A post from Brian Konkol, co-pastor of Lake Edge Lutheran Church, Madison, Wis. on the Living Lutheran (http://www.livinglutheran.com) blogs had some interesting points about God’s Love. In response to the naming of the Boston bombing suspects, he cautions his fellow Lutheran’s to be patient and merciful. It is a lovely piece of writing, and I recommend reading it in its entirety for yourself. For the sake of clarity, I will quote sections here, specifically from the last 4 paragraphs.
“While we often celebrate the inclusive love of God, in many ways we recognize how shocking — and even scandalous — such love actually is. As Jesus himself died on the cross in the company of criminals, we affirm that in God’s eyes we are not defined by our worst acts, and even those responsible for evil deeds are offered the gift of grace, love and forgiveness.”
This point couldn’t be more crucial. Given the immensity of God, as presumed creator of the Universe, how could our sins ever seem less than awful, like the mother rodent eating her own young for reasons we can’t always understand in the moment. People do horrible things to other people every single day, and this seems to have been happening since the beginning of humanity itself. At the same time, how can these terrible deeds ever seem worthy of damnation? Aren’t they temporal acts that simply take a finite life and deeds that, however cruel, can be recorded and accounted for? How then can it be grace to torment anyone for eternity for these brief misdeeds?
“While we support the institutions that hold us accountable for our offenses, and we affirm the desire to punish those found guilty of crime, we also recognize that each and every person falls short of God’s divine law, thus not only are all people guilty in some shape or form, but by God’s grace we never get the punishment that we actually deserve. All together, regardless of who we are or what we have done or left undone, we receive the life-giving promise of the gospel and blessed assurance that God will never leave us or forsake us. This is the scandalous nature of God’s criminal justice.
Absolutely beautifully said. If you believe in a loving God, worthy of reverence, then you must admit that this is God’s desire. If it is God’s will that all will be saved; if that was the mission of his prophets and his Messiah, then how can it fail? If that was the intent at the creation of the Universe, then it is woven into every atom and every force. We come back to the idea that if God is not benevolent, powerful, and wise, then why should we offer praise? If God cannot save every soul spawned by creation, then which of these do we rule out, because at least one of these three qualities is missing.
And so, can God actually love those responsible for the recent bombings in Boston? As shocking and troubling as it may sound, and as tormented as it might make us feel, we affirm in Jesus’ name that God can (and does)… God does not give up on anyone, not even those responsible for acts of terrorism.
Now, his wording here isn’t entirely clear: is he affirming this “in Jesus’ name”, or affirming that this can be done “in Jesus’ name”? Either way, I see the same basic message. He leaves out the idea that these men must repent, must submit, must renounce anything of themselves or their doings. I want to believe that this is intentional, because it doesn’t need to be there for this to make sense, and it might ruin the whole line of thought. God’s love is so amazing that even those who have done terrible things are still loved, and can enter heaven, though we cannot possibly understand how with our mortal limitations.
He finishes by saying
“While we cannot passively accept the massive pain and suffering that is taking place in Boston and other areas around the world, one of the ways we can reconcile, transform and empower is through an outpouring of love and compassion for both victims and victimizers. As the God made known to us in Jesus embodied the way of restoration over retaliation, may we learn to follow this difficult and necessary path, in Boston and in all places, so that we may realize God’s criminal justice throughout the world.”
That message would be uncomfortable in even a Unitarian Universalist Church, and yet we would recognize the truth of it, and we would accept that we have to try to understand, to learn, and to forgive, even if forgiveness is never sought by the people who have done wrong. It is a wonderful indictment, intentional or accidental, of the concept of eternal damnation.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has a strange relationship with Universalism. It is rarely stated clearly, though a passage from “Principles of Lutherian Theology” that clearly lays out a case for Universal Salvation, used to be part of their website, yet they also teach that the The Athanasian Creed is part of their belief structure, and that is certainly does not speak of Universal Salvation, but also is not a doctrine of damnation, but of destruction, which is arguably more in-line with the temporal nature of human misdeed. I like the tone of this post, and it gives me hope that the movement towards accepting Universal Salvation is growing.