I had three classes during my first semester of graduate school, each taught by a different, idiosyncratic man, all of whom had a passion for God and for people and quite different views on psychology and theology. I remember talking with another student after one of our evening classes about my perception of one of our teacher’s stance on the afterlife. “He verges on universalism,” I said. Someone had asked our teacher about where Saddam Hussein was. His reply had been—I believe he is in the arms of Jesus and both are weeping.
At that point the idea that everyone might get into heaven still struck me as somehow dangerous. Or maybe not dangerous, but unorthodox. On one level, I thought, does it not distort our concepts of justice if, ultimately, our choices on earth don’t matter in the way we thought they did? That reveals a number of other assumptions on my part and a worldview which wants to put people in a hierarchy. People who are better and people who are worse. Yet, while part of me was disconcerted, I also knew I’d gotten a whiff of something ineffably good. Something almost too good to hope for; the idea that billions of people won’t burn in eternal fire. Could that be true? Could that be consistent with an honest reading of the Bible I’d been raised to trust and love?
Then this weekend I was reading about the hullabaloo surrounding Rob Bell’s forthcoming book, “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.” People from all over the Christian world have weighed in. Today I watched the promo video Bell made for the book. I’ll let him speak for himself. I just know that when I got to the end of the video I had tears in my eyes. Could this be what it means to believe in the goodness of “him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think?”