Is Universal Reconciliation consistent with Free Will?


(Mod note for clarification: this is actually a discussion on the early February 2009 dialogue being held between Gregory MacDonald and Dr. Joel Green over in the “Premier Quarterly” section. The quote which Paidion introduces for discussion, is from Dr. Green, writing as “Eutychus”.)

The above quote was lifted from another thread. But the thread appears to be closed to replies.

Well, I am a believer both in the reconciliation of all rational beings to God, and I also strongly believe in free will. I see no inconsistency in believing both.

Given the persuasive nature of suffering combined perhaps with verbal persuasion by the fully mature sons of God, no one can hold out forever. Maybe for a day, or a week, or a year, or a million years, but not forever.

The analogy could be given of tossing a fair coin repeatedly (a poor analogy perhaps, but non the less illustrative of the point). Say you want to always toss tails. You simply rebel against the idea of tossing heads. You toss the coin and sure enough, it turns up heads. The probability of doing so was 50%. Now you toss the coin again. You get heads again. The probability of getting two heads in a row is 25%. Your third toss was again heads. Probability 12½%. Theoretically, you might toss heads all day … but highly unlikely. Theoretically, an immortal person might toss heads for eternity, but practically, it would be impossible to do so. So it is with continuing to rebel for eternity. Theoretically, a person could persist to all eternity in rebelling against God, but practically, it is impossible to do so.


I think the example of Pharoh is always relevant here. God’s ultimate will was that he let God’s people go. However Pharoh would have caved in a lot earlier without having his heart hardened (ignoring all the ways people try to lessen God’s involvement in that). The resistance to God’s will brought greater glory to God in the end when the exodus finally came (I don’t believe there was an actual exodus of the scale related in the Bible as there is next to no archaeological evidence to support it).

So God’s ultimate plan was fulfilled; yet in God’s own time and to God’s own glory only by the inclusion of limited resistance by Pharoh (limited free will so to speak). A parallel could be seen as ‘God locks up all in disbelief so as to have mercy on all’.

I believe there are 2 words used when describing the will of God (will check back with references - have done and here’s a link … cfm?CID=23); boulema and thelema; one I understand means God’s desire and one his will (who can resist his will?). I can never understand why ‘God will have all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth’ is turned into ‘God would really, really like all men to be saved…’.

As an agnostic universalist (a name I took in jest when I joined this board but more and more I feel it is a true reflection of my spiritual state) I just cannot believe all the supernatural stuff that comes with Christianity - yet (because I am not arrogant enough to know I am right - I could be hopelessly wrong) I take comfort in the hope that I may not be hopelessly wrong but hopefully wrong.


In regard to Dr. Green’s opening comment to Gregory so far: I wouldn’t answer quite the same as Gregory (or Tom Talbott either). In fact, if I was less lazy, I could probably dig around and find somewhere I’ve already written out a lot on free will and universalism…

Oh well. The search engine tells me the words in the phrase “free will” are too common to be searched for. :unamused: Anyway.

I can’t say I much like Paidion’s random coin toss analogy (despite agreeing with him that UR and free will are not incompatible), because I don’t consider random coin tosses to be sufficiently analogous to free will. (On the contrary, I consider them to be non-intentionally determinative, but in a random short-term sense rather than a long-term chain of causation sense.)

The problem is that there are a number of different questions and concepts in play here:

1.1.) Can I hope and believe and trust that God will never stop trying to save all sinners from sin? – This I answer robustly yes, as a conclusion from metaphysical logic and from scriptural exegesis both. As far as I’m concerned, this by itself seriously establishes some kind of real universalistic soteriology (compared to Calvinistic and Arminianistic soteriologies.) Nor does it have anything to do one way or another with human free will, pro or con: the topic is about what we can expect from God, not about what we can expect from sinners.

1.2.) Does this mean I don’t believe in God’s free will to do one thing and not another? – Actually, I have a robust but realistic belief in the free will of God. I believe the Persons of God are free to rebel against or abandon each other, for example; but I do not believe God is free to do this and still continue existing. The question can be put another way: do I believe God is free to continue existing while also completely ceasing to exist? Duh, no. But this is no bar to the reality of God. Mutually exclusive contradictions are neither actually nor even potentially real in content. Similarly, I do not believe God is “free” to be essentially love in His fundamental self-existence and also “free” to do anything, including wrath, apart from fulfilling love to and with the object of His action. Non-universalists, in principle (which I have also found always to be true in practice), must by contrast either try to keep both mutually exclusive positions or else deny that God is really essentially love (especially in His fundamental self-existence, which concept rarely occurs to them anyway). I’ve seen non-unis go one or the other of those routes unvaryingly. (C. S. Lewis, I must admit, is a notable partial exception, who resolutely avers that God is still acting to fulfill love to, but not any longer with, hopelessly lost sinners. By which he doesn’t mean that God is no longer present in hell, but only that God stops trying to reconcile with the sinners because they have put themselves permanently and hopelessly beyond His ability to lead back to fellowship with Him. God, on this soteriological plan, still stops acting toward saving some sinners from sin sooner or later.)

2.1.) Do I have metaphysical grounds for believing that God will surely accomplish this goal ? – Metaphysically, so far as I can tell, I would have to answer no. Nor do I have metaphysical grounds for believing He will surely fail to accomplish this goal. This is where human free will first kicks into play; and I wish to point out that Arminianistic theologians who stress free will damnation have a peculiar tendency to turn around and eventually deny that same free will in order to make sure that sooner or later there can be no repentance!–even in cases, like Lewis, where they still affirm that God is still doing His best to love the sinner even in hell. (But there’s no hope in that anymore because the sinner has resolutely locked himself into a position where even God cannot succeed in leading him to repentance anymore.)

2.2.) Do I have scriptural grounds for believing that God will surely accomplish this goal? – Yes, I believe I do. To be fair, non-unis typically answer that we have scriptural grounds for believing that God will surely not save some sinners from sin. This moves to a scriptural debate, which is far beyond the scope of my current comment. But the apparent scriptural affirmation of surety one way or the other is what introduces the concern about the violation (or the degree thereof) of the free will of the sinner. However!–this is not a question or principle restricted to the topic of salvation from sin. If God reveals ahead of time that He will accomplish anything in regard to a person, to what extent (if any) does this mean that human free will is being necessarily ‘violated’?

Got to go for now, so I’ll leave that here for further discussion.


Isn’t Dr. Green referring to the idea that if one cannot resist God ultimately, than one does not have an ability to refuse God ultimately. This seems to make free will a “ruse”.

It seems the issue of relationship is what me might be driving at. That is, what point is there in love if in fact you cannot hate someone. Similarly, if one cannot continue to hate God but by the way of things will come to love God than what virtue is there in love?

I may be wrong but it seems this is the value of free will that he’s laying out.



It has to be a matter of free will, or else God would not wait so long for people to embrace Him. However, ultimately it’s a matter of God’s sovereignty, or else how would all chance to come to be with Him without some ordering principle governing the entire operation?

The question, though, is how God’s sovereignty works in this dynamic. This is where free will and predestination come into play together, if they do at all. Does God force people to be saved? Not if they have free will (or, one could posit, they have free will until God chooses to overcome them with His irresistible grace - however, this seems to be a nonsense point if we mean that God could have done so at any point in time, because it implies that God both cares deeply for them and is playing with them at the same time).

Is it possible, though, that we were designed to be God’s? To have his almighty presence dwelling within us? And that until then, life could only ever be superficially happy, could only entail subconscious suffering and loss? If this is possible, then we see that in a way that supersedes any other, God is indeed sovereign over the salvation of all. He holds the winning card, so to speak, the entire time, and it is only a matter of time before people realize their utter need for Him.

Therefore in this scenario the right conditions would necessarily have to form for a person’s salvation. And we see this playing out in actual fact, when we examine all the stories of personal salvation involving a sense of emptiness within and the soul crying out to God for deliverance. It is then that He himself comes within and fills their spirits with his Holy Spirit.

One could say that at this point the person can no longer “help it”. C.S. Lewis almost irreverently persisted that God had him cornered like a stag (before he went on to become a staunch advocate of free will). However, what does free will even mean? If it means anything at all, does it not mean that the person with free will agrees with the choice being made?

For, if it is merely an emotionless choice, or one made between two equally pleasing alternatives, the chooser must be equally drawn by both choices. There is no truly individual strength being employed here; they are drawn back and forth between two options competing against each other. It is the single-minded individual who truly makes the choice. And once the choice is made, one option has won out over the other, has employed its power over the individual, thus solidifying something about their personality and character.

Thus, free will is merely the external freedom to choose, not internal freedom. In order to truly be free, we must know what we really want. As some have said, “True freedom is the ability to do what is right.” True freedom is the freedom the Son gives us when, finally recieving the overpowering and irresistible grace of God, we realize for ourselves what we have truly longed for our entire existence, thus truly choosing him freely for the rest of our conscious lives.

I hope this makes sense.


One objection that Calvinists often make to free will is that if all people were really free to accept or reject God’s offer of salvation then how could God guarantee that ANYONE would be saved? Everyone could freely choose to reject the offer. Thus the only way for God to guarantee the salvation of any is to predestine them.

My response to that is that it makes light of God’s wisdom, as if God doesn’t know how or doesn’t have the ability to persuade someone to willingly choose Him. Even skilled human salesmen can persuade a certain number of people to purchase their product freely without coercion. Why wouldn’t God be at least as skillful and winsome as a skilled human salesman? What I’ve never considered with this analogy is the idea that if God can do that, then He should also be able to persuade EVERYONE to choose Him freely, given enough time and opportunity. It seems to me that free will and universal salvation actually brings the highest glory to God, as it manifests not only his love and mercy, but also his infinite wisdom. Along with his patience. Come to think of it, it might manifest ALL of God’s character traits in the most maximal way possible.