Thoughts on Universalism: Offending God?

After reading two essays, Justice by the Scottish fantasy author George MacDonald and God, Creation, and Evil by Eastern Orthodox philosopher David Bentley Hart, I became extremely interested in the idea of universal salvation (“universalism”). MacDonald’s case destroyed for me the plausibility of endless punishment, and Hart’s struck a blow to the proposal that even one creature of God–including the devil–could possibly be “cut off from Christ” forever. These two important figures, however, were not the first Christian universalists whom I had encountered. I have also read parts of the debate that took place between John Piper, a prominent American neo-Calvinist, and Thomas Talbott, perhaps the foremost proponent of “evangelical universalism.” Some time after that, I believe, I began to struggle a lot which the concept of particular election. Finding solace in the christological election in Karl Barth’s thought, I was thrilled with his universalism. Indeed, Barth was perhaps the first serious universalist–it is in truth probably not fair to call him a universalist as such; he was, as I understand it, technically undecided in regards to his eschatological beliefs–I had ever encountered. I would put Barth a step above William Barclay, who was particularly difficult for me to trust at the ripe age of eighteen, especially in light of his blatant unitarianism (rejection of the doctrine of Trinity).

I envied universalists deeply for their optimism. All my life, I had been taught that too many biblical comments fundamentally contradicted universalism. Having dabbled a bit in the original languages of the Bible, I strongly believe this claim is mistaken. None of the biblical words used to describe the duration of hell, including Revelation 20:10’s “ages of the ages,” must in my view be taken to mean permanent.

Why Universalism?

Ultimately, I’ve embraced a form of christological universalism because of my sheer confidence in the goodness of God. I sometimes wonder if God Himself might not be a little offended by the suggestion that any devil is beyond the reach of His loving arms.

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