A popular view that is influencing many people today is the idea that everybody will eventually make Heaven their home, which is commonly referred to as Universalism. In some circles, this is even being mixed in with the fresh revelation of grace that is sweeping the church. It is important that we address this issue from a biblical viewpoint that places both God’s heart for humanity and His plan of salvation in the light of the truth.
To begin, let me so bold to say that you do not want everybody to go to Heaven. What you most likely want is for everyone to be saved. Would you want terrorists, rapists, and tyrants in Heaven in their un-renewed state? Do you suppose that St. Peter sprinkles magic dust on those who enter them pearly gates, turning them into “good guys” against their will?
What God wants, what I want, what we all probably want, is for all to be saved. Saved from the hell within and therefore, from external hell (I do not plan on going into depth about what hell is or is not in this post). This is an act of grace that involves repentance (a change of mind about God that leads to God changing the heart).
We read in Scripture that we must be born again into Christ to see the Kingdom of God, whether that be involvement with the kingdom now or after we pass. The problem is, when we do not view this in a positive light, we end up with people who twist the Scriptures and therefore, people who hear a twisted message.
I am not trying to take away from the severity of eternal matters. But I think that if we the church demonstrated a life of freedom in Christ and made a difference by way of demonstrating the fruits and gifts of the Spirit, perhaps people might want to be like us. Perhaps we should ditch the ministry of judgement and take on the ministry of reconciliation that we have been given (see 2. Cor.5).
There is a Robin Williams skit where he imitates a street corner preacher threatening the listeners with hell. “If you do these things, you won’t end up in the kingdom of God!” He then asks the preacher, “Well, are you going to be there…?” (the crowd roars in laughter)
The problem is, we have actually created a self-centered gospel that says it is all about whether we end up in heaven or hell. Rewards and punishment become the emphasis rather than putting off the false self and living the life we were created to live. At the same time, we simply preach heaven and hell in terms of destination as opposed to realms that effect the here and now. Jesus preached, “repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand” and then demonstrated the reality of the kingdom. He did not say, “Repent so you end up in Heaven one day.” He basically said it was show and tell time, it was His turn, and He brought His Father’s world with Him to class.
The problem becomes compounded when we throw in the mindset of culture today (at least in the West). We think it extremely unfair that someone could go to hell (again, not going into detail about whether hell is about everlasting torment or final annihilation, but let’s agree that it is bad). I recently read a comment on the interwebs that simply said, “If hell is real, then God is not good.” Wait a minute, oh accuser of God. You say God is not good without even mentioning the actions of people. Do you really think people should be forced to be in Heaven regardless of the choices they make or their state of being? This would be controlling and manipulative on God’s part (even though we don’t see it like that). And yet, some of these same accusers completely balk at any hint of controlling religion. I would agree with them that religious control and manipulation is not of God, but this is the exact thing they are promoting; the idea of men who do not want to be with God, who have chosen to remain in darkness, forced to be with Him instead of the gods they have chosen.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have this warped way of presenting the gospel in the Evangelical church. In this message, you have a God with mixed agendas. On one hand, He wants to kill us out of anger towards us due to our sin, but on the other hand, He offers mercy to those who pray the right prayer and repent the correct way (and then who do all the right things afterwards). The key words here are “correct” and “right”.
We say that Christians have made “the right choice” and that people who have made the wrong choice, i.e. not converted the way we deem proper, will be sent to hell.
The problem is, this mindset tends to make it all about our works and makes God out to be the bad guy. “Believe in our God or face His wrath!” Its no wonder that some people are drawn towards a Universalist view.
I’m not saying I agree with the Universalist or Unitarian views, but neither do I agree with brow beating non-believers into the kingdom with threats of the after-life. Both of these views stem from falling short of the wisdom of God in the matter.
Someone once pointed out that there is a ditch on either side of the path of life. Some fall the way of the Universalist and think that God would be unjust to send people to destruction. Others fall in the trap of preaching a harsh dictator God who will fry you if you don’t believe or behave the right way.
“But brother, does it not say in the scriptures that whosoever believes will be saved and whosoever disbelieves will be damned? ” (Mark 16:15)
Yes, but a false mindset of the nature of God can turn this into a threatening statement rather than a hopeful invitation to be rescued from the true enemies of sin and self.
Here is where the rubber meets the road. Both the Universalist and the hyper-Evangelical fail to understand the goodness of God. He does not have goodness, which He can choose to exercise on those who are acceptable. He does not have good, He is good. He is goodness Himself!
It is not that there are many paths to God and God will reward those who answer the multiple choice question correctly and punish those who answer incorrectly. There is one God and one way to Him. To choose or reject God is to choose or reject life.
There was a bumper sticker that said God is too big to fit into one religion. In my opinion, that misses the point. God is bigger than religion period! We can try to craft our own realities and our own religious paths to find Him, but we cannot change the Person of Reality who holds the universe together and in whom all things consist. He is the One who finds us in our weakness (Rom. 5). The gospel is the glad announcement that God has made things right. The only thing left for us is to say yes to Jesus being our Lord and even that is something the Holy Spirit helps us with.
No matter where we end up after death, we already would have had either heaven or hell on the inside. We simply go “to be with the lord”, depending on who that may be. We simply go home, wherever that may be. To know Jesus IS eternal life (John 17:2) and unbelief IS a state of hell in and of itself. Just as the hymn talks about our faith becoming sight one day, unbelief will also become sight.
We live in a society with people who have fallen into both ditches. The hyper-religious crowd is not effective in snatching souls from the hellish torment they are already in due to trying to live apart from Life Himself. So they abandon the ministry of reconciliation to threatening people with eternal hell and looking forward to their own eternal heaven as a means of escape from a world in which they feel powerless.
In the other ditch, you have those bound by spirits of self-pity and the fear of man whose most awful fear is offending someone. So they try and make God into their own image of niceness instead of trusting the all powerful, wise and loving God who does a much better job at giving mercy to the undeserving than we do. He cares more about the souls of men than we do and will empower us to reach them.
The people in either ditch often throw stones at each other. But we who have embraced the true gospel, the integrity of the Word, and the power of the Spirit should not throwing stones at either group. We should instead, through our lives and our love demonstrate the true nature of the Father. May He open our eyes to see who He is and have His eyes and heart for the souls in bondage who need help right now as opposed to a theory or argument about the after-life.
For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk, but of power (1 Cor. 4:20).