This is a continuation on my series on my thoughts on hell. Part One is found here. Part Three will be found here.
The second biggest argument is against universalism indirectly, but primarily used against predestination. Before I elaborate, I want to say I am thankful for youth ministers and sponsors. Your task is far from simple, and finding the best way to convey truths is difficult. That said, one I heard frequently, and even adopted myself, was that of a husband knowing his wife. To “prove” free will, the analogy told of a husband who could go into a store his wife was to visit later that day. He could point out the exact displays she would stop at as well as what she would reject and what she would buy. Did he make her commit those actions? By all means, no. He simply knew her so intimately that he could accurately predict her actions. If a human husband could do that, how much more so could our Creator do that with us, not causing us to believe or not, but rather letting our free will make the choice of where we go in the afterlife. The issue I and others have with this is that it sounds well and good, except it is ignoring the fact that if He created us, He directly or indirectly caused our actions. He is responsible for what we do in this life. Even if with his omniscience and omnipotence He was able to create us without somehow imparting a direction for our lives, He still created us. As we are told, He knit us in our mother's wombs. This again goes back to him being cruel and unloving if he allows any to go to hell permanently.
What about hell? Well, going back to Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 he says, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.” To think God wants us to go to hell eternally is again to not think of a loving Father but an unbending demagogue. Repeatedly we are given examples of how even we earthly fathers want the best of our children, and all the more so for God towards us. How then, can we honestly believe he wants us to go to a punishment that far outweighs the crime? Yes, we have sinned. Yes, we are far outside his holiness, even the likes of Mother Theresa. However, an eternal torment is worse than a death sentence, even if the person was guilty. At least the death sentence has a definitive end date. Instead, as my scholarly friends and my searching have revealed, hell is not infinite, but it is also not non-existent. To claim it is non-existent would make Christ a liar. As one friend said, “the question is never whether or not Hell is real. The question is always, 'What is Hell for?'” The most commonly accepted amongst affirming universalists is that it is not retributive but restorative. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:15, “If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” In other words, it is what most people picture when they contemplate Purgatory. Based on what sin someone has committed, it is the fire by which impurities are removed and discarded through the power of God's unending love. This love is evident through Scripture, but none is as cut and dry as 1 John 4:8, “God is love.” Because of the Father's love, the way to Him is open to everyone, but there will be some or even many who will first pass through the fires of hell before re-emerging on the other side as the new creation. (For an incomplete analogy, think of Gandalf in Lord of the Rings going from Grey to White.)
The third part will be an addendum addressing a few related points but not directly necessary for these first two posts. Thanks!