Recently, there’s been a small surge of [re-]thinking about Hell –and more largely, Universalism– in the circle of blogs I read. I think it started with Generous Orthodoxy Think Tank, but that’s irrelevant. It’s led to some great conversation from one blog to another. One of the recent text bytes to come in to play is from venerable old Kierkegaard.
I’m serious. I love that guy.
Anyway, here’s a quote of his that has been making the rounds:
“What I have repeated again and again should be kept in mind: ‘I am without authority, am only a poet, an average man.’ I do not claim to be better than others, only that I am not bound by a pledge to the New Testament and am not an ordained man, either. No, in no way do I pretend to be better than others, but I do want it made known that this is the way we carry on-I want some truth here and want it said honestly, loudly, and clearly. But I do not pretend to be better than others. Therefore what the old Bishop once said to me is not true–namely, that I spoke as if the others were going to hell. No, if I can be said to speak at all of going to hell then I say something like this: If the others are going to hell, then I am going along with them. But I do not believe that; on the contrary, I believe that we will all be saved, I, too, and this awakens my deepest wonder.”
–from Soren Kierkegaard’s Journals and Papers, Vol. 6 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978), edited and translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, assited by Gregor Malantschuk, p. 557– (thnx Keith!)
If you have any roots whatsoever in any of numerous subcultures of Christendom that make attempts to “get people saved,” Kierkegaard’s last sentence will bristle you a little bit. After all, it does sound quite a bit like a vote for universalism.
The problem, I believe, is a view that salvation is equal to no more than and no less than a soul going to Heaven. I think that that line of reasoning is flawed because I’m beginning to suspect its particular notion of Heaven as flawed. More about the Heaven bit in a second.
Speaking on the misdirected definition of salvation, Keith DeRose of Generous Orthodoxy Think Tank cited a conversation between two characters in McLaren’s The Last Word and the Word After That:
“The problem with universalism is not just the answer it provides. True, its answer creates problems—but so do the alternative answers. The problem is the question it seeks to answer. The question assumes that the purpose of the gospel is to get individual souls into heaven after they die. No matter how good your answer is, it’s not good enough if you’re asking the wrong question.”
“And the right question would be . . . ?” I countered.
“Not just how individual souls will be saved but instead how the world will be saved. When I say ‘saved,’ I mean not just from hell, and not just from God’s wrath either. After all, God’s wrath is a good thing, a saving thing. No, Daniel, the gospel is about how the world will be saved from human sin and all that goes with it—human greed, human lust, human pride, human oppression, human hypocrisy and dishonesty, human violence and racism, human chauvinism, human injustice. It’s answering the question, How will humanity be saved from humanity? How will earth be saved from evil that springs from within human individuals and human groups?” (pp. 69-70)
The question that the first speaker refers to is probably something like, “How do we know who’s going to Heaven and who’s burning in Hell?”
How arrogant! Did the magnitude of such a question ever occur to people that ask this?!? Do you need to know? Can you tell me that even if you knew, you would treat everyone the same? Without settling for or against predestination, just assume for illustration’s sake that Christ at least had this knowledge the question seeks… that he had foreknowledge of individuals’ eternal destinies. Did he treat Hell people differently than Heaven people? In my reading, every interaction he had –from the prostitute to the wedding party to the adulteress to the Pharisee to the disciple he loved to his betrayer to the leper to the five-thousand– fits neatly under the umbrella of unconditional love. Love rebukes pride. Love celebrates beauty. Love forgives mistakes. Love instructs for righteous living. Love gives freely. Love accepts the outcasts. Love stands up for the underdog. No matter where any person was to spend eternity, Christ treated them the same; Christ loved them.
We, as Christ-followers, are to love. We are to love for love’s sake. We are to love without an agenda.
Addressing universalism with this mandate in clear view, my personal philosophy is to hope against all hope that universalism is true, but more importantly to [EDIT:]
act like it’s not love with no regard given to universalism’s veracity. Now, I can’t say I’ve looked into theological evidence on both sides of the argument, so yes, my view may be somewhat ignorant. But what harm does my action do? I think I’m allright…
And as my friend Bob, a very wise man, says: “I’ve been thinking – always a problematic and dangerous use of time.”
I need to get some other work done. But the next post will be today, and it will address my new Heaven.
PS: Funny, the word blog isn’t in WordPress’ spellchecker dictionary… :P