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Some Thoughts On Universalism

I’ve been hard at work making PowerPoint slides for an upcoming series on Hell on The Cerebral Faith YouTube channel (Cerebral Faith Video). The series is designed to be like an online course divided into 8 lectures, and they will be livestreamed as part of my Cerebral Faith LIVE Web Show. While looking for some quotes by J.P Moreland in Lee Strobel’s book “The Case For Faith”, I found the portion where Moreland talks about universalism. I haven’t read this book for a while (or any of Strobel’s Case For books that he wrote pre-Miracles), because I’m a seasoned apologist who gets more out of scholarly books than popular ones these days. Nevertheless, I keep them around both for their sentimental value and for reference. While I don’t agree with every point J.P Moreland makes in his interview with Lee Strobel in “The Case For Faith” regarding the doctrine of Hell, I do think he makes some good points. His arguments against annihilationism are crap, for example, and his defense of eternal consious punishment is weak. I thought so even when I DID affirm the ECT view of Hell. It was William Lane Craig who removed my moral objections to ECT in his book “On Gaurd: Defending Your Faith With Reason and Precision”. Yet I do think he makes some good points.

Here’s a quote a found while looking through the book for the quotes I wanted to put up on my PowerPoint slide in my upcoming Hell series.

Strobel inquires about whether universalism might be a better option. I think Moreland gives a good response. I gave this argument in my own words to a universalist in the Rethinking Hell Facebook group the other day who said that retributive punishment (of which both eternal torment and annihilationism fall under) is incompatible with the goodness of God, because a Good God would only dish out restorative punishment (i.e punishment that results in the rehabilitation of the criminal). First, I expressed that I’ve always found retributive punishment just for the entirety that I’ve been alive, and I said that I’ve always been baffled at people who were appalled by it. If people deserve to suffer or die, then it’s not unjust for the government to inflict suffering or capital punishment for the sheer sake that they deserve it. If they DON’T deserve it, that’s one thing, but if they DO deserve it, well…what’s wrong with giving people what they deserve? But then I said that I think BOTH retributive punishment AND restorative punishment are just. However, I said God will do the former because I don’t think the latter is feasible for God to actualize and keep peoples’ free will in tact. I said that if people were left alive in Hell, they would just continue to harden their hearts more and more until they render themselves incapable of repenting. And I used biblical examples like the Pharoah in Exodus, who didn’t become a Yahweh follower, but hardened his heart plague after plague after plague. Other examples included Satan and the people in Revelation 16 who “curse God who had control over the plagues”. The people in Rev 16 basically flip God off for punishing them rather than saying “Whoops! We’re sorry. We’ll repent! Please no more plague and pestilence!” The damned basically have this attitude of “F you God! I don’t want your judgment, but I don’t want to have anything to do with you either!”

Anyway, here’s the quote from The Case For Faith.

The Bible says explicitly that people are destined to die once and to then face judgment.’ Yet if God is really loving, why wouldn’t he give people a second chance after death to make the decision to follow him and go to heaven? ‘If people tasted hell, wouldn’t that give them a strong motivation to change their minds?’ I asked. ‘This question assumes God didn’t do everything he could do before people died, and I reject that,’ Moreland said. ‘God does everything he can to give people a chance, and there will be not a single person who will be able to say to God, `If you had just not allowed me to die prematurely, if you’d have given me another twelve months, I know I would have made that decision.’ ‘The Bible tells us God is delaying the return of Christ to the earth to give everybody all the time he possibly can so they will come to him. If all a person needed was a little bit more time to come to Christ, then God would extend their time on this earth to give them that chance. So there will be nobody who just needed a little more time or who died prematurely who wouldhave responded to another chance to receive Christ.

God is fair. He isn’t trying to make it difficult for people. I believe it’s certainly possible that those who respond to the light from nature that they have received will either have the messageof the gospel sent to them, or else it may be that God will judge them based on his knowledge of what they would have done had they had a chance to hear the gospel. The simple fact is Godrewards those who seek him.”‘

That only dealt with part of the question, however. ‘Wait a minute,’ I said. ‘Wouldn’t death and the awareness of the presence or absence of God after you die be a very motivating thing for people?’ ‘Yes, it would, but in a negative way. First, you’ve got to realize that the longer people live separated from God, the less likely they are able to exercise their free choice and trust him. This is why most people who come to Christ do so when they’re young. The longer you live with a bad habit, the harder it is to turn that habit around. It’s not impossible, but it’s harder. So what would make people think that, say, a ten-year incubation period of being separated from God would get their attention? ‘Besides, that would make life before death utterly irrelevant. Then the question would be, why didn’t God create people from the beginning with the incubation period? Why did he create them on earth for seventy-five years and let them die and then put them in the incubation period if it was the incubation period that they really needed in the first place? Here’s the truth, Lee: this life is the incubation period!”

In case you’re interested, here’s the full quote from my aforementioned comment in a Rethinking Hell thread in which I made the same point as Dr. Moreland above. It was a pretty lengthy thread, and at one point, a person chimed in and responded to my universalist friend that

“I’m starting to agree with you, it’s like which is better for God to commit capital punishment, or life sentence to torture. It seems annihilationism faces the same philosophical problems of ECT it seeks to avoid. I mean our own moral intuition says for most offensives it’s better to reform and rehabilitate. Annihilationism seems to be the equivalent of committing capital punishment on shoplifters. Seems we’d be left with a sort of moral nihilism?”

To which I responded 

Hopefully you’ll attend my Hell series on Cerebral Faith LIVE and we won’t lose you to this exegetically indefensible view of final punishment.
 
Yeah, reformation is better than retribution if one can reform the sinner in question. But I still abide by the arguments I made when I was a traditionalist that the damned hate God so much that they’ll just become more and more and more hardened to Him as the eons go on. I think that if kept alive, they’ll render themselves utterly incapable of change accept if God forces them, and as an Arminian-Molinist, I don’t believe God will force Himself on anyone because true love requires one to enter into that relationship *freely*. We have examples in scripture; Pharoah. What happened to Pharaoh? He didn’t become a follower of Yahweh. Instead the book of Exodus tells us that with each passing plague, he “hardened his heart”
 
Now, before anyone objects “But doesn’t The Bible say GOD hardened Pharoah’s Heart”, Pharaoh initiated the whole process by hardening his own heart ten times during the first five plagues (Ex. 7:13,14, 22; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7, 34, 35 and 13:15). God hardened Pharoah’s heart also, the text says, but this could be either (1) a further hardening after Pharoah had already hardened his own heart so much, or (2) This was God co-actualizing his hardening. God hardened Pharoah’s heart because God placed God in those circumstances in which He knew Pharoah would freely harden his own heart. In other words, God hardened Pharoah’s heart just by His constant demands to let the Israelites go free and through the plagues. This is the approach the footnote writer of The Apologetics Study Bible takes. Rabbit trail over.
 
Now, might SOME of the damned repent? Provided God still extends them prevenient grace, sure. That’s possible. Statistically, there might be some who realize their mistake post-mortem and repent. But we’ve got many examples that show us that apart from God dragging them kicking and screaming, nothing will work. Why hasn’t Satan repented after all this time? The Pharoah? The people in Revelation 16 didn’t say “Sorry God! We’ll repent!” Instead, when they were under judgment, they “cursed God who had control over the plagues”. I just see no reason to think that given a little extra time and a little extra evidence, that people who have had decades and decades to repent in this life would eventually repent in the afterlife. 
 
Moreover, The Bible says “The wages of sin is DEATH” (Romans 6:23). It doesn’t specify which sins. It just says sin, full stop. If my moral intuitions conflict with God’s word, I’m going to take God at His word every time. Besides, He can see the entirety of the human heart. He knows EVERY sin we’ve ever committed and He knows the contents of our hearts even better than we do (Proverbs 15:3, 1 Samuel 16:7).
 
I have said to people before that if they knew me as well as God knows me – heck as well as I know myself – they would NOT call me a good person. As G.K Chesteron is credited as saying; “Brother, if any man thinks ill of you, do not be angry with him; for you are worse than he thinks you to be.”
 
I think if we saw our neighbors from God’s perspective, we would see just how truly wretched and horrible they really are. We only see part of the picture. We only see their good sides most of the time; which is, of course, the side they want us to see. They keep their bad side hidden from the world, except in times when it slips out like a wardrobe malfunction. A fit of rage, adulterous affairs done in the dead of night uncovered, a man’s selfishness revealed when he won’t give aid to a brother in need, et. al.
 
It’s worldly thinking that elevates man’s basic goodness. But God’s word tells us that all people are bent towards wickedness from the womb (see Genesis 8:21 and Psalm 58:3).”
I also posted this recently on The Cerebral Faith Facebook Page.
 
I find that the eternal torment view of Hell and universalism suffer from some of the same issues.
 
– Both have proof texts that number so small in number I can count them on my hand.
 
– Both have to reinterpret the various passages of scripture saying the wicked will die, be destroyed, destroyed in both body and soul, be burned to ashes like Sodom and Gomorrah to mean something that doesn’t slightly resemble being destroyed or reduced to Ashes.
 
– Both inadvertently admit that everyone has eternal life. The traditionalists and universalists just differ on where people will spend it.
 
– Both views are refuted by the positive evidence for Conditional Immortality a.k.a Annihilationism. Well, in Traditionalism’s case, some of ECT’s prooftexts actually help the conditionalist make his case as Chris Date has pointed out. But yeah, any evidence for annhilationism refutes eternal consious torment and universalism at the same time. Kills two birds with one stone.
These are just some of my recent thoughts on Universalism. I hope you’ll subscribe to Cerebral Faith Video on YouTube and join me every Monday night at 8:00 PM Eastern Standard Time, 5:00 PM Pacific Time for new episodes of Cerebral Faith LIVE. I’ll be covering the topic of Hell for 8 weeks after my Trinity series concludes. 
 
 

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