Saturday, June 15, 2019

Do We Really Want All to be Saved?

Evangelical Christians sometimes claim that we are “hopeful universalists.” This term can have a couple of different meanings. One is that we aren’t sure whether or not universalism is true, but we hope for the best. Another is that while we think universalism is not true, we wished it were. This is more or less not “hopeful” universalism as “wishful” universalists, but more people are familiar with the former term, so I’m co-opting it. I have said that I fall into this camp of people who think universalism is false, but wishes it were true. I began wondering, though, if I really didwish it to be true.

On the surface, this seems like a crazy question. Of course I want everyone to go to Heaven! But wanting everyone to go to Heaven as a collective group isn’t the same thing as wanting each individual person to go to Heaven. For one, I don’t know each individual person on Earth. But for another, there may be times where, though saddened, it’s appropriate to be satisfied with the result of eternal separation from God (indeed, I’ll argue briefly there are some cases where it would be inappropriate not to). I used the term “satisfied” in the previous sentence, and while it’s not quite right, I hope to explain where I am coming from.

Suppose someone engages in Hitler-like eugenics and genocide. Suppose they further do not repent, growing even stronger in their evil the more they are challenged. Suppose finally this person explicitly wants nothing to do with God and Jesus, and openly mocks them, claiming they hate God. While I am convinced God is—and we should be—grieved that one of his creations has made that choice, I think we intuitively perceive that this is just, and even a rightresult. It’s not the way things were meant to be, but it’s the right result: a defeat of evil, cast away from God and his redeemed creation.

If this is right, then universalists must maintain that there is a conversion for every such person; otherwise we have a situation which is fundamentally wrong. This is something, no doubt, most Christian universalists are happy to do. But it’s worth pointing out that even for those of us who wished universalism were true, there are some times where the only appropriate response is eternal separation from God. What do you think? Let me know in the comments!


  1. I share your intuitions. Of course, eternal damnation has a connotes images of people being dragged into Hell while digging their fingernails in to the floor. I suspect these sorts of connotations will be one of the many factors that will make these intuitions less obvious to others.

    1. Yeah, I think that's right. On my group facebook page (or something like that, anyway) someone seemed to be thinking this meant I wanted people to go to Hell. But I don't think the entailments transfer. That is, I think two things can be true: we can want justice for the unrepentant child rapist, for example, while being grieved at his unrepentannce and ultimate fate.

  2. If those in hell are in a state of objective alienation, by definition they ought not be there. If they ought not be there, hell is not just. That hell is alienation from God seems obvious and a necessary characterization from God. But retributivists in particular should have problems with this, which I take to count against retributivism rather than the alienation account of hell.

    To speak on Hitler, his transformation in some ways is greater than that of a saint, considering the demand on God shows the glory of God in a way the transformation of a saint cannot. Having the bad guys turned always makes for a preferrable story if justice is your chief concern.

    " It’s not the way things were meant to be, but it’s the right result: a defeat of evil, cast away from God and his redeemed creation."

    This is pretty confusing. The wrong result always detracts from the way things are supposed to be, and since hell is either a right result only or a wrong result only, hell can only be a wrong result provided it detracts from the way things should be. Hitler going to hell is not a a defeat of evil; people of God being forever alien to God is a defeat for God. Since people of God are not essentially evil, it is God's will that all be saved. Well, God's will *fails*. God's will *failing* hardly defeats evil.

    1. Err, Characterization *of hell*, not from God...

    2. Thanks for the comments! "If they ought not be there, hell is not just." This doesn't follow. For there is another reason they ought not be there: because they ought not to have rejected God. But Hell is a fitting place for those who finally reject God.

      Hell is a right result for those who finally reject God; it's the wrong result for the way things were meant to be: people were meant to enjoy fellowship with God.

      This all ties together with the final point: Hell as defeat of evil. It's unclear why Hell cannot be a defeat of evil; *given* their ultimate rejection of God, the right response is to banish evil from God and his people, which is what happens.

      This reflects the antecedent and consequent style of theologizing about the will of God, something not novel to me. Antecedent to sin, obviously all enjoy bliss; consequent to sin, we face judgment without repentance. *Given someone who won't repent,* it seems pretty straightforward separation from God is what is appropriate.

      Don't forget, there's two ways to critique this: internally (given what I say, is Hell just) and externally (as a matter of fact, is Hell just). It's always good to keep that in mind.

  3. Some of this is a question of mood. If we were honest there are plenty of times we desire the damnation of evil people or just people we do not like.
    At our most spiritual state we desire universal redemption.
    Does God will universalism and fail?
    Well, if God desires to give an offer then he can offered the world salvation without failing in giving the offer. even if he does not force it to happen.

    1. Thanks, Matt! I think you might be on to something.


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