She grew up in a more conservative version of Christianity than I, one that taught a real, personified Satan. She told me that when she was young, she used to pray for Satan’s soul. She asked me if there’s any sect of Christianity that teaches the salvation of Satan, adding,
Like surely even the fallen angel himself (for those who believe in him) would not be outside the redemption/grace of his loving, pure Creator?
I found it an incredible question. First some history, then some thoughts.
The theological category under which this falls is apocatastasis. That is the belief in the restoration of all things to the prelapsarian state in the Garden of Eden. In other words, apocatastasis is the belief that at the End, everything will be like it was at the Beginning.
The most famous purveyor of this belief in the early church was Origen, although scholars debate this since Origen’s writings are not entirely clear and his treatise on resurrection has been lost. Origen at times wrote that Satan would be saved at the end of time, and in other places he wrote that Satan would be destroyed. (Origen also had a cyclical view of time, that creation-fall-redemtion-eschaton happened repeatedly; the linear view of time, common to Christianity, came with Augustine a century later.)
By the mid-6th century, the anathemas started. Apocatastasis was declared anathema in 553, primarily because it taught that hell is not eternal. That was a non-starter in the early church.
Apocatastasis was never about Satan (or anyone) deserving salvation, it was about the irresistibility of God’s grace. If God is really as graceful and loving as we believe, how can anyone — even Satan — be outside of that love?
The scriptural justification for this belief comes from the one verse where this word is used, in Peter’s amazing sermon at Pentecost, in Acts 3:
Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration [apocatastasis] that God announced long ago through his holy prophets.
So, it basically looks like this: the doctrine of universal reconciliation was quite popular in the early church, declared anathema in 553, and hasn’t been widely held since .
The question of Satan’s eternal destiny is less of a concern for modern, Western Christians, being that the metaphysics that give rise to ideas like “Satan” and “hell” have fallen on hard times. (Answers In Genesis being the exception that proves the rule.) But let’s not be bound in our thinking to a 4th century metaphysic and cosmology. Let’s consider this question from our own vantage point.
If Satan and hell are concepts — categorical frameworks that allow us to make sense of evil — then do they fall inside or outside of God’s grace? It seems to me that the messianic promise of ultimate reconciliation and restoration, latent in all of scripture and Christian theology, definitely includes the promise that all evil will ultimately be subsumed by good. Nothing is outside of God’s love.
Here’s how Moltmann says it in The Coming of God:
The eschatological point of the proclamation of “the Last Judgment” is the redeeming kingdom of God. Judgment is the side of the eternal kingdom that is turned towards history. In that Judgment all sins, every wickedness and every act of violence, the whole injustice of this murderous and suffering world, will be condemned and annihilated, because God’s verdict effects what it pronounces. In the divine Judgment all sinners, the wicked and the violent, the murderers and the children of Satan, the Devil and the fallen angels will be liberated and saved from their deadly perdition through transformation into their true, created being, because God remains true to himself, and does not give up what he has once created and affirmed, or allow it to be lost.“The Last Judgment” is not a terror. In the truth of Christ it is the most wonderful thing that can be proclaimed to men and women. It is a source of endlessly consoling joy to know, not just that the murderers will finally fail to triumph over their victims, but that they cannot in eternity even remain the murders of their victims. The eschatological doctrine about the restoration of all things as these two sites: God’s Judgment, which puts things to write, and God’s Kingdom, which awakens new life.