Our age seems reluctant to look at pain and sacrifice. We have medicalised suffering and generall speaking, shut it away in hospitals and hopsices; death is something to be sanitised and delayed for as long as possible, and then, if possible, ‘managed’ by the professionals. All of this unplesantness, a reminder of our frailty and mortality are hidden away, cordoned off lest it should get in the way of our living lives of carefree pleasure in which we are encouraged top ‘be ourselves’, which is a euphemism for ‘consume today and tomorrow and let the day after take care of itself’.
Such an age is more comfortable with the idea that all good people go to heaven, than it is with the traditional teaching of all churches, which is that this is not the case. From the Dawkinsites who say that only a psychopathic God would condemn anyone to hell, to the kindly Christians who cannot believe that God’s love is not going to be enough to redeem everyone, regardless of their wishes – or even that at the last everyone will wish to be saved and confess the name above all names. No one but God knows the truth of this matter, but the vehicle of his self-revelation, the Christian church (in all its manifestations) has not thought it right to teach universalism. One reason for this is it knows, as we know, that our chance at salvation was dearly bought.
Can anyone really believe in the atonement and universalism? If following your conscience and being good was enough to bring you to the kingdom of Heaven, then why was Our Lord scourged, why were nails hammered into His sinless hands and feet, and why did He hang there in agony? All of this could have been avoided, God’s immense love should surely have been enough, why then did the Second Person of the Trinity go through this agony? Such an agony that, before it came to Him, He begged, if it were possible, that it should pass Him by? And what human being, knowing crucifixion was coming his way wuld not have made that prayer too?
The Apostles, too, suffered hardships and, for the most part, painful deaths, as did so many martyrs. All they really needed to tell the pagans was that if they did the best they could in good conscience, they would be fine. No need for wrestling with trying to know who Christ was, or what the references to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost meant, or whether Christ was wholly-human or divine, or a mixture, or, somehow fully-human and divine with no mixture of the natures. Nope, all that, and the martyrdoms, and the evangelism, none of it worth bothering with, as salvation can be had on the cheap – just be good and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.
Whatever Pope Francis did or did not say about universaism, the press liked it because it sounded ‘nice’. Well, there was nothing ‘nice’ about the Cricifixion. We are bought dear and fully paid for by the Blood of the Lamb – and that did not come cheap, and we should not hold it so. We may not like the idea of sacrifice, but Christ sacrificed Himself so that all who believe in Him should come to life, and life eternal.