Before we affirm the idea of ultimate redemption, we should consider the fact that the majority of the evangelical church, and indeed the majority of Christian tradition, does not believe God will save everyone.
That the weight of Christian tradition favors the idea of hell as eternal conscious torment should at least make us hesitate before heading in a different direction. Tradition is not the lone factor in determining truth, but tradition should be given the benefit of the doubt, unless we have good reason to depart from it.
Traditionally, the explanations for why God does not save everyone seem to line up with one of two schools of thought.
The first is this:
God does not save everyone because God is working out everything in accordance with His plan and purpose, a plan that includes the salvation of some and the eventual damnation of others. In His wisdom and mercy, God has chosen some to receive salvation and others to receive the just consequence of their sin, which is eternity in hell. People are saved because God predestined them to be saved; that is, before they had done anything, or before they were even born, He decided beforehand they would be saved. People are damned because either God predestined them to be damned, or because He didn’t choose to save them. Maybe He didn’t specifically damn people but He passed over them for salvation. Either way, God is working everything out according to His plan.
The second school of thought explains things differently:
God does not save everyone because God has given humankind free-will, and the result of that free-will has meant that many people, or most people, will not receive salvation. The reason a particular person is or is not saved is the result of the generations and generations that preceded them. The free-will of humanity, beginning with Adam and Eve, has worked itself down through history, infecting all people with sin but not giving everyone the same opportunity to respond to the message of the gospel. God wants to save everyone; He wants everyone to come to Him, but the outcome of humanity’s free-will has meant that many or most will not.
I want to offer a response to each of these explanations.
To the first I say: Fine. If the God we worship and serve has a plan that includes the salvation of some and damnation of others, that’s fine. If God has chosen some for salvation and not others, then that’s the way it is and I’m okay with it. Just don’t tell me God is loving. Don’t tell me He loves everyone. If God has a plan, that plan could include the salvation of everyone, could it not? If God was really loving, if God “is love,” then is it not reasonable to think He would choose to save everyone if He could?
To the second explanation I say: If God wants to save everyone and is working to draw all people to Himself, then He is doing a terrible job of getting it done. If His purpose and desire is the salvation of all humanity, then He is failing badly at accomplishing His purpose.
If God doesn’t not save everyone, either we have to say God is not loving in the way we claim Him to be, or we’ve got to say that God is not able to accomplish His will. I see no other options.
The only other contributing argument says, while it is true God does not accomplish that which He desires, it is not for lack of effort. God genuinely desires for all to be saved, He is desperately working toward that end, but in allowing humanity to choose He tied His own hands. He weeps at the outcome of our free-will but it is true that there is nothing more He can do.
In the years leading up to my move toward ultimate redemption, that argument was the only way I was able to swallow the fact that people would end up in hell for all eternity. Knowing God was weeping at the result of humanity’s sin made hell at least tolerable.
However, today my response is this: So what you’re telling me is, before the world began, before God chose to create anything at all, as He looked down the corridor of time, knowing the ramifications of choosing to create and allowing humanity to sin, the best He could envision was a world in which only 10% of all people would ultimately receive salvation. Of all the possible worlds He could have created, this all-loving, all-powerful, all-wise God could not do any better than to create a world in which only a tiny fraction of those created in His image would ultimately choose to embrace Him.
I cannot believe that was the best God could do.
Either we minimize God’s love, we minimize His ability to accomplish that which He desires, or we have to believe that ultimately God is going to save everyone. Those are our three options.
I choose the third.
And that is really good news, really.
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