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The Descent of the Dove

A lot of online hubbub about hell is going on of late, thanks to Rob Bell’s Love Wins. I have not read the book, which has sparked accusations of universalism, but I have recently started reading and enjoying Charles Williams Descent of the Dove. Below are his comments on the universalism posited by Origen:

The imaginations of the Alexandrian Fathers were courteous; their visions were humane. Origen extended that vision so far as to teach the final restitution of all things, including the devils themselves. It is impossible that some such dream should not linger in any courteous mind, but to teach it as a doctrine almost always ends in the denial of free-will. If God has character, if man has choice, an everlasting rejection of God by man must be admitted as a possibility; that is, hell must remain. The situation of the devils (if any) is not man’s business. The charity of Origen schematized then too far; he declared as a doctrine what can only remain as a desire. It was one of the reasons why he was denounced…  (p. 40)

Charles Williams makes some interesting points about universalism and hell.

1. Universalism stems from a charitable disposition. Who does not want everyone to be saved? Scripture indicates that God himself prefers to show mercy to everyone, when it says “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live” (Ezekial 33:11). Since God does in fact judge the wicked with an irreversible condemnation, the charity of universalism reveals itself to be misguided and dangerous. Misguided because our charity cannot surpass God’s; there must be something universalists are not taking into account. Dangerous because it preaches peace when there is judgment.

Questions emerge, though. Why wouldn’t God grant universal pardon, if this is indeed what he would rather do? Williams says that it is because

2. Universalism destroys free will. If man is free to choose God, then he is also free to reject him. According to Williams, God will not save a person against his will, and universalism “almost always” demands that this be so in the end. The Calvinist disputes the idea of God’s unwillingness to act against man’s will. He replies that if God waited for anyone to willingly choose him, no one would be saved. God’s Spirit must first give life and sight to the believer, and then the believer will always freely choose God. The Universalist could say the same thing in reply to Williams regarding God’s action toward the souls of unbelievers. He could illumine them and save them, too. But, I ask, if that’s what God is going to do, why wait until after death?

The third point I want to draw attention to is Williams’s view of what hell is.

3. Hell is the rejection of God. Williams and C. S. Lewis are of the same mind here. Hell is passive, they say, not active. Man chooses hell, and man is his own inflicter there. If God is life, joy, goodness,etc., then to reject him is to embrace death, misery, evil, and the rest. Rejection of God is hell. Furthermore, man willingly remains in hell, clinging to his sin and so rejecting heaven. (1)

I must confess, if this view were correct, then I would have a lot more peace about hell. I much prefer this view. I want this view to be correct. Unfortunately, I am not persuaded. I have the impression that scripture speaks more actively about hell. I have always thought of it in terms of God actively pouring out his wratch against sin. Perhaps I am wrong. What do you think?

(1) I am pretty sure this is true of Lewis, and I would bet that Williams would concur, though I am not certain.

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