“I’m dying on the burning sand. If only someone could throw me in the cool, cool ocean.”
“I’ve got good news for you little starfish. No one dies on the burning sand,” said the universalist. “Everyone ends up in the ocean. Chill out.”
The universalist walked on leaving the starfish to sizzle on the hot sand.
After a while, an inclusionist walked by. “What’s up little starfish?”
“I’m dying on the burning sand. It’s hellishly hot down here and I can’t save myself.”
“I’ve got good news for you little starfish. The burning sand is not real. You are already in the ocean – you just need to wake up and believe it.”
Before the starfish could object, the inclusionist walked on leaving the starfish to sizzle on the hot sand.
The sun rose higher and the sand got hotter. The starfish began to lose all hope. Then Jesus walked by.
“Help me, Jesus,” cried the little starfish.
“What do you want me to do for you?” said Jesus.
“I’m burning up on the hot sand and I have no way of getting back into the cool ocean…”
“I am the way,” said Jesus.
“These two guys came along with contradictory truths and I don’t know who to believe…”
“I am the truth.”
“…but since neither of them would lift a finger to help me, I’m dying here.”
“I am the life,” said Jesus as he gently picked up the little starfish. “He who believes in me will never die. Do you trust me little starfish?”
“Oh goodness yes. You’re the only one around here with something good to say. You’re the only one lifting a finger to help. I’m with you Jesus!”
And Jesus laughed and walked into the cool, cool ocean holding the starfish gently in his hand.
Why did I write this story? There is a debating raging among my friends regarding the question of whether all people are in Christ or only Christians are in Christ. Regardless of which side you take in this issue, I trust you will agree that not all have new life. Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me has crossed over from death to life” (see John 3:16,36, 5:24, 6:40,47, 11:25). Not all believe so not all live.
The gospel is not two contradictory truths held in tension. The gospel is a revelation of Jesus who came that we might have life.
Telling unbelievers they are “in Christ” makes as much sense as telling sick people they are in good health. Such a message promotes pride among the self-righteous and conveys a false sense of all is well to the lost. Fact is, the unbeliever is worse than sick; he’s as good as dead (Joh 3:18). And when you are dead it makes no difference where you live.
On the cross the grace of God was revealed to all people. God’s love is unconditional and universal and freely available to all the Mother Teresas and Hitlers of this world. But not everyone receives his love. Some prefer to keep God at arm’s length. They prefer the independence of the hot sand to the cool touch of his loving embrace.
The good news is not “Jesus will violate your will and force his love upon you.” There’s a word for that sort of behavior and such a word cannot be used to describe a God of love.
The good news is that the Lover of your soul stands outside the door knocking and waiting to be invited in.