Now, I am not a Universalist. I find Universalism intellectually problematic, spiritually unjustifiable, and emotionally uncaring; but I am beginning to find there is a chasm (I do not know how wide) between Universalism and being morally good. I have been trained since I was little by culture to believe in the American Civil Religion’s notion of good and evil being the determining factor of one’s salvation. Christianity doesn’t work like that at all though. Dietrich Bonhoeffer points this out in his book Ethics. Bonhoeffer seems to state that since we have the ability to choose between good and evil it shows that something is clearly wrong. Bonhoeffer believes that we have taken a judgment that was not ours and stolen it. It would be like us deciding the pros and cons of gravity. Sure we could justify our turning off gravity or suspending the laws of physics, but is it really our place to do so?
However, I wish to return to Tim Keller and another book of his, The Reason for God. Keller is right to point out a very important fact. We are going to find a lot of people in other religions are going to be morally superior to Christians. Therein lies the danger, because if we believe that our moral superiority (whatever our moral code may be) is our basis for salvation; we no longer believe in Christ because we no longer confess “Jesus is Lord.”
Now, if I am to condemn John Woo or Sinbad for not being good enough; I am a pharisee and a hypocrite. Recently a pastor friend of mine posted a picture of Jesus hanging out with a group of socially undesirables. Arranged in the form of the Last Supper it showed Jesus hanging out with people that “good Christians” would dismiss as “thugs” and “pimps” and worse. I am not saying that Jesus wanted people to live like that, but the whole point of Jesus coming to earth was that he didn’t want people to live like that. But that same Jesus is also pointing at me too. He doesn’t want me to live like that either.
All these years of worrying about being good were done not for the glory of God, but for the glory of me. I didn’t do good things because they fit into God’s plan. I did good things because they fit into my plan. Yet, when I judge. When I look away in disdain. When I fear being associated with some “undesirable”; I am no more a Christian than the most avowed atheist, because I have denied my Christ and the life he had chosen to live. The story of Jesus is simple. God decided to live with and die for sinners. You and me, but not just you and me. We have plenty of wonderful theology that tries to explain away that truth; because the simple story is so scandalous that it makes most human beings cringe, Christian or not.
I am just as bad as the worst person that I can imagine. And that is not a comforting thought. Oh sure, I haven’t done something like genocide or ethnic cleansing. I haven’t orchestrated a massive monetary scheme that left everyone destitute and me unimaginably wealthy. I haven’t done a lot of “bad things.” Yet this pride lets me believe that I can do good things and those good things will win me the privilege to look down on others and be God’s right hand man.
I know this may seem like rambling a bit, but I cannot stress enough. This could be the beginning of something new. Let us not just say, “oh we are all equal in God’s sight” while we cling to the belief that some are “more equal than others.” Let us not look at the moral superiority of Christian or non-Christian and declare who is better and worse. Let us love one another even when it makes us untouchable to American Christianity. Let us love one another even when it makes us feel we are wrong. Let us never forget that Christ loved us so much that he came to us while we were still sinners and died for us while we were still sinners and is worshipped by us while we are still sinners. Let us understand that the Christian change does not come from the paradigm of right and wrong. It comes from the grace of Jesus Christ. A grace that is big enough to cover you and me and even John Woo. A grace that sees us not as becoming morally perfect, but rather becoming lovingly changed. Our God wants not our good works or burnt offerings. Our God wants us and no amount of church-time, or soup kitchen volunteering, or weekly tithing is going to change God’s ultimate demand for our whole hearts, minds, and lives. Because we worship a God who could care less about our moral perfection when He can have our eternal relationship instead.