A Nontheological "Argument" for Why


A Nontheological "Argument" for Why We May Hope "That All Will Be Saved."

A recent article by Cardinal Avery Dulles has many asking "What is the population of Hell?" I am not a student of theology as such. Such understanding as I do have is remarkably crude and based on scattered reading and reflection, so I cannot pretend to offer anything that would remotely approximate a logical argument--only a series of impressions. I am certain that where these go astray, I can count upon the good members of blogdom to correct them.

The question boils down to whether theologians like Hans Urs von Balthasar and writers like Richard John Neuhaus are soft-hearted, soft-headed, or both. Many complain that modern theology tends to "soften up" God. And I wonder whether that is not also a legitimate development in our understanding of God. Christianity is a religion entering its "teen years" in many ways--perhaps it's a bit more like teens entering their twenties--but our understandings, mysteriously, are still forming. As one matures, one's notion of one's parents matures. When we are young we naturally love them, but they are a little frightening. They seem arbitrary and their rules are mysterious and ever in flux. As we mature into the teen years, they are even more arbitrary and deliberately designed to reduce our freedom and our ability to be ourselves. The twenties allow us to see parents in something approximating reality and realize that all of those actions were not so arbitrary as we would have it. Only after we have our own children do we begin to truly understand what our parents were about.

So it seems with religion. Early on our vision of God was of the Great Just Judge and Father. We love our Father, but we are frightened of the Judge that He is. One slip and we could be plunged into exile into Hell forever. Yes, we could repent and get another chance, but still and all, we constantly walk the precipice of his tolerance. And one could certainly support this view from scripture and from the words of Jesus. However, our human hearts tell us that this cannot be the truth. In our own parents, who are imperfect, justice does not trump love and compassion. They may be combined--but it is a rare parent who will permanently exile his or her child. It may become necessary for one reason or another and may happen--but it seems more likely to be a rare event. To use the tautology Jesus so aptly put--"If we who are corrupt and imperfect know how to do good things, how much more Our Father in Heaven does so."

Over time, we have become more aware of God's loving presence. It was always taught by the great saints and always offered to the church at large. However, the impression one gets of the Church through time is that it was regarded not so much as a loving steward of all that was good in faith, but as a sometimes quite strict teacher whose main interest was keeping everyone to the straight and narrow. The Church was a church of laws and rules and regulations, and mysterious, sometimes meaningless restrictions. In medieval times it was common church practice, if not church teaching to observe a relatively strict fast and abstinence during Lent, such abstinence also included marital relations and other odds and ends depending upon the local church officials.

The time of the reformation might be more correctly regarded as the beginning of the rebellious teens, in which the imperfections of the parent became glaringly obvious (the parent, in this case being the Church) and the only way to achieve any sort of autonomy was rebellion. Now, in some sense this was probably true. One cannot argue with the justice of many of the theses hammered onto the door of Wittenburg Cathedral--there were serious problems and injustices in the Church that needed to be addressed. Whether the reformation was the way to address them or not is speculative--it happened and its errors and progeny live with us today. But it does represent the maturing of faith through rebellion and reexamination.

Modern theology may be a further maturing of the Church. Yes, there may be an overemphasis in some quarters on the loving nature of God. But this may be a reaction to the near exclusion of such a nature in much that had come before. The real question comes down to the understanding one has of God. In some representations God seems more like an infinitely fickle prima donna than a loving parent. One wrong word, one wrong action, and you're out of grace--forget it buddy, you need not apply, etc. Obviously, that cannot be the case. Biblical revelation does not permit a view of God as capricious or touchy, He may be a just judge or a loving Father, but hardly finicky.

One returns to the human view--what would it take to alienate us from our own children. Surely not one ill-considered word or action. We might be miffed, but we aren't going to disown a child over that. Even a continued pattern of rebellion will try our patience and our willingness to endure, but it is unlikely to make us not love our child. To truly attain exile, the child must willfully choose it and continue in a pattern of deliberately alienating activity. Most children do not. Most return and apologize or make amends without necessarily ever admitting what was done was wrong. So too, it would seem with God. One wrong move and you're out isn't plausible. Neither is a lifetime of wrongs moves properly repented of--God is infinitely patient.

So it would seem to me that while there are some human beings strong enough to consistently insist upon their own way and to deny the loving nature of God, these would be relatively few and far between. Most of us do really stupid things and then repent even as we try to justify them. We know they are wrong and yet we cannot admit to being wrong so much of the time.

Does this say that we may hope that all will be saved? No--not really, that hope exists in addition to the argument here. All that I contend is that the ordinary nature of a human being is to return to love, and make some attempt to repair the breach. Moreover, we have Jesus' parable of the workers--those in the morning, those at noon, and those late in the evening--which seems to promise that at whatever time we come to our sense, God is there to receive us.

Two great thinkers have come to the conclusion that this hope is reasonable and valid and from what I know and understand of God, I choose this camp. Others rely upon somewhat darker scriptures that seem to promise damnation for many. But sometimes I wonder whether it isn't damnation, but an Earthly purgatory that is promised. Many point to the near certainty that Judas may be in Hell, because Jesus points out that it would be better for him had he never been born, and this could only point to damnation. But I would say that while that is possible, Jesus was also very aware of Earthly life, its shortcomings and disasters. And truly, to have lived the way Judas did in the short term after the death of Jesus was to live a hell on Earth--he could well have wished never to have been born. When Jesus says that narrow is the way and straight is the gate that leads to salvation, but the path to destruction is wide, it does not necessarily mean that everyone cannot enter by the straight gate--they must merely wander through the land of ruin for a while before they take their place in line. A narrow gate does not deny admission, but it does mean one must get into line eventually--some earlier, some later. There are other passages that suggest that others may not be present with God, and they cannot be so easily reasoned away. But was Jesus speaking of what was fact or what was potentiality? Many point to the visions of Hell at Fatima as support for the view of many entering Hell. But private revelation is not binding on the church, and who can interpret such visions clearly? I don't know what they mean, but perhaps they are along the lines of the vision in the Revelation of John--what exactly is the beast with seven heads and ten crowns?

The point is merely that while God is just, He is also loving. Balancing the two is very tricky, and often in the past it would seem that the predominant emphasis has been on His justice. And I suppose if you want to frighten "iffy" Christians into heaven, an emphasis on judgment would be salutary. For even if God is all-loving, one should not be presumptuous. One needs to return love for love, and attempt to love as one is loved. In this lies our hope that all may be saved. Humans gravitate toward love--we desire love and we are moved by love. We sometimes have a very unclear view of what constitutes love--but nevertheless, much of our lives is spent trying to define it, find it, live it and keep it.

Okay, so this hasn't turned out to be an argument so much as a special pleading based on limited human understanding. But I do contend that the perceived "gentling" of theology may be a legitimate development in theology as we come to understand better God's loving nature. Perhaps Christianity has begun to enter adulthood and now seeks true peace to live out its life. Or perhaps these theologians are simply soft-hearted and soft-headed. I do not have the wherewithal to discern the truth in this matter; however, God Himself desires that all will be saved, and in this also lies our hope. He did not make creation to damn it, but to love it into eternity. We may still choose a different path, but Grace is hard to resist, and God will constantly woo us back. Right now, my own temporal respite is this belief, and I hold to it closely.

Bookmark and Share



About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on May 27, 2003 8:14 AM.

Church of the Masses There was the previous entry in this blog.

Because I Am in Need is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

My Blogroll