I wrote a few days ago about salvation and “sola fide.” While on the subject of salvation, I want to suggest an idea I’ve been wrestling with for some time now concerning the possibility of universal reconciliation (though another post on just when after death this might happen may be warranted). This is not my announcement to the world of my belief in evangelical universalism. Rather, this is my public wrestling with the idea in hopes of interaction and clarification. Each of the words in the title of this post could warrant a book (A theological trilogy, even?!), but I will attempt a single post. Here goes.
In modern Christian thought, the belief exists that we will continue to exist forever, for time immemorial. There will never be a time when we are not. But, since deal with infinity is infinitely beyond our ability, I want to try and work with numbers we can actually grasp. So, sor sake of mathematical simplicity, let’s pretend our “eternal” life was measured at 1,000,000 years, but our “earthly” life was still about 80 years. What percentage of 1,000,000 years of life would our 80 year old life equal? If my math is correct, our “earthly” life would constitute .00008 of our entire eternal existence. Our life here, if our eternal life is only lasting one million years, is infinitesimally small. And, what we Christians are saying is that our incredibly small percentage of our entire existence (.00008) has the power to dictate the rest of our existence.
But, the size of these time frames are so large, it is hard to understand exactly what we are talking about. So, let’s reduce our “eternal” life to a normal human lifespan of 80 years. What would .00008 percent of 80 years be equivalent to? Let’s take a look.
.00008 x 80 (years) = equals 0.0064 (years). But what does this number mean? How many years is that? I don’t think it’s a full year. So, what about measuring our life another way?
80 years of 365 days each equal 29,200 days. So, let’s see how many days .00008 would be of 80 years. What happens when you apply .00008 to this number?
.00008 x 29200 = 2.336 days
Okay, so if mathematically our “eternal” lives lasted eighty years, or 29200 days, our actions within our first 2.336 days would determine how we spent the next 29197.664 days.
That would make what we do in a little over 48 hours incredibly important, right?
Well, another question. If I had a two day old do something wrong and I sent him to prison for the next 29,197 days, would it suggest justice? I struggle to believe it would. Would it be just if we said, “Well, God is perfectly righteous, so it’s just if he does it”? Maybe so. But, we are called to be like God. Leviticus 11 says, “Be holy as I am holy.” Jesus says in Matthew 5, “Be perfect as your father is perfect.” In other words, it seems to be suggested that as God’s “image and likeness” our structures, beliefs, judgments, etc. are to be in God’s likeness and image. I ask again, then. Would we consider it just to punish someone for 29,000 days for their decisions in the first 2.3 days of life?
Here’s the kicker. When speaking of eternity, I’m far, far more like a two day old than a thirty-year-old man. And, considering all that my Father knows, my knowledge compared to God’s is far, far more like a two-day old than a thirty-year-old with multiple degrees. Could it be that God looks at me like a child who has so, so much to learn, who is patient in my growing, who is carefully and consistently pointing me towards wholeness, towards his Son, my perfect Elder Brother?
Is it possible that God will continue working in us, maturing us, loving us and calling us on day 3, 4, 17, 29, 59, 152, 489, 741, 1089, 14000, 21539, 29200, and then forever more, as we know eternity is infinitely longer than 29200 years?
Pragmatic, personal and emotional arguments, while important, are not to be finally decisive. Would Scripture hold out a hope of such a magnificent salvation?
Peter wrote, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pt. 3:9) Does Peter really believe God wants people to come to repentance?
Peter is writing a profound letter in which he expresses either 1) truth or 2) Peter’s hope. Either way, Peter says “God desires all men to be saved.” The Greek word in the original for “desires” or “not wanting” is boulomai. It’s definition is crucial to understanding the passage. The word is used about thirty times in the New Testament. In all the cases where boulomai is used, except one or two, the word carries a meaning in which the active participant wills something and then brings it about. And all these “willers” are feeble, finite humans. In other words, they are not God. Why, then, do we believe the infinitely powerful and loving God will not bring about what he wants, namely the salvation of all his children? If people are not saved, could it be because God does not actually will it (remember Jesus’ prayer in the Garden)? But, if God does will all to be saved, why is it so crazy to believe that God will actually save everyone, even if that takes time after death, after those 2.336 days, to prepare someone for life eternal?
Boulomai takes on a meaning of willing and then accomplishing a desire when you examine the 30 or more times this word is used in New Testament Greek. Peter honestly expressed what he believed about God. Why might he have believed God wants all to be saved? Well, maybe because he realized who he was. Maybe he often thought of that night where he betrayed his Lord and lied about him knowing Jesus. Maybe he thought how he proclaimed his readiness to die with Jesus and then experienced his fear of a servant girl by a fire. Maybe he saw how loving and compassionate God was in redeeming and pursuing Peter, a backstabbing coward (not unlike me), that God might actually pursue all his backstabbing and coward children until they are all reunited with their infinitely loving Father. Is that utterly unthinkable? Not to Peter.
Paul writes “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Col 1:19-20) Paul believes Jesus’ work will “reconcile…all things.” Paul, really? All things? Original Greek says one word, pan, meaning ”all.” To reconcile to him “all.” What does “all” include? Does all include all God’s creation? Paul says everything “on earth or in heaven.” In other words everything in existence seems to be in view.
Now, here’s my question. Is it at least possible that God is not bound to our actions at all, especially with our infinitely small time on earth where we are accountable? Could God look beyond and work beyond our 2.336 days of life so as to work for our good? Does Jesus offer at most 2.336 days to repent before our eternal destiny of the next 29,197 days begin?
Here’s another set of my questions. Does Jesus’ death and salvific power only have a limited time to work before coming obsolete, like a “Use By” date with his Love and Forgiveness? Is God’s love stronger than time? Or, is God’s love only in operation during the event called “Time” and when “Time” ceases, so does his transforming love?
Consider how Paul wanted nothing to do with Jesus. Then, God showed him love and he then became the apostle of love (1 Cor. 13). No amount of theological arguing, doctrinal study, philosophic reasoning, or even examples of piety would have changed Paul’s heart (so I believe). Only, and I mean literally ONLY, the revelation of Jesus Christ in all his glorious love could’ve changed Paul instantaneously. What if God will one day give everyone that same vision of himself? Is it even conceivable?
1 John 4:8 – God is Love. And, it was because God so loved the world Christ came to reconcile all things. Why? Because God “desires” to save.