This is the final post in a three-part series exploring a book called, If Grace is True: Why God Will Save Every Person by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland. Today, I wish to share a few biblical thoughts on the idea of universalism and God’s love, and also share some thoughts from Christians over the past 2000 years and how they have responded to the claims that God will save all people.
An all too familiar starting place will locate us in the 15th chapter of the gospel of Luke. In this chapter, Jesus shares with the Pharisees three parables – the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. All of these share this common theme of something being lost, and then the rejoicing of being found. But also present in these stories is the undying, unfailing love of the one seeking. This is especially noticeable in the first two. Jesus poses a question near the beginning of each: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?” (Verse 4); “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?” (Verse 8). Then in the story of the prodigal son, upon seeing his son in the distance, the father is filled with compassion and runs to him and kisses him.
From these, I do not find it to be too big of a stretch to think that God’s love is truly unfailing and that there is truly no place where we can escape from God’s love. Is God’s love as great as we say it is? If so, why wouldn’t it continue to work until the last sheep or coin is found, and why wouldn’t it continue to flow until all of God’s creation is brought back into a oneness with him? We also see in these parables the intentionality of the one seeking, laying aside all other matters and focusing strictly on finding the lost one. Is it plausible to think that this is what God does with all humans? Gulley and Mulholland write, “God’s love is without condition. He does not accept us because we are good. God is good, loving, and merciful and therefore accepts us. We are free to resist the grace of God, but we are not free to separate ourselves from God’s love.” This quote raises more questions. If we are able to resist grace but not God’s love, which trumps the other – grace or love? Are they the same thing? Are we saved by God’s grace or by God’s love?
The apostle Paul’s writings are also filled with language of ALL things being reconciled to God and being brought back under the head of Christ. He touches on the idea in Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, and Colossians. Two church fathers, Origenand St. Jerome, took these instances so seriously that they believe that God will one day be reconciled with Satan. Now that’s quite a thought. The early church in general is thought to believe in the salvation of every person according to Gulley and Mulholland, especially those in the Alexandrian schools. The Eastern Church also held strongly to the idea that all would be saved.
I wanted to close with a couple thoughts from Christians in history.
“In the end and consummation of the Universe all are to be restored into their original harmonious state, and we all shall be made one body and be united once more into a perfect man, and the prayer of our Savior shall be fulfilled that all may be one.” – St. Jerome, 331-420
“Participation in bliss awaits everyone.” – St. Gregory of Nyssa, 335-390
“The mass of men say that there is to be an end of punishment to those who are punished.” – St. Basil the Great, 329-379
“There are very many who though not denying the Holy Scriptures, do not believe in endless torments.” – Augustine, 354-430