Monday, June 28, 2010

Five Arguments against Universalism

These are five large-scale arguments against universalism.  Like any good theological debate there is a fair bit of trench-warfare regarding individual verses. However, arguments regarding individual verses or even whole subsets of verses don't mean much if these five larger arguments aren't meaningfully engaged with.

1. Ultimately everyone gets saved?
A trillion years is still a shorter time period than eternity.  Furthermore if your ultimately guaranteed salvation, there is no need for unique salvation in Christ. To put it another way if I was dying a horrible death from poisoning and some fellow offered me the antidote, I wouldn't have to take it because he'd eventually ram it down my throat anyway.


2. All Doctrine is a construction
Theology is all about assembling the biblical evidence within the context of particular church tradition.  The stinger here is that everyone constructs doctrine; those who believe universalism and those that don't. Good doctrine should simply be a recap of what the Bible says anyway, but no-one except God has that inside track on the pure knowledge, everyone constructs doctrine.

3. Theology is like a woolen jumper, it can come unravelled
Doctrine is all interconnected, what you believe about one thing affects another thing.  Ideas have consequences, universalism can't be held in isolation from other doctrines. Admittedly there are small scale ideas and large scale ideas, so somethings are more important than others.  However universalism involves big important ideas about God and salvation, changes in one place causes unravelling elsewhere.

4. If sin is against God then it has God-sized properties
While there isn't a direct correlation between the size of the person and the size of the offense, the nature of an offense is connected to the person offended.  This goes to the nature of sin, it's directed against God and therefore would be met with a corresponding judgement.

5. By which value system is Hell being evaluated?
During the course of biblical history God directs or permits violence.  These exceptions upset us because we're using an overall Biblical system of ethics that would ordinarily condemn such activity.  If Hell is repugnant then we need to sort out by what ethical standard.  Which value system is being employed?

All that said, I appreciate the challenge of universalism, orthodoxy gets fat and flabby if it's not taken outside and exercised.  I can also see some of the benefits of the universalist argument; a truly sovereign God who completely expunges all evil.  However the counter-arguments are too potent to make universalism a viable argument.

24 comments:

Alex C Smith said...

I agree that there might be some debate on the translation of some words e.g. aeon, however, there are dozens of verses that don't seem to have any contention and appear to directly state salvation, though Christ, for everyone, albeit that some people will resist the offer for a while.

1. Sorry I don't understand your trillion years point. You and I, are Christians, and hence the Spirit guarantees our salvation. As far as I can tell, this guarantee doesn't reduce the need for a unique salvation in Christ. i.e. the quantity saved doesn't affect the uniqueness of Christ's salvation. I'm still convinced that salvation is only through Christ, it's just a matter of how long it takes for them to repent and believe. (I think the last bit of logic would make predestination "ramming" salvation down someone's throat?)

2. I agree, we all construct doctrine and should try to rely on God's revelation (the clearest being the Bible), but I don't see how this is an argument against salvation for everyone?

3. I agree, doctrine is interconnected and ideas have consequences. Universalism is definitely big, and it may mean some other doctrines needs refining but that doesn't necessarily mean it wrong.

4. Sin is ultimately against God and I agree that makes it a very big offense. However, that's the awesome thing about Christ, His perfect sacrifice of infinite size was enough to cover all sins. i.e. no further payment is required. Therefore, all further judgement would be remedial, and aimed at bringing people to repentance.

5. These exceptions also probably upset God too as he doesn't enjoy the suffering of the wicked either (Ezekiel 18:23). However, I find these exceptions are actually easier because I believe that the violence isn't "the end of the story" i.e. that God has a long term plan to save even those he destroys in this lifetime.

If Hell is devoid of all goodness, by definition, it would have be an utterly repugnant place, something I assume we'd both agree on. However, I think that's not what you're asking. Please expand on what you mean by "value system", if this doesn't answer the question: I think God is strongly motivated by love, even when he is judging, which is why I think it would be ethical if it was remedial (especially given that the payment of Christ covers the debt we owed).

I'm glad you like the challenge. I will do my best to gently bring you around :D

Allan Smith said...

Hi Luke. I'm getting too weak in the head to engage in debate, but...

Ultimately everyone gets saved?

1) Just as the entire universe was doomed by Adam's failure, the entire universe is rescued by Christ's success. Paul spells out this symmetry in a couple of places. God will not fail. Love never fails. Love keeps no record of wrong. What is Hell but a catastrophic failure of God's love to save, and a place of eternal record-keeping of wrongs?

As for ramming grace down our throats, can I suggest that no one in their right minds could choose eternal torment over eternal joy? The damned would be utterly insane. (Sanity is a gift of God, and Hell is separation from all of God's gifts.) Given their insanity, it is no violation of free-will for God to force himself upon them for their own good. Our will is only free when it chooses the good. A will that chooses the bad is enslaved, and not free. God alone can set our wills free by regeneration. The Calvinists are right. God's grace is irresistible and his calling is effective. In Christ, we are predestined to glory, and the whole universe with us. For from him, and through him, and to him are all things.

2) The doctrine of universal restoration is a construct from our point of view. So is the theorem of Pythagoras. It doesn't make it untrue.

3) We all have a Rosetta Stone. For me, it's the notion that God is utterly good and utterly competent. Being Good, God pities us. Being Wise, He knows how to heal us. Being Strong, He is able to heal us. Being Faithful, He will heal us.

4) Our sins are against the infinite God. Christ paid that price. It's finished. There's no more debt to pay.

5) We must judge by ordinary human intuitions of good and evil. What else can we do? If someone said your dad was secretly tormenting his cat, you would recoil in anger, horror and disbelief. You would loudly defend his good name from such evil accusations. Yet we swallow the doctrine that our heavenly Father will torment countless multitudes for all eternity! It simply doesn't compute.

Jon said...

The Smith men have said it better than I ever could. What is it that makes Tasmianians so clever? Is it the Queensland genetics?

From my point of view, all five points aside, the key question is that if John is right in saying "God is love", how can that be reconciled with God sending people to hell? In what way is that an act of love?

In reply you can argue one of two things.

a. That God doesn't send anyone to hell, people send themselves there by refusing his mercy. This, however, relies on God's mercy being clearly and unequivocally offered, whereas in our time it is by no means clear to everyone that God even exists. People are not wilfully refusing, they are honestly searching for the truth and making an honest mistake. If after death we find that this choice is made clear, who would choose hell?

b. That God is sending people to hell as an act of justice, because their sins deserve that. To my mind, this makes God cruel and relentless, and negates his love.

Luke said...

You still sound lucid Allan! Very well thought out Alex and it's the Tasmanian air and good breeding Jon, although the Queensland heat obviously hasn't liquified your brains yet!

When I came up with the five points, I had the article you sent me in mind Alex and some of the previous discussions we'd all had so not all them seem to apply! Interestingly some of the old (and weaker) arguments for universalism have dropped from view and Alex your position seems to be different and stronger than that of the article's. For example the article implied Hell was some doctrine cooked up by the church while universalism simply a return to pure scripture, that's why I said all doctrine, universalism included, is a construct. The use of predestination is a very powerful argument. I never though I'd read this Allan: "The Calvinists are right. God's grace is irresistible and his calling is effective." I had expected the argument of God would never do something so horrible. That's why I said "by what value system (the ultimate standards of right and wrong) are we measuring things?" Although Jon I think you slip into this problem when you say "To my mind, this makes God cruel and relentless, and negates his love." Your using a value system that says one thing is horrible and another good, why that set of standards and not another?

Luke said...

To recap, the essential argument against universalism remains, if everyone is saved, salvation is unnecessary. I said this once Alex, and you used the poison/antidote example and then I thought, well regardless of the offer, I'm going to be cured that's why I said "rammed down the throat," I'll get the antidote even if I say "no" all my life and all through purgatory. This is why even a trillion years in Hell is nothing compared to eternity. Then both Allan and Jon, argue that no-one would ultimately continue to choose the poison, continue to choose to remain in Hell. This is probably true but only makes the biggest argument against universalism stronger, you definitely don't need to be a Christian on this earth, you'll in all probability choose to become one regardless someday in purgatory. You could even argue in a perverse line of reasoning that rejecting salvation now only makes God's ultimate victory greater because he won over such a recalcitrant sinner!

This brings me to second big unresolved problem, Alex said : "I agree, doctrine is interconnected and ideas have consequences. Universalism is definitely big, and it may mean some other doctrines needs refining but that doesn't necessarily mean it wrong." I think you've underestimated the difficulty here Alex: Why all the drama about death as a conclusion, the focus on how the world will end, if purgatory is essentially no different? Under universalism every Christian doctrine applies to every single person because every single person becomes a Christian, most just don't know it yet. Should they be held accountable to Christian ideas and values, why or why not? This is what I meant by the unravelled woolen jumper, if universalism is true, why is any doctrine not up for radical re-consideration?

Lastly and importantly, about sin and evil. Your right Alex, evil and sin aren't part of God. However evil and sin are personal, not abstract, in an empty universe containing only God, they'd be no evil and sin. Jesus doesn't die for an abstract pile of sin, he dies for sinners, people. Evil is the word we use for describing sin, it's not an abstract colour in the cosmos. This is also why I'm wary of reducing God to love, it's certainly an essential characteristic of God but not the essential description of God. Hell keeps evil sinners separate from God, otherwise evil is just as much a part of God as love because evil and sin cannot be separated from persons being evil and sinful. Hell is a testimony to God's eternal victory over evil and sinners.

Allan Smith said...

Luke said: To recap, the essential argument against universalism remains, if everyone is saved, salvation is unnecessary.

Suppose I argued against medicine by saying, "If penicillin cured all diseases, penicillin wouldn't be necessary".

God wasn't joking when he promised to save the world from sin. His salvation has teeth. He will not be defeated, "for the zeal of the Lord will accomplish it". The entire cosmos will be redeemed and restored until "Christ is all in all", not "all in a few bits here and there".

This salvation is no easy thing, by the way. As for the master, so too for the servant. If Christ won resurrection only through suffering, the same will be true for us all. "No pain, no gain" may well be an eternal truth. "Take up your cross and follow..." To paraphrase MacDonald, our God is a consuming fire, burning up what we falsely call "ourselves" until our true self, our eternal self remains. "All that can be shaken will be shaken." The pains of hell will be real enough. No one is papering over the weeping and gnashing. Even now, we feel the heat. But the pain is remedial, not retributive.

Possum said...

I’m a novice in this area but here’s my two cents worth:

I’m not a fan of the “ I think God is mean if he sends ppl to hell” argument bcs it’s basically just an opinion and God is entitled to do what he thinks best, regardless of our disagreement or lack of understanding.

However, I do want to know exactly what the bible says on the matter. I’m intrigued by the apparent errors in bible translating regarding the words hell and eternal. My understanding is that the word “eternal” is an inaccurate rendering – or at least an inconsistently applied rendering - of the word “aion”. This is fairly fundamental in establishing the doctrine of eternal punishment, doncha think?!! The idea of hell has apparently also developed since the bible was written, taking on all sorts of connotations that were not in the original. I’ve heard that the first 500 yrs of Christendom (major creeds etc) were free from such ideas.

So then, if those points are true and we take into account what the bible actually says about hell and it’s finiteness, then read the following verses from the bible, a picture starts to develop...

"The Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world." (1 John 4:14)

Jesus is "the Christ, the Savior of the world." (John 4:42)

"This is good and acceptable in the sight of our God our saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus: Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time." (1 Tim. 2:3-6, KJV)

Jesus "is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world." (1 John 2:2)

Jesus "did not come to judge the world but to save the WORLD." (John 12:47)

"Jesus, was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for EVERYONE." (Heb. 2:9)

"Love NEVER fails." (1 Cor. 13:8)

"With God NOTHING is impossible." (Luke 1:37)

"This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance. For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, Who is the Savior of ALL MEN, especially of those who believe. These things command and teach." (1 Tim. 4:9-11) ...

Possum said...

"At the name of Jesus EVERY knee should bow, of those in heaven, and those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that EVERY tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father." (Phil. 2:10:11)

"God was pleased to have all fullness dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile to Himself ALL THINGS on earth or in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation." (Col. 1:19, 21, 22)

In Jesus Christ is "the restoration of ALL THINGS, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began." (Acts 3:21)

The Gospel is "good tidings of great joy will be to ALL people." (Luke 2:10)

God appointed Jesus "heir of ALL THINGS, and through whom He made the universe." (Heb. 1:2)

"No one can come to Christ unless the Father who sent Him draws him." (John 6:44)

"As God gave Jesus authority over ALL FLESH, that he should give eternal life to as many as God have Him." (John 17:2)

The Father "has given ALL THINGS into Jesus' hands." (John 13:3)

Jesus "was the true light which gives light to EVERY MAN who come into the world." (John 1:9)

"Just as the result of one trespass was condemnation of ALL MEN, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for ALL MEN." (Rom. 5:18)

Jesus is "able even to subdue ALL THINGS to Himself." (Phil. 3:21)

Jesus came "that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times he might gather together in one ALL THINGS in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth in Him. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works ALL THINGS according to the counsel of His will." (Eph. 1:10, 11)

"The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering towards us, not willing that any should perish, but that ALL should come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9)
"God was Christ reconciling THE WORLD to Himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: be reconciled to God." (2 Cor. 5:19, 20)

Possum said...

"ALL the nations shall be blessed." (Gal 3:8)

"The Bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives Life to the WORLD." (John 6:33)

Jesus commanded us to be like Himself and His Father: "Love your enemies, bless those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you that you may be sons of your Father in heaven." (Matt. 5:44, 45)

"And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw (drag in the Greek, helkuo) ALL MANKIND unto Myself." (John 12:32)

"Creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope, because creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God." (Rom. 8:20, 21)

"The Father loves the Son and has given ALL THINGS into His hands." (John 3:35)

"Since by man came death, by man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam ALL died, even so in Christ ALL shall be made alive." (1 Cor. 15:22)

Jesus "is the image of the invisible God, the first born over ALL CREATION. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him." (Co. 1:15, 16)

"ALL shall know the Lord, from the least of them to the greatest of them." (Heb. 8:11)

"If anyone's work which he has built endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved yet so as through fire." (1 Cor. 3:14, 15)

"Of Him and through Him and to Him are ALL THINGS, to whom be glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36)

"Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for ALL, and therefore all died." (2 Cor. 5:14) True or False.

"ALL nations shall come and worship You, for your judgments have been made manifested." (Rev. 15:4)

"Mercy shall TRIUMPH OVER (exalt over) judgment." (James 2:13)

"Where sin abounded, grace abounded much more." (Rom. 5:20)

"EVERY CREATURE which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever." (Rev. 5:13)

"God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the gentiles, which is Christ in you the hope of glory. Him we preach, warning EVERY MAN and teaching EVERY MAN in all wisdom that we may present EVERY MAN perfect in Christ Jesus." (Col. 1: 27, 28)

"ALL nations whom God has made will come and worship before Him" (Psalm 86:9)

God's "mercy endures forever." (1 Chron. 16:34)

God's Spirit "will be poured out on ALL FLESH." (Joel 2:28)

Possum said...

God beckons us: "Come, and let us return to the Lord, for He has torn, but He will heal us. He has stricken, but He will bind us. After 2 days, He will revive us. On the THIRD DAY He will raise us up that we may live in His sight." (Hosea 6:1, 2)

"The Lord had made bare His Holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and ALL the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God." (Isaiah 52:10)

God will "open His hand and satisfy the desire of EVERY living thing." (Psalm 145:16)

God is "gracious in ALL His works." (Psalm 145:17)

"The EARTH is the Lord's and ALL its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein." (Psalm 24:1)

"ALL the kings of the earth shall praise you, 0 Lord, when they hear the words of your mouth." (Psalm 138:4)

God "reveals Himself by those who did not ask for Him: He was found by those who did not seek Him." (Isaiah 65:1)

"The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and great in mercy. The Lord is good to ALL, and His tender mercies are over ALL His works. ALL your works shall praise you, 0 Lord." (Psalm 145:8-10)

"ALL the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the Lord, and ALL the families of the nations shall worship before You. ALL those who go down to the dust (death) shall bow before You." (Psalm 22:27, 29)

"O You Who hear prayer, to you ALL flesh will come. Iniquities prevail against me; as for our transgressions, you will provide atonement for them." (Psalm 65:2-4)

"Through the greatness of your power your enemies shall submit themselves to you. ALL the earth shall worship You and sing praises to you." (Psalm 66:3, 4)

"Through the Lord's mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions FAIL NOT. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness." (Lam. 3:21-24)

"The Lord will NOT cast off forever. Though He causes grief, yet He will show compassion according to the multitude of His mercies." (Lam. 3:31, 32)

"For I will not contend forever, Nor will I always be angry; For the spirit would fail before Me, And the souls which I have made." (Isaiah 57:16)

"There is no God besides Me, a just God and Savior; There is none besides Me. Look to Me and be saved, all you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. I have sworn by Myself; the word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, that to me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall take an oath. He shall say, surely in the Lord I have righteousness and strength. To Him men shall come, and all shall be ashamed who are incensed against Him. In the Lord ALL the descendants of Israel shall be justified and shall glory." (Isaiah 45:21-25)

"In this mountain the Lord of Hosts will make for all people a feast of choice pieces, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of well-refined wines on the lees. And he shall destroy on this mountain the surface of the covering cast over ALL nations. He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord will wipe away tears from all faces." (Isaiah 25:6-8)

"ALL the nations of the earth shall be blessed." (Gen. 18:18)

"ALL the families of the earth shall be blessed." (Gen. 12:3, 28:14)

"It shall come to pass the saying that is written: `death is swallowed up in victory. Oh, Death, where is your sting Oh, Hell (Hades) where is your victory.' The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Cor. 15:54-58)

Possum said...

Sorry about all the verses! :)

Luke said...

@ Alex

I think the strongest argument for universalism is God's absolute sovereignty. Why doesn't he destroy all evil? I'd have a hard time combatting that one, as "Possum" pointed out the "I think God is mean if he sends ppl to hell argument" is way to shaky (sorry Jon) and the "it's a recent invention" also has some things you don't want associated with it. The possibility of a "purgatory" and "the nature of all and eternity" are middle ranking arguments.

@ Allan

A number of things I agree with, but I don't think they prove the conclusion: But the pain is remedial, not retributive. As I alluded to earlier, universalism requires a reworking of other doctrines, among them sin and atonement. If Sin is a rebellion against God, and the most horrible thing in the universe, then the default would be the most horrible result, destruction. It's arguably unusual that anyone is saved, why would God need to do anything, the Trinity is sufficient in love. To make salvation remedial implies God needs humanity, reduces God's immanence. That's what's so unusual about salvation that the retribution is put aside.

@ "Possum"

I’m not a fan of the “ I think God is mean if he sends ppl to hell” argument bcs it’s basically just an opinion and God is entitled to do what he thinks best, regardless of our disagreement or lack of understanding.
I agree this is one of the weaker arguments for universalism because it relativizes the nature of what's good and bad and simply asserts one ethical standard over another without saying why Hell is worse then no-Hell.

I’ve heard that the first 500 yrs of Christendom (major creeds etc) were free from such ideas. You can't use that argument, otherwise you'd have to question doctrines like the Trinity, which were formalised later in church history into doubt. Although the idea of judgement after death was formalised from the get go. eg Apostles Creed etc.

I'll have to look up by BDAG on eternal, I'll get back to you on it.

Sorry about all the verses! :)
That's OK but if we were to work through them one by one, we'd quickly realise that these larger over arching issues would keep making our interpretation go one way or the other. Although I'd be happy to work through a representative sample alongside these bigger issues.

Jon said...

Hmm, impressive list of verses Possum. No doubt someone else could come up with a list that might demonstrate the opposite - like ""Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life" (Mt 25:46). I don't feel like searching for the whole list.

The point is that in various places the Bible does talk about punishment including eternal punishment, and it is very difficult to square this with the various statements you quote. My personal view is that the references to punishment are rhetorical, rather than intended as a factual description of what will happen, but you could equally say that about many of the "all" verses.

Luke, my point above which you quote is an attempt to understand the standard that God applies. If God is love and love is as described in places like 1 Cor 13, how does eternal punishment fit with that standard?

Possum said...

Lukey,
“You can't use that argument, otherwise you'd have to question doctrines like the Trinity, which were formalised later in church history.”
Um, I think I can use the argument :P If something isn’t explicit in the bible then the onus always falls on church leaders to show that it’s there eg. The trinity. The question is, can you show me, from a reliable translation of the bible, that a literal, eternal “hell” exists?

“the idea of judgement after death was formalised from the get go. eg Apostles Creed etc.”

Yes, but they forgot to mention the idea that it would be permanent, which is a biggy!

“I'll have to look up by BDAG on eternal, I'll get back to you on it.”

Please do, I really would like to get to the bottom of this one. I don’t mind being proven wrong, I just want to know what the bible really says. I’ve only recently been won over to the real possibility of universalism because of these key words - I feel that I’ve been previously misled by some of the translations.

“these larger over arching issues would keep making our interpretation go one way or the other. Although I'd be happy to work through a representative sample alongside these bigger issues.”

Indeed, I can remember so many bible studies where the leader says, “well we know it can’t mean what it seems to be explicitly stating bcs ...” Hey, maybe you can run a universalism bible study group for us? :)

If I may also comment on your responses to Allan...

Regarding the doctrines of sin/atonement:
“If Sin is a rebellion against God, and the most horrible thing in the universe, then the default would be the most horrible result, destruction.”

Yes, that’s certainly what we all deserve.

“It's arguably unusual that anyone is saved”

Except that we know God’s character, that he loves his children and wants to save us all, despite our sinfulness. And he has the means, the power to save as many as he chooses.

“why would God need to do anything, the Trinity is sufficient in love. To make salvation remedial implies God needs humanity, reduces God's immanence.”

He doesn’t NEED to save anyone, yet he does save. The difference we’re talking about is the scale of salvation. The salvation isn’t remedial, the punishment is. The sin is already paid for by Jesus; any punishment after the cross can’t pay for sin but it could turn someone to repent.

“That's what's so unusual about salvation that the retribution is put aside.”

Yes it’s put aside from us– onto Jesus on the cross. His sacrifice is sufficient. Of course God doesn’t NEED to do anything – but the point is that God HAS done something that pays for all sin. His act of salvation was big enough to cover all men.

Possum said...

Jon:
“Hmm, impressive list of verses Possum.”

Thanks, I lifted them more or less straight from someone else’s website :)

“No doubt someone else could come up with a list that might demonstrate the opposite - like "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life" (Mt 25:46).”

Yes, probably. But I’m not suggesting there is no punishment, only that it’s not necessarily eternal. I don’t trust the verses that say eternal bcs the greek word aion has several meanings, such as “age” or “eon” and the translators have interpreted them inconsistently.

That is probably why you say: “... the Bible does talk about punishment including eternal punishment, and it is very difficult to square this with the various statements you quote.”

Having said that, I do believe that the eternal life described in Matt 25:46 is eternal. So this verse is definitely a compelling argument against universalism.

“My personal view is that the references to punishment are rhetorical, rather than intended as a factual description of what will happen”

I certainly agree that the hell-bound are not literally heading over to that little town of Gehenna in the middle east, which is obviously an analogy.

“but you could equally say that about many of the "all" verses.”

Indeed.

“If God is love and love is as described in places like 1 Cor 13, how does eternal punishment fit with that standard?”

Exactly, and I think that’s different to saying “God MUST save everyone in order to prove himself”, it’s more that, given what you know about him from the bible, you expect that he will find a way to bring everyone back to himself – which is his stated desire and intention a billion times over in the bible :)

ish said...

Luke re consequences of interconnected ideas, does the pleading of evangelists from the apostles onwards seem skewed if universalism is the real perspective? Are there many noteable implore-ers in the history of the church who believed that all mankind will ultimately be saved?

Also ... a quote I found on face-book today. "This is my decision, to live fast and die young. I've got the vision, now let's have some fun. Summit or death, either way I win." Is it a diminishment of our volition to deny an individual the consequences of this or a similar decision?

Alex C Smith said...

Unfortunately, this week has been usually busy so I haven't been able to post until now. Fortunately, others have replied to some of the points for me :)

Luke you said "if everyone is saved, salvation is unnecessary". Everyone needs Christ's salvation because they have sinned. I don't see how the quantity of people saved reduces the need?

In regards to the classic, "should I go on sinning so that grace may increase" or the modern equivalent "let's live it up because we're going to heaven regardless of what we do":

1. Rom 6:1-2
2. Should I rebel from my earthly parents just because I know they will take me back? No way, the suffering you would cause is still very real and it would take years of hard work to mend the relationship.
3. Every step away from God, is a step you have to eventually crawl back over. Just because you might be doing the crawling back in the afterlife in no way reduces the difficulty (I wouldn't be surprised if it was actually harder). As far as I know, time in the afterlife will still be time.
4. Jesus tells us it's much better to "settle out of court" rather than face the judge.
5. Remedial punishment is still painful, possibly more so because at the end you have to ashamedly "hug" the person you have wronged.

Please give me an example of what you mean by "Under universalism every Christian doctrine applies to every single person".

I tried to carefully word my second last paragraph to avoid reducing God to just love, that's why I only said "God is strongly motivated by love" :)

Sorry if I appeared to make sin into something abstract, because I totally agree with you that it's a personal, significant, rebellion against God.

I don't think God needs Hell to keep himself "clean". He is bigger than that. For example, people hugged Jesus. I also assume sin and evil came into existence before Hell. Lastly, as the book you gave me to read said, "the we problem of the existence of sin is something that we aren't meant to understand."

When "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life" is translated consistently with the rest of the NT it would be something like "Then they will go away to an age of punishment, but the righteous to an age of life". It's ok that we lose the word "eternal" applied here to life because we know from other passages that this "life" is in the "new heavens and new earth where moth and rust don't destroy" and that "death will be no more".

Allan Smith said...

Ish mentioned two possible ramifications coming from universal restoration: the cooling of evangelistic zeal, and a loss of the sense of consequence.

Re. evangelism, the commonly preached message isn't good news: God loves you, but if you spurn that love, he will torment you forever. Many soften this by saying we torment ourselves by rejecting God, but that's not what I read in the NT. God throws people into the fire. We don't jump. We are pushed.

If the justice and mercy of God work to the same goal and are both motivated by love, then God will indeed punish for our own good. We will languish in prison until we have paid the past penny. We will weep and gnash in outer darkness until the sun rises in the morning. The good news is that all will be well, but the sooner you turn for home, the better. Why hesitate? The doctor has the cure! Yes, it will hurt, but the longer you leave it, the more you will suffer.

Speaking of consequence, if hell is real, heretics would be infinitely more dangerous than murderers. Crusades and Inquisitions would make perfect sense. Both Church and State would be saving their citizens from eternal torment.

ish said...

I recall at a social function drawing someone into a discussion about evangelistic approaches whose response to a summary of the conversation was: “I've become a universalist.” Are the implications of universalism for evangelism incidental ones? The remark suggests to me that the caveats, scripturally based cautions and concerns, that Alex and others here persuasively assert are easily tossed aside by fairly common glib wilful and man-in-the-street universalist thinking. “If things are hot for me afterwards … and I discover there really is a God I might smarten up then. Meanwhile 'what the hell'.”
There is a perennial hunger for everything to be ok and the history of Israel is full of compromises and idolatires to try to make things cosy. For us political correctness is always demanding inclusiveness. Is there possibly an undertone in reinvigorated universalism of a desire to subscribe to this very old man pleasing program? From Cain and his rejected vegetarian offering on down though the scriptures it is a persistent theme that not all is ok. Far from it in fact. We believe God is just. We are called to faith and not an air tight comfort zone of resolved theology. If God continues to pursue people after death that is not clear from Scripture. Is the varied reading of the verses cited above itself instructive that what God will do in his awesome justice hereafter is not fully revealed to us and though it might be satisfying to speculate, universalist speculation seems to lead to postures contrary to the calling of the Church in evangelism ... maybe not among the contributors to this thread but to fallen humans happy for further excuse to “eat drink and be merry” to the neglect of their Redeemer.

Luke said...

should be more careful in which books I lend you! I'd have to see that quote in context; I presume Wright meant 'understanding the existence evil' in the sense of peering into the triangle, he wouldn't dare go against Blocher on that one. (By peering into the triangle I mean that while we know and maintain the boundaries of God's goodness, God's power and sin's evilness, sin still exists.) Notice also what you've done with Matt 25:46, the plain meaning, as I've shown in the yesterday's blog post, is eternal life and eternal punishment. Jon's solution is to regard it as rhetorical, you in turn have to re-read it in light of the larger idea, that in the end everyone will be saved. This is still the first and largest problem:

#1 Ultimately every one gets saved
Luke you said "if everyone is saved, salvation is unnecessary". Everyone needs Christ's salvation because they have sinned. I don't see how the quantity of people saved reduces the need?

It's not quantity Alex, it's timing. Why must I be saved now, before death? You could rebel against one's parents and tear the relationship to shreds and you'd still be guaranteed restoration regardless of the pain, because ultimately the pain is meaningless in the grand scheme of things. When the Apostle Paul says should we go on sinning so grace may abound, it's a this-world bound statement, the incarnation was to this world, not purgatory. That's the curse of demons, never to be offered salvation, that's the gift of humans to be allowed existence and therefore offered salvation. Otherwise Jesus' offer of salvation here and now is meaningless, if it's going to be permanent for everyone eventually anyway. If I were to ask "Why do I need to have faith in Jesus now, if I will eventually in purgatory?" You can't say so I'll be with Jesus, because I'll be with him eventually, you can't say to avoid Hell, because I'll avoid it eventually, you can't say because Jesus is the only way to the father, because I'll discover that eventually.

Donners said...

I know I am going right back to a very early comment but I am catching up late.
Then both Allan and Jon, argue that no-one would ultimately continue to choose the poison, continue to choose to remain in Hell. This is probably true

I have to disagree with Allan and Jon and Luke – respectfully of course :)

From reading ‘the Great Divorce’ I think Lewis implies that people in hell have no interest in repentance, that even if given the opportunity of a field trip to heaven, people who have been condemned to hell would not accept the antidote ( to mix my metaphors). The people from the 'hell bus' continue in the same arguments with angels - arguments that keep them lost in their blindness and condemnation.

From a scan of the top of my head memory - The book of Romans says that ‘God gave people over’ for persisting in sin – it says in Hebrews that a veil remains over the eyes of those who hear the ‘law’ and do not understand it. Ephesians says we were ‘dead’ in our sins, unable to respond to God. People who do not accept Christ are unable to respond to God. They are ‘hardened’. God hardens us, and we harden ourselves.

The implication in ‘the Great Divorce’ is that the people who are condemned can’t recognise the antidote for what it is (to use Luke and Alex’s metaphor) – how can they drink it if they cannot recognise it for what it is?

Allan Smith said...

Donner said: People who do not accept Christ are unable to respond to God.

Hi Donner, I think you understate the case. We're dead in our sins. None is righteous. All have turned away. Unless God transforms our hearts, there is no hope. We can only act out our fallen natures. If we're slaves to sin, we're not free to choose God.

God is free to choose us, however, and he does. (The conversion of Saul to Paul is instructive.) God has mercy on whom he has mercy, says Paul in Romans 9, and his mercies never fail. They have real teeth. Paul goes on to declare that all Israel will be saved. Even more, the entire cosmos will be restored to God through Christ. "From him and through him and to him are all things." Rom 11

A very hopeful prospect, and something to crow about...

Jon said...

I just read a really interesting article by Richard Beck on this subject, for those who want more.

http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2010/06/george-macdonald-justice-hell-and.html

Luke said...

[Deleted spam post.] I'm not sure Pakistan Translation Services are any use in this discussion.

@ Jon

Let me think some more about that article Jon, but my initial response would be that MacDonald seems to reduce God's immanence I'm wary of the idea that God needs man to really love or be loved, God is completely self-sufficient. I'm also wary of MacDonald's conception of sin which seems to be human-focused, when it should be God-focused because sin is a rebellion against God.