Peeking into Ultimate Salvation
One day Alexander Schmeman, the Russian Orthodox scholar, and his wife Juliana were having their daily spiritual conversation. She was in the mood to discuss the final judgment and salvation of the human race. Schmemann was not his usual talkative self. Even though he was not answering her questions, she kept pressing for answers. Finally, he said, "Juliana, don't peek!"
When it comes to the question of who will be saved, or if all might be saved ultimately, we seem to have the urge to peek.
There are two great traditions of Christian thinking about the eternal destiny of human beings. The dominant tradition, which is enshrined in the doctrine of the Churches, is dualist. It teaches that there is both promise and peril for all of us. God's redemptive love in Jesus Christ is given unconditionally, but we have to respond to this love by our love for God and others through faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore, there is an ultimate separation of the saved and the lost.
There is another tradition located in the reflections of a line of theologians over the centuries, including the Greek Church Father Gregory of Nyssa, the early medieval theologian Maximus the Confessor, the Russian Orthodox theologian Sergius Bulgakov, the Reformed theologian Karl Barth, the Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, and the Methodist theologian Geoffrey Wainwright. This tradition is monist. It emphasizes the ultimate victory of God's love beyond death over all resistance so that "God may be all in all" (I Corinthians 15:28). These theologians do not minimize sin or the necessity of purification, but they believe that the trajectory of God's redemptive purposes is toward the ultimate victory of God's love to win the response of love from all. Yet most of these are also wary of saying too much because they understand that the ultimate salvation of persons is known only to God, and some of them think it is unwise to speculate in public on such matters. This position is increasingly popular in the contemporary era, but it remains a personal theological opinion ( a theologoumenon) rather than the doctrine of the Churches.
Clearly, we should pray and work for the salvation of all since God our Savior "desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (I Timothy 2:3-4). Surely, faith in Jesus Christ gives the assurance of eternal life. As the Heildelberg Catechism says: "What is your only comfort, in life and in death? That I belong--body and soul, in life and death--not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ...." And, mature theological reflection on the question of the salvation of the whole human race is important. Yet a measure of reserve is also in order. We should not presume to know as God knows, and, according to the wisdom of God's ordering of reality, it is a good thing that we are given a sure hope in Christ, but not a certain knowledge about the mystery of God's purposes for us beyond death.
John Wesley wisely emphasized " a present salvation." That is, it is our business here and now to come to know God in Christ, to grow in grace, and to be restored to the image of God in holiness of heart and life.
Whenever I look down from theological heights and bend toward my own heart, I do not find any grounds for me to presume about my own salvation, much less anyone else's. In the chamber of God's loving scrutiny, all presumption vanishes. What remains is the holy and loving Thou calling to the sinful and needy I.
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