Everyone Goes to Heaven?

And every manner of thing will be well

imagePeter Berger has an interesting opinion piece in The American Interest: Heaven for Everyone?

Off topic? Not really. It is not off topic because we have discussed Heaven is for Real, the Akiane Prince of Peace, the ISA Mosaic and the Shroud of Turin and Near Death Experiences and the Shroud of Turin?  The main thing is it is interesting. That’s enough.

On April 18, 2014, Religion News Service published an interesting story by Cathy Grossman (a senior correspondent with RNS). The story is about an immensely successful PG-rated film,Heaven is for Real. It was released just before Holy Week 2014, but had already earned $ 21.5 million by the end of that week. Not bad for a PG-rated movie in allegedly pornography-addicted America! The film is based on a book with the same title, by Todd Burpo, an Evangelical pastor in Kansas. Both book and film are about visions of heaven recounted by Colton, the (then) four-year old son of Burpo after emergency surgery. The boy reported conversations in heaven with Jesus in person and with various long-dead relatives he could never have known, including a girl miscarried during pregnancy by his mother. This newly discovered sister had now grown into a lively teenager clearly enjoying her heavenly existence. Upon release of the film, Colton, now a teenager himself, reaffirmed the truth of his visions and said that he now talks about his knowledge of heaven to sick children to take away their fear of death.

The film was co-produced by Bishop Thomas Jakes, pastor of a mega-church in Dallas which claims 30,000 members. Grossman points out in her story that there are significant differences between the book and the film. The book places the accounts of heaven in a firm Biblical context, with frequent references to scriptural passages. The film does not follow this practice. In addition to quite fanciful descriptions of heaven, there is the suggestion that everyone is going to end up there. There is no mention anywhere of hell or the last judgment.

There is now a considerable controversy about the film in the Evangelical world.

By-the-way, it is not off topic because another blogger on another blog recently wrote:

So those who become aware of the evidence for the Shroud’s authenticity, yet refuse to believe in Jesus and His death for them, will, like Chorazin and Bethsaida receive a more severe judgment than if they had never heard of the Shroud.

Back to Berger’s article. 

imageMore than any other mystic, the English nun Julian of Norwich (1342-1462) kept repeating over and over again that God is love, that he created the world out of love, and that this love keeps the world in being every moment. Julian was preoccupied with the question of how even the devil could be kept in hell forever in a world fully restored to God. She knows that this is what the Church teaches, and she is an obedient daughter of the Church. But she asks God how this can be. He replies that what she cannot understand, he can do. In her little book “Showings”, where she tells of all the things that God showed her in her visions, there follows the passage for which she is best known. I am not quite clear, whether these are supposed to be words spoken by God himself, or Julian’s own words responding to him. They are in the literary form of a lullaby, such as a mother might sing to soothe a frightened child; I guess one might call it a cosmic lullaby: “And all will be well. And all will be well. And every manner of thing will be well.”

And then there is Rob Bell and his book Love Wins which discusses the kind of universalism with regards to heaven being promoted in the movie. To quote from Wikipedia:

The book was criticized by numerous conservative evangelical figures (in particular, some reformed church leaders), such as Albert Mohler, John Piper, and David Platt, with Mohler saying that the book was "theologically disastrous" for not rejecting universalism.[29][30] Other evangelicals, such as Brian McLaren, Greg Boyd and Eugene Peterson, defended Bell’s views. Bell denies that he is a universalist and says that he does not embrace any particular view but argues that Christians should leave room for uncertainty on the matter. As Jon Meacham stated, Love Wins presents [Bell’s] "case for living with mystery rather than demanding certitude."[31][32] Some evangelicals argued that this "uncertainty" is incompatible with Scripture,[33] while others say that the book is simply promoting overdue conversation about some traditional interpretations of Scripture

Uncertainty. Well yes. But when I consider that image on the shroud, I’m inclined to think, “And all will be well. And all will be well. And every manner of thing will be well.”

I know what the Catholic Church teaches, and the Anglican Communion, and most Protestant Churches. I’m not a universalist on most days. I think, it is a good conversation to have in the context of the shroud.

27 thoughts on “Everyone Goes to Heaven?”

  1. Based on what I’ve read, early church fathers such as Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Macrina the Blessed, and Isaac of Syria to name a few, endorsed Christian universalism, i.e. all mankind will eventually go to heaven. Gregory of Nyssa, a revered saint in both the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, even believed that Satan himself would one day be healed, redeemed, and restored through the mercy and power of Christ. In addition, Basil the Great, Augustine, and Jerome, all of whom supported what we now call the traditional view (eternal damnation for the impenitent), wrote that during their day (4th & 5th centuries), ‘the mass of men’, ‘many’, and ‘very many’ in the Christian community endorsed the Christian universalist view. Christian universalism, along with eternal damnation and annihilationsim (God simply destroys the impenitent & wicked) were the three main eschatological views during the first 500 years of Christianity. With the influence of Augustine and the Origenist controversies in the 550s AD, Christian Univeralism would become a tiny minority position over the next 1500 years.

    For clarification purposes, Christian universalism is not to be confused with religious pluralism (many paths to God) or Unitarian universalism. Christian/Trinitarian Universalism accepts the following: the Holy Trinity as the one true God, the divine inspiration of scripture, the virgin birth of Christ, the miracles of Christ, the Deity of Christ, the sacrificial death of Christ, the bodily resurrection of Christ, the reality of Hell (albeit of finite duration), and the concept of eternal life as a gift of God’s grace through the merits of Christ.

    When it comes to the reality of Hell, more specifically, Christian Univeralism posits that Hell is very real, but is meant to cleanse, humble, purge, and reform the sinner. In this view, it has been said, God is seen as a Cosmic Physician, not a Cosmic Sadist.

    Finally, as the article stated, Julian of Norwich seemed to be a Christian Universalist. On a side note, Ann Bronte and Abraham Lincoln were Christian Universalists. Even today, ‘hopeful universalism’ is tolerated in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and some evangelical sects, though ‘dogmatic universalism’ is not.

    A fascinating topic. I wonder if this view, much like the status of the Shroud, would be more effective in potentially opening the hearts and minds of skeptics? After all, this view seemed to be most prevalent when Christianity was taking on and besting the premier Roman and Greek philosophers in ancient times.

    1. Ryan, I find it strange that you never referenced Jesus in your long comment. I don’t really care what the church fathers said, I care about what Jesus said. What is your reference that hell is temporary, because I can’t find it in my bible. I only find the likes of:

      “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matt. 25:46)

  2. Hell is distance from God, heaven is closeness.
    The punishment will be ‘the joy that is missed’, rather than pain and torment.
    In my opinion no loving God would inflict eternal suffering on even grave sinners.
    It is dangerous to read the Bible too literally.

    1. Thomas, I agree, the pain is a consequence to the separation from God. But I believe Jesus was very clear that it is a place that exist and it’s not fun. He constantly warned us from ending up there, for a good reason.

      1. hmmm, to what extent was that the licence of the gospel writers? I have no doubt that Jesus preached on this, but hell as a place of pain and torture does not square with his principal teachings of love and of foregiveness.
        I read the “hell as torture ” concept more as metaphor / hyperbole, but still points to a truth that ‘hell’ is a place not close to God – that might even be an ‘eternal extinction of the soul’

      2. Just like the atrocities that happen day in and day out around the world doesn’t square with a loving God. But it happens and God is Love. People can choose to do evil and if they choose to separate from God, what do you do!. Perfect Love is not forced love, free will precludes universal salvation.

  3. Mike, even if you don’t accept the teaching authority of the church fathers, their opinion on the matter is relevant in the sense that they, the Eastern church fathers in particular, were experts in the Greek language. Greek was their mother tongue, and as you well know, Greek was the original language of the New Testament. Based on their writings and the writings of some current Christian universalists, the english word ‘eternal’, in certain contexts, does not necessarily mean endless. Instead, it (in the original Greek) can mean a long, but finite period of time. It’s a long, complex grammatical debate, of which I am not an expert, but I’ve read that ‘Terms for Eternity: Aionios and Aidios in Classical and Christian Texts’ is a good resource on the topic.

    Also, when it comes to ‘proof texts’, one can read certain bible verses which seem to clearly support eternal damnation, others which seem to clearly support annihilationism, and others (particularly in the Gospel of John and several of Paul’s epistles) which seem to clearly support universal salvation, through Christ. Obviously, they can’t all be right, so Christian universalists often attempt to view these specific verses through the lens of the whole biblical narrative, from Genesis to Revelation.

    Finally, if you are an evangelical, I’ve heard ‘The Evangelical Universalist: Second Edition’ is a thought-provoking resource on the topic.

    1. Ryan, I am Orthodox. I honour church fathers but I honour Jesus authority more. I am not an expert in Greek but it wasn’t just the one time Jesus mentioned this. It was many times and he never mentioned it was temporary. God is not a sadist, Jesus suffered unbelievably to make a way out of this. He was rejected so that we can be accepted.

      1. Just tempted to quote Augustine, Confessions: “Our hearts are restless”… (uncomfortable, diseased, in hell).. until they rest in Thee… Augustine believed in a Trinitarian God: Holy Spirit-Son-Father…

      2. Mike, since you are Orthodox, I know of two leading Orthodox theologians who are ‘hopeful universalists’: Russian Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev and Bishop Kallistos Ware. You should read Alfeyev’s speech at the 2008 World Congress on Divine Mercy. You can google ‘The Congress Catches Fire’. Ware wrote a short paper called ‘Dare We Hope for the Salvation of All’? A very balanced piece. Interestingly, in Ware’s piece, he mentions that during Vespers, on the Sunday of Pentecost, the Orthodox Church says a prayer for those in hell. Why pray for them if there’s absolutely no chance of Christ’s redemption affecting their fate?

      3. Thanks Ryan, I never noticed this phrase in the vespers. I am coptic Orthodox though, I am not sure if we have it too or not?. Nonetheless, I still put more authority on scripture, I hope you can give me something from the scriptures that would point in that direction.

      4. Mike,

        Here are some universalistic scriptures from the New Testament:

        John 3:17, John 12:32, Matthew 5:26, Romans 5:15,18-20; Colossians 1:19,20; 1 Corinthians 15:22,28; 1 Timothy 4:10, 1 John 2:2, Revelation 1:18 (the thought being that He holds the keys, hell is not locked from the inside)

  4. Has anyone thought about the so-called after-death experience that received some attention on this blog recently? There is no hard evidence so far because the mind-body problem has still not been solved, but anyway no one seemed to have glimpsed either heaven or hell even for an instant.
    This topic is highly complex and vast. For Christians it will have to start with the coming of Jesus and the history of the world before and after that. What happened to the souls who departed from the world before Jesus, and can happen to those who do not know anything about him till today? I personally believe that Jesus’ heart is open to everyone, to those who live and to those who died. Whether they seek him is another story. Remember Timothy McVeigh being executed?

    1. “I personally believe that Jesus’ heart is open to everyone”
      I am all for that. I also believe in free will, humans are free to accept or reject Jesus. God will never force someone to love him. And if they choose to be separate from God, that’s hell right there.

    2. The story of “heaven is for real” is not a typical NDE because the boy didn’t actually die. But there are many examples of people who died and had a glimpse of hell and came back to talk about it, see;


  5. Although you do not belong to that religion you will understand what is meant by “Bismillah rahmani rahim”, at least this is not different from the Christian conception of God and makes sense in the context.
    The video looks more like evangelical propaganda, it will not stand scrutiny, much more is needed. Anyone who shows it to experts can expect to be laughed out of court. I did on-site research in different kinds of spiritualist sects when I was doing a course in Parapsychology. There were different worldviews, different rituals, prayer meetings, different reactions, emotional outbursts, people who claimed to be possessed by evil entities, others who claimed to be receiving messages from those beyond this world. The purpose was to try and determine how much could be traced to the subconscious, how much was genuine spiritual experience, and how much was what Freud would call catharsis.
    Sister Lúcia of Fatima (Portugal) said she had seen souls suffering in hell, but no description was provided. I went there many years ago, when in college, and the place seemed to be one appropriate for such visions. Most of what she said turned out to be true, her brother Francis’ body was found incorrupt when transferred from the grave to the basilica. There is mystery there, but no details about hell are found. Here we find concrete results, with no videos.

    1. Louis, I understand the Arabic words you said “in the name of Allah, all merciful”. I also believe that God is all merciful, but he is also all Just. The cross is where perfect Mercy meets perfect Judgement. Unfortunately, perfect freedom precludes universal salvation. People can, and do reject and ridicule Jesus, who is the only way out of hell. I only referenced the video because you mentioned NDE’s. These videos are not essential for my belief in hell, but the bible is. There is no mention of any Purgatory like punishment before salvation. We are cleansed by the blood of Jesus and He paid the price in full, once and for all. I don’t believe that Jesus left any room for doubt, I can list a multitude of references clearly indicating the concept of Hell, from parables to straight talk by Jesus. You are right, people would laugh at these videos, but Jesus himself said that even if people came back from the dead no one would believe them. Sister Lucia’s testimony is also very interesting, thank you for bringing that up.

  6. Thanks for the comments, Mike. I do agree with a lot you are saying and the saying of Jesus you refer to. Since you are an Orthodox Christian it may interest you to know that there is another claim about Fatima. Pope John Paul II is said to have dedicated Russia to the Virgin, as that was said to be one of the requests during the apparition, and had asked Catholic and Orthodox bishops all over the world to join him, at a given moment, which is what they did. Soon after, it is said, Gorbachev put an end to communism in the country. This was around 1985.There was a report in the Italian monthly “30 Giorni”, that was published in about six languages before it closed down, however the archives are still available online and you may find it there if you have the time to search. These sort of things carry more weight, because there are concrete, palpable results if what the report claims is true.

    1. Wow, that’s amazing. Recently, in Egypt, the Muslim brotherhood have been toppled by the army in much the same way. Churches were constantly holding prayers and fasting throughout Egypt (even here in North America) for a way out. We didn’t even imagine in our wildest of dreams that it would happen in this way. General Sisi (army commander) was personally hired by Morsi (MB ex-president). God works in mysterious ways and prayer and fasting can really move mountains. There are serious attempts by pope Tawadros (Coptic pope) to reconcile the orthodox and Catholic Churches together. These attempts have mostly been superficial. But the most recent attempts have been very serious. I hope one day the churches will unite again.

  7. What happened in Egypt was very good news. I think the general is a patriot and thought deeply and the group he repressed also gave problems to Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak. There is some resentment against Catholicism in some orthodox churches and I think it is also due to what happened in Constantinople in 1204, but that was not the Pope’s fault. It was a crusade which deviated from the purpose and fought by mercenaries paid by the Doge of Venice. Patriarch Barthlomew will be in Jerusalem together with Francis and the Maronite patriarch al Rahi also plans to join them, if he can go without problems. It is the best venue for such a meeting and it could prove to be a sign about unity in the future. After all, there are no doctrinal differences, the theology is the same, all are apostolic churches.

    1. I am happy to know your view of General Sisi. Mostly CNN and the likes have “spoiled the well” (as Stephen would say) for the army since they were mostly pro-Muslim brotherhood. Obama has wrongly sided with them from the beginning and is viewed as a traitor by moderate Egyptians. I don’t believe there are significant differences, our priests do get married though.

      1. President Obama thinks like a politician, he has to think so, it is generally like that with leaders in the West, the exception being Prime Minister David Cameron, who took the cue from Prince Charles. The difference is that there is separation of church and state in the US, in England the head of state is also the the head of the Anglican Church, which is official. During the coronation in Westminster Abbey the prince is anointed by the head of the Church. It is not like that in the US, where the next president can take the oath on whatever book he wants, that is what real separation of church and state means. If it has not happened now, that is only because society there is largely religious, but this is slowly being corroded with the rise of secularism.

        The opposite is taking place in Muslim countries, with Christians butchered in a number of these countries. This was predicted years ago by Cardinal Joseph Cordeiro of Pakistan, in an interview he gave to the magazine I asked you to see if you have the time. It is Saudi Arabia that is encouraging the fundamentalism all over the world.

  8. Right on Dan! Peter Berger was revered at Boston College when I was a student there in the 1970’s… I rather thought he might have petered out. Nice to see he’s still going so strong and leading a charge for a Social Construction of Reality at age 85!

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