Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Universalism: Is it Biblical?

C-- and M---, let me start by saying that I am appreciative of the fact that my position seems illogical, or hard if not impossible to fit the pieces together. As M--- said, the New Testament clearly teaches that God desires the salvation of everyone (let's register this glorious fact together. We agree on this!), for Jesus died on the cross to save the world, even every man (we also agree on this. Even Calvinists can). How then can this truth fit with the idea of eternal damnation? It seems eminently reasonable that God, who doesn't want anyone to perish, would therefore not allow anyone to perish. I get it that the idea of universal salvation, where everyone is saved in the end, appears to make sense of at least that truth in Scripture (it makes sense to me). I understand that the view is simple and elegant and attractive at one level, and that my view is not so. I got that.

But nota bene that the universalist position is an inference. It is posited by the human mind as it seeks to reconcile certain truths. It is nowhere taught in Scripture in any kind of clear and unambiguous way (all statements about Jesus being the savior of the world, etc., notwithstanding). What I must emphasize is that when we go about seeking to fit together the "disparate parts" of Scripture we have to reckon with all the parts. The truth that God wants all to be saved is not the only part to reckon with. My position is that the Bible also teaches plainly that not all are saved. Thus the biblical theologian has to do justice to all biblical truth, including both the truth that God wants all to be saved, without minimizing that in the least, and also the truth that not all will be saved.

The biblical theologian's foremost concern is to be biblical, even more than to be simple, elegant, and reasonable. When C-- says that my view is incongruous, because "how can God, who desires the salvation of all, send people to eternal damnation?," that argument isn't weighty enough for me. That's just the reasoning of men. Reality may be more complicated. What matters to me is not primarily, "Is it reasonable to men" but "Is it biblical?" Exegesis is key for me. If the Bible teaches that God desires the salvation of all, and that not all are saved, I must accept that, since it is God's word, even if it's hard if not impossible for me to understand. I hope we all have that attitude, that if God declares a thing we should believe it and not think ourselves wiser. Not that reason doesn't have a say: If the Bible taught an unmistakable logical contradiction I believe that would be a problem. But in this case I don't see A., God desires all to be saved, and B., not all will be saved, as an unmistakable logical contradiction. Actually, I think there is loads of room for resolving factors, even if we cannot at the present wrap our minds around them or conceive them. It is conceivable that there is some good reason (or many good reasons) that God permits the damnation of the ungodly even though He doesn't desire it. There's a difference between contradiction and paradox, as you are well aware; paradoxes being things that appear contradictory but are not actually. It is entirely possible that God's desire for the salvation of all, and the eternal damnation of unbelievers is a paradox. But the key for me is exegesis. If C-- wants to convince me of universalism (or convince the world responsibly), he has to do it by Scripture and not by human reason primarily. Like the Bereans in Acts 17, our mandate is to examine the Scriptures diligently to see if it is so.

And it's precisely in the Scriptures that universalism falls short. There's no clear case for it, but there is a pretty clear case for eternal damnation. I will keep insisting on this until C-- can prove me wrong (and I welcome the discussion). Just consider the Book of Revelation. If any book in the Bible should teach universal salvation, this book, which is all about eschatology and the final state, and which gives us the definitive picture of the consummation, would. And yet what do we see? We see the theme of judgment throughout, continuing right on to, and into, the very end. We hear some of the most frightful pronouncements of judgment ("If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name"). Its final picture of the consummation does not in the slightest give the impression of universal redemption, but of separation and exclusion of the ungodly ("He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death"). Any honest juryman here has to admit that the Book of Revelation is not on the side of the universalist, and that it is at least very understandable why a person would think that B., not all will be saved, is a part of the biblical data that must be reckoned with.

I really appreciate you guys discussing this with me. Thanks to all.