My heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue: "O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!"

06 July 2005


I read a thought-provoking article in Books and Culture from a couple issues ago. Kevin Corcoran, philosophy professor at Calvin College, reflects on the doctrine of universalism in an article entitled “Dark Thoughts.” Universalism is the doctrine which holds that all humans will eventually be saved. They do not claim salvation for all in this life, but eventually, perhaps after countless ages, God will bring all humanity to dwell with Him, presumably through Christ's work on the cross.

First things first: this is not a Biblical, reformed doctrine. I do not hold to universalism or its cousin, annihilationism (those dying apart from Christ will simply be destroyed into nothingness). Corcoran speaks disapprovingly of double predestination, which would be the exact opposite of universalism and happens to be what Scripture teaches (2 Peter 2; Exodus 10:20). Second, Corcoran does not believe in universalism, but would sure like to – more on that later. That aside, I have two notes about the article.

Corcoran puts forth a possible reasoning for universalism: If God is God, His purposes will be fulfilled. God's purposes, according to the author, is for humanity to “flourish.” Humanity's flourishing would be impossible if a significant portion of said humanity was in hell. Thus, God has reason to save all mankind, even those who lived all their earthly life in rebellion to His Kingship. The fault, I believe, in this reasoning is the assertion that God's main purpose is to make humanity flourish; theologically speaking, God's main purpose is to glorify His name, to show His holiness and greatness above all gods (Matthew 6:9). Problems abound when we mistakenly place mankind as central in God's plan. Of course humanity plays a wonderful role, being made to reflect God's glory, being made in His image, etc. But Romans 9 makes clear that God can be glorified by the judging of wickedness as well as the redemption of the wicked.

Getting past the negative, then, I was struck with how seriously the author was struggling throug this issue. He tells the story of a dear, Jewish friend of his who passed away recently; understandably, he recoils at the notion that his friend is suffering eternally. In his classes, Corcoran challenges his students to wrestle with the idea of hell:

Sam, so far as I know, did not die in Christ. Is he damned? Forever? It's a question that pricks the heart when someone you know and love—someone who, so far as you know, did not embrace Christ—dies. It's an important question, one that I tell my students ought to keep them awake at least a few nights of their life.

Have we wrestled enough with hell? Has it kept me up at night? Toward this end, of dealing honestly and Biblically with an extremely hard idea, I would recommend Ted Donnelly's book,
Heaven and Hell. I clearly recall several nights when I was only able to read one or two paragraphs before I couldn't handle any more.

Finally, as you wrestle with hard issues, take comfort in the God of all things. He is good and He will always be good. His glory, not our comfort, is the highest goal and should capture the prized place in our hearts.


Tamara said...

I liked your insights. I wanted to ass this.

I will never forget the day I heard a statement that forever changed my outlook on evangelism. This is what an atheist said. (Paraphrased)
The reason I am not a Christian is simple. It has to do with faith. Christians don't really believe there is a hell and they don't believe the only way to heaven is though belief in Jesus. If they did, they would be frantically evangelizing every minute of the day. They would know there was no other point to life but getting the gospel out. That or they would be so overwhelmed they would be in emotional turmoil. Yeah, Christians don't really believe in hell.

I know there were lies shrouded through out that reasoning. But still it made me think. If I believe in hell like I say I do why don't I act in haste. I guess for me I know my words can only say so much. I can't change a person only the Holy Spirit can do that.

Nathan Stockwell said...


Do you know what Dr. Corcoran means by "double predestination"? If he is objecting to the postive/postive view (ex., hyper-Calvinism) then we are agreed that it is abhorrent to Scripture. However, if he means the positive/negative is wrong then we must find Dr. Corcoran in error. I’ve found that some well-meaning Christians think we are talking about positive/positive predestination, but upon correction are willing to reconsider the topic.

He probably objects to the first, doesn't know (or care) about the latter, and so the Gospel becomes "Dr. Corcoran's gospel".

Ellen Olivetti said...

I have spent more than a few sleepless nights over the prospect of someone I love who is not saved and may be headed for eternal damnation. No amount of evangelism, teaching, pleading, explaining has seemed to help and no amount of praying has been answered as of yet. I feel helpless to affect the change in his spiritual state (as indeed I am) and it brings me to my knees, figuratively and literally. Yet, I should feel this way over each soul dying without Christ. The urgency and pleading I bring to the throne of grace over the one lost sheep I love so well should be the same urgency and pleading I bring over those I do not know who are headed for an eternity without God.

I bought the book you recommended by Ted Donnelly and am afraid to read it - afraid I will not be able to bear thinking on these things long and hard.

I rest in God's sovereignty and in his covenant love.

Tamara said...

I wanted to apologize for my mistake in spelling "ask" in the second sentence of my first comment. It was truly an accident. Jared, if you want to delete the comment, feel free. Opps.

Tamara said...

I am not trying to comment like crazy on my brother-n-law's blog. But I am doing very idiotic things so I have to either justify myself or correct myself. Since it would be hard to justify stupidy I will correct myself. First I typed a word incorrectly. Then I said the word that I had typed should have been "ask". When it actually was suppose to be add. So my second sentence in my first comment should have looked like this:
"I wanted to add this."

Oh thank the Lord for His grace. And God bless my sister, Lisa, for her ability to edit my terrible grammer and spelling. Your one lucky man, Jared.

Tamara said...

Opps I mean YOU'RE (not your) one lucky man.

Jared said...

Tamara - Thanks for the addition. Don't worry about the spelling :) I thought it was great that you misspelled "oops", too.

Nathan - The author didn't really explain his view of double predestination, but the way he presented it, I believe he was speaking against the more orthodox view.

Mom - thanks for the moving comments.