Picking up on the topic of universalism in our discussion of Hell, I want to continue looking at the general characteristics of universalism. Of the 14 characteristics found in the Global Dictionary of Theology: A Resource for the Worldwide Church, I have already mentioned the first seven. I now begin with number eight. According to the universalists:
8. Although “eternal” can be a reference to temporal duration, it frequently indicates that God is the source or designates the mode of living associated with the age to come. For instance, in the book of Jude, Jude describes a fire that consumed Sodom and Gomorrah as “eternal fire.” The point is not that the fire literally burns forever without consummating the cities. It is not that the fire continues to burn even today The point is that the fire is a form of divine judgment on those cities and a foreshadowing of things to come. (Talbot) The same point is made concerning eternal judgment in Matthew 25:41, 46, and it is also true of eternal life (John 17:3).
9. No one who is rational enough to qualify as a free moral agent could possibly prefer an objective horror to eternal bliss. Therefore…
10. The fire of hell is to be understood as cleansing, not punishing. It is not an end in itself but a means to an end. The eternal destruction of the wicked (2 Thess 1:9) would refer to the eternal destruction of the old self, the false self, making it redemptive rather than punitive.
11. The blessedness of the redeemed in heaven “requires that all humans be saved, for God will wipe away every tear from the eyes of the redeemed (Rev 21:4) and he will do this by eliminating every cause of our sorrow.
12. Because the doctrine of a traditional hell is immoral, according to universalists, it alienates people from Christianity.
13. Universalism prevents Christianity from being triumphalistic in its attitude to other faiths.
Finally, Hendrikus Berkhof has suggested that the attitude and behavior of Christians toward unbelievers indicates that many Christians do not really believe in eternal hell.
My next post on Hell will begin a discussion of annihilationism. However, tomorrow I will pose a question regarding eternity.