I’m Not A Universalist, But I Hope God Is

img_0472“I’m not a universalist, but I hope God is.”
One of my mentors, Tony Kriz, shared with a group of us last summer. Those words have haunted me ever since. A Universalist is someone who believes God will someday allow all people into heaven. It’s a theological position with some reasonable support but widely rejected by most of Christianity.

What stuck with me was the hope Tony is willing to hold.
What bothers me is when other’s reject this hope.

A few years back, I was sitting in a large auditorium listening to a sermon from a mega church pastor. He was quoting from various atheist scientists about their reasons for not believing in God. After he was done sharing their thoughts, he turned over his paper, looked up to the rest of the congregation and proclaimed with a wry smile on his face,

“Well, all these atheists are dead so they know they’re wrong now. Too bad it’s too late!”

The crowd of about 700 erupted in laughter at the pastor’s joke. I sat there stunned not only at his attempt at humor, but that the crowd found it funny. Why are we laughing at the possibility other’s are going to hell?

I Told You So And Other Childish Reactions

Something has gone profoundly wrong with how we live out our faith if we celebrate the possible wrongness of others. it wreaks of arrogance and self-righteousness. It simply does not line up with the Apostle Paul who was willing to go to hell if it meant heaven for another. (1) This attitude flies in the face of so many of Jesus’ stories about eternity. He constantly told stories warning those who thought they were in. Conversely, He had good news for those who assumed they were out. My favorite of these stories is about a religious leader and sinner going to church.

He told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people: “Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: ‘Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.’

“Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, ‘God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.’”

Jesus commented, “This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.” -Luke 18:9-14

You can think your right and not realize how far away from God you really are. You can think your far away and be surprised by how close He is. We make terrible gate keepers but we can become adequate sign posts. Good News should make us compassionate, not cruel. The only necessary ingredient is hope.

Room At The Table

Sometimes I wonder if the one thing a Christian must do is hope. We hope for a voice for the silenced, a home for the homeless, and a refuge for the vulnerable. We hope for those far away and we hope for those who are near. We hope to be surprised by grace. We hope God is better than we’ve been told. We hope there is more room at the table. We hope for his kingdom to come and his will be done.

I hope he’s preparing a place for me, and you’ll be my next door neighbor.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

 

  1. Romans 9:3

Rocket Ships, Arks, and Why We Don’t Wanna Go

I’m an over thinker when it comes to the church and spirituality. I’ll give you that. However, I have found some interesting coorelations with the shape of a church building and how we have viewed God. I googled a few images of church buildings and discovered something fasciniating. I think it may reveal why you don’t feel like getting up and getting the kids ready on Sunday. Also, I think it may give us some hope for what could be next.

country-church-e1359412665870Rocket Ships

This is probably the oldest and most recognized church architectures. It sometimes has a bell in the tower and the cross at the top allowed the whole town to recognize the building from miles away.

Now, look closer. What is this building’s architecture tell us about how people used to view God? It’s all pointed upward. In fact, the steeple looks an awful lot like a rocket ship.(1) We used to view God as up in the heavens somewhere. He would occasionally come down to earth to meddle in our affairs or bless us. The problem with this kind of God is, He becomes optional. Where was God during Katrina or 9-11 or your job loss? If He’s up there, and we’re down here, then it seems like life goes on without him.

A Rocket Ship spirituality means God is up there.
A Rocket Ship spirituality means we go to church to reach him.

church-architecture-interior-interior-designs-usArks

This is a picture of the inside of a church building. It has the beautiful enourmous wood beams. It echoes. It’s warm and safe. If you turned this picture upside down it would also remind you of the frame of large ship. Possibly even the hull of Noah’s Ark.

No wonder, we used to view God as something we were called to protect. We saw this world as quickly going to hell and so church became a place to huddle together as we navigate the rising waters of judgment. Some home schooled their children or started God Bod aerobics or made it their mission to take back America for Jesus.

Regardless, God became something we kept to ourselves in the church building. A specific morality and an agreement to particular belief statements became our admission. Sadly, the great chasm of secular and sacred widened as labeling everyone and everything in or out helped us make better sense of the world. We neglected our planet because it’s all gonna burn anyway. We ignored the suffering in our world today so we could prevent eternal suffering for as many that would agree with us.

An Ark spirituality means God is in the building.
An Ark spirituality means we go to church to protect him.

What’s Next?

It’s interesting how many rocket ship and ark shaped churches are closing. I drove by one the other day that has been remodeled into a pub. The lack of available real estate and the increased difficulty in zoning laws has forced most new churches to rent spaces like elementary schools, community centers, and warehouses. While some are threatened, I think this could be the best thing that’s ever happened to the American church!

If the church was no longer about a rocket ship or an ark or any building, this could force us to view God differently. In actuality, I think it could help churches catch up to how younger generations already view God. God would become decentralized and our personal spirituality would take on more meaning and value.

God is not up there somewhere or in a certain building. God is actually all around us, local, and meaningful in each and every moment of our lives.

“Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” – Deut. 31:6

We could no longer go to church to reach God or to protect Him. We could go on Sunday to be reminded God can be experienced and enjoyed on Monday.

“For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.'” -Acts 17:28

What will the future architecture of the church look like? I wonder if the less we connect God to a building, the better. What if, when you and I googled the church, a diverse group of people serving the vulnerable, loving the city, and creating a future was what showed up? Instead of trying to reach him, we were convinced he is already here. Rather than trying to protect him, we began proclaiming his love. In place of a location we gather, there would be a people that go. At least, that’s the picture I imagine.

“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” -1 Cor. 3:16

 

  1. You can read more about this idea in the book Grounded by Diana Butler Bass.
  2. You can read more about this idea by following Dr. Paul Metzger’s writings.