Sovereignty of Grace
THE FUTURE OF THE
1 of 14
Part V: The Future of the Non-Elect
A word of special
introduction is called for in presenting the following study.
It is a subject bristling with problems. Anyone who embarks upon
such a discussion exposes himself to all kinds of misunderstandings.
I am reluctant to include this
addendum because it has to be so speculative. It seems to me
that the fate of the unsaved is not clearly revealed in Scripture,
and has been greatly confused by centuries of imaginative thinking
in a way that is probably detrimental to our understanding and
may be a gross misrepresentation of the mind of God. For reasons
which will be considered briefly later, the art of the Middle
Ages became increasingly grotesque whenever its subject matter
was the fate of the wicked. We find it difficult to escape from
this cultural heritage.
So the problem of the future of
the non-elect and how this is to be reconciled with the justice
of God persists. And it seems proper in any book which deals
with the Sovereignty of God's Grace to make at least some attempt
to sort these matters out a little bit even at the grave risk
of being entirely misunderstood.
When I first
became a Christian nearly forty-five years ago, I was enormously
helped by a dear saint of God whose concern for my spiritual
growth made her a veritable "mother in the Lord" to
my soul. She had, at that time, found her thinking greatly stimulated
by the writings of Andrew Jukes. Among his works which she had
acquired was one by the title The Restitution of All Things.
This volume presented a form of Universalism which attracted
her and she asked me to read it and share my reactions with her.
This I did. I found it stirred my thinking and aroused my interest
in the possible fate of the unsaved for the first time. I had
known the Lord for only about eighteen months, so it was perhaps
not surprising that I had not previously given the matter much
I visited a number of secondhand
bookstores, and soon found other works which pursued equally
unorthodox lines of thought on the subject. One of these was
Farrar's Eternal Hope. This I did not feel happy about,
though the level of my Christian thinking was admittedly far
or sophisticated. However,
I then searched for and found a copy of Mercy and Judgment
by the same author, a volume which still left me unsatisfied
because of some of the author's presuppositions regarding the
inspiration of Scripture which I felt were inadequate.
Shortly after this, I picked up
a copy of Hanson's Universalism in the First Five Hundred
Years of the Christian Church, but in my poorly informed
state of development I had a feeling I should view his data with
caution, since I had no way of checking whether the extensive
quotations he had extracted from the early Church Fathers were
accurate and not out of context. But I did begin to feel that
there were some valid arguments for questioning the deeply entrenched
doctrine of everlasting punishment.
I soon added other works to a growing
collection of volumes on the subject, some of them for and some
against, one of which struck me with particular force because
of the gentleness and spiritual tone that pervaded the author's
arguments against everlasting punishment. This was Samuel Cox's
Salvator Mundi. I have now some fourteen works on the
subject and, thanks to the same dear child of God, I have also
a complete set of the works of the Early Church Fathers in the
Scribner thirty-eight volume edition under the titles Ante-Nicene,
Nicene, and Post-Nicene Fathers. All these
have been much studied, and I must admit that my personal views
have swung back and forth somewhat over the years, resting today
in the not altogether satisfactory position of being undecided
in the matter.
There are, however,
certain things about which I am fully persuaded. First, that
the Lord is sovereign, gracious, and altogether just. He cannot
allow sin to go unpunished. There is no salvation outside of
Christ, nor any chance of escaping the penalty of our sins once
we pass out of this life. The issue is not whether there is to
be punishment, but whether punishment is to be endless. Outside
of Christ there is no forgiveness in the hereafter (Matthew 12:32),
but if punishment is to fit a temporal offense, the question
is whether it needs to be interminable.
Secondly, when we come to glory
and our understanding is enlarged beyond measure in the presence
of the Lord, we shall undoubtedly say with exultation, "He
has done all things well!"
Thirdly, our sense of time will
be different, and we may well have a new understanding of what
eternity really means.
Fourthly, we shall probably see
very clearly the true significance of many facets of biblical
truth which are beyond our comprehension at the present. We shall
gain a new spiritual perspective which may well provide an entirely
new understanding of many passages of Scripture which we take
for granted we already understand well enough.
And lastly, I am tending towards
the view that a firm answer may not yet be possible, because
God does not intend us to know in this life what we do not need
to know. We know only that those who are not yet saved are
already under condemnation
(John 3:18). For those who are saved, judgment is already past
(Romans 8:1). Those who are already condemned are not condemned
because God willed their unbelief, but because He decided to
allow them to have their own way. As C. S. Lewis put it so effectively
in The Great Divorce: *
are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God,
"Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, "Thy
will be done." All that are in hell choose the latter.
Without that self-choice there could be no hell. No soul that
seriously and consciously desires joy will ever miss it.
not difficult to see that a strong conviction that the lost are
not lost forever might be harmful for those to whom the Lord
has committed the preaching of the Gospel, unless there is at
the same time some compensating reinforcement of their view of
the terrors of being lost. Though we are not willing to admit
it, all too many of us who know the Lord are comparatively unmoved
by any conscious awareness of the fate of the unsaved. We are
not sufficiently concerned to seek to pluck them out of the fire
even though we pay lip service to a belief in everlasting punishment.
There is little doubt that assurance of the ultimate safety of
our unsaved loved ones would make us even more careless than
we are already. It seems to me improbable that the precise nature
of the future of the unsaved will be revealed to us on this side
of the grave, since such a revelation could not serve a purpose
sufficiently good to compensate for the evil that might be done.
It might seem that we would be in a better position to vindicate
the justice of God before those who challenge it, but experience
shows that the people who challenge the justice of God are not
really seeking answers but only seeking confirmation of their
rejection of Him.
study must accordingly be accepted in the spirit in which it
is presented, with a full awareness of the bias I have which,
though far from fixed, nevertheless tends towards a somewhat
more hopeful view than is current today in some segments of the
* Lewis, C. S., The Great Divorce,
New York, Macmillan, 1966, p. 69.
the reader who is interested in looking into some of the more
extended works that deal with the matter, which I have myself
examined with care, the following list may be useful. The order
is alphabetical rather than an indication of my preferences.
Atkinson, Basil F. C., Life and Immortality, published
privately; no date (c.1970).
Brabant, F. H. Time and Eternity in Christian Thought (Brampton
Lectures, 1936). London: Longmans Green, 1937.
Brown, J. H. Eternity: Is It a Biblical Idea? London,
Clarke & Co., 1926.
Campbell, Alexander, and Skinner, Dolphus. Debate
on Everlasting Punishment. Utica, New York, Restoration
Reprint Library re-issue, 1840.
Charles, R H. Eschatology: Hebrew, Jewish, and Christian.
2nd edition. London, A. & C. Black, 1913.
Cox, Samuel. Salvator Mundi: or Is Christ
The Saviour of All Men? 3rd edition. London: Kegan Paul,
Farrar, F. W. Eternal Hope (five sermons preached in
Westminster Abbey 1877), New York, Dutton, 1878.
_____, Mercy and Judgment, London, Macmillan 1881.
Finlayson, R. A. God's Light on Man's Destiny, Edinburgh,
Knox Press, no date.
Hanson, J. W. Universalism: The Prevailing Doctrine of
the Christian Church During Its First Five Hundred Years,
Boston, Universalist Publishing House, 1899.
Jukes, Andrew, The Second Death and Restoration of All
Things, 14th edition. London: Longmans Green, 1891 (reprint
Knoch, A. E., Numerous pamphlets (some of 100 pages
or more), all in support of a form of limited punishment and
final restoration, Los Angeles, Concordant.
Torrance, T. F. Space, Time, and lncarnation, Oxford
University Press, 1969.
Vernon, S. M., Probation and Punishment: A Rational and
Scriptural View of the Future State of the Wicked, New York,
Welch, C. H. The Reconciliation of All Things, Surrey,
England: Berean Publishing Trust, 1960 (?).
Part V: The Future of the Non-Elect
The Nature of the
seem almost sacrilegious to suggest that we are sometimes called
upon to justify God before men. We normally think only of man
being justified before God. But Scripture itself recognizes the
propriety of the alternative (Luke 7:29; Romans 3:4), and seen
in its proper light it is altogether appropriate to make the
attempt in certain circumstances.
The world has two basic quarrels
with the Calvinist position. First, that it is unjust of God
to choose to save so few at the expense of so many who remain
unsaved; and secondly, that the penalty imposed upon the unsaved
is disproportionate, endless punishment being inflicted upon
those whose offenses are incurred in time. So we must look at
these two aspects of the problem which seem superficially to
signify a measure of failure in the purposes of God, and a measure
of injustice resulting from that failure. On two counts, therefore,
it seems that some attempt ought to be made to justify the ways
of God with men.
I propose to deal with the second
issue first, although clearly the first issue has precedence
in terms of cause and effect, for if all were elected to salvation
instead of only a few, there would be no second issue to deal
It is a commonly
accepted principle of justice all over the world and in all ages
that the magnitude of the offense is related to the dignity of
the one against whom the offense is committed.
An offense against a wild animal
(say, for example, an ape) is not normally punishable by law,
least of all in a society where apes are simply part of the landscape,
provided they are not a protected species. In our own culture
an offense against a domesticated animal may be punishable, but
chiefly because the animal belongs to someone rather than because
of its own animal rights. Cruelty to a household pet is more
likely to bring a penalty because by association it has been
credited with a certain element of "personality." An
offense against a beggar in the street may be frowned upon though
officially overlooked in some societies, but not in a society
with a social conscience. An offense against a neighbour is almost
demand an equivalent
penalty, and an offense against the Mayor of a city demands an
even more severe penalty since it is in effect an offense against
the whole community for whom the Mayor stands as a representative.
The assassination of a President of a country is likely to bring
a national outcry, for he in turn stands as a figurehead of every
citizen in the land.
Thus the same offensive action
has a different weight of seriousness depending not upon the
action itself, nor even upon the status of the doer (though this,
too, becomes a factor in the case), but upon the offended party.
The greater the accumulated dignity of the offended person, the
more serious is the offense likely to be considered and the more
severe the penalty.
When a man offends God, the offense
is qualitatively maximized to infinity, for the honour of God
is infinite. Such an offense is an offense against the Creator
Himself and against all his creatures as well, for his honour
is in a measure wrapped up in them all. Thus no greater offense
But is the magnitude of the offense
in such a case to be measured in terms of quantity or in terms
of quality? And is the punishment therefore to be severe by being
protracted or by being intense? Are we to fit the punishment
to the crime by making the punishment long in order to avoid
making it violent, by substituting extensiveness for intensiveness?
It is sometimes argued that the
injustice of everlasting punishment for a temporal offense is
only an apparent injustice, since the offense is against the
infinite majesty of God and must accordingly itself be of infinite
magnitude. But in answer to this we have to ask whether this
is merely substituting quantity for quality by assuming that
length of punishment is necessary to match the severity of the
Of course, we have come to this
in our society. We prescribe capital punishment for murder with
intent in certain cases, but then we seem to do all in our power
to commute this violent punishment to life imprisonment, so substituting
twenty years of bearable suffering for perhaps fifteen seconds
of mortal wounding (death by hanging, electrocution, firing squad,
or even beheading). We at least recognize by this policy the
unwritten principle that what is brief and very intense may be
balanced by what is long and much milder. Taking these two factors
like the sides of a rectangle, we mark out two rectangles of
equal area as it were, one standing on end like a vertical column
where the depth is great and the width is short, and the other
like a flat rectangle where the depth is slight but the width
very long. When the two areas are approximately equal, we feel
satisfied we have an approximate equivalent of justice.
If it should be asked, "Why
do we substitute the long for the deep?" the answer is probably
that we are cowards. We pretend to be guided by humane motives,
but we are not prepared to face the further question whether
life imprisonment really is more humane. There are recent cases
condemned men who, given
the choice, preferred the moment of intensity and almost instant
death to the long, slow agony of destruction by incarceration
for a lifetime. Meanwhile, recognizing that a lifetime of incarceration
is an awful thing, we introduce various moderating devices, such
as parole after so many years of good behaviour. The principle
is not unjust, for good behaviour in such a situation may indicate
some genuine measure of reform, and for the reformed character
the penalty of incarceration may in fact be a greater penalty,
and increasingly more painful as reformation proceeds. Thus by
a certain logical extension, we see that if a man improves in
character for one reason or another, what remains of his sentence
becomes effectively more of a penalty, until it would become
unfairly extended if his reformation were to be complete. What
formerly was justice now becomes increasingly unjust. This may
be the justification for amnesty.
Such self-reformation never will
be complete of course, but it may happen that the grace of God
regenerates the heart of the convicted man and it would then
seem entirely appropriate to shorten the penalty as a matter
of simple justice, since what remains of the penalty to be fulfilled
will be felt so much more keenly. But of course justice is never
administered perfectly, since the judge, the society, and the
guilty individual are all imperfect still.
It is clear, however, that the
demand for endless punishment for a temporal offense cannot be
justified merely on the grounds that the offense has been against
an infinite Majesty. It may well be that the quality of the punishment
is, in any event, much more significant than the quantity of
it. Indeed the word eternal may have little if anything
to do with quantity at all. Eternal life is eternal because it
is "otherly," that is, it has depth of a spiritual
nature as its fundamental character, and not because it has length
(John 10:10) � though length is certainly part of its essential
character as John 10:28 seems to indicate. Eternal life is fundamentally
a new quality of life. We shall return to this question
later, for much hinges on the Hebrew and Greek words which lie
behind the scriptural concept of eternity. That endlessness is
part of the meaning is not to be questioned, though it
is doubtful if the concept of endlessness is the underlying idea
intended in either the Hebrew or the Greek words, or was even
conceived by the Jewish mind, or by the Greek.
It is much more likely that the
basic idea was one of indefiniteness, of unknown length,
without defined boundaries, or alternatively of inconceivable
magnitude. The idea of unlimited duration was probably absent.
Indefinite, not infinite, would seem the most comprehensive meaning
when applied to time, inconceivable in magnitude rather
than infinite when applied to size, otherworldly rather
than this-worldly when applied to spiritual things. The Eternal
God may mean the God who exists outside of time, otherworldly,
belonging within a spiritual order, inconceivable in these senses.
As eternal life means another kind of life, inconceivable
until it is experienced, so perhaps eternal punishment is another
kind of punishment: inconceivable until it
is experienced, so perhaps
eternal punishment is another kind of punishment: inconceivable
until it is experienced.
It is also necessary to consider
that the status of the offending party does have some bearing
on the magnitude of his offense. A child may commit the same
crime as an adult with the same consequences to society, but
we do not judge the same penalty to be appropriate in each case.
Many who die unsaved must clearly die with a different status
in this sense, some dying greatly privileged, some dying young,
some dying without ever hearing the Gospel, but all equally unsaved.
Yet if the penalty is unending punishment, whether the punishment
is many stripes or few, it is effectively the same punishment
for all because of its endlessness. One cannot rationally introduce
the idea of a harsher or a milder punishment if both are interminable.
For the factor which makes all such forms of punishment so awful
is the hopelessness of the situation.
Viktor Frankl, the notable Viennese
psychiatrist who survived a German concentration camp, wrote
Life in a concentration
camp [was so uncertain] that it could be called a "provisional
existence". . . We can add to this by defining it as "provisional
existence of unknown extent." A man who could not see the
end of his provisional existence was not able to aim at an ultimate
goal in life. He ceased to live for the future. . . .
Such a man lived
only NOW and the NOW was for ever, experientially. Luther was
surely right in describing eternity as the always now.
So Augustine likewise saw the eternity of God as an ever-nowness.
Frankl wrote subsequently: (2)
In camp a small time unit, a
day for example, filled with hourly tortures and fatigue, appeared
endless. A longer time unit, perhaps a week, seemed to pass very
quickly. My comrades agreed when I said that a day lasted longer
than a week.
have to rethink what the word eternal really means in
any given context in Scripture. Dean Farrar held that punishment
is everlasting in effect, but limited in duration. He might perhaps
have suggested with equal force that punishment is everlasting
in experience also, psychologically that is, but limited in reality.
Punishment there surely must be, even if it is a form of remorse
and self-inflicted. A moral universe without sanctions when its
laws are disobeyed would be a moral chaos, not a moral cosmos.
So we have somehow to justify God
in the New Testament sense and before the world, when men question
the justice of his balancing of accounts. We must not deny what
the New Testament certainly reveals; we need only
1. Frankl, Viktor, Man's Search
for Meaning, New York,
Pocket Books, 1973, p.111.
2. Ibid., p.112.
to think the problem
through again and see if the passage of time and the controversies
of the past have put us in any better position to understand
what Scripture is actually saying on the subject. It may not
be possible to provide an altogether satisfactory answer, but
the issue has to be squarely faced anew in every generation,
until some kind of understanding is achieved which will enable
us to answer those who accuse God of injustice, and to do this
without compromising the Plan of Salvation.
Because of the difficulties that
the present concept of everlasting punishment introduces for
even the most faithful of God's children, we have a tendency
to shun the matter or to fear to challenge the orthodoxy which
we have inherited lest we should find ourselves excommunicated.
That previous ages were satisfied with their view of the endless
torments of the unsaved is not in itself a proof that they were
right but only that their conscience had not become as acute
as ours in certain areas of life, even as they often seemed to
have been little concerned with injustices done to those who
could not defend themselves or with certain then current social
iniquities such as slavery, for example. This, then, is one of
the matters we must look into a little more closely if this study
of the issues of Calvinism is to be at all complete.
other question is why so few are called to salvation while so
many are allowed to go their own chosen way to perdition. Is
any plan which involves so much suffering by so many really justified
for the sake of the happiness of so few? And the answer must
take into account the possibility, implicit in what has been
said already, that if the word eternal has a qualitative
rather than a quantitative meaning, the disparity in numbers
which is itself a quantitative factor may not be so crucial,
and the answer may thus appear in a somewhat different light.
Even if this should be so, the fact still remains that the many
appear to suffer for the benefit of the few. For certainly it
seems clear that the whole plan is justified ultimately only
by the happiness of the few that are saved, and this is achieved
at the expense of the unhappiness of those that are lost. This
seems to be true even if the lost are in some way released from
their unhappiness in the end.
Perhaps Dean Farrar was right to
speak of the "Larger Hope," that the Lord may have
a more complete victory, that God will truly one day be all in
all. But the problem still remains whether such a created order
has been fairly designed when the many in some measure suffer
for the few. Of Farrar's conclusion, I think it must be said
that his presuppositions were of doubtful validity. He placed
a higher value upon human reason than is justified, and one cannot
agree with his lower estimate of the inspiration of Scripture.
Human reason cannot guide us safely here because we have no knowledge
of what life is for the unsaved beyond the grave, apart from
Revelation. And that Revelation is not explicit enough for us
to draw any
firm and precise conclusions.
We have certainties indeed with respect to the future of the
elect, but we do not have the same kind of certainties with respect
to the future of the non-elect.
Men like Shedd, Hodge, Warfield,
and other theological giants of past years have questioned whether
Scripture actually intends to leave us with the idea that few
are saved and many are lost. The classic passage which at
once comes to mind in this connection is Luke 13:23, 24. But
this is a question asked by the disciples, not actually a statement
made categorically by the Lord. "Then said one unto Him,
Lord, are there few that be saved? And He said unto them, Strive
to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will
seek to enter in, and shall not be able." The answer of
the Lord would seem to be a tacit acceptance of the questioner's
supposition, and certainly experience seems to confirm the small
number of the saved. Moreover, the Lord's words, "Fear not,
little flock; it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the
kingdom" (Luke 12:32), reinforce the impression of the paucity
of numbers. Again, in Matthew 7:13 f. the Lord said: "Enter
in at the strait gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the
way that leads to destruction, and many there be which go in
thereat. For strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leads
to life, and few there be that find it." And then in Matthew
20:16 and 22:14 the Lord repeats the words, "Many are called,
but few are chosen."
With such passages before
us, how then does it come about that profound theologians can
speak as though few does not mean few, and many
does not mean many? They do it by the simple device of arguing
that we need not assume that the few who are old enough to choose
the narrow way are the only ones who enter heaven. Many enter
without reaching the age of choice, infants all over the world
and since the world began. (3) These must therefore be included among the redeemed,
and to their number Shedd *
3. Benjamin B. Warfield, Biblical and Theological
Studies, edited by Samuel Craig, Philadelphia, Presbyterian
& Reformed Publishing, 1968, p.334 f.
* In his Dogmatic Theology [Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1969
reprint] Shedd has this to say "The electing mercy of God
reaches to the heathen. It is not the doctrine of the Church
that the entire mass of persons, without exception, have gone
down to endless impenitence and death. That some unevangelized
men are saved, in the present life, by an extraordinary exercise
of redeeming grace in Christ, has been the hope and belief of
Christendom. It was the hope and belief of the older Calvinists,
as it is of the later" (vol.II, pp.706f.)
The Westminster Confession
(X.3), after saying that elect infants dying in infancy are
regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who worketh
when and where and how He pleaseth, adds, so also are all other
elect persons [regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit]
who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of
the Word. This is taken to mean not merely that insane and imbecile
individuals have hope of redemption, but also that many in the
heathen world are also chosen for redemption by some means other
than the exercise of saving faith as we understand it.
would add the heathen
who would have believed had the Gospel been preached to them.
In his Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, Loraine Boettner
argues that probably 50 percent of all human beings born will
be redeemed by this route: *
If it is true that all
those who die in infancy, in heathen as in Christian lands, are
saved, then more than half of the human race even up to the present
time has been among the elect.
Calvin took the position that a child who
dies in infancy is as elect as the adult who is converted. The
Lord thus has, as it were, two modes of assuring salvation. This
may well be true, yet one wonders if it is not rather
a subterfuge than a satisfying answer to the problem. Can it
really be termed a victory for the Lord when the soldiers in
this warfare are saved only by being removed from ever encountering
the enemy while they are still too young to have arrived at the
Warfield quotes, with approval,
the words of William Temple who, in 1913, wrote: "The earth
will in all probability be habitable for myriads of years yet.
If Christianity is the final religion, the Church is still in
its infancy. Two thousand years are as two days." (4) The implication here is
that in time the Church will cover the earth; but what then of
the Lord's words, "When the Son of man coms, shall He find
faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8) And is this poor exhausted
earth still good for thousands of years yet? And furthermore,
is Warfield correct when he expresses the hope that the Church
will act as leaven "for good" (5) when leaven is consistently used in the New Testament
and in rabbinical literature as a symbol of an evil, corrupting
influence? Should we not rather expect to see the pervasive evil
of godlessness bringing all society into decay until the Lord
returns to put things to rights again?
But even if we add the disadvantaged
heathen as Shedd proposes, we are still far short of a total
victory and must suppose that at the very least perhaps one-fifth
of the world's population is still lost. Indeed, must it not
be admitted that even if one single soul is lost for eternity,
the Plan has been a failure, the cost has been too high? Did
not the shepherd rejoice more over the one lost sheep that was
found again even though the ninety-nine were safe (Matthew 18:13)?
And what then if He had not found that lost sheep � that
one lone creature that was not in the fold? Would the shepherd
ever have ceased to grieve? How can we then suppose that the
salvation even of a majority of God's creatures will be sufficient
to cover the cost of the
*Boettner, Loraine, The Reformed Doctrine
of Predestination, Philadelphia, Presbyterian & Reformed
Publishing, 1975, p.145.
4.William Temple: quoted by Benjamin B. Warfield, Biblical
and Theological Studies, edited by Samuel Craig, Philadelphia,
Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, 1969, p.347.
5. Warfield, Benjamin, ibid., p.348.
remainder who are not
returned to the fold? In the political arena a majority won is
victory enough, but can this ever be true in the moral arena?
Dostoyevsky in his The Brothers
Karamazov has one of the brothers, Ivan, recounting to his
younger brother, Alyosha, the story of a well-educated Russian
mother (this was about 1825 or so) who battered her infant daughter
mercilessly and then locked her in the bathroom. But when the
little child still did not cry out against her abuse, the mother
became so enraged that she rushed into the bathroom and filled
the child's mouth with her own excrement, and cast her on the
floor in a corner. The child lay there, beating the floor with
her tiny fist in her torment as she tried to empty the filth
out of her mouth and call for her mother's mercy. And Ivan asks
Tell me yourself, I challenge
you � answer. Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human
destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving
them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable
to torture to death only one tiny creature � that baby beating
its breast with its fist for instance � and to found that
edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect
on those conditions? Tell me, and tell me the truth.
"No, I wouldn't consent,"
said Alyosha softly.
the illustration is not truly a parallel in so far as the staging
of the situation is concerned, but the same principle is involved.
Could one, humanly speaking, recommend a plan that introduced
upon the scene billions of souls destined to live forever in
happiness at the end, if it involved even one of them in everlasting
torment as a consequence? Yet again it is very important to underscore
the word humanly. For what do we really know about the
nature of time in eternity? And there is always the possibility,
remote though it may be, that the sufferings of the wicked might
bring even to themselves a measure of joy fully compensating
at the last. Even if, which also seems unlikely, the time spent
by these billions in happiness were to pass psychologically very
slowly whereas the time spent by the ones in torment were to
pass psychologically very quickly, yet if both are to last for
ever the situation is not really eased, the circumstance is not
really mitigated in any way.
seems no way to escape the dilemma except possibly by linking
the factor of endlessness (if this is indeed the crucial factor)
to the effect of the sentence rather than to the sentence
itself, or by making punishment serve not merely as the wages
of sin but also as a means of correction until no more punishment
is required. Let us examine some of the alternatives that men
have proposed as they struggled with this truly difficult problem.
These alternatives are not new; the Church Fathers looked at
them all and for the most part ended up with some kind of everlasting
torment. Yet there
have always been a few
men, truly devoted to the Lord and resting their soul securely
in his salvation and holding absolutely to the inspiration of
Scripture, who have found some of these alternatives still viable
and more attractive than the current orthodoxy of many evangelical
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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Perhaps we shall yet find some
tentative resting place which fully honours the Word of God and
might even explain why the small number of the elect was an essential
element of God's over-all plan for his creation.