The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Talbott—Does God allow irreparable harm?

Does God allow truly irreparable harm—harm that even he can never heal, repair, or undo? Tom Talbott looks at this in light of God’s love, predestination, total victory over sin & death, & our free will.

As long as God has morally sufficient and justifiable reasons to allow harm He does nothing wrong in allowing it. Those in hell have their hearts separated from God’s mercy as Christ says depart from me. As a result their hearts harden. They loathe God and His children. They don’t want Him. If they don’t want to love God they don’t have to. But God is never obligated to give someone who hates Him and His children and don’t want to have anything to do with Him the gift of grace. The longer one is in hell the more wicked they become and the more just the punishment is. What God is mainly doing by keeping evil God haters out of the new creation is protecting His holy children from the contamination and harm of evil. God therefore has a morally sufficient and justifiable reason for hell. In all likelihood there’s infinitely many more reasons seeing that God is infinite in wisdom in knowledge and logical explanations are infinite in number. The new heavens and earth is created new and reconciled as all things are made new. The whole world that is fore loved and predestined worship God and love each other because they want to. Having all desire for sin removed from their hearts they become like God in that it is impossible for them to sin. They chose what they most want - God. This is freedom. Every knee bows in heaven, earth, and those saints resurrected from under the earth. The Hebrew phrase “Heavens and Earth” means “all things”. These are the all things reconciled. The nations and the kings of the nations are those in the new Heavens and Earth. The new city of Jerusalem is the center of the new universe. The lake of fire isn’t included in “all things made new.” or the “whole world.”

As we can see the “all things made new” is separated by the word “but” and then it goes on to describe those in the lake of fire separating the lake of fire from the new city and the new heavens and earth which is where the new city is located. The city or new Jerusalem isn’t the new heavens and earth. It’s only a small fraction of the new heavens and earth. The gates of the city are open for the nations in the new heavens and earth. Not the lake of fire even though that’s also outside the gates.

Here’s one more justifiable reason out of the infinite number God has by Jonathan Edwards:

The happiness here isn’t cruel and sadistic. As Edwards and Aquinas have stated: It’s not the suffering of those in hell in and of itself that the saints delight in but the glories of God’s love and justice. Aquinas and Edwards never taught a sadistic delight in the sufferings of those in hell. The saints delight in the suffering of those in hell only in the sense that the glory of God will appear in it. The saints will feel the intense glory of God as he shows His tender love for them by bringing His justice down on evil God haters.

You raise a lot of things there but I’m a bit unclear about where you’re coming from—are you a universalist?


I read you as arguing against the thesis of this universalist site, and for Edwards’ view that God elects those made in his image to the irreparable harm of ECT. But I’m not seeing that you engage Talbott’s argument against celebrating divinely sanctioned “irreparable harm.” The crux appears to be one’s conception of the character of God as having the essential character of love. Perhaps you can articulate how you see the nature of divine love for those God created.

God’s love is expressed by protecting His children in the new creation from evil. It’s also paradoxically expressed to those who have their hearts eternally separated from God’s mercy in hell by inflicting them with sufficient torment to prevent them from doing irreparable harm. God keeps in check the horrors those people could inflict on each other (because their hearts are separated from all mercy) by distracting them with a precisely determined amount and kind of pain or discomfort. Such pain and discomfort restrains them. God calibrates each person’s torment to exactly the level necessary for restraint of their potential for expressing irreparable harm. Thus, we see God’s paradoxical love in hell. These are morally sufficient and justifiable reasons for hell. Therefore it’s not unjust for hell to exist. Of course ages unto ages means a very long time. So, I’m considering that hell is thousands upon thousands of years long. Maybe not though. Eternity is also a very long period of time. I’m still thinking this over.


Thanks. You appear to define that the expression of agape toward those whom God has chosen not to bestow saving faith and grace, is to endlessly and non-redemptively assign them to separation from God and all mercy, and to inflict them with torments that prevent irreparable harm.

Not finding any Biblical support for this definition of God’s agape, as revealed in 1 Corinthians 13, or most clearly in Jesus crucified, your conception of it sounds to me like the essence of doing “irreparable harm” to these ones made in God’s image. Taking away all potential for mercy is exactly what my flesh desires toward those I do Not love. Thus, I’m glad you are still thinking over how eternity is a long time to inflict such a conception of agape. It sounds to me worse than “paradoxical.” How does it not just contradict the central claim that “love builds up” the enemies who love is called to persevere in loving?

I would prefer a conception of love that doesn’t contradict the kind Edwards cites in referring to the “lowliness, mildness, meekness, and gentleness of spirit” made clear in the One who the Bible says provides the fullest revelation of God and his character as He comes to us in the flesh.

Agape is mingled with God’s severity for those in hell. That’s the paradox. Love protects. Therefore the torment inflicted on those in hell restrains them. This is God’s protection in keeping those in hell from harming each other. Edwards believed that Vengeance belonged to God. We imitate Christ in the meekness He showed while on earth. Those in hell hate God and His children. They don’t want to have anything to do with Him. God is never obligated to give such a person the gift of grace. Grace is unmerited favor and never owed.

That’s a pretty modern concept of grace. It is not the Biblical one. In a word grace is enablement to be able to accomplish what we could never do apart from it.

For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all people, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and to live sensible, righteous, and pious lives in the present age, expecting the blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of the great God and of our Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good works. Declare these things; encourage and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you. Titus 2:11-15

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved–and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 2:4-10

For by works of the law no human being will be made righteous in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it-- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are made righteous by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a means of mercy by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.
It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be righteous and the one who makes rightesous he who has faith in Jesus. Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. Romans 3:20-27

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. Hebrews 12:1-4

Hebrews 5:8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.
High priest ---- one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. James 2:14-18

According to Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary

From the online Catholic Encyclopedia. Even the Catholics believe grace is a gift:

Michael, thanks for amplifying. It’s widely accepted, and I agree, that agape can involve severity (though this needn’t mean a contradictory paradox concerning love’s pursuit of the best for us, insofar as the severity is seeking the true saving welfare of the loved one).

But you suggested earlier that Edwards thought hell protects us from irreparable harm, and now from harming one another in hell. And as one for whom he carries no authority, that just sounds made up to me. The usual consensus is that ‘hell’ means being thrown into a position that IS precisely irreparable, and I’m not seeing how you’ve offered any Biblical challenge to that interpretation, OR addressed how Edward’s idea of hell is consistent with the texts I cited on genuine love’s commitment to seeking the best for the one loved (as Jesus put it, to “seek the lost Until they are found”).

Indeed, I think a more Biblical picture is that hell and God’s judgment do NOT focus on protecting us from God’s wrath, but more involve a Severity wherein his protection is removed, and we face the severe torment of reaping what we’ve sowed. For the N.T. emphasis is that we cannot become a new creation until we face our sin, experience the destruction of our old man, and recognize the need to put to death the deeds of the flesh.

The torment would be the kind that restrains those in hell from harming each other. So, I would agree. It’s not made up but taken from the Bible that says God is kind and severe and that God is love and that love protects. Not only would those in hell be protected from harm but so would God’s children in the New Creation.

I guess the purification can take place when God separates the sheep from the goats. Christ says depart from me. The pruning takes place so the body can grow better.

I never said it’s a protection from God’s wrath but a protection from evil. Love always protects from evil.

This passage clearly states that not all those in the lake of fire wash their robes. Augustine held that God saves some out of the lake of fire. This would be purgatory. The great wedding banquet says many are called but few are chosen. Not everyone is saved through the fire. Not everyone is grafted back in. In the new heaven and earth Christ is “all in all” All flesh will worship Christ there. Those that are in heaven and earth and those from under the earth (purgatory). All flesh:

As we can see, those in the Lake of fire aren’t included in “all mankind” or the new heavens and earth. You have to be grafted in. The Bible is silent on who will be grafted back in. But according to Revelation it’s only those who wash their robes. This clearly isn’t everybody.

AS these passages state, some are saved out of the lake of fire in the age to come but not all.

Actually, simply stating the conditions for salvation does not at all declare how many will ultimately confess Jesus as Lord at all, much less ‘clearly’ limit it. Indeed the most literal didactic texts with the greatest grammatical clarity don’t limit God’s power and love the way that you do.

18 “Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5)
Clearly, the same ‘many’ who were made sinners in Adam (in parallel with vs. 18’s “all people”) “WILL (future tense) be made righteous” through Christ.

22 “For as in Adam all die (true of all sinners), so in Christ ALL will be made alive. 23 But each in turn…” 1 Corinthians 15

19 “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Colossians 1) Here, as in many texts, Paul again clearly declares that all those “created” by God (see vs. 16) are to be reconciled into God’s peace by the blood of Christ.

You can assert that apocalyptic judgment texts more clearly limits these plain promises of what God’s love and power can and will do. But my perception is that this position selects to camp on the less clear texts in order to limit and deny the plain promises of the extent of the victory God’s power and love is assuring. And as I’ve said, your position defines agape in contradiction to the clear definitions of a steadfast love that perseveres in “seeking the lost UNTIL they are found.”

God seeks after His lost sheep. The sheep are not the goats. The “whole world” and “all mankind” doesn’t include those who have been cut off and separated in the lake of fire. You have to be grafted in to be part of the “whole world” or “all mankind”. It’s a union.

Notice that God makes all things new. Heavens and earth is a merism that means “everything” including the "whole world’.

Those in the lake of fire aren’t included in “all mankind” or the “whole world”. They have been cut off from “all humanity” and are not in union with the “All things” made new. You have to be grafted in to be a part of “all things” or the “whole world”

I’ve heard many attempts to get around the ‘all’ language in the NT, especially in Paul, and have not heard one that does not tangle up in its own presuppositions. Paul is very straightforward in his ‘all’ language - though calling him ‘straightforward’ in general would be stretching it. :bulb:

A way to settle it would be with a metaphysical argument. Here’s the airtight logic of Edwards:

What Edwards argument shows and what he scriptures teach is that there is a sense in which all sins are equal in that they all separate our hearts from God’s mercy.

In one sense, all sins are equal. “The wages of sin is death …”, refers to all sin, in thought, word, or deed. They all separate our hearts from God’s mercy.Of course, there’s another sense in which some sins are worse than others. So, with the eternal separation comes different degrees of torment in hell just as there are different rewards in eternal life. Some in hell need more restraint than others. The eternal separation of the heart from God’s mercy causes it to harden. Therefore the longer in hell the more hatred people develop for God and the more corrupt they become. You don’t get better without God’s mercy you get worse. People in hell don’t want God as they refuse Him because of hardened hearts. The pruning is for the body of Christ. The bad is cut off so that the body can grow better. The correction takes place as the sheep are separated from the goats. The goats depart from Christ and their hearts grow harder and harder as they become more wicked.

I still think it is prudent to try to understand Paul’s logic, more than Edwards or any other theologian for that matter.

Eloquence can uplift, or it can least astray, or inflame, and Edwards is eloquent to be sure - but he is not inspired in the same manner or same extent as St. Paul.

And Paul is clear in his usage of ‘all’ in Romans 5 and I Cor 15. That closes the case for me, and gives me cause to hold firm in the faith.

Well, I showed you the scripture and reject it. So, I thought we would look at Reality



If your assertion is correct that Paul’s cited promises that God will make righteous & reconcile ALL “men” (anthropoi), qualified as all of them who are in Adam, and as all those he created (even as all those on the earth, above the earth, and under it!), is actually Paul’s way of referring only to a select group God had grafted in, then your argument is coherent. But I perceive you have then made language meaningless, because it implies there is then No way Paul’s language could convincingly delineate that he actually means by “all people” to be referring to all people.

You’re welcome to embrace a philosophy that what has sounded to historic Christendom as God’s plain desire to save all is not what even God’s power & love will accomplish. But I find your way of handling Scripture’s language lets you turn any affirmation into whatever view you choose.

Grace be with you,