Universal Restoration

Love Summary for the Year: Week 2

Universal Restoration
Friday, December 30, 2016

There were a number of fathers in the early church (the first four centuries C.E.) who believed in apokatastasis, “universal restoration” (Acts 3:21). They believed that the real meaning of the resurrection of Christ was that God’s love was so perfect and so victorious that it would finally win out in every single person’s life. They were so sure about this that their thought partially gave rise to the mythology of purgatory as a place—in the dying process or shortly after death, God’s infinite love can and will still get at you! They felt that no soul could resist such a love once it was revealed to them. (Most Catholics forgot that the original folk belief in purgatory represented an overwhelming sense of God’s always-victorious love and mercy. Like many great mysteries, it deteriorated into its exact opposite, a place of punishment—which is all a worldview of scarcity can devise.)

When I read the history of the church and its dogma, apokatastasis was never condemned as heretical. We were never told we must believe it, but we were allowed to believe in universal restoration. Interestingly, we Catholics are always canonizing saints, pronouncing them to be in heaven beyond a shadow of a doubt. They are our role models; we can imitate them. Yet this same church has never declared that a single person is in hell or purgatory, not even Judas or Hitler. The church might just be holding out for a possible universal restoration.

The true meaning of the raising of Jesus is that God will turn all our human crucifixions into resurrection. This is a social, historical victory for God. Part of why we could not accept it is that we want individual people to “get their due.” But the real biblical message is that God is saving history much more than mere individuals. This should have been apparent from YHWH’s relationship with Israel which was always corporate, both in its covenants and in its chastisements.  We are all in this together, biblically speaking.

In her famous thirteenth showing, Julian of Norwich (1342-1416) asked Jesus, “In fear and trembling, ‘O good Lord, how can all be well when great harm has come to your creatures through sin?’ And here I wanted, if I dared, to have some clearer explanation to put my mind at rest.” And he said, “Since I have brought good out of the worst-ever evil, I want you to know by this; that I shall bring good out of all lesser evils, too.” [1]

Could God’s love really be that great and that universal? Is life just a great school of love? I believe it is. Love is the lesson, and God’s love is so great that God will finally teach it to all of us. We’ll finally surrender, and God will win in the end. That will be God’s “justice,” which will swallow up our lesser versions. God—Love—does not lose! That is what it means to be God.

Gateway to Silence:
Be the change you wish to see in the world. —Gandhi

References:
[1] Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, Showing 13, chapter 29.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1999, 2003), 131-133.

Image credit: Doves and Pear Blossoms after Rain (detail) 1266-1300, Qian Xuan (1235-1305), Cincinnati Art Museum.

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