The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Freedom and Annihilationism (a retitled thread)

How do you all handle free will?

From number 3 of the statement of faith, universalism is defined on this board as at least the belief that God will eventually redeem all humanity. Thus, no human is can permanently refuse this redemption. Each will be redeemed, and so each is unable to prevent this fate. Being Christian universalists, I’ll assume you believe God is the determiner of this fate. So, in sum, am I correct in saying that the universalists here believe that God has denied humans the ability to permanently refuse redemption?

If humans are denied the ability to refuse redemption, then it seems disingenuous to say they are “free” to accept redemption. They are no more free to accept redemption than a prisoner is “free” to stay in his cell.

So, do you find a way around this dilemma, or do you agree with my train of thought and deny this particular freedom because of its logical inconsistency with universalism?

I am a universalist but not an evangelical Christian so my ‘unorthodox’ reply is that at the core everyone wants to be redeemed but their spiritual blindness prevents some from receiving it in this present age. A lost sheep is just that, lost. It’s natural habitat and source is the fold.

You are implying that some souls have an intrinsic desire to be damned to misery forever. I think that would qualify as insanity and so even by man’s imperfect standards such a one, unless first cured, could not be sentenced to death.

For some reason this reminds me (humorously) of a story I read of a Christian activist in China some years ago who was to be executed for crimes against the people’s republic. Before the firing squad the commander asked “Do you have any last words?”. The women replied “I want to thank you gentlemen for sending me home to my Father today”. The commander was furious. “She’s insane!!!” he shouted. “We can’t execute a crazy person! Take her back to her cell!” :slight_smile:

Actually, #3 reads “We believe the Bible teaches the hope that God will eventually redeem all humanity through Christ.”

The ‘at least’ position would thus be something like “We believe the Bible teaches us that we can at least hope for this.”

This minimal stance, consequently, leaves open pretty much any free will stance presentable. Some of us go further than this, of course.

That being said: I am very much a strong theological proponent of human free will, under God. And my universalism concentrates (as a corollary from orthodox trinitarianism–including the filioque :ugeek: :wink: ) on the intentions of God toward His rebel creations. Putting it in terms of agreement with Arminians and Calvinists (on positions where they distinctly disagree with each other): I agree that the Arminians have the better exegetical and theological arguments when it comes to the scope of God’s intentions (God will act toward saving everyone); and I agree that the Calvinists have the better exegetical and theological arguments when it comes to the topic of God’s persistence (He won’t give up acting to save those whom He intends to save from sin).

I affirm that theoretically it’s possible that any sinner may keep refusing to repent for as long as the sinner exists (and I affirm that God, because He is acting in love toward the sinner, will not eventually annihilate the sinner out of existence altogether). But both ethically and as a practical matter, I’m not going to bet on the sinner. :wink: I’m going to bet on God, and hope in God, and trust in God. :exclamation:

Hi Sahid,

I’m an evangelical universalist who believes in libertarian free will. I believe that God never gives up on any human or angel. I believe that a human or angel could continuously reject God and salvation forever while I doubt that anybody will continuously reject God and salvation forever.

Let’s not forget that forever is a long time.: )

By the way, I agree with Jason’s answer.

Do you have any more questions about this?

I tend to be one to think that both are true. Although I’m not a calmenian I tend to think there are times when God does intervene and cause people to do things. There are times when he allows us to choose. I am certainly no expert in this field so I can only go with my understanding, as small as that may be.

I do see it that God hardens when and whom he wants to and I also see it that God matures us by allowing us to make mistakes as well. Some times he ensures the outcome by intervening and forcing the results in order to accomplish his goals and sometimes he simply allows us to foil and it does not affect his goals but requires no determinism.

With that said, I realize a whole slew of questions can be thrown at me and I simply respond “I don’t know” :slight_smile: I’m not expert.

I call myself a determinist but not in the same sense as a reformed subscriber. I believe God is determined to save the world and I also believe he will accomplish what he is determined to do. Thus I am a universalist of some type :slight_smile:



Thank you all for your polite responses.

In response to firstborn888, I’d say that spite, self-righteousness, ambition, and probably some other motivators might persuade a person to throw everything away when things don’t work out the desired way. I don’t think I need to go so far as to posit an intrinsic desire for death to support this stance, but what’s to say such a desire does not exist?

In response to Jason and James, I am an annihilationist. This is not to say that I believe God annihilates unbelievers, but instead it is my belief that those who reject the Source of life eventually wither and die having no means to support themselves and no God who will force his will upon them in this way (which would amount to denying a major part of their capacity to relate, something I take to be part of the imago Dei).

In response to auggybendoggy, I’ll agree that God can and does intervene in ‘deterministic’ ways while leaving other choices open. What I have a problem with is the idea that God will intervene deterministically in this case. It seems to me our final states are a fairly huge deal - probably one of the biggest decisions we can even think of making. If God determines the big decisions but leaves us freedom with the details, I still have the problem. We have the same sort of freedom as the prisoner in the cell… he is free to sleep on his back or on his side, but he is still bound to his larger fate. Freedom is not a good description of our state if the important decisions are made for us while we are only left to manage the details.

Thanks for your patience.

Thank you, Sahid.

I’m curious about your view of of the image of God in humans. Does the image of God in unsaved humans wither to nothing immediately after death or how long does that image of God last after death?

Refusing redemption is a little like babies refusing to be born or, in this case, reborn. The resurrection is universal because of a redemption that is equally universal. It’s not about denied ability but an enhancement of ability to love that which is irresistible for it’s loveliness. So perhaps, it’s a matter of seeing and understanding that loveliness for the first time. i.e. No one confesses Christ without first loving Him - yet all end up confessing Him. Love is meaningless without freedom.

Now you could argue that God is being coercive by being irresistible - but you would be missing the point - in Christian history, determinism is really a regression back to the pagan Greeks (men as playthings of the fates) - reignited by Augustine (he loved the poets) and copied as another gospel by Islam.

I understand. I find it no better of a case that one man is born to osama bin laden and taught to bomb others in the name of allah while another man gets Billy Graham who teaches his son to walk like Jesus.

Outside of God bringing about his goals (to have mercy on them all Rom 11:32 - my fav verse) Life’s a crap shoot.

I believe we are in bondage to sin (born into it) we do not choose to be sinners. We choose to be sinners because we are under the control of sin (as sinners I mean). We do not control our sin by our choices, our choices are BENT (hostile) by the control sin has on our persons.

Thus a need for a determined God who is the only one can save and humble the arrogant.

I’ll be posting an argument I call “The argument of humility” in the discussion positive forum and we can dialogue on that topic if you wish.


Excellent question James…

I really only have three general problems with annihilationism that I can think of. (Though I’m glad to see a visiting proponent of it; I hope you’ll participate in critiques of our positions! :slight_smile: And in defenses of our occasional critiques of it, too. :mrgreen: I’ve posted up a fairly long set of entries down in the “Books” section, critiquing a famous chapter freely available online from Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi.)

First, there’s a metaphysical problem that stems from my acceptance of orthodox trinitarian theism: God’s own intrinsic self-existence involves positively acting to fulfill fair-togetherness (the Greek word in the NT typically Englished as “righteousness”). For God to willingly allow a derivative spirit whom He has been keeping in existence, to succeed in annihilating itself through sin (and I agree that any sin would naturally lead to this result apart from the grace of God), would be for God to choose to abrogate fulfilling love and justice to and through that person. At that point, God Himself would be a doer of non-fair-togetherness, acting against His own active self-existence which is an interPersonal union. It wouldn’t only be the derivative person committing suicide; it would be God Himself as well. Which obviously isn’t ever going to happen, or we wouldn’t be in existence now ourselves to be discussing the topic.

(Note that this objection would have to be tabled somewhat, in discussion with someone who wasn’t an eastern or western orthodox trinitarian theist. It would be an immediately moot objection to someone who wasn’t ortho-trin; though it would still be indicative of a key point of disagreement between us.)

Second, the canonical scriptural portrait of God’s justice post-mortem in regard to sinners may be variable in many ways, including some texts that could easily be read as some kind of annihilationism–texts that I would argue must be respected and factored into a largescale exegetical theology by non-annihilationists. But what does not seem variable (as far as I have ever been able to tell) is that whatever punishment occurs post-mortem is directly enforced by God. If you have a substantial number of scriptural references that would seem to primarily indicate otherwise, that would be worthy of discussion, and I encourage you to start a thread on the topic (perhaps in here in this forum dedicated to bringing up objections to universalism.)

Third, though possibly of less importance: while there are texts that seem to indicate some kind of annihilationism, there are also texts, and many of them, seeming to indicate that rebel souls continue in existence for some indefinite but at-least-potentially extensive duration–a duration connected at least by comparison to the natural time of the ages. Just as I would argue that an exegetical theology would need to respectfully include and account for the texts of annihilation (of some kind), so would I argue that an exegetical annihilationist theology would need to respectfully include and account for the texts of this other kind, too.

While I have some sympathy with this observation, the fact of the matter is that derivative creatures are simply not going to be free in certain absolute regards. Our existence and capabilities will always depend upon God, from Whom and for Whom we exist, and in Whom we move and live, and by Whom we continue to cohere. Call it “still being bound to our larger fate” if you wish; it isn’t an option. We cannot become Independent Facts–certainly a denial that annihilationists of all people would agree with! :wink: Rebel agents may wish to be self-existent apart from the providence of God, but apart from the providence of God is only non-existence, regardless of how much the agents may desire otherwise. They aren’t free to exist apart from dependence upon God–if God does decide to either annihilate them or else allow them to be self-annihilated, the agents will not be free to successfully contest that fact. Similarly, if God decides (for whatever reason–and I would argue that it is to fulfill love and justice to and in the rebel soul someday) to keep that soul in existence, then the soul will not be able to achieve self-annihilation no matter how much the soul may desire it.

James, I’m not sure. I started out as the sort of conservative evangelical who has diagrams for everything that will happen from now til death til the end of time. According to that upbringing, all are raised and judged. I’ve nuanced my view, but I still hold loosely to this understanding. I now understand the judgment of God differently from those who originally taught me. I don’t have a firm enough grasp on the pertinent scriptures and arguments, however, to make any very strong claim.

RanRan, you say, Love is meaningless without freedom. Of course love is impossible without the positive freedom TO love i.e. to love we must be free to love. But when I’ve spoken of freedom I do so in the libertarian sense - love is meaningful because we have the negative freedom NOT TO love - true love is not compelled. I agree with you that determinism is a corruption of Christianity, but I don’t see how the belief that all must be saved can fail to be determinism.

Aug, I disagree that we sin because we are born sinners. But I appreciate the answer. Am I correct in paraphrasing your view thus: “All are born sinners and all will be brought to salvation, and so with regard to his or her own sinfulness and final redemption the person is without freedom.”

Jason, I’m happy to discuss annihilationism. I am an annihilationist primarily because it is the only way I see of logically eschatologically reconciling free will and justice. I’m interested in knowing if the universalist here also attempt to do the same or is free will abandoned (I expect justice would not be abandoned) with respect to eventual salvation.

I don’t know if you all prefer I defend annihilationism here or on another thread, so I’ll start here and those in charge can correct me if they want.

You define what is commonly called righteousness as ‘fair-togetherness’ and I will accept this definition. I take free will to be an essential part of the imago Dei. So a ‘fair’-togetherness is one which fairly treats this free will. Were a person to choose a path of annihilation it would be an ‘unfair’ treatment of this person to revoke free will at this point. Of course there are limits to what we can expect our will to accomplish, but God’s urging us to accept eternal life suggests that our choice of eternal destiny falls within those limits. It is not at all unlike God to deny his own desires in order to do the loving and just thing. I think I still fall within the bounds of lower-case ‘o’ orthodox trinitarianism.

I do accept the possibility that certain biblical descriptions of post-mortem judgment are poetic. I think it’s possible that the poetically true passages outnumber the literally true ones for this issue (it is the subject of apocalyptic literature after all). My view banks on these possibilities.

I’m undecided about how long annihilation takes. If it is until the ‘end of the ages’, that still falls within the bounds of annihilationism as I hold to it. My main concern is to allow freedom with respect to eternal destiny.

I’m not arguing for absolute freedom in every regard. We can only exist or cease to exist independently of God if God so allows it. And I believe that God has an interest in allowing us freedom in this regard. You said, “Rebel agents may wish to be self-existent apart from the providence of God, but apart from the providence of God is only non-existence, regardless of how much the agents may desire otherwise.” This is exactly what I believe! If God revokes free will at this point, then he has done so at the expense of love, since love requires freedom and cannot be so coerced while still being considered love.

He stands at the door and knocks…

Sahid, and I appreciate your ability to dialouge on tough questions. This is just a difference we have to disagree on. I simply do not believe that any man can control his sin any more than an alchoholic can control his drinking. I also believe that just as crack babies are addicted due to their parents, so we too are addicted to disobedience inherited by our partents (Adam).

When Paul writes that we are controlled by our sinful nature I see no reason to believe we control our sinful nature. I believe it’s the very reason we cannot save ourselves. For if I could choose to not disobey God, I would except there is something in my nature which CAUSES me to not choose to obey God.

The subject of freedom of the will is a hard one and I love Talbott’s thoughts on this.

You can read a paper he has here:

I think Talbott does a fine job showing how “free” choice is a bit misunderstood.


The short answer is, of course, it is determined that all will be saved. His revealed foreknowledge is clear on that - everyone will be resurrected and everyone will confess Christ.

But knowing badness and death and then goodness and life is an experience that changes people (imperfectly) even on this side of the vale. The Holy Spirit blowing in like a wind - sudden and unexpected - an exact picture of the resurrection. I would argue that, as determined as it is, one will not feel, nor think, nor believe that one was coerced, forced, or left without the option to refuse for even the worst rebel - because by the experience one will be asking for more life from our Father. Following Christ means to ask - and, by that asking, become the first cause - the determiner. This is important to understand since a consistent determinist will argue that prayer affects nothing in spite of Christ placing great importance and power in our individual petition of God.

Sharing in determination? The idea shouldn’t be that strange to us - our destiny is to become immortal, co-rulers, sons, gods.


I believe in freewill but I am agnostic on whether compatibilist or libertarian views on freewill are correct. In other words, I am not totally sure whether determinism is true or false. However, either way God can bring about universal salvation without forcing anyway against their will (see ch 1 of my book).

The best work on freewill and universalism that I know is that of Thomas Talbott and Eric Reitan. I recommend Talbott to start with. His book *The Unconditional Love of God *gives the more accessible version. For the heavy version check out the papers on this link

You may need to look at some of the earlier ones first (towards the bottom) as some of the later ones (towards the top) build on them



Does your view of human free will allow lost dead to make a choice between postmortem annihilation and postmortem conversion to Christ?

I agree that a soft universalism which stops short of believing God WILL bring about universal salvation, is logically unproblematic. But I take Jesus’ “broad road that leads to destruction” to exclude this from all but the most remote possibilities.

James, I’m undecided on your question, but open to the possibilities.

I don’t quite understand why you think people sin. Do you think they truly see God for who he is and they see sin for what it is and they choose sin?

My understanding is they don’t understand that sin is NOT beneficial. Though we may think it benefits us, we don’t realize it destroys us.

You stated

How can God intervene derterministically WHILE leaving choices open. Either he makes it so or he does not. If he determines something in some way and you have a choice to do otherwise then he has not determined anything at all.


Aug, I don’t see this as an all or nothing issue. Sometimes God intervenes with determinism and sometimes God doesn’t intervene.

I understand James,
I agree with your statment. I guess I understand “while” to mean at the same time. So I would contend with a bit. However, what the h-e-double-hokeysticks do I know about free will and determinism : )

I do believe that we are not in control however. I see far too much in scripture and life that says man is OUT of control.

And equally so a God who gambles is worse than a God who determines with best results. Perhaps he’s not as bad as a God who determines showing favoritism (calvinism) but he’s def not as good as a God who saves all :slight_smile: