Universalism

If universalism is true, then do we really need churches? If they’re all saved in the end, why not indulge every inclination of the flesh here and now and just wait for the glory train to take you home? Why worry with the pursuit of righteousness and holiness if at the end of your life God will just wrap you in warm fuzzy blanket of love and overlook your life of debauchery?

Seems like there’s a major obstacle to all of this–the Scriptures.

Αυτω η δοξα

50 thoughts on “Universalism

  1. Amen! If universalism were true then I’d sin boldly. It’s much easier and brings instant gratification. All this holy living stuff is hard and doesn’t pay off like I’d like it to until the end.

  2. One night in discipleship study (at my last church) we were discussing judgment and the accounting of our lives and I said something to the effect that if there is no reckoning of our choices, good or bad, then it ultimately doesn’t matter what we do here and now. I think this is the same principle–if there’s no judgment for sin, especially in light of Christ’s death for sins, then what does it matter if we commit them or not?

  3. This discussion has been all over the blogosphere lately: I can’t believe you haven’t come across some answer or other yet!

    First, most universalists believe in hell, and believe it is a terrible place to go. Next, if an eternal reward or get-out-of-endless-agony-free card is the reason you’re living like a Christian, then the Spirit has not gotten very far in you yet! Universalists love God because He is lovely, not because the alternative is an endless hell!

    I encourage you to spend a little time at http://theologicalscribbles.blogspot.com or http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com to help you understand universalism a little better. You do, don’t you?🙂

    1. Universalists love God because He is lovely, not because the alternative is an endless hell!

      +1 to this.

      Anything else, as I’ve learned, is just white-knuckle Christianity and lacks any real depth of spirit.

      A child that behaves to avoid being spanked is not a well behaved child. They’re a scared child. Furthermore, they’re a scared child whose fear keeps them from fully experiencing life, good and bad, and God’s love that comes through that experience.

      1. Sean: “Anything else, as I’ve learned, is just white-knuckle Christianity and lacks any real depth of spirit”–glad you’ve got it all sorted out.

        And, speaking of experiences with my own kids, they do the right things because they want to please us and because they don’t want to be punished. I don’t know anyone who does the right things solely because it’s the right thing to do–I think we all have some measure of fear of consequences.

      2. Consequences, at best, should be buoys that help give you some indication of right and wrong in times of uncertainty. Otherwise, you’re living under the law. Which, as demonstrated throughout the OT and the sacrifice of Christ, we simply are unable to do. We can’t keep to the law, we’re unable. So we turn to Christ for grace and ask that the Spirit in us becomes the guiding force in our actions, leaving behind the carnal forces we were born with.

  4. Steve: Thanks for the links. Admittedly I’ve not read widely amongst universalists. I checked out the links you provided and read through some of the posts and found much of it thoughtful and the exegesis was mostly good. I remain unconvinced, however, that this is a sound theological scheme (but it’s not as though this amount of reading would sway me anyway!). Thanks again for the links!

  5. Jason: It seems that Steve is operating under the assumption that “most universalists” are Christian universalists. This isn’t necessarily the case. Most world religions have some form of universalism or another and many of them do not have any belief in hell.

    But the point still remains. To draw an analogy: if I want to fly to certain parts of California from New Jersey I’d have to have a layover in Texas. Now Texas is a terrible place to go, but if I know that my final destination is California then I’m not really going to be so worried about having a layover in Texas.😉

    1. Nick, of course I was referring to Christian universalists, because that seems to be the target of the post.

      I’d like to know how you would respond to my other point, though. Do you live the way you do (assuming it’s moral!) simply because you’re convinced that to do otherwise would…uh…make you a permanent resident of Texas? Or do you follow Christ because he’s worth following? I can understand exegetical arguments against universalism, but this is one that really bothers me!

  6. Nick: I’ll pardon your analogy of hell=Texas and agree with your overall point!😉 You seem to share Jim’s affinity for Texas, which is to say you have no such thing!🙂

  7. To play devil’s advocate, it seems to me there is also a potential major obstacle to the argument AGAINST universalism: God’s grace that abounds in both Testaments. In reading the OT specifically I am always struck by the centrality and unbreachability of the covenantal relationship between God and Israel, a relationship that I think–in agreement with folk like NT Wright–sets the appropriate stage and interpretive context for what it is Jesus has done. No matter Israel’s apostasy, God does not sever the covenant relationship.

    Yes, I realize covenant relationship need not necessitate salvation, and vice-versa; admittedly, ‘salvation’ is a category I don’t think in that often. But it seems to me that the church gets quite a bit confused about what it thinks at certain points; I often wonder whether the basic Christian message becomes a sort of Pelagianism (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just calling for honesty and transparency).

    Just some musings.

  8. John: I would certainly agree that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more, but I don’t see grace as an obstacle to arguments against universalism. Since you’re the resident OT guy in these parts, how do you see the fate of the Israelites who were said to have fallen dead in the wilderness due to their disobedience? Is their death tantamount to separation from God (per Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the garden) or something more temporary? As my post indicates, my problem with universalism is that all of the passages that speak of judgment for sin and unrighteousness lose their force if God doesn’t intend for those acts to bear some post-mortem consequence. How can Paul suffer unending anguish in his heart because his kinsmen are cut off from God if they will one day be saved? How can Paul speak of eternal separation from God if God will ultimately save everyone (2 Thess 1:8-9)? I admit that the thought of eternal separation from God is unsettling and in my heart I wish that it weren’t so, but I can’t escape the overwhelming testimony of the NT that those who refuse to acknowledge Christ as God, Savior and King will be separated from him for ever.

    1. Jason:

      A few musings on my way out the door:
      First, I don’t think the OT is thinking in the categories you are suggesting at all. The concept of death in the OT (the idea of being ‘gathered to one’s ancestors’ or something of the sort) does not, in my view, equate 1 to 1 with the Christian conception of heaven, whatever that means for a given person. So in a way I think the concern is anachronistic; this, of course, does not mean it is not important. I am, at the same time, a biblical scholar and not a systematic theologian.
      Second, I resist utterly anything that smacks–intentionally or not–of supersessionism. So if the claim is that ancient Israelites were not ‘saved’ (again, whatever that means) because they didn’t know Jesus, I have a problem with that. Similarly, I take issue with such black/white thinking outlined, for example, in John’s gospel that says Jesus is THE only path to God; the interpretive issues are far more complex than that.
      Third, I disagree with you that passages about sin require some post-mortem punishment. There are plenty of places in the biblical text–both Testaments–where sin in this world does not seem to require punishment. And what about places where God ‘sins’ if I can use such language (i.e., where God acts in ways that challenge our contemporary ethical sensiblities)? Terry Fretheim has been formative for me on this issue, and I agree with him in large part on his emphasis of a God who is so deeply invested in creation and humanity that God suffers because, with, and for us. In his book ‘The Suffering of God’ he argues that divine punishment is commensurate with God’s justice, but it is a sort of last resort for God (yes, I fully recognize texts such as Uzzah and the Ark show divine impatience at many points, but let this point again show that the issue is far more complex); it grieves God to exact judgment (see for instance various texts in Hosea 11 about God rearing Israel as a child, teaching them to walk, etc.). The covenant relationship is central for God, in my view, and for understanding the biblical text. And so if God is grieved to exact judgment, and then brings and end to it in this life, why would God feel necessary to inflict further suffering after death?

      Do I think God ‘saves’ everyone? I don’t know. Again, I don’t think in those categories, but if pressed I’d probably say no. There are folk, like Hitler, that problematize that tremendously for me But do I hold that God will/plans to only ‘save’ Christians? Absolutely not. The biblical text–Old and New Testaments alike–point out the fallacy in this. Just read Romans 9-11.

      1. John: As you’re going out the door, eh? Let me eat some Wheaties and I’ll get back to you!🙂 As to your responses, I tend to think in NT terms and so I acknowledge that it spills over into how I read and interpret the OT. Shooting from the hip, as I tend to do here, I usually speak in that way.

        I agree that the 1-to-1 correlation on views of death in the OT and NT is not there, but does the OT not in some places suggest that there is a place for the unrighteous dead?

        Depending on your definition, I may/may not be a supresessionist. I don’t see Israel as abandoned by God or that they were merely a stepping stone for Christianity. Christianity was birthed out of Judaism and its law, covenants, and promises find their fulfillment, not abolition, in the person of Jesus. Jew and Gentile are now one, being built into God’s holy temple. Neither do I believe that Jews wouldn’t “go to heaven” if they didn’t believe in Jesus, assuming of course we’re speaking of Jews living before Christ. However, as I stated earlier, anyone–Jew, Greek, Roman–who did not acknowledge Jesus as their God, Savior, and King would not “be saved.” And, I am always cautious of simple “black and white” interpretations, but Jesus’ words in John 14:6, well I don’t see a way around the exclusivity.

        I am sure there are instances in which some sins may not warrant post-mortem punishment, but in general terms the NT authors don’t make any concessions to the fact that sin’s ultimate consequence is death and exclusion from the kingdom of God (I know definitions are important here, but alas…). Furthermore, what God does is ultimately his business. You may construe this as copping out, but God certainly works in ways that defy the finite’s attempts to understand or make sense. So if God “sins,” then perhaps he does so in such a way that he is not diminished as sovereign ruler over creation. I would agree that God does not desire nor take pleasure in meting out judgment, but he does it, precisely because he is just and righteous and attitudes and actions in opposition to these demand his response. God is loving, patient, and infinitely merciful, not wanting anyone to perish, but I can’t imagine that God would sit by and allow his son and his sacrifice to be trodden underfoot without recompense.

        Do I think that God will save everyone? Clearly not. Has God saved others who didn’t know Christ? Sure–those who were in covenant relationship with God and remained faithful in the age before Christ. The same premise holds true for new covenant believers–those in a covenant relationship with God in Christ and remain faithful are the ones whom God has saved, is saving, and will ultimately save. Romans 9-11, I believe, affirms this. Will all Israel be saved? Yes–but not all from Israel are Israel.

        I also agree with you that covenant relationship is essential.

  9. Steve: It’s not either/or for me; it’s both/and. I initially came to Christ because of the realization that if I were to die in my sin then I’d go to hell. I live the way I do because I love God and want to honor him and obey his commands and because I fear the outcome of not living a life in obedience to God.

    1. Ok, but are both necessary for you to continue? Do you think that following God doesn’t have enough to commend itself on its own merits without including a threat? It seems that a lot of people dislike universalism in part because they think it takes away one of their main bargaining chips in evangelism (which of course, even if true, doesn’t mean it’s false).

    1. If you are asking if I would keep living the way I do, e.g. by moral and ethical principles, yes. If you are asking if I would devote my life specifically to Him, I’d say no, because He would have proved unwilling or incapable of ensuring that His children’s pain had been alleviated. This is His responsibility as Creator Father. Now, that is not at all the same as demanding that He be “just” by punishing (some other) sinners irreversibly (while pardoning me because I knew the magic words), if that’s what you’re leading up to. How about you?

      I should note that I’m no committed universalist: I don’t know all the answers, but I’m just a little tired of seeing universalists getting misunderstood and pooh-poohed without a fair hearing.

  10. Bryan: That’s pretty much the question behind my questions/comments. So much of the NT authors’ emphasis on endurance through trials and suffering is grounded in the hope of what is to come. If there were no future “reward” or “punishment,” then what we do here and now is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.

    1. Once again the question you’ve got to answer is this: is it the hope of reward/punishment that keeps you following Jesus, or would you be happy as a beggar in your Father’s kingdom who got to commune with Him, even if you found yourself next to someone who arrived really latw to the fields?

      1. Steve: For me it’s not the primary reason–I follow because God has revealed himself and has drawn me to himself. But I can’t say that it doesn’t play at least a small role in my relationship with God. Obviously it’s not foremost because I still sin plenty! And, yes, I would be content to be a beggar in the kingdom because there it’s unbroken and unfettered fellowship with God, no matter who is there.

  11. Steve:
    “If you are asking if I would keep living the way I do, e.g. by moral and ethical principles, yes.”

    I wasn’t thinking about that but, since you answered, what moral or ethical principles would those be and why would you bother if you’d end up worm food and nothing else in the end anyway? Why not just seek maximal pleasure for as long as you can regardless of what was right and wrong? If God doesn’t care enough to offer you any reward in the end then why should you care?

    “If you are asking if I would devote my life specifically to Him, I’d say no, because He would have proved unwilling or incapable of ensuring that His children’s pain had been alleviated.

    You originally framed the issue with Nick that the reason to follow Christ was because he’s worth following. Originally I thought you were saying that he’s worth following merely because of who he is—God, creator and sustainer. Now it sounds like you think he’s worth following because of what positive things he can do for us in this life and the next? Is that true? Please correct me if I’ve misunderstood you.

    In regards to God not alleviating pain and thus not being worthy of you devoting your life to him, what if God gave you (and everyone else) a pain free existence for 25 years regardless of what you decided to do during it and then cut your life off forever? Would you devote your life to following him then?

    “How about you?”
    I wouldn’t bother worshiping God if this life were all there was. If he just created me for this life then I would actually think it rather cruel to give me something that I learn to cherish and treasure so much and then take it away from me. Humans would be the most pitied among all of Gods creatures.

    Regarding if universalism were true and I made it to heaven no matter what I did, I probably would worship God only as much as I thought I needed to have an enjoyable and pleasurable life in this life (because God was blessing me because of my good behavior). However that might end up changing if it seemed like my worship of God didn’t affect how blessed my life seemed. I would probably be moral and ethical to an extent only because I didn’t want to suffer the natural consequences that occur from doing wrong to others or myself and causing me to have a less enjoyable life. I would not bother trying to live up to the ideals of Christian morality or the Christian vision of life and wouldn’t worry too much about doing wrong if I thought I could get away with it and there weren’t any real victims (or at least none that I had to look in the face).

    1. Dang. At least you’re honest about it.

      I worship God insofar as He is worthy of worship: if I believed He were malevolent I would not worship Him no matter what titles He claimed for Himself. If He is as good as His followers have always believed that He was, He is worthy of my worship. Even if I thought I’d get the short end of the stick somehow, or if I could be convinced of His justice without an afterlife, I would worship Him because of those aspects of His character.

      If we don’t worship the goodness of God, and love Him insofar as we will benefit, we are actually worshiping our own self-interest. I’d rather be any kind of heretic you can name than to affirm that as my religion.

  12. Given that most of the Old Testament denies the existence of any substantial reward in the afterlife, it seems to me that the patriarchs were very much on board with a “here and now” benefit to following God’s ways. Read the psalms of King David. Did he ever look forward, in any significant way (if at all), to life in the presence of God after he shed his mortal coil?

    Honestly, I could care less about whether there’s an afterlife. I could cease to exist when I die, for all I care. The Law of Christ benefits me today! The peace it brings. The moral development it fosters. The character it builds. The love it breeds. Desiring such things isn’t selfish!

    Let’s assume for a moment, per the Scriptures, that “eternal life” exists beyond the grave. But is that all “eternal life” is? Does it not begin now? Does not Jesus tell us that, if we abide in Him, that we “have” (present tense) eternal life? Does the inheriting of the Kingdom of God only find its realization after my body becomes the feast of worms? By all means, NO! It is entered into today for those who are transformed and reborn, born from above. That being said, the benefits of God’s Kingdom, borne of a devoted submission to the Bread of Life, suffices for me now. If God sees fit to extinguish my soul at the end of my days, for whatever reason, I will rejoice for having drank from the vine of Jesus’ veins in the relatively short time I draw breath on this earth.

    1. You could care less whether you continue to exist after this life? You seriously don’t care whether this is all there is? I do. I don’t want to stop existing. I guess if you cease to exist you really won’t care at that point but I sure care now.

      How does the Law of Chist bring you peace in the absence of an afterlife? What peace do you have without that? This isn’t a rhetorical question or a set up.

      If you lived a pretty shitty life because of circumstances outside your control (like you were born in the wrong era of history or in the wrong part of the world or in the wrong group of people) do you think you would care more about an after life? Do you think if you lost children (God forbid!) you would care more about whether there was an afterlife?

      Regarding your question I’m not sure how you could call eternal life something that isn’t eternal but actually pretty short. Sounds like a bait and switch to me. Sure you can enter eternal life now, if it is in fact eternal after this life. However if you just cease to exist then you’ve been duped. Sorry but I’m failing to see what you find so great about following Jesus if this is all you’ve got and you could be dead tomorrow. Do you have some sort of mystical experiences with God that make life so much greater (it sounds like that may be something you’re describing, that’s why I ask)? I could possibly understand that as being a reason. However if the pleasure your experience of God brings you relies on the psychological benefit that comes from believing God is going to do something for you that he actually isn’t or that he cares for you when he doesn’t then I think that’s no different than being happy because you think the woman you married loves you when she doesn’t.

      1. You could care less whether you continue to exist after this life? You seriously don’t care whether this is all there is? I do. I don’t want to stop existing.

        I don’t want to stop existing either, and I look forward (by faith) to life beyond the grave. Nevertheless, I am still satisfied with experiencing the Kingdom of God now. That will have been enough for me, for the Kingdom of God is not measured by quantity (i.e., duration) but rather by quality.

        How does the Law of Chist [sic] bring you peace in the absence of an afterlife?

        Because, in all honesty, I am not 100% convinced in the existence of an afterlife. (Lord, I believe! Help me in my unbelief!) Given that, I live my life from day to day, attempting to the best of my ability to live out the Kingdom and bring others into the same. In that, I am satisfied.

        What peace do you have without that [i.e., the afterlife]?

        My peace comes from my experience that living out the Kingdom of God does, in reality, makes sense of this crazy world.

        If you lived a pretty shitty life because of circumstances outside your control (like you were born in the wrong era of history or in the wrong part of the world or in the wrong group of people) do you think you would care more about an after life?

        If I lived a life outside of my control (e.g., Muslim Pakistan, Buddhist Tibet, etc.), according to most Christians’ interpretation of Christ’s words, I’m damned to hell anyway, no? If that’s the case, I’d certainly wish there weren’t an afterlife.

        Do you think if you lost children (God forbid!) you would care more about whether there was an afterlife?

        The LORD giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.

        Regarding your question I’m not sure how you could call eternal life something that isn’t eternal but actually pretty short. Sounds like a bait and switch to me.

        As I stated previously, I do believe in eternal life beyond the grave, and I look forward to it. But I live in this life now, and that is where my focus is, for that is all I can taste, touch, and feel now. Don’t get me wrong: While I am focused on my earthly life, I’m not dwelling on earthly things. I really don’t need the attraction of an afterlife to propel me to follow the Law of Christ. I do it because (1) He desires this of me, and (2) I have experienced its benefits and I desire others to “taste and see” that the Lord is good today, not merely after death.

        If it is the prospect of reward in the afterlife that encourages you to follow the commands of Jesus, perhaps you need to rethink things. Where your heart is, there will your treasure be also. Well, my heart is here. With my friends. With my family. With my wife. With my children. With those who are going through this life severely broken and in need of spiritual healing in this life. It is only when you realize that what you do in this life is what truly matters, and not what you may be doing in the next life, that you’ll find the same peace I have.

        However if you just cease to exist then you’ve been duped.

        Ignorance is bliss, isn’t it? 😉

        Sorry but I’m failing to see what you find so great about following Jesus if this is all you’ve got and you could be dead tomorrow.

        Jesus taught that, in the afterlife, we humans no longer marry or are given in marriage. We will be like the angels in that way. If those familial ties are dissolved upon our deaths, then (according to your paradigm) what good is marriage now? What good is having children this side of eternity? What benefit is there if you can’t take it with you? Think on this and you’ll find the answer to your question.

        Do you have some sort of mystical experiences with God that make life so much greater … ?

        If the entirety of your relationship with Christ isn’t mystical, then you’ve missed completely missed the boat. I wish there was a way to convince you of this.

  13. I try to be honest : )

    I’m not interested in labeling you (or your beliefs) a heretic or not, I’m just interested in whether your position makes sense.

    “Even if I thought I’d get the short end of the stick somehow, or if I could be convinced of His justice without an afterlife, I would worship Him because of those aspects of His character.”

    Why would you worship God if he only gave you this life (free of pain) and didn’t reward or punish you based on what you did with it? You would still spend this whole life living according to Christian ethics and ideals? Why? It wouldn’t make any difference and God’s actions would show he didn’t really care how you lived or whether you worshiped him. What does it say about God’s character if he doesn’t care whether you obey what he commands or whether you worship him?

    “If we don’t worship the goodness of God, and love Him insofar as we will benefit, we are actually worshiping our own self-interest. ”

    You define the goodness of God according to what good he does for you and others. How is that not the same thing that you call “worshiping our own self-interest”?

    1. No, as I said, if I somehow ended up with the short end of the stick and I were still convinced that God was good through it all, I l’dike to think that I have enough respect for goodness that I would love God. I can’t help but think you do, too! Don’t most people, Christians especially, love good for its intrinsic goodness?

      1. Sorry, I’m not really sure what you’re saying. I was hoping to bring it down to more concrete scenarios to see if I could better understand where you were coming from but I don’t think that happene.
        Thanks for the discussion.

  14. I’m not a convinced universalist, but I would not be surprised to find that hell is eventually empty … that God’s love will ultimately prevail even against the most ardent God-hater. For me, that would be fabulous good news. I am always appalled by my fellow believers who (exegetical study aside) seem to hope hell is forever occupied. God has made it clear enough … if hell remains populated for eternity, it will not be because he wished it to be so!

    For my part, my hope of universal salvation in no way minimizes my motives to follow Jesus. The preacher/writer/theologian who has most inspired me in my faith-obedience-walk is, hands down, that 19th Century Universalist, George MacDonald. For him (and for me) fear of retribution has nothing to do with living out the high callings of God! The sheer exhilaration of revelation and obedience, increasing light and understanding, moving onward in faith and hope and service, learning to love with more and more abandon … all these things are more reward than anyone could ask for. More than we can imagine, I’m sure!

    There is reward in living right! I have many atheist friends who live on a very high moral plane because they get this. I’m amazed that some believers seem not to.

  15. “Why worry with the pursuit of righteousness and holiness if at the end of your life God will just wrap you in warm fuzzy blanket of love and overlook your life of debauchery?”

    Really. Don’t you get it? “The pursuit of righteousness and holiness” is the very definition of heaven! This question is as meaningful as “Why should I go to California if I’m just going to wind up there anyway?”

    What?

  16. Martin: Thanks for chiming in.
    “I am always appalled by my fellow believers who (exegetical study aside) seem to hope hell is forever occupied”
    – I’m with you here. I think most people whom I know who would get bent out of shape at the suggestion of a non-fiery hell or no hell at all would likely be so because they thought Scripture was being misused or misread. However, it seems some become indignant because they want hell to be bursting at the seams.

    As to hell being empty, what of the devil and his angels, for whom it was created in the first place?

    Neither do I live in fear of retribution, for there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. But, what of justice? If Christ bore the sins of mankind, thus opening the gate for all who will believe to come in, what of those who persist in their hostile enmity toward God? Paul seems to suggest they will be met with a furious judgment that will result in separation for eternity (2 Thess 1:8-9).

    And, we’ll disagree on what heaven is, at least in defining heaven as a pursuit of God’s righteousness and holiness. Heaven is the consummative restoration of all creation, redeemed and suited for the inhabitation of God, Christ, and Spirit, together in Edenic fellowship with his redeemed.

    Thanks, again, for your thoughts!

  17. Jason:

    To muddy things up a bit, you said “And, I am always cautious of simple “black and white” interpretations, but Jesus’ words in John 14:6, well I don’t see a way around the exclusivity.” But I say to you (can you sense what gospel I’m about to pull from?!) how do you handle Matthew 10:5-6, in which Jesus is quite ‘black and white’ with instructing his disciples to go nowhere among the gentiles, citing that Jesus’ mission is ONLY to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel”? There seems to be a tension with John 14:6. What’s more, elsewhere in Matthew where he does heal two gentiles (8:5-13 and 15:21-26) he seems to do so quite reluctantly. And since I think the constructing one’s own diatesseron is a bad idea (and a cop out), the tension stands.

  18. Jason, I wasn’t trying to build a case for universalism in general; just responding to your post, and some of the follow-up comments which suggest that if universal salvation is true, it would naturally lead to licentiousness. My view of hell is very much like that of C.S. Lewis. I perhaps overstated the case when I wrote that heaven is the pursuit of righteousness and holiness. Clearly it is more than just that. But the point is this: in my view at least, a person who is not set upon knowing God and pursuing his ways is a person who would not enjoy heaven much. Such a person who chooses instead to pursue pleasure and to “sin boldly” (in Nick’s words) is choosing hell! We choose heaven or hell every day of our lives. I often ask people this: “If all your life, you have chosen hell, you have chosen selfish living, you have chosen separation from God, what makes you think that your preference will change in the eternal state?” Revelation 22:11 suggests to me that character tends to crystalize, it moves on toward permanence. And while I’m not certain that eternity will provide no opportunity to change our preferences, to recognize our error, and finally choose God, I suggest it is pure folly to suppose (as you seem to the O.P. and as commenters like Nick do) that we could choose the hellish existence of self-gratification now, and later enjoy some sort of welcome into the very existence we rejected all our lives long.

    Again, a simplification perhaps, but in this life we are nurturing and developing our taste for heaven’s ecstasies, which are built upon self-sacrificing love. The person who nurtures debauchery or malevolence is developing a taste for hell. In my view, he is not excluded from heaven merely because God bars the door. He is excluded because there is nothing about heaven that he could appreciate or enjoy. He’d sooner continue to wrap his sorry ass in pride and selfishness.

  19. Mike:

    My main question was whether you would follow and devote your life to God if there was no afterlife. Your answer seems to be yes you would but only because you wouldn’t know there actually was no afterlife. You say you couldn’t care less if there were an afterlife meanwhile maintaining that you don’t want to stop existing and you look forward to an afterlife. That’s not exactly being indifferent. 

    All your answers seem to presuppose an afterlife and never for once take serious the fact that you don’t believe in an after life but only that you are unsure there is one. Obviously from this perspective finding out there was no afterlife wouldn’t end up bothering you at all because you wouldn’t be finding anything out since you’d cease to exist. It’s easy to say it wouldn’t bother you because you never for once actually consider the question whether if you stopped believing in an afterlife whether you would still follow and devote your life to God. 

    Thanks for responding to all my questions. BTW in the interest of full disclosure, I am an annihiliationist and don’t subscribe to universalism but leave open the possibility and maybe even likelihood that there may be some who make it to heaven who didn’t go through the traditional route.

    1. Bryan:

      My main question was whether you would follow and devote your life to God if there was no afterlife. Your answer seems to be yes you would but only because you wouldn’t know there actually was no afterlife. You say you couldn’t care less if there were an afterlife meanwhile maintaining that you don’t want to stop existing and you look forward to an afterlife. That’s not exactly being indifferent.

      Perhaps I could have been clearer: The reason I don’t want to die is not because I fear simply ceasing to exist or the annihilation of my soul. The reason is because I am fascinated by the trajectories of history. I want to be around to see where mankind is going. I want to see the evolutionary pathways life takes in the eons to come. It’s my love of natural and human history, scientific advancement, and science fiction that makes me want to stick around beyond my natural life span. I’m somewhat attached to this life because that is all I know and have ever known.

      The Christian Scriptures are amazingly silent on the afterlife; much of what is popularly written on heaven is either total conjecture and/or horrible exegesis. I can only imagine that the prospect of seeing Jesus face to face would be fantastic, but without a frame of reference, there is not much else in Scripture that attracts me to the beyond. Since I dwell with God now — since I walk in His Kingdom now — I have a hard time contemplating eternity and I end up not thinking much about it. Too much to do for the Kingdom here and now. Hence, my apparent indifference.

      Regardless, I would be (and am!) extremely happy to follow God in this life, even with no prospect of life beyond this one.

      All your answers seem to presuppose an afterlife and never for once take serious the fact that you don’t believe in an after life but only that you are unsure there is one.

      Maybe it was my previous preoccupation with futurist (as well as personal) eschatology that drove me toward a healthier spirituality. I recognized how much time it was wasting. Now, I live my life as if there isn’t an afterlife and I enjoy as much of it as I can, knowing I’m doing my best to advance the Kingdom of God among men. I will admit, of course, that I hope the Scriptures are correct. But my actions in furthering the Kingdom of God are borne out of love for God, not out of fear of His wrath. Perfect love drives out all fear, no? And it is in Jesus that I feel perfectly loved. Love drives me, not hope. I desire no reward other than the satisfaction that I’ve done what has been asked of me to the best of my ability.

      BTW in the interest of full disclosure, I am an annihilationist and don’t subscribe to universalism but leave open the possibility and maybe even likelihood that there may be some who make it to heaven who didn’t go through the traditional route.

      Quid pro quo. I subscribe to a similar view called “conditional immortality,” although I don’t believe that an unbeliever’s spirit is annihilated. As a monist, I do not accept the traditional bi-/tripartate division of the human being, although I do believe that God does, in some way, preserve the core of a believer’s person (“a seed, perhaps,” as Paul puts it) for life in a new bio-spiritual body. For the unbeliever (however God defines such), he simply ceases to exist, exactly like the rest of the animal kingdom.

      I would love universalism to be true, but I cannot see how such a philosophy can be exegeted from Scripture.

  20. Cliff: You said:

    And while I’m not certain that eternity will provide no opportunity to change our preferences, to recognize our error, and finally choose God, I suggest it is pure folly to suppose (as you seem to the O.P. and as commenters like Nick do) that we could choose the hellish existence of self-gratification now, and later enjoy some sort of welcome into the very existence we rejected all our lives long.

    Exactly! I also suggest that it is “pure folly to suppose that we could choose the hellish existence of self-gratification now, and later enjoy some sort of welcome into the very existence we rejected all our lives long.” That’s one of the reasons I’m not a universalist!

    1. And I am in no way arguing here for universalism. I am reacting to the naive notion expressed in statements such as yours: “If universalism were true then I’d sin boldly.” What? If the true God is the God of George MacDonald, he is the most winsome and attractive of God’s imaginable (imo)! Anyone who, in the face of such a graceful, loving and forgiving God would choose to “sin boldly” is just weird to me. It is like saying “if my wife will always forgive me anyway, because she is so loving and kind, I’m going to screw any woman I want as often as I want.” I find myself much more motivated to serve a loving forgiving boss, than to serve a demanding, austere, punishing boss. Don’t you? Don’t you find it more difficult to keep slapping the face of the man who continually turns the other cheek, than the man who strikes you back? Forgiveness and grace motivate us to seek the King of the Kingdom!

      And it my view is at all accurate, no one embarks upon heaven’s shore short of full-fledged repentance! And, again in my view, such repentance is far easier to come by now than later. Always. So your statement about sinning boldly is tantamount to the alcoholic’s delusion that he can (and he is quite sure that he will) quit drinking … someday. Maybe he will. Maybe. But when he finally does, he will acknowledge that it would have been much easier to stop earlier than later!

      1. And if you understand my view (which could perhaps be called hopeful-universalism) you would see why evangelism is all the more compelling! Both because it is genuinely good news (as opposed to relying on the fear of hell to compel belief) and because it recognizes the importance of repenting NOW. Not to save my ass from the burning sulfurs; but because heaven’s doors are open NOW.

  21. Cliff: I’ll accept weird [to you], but not naive, as if to suggest that your view of universalism is the only one there is and the comments that I’ve made (and Jason as well) don’t reflect any view of universalism in currency.

    And no, I don’t find myself “more motivated to serve a loving forgiving boss, than to serve a demanding, austere, punishing boss,” to be honest. I find that love and fear are both great motivators (as I mentioned to Steve above). I serve and obey God because I love him and because I fear the one who is able to destroy both my body and soul in hell.

  22. I did not mean to offend, Nick, and I apologize if I did. However, it was your comment. You did say “If universalism were true then I’d sin boldly.” I don’t understand what you mean when you state that this comment doesn’t “reflect any view of universalism in currency.” What does it reflect?

    I do not know of anyone who holds to universalism who would agree that it leads to licentious living. Do you? If naive means lacking in experience and judgment, than I would have to say that only one inexperienced with the notion of universal salvation would ever say such a thing.

  23. Speaking of 19th century authors, Andrew Jukes has a wonderful little book called “The Restitution of All Things” that is available on line for free! It explains how Christian Universalism works, and is more consistent with the nature of God than eternal damnation. It is a bit of a challenge to get through because of the authors antiquated style, but the intelligence you gain makes the effort worthwhile.

    1. Thank you David. I read Juke’s book 35+ years ago, and lost track of it. (Maybe I loaned it to you???) It is excellent, and challenges not only the eternality of punishment, but also simplistic exegesis built upon 2nd year Greek understandings. Juke’s treatment, for example, of the aorist tense forever changed the way I read the Bible. Refreshing!

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