The news of Senator Ted Kennedy's brain tumor led me along a rabbit trail of reflections to some thoughts on the matter of eternal life.
I would have dearly loved to have Mr. Kennedy out of the senate, but not this way. I think his ideas and policies, his harsh, and sometimes vicious, attacks on Republicans from Ronald Reagan to Robert Bork to George W. Bush, have been deeply harmful to this country, but, even so, being wrong and doing things that hurt others is a human failing to which we are every one of us predisposed.
I pray that the treatments he will undergo will be successful and that his cancer will subside into remission.
The possibility that he has only a few months left to live, however, led me by stream of consciouness to wonder about eternity, and how, exactly, we should think about the eternal fate of people we believe to have deeply harmed our nation (Senator Kennedy's illness initiated this rumination, but I do not now have him in mind). It's tempting, no doubt, to resent the idea that such individuals could ever be granted access to Paradise, and it certainly seems fair that individuals who have perpetrated particularly terrible wrongs, people like the Nazis, for example, be made to suffer forever for their offenses.
Whatever one may think of the justice of this, it certainly seems uncompassionate, and unChristian, even if many of us often very reasonably succumb to this way of thinking. I can imagine a person who lost a loved one on 9/11 would have great difficulty with the notion that Osama bin Laden might wind up in heaven with them.
Thus I find myself in an uneasy theological position. I desire justice, that those who have done great harm somehow be made to pay, and yet I believe, too, that it's cruel to desire to see anyone, even someone as monstrous as a Stalin, Hitler or Saddam, suffer for eternity. In other words, I find myself having to admit that my hope should be that God's will eventually will be done and that everyone ultimately will be purged of his crimes and debt by accepting Christ's atoning work.
Since I also believe that our eternal fate is something that we choose, and since I believe that there are those who cannot bear to choose to spend eternity with God, and since these people therefore choose to separate themselves from God and all that is good, I have to consequently believe that some there are who could well be eternally lost. Yet, I wonder if their lostness doesn't produce an ache in God's heart like the pain the father of the prodigal must have had. I wonder if God is not in some sense like a loving parent, some of whose grown children nevertheless treat Him abominably and break His heart every day.
Could it be possible that perhaps part of the mission and challenge of some in the new earth will be to minister to these wretched souls for as long as it takes to bring them back (See C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce)? Could it be possible that this is the plan the Father has for the "younger brothers" in His Kingdom? Perhaps it is the case that only when everyone is safely home will the Father be able to fully rejoice.
In any event, while we desire, hope and pray for justice in the world let's also pray that we not become like the Pharisees who, in their pursuit of justice, forgot all about compassion. In other words, regardless what our personal convictions about salvation may be, we should hope that somehow, ultimately, everyone will find their way home.