Can God Be Too Good? Part 1 by Monte Wolverton
Join Editor Monte Wolverton and Greg Albrecht on an eight-part mini-series journey through one of the most hotly debated, fascinating topics within our christian faith. Here is part 1 of “Can God Be Too Good?”
…And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.—Ephesians 3:17-19
Can We Hope That All Will Be Saved?
Sam Thompson sat on a concrete bench, staring at his father’s tombstone. “Where are you, Dad?” asked Sam aloud. “I don’t know how to think of you. When you passed on, what did you pass on to?”
Sam’s dad, Ed Thompson, had lived in the same house for nearly 60 years. Together, he and his wife had raised three kids—all of them now middle-aged. When Ed died, he had nine grandkids, four great grandkids and one on the way. His wife, Ellie, had passed away fourteen years ago. Ed missed her horribly, but between his family, his old business cronies and taking care of the house, he kept busy. He seemed healthy for a guy in his 80s. Then two weeks ago, he just fell asleep, sitting in his swing on the porch. He had a pretty good life—for an atheist.
His wife took the kids to church with her every Sunday. But Ed had never been remotely interested. He never talked about it—he had his private reasons for not believing in God. Ed’s kids speculated that there had been a bad experience with a church or a minister. No one knew for sure.
As Ed’s kids left home they went their separate theological ways. Ed’s oldest, Barbara, had become an ardent church goer. She had worked on her dad for years, hoping to get him to “say the Sinner’s Prayer” and to accept Jesus. But Ed wouldn’t budge. Barbara was devastated when he died. She was certain she would never see her father again, and she shuddered to think about him suffering in the blazing fires of hell.
At times Barbara was overwhelmed with guilt. If only she had tried harder—spent more time “witnessing” to her dad—set a better example. If only—but now it was too late. As far as Barbara was concerned, all hope for her father was lost.
Ed’s youngest, Mark, the “hippie” of the family, had no concerns whatsoever about his dad. In a vaguely New Age way, he believed that his dad, like everyone who died, went to a better place, regardless. Even “bad” people—they would all find some kind of peace in the afterlife. Sort of like that network TV show where the lady helps spirits of recently departed people pass into the light. As far as Mark was concerned, his dad had most certainly passed into the light.
Sam, the middle child and “moderate” Christian, didn’t know what to think about his dad, but he found his younger brother’s ideas about the afterlife
strangely attractive. Universalism, his sister had derisively called it —“nothing more than feel good wishful thinking!”
But Sam wasn’t sure. If God was infinitely loving and merciful, would he throw Sam’s dad into hell to fry forever just because he never understood Jesus? On the other hand, Sam couldn’t believe that everyone who ever
lived got a free ticket to heaven with no questions asked. Where did God draw the line?
If we had to pigeonhole the theology of Sam’s younger brother Mark, we might call it popular or pluralistic universalism. Mark has a lot of company. According to recent Barna surveys, 40% of respondents agree with the statement, “All people will experience the same outcome after death, regardless of their religious beliefs.”
That’s a good definition of pluralistic universalism. But there’s a big difference between pluralistic universalism and Christian universalism, as we’ll see. Watch for part 2 in the next few days.