IT’S BEEN a crazy summer, at least in my head. I’m sure this has something to do with why I’ve veered in the blog over the past couple of months and done things I haven’t before. I was a little more opinionated in one of the posts, and I started to have regular posts on The Spadefoot Project, before I moved them elsewhere. There have been a number of ideas going through my mind this summer, and for the most part my internal efforts in such times are all about tying everything together into something not necessarily whole, but at least related. I’m not sure I’ve accomplished that this summer, but I am trying to get the major ideas online before classes start.
I’d like to start with the Spadefoots. I’m sure people watch me do things, and they take them pretty much at face value. Usually that’s a good thing, because most of the time I have some underlying motive behind what I’m doing and, for the most part, the motive is not something with which most people want to be involved. But here’s my attempt to start tying this summer’s thoughts together. If nothing else, I think I deserve an “A” for effort.
SINCE I live in the desert, I guess the little frogs have taken on the burden of being as close to sea turtles as I can get for now. And so they, like the turtles, have a little something to do with this: I was walking along one day a few years back, my brain minding its own business, when into it popped—in an instant and quite unbidden—the following challenge: (1) Traditional Christianity as I’ve been taught says (a) God won a certain and complete victory over sin and death through Jesus, (b) Few are they who find eternal life with God in Heaven. (2) Unhappy conclusion: (a) This isn’t much of a victory, especially considering the cost, and (b) I think I have a serious problem with this.
Now, before I go any further let me say I’ve read a fair amount about the Arminians, the Calvinists and the Universalists. To pick down-to-earth terms, the Free Will, the Predestination and the God-saves-everybody crowds. Each makes biblical sense in some ways, and each fails biblically in some ways. Welcome to religion. But I purposely decided to look at the point as posed to myself differently; at least for a while. It’s not particularly philosophical or theological or even clever. It’s more just (gasp!) the way I tend to feel about it. I call it the Big God, Little God view.
On the one hand, if you really think that God defeated sin and death, if Jesus really died once and for all, if God is all powerful and all loving (I know, it crosses over into the problem of evil), then why not just accept that God is a Big God, and will work it out so that everyone makes it to Heaven? And I do mean, everyone; even Satan. In the Big God theory, given enough time, God will bring every being unto himself, into his loving arms, and unto salvation. This is the universalist ideal and, I have to admit, I like this view quite a lot.
On the other hand, if you really think that God sent Jesus to die for our sins, once and for all, but that the fact of the matter is that relatively few people will be saved from sin, then why not just admit that God is a Little God? I don’t mean this badly and in fact I mean it in a very positive way, but one which begs that we first ask ourselves what we might mean by the “victory” God claims through Jesus. Enter the turtles and frogs.
The vast majority of turtle eggs never result in an adult turtle swimming for countless years through the ocean depths. The vast majority of Spadefoot eggs never result in an adult frog. But is this defeat? Perhaps not and to the contrary, the extreme cost incurred by the species is what makes their beauty so compelling. It costs something to bring an adult sea turtle or frog into the world. It costs the death of scores or hundreds or thousands of intricate, delicate, beautiful little creatures. This can’t be taken lightly, but in the most mundane of terms there is a victory we call the perpetuation of species—species that, especially in the case of the turtles and to me, are movingly glorious. The victory is not in the life of each and every turtle or frog, but in the being of turtleness and frogness; It’s an ontological thing. The glory of the victory is that turtles and frogs continue to grace creation. It is the victory of a Little God who is beyond a concern for numbers. It is the victory of a God who is holy and righteous and victorious in the quality of his being and in the being of those who enter into relationship with him. Victory is not in quantity, but quality. Victory was obtained in Jesus because it ensured the perpetuation of holy relationship in the eternity of the human creature. It was victory because of its unfathomable grace, and as such it would be victory even if only one soul who ever walked the earth was saved by it. I like this too. I like it quite a lot.
[Tangentially, the Achilles heal in the Little God view, one that most Christians deny as being a weakness in any view, is the idea of eternal torment in hell for the wicked. Following my amphibian metaphors all is lost if, say, every little hatchling which never made it to the sea were in a stasis of endless pain as a gull’s beak pierces its shell for one eternal, agonizing instant. All is lost if, say, every little froglet which ever existed but never became an adult were trapped in a forever-moment of drying in the desert sun. The image of endless suffering (if you will allow me the concept applied to simple, voiceless creatures) nullifies the beauty of the species. It ceases to be glorious and becomes simply and purely tragic. I would choose instead to have no turtles, no frogs ever, than to know that millions are stuck ceaselessly in the throws of death’s agony, for then turtle-ness and frog-ness would come to symbolize ugliness, cruelty and suffering. Likewise, if we are to believe that the majority of human souls are to be locked in some eternity of unimaginable agony, then there is no possibility of God’s victory in any sense.(It’s at this point that I should mention I don’t view Christianity as predominately about Heaven and Hell, but when forced to do so, my stand is that I don’t accept eternal torment; it’s inconsistent with the concept of God’s victory. I can sometimes accept the idea of a purgatory, and I can sometimes accept the idea of a “final destruction” of a soul, but never the idea of an eternal torment.)]
So where has this rambling brought us? For a moment, back to the Arminians, the Calvinists, and the Universalists. I have spent a number of years as an Arminian. There is a lot about it that makes sense. Free will must be considered for a practical acceptance of the individual, human experience. To deny free will is to open up a can of worms that is very difficult to deal with. Yet there are times when I cannot fully fault the Calvinist view. Some things happen in life that convince you there has to be a destiny, a fate, a providential choosing beyond the capacity of human will. Sometimes the Arminians seem exactly right. Sometimes the Calvinists do. But then, in either case, what about victory? I mean, what about Victory? What about the Big God?
I have an idea for now. I may not have it ten, five or two years from now, but it’s the best idea I’ve come up with. I think that each great religious idea of man has its root in the Truth of God. I also think that every great religious idea of man is pathetically incomplete—infantile even—compared to the Truth of God. And so when it comes to Free Will, Predestination and Universalism, I think it’s all three. I think all three are true. I believe in the ability to choose; at least to an extent. I believe God wants us to choose him; to genuinely have a choice for good or evil, and exercise it. I believe that love must be chosen in order for it to truly be love. I also believe God chooses some of us with a grace that is irresistible. There is seemingly no other explanation why some of us are literally pulled toward God no matter how hard we try to go the other way. And, I believe that somehow God will save everyone.
Now here’s the trick: I believe the first two are so that we—you and I—can be a part of bringing about the third. I think you and I are hatchlings who in the end of all things are to be sacrificed for the sake of all our human siblings. We are the tiny, delicate, beautiful little ones, the children of a holy but (apparently) little God, who will eventually help bring about the complete and utter victory of the (now obviously) Big and Glorious God. I think that’s the victory of the Big Little God. I think that’s the meaning of the Jesus Story. I think it is victory in every beautiful, mysterious way imaginable. I think it’s the true victory, and I like this view most of all.
In my heart this year, I give myself to God for this image of his present and eternal Kingdom. Choose me irresistibly. Or if you do not, then I give myself to you of my own free will. Either way, from this day forth I give myself to die in your Kingdom for the sake of all who don’t fit the first two.
I REALIZE it’s an idea that most likely seems silly to everyone. I understand that you can argue against it from every side. I know it’s not logically formed. But I think part of what has been going on in my mind this summer is the idea of letting go enough to be willing to openly say things that perhaps nobody will agree with. And even if the idea of all three views being true is completely absurd, there is still something important in this post. Perhaps it is actually the complete point of this post, and so I must ask (I mean, I really must ask) of my fellow Christians a question: Forgetting everything else I’ve said, if you reject the idea of salvation for all, then what is your reason? Why do you reject the idea that every soul can and will be saved? If it’s your doctrine and/or your theology and you’ve searched your heart and you’re humble before God in your conviction, then no problem. This is the best any of us can ever do, and you are still my sibling in God. But I wonder how many of us reject the Universalist ideal for a far more base reason; that, to put it bluntly, we want people to go to hell. I wonder if some of us want to see those we consider vile, immoral, disgusting, sinful—in short, not enough like ourselves—to suffer for forever. Do you think? Do you think that we have no better reason for rejecting Universalism than we want “justice,” which is to say we want some serious Godly anger and vengeance poured out like molten metal upon the heads of those we think deserve it? I hope not. I seriously hope not.
Jesus gave his life to save a people. Jesus asked God to erase the guilt-slate of those who killed him. I cannot help, when I think of the cross and the one who died upon it, that the truly Christian thing is to want all people to be saved. And I cannot help, when I think of the cross and the one who died upon it, that the truly Christian thing is to be willing to die to make sure they are. In the end of all things, perhaps God will sacrifice me to save a bunch of people who really don’t deserve to even be in his presence. Come to think of it, I can die for that. And I can live for that. After all, Jesus did it for me. And he’s the only one I need to follow.