The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Believing God Exists vs. Believing in God

A common criticism of the Universalist position that post-mortem repentance is possible is that it violates the exercise of free will.

The Universalist position is based on the view that in God’s presence in the post-mortem world, there will be no doubt that God exists. Thus, all will believe at that time that God exists. But the logical possibility remains that some will still not believe in God. So, if in the post-mortem world, all also freely believe in God eventually, despite the logical possibility of their not ever believing in God, then all will have freely chosen such that all will be saved.

The criticism is that in the presence of God, believing God exists is self-evident and so free will not to believe in God has been effectively removed. But the belief that God exists and the belief in God are two different things. One can logically have the first but not the second.

One might question on what basis do I say “in the post-mortem world, all also freely believe in God eventually, despite the logical possibility of their not ever believing in God.” On what basis could one claim that all would eventually believe in God? I would argue that though it is logically possible to refuse to believe in God in the post-mortem setting (in that there are no logical contradictions in doing so), as Talbott says, it is not psychologically possible to refuse to do so, given basic needs that decisions are based on in rational humans (e.g., needs for love, comfort, and safety). But since these basic needs come from within the person, there is nothing outside of the person that is causing the decision to accept God. The decision is based on the internal decision-making process of the person himself or herself. Thus, it is a freely made decision.

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But we read of influence intentionally directed toward ourselves coming from an outside source:

Romans 2:4
Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?

Influencing–Yes; causing or determining–No.

I know what you are saying. Even the conversion of Saul of Tarsus could fit in with your idea. But these examples could also fit in with the idea I expressed that God appeals to our internal needs so that we still freely accept to believe in God. You know, as it’s been said, “He made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.”

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Interesting points!
Free will makes its choices based on something: A ‘mix’ of outer circumstance, how that circumstance is perceived, and ‘inner’ feelings, compulsions, intuitions. I guess I’m saying that free will is not an entirely mental activity, that people are more complicated than simply mental, and that our free will is generally more of an expression of past experience, unconscious promptings, habit, etc.
Anyway - I think people can idolize free will, or base their idea of what we really are in the concept of free will, when actually we are not free in that sense. IMO.
We are actually weak things overall. I don’t have any problem with God influencing us with allurements to a spiritual life, or frightening us with warnings, or opening our understanding to His truth. In fact I welcome those things. Left to myself I would cave to a world that is like this:
" where craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and too much pride in our achievements and possessions can war with our mind, and the powers and influences in material and digital worlds, media and social media and targeted advertising constantly try to herd us into how they want us to think and how feel and even what to value. These things can become a barrier between us and our flourishing as God’s true people. We are surrounded by influences, which can shrivel and darken our thinking, and divert our affections from what is truly worth our love ; and to be free, is to understand, resist and overcome these things."
My paraphrase of a Channing thing.

See p 175 of TILOG 2nd edition.

Yes, I guess I’m a bit primed for this sort of thing because whenever I bring up the subject of post-mortem repentence at reasonablefaith.org, I hear from many of the Christians there that such would remove free will.

Interesting. Do they deny Paul’s words that God hardened people’s hearts to achieve his salvific purposes? Even if what you describe in the OP would remove free will, the Bible pretty explicitly says God removed some people’s free will to achieve his salvific purposes.

CS Lewis used the word ‘curate’ in a book of his; I looked it up, and it helped me in forming my current understanding of the world as a place of soul-making as salvation.
“A curate is a person who is invested with the care or cure of souls of a parish”. In fact the town he was describing was named “Cure Hardy”. Somewhere else I read of God’s ‘slow skill’ in curing us spiritually.
WEC: “It has pleased God in His wisdom to surround us from our birth with difficulties and temptations, to place us in a world where wrong-doing is often rewarded , and where duty can be difficult or inconvenient, where many voices oppose the voice of conscience”
GMac: When I am very weary with hard thought,
And yet the question burns and is not quenched,
My heart grows cool when to remembrance wrought
That thou who know’st the light-born answer sought
Know’st too the dark where the doubt lies entrenched—
Know’st with what seemings I am sore perplexed,
And that with thee I wait, nor needs my soul be vexed.

 15.

 Who sets himself not sternly to be good,
 Is but a fool, who judgment of true things
 Has none, however oft the claim renewed.
 And he who thinks, in his great plenitude,
 To right himself, and set his spirit free,
 Without the might of higher communings,
 Is foolish also—save he willed himself to be.

 16.

 How many helps thou giv'st to those would learn!
 To some sore pain, to others a sinking heart;
 To some a weariness worse than any smart;
 To some a haunting, fearing, blind concern;
 Madness to some; to some the shaking dart
 Of hideous death still following as they turn;
 To some a hunger that will not depart.

 17.

 To some thou giv'st a deep unrest—a scorn
 Of all they are or see upon the earth;
 A gaze, at dusky night and clearing morn,
 As on a land of emptiness and dearth;
 To some a bitter sorrow; to some the sting
 Of love misprized—of sick abandoning;
 To some a frozen heart, oh, worse than anything!

 18.

 To some a mocking demon, that doth set
 The poor foiled will to scoff at the ideal,
 But loathsome makes to them their life of jar.
 The messengers of Satan think to mar,
 But make—driving the soul from false to feal—
 To thee, the reconciler, the one real,
 In whom alone the would be and the is are met.

I’ve heard two “bits of wisdom” from some Christians at that site and elsewhere, bits of wisdom that only paint these people into a corner. One is that God will not provide too much information for belief because that would prevent the exercise of free will. The other is that God will not directly override one’s free will. Well, just considering Saul’s experience on the road to Damascus, one can see the falsity of one or the other of these bits of wisdom. Either Saul was provided with more information, and that got him to accept freely that Jesus is the son of God, or God forced Saul to accept it against his free will. I say that because, clearly, Paul did not accept that Jesus was the son of God before the encounter but indeed did accept it after the encounter.

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For mine, I suspect it was the former. I’m also pretty much in the ball-park with qaz’s thoughts here…

According to your friends freedom is conditional on ignorance (to one degree or another), and a rational being can only be good if he or she is free. By that logic, God cannot be good, since God is omniscient; everything He does is with full knowledge. If God’s full knowledge of morality (and everything else) does not preclude God’s actions from being good, why would a human having full (or, more realistically, sufficient) knowledge about the right thing to do preclude a human’s action from being good?

Lets look at what scripture says regarding if free will is the be-all-end-all to God.

Romans 11
7 What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, 8 as it is written,
“God gave them a spirit of stupor,
eyes that would not see
and ears that would not hear,
down to this very day.”
9 And David says,
“Let their table become a snare and a trap,
a stumbling block and a retribution for them;
10
let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see,
and bend their backs forever.”

Yes, these are powerful words from Paul and seem to show that God has overcome the exercise of free will in some people. (Note the overcoming of Jonah’s free will, too, in a most extreme way.)

But there is clearly hyperbole here, especially in the words “bend their backs forever,” for later in the chapter (Romans 11), Paul makes it clear that the hardened Jews were not cast off forever. They were brought back in.

11 “I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. 12 Now if their transgression be riches for the world and their failure be riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be!”

25 “For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own estimation, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 and thus all Israel will be saved:”

30 “For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so these also now have been disobedient, in order that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. 32 For God has shut up all in disobedience that He might show mercy to all.”

So, the hardening was not permanent and served an all-pervasive purpose that eventually benefitted even those that were hardened.

@lancia I don’t see that in any way contradicting anything I wrote. Romans says God removed certain people’s free will to achieve his salvific purposes. If God would do this then free will is not the be-all-end-all, and thus we cannot conclude God wouldn’t violate people’s free will postmortem on grounds that God cares more about free will than saving people he wants to save. This of course assumes that having all relevant knowledge would make a being unfree, which I think has yet to be proven. But even if your friends can prove this, the conclusion that a being cannot do good if he or she doesn’t possess a degree of ignorance (since then he or she couldn’t act freely) would mean God can’t do good, since God is omniscient.

“Providence is a permanent activity of God. He is never a spectator; he always directs everything toward fulfilment. Yet God’s directing creativity always creates through the freedom of man and through the spontaneity and structural wholeness of all creatures.” Paul Tillich

Just food for thought.



I wasn’t intending to convey that my post contradicts what you wrote. Recall that my first two sentences were in total agreement with your post: “Yes, these are powerful words from Paul and seem to show that God has overcome the exercise of free will in some people. (Note the overcoming of Jonah’s free will, too, in a most extreme way.)”

I just wanted to be sure that the hardening of individuals was not seen as permanent in this case, as might be suggested by a reading of “bend their backs forever.” The word forever is clearly intended to be interpreted hyperbolically.