Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved? Four Views on Hell? Origen? Torture? Is Everyone A Child Of God?—William Cavanaugh Interview—part 6

William T. Cavanaugh
Dr. William T. Cavanaugh

Cavanaugh is Professor of Theology at DePaul University in Chicago. He holds degrees from Notre Dame, Cambridge, and Duke University, and has worked as a lay associate with the Holy Cross order in a poor area of Santiago, Chile, as well as for the Center for Civil and Human Rights at the Notre Dame Law School. His books include:

2016 Richard Johnson Lecture

I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. William Cavanaugh and attending his lecture “The Myth of Religious Violence”. I’ve broken the interview up into 6 short posts:

  1. Violence and Theology? Just War and Pacifism?
  2. Was God Violent To Jesus? Is Jesus Coming Back Mad As Hell?
  3. Did Constantine Make Christianity Violent?
  4. Has God Ever Commanded Genocide? What is Justice?
  5. Is God Violent In Hell? Does That Influence Us Now?
  6. Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved? Four Views on Hell? Origen? Torture? Is Everyone A Child Of God?

I’ve also posted it as a single, combined post.

Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved?

What do you think of Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved? ? Have you read it?

I have, actually I just reread it recently. I think again that’s the sort of Barthian idea that we should at least hope that all will be saved. There’s that passage in first Timothy I think that kind of indicates that. But we can’t say for sure. And again the question is how could anybody resist God’s grace forever.

Mmm… Peter Kreeft, when he was interviewed about this, said, “We hope and pray that everyone is saved but we can’t say for sure.” So again that’s kind of the standard Catholic and Eastern Orthodox position. I think George Pell said that hell may be empty. I think he was criticizing people who dogmatically say there’s people in Hell. He says we can’t say there definitely will, or won’t, be.

Somebody told me there’s a website out there with lists of people that definitely are in Hell… {concerned laugh} that’s so…

Yeah… I don’t doubt that.

Four Views on Hell?

Have you read Zondervan’s Four Views on Hell?

No, I haven’t.

It’s from an Evangelical perspective, and they’ve got a case for Annihilationism, a case for Eternal Conscious Torment, a case for Universalism, and a case for Purgatory.

From an Evangelical point of view??

Yeah.

{chuckles} That’s good.

Yeah, it’s the first time that a major evangelical publisher has admitted that Evangelical Universalism is a biblical and theological Christian position, even though they disagreed with it. {shows William Four View on Hell book} It only came out this year and I haven’t actually finished reading it.

Origen?

What do you think about some of the Early Church Fathers? What do you think about Gregory of Nyssa and Origen, for example? Who both appear to hold to Universal Salvation. What’s your view on that?

{laughs} I think Origen was probably a little too confident. I haven’t read Gregory of Nyssa on that. But again I think the wiser position if to say we hope but we don’t know for sure. Origen seemed to know for sure. He seemed to know a lot of things for sure.

OK, that’s cool 1.

Torture?

You wrote a book on torture, which I haven’t actually read. Do you think torture is ever justified?

No.

No… that’s good! {both laugh} I’m glad to hear that! Some people seem to think it is…?

It’s listed in various church documents as an intrinsically evil act and I think that’s the way we should treat it. What’s interesting to me is just the way torture works in the popular imagination. You know it doesn’t work at all as it does in reality. In reality it doesn’t really work much. You very rarely, if ever, get real, actionable intelligence. It’s more for intimidating people and breaking up social bodies and things like that.

But the role it plays in the popular imagination in United States… it’s really important for some people to know that we’re torturing terrorists because that seems to protect us. This is I think, in part, behind the popularity of Trump. “He’s going to be a strong person with few scruples, going to protect us from the bad things that are out there.” It doesn’t make any logical sense but torture is a kind of theatre, is really what I argue, a sort of liturgy—anti-liturgy—that reverses the Eucharist.

Yes, I found the idea interesting, well the little bit I could read in Google, {both laugh} and I wondered how it worked.

Is Everyone A Child Of God?

We’ve almost run out of time but quickly, do you think everyone is a child of God?

Yes.

Coming from a few different passages. I think starting in Genesis.

Yes.

Yes, you do think that, and I agree. {both laugh} My latest blog series was on everyone being a child of God. What are some of the implications of that—of everyone being a child of God?

Well, you need to treat everybody with dignity, even people that seem completely alien—these days, Muslims. Children of the same God. I mean that’s at the most basic level.


1. Upon further reflection, I was puzzled by the description of Origen as “presumptuous”, as he doesn’t come across that way to me. So I asked Dr. Ben Myers, who lectures on Origen:

Short answer: no, ‘presumptuous’ would be the last word anyone would use to describe Origen! Even on the topic of universal salvation, he’s actually very tentative and suggestive and exploratory, never fully decided or dogmatic. This is because he’s essentially an exegete, not a theologian, so he’s always keenly aware of the huge diversity within the biblical canon.

What if We Disown Our Father in Heaven?

I’m doing a series on everyone being a child of God:

  1. Why Everyone is a Child of God
  2. Implications of Everyone Being a Child of God
  3. What if We Disown Our Father in Heaven?
  4. Doesn’t the NT also talk about becoming children of God??

My first post contains most of the biblical reasons for believing everyone is a child of God, and to show that this can’t be dismissed as liberalism, I also cited some conservative theologians who seem to hold this view. My second post unpacks some of the significant implications of this view. In this post and the following, I’ll look at common objections.

What if We Disown Our Father in Heaven?

Indeed, I think this could be stated even stronger—everyone has turned away from God at times:

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way…

Isaiah 53:6a, NIV

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.

Romans 3:23, NLT

Thankfully our Father is patient and not fickle. We see this throughout the Bible.

When Israel Disobeyed

Even when the Israelites disobeyed, they continued to be God’s children. For example:

Is this how you repay the Lord, you foolish and senseless people? Isn’t He your Father and Creator? Didn’t He make you and sustain you?

Deuteronomy 32:6, HCSB

And again, despite Israel’s disobedience, and the severe consequences thereof, Isaiah says:

But you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us or Israel acknowledge us; you, Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name.

Isaiah 63:16, NIV

Yet no one calls on your name or pleads with you for mercy. Therefore, you have turned away from us and turned us over to our sins. And yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, and you are the potter. We all are formed by your hand.

Isaiah 64:7-8, NLT

Any parent is faced with a difficult decision when a son/daughter disowns them and runs away: do they give them space or do they pursue them? The problem is even greater if the son/daughter gets involved in something nasty, say drug dealing or terrorism. A parent can’t support or fund these things, nor can they simply pretend they aren’t happening as it risks the well being of both the son/daughter, their siblings, and others. The child is still their beloved child but it puts great pressure on the relationship and complicates interactions. We see this conundrum for our Father in Jeremiah:

How gladly would I treat you like my children and give you a pleasant land, the most beautiful inheritance of any nation. I thought you would call me ‘Father’ and not turn away from following me.

Jeremiah 3:19, NIV

They will come with weeping; they will pray as I bring them back. I will lead them beside streams of water on a level path where they will not stumble, because I am Israel’s father, and Ephraim is my firstborn son.

Jeremiah 31:9, NIV

We see God’s parental care again in Hosea:

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son… It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them…. How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel?… My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I devastate Ephraim again. For I am God, and not a man—the Holy One among you. I will not come against their cities.

Hosea 11:1, 3-4, 8-9, NIV

Boersma astutely notes that in Hosea we also see that even God’s holiness doesn’t stop Him from being a father among His sinful children.

Here in Hosea, the tender mercy of God is the true display of his holiness… God is holy because God is merciful in ways completely separate from our notions of divinity.

Spencer Boersma, All People are God’s Children

This seems a good segue to the NT, where Jesus embraced His sick and sinful siblings. Not only that, but we find parables directly engaging our topic!

Jesus’ “Lost & Found” Parables

In the first two parables (Luke 15:4-7 & 15:8-10), the person (representing God) actively seeks and finds that which is lost (the sheep and the coin), whereas in the third parable (Luke 15:11-32), that which is lost, realises they are lost, and finds their way home. Further linking all three parables is that there is forgiveness and great celebration when the lost repents.

I think Jesus is showing that when we walk away from God, God will give us the space for our delusions to be shattered—which is inevitable as all idols are unsatisfactory. Additionally, He helps us come to our senses and seeks us until we are found. Either way, the lost doesn’t cease to have significance because it is lost—the sheep stays a sheep, the coin stays a coin, and the son stays a son. Indeed according to these parables the lost becomes the focus.

For the Son of Man [Jesus] came to seek and to save the lost.

Luke 19:10, NIV

The Good Shepherd
The Good Shepherd

Why Everyone is a Child of God

I often ponder just how much more of a jerk I would be if I didn't happen to believe that all men and women, regardless of their capacity or usefulness, are inestimably precious children of the Creator―John Dickson
John Dickson’s post

I particularly like his point that “all men and women … are inestimably precious children of the Creator”. It is something I’ve been pondering for ages so I thought I’d explore the idea in four posts (drawing a lot from Spencer Boersma’s article):

  1. Why Everyone is a Child of God
  2. Implications of Everyone Being a Child of God
  3. What if We Disown Our Father in Heaven?
  4. Doesn’t the NT also talk about becoming children of God??

I’ll start by looking at where I think the Bible implies everyone is a child of God.

The “image of God” means the child of God

The first place we find God described as a parent is:

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness … So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:26-27, NIV

The same image and likeness language is used to describe the relationship between Adam and his son:

When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth.

Genesis 5:3, NIV

Boersma explains that it’s “an ancient way of saying “These are my children”” and we still have a sense of that in the common, “Wow, your baby looks just like you”, compliment. We also find this connection in the NT:

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.

Colossians 1:15, NIV

His Son is the radiance of his glory, the very image of his substance

Hebrews 1:3, WEB

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.

James 3:9-10, NIV

Everyone is a child of Adam and thus a child of God

Another place we find God described as a parent is at the end of the genealogy in Luke:

the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.

Luke 3:38, WEB

As all humanity comes from Adam, we all inherit his curses (Rom 5:12-21) and blessings―including being a child of God.

God is the Father of everything

I think it’s worth considering Ephesians 4:6:

One God and Father of pás, who is over pás, and through pás, and in pás.

The question is, what is the scope of the Greek pás here? pás is usually translated “all” but when the context is people, it’s appropriate to translate it “everyone” or “all people”; or when the context is creation, it can be “all things”, “everything”, or “everywhere”.

Given verses 4-8 have many people related words―God, Father, body, Spirit, hope, Lord, faith, baptism, “each one of us”, prisoners, and people―it’s possible that pás could be translated “all-people/everyone”, and indeed some translations translate it that way (e.g. CEV, GNT, and ERV).

However, given almost every English translation translates pás as “all-things/everything” in verse 10, it seems most likely that is the scope of verse 6 too (e.g. EXB, ICB, NIRV, NCV, and GW). I think linking parenthood and creator isn’t unique to Ephesians. For example, God’s challenge to Job:

Does the rain have a father? Who fathers the drops of dew? From whose womb comes the ice? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens

Job 38:28-9, NIV

And in other OT passages the concepts appear overlapping:

Is this the way you repay the Lord, you foolish and unwise people?
Is he not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you?

Deuteronomy 32:6, NIV

Do we not all have one father? Has not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously each against his brother so as to profane the covenant of our fathers?

Malachi 2:10, NASB

God is the head of all families

While parental headship isn’t as significant in our culture, hopefully we can still see how this supports God’s universal parenthood:

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.

Ephesians 3:14-15, NIV

Even non-believers are God’s children

In part 4 I will look at the question of why the NT seems to talk about people becoming children of God when they believe but for now I’ll just point out that Paul associates God being Creator, with God being a parent of even non-believers (his audience):

and he [God] gives us the power to live, to move, and to be who we are. “We are his children,” just as some of your poets have said. Since we are God’s children

Acts 17:28-29, CEV

Conclusion

I find it encouraging that Christians across the spectrum, including conservative evangelicals, are acknowledging this life changing (for reasons I’ll explore in my next post) teaching.

In recent years a number of scholars have taken the view that “the image and likeness of God” is the language of family relationship. For example, Graeme Goldsworthy argues that “image and likeness are terms of sonship.” John Dickson writes that “the image of God means that men and women stand in a filial relationship to God; they are his offspring, as it were. They bear the family resemblance.” And Greg Beale holds that “Adam was conceived of as a ‘son of God,’” appealing to Genesis 5:1-3.

… “In the garden, Adam is portrayed by Calvin as the loving son, surrounded with signs of the ‘paternal goodness’ (Institutes I. 14.2) of God. … Adam has no fear at the sight of God, whom he is able to identify as Father.”

Brian Rosner, Image of God as Son of God