Another Brief Word on Universalism

Perhaps one of the weakest arguments that’s advanced against the hope that all mankind will eventually be saved from evil and enjoy the blessings of God’s love is the argument that this belief encourages sinners to sin.

Without the doctrine of eternal punishment, some people say, people will sin with impunity, unafraid of the consequences.

What an odd thing to say!

Suppose I tell my son, “If you do such-and-such, you get no more screen time for a week.” And he really wants to do such-and-such so he says, “OK, no more screen time for a week.”

Am I then left with no choice but to say, “Fine. No more screen time FOREVER AND EVER AND EVER”?

Or can I say, “No more screen time for a month, then” or perhaps, “for the forseeable future, until I can see that you’ve come to your senses and won’t do such-and-such anymore”?

In short, even if we see the threat of Hell or afterlife punishment of some kind as a deterrent to evil, Why shouldn’t the threat of say, 1,000 years of punishment be sufficient for some sinners and 1,000,000 years for others? Is anyone really going to argue that people will feel free to sin if they only have to face a measly million years in the torment of unkilling flame?

***

I’m not saying that God is threatening us with any amount of time in unkilling flame in order to control us and keep us from doing acts of evil. I think there’s a different, progressive, and inner meaning to such teachings that we are meant to grasp as soon as we are capable of it. Only the most brutal souls, if any, would find such teachings helpful. And let’s face it, some of the currently most brutal souls in our world (ISIS, anyone?) actually use and believe in the doctrine of eternal punishment.

My own observation is that punishment (and its threat) actually causes an accretion of evil rather than purifying it. Used in limitation it can suppress certain expressions of evil. But after a while, you get diminishing returns.

Instead of defending our “positions” (my previously learned way of dealing with religious questions – what an arrogant way to follow Christ!) why don’t we patiently penetrate this mystery to the extent we are able?

Why did St. Porphyrios say that Christ doesn’t hold Hell in his hands and doesn’t threaten us with it?

4 thoughts on “Another Brief Word on Universalism

    • David, good question. It appears to be a translation issue.

      There’s an excellent discussion of the topic, with various reading recommendations, here:

      https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2013/09/15/from-here-to-eternity-how-long-is-forever/

      “In Matt 25:46 Jesus speaks of “aiónion punishment” (punishment pertaining to the eon to come—the only place in the New Testament where the phrase occurs) and “aiónion life” (life pertaining to the eon to come). Given that the life given to us in Jesus Christ is eternal in the strong sense, does this not mean that the punishment of Gehenna is also eternal in the strong sense? This seems initially plausible given the parallelism; but the inference does not necessarily obtain. Aiónios/aiónion is an adjective: it modifies the noun to which it is connected. The life of the age to come is indeed eternal, because the life of Christ in which believers share is indestructible and everlasting; but we cannot make this assumption about the punishment of the age to come. Jesus is not necessarily addressing the question of duration in Matt 25:46, whether in reference to the punishment of the eschaton or the life of the eschaton. He may only be referring to the punishment and life that properly belong to the coming age (eon) of the kingdom. Hence whether the eschatological punishment is temporary or everlasting cannot be determined by the adjective alone. And this is the crucial lexical point: the adjective by itself does not tell us whether the punishment of Gehenna is timeless, everlasting, or of limited duration—that knowledge would have to be obtained from other texts and sources.”

      In other words, even if the punishment itself is everlasting, that does not mean that one’s stay within that punishment will be eternal. Besides which, “eternal” in this verse may not even mean “everlasting” – it may simply mean, “The punishment of the next age” or “of the next world,” to use a more English phrase.

      Also,

      “The word “eternal” is used in both a qualitative and a quantitive sense in the Bible. It is sometimes urged that if eternal life in Matthew 25:46 is everlasting in duration, so too must be eternal punishment. But “eternal” in both phrases may simply designate that the realities in question pertain to the future age. Furthermore, inasmuch as life, by definition, is an ongoing state, “eternal life” includes the idea of everlasting existence. But punishment is a process rather than a state, and elsewhere when “eternal” describes an act or process, it is the consequences rather than the process that are everlasting (e.g., Heb. 6:2, “eternal judgment”; Heb. 9:12, “eternal redemption”; Mark 3:29, “eternal sin”; 2 Thess. 1:9, “eternal destruction”; Jude 7, “eternal fire”). Eternal punishment is therefore something that is ultimate in significance and everlasting in effect, not in duration.”

      In other words, “eternal redemption” does not mean “it takes us forever to be redeemed.” It means that once we are redeemed (resurrected) we stay in the resulting state forever.

      We could also say that once we are punished, we stay in the resulting state forever. This brings up the question, What is the resulting state of punishment of the next age?

      If the punishment in question is simply retribution, then the resulting state is confirmed evil, as I have said. But if it the ‘punishment’ is constructive chastening, then the resulting state is a state of being chastened. And if you remain chastened – humble and penitent – it is utterly outside the character of God to go on chastening you.

      The whole article is worth reading.

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  1. I think humans are not inherently evil. On thing atheists can show us is that their lack of belief in God does not result in an inordinate amount of crime or other evil. Basically humans would want to do the right thing when not in the face of a dominant leader. Like kids in gangs, I don’t think the kids in any other setting would be evil. So I do not believe in hell. Kids in gangs have probably been thru hell before they got to the gang. Atheists I think are just lazy.

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    • Mark, thanks for your comment. I agree that evil is not our true nature. I think nature can be corrupted and a lot of that has to do with experience and a lot with a systemic moral sickness we suffer together as a race. I do feel sorry for those who have known too much evil in their early lives and I think err should bear their burden with them.

      I think Hell happens but I don’t see it as something to believe in. I think it is something to fight and repudiate and chase away with light.

      Lazy atheists is quite an idea. It really is a balancing act that takes energy to reject bad religion, and keep the good – to sift through it all.

      Liked by 1 person

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