Universal Salvation and Probability

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Every so often, another Catholic encourages me to “dare to hope that all are saved”. After all, it is not a matter of doctrine that any specific person is damned. We know that God’s mercy is great, and given God’s mercy and our beliefs about the bliss of heaven and the torment which is hell, it seems reasonable that any soul would choose to embrace God over separating himself permanently from Him.

For me, this idea seems to fall down, however, when applied to the whole of humanity. In a sense, it’s a lot like the issue of the probability of sinlessness which I wrote about briefly a while ago: Given that we have free will, it would seem that in any given situation we could choose to do the right thing — though obviously we in many cases feel a strong urge not to or don’t even have a clear understanding of what the right thing is. However paradoxically, while in every individual choice it would seem that we could choose not to sin, it seems like an impossibility that any one person would in fact make the right choice in every single circumstance, thus living a life entirely without sin (except for original sin.)

Similarly, it seems to me that while there’s clearly a chance that any given person, no matter how sinful, will repent before death, embrace God’s forgiveness, and be saved, I simply can’t imagine it as possible that every single person in the history of humanity would do so. We see people so very frequently, in ordinary life, actively choose to do thing which they know will make them unhappy out of anger, pride or even just habit — I just don’t find it persuasive that no one would ever have chosen to utterly refuse union with God and insist that he would “rather rule in hell and serve in heaven.”

So I do not hope that all will be saved — I stick to hoping that each person will be saved.

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  1. And to add to it, here’s from today’s Gospel:

    “But when the king came in to meet the guests
    he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment.
    He said to him, ‘My friend, how is it
    that you came in here without a wedding garment?’
    But he was reduced to silence.
    Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet,
    and cast him into the darkness outside,
    where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’
    Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

  2. Most of the arguments favor of ‘dare we hope…’ do seem to involve equivocating on the each/all distinction.

  3. Another factor is the millions of bad individuals throughout history who were killed while trying to kill law enforcement whether we think of pirates or Pablo Escobar dying as he fought those trying to capture him in South America….after he killed thousands during his life time. “Dare we hope” is bizarre on the level of common sense. It would mean that all criminals dying throughout history in the act of sin, all child rapists/ murderers who were unrepentant…all adulterers dying in the act of sin, all those in Sodom who were killed by God, all false prophets killed by Elijah (450), Herod Antippas killed by God in Acts 12…..all these people either had defect in the act (sufficient reflection e.g.) or they were mentally ill or they with perfect sincerity thought their sin was
    virtue….which returns us to mental illness in most cases. Add to that the fact that such a theory deflates the missionary urge greatly. And if Christ’s words about Judas leave you thinking that Judas may be in heaven, then I want you doing my taxes next year.

  4. Yes, the tenor of Scripture suggests that people will remain unconverted throughout eternity. Even up into the book of Revelation, there are those who remain “outside the gates.” I think we must come to terms with this. I don’t say they’re roasting and burning in a perpetual oven. But they do remain apart, and by choice. This is simply the picture given. Jesus said it. The apostles spoke it. This strain plays out to the end. Though the philosophic urge is toward synthesis, and our sentiments desire ultimate comedy for everyone, the tragic note remains. Those outside refused to enter in. So they remain there, in outer darkness and chaos.

  5. Rob Bell, a theologian, recently wrote a book called Love Won Out. In it he argues for universal salvation. But I make the following point: Origin argued the same early on; he was knocked down for a good reason…the Bible never suggested such a thing, and in fact the gist of Scripture is that a portion of humanity remain unredeemed throughout eternity. That’s the reality we see in Scripture. Again, it’s not philisophically palatable. But it’s part of the story, the narrative of God and us.

  6. It makes one feel good when you visualize that a Loving, Merciful God, will, in the end forgive even the worst sinners and admit them to Heaven. But as the respondents above state, the Scriptures, especially the chilling words of Jesus about Judas, shocks one into reality that the Road to Heaven is very, very narrow and only “a few” will find it and follow it upto its Destination.

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