Universalism versus the belief in an eternal hell

(Mitchell W McKain) #41

I don’t think either of us is denying the importance of works or ignoring the words of Jesus or that of James in his epistle. We just differ in how works fits into the equation.

Sealkin takes the typical evangelical view that works is something we do because we are saved by believing the right things. This is linked to those articles of remonstrance which claims that the works of non-believers are worthless.

My view is quite different that real faith has nothing to do with accepting a set of dogmas. God’s grace is not irresistible – we have a choice, and that is the role of faith. It is by showing our love and care for others, and thus choosing good over evil, that we accept God’s saving grace. Faith means leaving salvation in the hands of God and doing what is right without entitlement or demands for assurance as if you were striking some sort of bargain with God.

(Shawn T Murphy) #42

Dear Mitchell,
Yes, for me faith is just one of the virtues that we need to learn as part of our works. And it has nothing to do with doctrines or dogmas. What I disagree with is that faith gets you to God’s Grace. There is nothing we can do to deserve God’s Grace, it exists for each of His children whether they believe in Him or not. To me, this is the core of universalism, that God wants all of His children to become virtuous and return to Heaven, and will not accept them until they have become perfect.

(Quinn) #43

I’m tired of this debate, it seems useless to me to try and state proper biblical orthodoxy on faith and election. It was good in all in the debate but I must end it off here. Hope everyone has a good day and God bless.

(Paul Allen) #44

Universalism is the belief that everyone eventually will be saved. It was first proposed by the unorthodox church Father, Origen (ca. 185–ca. 254). Origen and universalism, in general, were condemned as unorthodox at the Fifth Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (A.D. 553)

One of the most influential twentieth-century theologians to embrace universalism was Karl Barth. Philosopher John Hick is a contemporary proponent of the view. A small number of otherwise evangelical theologians, such as Pinnock and Stott, have embraced forms of universalism and/or annihilationism.

Most liberal theologians and cults hold to some form of universalism or its cousin, annihilationism, the view that persons who cannot qualify for heaven simply go out of existence. The common principle throughout universalist and annihilationist theologies is that there is no eternal punishment.

Universalists generally appeal to arguments from God’s love in support of their positions. They cite several passages of Scripture to substantiate their views.

God’s Omnibenevolence. Universalism is usually based on the notion that a God of love would never allow any of his creatures to perish. But, as C. S. Lewis said in his book, ‘The Great Divorce’, just the opposite is the case. For while God “so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16) and “does not desire that any should perish” (2 Peter 3:9), he does not force his love on anyone. Forced love is a self-contradictory concept.

Jesus said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Matt. 23:37). Lewis noted that “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end. ‘Thy will be done’ ” (Lewis, The Great Divorce, 69).

Further, the Bible unmistakably teaches that there is an eternal hell and that human beings will go into it (see, Matt. 25:41; 2 Thess. 1:7–9; Rev. 20:11–15).

Jesus had more to say about hell than he did about heaven. He warned, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).

He added of those who reject him, “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age” (Matt. 13:40). In what is sometimes called his Mount Olivet Discourse, Jesus declared, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’ ” (Matt. 25:41).

Elsewhere he stressed the horror of hell with the statement: “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out” (Mark 9:43). One of his most vivid stories was of the rich man and a beggar named Lazarus. Since this story uses an actual name, most Bible teachers distinguish this from a parable and believe it refers to people who really lived

So, in conclusion, there are two primary perspectives on the extent of hell’s punishment.

One view contends that the wicked experience eternal conscious suffering (Walvoord, “The Literal”). The other view argues that the wicked eventually are consumed by hell’s fire, thereby forfeiting their existence (Fudge, “The Final End“).

Matthew 10:28 might imply that hell destroys both the body and the soul, making punishment only temporary. However, other texts support the eternal duration of hell’s punishment.

For example, Jesus, drawing on Isa 66:24, speaks of hell as the place where the worm never dies and the fire is never extinguished (Mark 9:48). In Matthew 25:46, it seems that the punishment is forever rather than for a while. Jesus claims that upon death some people will go to eternal punishment while others will enter into eternal life.

Others on this forum, have argued for universalism from God’s omnipotence. Origen, declared: “For nothing is impossible to the Omnipotent, nor is anything incapable of restoration to its Creator” (On First Principles, 3.6.5).

This, of course, implies that God desires by his goodness to do so, a position easily supported by many Scriptures (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). But if God wants to save all, and he can save all (i.e., he is all-powerful), then it seemed to follow for Origen that he will save all.

Two points should be made in response.

First, God’s attributes do not operate in contradiction to each other. God is internally consistent in his nature. This is why the Bible insists that “It is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18). This is also the reason that God’s power must be exercised in accordance with his love.

That is, God cannot do what is unloving.

Second, it is unloving to force people to love him. Forced love is a contradiction, and God cannot do what is contradictory. Love cannot work coercively but only persuasively. And if some refuse to be persuaded, as the Bible says some will, then God will not coerce them into his kingdom.

Origen offered an argument for universalism from God’s wisdom:

God, by the ineffable skill of his wisdom, transforming and restoring all things, in whatever manner they are made, to some useful aim, and to the common advantage of all, recalls those very creatures which differed so much from each other in mental conformation to one agreement of labour and purpose; so that, although they are under the influence of different motives, they nevertheless complete the fullness and perfection of one world, and the very variety of minds tends to one end of perfection. For it is … is one power which grasps and holds together all the diversity of the world, and leads the different movements towards one work, lest so immense an undertaking as that of the world should be dissolved by the dissensions of souls.

This again misses the point that God’s wisdom does not act contrary to his love. And love cannot force anyone to do something.

The fact that God is infinitely wise (omniscient) allows him to know that not everyone will freely choose to serve him. The attempt to save people God knows will never accept him would be contrary to God’s wisdom. Still, all are invited, even those God knows will reject him.

(Mitchell W McKain) #45

Obviously I agree with your conclusion. But my reasons are a little different (as explained in the OP). Not all of your arguments are convincing but I agree with the most important one about the contradiction with love if God forces His children to love Him, touched upon in number 5 of the OP. I think it is important that God gives us a role in deciding our ultimate destiny. Otherwise our choices become too trivial.

I often say that hell is our heart’s desire while heaven is God desire for us, and if people think that makes hell sound good, it is because they don’t understand the depravity of the heart of man. But this also helps to understand why God can just watch and do nothing when people go to hell, because in a real sense He is just letting them have what they so desperately want.

But this leads us to an issue more important to me, which is the internal nature of hell. Hell as nothing but scenery and external torment as if hell was some kind of torture chamber just isn’t something I can take seriously. That wouldn’t frighten me very much. So I think hell is more about the destructive and addictive nature of sin itself which devours us from within and demolishes everything of value in us like our free will, integrity, and even our awareness.

Ultimately we need God not only because He is the only one who can cure the disease, but because only He can provide that which makes an eternal existence worthwhile. But the self-destructive habits of sin not only takes away our ability to receive more from God but even takes away what we have. So I am convinced that the real fire of hell is sin itself which drags us down into an existence devoid of meaning and self-worth.

One result is that although I think the spirit is fundamentally eternal, I rather doubt hell can really be described as an everlasting experience of conscious torment. There is reason to even doubt this is possible. So I think it is more likely that our awareness diminishes and you might think this has some superficial similarities to annihilationism. But it really isn’t because that kind of spiritual euthanasia doesn’t really capture the kind of descent in the depths of evil and despair which I think is the essence of hell.

(Mitchell W McKain) #46


I was hoping you would bring up another challenge and ask if I thought salvation was just about being a good person? One could certainly take what I have said in this way.

The answer is… no.

I don’t believe it is just a matter of believing the right things and I don’t think it is just a matter of being a good person. It is number 3 of my list in the OP which refutes the second of these. But consider the following metaphor to illustrate…

Sin is like gravity (though without an escape velocity, like on an infinite plane with constant gravitational acceleration). And people may be high up in the air or down near the ground with any kind of trajectory, and thus some may look pretty good and even getting better all the time, but sin like gravity is relentless and will bring you down in the end. Thus everyone’s destination is the same – falling down to into hell. The only way out of this is for God to reach down with His hand to us and for us to grab on. So salvation is not just a matter of being a good person, because any sin at all will destroy that eventually.

But I don’t think the hand of God is identified by a password name or a theology, the only way to recognize the hand of God and grab on is to choose goodness over evil. For their may be many other hands offered with promises of help and what they deliver is nothing of the sort. This is basically what Jesus complained about with the Pharisees, who were so preoccupied with their religious knowledge and purity that they couldn’t recognize the basic goodness of Jesus in healing the sick and the lost. And He was the ultimate embodiment of that hand of God reaching down to us. John 5:39 You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.

These two explanations may sound like they contradict, so it is important to explain the difference. Entitlement is basic difference. If you think because you are flying high then all must be good and thus heaven is in your grasp then you are lost. Far better off are those who see how they are falling and are thus desperate for help – ready to grab on when God reaches for us. And when holding on has you flying high again, then do you let go because now you have it made? Big mistake, don’t you think? Salvation is not an accomplishment in your life, and if you think like that then I would say something is very wrong.

(Shawn T Murphy) #47

Dear Paul,
Please take a closer look at this statement. It was actually the emperor Justinian that declared Origen’s teachings anathema in 543 AD and it took the church 10 years to ratify the emperor’s declaration. Look at what Justinian and the Roman Empire did after they declared the Arians heretics and tell me with a clear conscience that it was Christ-like. Please stop supporting the pagan roots to Christianity and start questioning them. They were called the dark ages for a reason - a lack of the light that Jesus promised. It is time to let the light of the world shine once again, as it did with Origen.

(Shawn T Murphy) #48

Dear Paul,
Please have a look at my first answer regarding time. I do not deny that humans will suffer an eternity in hell, but the soul is infinite, and an eternity for the soul is finite. This is the key point that most christians fail to recognize - the infinity of God and the time scale of the story in the Bible. One third of the stars of Heaven fell (Rev 12:3) and we know that today be in the billions of trillions. So please consider scale…

(Mitchell W McKain) #49

It occurs to me that this contradiction of God forcing His love on us is the flaw in the Eastern Orthodox idea that the fires of hell are God’s love which the evil and unrepentant find painful. You can see how if this idea was correct then it is not hard to imagine this love eventually changing everyone and thus the eventual reconciliation of universalism or apokatastasis would naturally follow. But this is all predicated on the idea that God’s love is unavoidable and experienced by all regardless, and I think that is contrary to both the nature of the spirit and the nature of love.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #50

I too think of love in very “non-compulsory” terms - as in that God will never force anybody to do the right things or choose to love, etc. [The prophet, Jonah, may have a different take on that, of course.:fish: ] However it would seem that there remain many things about “life, the universe, and everything” that are unavoidably compulsory. The many realities we all face (or run away from) are there whether we like them or not. Existence is compulsory (though many people may try to defeat that through suicide), but they/we were never consulted in the first place about whether/where/when/and to whom they should be born. Yet here we are. All this is to say that there seems to already be plenty of compulsion that is part of our reality and it seems problematic to believers in a loving God if they insist that love cannot co-exist with any form of compulsion whatsoever. I’m not saying that you’re saying that - this is just a thought that was triggered for me by this direction of the discussion.

(Mitchell W McKain) #51

True, but… I would say this is the difference between the beginning and the end – between necessity and ultimately. Existence is forced on us by necessity, for it is a logical impossibility for us to have a choice about whether to exist. And that is not the only necessity. In order for us to have a choice then we must have not only the capability but the awareness of alternatives. Thus in order to be ultimately free to determine our own destiny we must have a number of things forced upon us in the beginning in order to even make that possible.

The next question might be when is the appropriate time for us to go from this necessarily forced preparation to that of making our own choices. Well for this answer I think we only need to observe when this naturally happens in any relationship between parent and child. It is when the child demands that freedom or even seizes it for themselves. The parent has to recognize when this is happening and let go because forcing things beyond this point quickly becomes counter-productive, and the more we try to force it the more they reject it.

(GJDS) #52

Universalism is discussed for a number of reasons, the major ones motivated by the wrong belief that non-Christians are condemned to eternal torment. This has been denied by Orthodoxy but it has caused anguish to some who felt their love ones would suffer for their non-belief.

I think that the criteria for eternal damnation is set by Satan, and thus only those who freely choose to be like Satan are damned, and then only if they are totally aware of what that choice means. Detailed discussion would bring us to some sort of self-annihilation, in that the soul ceases to be in God’s image and becomes a non-soul.

(Paul Allen) #53

Thank you Shawn. Universalism was the topic - ‘in general’


Why I have given up on everlasting punishment.
As long as evil is punished it continues to exist. Unacceptable!
Since God asks us to forgive everyone, this should be something he has already done.
I need no further argument.

(Mitchell W McKain) #55

I don’t believe in everlasting punishment either. Indeed, I would say this is a contradiction in terms, for the purpose of punishment is the alteration of behavior so an eternal punishment would be an utter failure. But I do believe in eternal consequences and that it is what I think eternal hell represents – namely the consequences of a refusal to change, learn from your mistakes, or even acknowledge that anything is wrong with you.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #56

It seems to me that Hell is not so much as a place of punishment, but a place of isolation. In a sense evil is not evil and sin is not sin if evil if the truly innocent are not harmed.

The real question is how does God protect the good from the evil. God does this by placing them with the devils in Hell.

God does forgive everyone and Christians do forgive those who din against them, but that does not mean that they are free to hurt those in heaven.

(Bill Wald) #57

The text of the Tanakh and Christian Bible tell us more about the nature of God than of humans. Taking the English text at face value . . . God makes a 2nd attempt at creating a universe and populating it with sentient beings. God is unable to teach the being about right and wrong, good and evil. When these children screw up, they are force our of their garden nursery and into the wilderness. They do OK in the wilderness but again break the rules. God Kill all but 6 people. The 6 people survive. The next time they screw up, God splits them into language groups and forces them to split up into political factions.

Few books later, God and Satan are playing a computer-like reality game using Job’s family and friends to play out a game of words. . . .

(Mitchell W McKain) #58

By the way… what is the context of this response? It doesn’t seem to be about the topic of this thread. Are you responding to a particular post of mine somewhere?

Childish literalism can make most pieces of literature into something extremely silly… that tells us more about the person employing such interprations than about the literature itself.

Nonsense… there is nothing about the flood story to suggest a recreation of the entire universe. Like with passages talking about the table of the Earth, it is silly to understand this contrary to the objective evidence. There is no evidence whatsover of a worldwide flood and the reduction of humanity to such a small population contradicts the genetic evidence also. But a flood wiping out an early civilization is a different story altogether.

When Adam and Eve change God from the role of best teacher to perfect excuse, they create the one situation which will break a parent-child relationship – one where the presence of the parent in the child’s life is no longer in the child’s best interest. So yes God responds by changing the circumstances of His children to give them the best chance of learning that playing the blame game is pointless, the have to live by the consequences of their own actions and learn from their mistakes.

No. “Breaking the rules” is not the description given. It was “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that the imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” This is WAY beyond breaking rules. This is the worst of what man is capable of… murder, rape, and abuse – it was a civilization of psychopaths. At the very least we can go to the other description in the parallel account of Genesis 4, where Cain’s descendent Lamech says, “I have slain a man for wounding me, young man for striking me. If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy sevenfold.” Therefore, murder at least is explicitly included.

Furthermore, what God does afterwards in Genesis 11 is very suggestive that the real problem before the flood was that man had a single culture dominated by evil, and thus there was no hope for humanity whatsoever as long as that early civilizations of psychopaths continued. At least with a multiplicity of nations and cultures the principle of competition which worked so well in evolution would also work among nations, so that a descent of any nation into too much degradation would make them weak against their neighbors.

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