The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Problem of Hell vs Problem of Heaven

I think Origen and the Fathers meant the same thing by ἀποκατάστασις as Luke meant in Acts, namely “restoration”.

That sounds more like Hinduism than Christianity, more like nirvana than heaven. The following passage from Origen in which he uses the word, sounds like a restoration of individuals, and not at all alike an absorption into a Single Universal Consciousness.

While that’s true enough, I don’t think that’s always a helpful definition unless it is qualified. That’s why I prefer Cindy’s approach to the word which I think also works well, and is less potentially confusing (lasting could be taken to mean endless). There are other words in Greek that convey more of the sense of our modern understanding of “eternal”.

I’m with Cindy on being uncomfortable with “owing” terminology, but I do think that God obligates himself to remain consistent with the character he has revealed to us, including keeping certain promises that relate to this question. In terms of how suffering and faith interact, I think this testimony by Scott Hamilton (of Olympic ice skating fame) really helps speak to this. He directly correlates his greatest moments and achievements in life directly to suffering and how God redeems it. The video can be viewed here:

The more we claim that God owes (or, if “owes” is crass, then substitute “wants to give”) us infinite life in Heaven; the less we can explain our current suffering. Why didn’t God just leave us in Heaven, .esp if we are, in effect, not free to ultimately reject it? Suffering may make us virtuous (i.e. soul-making theodicy), but suffering is also cruel. As most universalists appreciate ECT to be purposeless, gratuitous suffering, then isn’t any suffering purposeless from a universalist God? Granted, Jesus mitigates earthly suffering, but many don’t know of Jesus…

For me, though I know the other soteriologies have their difficulties, our current “veil of tears” is the hardest objection to necessary (non-contingent) universalism. Talbott addresses this in a paper titled, “Universalism and the Supposed Oddity of our Earthly Existence.” He contends that our actual world is better than Heaven instantly for it gives us the opportunity to see the consequences of our sin. This supposes that sin is pervasive and in the same magnitude for everybody, for outside the traditional doctrine of sin, it would seem that there are many who are relatively good and suffer purposelessly, .esp if universalism is T.

Does evangelical universalism assume original sin/total depravity as Talbott seems to be in his defense?

Prince, you’re asking some good questions! i’ll have to think a bit and see if i have anything to add. Just wanted to say thanks, it’s good to investigate this with a critical eye.

Hmm. I’m not sure why God wanting to give us his best makes it harder to explain current suffering. There are a number of passages in scripture that directly tell us that there will be suffering in this life, so expect it. I also don’t see how a universalist God necessitates the purposelessness of suffering, particularly since Jesus came in order to effect our ultimate salvation (and enter into and identify with the human condition)through his own suffering. If any suffering could be considered ‘gratuitous’, then it was his crucifixion; and yet that was precisely what was necessary for the salvation of all. I sort of see this question as the rough equivalent of asking, “if all are going to be saved, then Christ’s death wasn’t necessary, was it?” I don’t think we can easily state that suffering is purposeless (on any soteriological model) just because we can’t fathom the purpose of it. Likewise, the fact that many don’t know Jesus yet is a great reason to evangelize, if we do it out of a true desire to alleviate suffering here and now rather than to save people from an eschatological “hell”. Those are my thoughts on it. Don’t get me wrong though, I understand that the problem of suffering is a real and thorny problem!

Just a quick point, Prince.

I think you mis-understand Talbott who does not believe in original sin/total depravity in the traditional sense. His paper "Why Christians Should Not Be Determinists: Reflections on the Origin of Human Sin"…makes his view clear, I think, and as I was referring to these views in my post above(which I hold myself) I’ve added this pertinent quote from the paper.

Edit: Thought I’d add this abstract of the paper from Talbott:

Hi Prince

I would disagree with your statement that the more God wants to give us a very good thing (eternal life), the less we can explain our current suffering. Like Melchie, I don’t see any logical or consequential connection between the two clauses in that statement. (Although I reiterate my belief that a full understanding of the necessity of suffering, and of theodicy in general, is beyond us.)

I would also say that we are all of us free to reject ‘heaven’, right up until the time that we actually and freely embrace it, and are thereafter confirmed eternally in that free acceptance. There is never any irresistible coercion on God’s part. If there were, then suffering would indeed be pointless, if you ask me.

And lastly, as I understand him - and agree with him, as far as I do understand him :smiley: - Talbott has argued that a) suffering is an inevitable but not deliberately willed corollary of the supremely valuable gift of freedom (as I thought we had sort of agreed, but maybe not :smiley: ?); and b) the ultimate life we will have in heaven will be more valuable and worth having than any heavenly life that might have been the ultimate result of an earthly existence with less suffering in it than the one we actually experience - which must be the best of all possible worlds, all things considered, otherwise God would have actuated a better one.

All the best



Just seeing if you saw my response and question to you on back up the thread. Feb 14 at 9:40 am. Be interested to hear your thoughts on it if you’d be willing. :smiley:

Hi Chris

In response to the questions you asked earlier (and apologies for not answering properly earlier), I agree with what Steve said, basically. To expand a little, I believe God could easily have made a world with no suffering in it, but not one in which creation was free and moral beings like us could have evolved. I accept - although I do not understand - that this world we live in is the best God could possibly have made as the environment in which free moral souls come into being with sufficient independence from God to freely choose good.

I also believe that in the final apokatastasis of creation, all suffering will be transmuted into a glory so infinitely worth having that everyone who has ever suffered will agree that the price they have paid - and God has paid with them, let us not forget - was indeed worth paying.

All the best


Thanks Steve for posting that paper by Talbott. I read through it rather quickly, but i found it very interesting. I will try to digest it a bit…the concept of Adam and Eve being just as we are seems logical. Because i embrace the theory of evolution, and see in the pattern of the embryo that develops into a child, and thus into a teen and thus into an adult as evidence that this is how God chooses to work [or perhaps this is just the way it has to be for freedom and proper redemption to work?], this makes a lot of sense to me.
I also think that some forms of suffering are part of the work that we must do to make this world a better place. i think that’s important, because if God did everything for us, we would feel we had no ownership of anything, that we were just along for the ride. i don’t think that’d be good. Much suffering, of course, is due to injustice and cruelty, and i cannot justify that in the same terms, but maybe the possibility for one necessitates the possibility of the other.
If you’ll permit me a moment of pure geekdom to illustrate some of the above, there is a fantastic game i play called Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate [available on the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U Consoles…Nintendo and Capcom, i am still waiting for my commission for all this advertising ahem], in which you can team up with other players and go hunting giant, vicious beasts, mostly to rescue people and villages from them, or just because in this primitive world, materials harvested from them are needed. I and my good friend Steph were going to go a-hunting, and we were joined by what appeared to be a married couple from Spain. We knew they were strong, but WOW. They went in and did what would’ve taken us ages in seconds.
At that point, i had played quite extensively and was grateful as they saved me a little time in collecting bits of these particular monsters, but Steph hadn’t [she has since vastly outpaced me lol], and she told me she felt like we hadn’t earned it. It immediately made me think of what would happen if God just stepped down, with His vast strength and power, and fixed everything for us. We would feel we had no participation, and thus no real ownership of the situation. We would have been awed by the display of power, but left wanting, because…well, we wanted to have a bash at it too.
This is a greatly overly simplified example, but it partially helped me understand some of the issue…albeit not the one about the suffering caused by injustice, which is very hard…but then as Johnny says, God pays that price too. He suffers along with us, and i think there is comfort in that.

I think another potentially helpful and slightly geeky reference could be to Tolkien’s Creation Myth as told in The Silmarillion. Illuvatar [or Eru] begins with a simple musical theme. His initially created beings, the Valar, hear this, and rejoice, and have a good old jam session over it. The problem is that one of them [Morgoth] decides he knows better, and begins to introduce disharmony. Illuvatar hears this, and rather than punishing Morgoth, adjusts the theme to account for this disharmony. The musical theme thus becomes darker, sadder, richer. Again, Morgoth tries to break it by introducing more disharmony and dissonance. Again, Illuvatar incorporates it into the theme. And then…they are shown what they have wrought together: a beautiful world…one in which someday there would be suffering and disharmony…but even with that sad knowledge, a beautiful and rich world would ultimately be the result. Could it have just been joyous? We don’t know. But God incorporates the suffering, and while it makes it sadder and harder to understand, it becomes richer and deeper and more beautiful as a result. Why is this? I’m not sure, but it’s something to do with becoming stronger by overcoming.

If you think of any story…if just good things happen all the way through, we often think it lacks depth. we need a crisis of some kind for the characters to overcome. they are enriched by it somehow, as is the whole plot.

Those are some really wonderful analogies, James- You’ve made my day! :smiley: I think that literature, art and music does much to help us understand things for which dry philosophy is insufficient. That being said, I do think Talbott is on to something that is especially helpful for those of us who do “embrace the theory of evolution”. He brings up Irenaeus and his views of the Adam story and sin-- which I’ve come across more and more lately, most recently in Peter Enns’s book The Evolution of Adam, but most prominently (as Talbott mentions) in John Hick’s Evil and the God of Love (really a classic, which I suspect you’d get a lot out of if you haven’t read it yet, James) and on this site we recently had this thread[Fascinating paper on “Augustinian Adam” vs “Irenaean Adam”).

Johnny, thanks for mentioning this as it is so easy to forget in one of these discussions of theodicy…

…that makes all the difference. :smiley:

Good thoughts, corpsey. A lot of this reminds me of Don Miller’s take on God’s interaction with his (evolved) creation, likening it to writing a good story.

Yes, I found Enns’ book The Evolution of Adam very helpful.

I’m a real fan of Don Miller! Blue Like Jazz was an important stone on the path i’ve followed.

Thanks…that’s a lot of reading material you’ve given me :laughing:
All sounds good!!!

Sorry, James…Didn’t mean to sound like one of my kids schoolteachers. :blush: :laughing:

I just finished it this week. :smiley: It’s helpful to me as well. I’d read his Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament recently, but might have gotten even more from TEoA.

LOL, no it’s just that i love Calvin and Hobbes, and the link you sent has a strip of that in it, and that led me to the whole study, which led me to the whole study he did on Peanuts, which i also love!
I just sped through that and am starting the C&H one now lol

Glad you liked it, James! :smiley:
I posted that link to Dr Beck’s blog with the C&H cartoon back when topics were coming fast and furious so I don’t know if anyone even looked at it then… :confused:

There loss, if not! :slight_smile:
I may have been away then, not sure…but i appreciate you letting me know now!