A Wideness in God’s Mercy: God’s Personal Universalism
by Bruce Epperly
As he looks over Jerusalem, Jesus compares himself to a mother hen, whose desire is to protect her chicks. For Jesus, God’s love is like a mother – or a father – who is willing to do anything to save her child. Indeed, divine love is so great it goes to the cross for us and our salvation.
God loves too much, at least in the estimate of many preachers and theologians. They can’t imagine a god who chooses to have no enemies, who rescues the perishing and cares for the dying, even when they’ve gone astray. But, that’s precisely what God does: God rescues the wayward sheep, the coin caught in the cracks, and a son who purposely snubs his father. (see Luke 15) If anyone is not saved, it is surely not God’s doing or intention. “All who call upon God’s name will be saved” (Romans 10:13). What is it about “all” these preachers and theologians don’t get?
While I have gained from the work of Augustine and Calvin, their vision of an omnipotent deity who is fully responsible for our salvation and either overlooks or predestines the majority of humankind is a far cry from Jesus’ message. Further, the notion that our salvation depends on the recitation of a few sentences is equally distant from the all-embracing love of God. For grace to be grace, there can be no conditions. There may be consequences as a result of our behaviors, but nothing we can do can nullify God’s love for us. God never gives up on us, even when we give up on God. That’s the love of a parent, the love of a mother for her death row son, the love of a father for his addicted daughter. Isn’t God’s love as great as ours?
Divine universalism takes two forms: God’s intent to save all persons and God’s desire to be known by all creatures. In the first case, God’s love never ends and has no limits in time or space. Not even death can defeat God’s love. This is in contrast to the beliefs of many orthodox Christians who see death as stronger than God, that is, if we die in sin or without a relationship with God, God gives up on us.
For God, death is a “comma” and not a “period.” Beyond the grave, I believe, God continues to work in our lives, enabling us to grow in love and grace and to eventually say “yes” to the One who loved us into life and received us in our deaths.
In the second case, God provides many ways for us to know God. God reveals Godself in every culture, historical epoch, and religious tradition. It is my belief that the omni-active, omnipresent God, is the ultimate source of spiritual diversity. God’s revelations are tailor made to the world’s differing cultures. Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam are not falls from grace, but revelations of divine love appropriate to their time and place. Moreover, the world’s various religious traditions are dynamic, not static, and evolving in relationship to culture and history. Today, the world’s religions are evolving as a result of their encounters with one another. This is as much a result of God’s doing as our own.
Furthermore, God approaches each person uniquely. God’s call is adjusted to who we are and to our spiritual maturity. In God’s universal love, God is the ultimate relativist, seeking a personal relationship with each unique human. God is a “different god” depending our life situation. That’s what it means for God to have a personal relationship with us.
I hope to expand on these universalist reflections later, but in the meantime, I solicit your questions and thoughts as we seek to be attentive to the One who loves us into life and whose love companions us into an everlasting adventure.