God does not play favorites


I have not always been crazy about the pastoral epistles. Written anonymously in Paul's name some time after Paul died, the theological ideas expressed in those three letters has been described by Dominic Crossan as representing a kind of conservative backlash against what he argues is the more radical and inclusive message of Paul's authentic letters. And I think he has a point.

That being said, upon encountering the passage from 1 Timothy that was part of this week's Lectionary, one phrase stood out for me in a positive way:

This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
I am sure that this passage can be interpreted a lot of ways. For example, it could be seen by fundamentalists as another way of expressing the imperative of the Great Commission and, unfortunately, as a justification for religious intolerance. From that point of view, God's vision that everyone be saved will remain unfulfilled unless faithful followers carry out certain tasks to proselytize; and thus it is incumbent on Christians to make sure that this Divine desire gets implemented.

But, as you might expect, I had a different take on that passage when I pondered it as it was being read aloud in church on Sunday. What inspired me was the notion that God does not play favorites; rather, God desires everyone to be saved. Where others might see intolerance in that passage, I saw universalism. The author seemed to me to be suggesting that there is no select group of individuals who God singles out for special favor; on the contrary, the writer suggests that God's favor is universal, and that we are all equally important in God's eyes. This viewpoint is consistent with Jesus's teachings of radical inclusion.

What it means to be "saved" is, of course, another question. To me, as I have stated before, salvation isn't about getting into heaven after we die (although I am open to the possibility of an afterlife), but rather about being accepted into the fullness of God's grace. For me, heaven is at minimum a metaphorical and poetic expression of that desire to be accepted and loved by God in the fullest way possible. I do believe that God's grace is available to us now, regardless of whether there is an afterlife. And the notion that God doesn't play favorites is, for me, one expression of the glory of God's grace, because I believe that this grace is universal. It would not be grace if it had preconditions--if it expected us to do anything to ensure its fulfillment.


Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

I take the text in much the same way -- as God's desire -- indeed God's intent -- to bring all of creation into relationship with God. If salvation is understood more broadly as healing and wholeness it can include afterlife but should be understood as much more than that. Thanks for the reflection!