Last Wednesday was National Coming Out Day. I’m a week late, but still stepping out of a closet of sorts. Below is a paper I wrote for my World Religions class. It speaks to some of the journey I’ve been going through for awhile now. I hate labels, so please read what I wrote with the disclaimer that I can only speak for my own interpretation of what others are saying and I’m not sure if I explained their views correctly or used the correct labels. Thankfully, God is way bigger than our boxes. And closets.
1. Challenge: There are many different schools of thought within the Christian religion. So much so that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of different Christian denominations. Most Christians use the Bible as their scriptural text. Although there are differences in the Bibles that are used, most Christians refer to the Biblical book of Genesis as an account of the beginning of the Christian religion. Most Christians agree that God created the earth and a man named Adam and a woman named Eve. God told Adam and Eve not to eat of the fruit of a particular tree. Adam and Eve decided to eat the fruit of that tree and the choice they made wreaked havoc for the rest of the human race. Some say in eating the fruit and the conversation with God that followed, the primary charge against Adam is that he denied the complete goodness of God.
The rest of the Christian story and all the factions involved primarily deal with how to fix the problem that was introduced into the human race by the actions of Adam and Eve. The gist of the arguments surrounding this issue for Christians, and maybe most other religions, can in one way or another basically be boiled down to one question: does it depend on us as humans to fix where we are broken? Most Christians say or live as if in one way or another their so-called salvation from their broken state depends in varying degrees on something that they must do. This is sometimes referred to as conditionalism.
However, there is another line of thought, that I will refer to for the purpose of this paper as universal reconciliation, that sets itself apart by saying that the Christian Jesus did all of the work necessary to restore all humans to right relationship with their Creator. This Christian concept of universal reconciliation is the objection that I am discussing as the challenge of this evaluation paper.
2. The Religion’s Response to the Challenge: Most Christian teachers do not defend the concept of universal reconciliation. However, for centuries there have been loosely gathered groups of Christians within many denominations that hold the belief of universal reconciliation to be true. The conversation regarding universal reconciliation has spanned thousands of years and the nuances and proofs presented by its supporters to all the possible points of opposition are not easily summarized within a few paragraphs. However, there are a few points that form the basis of the defense of the concept of universal reconciliation.
Chief of the points used to defend universal reconciliation is the concept of the Trinity and the deity of Jesus. In simplistic terms, this can be explained as a belief that there is only one God who consists of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and Jesus was the human incarnation of the Son. This is a critical belief. The main idea to grasp is the belief that Jesus was not just a human; He was also God.
Another point in the defense of universal reconciliation is the belief that all humans were made by God and are sustained through God. Athanasius, an early Christian, wrote in “The Incarnation of the Word of God”: “The presence and love of the Word had called them into being; inevitably, therefore, when they lost the knowledge of God, they lost existence with it; for it is God alone Who exists, evil is non-being, the negation and antithesis of good”1. In other words, humans were created by God and exist in God, not apart from God. One attempt to describe this concept is the picture that all Creation exists inside God as a baby exists inside the womb of its mother.
As such, the defenders of the concept of universal reconciliation say that when Jesus was crucified by humans, his human death and resurrection resulted in all humans being reborn “in the Spirit”. In other words, all humans were born for the first time through Adam and then all humans were born again through the resurrection of Jesus. They say the work of Jesus’ death and resurrection is the point in human history where the reconciliation of all humans was completed. In contrast to the conditionlists, defenders of universal reconciliation say the works and faith of Jesus, versus through or in Jesus, is the effectual factor that completely resolves the human problem since all humans exist by and through Him. They say that Jesus, the incarnation of the Son, accomplished for all humans what they are incapable of doing for and by themselves in their broken state.
Defenders of universal reconciliation say humans were not created as robots; they were created in the image of God. Meaning, God is about love and relationship and created humans to be in relationship with the Trinity. However, they say real love and relationship is impossible without freedom. As such, God created humans to have freedom. They say God knew before the first human was created that this freedom would lead to Adam’s choices. They say God’s plan from the beginning was to work within that freedom to redeem humans from their broken state. They say the only thing God counted on from humans was not perfection but rather Adam’s unbelief and the unbelief of those who killed Jesus. Since we exist in Jesus, the incarnate Son, His death resulted in the death of all humans, and His resurrection resulted in all humans being restored. In other words, the actions of Adam were not more powerful than the actions of Jesus.
3. Final Evaluation: It has only been a few months since I originally heard about the concept of universal reconciliation as touched upon in the previous paragraphs. My initial reaction was that the concept of universal reconciliation is either the best news or the greatest heresy of the Christian religion. In other words, the debate regarding universal reconciliation is not on the same level as debates over relatively trivial matters in comparison such as whether people should smoke marijuana or get tattoos. The ideas as presented by the concept of universal reconciliation have the potential to satisfactorily answer extremely important questions regarding the fate of children, the mentally disabled, and other people who die without appearing to have the ability to respond as required by conditionalists. The debate over the validity of universal reconciliation is to some the debate of the validity of the entire Christian religion.
The difficulty in navigating the problem presented by universal reconciliation is that the framework for the discussion originates from how Christians view “the beginning”. Universal reconciliation restarts the entire Christian conversation by going back to the very beginning and every defense flows out of that viewpoint. I have personally found that going back to the beginning of the story of the Christian religion is not a quick and easy task for the honest evaluator. There is at least 2,000-4000 years of conversation and history to wade through.
I have personally concluded, based on the information presented in the paragraphs above, that the concept of universal reconciliation is adequately defended to the point that it should not be categorically dismissed and warrants additional investigation for those that believe in the God of the Christian religion as presented in the Bible. However, there are some very real and big questions that cannot be avoided in the honest evaluation of universal reconciliation. For example, what then is the meaning of hell, what part does personal belief play, and what about the Christian concepts of judgement and wrath? But again, the entire conversation from either side of the debate originates in the beginning of the story. So, if the concept of universal reconciliation is true then the possibility exists that mainline Christian viewpoints about concepts such as hell may also need to be reevaluated.