God, The Salvation Of All

God, The Salvation Of All January 12, 2017

In the opening of The Ladder of Divine Ascent, written by St. John Climacus, the 7th century abbot of St. Catherine’s Monastery at Mount Sinai, we find a rather hopeful view of the way God is at work saving all humanity:

St John Climacus by Novogrod school [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
St John Climacus by Novogrod school [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

God is the life of all free beings. He is the salvation of all, of believers or unbelievers, of the just or the unjust, of the pious or the impious, of those freed from the passions or caught up in them, of monks or those living in the world, of the educated or the illiterate, of the healthy or the sick, of the young or the very old. He is like the outpouring light, the glimpse of the sun, or the changes of the weather, which are the same for everyone without exception. “For God is no respecter of persons” (Rom 2:11). [1]

At the foundation of the monastic enterprise, as is the foundation of the Ladder, is humility, a humility that requires the realization that it is not through our acts and deeds, but by God’s loving grace, that we can be saved. All are called to salvation. God is at work with all.  No matter what walk of life, no matter what faith or condition someone should find themselves in, God is at work for their salvation. Indeed, it is not just that they have the possibility of salvation, but St. John Climacus says that God is the “salvation of all.”

Some might think that, by saying this, St. John Climacus was a universalist, that all would be saved. That is not the case. God is at work with all, but how people will respond to that work, whether or not they will cooperate with it or oppose it is also key. Eternal perdition remains a possibility. Throughout his text, Climacus realizes the possibility of hell is very real, but the possibility of hell is overshadowed by hope thanks to what God has done through Jesus Christ.

While we must work out our salvation with much fear and trembling, this must not mean we should ever despair and believe we are not going to be saved. God is at work with all, and he is working to save all.  It is his will that all should be saved – and so even those who might not know the faith, even those whose lives are full of sin, can be reconciled with God and saved because of what God has accomplished for humanity through the passion of Jesus Christ.

Salvation does not come merely from knowing the truth, nor does it come merely because we seem to do good things; it comes about through grace. How we cooperate with grace will determine our eschatological outcome. When we are said to work out our salvation, it is working out how to cooperate with grace, whether or not we open up to it and let it engulf us in our being so that it can heal us from spiritual infirmity and so save us.

We must fear our own perdition, but in doing so, we must let God be God and do what he does with others without any judgment of our own. “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get” (Matt. 7:1-2 RSV).

If we, therefore, see God is at work with others, even those who seem to be ignorant of God, working for their salvation, we have reason to hope for our own good end. This foundation must always be with us as we live, and the more difficult the path, the more ascetic the practice we find ourselves called to accomplish, the more we should keep this in front of us so not to either find ourselves prideful, thinking we alone are worthy of salvation (we are not), nor to find ourselves entering despair, for when we fall into sin.

This hope is, moreover, what we find written in the Scripture. God desires all shall be saved, and so is working for it in and through Jesus Christ, the mediator not for a select few, but for all. In First Timothy, we read:

This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, the testimony to which was borne at the proper time (1Tim. 2:3-6 RSV).

Jesus gave himself for all; he worked  as the mediator for all, so that he is the second and true Adam, giving his life to all, giving everyone the chance to participate in the divine life through him “Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit’” (1 Cor. 15:45 RSV). He is the resurrection for all, the just and the unjust (cf. Acts 24:14-15); he objectively saves everyone and grants all the resurrection from the dead.  Indeed, the perfection of God is found in his love, which is revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ. Thus, to be perfect like God is perfect is to love all:

You have heard that it was said, `You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matt. 5:43-48 RSV).

This perfection is something which we should imitate. We should love all, desire the salvation of all, indeed, we should find a way to give and grant God’s grace to all, being mediators of that grace for all in and through our actions and our prayers.  And so, when we hope for our salvation, we should hope for the salvation of all. This is not to say all will be saved, for that is up to the judgment of God, but it is to say God is capable of saving everyone. He often has his own hidden and yet unique ways in which he accomplishes this, so that those who are saved and brought in by his love, freely and without compulsion, so that even those who seem to be in ignorance of God can be interacting with him and his grace, and truly end up being his followers and among the saved (cf. Matt. 25:43-45).

The key for us is simple. We must keep this hope as the foundation of our walk with God. Whatever pruning God is to do with our souls to make us ready for the kingdom of God will be done through the diverse ways he interacts with us.  From time to time, it will be quite difficult for us to bear with God as he cuts out all the plaque of sin from our being and heals the empty cavities such plaque has brought into our soul, but it will be easier to bear when we realize the good it is to do for us (just like when we suffer at a dentist, cleansing away the sins of bad eating and oral hygiene), and likewise, it will be easier if we do not let such suffering and hardships make us go into the sin of despair. Hope must be the foundation of our walk with God, a hope which is not merely a hope for our own personal salvation, but hope in the salvation of all, where God truly is no respecter of persons but one who brings his loving grace to all, seeking to save them all, working in mysterious ways to bring all to heaven. We can resist; we can turn away and reject God, creating the veil between us and God which leads to our perdition, so that hell is a real possibility, but we must never presume for others that such is what they will do when confronted with God. God is a God of hope, and he truly is the salvation of all, as St. John Climacus indicated. And this should not be a surprise, because  salvation starts, after all, when we are sinners turned away from God. “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life “(Rom. 5:10 RSV).


[1] St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent. trans. Colm Luibheid and Norman Russell (New York: Paulist Press, 1982), 74.


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