Why I’m Interested in Universal Salvation (Hint: it’s not from being too liberal)

Bonfire

I originally posted this as a comment on Fr. Kimel’s blog, but I realized this is my best telling of a couple of different life events that I have tried, sometimes with embarrassing fervor and long-windedness, to communicate before.

In this comment, I was responding to a commentor who said that in his understanding, saving faith is a gift, but those who go to hell do so because of their own choice. In other words, salvation is God’s choice; damnation is ours. I hope this helps someone. I said:

Everyone, in this view, starts out in the not-believing category. The pre-damned, as it were. God gives faith to some and not to others, for reasons we can’t fathom and aren’t supposed to wonder about.

I used to believe that. I had to face the possibility that I myself did not have true, effective faith and would never be given it. That perhaps my creation, my existence, was for the purpose of God glorifying himself, not by my salvation, but by my damnation – to show his righteousness and justice. After all, he had to have someone on which to demonstrate that holy and adorable attribute of his.

Still, even after the inside-out dark ecstasy of offering myself for eternal damnation, if that would glorify God, was spent, my rational side kicked in and I DID find myself wondering, even if I wasn’t supposed to…. why did God save so many fewer than he damned, especially if he had the power to save them all… did he have some kind of preference for damning people as opposed to saving them? That was against all the doctrine, but…

Then one day as I parked my car and looked out over the hills and fields behind my parents’ house, I had an apocalyptic vision of my own, suddenly bestowed and complete. I saw the final summation of all things within God’s will. I saw the Universe brought to its knees before God and everything gathered up in Christ – every creature in its place.

And off to the side, within that final, finished creation, I saw a bubble of unimaginable evil – not torment, to which I had uneasily reconciled myself through endless philosophizing – but evil. I saw a mass of people whose thoughts and intentions were only evil continually, who raged and fumed with evil, whose only bent was evil. And the more they suffered, the more evil they became, because they had been given no other way to respond to suffering. I also saw that God was the one who was sustaining that place of evil. He had prepared it, he had effectively populated it, and he was making sure it would be there forever, by means of that torment which continually increased the evil of the occupants.

I had this vision in a brief intense flash, and then it receded, but my whole soul had already risen in revolt. As I sat dumbstruck in my car I knew that it was over – I no longer believed in that God (never really had, perhaps) and would now have to find Someone Else to believe in.

Green Hills Farmland

44 thoughts on “Why I’m Interested in Universal Salvation (Hint: it’s not from being too liberal)

  1. That’s a terrific anecdote. I really appreciate your comments on EO.

    This doesn’t have anything to do with this topic, but I saw elsewhere on this blog you have some interest in Jung. I think you would like a site called innerexplorations.com. It has many books by the Late Dr. James Arraj. He has some excellent insight into the nature of the soul and its relation to archetypes and the like. Mostly from a Catholic perspective drawing largely from Jacques Maritain, but excellent I think for any Christian, really.

    Maritain, btw, is also good for the thinking Christian artist.

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  2. Your story seems to lack an ending, though I think I can tell where it is goung. Here’s another like it, but with an ending that leaves me a bit frustrated, yet still hopeful. (Which is why I read writings like yours, instead of the more narrowly focused ones only)

    Many years ago, while preparing to lead a discusion on one of James Joyce’s short stories, I re-read CH.. 3 of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and called up high school retreat memories of my own. I had an experience then similar to yours, but it wasn’t “a brief intense flash.” It went on and on in the sermons of the priest, who was explaining during a retreat for boys the meaning of hell.

    After reading passages like this

    “The horror of this strait and dark prison is increased by its awful stench. All the filth of the world, all the offal and scum of the world, we are told, shall run there as to a vast reeking sewer when the terrible conflagration of the last day has purged the world. The brimstone, too, which burns there in such prodigious quantity fills all hell with its intolerable stench; and the bodies of the damned themselves exhale such a pestilential odour that, as saint Bonaventure says, one of them alone would suffice to infect the whole world.”

    I decided that individual integrity and the formalities of religion were incompatible, and that God, whatever that word meant, could more easily be found in art. It took most of my adult life to reconsider.

    Unfortunately for me, I still haven’t reconciled the two–blind faith, unreasining faith, having replaced a belief in my own ability to create meaning, or even meaningful objects. I seem to have forgotten what I learned from that old pagan Horace:

    Est modus in rebus; sunt certi denique fines,
    Quos ultra citraque nequit consistere rectum

    (There is a mean in all things; there are, in fine, certain fixed limits,
    on either side of which what is right and true cannot exist.)

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    • Am i allowed to take back my comment? It wanders too far from yours. Better to delete it.

      Note: It’s almost more upsetting for me to think that a different God from the hell-bent one would want us not to participate in the positive elements of his creative energies. A statement i found during the sleepless night helps me see both your direction and one I should take:

      “The sufficiency of truth is ultimately what art shows and does; after all, we surely realize that beauty, truth, and goodness are not mere parts but words that describe a single unified whole.”

      (Sam Rocha, at http://ethikapolitika.org/2015/02/23/fear-truth/?
      utm_source=Fear%20and%20Truth&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=MailChimp)

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      • Do you mind if I leave both comments up? Your journey is one that God saw fit to let you take – I think it’s worthy – I think your questions are important and your openness endearing and your process instructive.

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      • I had a rough night, as well. My husband stayed out on an unsuccessful install until well after midnight and didn’t get home until 2am. After that we had a long and passionate, but ill-conceived and ill-timed, discussion about Genetically Engineered Food. (???) Then it was hugs and kisses and gradually winding down. The foolishness of 32 is sometimes not much less than of 22.

        This morning my daughter woke me up at 7:30 or so. Thankfully, I’d had a nap the day before so I’m functional tho bleary-eyed.

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  3. There is much in the classic damnation theories that is redolent of our own will. There is where we find hell, I think and where we place others in hell as well. Even in Scripture hell is made only for Satan and all his demons, men only inhabit at all by the force of our will in rebellion to God.

    It seems unlikely that our own puny will should endure in rebellion forever against the love of God. Even in this life and in my body ravaged by the exercise of my own will He is constantly calling me back to Him with a gentle tap, tap, tap on my shoulder and an occasional yell from my guardian angel to keep me out of the stuff that would surely kill my body.

    Still, as much sympathy as I have for some sort of universal salvation, I still would like to see a through recast of the Scriptural images of hell including our Savior’s own words. I have not seen such a thing.

    If hell is, as Kalomiros and others suggest, simply rebellion against God’s love and the consequences of that rebellion, why all the images of eternal suffering that populate the Scripture? It is a question that I have yet to see a satisfactory answer to.

    Still, I hope and pray for all as, even in my sinfulness, I hate to see and find difficult to bear the suffering of anyone. If I, a sinful man, find it difficult to bear the suffering of others, it would seem logical that God could bear it even less. He has certainly been merciful and kind to me despite the oft renewed turning of my back.

    I cannot comprehend an evil so black that it would forever turn its back on such love.

    But…..

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    • I know. I get it.

      I would like to see that, too. As helpful as Kalormiros was to me, after the initial relief and excitement occasioned by reading “River of Fire,” I became uncomfortable with the implications that God is passive in all this. That certainly is not the way he is portrayed in scripture – although I am still willing to entertain the idea that most of those passages are heuristic devices spoken/written to brutal people in a brutal age, meant to set us up, in the passage of time, to feel our way to a higher understanding. But there’s too much there to really dismiss it all that way. I would like to see an understanding of this that makes God triumphant and active.

      I did a brief survey of scriptures on God/punishment as fire. I was surprised to find a clearly traceable line of development of this doctrine through the O.T. It seems that Christ’s words about hell are clearly referencing a doctrine that developed in the 2 or 3 centuries before him, based on, but not directly revealed in, the O.T. scriptures.

      Two points come to mind about this. 1) How likely is it that the Son of God agreed so closely with the doctrine of the Jews on Hell? And how likely is it, rather, that he referenced it without fully endorsing it, because he was making a point, not about the reality of hell, but about the Jews’ beliefs and their implications and how they would be judged? I think that’s one possible line of inquiry to take.

      2) All those scripture references from which the doctrine of Hell was developed had a central theme – God will end evil and avenge the innocent and destroy the oppressors. I think this is a central religious hope and it’s important for sufferers to hear. But just like Jesus’ disciples were unable to understand that his kingdom was not going to be set up on earth during their lifetimes, because of the wording of a lot of O.T. prophecy, it seems possible to me that we are getting hung up on the wording of reward and punishment, of ages and smoke and torment. Perhaps as the time draws nearer, the accretions of centuries of belief and theology and spiritual experience in the Christian way implies more and more clearly that something more profound must happen in order to end evil, than God’s merely destroying some people and not destroying others.

      ***

      I’m not really interested in questions of free will because I’ve never believed that man has a will at all – some imaginary organ of the soul, I think. The scripture writers are certainly unaware of it. But I am interested in the idea of evil outlasting good, of obstinacy and pride and shame and hatred outlasting love.

      I just don’t give evil that much credit…

      When I get a chance, I’d like to do some more work on this. Thanks for your honest and thoughtful comment.

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  4. The Incarnation and all that it entails would seem to suggest that our Lord is anything but passive.

    The Creator knows His Creation and loves it. He knows especially His own image and likeness. Can that image and likeness ever know eternal corruption? The binary paradigm of heaven and hell is assailed by the Incarnation and the “Lamb slain before the foundation of the world..” As well as by His calling all things to Himself.

    His active love requires continuous and active resistance. He comes after us and indeed, as St. Augustine and many others have testified, He is there waiting for us. He descended into Hades; “every hair on our head is numbered” …

    Certainly the idea that Jesus would simply use current ideologies that did not reflect the truth to stir us up to action seems to deny His divinity (at least to me).

    Clearly there is a judgment. Both the Scriptures, quoting our Savior and the Nicene Creed mirroring His words make that quite clear. My priest in a recent sermon put it bluntly: “There is a judgment, some won’t make it.”

    The Hymnography of the Church especially during Lent and Holy Week laments the possibility of being “cast out of the Kingdom” as does Holy Scripture.

    These statements are well within the tradition of the Church…but they do not stand alone. There is always a voice of mercy somewhere within and around such statements. There is the constant refrain of “…fear not…”

    Our binary temptation wants to make this into an either/or situation. Yet, is it?

    Is the judgment subsumed into a larger narrative that we simply cannot know?

    Yet, one thing we know, He wants us to be saved and come to Him. He instructed his disciples not to be concerned with the spiritual fate of the others as they belong to Him. Salvation is neither linear nor logical (by man’s logic).

    The call is to fight evil in our own hearts and actions is it not? But it is not even that, it is simply to open the door of our heart to Him and allow Him to come in. With Him comes everybody else so it can get to be quite a large feast.

    Yet, we are also called to preach the Gospel and bring people to Him. His is not the only activity required.

    Salvation is an inherently sacramental reality of call and response, offering and blessing, coming down and going up. All sacrament, public or private, involves repentance even if that repentance is only the size of a mustard seed (or a quark?). 1 Cor. 3: 11-16 seems to suggest that while the temple will be cleansed, it will not be destroyed. But do we need to build a massive edifice on this such as the RCC doctrine of Purgatory?

    I don’t know if it is a mystery we can ever comprehend and only begin to penetrate simply by divine grace. Even then what we are allowed to see is a tiny sliver or small facet of the reality.

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    • Michael, you said: “Certainly the idea that Jesus would simply use current ideologies that did not reflect the truth to stir us up to action seems to deny His divinity (at least to me).”

      Well, yes – but I don’t think that’s what I suggested at all. First of all, it wasn’t the current ideology he was using – he was always challenging that. Ideology is deceptive. Many ideologies can use the same facts, image, and constructions at the same time. Rather, he was talking to specific people about their specific constructions of the judgment and afterlife. He clothed his truth in the images they knew. How far, in so doing, he was affirming the truth of those images in their literal, exact, and dare we say physical dimensions is a legitimate question to me.

      Secondly, I’m not saying he did it to “stir up to action.” I think whatever he did, he did it to bring people forward in their grasp of truth and simultaneously to shield them from a level of knowledge that would damn them. The gospels indicate that he hid things from people all the time. With the same words, he hid truth from some and showed it to others. It seems that people are only able to progress so far at a time and no farther, and it’s better for them not to formally know any truths at a level to which they would be unable to bring their obedience.

      Nor am I implying that the Jewish grasp of Hell in Jesus’ time represents the development of doctrine in the wrong direction. Together with their newly developed doctrine of resurrection (under heavy debate at the time) it represented a dawning grasp of the possibility of the soul surviving death and the body being finally saved, as well as the understanding that one’s life on earth would affect one’s life hereafter. Jesus’ support for both these ideas was important – and striking, given the focus on the here-and-now all through the Old Testament. He wasn’t terribly orthodox in a lot of ways, was he?

      What is a heuristic device, then? The usual example is the model of atomic structure that we’re all taught in 8th grade. From the perspective of a physicist, it’s a complete passel of lies and imaginary nonsense. It’s not just simplistic – it’s wrong. However, if that physicist tried to communicate the truth as he grasps it, the 8th grader would be completely unable to make any sense of it. He would fail to progress in his understanding of science, and would probably just lose interest. So the teacher is forced to use that “lie” in order to bring the 8th grader forward. If the 8th grader perseveres, he will replace that understanding with a truer one.

      This process is not dictated by the limitations of the teacher. The teacher condescends to the limitations of the student.

      What’s important to notice is that from one essential perspective the heuristic device bears a direct relationship to the truth. It is this that saves it from being an actual lie.

      This perspective is the student’s.

      1) If, from where the student stands, the heuristic device brings him closer to the actual truth, it is true.

      2) If the heuristic device allows the student to go on and grasp new understandings that he wouldn’t have been able to rise to without having previously learned the model offered in the heuristic device, this demonstrates that the conditions of number 1 have been met.

      So that original understanding is not meant to be hung on to when, later, the student is able to progress further. I think that we’re clearly reaching that point in history – the point where the only way to respect the teachings of Christ is to go deeper into His mind and transcend the heuristic devices he offered to our ancestors. I think.

      And why, pray, shouldn’t we have courage to rise to the level of the greatest of those teachers who have acquired the mind of Christ? Why cling to the skirts of our old nurse when the tutor awaits us? Shouldn’t we believe those who say He is good, more good even than we were previously able to grasp? In short, while the authority of a priest to perform the sacraments is indeed a binary, either-or thing (if he’s legit, the sacraments are legit, period) his authority to teach the truth is exactly the same as any other man’s – insofar as the mind of Christ in him calls to the mind of Christ in us, his teaching has authority. (His responsibility to teach may be greater, but his authority to be believed is no greater at all simply because he’s a priest.)

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      • AR. Sorry you are right. My comment you reference was hinky.

        I see your point. Still there is an area of discomfort for me in all of that I can’t articulate.

        I do wonder though if simply living a life of mercy might not make all these questions moot?

        The older I get the more I rely on mercy and the more I suffer when I am not merciful…and the more frequently my lack of mercy in the past becomes fruit for confession.

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        • No worries, I welcomed the chance to explain myself better.

          A life of mercy would solve a lot. I do not think it is possible for a man to be more merciful than God.

          Thanks for your comments.

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          • Just a note of beauty:

            “I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, Where
            Oxlips and the nodding violet grows, Quite over-canopied with lucious woodbine, With sweet mudk-roses and with eglantine: There sleeps Titania sometime of the night ….”

            If we can only begin to comphehend the beauty in the flowers here woven into poverty, how can we possibly penetrate the mind of our Creator.

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  5. If you can’t believe in that God you don’t believe in God at all. We don’t get to decide the character and attributes of God simply because they don’t fit our idea of what a “just” God is.

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      • There is only one God, the God of the Bible, and He makes very clear not everyone goes to Heaven and some are damned to eternal torment.

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            • Well, if we’re going to conduct this conversation in that manner, shall I just say “heresy” back at you and have done with it? Or would you like to advance an argument demonstrating how it’s not evil for God to sustain evil forever?

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            • I am arguing against a God who sustains evil forever. If that’s not the God you believe in, why are you defending him?

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            • Let me ask you this, how are you defining sustaining evil? Perhaps we are using different terms in different contexts.

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            • Well, let me try to make that a little clearer. It seems you believe that the purpose of Hell is simply to make people suffer as a sort of pay-back for their sins. Is that correct? If so, what do you think is going on in the hearts and minds of those people?

              Do you think they are learning to love God while in Hell, and to be sorry for their sins? If so, why doesn’t God let them out? Because if we have genuinely repentant people in Hell who are deeply sorry for their sin and now love God with all their heart and accept their punishment as just, then God’s keeping them there seems like pure cussedness.

              Or do you think that it’s impossible for people in Hell to repent? This is the far more common view, and in my vision it was the one that I was assuming. In that case, you have people in Hell who are getting worse, not better. The more they suffer, the more they hate God – because sinful people hate the one who punishes them, right? – and the more they hate God, the more they suffer.

              So it would seem that in the common view of Hell, God eventually puts people in a situation where not only their suffering but their evil is forced to exist forever and even get worse.

              We could talk exegesis of the relevant passages, and you might see some possibilities in the scriptures you haven’t seen before. However, what I am making here is a moral argument, not an exegetical one. I am saying that for God to fix man’s fate at the moment of death is for him to insist on everlasting evil.

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            • They had their chance and made their choice not to believe and have cut themselves off from God. It is an unpardonable sin. Scripture demonstrates this in multiple passages. In reality we all deserve Hell, but those of us who accept the message within the bounds set by God (our lifespan) we receive eternal life.

              It is only a hypothetical to believe that these people will hate God more, but the Lazarus and the Rich Man seem to dispel that theory. The Bible says that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Christ is Lord. But does this grant them salvation? No, they had already made their choice in life.

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            • David I’m just getting back to this conversation.

              Answering your comment about Lazarus and the Rich Man: The point of this story seems, to me, to be as follows.

              This story is Christ’s exposition, in story form, of the true condition of mankind when he arrived on Earth. He sees a “great gulf fixed” between those who suffer in the afterlife on account of their evil deeds (such as not sharing with the poor) and those who are comforted and have their earthly sufferings made up to them in Abraham’s bosom.

              ***

              The hidden teaching about this story is teaching about Jesus himself – the Lord is setting the stage that will give meaning to his sacrifice, burial, and resurrection. Jesus, we can see, feels and is aware of the suffering of lost souls in the afterlife. He takes care to arouse pity in us toward these people. Then he teaches us about the need no one can meet. Even Abraham, the Great Patriarch and Friend of God, who came within a a hair’s breadth of staying the hand of judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah, can do nothing for these lost souls. There is something in the nature of reality that prevents any rescue efforts on their behalf – the “great gulf.”

              Not only that, but the enormous faith of the patriarchs and prophets is not able to save the lost souls whether in Gehenna or on Earth.They do not heed them. Theoretically, Abraham could send Lazarus’ spirit to preach to the lost souls, but even that extreme measure would not save them. The religion founded on the faith of Abraham, we see, is insufficient for humanity’s full healing. A greater faith is needed – the faith of a Man who could die and yield of his soul to God and descend into the grave and then come back carrying his lost sheep on his shoulder.

              “Hell laid hold on a corpse,
              and looked into the face of God.”

              How surprised Hell must have been: and we are on the other side of that surprise.

              When we compare this story to the parable of the lost sheep it is easy to see what Christ’s true attitude is toward Dives and his five brothers.

              Mark this as well: Dives, who in life was terribly arrogant, is now so humble he would accept a single drop of water to alleviate his suffering. He is now so selfless that even if he himself cannot be saved, he wants to send a missionary to his brothers. He does not balk at the moral dilemma of sending a blessed soul for the salvation of five miserable sinners; for even though we felt pity for Lazarus at the beginning of the story, we now see that he is, and always was, much better off than Dives and his five brothers.

              Therefore, those oppressors whom the Jewish scriptures excoriate are actually in the same boat as the rest of us: victims of Satan, lost sheep in need of the Good Shepherd. There’s no indication here that God’s attitude towards these people changes after their death. It’s just that the Jewish religion could do nothing more for them at that point.

              This idea that God is like a merciless parent who gets fed up with his kids and says, “Well, I gave you your last chance so now it’s all over between us,” is ridiculous. I don’t see it anywhere in scripture.

              ***

              Another thing I don’t see is Jesus adding anything to the doctrine of the afterlife. Every element of after-life imagery in this story is taken directly from rabbinic teaching, as far as I know. it’s not revelation: it’s merely a familiar stage for an unfamiliar story.

              If one takes the view of scripture that “every verse is a message straight from God to me,” rather than sticking to the biblical account that scripture is the words of holy men who spoke while being moved by God’s spirit, then one would be forced to assume that once the Bible says something, that something can never change lest the Bible message be falsified. Then you read a story like this and think, “God is telling me if I go to Gehenna upon my death, my situation is hopeless and nothing can be done for me.”

              That is certainly how I heard the story preached when I was a Baptist Fundamentalist.

              But that’s a lot like looking at various provisions of the Old Testament law and assuming that God wants us to still be stuck at that level of thought and practice. Just as Hebrews tells us that the law was imperfect, we must assume that the provisions for the dead before Christ’s resurrection were incomplete.

              So is that “great gulf” still fixed? Or did Jesus create a bridge when he died and rose again?

              “I Peter: 18 For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; 20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. 21 The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: 22 Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.”

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        • I am glad David that you know the fullness of God and so fully understand His being.

          “I will have mercy, not sacrifice”

          The God of the Bible also tells us to eat of His Body and drink of His blood for life’s sake.

          Done that lately or ever?

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          • Michael, the passage you refer to, if you read in context of the whole book, is not speaking of literal eating of flesh and literal drinking of blood. Please use proper exegesis before you make a smug comment.

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            • David we have not seen any exegesis from you yet, and so far your own smug comments include an accusation of atheism and heresy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not mad at you – but are you really here to amuse us?

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            • I said the context of the book clearly shows He is not speaking of eating a literal body or drinking literal blood.

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            • If I had a dollar for every time a fundamentalist said the word “clear” in lieu of actual exegesis I’d be building that house in the country right now.

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            • It’s not in lieu of exegesis. It is simply stating you can make the Bible say anything if you take it out of context as the other comment did. He was taking a cheap shot and those who don’t know Scripture will fall for it.

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            • My dear, it’s not a cheap shot. Haven’t you read that Christ was raised with a “spiritual body”? But a body is physical. Christ’s body and blood, then, are existing post-resurrection in a state of spiritual physicality. In such conditions, it is literally (non-metaphorically) possible to consume his body and blood, for it is no longer a grossly material body.

              I get the very strong feeling that when you speak of “knowing the Bible,” what you really mean is, “I’ve memorized a set of interpretations which I now equate with the verses themselves and I can no longer tell the difference between the verse and my interpretation of the verse. I defend this dishonest state in myself with vituperative words because I’m terrified that if one of my interpretations fail, the whole structure will come crashing down and I won’t know what to believe any more and then the big bad boogey-man that I call God will torture me for ever and ever and ever for my ignorance which he, for some reason I can’t fathom but stalwartly defend, calls a ‘choice’.”

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            • Did you even read his comment? He was implying that Christians are supposed to partake in cannibalism. It was a cheap shot. Now you are taking a cheap shot at my theology because you can’t accept the fact that your theology doesn’t even come close to squaring with Scripture in regards to the heresy of universalism. If universalism is true, why do we need to evangelize?

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            • David, I did indeed read his comment. He said nothing different than Christ himself said.

              John 6:53 “Jesus said to them, “I assure you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me lives because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. It isn’t like the bread your ancestors ate, and then they died. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.” 59 Jesus said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.”

              Over and over again he says explicitly, “eat my flesh and drink my blood,” and also “eat me.”

              As Michael pointed out, the early Christians were indeed accused of cannibalism. I’m guessing your own view of the Lord’s Supper is a very safe one, which no one could ever accuse of being cannibalism. I’m guessing it does not walk the thin knife-edge of truth, which is so precise and so daring that opposite errors yawn immediately on either side.

              And because of that I am forced to ask, what makes you think you believe the same as the early Christians, then? And if you do not believe the same as early Christians, on what authority do you found your certainty that your interpretation of the scripture is right and ours is wrong?

              John 6:60 “Many of his disciples who heard this said, “This message is harsh. Who can hear it?”

              Interestingly enough, in “context,” the verses I quoted above were not the initial teaching, which Jesus then explains more clearly. Rather they are the final teaching, the clarification of earlier teaching which also offended the Jews. No further clarification is given; only a rebuke of unbelief. Therefore not only the words of scripture, but also their context, are on our side.

              ***

              However, this whole point was brought up by Michael for the purpose of showing you your inconsistency – and it’s a fair point. You want certain passages to be taken “literally” and you vociferously refuse to take other passages literally, and your only defense of this inconsistency is “The Bible is clear.”

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            • “If Universalism is true, why do we need to evangelize?”

              Good question, David.

              Well, first of all, I conceive that God does not wish anyone to live in sin on this earth – that is reason enough.

              Secondly, I conceive that God has great pity for those that suffer after their death and wishes everyone to escape this dreadful fate. That is also reason enough. It is still reason enough, even if we have hope that the suffering will eventually end.

              If you have a choice between your kid spending 40 years in prison and spending no years in prison, would you really say, “Oh, well, he’ll get out eventually. Let him do whatever.”

              Thirdly, I conceive that God is calling to himself whoever will be saved in this time. The called of God are given the privilege of working with him toward the eventual salvation of all, and will be rewarded accordingly in the next life. We are priests for the world, and kings of the world.

              I don’t personally do the work of the evangelist. I believe that some are gifted for that. I do what I can. Most of what I do for God involves prayer both for the living and the dead. I try to speak the truth as I see it, when I encounter someone who is willing to listen and discuss. But the mysteries of the human spirit are great, and the mysteries of providence are greater. It’s good that I don’t have to panic about getting people saved any more. Because that was never in my power in the first place.

              Good is good and evil is evil,. Without the artificial deadline of death, we still face that reality and the need to work for good and against evil. We just have our scope of influence expanded. But that does not nullify the importance of the earthly side of the scope. It just defines it more.

              I think Universalism helps evangelism. If you tell someone they should believe in God, and they say “What God?” it is good to be able to say, “The God who loves you unconditionally and is not trying to force you to himself on threat of torture.”

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  6. David the exegesis I give it is what the Orthodox Church has always given it. A profound and deeply mysterious reality. But a reality nonetheless. It is not “literal” as I suspect you use the word, but real.

    The whole context describes those who cannot hear it as such no longer follow Christ.

    There is more in heaven and earth my friend then dreamt of in your philosophy.

    Forgive though I do not mean to offend.

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    • Yes, I agree that the word ‘literal’ is important in both of these conversations: the one about Christ’s body and blood, and the one about eternal punishment. For some people, ‘literal’ means ‘physical.’ That, I believe, is generally incorrect. For some, it simply means, “The words are not used in a metaphorical sense.” That is strictly correct. For others, it’s a stab at a general idea of “Did he really mean it the way it sounds, or not?” This is an acceptable usage, though kind of fuzzy and prone to cause misunderstandings.

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  7. David, the exegetical tradition of the Orthodox Church goes back 2000 years pre-dating the Bible itself.

    It is founded on the teaching that Jesus gave his disciples after He resurrected (briefly described in Luke 24). It is based upon the revealed truth received by the Apostles which they taught in many ways in many places. Some of that teaching written down and became the Bible. Our tradition is founded upon the Apostolic teaching and the living experience of the Holy Spirit in the Church throughout that entire time. The Bible is a cornerstone of that and we are never without the words and wisdom it contains. The Orthodox Church prays the Bible constantly.

    Your objection that I was saying Christians should be cannibals is interesting as that is exactly one of the prevalent slanders of the Roman pagan persecutors of the Church during her first 300 years or so.

    As to your charge that I have taken things out of context: I am sure that is true from your point of view, but I don’t share your context at all. In my context which I share with AR (although she has far greater Scriptural knowledge) it is the various Protestant traditions that have taken the Bible out of the context of the worshipping, sacramental community to whom it was given and within whom it was codified. By doing so, great damage was done.

    In any case, given the vast difference between your context and mine, it is quite difficult to communicate in any effective way. The meaning of many words is understood quite differently in each context.

    Keep in mind that AR is a knowledgeable, faithful communicant in the Orthodox Church who loves Jesus Christ. The type of theological conversations she hosts here have been going on in the Orthodox Church for 2000 years because for us salvation is all about communion with our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ. Therefore we explore as many facets of that communion as possible; realizing as we do, that there is always more.

    We Orthodox dare to believe and to proclaim: Love wins, life wins and death is trampled down by our Lord’s death on the Cross. God’s love is ineffable and infinite beyond anything we can comprehend.

    Although the Church is clear that there is a judgment, She is also clear that mercy abounds where sin abounds. Without the judgment, there could be no mercy; without mercy the judgment is simply tyrannical will. Tyranny cannot exist in love. How judgment and mercy work in God’s plan I don’t think we can ever know because God’s judgment is not our judgment and His mercy is not ours either.

    The Christian faith is one of antinomies–the greatest of all is that Jesus Christ if fully God and fully man! God became flesh without ceasing to be God!

    He took on our nature and our body. He did not drop that when He rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father. He longs for all of us to be with Him. The question the seems to inform AR’s exploration of mercy is this: “Can God’s mercy be overcome by evil?” It is a good and decent question. Not worthy of condemnation at all.

    I have found it wise to remember that “…in the course of justice, none of us should see salvation.”

    We are all broken, seeking the healing mercy of God in His Son. Why should we limit that mercy to only what we can comprehend, poor, fallen and struggling, finite creatures that we are?

    May the mercy and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you and your family. May we all sup together at His table in His Risen presence when He returns.

    Forgive me a poor, unworthy sinner.

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  8. As to the word “literal” the following is from the on-line Etymological Dictionary.

    literal (adj.) Look up literal at Dictionary.com late 14c., “taking words in their natural meaning” (originally in reference to Scripture and opposed to mystical or allegorical), from Old French literal and directly from Late Latin literalis/litteralis “of or belonging to letters or writing,” from Latin litera/littera “letter, alphabetic sign; literature, books” (see letter (n.1)). Meaning “of or pertaining to alphabetic letters” is from late 15c. Sense of “verbally exact” is attested from 1590s, as is application to the primary sense of a word or passage. Literal-minded is attested from 1791.literally (adv.) Look up literally at Dictionary.com 1530s, “in a literal sense,” from literal + -ly (2). Erroneously used in reference to metaphors, hyperbole, etc., even by writers like Dryden and Pope, to indicate “what follows must be taken in the strongest admissible sense” (1680s), which is opposite to the word’s real meaning and a long step down the path to the modern misuse of it.
    We have come to such a pass with this emphasizer that where the truth would require us to insert with a strong expression ‘not literally, of course, but in a manner of speaking’, we do not hesitate to insert the very word we ought to be at pains to repudiate; … such false coin makes honest traffic in words impossible. [Fowler, 1924]

    So given the above definition and meaning of the word “literal” I have to ask: When is the Scripture ever wholly and completely “literal”? If it were just the words on the page, it would not give life would it?

    Given that Our Lord frequently used parables and was often oblique in His quoted words how much does a “literal” interpretation avail us much? Is such an interpretation even possible?

    The Fathers of the Church used allegory extensively in their exegesis. In fact, Luke 24 and the Apostolic teaching that flowed from what Christ revealed there and later led them in that direction.

    The Body and Blood of which I partake is in the form of bread and wine but no less the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ imbued with His life by the Holy Spirit. Broken for us on the Cross, poured out for the life of the world. It is real but a living reality that is simply not reducible to a “literal” meaning.

    Besides if hell and judgment are to be taken a “literally” why not the Body and Blood which saves us from that hell?

    OR: “All generations shall call me blessed” David, when was the last time you called Mary, the mother of God, the God bearer, Blessed? If you take the Holy Scriptural literally, that would seem to be incumbent upon you would it not?

    I bring up John 6 and Luke 1 not to just to be smug and certainly not to be smug in this post at all, but these are simple statements in the Holy Scripture that are replete with meaning and significance. How some one responds is important even crucial.

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