Is redemption a Pyrrhic victory for God?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

Question: How is it sanctifying God’s name if he designs humans to fall… but then doesn’t arrange for all of them to be saved? Considering the numbers lost, isn’t that a Pyrrhic victory?

Answer: This is certainly an “interesting” question… and I put quotes around “interesting” because your question generates quite a bit of (spiritual) cognitive dissonance within me — as I think it does with many thinking/feeling Christians. How do we justify the many lost souls associated with redemption?

Here’s the thing: God is glorious — with or without us — but there is certain glory that can only come from us humans. Don’t get me wrong… God can certainly maintain the sanctity of his own name. But the thing he cannot do without us is have volitional creatures also glorify him and sanctify his name — and this is a big deal — big enough to be the reason he created anything rather than nothing.

But do you know what the problem with us humans is? We have free will. So, most of us just live our lives and give God no glory at all. But God can’t just make us sanctify his name because that would be taking away our free will… yet, he could not not create us either because then he’d have less glory than if we were here… and “less” glory is not an option for the being, beyond which, no greater can be conceived.

The solution was to create us (knowing all of us would fall) and then redeem us (knowing that some of us would be saved)… but redemption is — and by definition — messy. It started with the blood of bulls and goats and culminated in the blood of Jesus Christ. But do you know what’s even messier than all that blood? The fact that some souls will necessarily be lost. But this is how any world working its way through sin via redemption must work. Not everyone gets a trophy… and the lack of trophy isn’t pretty.

So, let me ask again, how do we justify the many lost souls associated with redemption? We don’t have to. And to see why not, let’s look at Barrick Gold, a global mining company.

Barrick Gold has gold mines all over the world. In the first quarter of 2013, they processed anywhere from 2 to 91 tons of rock to get a mere ounce of gold! So on average, they processed about 24 tons of rock to get an ounce of gold. Now, being a business, I’m sure they are striving to improve their yields. But in 2013, they had a 24 to 768,000 gold-to-waste ratio which (apparently) is considered reasonable and profitable. After all, the company didn’t shut down! (

But even a layman like me understands that it is the nature of gold mining to be expensive, consumptive and destructive. It’s just not Pyrrhic. Although massive resources are needed to remove and process all that rock (and the environmental costs of mining are pretty well documented), mining continues for a reason: it’s profitable… and anything that is profitable cannot be Pyrrhic — this, by definition.

We, the redeemed people of God, are like that gold… although the process that got us here was redemption, not mining. Yet, redemption is a process much like mining in that it too is expensive, consumptive and destructive. As for expensive, it was bought with Jesus’ blood — and it cost him his life! (Galatians 3:13). As to consumptive, redemption is so painful that even the world groans under its processes (Romans 8:22). As to destructive, redemption would not be complete without the destruction of death, Satan, sin and sinners (Revelation 20:11-15).

That being said, the great number of lost souls associated with redemption makes me squirm. But since God knows his business (at least as well as those mining executives know theirs), redemption is profitable. And — as in every well-run business — there is minimum waste, and redemption’s processes are the minimum required to get the job done. So rest assured, no one “extra” is perishing… only those who have fought against redemption’s processes for their entire lives (Luke 12:10; John 6:44, 16:8).

You see, there are three things that constrain redemption: First, there is a number of people who will be saved... and God knows that number. Second, God cannot ignore sin while redeeming the world from it. Third, he cannot take away people’s free will. But the only way that “everybody” could go to heaven (an idea known as universal salvation… which is the idea you are floating) would for him to either ignore sin or clobber free will… and these are things he will never do… just like he would never uncreate creation. Things are like they are for a reason.

If the main purpose of creation is for us to glorify God and have a relationship with him (and I do believe those are its purposes), then we can look at the universe as (sort of) a factory for processing people. So, let’s say that God built this whole universe for only one person and that one person came to faith. God would have accomplished 100% redemption.

Now, one is certainly better than none… and even with just one person saved, God could receive that special kind of glory that only volitional creatures can give. But apparently, one is not enough… because many billions of people have inhabited our planet!

Dr. Hugh Ross, astronomer and president of Reasons to Believe ministries, teaches that the number God is looking for is in the billions. In Revelation 7:9 we see a multitude in white robes that “no man could number.” Ross says that since John’s audience understood how to number people into the millions, then “countless” is referencing billions.

Ross also postulates that God sent the flood as a population increaser, not a decreaser because the pre-flood murder rate was so high that the population would never have grown to where he needed it to redeem the optimum number of people. So, according to Ross, God has a number — and I agree… whether or not I agree with his particulars.

But anyway we slice it, there are plenty of people who have lived who have not found redemption… because this is how life under redemption goes. It’s not fun to think about or to teach… but it’s not Pyrrhic. Even if many more people end up being lost than being saved (as in processing 24 tons of material to yield one ounce of gold), God will still get his “number” … whatever that number is.

A Pyrrhic victory occurs when the victor suffers almost as much as the vanquished — and so much so that his nation will not likely conquer again. But an infinite God doesn’t run out of resources — no matter what the war costs — and an omniscient God would know the cost ahead of time. Besides, if there were any way to receive volitional glory other than for his Son (and these many people) to die, he would have gone that other route… but there was no other route (Luke 22:42).

Remember, God did not cause humanity to fall. He created people as volitional beings… and within our ability to choose lies the capacity for us to fall. Sin is unavoidable when making creatures who could choose to have a relationship with him… because there is no such thing as legitimate choosing unless one can also choose to ignore him — and many do… and these many perish by their own hands (Deuteronomy 30:19).

Recalcitrant sinners will not be magically (and unexpectedly) spirited to heaven after their deaths. They will cash in on their choices and be removed from God’s presence… just as the redeemed will cash in on theirs and spend eternity with him (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

Now, God optimized the universe so people will see him and make the right choices (Romans 1:18-20; 2:14-15), but he can’t make them choose rightly without also making them puppets — and God gets no glory from puppets! This is why he can’t just send people to heaven who don’t want to go — and this is why the Gospel is so important. Relying on Christ’s atoning work is the only way to avoid everlasting death (Acts 4:12). If you want life, it must be on God’s terms… and God’s terms involve having some losses (Matthew 7:23).

The Bible tells us that everyone has sinned (Romans 3:23) … but that sin insults God’s holiness (Ezekiel 39:7). As such, our default condition is death (Romans 6:23). But God was proactive. He sent his Son to die in our place (John 3:16), giving us the opportunity to live. But to cash in on that opportunity, we need to receive the gift he gave us (John 1:12). Once we do that, we have eternal life (1 John 5:11-12) … and we can never after that be condemned (Romans 8:1).

Want eternal life? Want to be the gold and not the tailings? That future is available to everyone… it just not automatically applied to everyone. So, receive Jesus Christ as your Savior today. Click here to see how.

I pray all this helped.

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