Reformatory View of Justice. Origen argued that God’s justice has reformation in view, not punishment. He claimed, “The fury of God’s vengeance is profitable for the purgation of souls. That the punishment, also, which is said to be applied be fire, is understood to be applied by fire, is understood to be applied with the object of healing” (2.10.6). He added, “those who have been removed from their primal state of blessedness have not been removed irrecoverably, but have been placed under the rule of those holy and blessed orders which we have described; and by availing themselves of the aid of these, and being remoulded by salutary principles and discipline, they may recover themselves, and be restored to their condition of happiness” (1.6.2).
One cannot apply God’s obvious desire that persons reform their lives to prove that all will be saved in the end. Nor can one assume, contrary to both Scripture and fact, that all persons choose to be reformed (Matthew 23:37; Revelation 20:10-15), or that no decision is final. Likewise, the Bible declares that each person is destined to die one and after that to face judgment (Hebrews 9:27). It is contrary to the proper concept of justice, which is penal, rather than reformatory. God’s absolute justice and holiness demand that a penalty be paid for sin (see Leviticus 17:11; Ezekiel 18:20).
The reformatory view of justice also is contrary to the substitutionary death of Christ. Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God (1 Peter 3:18; 1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21). “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” Why did Christ have to pay the awful price for sin if sin is not an infinite crime and does not have to be punished?
God is indeed interested in reformation. That is what life is all about. Those who refuse to accept what Christ did in the atonement cannot be reformed in this life. And then they must stand without the righteousness of Christ before an infinitely holy God who cannot abide in the presence of sin’s corruption. Separation from God is the necessary punishment for those who cannot exist in God’s presence and are rightly the objects of His anger. This is why God is so long-suffering with those who live. He does not wish that any should parish (2 Peter 3:9).
Origen offered an argument for universalism from God’s wisdom:
God, by the ineffable skill of his wisdom, transforming and restoring all things, in whatever manner they are made, to some useful aim, and to the common advantage of all, recalls those very creatures which differed so much from each other in mental conformation to one agreement of labor and purpose; so that, although they are under the influence of different motives, they nevertheless complete the fullness and perfection of one world, and the very variety of minds tends to one end of perfection. For it is is one power which grasps and holds together all the diversity of the world, and leads the different movements towards one work, lest so immense an undertaking as that of the world should be dissolved by the dissensions of souls.
This again misses the point that God’s wisdom does not act contrary to His love. And love cannot force anyone to do something.
The fact that God is infinitely wise (omniscient) allows Him to know that not everyone will freely choose to serve Him. The attempt to save people God knows will never accept Him would be contrary to God’s wisdom. Still, all are invited, even those God knows will reject Him.
Many, with Origen, respond, “that God, the Father of all things, in order to ensure the salvation of all His creatures through the ineffable plan of His word and wisdom, so arranged each of these, that every spirit, whether soul or rational existence, however called, should not be compelled by force, against the liberty of his own will, to any other course than that to which the motives of his own mind led him (lest be doing the power of exercising free-will should seem to be taken away, which certainly would produce a change in the nature of the being itself)” (Origen, 2.1.2). But God cannot “ensure the salvation of all” without compelling them by force. As long as someone refuses to freely accept God’s love, a loving God cannot ensure they will be saved.