Heaven must receive him until the time of restoration (apokatastasis) of all things, which God spoke through the holy prophets from the beginning. (Acts 3:21 CSB)
For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Cor. 15:22)
When everything is subject to Christ, then Son himself will also be subject to the one who subjected everything to him, so that God may be all in all. (1 Cor. 15:28)
So, Father Richard Rohr has been doing a series of meditations on Eastern Christianity. Today, the topic was Apokatastasis which means the restoration of all things (Acts 3:21). Many early church fathers believed in what is called Universal Salvation or Universal Reconciliation who mostly came from the Alexandrian School. Some notable early church fathers that believed in Universal Salvation were Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Jerome, Peter Chrysologus, Maximus the Confessor, and Gregory of Nazianzus. Universal Salvation even for those that do not put their faith in Jesus is a real hot topic in Christendom right now. Just recently published is a two volume work refuting Christian Universalism entitled The Devil’s Redemption: A New History and Interpretation of Christian Universalismby Michael J. McClymond. His argument that the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church were correct in regarding Apokatastasis as heretical and Origen as anathema since most of its background came from Gnosticism, Jewish Mysticism (Kabbalah), and Islamic Mysticism (Sufi), and other esoteric (Occult) schools. His argument seems to be that this theory of the afterlife is non-biblical and existential (Moltmann and Parry) and falls apart when construed under biblical scholarship. It is a scholarly work which will be used in the academic halls of Conservative Evangelical Seminaries to discredit Universalism as a viable option for the afterlife and the final judgement. My church history professor, Doug Sweeney from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (one of the world’s experts on Jonathan Edwards and the Puritans) hailed this scholarly work (I do want to read it to see what I am up against).
Nevertheless, there are many reasons to consider Universal Reconciliation. Father Richard Rohr lists a few which are:
- Universal Reconciliation lines up more with God’s character of love and mercy than does Eternal Conscious Torment which makes the God of love into a petty tyrant;
- St. Paul and St. John the beloved disciple never mention hell or eternal conscious torment in either Paul’s letters or John’s letters and gospel;
- Most Eastern Fathers did not believe in a literal hell, nor did many of the Western mystics like Julian of Norwich;
- Love always wins;
- Hell and purgatory are damaging to restorative notion of the whole gospel.
At the end or consummation is clearly an indication that things are perfected and consummated…The end of the world and the consummation will come when every soul shall be visited with the penalties due for its sins. This time, when everyone shall pay what he owes, is known by God alone. We believe, however, the goodness of God through Christ will restore (apokatastasis) [God’s] entire creation to one end, even [God’s] enemies will be conquered and subdued. (Origin – On First Principles, trans. G. W. Butteworth)
Gregory of Nyssa’s two arguments for universal salvation are from Morwenna Ludlow:
A fundamental belief in the impermanence of evil in the face of God’s love and a conviction that God’s plan for humanity is intended to be fulfilled in every single human being. These beliefs are identified with 1 Corinthians 15:28 [so that God may be all in all] and Genesis 1:26 [we are all made in the image of God] in particular, but are derived from what Gregory sees as the direction of Scripture as a whole.
Father Richard describes God’s love as a flow and outpouring from the Trinity. Divinity, which is revealed as love itself will always win. My wife and I were talking about God’s nature as pure love (God is love – 1 John 4:8). Some say that God is like Jesus (Jesus as a manifestation of God which is probably the purest picture of God), and others like my wife and Father Richard say that God’s essence is pure love which cannot be described, comprehended, and is real, but at the same time a complete mystery.
Father Richard’s last point is that since we know ahead of time where we are going (connecting to the Godhead in the end), we do not have to fear since most fear comes from the fear of death. We can be strong and courageous in the face of adversity because God through Jesus has come to give us life abundantly (John 10:10b), and that he is God of the living not the God of the dead-where everyone is alive-even in death! (Luke 20:38).
So Universal Reconciliation is truly good news to be celebrated!