Universal salvation is the belief that all of creation, all of humankind past, present and future, will be enfolded and transformed through the love of God revealed through Christ. The theologian David Bentley Hart has written an extraordinary book on this subject, and I recommend it here, That All Shall be Saved (Yale). This reflection will not draw particularly on Hart's book but for those who are interested, it is a mind and heart expanding read.
Am I worth it? Am I unlovable? Am I wrong, bad, indeed evil? All of us, in our shadow-life, are haunted by the past, by our moral inadequacy, by the stubborn, brute fact of our remarkable ability to make bad decisions, particularly when we think we are right. When it comes to God there is a powerful, often inchoate, sense that God is a vast, terrible, eternal power who is set over and against us, who will justly, severely, sadly and lovingly (but only a love of a particularly repellent and moralistic kind) weigh our hearts and actions and judge us as fundamentally unworthy. This shadow-God, a monster of will and power, is often the God that we meet in our nightmares, and it is the God that secretly haunts our churches and may explain why churchgoing is in decline. Where this 'God' of will and power comes from is too big a question for now, but we may return to it in a later posting.
Other voices in our tradition though would argue that the cosmic tyrant is one of our flawed human projections and, in Christ, God is revealed as lover of our souls, finder and gatherer of the lost. In Christ, at the heart of God's judgement, is a well-spring of forgiving love. 'Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing' (Luke 23:34). This divine transfiguration, of our base metal into gold, is given remarkable expression in Paul's letter to the Ephesians, 'God has put all things under his (Christ's) feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all' (1:22-23).
The idea of a love which is unconditional (which fills all in all) disturbs us at a profound level but, for many, the logic of Christ's death and resurrection (included in which is the concept of Christ's decent into 'hell' and his making holy of that which is furthest from God) is the logic of a love which is truly universal, a love that does not grow tired, and a love which does not, ultimately, throw us into the outer darkness but takes our darkness and makes the darkness light. In our lives, confronted by the bewildering weakness of our character, our choices, when we are often mysteries to ourselves, it is this depth of love, a love that holds and transforms what is most unlovable, which can be termed divine.
'And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself' (John: 12:32).
This is the first of two reflections on this theme.
The Reverend Ben Brown