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I'm just coming to see some things differently.
I've never been comfortable with this whole idea of hell presented in the American Christian church. It's never made sense to me that the very God who sent His son to die for all humanity and who loves us so very much, would stop at the moment we die. He loves you today, but if you've not chosen to come to Him and happen to get in a car accident and die - well then it's too late now, you'll burn forever in eternal torment in hell. Or what about the people who grow up in countries where the dominant religion is anti-Christianity? They've been steeped in lies and are somehow expected to break free of all that and come to Jesus; if they aren't able to, then eternal torment in hell will be theirs. That's just never made sense to me. Our lives on this planet earth are so brief in the scheme of eternity.
In the past I've just chosen to ignore all that and figure that God is good and trustworthy and I'll trust Him to figure it all out. But my heart in recent years has gravitated toward the writings of Bible scholars, speakers, and thinkers who look at the Bible differently in regard to Hell. I'm attracted to those writers who believe that the cross truly was a cosmic event that saved the world.
I've always believed that if someone extrapolates something different from historic Christian tradition, that it is probably wrong. My thought has been that if centuries of Christians have interpreted the Biblical texts a specific way, why would they all be wrong? Those centuries of Believers have all had the Holy Spirit within them - so why would they all be wrong? Since these thoughts of universalism aren't what the American church teaches, it has put me in a quandary.
So I've started searching. Are these thoughts of you-only-get-one-chance-and-it's-here-on-earth-and-if-you-blow-it's-hell-forever-for-you the only thing that's ever been taught by the Christian church since it's inception?
It's this question that has led me to a book entitled The Early Christian Fathers that has been edited and translated by Henry Bettenson. This book includes selections of writings from individuals who are considered Church Fathers. One such individual is Origen Adamantius. As you can see from the article I've linked here to Origen's name, he was a controversial figure. Yet he wrote an incredible volume of scholarly works, he was a profound student of the Bible, and an unquestionable Christian philosopher. He was born around 185 AD. So when I read his writings, I'm reading from someone who participated in church life on the heels of our Savior's death and resurrection.
It's interesting to note that he lived and wrote earlier than Augustine. Augustine began the tradition that Calvin amplified and expounded. Those ideas imply that only some people are chosen by God; and those chosen people will come to God through no work of their own. Yet these same ideas propose that some people are not chosen by God and so are destined for eternal torment. Jesus said He came to bring the good news - this is not good news! I'm thinking it is good news that Jesus died for ALL of humanity and will eventually restore all people unto Himself. When I look at a scripture such as Philippians 2:9-11 stating that the day will come when everyone will call Jesus Lord, along side of the verse from 1 Corinthians 12:2-3 that shows that only the Holy Spirit can allow you to proclaim Jesus is Lord, I become more convinced that indeed Jesus will bring all people to Himself.
There's a segment from one of Origen's writings that has captured my attention and captivated my thoughts. It is in the part of the book where Origen has been discussing final things, and the final judgement. Then he says :
"We suppose that the goodness of God will restore that the whole creation to unity in the end, through Christ, when his enemies has been subdued and overcome...(2)...The human race...will be restored to the unity promised by the Lord Jesus...[John Xvii. 22, 23]...(3)...Whether any of those orders [viz. the opposing powers] who act under the devil's leadership...will be able in some future ages to be converted to goodness, inasmuch as they still have the power of free will; or whether a persistent and inveterate evil becomes the long habit their very nature, I leave to the reader's judgment: whether that part of creation will be utterly sundered from the final unity and harmony and not be restored in the present ages of time 'which are seen' nor in the ages of eternity 'which are not seen'. Meanwhile both in time and in eternity all these beings are dealt with in due order and proportion according to their deserts; so that some are restored in the first ages, some in later, some even in the last times; restored through greater and heavier punishments, and penalties of long duration which are endured perhaps through many ages....(4)...[the end of matter.] If the 'heavens will be changed' 5, what is changed certainly does not perish; and if 'the fashion of the world passes' 6 this does not mean utter annihilation but a kind of change of quality.....[cf Isa lxvi.22]...In the end 'God will be all in all'7."
I've linked the footnotes to the verses they represent above as well as those places where he wrote in the reference. (Throughout this post, any time you see colored writing it either links to Bible references or related information). What fascinates me about Origin's thoughts here is this idea that there are the first ages, later ages, and last times. He seems to present the idea that people may go through punishment after death and at some point realize that they were wrong, repent, and come to God. This opens up the possibility that eventually everyone will come to Christ.
Opening up my mind to the possibility that the Bible might be teaching that Jesus died for everyone and that all humanity will eventually be reconciled to Him, has changed me. Having these ideas in my mind makes me feel differently toward people. There are no more outsiders and insiders. I have more of a feeling of us all being in this business of life together. I have a more patient approach to people; a calmness that they will eventually get there. I Experience a deep inner happiness to think that these people who I like and am interacting with who are not of faith will eventually get there. This is really good news!