Monday, February 21, 2011

Universalism and the Open Wound of Life

Richard Beck hits it on the nose yet again...


via Experimental Theology by Richard Beck on 2/18/11

One of the struggles in subscribing to universal reconciliation are the constant misunderstandings. Perhaps the biggest misunderstanding involves the distinctions between soteriology and theodicy.

If you are new here, let me define those terms. Soteriology has to do with salvation. Theodicy has to do with the problem of horrific suffering (sometimes called "the problem of evil" or "the problem of pain").

When I say I believe in universalism 99% of the time people think I'm attracted to the position because I have soft heart, soteriologically speaking. I want a happy ending where "everyone gets to go to heaven." For some reason, it is believed, probably because I'm a theological flower child, I just can't stomach the Judgment and Sovereignty of God.

So the debate that typically ensues is all about soteriological issues: sin, forgiveness, judgment, justice, heaven, and hell.

...In short, universalism, for me and many others, is about theodicy. Not soteriology. The issue isn't about salvation (traditionally understood). It's about suffering. Universalism, as best I can tell, is the only Christian doctrine that takes the problem of suffering seriously. As evidence for this, just note that when a theologian starts taking suffering seriously he or she starts moving toward universalism. Examples include Jürgen Moltmann, Marilyn McCord Adams, and John Hick. Take suffering seriously and the doctrine soon follows.

...Here's a test you can try on people. Whenever you find a person who doesn't "get" universalism (not that they have to believe it, they just have to "get" it) you'll have person who doesn't "get" the problem of horrific suffering. The two, in my experience, are of a piece.

...I was reminded of this association this week while reading Moltmann's Trinity and Kingdom. In it he writes:
It is in suffering that the whole human question about God arises; for incomprehensible suffering calls the God of men and women in question. The suffering of a single innocent child is an irrefutable rebuttal of the notion of the almighty and kindly God in heaven. For a God who lets the innocent suffer and who permits senseless death is not worthy to be called God at all...The theism of the almighty and kindly God comes to an end on the rock of suffering...

...Innocent suffering is the open wound of life and the real task of faith and theology is "to make it possible for us to survive, to go on living, with this open wound."

Now here's the deal. You either get that, or you don't.

And if you don't, well, I'm sure you're a very nice and devout person.

But you'll never understand why I believe in universalism.

Read the whole post!

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