The Cross and Universal (Cosmic) Salvation

Christ-Descent-into-Hell

Today is Holy Saturday, which is when the church reflects on the day that the body of Jesus lay dead in the tomb. I know many of us fast forward the story from Friday to Sunday (spoiler: Jesus is raised from the dead!), but I find it helpful to dwell a bit more on the death of Christ first. He suffered and died on Good Friday and was actually dead on Holy Saturday. Easter is not a magic trick where it is revealed that “you can’t really kill the Son of God.” Today, the Messiah was really dead and his followers cowered in defeat.  On the cross we see a picture of how God is victorious not by conquering but by being conquered. Easter is good news only because just as God raised the defeated and the godforsaken Christ… so he will also one day raise us (see my previous post, How does the suffering God give us hope?).   In that vein, today is also when many Christian traditions reflect on Christ’s descent into Hell (the ultimate place of godforsakenness). Below is a clip with transcript from the 2009 Emergent Village Theological Conversation with Moltmann, where he is asked about the concept of universal redemption as it relates to the themes of The Crucified God (it’s in Episode 3, if you want to listen to the whole conversation in context).  Here he makes powerful use of Martin Luther’s comments about Hell and the suffering of Christ:  “Don’t look at Hell in the destiny of others; don’t look at Hell in your own destiny. Look at Hell in the wounds of Christ; there Hell is overcome.”

I’ve brought up Jürgen Moltmann and Universalism here before, as it was the topic of the question he responded to in his letter to me. I have since read the section of Barth’s Church Dogmatics that he recommended (it was very helpful but a lot to digest!). I hope to do some follow up posts on this in the near future, both on Barth’s Election of Jesus Christ and also on Moltmann’s “The Restoration of All Things” (from The Coming of God). But I’ve been a bit slow at cranking out new posts lately… so we shall see!

For now, enjoy this short reflection from Molty!

E.V. I fear in the west when we talk about the cross we have personalized it so far down that it only becomes about us, that when we look at the cross the way that it has been preached to many of us is that Jesus was hanging up there really just for me. Just for me to get somewhere. But in the Crucified God you talk about how in the cross all of creation finds its place for redemption. Which is a very different way of saying that it is not simply about one soul being placed in a position of justification, but that in the cross of Jesus where the godless and the godforsaken come together, that all of creation has its space for redemption. I wonder if you could talk to us about that.

J.M. I think in the Western tradition especially in the Protestant traditions we have lost the cosmic dimensions of christology which we find in the letter of Ephesians and Collosians. that Christ died for the redemption of the universe because the universe is also currupted and there are conflicted powers in the world. So even the universe and cosmos needs reconciliation and redemption. And this is what univeirsal salvation is all about. Not that all human beings will be saved, but that the universe will be saved. And this is old Orthodox tradition. At the end, the deification of the cosmos. Christ became human so that humans and the whole earth and the whole cosmos will become the place where God dwells, and by this will be deified. This is the theosis tradition in the Orthodox Church. And I think this is important to see at the end an all-embracing power. And not only salvation of my soul (and my body can go into the abyss). Not only my personal salvation (and the rest of the world might go into hell). Not only human beings will be saved (and all the other plants and creatures will be burned in fire). But the end will be restoration of all things in Christ. This is a phrase in Collosians 1:20 as far as I remember. And this is according to a pietistic German tradition. the restoration, the bringing back of all things which have passed away in the end. So there is not only hope for the coming generations but also hope for the generations which have passed away. And this is what resurrection is all about. Again, the modern experience of an ecological crisis and maybe an ecological catastrophe which is approaching, we need this cosmic dimension in order to do what is necessary to do today, vis-a-vis the dangers which may come. And so this is not speculation but this is very realistic.

E.V. When I was trying to explain to my friends and family where I was going I said “I love Moltmann because he is a Christian Universalist.” So my question to you I guess is, is it fair to call you that based on what you just said? Or is there another description you would like to use?

J.M. Well, I’m afraid I’m not a universalist because you know there are perhaps a few people I do not want to see again. But God may be a universalist because he had created them and would certainly like to see them again. So this will be my answer to this question. But universalism is not only to speak about all human beings! Its to speak about the universe, the stars and the moon and the sun and the whole cosmos! And this is always misunderstood by these fundamentalists who want to have a dual end – the one go to heaven and the other go to hell, and the earth will be burned in the fire. This is anti-creation. I don’t want to go to heaven. The angels have their home in heaven. I want to be raised on earth and to live in the new earth on which justice dwells. And if God at the end will be “all in all”, where is there Hell? I think that Christ’s descent to hell has an eye opening effect for us, to those we wish to go to Hell. Martin Luther once said, in a treatise on preparing for dying: Don’t look at Hell in the destiny of others; don’t look at Hell in your own destiny. Look at Hell in the wounds of Christ; there Hell is overcome. Because Christ suffered hell before his dying not only afterwords, in his godforsakenness. So in the wounds of Christ you must look if you want to talk about Hell.

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