Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and received his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller. He is the author of Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus, and Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith.

Is Christian Universalism Compatible With Free Will? Justice? Hell?

 

As many know, I have long been a proponent of the view of Annihilationism, which is the view that instead of hell, those who refuse to accept God cease to exist. The other day I was honest about the fact that I am rethinking my position in favor of Universal Redemption, which is essentially Christian Universalism.

While I have not completely crossed over yet, and thus would make a less than stellar apologist for the position, I do want to continue this discussion by addressing some of the questions commenters on the internet have raised. One of those issues is the matter of free will: Does Christian Universalism mean that God forces everyone to accept God? Does a Universalist position force God to accept everyone?

The main question this gets to is whether or not Universal Redemption can account for the matter of free will– and I believe it can.

I think one of the big pieces people misunderstand about Christian Universalism is that it still affirms the judgement of God, and can even affirm a belief in hell. The difference is that hell (whatever that is) would be ultimately temporary, and the judgement/justice of God would be a type of justice designed to restore, instead of being strictly punitive in nature. Thus, Christian Universalism honors free will by acknowledging that many will not choose reconciliation with God, that not all will immediately repent, and as a result many will be separated from God for part of eternity.

For those who hold to Eternal Conscious Torment, it is generally believed that those who have not been reconciled to God at the moment of their death will burn in hell forever. For those who believe in Annihilationism, it is believed that in God’s mercy and justice he will cause these individuals to cease to exist, and it will be as if they never were. While I still think the strongest biblical language is with Annihilation, Universal Redemption would seem to be the most obvious choice when taking a high view of God’s character and nature.

So how does it account for things like free will, justice, or hell?

Instead of saying that everyone immediately goes to heaven to spend eternity with God (an act that would violate free will), the position of Universal Redemption believes that God continues pursuing individuals with his love, even in eternity. The souls that have been separated from God by their own choice are free to continue rejecting God’s love, and will never be forced to change. They will also experience the justice of God, which would not be pleasant– but would have a goal of rehabilitation, refinement, reform, and ultimately reconciliation.

The position of Annihilation places a higher view on the individual power to reject God’s love, and thus says that at some point in this process, God causes them to exist no more. With Universalism however, the higher view is placed on the power of God’s love: that God will love as long as it takes for each person to finally embrace the ultimate reality. Thus, individuals will continue repenting and being reconciled to God throughout eternity, until hell itself is completely empty.

It seems that too many people have a knee-jerk reaction against Universalism, without realizing that it can still account for things like hell, free will, God’s justice, etc. One does not have to sacrifice or ignore these issues in order to arrive at a Universalist position.

The difference is that this position believes everyone will ultimately make the choice on his or her own to be reconciled to God’s love, and that God will keep loving and pursuing as long as it takes to achieve that goal.

Certainly, the more I see God as revealed in Jesus, the more this position seems to be the one most consistent with the doctrine of God as exampled by Christ.

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Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and earned his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller.

He is the author of Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, and Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus.

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  • Two things: 1.) Universalimsm involving some temporary puring in “hell” sure gives more context to crazy passages like where Jesus descended into “hell” to preach. Evangelicals sure love to pass up on that one as if it has no meaning. 2.) Do an in depth study on NDE’s. Watch/read a variety of testimonies of people’s encounter with the light. It sounds so fictional but I promise it will affect you if you dig into it. It’s hard to deny the changes people – of all faiths/beliefs – undergo when they’re brought back. Consciousness supercedes the body, love is the ultimate reality in this fake foggy dimension. It’s sure in line with a universalist approach.

  • Good stuff, Mr. Corey. I enjoy your blogs. I’m at basically the same point right now, as you described…”While I still think the strongest biblical language is with Annihilation, Universal Redemption would seem to be the most obvious choice when taking a high view of God’s character and nature.”

  • I understand that each of us has our own relationship with God, thereby we develop our own unique ideas about certain things. But to me, we should all have a big safety net to catch us. What I mean by this is that we need to realize that what we think is right, is not for us to declare as right. God has created this universe, he has declared to us how this universe is HIS creation. God has told us that we are not to add to his word nor demenish from it brothers (Deuteronomy 4:2 SEE BOTTOM FOR LISTED VERSES)

    Do you ever see these labels that you guys keep throwing out mentioned in the bible? No you do not. I’m not here to debate, something the bible teaches against in different environments. I’m simply here to answer the Holy Spirit’s call and influence for me to declare to you God’s word. God has taught us that we are one in Christ (Romans 12:5), that we are saved through believing in Jesus Christ (John 3:16), and that those who do not belief, who willfully, willfully deny Christ, the ones who hold to the inexistence of sin thereby making God to be a liar (1 John 1:10), will forever be burned in fire and brimstone for all eternally, brothers. Revelation 14:11 is a prime example of this as it pertains to those who worship the beast and his image and take the mark of his name. It says “And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.”
    ‭‭Revelation‬ ‭14:11‬ ‭KJV‬‬
    http://bible.com/1/rev.14.11.kjv

    Why would the bible cleathose who are cast into the lake of fire will be tormented and that the smoke of said torment will ascend up forever and ever if this were not true? This in no way hints that the sufferers of hell will be released from their torment.

    But we all have life in Christ, Jesus our savior! We should be glad! We should declare this to all of the world, not argue about concepts that take away and add to the word of God? And one thing that comes to my mind when people argue that the bible has been corrupted by generations of man is this: If God wanted his word to be perfectly written down by the hands of men, then it is so. The bible no where says that this word is only valid in bits and pieces.

    And brothers I pray that all of you will settle in your hearts with the truth and that you will turn from false doctrine that the Devil draws you to. A thought that just came to mind is how the serpent told Eve that God did not want them to eat the fruit because they will become like God himself. Well Satan is trying to convince people who have fallen away from the biblical view of hell that they can eat the fruit of this world and still become like God in eternity. The fruit of this world is sin and what Satan is saying is a lie!

    Off topic- if we can grieve the Holy Spirit by not listening to him (Ephesians 4:30), choosing to not listen to him that is, and if we can willfully sin against God (Hebrews 10:26), I think that implies that we have a will considering the word WILLfully was used. But I am not to declare things other than the truth of God word, for I do not want to add onto his word and have plagues added onto me. (Revelation 22:18)

    Before I submit this I want to make one more point, an off topic point again in regards to Ronny, I know for a fact that people who suffer with homosexuality can come out of the sin of they just seek God’s help. None of us can repent on our own, but God knows it when we willfully seek his help, his motivation, and his repentance instead of twisting scriptures in order to support some sort of theory that God intended for us to never repent from our sins. The fact is, he knows that we are not perfect, hence he gave us the perfect sacrifice, we didn’t give it to him or else we would still be offering blood sacrifices and burnt offerings at the altar. Though we may suffer with the sins that we have repented from, such as homosexuality, drunkeness, bearing false witness, etc…, God will definitely know our hearts and know that we want to repent and that we need his help. Trust in him, brother.

    “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.”
    ‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭6:9-11‬ ‭KJV‬‬
    http://bible.com/1/1co.6.9-11.kjv

    I pray that God will bless you all with the peace of heart brothers. Please read the cited bible verses. With love, Justin.

    Deuteronomy 4:2 “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.”
    ‭‭Deuteronomy‬ ‭4:2‬ ‭KJV‬‬
    http://bible.com/1/deu.4.2.kjv

    Romans 12:5 “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.”
    ‭‭Romans‬ ‭12:5‬ ‭KJV‬‬
    http://bible.com/1/rom.12.5.kjv

    John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
    ‭‭John‬ ‭3:16‬ ‭KJV‬‬
    http://bible.com/1/jhn.3.16.kjv

    1 John 1:10 “If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
    ‭‭1 John‬ ‭1:10‬ ‭KJV‬‬
    http://bible.com/1/1jn.1.10.kjv

    Ephesians 4:30 “And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.”
    ‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭4:30‬ ‭KJV‬‬
    http://bible.com/1/eph.4.30.kjv

    Hebrews 10:26 “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,”
    ‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭10:26‬ ‭KJV‬‬
    http://bible.com/1/heb.10.26.kjv

    Revelations 22:18 “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:”
    ‭‭Revelation‬ ‭22:18‬ ‭KJV‬‬
    http://bible.com/1/rev.22.18.kjv

  • It’s simple— The bible teaches everyone dies and then— judgement. It also teaches that no one can change after they die— then it is too late. Study and believe the bible!

  • I’m not too far off from you. I see both annihilation and universal reconciliation as being real possibilities, while my hope is biased toward the latter. However, I would disagree that annihilation necessarily means “God causes them to exist no more.” I’d say instead that we all have the capacity to bring about our own self destruction by consistently walking away from our source of life. But I’m hopeful that no one will ultimately do that. I wrote some more on it here, if you’re interested: http://www.hippieheretic.com/2016/02/25-views-on-hell-2-questions-to-reframe.html

  • There are those whose spirituality dictates a punitive, binary and rather rigid set of dogma…

    My only suggestion to those would be to consider what could be the worst-case scenario if they happen to have that whole tzimmis wrong…

    And for some within my circles of life over the years, even considering to consider seems to engender a serious form of terror.

    Thank you for a thoughtful article, once again, Dr. Ben.

  • Free will doesn’t exist.

    It only exists for apologists to make God seem less like a monster.

    You had no choice over your birth, you will grow old whether you like it or not and you will die whether you like it or not. According to Original sin advocates, you have no choice about your ‘sin nature’.

    Ultimately free will is a western ideology.

    Try telling a kid digging in rubbish for food about ‘free will’.

  • This is a reply to ‘Iain lovejoy’ but I wanted Ben and others to comment pl-

    In coming to a conclusion about any particular issue, you have to look at the whole teaching of the Bible, and particularly the immediate context of any particular verses. In the Isaiah 45 passage you quote for example, if you read on after those verses, the author states, “All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame.
    But all the descendants of Israel will find deliverance in the Lord and will make their boast in him.” It would seem therefore that the ‘all’ in the ‘bend the knee’ verse either means all of God’s people or all people who are ultimately forced to recognise the true God, and are therefore “ashamed”.

    In the Isaiah 25 passage, again if you read on “The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
    from all faces;
    he will remove his people’s disgrace
    from all the earth.
    The Lord has spoken.
    In that day they will say,

    “Surely this is our God;
    we trusted in him, and he saved us.
    This is the Lord, we trusted in him;
    let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”

    The author is emphasizing God’s people. The wiping away of tears is clearly connected with His people’s disgrace being removed, which hardly refers to all human beings. The next verse shows who God’s people are – those who trusted in Him and were saved.

    You, Ben and others have made me think again about this issue, and I thought I’d read through one of the synoptics to see if Jesus’ own words shed light on it (John’s gospel probably gives an even stronger case against universalism, but some people dismiss John as being too ‘unique’). I chose Mark.

    I havent quoted every relevant thing that Jesus said, but the following brought some thoughts to me-

    ‘Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”

    He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.”

    Firstly, note He says people ‘can’ be forgiven all their sins, not ‘will’. Secondly, whilst there is still debate as to what this ‘eternal sin’ actually constitutes, though it seems to relate to ascribing satanic and evil to Jesus (has Richard Dawkins committed this sin by saying Christianity is ‘evil’?), He is clearly saying that a human being can commit this sin which ‘will never be forgiven’. To the Universalists, I would ask How can someone who has commiitted the unforgiveable sin, be forgiven and be reconciled to God?

    Sending out of the 12 – Jesus said “If any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them”

    Note the last 5 words – that brought an image of a courtroom to my mind, with a witness standing and their testimony condemning the person in the dock. Not exactly boding well for that person’s destiny.

    Jesus said “For whoever wants to save their life (or soul) will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”

    It seems obvious to me that the life to which Jesus refers is this present life. Indeed you cannot ‘gain the whole world’ in the next life. So this life really is your only opportunity to ‘save your soul’ rather than ‘forfeiting’ it.

    Judas – about His betrayer Jesus said “It would be better for him if he had not been born”.

    I do not see how Jesus could utter these words about Judas, if ultimately he was going to be saved and enjoy God’s favour. ‘better if he had not been born’ – ie better for him if he had never come into existence! Sorry those awful words do not make sense if universalism is true.

    Finally, during the Last Supper, Jesus said “This is my blood of the (new) covenant, which is poured out for many”. Note, not ‘all’ but ‘many’. Either He is implying limited atonement ie He died only for some, or He died so that all could be saved but for only some it will be ‘effective’. Either way, it contradicts any idea of ‘all humans’ but rather He will have a new covenant only with some, though many in number (currently billions).

  • If Heaven and Hell exist, then I cannot see how Heaven could be enjoyable as long as free will exists. Usually, the answer I get is that it won’t; God causes everyone to immediately stop caring about the people in Hell.

    That rather dispels any concerns I would have about universalism being incompatible with free will.

  • I loved this article! You demonstrate a sincere willingness to grow in your beliefs as you grow in your faith, something I wish we’d all display more often. Surely you’ve read George MacDonald? He’s perhaps the strongest advocate for Universal Reconciliation that I’ve read. His sermon “Justice” deals with this precise issue that this article deals with. I actually wrote a term paper my first year of undergrad on how that sermon, indeed the whole idea of Christian universalism, adequately balances the justice, mercy, and love of God. In fact, MacDonald’s argument is that it’s precisely God’s justice which requires an understanding of the Gospel informed by Universal Reconciliation. Cheers and best wishes on your journey of faith.

  • Then, as a Christian, you have to explain what Jesus meant by “eternal punishment”, ‘killing the soul’, “eternal fire” and “hell, where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched”.

  • I’ve always been bothered by the idea that what I believe is more important than what I do. The idea that I can do my very best to be a good person, to make the best possible choices with the hand I’ve drawn – and that that is all just “filthy rags” unless I believe something that (at least right now) I don’t have enough evidence to get behind – really bothers me.

    It also ignores the massive numbers of people who – due to simple geography and timing – never heard the Christian message. (I know that now that’s rare, but the ability to spread your message all over the world is quite new. Many, many people were born, lived and died long before today’s mass communication and ease of movement made any sort of outreach possible. In many areas today, missionary work is actively illegal. Are people born in Saudi Arabia worth less to God?

    The idea that (assuming the survival of some sort of soul) it’s possible to still learn, that you don’t have to understand everything in one, short human lifetime that you’ll need for the rest of eternity makes much more sense to me. To me, it also makes Divinity appear much kinder and more reasonable. Demanding blind faith on little evidence is neither kind or reasonable. Does that mean Christian universalism is true? I have no idea. However, universalism makes Christianity kinder and gentler. That’s seems like a good thing, to me.

    • “I’ve always been bothered by the idea that what I believe is more important than what I do.
      The idea that I can do my very best to be a good person, to make the
      best possible choices with the hand I’ve drawn – and that that is all
      just “filthy rags” unless I believe something that (at least right now) I
      don’t have enough evidence to get behind – really bothers me.”

      Maybe the idea you mention is not fully valid anyway. Same for the”filthy rags” part. Leaving that for another discussion—

      God has revealed by His Word that it is the belief in what has been revealed that matters.
      For some, little has been revealed, for others much more has been revealed.

  • Quick question for soteriological universalists: “Where is Hell?”

    It seems that both the traditional view and universalist view have difficulty here.

    Are you imagining some kind of future concentration camp? How does hell work?
    Grace and Peace.

  • Benjamin, Richard, Cindy, and Others Considering Universal Redemption,

    I can certainly understand the attraction of universal redemption. It seems consistent with God’s great love and patience. And there are some Bible passages which would seem to allow for it if these passages were read in isolation.

    The only way we can know about the hope of any kind of life after death at all is God’s revelation. And I’m convinced that the Biblical case for Conditional Immortality is very strong. (Conditional Immortality, as most of you probably know, is a doctrine which includes annihilationism.) Just this week I wrote a short blog
    post on the topic of Conditional Immortality which some have found helpful:

    http://parresiazomai.blogspot.com/2016/06/what-is-conditional-immortality.html

    God does not answer all our questions in the Bible. He reveals a lot, but not everything. At some point, we have to trust that the God who created the laws of physics and taught eagles to fly and dolphins to swim is wise enough to make the best decisions. We also have to trust that the God who sent His own Son to die for us loves us so much that He will not fail to do anything good for us.

    When I say that we have to trust God, I do not mean it is wrong to ask questions like, “Why doesn’t God save everyone?” I just mean that not all questions are
    clearly answered yet. I think it is alright to speculate about such unanswered questions as long as we do so humbly and do not allow our guesses to trump what God does reveal.

    Here’s some of my own “humble speculation”: Perhaps there are some people (and other beings) who will not willfully and joyfully submit to God and freely return His love no matter what God does. It seems that the Devil and his fallen angels began in a perfect setting in God’s presence and yet chose to fight against Him.
    Adam and Eve began in the garden with temptation, but in a setting with no suffering and with God’s close presence. They chose to rebel. The Israelites in Egypt saw a whole series of amazing signs and wonders and yet most chose to worship false gods in the desert.

    Many religious leaders in Jesus’ day saw His love in action, heard His wisdom, and witnessed great miracles, yet plotted to kill him. So, maybe, some people just can’t be saved without violating their free will. If God “forced” them, would it still be love?
    This is a possible explanation for why annihilationism is a necessary part of God’s good plan. Whether this explanation is correct or not, annihilationism does have a LOT of Biblical support, and I encourage you to consider this.

    Grace and Peace, Mark (with Hope and Joy!)

  • Benjamin:
    As many know, I have long been a proponent of the view of Annihilationism, which is the view that instead of hell, those who refuse to accept God cease to exist. The other day I was honest about the fact that I am rethinking my position in favor of Universal Redemption, which is essentially Christian Universalism.

    Ronny to Benjamin:
    That’s good to hear. 🙂

    Benjamin:
    While I have not completely crossed over yet, and thus would make a less than stellar apologist for the position, I do want to continue this discussion by addressing some of the questions commenters on the internet have raised. One of those issues is the matter of free will: Does Christian Universalism mean that God forces everyone to accept God? Does a Universalist position force God to accept everyone?

    Ronny to Benjamin:
    I would put it, that God is love and love embraces and accepts everyone. 🙂

    Does God force us to accept God? Sure. In what way and by what power? Simply, by the power of love and God/Jesus Christ, is pure love. 🙂 For it was by the power of pure love, that Jesus Christ went to the cross for all of us and there, took all of our sins upon himself. So, we are all forgiven, we have all been reconciled back to God the Father. God has shown/proven that already, to some people. Now, it’s only a matter of time, till God does the same and that for every person, from Adam on down! 🙂

    OK, I just gotta sing here! 🙂 When we all, get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be. When we all see Jesus, will sing and shout the victory! 🙂

  • One of the best formulations of this philosophy can be found in George MacDonald’s Lilith…a long and weird fairy tale that somehow manages to get to the heart of this matter in a way that more rational explanations cannot. His sermons also address the everlasting love of God while still accepting that there will be a hell for those creatures who have not yet accepted his love.

  • I’m still meditating on this matter, so I’m only offering a thought not a conclusion. I’m thinking that the aspects of ourselves that are not worthy are refined from that which is redeemed. I don’t think that our hurtful sinful aspects will remain throughout eternity. Can any of “the seven deadly sins” (or the like) exist in the unfiltered light of God’s direct presence?

    This could be wrong, but perhaps we are all judged and that which needs to be destroyed is done away with, “saved” and “sinner” alike. If so perhaps some blessed saints will be relatively lightly transformed by this final judgement; I would expect I would be purged of much, but the best of me might remain – hopefully recognizably still “me”; maybe some will be barely recognizable, perhaps even like unto a newborn; the worst of mankind perhaps might be essentially be annihilated.

    I really don’t know and only am at the point of exploring some of the questions. Thanks for the post. 🙂

  • I think this starts with a massive misconception, namely this: “Does Christian Universalism mean that God forces everyone to accept God? Does a Universalist position force God to accept everyone?”

    Why must force be involved at all?

    Assuming, for the sake of argument, there is a God of some kind and that everyone receives him and acknowledges God in some way and to some degree, whether through religious worship or just respecting the world God ‘made’, then there is no force required. Alternatively, assume God wishes to accept us, in whatever form we are, because it’s in his nature to be accepting.

    Everyone on this planet needs to follow the God that answers their needs and finding that God isn’t helped by the ring-fencing that goes on among religions.

  • Benjamin said:

    “They will also experience the justice of God, which would not be
    pleasant– but would have a goal of rehabilitation, refinement, reform,
    and ultimately reconciliation.”

    How would we define “not pleasant”? Also … would the degree of suffering (or refinement) become worse if a soul continues not to repent? Would there ever be an end to the cycle?

  • Thanks for this Benjamin.

    Sorry if this was already stated (I haven´t read all the comments yet), and excuse me if I´m sounding like a fundamentalist here, but shouldn´t we also be discussing the biblical exegesis surrounding this important topic? Maybe I overlooked something, but I don´t think I saw one biblical reference in the entire article (although I admit biblical themes and truths were most likely implied in the post).

    I think a discussion about how progressives read and understand verses about hell and judgement in the NT as opposed to fundamentalist interpretations on the same subject would be extremely fruitful. Your hermeneutical thoughts and insights would also of course be very valuable Benjamin.

  • If God is omnipresent and the source of all life but you are not with God then where are you and what sustains you? As for God pursuing people through eternity. Luke 16:19-31 Lazarus and the rich man, clearly teaches that once dead there is no possibility of returning. “between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so
    that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no
    one can cross from there to us.”~ “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.”
    31He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses
    and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises
    from the dead.” ’

  • This reminds me of something Julian of Norwich said, along the lines of “Hell exists because God leaves room for those who choose not to be with God.” That God loves us enough to allow us to be somewhere else. (Which, the only real evidence needed of that is to look around our own cities.)

  • I would be a Universalist if I were convinced of the existence of immortal immaterial souls, but I don’t see a good enough reason to believe in those. They just unnecessarily complicate the issue of Bodily Resurrection.

  • “he will cause these individuals to cease to exist, and it will be as if they never were.”

    One thing which I always ask about this theory…will those of us who remain still remember these persons or will our memories be “wiped” to make sure there was never anything to be remembered about them? Something like “It’s a Wonderful Life” when George Bailey wishes he had never been born and gets his wish?

  • I, too, have been struggling with whether or not to embrace Christian Universalism. I was raised with guest speakers who would come to the missionary school I attended for chapel week and preach on fire and brimstone for those who did not accept Christ. I remember some of my classmates becoming Christians that week, but it never lasted. Fear is a very ineffective means of motivation.

    Hell, I believe, is not a place of literal fire and brimstone. New Testament scholar N.T. Wright points out that Second Temple Jews understood such speech as eschatological metaphorical language.

    Hell, I believe, is the absence of God. God is love, beauty, good, and all things necessary for human life. The absence of God then, is the absence of love, beauty, good, and all things necessary for human life. That is Hell enough.

  • I would say that the universalist position takes into account the effect of time. Everyone has free will to reject God as long as they like, but God has eternity to persuade them and seduce them back to him. Eternity is for ever, so eventually he will inevitably succeed, even if takes a billion, or a billion billion years.

  • As a part of this discussion, I would love to hear how you address the reality that the word “hell” is not a part of scripture, that fire is mostly a purifying force in scripture and that some of the early church fathers (eg. Origin) believed that the fire talked about was going to be used to purify sinners from their sin.

  • I’m an optimistic annihilationist.

    I wouldn’t describe it as God making people cease to exist because I don’t hold to an immortal soul. People die, good and evil alike, and the grave is the end for them sans resurrection.

    In resurrection, God renews creation. Whether that means everyone or some based on certain criteria, that’s up to God. I’m hopeful that, at the very least, there will be way more people participating in that new creation than narrower theologies might think, especially if the parable of the sheep and the goats carries over at all past the radar of Rome.

  • I like what you’re doing in this post, Ben. Your position is very similar to my own. Two things came to my mind as I read:

    1. Does it make sense to call this position “universalism,” if at least theoretically some individuals could freely choose to spend eternity saying no to God? Isn’t this at least rightly called “conditional universalism?”

    2. I have for some time been uncomfortable with the annihilation position. Of course, it’s better than the alternative that says God sends people to hell for eternity! But it seems to presuppose that God has the controlling power capable of ending the existence of those who do not believe. I don’t believe God has that kind of power. And it also gives the impression that God “gives up” on unbelievers. God’s love is not everlastingly steadfast for them.

    But what about the possibility that unbelievers Self-annihilate? This could be done without God’s control, and it would not mean God had given up on them. They had given up on themselves, not wanting to cooperate with God’s love, and God could not prevent their self-annihilation. This is a position I am exploring in my current writing project. I’m not entirely sold on it, but I think it’s a viable option.

    Tom

  • I lean way towards annihilationism because of how I interpret Jesus’ words, but I’m hoping in universal redemption

  • I was surprised to find that you weren’t already a Universalist, Benjamin – I just assumed you were from the tenor of your posts! Annihiliationism does have certain attractions – if someone was ultimately unwilling to be reconciled to God, a humane extinction would make more sense than the monstrosity of eternal torment. But if Jesus really is the ‘savior of all people’, and if God’s purpose (as often stated in the Bible) is to restore and redeem the whole of creation, universalism seems a better fit. So it makes sense that you’re moving gradually in that direction.

  • I am attracted to Universalism. I AM a hopeful Universalist. But I cannot dismiss the factor of free will. I suspect that after death everyone will be offered the gift of eternal life with a clear mind unhampered by misinformation, misunderstanding, or damaged psyches.

    However, there may be those who are unsatisfied with the practical terms–they would no longer be able to dominate others. If someone is such an egoist that they must use people, they would be unhappy in God’s new society. God might allow them a place elsewhere, and it is true that they might have further opportunity to accept. Or they might cease to exist (they chose against eternal life). But I cannot see that any would be forced against their will.

    On the subject of hell, I see no reason to suggest that there would be any punishment for such persons.

    I appreciate your direction, but after decades of thought I cannot say that everyone will become part of God’s new world.

  • Whenever I interact with people who don’t know much about universalism, they invariably ask the same two questions: either, Doesn’t that mean God forces people to be saved against their will? (it’s always ironic when it’s Calvinists asking this), or, What’s the point in being a good person?

    The first one is a simple no.

    The second one, though, people find harder to accept any answer for. Of course it matters if we become good people. Jesus doesn’t save us so we can sin, he saves us from sin. Even in exclusivist soteriology, salvation isn’t a license to sin; why would it be for universalism? There’s different forms of Christian universalism, but my view is that if a person thinks they can sin however much they want, it’s going to take them that much longer to endure the painful purging of their sins before they can truly understand and receive God’s love.

  • Books from BLC:

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