Was the apostle Paul a universalist?

Monday Musings for September 06, 2021

Good morning, Musers,

My immediate response to universalism (the false doctrine that everyone goes to heaven) is that I wish it were true. But that “immediate” response is an immature response… so you can see where we’re going with today’s musings. Adults understand the importance of mature concepts… like God upholding his justice and like God being true to his word.

It is the immature people among us who insist that, if God is a God of love, then he wouldn’t send anyone to hell — no matter what else the Bible says! The apostle Paul has something to say about that kind of thinking — and he said it to the Corinthians: grow up.

“I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.”
(1 Corinthians 3:2, NIV) (See also Hebrews 5:12)

I classify universalism as a “wishful thinking” type of error. It is attractive to people who only know the Bible as little children know it… not like those who have wrestled with it and have taken the whole counsel of God. The so-called prosperity gospel fits this category, too… I mean, who doesn’t want to be rich! Who doesn’t want everybody to go to heaven, no matter what!

The problem with the latter is, a lot of people don’t want to go to heaven. What do you do with them? Force them? That would be problematic on many levels. In today’s Q & A we are going to look at the whole counsel of God on this matter, but several objections to universalism jump right out at me, so I will share them quickly.

First, the challenge has a false premise: God doesn’t send anyone to hell. People choose to go there. Now, a counter-apologist might argue that a “loving” God should redirect them anyway… for their own good. That generates three problems.

First, who says that would be a loving behavior on God’s part? God doesn’t. Read the Bible. Second, what happens to free will? Does it disappear with the wave of a “loving” hand? Most of you know where I stand on this. Without the free will of humankind, I see no purpose for the universe… and everything unravels without purpose.

Third, to whom is it loving? … because I can think of a lot of people who would be potentially harmed by that action. I’ve known some evil, brutal people — people I have hated being next to them on earth! What makes you think I’d want to spend eternity with them?

But God would “fix” them, you’d counter. He “fixed” us, didn’t he? Not really… not without our cooperation.

Now, don’t get the wrong idea. Our salvation relies on God from start to finish. But part of his design was that we — people who could truly say “no” to him — said “yes” instead… as an act of free will. “Refashioning” people into people fit for heaven would be a violation of the free will that was an essential part of our salvation. Note the restrictive clauses in John 1:12.

Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—” (John 1:12, NIV, emphasis mine).

 

(Click here to read the article referenced above. For comments, or to join the Monday Musings mailing list, contact us at mainsailep@gmail.com. To submit a question about God, the Bible or the Christian culture, click here.)