Universalism: the belief that everyone will eventually go to Heaven.
The logic behind it goes something like this:
A common verse cited in support of Universalism is 2 Corinthians 5:19, “that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” Other verses cited by Universalists are: Ezekiel 33:11, 1 Timothy 2:3-4, 2 Peter 3:9, Romans 11:32, and 1 John 4:8.
If these were the only verses in the Bible referring to the inclusion and/or exclusion of souls in the after-life, the Universalist’s argument could be persuasive. But that is not the case. In Matthew 25:46 Jesus says, “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Other verses refuting Universalism are: Matthew 7:13-14, 8:12, 10:28, 13:40-42, 18:8, Mark 3:28-29, 9:43–48, 2 Thessalonians 1:9, and Jude 7.
The Bible taken as a whole presents a much stronger case against Universalism than for it.
A partial truth is no truth at all. Universalism promotes its partial truths at the expense of the complete biblical truth. Christ himself refutes Universalism every time he speaks of Hell, and he spoke about it more than anyone in Scripture. Since Christ clearly taught that not everyone will go to Heaven, and that some will go to Hell, it is logically inconsistent to claim to follow Christ and also be a Universalist.
Personally, I don’t like believing anyone will suffer in Hell for eternity. But because I take God at his Word, and trust that God is good whether or not I understand how everything fits together, I must not try to improve on what Christ said. To not believe in an eternal Hell is to deny the truth God has revealed to us through his Word. It betrays a personal lack of faith in him as the Good and Sovereign Creator. We think of Hell as unfair, when in actuality God is far more fair than any of us. He is infinitely gracious while being infinitely just. Since we now can only see dimly and in part (1 Corinthians 13:12) we are in no position to displace the Bible with our own understanding of what fairness demands. Who are we to try to hold God to our own fallen standards?
One thing that has helped me understand the eternality of Hell is this: people in Hell will most likely continue sinning against God – thereby eternally sealing their destiny. It’s not that a finite being gains infinite punishment for a finite sin, but that repeated sins (i.e. rejecting God over and over, continuing in pride, etc.) lead to ever-ongoing punishment. D.A. Carson articulates this concept well in his book How Long, O Lord?, which Randy quotes from in his book If God is Good.
One danger of Universalism is that it diminishes the gravity and necessity of spreading the gospel and striving for holiness in this life. (Legalism and dogmatism can hinder the spread of truth and the Christian life as well, but that’s not what we’re addressing here.) Sharing the power of the gospel with nonbelievers is something clearly commanded in the Bible (Jude 23). If I believe that eventually everyone will be saved, I will neither comprehend nor regard the importance of exhorting the saved or unsaved in the way of truth.
The Scriptures do say God is love, but our understanding of love is easily perverted. It’s popular today to tolerate and accept various heresies that claim to be true love. Love is exalted (rightly) while holiness is glossed over (wrongly). Ignoring the problem of sin and its consequences in the name of “love” does not actually solve anything. Theological discussions are frowned upon as divisive. People resist a faith they have to defend because, after all, who could argue against love? Why should we debate doctrine when we could just love each other instead? Doesn’t God win when love wins?
Yes, he does – just differently than how the Universalists think of it. God wins when truth wins. God is love and truth. Love does not and cannot exist apart from truth. By truth and love we are to encourage each other in the way of righteousness (Hebrews 10:24), save people as out of the fire (Jude 12-13), warn them against apostasy that leads to death (Hebrews 6:4-6), explain the consequences of not obeying the gospel (2 Thessalonians 1:8), and speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).
I must recognize that I did not create the world and therefore have no authority to criticize the Creator’s actions but should thank him for his infinite blessings to those who believe (Ephesians 3:14-19). After all, what authority does the clay have over the Potter (Jeremiah 18)?
A lot of life is about trusting God. Growing in our relationship with the Lord will continually bring us into greater understanding of how good he is and how he alone is perfect, holy, and glorious. True wisdom and true knowledge are founded in the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 9:10).
May we fear God and trust Him, and believe rather than deny His love and truth as revealed in His Word!
Julia (Stager) Mayo holds a Master of Arts in Biblical and Theological Studies from Western Seminary. She was previously part of the Eternal Perspective Ministries staff, and still does occasional research work for Randy Alcorn.