Thanks. We are praying for your health.
Your question is excellent. Indeed, it is perhaps the key theological/philosophical reason given for rejecting universalism by non-determinists.
I must confess to being somewhat agnostic on the issue of freedom. By that I mean that whilst I affirm that humans have freewill I am not entirely decided on whether it is compatible with determinism (compatibilist notions of freedom) or not (Libertarian notions of freedom).
I am interested that you have raised this issue. I was actually going to ask you about freedom. Having thrice read the chapter on sin and freedom in your excellent new book *Body, Soul and Human Life *I was asking myself the question, “Is Joel Green a determinist?” I guessed that as a good Methodist you could not be, but it felt to me that the chapter at very least flew close to the wind. The chapter did not resolve the issue but it did raise the question for me.
Be that as it may - I think that a good Methodist who rejects determinism can also be a universalist (obviously a determinist can be one so I’ll say no more about that). My reasoning is set out in chapter 1 of the book.
On the one hand, I would say - and this is simply a fall-back position - that whilst God values human freedom and allows us to make disastrous decisions, I do not think that our Libertarian freedom is *so valuable *that God would allow us to eternally damn ourselves just in order to preserve it. This is an argument that Marilyn Adams makes with great rhetorical force. I think - and this is a theological value judgement - that if the only way for God to stop one of his beloved creatures eternally damning itself was to temporarily override its freedom then God would do it. I do not have in mind here God compelling someone to embrace him when they do not wish to, but God enabling someone to want to embrace him.
But that is simply a fall back position. In fact, I think that God will not need to do this. My arguments are drawn from Tom Talbott and Eric Reitan.
Tom explains that the kinds of freedom that we consider to be valuable involve rationality. He asks us to imagine a boy putting his hand into a fire when he has
(a) no reason whatsoever for doing this, and
(b) every reason not to.
If we saw the boy behaving in this way we would not think him free but suffering from some mental problem.
Choosing to reject salvation is analogous. The truth about the situation is that all people have
(a) no good reasons to reject salvation (if they really understood the nature the the choice), and
(b) every reason not to.
Of course, most people have various degrees of misunderstanding ragarding this gospel-choice. They fail to appreciate the goods of choosing the gospel and the dehumanization that rejecting it leads to. So choosing to reject God is not nuts because they are not making a fully informed choice. But whilst God may have good reason to allow such ignorance for a time he no obvious good reason to allow it permanently. All God has to do is to make the reality of the choice clear to people. As the ignorance is banished it makes less and less sense to imagine someone freely choosing to reject the gospel. And in the extreme case that someone is *fully informed *about the choice I think that any continuing rejection of the gospel would not be free but simply insane. The free act would be the gospel-affirming one.
If one thought that even a fully informed person, to be free, must be capable of rejecting God in theory - even though they have literally no reasons to do so and every reason not to - then I guess that we are talking about ‘freedom’ as random, non-determined actions. I see *no value whatsoever *in God preserving *that kind *of freedom. Nevertheless, even if God did do so it would only be a matter of time before the random choices of the irrational stragglers would randomly choose God (Eric Reitan develops this argument based on prabability theory).
So in sum: I think that God has ways of bringing people to the situation in which they freely (in a non-determinist sense) choose to accept him. I think most people would choose to accept God long before they were fully informed. Perhaps some would not and only an full realisation and conviction of the reality of the choice would impact them. One might not think such people totally free (if choosing the opposite was psychologically impossible) but I would suggest that not preserving the psychological possibility of choosing damnation in such cases presents no obvious problem for a Methodist.
A final thought: I sometimes wonder if the notions of freedom that we work with in such discussions are not more determined by the Enlightenment than the Bible. Freedom, for Paul, is not the ability to reject God. That is slavery to sin. Freedom is the freedom to obey God - to be, ironically, a slave of God. So ‘freely rejecting God’ would be a very odd - indeed incoherent - notion on a Pauline notion of ‘freedom’.