The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Post-morterm punishment and the perfect love of God

One philosophical argument frequently made against the traditional view of Hell is that it is hard to reconcile with the idea that God is perfectly loving. This is presumably because there is everlasting suffering for the damned under this view, which is incompatible with willing the total flourishing of the damned. And, since being perfectly loving is supposed to entail willing the total flourishing of all creatures, including the damned, the tradtionalist is put into a dilemma between modifying his view of Hell or denying that God is perfectly loving.

Yet, most universalist models also involve post-mortem suffering for the damned of some sort that is both retributive and medicinal. So, why wouldn’t a similar problem also arise for those models? After all, it could be argued that whenever God wills that some suffering befall a creature, He is not willing their total flourishing since suffering by its nature is the privation of some aspect of one’s flourishing. Perhaps the universalist response to be made here is to say that by willing that the suffering be a means to the eventual redemption of the damned person in question, God is indeed willing their total flourishing. But this strikes me as unsatisfying since it seems that truly willing someone’s total flourishing would require one to bring it about when possible rather than at some indefinite point in the future. So, the universalist would then have to say that it’s not possible to save everyone after death without inflicting suffering, but why think that that is true?

Midas, we know that God is love . . .

But what does that look like? Some say that God’s love for the elect is different from His love for the reprobate. In my reading, scripture does not teach this. Some say that God’s love to the rebellious requires that He allow them the “free will” to rebel. To do otherwise would be to force and/or enslave and/or dehumanize them. Yet these same people who argue so sincerely that God honors free will in His human creations above all else, often insist that God will a) incarcerate them hopelessly in hell forevermore without any possibility of changing their minds or b) annihilate them, thus also destroying any possibility they might repent.

This is what God (through Paul) says love looks like:

1 Corinthians 13:4-8
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails.

Some say that God would LOVE to save all people, but He cannot because they refuse to be saved. Love never fails. Some say that when we die in the flesh, God gives up on us. Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. AND Love never fails.

Sure God can punish for the purpose of healing. Earthly parents do this, and we submit to it. How much more should we willingly submit to chastisement from our Heavenly Father who always does it for our good? Earthly parents who punish for the sake of punishing and NOT to heal and reform an erring child, are considered monsters–rightly. And THAT is only temporal, temporary, earthly punishment. Yet we think that our Heavenly Father will punish to no purpose other than revenge and so-called “justice,” not for a short time, not to reform, not to cure, not to make anything right but ONLY to administer far in excess of Moses’s limits of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth–forever and ere.

Justice is NOT taking an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. That is only a limitation on excessive punishment. Justice is not eternal torment, whether or not eternal torment is deserved. Justice is not the chair for a murderer or prison for a lesser criminal. Those things are human attempts at justice, or human attempts at imagining ultimate justice.

Justice is making things right.

None of the punishments we could administer or imagine could ever make things right. Justice means you get your murdered wife back, and the man who murdered her becomes the loving brother to you and to her that he ought always to have been. THAT is making things right. Everything else is a poor, impoverished human attempt to prevent the criminal from having an advantage he denied his victim. Did he kill? Let him not live, for his victim is dead. Did he steal? Let him have nothing, for he has diminished his victims, forcing them to support him without their consent. THAT is the best WE can do. It is far, far from the best God can do.

Cindy… That is really Good! Especially the part of *" you get your murdered wife back, and the man who murdered her becomes the loving brother to you and to her that he ought always to have been." *For many of us in the flesh, that takes mucho study, prayer and intervention by the Holy Spirit to even fantasize that we could be that forgiving. It is pure love that could pull that off!


Christianity has been terribly influenced with words and phrases like suffering, damned, reprobate, heathen, forever, tormented with fire and brimstone etc…

For me I had to come to the point where *I believed *I served a loving God, not a God of wrath who awaits my every mistake.

I know quite a few folks that consider themselves Christians who are very ruffled at the notion of loving your enemy or turning the other cheek. This whole conversation, as I see it is a matter of perspective. And to be honest, the Holy Spirit had to work overtime on me to get me to come around for I was like many on this site, I just could not see it (total love of God) in scripture until the HS did his work. HE had to change the way I perceived.

Good luck.


You appear to argue “suffering” is incompatible with a God who desires our good (which you call our “flourishing”). Since I’m not seeing why suffering would be more legitimate now than post-mortem, this sounds like the classic problem of evil, which argues that a good God cannot exist. Most philosophers agree that it’s not a proof, because it doesn’t show that God could bring the most good without suffering. But since there is no consensus on what would make suffering worthwhile, it remains a potent argument for atheism. Is this the conclusion your reasoning supports? Or are you arguing that suffering shows that the God who exists does not value our flourishing. Or are you implying another alternative that I am missing?

Thanks Cindy for that excellent exegesis (or should I say eisegesis) of Corinthians.

Hi Midas, interesting points and points that many of us wrestle with.

IMO God is the greatest form of good. He is the greatest form of good because he is not only good, but is anti-evil. If God is anti-evil, then for evil to have any meaning, and for God to demonstrate that he is anti-evil, then evil must exist. God is completely good because out of the existence of evil, He will have victory over it.
A taste of good is often greater after an experience of evil. Take the song Amazing Grace for example. There would be no such thing as amazing grace (or grace at all) if evil did not exist! Also, Jesus said it is far a greater love to love your enemy than to love your friend (Luke 6:32). Without evil, there would be no enemies.

Thanks, guys. :slight_smile:

Midas- very good questions which promote thought and discussion.

Cindy- excellently stated reasons for Gods love being over and above our limited comprehension and ability to express or understand it. In reading all you said here though, i would ask again about those who don’t repent or know Jesus. Would they ultimately be saved and guided by Gods love to turn to Him?? Is there EVER any point where a person is beyond Gods reach?? Going by your recital of 1 Corinthians 13 it would appear not, but we also have the language in various parts of scripture which would seem to indicate so like Midas was saying. Does love ultimately reach a bad guy who wants to choose to remain bad??

Hi Robert!

Are you wanting more scriptures that say God will restore every person, or are you asking to have the seemingly alternative “contradictory” verses explained away, or are you asking for a philosophical exporation of whether God’s love and intended purposes through love can be thwarted by humankind?

Let me share my zombie anology again - which I shared elsewhere,

I’m a big fan of the Walking Dead on AMC, which is also a long running and popular comic book. In case you haven’t seen it, it’s a great program. And zombies are a favorite topic of professional philosophers. But it’s also a good thought experiment, for what we are talking about here. How do we deal with the zombie population in a post apocalypse world? Suppose we had a manual from a super scientific genius, on how to deal with the issue. But the writing is ambiguous on what solution to implement. Here are the solutions:

Exile the Zombies. Some might interpret this to torture the zombies. But I read this solution as more akin to , the Hope of Holy War Joshua Ryan Butler in The Skeletons in God’s Closet: The Mercy of Hell, the Surprise of Judgment. We put them into a self-imposed exile.
Destroy the zombies. This is the annihilation approach
Save all the zombies and have them join the human population

From my reading of the manual, all three positions are possible. But the last solution for me is a hope (after all, it is possible) and the middle solution sounds like the most practical reading.

Of course, we could be wrong in our understanding:

Now suppose we read the manual and agree that three solutions are contained:

Everyone comes home

If we agree with the third possibility - either as a possibility (like I do) - or an actuality (like many here do), why does a fire need to be viewed as a punishing fire? Why not a refiner’s fire?

Thanks Randy. I too enjoy the walking dead series :slight_smile: Great watch for issues regarding ethics. It’s less about the zombies and more about the people.

Robert - What do you think about your question regarding man’s ability to permanently thwart God’s purposes in love?

Hey Daniel- I would say i am asking about all 3 of the areas you mentioned. I have come a long way, much as you shared or maybe it was MM, to believing Ur and the ultimate triumph of love by the Holy Spirits working in me. I maintain the right to be wrong as i do about anything lol I think i am most wanting to pursue more discussion on the third point you asked about. Rob Bell titles a book Love Wins and it got panned and attacked by christinas mostly for being heretical and denying orthodoxy. I have posed my question about repentance dealing with this issue as central. Will God truly save everyone, even if they either xhoose to resist or for some reason find themselves unable to believe and repent?? I find many it seems who hold to UR would say no, nbut then that is not really UR. If there is no hell and God’s love is unescapable like Tom Talbotts book title says, how then can anyone be eternally lost?? I am curious as well, why God allowed so many verses within the Bible to give the notion of eternal separation from Him as genuinely a real fate if it is not. Just more attempts to deal with these issues from a slightly different slant


If you don’t mind, I would like to copy and paste your comment on my blog about the love of God tending towards restorative justice rather than punitive. It was so well put that I wanted to share it with others. I will of course give you the credit.

Hi again Robert, it has been a long time coming for my reply. I just don’t have the time for blogging these days, but I would like to share a bit regarding your question -

I am not sure what viewpoints you have read before but I can share at least the different ways that I think it can be seen.

Personally I believe in the real possibility of a type of hell existing as talked about in the Bible. I just don’t think that people will be there forever.
There are at least two ways of seeing “eternally lost” from a Universalist perspective.

  1. “Eternally lost” could be seen as a literal English interpretation that would say people are eternally lost as long as they are in rebellion against God. So this way of looking at it would mean that eternal separation is a conditional state of being that can be changed. For example, we can ask “did Adam and Eve have eternal life before the fall?” I personally would say that they did, but it was conditional. So, likewise Eternal death is a condition as well.
  2. “Eternally lost” could be just a faulty English translation of aion and should be more accurately translated as an indefinite period of time. So by this reading, people would be lost indefinitely rather than forever, which is still a rather terrifying thought but at holds hope for the future.

Even though I believe in Universalism as the truth, the Bible still seems to focus on the terrible fate that awaits those who continue to rebel against God and the beautiful redemption of those who do not. This narrative appears to be a focus of scripture and is one that we cannot ignore and need to value. Though we do have hope for the future!

P.S. Personally I find that a deterministic framework fits extremely well with Universalism even if it is not necessary. It’s not very popular amongst people generally speaking which I think is unfortunate, because it deserves more exploration :smiley:

Hey Daniel- Totally understand the time thing buddy. Again i want to say how much i have enjoyed your blog as well :smiley: In responding to you, i wonder about the whole issue of rebelling against God??? Traditionally it has been held that satan led a group of angels who rebelled against God and were cast out of heaven into hell. Adam & Eve were deceived by a serpent- many assuming to be satan in some way- and they rebelled in similar way as satan. Problem is, we find no verse detailing satans rebellion anywhere in scripture. God, being omniscient, knew the strong likelihood of Adam & Eve’s rebellion and chose to create anyhow. I just wonder how diobeying a command has such catastrphic consequences on an eternal infinite God?? As Condy pointed out parents discipline their children for disobeying, but they don’t make them die. Why is death necessary, let alone an eternal death??

Are you a calvinist mr Daniel?? Just curious after seeing your point about determinism :wink:

What are you thinking could be an answer to the reasoning behind rebelling and the consequences of that?

I actually want to do one more post (or two) on a systematic understanding of a deterministic Universalism in this series

I would probably be more of a Calvinist in function but not in conclusion. I don’t believe that the fall and sequentially Christ’s death was a plan B situation. God knew it would happen, especially since Christ was crucified from before the foundation of the world. So we have to ask, if everything is no big accident then there has to be a purpose behind it all.
Partly I see the purpose is for the necessary expression of who God is ( as I mentioned above about Him being anti-evil and ultimately the highest form of good through loving enemies which means the necessary existence of experiential evil). People sin against God, and rightly so, this needs to have consequences in order to turn people around. These consequences of death and hell etc I see more as an allowance to continue to live in sin and experience the natural pain of a sinful lifestyle - things don’t go well if you don’t listen to the wisdom of God… lying, cheating, killing and self serving etc all have natural repercussions that aren’t pleasant. Look at our world today, it is like it is because people don’t love each other. Our capitalist systems encourage a money rather than a people focused society, it is just a big rat race seeking ones own. God cannot let sin go on forever, He promised that it would be conquered (to our relief). Once we have experienced this evil in our lives, we can truly know and understand the way of God and its value.

Have a read of C.S. Lewis’ small book “the Great Divorce”. It talks about how hell has open doors and people are only there because they don’t want to be in heaven. They want to live their selfish lives without realising yet the wisdom, freedom and goodness of surrender before God and His ways.
God’s ways are expressed in Christ’s death. Christ didn’t only “pay” the price for breaking a law, but more so showed us the way of God, and how God wants us to imitate Him - loving others, forgiving, standing up for what is right etc. God wants to restore our tarnished image to His Image.

Because I am a deterministic Universalist, I believe all people will be restored to God for many reasons and questions that I have mentioned elsewhere - Why would God create people in His image that could not be restored to a Holy one? Why would God let sin exist and reign in a place in heaven forever? Not to mention it is talked about a bit in the Bible that God will save everyone :slight_smile:
God can say that He will save everyone because He understands every person and their individual characteristics that He gave them to the point where He knows how to save them and how long that will take. Each person with their unique characteristics each have a different path that will lead them to Christ, but all will eventually be led there by God in His own unique manner.
So we still act of our own volition and God doesn’t usually violate that… people are free agents. What I mean by that is we are free to express who God made us to be. I like what Einstein said “Man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills.”
I am excited by this, that my fate is in God’s hands. I can trust Him that as I search for Him I will find Him more so :smiley: I am designed to find Him!

Romans 12:3 “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”
John 6:44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”

People can still be held responsible for their actions in determinism, but distributing responsibility is a means of identifying who is responsible, identifying where change needs to happen and then finding the best way to bring this about - I now refer to Cindy’s post above :smiley:

On a side note, seeing the world like this also means I can have more compassion on others! Instead of seeing someone as freely choosing evil all the time for no apparent reason, I can ask “what brought this person to where they are today? and how can I help?”. We need to be wary of blaming the victims.

I have rambled a bit, but I hope to give a flavour of how a deterministic way of looking at things could work.