Why I Do Not Believe in Universal Salvation

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5 years 6 months ago - 5 years 6 months ago #949 by webb
As Rob Bell and many others have said, it is a virtue for a Christian to yearn for all people to be saved. In that, you are showing a family likeness with your Father in heaven, who also desires for all to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4; Ezek. 18:23, 32; 33:11; etc.). But the question is not what we should yearn for, but what we are justified in believing will happen, based on the scriptures.

I would say, to capsulize the issue, that the vast majority of scripture passages that address the subject assume that many will refuse to be reconciled to God and will therefore not be saved, and that those passages which appear to hold out a promise of universal reconciliation can be understood so as to cohere with the majority. To give just one example, Rev. 21:23-26 could, taken by itself, be interpreted as a promise of universal reconciliation:

23The City [the New Jerusalem] doesn’t need the sun or the moon to shine on it, because God’s glory illuminates it, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24The nations are going to walk by the light of it. And the rulers of the earth are going to bring their glory into it. 25And its gates will never be shut for the day, because there isn’t going to be any night there. 26And they’re going to bring the glory and honor of the nations into it.

But 21:27, the very next verse, forecloses the optimistic reading:

27And nothing unholy, or anyone that does filthy things, or any liar, is ever going to enter it—only those who are recorded in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

The Lamb's Book of Life is, in fact, the citizen rolls of the New Jerusalem. Her citizens will indeed come from all nations. But only those who accept God's invitation to reconciliation through Christ and repent of their lies and filthiness and violence and godlessness will become her citizens. Revelation urges us to understand that most of humanity is not destined to repent and be reconciled to God. Just as there is a predestined remnant of the Jews that will be saved, so there is a remnant of the Gentiles that will be saved.

For example, we see in Rev. 7:9-17 that people from all nations will rejoice at the inauguration of the everlasting rule of God and of his Christ, Jesus. That, however, does not mean that all individuals from all nations will be reconciled. The great crowd from all nations "comes out of the great tribulation/persecution," having been persecuted by the majority of humanity, who remain in stubborn and violent opposition to God and everyone associated with God.

Now, if there were a theological principle that had overwhelming weight in favor of universal salvation/reconciliation, I might be able to maximize the significance of those passages that appear universalistic and play down those that appear to say that most of humanity is destined for destruction. But I don't personally sense any such principle. Here is a sketch of my theological thinking, which assumes that God has complete foreknowledge of what human beings will do and become.

Is it unjust or unloving for God to create beings that he foreknows will ultimately refuse the invitation to everlasting life?

I don't believe so. Let me give an analogy. Suppose a woman prophet becomes pregnant, and before she is even showing, she has a dream that is so vivid and convincing that she just knows it is true. In the dream, she sees her two sons, a blond and a redhead, growing up to age 18. The blond son is destined to be a preacher of the good news and a loving man of God. The redhead is destined to reject God, fall in with a bad crowd, take drugs, steal things, do violent things, and finally take his own life before he reaches 19 years of age. Two questions, which I ask you to answer on the improbable assumption that she actually knows the future, and that she knows with total certainty that she knows the future. (1) Is the most humane and loving thing she can do to secretly euthanize the redhead soon after he is born? (2) If the woman has a Christian heart, will she love the redhead any less or treat him any differently than his brother?

My answers to these questions are, (1) No, she will respect the life that she has engendered. She will respect her son's process of learning to be a human being and deciding whether he wants to live, rather than summarily removing him from life based on knowledge of what he will do in the future. (2) She will love both sons equally, and do everything she can to nurture both of them, regardless of whether they are both going to pass on to others her love and nurture.

God is not being unjust or unloving in creating beings that he foreknows will ultimately spit out the gift of life. He is being loving and just in freely offering the gift of life to them, and giving them the freedom either to take hold of it or throw it away (Isa. 55:1--56:8; 57:15-21; Jn 6:35-41; 7:37-38 || Jer. 2:13; Rev. 22:17).
Last edit: 5 years 6 months ago by webb. Reason: error in scripture citation
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3 years 8 months ago #2978 by giles
I was a Universalist. I saw that a "plain reading" of most passages favoured annihilation but I was impressed by the "Universalist" passages as non Universalist explanations of these passages struck me as strained. Above all I felt justified in going with the few passages rather than the many as I thought Universalism was the logical consequence of a God of love. And I still hold that if anyone has read the Bible and hasn't concluded God's nature is love and that all his other attributes are facets of that nature, they just haven't got it.
However this scheme demanded God preventing souls from killing themselves, perhaps resulting in a trillion years of torment before they return to God. I justified that on the ground that they would have an eternity of bliss thereafter. The first crack in my confidence came when someone asked "isn't that a bit like someone confessing on the rack?" It then occurred to me that if souls were granted the opportunity of suicide my scheme would lead to more freedom and less torment. And having made that step why not embrace a straight choice of life and death and a plain reading of the annihilation passages. Such a reading gives more significance to our choices, I now think.
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3 years 7 months ago #3034 by humblemissionary
What do you think of these two verses? It seems to imply that everyone will be saved. Because everyone who confesses the Lord will be saved, and everyone will confess.

I'm not a universalist by the way.

Romans 10:9-10 NASB
[9] that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; [10] for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.

Philippians 2:9-11 NASB
[9] For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, [10] so that at the name of Jesus every KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, [11] and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
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3 years 7 months ago #3035 by giles
I'm going to let someone else answer as there's more than one option and I'm not committed to any one. I will say most non universalist exegesis of the "universalist " texts are weak. The Universalist has a case. It's just that the conditionalist case is stronger IMO.
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3 years 7 months ago #3036 by Singalphile
About Phil 2:9-11 (Therefore, God exalted him ... that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow ... and every tongue should confess ....).

Here are some things I've heard or thought of:

1. From what I can gather from the Greek ( here ), both "bow" and "confess" are in the subjunctive mood, which indicates a condition or obligation or exhortation (among other nuances), as opposed to the indicative/declarative mood.

I guess that's why many translations say something like "should bow" and/or "should confess". Therefore, the meaning could be that everyone should bow and confess, without affirming that everyone actually will. That makes sense and explains why Paul used the subjunctive mood. (But I'm no Greek scholar.)

2. "Every knee" and "every tongue" doesn't necessarily mean "every knee and every tongue of everyone who ever lived or will live". It could mean that at some future time, everyone who is still alive will be the ones bowing and confessing. That seems reasonable, but not quite as strong as #1.

For one thing, he refers to "those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth". I'm not sure what he means by that, but it sounds like he's referring to the dead in his time.

3. Everyone will be intellectually or even physically forced to grudgingly bow and admit that Jesus is Lord, but not in a way that indicates true faith, trust, and salvation.

Based on the meaning of the word "confess" there, I think that's a weak argument, but not totally invalid.

So that's what I think, since you asked. :)

"Singalphile" - Name chosen (hastily) to indicate being on a narrow path, pursuing the love of God. Male, upper-30's, USA.
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3 years 7 months ago #3037 by giles
Well, the Isaiah passage from which the quote first came talks of Gods enemies kneeling and being put to shame, while Israel is vindicated so the forced obedience reading seems quite strong to me.
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