Neuhaus on Admonitory Punishments and Universal Restoration

Regarding the title,

Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets. (Act 3:19-21 NRSV)

I like to consider all sides of the debate. This is another one:

From Richard John Neuhaus’ article, Will All Be Saved?:

The universalism question came in for broader discussion with the publication of Balthasar’s little book Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved”? (1988). Balthasar’s is a very careful argument, clearly distinguishing between universal salvation as a hope and universal salvation as a doctrine. He supports the former and rejects the latter. In sum: we do not know; only God knows; but we may hope.

Some of the critics of the hope for universal salvation do indeed seem to begrudge the generosity of God entailed in that outcome . Theirs is a position of resentment dressed up as a claim of justice. “What was the point of my working so hard and so long if God is going to let in the riffraff on equal terms? It’s unfair!” The eschatological upsetting of such attitudes (the last will be first and first last) is a constant in the teaching of Jesus.

On the various Bible texts pointing to damnation on the one hand and universal salvation on the other:

There is no denying the powerful presence of passages suggesting a destiny of separation from God (e.g., Matthew 7:13ff., 25:31-46; Mark 9:45-48; Luke 16:23; John 3:36.) As there is also no denying the New Testament passages suggesting the redemption of the entire cosmos (e.g., Colossians 1:19-20; 1 Corinthians 15:22,28; Romans 5:18, 11:33-36; Philippians 2:10-11).

If one gives priority to the latter passages, then the former may be understood as admonitory and cautionary, solemn warnings of a terrible possibility. If one gives priority to the former passages, it is not clear how we are to understand the latter.

On the reality of hell:

Make no mistake: hell is real. Eternal separation from God is a distinct possibility to be feared, and to be feared first of all for ourselves. The passages of warning are to be taken with utmost, indeed ultimate, seriousness. God only knows who, if any, are damned. Our unqualified prayer is that God’s will be done.

On Judas:

By way of contrast, we do not know who, if any one, is in hell. As John Paul II points out in his remarkable little book Crossing the Threshold of Hope, the Church has never taught that even Judas Iscariot is damned … That does not mean he is not in hell; only that we cannot teach what we do not know.

But does the universal hope undermine evangelization? Not at all:

he command and impulse to evangelize is premised not on the bad news that we do not know but on the good news (i.e., “gospel”) that we do know.

On the correct attitude to take in disagreements over the scope of final salvation:

s in all such disagreements, we do well to keep in mind the rule of Richard Baxter (famously reiterated by John XXIII), “In necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity.”

But what really matters is this:

To which one need only add this necessary thing: all our puzzling, disputing, and speculating must finally give way to the most pure act of faith, which is doxology. So it was with St. Paul in his perplexity at the end of Romans 11, and so it must be with us. At the end of all our trying to understand, we join in declaring:

For God has consigned all to disobedience, that He may have mercy upon all. O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to Him that he might be repaid?” For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.


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