“Let us not be in doubt, O fellow humanity, concerning the hope of our salvation, seeing that the One who bore sufferings for our sakes is very concerned about our salvation; God’s mercifulness is far more extensive than we can conceive, God’s grace is greater than what we ask for.” [‘The Second Part’, XL, 17]
As we reflect on our sins and the things we have not done that we ought to have done, I find these words of St. Isaac comforting. Some have held that they amount to him believing in ‘apocatastasis’ or universal salvation. It seems to me that is not right, but that what Isaac knew was that God’s Grace, that same Grace which led His Son to Calvary for us, was so much greater than anything we could conceive. He constantly cautions us against the grave dangers which come from the fact that we have to use our own language and concepts to describe God.
Just because (the terms) wrath, anger, hatred, and the rest are used of the Creator, we should not imagine that He (actually) does anything in anger or hatred or zeal. Many figurative terms are employed in the Scriptures of God, terms which are far removed from His (true) nature. And just as (our) rational nature has (already) become gradually more illuminated and wise in a holy understanding of the mysteries which are hidden in (Scripture’s) discourse about God – that we should not understand everything (literally) as it is written, but rather that we should see, (concealed) inside the bodily exterior of the narratives, the hidden providence and eternal knowledge which guides all – so too we shall in the future come to know and be aware of many things for which our present understanding will be seen as contrary to what it will be then; and the whole ordering of things yonder will undo any precise opinion we possess now in (our) supposition about Truth. For there are many, indeed endless, things which do not even enter our minds here, not even as promises of any kind.’ [‘The Second Part’ XXXIX, 19]
Our terms, concepts and images cannot adequately portray the reality of God, and he knew well our tendency to make God in the image we have of Him, rather than through His self-revelation:
That we should imagine that anger, wrath, jealousy or such like have anything to do with the divine Nature is something utterly abhorrent for us: no one in their right mind, no one who has any understanding (at all) can possibly come to such madness as to think anything of the sort about God. Nor again can we possibly say that He acts thus out of retribution, even though the Scriptures may on the outer surface posit this. Even to think this of God and to suppose that retribution for evil acts is to be found with Him is abominable.
That is not to say that the sheep and the goats will not be separated, but it is to say that only the most obstinate of sinners will find him or herself where they have willed. Christ died for us all – we can all, if we will, reach out and embrace Him. We can all refuse: which will we do?