Tempting the Sharks

I have been on the record, in the past, as saying that it doesn’t matter if everybody will eventually go to Heaven or not. We should be trying to bring people to Christ no matter what anyway. Some have taken this to mean that I’m talking about something like imperfect vs. perfect contrition – saying we should convert people out of our love of Jesus only. But this isn’t actually the case.

Let me use an analogy. Let’s say there is a sign near the beach, put up some two hundred years ago by the legendary lifeguard Larry the Lobster. It says DO NOT SWIM BEHIND THE ROCKS. THE SHARKS WILL KILL YOU.

Now, you also know there’s a lifeguard there. He’s a very good lifeguard. The thing is, when somebody goes to swim behind the rocks and the lifeguard goes after them, you don’t actually see what happens. Maybe he swims every single one of those people to the island on the other side. OR maybe not. He doesn’t talk much.

I submit that this is the position we’re in. There is a big sign in front of us saying “DO NOT SWIM BEHIND THE ROCKS”. We KNOW that the sharks can kill you. We KNOW they’re there. We can see the dorsal fins. And, yeah, it’s, in theory, possible (though extremely unlikely) that the lifeguard manages to save every single person. But why on earth are would we not care if somebody swam behind the rocks when we KNEW how dangerous it was?

So it is with the Church. We know the rules. We have been told to try and bring everybody to Christ. Sure, Christ MIGHT have a plan where he can theoretically save every person. But wouldn’t it be careless, even immoral, to just be okay with everybody who defied the Church on the basis of a very unlikely theory?

That’s how I think of things anyway. Take it or leave it.

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17 Responses to Tempting the Sharks

  1. Zippy says:

    I’ve sometimes wondered if only universalists will be damned.

  2. Hrodgar says:

    The biggest reason universalist speculation bugs me is because it is contrary to the consistent teaching of the Church and the clear words of Christ (“many are called, few are chosen,” “narrow is the gate,” etc). Whether the idea encourages or discourages evangelization matters less than that it is obviously heretical.

    So perhaps it doesn’t matter in the sense of changing what we’re supposed to do (though it would in fact change what most people do), but it does matter in that to maintain such a position is itself objectively to commit a grave sin, defying God and his Church.

    • I know some theologians, Pope St. John Paul II among them, hold to the theory that it is technically not totally impossible that God can come up with some plan that allows for all to be saved; but technically and theoretically possible is not in the same ballpark as likely and certainly goes against what has been the common teaching of the Church for centuries.

    • Mactoul says:

      “the clear words of Christ (“many are called, few are chosen,” “narrow is the gate,” etc).”
      CS Lewis says that the Dominical utterances are addressed to the will and not to the intellect. Thus “narrow is the gate” does not answer to our curiousity about relative populations of the elect and damned but has the moral point that a person should keep to the narrow path of righteousness.

  3. Mactoul says:

    Fr Sebastian Walshe in his pamphlet (available online) writes “God acts primarily for the common good of the universe (cited Summa Contra Gentile III,24)
    For instance, unless there are tyrants, there could not be martyrs. Thus God permits sin and hence the possiblity of damnation.

    “Often it is said that even you were the only sinner, God would have become man and died for you. Perhaps this is true (though there seems to be no explicit revelation on this point) ..”

  4. Andrew says:

    As a thought experiment, turn your comment around, and ask it the other way: “What is the motivation for Universalism?”.

    If only “some” are saved, and the desire is for many to be saved, then this provides motivation for carrying the gospel as far as possible, so that as many as possible may hear it and be saved, or at least be confirmed in their rejection.

    But this also means that some are saved, and some are not saved, and a distinction is made.

    But if one is a universalist, then one believes that ultimately no such distinction is made. Some might reach “heaven” faster or slower, easier or harder, but all eventually do.

    For the non-Universalist, the temptation is always to equate salvation with our own likes. “I like this person; God will save them. I dislike this person; God will condemn them.”. The counter to this is understanding that each person – including me – is saved by God’s mercy, not deserving.

    The Universalist pushes this a step further. If God can show mercy to some (by whatever reckoning he chooses), then why can he not show mercy to everyone? But what you find is that God has been replaced with Santa Claus. The Universalist does not – cannot – tremble in fear before the Holiness of God. He does not feel divine relief that his burden of sin has been taken away and undeserved righteous gifted to him. He doesn’t feel that he has been rescued from a terrible fate, because that fate was to him just a theoretical exercise.

    Either God was annoyed at our sin, but is at heart a softie, or our sin is not that serious, and can be dealt with by some period of post-death penance. The Universalist either cannot conceive that our sin is serious enough to actually deserve death, or conceive of a God with the guts to actually carry out what we deserve. And thus ends up with a weak theology of humanity, of sin, and of God. And one which conveniently doesn’t put too many demands on himself, either.

    Ultimately, your argument is of the same form as Pascal’s wager, and faces the same challenge. The position it opposes is not actually arguing from the future to the present. Rather, it has a desire in the present and is assuming the future so that it doesn’t threaten that desire.

  5. Bob says:

    In discussions like this, I always end up back at “God is sovereign”. And I have to remember that it means not just that He does as He pleases, but that He doesn’t need to consult me first. I trust that whatever the outcome, it will be right.

  6. Marissa says:

    Why do universalists ignore Fatima? Is it okay for Catholics to hold approved Marian apparitions in contempt?

    • It is, at least, okay to doubt them.

      • I’m not a proponent of Fatima by any means, but does the Jesus Prayer not contain “and lead all souls to heaven”? Why pray a prayer that we don’t really mean if it’s the case that all souls cannot go to heaven?

      • That is also true.

        One again, though, on a purely practical level I actually don’t think the question matters to us – US, specifically, here, on earth. We have our instructions – follow them.

    • Besides that, having looked at the quotes, it is certainly a possibility that Mary spoke of and showed visions of Hell for the same reason God told Jonah to tell Ninevah that he was going to punish them: It is a warning.

      I am a believer in the Fatima visions, but I don’t think they tell us all that much about the future. Rather, Mary warns us and tells us what we can do. After that, it’s up to us if we want to listen to her.

  7. In an undergraduate theology class, I gave a presentation on the last things, focusing on a kind of optimism (to be distinguished from universalism) where all men are eventually saved. The debates on First Things between various theologians do a much better job of explaining things than I can in this comments section. Here’s one post to whet your appetite, and many more can be found elsewhere on the same website:
    http://www.firstthings.com/article/2001/08/will-all-be-saved

    Also, @Malcolm, I’ve shut down my blog for the foreseeable future to focus on writing so I can launch my first book in the second half of the year. When I get over this present hump I’ll publish it again.

  8. John says:

    But what about the idea that, say, a majority of people will end up in the state of Heaven, while only a minority will end up in the state of Hell?

    That isn’t universalism, and it has the additional benefit of giving us more hope in the possible salvation of someone who is a non-believer without making us give up worrying or thinking about individual salvation in the first place.

    But it does have a few problems, namely that it could lead people to be lazy when it comes to evangelism or some aspects of their faith life.

    But unlike universalism, it doesn’t render evangelism completely useless, and it’s also possible to be concerned about the salvation of the world enough to evangelise them while still having high hopes in the salvation of the majority.

    But then again, I think that is the reason why God never told us how many people will and won’t make it in the first place.

    By not telling us he is neither making us too super-optimistic to the point of being too lax about it, or making us too pessimistic and making us think that the majority will be forsaken and that we shouldn’t rejoice if someone becomes a Catholic because there is a high probability they won’t make it or that a failure to evangelise even on an individual level is a huge one at that.

    Because of this, it makes us focus on our own salvation more easily without a lot of worry nor with too much relaxation, neither making us be overly concerned about it or fretting over such things, but also neither making us lazy and sleepy, leaving us to speculate how we want to about such things.

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