This is the third and final post on my thoughts on hell. Part one is found here, part two is found here.
A few related points. On baptism, one of my close friends was once told by a professor that his view that baptism not being necessary for salvation was heretical. At the time, I partly agreed with the professor, but even then I still did not fully believe that to be true. As much as I hate “what if” questions for their hypothetical nature, there would remain the question about what about those who state belief in Jesus, but die before their water baptism. This could be due to being on their deathbed or because they get killed in whatever way on the way to the church for the baptism. These “what if” situations rightly got written off as one off situations, where we would trust in God's grace to allow someone in to eternal life without the physical act. That belief, though, begs the question, if He can override the necessity for them, why not allow all men whom He created and wanted to be restored? Paul says in Romans 11:32, “For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.” I myself dealt with doubts about my baptism at 5 or 6, so I was “re-baptized” at 21 due to a fear that I hadn't done it for the right reasons earlier in life. Yet, even that betrays the reason, that of it being seemingly honorable but really self-serving, as an attempt to insurance oneself against the fires of hell. From continuing to study the acts of baptism in the Scriptures, it was done not out of necessity for the soul's eternity but as a declaration of allegiance to the new kingdom and the new Lord, to the true King rather than Caesar or whatever government authority the believer is under. In this it is still a sacramental act, just as the ceremony of marriage and the consummation of said marriage is sacramental but not necessary for eternal life. (Non-salvific sacrament, if you will.)
Next, I want to address what I am sure will be an argument. I do not at all believe that this universalism is the same as the universalism of all roads lead to heaven. Indeed, Jesus himself denies that. We can only get to the Father through the love manifest in the Son. On this side, the analogies of taking different routes through the city to get to a location sounds great. However, it is false if we are to believe Christ. I would love for such things as COEXIST to make sense. Yet when those religions have diametrically opposing views, that too is another false hope. Again, the only way to heaven is through the opening of the gates by the love of our Father. In this, God loves us as His creation to the point He will bring restoration to everyone, regardless of their beliefs. One of the best examples for this is the rebellious kings, etc in Revelation 6:15 who are then restored and granted entry into the new creation in Revelation 21:24ff. That is Good News.
Finally, on the cross. There are books written and lectures given on the point of the cross. Various interpretations of the atonement and the purpose of the sacrifice are provided depending who you ask. As a “brought up in church kid” (BUICK, to borrow from Matt Proctor), as well as a graduate of Ozark, I too could go into a fair amount of detail on these different facets of the work of the cross. However, one I do not recall being discussed in school but was brought to my attention most recently is that of a scapegoat. Rene Girard, an anthropological philosopher talks about the scapegoat.. A person or group would be murdered as a way to restore peace or remove guilt, which man then attributed to the gods or God, as if they or He required it. My understanding, aided by my scholar friend is this flowed through history to the point of the cross. God as omniscient and omnipotent would not create a situation where His Son needed to be sacrificed, or else that would again make Him less than good. Therefore, as He did not create the situation, He also did not require the sacrifice. Rather, “it is not God who demands sacrifice, but us.” In other words, it is humans in our fallen, unrestored nature that refused to accept peace without blood, and then pinned it on God through deception.
Now, you must understand this was not an easy shift of perception for me. Indeed none of this was a simple “I want this to be true so let's find loopholes.” No, my scholar friends can attest I have been fighting this for awhile (our messages on this topic start in July 2015.) Not to make this sound like an awards acceptance speech or book acknowledgements, but... I am sincerely thankful them walking me through the process of understanding. I am thankful for Casey for listening to me talk incoherently as I tried to word this. I am thankful for the many who kept reading every revision I made. Most importantly, as previously referenced, 1 John 4 reminds me to be thankful for this Good God who has first loved us so that we may go and love others.