As a nine-year-old on December 19, 1989, I received a phone call from my aunt, informing me that my Papaw passed away earlier that day. Other than a few goldfish and hamsters, that was my first experience with the reality of mortality.
Papaw was basically a good ol’ boy from Texas, and a hardworking entrepreneur of sorts. He would buy and sell tractors and pigs, and also did a bit of farming. My favorite memories with him involved sitting by the TV as he watched wrestling. It didn’t matter if it was the WWF (now the WWE) or the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (GLOW), Pap was fully engaged and I quickly became a fan as well.
I remember crying at the funeral, but also feeling reassured that Pap was with Jesus after the minister delivered his message. I’ve probably been to about 30 funerals since then, and I cannot remember a time when the presiding minister didn’t offer similarly comforting words to those in attendance. If one only heard sermons at funerals, it might be tempting to become a universalist.
What is universalism? Allow me to let Paul Young, author of The Shack, explain this core belief of his from the pages of his new book, Lies We Believe About God.
“The Good News is not that Jesus has opened up the possibility of salvation and you have been invited to receive Jesus into your life. The Gospel is that Jesus has already included you into His life, into His relationship with God the Father, and into His anointing in the Holy Spirit. The Good News is that Jesus did this without your vote, and whether you believe it or not won’t make it any less or more true.
What or who saves me? Either God did in Jesus, or I save myself. If, in any way, I participate in the completed act of salvation accomplished in Jesus, then my part is what actually saves me. Saving faith is not our faith, but the faith of Jesus.
God does not wait for my choice and then “save me.” God has acted decisively and universally for all humankind. Now our daily choice is to either grow and participate in that reality or continue to live in the blindness of our own independence.
Are you suggesting that everyone is saved? That you believe in universal salvation?
That is exactly what I am saying!”
You can see Young’s universalism shining through in The Shack when “Papa” (a female playing the part of God the Father) exhorts Mack that he has now reconciled himself to the whole world. Mack responds almost in disbelief, “The whole world? You mean those who believe in you, right?” Papa, however, replies, “The whole world, Mack.”
Doesn’t universalism make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside? No matter how you live, everything will ultimately turn out great for you in the end. Unfortunately for the universalists, they have to deal with the simple words of the New Testament.
Take a moment to read these three passages (though many more could’ve been cited) and see if you notice any reoccurring words.
Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. – Matthew 7:13-14
For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. – Philippians 3:18-19
It is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power. – 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9
Destruction. Not merely temporary heavenly punishments. Eternal, fiery destruction.
But is that the testimony of the early Church? Please read these three short quotes that faithfully represent the overwhelming consensus of Ante-Nicene Christianity.
The way of darkness is crooked, and it is full of cursing. It is the way of eternal death with punishment. – Epistle of Barnabas 70-130CE, ANF Vol. 1, p. 235 [CD-ROM]
You should fear what is truly death, which is reserved for those who will be condemned to the eternal fire. It will afflict those who are committed to it even to the end. – Letter to Diognetus 125-200CE, ANF Vol. 1, p. 52 [CD-ROM]
Sinners will be consumed because they sinned and did not repent. … Those who have known God and have seen His mighty works, but still continue in evil, will be chastised doubly, and will die forever. – Hermes 150CE, ANF Vol. 2, p. 52, 81 [CD-ROM]
We should neither smile nor joke about men and women burning in hell. If we take Jesus at His word, more people will wind up in the lake of fire than in the new heavens and new earth.
The reality of hell should neither be the primary driving force behind choosing to follow Jesus nor telling others about Him. However, it should be a motivating factor. Just like I lived in denial of my Papaw’s death for a few days, we don’t like to consider the truth that every single person we love is going to die one day and face judgment. No amount of wishful thinking or fictional pseudo-Christian literature will change that universal law.
So, who do you know and love that isn’t following Jesus? Will you make it a point to earnestly pray for his or her salvation? What can you do to demonstrate the reality of the gospel to them this week?