I asked my pastor last night, an amazing woman named Jill McCrory of Twinbrook Baptist, what her most radical belief was w/r/t God and the Bible. She said, “Universal Salvation. We’re all saved. All of us.”
I said something similar a couple of days ago — that I don’t believe in sin, or I don’t believe in sin used as a weight against which we’re measured. And I wanted to write a bit more about that, because so often I better understand my own thinking when I’m ironing it out in print. So.
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We are all saved. We were actually born already saved. All of us. Even the worst person you can imagine. Even that worst person. (Where I’m still working is: how necessary was Christ’s crucifixion? Is that the mechanism of salvation? Or can I rely fully on the idea of a loving God not hating any of his creation so much that he would send them to a place of permanent and utter torment? I mean, as I’m further and further into this parenthetical, I think I’m leaning more towards the “Loving God” side of the equation over the “Christ Died for Me” version.)
Sin isn’t something God keeps an account of; it’s something we commit against ourselves and each other. In M. Scott Peck’s People of the Lie, he shares a shattering anecdote about a patient he was treating in private practice.
“What did you get for Christmas?”
“Your parents must have given you something. What did they give you?”
“A gun?” I repeated stupidly.
“What kind of gun?”
“A twenty-two pistol?”
“No, a twenty-two rifle.”
There was a moment of silence. I felt as if I had lost my bearings. I wanted to stop the interview. I wanted to go home. Finally I pushed myself to say what had to be said. “I understand that it was with a twenty-two rifle that your brother killed himself.”
“Was that what you asked for for Christmas?”
“What did you ask for?”
“A tennis racket.”
“But you got the gun instead?”
“How did you feel, getting the same kind of gun that your brother had?”
“It wasn’t the same kind of gun.”
I began to feel better. Maybe I was just confused. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I thought they were the same kind of gun.”
“It wasn’t the same kind of gun,” Bobby replied. “It was the gun.”
“You mean it was your brother’s gun?” I wanted to go home very badly now.
“You mean your parents gave you your brother’s gun for Christmas, the one he shot himself with?”
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Sin and evil are human creations. They break our spirit, break our heart, break our will — but they do not deny us any of the love of God. My belief is, God is utterly incomprehensible except for two things: he only wants to give love, and he only wants to receive love in return. I think, when we meet God in Heaven, wherever Heaven happens to be, some of us are going to be overjoyed, and some of us are going to be embarrassed or even hurt a little, at first, that people whom we were awful to, because we thought we were better Christians than they were, or better people than they were, are there, in God’s glory. We’re all a little like Mrs Turpin in Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “Revelation”:
At last she lifted her head. There was only a purple streak in the sky, cutting through a field of crimson and leading, like an extension of the highway, into the descending dusk. She raised her hands from the side of the pen in a gesture hieratic and profound. A visionary light settled in her eyes. She saw the streak as a vast swinging bridge extending upward from the earth through a field of living fire. Upon it a vast horde of souls were tumbling toward heaven. There were whole companies of white trash, clean for the first time in their lives, and bands of black niggers in white robes, and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs. And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who , like herself and Claud, had always had a little of everything and the given wit to use it right. She leaned forward to observe them closer. They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They, alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces even their virtues were being burned away. She lowered hands and gripped the rail of the hog pen, her eyes small but fixed unblinkingly on what lay ahead. In a moment the vision faded but she remained where she was.
Ruby Turpin’s revelation is what Hell is, but it’s not forever. It lasts as long as we fight against loving everyone, against lovingkindness. So, Universal Love and Universal Salvation are where I feel God’s presence the most.
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A woman named Susan is binding a Bible for me, with my favorite quote about grace from Flannery O’Connor: “All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful.” I asked her what her most radical theological belief is, and she says, “Oh boy, I’m not sure I even have a radical theological belief. Perhaps it is more of a hope. I sure do hope that all of the babies that have been aborted are with Jesus. My belief is that they are – same for those who have miscarried. I’m believing my grandchild who never saw the light of day on this earth is in heaven with Jesus. That gives me comfort.”
I want to say to Susan, “Your grandchild is with Jesus. And all the babies, too. And all the women who died from botched abortions because they weren’t legal and safe. And all the fathers who couldn’t get it together to be present. And all the children who ignored their parents. And all the parents who hurt their children. Everyone gets to be in the Kindgom of Heaven. The last, first; the first, last.”
All of us.