Isn’t God gonna save everybody?

by K.W. Leslie, 29 June 2016
UNIVERSALIST ju.nə'vər.səl.əst adjective. Believing all humanity will (eventually) be saved.

I’ve mentioned before how pagans believe good people go to heaven, and bad people to hell. I should mention there’s a minority among them who believe there is no hell. Nope, not even for genocidal maniacs. Everybody goes to the same afterlife, and if you’re a westerner that’d be heaven. There might be some karmic consequences; you might find yourself in the suckier part of heaven. But considering it’s heaven, it’s not bad.

Y’see, these folks figure God is love. Don’t we Christians teach that? Why yes we do. 1Jn 4.8 And God loves everyone—“for God so loved the world” Jn 3.16 and all that. So why would a loving God throw people in hell? Especially for something as minor as not believing in him?—which most of the time is really an honest mistake. Doesn’t sound very loving of God to toss someone into hell just because they were born in some part of the world where they were never taught God properly—be it North Korea, Nepal, Mali, or Mississippi.

Now I agree God’s unlikely to smite people for honest mistakes. I just seriously doubt the bulk of humanity’s mistakes are honest ones. Lots of us embrace our God-beliefs purely out of convenience, pragmatism, or selfishness. That Iranian who’s never gonna hear the gospel: He already wouldn’t listen to it if offered. If he honestly wanted to hear the gospel, it doesn’t matter what filters his nation puts on the internet; he’d track down Christians and ask questions. Maybe Jesus would personally appear to him, just as he has throughout Christian history, beginning with Paul. (No, that wasn’t just a one-time deal.) Or that American whose parents raised her as a militant atheist: No matter how skeptical and free-thinking she claims to be, she honestly doesn’t wanna challenge her parents’ claims, and see whether there’s anything to this God stuff. If she did, the first miracle she experienced would shatter her atheism like a cinderblock through safety glass.

Honest mistakes are like Calvinism: People try to defend God’s sovereignty, go overboard, and wind up teaching God’s secretly evil. But they are still pursuing God in the meanwhile. And the Holy Spirit’s still producing love and patience and kindness in them, and still letting ’em into his kingdom. (Unless they’re only pursuing clever arguments, producing no fruit, and wind up some of those poor souls who’re mighty shocked Jesus doesn’t recognize ’em. Mt 7.23) The whole “honest mistakes” cop-out is a convenient excuse to ignore God, avoid obeying him, and dodge religion, church, and Christians.

It’s a risky little game they’re playing, for Christ Jesus said not everyone’s getting saved.

Matthew 7.21-24 KWL
21 “Not everyone who calls me, ‘Master, master!’ will enter the heavenly kingdom.
Just the one who does my heavenly Father’s will.
22 At that time, many will tell me, ‘Master, master! Didn’t we prophesy in your name?
Didn’t we throw out demons in your name? Didn’t we do many powerful things in your name?’
23 And I’ll explain to them, ‘I never knew you.
Get away from me, all you Law-breakers.’”

That’s the people who really thought they were Christian. How much chance does the “honestly mistaken” nontheist have? Well, God is gracious, so we’ll see.

Though God absolutely does wants everyone saved, 1Ti 2.4 he knows full well many people want nothing to do with him, nor his kingdom. They don’t want saving. Since God did create ’em with free will, he permits them to tell him no. He won’t force ’em into his kingdom. They don’t have to enter.

They’re really gonna hate the alternative, though.

Christian universalism.

Universalism isn’t only a pagan idea. A lot of Christians have adopted it too. Seriously: A lot. It’ll startle you to find out how many. You’ll talk with someone you’ve known for years, and in conversation they’ll let slip—“but let’s just keep this between us”—they’re not entirely sure hell is permanent. They think it’s temporary, like jail. After everyone serves their time, maybe a couple billion years, God’ll let everyone out. (And sometimes they won’t even believe in hell, ’cause Jesus only talked about it in parables and apocalypses.)

All right, lemme remind you of historical orthodox Christianity. The early Christians, just like today’s Christians, had a hodgepodge of ideas. But when their leaders got together, they concluded in the creeds that the scriptures do teach Jesus is returning to judge the living and dead. Now, the creeds don’t teach what Jesus’ll do with us after he judges us. That gave Catholics just enough wiggle room to invent purgatory. For Protestants, the current debate is whether suffering in hell is eternal or instantaneous. I mean, it’s eternal fire, but when we’re tossed into it, do we eternally burn in it, or is “eternal fire” so mighty it disintegrates us immediately? Some of us really like the one idea; some the other. It’s actually debatable, ’cause the creeds never picked a side.

Anyway, what Jesus does with us after judging us, is the loophole the universalists try to slip through. They claim he judges us… then forgives us and sends us to heaven.

Arguably universalism evolved in the United States. Puritans, who’d been raised with the Calvinist idea of efficacious grace—if God wants us saved, we will be saved—managed to rediscover the non-Calvinist (but wholly biblical!) idea of unlimited atonement, that Jesus died to save everyone. Now, if Jesus’s salvation applies to everyone, and his grace also applies to everyone, it’d means everyone’s saved. Everyone. No exceptions. Done deal. You’re going to heaven.

This being the case, some Puritan churches stayed otherwise orthodox Christian, but now they teach hell is temporary, or a metaphor. This’d be what we call Christian universalism. Still Christian, but when it comes to hell, they’re heretic. (As you’ll see once I explain universalism’s problems below.)

In the United States, some of these churches organized into the Universalist General Convention in 1866—which became the Universalist Church of America in 1942. In 1961 they combined with the Unitarians (whole different heresy; they don’t believe God’s a trinity) to become the Unitarian Universalist Association. The Unitarian church has since evolved into eclecticism, so you’ll find they hold all sorts of nonbiblical beliefs about how God and universalism work.

Don’t these people know Jesus said not everyone’s entering his kingdom? Actually yes they do. But they ignore those verses which say so, and instead point to other verses which appear to back ’em up. Like this one.

1 Corinthians 15.22 KWL
For just as everybody is doomed because of Adam,
everybody will be brought to life because of Christ.

Problem is, the apostles weren’t writing about universal salvation, but universal resurrection. Ac 22.14 God raises everybody—some to eternal life, and some to eternal death.

As usual, universalists are proof-texting wrong. Verses about universal atonement, Ro 5.21, 11.32, 1Ti 2.6, 4.10, 1Jn 2.2, 4.14 universal resurrection, Ro 5.18 and God’s desire to save everyone, 1Ti 2.3, 2Pe 3.9 are all half-quoted to make it sound like there’s universal salvation.

Most of ’em figure it works like this: Once Jesus returns, he’ll resurrect everybody. Then everyone can finally see him for ourselves, see how he behaves, see his miracles… and embrace him. Nontheism will evaporate. Other religions will be quit. People will stop doubting God. Every knee will bow and every tongue confess Jesus as Lord. Pp 2.10-11

Others figure there’ll be some holdouts at first, who still resist Jesus. He’ll have to stick ’em in hell to cool off. (Ironic pun intended. But like I said, some of ’em think hell’s a metaphor, and therefore not that hot.) After a time, they’ll come to their senses and get with the program. You know, like those terrorists who don’t wanna rat on their buddies, but after sleep deprivation and waterboarding, they’ll tell you anything you wanna hear; they’ll even make stuff up. Hell’s job is to break them. (Although they will never, ever put it this way… but yeah, that’s about right.) So hell is kinda like a purgatory.

And of course there’s their fallback position about God being love, so he’d never throw loved ones into hell if he could help it. You could show ’em how every bible reference they use is out of context, and they’ll just shrug off these errors with, “God is love, and God won’t send anyone to hell. He just won’t.”

So… forcing people into the kingdom is loving?

Okay, I’ll concede two of the universalists’ points:

  • God is love.
  • God won’t force people into hell.

I should point out though: If God won’t force people into hell, why on earth do universalists maintain God forces people into heaven?

Why do universalists insist God’ll save everybody? Because if they were God, they’d save everybody. The foundation of a whole lot of bad theology, is the all-too-human, all-too-arrogant insistence God thinks like we do. If we were God, we’d find some way, by hook or by crook, to abolish or negate hell, and get everybody into heaven. Doesn’t that sound loving of us?

Well, not really. ’Cause not everyone wants to go to heaven. They spend their entire life on earth trying to escape God’s presence. Yeah okay, some of ’em have the entirely wrong idea about God, think he’s evil, and are trying to escape an evil God. I get that. So does God; he can work with that. But the rest aren’t wrong about God: He’s good, but they want the right to redefine “goodness” to suit themselves, and God gets in their way. They might claim “honest mistake,” but they’re far from honest. They want nothing to do with God nor his heavenly kingdom. They’ll go anywhere to get away from him. Even hell.

As nice as we imagine the kingdom to be, and try to make it sound that way, there are always gonna be people who look at the idea with offense and horror. Often ’cause we’re describing it wrong. (We frequently make the same mistake as universalists, and describe how we’d run the kingdom, not how Jesus describes it. So sometimes we fill it with all our favorite things, as if what we like works for everyone. That’s why we’ve gotta cut back on the speculating and stick to Jesus.) But even the scriptures’ depiction—God’s presence, people of every nation and tongue, praises and glory and healing and blessing and abundant life—is gonna creep some people out. They don’t want such a heaven.

But no, say universalists. Everybody goes there. Everybody will want to go there. It’ll be irresistible. Because God will fix us first.

Fix us? Yep. He’ll make it so we invariably want heaven. Free will? Gone. Sinful attitudes, behaviors, emotions, intentions? Wiped away like a reformatted hard drive. Anything else we don’t happen to like about human beings? It’ll all be erased. No one will resemble the old sinners they used to be.

This is what universalists imagine when they think of Jesus making everything new: When we enter the kingdom together, we’ll be happy forever, for we’ve been reprogrammed. Happiness will no longer be a choice. It’ll be our default setting.

Again, it’s how they’d do it. It’s how people try to “fix” one another all the time—if only there weren’t laws against it. Kids out of control? Send ’em to boot camp. Too many foreign-speaking brown people in your neighborhood? See if you can’t get a few of ’em deported or jailed. Your fine young son has turned out gay? There’s a therapist who can make him straight. Make everyone fit our standards; make ’em behave; make ’em conform. Doesn’t matter what they personally want. They don’t know any better.

This is universalism’s dirty little secret: God’s gonna forgive all, then lobotomize us so we can never sin again. The resistant get tortured in hell till they finally crack. They claim God is love, and doing all these things to people out of love, but obviously they have some really jacked-up ideas about love.

The ball’s in our court.

Ezekiel 33.11 KWL
“Tell them, ‘The LORD my Master swears by his life: Do I delight in the wicked person’s death?
I want the wicked person to turn back from their way, and live!
Turn back! Turn back from your evil ways! Israel’s house: Why must you die?’”

“…There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.”

—C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, chapter 9.

The reason universalism isn’t true, is because people embrace the dark. Jn 3.19

They embrace agnosticism: They give up on ever knowing about God one way or the other, figure the truth isn’t knowable, and are okay with their ignorance. They embrace evil: They don’t want a God who rejects their misbehavior to even exist. They embrace their own will instead of his. They embrace their own kingdom instead of his. It’s not because they don’t know any better. It’s because they refuse better.

Yes, God is almighty and sovereign, and could force people into his kingdom anyway. But he doesn’t want captives; he wants followers. He doesn’t want manipulated chess pieces; he wants willing participants. He doesn’t want pre-programmed drones; he wants obedient daughters and sons. It’s why he gave us commands instead of uncontrollable urges, why he draws us instead of compels us. It’s free will. Apparently God thinks it important.

Universalists do not. Heaven will be good. And if we won’t believe it’s good, God’ll make us believe it’s good.

Once we realize how universalism really works, we ought not be quite so eager to embrace the idea.