A year or so ago, I read through Marilynn Robinson’s novels, which was a treat for the most part. I read all of them except for Lila, but there I had the excellent excuse that it had not yet been released. But now it has been, so it comes to pass that I have now read it also.
Robinson’s descriptive powers remain as great as ever, and she does what every novelist dreams of, which is to hold your attention page to page. What she does not do, however, is provide a compelling case for universalism. Robinson specializes in exquisite descriptions of broken characters, but here her theology unwittingly becomes one of those broken characters, lame and blind, and with no one to help.
In universalism, the human is constant. He or she does things, and those things can be good or bad. Universalism focuses on those things, and wonders whether God is so arbitrary or so irrational as to be unwilling to forgive such things. And it is also pointed out that someone else has been forgiven for those very same things, and if one person is forgiven, then why not all? Meanwhile, the perpetrator is standing off to the side, a constant subject whose role is to have done a list of bad things without having been transformed by them.
For the universalist, the question is “why cannot God forgive these things?” The person is always underneath, constant, and sins are what you wipe off. For the Christian, our actions define and illustrate what we are becoming. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Damnation is the ultimate gollumization of a man, and salvation is our last christening. We become what we worship.
For the universalist, there might be a goodish bit of pushing and shoving on the playground, but when the bell rings all the kids are still just kids and they all come in for cookies and juice. Everything comes into perspective, especially during sharing time, when teacher speaks to us all in that soothing voice.
But we are not constant. We are all in the process of becoming something, and Jesus teaches us that there is a tipping point in that process of becoming. Hell is hellish for those who are there, but for a damned soul, Heaven would be a worse Hell. The prospect of being there with Him is utterly loathsome.
Souls that will be damned and souls that will be saved — the only kind you will ever meet — are all of them, every last one of them, in the bud. We are not there yet. We are not the constant. Only God is constant, and as we look at the face of His constancy, we will either see — forever — justice or love.