Hoping All Will Be Saved, Part 4: Hope and “the Hitler Types”
May 15, 2011 — 13:34

Author: Keith DeRose  Category: Uncategorized  Tags: , , , , ,   Comments: 29

“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem…”

I’m taking the phrase “the Hitler types” from a post by Richard Mouw (my former teacher at Calvin College: as if there weren’t enough Calvin connections in this series!). You may want to read Mouw’s whole post, but to set the context for the bit about Hitler, Mouw has stated clearly that he is not a universalist, and in explaining his position, he seems to have indicated that he agrees with Rob Bell that people who choose hell will get it, when he writes:

And I certainly do believe that some folks choose that hell. The Hitler types. The man who kidnaps young girls and sells them into sexual slavery. They are well on their way to hell, to becoming inhuman monsters. To be sure, as the hymn rightly reminds us: “The vilest offender who truly believes/ that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.” But for those who persist in their wicked ways, eternal separation is the natural outcome of all the choices they have made along the way.

And many have (especially recently) expressed finding it especially difficult to believe that the likes of Hitler (or Tony Soprano, in the case of an odd opinion piece in the NYTimes by Russ Douthat!) might make it to heaven. Why? Well, the most natural explanation for the special problem here would be that these “Hitler types” are especially bad. Picking up on that, together with Mouw’s later-expressed openness to hope that people might be able to accept Christ after death, one colorful comment to Mouw’s post reads:

But then, you do affirm hell to be a real place, sir. Full of those “Hitler types” and pedophiles. As for the rest of us gossips, slanderers, and adulterers of the heart, things are looking up. Turns out, God is a God of multiple chances. In this life, and the next.

I don’t think Mouw’s special problem with Hitler types going to heaven is directly that they are just too bad to make it in. Mouw does after all immediately go on to indicate his agreement with the hymn that even the “vilest offenders” can be pardoned, so if there are chances after death (which I don’t read Mouw as necessarily endorsing, but as at least hoping for and not ruling out), it would seem possible that even the vilest offenders might have a chance. My guess is that Mouw’s thinking is that the “Hitler types” are especially unlikely to turn to Jesus, even if they do get the chance to do so after death: They are very solidly in the “choosing hell” column now, and there’s little reason to think they won’t continue to be so.
And so, certain individuals are thought to be especially problematic for universalism. The main reason for thinking they don’t wipe out hope (or so it seems to me) is that we know already from this life that even the most dramatic turnarounds are possible – and we get a pretty good example of such a turnaround in Acts in the case of Saul/Paul, who seems to have been a bit of a “Hitler type”–the “chief of sinners” to use his own (translated) way of expressing that he was “the vilest offender.” (It is perhaps no coincidence that the best scriptural grounds for thinking that Christ’s act of righteousness actually might lead to acquittal and life for all people are from the writings of one who had been something of a Hitler type himself before being redeemed.) My response in my on-line defense of universalism: “We know that some in this life have been only been moving further and further away from accepting Christ. And some people can be very obstinate. And some have become incredibly evil in this life. But, on the other hand, even in this short life, we all know of instances in which people having all three of these problems to a great degree who were brought around and were saved. So, again, I see no grounds for pessimism that an infinitely resourceful God, who is able to take as much time as He needs, will be able to win over everyone eventually.” Of course, I am here supposing that God’s ability to save people continues after their death, and that God does indeed desire that all people will be saved, but given those assumptions, which seem correct to me, I see little reason to give up hope here. (And without those assumptions, hopelessness seems to spread far beyond the Hitler types, so I’m seeing not much of a special problem in these cases.)
Victims and (perhaps even more so) the loved ones of victims of cruel and horrible evils may find the idea of the perpetrators of these evils ever escaping hell revolting. (And I imagine that some of the loved ones of some of the victims of the worst abuses of Saul’s might have found it difficult to hope for his salvation.) This of course doesn’t apply to all of the victims or loved ones of victims: some are astoundingly gracious about this. (A wonderful example of someone adopting a gracious point of view is given in this account of a 9/11 survivor.) Those of us who hold that or hope that even the perpetrators of the worst evils of this world may eventually be reconciled with their victims & with God should recognize that the resistance some people feel to such a view and to such a hope can be coming from a good place — concern for the victims and for justice — even as we think this resistance is somehow ultimately wrong. And while we may hold that joining God in hoping or desiring that all people will be saved is some kind of ideal, we should at the same time recognize that in our messy world, not all cases of adopting this hope would be changes for the better: For some who don’t hold this hope, some of the nearest versions of themselves who do hold such a hope may do so because they are not as concerned for those who have suffered. We certainly don’t want to encourage them to become such versions of themselves.
I strongly encourage those of an opposite point of view to take a similar attitude. If you for instance think that all who fail to accept Christ before death will suffer eternal conscious torment, and you think that this is made clear enough that in some good sense we should not even hope for a better fate for them, you may think that in some sense not hoping for, say, the wellbeing of a deceased loved one is some kind of ideal. (This way of thinking seems very alien to me, but that’s not surprising: the differences in points of view here are very great.) But you can still recognize that those who hold such a hope may be coming from a very good place, and that in our messy world, not all cases of abandoning such hope would be changes for the better.

  • A.P. Taylor

    Keith, nice post. I’ve encountered the Hitler objection on many many occasions, and I think every universalist really has grapple with it at some point.
    A couple of notes:
    1) I think what drives the Hitler objection to universalism in many cases is the apparently strong belief that the possibility of Hitler’s redemption, either pre- or postmortem undermines the very seriousness of Hitler’s transgressions. I think some people have a strong sense that if Hitler comes to be in the same blessed state as his victims in the hereafter, then nothing anyone does ultimately matters, and choices become irrelevant. This is far from the universalist understanding however. As we see it, earthly pains are just that: pains. Hitler caused not only his victims, but also himself, a great deal of suffering (remember that this poor wretched soul took his own life in a lonely bunker, literally cut off from the rest of the human race. And most universalists belive his choices would have led him to postmortem suffering of a purgative and restorative sort. Who knows what length, or what form, such suffering takes, but my guess is it is not something to be scoffed at or taken as a mere cosmic “slap on the wrist.”
    2) Universalists like myself, who endorse determinism, have less of a problem here. No one is so far gone that God cannot and will not bring them around. I used to be an open theist, but I have abandoned that view. My thinking is that God knows, and has revealed to us, that all will be saved. Including Hitler and those like him. But I realize that many universalists find determinism anathemetic.

    May 15, 2011 — 15:07
  • Keith DeRose

    Thanks, Adam. I’m not sure about the “less of a problem” bit. I’m an open theist, and come by that position honestly, by which I mean quite independent of any theological motivation. (I’d be into the open future in the relevant way even if I were an atheist.) Though some think open theism helps with the problem of evil, and they may ultimately be right, that’s certainly far from clear, and I don’t claim any theological advantage there. But neither do I find combining open theism with my optimistic eschatology to cause any real special problems — though I know that some disagree with me there. I discuss the issues a bit in my Appendix on “Free Will and Universalism” here.

    May 15, 2011 — 16:55
  • Jon Kvanvig

    Keith, I appreciate the argument at the end, an argument for a bit of sensitivity to human flaws and foibles. The moral status here is perplexing to me, and I thought I’d say something about how I see things, at least in the autobiographical case. I’ve succumbed to the paralysis of a conflict between perceived right and known defects of motivation, of the sort highlighted by those who, when adding hope, attend insufficiently to the plight of victims. I see the sense of dilemma here, but have decided that the worry about bad motives can be overdone. The same argument is common when responding, for example, to the Psalms of vengeance, where the argument goes something like this: do not pursue justice because you are human and you will end up pursuing revenge instead.
    There’s something to be concerned about here, but also something worrisome. We should attend to our motives, but we must favor doing what is right even in the face of regrettable motives, over not doing what is right because we will sully the right with our bad motives.
    So if hoping is the right thing to do, as I think it is, even those who know they will hope in a regrettable way should still hope. It is better to hope and experience the remorse of doing what is right under a regrettable mode, than to allow a perverse focus on one’s own soul to paralyze one from efforts, however small and insignificant, to participate in the redemption of everything fallen.

    May 15, 2011 — 18:35
  • Keith DeRose

    That’s very interesting, Jon. These action vs. proper motivation issues are important to think through. And I’m very much on-board with the thought that it’s often best to NOT let worries about motivations stop you from acting on behalf of people. That can work out in different ways, though. Sometimes it might make sense to construe hoping for someone as being the relevant action, and such thinking can lead one to go ahead and hope, even though it will in some ways be done in a regrettable way. But hoping is fairly close to motivation, and there are many situations where hope can get itself opposed to the proper compassionate action, and then the thing to do will be to pursue the right action, even if it means one’s hopes aren’t optimal.
    Here’s how that can work out. Suppose you have someone who would be perfectly able to hope for the salvation of all if she were to have some job like, say, being a banker — or a philosopher. But, compelled by compassion for victims of the practice, she feels her calling is to fight sex trafficking. However, she finds that when she gets involved in that fight, and finds herself struggling against traffickers, she finds them so loathsome that she is completely unable to sincerely hope for anything good for them (though she is able to check her actions against them, so that she doesn’t engage in any undue cruelty). She realizes the ideal situation would be one in which she fights like the devil against them, while having the attitude of an angel toward them, but as that ideal is out of reach for now, she faces a choice. And I think–and I’m guessing you’ll think–that in such a case the thing to do might well be to join the fight, and not let worries about not having the proper hopes stop her.

    May 15, 2011 — 19:45
  • Thanks for a very thoughtful series of posts, Keith. A couple of supplementary comments:
    First, although I fully agree with your assertion that Saul of Tarsus “seems to have been a bit of a ‘Hitler type’” himself, I’m inclined to express the point even more emphatically than that. For Saul seems to have hated the earliest Christians every bit as much as Hitler hated the Jews. According to the self-description attributed to him in I Timothy 1:13, moreover, he was “a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence”; and even as he prepared to set out for Damascus, he was “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of Lord” (Acts 9:1). Unlike Hitler, of course, he did not have 20th century technology or the power of a modern state at his fingertips. So in that sense he was in no position to persecute and murder anything like as many people as Hitler did. But from a moral perspective, I doubt that this counts for much.
    Second, it is worth reflecting, I think, on just what would best satisfy our legitimate desire for justice in the case of truly monstrous evil. Here is my own thought as I have expressed it elsewhere: “At the very least, the ones responsible for terrible atrocities must learn a hard lesson; in particular, they must be made to appreciate the horror of their own actions. But the paradox is this: Only someone on the road to redemption, only a forgiven sinner, can fully appreciate the horror of even the most monstrous acts. So long as an Adolf Eichmann remains merely a monster, an irrational remnant of a person, nothing he might endure spitefully, like a tormented animal, will teach him the hard lesson we want him to learn. Do we not want him to reclaim enough of his humanity to admit that he was wrong and to appreciate why he was wrong? Do we not want his illusions stripped away, so he can stand naked before his Creator? Only when the light finally breaks into his darkened understanding, only when the divine forgiveness begins its work of transformation, will he begin to appreciate the meaning of his punishment and the true nature of his evil deeds; and then, of course, he will already be on the road to redemption. According to our alternative [non-Augustinian] picture, therefore, a just order will never fully be restored until Adolph Eichmann comes to love his victims so tenderly that he would gladly suffer on their behalf even as they have already suffered on his behalf.”
    Such a perspective no doubt raises a host of debatable issues. But anyway, thanks again for an excellent series of posts.

    May 15, 2011 — 23:18
  • Keith DeRose

    Thanks for stopping by, Tom — esp. since it was to make such insightful points. Your thoughts about punishment, justice, and reconciliation have always rung true to me, and are especially important when addressing worries about the eventual salvation of those who have visited so much pain on others.
    Yes, in trying not to overstate the case, I think I may have ended up softpeddling Saul’s badness too much. It’s good to remember some of the details. However one comes down on the exact nature of the comparison, from what we are told about pre-conversion Saul, he seems to have been a real “Hitler type.”

    May 16, 2011 — 8:06
  • There are good arguments against universalism, but the Hitler argument is no good. (Actually, I think the case of Hitler is a particularly poor one. Hitler was, to a significant degree, mad. Whether that madness reduced his culpability “below the level of mortal sin” (as we Catholics might say), I do not know. But I do not have much reason to think that it did not.)
    That said, here’s a speculative thought why the argument gets made so often. Protestants stereotypically believe in only heaven and hell, not purgatory. So maybe some Protestant critics of universalism imagine that universalism is the view you get when you drop hell from the list of eschatological states. But then you only have one state, heaven, and you do have a real problem with gravely and culpably morally deformed people, like the wretch I was when I was tightly held by habits of mortal sin (not that I am not a wretch in many ways still).
    So maybe there is a PR issue for universalists here. Universalists should make a point of emphasizing that on their view, if anybody dies in a gravely and culpably morally deformed state, there is going to be serious purgative suffering for however long it takes. They should make it clear that the view is compatible with the amount of time being really long and the degree of suffering being really high. Doing this would also have the pastoral benefit of providing something a bit like the motivational force that a belief in hell carries in respect of the avoidance of grave sin. (Yes, it’s much better better to avoid sin out of love for God than out of fear of hell. But it is also much better to avoid sin out of fear of hell than to commit sin.)

    May 16, 2011 — 9:04
  • John Alexander

    This is kind of an obvious point I suppose, but are not ‘Hitler types’ problems because we, as imperfect beings, cannot find it in ourselves to forgive them for what they have done? It seems that there are simply some crimes and persons that are beyond redemption for our perspective.
    The main issue I have with universalism (probably a naive one) is not that it is not consistent with the idea of a loving God who keeps the opportunity for grace and salvation open to all, but that if we are all saved at the end, why put us through all this misery and suffering? If it is part of God’s plan that like the Prodigal ‘Son’ we will all eventually return to the fold then why set up a situation where we are cast out in the first place? Even if we are cast out as a result of our own choices knowingly and freely made, if universalism is true then He must know that eventually we will return so it seems to make the journey pointless and unnecessary. Universalism does not seem to be able to answer the problem that an injustice is still an injustice even if it is resolved at the end.

    May 16, 2011 — 10:27
  • Keith DeRose

    But that’s all been done already, Alex — and the “good arguments against universalism” have been answered 🙂
    I guess when dealing with a PR problem, it’s not a matter of making the needed points, but getting those points out there. But with the mischaracterizations* being pumped out with industrial strength (I’m thinking here of such things as what ordinary people in Christian churches are told at church about what universalism is like, what they hear on Christian radio stations, etc.), it’s hard to keep up.
    (*Of course, part of what makes this tricky is that the popular “mischaraterizations” are true of views that do also go by the name of “universalism” — and so are not outright mischaracterizations, since they do truthfully ascribe views that are actually held. But these depictions mislead in hiding the forms of universalism that are not correctly so characterized.)
    I mean, Tom Talbott has worked on these topics (& you get a sense of the kind of things he’s been saying in the paragraph of his comment above that starts with the word “Second”). And there’s been no lack of empahasis on these aspects of the view. But to what the *vast* majority of evangelical Christians hear about universalism, it hasn’t mattered one bit. They are still told, with great authority, that according to universalists, what you do simply doesn’t matter, because, you know, universalists don’t take sin seriously, etc. (& that Christ’s sacrifice was completely unnecessary, etc.)
    So I certainly agree about the PR problem….

    May 16, 2011 — 10:56
  • Keith DeRose

    John: Why God allows such tremendous suffering in this world is of course a huge problem — it is a main form of the problem of evil. I don’t think I’m seeing why you think universalism makes this problem worse. To my thinking, it’s the standard views that make things worse by adding the “problem of hell” as a special, and in some ways especially problematic, instance of the more general problem of evil: “Yes, some people suffer horribly in this life, to no apparent purpose that we can see. And it’s hard to understand why God allows this. But at least on my view, there’s this: that things get even worse for a lot of them after they die, and they suffer horribly forever.”
    [Reading this comment over, it occurred to me that the last bit could be taken to be aimed at John–my putting into unflattering words what I took his position to be. So I’d like to add that that was not my intent. I don’t know what John’s position is, and wasn’t presuming to. I was just trying to illustrate how some (not all that rare) rival views might exacerbate the problem of evil, to make the point that universalism by comparison may actually mitigate the problem a bit.]

    May 16, 2011 — 11:25
  • John Alexander

    I know that this is the problem of evil (in one of its many forms and I am certainly not making any new advances, or have any new insights on this issue. My issue is, if God knows that universal salvation and happiness is going to be the end result and the result is a good one, then it seems to me that He is obligated to bring that end forth without any unnecessary misery or suffering. It is certainly within His power to create ‘saved’ and happy beings directly, if that is His desired outcome, unless He has a reason that justifies Him in not doing so. I do not see the reason and placing, a some do, this reason as knowledge that God possesses but that we do not does not help, it only hides the issues. Why hide the reason if it is such a good one and might help people to turn back to God if they knew what He was up to. If everyone is eventually going to be reunited in God, as Universalism suggests, then the issue is why did He not create a heavenly existence at the outset. Universalism does not make this worse, it just does not explain why we suffer when God knows that, as part of His plan, at the end, none of us will suffer any longer, but enjoy eternal happiness. The problem is that, in many instances, the suffering people experiences (the rape of a five-month old girl in Grand Rapids for example) is not of their own doing, but is visited upon them. The fact that they are eventually reunited with God does not make the instances of their suffering any less evil – and that is what,I think, Universalism (and any form of theism) needs to explain. But, as the literature, and experience demonstrates this explanation has not been made, at least not one that convinces me.
    I agree that the existence of Hell as a place of no return where beings suffer eternally is problematic, unless some beings are beyond redemption and forgiveness. But, of course, God should be able to forgive whom He wishes and do so by offering sufficient opportunities to be redeemed. And, according to Universalism, God must have create beings that are all capable of being saved given the right circumstances. If this is the case, then Hell is not a place of no return, but a place where the worst of beings can find redemption and then leave and be reunited with God. So maybe I will have to go to Hell to be convinced:-)

    May 16, 2011 — 13:49
  • Hi Alex,
    You make, I believe, a couple of excellent points. First, I quite agree with you that Hitler was probably mad. In fact, I recently saw a documentary indicating that, to keep him going, his doctor gave him a daily cocktail of terrible drugs—enough to scramble the brain of almost anyone. If I remember correctly, this cocktail included heroin and cocaine, but I do not recall the full details. I doubt, however, that Saul of Tarsus, the most infamous religious terrorist of his day, was similarly mad.
    Second, I also agree with you that we Protestants have neglected in a most unfortunate way the biblical warrant for something like purgatory, or at least for the existence of purgatorial suffering in the next life. For my own part, I don’t see how Paul could have expressed himself any more clearly on this point than he does in I Corinthians 3:10-15. For as he here insisted, “the Day” is coming when fire will test the works of Christian leaders and will consume some of their works as if they were wood, hay, or straw (vs. 12). Although those whose “work is burned up . . . will suffer loss,” they will nonetheless “be saved, but only as through fire” (vs. 15). As for the way in which we Protestants sometimes try to explain all of this away, here is a response that I recently made in a footnote:
    “Nor should one take seriously, in my opinion, the ways in which some Protestant theologians and commentators try to explain away the obvious purgatorial implications of Paul’s image here. Perhaps the silliest suggestion would make verse 15 out to be a metaphor for being “saved by the skin of one’s teeth”—as if this were an intelligible idea in Pauline theology and as if the relevant salvation were little more than fire insurance rather than, as Paul himself pictured it, a complete destruction of the old person or the false self. And not much better is the association of I Corinthians 3:10-15, where fire has a real work of testing to do and actually consumes that which is false in us, with Amos 4:11 and Zechariah 3:2, where the image is that of a brand being plucked from a fire. A far more relevant context would be Malachi 3:2-3, where we read: “But who can endure the day of his coming [my emphasis], and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like a fuller’s soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.”

    May 16, 2011 — 13:52
  • John Alexander

    Tom, Do not mean to butt in:-)
    “So long as an Adolf Eichmann remains merely a monster, an irrational remnant of a person, nothing he might endure spitefully, like a tormented animal, will teach him the hard lesson we want him to learn.”
    If AE (or any Hitler type) is irrational then how is it just to punish him? I am not suggesting that you think he should be punished, but the existence of Hell is certainly seen as punishment, is it not? If the type of transformation that you speak of is possible then I assume you think that Hell, as usually conceived, does not exist.

    May 16, 2011 — 15:18
  • Paul

    It seems like all the hopeful universalists I read hope that all will eventually be saved, some after spending some purgatorial time in hell (if you will). But shouldn’t hopeful universalists hoe that every human who has and will ever exist spend exactly no time in hell? Should they hope that all will be saved before the second advent, and before they die? So if we’re going to hope, shouldn’t we go all the way?

    May 16, 2011 — 18:23
  • Hi John,
    You wrote: “Tom, Do not mean to butt in:-).” Actually, you did mean to butt in; otherwise, you would not have done so. (Hee. Hee.) But that, of course, is perfectly appropriate. Is not the whole point of these electronic forums to permit one person to address another whenever he or she feels inclined to do so? So no need to apologize, and thanks for your comment.
    You are right. As a Christian universalist, I believe that God will in the end perfect every person whom he loves into existence in the first place. So if “hell, as usually conceived,” is either (a) a realm in which the Devil exercises a kind of infernal rule (as C. S. Lewis depicted it in The Screwtape Letters) or simply (b) a place of retributive punishment, then I do not believe in the existence of hell.

    May 17, 2011 — 11:56
  • Wes Morriston

    When my grandfather suddenly dropped dead, my own Dad was consumed by the fear that his Dad was lost forever in Hell. Why so? Well, Grandpa Morriston was certainly no “Hitler-type.” He wasn’t a sex-trafficker, and he was not “well on his way” to becoming any sort of “inhuman monster.” He was just an ordinary nice guy – a small-time barber in Parkersburg, West Virginia who tried to support a wife and five children during the Great Depression. By all accounts, he liked a good joke, and was a very kind man. So what was the problem? You’ve already guessed it. As far as my Dad knew, his Dad had not accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior. Given my Dad’s hyper-evangelical beliefs, it followed that his Dad had probably missed the boat and ended up in Hell.
    Eventually, my Dad stopped worrying about this. What gave him peace of mind, he said, was the thought that “God is just.” (Not, mind you, “God is love.” But “God is just.”)
    I wish I’d probed this more deeply while my Dad was still alive. What was it about the “justice” of God that gave him peace? Was he thinking that if Grandpa Morriston was in Hell that must be ok because God is just? Or was he thinking that Grandpa couldn’t be in Hell because that would be unjust? Was he perhaps secretly harboring the “hope” that his own theological position was false? I’ll never know for sure.
    What I do know is that it would have been both unjust and unloving to consign my grandfather to hell. This is not a close call; it’s what any reasonable person who is (to use Keith’s expression) “coming from a good place” should say. In a case like this, “concern for the victims” doesn’t come into it at all.
    And my point is? Well, I wanted to call attention to the fact that many evangelicals still have the hangup my Dad had. If the “Love Wins” guy can reach some of them, he’s doing them (and God, I should think) a real service. The same goes for Keith deRose and Tom Talbott!

    May 17, 2011 — 18:38
  • Heath White

    The PR situation may then be like this. Evangelicals worry that universalism is what you get when you drop hell from the list of eschatological states, leaving only heaven. The universalist counters that, no, there’s purgatory and post-mortem suffering. This implies, to the evangelical, a fairly radical rejiggering of the doctrines of salvation: that Christ’s atonement on the cross is not sufficient to get you into heaven, for example. It is no longer “salvation by faith alone.” And that is a bridge too far. So, by a series of modus tollens, no universalism.

    May 18, 2011 — 12:31
  • Jarrett Cooper

    Prof. Morriston,
    Isn’t saying God is love and God is just, two sides of the same coin?
    Certainly believing God is just will give one contentment. After all, God will do what is right (this is what one means when saying God is just).
    The question then seems to be that God isn’t going to put one in Hell. A person can give to another a similar account that you did for your grandfather. People will defend their loved ones. Some might say that she was not a monster, she came from a rough place, she was doing her best given the circumstances, if you truly knew her you would have seen things differently, she never hurt anyone, and so forth.
    After telling the above, people then go on, as I believe, to make the faulty judgement that there is no way God could send so and so to Hell. This is where a mistake has been made. I can certainly hope that each person takes heed to the Holy Spirit, but it’s not our place to say who is or is not saved. The most we can do is say this is what I think the criteria is to be saved, but in the end we’re not in the position to say if one is saved or not.
    I also want to second Pruss’s thoughts and add another. I think it’s important for advocates of universalism to not downplay or undervalue God’s judgement and therefore distort, as Darrell Bock has said, God’s grace, justice, and character. I have not read Rob Bell’s new book, but if it’s true what I read, that he downplays man’s accountability to God and God’s judgment of man, this all goes to show a distorted view of Scripture.

    May 18, 2011 — 13:55
  • Gordon Knight

    This has been an interesting discussion. A couple of random thoughts
    (1) as Regard “Hitler types”: Ordinarily when someone commits a heinous crime we think the person is adequately punished with either a long prison term or the death penalty. Neither of these punishments are anything comparable to an eternity in Hell. Either punishment is retributive or it is reformative. If its retributive it must fit the crime (and therefore must be finite), if its reformative then the possibility of ultimate salvation must be allowed as a possibility (and if it is God behind the reforming, a strong probability!)
    (2) Thomas More was by all accounts a gentle soul, yet he tortured heretics (an act I assume to be quite evil). Yet we can easily understand why TM would feel this sort of act necessary, even obligatory, if we assume that those corrupted by heresy will spend an eternity in hell.
    (3) I think Tom’s point about “Hitler characters” coming to moral self-knowledge is supremely important. We know, or at least I think I know, that in this life moral growth requires a painful process of realizing one’s mistakes. In hte ordinary case such mistakes do not involve genocide, but the realization is painful nevertheless (as well as reformative).
    (4) the idea that evil people get off somehow if they are not punished eternally assumes that being evil is somehow a good, if you can get away with it! But I would assume the Christian (as well a Platonist) view is that such individualare already damaged, already myhurt, whether they know it or not.

    May 18, 2011 — 15:59
  • “Yet we can easily understand why TM would feel this sort of act necessary, even obligatory, if we assume that those corrupted by heresy will spend an eternity in hell.”
    It sounds from wikipedia that historians are divided on the exact role of Thomas More in the torture of heretics. He himself seems to have denied it. It would be good to have someone who knows the history here.
    That said, I think universalism doesn’t remove the issue. Heresies spread and do not affect merely the heretic. In the case where wikipedia quotes Thomas More as allegedly approving of the burning of a heretic, it was a bookseller who “harbored” heretical books. Suppose a heresy adds five years in purgatory, and a bookseller causes there to be fifty heretics. Then he’s caused 250 years of purgatory. To cause such suffering would be a nasty deed, and it would be unsurprising if people in Thomas More’s time would have thought that deed sufficient of burning to death, too. (Besides, even apart from the issue of eschatological considerations, there would be the issue that heresy undermined the political system at the time. That doesn’t justify such harsh punishment, but many people in More’s time would have disagreed with me, independently of their belief in hell.)
    Personally, I think what is going on in regard to the persecution of heretics was (a) an inadequate grasp of how likely it is that a heretic might be inculpable by reason of being innocently ignorant of the truth, together with (b) an excessive dose of consequentialism.

    May 18, 2011 — 16:39
  • Wes Morriston

    Jarrett: Thanks for your comment.
    You write:

    Isn’t saying God is love and God is just, two sides of the same coin?

    Not sure what you mean here. In this context, justice would most naturally be taken to mean “getting what you deserve.” But evangelicals usually make much of the idea that God treats us far better than we deserve because God loves us so much.
    You also write:

    The most we can do is say this is what I think the criteria is to be saved, but in the end we’re not in the position to say if one is saved or not.

    You don’t say what you think the “criteria” for salvation are. But if it’s anything like the one I mentioned in my little post (“accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior”), then we all know lots of perfectly nice people fail to satisfy it before they die. If that is your criterion, then consistency requires you to say that those folks are in Hell and will stay there forever. (Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m assuming you think there are no “second chances” for the denizens of Hell.)
    Could this be the way things are? Not (I say) if God is just. And not (I say) if God is loving. “This,” you say, “is where a mistake has been made.” But it isn’t clear to me what you think my “mistake” is. Is it in my understanding of what love and justice require? Is it that you think the Bible clearly teaches what I am denying – that I am putting my human understanding up against the Word of God? If that’s what you’re thinking, then I suggest that you check out the case for the other side. Keith deRose and Tom Talbott have written very helpfully about the biblical case against eternal damnation. Read what they say with an open mind and maybe you’ll end up in a different place.

    May 19, 2011 — 13:57
  • Jarrett Cooper

    Thank you for the reply, Prof. Morriston,
    You write: Not sure what you mean here. In this context, justice would most naturally be taken to mean “getting what you deserve.” But evangelicals usually make much of the idea that God treats us far better than we deserve because God loves us so much.
    The point I was trying to make is that it is not possible to separate God’s justice from God’s love. God punishes (carries out justice) because he loves, and his loving nature makes him just. The reason I wrote that is because you wrote that your father said “God is just” rather than “God is love.” My attitude is that they are inseparable. What I take out from what your father said is that whatever happens to your grandfather, he (your father) knows it will be the just thing.
    You write: You don’t say what you think the “criteria” for salvation are. But if it’s anything like the one I mentioned in my little post (“accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior”), then we all know lots of perfectly nice people fail to satisfy it before they die. If that is your criterion, then consistency requires you to say that those folks are in Hell and will stay there forever. (Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m assuming you think there are no “second chances” for the denizens of Hell.)
    You’re right we don’t actually make the criteria, however we infer from Scripture and then reason what we think the criteria is to attain salvation. Certain Christian denominations may lay less stress on certain facets and on others not so much. (Certainly there are differing views of what qualifies to be and maintain salvation.)
    My personal view that that people can attain salvation even without actually professing Christ as Lord and Savior (at least until they meet and every knee shall bow…). I believe the Holy Spirit works to bring people to himself and those that heed the Holy Spirit and continue to do so will reach “final salvation.” I don’t believe this view is progressive or liberal. St. Paul seemed to affirm that the Gentiles who follow God’s law written on their conscience may very well reach final salvation. (Just to make clear, I’m a Christian exclusivist, and only though Christ is one saved.) What I’m saying is one can know of the Holy Spirit without preciously knowing Christ’s passion, the Gospel message, and so forth. With regards to “second chances,” Hebrews 9:27 seems to indicate there are none, but I can still hope for it. 😉
    You write: Could this be the way things are? Not (I say) if God is just. And not (I say) if God is loving. “This,” you say, “is where a mistake has been made.” But it isn’t clear to me what you think my “mistake” is. Is it in my understanding of what love and justice require? Is it that you think the Bible clearly teaches what I am denying – that I am putting my human understanding up against the Word of God? If that’s what you’re thinking, then I suggest that you check out the case for the other side. Keith deRose and Tom Talbott have written very helpfully about the biblical case against eternal damnation. Read what they say with an open mind and maybe you’ll end up in a different place.
    What I’m saying with regards to the “mistake” you have made is this: No one is in an epistemic position to know the final salvation of souls. None of us know the hearts of men. I can give the criteria (at least what I infer) for reaching final salvation and say if so and so meets these requirements then your saved, but we don’t know the final salvation of individuals. So this doesn’t have anything do with your view of justice and love per se, nor does it have to do with the view of universalism. Rather, it is with the fact that we’re not in the knowledge position to claim the final outcome of another’s soul. I’d hope DeRose and Talbott would agree with this. I believe I’ve rambled long enough.

    May 19, 2011 — 17:11
  • Keith DeRose

    Paul (MAY 16, 2011 6:23 PM): I imagine some do/will hope for all to be saved with no punishment. Most universalists will not, I suspect. Reasons will vary from person to person, but one or both of these two may be prominent for some universalists.
    1. That there will be punishment for some seems very well attested in the NT, so many will think there’s not enough epistemic room for hope for all-saved-with-no-punishment (while thinking there is room for hope that Christ’s act of righteousness actually will eventually lead to acquittal & life for all people).
    2. Many universalists will think it would be worse (in general and for the people involved) for there to be no punishment, either due to justice concerns or b/c they’ll think that punishment may be needed to get people into shape to enjoy fellowship with God, and they won’t be hoping for something they think is worse for the people involved.

    May 19, 2011 — 20:49
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    I’d like to suggest that the use of the concepts of “reward” and “punishment” in the context of soteriology is misleading. Consider two bad people, A and B, in our actual condition, i.e. on Earth. Suppose you implant a chip in A’s brain which punishes her with a jolt of pain every time she sins, and rewards her by stimulating the pleasure centers of her brain every time she follows one of Christ’s commands. B you leave alone. Suppose further that after a short while and after only little suffering A starts following Christ’s path, and after a longer while and after more suffering B too starts following Christ’s path. Now the question is this: Who is the greater person, A or B? Who has more value in God’s eyes (and in our eyes), A or B? I think quite clearly B is the greater person and has more value. Therefore God, who as the greatest conceivable being will desire the greatest possible eternal state that a created person may be in, will not create a world which operates through punishments and rewards (i.e. A’s condition), but a world of significant freedom where choices are not punished and rewarded but meet their natural deserts (good for good and bad for bad), even if that world entails a greater temporal suffering (i.e. B’s condition).
    It may appear that “a choice meeting its natural desert” means about the same as “a choice being rewarded or punished”, but there is a significant difference. The natural desert of a choice is not joy or suffering, but sanctification or debasement. Joy and suffering are only incidental byproducts of sanctification and debasement. The sanctified person moves closer to God in the way she is, and thus her experience of life cannot fail but be one of joy; whereas the person who debases herself moves farther from God, and thus cannot fail but suffer. It is in this relationship that God’s justice lies.
    I can restate the same idea thus: Suppose God decides to give A a fast ticket to heaven, i.e. to give heaven as a present to A, to simply make A be in a state of perfection. Whereas B must to through all the trouble of soul-building to get to heaven. Once both are in heaven, who experiences more happiness? I think that A, knowing that she does not deserve to be in heaven, will eternally feel less happiness than B, who knows she deserves to be where she is. Thus we can see that the arduous path to heaven is more rewarding than the easy path, in a way not dissimilar to how climbing a mountain is more rewarding than to be tele-trasported to its peak. Indeed, if it were possible for us to actually choose between getting into heaven as a gift or getting into heaven after a lot of effort, the rational choice would be the latter. Surely an eternity of greater happiness is the better choice, even at the cost of greater temporal suffering. Finally, I’d like to point out how Christ’s language in the Gospels is filled with profit related metaphors, which comports well with the idea that creation is such as to most profit us. I conclude therefore that an evils filled world in which one’s path towards a state of closeness to God is long and hard profits us more than an evils free world in which one’s path towards a state of closeness to God is easy and quick.
    A final point. The suggestion in the above paragraph that A is simply made in a state of perfection may be incoherent, because the concept of perfection may entail that it cannot be simply made by God. For example, if being in a state of perfection entails having the virtue of courage, then one cannot be made in that state. Why? Because in order to possess the virtue of courage one must have faced evils and overcome them. In other words, A above would not only be eternally less happy but also be in a lesser state of perfection in comparison to B. Thus an evils filled world profits us twice: it makes it possible for us to arrive at a greater eternal state of perfection, and it makes it possible for us to experience a greater eternal happiness. (The matter about courage leads to another thought: That it is only through incarnation, undergoing kenosis, and facing and overcoming evil, that God Him/Herself can be said to possess the virtue of courage.)

    May 20, 2011 — 1:41
  • Wes Morriston

    Dear Jarrett,
    To some degree, we’ve been talking past each other; and I apologize for my part in the misunderstanding. So let me be clear. In the post about my Dad’s worry about his Dad, I wanted to call attention to the fact that many evangelical Protestants hold the following views:

    (a) Adults must accept Jesus as Lord and Savior before they die in order to be “saved” from Hell.
    (b) No one ever escapes from Hell.

    This is what I was taught as a child. An old high school classmate tells me that I used to insist on these points and it scared him. (He is Jewish.) However, he says he was reassured when I unhesitatingly accepted the implication that Gandhi was in Hell. He figured that Hell couldn’t be that bad if Gandhi was there!
    I also wanted to point out that lots of ordinary decent people (not just saints like Gandhi) fail to satisfy (a). If (a) and (b) are both true, then those folks are in Hell and will be there forever. Once this has been pointed out, it is disingenuous for evangelicals who continue to accept both (a) and (b) to say, “Oh, but we don’t know the hearts of men; so it’s not for us to say whether those folks are perishing eternally in hell.”
    The issue is an important one, because (a) and (b) are clearly incompatible with both justice and with love. I don’t need to know all the secrets of my grandfather’s heart to know that he did not deserve eternal damnation. To say otherwise would commit me to an unreasonable degree of skepticism about the workings of other peoples’ minds.
    I do realize, of course, that some (many?) evangelicals have a more nuanced position than the “hardline” one I’ve described. It appears that you, at any rate, think there are exceptions to (a). I’m not completely sure what you think the class of exceptions is. So I won’t try to work out the implications of your position for Gandhi or my grandfather or anyone else.

    May 20, 2011 — 11:52
  • Wes:
    I think something like (a) is true, but it need not be the case that one has to accept Jesus under the description “Jesus” and that accepting him as one’s Lord and Savior requires an explicit doxastic or committive mental state whose content is precisely that Jesus is one’s Lord and Savior.

    May 20, 2011 — 13:41
  • Wes Morriston

    Could you say a bit more about what you have in mind? What sort of pre-morten “doxastic and committive mental state” (if any) is required for a person to make it into Purgatory and have a chance to escape Hell?
    If that’s the wrong way to put my question, maybe I can ask it this way. Let (a*) be the proposition that you believe to be true and that is “similar to (a).” What is (a*)?

    May 21, 2011 — 12:30
  • Wes:
    I don’t have a worked out story here. But as far as I know neither does anyone else. 🙂 Take someone who takes a really hard line and requires something like explicit belief. What is the proposition that is explicitly to be believed? Suppose it’s:
    1. That Jesus is the Lord and Savior.
    But now consider the following propositions:
    2. That the man who raised Lazarus is Lord and Savior.
    3. That the carpenter from Nazareth who was crucified last week is Lord and Savior.
    4. That Jesus is the Savior and he is God and we ought obey him.
    5. That Jesus is the loving Savior and God.
    6. That the Messiah of Israel is the Lord and Savior, who was crucified and rose on the third day.
    It would be magical thinking to say that one can be saved if one believes 1, but not if one instead believes 2-6. And I assume that the people who insist on explicit belief in 1 would tend to think 2-6 to be sufficient.
    One might try some variant like: You can be saved only if you believe 1 or something that obviously entails 1. But one problem is: obviously to whom? Some people aren’t very good at logic. What if one says “relevantly” instead of “obviously”. Well, 2, 3 and 6 don’t seem to relevantly entail 1.
    One might try this. To be saved you need to attribute to Jesus, under any description whatsoever, something that relevantly entails his being Lord and Savior. That might take care of 2-6. Or one might restrict to “religiously relevant descriptions”, though it’s going to be hard to make that work out.
    But notice that at this point one has a fairly broad-minded view. For instance, someone who has a religious experience that is in fact of Jesus, but she does not conceptualize it as being of Jesus, and comes to believe that the object of her religious experience is Lord and Savior falls under my last suggestion. Likewise, if she believes that the object of her religious experience is F, where F is some ineffable predicate that unbeknownst to her relevantly entails being Lord and Savior. Certainly, at this point one has little evidence that Gandhi is in hell.
    I guess I think that some view relevantly like the last set of suggestions is true.
    You asked: “Let (a*) be the proposition that you believe to be true and that is ‘similar to (a).’ What is (a*)?” I am not sure there is an (a*). I believe that some proposition similar to (a) is true. It does not follow that there is some proposition similar to (a) that I believe to be true. 🙂
    Likewise, I believe that some proposition similar to current evolutionary theory is at least approximately true. But I don’t know what that proposition is. 🙂

    May 21, 2011 — 15:36
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    I don’t claim to “know” a*, but if I think it is fair for Wes to ask this to any theist: “If you had to make a bet then which a* would you suggest?”
    Given (a) “
    Adults must accept Jesus as Lord and Savior before they die in order to be “saved” from Hell.” the a* I would suggest is this:
    (a*): Adults must freely realize that the path of Jesus is what is best for them in order to be “saved” from Hell.
    By “realize” I mean something close to what I suppose Alex means by “doxastic or committive mental state”. It is when we actually “see” without space for practical doubt how reality actually is. When we reach the cognitive state of seeing the truth, which in Christian-speak is called repentance, or metanoia (i.e. “change-of-mind”). But I definitely do not mean that repentance must be reached in a pre-mortem state. Earthly death is for me the passing of our actual condition of life, but it does not mean the moment in which God’s salvidic grace stops to operate. It is not like death has the power to stop God’s love for us, or change God’s positive dispositional state for us. Death has not the power to stop the good pastor from looking for His lost sheep, nor has the power to change the truth of the Good News.
    By “path of Jesus” I mean both the kind of life and kind of being that Christ in the Gospels very clearly describes through His commands to us. For example the former entails to not resist evil, and the latter entails to love even our enemies as ourselves. But the way I mean “path of Jesus” does not entail belonging to a Christian church, or believing that Christianity’s ontological dogmas are the one closest to the truth, or even having heard of Christianity or of Christ. In other words a* is open for absolutely everybody, including atheists. The path of Jesus has nothing to do with crying “Lord, Lord” and all to do with following His commands even while not realizing that these are His commands.
    I mean “best for them” egoistically, in the sense of desiring what is best for one, what will ultimately lead to the most fulfilled, valuable, desirable, joy-filled state of personal being and experience of life.
    By “saved from Hell” I mean that once one realizes that the path of Jesus is what is best for one, the human existential reality is such that one will not fail to freely choose to follow the path of Jesus by obeying Christ’s commands, and thus becoming similar to Christ, and thus coming close to God, and thus moving away from Hell. In other words, we are made having the minimal cognitive and volitional powers that guarantee that once we see what’s best for us we shall sooner or later act on that knowledge.
    Finally, I inserted “freely” in a* because I think that God wants this saldivic/atoning/soul-building process not to be coercive in any way (and hence God’s relative hiddenness). Why should God want this? Because meritorious salvation is greater than a coerced (as well as a freeloading one). Further, it seems to me, justice requires that personal merit be a necessary part of salvation. That is why, in my mind, Jesus is the Sermon on the Mount points out that those who merely love those who love them, and do good to those who do good to them (like the “pagans” and “tax-collectors” do), will not get reward.

    May 21, 2011 — 23:51