One of the most shocking passages in all of Christian literature has to be the section of City of God where Augustine speaks of the resurrected human flesh that suffers the fires of hell but is not consumed by them—an infernal rendition of Moses’s bush that burns without burning up. The horror of this passage has often deflected readers from other, more important themes in City of God. It is easy to miss that Augustine’s afterlife is of a piece with the earthly life. Human disharmony and duality did not arrive on the planet because a capricious God showed up at the end of the world and arbitrarily decided to cleave a harmonious earthly community in two. Duality began the moment that Cain raised his hand to murder his brother Abel. And so it has been ever since. In City of God, Augustine recounts the conflicts between the descendants of Cain and those of Seth, between Israel and the Gentiles, and between the Church and its persecutors—summed up in a single, overriding contrast between “the city of man” and “the city of God.”
If someone were to ask me why I embrace a particularistic view of salvation and a dualistic eschatology rather than a religion of solidarity, my answer must be not only “Because this is what the Bible teaches” and “Because church teaching confirms it,” but also “Because I have eyes to see.” I don’t need to hypothesize a world in which human pride and stubbornness cause people to turn away from God’s gracious offer of mercy in Jesus Christ. This is the world I live in. This is what I see happening every day. This is what I read in the news. It is also what I am told by the Church: Jesus was crucified. Perfect love appeared in history—and observe what man did in response. In contrast to the particularist, the universalist must hypothesize a state of affairs in which, as Rob Bell says, “everybody will turn to God and find themselves in the joy . . . of God’s presence.” This imagining not just of a heaven, but of men and a world that no one has ever seen, leads me to a definite conclusion. Universalism is hopefulness run amok, the opiate of the theologians.
Michael McClymond says universalism is “the opiate of the theologians” and the Church has been right to reject it, again and again. https://t.co/cPFhA5EmWH
— Trevin Wax (@TrevinWax) November 21, 2019