One day while we (my husband and I) were staying at the cabin on the lake in Shelton, our third daughter by another mother and father, said to us, “I think you guys would like Richard Rohr.” She was right, but it took about a year to begin understanding what (Franciscan Priest) Richard Rohr was talking about.
We each had read things previously by Dutch Catholic priest and theologian Henry Nouwen and American author Brennan Manning, both of whose writings (like Rohr’s) flow from a contemplative lifestyle that emphasizes the overwhelming, never ending love of God. These men were, and still are, very influential, but neither of them were saying much that I didn’t already believe. It was confirming, inspiring and comforting, but didn’t produce much life change for me personally.
After our conversation with “third daughter”, we signed up to receive the daily emails sent out by the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) written by Richard Rohr. Reading his emails raised questions. Questions about my core understanding of who God is and what role he plays, not just in my life but in the universe. We were skeptical. We were intrigued. I wanted to know more.
We had some unused miles on Southwest Airlines that were about to expire, so we booked a flight to Albuquerque to attend a conference put on by CAC. The speakers lined up were Richard Rohr, Episcopal priest Cynthia Bourgeault and author Wm. Paul Young. We were a little nervous to go because these guys (except Paul Young) seemed a little bit “off” to our Evangelical mindset. I was a little scared of being deceived by their “new age” way of thinking. What if we were sucked in against our better judgement and fell away from mainline Christianity? But we took the plunge and besides… it was New Mexico. There would be sun!
We were especially wary of Cynthia Bourgeault because her writings in the daily emails from CAC seemed the most heretical. But she turned out to be my husband’s favorite speaker. My favorite was Paul Young, I think because his background was Evangelical and I could understand where he was coming from. His talks pinpointed some of the things concerning God that I was wrestling with personally.
The conference turned out to be very grounded and not too “new age-y” or heretical, for us anyway. We had nothing to fear after all. Rather it was very enlightening and refreshing. The theme was “Oneing” and the focus was on becoming aware of Christ in us. As we partook of the body and the blood of Christ (communion/the Eucharist) the last evening, the realization of Christ in me and Christ in those around me was astoundingly apparent.
After the conference I decided to look up Paul Young on the internet. I found his website and subscribed for updates. One day he had a video posted of part of a gathering he had done with a man named Brad Jersak. I watched it. I was impressed. This man seemed in awe of the wonder of a God he couldn’t describe. It reminded me of something else that “third daughter” had said to us a few years earlier. I can’t remember her exact words, but it was something to the effect of, “who are we to think that we could put into words or even begin to understand the infinite being of this entity we call God!?!” I remember thinking, oh my gosh, you are so right! This kind of talk intrigues me, and people who admit the ineffableness of God, but somehow exude the very essence of love are the kind of people I want to know. I saw that quality in Brad Jersak.
One of Paul Young’s posts on his webpage talked about how people accused him of being a universalist. He said, “if you want to know what I believe about hell, read Her Gates Will Never be Shut, by Brad Jersak. My eyes lit up. My interest was peaked. I ordered the book immediately. This book might answer the burning questions about Christian Universalism I first began asking in Israel in 2011. (See Chapter Eighteen.)
It took a long time to read. It’s not for the faint of heart. But I needed to know and this book was not just about what the author “thought” or made up, it was a study of scripture, history and culture. He left no rock unturned. Every interpretation of Hell was traced back to it’s inception.Then the author told how those interpretations of Hell were evaluated by several theologians both modern and ancient. I see why Paul Young said, “read the book” because you can’t explain it on a webpage or in a blog.
I found a solid, reasonable and scriptural basis from which I made the decision to move on from my previous beliefs about Hell and who would or would not go there. When the Bible says, “perfect love casts out fear” I believe it more thoroughly now. I no longer fear the exaggerated threat of Hell as eternal punishment. His love endures forever. His mercy never ends. Scripturally speaking, the consequence of sin is death, not Hell, and the Bible says, “Jesus has conquered death”. I think it means it. There is no more death. Death is nothing. Of course none of “the living” know for sure, but I’m pretty convinced that Hell is not what I was led to believe previously.