Paul wrote in I Timothy 1:15 “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.”
Here is the conversation between Jesus and Saul at the latter’s conversion:
Jesus: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”
Saul: “Who are you, Lord?”
Jesus: "I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.
Saul: “What shall I do, Lord?”
Jesus: “Now get up and stand on your feet and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”
Note that “the worst” of all sinners (i. e., Saul) is converted into a worshipper of Christ simply by seeing Him in His glory. There is no process. There is no punishment. There is no purgation. There is no etc. Instead, the worst of all sinners sees the resurrected Jesus in all His glory, and Saul’s response is obedience and confession of Christ’s lordship: “What shall I do, Lord?”
That is what I believe happens to each person after death. No matter how vile, no matter how anti-Christian, each person sees the resurrected Jesus in all His glory and renders Him obedience and recognition of His lordship.
I do not see any conflict with human free will here. To adapt a page out of Talbott’s thought, I believe the only SANE (and therefore free) response to the vision of Jesus in all His glory is joyous, obedient worship. Any other response would be insane, and thus not free.
No process is narrated, but the statement “It is hard for you to be kicking against the goads” indicates that there was some sort of process leading up to this. Christ had already been goading him.
If you mean that there was no baptism and cleaning by the Spirit of God (our consuming fire), then I’m inclined to say, “uh, yeah, there had to have been, even if that wasn’t narrated either”–but I’m somewhat doubtful you meant this.
If you mean that there wasn’t a disciplinary time out while Saul got his head and heart together, then I’m going to point to Saul’s three years off in the Arabian desert somewhere before he comes back to begin preaching. Probably he wasn’t having an orgy with 70 virgins in a Persian paradise-garden, but then admittedly his 3-year time-out isn’t ever narrated or described either so I’ll grant that I may be imagining a more strict regimen there.
I’m pretty sure I recall reading once or twice somewhere in Acts or an epistle or something that Paul’s life afterward required Christ to save him from the Gentiles and from his own people–so was that salvation from every inconvenience caused by Jews and Gentiles to Paul? Or were they allowed to do things like beat and stone him to within an inch of his life, etc.?
I also recall reading in an epistle somewhere that Paul even prayed three times for Christ to remove some kind of “thorn” that was distressing him greatly, and that Christ answered, in effect, “No!” for some reason that Christ went into more detail about but which might be worth checking on. (All my reference materials are at the office, where I’m not this morning, so I’ll have to rely on someone else to look up various details here and elsewhere.)
Speaking as someone who sympathizes greatly with Paul’s claim to be the chief of sinners: to me, that kind of thing does in fact count as punishment and purgation. Maybe more of a Roman Catholic kind, than the kind that leads to repentance, but I seem to recall quite a bit of scriptural data (OT and NT both) talking about punishment leading to repentance, too.
Which itself is completely aside from the fact that the report (or at least the description) you gave of Paul’s conversion is not at all the same kind of thing that Christ Himself keeps talking about in regard to the intransigent wicked: so, out of curiosity, which parable or warning about judgment from Christ involves the worst sinners simply seeing Him in His glory and gladly submitting without any problems at all? Where is that process (or not-a-process, if you prefer) in RevJohn at the return of Christ? I’ll grant that there may be some OT prophecies along this line, but I recall there being some other kinds of OT prophecies, too.
Heck, even in that translation of 2 Thess 1:9 that I gave a couple of days ago, the justice that those who do not follow the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ will be valuing, is their whole-ruination: a pretty dang strong phrase which is used everywhere else (including by St. Paul, who is the NT author who uses it most) to mean something pretty starchy.
If St. Paul is an example of Ultra-U (and I am somewhat doubtful that he is), then my point is still that the scriptures pretty much everywhere else (including, by the way, in Paul’s own epistles, where things like having our worthless creations destroyed so that we may be saved as by fire occur) give examples of Ultra-U not occurring, but of some other kind of universalism (at best) instead. If Ultra-U occurs, it appears to be the rare exception, not the rule.
I agree with Jason, good to see you back : ) Geoffrey and me have been buddies for about 5 years or so, defending each other on Theology web.
I do agree with Pratt on this issue. I do find it that God is not simply out to accept the arrogant in their pride but out to utterly SMASH the arrogance of the wicked. This I argue does not conclude the person (anakin) is ultimatley killed but it does not conclude the person (Vader) is allowed into the kingdom of God. For the wicked shall not inherit the kingdom of God. Thus I find that UltraU. confuses the two and sees that God need not humble the arroagant but rather just accepts Vader in his wickedness without the transformation back into the image of God.
In my opinion this is exactly God’s goal that is we all are transformed (by the renewing of our minds) into the image of God which comes by work of the Holy Spirit set forth by the Christ and our Father.
I feel that UltraU. persuades one that the arrogance is already dealt with, I believe it’s a process.
Thank you for your welcomes. Truth to tell, I haven’t been away. I’ve just been lurking.
I’m afraid that I was somewhat unclear in my explanation of Ultra-Universalism. I certainly do recognize that in this life there is punishment, purgation, suffering, and all the rest. What differentiates Ultra-Universalism from Restorationist Universalism is that the latter believes in post-mortem punishments. Ultra-Universalism believes that all punishments are completed with a person’s death.
Thus, I believe that all the parables and prophecies of suffering are talking about suffering that occurs before death. Think about all the sufferings that we humans go through here on earth: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Loss, pain, sickness, tears, disappointments, failure, fear, and death characterize our existence. And worst of all is our sinfulness. All the rest is not even worth considering beside the fact that our sinfulness robs us of the spiritual joy and peace of Christ. The more sinful a person is, the less joy he has. The less sinful a person is, the more joy he has. As is obvious, we all experience some joy and some lack thereof. Only Christ alone had perfect joy, because only Christ was perfectly sinless.
In short, we all are subjected to various tortures leading up to our executions…
But then, thank God, it’s done. It’s over. Then we are granted the vision of Christ in glory, which (as we saw with Saul) frees us from sin and its effects. Thank God we will be utterly free, for the first time in our lives. We will be free even as Christ is free. We will be perfect even as our Father in Heaven is perfect.
I suspect that Paul’s 3 years in Arabia was largely spent in prayer and intense reading of the Scriptures, in which “his eyes were opened” so he could see Christ in every line. In a sense, it was the first time Paul had ever read the Scriptures.
With Eugenio Corsini, I think that the Apocalypse of John (as well as the Olivet DIscourse) is about Christ’s First Coming, not His Second Coming. (With J. Massyngberde-Ford I hold that the Apocalypse was written by John the Baptist, not by the Apostle.) I hold that the Olivet Discourse was delivered at the beginning, not at the end, of Christ’s earthly ministry. When the Gospels or the Apocalypse talk about Christ’s parousia, they are talking about the Son of Man’s coming TO the Ancient of Days. In other words, Christ’s parousia (when mentioned in the Gospels or in the Apocalypse) is His coming from Earth to the Father at His Ascension in A. D. 30. (For prophecies regarding the Second Coming, one must read Acts and the N. T. epistles.) This, BTW, takes very seriously the Gospels’ and the Apocalypse’s recurrent statement that Christ’s coming is soon, right at the door. In other words (given that Christ’s earthly ministry lasted about two years), this soon coming occurred within 2 years of its announcement (whether by John the Baptist or by Christ).
Jesus says that “the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to His Son” (John 5:22). Jesus also says, “As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day” (John 12:47-48). I believe this all points to the fact that neither the Father nor the Son imposes an external judgment on anyone. Instead, the Judgment occurred at the Cross. We all slew the sinless Christ at Calvary. That is our judgment, the inevitable consequences of which is the lack of Christ-like joy. And because we lack joy, we fill the world with sin and consequently with all manner of human suffering. Our sinfulness is our punishment.
Dearest brothers, I mean not to preach at you, but merely to share with you my (fallible!) understanding of the Scriptures. Forgive any errors I make.
Delay not your Coming, O Christ. Annihilate our sinfulness with Your glorious appearing. Forgive us and deliver us from our sinfulness and our suffering. Amen.
Thanks for your perspective, it is one that I really enjoy to ponder. It makes me hopeful that we humans have become so preoccupied with revenge and fear and arrogance that we have really invented such horrors as a hell - and such a nightmare is so far from what the true God would be like.
As of now I cannot decide. I believe that the idea of post-mortem punishment is possible, but I do not see it as a necessity.
This passage always struck me as saying something *Ultra-*Universalistic:
“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” (John 3:17-21, NRSV)
If the punishment is future, why is Jesus saying these people are condemned and judged already by his own ministry?
I think we all have misunderstood a lot of what Jesus said. At least, from what John has Jesus saying.
That’s a great text, JD. No wonder that the Eastern Orthodox call the writer of the Gospel “St. John the Theologian”. I believe there is more depth and profundity in the Gospel of John than in any other writing.
When I wrote above that “the Judgment occurred at the Cross”, it would have been more exact for me to write “the Judgment occurred at the Incarnation”.
Ah!–my bad. When you were bringing in St. Paul as an example of Ultra-U, you seemed to be referencing his pre-mortem conversion as the example, not a narrative of what happened to him after death. (which… doesn’t seem to be present in the verses you mentioned anyway…)
And while I can see some argument that St. Paul in his epistles (and perhaps some of his sermons recorded in Acts) taught that Christians (at least) need not be concerned about any judgment after death, I’m not sure how I can see his pre-mortem conversion as an example of what didn’t happen to him after death.
Like… Lazarus and the Rich Man?
Also, the judgment of the Lord typically tends to be associated, as at the end of RevJohn, with what happens after the resurrection of the good and the evil. Jesus comes back, and then the judgment of all souls: including those who have already died, some of whom are still regarded as being among the evil (like the rebel angels more-or-less imprisoned for now in hades.)
So, when Paul laments that he still does that which he knows is wrong (Rom 7:14-25), what reason would he have to say these things, if he was actually free from sin and its effects already, and already perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect? Because I’m pretty sure the grammar isn’t about past references, but about his present condition.
(Though on another topic, Paul does go on to say in 8:1 that there is no crisising, or condemnation, for those who are in Christ Jesus, speaking of something God-and-Christ have already accomplished. This would be one of those places I acknowledged earlier where I said that Paul seems to teach that there is no punishment for Christians after death.)
That, I can agree with.
There are so many interesting propositions worth discussing in this paragraph (pro or con) that I very much hope to see you set up various new threads on these topics!
I may be missing something in this paragraph, but if the judge for the one who rejects Christ is the very word which Christ spoke, which will condemn the one who rejects Christ on the last day; then how is our slaying the sinless Christ at Calvary (which btw I agree we all participate in as sinners) equivalent to our being judged and condemned by the word Jesus spoke? Also, how was that Friday “the last day”?
Similarly, if Jesus is not imposing an external judgment on anyone, why does He say (in the same Gospel, btw, John 5:19-30) that not only has all judgment been entrusted to the Son but that the Son does nothing of Himself but only what the Father is doing (for whatever the Father is doing the Son is doing likewise)?–after which He affirms (v.27ff) that the Father gives the Son authority to do judging, specifically the judging of the resurrection when those who do good shall go out into a resurrection of life but those who do evil shall go into a resurrection of judging: precisely in accord with what Jesus hears from the Father (seeing as He does nothing of Himself), for the reason Jesus’ judging is just is that He is not seeking His own will but the will of the One Who sends Him.
When the data indicates that the Son is judging in cooperative subordination to the Father, I tend to take the other data as meaning that neither the Father nor the Son is judging alone apart from one another. The contextual statements immediately proximate to the denials of judging (which only occur in GosJohn) also fit this result.
Relatedly, 2 Tim 4:1 indicates that Christ Jesus is about to be judging the living and the dead in accord with His advent and His kingdom. Was 2 Tim written a few years before the Ascension of Christ after the Crucifixion and Resurrection? Rebel angels are kept now in the gloom of Tartarus for the judging of the Great Day in Jude v.4: was Jude written sometime before the C,R and A? Heb 9:27-28: inasmuch as it is reserved for persons to be dying once and after this a judging, thus Christ also having been offered once for the bearing of the sins of man will be seen a second time. Was Heb written sometime before the C, R and A? (Because the general gist all across Hebrews would seem to be that Christ has already been slain and resurrected and ascended.)
While I certainly agree that this passage contains universalistic elements to it, it also clearly states that those who hate the light don’t come to the light (even though the light has to have already come to them, for this imagery to mean anything) because their deeds are evil and they don’t want their deeds exposed by the light.
Whatever else this means, it cannot mean that all that has to happen is for the light (which admittedly, in John 1, enlightens everyone) to enlighten a person and then that person will certainly gladly accept the light without any further ado.
excuse me for my mis-understanding (once again) that U-univ. believe the wicked will inherit the kingdom of God. I do realize that you endorse that the wicked will be humbled BEFORE they die therefore no post-mortem humbling is needed.
It is hard to imagine that this is the case in light of Jesus’ words and the epistles. There are so many texts that seem to indicate God is going to judge the wicked in a future tense. If Paul was a Universalist at all it seems he did not see that dying without the Lord was something to not worry about.
Off the top of my head it seems as though the pantelist/UU position holds a penal substitution atonement which I am slowly losing belief in. I’ve over the months been trying to maintain some way of believing it but I’m near the end of my rope as Bob Wilson slowly explains each point.
Is Penal Substitution important to Ultra Universalism?
But this is a temporary, transient situation, for the Universalist. Of course there are people who hate the light because they do evil things, and don’t want their greed and hate exposed, but that doesn’t mean they will never be changed into those who love the light.
Agreed. The change from light haters to light lovers is not always instantaneous. Though, it could be.
I actually agree with that. In a sense, any true repentance is an instantaneous change from hating to (however little, but truly) loving the light.
Moreover, I am not remotely committed to the idea that everyone must necessarily experience some kind of post-mortem ‘chastening’. There are scriptures (mostly from St. Paul, if I recall correctly) which indicate an expectation that those who follow Christ now will have no need for such a thing. (Yet again, I am not remotely committed to the idea that all chastening must be the maximal possible level imaginable. On the contrary, I firmly believe otherwise.)
However: I also take those verses very seriously (and especially as someone who, being a hyper-doctrinaire, might easily come to see myself as having special spiritual advantages or something of that sort thereby) which indicate that there will be those among the ostensible servants of Christ, and who even did serve Him in real ways, who are going to be in for a very rude surprise when the day of judgment comes. The vast majority of those warnings, though not all of them, come from Jesus, as reported in the Gospels and in the cover-letter to the churches of Asia in RevJohn.
I’ve been wondering about that myself. (Not in an accusing way, Geoffrey; just tactically curious. I recall some ways you’ve put things, and wondered when I read them if Penal Substitution atonement theory was what you had in mind.)
No need to apologize for misunderstanding me! The fault is probably mine. I keep making a hash of my explanations of Ultra-Universalism.
Hosea Ballou (1771-1852) was the first to my knowledge to explicitly and clearly teach Ultra-Universalism. He definitely rejected penal substitution.
Myself, I strongly doubt penal substitution and the substitutionary theory of the atonement. Personally, I don’t have a definite theory on the atonement. I lean towards the Eastern Orthodox understanding. My views on salvation are essentially those of Eastern Orthodoxy plus apocatastasis, minus post-mortem suffering. A hodge-podge!
I hasten to add that I hold all my theological theories very tentatively. I could easily be wrong on any or all of them. I am certain of only one thing:
Christ will ultimately save everyone and everything.
Outside of that seven-word sentence, all my soteriological beliefs are less than certain.
P. S. Jason, you raise many cogent and intelligent points. I’m not ignoring them, but I won’t be able to do them justice tonight. Give me some time to ponder.
No problem! Personally, I hope you’ll post up threads discussing points of your second set, too. I can’t say I’m prepared to agree with all of them, but they look very interesting and I’d love to see more focused discussion on them.