Does a proper grasp of the “Character of God” lead to UR??


#1

I have a subset of longtime friends and acquaintances who try to filter all their theology through the idea of trying to comprehend the character of God. They read through the bible asking only one central question: “what does this tell me about the nature of God and His character?” Of course lots of bible stories and chapters and books tell only part of the whole saga so one must always read on and attempt to put the entire body of scripture together in one coherent whole. And I can tell you it’s quite a rewarding way to approach scripture.

However, over time I drifted away from this approach as I saw that once one accepted a certain premise, and if that premise was incorrect, it became difficult to overcome as it influenced everything that was read. Such a premise is that in the end, some, perhaps many will be lost. This of course was not God’s “fault” in any way; He’d done all He could do so, against His wishes for us, He sadly has to “let us go”. So in their minds the Character of God was upheld for He truly wanted to save all.

As I moved closer to an understanding of UR and then eventually embraced it, I now realize I drifted away from reading the bible in an explicit attempt to understand God’s character. Now, I’m thinking it might be worth reconsidering this whole approach of seeing everything through the eyes of trying to comprehend God’s character. Only this time with the clear insight that a proper grasp of His character really should lead to an embrace of UR!

I realize this may seem like putting the cart before the horse; taking a truth and going back and re-interpreting the bible through that truth. Given that I don’t believe there is such a thing as an aware, sentient human without bias or conviction, I don’t see that as a big problem at all really.

So my question would be, have any of you engaged in a system and mindset of study of the bible with an eye to knowing the character of God and found that the truth of His eventual Universal Reconciliation with the entire Universe necessarily followed?

Quite curious about this!

TotalVictory
Bobx3


#2

The scriptures are so particularistic at various times when talking about God, that I doubt it’s possible to build a systematic theology this way without it being wildly self-contradictory. I can think of at least one or two OT prophetic books that only talk about God’s condemnation with nothing in the least about His salvation (except maybe of the perfectly righteous who earn His salvation from the wicked that way).

Neither do those texts have anything to say about a messiah, either! Much less anything in favor of ortho-trin and/or the Incarnation. But the point is that even a unitarian couldn’t read those verses without effectively trumping them by appeal to data elsewhere. We can’t read those texts to mean that God never saves the wicked (as an established ‘characteristic of God’), because He does save the wicked elsewhere–a significant amount of OT prophecy is about saving the wicked after they’ve been punished (sometimes to death!) by God, to give only one example.

Why should we read the texts that say less in a corrective light of texts that say more, instead of vice versa, though? I don’t think (and have certainly never seen or read anything, even in principle) explaining that the reason for doing so can be found in another prooftext somewhere (establishing a ‘characteristic of God’ or not).

I would like to say that putting together all the scriptural pieces will surely and inerrantly result in some kind of universalistic doctrine. But even if that’s technically true, putting-together-all-the-scriptural-pieces is unimaginably difficult. Enough so that serious differences in mutually exclusive doctrines have resulted from people trying to do so.

Doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be tried. I’m just saying, it’s obviously very easy to make a mistake and end up with a wrong belief about God. And at the end of the day, what we get from the scriptures still necessarily depends, to this or that extent, on what we are bringing to the scriptures. There isn’t any way around that; and there shouldn’t be, either.

Unless our salvation is supposed to be due to our scriptural understanding, after which and in reward for which God will agree to save us and reveal Himself to us. But the scriptures themselves say that this is love: that while we were yet sinners, God first loves us and acts for our sake, to bring us to Himself. We disagree among ourselves about the details on that, of course. :slight_smile: But to the extent we agree about that, we ought also to believe that we bring God’s love in at least some way to the scriptures beforehand.

So we ought to read the scriptures according to God’s love (even if we don’t quite recognize that yet).

And yes, I believe that to the extent people consistently do that, one or another kind of universalism will be the logical result. So far as we don’t, then not.


#3

My current project is to write a summary of the Biblical Story, trying to discern the meaning of its’ main themes as I work from beginning to end. Of course, with the assumption that there is an overarching or coherent continuity to the story, one of the main questions I am asking myself, is what does the trajectory and themes imply about the character of God. So far, perhaps influenced by my universalism, it seems to me that a pervasive pattern is that despite numerous human failures and divine restarts, with the repetitive cycle of sin, judgment, and grace, it seems like God is portrayed as bent on relentlessly pursuing the kind of world that reflects his character and what we are meant to be. It doesn’t seem like a story of a person that we would expect to at some point quit, and accept a largely unredeemed conclusion.


#4

I tend to agree; this is one of the things I thought the Calvs had a lot of strength about, back when I wasn’t a universalist.

That can be a good rule of thumb, by the way: if you’re getting an impression that could easily be shared by one or both of the basic non-universalist soteriologies, then your universalism isn’t necessarily salting the pizza. :smiley:


#5

This is exactly the kind of thing I’d love to read Bob!!! You are singing my song here! (Or I’m singing your song maybe??!!!)

And the beauty of this endeavor is that we ALL have it deeply and desperately wrong; it’s gonna be much much better than we ever imagined!

In the class I get to facilitate once a month in my church, this theme you mention is one I talk about over and over. God’s insistent patience; He never gives up! He never leaves this recalcitrant bunch of rebels! This is, in short, not a God at all who would come to a point where He just gives up and abandons the rebels to their “just reward”. No, in fact this is precisely where God ramps it up; it’s what God does.

Wow, I’d love to read your work when you will allow it Bob! This is very cool for me!

TotalVictory
Bobx3


#6

TV: Does a proper grasp of the “Character of God” lead to UR??

Tom: Great question TV. I have a couple thoughts that I’ll post after I first post Bob’s comments:

BobW: So far, perhaps influenced by my universalism, it seems to me that a pervasive pattern is that despite numerous human failures and divine restarts, with the repetitive cycle of sin, judgment, and grace, it seems like God is portrayed as bent on relentlessly pursuing the kind of world that reflects his character and what we are meant to be.

Tom: Totally agree. But in my case (and I’m guessing yours), embracing universalism was the consequence of coming to read the Bible as narrating this kind of story.

Every serious student of the Bible distils “a” view on the fundamental character of God from her reading. That’s no surprise. I don’t know how one can avoid it. Indeed, I think we’re meant not to be able to avoid doing so. And while it’s true that biblical writers share some diversity of views and opinions about what sort of being God is (I don’t imagine any two Jewish or Christian theists ever believed EXACTLY the same things about God), my response to this is to place Jesus at the center and work out from there. I believe God is Christlike (“If you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father”) and I especially note how Heb. 1.1-3 contrasts the way God spoke to us in the past (diverse ways/manners) with the way God has definitively spoken to us in Christ (who is the express image of his person). More could be said, but I’ll just leave it there. For me it’s as safe a move as one can make to make Christ the authoritative revelation of the character of God. Done deal. Then I work out from there—judging and measuring and concluding as I go.

I don’t think this obviously and automatically gets one to UR, but it did lead ME there. And more to your point, TV, I do think that we are bound a) to form some view on the character of God and b) to harmonize all our beliefs about God’s actions with God’s having the character we ascribe to him. Whether our grasp on his character is “proper” (i.e., true) or not, it will definitely influence where we come out on the question of UR, don’t you think? Fr example, I’ve heard many times the argument that if God were not to consign the wicked to irrevocable torment God wouldn’t be truly holy. It’s because his character is infinitely holy that hell must be eternal. His holiness requires it. But this isn’t a real difference in opinion between ICTers and UR folk on the holiness of God. It’s just a disagreement over what it means to be holy and what being holy implies. But you can see how one’s view of it constrains their options.

Tom


#7

Thanks for your interest TJB! I think our approaches tend to resonate a lot! For me, taking seriously the appeal of Jesus’ insistence on the parental analogy for grasping who God is, and yet a more benevolent father than good fathers among us, really heighted my discomfort with traditional ECT. I am finding it fascinating to survey the main events and themes of the Old Testament account. I think the Jewish experience and tradition (including some diversity of approachs to key questions like the nature of God’s law and what matters to God, God’s attitude toward sacrifice, the nature of promised kingship, his view of the use of violent force in achieving the promised kindgom, etc., as well as the constants of God’s goal to produce a righteous people who will ultimately bless the whole creation, and God’s constant perserverance toward it) heighten the drama of asking what position Jesus and the church will take. What will remain in continuity, and what may be reinterpreted in a more surprising twist? So I too look forward to hopefully producing some coherent account of the whole, and will try to post it eventually as an attachment for others to critique.