Dare We Hope for the Salvation of All?

So asks the Orthodox bishop, Kallistos Ware. In his work The Inner Kingdom, he dares to ask the question. Ware is not a squishy theologian. He is thoroughly traditional and Orthodox in all points. But he is expressing a true and I think orthodox hope.

He mentions that St. Gregory of Nyssa also had such hopes. Ware says,

“Gregory [writes], ‘the wickedness which is now mingled and consolidated with our nature has been finally expelled from it, and when all those things that are now sunk down in evil are restored to their original state, there will ascend from the entire creation a united hymn of thanksgiving…All this is contained in the great mystery of the Divine Incarnation.’ This final restoration, Gregory clearly states, will embrace even the devil.”

Ware does not deny the existence of hell, he only questions the purpose for it. Is it a place of condemnation and judgment, or does it have a restorative or healing element to it? Is the fire of God wrathful or is it remedial? Ware is not trying to presume that God’s purpose will eventually win out to save everyone, he is only expressing a hope and a sincere prayer.

14 thoughts on “Dare We Hope for the Salvation of All?

  1. Human speculations and “sincere prayers” aside, even bishop Kallistos cannot gloss over the plain meaning of scripture regarding salvation and damnation. The bible, using baby talk as it were to communicate to us the truths of “how it all works” is not to be underestimated. Rather than the opposite, I think the little that is said in the scriptures about eternal separation from God (hell, damnation, lake of fie, etc.) is a merciful shielding of our eyes from the real horror inherent in the wrong use of our free will. Rather than “God doesn’t speak much or clearly about damnation, and we know He’s so good, well, maybe these are just little incentives for us to try to be nice,” perhaps something like this may be true, “God doesn’t tell us too much about the nature of damnation, because He doesn’t want us to be terrorized into accepting Him.”

    By the way, please don’t address me as “Orthodox guy.”

  2. Happy Thanksgiving, all! To FrNeo, Constantine, Morpheus, Angevoix, Dan Trabue, and all the others I’ve failed to mention who have hung out here over the years and their families!

    Indeed, it would be a sin not to hope for the salvation of all. To assume the salvation of all would also be a sin, to place ourselves in the place where only Christ belongs.

  3. Forgive me, brother, but can we really hope for something that the scriptures reveal as impossible? Pretty strong wording to say that hoping for anything other than the salvation of all is a “sin”. In a perfect world, that is, in a world where everyone (eventually) did what was right, humans and hypersomatic beings included, we could hope that all of them, even the sometimes naughty ones, would repent and turn back to God. That would be a legitimate hope, even in the face of temporal, and temporary, wickedness. But, brother, it’s not a perfect world, at least, not yet. Sometime soon, the Alpha and the Omega, the Pantokrator, will come to separate the sheep from the goats. It is not in vain that He spoke those words, nor was He fantasizing when He revealed to John the Revelator what was, what is, and what is to come. Scripture doesn’t speak to us in vain, nor is it for our entertainment, but for our investiture.

    Stick close to the revealed Word, since you claim Him as your Lord, and let him be a “curb for the wild horses” of your mind, as Clement of Alexandria so aptly wrote. Submit your thoughts to that Word. If you can be safe, don’t put yourself in danger.

    I could wish that everyone would be saved, but not one wish of mine will I work against the will of Him who has created all things, nor against His plan of “as it must be.”

    Go with God, my brother Constantine, and pray for Romanós the sinner.

  4. Happy TG to you and yours as well, JH. As to your comment regarding the sovereignty of God, I suspect you are right. SDG as the Reformers cried out, no? I’m just counting on (trusting?) the same Christ to win the day, if you will–what He has begun, He will complete. I truly don’t say this in a snide or supercilious manner. I really believe Christ will make all well in His own way and time. I equally suspect it may be a painful process. But can anything, included the “free will” of man, thwart God’s ultimate eschatological purpose and intent for His creation? And what it that? Restoration! Wholeness! A union of love triumphant!


    Pax Tecum. Please pray for me as well, for I am a prince among sinners and hypocrites!

    Have you read the late eminent theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar on said subject? I would contend that Holy Writ is not as clear and cut and dry as you propose (in spite of what the magisterial Reformer Luther would have us believe). When you say, “as it must be,” I wonder if we are not of the same hermeneutical mind, but just drawing different conclusions. The hyper-Calvinist insists in such a manner as well. I find it almost humorous that so many think and believe that all is determined categorically this side of the grave.

    May I also ask of you: What is Hell–God’s absence or presence?

  5. Constantine,

    You’ve lost me on most of what you said in your last comment. Holy scripture IS clear on everything that really matters. I wouldn’t use the term ‘cut and dry’ when referring to biblical truth, though, because ‘whatever you think it’s more than that, more than that’.

    I don’t know what hell is, except what the bible says it is, acknowledging at the same time that God has given us very little detail about it, except that it is.

    Your question, what is hell, God’s absence or presence, cannot be asked without begging the question. It’s an ontological issue. God is present always and everywhere, even in hell. The scriptures declare it, the fathers teach it, the Orthodox believe it, human conscience senses it. Whether you are in heaven or hell now or in some future state, depends solely on whether you really love God or really hate Him. Now and always it boils down to accepting God’s ‘as it must be.’ We are derivative beings. Our whole nature, when it’s in order, wants to submit to the Father’s will, because He is our Source. Even the Son and the Holy Spirit want to submit to the Father’s will because He is their Source, and this, being of one will, is the foundation and nature of the Holy Triad, and for us, of the ‘three-personal life’ as C.S. Lewis calls it in Mere Christianity. Any and all beings that possess free will receive their freedom by laying it down before the Throne, or be imprisoned by withholding it, while crying “MINE!”

    It seems that we’ve actually said everything that can be reasonably said on this subject, at least for me. Time to get back to the Word of God, and let Him form us His servants and sons, renew our minds and, in Christ, restore His divine image broken in us. Go with God, Constantine, my brother. Thanks for your comments.

  6. Brother Romanos,

    It seems yopu will not budge on this reading of Scripture–and in truth you have good company.

    However, let me ask you this:

    If von Balthazar’s reading were the right one, if your own happened to be wrong, then surely one would be permitted to hope for the salvation of all, even if some were to turn out to be damned?

    That is a big “if”, surely; nevertheless it may be enough to establish some common ground.

  7. Yes, I see yopu also have a wandering finger (yopu > you). Hoping for the salvation of creatures that will not (not shall not, but will not) accept God’s free gift of salvation thru Christ, is a personal matter. I don’t think having this hope disqualifies one as a Christian, because that would be putting personal opinions we hold on a level they don’t deserve. So, regardless of von Balthazar’s reading, it’s always permitted to hope for the salvation of all. As a matter of practical fact, it is exactly this hope for the salvation of all (humankind) that is the motivation for our readiness to witness for Jesus and to be His ambassadors to a fallen world. If we had not this hope, we’d be satisfied to just go to church on Sundays, take the occasional retreat, pray sometimes, once in a while help a neighbor, pay our pledges, and watch Christian TV.

    But no, since we have this hope for the salvation of all (humankind), we are willing to do whatever it takes that is within our power, resources and faith, to bring the lost to the saving knowledge of the Truth. You see, our hope is an active hope, knowing that the salvation of the world depends partly on us, on our willingness to cooperate and do the works we see our Father doing. There are some kinds of hope for universal salvation that are passive, that assume that God will clean up our mess all by Himself without any help from us. Since “all are saved”, we can live like the rest of the world. Against this ideology of cheap grace, we have to guard ourselves. That we are working out our salvation and the salvation of the world in synergy with God is not vain effrontery to the Divine Nature. God has revealed His will to us, that He wants and accepts us as His helpers, ambassadors, His “hands and feet” in the world. He sent us His Son, and His Son has sent us.

    So, yopu see (there I go again!), to hope for the salvation of all (humankind) is right, if it is an active hope as I just described. To hope for the salvation of all in the sense of going against divine scripture (as I wrote in earlier comments) is a thing not good for us and, if we take universal salvation as an invincible principle, it can actually work against the real plan of salvation (the only one there is).

  8. Well, I have to concede hoping against Scripture is impermissible.

    In particular, the “anything goes” corollary to universalism, a la “Why restrain disordered desire now when forgiveness and reconciliation later is a sure thing?” is self-defeating and definitely against the grain of Scripture.

    It might be that a version of universalism is somehow consistent with dear or costly grace, though. There may be forms of punishment short of damnation or even lesser or greater degrees of blessedness that might help make sense of a costly grace-universalism.

  9. Hell is not a punishment, nor is it remedial. It is an ontological state wherein the self-existent One is hated for His own sake. This is examined in detail in such books as C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce, as well as in many of the ancient Church fathers. You’re beginning to lose me on some of what you are saying in your last comment. Perhaps it’s just my pea brain that is giving out, but are we beating this idea to death?

  10. The magisterial Reformer, Luther, posited that the righteousness of Christ Jesus is “alien.” The human tendency places a premium on justice. That’s understandable. I do as well. But God’s ways are not ours.

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