Saturday, 26 March 2011


Rob Bell’s book Love Wins seems to have kicked up a lot of interest/discussion/name calling/heresy hunting about Universalism so I thought I’d have a go of putting my views in a blog.  I am no theologian just an average Christian battling with his faith to make sense of it in the world in which we live so I won’t, hopefully, be using theological terms but ones that my brain can understand.

According to Theopedia “Universalism is the theological view arguing that all persons will ultimately be "saved". Some also teach that there is no such thing as a literal hell or eternal punishment.” and so that is the definition I’ll use.  The problem, as I see it, starts with our perception of the nature of God.  A Just God has to condemn sinners to eternal punishment (unless in their mortal life they ‘accept the Lord Jesus as their personal saviour’) but a Loving God has to draw all of His creation to Him. However God is both Loving and Just so neither answer can be correct.

For some years, influenced I think by C S Lewis’s ‘The Last Battle’, I have believed that non-Christians can enter God’s Kingdom but that they do so only because of the work of Jesus, an equal part of the triune God, on the cross.  I couldn’t imagine a heaven that wouldn’t include people like former UN Secretary General U Thant or that great lover of peace and justice Gandhi.  However, until recently that was as far as my thinking went, I still believed in eternal punishment in hell.

It was only when I started to think about God as not only the creator of everything but also the sustainer of everything that my view started to develop further.  Could a loving God sustain someone in eternal torment?  Was that even just? It doesn’t seem so to me so I had to develop a different view of hell.

In Revelation there are references to the second death and this to me is the key.  Hell is not eternal torment but a second death were evil is permanently destroyed.  What happens after death remains a mystery but I believe that those who, even then, reject God will cease to exist so that God can bring His creation to perfect fruition.

So are my view universalist? To me the answer is both yes and no. I believe that in the end God will draw all things to himself but in doing so evil will cease to exist.


Christine said...

Interesting thoughts, Hugh, thank you! I've been musing about that for a while and I guess I mostly agree with your reasoning. I just don't get how a loving God can either eternally punish or eliminate people he has created (especially not when I assume that faith depends on God's mercy at least as much as on personal effort).

If evil ceases to exist, that's enough justice for me... What further complicates things though, is that no one is 100 % good or evil, i.e. elimination of evil does not seem to be a matter of dividing up the fold, but of changing and healing.

Yet, what about those refusing to be changed by God? I am told that God leaves humans the freedom of choice, and I like the idea, but what does that do to the possibility of universal redemption then? Things don't add up yet. Maybe we just have to wait till we see for ourselves...

Still Breathing said...

Christine, Thank you for your comment. I don't claim to have all the answers but I do think we are all 'tried' to some extent with the evil burnt away leaving only the good.

Ron Krumpos said...

Which Afterlife?

In his new book "Love Wins" Rob Bell seems to say that loving and compassionate people, regardless of their faith, will not be condemned to eternal hell just because they do not accept Jesus Christ as their Savior.

Concepts of an afterlife vary between religions and among divisions of each faith. Here are three quotes from "the greatest achievement in life," my ebook on comparative mysticism:

(46) Few people have been so good that they have earned eternal paradise; fewer want to go to a place where they must receive punishments for their sins. Those who do believe in resurrection of their body hope that it will be not be in its final form. Few people really want to continue to be born again and live more human lives; fewer want to be reborn in a non-human form. If you are not quite certain you want to seek divine union, consider the alternatives.

(59) Mysticism is the great quest for the ultimate ground of existence, the absolute nature of being itself. True mystics transcend apparent manifestations of the theatrical production called “this life.” Theirs is not simply a search for meaning, but discovery of what is, i.e. the Real underlying the seeming realities. Their objective is not heaven, gardens, paradise, or other celestial places. It is not being where the divine lives, but to be what the divine essence is here and now.

(80) [referring to many non-mystics] Depending on their religious convictions, or personal beliefs, they may be born again to seek elusive perfection, go to a purgatory to work out their sins or, perhaps, pass on into oblivion. Lives are different; why not afterlives? Beliefs might become true.

Rob Bell asks us to reexamine the Christian Gospel. People of all faiths should look beyond the letter of their sacred scriptures to their spiritual message. As one of my mentors wrote "In God we all meet."

Karin said...

All I can say, is what is wrong with universalism? If God is loving, why would he not want to draw everyone to him? Also, how do we know how God defines justice? We seem to have endowed God with a narrow idea of human justice. A loving parent will forgive their child far more than anyone else might. In some cases they may well find themselves able to forgive a child who has killed a sibling. Some people can even forgive strangers who kill their children. Surely God's ability to love and forgive is even greater than ours.

Then our modern understanding of Psychology shows us that most people who do bad things have been treated badly or not taught how to behave well. I suspect God worked that all out some time before we did. We may have to punish people to stop them harming others, but surely that won't be necessary in the afterlife, if there is one.