Philosophical and Scriptural Argument For God’s Universal Salvific Will

, posted by Evan Minton

Arminians and Molinists believe that God wants everyone saved. We also believe that Jesus Christ died for every single human being who will ever exist in this world. There’s an overabundance of scriptures that testifies to God desiring and providing for the salvation of every human being. John 3:16-18 (the most well known passage in the New Testament) states:

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son. Whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him. Everyone who believes in Him will not perish but whoever does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the only son of God.

A casual reading of this passage indicates that God loves everyone. Why? Because it says He loves the world. Is Hitler part of the world? Am I part of the world? Are you part of the world? Was Judas Iscariot part of the world? Was Caiphas part of the world? This passage seems to be using the word “world” (kosmos in Greek, is where we get our English word “cosmos”) because Jesus wanted Nicodemus (the person he was speaking to in this chapter) to know that God the Father was giving Him up for every single human being, anyone who is part of the world. He loves everyone who is a part of the world, such that He gave up His only son to die for them.

But then we encounter 1 Timothy 2:4-6, which affirms not only God’s salvific will, but also those for whom Christ died.

This is good and pleases God our savior who wants all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time.

2 Peter 3:9 likewise affirms that God “…is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” Ezekiel 18 even seems to say that God does not take pleasure when any of the wicked die in their sins. Jesus even wept over the judgments of sinners who rejected Him at Luke 19:41-44.

But in spite of these passages, Calvinists deny that God wants all people saved. They say God wants only certain individuals saved, so that he chooses to save those individuals by irresistibly drawing them to repentance. God doesn’t even attempt to save anyone else, in their soteriology. Calvinists reinterpret these above texts to mean things other than what their face value meanings imply.

So how about a different approach. Let’s say we make a syllogism to argue for God’s universal salvic will (and consequently Unlimited Atonement/Singular Redemption). I use Scripture to support the second premise.

1: If God loves everyone, He would want everyone to be saved.

2: God loves everyone.

3: Therefore, God wants everyone to be saved.

This is a logically-airtight argument. The conclusion follows from the premises by the laws of logic. All that’s needed to establish the truth of the conclusion is to prove that both of the premises (statements 1 and 2) are both true. If they’re both true, then reaching the conclusion (the third statement) is inevitable. So, are premises 1 and 2 true?

Defense of Premise 1

I think the first premise is intuitively obvious. If God really loves someone, He would want them saved. He would want them to come to repentance in order to spend eternity with Him. Just think of it: If your child, brother, parent, spouse, or anyone else you love was sick and dying of a devastating disease, wouldn’t you have a desire for them to get well? Of course you would! Why? Because you care about them. You don’t want them to experience the misery this disease is causing them and you certainly don’t want them to die. If they die, you’ll never see them again (pretending there’s no afterlife for the sake of the argument). So, if you had the resources to keep them from dying, to make them well, wouldn’t you do it? Wouldn’t you do whatever it takes to get the one you love (your child, sibling, parent, spouse, dog, or what have you) to become healthy again and to live? I don’t know about you, but my answer is a resounding yes.

So, if God loves someone, doesn’t it make sense to infer that He desires the salvation of that individual? That He would want to cure us of our disease, the disease we inherited from Adam and Eve (see Romans 5), to prevent our spiritual deaths and separation from Him forever? If He didn’t, wouldn’t we infer that God wouldn’t have any affection for us? I think so. If God loves X, He would desire the salvation of X. He would want to cure X of his spiritual disease that would cause him to die the second death, and keep X away from His presence for all eternity.

Think about it. We commonly think that if you love someone, you have a desire for their wellbeing. Parents force their children to eat their fruits and vegetables when they would rather eat candy. They do this because they know that their well-being depends on what kind of foods they eat. In order to be healthy and full of energy, the children have to eat their fruits and vegetables. If they ate candy every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner, soon they’d be obese and lethargic. Parents desire that their children go off to college so they can get well-paying jobs and live a happy successful life.

Now, if a parent saw that his child was injured and bleeding out on the street, and he just walked away and left him for dead, in what meaningful sense of the word could we honestly say that that parent loved that child? If he really loved him, wouldn’t he have taken him to the hospital immediately for treatment? If a parent knew his child was going to be kidnapped by evil men and tortured for the rest of his life, and he had the power to stop it but didn’t, in what meaningful sense of the word could we say that the parent really loved that child? In Calvinism, God can freely determine (a view known as compatibilism) all people everywhere to come to repentance, and only do good to one another and not end up in Hell. But He doesn’t. So, in what way does He love them?

Of course, if the analogy were to be completely accurate, we would say that in the case of the child injured in the street or the one kidnapped and tortured, that the parent preordained these events before the child was ever born. This is the conclusion we come to when we consider the Calvinist’s understanding of predestination. Now, many of them will say that they don’t affirm double predestination (i.e., God destines some to eternal paradise and God destines some to eternal torture before the universe was ever created), but I find the view hard to avoid if you affirm the Calvinist’s understanding of predestination. How can God decree some to Heaven and not decree the damnation of those He hasn’t chosen to save? They’re pretty much saying, “I don’t believe God has decreed people to burn in Hell forever, He just didn’t decree them to be in Heaven forever.” It seems like a hair-splitting distinction to me.

Defense of Premise 2

My friend and fellow SEA member, Brendan Paul Burnett, came up with a separate syllogism to argue for God’s universal love. He gave me permission to post it on my blog, Cerebral Faith. I won’t copy/paste the entire transcript of it here, just note a basic defense of his premises. Just as Dr. William Lane Craig employs a separate syllogism to argue that the universe began to exist, in his presentation of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, so I employ a separate syllogism to demonstrate that God loves everyone.

Briefly stated, the argument for divine omnibenevolence, written by Brendan Paul Burnett, is as follows:

(1) Whatever God the Father does, the Son of God also does. (John. 5:19)

(2) The Son of God loves his enemies. (Matthew 22:37-40; cf. 1 Corinthians 11:1)

(3) Therefore, God the Father loves his enemies. [(1), (2)]

(4) All sinners are God the Father’s enemies. (Romans 5:10; Collosians 1:21)

(5) Therefore, God the Father loves all sinners. [(3), (4)]

(6) All persons are sinners. (Romans 3:23)

(7) Therefore, God the Father loves all persons. [(5), (6)]

This argument is intuitively valid—its conclusion (7) clearly follows from its premises, (1) through (6). This is also a deductive argument: if the premises are true then the conclusion (7) follows necessarily and inescapably according to the laws of logic.

Note the argument’s structural strengths, also. On this particular argument, two conclusions (3) and (5) also function as premises, supporting further premises toward the conclusion (7). These premises (3) and (5) are themselves (being conclusions in their own right) in turn supported by premises (1) and (2), and premises (3) and (4), respectively, forming the argument in such a way that the truth of (1) and (2) implies (3), the truth of (3) and (4) implies (5), and the truth of (5) and (6) implies (7). Therefore, in order to be able to avoid the conclusion (7), one must first deny at least one of the premises, either (1), (2), (4) or (6). Let us then say a quick word in their defense.

Defense of Premises

Premise (1) makes the claim that both the Father and the Son share a will that is perfectly united in such a way that the Son only does or wills something if and only if the Father does also (cf. John 5:19). This is not to say the Father and the Son share the same functional role in the economy of salvation. So the Father neither became incarnate nor died and rose again for our sins. But that’s irrelevant. What’s relevant is the divine agreement of the first and second persons of the Trinity in the unity of the Spirit in everything. If we deny this essential unity of the first and second persons of the Trinity in all things, what are we going to say? That The Father and Son don’t agree with each other? Poppycock!

Premise (2) is based on the teaching that Jesus Christ perfectly fulfilled the Law on our behalf so that his active obedience might be imputed to us by grace when we have faith in the Lord. Christ keeps all of the commandments of the Law perfectly whereas we could not. The second greatest commandment of the Law, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” is itself derived from the first and greatest commandment in the Law: “Love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength.” The Parable of the Good Samaritan also seems to illustrate that this kind of neighborly love should extend to all people. For the Jews of Jesus’ day hated the Samaritans. Yet Jesus intentionally utilized the image of a Samaritan helping a Jew as an example of neighborly love in order to rebuke Jewish prejudice and to foster godly humanitarian care among them.

Premise (4) is a basic teaching about the sinfulness of fallen people and their hostility towards God and his Law. All human beings are born in sin, into a world of sinful influences, which spread their seeds across the heart from very early life, developing sinful habits within us human creatures. These seedlings then grow and blossom into outright rebellion against God and his Law from within. Now, fallen and sinful creatures do not submit to God’s Law, nor can they do so. Sinners openly reject God’s Law and revelation of himself, preferring instead to suit their own desires. Romans 5:10 and Col. 1:21 state this better. We are enemies of God in our minds because of our evil behavior.

Premise (6) is the premise that all sinful human persons—save Jesus Christ himself—are guilty of sin and worthy of death and hell and are therefore in need of salvation (Romans 3:23). This is a plain and undeniable truth of the Bible.

Since premises (1), (2), (4) and (6) each therefore seems most eminently more plausible than not, the conclusion (7) follows necessarily and inescapably according to the rules of logic and inference. I have to say, this is an impressive argument for God’s universal love. Kudos are due to Brendan Paul Burnett for formulating such a logically sound and biblical argument.

My friend Richard Bushey also wrote an article arguing from scripture that God in fact does love everyone, though he takes a different approach than the above argument that Brendan Paul Burnett makes. You can check out his argument here for further confirmation of this premise.

Conclusion: Therefore, God Wants Everyone Saved.

It seems to me that, given the truth of both premises, the conclusion follows:

1: If God loves everyone, He would want everyone to be saved.

2: God loves everyone.

3: Therefore, God wants everyone to be saved.

The  reason why some people end up in Hell isn’t because God doesn’t love everyone, but because God gave man free will, and many people resist God’s prevenient/resistible grace which He extends to all men (John 12:32, Acts 7:51). They spit in His face, they mock him, they hate him, they fight God’s drawing, convicting grace until the bitter end. My view is that the reason all are not saved is because not all repent. (See “The Doctrine Of Hell & Objections To It.”) God wants us saved very badly on my view, but not so badly as to override our free will. In God’s opinion, it is better for someone to be freely damned than it is to be causally saved.

On the Calvinist view, though, God doesn’t give man libertarian freedom. In fact, one repents because God irresistibly drew them to repentance, by changing their will. So, if God loved someone, it seems like He’d send irresistible grace to that person, inevitably bringing them to repentance. If God loved everyone, given the Calvinistic doctrines of unconditional election and irresistible grace, one would think Universalism would be true. It’s not. So what gives? Perhaps God doesn’t love everybody. Or perhaps He does but is leaving their eternal destiny in their own hands. If you’re a Calvinist, it seems to me like you’d have to affirm the former. But, as I’ve just argued, you cannot logically or biblically adhere to the former. The Bible teaches God’s love of all mankind.