Sunday, April 03, 2011

My Problem With 'Universalism'? Jesus' Words.

I've been thinking a lot lately about "universalism" -- the idea that everybody will be saved.  I guess my introduction with this concept came at an early age.  In the circles I often was exposed to, there was always the idea that if there wasn't a belief in 'out and out universalism' -- there was at least a promotion of the idea that eventually everyone (dead or alive) would be given a chance to see Christ in His Glory and given a second chance to be saved in the last days.  That much has always been a possibility in my mind.  Of course, they could reject Christ and thus be lost, and hence no 'universalism'.

More recently, yet another controversy within the Evangelical Church -- this time stirred up, perhaps unintentionally, by Rob Bell's book, Love Wins, has made me do my fair share of thinking on the topic.  So, I must admit I was open to reconsidering the possibility of some variation to what we  evangelicals have generally accepted as the Gospel truth; that is, that there is no universalism.  Yes, we do not know who Jesus will allow into His Kingdom and who He will not.  And yes, we'll be very surprised when the time comes to find out who is there and who isn't.

(Let me interject some separate thoughts here which hopefully will not muddy the waters.  There is the issue of young children who have not reached the age of mental accountability where they can genuinely make a decision about Christ as Lord and Savior on their own.  I am not prepared to say that a child of a parent who is able to get his or her two-year-old to repeat out loud the words, "I accept Jesus into my heart" will be treated by God differently than a two-year-old whose parent was not able to have them echo those words.  We also believe those who have never had the Gospel shared with them -- those who may have lived all their lives in an isolated island or in the depths of the jungle -- they will be judged in accordance with what they did with the light that the very universe has given them about God for in Psalms 97:6 we read, "the heavens declare His righteousness and all the people see His glory."  I believe Romans 1:20 also speaks to that possibility.  Finally, there is the issue of the Jewish person that is faithful to the promises of the Old Testament, and who, unlike those who have seen or been told about the Messiah and have rejected Him out of hand, this Jew has not had this opportunity.  For me at least, the verdict is still out on the faithful Jew who continues to seek His Messiah.  And we still have to consider Isaiah 45:17 which says, "Israel has been saved by the Lord With an everlasting salvation; You will not be put to shame or humiliated To all eternity."  Let us set these three situations aside, as important as they are, for another time and stick for now to the main discussion of 'pure and total universalism'.)

But for the most part, I believe that the way to eternal life is through Jesus Christ and the acceptance of His sacrifice on my behalf when He gave His Life for my sins.  That is, no 'universalism' as defined as "everyone goes to heaven."

I asked God to give me some clear confirmation, not for anyone else, but just for me, from His Word that what I believed was indeed the truth and I was to stick with it.  I then forgot about it.  I really did.  This morning, getting ready for church, I was studying the gospel of John with the help of Philip W. Comfort and Wendell C. Hawley's Opening John's Gospel and Epistles: Pastoral Reflections on Love, Light, and Logos.

I came to John 8:21.  Jesus, who is Truth, says this: "I go away, and you shall seek Me, and (you) shall die in your sin (because you won't accept me); where I am going (to the Father), you cannot come."  I have added the words in brackets to clarify context of this verse in the passage as a whole.

And then it hit me.  I'm not expecting it to hit you the some way.  But at least hear me out.

Many scholars believe that as far as John's actual writing is concerned the section that begins with chapter 8, verse 12 was actually preceded by chapter 7, verse 52.  And everything in between was added later by scribes.  When you study the contexts in these three sections (up to 7:52; then 7:53 to 8:11; and then from 8:12 forward) in light of the various major threads and themes John is trying to convey in his gospel, you can see where the scholars are coming from.

Basically, they contend that in 8:12 and following, Jesus was really continuing with His declaration of Who He Is.  In the section designated as Chapter 7, verses 37-39 He presents Himself as the true source of living water and He immediately continues in Chapter 8, verse 12 to present Himself as the true Light that needs to be received and followed.  A little further down in verse 19, Jesus tells the Pharisees that they do not know Him and they do not know His Father.  In fact, if they had known or accepted Who He was, they would know His Father.

Then down in verse 21, likely on a separate occasion, He continues to tell them that because they do not know Him, nor will they accept Him, He's going to go away and they'll still be seeking the Messiah they were waiting for.  And in the meanwhile, they will die while yet in their sin.

And what exactly was that sin?  It was the fact that they had Him in their midst, they had an opportunity to accept Him for Who He said He Is, and to get to know Him well, and they did not.  They would go to their graves "with that sin" not dealt with, not atoned for.

Now if we stop there, some may say, "Okay, but there's still hope for these guys at the resurrection of the dead." Perhaps.  But Jesus does not stop there.  He continues with these words: "(and) where I am going, you cannot come."  That sounds pretty final for me.  Jesus did not say to these individuals who would accept Him, that "you cannot come now."  Neither did He say to them as He did to His Disciples when He comforted them a few chapters later in John 14:1-3 with these words, "Let not your heart be troubled . . . I go to prepare a place for you. . . I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also."  These men had accepted who He was.  They were His.

But to those who had not accepted Who He Is, Jesus was implying, "if you die in your sin, that only accepting Me and knowing Me and My Father could prevent, you will not, you cannot, come where I am going now or later."

As I said, you can come to your own conclusion.  But I do not know of a better source for truth than Truth Himself as given to us in the living Word of God.  My mind was set at ease.  But even if you accept what I am postulating here as the rationale for rejecting 'universalism', your mind will only be set at ease if you find yourself on the 'upside' of that Truth.



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5 comments:

  1. Anonymous25/6/11 20:25

    I do not have any backup for this at the moment: but didn't Jesus say he died for the salvation of ALL men??

    If hell is an eternal place, than everyone who died before Jesus will find themselves in a major jeopardy.

    Now, if you accept the fact Jesus can indeed save people from hell, you can infer that when Jesus said he came for the salvation of ALL men, he meant from all of the Earth all the way to hell.

    That being said, an unconditionally loving god would never give up on you, right?

    Couldn't you then state that maybe hell is not a place where if you did not do everything on Earth right or did not accept Jesus at the time, you will suffer forever, even though you will have knowledge of your doing wrong in hell (this is in the Bible, again don't have sources at the moment) and will most likely feel sorry for it.. but maybe a place to punish you for a temporary amount of time so that you may see the error in your ways and turn to Jesus?

    Also, I believe the KJV Bible may of been corrupted at some point in time.

    Some facts on that on this website here:
    http://www.tentmaker.org/books/GatesOfHell.html



    Not trying to impose beliefs here, I just want to see your reaction.. I am personally very young in my Christian growth and am just seeking the truth about God, about what he really is.. not what man has tried to turn him in to in order to force legalism onto man as well as incorporating pagan concepts such as "hell" into the sacred book of the Bible, by taking advantage of translation.

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  2. Dear Anonymous: Thanks for your comment. Some very interesting thoughts. I just had a chance to read them and I'll get back to you with a reply in the very near future. Hang in there. Blessings. Ken.

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  3. Dear Anonymous: Let me try and respond to some of your comments and insights.

    Yes, Jesus did say He died for the salvation of all men. But there is a difference between one "dying for all" and "all being saved by that death". The best example I have is this: Executive buys tickets to Disneyland for all his/her employees, but not all end up going by their choice.

    Those that died before Jesus the Bible tells us will be judged based on their response to God in accordance with the understanding that God has put in the heart of all men and women.

    You're right, an unconditionally loving God does not give up on you. His Spirit convicts you (not condemns you) of your sin but always shows you the way out through His Son Jesus Christ. It's up to you to accept it or not.

    There is nothing that I read in the Scriptures that talks about hell being temporary. All of us have plenty of opportunities to see the error of our ways before we die.

    Yes, there is no doubt that many translations and versions of the scriptures out there do not portray the exact original meanings or words. Yes, even the KJV is subject to that. But God sees to it that His Word goes on.

    Friend, keep on seeking the truth about God. He wants us to. Stick to Scripture and to your personal relationship with Jesus Christ -- He will reveal things to you in your heart. Verify those with Scripture and hold on to them.

    Having said that, let me say that many struggle with "hell" as I did for many years. I still do not know everything there is to know about it. But I can tell you this. Scripture speaks about it clearly. If we try to shy away from what Scripture says and pretend it's not clear, it may well be because we don't like the concept.

    I'd be delighted to answer more of your questions, so please don't hesitate to keep on asking me. Also, when you get to the point where you feel comfortable identifying yourself, you can write to me directly and privately at my email address: kgod@accordconsulting.com

    Blessings, Ken Godevenos.

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  4. Anonymous3/3/12 16:09

    Why did the first christians teach universalism for 500 years until paganism entered the church?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Interesting comment. Perhaps you can provide some proof for that statement. And while you're at it, why not "come out of the anonymous closet"?

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