For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all. (Romans 11:32)
I'm in Common Grounds mid-April, running finger slow under this line in my Bible. Rain whispers against the window, cappuccino cup is half-drained, over my shoulder, an order is called and an espresso is pulled. I read the line again, a third time, and sit back on the stool and feel feet dangle idle as I ponder.
It does say all. All have been condemned, all may be redeemed.
The rain picks up a bit and I see myself in the window reflected. I feel old in this moment, beholding self, realizing that were this thought to cross my mind four years ago, I would have recoiled. Now, I feel a resolved sort of understanding.
Madeleine L'Engle's devotional peeks at me from the book stack beside my arm. She told me this morning that God seeks out every soul. She was a universalist, a Christian one at that. Only through Jesus, she said, but when and where that happened, in this life or the life beyond, that was the property of God.
And the words echo in my soul:
The other passages, the other Scriptures, the places where all, whole, entire spill out over page, word of God. I understand it. How it happens, how those alls and wholes and entires, along with all our mortal longing and wanting and desiring, to this sort of Christian universalism, the Body broken for each and every, received into each and every.
I read Rob Bell's book when it came out. I wasn't much impressed. His Greek is weak and his argument circuitous. Others have said the same, but better. Others that I have read, heard, listened to, shared a meal with once or twice.
I understand them, their hearts, their big and full and loud hearts. Loud hearts like mine.
I understand, because it's not hard to be a Christian universalist. Read those passages that particular way, hold the Scripture close with that big desiring love, and it can happen to you. That big loud heart and all those people you've watched lowered into the earth, between the two, you can count up each and every all, whole, entire. You can find yourself there.
This is a roundabout way of saying something that needs saying: we need to have a different kind of conversation.
I am not a Christian universalist. I'm not even that close to chancing my hand at becoming one. But when I read the Scripture, I sit back some mornings and think, I see it. I see how they got there.
I don't agree with them, but I see it.
Recognition is a grace.
I see how people could think Jesus wasn't incarnate God. I see how people could think the resurrection is only a metaphor. I see how people could think the God of the Old Testament isn't like the God of the New.
And I disagree, hard and fast, but I see it.
I don't much enjoy apologetics. It has a place, but it's not my calling. I with cappuccino cup and fogging windows need the space to invite someone to sit beside, to rest their heartbeat against mine, and in our disagreement still recognize other, made in Image of God, and our commonness that brought us to this leaning against.
I'm not a relativist. What's True for you has to be True for me, or else there isn't Truth. (A different topic altogether, but mind where I'm going.)
But the conversations we have need to start here, with this: is this more plausible than I have let myself believe?
Is it possible that this other loves Jesus as much as I do?
Is it possible that this other is trying as hard as I am to love Him right?
Because, if I'm honest, it's easy to be a Christian universalist. Even if I'm not.
Forgive me for interrupting the series on why I am still Baptist. It shall resume next week but, today, things needed saying. You're all quite considerate, so I think you'll indulge me.