by Young Oon Kim
The Final Homecoming
In one of his letters, Augustine described the faithful as citizens of another commonwealth where the king is truth, the law is love and its duration is everlasting. 42 What will occur when that heavenly city gets firmly established? Many Christians believe that once God's sovereignty is effectively secure over creation, the saints will enjoy the everlasting bliss of heaven and sinners will suffer eternal punishment in the fires of hell. Other Christians hold a very different view of the finale. For them the vision of an eternal hell is both immoral and incredible. As Berdyaev points out, to believe in an everlasting hell is to concede the ultimate victory to Satan and to confess that God will 43 discover it is impossible to win the love of all His erring children.
But what is the alternative to heaven for the good and damnation for the wicked? A growing number of theologians would say that the Christian hope logically necessitates a doctrine of universal salvation. 44 If we believe that God's love is omnipotent, then we must affirm the necessity of universal reconciliation between God and mankind. Sooner or later all men will return to the house of their eternal Father with its many mansions. God can never be fully happy until He rejoices in the restoration of everything now broken by pride and scarred by lust. To affirm the ultimate lordship of the God of heart implies the irresistible triumph of His agape over every obstacle which men have placed in its way. This belief since the time of Origen of Alexandria has been 45 technically called the doctrine of apocatastasis.
What arguments have been adduced for the Christian hope in universal salvation? Why have theologians like Schleiermacher dismissed the ancient belief in an eternal hell in favor of the view that through God's redemptive power there will one day be a universal restoration of all souls? 46
First, universalists appeal to God's irresistible love. If God be love, then for Him to carry out His plan for His children the divine love must be unconquerable. Why minimize God's mercy? Is not the divine love limitless and inexhaustible? According to the contemporary New Testament theologian Ethelbert Stauffer, God's irresistible grace and 47 will are destined to overcome the most obdurate opposition.
Berdyaev's exposition of universal reconciliation with God is derived from his belief in God's ultimate victory. Too many Christians believe more in the power of the Devil than in the power of God. If we are truly Christian, we must believe that hell will be vanquished by Christ. The final word must belong to God instead of Satan. Hell will 48 disappear in the fathomless, inexpressible depth of the Godhead.
Bishop Robinson used the same kind of proof for apocatastasis. Love is a necessity of the divine nature. God cannot be satisfied with anything less than total victory. His will to lordship is inexhaustible and so ultimately every sinner must yield to His love. An eternal hell would therefore be a mocking of God's essential nature. Of course, men are free, but that does not mean that they will permanently reject the appeal 49 of love. Every prodigal son will sometime return home.
A second proof for universal reconciliation is grounded in the essential worth of every man. As some universalists base their faith on the goodness of God, others believe in universal salvation because of the fundamental goodness of man. If God is too good to cast anyone into hell, then man is also too good to be damned forever. The poet Tennyson, for example, wrote that God would not toss anyone He had made on a rubbish heap when His work was finished. 50 Nearly all 19th century Christian liberals were of that opinion. They denied the traditional Biblical doctrine of eternal damnation because they were convinced of the infinite value of every human soul. Both Unitarians and Universalists won tens of thousands of former Calvinists to their churches because they proclaimed a reasonable Christianity which affirmed the perfection of God and the perfectibility of man. Man is created basically good; if he fails to realize his true nature, how often these defects of character are due to physical, biological, social and 51 historical forces beyond his control.
A corollary of this would be to recognize the solidarity of 52 mankind. We are all members of one body, to quote St. Paul. Can the eye get along without the hand? Can the brain survive without the heart? Since all humans are different but interdependent members of a single social body, then our fates are inextricably related. How can anyone, asks Berdyaev, be happy if he knows that most of his fellow humans are doomed to everlasting torture? How can pious Catholic theologians accept so easily the damnation of Aristotle simply because he happened to be a pagan when so much of their own theology depends upon Aristotle's wisdom? How can any decent Christian sit comfortably beside someone whom he knows will bum forever in hell? 53
Two of the greatest Biblical figures realized the importance of human solidarity. Moses told God that if He would not forgive the sins of Israel, he himself wanted to have his own name blotted out from the book of life (Ex. 32:31-32). Similarly, St. Paul expressed the fervent desire to become accursed in God's sight if his damnation would lead to the salvation of the Jewish people. 54 Hence, there is an implicit if not explicit belief in apocatastasis in Pauline soteriology; for if in Adam all die, in Christ all are made alive (I Cor. 15:22). Since we live as members of one body, we cannot really be saved except as an all inclusive community. If we long for the supreme joy of union with God, then we should realize that our bliss will be incomplete unless our fellowmen share in our happiness.
What are the main objections to the larger hope in universal reconciliation? First, the New Testament seems to teach that the messianic age will bring everlasting bliss to some and eternal damnation to others. At the final judgment the tares will be sifted from the grain and cast into the flames. In the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, Jesus depicts a great gulf between the saved and the lost (Lk. 16:19-31). Also he warns of an unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit. These and other texts indicate that Jesus agreed with the Pharisees in eternal damnation.
Schleiermacher and others point out, however, that the New Testament contains hints of universal salvation. Recent Catholic scholars (i.e. Hans Urs von Balthasar and Karl Rahner) therefore insist that we have a right to choose between the idea of eternal punishment and universal reconciliation because both have scriptural support. 55 Barth too insists that the Church has no Biblical justification for saying either that all men must be saved or that human wickedness is too strong for God's grace to overcome it. 56 Schleiermacher goes one step beyond. While recognizing both elements in the New Testament he prefers the apocatastasic hope. Although Jesus used the conventional language of a fiery hell he did not make it an essential part of his teaching. All he did was employ such symbolic language in order to elevate and purify his hearers' ideas. That is, he taught a parable of damnation to emphasize the need for charitable actions in this life. 57
But would not belief in universal restoration dreadfully weaken morality? Why worry about striving to be good when God will save us anyhow? This is the second and most common objection to universal salvation. But this complaint overlooks the chief message of the Gospel.
Orthodox Protestants deny that we are saved because we are good. Christ comes to save not the righteous but the sinners. We are saved in spite of our sins. So orthodox Christians do not use a moral standard to decide who is to be saved. In this, both the orthodox and universalists do not rely upon legalistic or moralistic definitions of piety. Christ comes to expiate the sins of the whole world (I Jn. 2:2), because God wants all men to be saved (I Tim. 2:4), not wishing that anyone should perish (11 Pet. 3:9).
Furthermore, this question overlooks the highest motivation for goodness. Salvation is not merely a reward for being good. Rather goodness is the natural expression of one's love of God and our fellowmen. In fact, belief in universal salvation stimulates the moral life because of our faith in an all-loving God and our belief in the infinite worth of every person. Is this not a stronger motivation for doing good than believing that most people are too worthless to be saved?
A common Jewish view carried over into Christianity pictures God as a strict judge who examines all the acts of a man's life, adding up the good deeds and subtracting the evil ones to see if that person merits heaven or hell. Yet none of the major forms of Christian orthodoxy would fully agree with such a judgment decided upon deeds alone. Beginning with Paul, such reliance upon "works-righteousness" was denounced. Catholics provided a way out by offering to the faithful additional help from the overflowing treasury of merits accumulated by the saints. Lutherans taught that salvation comes as an unmerited gift. Calvinism even went so far as to deny that how one lives has anything to do with his final destination since God's decrees about men's fate were decided before the creation of the world. Easy as it is to ridicule "cheap grace," orthodox theologians were right to avoid being simplistic in their moralism.
At the same time, critics of apocatastasis correctly stress the need to combine God's mercy with His justice. The New Testament always warns that one is called upon to decide in favor of Christ or face the terrible consequences. If a man rejects the light, he will reside in darkness. God does not have to judge him, for he sentences himself when he spurns God's outstretched hand. Brunner therefore insists that to take human responsibility seriously means to realize that we have to 58 answer for our lives in front of the divine Judge.
Origen, moreover, recognized this fact. He conceived of our life as a school in which all men are taught to realize their potentialities as God's children. If they failed to train themselves adequately before death they would have to continue their education in the beyond. Even Satan would sooner or later realize the folly of his rebellious behavior and be reconciled to God. 59 Echoing the teaching of the Lukan Gospel, Origen felt: How much joy it will give God as each lost sheep is returned to the fold!
So for Origen, universal salvation is a process which is not restricted to this life alone. As much as possible, we should lay aside in this life everything which hinders reunion with our Father. Nevertheless, the opportunity for further development exists in the afterlife.
Many doctrines of the final judgment are built upon a punitive concept of justice. Men are cast into hell to suffer for their wickedness. Origen's view rests upon the purificatory or redemptive notion of punishment. If men are consigned to prison, it is in order to straighten them out. Thus, for Origen the temporary pains of the afterlife are intended by God to cleanse them so that they will be fit for the glory to come. His belief in universal reconciliation combines the New Testament warning about judgment with faith in God's ultimate total victory. 60
Next, let us see how universal salvation is to be carried out, according to Unification thought. Divine Principle employs a tripartite scheme of salvation-history, like many Christian interpretations of God's program of world restoration. First, there is the Old Testament Age which begins with the fall of Adam and concludes with the birth of Jesus the Christ. Next there has been the New Testament Age during which Christians have served as God's central agents for the fulfillment of the divine dispensation. Recognizing this fact, Paul spoke of the Christian community as the "new" or "spiritual" Israel. As the Old Testament Age was to prepare for the advent of the Messiah, the New Testament Age was designed to set the stage for the full realization of God's providence. So far there is nothing which separates the Unificationist view from the usual conservative Protestant opinions. Unification theology is firmly rooted in a Scripture-centered world view. At the same time Divine Principle goes far beyond Bibliocentric Protestantism.
What do we discover in these three periods of sacred history? With each new age there is a great leap forward in religious understanding, experience and outlook. Divine Principle therefore speaks of these three periods as stages of psychic evolution, which are explained as the process of spiritual resurrection, developing throughout history.
Because of the Fall, it became necessary for God and man to cooperate in the restoration of human nature. Therefore, beginning with Adam's family, God labored to lay the foundation for the dispensation of resurrection. Abraham was a particularly significant figure in salvation-history, because with him God was able to at last secure a substantial base for resurrection to the formation stage. When Moses gave the Ten Commandments to the chosen people, they were able to progress in their understanding of religion and experienced a much closer relationship with God. This Torah-centered faith later became greatly deepened and refined because of the preaching of the prophets. Throughout the Old Testament Age, God therefore required of the Hebrews respect for and obedience to the Law attributed to Moses.
Yet, as we look back upon the faith and ethics of the Old Testament period, it is easy to see their shortcomings. With a few notable exceptions, ancient Hebraic religion consisted of animal sacrifices in the temple at Jerusalem 61 strict obedience to the numerous minute regulations prescribed by the Mosaic Torah and nationalistic pride in the chosenness of the Jews. As the prophets repeatedly declared, such popular faith suffered from numerous weaknesses.
There was another important deficiency in Old Testament religion. In many cases, God was thought of as an awesome, almost unapproachable monarch who sat on a throne located in the distant heavens. People looked up to Him with fear and trembling while He conducted His business with them through the intermediary angels.
Thus, these loyal servants of God could evolve only to the top of the formation stage. Divine Principle teaches, as did Swedenborg, that there exists a fundamental correspondence between the type of spiritual awareness we achieve on earth and the level we arrive at in the afterlife. Consequently, the Old Testament patriarchs, judges, prophets, sages and pious kings became "form- spirits" who were able to establish the formation stage of the spirit world.
However, the Old Testament period also saw the flowering of the messianic hope. As a result of the preaching of Isaiah, Jeremiah and the other canonical prophets, the chosen people began to long for a closer relationship to God, a new covenant, and the dawn of an ideal age of righteousness and peace. Therefore, even in the spirit world, devout souls from the Old Testament Age were eager to cooperate in the next step forward in God's program of universal restoration.
The mission of Jesus was to resurrect man from the formation stage all the way up to the perfection stage. As the God-appointed Messiah, he sought to remove the distance between men and their Maker by revealing the parental heart of the Almighty. In place of the awesome reverence paid to the God whose name it was forbidden to speak, Jesus referred to God as our loving Father, Abba, literally, "Daddy." Similarly in his parables, he appealed to the broken-hearted love of the Father for His lost children. In this way, Jesus advanced far beyond the temple-dominated and Torah-circumscribed faith of his time. By so doing, those who followed him approached closer to God and were lifted up from the status of His servants to that of His adopted children. Nevertheless, as we know, Jesus provoked intense opposition. Since his ministry was cut off before it could be carried to completion, Jesus achieved the resurrection in history only to the growth stage. Thus, he with his followers abide in the realm where "life-spirits" dwell which the Gospels call Paradise. As Jesus promised the thief being crucified beside him, "Today you will be with me in Paradise" (Lk. 23:43). The Old Testament saints at the formation stage of the spirit world looked forward eagerly to the arrival of Jesus and descended to earth to cooperate with him. Likewise the Christian saints and devout people in Paradise have been excitedly awaiting the full actualization of the kingdom.
If the messianic age is dawning, this means that we are in the unique position of being able to be resurrected to the perfection stage-both spiritually and physically-by cooperating in the establishment of the kingdom. At long last, individuals will be privileged to unite completely with God and be wholly transformed into "divine spirits," sharing the joy and glory of the Lord forever.
Some theologians like Barth contend that all men in all times are equidistant from God: God was no farther from Abraham than from Paul because He is equally transcendent whatever our century. From the standpoint of the Divine Principle, such a notion is misleading. If God acts in history, as the Bible insists, then He more fully reveals Himself as time passes. In Abraham's day God appeared far distant from men but in our time He seems much closer. In earlier ages men traveled by horseback and now space flights are carried out. Similarly, according to Unificationists, God has worked long enough in history so that ours is a time of unparalleled divine nearness.
The unprecedented spiritual advancement made in our time is the result of both divine and human achievement. That is to say, Jesus and all the saints in Paradise have been energetically cooperating with people on earth in God's final dispensation. Unification theology applies Joel's prophecy to this time of the Second Advent: "And it shall come to pass afterward, I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions" (2:28). This outpouring of the Spirit refers to frequent psychic phenomena caused by the descent of the cooperating spirits.
Unification theology agrees with Origen and more recent exponents of apocatastasis. If God is to triumph completely, then this necessarily involves universal restoration and unlimited salvation. Even Satan and his hosts of supporters must not only be disarmed but also reunited with God. Nevertheless, unlike Origen and most universalists, Divine Principle predicts that the transformation of this world into the kingdom of God need not be a slow, drawn-out process covering many centuries.
How could such an astounding spiritual, intellectual, moral and material rebirth occur? First, naturally, our world needs the inspiration, guidance and power of a new Leader. Biblical and extra-canonical apocalyptic generally recognized that the New Age would have to be inaugurated by a God-guided charismatic figure who could counteract mankind's sloth, skepticism and inertia. A dynamic leader is always necessary to reverse the ebbing tides of history. Consequently, a Messiah's indispensable role is partly to generate the energy required for sweeping spiritual, moral and cultural change.
Second, history also reminds us that any messianic figure will succeed only if he attracts a committed core of energetic and talented followers. Does this not help to explain how difficult it was for Jesus to reach his goal? Who was left for him to rely upon? The Gospels record that the disciples provided Jesus with meager human resources. Once he faced powerful opposition, Peter denied his master, Judas betrayed him for a handful of silver coins, and the rest of the disciples ran for safety. How different it might have turned out if John the Baptist had given unqualified support to Jesus or if someone as capable as Paul had been on his side prior to Palm Sunday! So for the Leader to fulfill his God-appointed task he has to be surrounded by ardent followers.
Third, the long-awaited New Age can also be greatly hastened if the Leader is able to work in a supportive rather than hostile environment. There must exist a favorable climate of opinion in order for God to be effective in realizing His redemptive purpose. That means any program for restoration needs to win the sympathy of those in positions of responsibility and great influence. In Jesus' case, how different his career would have been if he had the support of a powerful minority in the Sanhedrin and/or a few friends who were advisors to the Roman government. Note, for example, how quickly Christianity spread in the empire as soon as Constantine came out in its favor. Hence, one can reasonably conclude that the messianic restoration of our world could be accomplished with great rapidity as soon as the small minority of opinion makers realized that such changes would be beneficial to all concerned.
Fourth and finally, a God-centered movement will be reinforced by the immense power of the spirit world. One should never underestimate the transforming influence of what the Scriptures call "the hosts of heaven " When we on earth demonstrate our commitment to the building of God's kingdom, the spirit world will shower down upon us until even the desert will blossom with roses, as Isaiah predicted. If God be on our side, who can prevail against us?
Once the outpouring of the Spirit accelerates, the psychic atmosphere of our world will become so different. People will be able to perceive more easily God's power and presence. The two worlds will no longer seem separated, as people will see visions, hear voices and receive dreams. So spirit world will become an everyday experience. It will then be easy to talk about God and persuade people of God's new dispensation. Suppose you try to explain the warmth of spring to someone who has never experienced it. It is difficult for him to believe that he will have no need for a heavy overcoat. But when spring actually comes, he sheds his extra clothes just naturally. To a considerable extent, this psychic phenomena is already occurring, as we see in books, newspapers and other mass media. However, remember that our human activities will grow ever more intense as well.
Do you ever wonder how universal salvation or God's kingdom on earth is possible? How can everything change so radically? It seems to me that these vast improvements will be possible once the spiritual milieu has changed. If our way of life has been transformed so drastically by airplanes, TV, and space travel, how much greater will be the changes when everything is permeated by a dynamic and positive spiritual atmosphere!
42 Epistle 138, to Marcellinus.
43 Cf. N. Berdyaev, The Beginning and the End (1952), pp. 235-239.
44 When the contemporary German Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner was asked on his 75th birthday what book he would still like to write, he replied that he wanted to work out a non-heretical doctrine of apocatastasis. (America, March 10, 1979, p. 179).
45 Cf. J. Danielou, Origen (1955), pp. 276-289.
46 F. Schleierrnacher, The Christian Faith (1960), pp. 547-548.
47 E. Stauffer, New Testament Theology (1955), p.222.
48 N. Berdyaev, The Destiny of Man (1960), pp. 273-283.
49 A. Robinson, In the End God (1968), pp. 132-133.
50 A. Tennyson, "In Memoriam," LIV
51 Cf. J. E. Odgers "Universalism" in Hastings Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics (1922).
52 Ephesians 4:25.
53 Berdyaev, Destiny, p. 276
54 Romans 9:3.
55 Balthasar, Word and Redemption, p. 163; Rahner, Theological Investigations (1974), IV, pp. 339-340.
56 Barth, Church Dogmatics, 11/2 (1957), p. 477.
57 Cf. H. Schwarz, On the Way to the Future (1972), pp. 146-147.
58 E. Brunner, Dogmatics (1962), vol. III, p. 419.
59 The redemption of Satan is espoused by G. Papini, The Devil (1954).
60 Since many scholars claim that Biblical apocalyptic is of Zoroastrian origin, it is worth noting that the Parsees affirm the temporary nature of hell. (See H. Schwarz, op. cit., p. 144).
61 Divine Principle interprets the sacrificial system in the Old Testament period as a symbolic representation of man's need for a mediator.
62 For example, John Hick in Evil and the Love of God (1966), p. 373-385.
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