The Credibility of Universalism

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Center for Tanakh Based Studies

By: William Jackson

Universalism appears to be the latest religious concept that has taken the stage.  Although it’s message is somewhat revolutionary, it is flexible enough to come in all shapes and sizes; Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and even Judaism.  Thus, begs the question “what is Universalism?”.  Quite simply, Universalism means that all people will be saved in the end1.  Understandably this progressive theology has appeal for the masses.  Many religions have even modified their beliefs to support Universalism. However, as Believers, we need to investigate this concept using the Word of God.  Please join us as we delve into scripture to assess this very open and popular theology.

The one thing that Universalism comes up against, when talking about Christians, Muslims and certain Rabbinical Jews, is the concept of “Hell” (Hades, Jahannam, Gehenna or whatever your denomination calls it).  Unlike most religions, Universalism doesn’t possess consequences for living an unjust life. Interestingly, we also find the Tanakh (Old Testament) void of a Hell. So what happens to the dead in God’s Holy Word.  Well, we do hear a lot about Sheol in the Tanakh, up to 59 times. So does Sheol compare to Hell? As we investigate the Tanakh, Sheol does appear to be unpleasant, i.e. dark, shadowy and melancholy (Jeremiah 2:6, Psalm 88:7,13, Job 10:21-22).  This, however, is certainly not a hellish environment. Likewise, it is not reserved for the unjust, it is a place where all souls end up (Ecclesiastes 3:20, Psalm 49:14-15).

So, when it comes to not having a place of eternal torment, Universalism and the Tanakh are alike.  Is it possible that Sheol could be a place of salvation?  No, the Tanakh, doesn’t consider Sheol a place of salvation, if anything, it is a waiting place before the next stage of the afterlife.  However, in Sheol one can be saved or ransomed (Psalm 16:10, 33:4, 49:16).  So, who saves us from Sheol?  To answer this riddle, we need to ask the question “who usually pays a ransom?”  For example, if somebody kidnaps my neighbor’s wife they are not going to ask me for the ransom.  They are going to ask my neighbor because she is his.  Since we see King David again and again beseech the Almighty to be rescued from Sheol (Psalm 16:10, 30:4, 49:16), we must assume it is God who ransoms us.    Therefore, in order to be ransomed from Sheol we must be God’s.

The next question should be, what makes us God’s?  Some will argue, “you must be Israel to be His” (Deuteronomy 7:6-8, 14:2, 26:17-19, Isaiah 42:6). Although Israel is God’s “first born” (Exodus 4:22 ), some Israelites can turn away from God thus giving up their birthright, much like Esau (Genesis 25:29-34). Likewise, we see in Zechariah 13:7-9, in the end days, some Israelites living in the land (Israel) will be God’s but 2/3rd will not. So, an Israeli birth is not enough. As the Prophets tells us, “those that fear God are His” (Malachi 3:16-18, Psalms 25:14, 145:19, Proverbs 14:26-27).  Fearing God implies one who follows His laws (Isaiah 56).

For those that are not God’s, there appears to be to be shame (Daniel 12:3) and a purification process during the final judgement day (Isaiah 48:10, Zechariah 13:9, Ezekiel 22:18-22, Malachi 3:2, Psalm 66:10).  Although up to this point we could say Universalism might loosely follow the Tanakh, since there appear to be a reconciliation in the end, there is one major stumbling block.  The Tanakh tells us that the truly wicked will be destroy (Deuteronomy 29:19, Malachi 3:19, Psalm 37:20, 68:2-3).  Not the eternal punishment that most fundamental religions favor, it is more of an immediate obliteration.  So, as we see, the Tanakh doesn’t follow the concept of Universalism because not all people are saved in the end.

As appealing as this Universalism concept might be, it’s harm is the removal of incentive for embracing God’s laws.  In an age where society’s open morality comes in contrast with the Torah, Universalism creates a way to not have to accept the restraints of God’s laws. It is like a child who doesn’t have any consequences for not following the rules.  From the child’s view, it would be bliss, but from a world view it would equal anarchy.  Since God believes in justice (Deuteronomy 32:4, Isaiah 30:18, 61:8, Job 34:12), Universalism would be in contrast with God’s ways.

I misspoke when I said Universalism is a new religious concept.  It has been around for about three millenniums.  The Persians brought it into existence with their religion of Zoroastrianism 2.  This religion was very popular in ancient times but has all but died out.  So why is this? Basically, people who want a connection to God don’t want a casual association to God, they want a relationship.  Not wanting to follow His laws means not interacting with Him. Universalism facilitates peoples desires for a religion but without the impact of God.  It is not a faith journey for the true Believer, it is more the absence of a journey for the disorientated.

References:

  1. Skinner, Otis A. Series of sermons in defence of the doctrine of universal salvation. Boston: Tompkins, 1842, Page 209
  2. Knight, George T. The Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, 1953, vol. 12, p. 96; retrieved 30/04/09Religion confusion
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