I recently corresponded with someone who stops short of believing in ultimate redemption because he thinks there will be people who will never turn to God, no matter what the consequence. In support of his perspective, he alluded to John 3:19, which says, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” He figured some people would never repent, even in the face of hell.
While I wouldn’t say the same (I want to believe God’s love is everlasting and will never give up until the most ardent rebel repents) I suppose I’m largely okay with where that idea leads. With the way he put it, such a perspective at least seems to have a better initial assumption.
On Sunday morning in most churches, people are sitting there with the underlying initial assumption or belief that everyone is evil and deserve hell and judgment. It’s as though we start with the idea that humankind is sinful and bound for hell, and then say that if God chooses to save a few, it is an act of His mercy and grace.
I think it should be the other way around.
That is, I think we should sit in church on Sunday morning and assume that God, in His infinite mercy and grace, is going to save everyone. And then, if for some reason there are a few people who resist God forever and end up spending eternity separated from Him, if a few people really love darkness and never choose to turn to the light, that would be unfortunate . . . but it’s not where we start.
For example, recently I heard a preacher tell the story of an 18th century politician named Andrew Hamilton, who could never get past the identity of his childhood. The preacher used the story as an analogy to our identity in Christ, but he left the congregation with the clear impression that Andrew Hamilton never embraced the message of Jesus.
Sitting there, I could not help thinking that most people in the service would assume, then, that Andrew Hamilton, put most bluntly, is in hell. He never accepted Jesus, or responded to the gospel, so what we have been taught our whole lives would tell us Andrew Hamilton is spending eternity separated from God. Maybe we don’t want to admit, acknowledge or even think that, but it is the underlying assumption.
I think we have it backwards.
Nothing begins with us – not the Bible, not the gospel, not salvation, not the end of history, nothing.
“In the beginning God . . .”
“For God so loved the world . . .”
This is God’s story, His creation, His work, His initiation, His doing . . . and His love is everlasting.
Andrew Hamilton’s unfaithfulness does not nullify God’s faithfulness.
And neither does yours or mine.
And that is really good news, really.