The Evangelical Universalist Forum

The Dirlewanger Brigade and 'irredeemable' wickedness

Some people, let’s face it, are - by any human, secular standards - irredeemably wicked. Google ‘Dirlewanger Brigade’ if you want an open and shut, textbook case of men - in particular their eponymous commanding officer - whose cruelty and wickedness are so egregious, so utterly and completely beyond the pale, that when you read about them you want to just shut your eyes, shake your head and make the image of their actions go away. No, you tell yourself, this can’t be. I don’t want to give it brain space. It’s simply too horrible to contemplate that human beings are capable of such behaviour.

I think this sort of extreme wickedness poses a real challenge to Universalism, from two separate angles. The first is well known, the orthodox, ECT Christian’s assertion that “truly evil people *deserve *hell” - one implication being that if they’re going to end up in heaven one day then there is no justice for their victims. And if we’re honest, I suspect many of us Univeralists kind of *half *think this also. I know I do.

Which brings us to the second challenge to Universalism, and my main question to all you guys: what happens to the ‘irredeemably’ wicked when they die? How, given their utter, unrepentant and ‘freely’ chosen wickedness, will they be brought to a state of grace and forgiveness by God? What might that process look like?

Now I suspect that Oskar Dirlewanger himself was a psychopath, born with something seriously wrong in the wiring of his brain. And yet - like many alleged psychopaths - he lived a ‘normal’ life, inasmuch as he was able to reach a high rank in the Wehrmacht, despite having spent time in and out of prison. He was also sufficiently aware of the gravity of his heinous crimes to attempt to avoid capture by the Allies at the end of WW2. In other words, he wasn’t so barking mad that he didn’t know what he was doing, and hence must be considered culpable for his crimes.

So what does God do with this miserable wretch, this man whose whole mindset, his very *being *was - seemingly - oriented towards inflicting cruelty and suffering on his fellow human beings?

And what bearing does the existence of such people have on the so-called problem of evil we have been discussing elsewhere? Yes, God knew we would abuse our freedom to do evil, but this much evil? If that is the price of our freedom, is freedom truly ‘worth’ having?

I suspect these questions are unanswerable. But you guys are going to try anyway, I hope :smiley: .



Some people are a MASSIVE challenge to Universalism. I totally grant that…whether they are truly evil in their behaviour (and not just potentially evil as we all are), or just don’t take well to authority…or as one Atheist i read a quote from put it (paraphrased), that he hoped God didn’t exist…he didn’t want to live in that kind of universe.

With the latter one and a half examples, i would just say that it’s the equivalent of some kid with no real experiential knowledge of the world asserting an opinion he will one day outgrow, probably based on needing concrete opinions and ideas that we soon learn can never be more than abstractions that work under some conditions, but not all.

In the example of Dirlewanger…well this is tricky. Let’s say he wasn’t broken: that he freely chose to be cruel to fellow humans. Let’s say he said “&%$# you, God!” (with at least partial human knowledge), i hate You so much, i’m going to hurt You by hurting Your creation."

Again, there is a certain amount of infantile temper tantrum here. Children are often cruel, for no reason at all. Sometimes it’s coldly experimental…yes it can be from an abused position, but let’s assume not here. Just some awful kid asserting power over another because he can. (This could even be that nasty kid with an anthill and magnifying glass on a sunny day). Take that infantile impulse and apply it to someone with real power to harm. That is some awful potential we have. Dirlethingy obviously asserted such evil, and he’s not alone. There is a great cloud of witnesses of similarly vile people scattered throughout history. Some did huge evil things that we know about, and some do it on a small scale. I don’t actually think the scale matters to God. For such as these, His wrath is poured out on the world.

I cannot believe that they just get into heaven scott free. I am technically not much of a purgatorial universalist, but something must happen to make that suffering REAL to these people. to teach them some EMPATHY. to bring it home and say LOOK WHAT YOU DID: YOU CANNOT ESCAPE YOUR GUILT OR YOUR SHAME. YOU MUST FACE EACH VICTIM AND SUFFER WHAT YOU MADE THEM SUFFER. God is not vindictive. He would not become the monster THEY are in order to punish them. However, I suspect deeply that He will reveal to them on some deep, personal level EXACTLY what they did, and that disclosure will be the fury of the Lake of Fire. When (not IF, God NEVER fails) they emerge…their works will be as ashes. They will have no treasure to bring to God, only tears and soot and shame. However, the truth will have set them free, even as it scoured their very souls.

Their victims will i believe undergo something too. They will be healed. Where they harbour bitterness towards their tormentor, they will have that poison removed, and they will be utterly set free. That process may be painful for them, i don’t know. I actually doubt any of us will escape some pain and shame and guilt. But we will be cleansed and set free by the truth.

I cannot believe that it would instantaneous…even when we forgive others on this earth, it takes time to associate with them…let alone trust and rebuild a broken relationship if it was there in the first place. But God will, i believe, triumph totally in both teaching repentance to the sinners (as He is also a victim of their evil and has the right to forgive) and forgiveness to the victims (with whom He empathises totally) and will forge a new relationship.

There is a film i want to see which i believe is based on a glimpse of this Glory happening on earth, if it is the story i heard before: The Railway Man.
If i’m right, it’s the story of a man tortured in WW2 as a Japanese prisoner of war. He learns one of his tormentors is still alive and travels to meet him…and probably kill him. in the story i heard, he finds out that his tormentor is more complicated than he expected…and what’s more, is full of remorse. They beyond all belief and all human understanding become friends when they realise they are both actually the same…both human beings full of flaws etc. Sounds the sort of film that i may need to watch on my own, unless i want to drown everyone around me :blush:

Another glimpse of this Kingdom of Heaven that Christ is keen to build is of course The Truth and Reconciliation Commission established by that visionary Desmond Tutu.

In my mind, a Heaven full of victims who are healed is only part of the victory we are promised. A heaven where God has conquered the hearts of the oppressors/tormentors/bullies and reconciled both groups together is a TOTAL victory. I cannot believe in anything less than a Heaven where victims of Dirlthingamabob are playing pool with him, or having a pint with his soldiers, or just having a huge celebration in the limitless fields of heaven.

Most of us already accept the notion of a literal personal Satan one day coming home (if he exists in such a fashion)…to my mind, God triumphing over the human satans by transforming them into angels is no less grandiose, no less possible, no less necessary. But that road is painful. I pray to God that my own road of reconciliation is shorter.

And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Are persons worth having? Speaking as a person I’m going to vote yes. :slight_smile: Speaking as a theologian, I will observe that (if ortho-trin is true) persons in a mutually supporting interpersonal relationship are the foundation of all reality, so I’m not going to be surprised if those Persons think persons (and thus also more persons) are worth having. That’s kind of the basic theme after all.

Granting (for whatever reason) that not-God persons are worth having, they have to be (a) persons not mere puppets; and (b) existing within a neutrally reactive field of reality where they can interact with one another as persons.

But (a) means they have to be free, to at least some extent, to introduce abuses of their gifts if they so choose, inconveniencing other persons as a result; and (b) means other inconveniences might well come about through our integration into the neutrally reactive field which is meanwhile going about its own ping-ponging business.

(That’s summarizing a ton of argument and analysis, of course, so I realize that’s going to look overly simplistic. I’m trying to be brief, partly because I’m dealing with two or three b-type inconveniences right now, at least one of which I have to deal with every day of my life and which tends surge during certain seasons of the year for predictable reasons.)

Do I think impenitent persons should be punished? Absolutely. But then that includes me when I’m impenitent about my own sins (however small those may seem in comparison to, say, Dirlewanger.) I’m a purgatorial universalist so that’s included, into the eons of the eons even depending on just how insistent a person may be in fondling their sins. I just don’t believe impenitent persons should be hopelessly punished. (I used to, but not for any coherent reason; whereas on the other hand I’m the kind of person who emotionally rather enjoys the idea of ‘my enemies’ being hopelessly punished.) But the punishment may come in many forms, and I rather expect something like what CL mentioned will be part of it. There has to be a salient lesson to be learned from the punishment; but while you can lead a horse to the river of fire you can’t make him drink it (or words to that effect. :wink: ) Then again, the horse can’t stop being led to the river either.

Do I think sick people ought to be cured? Absolutely. Which means if that fixes broken impulses of theirs (like my apparently broken impulse to see my enemies crushed before me and hear the lamentation of their women etc.), then there won’t be any punishment coming to them – they were sick and the sickness has finally been cured. If I insist on them being punished anyway, then I’m the one signing up to be zorched! (Or maybe to be cured; but also possibly to be restrained until I can be cured.)

Still, if justice means (as it must if ortho-trin is true, and still might if some lesser theism is true) the fulfillment of fair-togetherness between persons, then the only true justice for victims of injustice is for the doers of injustice to stop doing injustice and start doing justice instead. The victims may have emotional problems accepting that, and those problems are understandable, and it may take a long time (maybe eons of eons) before the victims can handle accepting that their abusers aren’t abusers anymore (or even that that’s the goal God is working toward); but if that goal is the truth then there isn’t much point aside from seeking emotional sympathy to oppose such a truth.

One of the main things that led me to universalism was when I realized I had an outright bifurcated notion of justice, where the fulfillment of one side of justice involved utter injustice being fulfilled by the other standard; and worse, one of those multiple standards of justice ran totally against what I believed (and still believe) to be theologically true about God. That meant I had very much misunderstood something, along a line that appealed to my emotions, and if I cared about truth more than my emotions I had better start making adjustments.

But sometimes people are so afflicted (through various causes) by their emotions that they can’t stand the thought of accepting as true something that runs against their emotions. It’s easy to feel that D’wanger (for example) must burrrrrrnnnn forrrrevvverrrr, without even having been a victim of him; and so therefore much easier to feel that for his victims. Thus the question of whether that’s actually true can be proportionately hard to even address without interference from emotional weight slanting in a particular direction. (Lots of topics are like that, not only this one.)

It seems to me that argument from “person X was so bad he deserves Hell” cuts its own throat.

We sometimes buy into it because of the sheer horror of the act person X did. Say he raped and tortured and murdered little children. Unspeakably terrible things. But surely if Hell means anything it must mean something worse than even this? And so we essentially make God person X in this case. We make God the author of something unspeakably horrible - but that is the reason we think person X should go there in the first place. Would it not follow then that God deserved Hell too?

I do believe in justice being served for the victims of horrendous crimes. First the evil they experienced must somehow not be able to touch them anymore. They must somehow be able to be “eternally optimistic” about it in heaven. I don’t know how this can be - but perhaps they will be able to view themselves as Christ-like martyrs, helping to bring all of creation into glory. I know this sounds horrible - who could possibly be GLAD that they helped the man who raped them enter into heaven?

But that is where the second part of justice comes in - the one MacDonald labored so much to express. Justice can only be done when the sinner himself begins to kill the old sin that was in him. To see oneself as vile, guilty, horribly selfish and alone, and to begin to climb out of that darkness is the only way in which sin can ever truly be defeated. Otherwise it is simply ignored, so to speak, and swept under the rug. It becomes the infidelity that the wife just simply refuses to think about, rather than confront her husband about. It may be wicked in us to desire the suffering of the sinner for the mere sake of suffering alone, however hard that is to come to grips with. I do believe that the main of retribution is in this very painful process, and I’m afraid there is a Hell - an outer darkness terrible to bear - for some of humanity. And I think it will go on, for ages upon ages perhaps, until it has burned clean all the evil in the universe.

Thanks for the thoughtful replies guys

James - I think you’re bang on in what you say. I think the process of salvation for the Dirlewangers of this world will be both purgatorial and painful, and will involve them facing squarely up to the reality of the suffering they have inflicted on others. Indeed, it may well involve them suffering something similar, so that they can achieve true empathy. And yes, the process must also include the healing of those on whom the suffering was inflicted.

I went to see The Railway Man a couple of weeks ago with my wife and stepdaughter. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house by the end. What a beautiful representation of the power of forgiveness - and based on an amazing true story. Eric Lomax, the man on whom Colin Firth’s character was based, was a truly amazing guy.

Jason - your opening argument about the necessity of personhood, given trinitarianism, within nature is great. Not simplistic, just concise. Love it :smiley: .

I think you, Chris, James and I are all basically in agreement here (with GMac, I might add), that suffering and the consequences of sin can only be truly ‘put right’ if both sinner and sinned against are restored to a loving, harmonious relationship, one in which the sinner freely seeks forgiveness for his sins, and does all he can to atone for them, and the sinned against graciously accepts and forgives. Which is just one reason why orthodox notions of hell are so unsatisfactory - for there, the sin is kept alive, unatoned, forever, and the sinned against can never achieve true reconciliation.

And I think it’s brave of you to fess up to your emotional enjoyment of the idea of your enemies getting zorched. I think that is a very common human trait (I share it), but too many of us are too ashamed of it to be honest about it.

Chris - your argument - that by consigning souls to eternal hell, God is effectively behaving worse than any Nazi torturer ever did, and hence deserves hell himself - is deceptively simple and yet highly challenging for the orthodox ECT-er, I would say. And I agree that there is a hell, and we would do well to do all we can to avoid it!

And **Cole **- great verse. Nuff said. :smiley:

One more observation from me, for now. None of us knows why some people behave as they do, what’s going on inside their heads, or what has gone on in their lives, to bring them to the place at which they do terrible things. But God knows. As CS Lewis said somewhere, God knows and will take account of every mitigating circumstance, every factor for which the sinner cannot be held responsible in their sinfulness.

For all I know, it may be that at the Last Day some of us might find out that we are actually an awful lot worse than we think we are, given the advantages and blessings we have received, while some of those we condemn as evil might turn out to have done the best they could have done, under the circumstances of their lives. A sobering thought.

Cheers all


I believe, along with CSL, that evil is simply spoiled goodness. If you could get inside D’s mind for a moment you’d find that he doesn’t think he is bad, in fact he passionately believes he is being patriotic in what he does. Now as someone said that’s a fault in his brain, in the same way that inability to comprehend why people play football may be a fault in mine.

If for a moment we can separate the personality, the soul if you like, from the grey jelly inside the skull, we get an interesting result. If D’s soul is moved to a resurrection body without the fault he would probably go, “Oh hell’s bells, look what I’ve done. How can I possibly put this right?”

In fact he’d probably choose purgatory as being the right thing to do. After that he’d arrive, somewhat chastened and apologetic at the gates of heaven.

That’s the way I see it.

Hi Wormwood

Interesting thought. I would very much like to think that the likes of Dirlewanger will indeed react that way when freed from the corruption of their screwed up psyche. But somehow I can’t bring myself to believe that his kind of evil - and it is evil - is purely a form of ‘spoiled goodness’ as you suggest. While I do not believe evil is a created thing, neither do I believe it is simply a lack, an absence of good.

Back in 1972 Pope Paul VI made a statement about demonic forces at work in the world, which included this line:

“Evil is not merely an absence of something but an active force, a living, spiritual being that is perverted and that perverts others. It is a terrible reality, mysterious and frightening.”

As I have said many times, I am very strongly agnostic about the existence of a personal devil or demons. But more and more, given the pervasive and manifest evil in this world, I am coming to believe that evil is a something - a force, an entity, a whatever. I don’t know what to call it or how to describe it. But it’s real.

What do you guys think?



I think it’s very real, but whatever it is, i believe its source is us. It may be some dark collective unconscious, i suppose, but i still think it’s us.
I also don’t think it’s as big as it (if it had the capacity to want) would want us to think.

I would tend to agree, James. Because I am not a determinist, neither do I believe that we are wholly at the mercy of our genetic inheritance, I do believe that evil has a genuine moral - or immoral, or even amoral - dimension. Some people are mad, and hence do bad things. Some people are mad *and *bad, and do very bad things (Dirlewanger, seemingly, a case in point).

But the question that intrigues me is, are some people just bad?

I wonder …


I find that difficult to believe. Certainly, we have the capacity for much bad…even worse if we get people to help (Hitler would’ve just been an angry racist if not for all the people that went along with him). But i also think that we have the capacity for much good. I think we are “bad” when we ignore that capacity and go the other way.

Hi James

You’re right. I didn’t phrase my question very well. I didn’t mean are some people just bad as in bad through and through with no good in them whatsoever; what I meant was, are some people just bad (evil, wicked) for bad’s sake, because they just want to be? They’re not mentally ill; they haven’t been corrupted by terrible trauma in their childhood or anything; they just are evil.

Because if such people exist, then I think they are the ones who pose the biggest challenge to Universalism - both from within and to outsiders looking in. They challenge us as Universalists because we wonder how God will bring them to repentance and reconciliation, and - I would surmise - a non-Universalist might look at them and say, “so, you’re telling me that studiedly, deliberately, wilfully wicked person is going to end up in heaven are you?”.

Which I suppose is simply a more explicit form of ‘orthodox’ ECT belief, ie that the wicked deserve to suffer punishment, and the very wicked deserve to suffer very much. Which is, I think, a very human belief.



Oh yes, i fully agree!
There are definitely people like that, and they are definitely a challenge for everyone. Even “random luck” predestination gets round it by saying “they’re obviously not elect, their lives show no evidence of being elect” which is a bit circular…surely it is the sick that need Christ, not the well, and any average sinner who years later becomes a Christian showed few signs of being “elect” before then. but then after they do the altar call at the big revival meeting and start going to church (assuming they stay), everyone gives God glory for a life redeemed, and if they’re Calvinist, for electing that poor sinner. Arminians may even give God more credit because somehow He persuaded a sinner who really wanted to continue sinning to freely choose to believe.
My point is that really…this is a problem for ALL schools of thought that believe in forgiveness of sin and salvation. We all need to remember that sin is truly vile…that real sin destroys lives. Claiming that God is willing and able to save some heartless person is not a new concept…it’s only taking it to its logical conclusion and saying that if God can do it for one and Biblically doesn’t want to just stop at one, He can do it for all (also Biblically), and that He will succeed (slightly less obviously Biblically, perhaps)

Then there is the story of Corrie Ten Boom, who after being caught with her family harboring Jews during WWII in their family home, was sent to a concentration camp and endured all sorts of terrible torture and abuse, which resulted in the death of her sister. Corrie escaped by being released on a clerical error. Several years later, she was speaking at a German church after the war, telling her testimony, when a man walked up to her. He was dressed in civilian clothes, but Corrie recognized him as being one of the prison guards from the concentration camp and one of those involved in the torture and abuse she endured. As he approached her, he held at his hand and told her that he had since became a Christian and asked that she forgive him, for God, he said, had forgiven him. It was all she could do to reach out to his hand. In her mind, all she could think about was the horrible ordeal that this man put her through and the bitterness that she suffered at his hand. But the Holy Spirit within her told her that she must reach out and touch his hand and forgive him. As soon as she she reach out to touch his hand, a powerful rush of relief and sense of forgiveness and pity overcame her and she was able to see this prison guard as a brother in the Lord and the love of God shined through in that moment together.

I believe that this will be the kind of work that God will perform in the heart of both victim and victimizer in the Kingdom of God. Forgiveness is not an emotion, but an act of the will. It is God who will enable us to forgive, yet we must be willing to take that first step, for all that the bitterness and heartache and hardship that was done to us and the shame and torture and pain that was thrusted upon us, even unto death. I have to believe that for JUSTICE to be done, there has to be this kind of FORGIVENESS, amongst the offender and the offended. And if it doesn’t happen here, it has to happen beyond this life. And that speaks of a time when that healing can take place, else how else can justice be done?

Instead of thinking that hell is forever, I think hell will only exist as long as there isn’t forgiveness.

Owing that, just how merciful is God?

Another great example!

Yeah, good shout, Dondi :slight_smile: . I think you’re right that the redemption of the very wicked will necessarily involve forgiveness by those they have done evil to. And that might take a long time, for all we know ‘unto the ages of the ages’ - meaning they might be ‘in hell’ for a very long time. Which, perhaps, is one reason why Jesus issued us with such stern warnings about doing good and hence ‘avoiding’ hell - or at least mitigating it.

All of which reminds me, I’ve left our poor old pal Pastor Mark Driscoll languishing somewhere in the subterranean depths, head-down in the poop. The poor lamb. I must go and see how he’s doing. Soon … :smiling_imp:



of course, i think the warnings about unforgiveness in The Lord’s Prayer, which is perhaps the sternest bit, and all the urging towards forgiveness that Christ gives are there to let us know that it is paramount that we don’t imprison our foes in any form of hell. to do so entraps us as well. forgiveness doesn’t just release our oppressors and enemies. it frees US. God knows this. true freedom is found in embracing our former enemies.

which of course means that one day the estate agent will lie down with the james :frowning:

:laughing: :laughing: Yeah, when hell freezes over! :laughing:

about then, yes!
it’ll be a vast skating rink :laughing: