Do all people go to heaven? Perhaps another way to ask this, does God want all people to go to heaven? A further question: is there a way that humans can prevent God for getting what God wants? Very good questions to consider . . .
In the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus offers back-to-back-to-back images of God as the shepherd who finds that lost sheep, the house wife who finds that lost coin, and the father who embraces both the prodigal son and his jealous brother–each image suggests that, despite our plans for running away, God finds us. In other words, God gets what God wants. Scripture does not paint a picture of God, in the age to come, snapping his fingers in disgust, saying, “Well, darn; I tried but I just fell short” or shrugging his God-sized shoulders in lament, “You can’t always get what you want.” That’s the Rolling Stones, not God!
The Shack has been blasted in certain Christian circles because it apparently suggests universalism. In the novel, Jesus tells Mack that those who love him come from all the world’s religious and political systems: “They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims, Democrats, Republicans . . . I have followers who were murderers and many who were self-righteous.” Jesus doesn’t go so far as to say that all roads will lead to him: “Most roads don’t lead anywhere,” he says, but promises he will “travel any road to find you.”
Notice that many people of various walks and lives and beliefs end up identified with Jesus. I want to be clear that this not universalism per se, but a belief in a universal God. The belief that God who can get what God wants in Jesus Christ is called Christocentrism, i.e., Christ is the center. The key difference from universalism is what Papa (in the guise of Sophia, or Divine Wisdom) tells Mack: “This life is only the anteroom of a greater reality to come. No one reaches their full potential in your world.” We often think of life as process, either a progression to maturity or, in some cases, a regression. Evangelical theology talks about coming to Jesus or accepting Jesus in this lifetime. But what if this process continued after this life? What if coming to Jesus can take place after death?
In suggesting this, The Shack is actually tapping into an ancient viewpoint. The early church fathers, especially in the east, took seriously such statements as John 12:32, “When I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself” and 1 Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” The earliest Christians took these passages literally, along with Philippians 2:10, “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow . . . and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” These statements are Christocentric; Christ is at the center of everything and everyone. What comes across in these scriptures is that God wants the whole entire world to be saved through Jesus Christ (John 3:16). And that God is going to get what God wants.
It is only in more recent memory, beginning in this country with the Great Awakening at the onset of the 19th century, that time limits have been set on God’s plan. Some people will even tell you that there is a certain age, like 12 or 15, whereby you must confess Jesus as Lord or all hope is lost when you die. Personally I don’t find that belief to be reflective of a God whose steadfast love endures forever; more importantly, I don’t find that belief to be biblical when Jesus says in Matthew 19 that there will be a renewal of all things, when Peter says in Acts 3 that Jesus will restore everything, and when Paul says in Colossians 1 that through Christ, God reconciled all things. You get the point . . . all, all, all; everything, everything, everything.
Of course, lots of people in our world right now choose to be violent and abusive, mean and evil. A God who just would just look the other way at tragedy and cruelty is not a God of love, but a monster. But do you think that a person could reach the point of no longer bearing the image of God? Is there a point of no return? Is forgiveness available, always and in all-ways? Which is stronger and more powerful, the hardness of the human heart or the power of God’s unrelenting, infinite, expansive love?
The Shack suggests that there are more chances to come to God through Christ, even in other cultures, religions, and beliefs. In fact, The Shack maintains that God continues to pursue humans after death in order to reconcile with them, as is the case with Missy’s killer. This, in turn, reminds me of a famous letter written by Martin Luther. It must be recalled that Luther was absolutely against the Roman Catholic practice of purgatory, especially the sale of indulgences by which one could buy a space in heaven for one’s loved one like a piece of real estate. Even so, the same Martin Luther wrote about the possibility that people could turn to God after death, asking, “Who would doubt God’s ability to do that?”
Very good questions for you to consider. To assist your wondering, I would highly recommend another book, If Grace Is True, by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland.