Recently, I submitted a post for review to a forum on The Evangelical Universalist. It was in response to several people who asked for Scriptural support for Universalism. My reply is beneath the asterisks below.
I have several thoughts that have led me to believe that what I will call “Eventual Universalism” is a Scripturally supported belief. I will attempt to explain them briefly here.
Growing up a Calvinist, I struggled with simultaneously believing that “God is love” and that God’s design was reportedly going to inevitably end in the permanent damnation–whether expressed as eternal conscious torment, or permanent annihilation–of almost everyone who has ever lived. Noah’s flood is but a taste of the terror that God will unleash, according to that paradigm. (Let’s be clear–I believe that God’s judgment will be like Noah’s flood. 2 Peter is apparently very sold on the idea; however, we cannot extend analogy beyond reasonable bounds. God’s judgment on the people in Noah’s day was a mercy, for he sent them from living death to rest among the dead in Sheol. So a Hebrew would have likely believed.) Worse yet, as a Calvinist, I believed that the road to hell was paved by God Himself, and its inhabitants driven to “destruction” not by their own volition, but by a slavery that the Lord of Life could but refuses to deliver them from. And yet, “God is love.” God is not love in such a vision, and, in my view, not just, either. No father is called just for raping his daughter. And yet, the Calvinist would have us believe that God rapes almost every human who ever lived. And Universalism is the blasphemy?
Naturally, I could no longer accept such a low doctrine, that the Lord of Life populates the afterlife’s death row. I turned first to Molinism with Kenneth Keathley, and second to Arminianism with C.S. Lewis and N.T. Wright. Clearly, if the so-called “traditional view of hell” is true, it is not true because God has willed it. If it is true at all, it *must* be true because God has willed for other wills to strive victoriously against his own. (But wait… That sounds kind of like… Blasphemy.)
The above paragraphs represent VERY SHORT and VERY ABBREVIATED types of struggles that lead me to rethink my interpretation of Biblical eschatology. In short, it basically came for me to where the views I had grown up believing were the only options for Christians seemed to me more blasphemous, low, mean, and wicked than Universalism. (By the way, Universalism actually has the potential to make God *more* just. This idea of love bowing to punishment is kind of destroyed by the cross. Penal Substitutionary Atonement, which I have also come to reject, is a sad attempt to circumvent reality of the God who loves the sinner before his reform.)
Below, I will present the straws that broke the back of my eschatological camel.
“We must all die; we are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. But God will not take away life, and he devises means so that the banished one will not remain an outcast.” (2 Samuel 14:14)
If the woman speaking to David the King was right about God (I believe she was, and would cite the cross of Christ as evidence), what should we prima facia expect “eternal punishment” (Matt. 25:46) to look like? What should we prima facia imagine that the Creator God Almighty revealed in a King on a cross will do in the hereafter for those “who are perishing?”
Let’s not even rely on imagination. Let’s go to Scripture.
John 6:44 is in my view one of the most grossly interpreted texts of the Bible. In the English Standard Version, it reads thus: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” The Greek word rendered “draw” can be also be translated “drag.” I prefer this translation, because it seems to me more realistic. So who is the Father drawing? I believe that Jesus answers that question in John 12:32. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw *all people* to myself” (asterisk emphasis mine). If Christ truly reveals the Father as an image and not a mirage, who is the Father dragging to himself? *All people.*
So that is one case. Well and good. Are there other verses from Scripture that support Universalism? I think so. I will list a few below.
“Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:18-19. For how many men will the act of righteousness bring justification and life?)
“And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, the Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob…” (Rom. 11:26)
“For God has consigned everyone to disobedience, that he may have mercy on everyone.” (Rom. 11:32. How many does God want to have mercy on?)
“If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:15. Doesn’t Jesus say that a person who follows him in this life *will* have fruit? And yet Paul has it that a person with no good fruit will be saved.)
“When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.” (1 Cor. 15:28. How many will be subject to the son?)
“…that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Cor. 5:19. God is reconciling the entire world to himself. Who is going to be left out?)
“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11. Shall we imagine that the tongue that confesses the Lordship of Christ is not a repentant tongue?)
“This is good and pleasing in the sight of God our savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4. Shall we imagine that God is *incapable* (Arminianism) of accomplishing or *unwilling* (Calvinism) to accomplish that which he desires?)
“…for we have set our hope on the living God, who is the savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” (1 Tim. 4:10. For how many people is the living God the savior of?)
“He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole cosmos.” (1 John 2:2. To how many does the atonement extend?)
“By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life… Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 21:24-27 and 22:1-5. Why is it specified that the gates will never be shut? Why is the image of the Book of Life from the Pentateuch, a Book whose entries can be changed, the image that is used in Revelation to describe the saved? Why does it say that no longer will there be *anything* accursed? Why doesn’t it say no longer will anything be accursed *in the holy city?* Why is it that not “anything” will be accursed?)
Anyways. These are only a few passages that to me seem to point towards Universalism, if we are open to their leading. It is unfortunate to me that many are *not* open to their leading, but I am thankful for a God who justifies the ungodly, so that neither I nor my theological “enemies” need be right before we are loved by God and might right with him through faith in Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace and Lord of Life.
As an appendix, I would point out that the Greek word “eternal” has more to do with a quality than a duration. Strictly speaking, the word should mean without beginning or end, if taking absolutely literally (as many seem intend on doing). If “eternal punishment” (Matt. 25:46) obviously has a beginning, why should we imagine that it *cannot* have an end?
*** At the end of the day, our faith should not be in Universalism or Particularism, but on Christ and him crucified, foolishness to the academy and a scandal to the religious. It is on him that my hope is set. ***
P.S. Please feel free to question and criticize my views. I love dialogue that is fueled by the desire to “seek the Lord and live.” (Amos 5:6)
The same invitation is extended to you. Please feel free to question, criticize, and reject my view.
~ David Abrams