Yesterday I had a conversation with someone about universalism, the idea that sooner or later, all people, even those who have rejected God, will be welcomed into God’s presence. So I started thinking, salvation in Christ is a gift from God. And its not just a gift from one person to another, a gift between beings of equal status or position. It is a gift to humans from the creator of the universe, the being that gives all humans life, breath, and everything else.
So imagine the president of the United States coming to the house of an illegal alien, let’s call her Joanne. The president knocks on the door and offers Joanne the gift of citizenship in the United States. He holds out the papers that confer this status on her.
What if Joanne chooses to slam the door in his face? What if she invites him in, then grabs the paper, throws it in the fireplace, and beats him up? Or maybe, as he holds out the gift, she shoves it back in his face shouting an expletive as she does so?
Now maybe the president thinks that this gift is so valuable, has the potential to make Joanne’s life so much better, that he chooses to stay and keep the offer open. How long should he wait? How long should he keep offering? Forever? Would he be unjust or unloving if he tells Joanne that she has 5 days to decide whether she wants to accept this gift or not? And what if while he is waiting, Joanne’s hostility toward him increases? What if she opens the door throughout those 5 days and cusses at him, and throws everything from garbage to rocks at him? Should he extend his offer? Is it possible that the longer he holds out the offer, the more hardened she becomes against his offer? Don’t we even know of people like this?
It is beyond my finite mind to comprehend what infinite love and infinite justice and infinite holiness really look like, let alone adequately describe them. But the biblical text suggests that there is a limit to God’s offer of fellowship with him, whether that is depicted in God’s relationship with his people in the Old Testament, or the warnings that Jesus himself gives to those who reject him in the New Testament. Love and justice are not mutually exclusive and they come together in some mysterious way in God’s embrace of those who accept his offer, and his exclusion of those who do not. And every biblical indication points to the notion that the optimum time to accept God’s offer is now; and the Bible also indicates that the ability to change one’s mind about that acceptance ends at death.