George MacDonald (saint of the week here) is one of those fantastic people that should hopefully make many of my contemporaries rescind their blanket statements about ‘Victorians’. Just read The Princess and the Goblin. Or consider some of his ideas about the afterlife.
MacDonald was a Congregationalist pastor who lost his licence to preach for not believing in the ‘Providence’ of God– by which, I think, is meant that extreme predestinarian view which teaches that God predetermined that I would have toast for breakfast and wear purple underwear on Ash Wednesday — and for teaching ‘Universalism.’
But MacDonald’s so-called ‘Universalism’ isn’t so bad. His belief was that everyone gets one last chance, basically. Thus, those whose hearts were prepared on Earth for Christ but who did not accept Him due to, for example, a lack of understanding of Who the Real Jesus Is, or who never heard of Jesus, or something like that, will look upon Him in the next life, and when they see Him, they will know that He is the one for whom they had been searching all along. And so they will enter the rest of the saints.
Those who did not prepare for meeting Christ will not enter that rest.
C.S. Lewis (saint of the week here) counted MacDonald as his great Teacher, and this seems to be the point of view we see at the end of The Last Battle when a Calormene (sp??) makes his way into Heaven because his worship of Tash was actually worship of Aslan all along — he just misunderstood Tash and Aslan, believing Tash to be basically Aslan and Aslan, Tash. That is to say, the basic character of the two. Thus, he joined Aslan in heaven.
Now, we don’t really know what will happen beyond the grave. The Bible exhorts us time and again to make our decision here and now. This means that here and now is very important. Nevertheless, I think that the living Christ can make Himself known where and when He wills. How did Abraham know the true God? Or Melchizedek? God is everywhere, and can be known by anyone. All those who choose God and His gift of Life, will receive that gift from Christ, our only advocate and mediator, in the life of the world to come.
The idea that some of them may officially be Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, Shintoists, Confucians, pagans, or animists shouldn’t bother us. That Judgement is Christ’s to make, as He sits on the dread seat of judgement. What matters is Christ Himself and His Spirit.
Maybe Augustine is right, and only about 3% of all humanity makes it into heaven, that 3% being members of the visible Church who truly believe in and trust Christ. Maybe Origen is right, and we all make it, even the Devil. However, I’d rather MacDonald be right. Some of us make it, and it’s all about our Faith in Christ. Will we greet Him as our Brother and Friend, or fear Him as our King and Judge? ‘Twill only be seen as we pass the curtain.