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April 3, 2006

The Dangers of Universalism

I will be the first to admit that the doctrine has a number of pitfalls for the person who holds it. There are the dual dangers of complacency and presumption. That is, if we trust our intuitions that all are led eventually to God's will, it might cause some to think that they are not instrumental in this leading. Some might abandon their efforts or reduce their efforts or make no efforts whatsoever. We are God's present and physical instruments in this world. If people are lost we are, in part, responsible. We are our brothers' and sisters' keepers. We are charged with making present the awesome love of God. If people do not experience love from us, how can they come to know how God loves them? (Another of many reverse implications of the first letter of John--"If you do not love what you can see, how can you claim to love what you do not see." If people cannot see love in this world, how can they begin to know the love of the world beyond (except of course by the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit).

The second pitfall or error that might result from relying too heavily on this belief is presumption. If God saves nearly everyone anyway, then it mustn't be all that difficult, and I'll wait until the last possible moment and then say yes. Or, more commonly, I can pretty much do anything I want because I've got God on the scopes, so I'm okay.

To say that most or all eventually arrive at God is not to say that the road is either easy or guaranteed. If it is only most, some do not make it. If it is all, who knows how long the sojourn in purgatory for those who took up the offer too late.

No matter what we believe about the ultimate disposition of souls, it is requisite upon us to act as thought the opposite were true. Even if all might be eventually saved, isn't better to work as though they would not? Isn't it also better to cut that "eventually" to a "here and now?" Wouldn't we all be better off if more people recognized right not the necessity for following God's will? Wouldn't each person benefit from all the others who have achieved union with God in this life? Would the world be a worse place for being overrun by saints?

I do not base my actions in Christian life on the basis of what I may think about the possibilities of salvation. Prayers and works of mercy must continue unabated and we all must work out our individual path of salvation, and assist to the degree possible, all of those around us. In fact, most of the time, the question of "how many are saved?" isn't really even a question for me--it makes only the smallest of ripples in the larger ocean of life. It is an incidental, a codicil, a thing that is interesting to speculate, but which cannot be known until after we have died and start to experience God's reality. Our immediate duty is to our sisters and brothers here and now.

Posted by Steven Riddle at April 3, 2006 3:08 PM

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St. Ignatius says it in the following ways:

Fourteenth Rule. Although there is much truth in the assertion that no one can save himself without being predestined and without having faith and grace; we must be very cautious in the manner of speaking and communicating with others about all these things.

Fifteenth Rule. We ought not, by way of custom, to speak much of predestination; but if in some way and at some times one speaks, let him so speak that the common people may not come into any error, as sometimes happens, saying: Whether I have to be saved or condemned is already determined, and no other thing can now be, through my doing well or ill; and with this, growing lazy, they become negligent in the works which lead to the salvation and the spiritual profit of their souls.

Sixteenth Rule. In the same way, we must be on our guard that by talking much and with much insistence of faith, without any distinction and explanation, occasion be not given to the people to be lazy and slothful in works, whether before faith is formed in charity or after.

Seventeenth Rule. Likewise, we ought not to speak so much with insistence on grace that the poison of discarding liberty be engendered. So that of faith and grace one can speak as much as is possible with the Divine help for the greater praise of His Divine Majesty, but not in such way, nor in such manners, especially in our so dangerous times, that works and free will receive any harm, or be held for nothing.

At least, I think these are related to the things you have been writing.


Posted by: Brandon Field at April 3, 2006 3:36 PM

Dear Steven,

I didn't mean to abbreviate your name above... I think the "n," combination on my keyboard didn't go through. Sorry about that.


Posted by: Brandon Field at April 3, 2006 3:43 PM

If you were an expert witness before a jury of your peers to determine, beyond a reasonable doubt, whether or not hell existed, or was empty, the jury might render a verdict in your favor. Would that make the Word of Jesus fraudulent? Subsequent to that, would there be any way I could sue that Baptist preacher for obtaining money fraudulently for preachin' lies?

Posted by: psalm 41 at April 3, 2006 4:36 PM


I think you have disposed well of the alleged "dangers" in universalism.

They essentially amount to fear and to a lack of trust and faith in God's plan.

"Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."

God Bless

Posted by: Chris Sullivan at April 3, 2006 4:45 PM

Dear Psalm 41--

I don't think they render the word of Jesus fradulent, because the DANGER exists. Our free choices could condemn us. There is no lie in that, nor is there even anything misleading. The danger is very real and very possible, but God's love and intent to save is every bit as real and every bit as present.

If we fail we condemn ourselves--it's always a possibility. You will not see me deny that it is possible. But my view of grace is that it is an overwhelming tide--nearly impossible, but just possible to stand against. As it says in Song of Songs, Love is "a great fire, many waters cannot quench it." But there is more than enough water in some human spirits to perhaps allow the person to believe that the fire does not exist.

I never deny the possibility, I just suggest that the ability of a mere human being to stand up to God's sovereign grace and overwhelming love is limited.

And please, don't ever mistake my own ramblings and thoughts as definitive. The Church has not taught on this definitively, and I only seek to outline here how I think about these things and seek to convey them to those who would reject God because of the Doctrine of Hell and the very limited number of people they claim are saved.



Posted by: Steven Riddle at April 3, 2006 5:24 PM

Dear Psalm41,

An addendum that I should have appended to the above. It is critically important to emphasize everything I present is only one opinion--very possibly one that is incorrect in the details or in toto. If the latter, I'm willing to abandon it, as truth is always more important that being right.

I don't want you to think that you SHOULD think as I do. I don't really want to try to persuade those who think otherwise.

In other words, it isn't as though I think I'm definitively right and mired in the mud. Rather, I'm working on the paradigm I've been able to construct so far. By the grace of God my paradigm will gradually more closely approximate His reality, thus it shifts every day, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, depending on the experiences of the day and my receptivity to His Grace.

I don't want anyone to feel as though their opinions are not respected and really appreciated. They are.



Posted by: Steven Riddle at April 3, 2006 6:59 PM

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