Are some people destined for hell no matter what?

John Calvin

*The reader is reminded that there is a distinct understanding of Hell in the Orthodox Christian tradition.  This tradition is based on the original Greek and Hebrew texts rather than faulty English translations.

The Reading from the First Epistle of St. Paul to St. Timothy 2:1-7

Today we are focusing on the Pauline epistle to St. Timothy. In this passage from St. Paul’s letter we heard these words “God our Savior, Who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” I love this verse. It reminds me that above all God is love. It is His very desire to see all men saved! It is His desire that each and every man, woman and child should know the truth about God’s love as He demonstrated it through His Son Jesus Christ. I am sorry to say that not all people believe that God desires that all should be saved. There are even some “Christian” groups who claim that God chooses who He wants to save from before the foundation of the world. This is a belief called predestination, specifically double predestination. Among those who believe this are the Presbyterians.

Their chief theologian and teacher was a man named John Calvin. Judging from his writings he was a very intelligent man who certainly had zeal for God but as it is written in the letter to the Romans he “has a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.” At least not according to proper knowledge. Here is what John Calvin believed in a nutshell and I quote,

“By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestined to life or death.” Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3:21:5

This week as I was doing some quiet reading I ran across these words of St. Peter, listen closely: “there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed” 2 Peter 2:1-2.

St. Peter was speaking of false teachers not only in his own time but in every time. According to every measure that we as Orthodox Christians have, from the Bible to the writings of the Church fathers (with the exception of St. Augustine perhaps), to the sacred canons and living teaching as it has been passed down, John Calvin is one of these false teachers.

Listen again to the quote from today’s reading “Who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” We are not told that God desires only some men to be saved or that He himself chooses to save some to eternity and to send others to eternal condemnation. NO! God desires ALL men to be saved. If you ever wonder where you stand with God, always bring this verse to mind. God isn’t hunting you down, trying to condemn you or punish or curse you. God hunts you only to find your heart. To bring you into an awesome relationship of unending love, because God is love. Salvation in the Orthodox understanding is the saving relationship between God and each human being. This relationship itself opens up the possibility of salvation because God Himself is our salvation and our life and we have no other.

It is true that an element of our salvation is by grace. But grace does not mean that God simply chooses to save some people. Grace does not mean that we play no part in the process. Grace means that God chooses to save all people by allowing His Son to be crucified for our sins. The sacrifice of His Son is a free gift…..or grace. But the Son of God did not die for only some. He died with the knowledge that only some would accept Him and His teachings. He died with the knowledge that others would rebel and that others would believe halfheartedly but would not obey His commandments. But even with this knowledge God sent His Son in the hope that all men would come to know His love for the world through this one pure demonstration of love. What a wonderful God we have, who opens up the possibility of salvation for each and every one of us.

We should be working diligently to bring others to this knowledge of God. When was the last time you told someone “God sent His Son because He loves you”? When was the last time you invited a co-worker or neighbor to join us in this holy place? When people come to the Church there is a possibility of renewal and healing leading to salvation.  Do we pray for all people to be saved?  That is what God wants for all people.  We are called to be like God, to also want all people to be saved. We can’t simply pick and choose who will get to know God.  That is a big responsibility, but it is yours and God has given you the tools to fulfill this calling. That is, if you have a heart like God’s. If you really desire that all men should be saved. And Glory be to God forever AMEN.

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12 thoughts on “Are some people destined for hell no matter what?

  1. Reblogged this on Orthodox Ruminations and commented:
    “We are not told that God desires only some men to be saved or that He himself chooses to save some to eternity and to send others to eternal condemnation. NO! God desires ALL men to be saved. If you ever wonder where you stand with God, always bring this verse to mind. God isn’t hunting you down, trying to condemn you or punish or curse you. God hunts you only to find your heart. To bring you into an awesome relationship of unending love, because God is love. Salvation in the Orthodox understanding is the saving relationship between God and each human being. This relationship itself opens up the possibility of salvation because God Himself is our salvation and our life and we have no other.”

      • Oh great…you, Palmer, and Richardson are all people I highly respect. But there can only be one correct answer and I think you have hit it. When there is more than one way to understand Sacred Scripture, as surely there is on the issue of predestination, then we rely upon the Sacred Tradition of the Church to help us as well as the gift of human reason given to us by our God. Even though this matter is highly theological in essence, it is also amazing in its simplicity. I think of the children’s song “Jesus loves me this I know.” If we teach that to children, some of whom God has predestined for hell before they had a chance to say yes or no to Him, we are very simply teaching them a lie. That to me is reasonable. While there certainly is an element of mystery beyond that simple theology, and definitely a form of predestination, it does not take the form of denying the Cross to anyone. Without unlimited Atonement we are simply robots, and that love does not exist. Most of us would not marry a spouse who we are forced to be with, and yet the entire Sacred Scripture and Tradition too is full of marital and conjugal language in reference to our relationships with Christ and the Church. And while I would not take on Calvin here, at least not entirely, in his understanding of the sovereignty of God, the whole of the life of Christ does so for us. God, sovereign over the entire earth and universe, allowed Himself to be tempted, and the temptation was real, while walking as a human. It was not his Divine nature that was tempted, as God cannot be tempted by evil. But His human side was–and it was not just some falsified test He automatically passed with no effort. He chose, over and over, including sweating drops of blood in the Garden, to obey the Father in His Incarnation. That is another of those mysterious tensions of the Faith which we must live with. So is predestination. He loves us all, and not in some general generic way, and yet knew ahead who would return that love when given the chance and only they, hopefully that means you and me, Father, and also anyone reading this too, will be saved. But it is not salvation if we cannot say a free yes or no to Him. We can indeed resist the Holy Spirit. A great Catholic/Orthodox treatment of this whole topic is by John Salza, a Catholic attorney who is also an apologist, and who wrote a book on this and a number of other thorny topics. He has a website at http://www.scripturecatholic.com. His view is that there is at least some “both/and” going on here, rather than just one or the other. And I think he is probably right. Just my 2.5 cents.

      • Thanks for the thoughtful remarks. The way we understand Scripture is really where the rubber meets the road. Everyone reads the same Bible (basically), yet not every reading is considered sound. What differentiates sound reading from unsound has nothing to do with opinions. It has to do with whether or not it is in line with the teachings of the Apostles and early Church witness. I’ve written more about this subject in “Ask for the Ancient Paths.” You can preview it here if you like… http://store.ancientfaith.com/ask-for-the-ancient-paths/

  2. Pingback: What About 1 Timothy 2:4? | Southern Reformation

    • Dear Rev. Palmer, thank you for the message. We certainly do not believe that we can fully comprehend the mystery of salvation. As St. John Chrysostom said “A comprehended God is no God at all.” We are of course given a glimpse into some of the mysteries of this salvific reality. One of the most astonishing verses in the New Testament claims exactly what you seem to suggest is impossible in your second point. “For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe” 1 Timothy 4:10. By this I do not believe that the Apostle is suggesting that all will enjoy heavenly bliss as some universalists might suggest. Rather, I believe that the Apostle is teaching us that by the power of the cross joy is come into the world. That in some mysterious way that we do not perceive or grasp, all mankind has been redeemed at least in potential. To add my own thoughts I would suggest that all men are saved because mankind cannot shut itself off from the saving grace of Christs sacrificial love as demonstrated upon the cross. To enter fully into this salvation is of course another matter entirely. The point remains: that Christ “is the savior of ALL men…especially those who believe.” I think we have to be comfortable with the unknown because God is dwelling here in a hidden sacred way rather than sliced open as a high school dissection project.

      • Yet again, “amen” from the Roman world:), I also added a few thoughts (just above) to the initial discussion initiated by Father G. If God’s love exists only for some then it exists for none. His very nature dictates a fair and even opportunity to all. And true, not all say yes. But it is not because the opportunity was limited to those who would say yes anyway.

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