For non-UK readers: today Levi Bellfield became the first man in Britain to receive a second full-life jail sentence. Both these sentences were for the kidnap and murder of young girls. His defence lawyer put his victim’s family through hell in court, while Bellfield remained silent and then refused to appear to be sentenced.
I feel more strongly about this man than I do about Osama Bin Laden, who probably at least believed he was doing God’s Will.
I said when I joined this forum that I am strongly attracted by Universalism, and I still am. I still believe that the Sacrifice of Jesus was for the sins of the whole world. I can believe that Jesus died for Levi Bellfield. But when such a man is clearly unrepentant, if he was to die in that state, will he be forgiven and spared from hell? Will he be allowed to repent? I can believe that the vast majority of humanity will ultimately be redeemed for all the reasons discussed in this forum. But won’t a just God draw the line at child killers (and their lawyers?).
I’m not looking for a particular answer to this. What do you all think?
Well… Origen believed that Satan himself would be reconciled to God. Origen believed that Satan was the personificiation of death (the last enemy) and so he wrote:
*When it is said that ‘the last enemy’ shall be destroyed, it is not to be understood as meaning that his substance, which is God’s creation, perishes, but that his purpose and hostile will perishes; for this does not come from God but from himself. Therefore his destruction means not his ceasing to exist but ceasing to be an enemy and ceasing to be death. Nothing is impossible to omnipotence; there is nothing that cannot be healed by its Maker… De Principiis III.vi.5 *
So if Satan is going to repent and submit to God, maybe there’s hope for Levi Bellfield.
My thoughts: The state in which we die does not determine our “final destiny.” I believe God’s grace is more powerful than sin, and that every human being who dies a sinner can be brought to a state in which they are truly repentant for their sins and desire only to do God’s will. Consider how quickly the heart of Paul, the “chief of sinners,” was changed: it was while Paul was “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” that Christ appeared to him on the road to Damascus in blinding light. Without any apparent resistance from him, Christ subjected this proud and self-righteous Pharisee to himself. I believe the same can be done for all, no matter how far a person has sunk into the depths of depravity. Some Universalists believe it may take an indefinitely long time before all people are subjected to Christ (with sinners such as Levi Bellfield and Adolph Hitler perhaps taking much longer than those who are less depraved); others believe all sinners will be subjected to Christ immediately after death or (if the dead are not conscious) when we are raised immortal. I’m of the opinion that all desire to harm others and oneself can - and will - be removed from people’s hearts in “the twinkling of an eye,” when the dead are raised. But regardless of how or when all people will be subjected to Christ, I think Scripture is clear that it’s going to happen.
What I would add to Aaron’s fine reply (without getting into the debate between purga-u and ultra-u), is this:
As a sinner I am in the same boat as Levi: the hope I have for myself is the same hope I have for him. The relative size of our sins matters nothing in this regard.
And as a sinner I am in the same boat as Levi: if I am impenitent of my sins, then even the forgiveness of God cannot be completed in me yet. The relative size of our sins matters nothing in this regard.
And as a sinner I am in the same boat as Levi: God, Who is intrinsically fair-togetherness, will not give up persistently acting to fulfill positive justice (righteousness, fair-togetherness) for either of us. When Levi or I act toward fulfilling non-fair-togetherness with other people (be they God or angel or man), then we are sinners.
But God does righteousness, even to us. Not unrighteousness (non-fair-togetherness), even to us.
(Thus with Paidion and Origen: the hope in God for salvation from sin that I have for myself, is the hope I have for Satan, whoever the chief of sinners may be. And as a Christian I am cautioned to regard myself as the chief of sinners relatedly.)
Having said that, if anyone wants to shank an impenitent child-abuser and murderer in prison, then (aside from the legal issues involved) I have no problem with it.
(I don’t have a pool of blood on the cover of my novel for the sake of abstract art. I very much enjoy the butt-kicking of the unrighteous. But I am required to remember that sometimes the unrighteous is me. )
I don’t believe that anyone is saved apart from repentance. Until a person repents, whether in this life or after the resurrection, there is no forgiveness, because the sin is alive and dwelling in him.
I don’t see why not – wouldn’t you want him to repent? To really wake up to the horror of what he’s done, the pain he’s caused, and be sick at heart and full of sorrow for it? To be willing to do anything to make amends to the one’s he hurt? I have more hope for him then his lawyers! (I have hope for them too–but in my eyes they share the crime and magnify it)
But repentance must be true repentance – not just an “ouch, these flames are hot, I’ll say ‘sorry’ if I can have some relief” kind of thing – but a real transformation to righteousness. I believe that salvation is from sin, and as long as the man is willing to sin he is not yet saved from it.
Again, though I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ yet if he turns from his sin and does what is just and right, if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has taken by robbery, and walks in the statutes of life, not doing injustice, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the sins that he has committed shall be remembered against him. He has done what is just and right; he shall surely live. *
Thanks for these replies. I’m thinking this through as I write the following; I don’t have a systematic theology of this yet:
I suppose part of me finds the concept that really evil people such as this man can be forgiven and not go to hell, as unpalatable as eternal conscious torment for for all the really-quite-nice non-Christians that I know.
But that attitude relies on me having a holier-than-thou attitude, that I’m not as bad as some other people. It is the deeply-ingrained instinct in humanity to assume that we can please God by Works, or at least by being not as bad as our neighbour. If Universalism is true, it can only be because of the Grace of God and the redemptive work of Jesus, since all have sinned and come short of the Glory of God, not because sin isn’t really that bad. Otherwise, if Aung San Suu Kyi makes it to heaven and Levi Bellfield doesn’t, and I’m somewhere in the middle, where does God draw the line? In reality there can be no line to be drawn.
So perhaps Bellfield can be forgiven after all, and if I have a problem with that, I’m in the position of the Older Brother in the tale of the prodigal son.
Oh my friend, you are STILL under the law. It’s grace! You are man centered (work righteousness) when you should be God centered. You don’t fully grasp how exceedingly sinful any sin is which is why you have fallen for the fleshly enticement of universalism.
No where does scripture indicate that sins can be forgiven without repentance. The bible is clear that sin is exceedingly sinful and it is difficult for many to accept that we are no different from what we would consider the lowest of lows in the eyes of God because we are all sinners.
You are looking at it from a work base system-good works does not get us into heaven and our bad works does not keep us out of heaven, it is ALL grace. Unless you begin with sin and how EXCEEDINGLY sinful sin is then you will always have a warped view of the gospel.
How good do we have to be to be good enough to be saved? The worse the sin, the sicker the heart, the more the need for Jesus. It is the sick who need a Doctor and the lost who need a Savior.
In Ezekiel 36, He says to Israel, after he has cleansed her from sin and given her a new heart and spirit: “Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations.” The truly repentant hate what they have done, and want to make reparation – like Zacchaeus (Luke 19:8).
Levi’s sorrow and repentance would be for the good of his victims too, because nothing makes us more able to forgive than to see our enemy “cut to the heart” (as the Jews were in Acts 2:37 when they realized they had killed their Messiah).
Would it be good for the children who were hurt and their families to remain bitter and unforgiving for all eternity? God takes no pleasure in the death of his enemies, but that they turn and be saved. This is how God’s ways are higher than ours, and He wants us to grow up into his image.
Does it offend us to hear, “God loves Levi Bellfield”? But He does. Levi is His precious child and He longs to restore him to righteousness and fellowship.
If one of my kids hurts another, I’m not satisfied with merely punishing the offender. If he’s merely punished, yet continues unchanged and resentful, angry at being punished, it breaks my heart to see him this way, and I remain his loving enemy --against him and the wrong he holds on to. I’m ready to forgive the offense that was done and is past, but I continue angry and sorrowful over the unrepentant heart. I want the one who was hurt to be forgiving, not resentful, ready to continue to love. I’m not satisfied until I see love and fellowship restored in every one–offender and offended both.
One of the worst things to my mother heart is to have the offending child repentant, yet see the offended one remain angry and hateful towards her sister.
Weirdly, all of us universalists who have replied to him up to now, agree that any sin is exceedingly sinful and that none of us have any inherent advantage in our righteousness over any other sinner: if the grace of God can lead us to repentance and salvation from our sins, the grace of God can do the same for Levi Bellfield (one way or another).
None of us claim that sin is so exceedingly sinful that where God’s grace exceeds sin hyper-exceeds; but neither does Saint Paul (or anyone else in the Bible). Rather the opposite: where sin exceeds, God’s grace hyper-exceeds, for not as the sin is the grace.
So you’re welcome to hurl your charge of “fleshly enticement” at St. Paul as well as at us on that topic, if you want.
I suspect that when you wrote the above, you hadn’t seen my second post, where I clearly say that salvation is by grace not works.
If Universalism is true, it can only be because EITHER (a) sin is not all that bad, OR (b) it is by the grace of God not our works or our goodness that we escape from hell. Both my post, and Sonia’s and Jason’s and everyone else who has replied make it very clear that we believe the latter.