Back on September 17, 2015, Richard Beck at his essential “Experimental Theology” blog wrote,
I have argued, for many long and lonely years, to any who would hear, that the doctrine (or hope) of universal reconciliation (UR) has more to do with theodicy than soteriology, more to do with addressing the problems of suffering than about salvation. More, I have argued that UR is the only coherent theodicy available to the Christian faith. The only coherent theodicy.
(I have advised Richard of this series and invited him to participate by posting here or by commenting.)
“Soteriology” is the theology of salvation — baptism, saved by faith alone (sola fide), that sort of thing. “Theodicy” is trying to figure out how a good God can allow evil. “Universal Reconciliation” is often referred to as Universalism — the idea that all people will be saved. There are many variations on the theme. For example, many conclude that Universal Reconciliation will only be achieved after a period of punishment — hence allowing for both perfect justice and love. And this appears to be Beck’s position.
You can read all of his blog posts on the subject (and you should) by clicking this link.
In this most recent article, Beck refers the reader to a thoughtful and challenging article by Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart, “God, Creation, and Evil.” Don’t be embarrassed if you need a dictionary to work your way through the article. I did. But it’s worth the hard work.
Here is Hart on YouTube presenting this same paper, with some additional thoughts ad libbed here and there —
Hart dismisses the conventional Calvinist view of God because a good God cannot create humans just to elect them to a hell consisting of perpetual, conscious torment. I agree. I’ve never found the Calvinist doctrine of original sin or the idea that God predestines some to an eternity of agony tolerable, much less logical.
Hart then rejects the view of hell found in much of the rest of Christianity — perpetual, conscious torment (PCT).
So, if all are not saved, if God creates souls he knows to be destined for eternal misery, is God evil? Well, why debate semantics? Maybe every analogy fails. What is not debatable is that, if God does so create, in himself he cannot be the good as such, and creation cannot be a morally meaningful act: it is from one vantage an act of predilective love, but from another — logically necessary — vantage an act of prudential malevolence. And so it cannot be true. We are presented by what has become the majority tradition with three fundamental claims, any two of which might be true simultaneously, but never all three: that God freely created all things out of nothingness; that God is the Good itself; and that it is certain or at least possible that some rational creatures will endure eternal loss of God.
I disagree, for several reasons.
* Hart assumes the innate immortality of the soul — which is Greek and not Judeo-Christian thought. The Bible teaches that immortality is a gift given by God to those with faith. Everyone else is mortal.
* Hart assumes that separation from God results in anguish disproportionate to justice. And although I’m confident separation from God will indeed be an acute form of anguish — I also believe God to be perfectly just. He will not allow any to suffer more than justice requires. For many, that won’t be much at all — if God were to ask for my opinion. In fact, I can think of no better outcome than letting God decide.
* Hart assumes that God is obligated to be more than just. That is, once someone has been justly punished, he must get to go to heaven and eternal bliss. Why? Why does Hitler get eternal bliss even though he was not only evil, he worked to defeat Christianity? Does God’s grace and love require this result? Well, the God of the Bible does not promise everyone eternal bliss. For example —
(Rom 2:6-11 ESV) 6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.
To Paul, “God shows no partiality” means that those who do evil will suffer “wrath and fury,” “tribulation and distress.” It’s only the one who “does good” for whom there will “glory and honor and peace.” I mean, how could Paul more plainly say that there are two very different, polar opposite fates?
I readily agree that God will be more than just — for those with faith. For the saved. For those who are indwelled by the Spirit. For those who follow the Son.
* What does Hart do with the spiritual beings that Jesus will defeat at the end of the age? Do Satan and the demons repent and participate in Universal Reconciliation? And if not, then God’s creation winds up with some very un-good beings that are never redeemed. If so, well, where in the scriptures do we find such a doctrine?
[I’m not done. My reflections on Hart’s article will require several more posts. After all, Universal Reconciliation is a growing theory, and I just don’t think that it works. Although, I confess, I may have gotten a little carried away in the detail of my response.]