A Defense of Universal Reconciliation
A Defense of Universal Reconciliation
by Curt Downing
This apologetic is addressed to the owner of a website which teaches against eternal torment, but which advocates instead "conditional immortality," and "annihilationism."Dear _____:
A Simple ApologeticI want to thank you for your reply in the Cleveland Divinity Forum. To jog your memory, you thanked so-called Universalists for providing you another means to dispel the horror of eternal damnation. Your response also cited, that you really haven't been fair to our point of view. One of the things I like about you is your honest assessment of Biblical information. It seems you try to allow the Scripture to speak for itself, thereby cutting through traditionalist's myriads of doctrines and creeds.I would ask, as I argue elements of universal reconciliation, that you would not label me a Universalist or Unitarian. I know nothing about either group and have no affiliation with them. The outcome of our teaching may use similar words but I seriously doubt they espouse the same line of thinking. Labels are so unfair.I have visited your web page and read the compilation of Scripture and resultant logic that has led you away from eternal torment and into the thought of conditionalism. I like the way you employ the character of God in your thinking as you examine the logic of Scripture as well. Yet, we see things differently in the end of God's eonian dealings with man. To some extent we have highlighted these differences on the forum. I hope to give an apologetic of God's eonian purpose and show how universal reconciliation is Biblical, as well as, consistent with God's character and plan. I hope to be brief, hard hitting, fair and logical.It is so easy to get caught up in the trees, as the saying goes, we fail to see the forest. God is not restricted to such inadequacies. God clearly spells this out in Isaiah 46:9-10, "I am God and there is no other; I am God and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please. (Isa 46:11) What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do." We know from Heb 6:18, "it is impossible for God to lie", that God is a revealer of secrets, (Daniel 2:28) and God knows things even the Son did not know, (Matt 24:36). Undoubtedly, what can be cloudy to creation is absolutely clear to God as He manifests His intention.
Eonian GodGod is an eonian God. (Rom 16:26). This does not limit God in any way as to His absolute significance, or His timelessness. It just means He is relating to His creation, and that He has a purpose that is going to be revealed through eons. In so doing, He wields a powerful and Sovereign hand. God or El, in the Hebrew, means Subjector. We see this phenomenon plainly spoken of in II Corinthians 5:18. "All of God," This literally reads, "The all out of God," I do not mean to imply that all of creation is outside of God. We know from Acts 17:28, "for in Him we are living and moving and are." "The all out of God" then, must pertain to purpose. A simpler verse is Eph 1:11, "Who is operating all in accord with the counsel of His will." In your writing you accuse so-called Universalists of using the words all and everyone strategically, that they conclude that all means all, even when it means the all of the context. I will be using the word all a lot in this exhortation because scripture uses it a lot. I intend to be careful about the context. Clearly, in the above stated verses, the all is in reference to the working of God's will toward his subjects.
Creative OriginalChrist comes on the scene. He is both, "Firstborn of every creature," and "God's creative Original". (Col 1:15 and Rev 3:14 respectively). God began His purpose and plan through Christ. God is the source of all, for Rom 11:36 says, "that out of Him and through Him and for Him is all: to Him be the glory for the eons! Amen!" yet, Christ is the channel, for Col 1:17 says, "all is created through Him and for Him, and He is before all, and all has its cohesion in Him." A decisive verse that clearly shows this is, I Cor. 8:6, "one God, the Father, out of Whom all is, and we for Him, and one Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom all is, and we through Him". Both the purpose and the creation of the eons were established through Christ. (Eph 3:11) Even though God's nature hadn't changed one iota, He now became broader in the sense that He became the eonion God.How soon this happened after the origination of Christ isn't to my knowledge, known.We are told, though, that prior to the establishment of times eonion, God had His purpose in mind and that involved man. II Tim 1:9 says, "God, who saves us and calls us with a holy calling, not in accord with our acts, but in accord with His own purpose and the grace given to us before times eonion." God promises life eonion before times eonion. (Titus 1:2) Does it seem significant that God uses Christ as both the vehicle for creation and salvation?
Before DesruptionThere is other scripture that pre-dates the creation of man where we see that God had formed a purpose for Christ and creation to act out. The most significant is I Peter 1:20,
"The precious blood of Christ, as of a flawless and unspotted lamb, foreknown, indeed, before the disruption of the world." (Note: disruption is based on Genesis 1:2, where the word most often translated "was" actually means "became")The astounding ramification from this verse (I Pet 1:20) is that Christ was provided as Savior even before man was created. Just as astounding is in Eph 1:4 where we see that God "chooses us in Christ before the disruption of the world." He is talking about the members of the body here. These verses cause us to conclude that God, at the very least, knew there was going to be separation between Himself and man by virtue of sin. Further God rescues an elect amount for salvation prior to anything those elect did. Looking on the negative side of this scenario, we can absolutely deduce that God could have prevented mans' condemned condition in Adam. Additionally, by virtue of not electing some for salvation, beforehand, He is culpable for their destruction. If that were to a finality He would be a horrific God to most.
Thy Sovereign HandI am going to continue to stress the Sovereignty of God and His purpose because in your segment 13 subtitled: God Chooses, you make some contradictory statements that, if true, would destroy the omnipotence of God. Paragraph 4 reads, "God is the omnipotent Creator of the universe, and nothing is outside of His control." Then in paragraph 6 you write, " God gives humans a free will and allows harmful influences to lead them astray." I am convinced that you know this cannot be true. God gives no one a free will. I just showed unequivocal proof that God is operating His will. You try to express God being involved, at least, by saying He "allows harmful influences". I hope you can see that if God is influencing, then in fact, no will is free. Free actually means devoid of influence or restriction. The real issue, though, is mans' heart felt need to try and rescue God from His own identity. My friend suggests that, "freewill is a bad check written to cover the bad check of everlasting damnation." Let's act like men here and just say that God causes everything! Allow is a weak word. How can God allow something if He is the source! Another evidence of God causing everything is that He has foreknowledge. What He sees as the outcome must come to pass. It is ridiculous to think that God can foresee an outcome and yet be divorced from seeing the journey bringing it about. He is omniscient as well as omnipotent. He not only sees what is occurring He is ordering the steps, according to Jeremiah 10:23 and Proverbs 20:24.
EvilDespite the desperate attempt of man to disassociate God with evil, it cannot be done. God is the creator of it. Isaiah 45:7 says, "I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create evil; I the Lord, do all these things." I took the liberty of substituting the word evil for disaster in the quoted verse from the NIV. This is precisely my point. Evil is translated from the Hebrew word ra. This is used multiple times in the scriptures for evil. In this verse though, it presented identity problems for God. Thus the interpreters mellowed the word to calamity. When man starts trying to protect God from His own word and how He determines to reveal Himself, doctrines like "free will" are born. Evil is a necessary tool in God's tool bag. He uses to bring about judgment as well as to burden humanity. Ecclesiastes 1:13 illustrates that God has given humanity an experience of evil to humble it. Psalm 105:25 shows God turning the Egyptians hearts to hate his people. In I Samuel 15 God gave instructions to Samuel to have Saul completely destroy every man, women, child and infant. Psalms 66:10-12 uses an operation of evil to bring recognition of His goodness. "For you, O God, tested us; you refined us like silver. You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You caused men to ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance." Does it seem like God is concerned with His image in these verses? The subjects of the Refiner's fire will be thankful and realize they were better off for having to have experienced evil. Philippians 2:11 says, "that in the name of Jesus every knee should be bowing and every tongue should be acclaiming that Jesus Christ is Lord, for the glory of the Father." Could this occur unless God had given His creation the experience of evil? Why did God create the darkness (Is 45:7)? Because when our Savior arrives (Jesus the true Light John 1:9) there is a backdrop to reveal His goodness.
The Sufficiency Of The Cross"Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all welcome, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." (I Tim 2:15) Did He accomplish His mission? "Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world." (John 1:29) True? Some say for only the elect. "He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not ours only, but also for the whole world." (I John 2:2) Here we see all mankind in view and none of those scriptures used the term everybody or all. The strongest verses in Scripture pointing the sufficiency of the cross, however, do contain the God inspired words: all and everyone; "...so that, in the grace of God, He should be tasting death for the sake of everyone." (Heb 2:9) Do we not start to see the grace stand out here through Christ? Without a backdrop of sin and evil would this grace be recognized and glorified? "... that we rely on a living God, Who is Savior of all mankind especially the believers." (I Tim 4:10) There is no doubt that all rely on God. Acts 17:25 states, "He Himself gives to all life and breath and all." But even with the all in mind Paul designates (I Tim 4:10) the believers as having a special salvation. The fact that the elect are mentioned separately here is added proof that God is the Savior of the entirety of humanity. A good parallel verse that magnifies our understanding of this verse in Gal. 6:10. "Consequently, then, as we (believers) have occasion, we are working for the good of all, yet specially for the family of faith." The "especially" is just giving an emphasis to the subset. It does not disqualify the rest though.
Christ Or AdamThis argument is really a continuance of the sufficiency of the cross. It is important to whittle the entire operation of salvation down to two men: the first Adam and the last Adam. Who wins in the quest for mankind? There is great significance just in Christ being called the last Adam. Adam affected all mankind. By calling Christ the last Adam, it gives us the same understanding that His affect will be on all mankind as well. This is played out in Romans 5 beginning with verse 15. Through Adam the offense is passed on to the many. Through Christ grace super abounds to the same many. (Rom 5:16) Through Adam condemnation, through Christ, one just award. (Rom 5:17) Through Adam a death sentence, through Christ, life. For every element brought upon by Adam, (sin, condemnation, and death) Christ is the overcomer.The clearest evidence we have of this relationship is concerning resurrection in I Cor. 15:21,22. "For since, in fact, through a man came death, through a man also comes the resurrection of the dead. For even as, in Adam, all are dying, thus also, in Christ, shall all be vivified." There are two tremendous keys to this verse. The first is the relationship of the all to the two men. All die in Adam and all are vivified in Christ. It is ridiculous to think that Scripture would not limit the all in Adam and then limit the all in Christ to those that believe. The next key to this verse is to understand the word vivify (derived from the Greek word zo o poi e o). Vivify means to give life beyond the reach of death. Resurrections from the dead had occurred prior to the resurrections spoken of here in 15:20-24. The parties to the previous resurrections still had death operating after they were given life. That is why vivify is the better word here as opposed to "made alive".All those resurrected because of the affect of Christ become immortal. This passage also privileges upon us the order of this resurrection. First Christ. That has happened, and He alone now has immortality. (I Tim 6:16) The next group will be those who are Christ's in His presence. This would be the sum of the elect. "Thereafter the consummation." The consummation is the summing up of Christ's entire purpose as Savior. Not in the sense of cessation of time but completeness of task. Remember, He came to earth to save sinners!This consummation comes after the second death or the completion of His purpose would not exist and the word vivify could not apply to the all affected by Adam. If the second death were the final annihilation of the non-elect, 15:20-28 would be a lie. Specifically, the statement in verse 27 would be untrue. 27 states emphatically that death is the last enemy and is abolished.Paul completes the word of God. (Col 1:25) This does not mean he wrote the last word in the Bible. The finishing of God's unveiled purpose for man to understand was given to Paul. The Lake of Fire does not complete the Word of God. Whether or not specifics are given for the dead after the Lake of Fire does not complete the Word of God. Paul does. The absolute furthest reaching scripture verses we are given in the Bible are I Cor. 20-28, Eph. 1:23, and Col. 1:20. The verses emphasize the word all and without a doubt, have not only man, but the entire creation, created through Christ, in view. Christ was the channel through which all creation was created, as well as, the vehicle for salvation of that same creation! Christ is greater than Adam.
Sovereign Will vs Revealed WillIf you'll recall I mentioned early in this apologetic that often, we cannot see the "forest through the trees". From that perspective I showed God's elevated purpose pertaining to His creation. Unfortunately for the creation, however, we do not always see things clearly. "Satan Himself is being transfigured into a messenger of light." (II Cor 11:15)Why? To produce a "systematizing of deception." (Eph 4:14) Free will and eternal damnation, among others, are two doctrines that he is actively deceiving in. This is "all of God" (II Cor 5:18), as we are told that the Adversary was "sinning from the beginning." (I John 3:8). Hence, it means Satan was created to oppose. He is a tool, like evil, to help reveal the grace and mercy of the Father.God highest or ultimate will, will be done. On the stage of life though, His revealed will can seem to oppose His Sovereign will. The story of Joseph pictures this phenomenon.With the end in view God made Joseph to save Jacob's posterity. When he was tossed in the pit, and then sold into slavery was God's Sovereign will in view? The answer is yes, to God. No, to Joseph and all those involved. God's providence produced, for the subjects involved, a recognition of His powerful yet ultimately gracious hand. If God were to have just given Jacob and his seed an abundance of essentials, would they have recognized and glorified Him to the same extent? Nay!Hebrews 3:4 reads, "For every house is constructed by someone, yet He Who constructs all is God." Do we see God's hand in this process? Do we labor, smash our thumbs, and agonize over the costs? Yes. But it doesn't change whom ultimately constructs. God is constructing His house in the celestials. We are on the stage of this world doing it.His Sovereign will is elevated absolute truth. It is the standard that subjects all other truth as relative. There can be corresponding truths in Scripture that appear to be contradictory. Failure to recognize this relationship of absolute vs. relative relationships has caused artificial doctrine. Here are some examples of seemingly contradictory truths.I will write the revealed will verse first.
- Seek and you will find - Matt. 7:7
- Not one is seeking out God - Rom 3:11
- Then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve - Joshua 24:15
- You have not chosen me; I choose you - John 15:16
- Come all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest - Matt. 11:28
- No one can come if the Father is not drawing him - John 6:44
- How many times do I want to assemble your children in a manner a hen gathers her brood under her wings -and you (Israel) will not - Matt. 23:37
- God gives Israel a spirit of stupor - Rom 11:8