June 17, 2007

On Universal Salvation

I see the concept of universal salvation as engaging the theological virtue of hope rather than the virtue of faith. It also draws upon the greatest virtue, love. So while I may not believe that all will be saved as a matter of certain faith, or as a teaching of the church; I can still hope that all will be saved; and recall that through God's love, judgment is tempered by mercy, rather than the other way around.

Of course, there are all those texts of judgment and damnation, of wailing and gnashing of teeth, and closed, locked doors. But what if these were to be seen as threats rather than promises?

Isn't the purpose of prophecy to convert and save? Isn't that what Jonah learned when he pronounced that Nineveh would be thrown down? But the people repented, and it wasn't. And Jonah was peeved, until God rendered him speechless at his own narrowmindedness.

So I will still hope in the love that seeks all who are lost, that warns and threatens dire consequences when our Father gets home --- but does not rest until all -- all -- are safely tucked in bed.

Happy Fathers Day.

Tobias Haller BSG


sharecropper said...

Good explanation of universal salvation. I like that.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

An added thought...

I can't posit a coercive salvation (that denies free will), but picture the final confrontation with God (which all will one day experience) as almost irresistibly persuasive. I find unsatisfactory the notion that life is a kind of trick question, which if you get wrong you are doomed to eternal punishment -- that seems to be incompatible with a God either of love or of justice. So I'm left with either an annihilationist view of damnation, or a universalist vision of salvation --- again, as a matter of hope rather than conviction.

I've always inclined to the view in Lewis' Great Divorce, which offers that hope for eventual reconciliation even to those not already in the heavenly realm -- in a purgatory that will become hell only at the end. (Again, not as a literal doctrine, but as I think he intended it, a hopeful metaphor.)

I did have a sort of "Origenist" dream many years ago, a very vivid one. I was in heaven and literally everyone was there. They were all in the 20s and wearing shorts and Hawaiian shirts, and drinking tall cool drinks. Satan was there too, and he kept coming up to people and saying, "Can I get you anything?"

As I reflected in my longer meditation on "Nothing will be lost" it seems to me that God is infinitely patient, and that infinity is an expression of forbearance, as Peter said.

June Butler said...

Tobias, your "Origenist" dream is quite appealing. So heaven is either in Hawaii or on an island in the Caribbean. Who knew?

I've always seen myself stuck at around age 27, ever since I left that time behind.

As I grow older, I've come to see hope as ever more essential to my Christian life.

Greg Jones said...

Tobias -- funny you should bring this up. I've been doing a great deal of thinking about this lately myself. I was struck by the Origenist/Gregory of Nyssa/Maximus the Confessor trajectory of a kind of universalism. It doesn't make it easy -- indeed it posits a purifying 'fire-like' post death sphere of existence -- and that the Cosmic Christ is of course the means by which God's will that all be saved is won. It is a trajectory reminiscent of the Great Divorce imagery of CS Lewis. I'm a big fan of this speculative theology -- for it also honors Scripture and the revelation therein. It's not the cheap any easy "it's all good" kind of theology. The other angle -- which I too agree with -- is the annihilationist approach articulated well by John Stott and others. This view, while still pretty rough -- at least upholds both the mercy of God and the free will God's given us -- and -- it seems to be a notion pretty well founded on plain readings of Scripture. Hell might be eternal -- but the folks that go into the fire are consumed. (Metaphorically of course.) But nobody should hope for the existence of Hell -- and how it works or not -- but rather be grateful there's eternal life with Christ. I'm for the trinitarian -- biblical -- Origen/Gregory of Nyssa/Maximus type of universalism. But, I'm cautious about saying, "I'm a universalist", because I do believe in something like a purifying hell, perhaps a purgatory like sphere, and I do believe the wages of a final rejection of God is annihilation -- "consumed in the fire." Above all -- I believe all of this only based on the idea that the Christ has come and that all and any salvation is through his saving work. So -- yes I believe it is God's will that all be saved -- and he has the means by which to do so -- Christ -- and that this process most likely extends beyond the human lifespan on earth -- and God is merciful and will find a way to reveal the plan even to those who know it not on this earth -- but -- also -- alas -- maybe some will be lost -- of their own will -- despite the relentless pursuit of them by a loving Christ.

bls said...

How about Hitler or Pol Pot? If they are saved, too, doesn't that suggest that God doesn't care what happens to people while they're alive on earth? That anybody can do anything and it will be OK in the end?

I don't really like that.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

That is the challenge to this point of view, I agree. Still, the witness I attempt to apply is that of Christ on the cross, forgiving those who crucified him. What does that tell us about God?
And does any crime, however horrible, however unrepented of, deserve an eternity of punishment? I can, as I mentioned above, accept an annihilationst view as an alternative to a universalist view. That is -- let's for argument say Hitler -- would simply cease to be. In one sense, it's always been hard to define damnation as privation from God -- for without God there can be no being; that's the theological justification for thinking that "the damned" simply cease to be.

But I'm still drawn to a sense of the cleansing stage of life after death -- what Fr Jones is referring to above -- and wonder how even the most hardened sinner could look back on his or her life, with the "full knowledge" that comes at the moment of judgment, and not accept that final offer of the new life in God. That's part of how Satan fit into my dream -- as the one who preferred to "reign in hell" discovers that after all it is better to "serve in heaven..."

Again, this is all a matter of hope, and the trust that God "hates nothing God has made" and desires all to be restored.

bls said...

Well, Christ forgave what was done to him, personally. I don't see how that means God will forgive what Hitler does to other people.

I'm OK without eternal punishment; I'm not thirsty for Hitler's eternal suffering. I just can't agree that there will be Universal Salvation, because that seems to do something very bad to justice. And since God asks us to "do justice" - as well as to be merciful - I think it must be something pretty important.

I'm not good enough to forgive Hitler and Pol Pot, IOW. I can't forgive them on behalf of others, I know that, anyway.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Again, not wanting to defend this as a "doctrine" but wanting to try to have as generous a hope as possible...

It a real sense Jesus went around forgiving people for all kinds of sins committed against other people. That was, it seems to me, part of what made his behavior so outrageous to some -- not that he forgave things done against him, but things done against others! (My point about the words from the cross was not so much about the forgiveness as that it was forgiveness without any sign of repentance on the part of those forgiven.)

But also in another sense, isn't any sin against others also a sin against God? "As you have done it unto the least of these..." rings in there somehwere.

I know how hard it is to have this kind of hope; personally I think torturers and killers of children are THE worst, and it's hard to think of them getting a break. Which is why I also think some cleansing purgation is necessary. I wrote a poem years back about Hitler, visioning him having to look into the face of every person who perished as a result of his actions, and to ask their forgiveness, as he washed their feet. In a sense, that is the judgment I picture, that we shall all have to face -- seeing all we have done against any and all in the clear light of the everlasting day, having to acknowledge it, and feel the impact of what it is we did. Isn't that a sort of justice?

Thanks for your thoughts on this, as I continue to wrestle with the implications of my hopes...

MarkBrunson said...

Perhaps, as I've heard suggested by a concentration camp survivor, it's not a matter of God's simply judging, but asking if anyone else will speak for or against us at the time of our coming before Him. Perhaps we have a choice of whether to cast those who hurt us into Hell, and ourselves with them.

bls said...

I'm not really arguing with you, Fr. Tobias. I'm just thinking aloud, mostly. If we allow for free will and justice both, that seems to me to point in a certain direction.

This question has come up lately a few times, and I just can't get beyond the Pol Pot thing. Not yet, anyway. I like your vision of justice for Hitler there, though.

But it's all up to God in the end. If there's going to be Universal Salvation, then there is, and it will have nothing to do with what I think anyway! Thanks for talking it out, though.

Anonymous said...

I figured that if God made humans to have a relationship with him and the fact that He can use our stubbornness to show his mercy, then why not consider the possibility that he will save all? He made the pharoah's heart hard so he could show his glory, so why not everyone else? We could be in a big story that he made, where it does have a happy ending. Well that's just me :)

Peter Rogers said...

You are legally and morally obligated to keep your promises but not your threats. If I, as a landlord, threaten my tenant that I will increase her rent if she does not mow the lawn and if I, out of my own sovereign will, for any reason, do not actualize my threat, then I am not a liar nor am I guilty of a breach of promise. Ditto for God. God can threaten all He wants but if he commutes his sentence out of His sovereign will then we cannot accuse him of falsehood or perfidy, not can be get angry at Him (as Jonah did).

Another way to look at Hell is that it is our ground state, our state without God's inflowing grace. In this sense, all of us deserve to be in Hell and Hell is real as where we SHOULD go minus the grace of God. But grace is a journey as well as a moment of light. Even if I deserve to go to hell today, today is just a slice of time in my journey. God can lead me and everyone else on the road to Damascus. We might think we're going to Damascus to commit a specific atrocious act, but God might be leading us to Damascus to do other things for Him. Thus our destination, Damascus, which was a hell of egregious perfidy is transformed into a heaven of godliness - all by the Light of God.

Peter Rogers

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Peter. That resonates well with the imagery in Lewis' "Great Divorce." All is grace, in the end.