As I continue to read arguments both pro and con regarding Patristic Universalism, I continue to find new discussions which bring up new arguments on the subject, both pro and con. One of the hardest things to work with is those who taken the Bible in a very wooden manner. That is, they are strict literalists who will insist that the Bible is inerrant and “God-breathed.” What is said there was given to the prophets and the Apostles word for word, and you dare not question their interpretation, by God, because the Bible says exactly what it means. Such an example I found this week would be Tim Challies, who has a whole series of blogs on how God hates. I wonder if Tim has a similar set of blog pieces dedicated to God’s love. I am doubting it. Some people just have to wallow in dislike of others. I know. I lived that myself (to my everlasting shame) when I was a Fundamentalist. Everyone else but our brand of Fundamentalism was wrong, and most of them hell-bound forever.
You know why I think I gravitated to that way of thinking? Because if I was on the right side of the theological aisle, that made me right instead of wrong, and I had spent a whole lifetime being told I was a loser, wrong, an idiot, stupid, etc. The result of such psychological abuse from family and associates results in highly dysfunctional thinking, and I was the king of such thinking in my younger years. The sad part is that it still clings to me like a sticky, wet film, even though I have come to recognize how wrong it is. I honestly believe that some people, like me, think that God will only love them if they are 100% theologically pure. Anything less and KAPOWIE!!! into hell with you! They are scared spitless of the One who loves them dearly.
Then there are those who try to pass themselves off as major-league theologians, such as this erroneous webpage, where the author states that Patristic Universalism is fatally flawed. The author of the piece, Jack Zavada, says the following:
Sorry, Jack, but in the original Greek (rather than the horrendous mistranslation you are using), none of those verses teach that. There are numerous Universalist webpages which will show you, dear reader, why these verses do not mean what Jack claims they do, therefore, I will abstain from further elucidation on the subject.
But to the pro side of the argument and the title of today’s writing. I encountered an interesting little piece on the Internet in which the writer posted the following question as a heading: Did Jesus Die for All?
Excellent question. Here are some of the questions he asks, using Bible verses (for all you sola scriptura folks out there) with my commentary in bold red. All verses are hyper-linked to Blue Letter Bible for your reading.
God will have all to be saved (1Ti 2:4) Can His will be thwarted? A most legitimate question. The usual answer is “But man has free-will!” Really? So the will of man trumps the will of God? Do you realize what you just said? That means that if puny, weak, nothing man can trump God’s will and be victorious, then you have no guarantee that Satan won’t do the same thing and throw God off His throne, as He wishes to do. You better think about that some more. While you are thinking, consider this regarding God and man’s free will.
God desires all to come to the knowledge of the truth (1Ti 2:4) Will His desire come to pass, or is it just a weak wish? Same as above. Is God all-powerful or not?
Jesus came to save all. (John 12:47) Will He succeed or fail? Excellent question. I can’t begin to tell you how many people will say that the majority of all mankind will wind up eternally separated from God in torment, and in the same breath, declare this to be a wonderful victory for God. That’s like declaring war on an enemy, having him destroy three-quarters of your town and take the people hostage, and then going around saying you won the war. Nonsense! (My real feelings are stronger than this, but I want to keep this family friendly.) And to the point of this blog piece – does all mean all or not?
In Adam all are condemned, in Christ all live (Romans 5: 15-21) Again, does all mean all? One of the most wretched dances I’ve ever witnessed to deny this verse comes from Calvinists who try to say that “all” means “all of the elect.” Calvinism is a ……………never mind. Again, I want to keep it family friendly. Let’s just say that Calvinism insults the character of God.
In Adam all die, in Christ, all live. (1 Corinthians 15:22) One of the strongest verses I’ve seen to declare that God leaves none of His children behind to be devoured by the evil one, even the most wicked and worst of His kids is included. (Yes, Virginia, even Adolf Hitler!) Remember, Saul of Tarsus [i.e. St. Paul] was a murderer just like Hitler. The only difference is in quantity, not quality. God saved Saul, God is not so weak that He can’t eventually save Schicklgruber.
All are reconciled unto God (Col 1:20). Does all really mean all, or only all of a certain class?
God will have mercy on all (Romans 11:32) All?
Jesus died for all (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). There’s that word all again! Did He die in vain? How can you possibly see the Cross as a victory if all do not eventually make it Home?
Honestly, there are another forty verses listed by this site, all of them stating the simple question: does all really mean all? As I study, I have to come to a couple of conclusions:
First conclusion: It is no wonder that the Early Church developed a strong universalist eschatology. They simply believed that which Christ taught. This was the really Good News, that death would not be victor. It is that which we joyfully chant in our Paschal Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, “by death He conquered death.” This was the message of the first century. It was not “Have you accepted Jaaaaaayzuz as your personal Lord and Savior” It was the message that Paul spoke on Mars Hill to the Athenian philosophers, a message to strange to them that many of them said, “We will hear thee again of this matter.” (Acts 17:32)
Now think on this – if even one human being is left in the state of death, then this is a bald-faced lie. If all do not eventually come Home to God, then not Christ, but death has won. And that is true also if you believe in annihilation. Only by restoring all to life and resurrecting all from death does Christ win. Anything less is not a complete victory, and the ideas of Roman Catholic seers, who claim that the vast majority of beings go to eternal torment, are so far from a victory over death that it ain’t funny!
Second conclusion: those who promote the idea of an eternal hell of burning fire have been highly influenced by the pessimistic anthropology of Augustine and the pagan ideas of an offended and angry God. As one Orthodox bishop said upon hearing a description of God sending sinners into eternal torment, “That is not Jesus you believe in. That is Zeus.” Somewhere along the line, Augustine’s ideas of man as utterly worthless (a massa damnata) and deserving to be tormented eternally caught on in the West and spread like wildfire. The picture we have of sinners is not of children gone astray, but of beings more evil than the devil himself (and some have certainly in history acted in such fashion), who are rotten and corrupt to the core (rather than sick and needing the Physician to heal them), and deserving nothing but contempt (think Jonathan Edwards here). What a lamentable picture to paint of God’s children, even as bad as some of them can be.
Final Conclusion: eternal hell has become a very nice weapon with which to terrorize the masses into behaving. The laughable part of all this, reading what Justinian said, is that scaring the hell out of people by preaching hell simply has not worked. Oh, there have been a good number who have obeyed the Bible because they were terror-stricken by the thought of eternal roasting over an open pit barbeque. Martin Luther is a good example of how this fear can make a person wild-eyed crazy. But he is also an example of the blowback that comes when that fear reaches critical mass and something has to give. For the great majority of people today – they have either left the Church in disgust over such a vile idea of God, or they are not afraid and live lives of open wickedness, not afraid of the hell that is preached to them. It ain’t working! If it was working, the thought of hell would have our churches filled every Sunday, instead of ballparks and golf courses. Everyone knows about hell. Very few people care. Justinian was wrong.
What is more attractive, love or hate? Who would you more freely love, someone who is a threat to your very existence if you don’t cross your “t’s” and dot your “i’s” just so, or someone who, knowing what a screw-up you are, would go to the wall for you anyway? Do I have to even answer that question?
I like what Rob Bell says: Love wins.