Next Friday, the Western church observes All Souls Day, a holiday that stands large over the Universalist imagination. It’s not the same thing as remembering our beloved dead, or remembering the great and heroic in all ages. All Souls Day, in a Universalist lens, looks to the fullness of humanity and its glorious hope, commending all and condemning none in God’s sight.
Some go further, expanding souls past humanity to other “intelligences.” This would be the angels and fallen devils in nineteenth-century parlance, who would at last be saved, and possibly non-human intelligences in the natural world today. Universalism as a habit of asking, is this the proper limit? To answer that, it is our responsibility to use good sense and humility before God. And patience.
But something’s missing about souls in that reunited state with God if we imagine them saved as-is. In fact, this is something Universalists routinely rejected. The main internal controversy was whether sinful human souls would repent after death; that is, develop, or would their nature be so changed by death itself that their salvation would be accomplished surely and instantaneously. These are, in shorthand, the Restorationist and Ultra-Universalist positions. What they share is change.
Can we draw closer to God and still carry the maladies that we live
with? We would imagine that sick people would be relieved of their
illnesses “when God is All in All” or else salvation is in name only.
To be locked into our state at the time of death means that multitude would experience eternal life in unknowing infancy or dementia, among other hardships. And if physical illness, then mental illness, too. And surely, too, freedom from those cherished hatreds that divide and torment us. We would have a spiritual body fit for life with God. You might object, “what would be left of the self I am? Would that transformed being be me? What I hope is that this new self would be the best and most that we could be, and a reminder that our own faltering attempts at self-improvement, kindness and graciousness are both partial and desirable.
Growing towards goodness in an act of trust in God. To be alive with God means to be somewhat greater and also somewhat different than what we have known. We could have sense of this from moments of exhilaration in ecstasy when we feel God’s nearness; that feeling of the peace which passes all understanding. So when we pray for All Souls, we pray for human beings (and perhaps more) to be in the fullness of God’s blessing. That we, like they, enjoy that all-valuable gift from God, which is itself truth, peace and life.
On my site Rev. Scott Wells, I have been writing about using some WWII-era prayer books to frame a brief service. If learning more about this appeals to you, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I also welcome project and topic suggestions. I also put manuscripts of my sermons on that site.
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(The Rev.) Scott Wells