The End of Hell
It seems as if there is a lot of talk of Universalism these days, the idea that all has been, is, and will be restored in Christ at the end of the ages. It’s the belief that if there is a hell it is not the place of eternal punishment we’ve been led to believe. Rather, hell looks more like the life we live today, where there is cancer, car accidents, suicides, etc., which is hell, but still directs our attention to life beyond the present changeableness and fragmented nature of created reality. Beyond this present life, says Universalism, lies a continuance of our journey toward the Eternal One—the God revealed in Jesus of Nazareth, who created us from his goodness, for goodness, which no evil can undo.
It is unclear to me why this is so hard to get excited about. It is unclear why we misconstrue scripture to say otherwise. And for the life of me I cannot understand, logically, how a place of eternal torment meshes with any sense of the Christian belief that God is Love, the God who became human and cried out from the cross, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”
David Bentley Hart has offered what seems to me to be the best argument for Universalism in his That All Shall Be Saved, grounded in scripture and the teachings of the early church, as well as sound philosophical reasoning, even if a little too polemical for the sensitive soul. Nevertheless, rereading scripture in the light of this mystery of redemption sheds new light on a variety of passages that offer a “hope against hope,” as it were (Rom. 4.8).
For instance, in the Letter to the Colossians, we read at the end of the first chapter: “The mystery that has been hidden from the ages and from the generations, but that has now been made manifest in his holy ones, By whom God wished to make known what the wealth of the mystery’s glory is among the gentiles, which is the Anointed within you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1.26-28). Taken with the whole of the letter, in the context of the Incarnation as that which manifest the truth of our created nature, the “mystery” revealed is that the glory of God that was believed to be an external favor is now known to be within. Divine goodness is what is natural to creation, to human nature. It is the core of our being. The mystery made plain is that, while we are subject to change and prone to turn away from the Good, even our turning away is an attempt at seeking the Good, which has been the conviction of all the great theologians in history. As Maximus the Confessor would argue in the 7th century, ‘to run away from God is yet to run toward God.’ Why? Because Love cannot be rejected outright. To deny Love is to deny one’s very humanity, which none can do in any ultimate sense.
And this is the hope of Universalism: God, who is Love, creates for Love and for the benefit of the created, and what God creates is life and life-giving, all else is disordered love and misguided perception that exchanges what is not for the I AM. Hell, hereby, is what enables us to separate ourselves from what is not God, being purged of all that is not, that we might inhabit the I AM who inhabits us. This could be the only end—purpose—of something we might call hell, which means that the end—purpose—of hell is to end. It is not the End, for the End is God, who is Life, Love, the Good.
This is Good News. God is with us all, for us all, with no ulterior motive or need for us to be separated from Life everlasting. This should enable everyone to turn toward Christ without fear, without the fret of judgement or torment, so to enjoy the wonder and mystery that is Grace now, not simply in the heavens, but now. For, heaven has come down and has revealed that we now live and move and have our being in God. It is ours to turn to the Good and enjoy God.