I read a thought-provoking article in Books and Culture from a couple issues ago. Kevin Corcoran, philosophy professor at Calvin College, reflects on the doctrine of universalism in an article entitled “Dark Thoughts.” Universalism is the doctrine which holds that all humans will eventually be saved. They do not claim salvation for all in this life, but eventually, perhaps after countless ages, God will bring all humanity to dwell with Him, presumably through Christ's work on the cross.
First things first: this is not a Biblical, reformed doctrine. I do not hold to universalism or its cousin, annihilationism (those dying apart from Christ will simply be destroyed into nothingness). Corcoran speaks disapprovingly of double predestination, which would be the exact opposite of universalism and happens to be what Scripture teaches (2 Peter 2; Exodus 10:20). Second, Corcoran does not believe in universalism, but would sure like to – more on that later. That aside, I have two notes about the article.
Corcoran puts forth a possible reasoning for universalism: If God is God, His purposes will be fulfilled. God's purposes, according to the author, is for humanity to “flourish.” Humanity's flourishing would be impossible if a significant portion of said humanity was in hell. Thus, God has reason to save all mankind, even those who lived all their earthly life in rebellion to His Kingship. The fault, I believe, in this reasoning is the assertion that God's main purpose is to make humanity flourish; theologically speaking, God's main purpose is to glorify His name, to show His holiness and greatness above all gods (Matthew 6:9). Problems abound when we mistakenly place mankind as central in God's plan. Of course humanity plays a wonderful role, being made to reflect God's glory, being made in His image, etc. But Romans 9 makes clear that God can be glorified by the judging of wickedness as well as the redemption of the wicked.
Getting past the negative, then, I was struck with how seriously the author was struggling throug this issue. He tells the story of a dear, Jewish friend of his who passed away recently; understandably, he recoils at the notion that his friend is suffering eternally. In his classes, Corcoran challenges his students to wrestle with the idea of hell:
Sam, so far as I know, did not die in Christ. Is he damned? Forever? It's a question that pricks the heart when someone you know and love—someone who, so far as you know, did not embrace Christ—dies. It's an important question, one that I tell my students ought to keep them awake at least a few nights of their life.
Have we wrestled enough with hell? Has it kept me up at night? Toward this end, of dealing honestly and Biblically with an extremely hard idea, I would recommend Ted Donnelly's book, Heaven and Hell. I clearly recall several nights when I was only able to read one or two paragraphs before I couldn't handle any more.
Finally, as you wrestle with hard issues, take comfort in the God of all things. He is good and He will always be good. His glory, not our comfort, is the highest goal and should capture the prized place in our hearts.