice and the environment; still others say we should stock up on food and learn how to survive “off the grid.”
While all of these are potentially helpful answers, I’m afraid none of them gets to the root of the problem – the system of greed, materialism, and self-interest that’s been going on for so long it’s taken on a life of it’s own.
As bad as this sounds, there’s a part of me that’s actually looking forward to the coming collapse! It may be that this is the only way we can get to the “new heavens and new earth” described in the Bible. And it’s probably the only thing that will lead most of us (myself included) to make any major changes in our lifestyles.
Truth be told, no half-hearted solutions are going to fix this. The American empire and the juggernaut of global capitalism need to fall. It’s going to hurt when they do, but this pain will lead to eternal peace and joy in God’s kingdom.
In the meantime, the most important thing we can do is build meaningful relationships – with one another, with the natural world, and most importantly, with the God who lives within us.
For while our bodies will inevitably suffer and die, the love we experience in God and one another is eternal – and it’s the only thing that will give us the strength to hold on when everything else comes crashing down.
As Saint Paul says, now is the day of salvation (2 Cor 6:2). Regardless of how many will be saved in the end (which could very well be all of us), we can be pretty sure that there will be suffering in the immediate future – and the strength we need to face it is available now.
The good news is that we don’t have to face this alone! God is all around us and within us, offering us a love so strong it can hold us up forever, regardless of what may be ahead.
This love is available today. Today is the day of salvation – so why not take hold of it today? It won’t be any easier tomorrow.
(Coming Next: “Power in the Name(s)”: Healing and the Triune God)