Note: this is a hard teaching, as such it may offend some not ready for advanced theology.
This is the last in the series on soteriology (salvation). To date we have explored why Christ came (reunite us with God), and who can be saved (those who have not blasphemed against the Spirit of God), now we delve into the final topic – is everyone saved?
The answer is a simple one: No! Christ tells us this bluntly in Matt 7:21, “Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
What does it take to do the will of the Father? We’ve covered that in the prior post (Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor). We’ve also discussed just how difficult it is for mere humans to truly love both unconditionally; while God made us able to do just that, the gift of free will (and the passions* of the soul) make it difficult to put into practice.
To witness this kind of love is marvelous beyond words: to love not only those who love you, but to also love those who wish to do you harm. To look down from upon our cross at those desiring our demise (physical, financial, emotional, etc.) and ask, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34). I know of only five people, in modern times, who have demonstrated this type of Godly love: Seraphim of Sarov, Mahatma Ghandi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Theresa, and Pope John Paul II. These people demonstrated not only God’s love towards humanity in general, but also towards those who would seek harm against them, seeking not revenge but a peaceful coexistence. Are you capable of asking forgiveness from someone who just shot you?
When I was young, and just really discovering religion, my Starets* explained how difficult an act this type of love is by positing this challenge:
Imagine that you have just passed away and find yourself before the Judgment Seat of Christ. But, instead of Christ being there to welcome you, the person you dislike the most in the world is standing before you. To enter into heaven all you need to do is give them the Kiss of Peace*. Can you do it?
I struggled with this for quite some time before I could accept it. My worst enemy? To kiss him and embrace him warmly? Surely I would not be asked to do this? How could he even be standing there before me?
Now, on the surface this seems an easy thing to us. Sure, to get into heaven, I could do it. But you have to truly forgive them of whatever offense was committed against you, and embrace them in love. I did come to grips with this, eventually, and have used it in many of my Bible Study classes and talks. While the object of the challenge has changed to fit the audience, I have always kept it true to its original intent. Put yourselves in a position similar to one of these:
You are a Jew facing Adolph Hitler
You are of African descent facing a Grand Dragon
You are an American facing bin Laden
Does that bring the depth of the challenge into better focus? Can you truly forgive and embrace your own worst enemy? What God asks is not easy, but Christ showed us the way from the cross, looking down at the Pharisees and Roman guards he asked, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Glory to Jesus Christ,
The Modern Theologian
* Passions is a Greek philosophical term encompassing the basic desires of man, not just the erotic pleasures we associate with this word today.
* Starets is a spiritual teacher in the Eastern Tradition.
* Kiss of Peace, in the Eastern Tradition this is a kiss on both cheeks, followed by an embrace.