Many who adhere to the doctrine of Endless Conscious Torment (ECT) often critique the doctrine of Universal Reconciliation (UR) by saying that it compromises the sovereign holiness of God by subjecting it to human whim and affection.
In a future blog post, I would like to look in greater depth at this contention; but for now, a brief note:
The default state of human impulse, due to the Fall, is to resort to violence and exclusion rather than peace and inclusion; the latter of which are fundamental premises of UR. This default state of violence and exclusion was the context in which the divine revelation of ancient scripture alighted and exactly why it was so controversial and, often, hated. It was certainly not because it was too brutal or ruthless, but rather the exact opposite. God’s love was too radical, too embracing, too inclusive for the ancient world to bear.
Today, that default state has not been wholly overturned, despite Christian values that even the secular world has co-opted (and don’t even think that progressives don’t have their own issues in that regard; we’re all in the same boat here).
But, instead of taking a defensive stance here, I want to first go on the offensive. I think it is actually the doctrine of ECT which has trouble reconciling its eschatology with God’s sovereignty and holiness.
To put it briefly, if God’s Spirit is essentially antagonistic to all that is sinful and unholy, if he can simply not tolerate it in any measure, then why would he either: enshrine it in a permanent area of his creation (Hell), through predestination or continuing imposition of punishment; or else cease in his efforts to both resist sin and draw those under its power toward him?
But you see, this is a necessary conclusion under any eschatology involving ECT. Annihilationism deftly escapes this final conclusion, but under an ECT framework there are going to be at least some people who, ever and anon, continue to rebel against God and refuse to accept his gift of life and holiness. Yet this entails that, within every such heart, there is a rebel fist continuing to punch the air in defiance of the Almighty in blasphemy of his very nature. (I don’t mean to imply that none of them will possibly have been humbled to some degree, and free of conscious hostility toward God; but that, even if they refuse to come to God out of guilt for their past misdeeds, their attitude is still contrary to his nature of loving holiness.)
In other words, whether God has foreordained from before all time that some will remain rebels forever, or whether he simply ceases to keep up the chase (as C.S. Lewis described, in his metaphor of hell being like a tourniquet he fastens around the sinner’s arm to stop their hemorrhaging, before leaving them to their self-willed fate), he is yet divinely content with allowing such a state of affairs to continue forever (which is even more problematic for the “eternal satisfaction” of the divine — since he is troubled, to some degree, by it; whether out of compassion or simply due to offense at the perpetual defiance of the forsaken).
David Bentley Hart has given a rather insightful talk which sheds immense light on this issue concerning why the ultimate end of all things necessarily reflects on God’s creative act, as well as his eternal essence. I highly recommend it.
Detractors, in response, have tried to get around this by positing that either the sinner ceases to sin, and simply becomes wrapped up in themselves forevermore (which is merely another expression of what sin fundamentally is, anyway — a stubborn insistence of one’s independence from God; repentance and the receiving of grace by faith means the end of our self-willed independence); or by insisting that hell may actually be a place of total non-existence, a void of being outside of creation and the very being of God himself (which is incoherent if it does not actually entail annihilation, meaning that we are no longer speaking of ECT).
No, God establishing his holy sovereignty throughout all of creation entails transforming the heart of every living human to become holy themselves (no matter how long the divine chase must endure — the conclusion here doesn’t rest on any immediate irresistibility of grace, after all).
As for myself, I will instead choose to side with the proclamation uttered by the prophet Isaiah, according to the Spirit, so many eons ago:
“By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’” —Isa. 45:23 (ESV)
written by Justin Fowler