Our Last Christening

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.

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Daniel MeyerAndrew LohrEric StampherLuken PrideTKyle Recent comment authors

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Eric Stampher
Eric Stampher

Such a marvelous review.
Reminds of that Christmas rib roast au jus reduction.


Great post. I am reading Lord of the Rings at the moment, so your “gollumization” wordplay is especially prescient. As Tolkien exposed Gollum’s inner monologue, I couldn’t help but identify with his back-and-forth between Gollum and Smeagol. The tormented inner self that he dealt with resonated with me, but his ultimate fate scared me. I deal with the same back-and-forth with my flesh and sanctified self. However, your comment that we become like what we worship is comforting (and true). Gollum worshiped “the precious,” which served to further his ultimate destruction when it was destroyed. I worship the Living God,… Read more »

Daniel Meyer

…but for a damned soul, Heaven would be a worse Hell. The prospect of being there with Him is utterly loathsome. Doug, I think you must be wrong about the damned having any form of relief from not being in the presence of God. For instance, 9 Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the… Read more »

Luken Pride

Doug, I’ve just begun following you. I’ve heard you refer to Beale’s book “you become what you worship” numerous times. I had to read it for worship class and seminary, and I agree with it’s basic premise and are glad you are seeing it as fundamental to sin. I’m sure we will have lots of disagreements as time goes on over many things, but your wit and eloquence is appreciated and posts like this show why I follow you. When I disagree with you I have never been able to dismiss your arguments. Today is a fine example, others would… Read more »

Eric Stampher
Eric Stampher

Hi Daniel,

What if the loathsomeness of heaven was not because of His presence as such, but because of all that disgusting love the folks have going on up there?

Andrew Lohr

Re “We become [like??] what we worship,” good short book on how worship shapes us: Liturgy and Personality, by Dietrich von Hildebrand. His preferred form of worship was the Latin Mass, but his general point and many of his particular points we can apply more broadly. (Value of his writing is uneven, tho none of what I’ve read has been terrible. But L&P I think excellent.)

Daniel Meyer

Eric, The Bible consistently speaks of hell as the place where God’s wrath is actively poured out on the wicked—the ultimate place of torment. I don’t think we speak the truth when we say heaven would be worse. Satan did not leave heaven voluntarily; he was thrown down (Rev 12:7-9). Scripture never hints that a soul in torment (where “the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched”) could have any comfort from the thought that, “Well, at least I’m not in heaven.” No. The Bible teaches that there is NO hope, NO comfort, in hell. Besides, how… Read more »