Rob Bell asked the question if God’s mercy would endure forever so that people would have opportunities to turn to God in the afterlife (postmortem opportunity = PO) or if that mercy would end at death. Bell’s answer was a deft move in rhetoric: love wins, he said. Dante’s famous Divine Comedy disagrees for in it we read this famous line in the entrance into inferno: “Abandon every hope, who enter here.”
Jerry Walls, in Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory asks if God’s mercy endures forever, which means even into the netherworld beyond death. Will there be opportunities beyond the grave for all who have said No in this life and, perhaps more acutely, especially for those who have less than a clear opportunity to know God’s grace in Christ?
If, as Walls has already argued, heaven is a perfect relationship with God, and God is a Trinity, and the Son is the center of that relational possibility, then it is not arbitrary to say those who enter heaven are those in relation with God and for whom that relationship will be perfected. So this is not reducible to affirming the right propositions but instead is about relationality.
Purgatory, we must insist yet again, is not about a second chance. Even if one believes in purgatory, which I don’t, purgatory is only for believers (from the feeble to the firm) and it is the place where believers are perfected. So it is not about a second chance. But PO is about a genuine “second chance.”
Walls approaches this question through Dorothy Sayers who said purgatory is not a second chance “for the obstinately unrepentant.” Ah, there’s some crack there: what about those, Walls asks, who are not “obstinately unrepentant”? Of course, one might appeal to middle knowledge here — the theory that God knows who would have repented had they been given a full life of opportunities — and end the discussion. But many don’t buy into middle knowledge. What then? Is there a second chance? Does God’s mercy extend to a person forever and ever? Or not?
Some say you get one life and it’s all over: it’s just, it maximizes instead of trivializing this life’s opportunity, and that (Aquinas now) the soul without the body cannot change.
But he appeals to Dante’s image of Trajan and the unconquerable love of God that goes on and on and responds to those who in turn love and love God.
The issue, then, is this: Who is God? How do we conceive of God? Which, by the way, ultimately was at the core of Rob Bell’s proposals in Love Wins.
I believe that if we affirm that God is love then we must also believe in what is called “accessibilism”, that is, that God makes his love accessible to every human being however God does that. Walls puts this on the table through Terrance Tiessen, a friend of this blog. Whether Calvinists (Tiessen is) or Arminian, which opens this accessibilism up a bit, Walls thinks this is “minimal grace.”
Walls believes in optimal grace. God loves all and does all God can, without overriding free will, to save all. He thinks reality proves that not all experience or know or can know optimal grace in this life so that optimal grace can extend into PO. Walls knows this is not found in the Bible but contends it is consistent with the view of God in the Bible. God could provide optimal grace and Walls thinks God’s nature means God would provide optimal grace. He sees this, however, as an extension of purgatory theology. His purgatory is bigger than Dante’s!
He sketches PT Forsyth, Donald Bloesch (yes, he had a kind of second chance theology), and CS Lewis (possibly?). This does not necessitate universalism according to Walls.
Once again, why is 1 Peter 3 ignored so often in this discussion?