- God is Love!
- Eternal Torture?
- Eternal Death?
- A Mystical Understanding of the Judgment
- Universal Restoration
- Does Salvation Mean "Knowing Jesus?"
If you already know, without an atom of doubt—that God is Love, and that all will be restored to him, you might as well skip this page. But if the teaching of hell has left you believing that some will be eternally separated from love, you need to be sure. Read on.
God is Love
This is the Good News taught by Yeshua of Nazareth, Jesus the Christ. God is the Father, not just the Source of all that is, but the loving Source of all that is. Or as St. John even more succinctly put it, God is love. (1 John 4:8, 16) Not "loving." Not "full of love," but simply is love, period. Because God is universal love, the early church often held the idea of universal salvation. But unfortunately, the Good News often becomes "mixed news" in modern church pews. The distorted version of Christianity taught to many is a subtle dualism, with an eternal heaven and eternal hell, eternal bliss and eternal torture, an eternal God saving the few, and an eternal devil snaring the many. This teaching is terribly mistaken, yet widely accepted—even demanded—in many branches of Christianity.
There is the idea that God is love, but will also torment all who "do not accept Jesus" (itself a gross misunderstanding of the gospel) forever. The resulting image is not only monstrous, but an impossible contradiction. It's inconceivable to imagine any person causing the pain of another forever. Maybe a a day perhaps. Maybe a few years, if I'm exceptionally evil. But who among us would torture even Hitler forever? If he were tortured ten years for every person who died in World War II, that's 530,000,000 years. And as some would gladly remind you, that's not even a second as far as forever is concerned.
No one other than a psychopath could torment anyone endlessly. No father could punish his children endlessly. But some say that the One who is Infinite Love does it forever. Something is wrong!
We have been told that:
- the punishment for finite crimes is infinite punishment.
- the One who is infinite Love has finite patience-but patience is a quality of love! (1 Cor. 13;4)
- the One of infinite might has a plan that finite man can thwart.
The threat of eternal torture is like a gun pointed to a person's head. It turns a loving invitation into spiritual rape. A further problem is that an eternal punishment is pointless, since it does not rehabilitate or heal. Shall we accept this picture at face value, contrary to our own knowledge of love, contrary to our own experience of God's nature, and contrary to innumerable promises of Scripture, or, shall we delve deeper, to get at the essential truths of what the Bible calls judgment and salvation?
Nothing in the Bible suggests that punishment after death is irrevocable except for the drama of some images and the entrenched mistranslation of some words and passages. The word in the Greek NT most often translated as "forever" or "eternal" is aion which means an age, and the adjectival form, aionian, means age-long. This is the source of the English word eon. The corresponding Hebrew term is olam, "age" or "world." Both these terms indicate conditions with an indefinite, but not an infinite, duration.
Eternal and forever are unfortunate mistranslations for age and world, both of which end, as God is the Creator and Sustainer of both.
God's "eternity" is not even described in the Bible, except as he relates to humanity, in time. For true eternity is not infinite time, but the complete absence of time. Time is part of creation, but God transcends time. God is in time, as he is in all things in Creation, but he is over time. God is not "eternal;" rather he is eternity. To God, there is nothing but Now, as there is no space but Here. Hence, Jesus, speaking of his eternal God-spirit, said "before Abraham was, I am," not "I was before Abraham." Eternity and Infinity are part of the essence of God. Everything else, including time itself, is a finite creation. which will be restored to him as God becomes "all in all." (1 Cor. 15.28)
Jesus sometimes spoke about the final harvest, and the chaff being "burned". The implication is destruction, in some passages, the word destruction is actually used. Jesus sounds here like his cousin, John the Baptist, preaching dire consequences for fruitlessness which again, is not bearing the fruit of love. Some groups interpret this destruction as eternal destruction, that "burning" means burning up, the annihilation of the soul, "eternal" death. Separation from the Creator by being un-created. A closely related interpretation is "conditional immortality", that death is the natural destination for all. In this view, all die as dead as doornails, and only "the saved" are raised again to life. But this interpretation not only negates the very concept of man as being "the image of God," with an immortal soul, but it still presents an infinite punishment for finite errors. Its only essential difference from the eternal torture view, is there is no suffering or regret in this judgment, (which makes it rather pointless.) God is supposed to simply write off an overwhelming majority of his children.
This is an even more compelling reason why this interpretation is lacking. Something happened on the cross. Something that shifts everything which came before into a new light. Jesus forgave us.
Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.
Forgiveness was pronounced—and it wasn't forgiveness for the "believers." Any "age-long destruction" must allow for change and salvation, since forgiveness has been proclaimed. Some may object that after the resurrection, the true nature of Jesus is known, therefore, his forgiveness doesn't apply to us. But from the standpoint of Divinity, how can any person know what they are doing? We make decisions based on limited information, with limited perspectives, influenced by genes, biochemistry, memories, regrets, hopes, manipulation, dreams, delusions, and fears. Consider this: did you really know what you were doing when you accepted Jesus? How can anyone know what they are really doing in rejecting him, or more accurately, what they perceive to be him? We don't. Forgiveness has been proclaimed.
A Mystical Understanding of the Judgment
So why are all these images in the Bible? Scripture rarely presents theological arguments. Instead, it speaks to particular situations in the language and metaphors appropriate for that situation. The judgment passages show there are consequences to not following the message of love. Indeed there are, just as loving has its own consequences. There is a "burning" that one suffers as a result of resisting the divine will, which simply stated is to love. But burning within is a universal symbol of love. Love is often symbolized by fire. God is even called "fire" in the Bible. (Ex. 3.21, Heb. 12.29)
Imagine God as a huge fire—a fire of love, and you are a small flame in that fire, burning with love as God burns with love. The huge fire doesn't burn you, it cannot burn you, because you yourself are fire. For you, fire is room temperature, it is your environment, your home. This is heaven. You can experience it now. You have probably experienced it to some degree already.
Now imagine a different scenario, that you are cold. If love is fire, you are an ice cube. You are frozen, cold to God, yourself, your fellow men. How will the fire of love feel to you? It burns! The holy fire of love now burns you, being hundreds of degrees warmer than you. It threatens to overwhelm you, you seek to distance yourself from fire for your survival. But there is no escape. The divine Presence is everywhere, an omnipresent law, and there is nowhere where unlovingness does not create suffering, whether one can disguise the pain or not. This is hell. You can experience it now. You have probably experienced it to some degree already.
However, suppose that instead of trying to flee the ever-present fire, you decide to embrace the fire and allow yourself to be transformed into fire, will it still burn you? Of course not. Both punishment and reward are simply the consequences of moving in either the toward-God or the away-from-God directions. Move toward God, move toward Love, become fire, and burning stops; move away from God, away from Love, become cool, and burning increases. We can see that the Judgment is simply the way things are, since God is love. To love is to be spiritually present with God, to burn with divine love, and enjoy divine Presence. To be unloving is to be spiritually absent from God, hurt by the omnipresent demands of love, and deprived of the benefits of Presence. It is never called the "last judgment," but "the last day." It's not a punishing verdict, but an eternal principle. The law of love is irrevocable. But as self-inflicted pain, it is age-long aionian. Nothing implies that that there is no longer choice, nor change, nor movement of the soul.
Eternal Life: The Restoration of All Things To God
There is far more to the good news than the fact that we can always come back to God. Many scriptures indicate that we all will come back to God, and this is the overwhelming vision of Christian mystics. The words all and every are used dozens of times to indicate the scope of God's salvation. Apokatastasis (universal restoration) was mentioned in the second sermon of the apostles, "He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything." (Acts 3.21)
This is God's love affair with the world. God is a most ardent and persuasive lover. He warns us of how we will bring pain upon ourselves if we turn from his Love, but he is always there for our return. Yes, many Scripture passages about the judgment warn of the condemnation that afflicts those rejecting this Love. But the message remains: "Come to me." The promise of universal restoration is that we will return somehow, even the worst of us. An invitation eternally extended cannot be eternally rejected. The pain of our own resistance will move us to come back, to the only place where there is peace—this Love which is the only thing that really is. Every moment is an invitation. How long can one stave the sheer exhaustion of resisting what is nothing more than than love itself? Literally dozens of passages of Scripture say that salvation will be universal. All mankind, even all creation, will be saved. The hills shall jump for joy, the trees clap their hands, the lion and lamb lie down together. The rocks and stones will sing praises.
This is what is after the age-long judgment, which is nothing other than the wooing of the universe. St. Peter says Jesus preaches to the "spirits in prison;" St. Paul says that all will be brought to life in Christ. Then God will destroy death, and that everything will become subject to he, and "God will be all in all." (1Cor. 15.21-28) All has come from God. All will be restored to God. Great mystics have seen that as God is the Ultimate Reality, he will become the only reality. God will be all in all. This doesn't mean that consciousness ceases, that we are absorbed into unconscious non-existence, but that we will "become God," that is,all barriers will be stripped away, and he will permeate and transform every part of Creation. It is the very purpose of the Universe, the meaning of life. If you haven't yet, read the references in the sidebar now.
Does Salvation Mean "Knowing Jesus?"
No. The teaching that Jesus is the only path to salvation, contradicts the teachings of Jesus himself. In the three earlier Synoptic gospels, Jesus never suggests "believing in him" is the criterion for salvation. In fact, Jesus warns that it is not those who call him "Lord," who will enter heaven, but those who do the will of the Father. (Mt. 7.21) In the Judgment scene in Mt. 25.31-46, (far and away the most detailed description of judgment in the Bible), Jesus says that those who do good works, creating a better world for the "least of his brothers," actually do it for him whether they know it or not, and will be blessed with his Presence, while those who do not will suffer "burning" in the age-long fire which we've already discussed. Throughout these first three gospels, Jesus doesn't even seem to care if anyone "knows" him or has "a personal relationship" with him! He cares instead that people embrace his teaching—Good News—that the Kingdom of heaven is here, that God is "Father," that in embracing selfless love, we lose our false self, but gain the whole world.
On the other hand, the later gospel of John presents Jesus as the "Cosmic Christ," who is one with the Father, and called "Word", "Light", "Water of Life", and "the Way." The emphasis has shifted from the teaching to the Teacher, in light of his embodiment of the love of God. This Love is called Christ. When Jesus says, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father except by me," (Jn 14:6) he is speaking of his nature as the love of God made visible. It is only by being filled with Divine Love that we can "come to the Father." By whatever name it is given by followers of whatever religion or no religion, it is the same, and it is "the narrow gate" through which all must come. The human identity of its bearer is not what's important; the essential thing is following his example in loving unconditionally, becoming Christ. As he said: This is my commandment, love one another as I have loved you. (Jn.15.12)
Many passages in the apostles' writings at first glance suggest that belief in Jesus is essential. But the Bible never records the apostles using a threat of "damnation" for not accepting the Gospel. Paul's voice speaks especially strongly about universal salvation. Yet Paul also presents Jesus as the "necessary sacrifice" for sin, implying belief in him is mandatory. The reason for this is found in his letters, where he repeatedly explains his dual mission of presenting the Good News to both the Jews and the Gentiles, and adjusting his message to his audiences, "becoming all things to all men." (1 Cor. 9.19-23). His Jewish audiences demanded to know how sacrifice fits into this message, and so, Paul presents Jesus as the only sacrifice needed, the fulfillment of the Law. To Gentiles, he presents the cosmic Christ, "the love of God made visible," (Rm. 8.39) reconciling all things in heaven and earth to the Father through selfless love. (Eph. 1.10-11).
I'm not concerned with dealing with every difficult passage in Scripture here-others do this better than I (see box). Yet ultimately, it is not the Scripture we rely on for knowing God is love, and saves all. It is God/Love only, and knowing that One directly.
Doubt everything on this site before you doubt love.
Doubt the Bible before you doubt love.
Doubt yourself before you doubt love.
Doubt all that you believe to be God, before you doubt love.
Never doubt love.
God is love.