Sunday, January 10, 2010

Hell and Failures of Universalism & Reconciliationism

So, last time I was talking about hell, since people who disagree with Christian ethics and theology want to take issue with the idea of everlasting punishment. But, you have people within Christendom also, as it were, who want to take issue with Christian ethics and theology. We may as well take a look a look at more issues of Doomsday if we started off with the topic of whether everlasting punishment is just.

At the present moment it would be more natural to address the revisionist arguments which produce novel renditions of certain Hebrew and Greek words and attack the idea of everlasting punishment in this way. However, I do not want to delve into all the tedium and technical details right now, so I won’t. Instead, why not have a look at univeralism and reconciliationism, especially since this is the Internet and heterodox beliefs such as those thrive on the Internet where eccentrics and kooks have a voice?

Reconciliationism basically gives us a happy ending to world history. Regardless of whether people eventually will be punished for their wrongdoings, at the very end of the story they will be reconciled to God in good standing. To argue a case for this point of view, one could produce the biblical passages that one might first expect to find in such an argument: Romans 5.18, Romans 5.19, Romans 11.32, Romans 14.9.

Romans 5.18 itself reads as “Therefore as by the offence of [one judgment came] upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one [the free gift came] upon all men unto justification of life.” This is the kind of verse that presents issues relevant to the would-be veracity of Arminianism and its offshoots. Indeed, if the phrase “all men” means all human beings simpliciter in verse 18a, then it should be that this phrase is used in the same way in verse 18b such that it states nothing less than that all human beings are or will be justified by God.

I do not know how or even if Arminians and post-Arminians can produce an orthodox and accurate rejoinder to the idea that Romans 5.18 supports universalism. (I suppose their only and quasi-responsible option is to argue a “weight of evidence” case by contrasting other Scriptures and then asserting that the phrase “all men” somehow undergoes a change of usage, denotation or meaning from the first part of Rom 5.18 to the second part.) On the other hand, a Calvinist or quasi-Calvinist like myself would already be hip to the reality that the phrase “all men” as used in the NT is not always used as it is in Modern English.

After all, a quick and honest look at Luke 6.26, 1 Corinthians 9.22, 1 Corinthians 10.33 or 1 John 1.7-9 shows that while naïve Arminian ideas of the connotation of “all” and “all men” are accurate, the naïve failure to recognize that neither the scope/purview nor reference of these phrases always correspond with the connotation must be acknowledged. In fact, we see in 1 Cor 9.22 that the phrase “all men” basically means all sorts of men of a particular set. (Paul clearly did not have Celts, Indians and North Americans in mind here.) By analogy, it was always possible and plausible that the phrase in question had this meaning in Romans 5.18--Christ is the savior of both Jews and Gentiles and is not the savior of only the special nation of Israel, a message which is repeated in the writings of the apostle Paul.

Now, a committed univeralist might take the foregoing comments as circumlocution, but facts are facts; and the fact is that one must be careful in his exegesis of Romans 5.18. The same is true of Romans 5.19, where Paul writes: “For as through the disobedience of the one man, the many were constituted sinners: so also through the obedience of the one, shall the many be constituted righteous.” The many who were made righteous? The many Muppets? The many holy angels? The many kinds of people in the world today? The grammar of the verse does not necessarily indicate what the answer to the question is.

It’s the same story with Romans 11.32, where Paul writes: “For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.” Might have mercy upon all what? All atoms? All things? All people around us? All kinds of people around us? Keep this verse in context (Romans 10 and 11) in order to discover the answer. Both Jews and Gentiles have been shut up in disobedience, and if we were to speak abstractly (i.e., with generalizations or reference to properties/qualities shared by individuals) of Jews and Gentiles as opposed to speaking of specific individuals--and this is what Paul seems to do so in his writing--then we could say that it is all sorts of men or people who have been shut up in disobedience.

Finally, in Romans 14.9 the apostle Paul writes: “For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.” You’ll get the idea that this verse argues for universalism only if you are the type who thinks that “to make Christ the Lord of your life” is to get saved and that recurrent acts of Christ’s becoming the Lord of someone’s life occur and save people from their sins. There are a number of things wrong with this modern idea, but in passing I will state just one problem: the Scriptures state that Christ has been made Lord of all things in the universe (Matthew 28:18, 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 with the seeming exception of death; cf. others), while we know that some things in the universe are destroyed (e.g., condemned buildings) or will be destroyed (cf. 2 Peter 3), yet Christ is Lord even of these things. So the fact that Christ is Master or Lord of all people does not necessarily make one to be safe from destruction or divine wrath.


Oh, but the would-be proofs for reconciliationism do not stop there. Take a look at what the apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 1.10:

That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; [even] in him:
Some will look at Ephesians 1.10 and see nothing other than possible indications of reconciliationism. On the other hand, the translators of the NIV apparently see Paul as speaking of Christ’s being made the lord of all things in this verse; other translations allow for the plausibility that Paul is speaking of the so-called Rapture or something like it. Meanwhile, it bears noting that Colossians 1.19-21, a passage which is used to argue for reconciliationism, probably informs us of one thing that Paul does not have in mind in Ephesians 1.10; for the passages are analogous enough to warrant this assertion. In Colossians 1.19-21 the apostle Paul writes:

For it pleased [the Father] that in him should all fulness dwell; 20And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, [I say], whether [they be] things in earth, or things in heaven. 21And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in [your] mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled.
If one will use this passage in order to argue for reconciliationism, then this verse either proves too much or does not prove enough. Question: Are the elect, holy angels at opposition with God? No, they are not. Have they ever been at opposition with God? No, they have not. Are the holy angels some of all things? Yes, they are some of those things which are created, and so they are some of those objects which could be denoted by the phrase “all things.” So if the holy angels are some of all things, then how can these holy angels be reconciled to Christ, as a reconciliationist interpretation of this passage either intentionally or otherwise logically implies?

So it seems that ultimately either of the following must be admitted by reconciliationists. Either:

a) The phrase “all things” does not mean all things simpliciter in Colossians 1.20 (stemming either from limited purview or from hyperbole of some sort); or

b) The word “reconciled” as used in verse 20 is a word that can apply to reconciliation of a particular sort which does not pertain to one’s ceasing to lead a life of rebellion against God.

Regardless of whether the Colossian passages sheds any light on Ephesians 1.10, it certainly does not support reconciliationism in an obvious manner. Yet according to the similarity of the two passages, Ephesians 1.10 also does not support reconciliationism in any obvious fashion.


Finally, in Matthew 12.31-32 Christ says:

Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy [against] the [Holy] Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the [world] to come.
So if He says that, then that means that forgiveness will possibly be given in the world to come, right? Not really. If one wants to try to draw conclusions about what propositions this passage supposedly unconventionally implicates, then it is enough for me to make this plausible statement: mention of the dichotomy of worlds was made in order to draw attention to how well righteous people will live in the world to come while sinners are subject to abject misery, misery which is only intensified by these sinners’ knowledge that happiness and life could have been theirs had they only done right, but now they’ve had their chance at happiness and have squandered it.

Besides, what divine forgiveness of sins will be made in the world to come if we read in Daniel 12.2 “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame [and] everlasting contempt”?

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