If God saves anyone then, to be fair, doesnt he have to save


Sorry I had to abbreviate the question to fit into the “Subject”

Today at church at my house, instead of a sermon our minister led a discussion/bible study on the first few chapters of Romans. Which was interesting in and of, itself. However, he put to the group a question to discuss:

:open_mouth: that got my heart going, especially as I haven’t talked to my minister about EU yet… I wasn’t sure where to start and how best to quickly answer, so I stayed quiet and listened to what others thought. Here are some of the comments, as best as I can recall:

Some possible responses were starting to form but unfortunately, we were pressed for time and so moved on :frowning:

Anyway, afterwards, I chatted to my minister, to see what he thought. One of the things he said was

In reply to any of the above, what do you think I should have said? What would you have said?


I would have said, “If it is only efficient for the elect by God’s choice and yet sufficient for all, then it is by God’s choice that it is not efficient for the dis-elect.”

There are Calvinists who do acknowledge this (supposing that they acknowledge that the cross was sufficient for all, which most Calvs do as otherwise they would be denying God’s sovereign omnipotence to save–an important key doctrine for Calvinism per se and a major selling point, too! Also a doctrine I strongly agree with, not incidentally. :smiley: ) But in my experience, most Calvinists are not at all comfortable with the notion that God’s sovereignty is responsible for the hopeless evil of the dis-elect. But then they have to hold to strongly affirming God’s sovereignty to save, including in the sense of responsibility for the resulting situation, while (at least vaguely, if not more explicitly) disaffirming God’s sovereign responsibility in the evil of the dis-elect.

Another option, to avoid acknowledging God’s sovereign responsibility for hopeless evil, is go the full distance in denying there is anything at all truly good about the non-elect (a common Calv position itself), taking it to the final extreme of denying that the non-elect are persons at all. The non-elect would therefore be equivalent to the philosophical test-concept of zombies. (A ‘zombie-world’ in philosophical parlance is a reality where to all external appearances real people exist and behave, but they aren’t in fact real people.)

This has the interesting advantage of effectively affirming universalism in fact if not in immediate appearance!–all real people (who are real only by God’s gracious election–a position actually affirmed in principle if not in explicit fact by all three basic soteriological branches) are indeed finally saved. It is only non-real zombies who are lost, but they were never real people to begin with, only fictional zombie creations introduced for fleshing out the narrative (so to speak).

While this has several metaphysical advantages, I think it founders on scriptural testimony. Among several other things, it makes too much of a hash of the testimony about punishment, which certainly appears to be about real people, including post-mortem. Even if annihilation is appealed to (and this sub-varient of Calvinism would fit best with annihilationism), it is the wicked and the unjust who are being judged and punished with annihilation.

The Calv might reply that a few scriptures here and there seem to talk about the wicked being simply wiped out of existence without necessarily attributing ethical judgment in the wipe-out; but that doesn’t really deal with the other scriptures speaking of personal judgment (including post-mortem) for real ethical faults (whatever those faults may be). Maybe such a Calvinist could go a route similar to preterist universalists (not all preterists are universalists of course), and interpret all such forewarnings to have been fulfilled and pretermitted at the mere fall of Jerusalem in 70 (and/or with Christ’s punishment on the cross). Another option would be to consider those warnings to be about real people but to also consider (along with purgatorial universalists, such as myself) such punishment to be truly re-tributive and re-probative, intended by God to lead the insistent sinner to reject and repent of his sin, accepting God’s salvation from that sin. Or perhaps all prophecy, including such warnings, should be considered conditional even when the condition is not explicitly stated, and we can trust in the sovereign competency of God that such warnings will not have to be fulfilled.

At any rate, I would certainly press him on the diselection (not simply the non-election) of the non-elect, if he affirms the sufficiency of the cross while denying the efficiency.


one could say “do you believe it is possible that all will eventually be given the chance to believe, so that the cross will be for them not only sufficient, but efficient?” it’s a question which could open up the possibility for possibility, without undermining the need for personal repentance, and faith.



Obviously God wants to save everyone, so it wouldn’t be a matter of “restricting” him at all - in fact, a restriction would be to force someone to accept less than everything, or less than what they want.

Or wait, you go to a Calvinist church, don’t you?


I’m thinking the immediate reply from a well versed Calvinist would be the rhetorical question:


I believe that God could be fair if he doesn’t save an everlasting recalcitrant soul. I don’t believe that a single soul will hold out from God literally forever, but God would be fair if souls continually rejected God forever.


I’ve certainly seen Calvs (and Arms) come back at me with this.

My immediate reply would be the non-rhetorical answer, “Um, God said so.” :mrgreen:

My next reply would be the rhetorical question, “So which of us is denying the justice of God, again? Because I’m pretty sure I’ve been constantly affirming it and not ever once denying it. I know I would never dare dream of defending my theology by suggesting that God doesn’t have to be fair.”

(But then, ‘fairness’ and ‘justice’ have often managed to become divorced from one another in Christian thought, even among trinitarians who of all people ought to know better… sigh…)


I hear people saying that whatever God chooses to do is fair, because He’s God–with appeal to Romans 9, “will the clay answer back to the potter saying ‘why did you make me like this?’”

I also hear people say that since we all deserve hell, it is ‘unfair’ for God to save anyone–we don’t get what we deserve. But how that reasoning meshes with a concurrent belief that Jesus ‘paid the penalty’ is something I can’t explain.

So many things that are ‘mysteries’ in traditional belief systems just aren’t a problem when one adopts a universalist mindset.



Jesus paid the penalty with one condition, genuine faith. And God literally never gives up on anybody and those who die lost have literally forever to accept the condition of faith.



I guess we must define the term ‘fair’ better. If by ‘fair’ we mean “playing by the rules” or “providing what you promise” or “not punishing beyond what you threaten”, then of course God promises to be fair.

But if ‘fair’ is taken to mean “being merciful to all”, or “holding back deserved punshment, for all”, then I am at a loss for where such fairness is promised by God in scripture.

The following passage seems to say that God has a right to be picky about who he is going to show mercy to:

Mercy is deserved by none. Punishment is deserved by all. Since punishment is deserved by all, doesn’t God have a right to show mercy to some without giving the rest a reason to complain? Why does God have to be ‘fair’ (or treat all the same) when showing mercy?

Yes God promises to be just. However, I fail to see why God must be ‘fair’ (as in ‘being merciful to all’) to be just.

BTW I am not presently arguing against UR. If UR is true, I can think we can appeal to other ideas.

Your comments are welcome.


Well, actually Paul believes God will be “merciful to all” in Rom 11 (speaking of Romans). :wink: But no, I don’t find the scriptures anywhere teaching that God will hold back all deserved punishment.

There are some interesting background things to that quote, though; one of which can be looked up by checking the scriptures reffed by St. Paul, and one which culturally he would expect his initial listeners to know about but which we (long-divorced from rabbinic teaching) wouldn’t be in a position to know about.

Rabbis back in the 1st century had two different theories about what happened to the Mosaic pharaoh, and neither one involved him being actually (or at least permanently) killed off chasing the fleeing Hebrews. (Neither theory is at all likely to be historical, especially #2, but that’s beside the point–it would still serve well enough for parabolic purposes.)

Theory 1 was that this pharaoh survived (or was resurrected), gave glory to God, and went back to become the great Monotheistic Pharaoh, trying to lead his people into worship of the One True God. Theory 2 (which is more likely what St. Paul is referencing) was that the pharaoh survived (or was resurrected), gave glory to God, and then never went back to Egypt but went on to Ninevah where he and/or his descendents eventually became king. This was their explanation for why the king of Ninevah was so willing to so quickly lead his city in repentance at the ridiculously minimal preaching of Jonah: he was either descended from this pharaoh or else actually WAS this pharaoh still miraculously preserved alive. But they were also basing it on an apparent promise they derived from the Hebrew of the Exodus story that God would use this pharaoh as a personal witness to the world, bringing him to loyalty with God.

Paul would have expected his readers to be familiar with one or both of those rabbinic midrashes, and the parabolic moral fits one of them especially well: “So it does not depend on he who wills or on he who runs but on God Who has mercy.” That doesn’t describe the Exodus pharaoh very well (he doesn’t run away from anything!), but it does describe Jonah extremely well–as well as his spiteful concern about whether God would have mercy on those hated Ninevites.

The internal evidence of the passage, then, points toward Paul appealing to the Ninevah theory for what happened to the Exodus pharaoh; and if so then Paul’s point about mercy is that God can damn well choose to show mercy to anyone He pleases and you (his reader/audience, who is just as much a sinner as the pharaoh) had better not be complaining about that! (A point not many scholars doubt Paul was making back during the transition from chp 1 to chp 2, too.)

There’s some traceable evidence, not reliant on knowing rabbinic traditions, that points in that direction, too: when Paul immediately afterward goes on to quote “Who are you to answer back to God” with the clay and potter imagery, he’s referencing an OT usage (it happens several times) where the contextual point is that God is rebuking prophets of despair who are claiming that God has abandoned sinful Israel to permanent hopeless punishment and will never save and restore them the way He had promised He would.

The same principle in play in regard to rebel Israel (that God has not abandoned them, even though they have abandoned Him), is in play in regard to rebel Gentiles (whether like Pharaoh or like Esau, i.e. born outside the covenant or born inside it but put outside). God’s justice is about such people having a purpose in God’s plan, even though they are rebels–something no one reading Rom 9 has ever doubted was being said–but God’s justice is also about restoring those people to justice sooner or later, so that they will no longer be unjust.

This fits the vessels of destruction and mercy, too, although only if the use of vessels of destruction is considered elsewhere in scripture. To be a vessel of destruction does not mean a vessel consigned to being destroyed; it means a vessel intended to pour out destruction. The parallelism then is that, yes, vessels are assigned to pour destruction on vessels assigned to pour mercy; but vessels assigned to pour mercy are assigned to do so on vessels assigned to pour destruction! (And Paul has already said, as strenuously as possible, not four chapters earlier, that where sin exceeds grace hyperexceeds for not as the sin is the grace.)

This also fits the concept not long afterward in chapter 11, that Jews and Gentiles are both guilty of being, in effect, vessels of destruction; consequently, neither have special ethical advantages over the other (even though Jews have many special advantages in other regards). Christ came to save both kinds of vessels, both kinds contributed to the sacrifice of Christ, both kinds can be grafted out of the promise (whether born to the promise or already grafted in), and both kinds can be grafted back in if ever grafted out. Consequently, Jews shouldn’t look down on Gentiles, and Gentiles shouldn’t look down on Jews, but both should look to their own sins and expect mercy for other sinners. For God has locked-up all into stubbornness, that He may show mercy to all. (And Paul is extremely confident, over against the ongoing grief in his heart at the infidelity of his people in regard to Christ, that God shall eventually save them despite their infidelity: they have stumbled over the cornerstone, just as was prophetically expected, but have they stumbled so as to fall? “MAY IT NEVER BE!”)

Once again: merely human justice may only be about the exercise of power against those who defy that power (a ‘justice’ that the greatest sinners could just as easily claim and exercise–and often do!) But God’s justice is about fulfilling justice in everyone.

Nothing less than that.

Because God is love. God locks-up all; God has mercy on all.

Also, nowhere does it say (so far as I recall) that mercy is absolutely not deserved by any. If God gives mercy then it must be just to give mercy, and those who receive mercy must deserve to receive mercy. At any rate, someone who takes this route can stop complaining about a universalist such as myself supposedly denying the justice of God: I have never once done so, and (specifically as an orthodox trinitarian theist, theologian and apologist) would never dare do so. The very thought of denying the justice of God is abhorrent to me.

We do not deserve mercy as a factor of earning mercy, as though we are appealing to some standard of ethics greater than God to which God must comply even though He doesn’t want to. God is Himself the final standard of appeal, the end, period.

But if ortho-trin theism is true, God is–in His own eternally active self-existence–a set of Persons acting to fulfill fair-togetherness toward and with one another. In short, if ortho-trin is true then God is essentially love. And essentially positive justice. Love is the action; justice is the result; and in God’s multi-personal single foundational reality these are one and the same.

All sinners deserve to be punished because God is love. All sinners deserve mercy and salvation from sin because God is justice. It’s true the other way around, too, of course; but putting it this way prevents us from being tempted to pit God’s justice against His love as though He must do one or the other (not both) in regard to a person. God can stop doing wrath, or never do it at all, toward a person because God is NOT essentially wrath. But God is essentially love and justice; and so He will be acting to fulfill love and justice toward and with and in every person, never ceasing to do so (much less never starting to do so).

Or, ortho-trin theism is false. There aren’t any other logical alternatives.

An unfair justice, or an unjust fairness, ought to be sufficiently nonsensical to you anyway. :wink: But if ortho-trin is true, then justice is fairness between people: fair-togetherness. (Or righteousness, as translated into English.)

I would say it’s very much the other way around, because those ideas are logically prior to questions of salvation and/or condemnation. If there can be unjust fairness or unfair justice, then universalism might be false (or true, who knows?–but in that case we’re going to have the most horrid ethical problems imaginable, so really the question might rather be who cares? :wink: )

But if justice and fairness are basically the same thing, so that there can only be just fairness and fair justice, then notions of salvation and/or condemnation which require denying this are explicitly false and should be rejected out of court.

Which is how I first came to believe universalism to be true.

So I can personally testify to where that line of thinking is going to end up. :smiley: Which of course is why non-universalists are often, if not always, married to the idea of a divorce between love and justice. Similarly, to a divorce between fairness and justice.

(Sometimes universalists are married to that Great Divorce, too; but certainly not me! http://www.wargamer.com/forums/upfiles/smiley/paladin.gif)


Believe it or not, when I first wrote the sentence below:

It read:

I took off the “in the same way” part because it looked too wordy… but I should have left it in .

The idea was that, while God may show a certain degree of mercy to all, this does not mean he will show the same degree to all. Furthermore, while not denying God’s promise to provide some mercy to all, perhaps only temporally, I could not see in scripture where God was saying that he must save all because mercy or fairness requires it, let alone that justice requires it.

In any case, thank you for reminding me that Romans 11:22 clearly says :

I like to think that this verse clearly implies that all will be mercifully saved. Of course traditionalists either dismiss this verse as merely indicating that all are receiving mercy in this present life, or by limiting the term ‘all’ to the elect only. This verse at least says what the traditionalist would say but I hope it says more.

I agree this is nonsensical. God’s justice is always fair, but I am suggesting that his mercy is not.

Here I would have to, at least tentatively, disagree. While it may be *just *to give mercy, it is also just to withhold mercy. Mercy is the free decision of the one who is in a position grant it. If mercy is required by justice then it is no longer mercy. Likewise, if mercy is deserved, it no longer mercy.

I like your appeal to the idea that “God is love” and I believe it is upon this pillar that UR must stand. It is the idea that God cannot help but love everyone in a saving way (though not necessarily loving all the same. Sorry but I had to throw that in there.) i.e. God does not save all because it is just nor because it is fair, but because He “is love.”

With this said, I appreciate your arguments and will continue to consider them.


Sometimes they also do so by appealing to the “may” as being only possibility, compared to the certainty of the prior clause. That’s a poor English translation, though; the Greek reads more like “…so that He may be being merciful to all.” Or “…so that He should be merciful to all”, where the ‘should’ indicates a future event.

Indeed v.30 preceding indicates, “For even as you once were stubborn to God, yet now have been shown mercy thanks to their stubbornness; thus [or therefore, or in just the same way] these also are now stubborn to the mercy of yours so that now they may also be shown mercy.”

God’s goal toward those in stubbornness, just as toward us when we were stubborn, is not that those vessels will be destroyed (applying back to the chp 9 metaphor) but that the vessels of mercy may pour mercy upon them.

But an unfair mercy, like an unfair justice, would be unrighteous. Even God cannot act in fair-togetherness (righteousness) unfairly. An unfair mercy, even if aimed at togetherness, would only result in unfair-togetherness.

It’s also worth pointing out that the basic term for fairness in Greek (as in Hebrew) is also the basic term for justice: dikai. {dikaiosune} could be just as correctly translated as a compound word “just-togetherness” as “fair-togetherness”. There is no distinction; the only difference is that we have two different words in English (fair, and just) derived from two different languages.

This, not-incidentally, is why the OT occasionally prophecies that those released by God from imprisonment (including from imprisonment He put them into!) will be rejoicing in the just or fair judgments of God. If God’s mercy to them was unfair, they couldn’t be rejoicing in the justice of His judgments.

Anyway, I would be horrified if God Most High, the living standard and foundation of righteousness, was unfair or unjust in my favor. (More to the point, all existence, past present and future, would cease if that happened.) Let God be true, even if every man is a liar!

I realize there are many people who would be satisfied with an unfairness or injustice of God, if only they could benefit from it; and certainly I have heard numerous times an appeal to the injustice and/or unfairness of God in favor of some sinners (especially those appealing to God’s unfairness for their salvation) or against other sinners, as being supposedly some answer against universalism.

But once again it is the universalist (or one of my sort at least) who affirms and does not deny the fairness, the justice, of God. There are universalists who do deny the justice of God in favor of salvation, but typically they’re thinking in terms of being saved from punishment–not from sin. The same is typically true of non-universalists appealing to unfairness or injustice for salvation.

And appealing to unjustice/unfairness for salvation from punishment or wrath, isn’t necessarily incoherent (in the short run anyway)–especially if the appeal is being made to an unjust entity.

But hoping in, and appealing to, unfairness to be saved from unfairness–appealing to injustice to be saved from injustice–appealing to unrighteousness to be saved from unrighteousness–appealing to sin to be saved from sin–is never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever going to be coherent. Much less will it even merely work.


Even as a matter of mere coherency, much moreso as a hope for actual victory over my sin, I appeal to, and hope in, fairness, justice, righteousness Himself, to save me from unfairness, injustice, unrighteousness, sin.

An unfair salvation, if I accepted it, even if that could be offered by God (which as an orthodox trinitarian theist I utterly deny could ever be seriously offered, much less actually provided by God), would be no salvation from sin.

Not if the withholding of mercy has non-fair-togetherness as its goal. God can withhold mercy for a time (temporarily) so long as the fulfillment of righteousness (fair togetherness) with the person is His goal; He could even do so for an indefinitely long time toward an impenitent sinner. But tautologically He cannot be acting righteously if He is withholding mercy to fulfill unrighteousness toward the person. It is the sinner who is acting to fulfill non-fair-togetherness; not God, the Righteous. (And that’s most especially true if ortho-trin theism is true.)

The question here can be put another way: can it be just for God to ultimately withhold (whether finally withdrawing, per Arminianism, or never giving, per Calvinism) salvation from sin?

Only if justice not only has nothing to do with righteousness and ethics, but also if justice is somehow superior to righteousness and ethics. Whatever kind of God that might be true about, it isn’t a trinitarian God. A (merely) monotheistic God with either unjust ethics or a just ‘superiority to’ ethics, however, would have nothing to do with salvation from sin. And couldn’t be trusted to even provide a salvation from His wrath either. (Why would such a God be trusted to keep His word on that, now or later? Either His ‘justice’ transcends such ethical concerns as keeping promises; or else He is already willing to act unjustly in salvation so He might as well act unjustly against salvation, too.)

Certainly it would be absolutely pointless to hope for (much moreso to expect) any kind of salvation from the ‘justice’ of such a God: that God’s justice either trumps down upon such a hope, or else His salvation involves injustice; so God is either a heartless tyrant or a devil.

Once again, divorcing fairness/justice from God (or from each other, as if they were different things), may sound appealing at first–so long as the unjust person benefits from it. (And what unjust person doesn’t want to personally benefit from injustice?!) But it leads to theological incoherency, evil, or amorality at best. There is no good news, no gospel, worth mentioning in it either.

Likewise, if justice is deserved it is no longer justice! --wait. That can’t be right. :wink:

Similarly, if justice is required by anything, it is no longer justice! --wait. That can’t be right either.

The actual complaint here, which I have already acknowledged (and stressed!) as being theologically appropriate, is that if anything is required of God above Himself, then we’re no longer talking about the God and we need to go up a further stage. In which case we’re back to the same predicament or worse. (This is directly related to one horn of what philosophers call the Euthyphro Dilemma.) That’s just as true about justice as about mercy: at best, in such a case, it isn’t God’s justice or mercy we’re talking about anymore.

If God Himself is the standard by which mercy and/or justice is deserved, however, then this complaint about mercy being required and/or deserved is parried and nulled. Ditto for justice as well.

God’s free action, at its most fundamental level, is the fulfillment of interpersonal relationships in fair-togetherness (if ortho-trin is true). God is perfectly free to do that, whether in regard to the Persons of God’s own union or in regard to derivative persons. God is even free to act against that. But God is not free to act against that, which would be to act against His own self-existence (just as sinners act against the fundamental existence of God and of everything else, in our sin, if ortho-trin is true), and still exist as God.

Mercy (or as in Hebrew lovingkindness, which to anyone in need including sinners is expressed as mercy) and justice are one thing, the power of God’s free action and the result of that action, in a single fundamental union, if ortho-trin is true. It is entirely due to God’s essential existence as this love, that anyone (whether a Person of God, or a derivative not-God person) “deserves” anything at all.

An ‘undeserved’ mercy is sin, if ortho-trin is true–and depending on whether we’re talking about an absolutely undeserved mercy, or whether we’re talking about a mercy supposedly deserving on grounds less than God Most High. That claim of desert is at best false, and maybe even sin as well. But a claim of desert upon God as God, is perfectly true and theologically coherent, if ortho-trin is true, i.e. if God is in fact essentially, intrinsically love. Otherwise we’re talking about a categorically different theology, and that’s what our dispute is actually about, with varying soteriology being only the consequential logical result of that more fundamental theological difference.

Once again, the primary theology has to be done and settled first; the soteriology follows afterward in consequence.

So long as you notice that in appealing to God’s essential existence as love, I am absolutely affirming and refusing to deny that God is just, too. Which is a factor of my belief, first, that trinitarian theism, and not some other kind of theism (much less some kind of not-theism) is true.

If I believe ortho-trin to be true, and if I am being careful about theological coherency, I am not going to deny precepts of ortho-trin. If I found that that led to non-universalism, so be it. If I find (as I do) that it leads to some kind of universalism (and not to every kind), then that’s what I am going to accept instead.

Scriptural exegesis is not to be discounted; but once again, if I find the scriptures affirming ortho-trin, I would be a poor exegetical theologian if I turned around and denied precepts of ortho-trin in interpreting the scriptures elsewhere.

I know; you’re doing the role of oppositional debate very well. :slight_smile: Such consideration has to be done for fairness’ sake.

(And not for unfairness’ sake. :mrgreen: )


one could also argue that it is not reasonable or just for the Lord God to condemn to hell for eternity a multitude of souls who simply had the bad luck of never hearing about Christ while they lived. Christ does tell us that those who did wrong without knowing they were doing wrong will be punished, but only for a while (Luke 12:48).