The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Problem: Universalism “shrugs” at God’s violence

Hello Tom:

I mean no disrespect when I ask this, but it seems to me that, when it comes to God’s violence, the “brand” of Universalism you endorse simply looks the other way. Since God will save (eventually) everyone, we are secure in turning a blind eye to the violence God employs to accomplish this. His violence is but a tool in His arsenal, we like the results, so we are safe to “wink” at it and let it slide.

The God of the OT appears to be extremely violent (I say appears to be since there is a small chance that the violence said to come from God was actually only a projection of mans deeply ingrained violence onto God); and this violence has in part, I’m fairly confident in assuming, made it easier for Christians to excuse – and indeed celebrate – God’s violence in the NT. See the redemptive violence of hell and the Lake of Fire. For most Christians of course God’s violence is not redemptive but punitive; violence as payment for sin. End of story. God can do whatever He wants to effect his purpose and plan. Violence included.

My discomfort comes from my reading of Walter Wink and the light he has shone into our (we humans) embrace of the Myth of Redemptive Violence. Violence as solution. Violence rooted in the very nature of God. Yet it seems rather impossible that a God who employs such violence can reasonably come among us (as He has) and bid us “fear not”; for the natural offspring of violence IS fear.

Yes I like a God who is so engaged with His creation that He will go to any length to redeem it. But no, I’m troubled by a God who resorts to violence to accomplish His purposes. Perhaps I’ve read too much into your silence on this issue, but silence, sometimes, also speaks. (Or perhaps you’ve not been silent – and I’ve simply missed your comments on this subject) Does the end result (UR) justify the means (violence) in your formulations of Universal Reconciliation??


I’d sure like to see an extended discussion on this; although I’d also rather wait for Tom’s reply before jumping in. :smiley:


I can fully sympathise with your post as I have struggled with these things for years as well. One approach is to say that the way God is portrayed throughout the Bible could be coloured by the way the writers more or less understood/reflected His character in their writings (i.e. not everything written that says God initiated or condoned this or that behaviour was really the case). Another approach is to say that these stories are purely human invention and so neither the violent nor the loving God exist. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

As an aside of course no-one here has the slightest doubt that the violence of Allah is completely untrue (no Christians are losing sleep over whether Allah will fry them for not being Muslim).

As one of the (admittedly informal :mrgreen: ) “guest authors”, I still would rather wait for Tom to have a shot at this (a question addressed to him, in his forum) before writing something on it myself.

(Tom is off on travel-leave right now, and won’t be back until April-ish, if I understand correctly.)

Seeing as how I’m constantly writing about wrath-of-God and punishment and such, however, I’d feel okay addressing a question from you to me on the topic, Bob, in another forum category. :slight_smile: I don’t think I would say that I “shrug” at God’s violence–it’s an awfully big topic.

(To give one example: the so-called “Myth of Redemptive Violence” must have some limits on how much of a “myth” it is, unless we deny that God’s own sacrifice of Himself on the cross has any connection to our salvation. I don’t recall offhand whether Wink denies any connection, but I sure don’t deny it. :wink: )

One thing we DO know. “They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain”. Whether someone believes in God’s violence or not (I don’t) we all believe that God, at the core, is peace and is not at war within. Agreed?

Absolutely. God’s wrath may be real, but it’s contingent; it isn’t intrinsically His nature. God is love; He is not intrinsically wrath. As Isaiah beautifully reports:

“There is no wrath in Me! If someone comes out to fight against Me with thistles and thorns, I will go to war against him, burning those up with fire. But, if he will cling to Me as his refuge, he makes Me his friend. He makes Me his friend.” (Repeated by God for poetic emphasis.)

(Notice the thematic connection between this and my recent reply to Roofus elsewhere concerning the connection of Heb chps 6 and 10 to 1 Cor 11:27-32)

Yes yes it is a huge topic I agree. And by saying Universalism “shrugs” at violence I don’t at all mean we don’t care about it. Or that Tom doesn’t care about it. It’s just that since our UR theology doesn’t talk about it I see it as quite possible that we will been seen as indifferent on the subject – since God gets the result (UR) He wants in the end.

I think it is quite possible to construe the entire redemption saga as starting with a self-existing God (Triune) who creates from love in an environment of non-violence. (Note: if one talks about total non-violence that seems to allow shades and degrees of non-violence. To me that’s like shades of pregnancy; one can’t be a bit pregnant. One either is or is not pregnant.) Because of freedom, violence enters the picture with all it’s attendant horrors; pain, suffering, and significantly, fear. God’s mission then is to come and guide His fallen-to-violence creation back to the original state of non-violence. That is loves natural state and is our eventual destination. The Total Victory which we of UR conviction believe is God’s can be seen as His entire creation returning, via free will and grace, (ie no force; and always a gift) back to that state of blessedness in which non-violence reigns. (ie non-violence is an integral part of God’s character just as is love and mercy and justice and righteousness and so on…)

That being the case, we with Universalist leanings know that the violence is temporary; and, being temporary the temptation might be to simply wait it out and not vigorously protest it’s incorporation into any and all things God. MacDonald has written, quite movingly in my opinion, about the dangers of letting UR lull us into being soft on sin. I’m talking about the same dynamic lulling us into being soft on violence.

Now of course the question of God’s violence is a difficult one, not just the Old Testament but the New as well. Greg Boyd (mentioned by Pat on his thread “problem of evil”) spent most of last year on his blog working through all the various theories of how to explain God’s violence. Great reading that. And I realize that the band of theologians writing about UR is rather scant; and it’s pretty difficult to cover everything to everyones satisfaction.

But there the question is and I thought TT’s perspective would be illuminating.
And yes, I shall try to redirect the topic to you in another thread Jason.
For me, I think UR and non-violence go hand in hand so naturally that when one thinks UR they should immediately associate it with a return to that original state of God’s creation. That seems an emphasis that’s been missing.

Blessings all,

Me, too! And I hope he’ll write some things on it when he returns.

Meanwhile, I’ll be looking for that other post of yours to show up. :mrgreen: (So I won’t be tromping all over Tom’s corner of the yard, which I worry very much about. Edited to add: I am much less concerned with other readers commenting at length in Tom’s area, than I am with commenting at length myself here, especially without Tom having contributed to the discussion himself yet. Other readers shouldn’t let my reluctance for myself hold you back from commenting here as much as you want; I assure you, Tom has told us he is very happy about that. And probably wouldn’t have any problem with me doing it either–I just don’t want to be poaching audience time. :slight_smile: )

I return, from time to time, (in my mind) to this problem for Universalism which seems to suggest that, since God eventually saves all, the means by which He does so are rather irrelevant. The end accomplished (ie reuniting the entire created Universe to worship God together for eternity; no small thing) justifies the means and tactics employed by God to get there.

It interests me that Tom declined to tackle this question of mine. Perhaps (is it OK to read possible motives from polite silence?) he does so because to answer such a question as I have posed places oneself in an impossible situation. Answer yes, God DOES in effect “shrug” at violence (and evil if you like) in the sense that He knows it is a path which sentient created beings must have demonstrated for them, and now God owns evil and all the things against which God claims to be against. Answer no, and one necessarily must do a fancy dance to get away from all the violence laid explicitly at God’s feet in the bible.

Not to come across as too enlightened, or maybe even arrogant, but I actually find it quite easy to imagine the kind of Kingdom God prefers and eventually runs: love reigns; violence is not even seen as an option; evil is but a dim memory; each loves the other as he loves himself – knowing our needs are abundantly provided for, we focus instead on reaching out to the other; we simply bask in the wonder of our creator and sustainer and His extravagant love and mercy and grace. We grasp fully that our very existence is the offspring of God’s love, and we respond with gratitude forever that we were invited to the party.

OK then. Given that is what God wants, and that is where God’s redeemed creation will eventually arrive, I continue to struggle mightily with the notion of God participating in the very things He finds abhorrent, even if it is for our eventual benefit.

I suspect I will simply need to place this question on a shelf to be answered later; like maybe when this saga has ended and we are once again reunited with the Christ. In the meantime, it is difficult to muster a doctrine against violence (as all Christians must it seems to me) when God Himself has apparently made ample use of it Himself…

Still thinking….


Hi TV,
This is something I’ve thought about a little, but not enough to really come to any conclusions so far. I haven’t read what others have said about it, so I’m kind of ‘behind’ on this issue, I guess you could say. Would you answer a few questions for me?

Can you give me some examples of the violence attributed to God which you particularly consider ‘evil’? Or do you think of all violence as evil? Are there any instances of violence that you would consider fair and right?

Right now, what’s coming to mind is that most of the violence in the OT is punitive. For example–if I’m remembering right, in the case of the Israelites taking the promised land, the people were worshippers of Molech and practicing child sacrifice. He told Abraham that He would give the land to his descendants, because the sin of the people had not yet reached full measure. (or something along those lines.) So apparently God lets a people go on sinning for a time (perhaps to give them a chance?) before punishing them and putting a stop to the evil.

Just some thoughts,

Hi Sonia:

Actually, I’ve not made much – if any – progress from where this discussion left off some months ago. The way this went down is that, while waiting for Tom T’s response, we moved the discussion over to the GENERAL DISCUSSION section with an essay I wrote which I called
[size=150]Can UR trump the Myth of Redemptive Violence?[/size] over here:

We did this so Jason could weigh in fully without “stepping” on Toms potential replies and Jason gave me much to think about. (Thanks again Jason!!)

Anyway, it seems one can, in arguing some of these dynamics, be lead down a path whose destination is simply absurd. For example, if we hold that God can and does take evils and uses them in creative and redemptive ways, maybe those evils weren’t “so bad” after all and may have even been “necessary”. But if evil is always turned to good (something God seems to specialize in) then maybe it wasn’t evil in the first place! We end up defining reality as if there really ISN"T such a thing as “anti-God” – which seems absurd because clearly there HAS been a vast “anti-God” movement which is what this struggle on earth (which even necessitated the death of the Christ Himself! – another discussion) has been about resolving.

So yes, conceptually I think all violence is evil; except that I can envision a thousand and one cases where there is a “good” aspect to that very violence! Further, I don’t think evil and violence will play ANY part in our future state of blessedness with God; except as historical memory.

I’m thinking you’ll find the essay – as well as all the great responses – interesting. (My above post was really just an expression of my puzzlement that Tom chose not to jump in on this question. Tom’s a very wise man so I’m guessing it’s because this type of question is in many ways unanswerable…)


I’ll check out the other thread. Thanks!

Whenever this comes up for me, I think of the example that Jesus gave some of the disciples. As we know, Jesus is the direct representation of God. If you’ve seen Jesus, you’ve seen the Father.

Well, remember the story where the disciples wanted to call down fire on some folks because they didn’t believe or accept their message? Jesus’ response was: [You morons!] :mrgreen: “You don’t know what spirit you are of. I did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.”

For me, that says about all that needs to be said about God’s redemptive violence.

Hi Bob,

The question you raise is huge, and it would literally take years of research and writing, I fear, to address it in a thorough way. At the present time I must restrict myself to a couple of vague and undeveloped observations.

First, I’m not persuaded that God does use violence as a means of redemption, or even that such a thing is possible. That, of course, depends in part on what one means by “violence,” and I take very seriously your remark about our projecting the appearance of violence onto God. In particular, I see no reason to think that either hell or the lake of fire is an instance of God using violence as a means of redemption. The image of fire is a metaphor for the process whereby God purges us of the imperfections and the sins that are killing us. It is more like what Hitler experienced when all of his evil plans and ambitions came to ruin (as consequences of his own choices) and he saw no way out except suicide (which in fact was not a way out at all); even in this life, in other words, Hitler found himself in a lake of fire, so to speak, and experienced his God as a consuming fire. So it is not through violence that God redeems us; it is by shutting us up to our own disobedience, by requiring us to experience the inevitable consequences of our sin, and by also requiring us to see our present condition clearly that he redeems us in the end. As St. Paul put it: “For God has imprisoned all in [their own] disobedience so that he may be merciful to all” (Rom. 11:32).

Second–and this will have to be unforgivably vague–a crucial question for me is this: Did God have a good reason to start us out in an environment in which events happen on their own and do so quite apart from God’s direct causal control?–an environment, that is, in which other peoples’ choices, indeterministic processes, and even sheer chance sometimes determine what happens to us, both good and bad? I think the answer is “Yes.” But that’s a much longer story……

Thanks for your question, and sorry for the delay in replying. Unfortunately, I really am pressed for time right now.


TomT: Second–and this will have to be unforgivably vague–a crucial question for me is this: Did God have a good reason to start us out in an environment in which events happen on their own and do so quite apart from God’s direct causal control?–an environment, that is, in which other peoples’ choices, indeterministic processes, and even sheer chance sometimes determine what happens to us, both good and bad? I think the answer is “Yes.” But that’s a much longer story.

TomB: THAT is indeed a crucial question, and I’ve come to appreciate (and even sometimes mourn) the vast differences that follow from how it’s answered. Truly mind-blowing.

Trust you are well.


No worries Tom T – and I do trust you are well. Continued blessings to you and yours…

I immersed myself in the violence question after having been deeply moved and influenced by J Denny Weavers book “The NonViolent Atonement” and I really do see that a Christians views on violence say an awful lot about how they view God.
Since reading that book some years ago, I’ve embraced Universal Restoration and have been wondering how to more tightly tie UR to the message of nonviolence that I believe Christ came to demonstrate. And it’s a long project as you note – probably one of a lifetime!!

Thanks again Tom!


Well I am a bit shocked and disappointed with myself here, not to say a bit embarrassed as well, because on flipping through your book THE INESCAPABLE LOVE OF GOD I reread your chapter 12 which is called “Loves Final Victory.”

And you made the observation that the NT displays what you call a “relatively casual attitude towards suffering” and I personally think that may also apply to the OT as well as to violence in general. So if in fact this could be seen to be God “shrugging” at violence, about the ONLY way He could do that is if He knows for a certainty that each and every bit and morsel of violence and death and suffering will in fact be redeemed eventually and that every tear really has been carefully noted (as the Psalmist claims) and that we can’t possibly grasp all of that redemption (except in the eye of the mind as a possibility) until it actually happens.

So I think the idea that UR is a genuine reality is the only way God can be “excused” (if that’s the correct word?) for allowing and even participating in all this suffering and violence forms a very firm foundation on which build a theory of why God allows evil in the first place…

Thanks again Tom!


In order to understand God’s ‘violence’ we must understand his heart behind every act he does.It is good that God manifests his judgments, not because he takes pleasure in them, for Lamentations 3:33 says that he does not afflict willingly, but because everyone will learn righteousness when he does. God’s heart is one of love, and love is always after the good of others. The greatest good for the wicked is that they learn righteousness, and the greatest good for the weak is that the wicked are disabled from being able to hurt any further. Psalm 10 explains this in great depth,

Break the arm of the wicked and evil person;
call his wickedness into account
until nothing remains of it. (v.15)

…do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more. (v. 18)

This explains God’s use of violence, he breaks the arm of the wicked to protect the oppressed, while at the same time he calls their wickedness into account until none is left making them no longer wicked but righteous. We wonder why God must go to such measures but Isaiah 26:10 explains that as well,

when grace is shown to the wicked,
they do not learn righteousness;
even in a land of uprightness they go on doing evil
and do not regard the majesty of the LORD.

And so we see that grace alone is not enough, it takes justice in some cases. However we know that love alone is always enough, because as George Macdonald believed (as do I) justice and mercy are one and the same. Love drives everything that God does, he is not out to hurt people, he may be out to break them, but that will only result in the broken person’s ultimate good.

Scripture says that by suffering Christ was made perfect, apparently perfection is not something attainable by simple pleasure, but by hurt. However a day will come when pain and death will no longer be needed, God will cast all evil out and “he will wipe every tear from (our) eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things (will have) passed away.” We look to this future, when every evil suffered and every pain experienced will be redeemed, we will see that everything God did that seemed violent or needless had a purpose and was done in love.

Remember all things done in love are after the good of others, because love is not self-seeking.

I’d argue that violence is neither good nor evil. It is the sudden release of energy. A violent storm isn’t evil. A violent supernova isn’t evil. Football is more violent than lawn bowls, but isn’t therefore more evil.

Injustice is always evil. Violent injustice is obviously evil, but gentle injustice is evil also. Quietly spoken, well manicured, politically correct, non-violent injustice is evil.

Justice is always good. Violent justice is good. A policeman wrestling a mugger to the ground is good. David slaying Goliath is good. Violent justice is glorious. We praise the policeman’s strength and courage. All Israel cheers when Goliath falls. Christ one day will smash the wicked with a rod of iron.

Non-violent justice is also good and glorious. We marvel at Gandhi. We praise Martin Luther King. We worship Christ dying silently on the cross.

Wisdom must decide whether violent or non-violent action will produce the desired outcome (justice, shalom) in any given situation. Both require courage and sacrifice. Sometimes, violence inflames the situation. In other cases, it resolves it.

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Allans, that was excellent. Thanks.