Is the God of Universalism More Merciful or Less?

Universalists make the point that at the end of the day God will redeem everyone whether they wanted to be redeemed in this life or not. The question I have is why on earth did God allow any brokenness in the first place? They say the only way God can be completely loving and merciful is to create the perfect world, allow us to goof it up, and not restore it all then and there but instead allow millenia of pain, suffering, disease, spiritual warfare, sin, rebellion, alienation from God, degradation and abuse of children, and so much more to pass but that at the end of it all he is going to restore everything and everyone back after we have suffered all of that. We know none of these issues are an issue with God’s power, right? Universalists are all about the power of God and his power to save. God is the one who chooses when to do the redeeming and restoring. If it is going to be everyone, all the way…why not now?

Is it just me or does that actually sound more cruel, not less? If the end result is complete redemption of every single person who has ever lived and God is all loving and all powerful, why not get on with it? At the moment of the very first sin or even before that…take the tree out of the garden and live in bliss forever. Why allow anyone else to suffer? Why allow one more tear? Does the God of universal salvation actually depict a more merciful God or a less merciful one? I really am asking so please fill me in if you have an answer.

About mattdabbs
I am a minister, husband, and father. My wife and I live and minister in Saint Petersburg, Florida. My primary ministry responsibilities include: small groups, 20s and 30s, involvement, and adult education.

14 Responses to Is the God of Universalism More Merciful or Less?

  1. Luke says:

    Good questions.

    Along the same lines, if God is ultimately going to redeem everyone whether they wanted to be redeemed in this life or not (and thereby deny their free will), why not just create humans as automatons who can’t sin in the first place, so none of us have to deal with the negative effects that sin brings about?

    • mattdabbs says:

      I have another post I will put up later that talks about God’s power. Some of the issues that arise with universalism center around God’s power. Some things are not a matter of power but a matter of definition. For instance (more on this later) can God make a circle that is square? Also, can God make a human being who is given free will and is guaranteed to always chooses the right option? It is not that God is not powerful enough to do it…it is a contradiction of definitions. Once you have free will, you have the possibility of failure. If you eliminate the possibility of choice and failure you have no free will. It is not about limiting God’s power at all.

  2. charliesohm says:

    I don’t know. I wouldn’t call God cruel for allowing mankind to endure a lifetime of a mixed bag before granting him eternal bliss. Especially when we’ve already called him just and good for sending some to eternal damnation.

    • mattdabbs says:

      Charlie,

      I get what you are saying. But here is my point. If it all ends up the same, what is the purpose of life in this mortal body? If it is all about saving all no matter what they choose, then the merciful thing to do would seem to be to skip all of this and get right to the good stuff or create it as the end in the beginning with no room for failure, disease, etc. Universalism seems to have God toying with the entire universe.

      • charliesohm says:

        Yeah, but my point is this. What’s 80 years or so compared to eternity? Compared to eternity, our whole lifetime, or that of Methuselah even, would be the same as “skipping all of this”. The life experience thing, then, would be foundational to eternity,crucial in developing a respect for God’s wisdom and authority, but of insignificant lapse of time. Like comparing a thousand years to a day.

        To be totally honest, I don’t care for arguments which assume things about God’s character based on the corner we try to paint him into. It’s been done for open theism. Now universalism?

    • mattdabbs says:

      I can’t really wrap my mind around why the world exists in its present state if Universalism is true. It all seems like a cruel game that God is playing on the world. We can talk all day about how God can use this world to make us better but if God is going to push us all to the same conclusion at the end it makes me wonder why put anyone through all of this. This world only makes sense to me in light of the importance of God’s salvation and the importance of our faith response and how that demonstrates choice and love for our creator. If at the end of it all, all will love God no matter what (which really isn’t love now is it) it seems to me that this world is pointless.

      I also want to say that I agree with you that often we project things on God or assume things about his character that may not be fair based on our own limited understanding of who God is and what he is able to do.

      • Andrew Patrick says:

        According to Universalist thought, the trials of this world is the pushing that God uses to bring us to Him, but different people might need different types of pushing. However, this answer is not limited to Universalism, because it is scriptural.

        Heb 12:6-8 KJV
        (6) For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
        (7) If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?
        (8) But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.

        Php 1:29 KJV
        (29) For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake;

        The only way I can see that this would create a conflict for anyone is if someone believed that God could simply create people with a perfect heart with a snap of his fingers. God could have created robots or inanimate objects that simply orbit for his glory, but he created men and angels in His image with free moral agency. Some of them rebel, and some choose to love Him, and as such it is implied that love cannot be forced or simply created.

  3. 2 Peter 3:9 speaks of God’s patient waiting for the final end of all things to give us all ample opportunity to repent because He does not desire us to perish. The verse means nothing if it means that those who do not repent will not perish anyway. Hence, God’s patient waiting for our repentance is vain. Matt, you question about God being more cruel in waiting for an irrelevant repentance is a good one. I believe that Peter effectively says what Jesus said in Luke 13: 3 & again in 5 – “Unless you repent, you will also likewise perish.” If repentance is irrelevant because all will be saved in the end anyway, why wait? Why not, as you suggest, avoid all the pain experienced by all who are in the world by calling an end to all things now?

  4. Andrew Patrick says:

    If you will permit a Devil’s Advocate response to these questions,

    1) All of the pain and suffering is necessary to bring people to repentance, like moves taken by a chess player to reach the endgame. Some people suffer more pain and suffering because that is “hell” during their lifetimes. I do not think that this is a good answer (it denies free will) but it is an answer you will eventually encounter.

    2) Concurring with charliesohm above, a little bit of pain and suffering compared to eternity as changed perfected beings becomes insignificant in the whole scope of things. Unlike the first “Devil’s Advocate” answer above, I think that this would be a decent answer to the “is all this suffering unnecessary’ question.

    I think that your question would have more weight against Calvinism than Universalism. With Universalism the pain and suffering serves a constructive purpose, but with Calvinism the pain and suffering of this life for the hopelessly damned before the beginning of space-time is completely unnecessary.

    • mattdabbs says:

      I would agree with that being part of the purpose of this world. I just fail to see how God making putting us into a world of suffering fits into a coherent framework of Universalism. I need to read more on this and I am really asking here more than telling, at least that is my intent. Suffering draws some to God while others respond by rejecting God. There is no point in suffering that draws us to God if the exact opposition reaction (suffering that results in distance from God)ultimately also results in reconciliation with God too. It seems to me that it makes suffering pointless in the end. Can you help me understand how that fits together?

      • Andrew Patrick says:

        I would suggest that the Universalist would say that suffering that draws someone away from God eventually brings them back to them, like as if they were in a circle that only went one way, or the way my dog might get her line wrapped around a tree and has to go away from me to come back to my side.

        They would probably also say that this is the only way (or the most efficient way) for God to do this, much like the way William Craig Lane makes his argument to answer the “problem of evil.”

        I am not sure that it is worth doing a lot of reading on Universalism. Once you get a feel for it you can generally anticipate the answers, but it is really hard to talk with a live Universalist, because once scripture comes out they usually bring out emotional arguments, say that the scriptures have been altered against them, or suggest that Jesus contradicts the Old Testament, and so forth.

        Gary Amirault of Tentmaker Ministries (one of the Universalist authors) admitted in his own essay that the bible (especially the King James Bible) did actually say that at least some people will be ultimately destroyed.

        http://www.tentmaker.org/books/EternalDeath.html

        http://www.afterlife.co.nz/2010/theology/heaven-and-afterlife/universalist-author-admits-the-english-bible-teaches-annihilationism-by-andrew-patrick/

        But if you want a sampling of Universalist responses, that might be a starting place, but otherwise be wise that the “You should go read these books by these Universalist authors” is a common red herring used to avoid logical pursuit or comparison to scripture. If you take the bait the Universalist will use the distraction to disappear. I apologize if that seems prejudiced, but that is generally how it works (and not just with Universalists.)

  5. Andrew Patrick says:

    A second answer, focusing on the “is their God more merciful” aspect,

    The God of Universalism is more merciful than the God of Eternal Conscious Torment, because they posit that pain and suffering have constructive purposes. However, when comparing Universalism’s “all men shall eventually be saved” with Annihilationism’s “God will truly destroy the wicked from existence” then the “more merciful claim” is lost, because they both put an end to pain and suffering.

  6. joey says:

    At present, I am not able to embrace universalism. However, I don’t believe scripture totally closes the door on its possibility.
    In Philippians, Paul says that he wants to experientially know the sufferings of Christ. He wants to know Christ’s sufferings because that is the Christ-established pattern: Suffering precedes glorification. We’re not told why. We’re not told the mechanism. We’re only told THAT suffering precedes glorification.
    Narratively speaking, had God “left the tree of knowledge out of the garden,” the “we” that we now know would not have resulted. We are shaped by, molded by, defined by, created by the story that we live. Without the narrative of suffering, we would not be the people we are now. So, IF universalism is a reality, apparently the shaping that results from a narrative of suffering is still important to bring about the new creation people God intends. (If universalism ISN’T a reality, the same is true.)

  7. Richard Kruse says:

    What if “now”, not simply the future eternity, is the focus? An example: a redwood tree growing in the sheltered Yosemite valley, supported by the other redwoods is beautiful to behold and one could build 300 houses out of it – so a forest ranger said. However, the ranger pointed out that he wouldn’t want one of the houses because the wood is too soft. He would want the wood from the not so pleasant looking pine on the hillside that had been buffetted by storms. Wood from those trees are highly valued by the timber workers and bring a far better price. What if the trials,tempations, tribulations, etc are part of the process in the preparation for building the new earth?

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