A Universalist’s Response to “Exposing Universalism” by James B. De Young
While the logic of Universal Reconciliation is important and, in my opinion, quite substantial, I have kept it for last since it must be subordinate to divine revelation. By logic I don’t mean cold hard logic, separated from the revelation of God’s essential nature which is revealed in Scripture to be love. (1Jn 4:8,16)
Traditionalists often defy love’s logic in order to maintain their heartless and barbaric traditional misinterpretations of Scripture which introduced the Church into the Dark Ages. When confronted with the unthinkable horrors of their doctrine they often appeal to Isaiah 55 which says:
“My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord. 9 ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.’” (Isa 55:8-9)
However, reading this passage in its context it becomes evident that the transcendency God is speaking of here concerns His loving ways and thoughts toward us – not unimaginable tortures. In the previous verses God reveals that it is His goodness and mercy which is beyond our comprehension – not His punishments. He says:
“Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price… 7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. 8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord.” (Isa 55:1,7,8)
So, we see that God’s transcendent logic is love’s logic and not some incomprehensible unending torture which awaits most of mankind. In fact, Scripture repeatedly reveals that God will not always reject the children of men nor be angry with them forever, because it is His love and mercy – not His wrath, which endure forever. (Lam 3:31,32; Isa 57:16; Ps 136; 1Cor 13:8; Rom 8:35-39; Eph 3:17-19, etc.)
In a similar manner, Traditionalists fail to apply love’s logic to God’s progressive revelation throughout time. When confronted with the fact that God never even mentions hell to Adam and Eve, or to Cain or anyone else in the Old Testament for that matter, they respond saying that God’s revelation is progressive. However, while love’s logic may conceive of revelation going from good to better and from glory to glory, it could never conceive of a loving God’s revelation going from bad to worse. It is inconceivable that our God who is love would hide from Adam and Eve the full consequences of their sin if indeed it involved being tortured forever. Such cold calculated and cruel logic may have been compatible with the gods of the Greek philosophers or other pagan deities, but it is totally incompatible with the God revealed in Scripture who so loved the world that He gave Himself a ransom for all.
In Scripture we see that not only is God love but He also inhabits eternity and therefore has always seen the end from the beginning. He is omniscient and therefore eternally knows all, and because He is omnipotent nothing is beyond His control. (Isa 14:24; 46:10-11; Eph 1:11; Acts 15:18, etc.) Knowing that God is infinite love, all knowing and all powerful, how is it conceivable that He would set in motion a plan, knowing that it culminates with most of mankind in perpetual torments which He Himself must inflict? And how could a loving, holy God knowingly permit and perpetuate evil in His universe?
A benevolent omniscient Creator would have never preordained a plan which allows for the fall that would not culminate in a total restoration of all His creation to a final state of glory far greater than it was in the beginning. Since He is benevolent and knows all and works all things according to His preordained plan, the end of the matter must be greater than its beginning. What He begins He perfects. For a benevolent Creator to commence a plan which culminates an eternal torture chamber for some is a logical impossibility.
Traditionalists cannot logically explain why God would create and allow the entrance of evil, knowing that history’s story would have such a tragic never-ending end. When their cherished beliefs defy all logic, they typically appeal to a divine mystery which should be unquestionably embraced. Anyone who attempts to demonstrate the logical absurdities of these beliefs is called a blasphemer and a heretic. De Young, confronted by the moral dilemma of how a loving just God could allow evil, knowing He would have to torture most of them forever said:
“Why did not his love and justice prevent sin and all the resultant suffering from arising at all? It is not for us to speculate on what God could or should have done.” (p. 91)
While it is not for us to speculate, it is for us to investigate. Abraham even dared to question God, saying to Him, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen 18:25) Jesus at one point challenged His hearers saying: “Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?” (Luke 12:57)
While we should never question God’s word, His word may transcend logic but should never defy or contradict logic. God’s ways are not illogical. If our understanding of His ways defies logic, we should go back to the Scriptures and reverently ask the Holy Spirit to clarify His word to our hearts.
Traditionalists do not want us to investigate as to why a good God would commence something knowing that it would end so terribly for most because it defies all reason and our innate sense of justice. Many a sensitive soul has gone insane contemplating such a horrendous end of God’s story. But those who, while honoring Scripture, muster the courage to question the traditional doctrine of eternal torment in the light of Scripture, soon discover what James meant when he said: “You have seen the end of the Lord, how that the Lord is full of pity, and merciful.” (James 5:11 ASV) God’s creation redemption story ends in restoration – not eternal misery and ruin. “For God has committed all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on ALL….For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.” (Rom 11:32,36)
The mental torment caused by any thoughtful reflection upon the dark doctrine of everlasting punishment is aptly expressed for us by Albert Barnes (1798 – 1870), a respected Bible scholar and the author of the commentary, “Barnes Notes.” He said:
That any should suffer forever…that since God can save men, and will save a part, he has not purposed to save all; that, on the supposition that the atonement is ample, and that the blood of Christ can cleanse from all and every sin, it is not in fact applied to all.…These are real, not imaginary difficulties. They are probably felt by every mind that ever reflected on the subject; and they are unexplained, unmitigated, unremoved. I confess, for one, that I feel them, and feel them more sensibly and powerfully the more I look at them, and the longer I live. I do not understand these facts; and I make no advances towards understanding them…for my whole soul pants for light and relief on these questions. But I get neither; and, in the distress and anguish of my own spirit, I confess that I see no light whatever. I see not one ray to disclose to me the reason why sin came into the world; why the earth is strewed with the dying and the dead, and why man must suffer to all eternity. I have never seen a particle of light thrown on these subjects that has given a moment’s ease to my tortured mind;
nor have I an explanation to offer, or a thought to suggest, which would be of relief to you.…I confess, when I look on a world of sinners and of sufferers; upon death-beds and grave-yards; upon the world of woe, filled with hosts to suffer forever; when I see my friends, my parents, my family, my people, my fellow-citizens; when I look upon a whole race, all involved in this sin and danger, and when I see the great mass of them wholly unconcerned, and when I feel that God only can save them, and yet he does not do it, I am struck dumb. It is all dark, dark, dark to my soul, and I cannot disguise it. ²
If, instead of seeing that God’s wise plan for the ages culminates in all being restored back into relationship to Himself in a much more glorious way than that experienced by Adam and Eve in their innocent but immature state, one believes that the ages culminate in unending torture for most of mankind, all is dark, dark, dark indeed! May God open our eyes to see the mystery of His determinative will which is to reunite all in heaven and on earth in Christ in the final dispensation of the fullness of the times. (Eph 1:9,10)
De Young later poses a question which to me is perplexing. He asks: “Why did God create Satan and allow him to fall, and bring such havoc into the world’s history, if in the end even he is brought back?” (p.247) A better question would be: “Why would He create and include the fall and redemption through the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world if He didn’t have a glorious end in view? Why would a good God predetermine to allow the fall if He wasn’t going to restore those who fell to a much more glorious state? It is conceivable that a pagan deity would create beings in order to torture them but not the God of love revealed in Scripture.
We don’t have to speculate concerning these matters because God has determined that every knee shall bow in heaven, on earth and under the earth and every tongue shall confess Jesus as Lord to the glory of God the Father. I can’t even conceive of a pagan deity having a hell which always existed as De Young suggests. He says: “If heaven has always existed, then hell must have also.” (p.65) Apart from the fact that Jesus said that the eonian fire, as with all things in heaven and on earth, was created in time (Matt 25:41), such reasoning is totally incompatible with love’s logic, or any logic, for that matter, but apparently not to his traditional mindset. Again, this is the logic of pagan deities and the traditional doctrine of eternal torment, but it is totally incompatible with love’s logic.
De Young’s Logical Arguments against Universalism
Now let us consider some logical arguments presented against Universalism by De Young. Most of them can be easily responded to using deductive reasoning based upon the Scriptures themselves, rather than relying upon logic alone.
1) God’s holiness limits His Love
Traditionalists must divide God’s nature and attributes as though He were bipolar. They say: “Yes, God is love but He is also holy.” De Young reflects this bipolar view of God’s nature when he comments: “…it is clear that universalists consistently subject God’s holiness to his love.” (p. 69) and also: “God’s love does not limit his justice; rather his righteousness limits his justice.” (p.225)
Granted, if it were not for the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world, who satisfied the justice of God for the sins of the whole world, His nature would be in a tension between His love and His obligations as a just Judge. (Rev 13:8; Jn 1:29; 1Jn 2:2) Because He is holy, He cannot simply ignore sin. But because of the cross we see in Scripture that He can now be just while at the same time, in love, justifying the ungodly:
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Rom 3:23-26, cf. 4:5)
Because of the Lamb slain from eternity, God’s loving nature has never been in conflict with His holiness. Because Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice is ever before Him, He has always been able to justly justify the sinner based upon that propitiation. Therefore, His holiness has never been in conflict with His love. Here in Romans 3:24-26 we see that God was demonstrated before men and angels to have been righteous in passing over sins previously committed prior to the cross when Christ actually took away the sins of the world. In His eyes, seeing from eternity, the just payment for the sins of the world was an eternally accomplished reality, enabling Him to show grace and mercy even before the cross.
Indeed, true holiness is inseparable from love. Holiness is love and love is holiness. (Matt 22:37-39; Rom 13:8-10; Gal 5:14) It was the Pharisee’s false holiness void of love which crucified the Lord of glory, and it is a holiness divorced from love which is at the heart of the traditional doctrine of eternal torment. True love is demonstrated in Jesus who gave His life as a ransom for all and seeks and saves until the last lost sheep is safe in the fold. (Matt 20:28, cf. 1Tim 2:6; Jn 10:15; Luke 19:10, 15:4)
De Young seems to see Christ as bipolar when he says: “Jesus taught as one “having authority,” not as having love.” (p.76) He seems to be saying that Jesus either spoke authoritatively or else in love, instead of seeing Him as speaking authoritatively in love. All that Jesus did or will ever do – even including the severe judgments at His Second Coming, will ultimately be seen to be consistent with His essential nature which is love.
Love is not indifferent and therefore gets angry when there is sin and rebellion, just as any loving parent is angered by the rebellion of his children. Love is not negligent and therefore disciplines and scourges when necessary. (Heb 12:6) Love will even reject the object of His love when they do not respond to His discipline but love never rejects forever because His love never ceases. (Lam 3:31-33; 1Cor 13:8) God’s wrath, ‘hatred,’ and even His patience, mercy and grace are temporal manifestations of His love in the presence of evil. (Isa 57:16) While God hates sin and is angered by it, he will not be angry forever since sin will not exist forever, contrary to what Traditionalists believe. (Isa 25:7,8; Rev 21:4,5)
De Young is technically mistaken when he says: “For all eternity into the future the saints will be experiencing the grace and mercy of God….” (p.89) Grace and mercy are manifestations of God’s love shown towards undeserving sinners. There will no longer be sin in heaven. Therefore, sinners, rather than the glorified saints, are those who will experience His grace and mercy in the coming ages. God is love – not love, hate, wrath, mercy, grace or patience. God is not divided. These are temporal manifestations of His essential nature which is love. These manifestations of His love will only remain in our memories as an invaluable treasure once God becomes all in all and evil is once and for all eradicated. Traditionalists who hold to an eternal dualism say that His mercy is forever but will only be extended to those no longer in need of mercy, while being denied to the lost who are still in need of it.
2) Because the Lake of Fire is seen after Jesus said He makes all things New, it must exist Forever.
Concerning the Lake of Fire, De Young says: “…the lake of fire continues to exist (21:8) after God makes all things new (21:5). It continues on forever.” (p.59) However, there are several problems with this statement. In the first place, the book of Revelation is not written in chronological order so it cannot be determined whether or not any event is prior to another just because it was mentioned first. I demonstrate this in more detail in my book, “Focusing in on End-Time Events.”
Secondly, Jesus declares in 21:5 that He was making all things new (present tense). The new creation is a process which began with the resurrection and continues until absolutely all has been made new – not all except for the Lake of Fire and the majority of mankind. We become a part of the new creation when we are saved and our spirits are born again, but He continues making all new until absolutely all people and all things have been made new. The fact that some are still in the Lake of Fire only means that Christ hasn’t finished His recreation - making all new. When He says He is making all new He is emphasizing absolutely all without exception. 
Thirdly, the Lake of Fire is called the “second death.” The last enemy to be destroyed by Christ is death. (1Cor 15:26) Therefore, Christ’s reign in which He makes all new must continue until both the first and the last death have been forever destroyed, since in the end there will be no more death. (Rev 21:4) Could we logically say that there is no more death at the same time that 90% of mankind, plus a third of the angels are in an unending state of death?
3) Punishment for Sins must continue Forever because the Lost will continue Sinning Forever.
We, as Universalists, argue that it would be unjust to inflict an infinite penalty for a finite offense. Our lifetime is not even a nanosecond in the light of eternity. To punish someone eternally for a brief lifetime of sin, no matter how horrendous one’s sins may have been, defies all sense of justice. Jesus said that we are evil fathers in comparison to our heavenly Father. But what earthly father would whip his child for a whole day? Imagine a father whipping his child for a whole year. Imagine him whipping him year after year until he finally dies. Would we consider that to be a just punishment? If God were to inform you that He was going to beat His children forever, wouldn’t you want to protest as did Abraham: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Would God who limits punishment to 40 lashes and no more, saying that anything beyond that would be excessive and inhumane, whip His children forever? (Deut 25:1-3)
This has been a moral dilemma for Traditionalists. In the 11th century the philosopher Anselm put forward the argument that infinite holiness requires infinite punishment. This seemed to be a satisfactory explanation in that day since all were accustomed to the medieval caste system where one could be put to death for simply stealing a loaf of bread if it happened to belong to nobility. While it is still common to hear this justification for an eternal hell, more and more recognize that such an explanation is not worthy of a loving God who doesn’t take into account a wrong suffered. (1Cor 13:5)
De Young has taken the increasingly popular position that continuing sin requires God to continue punishing forever. He says:
“It is claimed that it is unjust for God to leave the wicked in hell suffering punishment forever when they committed unbelief only during a human lifetime. Yet such punishment is not unjust if the unbelief and rejection continue for eternity.” P.238
So, according to De Young, God will be seen to be just in torturing people in hell forever because they will continue rejecting Him forever. To me, this presents more moral problems than it solves. Since each one will be judged according to their works, receiving their part or apportioned punishment, let us suppose that at the judgment one receives the maximum sentence of 40 lashes. According to the traditional model, could he repent, believe and receive Christ during that time and be restored after the sentence has been fulfilled? No. According to Traditionalists it is no longer possible for one to believe and confess Jesus as Lord for salvation. So, they end up with God punishing people forever for not repenting and receiving Christ, which, according to them, they could not do even if they wanted to.
According to De Young’s model, God rejects the condemned forever even after having bowed the knee, confessing Jesus as Lord. And then He tortures the eternally rejected forever for rejecting Him in return. We only exist because He sustains us. (Acts 17:28) If He knew they were going to reject Him forever, making it necessary for Him to torture them forever, why would He continue sustaining them with life? Wouldn’t both love and justice cry out saying, “enough,” and simply put them out of their misery?
How could we, the Church of Jesus Christ, sink so low as to present our loving Father as setting in motion a plan which “ends” in never-ending torture, inflicted by the all-wise God of love Himself upon those who don’t receive Him before dying? We must keep in mind that God has always seen the end from the beginning and works all things according to the council of His will. (Eph 1:11) Is it conceivable that God who is Love predetermined that He would Himself torture forever most of those created in His image and likeness for not receiving Him promptly? Most never even heard the gospel during their lifetime. Should we not rather accept His word when He promises to restore all? Shouldn’t we confess with the Samaritans that Jesus is “indeed” the Savior of the world? (Jn 4:42)
4) Restoration by Corrective Punishment in Hell amounts to Divine Coercion.
Biblical Universalists understand the Scriptures as teaching that the postmortem punishment of those who die and are condemned in a lost state are not eternally condemned and that the punishment is not merely penal but primarily corrective, designed to lead to repentance and restoration. This is not only biblical, but our own penal systems operate in a similar manner. While the offender is being punished for his crime, the underlying, ultimate goal is that of restoring the offender and reintroducing him into society.
While De Young sees no problem with God tormenting souls forever for rejecting Him, he rejects the idea of God’s punishments being corrective, saying that afflicting them in order to produce repentance would amount to divine coercion. He says:
“If the suffering of pain and torment in hell constrains the wicked to repent and believe, does this not amount to divine coercion?” p.238
In response to this I would ask: “Does His corrective punishment in this life, designed to lead us to repentance amount to divine coercion?” The Psalmist said: “Before I was afflicted I went astray,
But now I keep Your word.” (Ps 119:67) Does this amount to divine coercion? What about when Jesus appeared to Paul and knocked him off his high horse? Was that divine coercion? If this amounts to divine coercion, aren’t you grateful that He uses it for your correction when necessary instead of abandoning you to your own “free will?”
Isaiah said of God: “For when Your judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.” (Isa 26:9) If the earth’s inhabitants learn righteousness through God’s corrective judgments, what will prevent those judged even more severely in the Great White Throne judgment from learning righteousness? I heartily agree with Clement of Alexandria (AD 150 to AD 215) when he said:
“If in this life there are so many ways for purification and repentance, how much more should there be after death! The purification of souls, when separated from the body, will be easier. We can set no limits to the agency of the Redeemer; to redeem, to rescue, to discipline, is his work, and so will he continue to operate after this life.” 
Also, Origin says concerning postmortem judgments:
“But he that despises the purification of the word of God and the doctrine of the Gospel only keeps himself for dreadful and penal purifications afterward; so that the fire of hell may purge him in torments whom neither apostolical doctrine nor gospel preaching has cleansed, according to that which is written of being “purified by fire.” But how long this purification which is wrought out by penal fire shall endure, or for how many periods or ages it shall torment sinners, He only knows to whom all judgment is committed by the Father.” 
Surely, if God’s love never ceases and His mercies never come to an end, as soon as his corrective judgments have accomplished their purpose, He will draw all unto Himself, just as He did for us in life. He is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe in this life - not exclusively of those who believe. (1Tim 4:10) De Young says of postmortem corrective punishment: “Somehow, it does not occur to universalists that this is no longer love, but rather determinism and coercion.” (p.182) But does his love which disciplines and scourges now end when one dies? If His mercy endures forever is it not also available to those who repent under His postmortem judgments?
De Young fails to understand the redemptive purpose of God’s judgments when he says: “Why and how are we to believe that entering hell will make the wicked respond different?” (p.229) We see all throughout Scripture how God’s severe judgments brought even the most proud and arrogant, like king Nebuchadnezzar, to repentance. Why would man be less inclined to repent in hell where all fleshly comforts and distractions are removed? It is like asking why we should expect someone confined to a correctional institution to respond differently after having served his sentence than he previously did on the streets. The primary purpose of such correction is restoration.
He also asks: “If the suffering of pain and torment in hell becomes the catalyst for faith, isn’t there the danger that suffering becomes the means of salvation, so that salvation comes about by works rather than by faith?” (p.238) Could the suffering that leads to repentance and faith in this life be somehow considered meritorious? I suffered many things as a consequence of my sinful lifestyle and when I reached bottom the Lord revealed Himself to me. I would never consider my suffering to have been meritorious. But looking back I can see how God used my suffering to bring me to an end of myself so I would put my faith in Jesus. The destruction of the flesh leads to our spirit being saved in the day of the Lord, but it is the suffering of Christ which obtained our salvation - not our suffering. De Young asks: “Is it a loving thing to begin beating my child until she changes her mind and accepts the gift?” (p. 89) To this I would respond: “Is it more loving to beat your child forever because she failed to accept your gift promptly?”
This has been a brief consideration of just a few logical arguments for a universal reconciliation in response to De Young. For a more extensive, scholarly consideration of the philosophical arguments in favor of Universalism I recommend “The Inescapable Love of God” by Thomas Talbott, professor of Philosophy in the University of Willamette in Oregon.
In closing I would like to reemphasize the need to distinguish between Biblical Universalism and the Liberal and Progressive theologies which deny such vital doctrines as the inspiration and infallibility of Scripture, the deity of Christ and His penal substitutionary atonement. This departure from the faith once delivered to the saints is a Church-wide problem which should not be tagged as Universalism. De Young throws all the Church’s dirty laundry in the Universalist basket and categorizes us all as heretics. He misapplies 2Thessalonians 1:7,8 which says:
“and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, 8 in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thess 1:7,8)
From this passage he claims that there is a special reward awaiting those who appose “the heresy of Universalism.” He says:
“There is a clear implication here. Believers who resist the heresy of universalism will be recompensed, rewarded, in the future day of Christ’s return. The universalists themselves will receive deserved retribution for they know not God and do not obey the gospel.” p.226
Whatever may be the correct application of 2Thessalonians 1:7,8, it certainly is not condemning those who simply take God at His word when He says that He will restore all unto Himself, resulting in Him being all in all. If anybody denies the gospel it would be the one who denies that Jesus is indeed the Savior of the world. It would be the one who insists that Jesus will fail to do what He came to do, which was to draw all unto Himself - to seek and save the lost until the last lost sheep is safe in the fold.
 The Hebrew word for hatred in the Old Testament passages is sané. Vines Expository Dictionary of Old Testament Words, reveals that there are two different senses in which the word is employed:
“Sané represents an emotion ranging from intense ‘hatred’ to the much weaker ‘set against’ and is used of persons and things (including ideas, words, inanimate objects).” 
God’s hatred towards sinners is obviously in the milder sense of being “set against” an individual because of his sin and rebelliousness. Understanding it in this sense we can readily identify with this emotion even towards our own children when they defy us or misbehave.
 Our English word “things” does not have an equivalent in Greek. Neither does the neuter form in Greek always indicate objects as in English.
 Clement of Alexandria, Strom. lib. vi. cap. 6m p. 763, Ed. Potter.
 Origin, Commentary In Epist. Ad Rom. lib viii. cap. xi.