Here is a very brief (and un-systematic) Biblical foundation for the hope of Christian Universalism:
God is Love –
I John 4 “8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.’
This is the theological foundation out of which everything else flows.
So many times I have heard the response, “Yes – God is love – BUT…”.
No – it will not do.
Yes – God is holy, just, etc. – but in all of His divine attributes He remains love and cannot act contrary to His fundamental nature. I believe that the greatest explication of what God (as Love) “looks like’ is found in 1 Cor. 13 (“not easily angered – keeps no record of wrongs – endures all things – Love never fails…”, etc.)
It follows that:
God is loving toward all He has made:
Psalm 145:8 “The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. … The LORD is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made.”
God desires the salvation of all:
1 Tim.2:4 “who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
God is not willing that any should perish:
2 Peter 3:9
“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
God is the Father of all:
Acts 17:28 (Paul speaking to pagan Greeks) “for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’”(NASV) – We are all made in His image – we bear this divine mark of his ownership – and we are of great value to Him – even as the prodigal son was to his father.
Jesus takes away the sin of the world:
John 1:29 “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
When he is lifted up (on the cross) He will draw (literally, “drag”) all humanity to himself
John 12:32 “ And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
In the incarnation Jesus enters into solidarity with Adam’s race – uniting himself with our flesh and fallenness – He is in fact the last Adam (1 Cor.15:45)
The comparison of the first and last Adam is (I think) one of the most pregnant theological concepts that Paul ever talks about – And this explosive idea leads us to what is perhaps the most astonishing universalistic passage of all:
Romans 5: “18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”
On the cross He became accursed for us – He dies to ransom us from our imprisonment to the Law of sin and death – to liberate us from the Kingdom of Darkness – and, above all, to reconcile us (bring at-one-ment) to God:
On the cross he quotes and fulfills the great prophetic Psalm 22 – which promises a universal vision of salvation:
“27 All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
28 for dominion belongs to the Lord
and he rules over the nations.”
On the cross – with arms outstretched so as to embrace the world in this great redemptive act, He says, “Father, forgive them…” (Luke 23:34). Will this prayer be denied?
As a result of His death and resurrection – He is the savior of all mankind –
1 Tim. 1:10 “For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.”
He bore the sin of all mankind (as opposed to Limited Atonement):
1 John 2:2 “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”
Reconciliation lies at the very core of the Cross – and to what God specifically purposed in sending Christ: the reconciliation of ALL things:
Colossians 1: “15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”
Ephesians 1: “9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.”
The effectual result of it all?
2 Cor. 5: “14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. 16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.”
From one perspective (from the passage above) – we are all already reconciled to God.
From another – we all must obey the command, “be reconciled to God!” We must all at some point make the fundamental Christian affirmation of faith – “Jesus is Lord!” – and it is promised that we all will in fact do that (interestingly, Paul repeats this twice):
Philippians 2: “10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” – Also: Romans 14: “It is written: “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’”
Last of all (for now!) there is this (to me compelling) promise from the Old Testament prophecy:
“so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
Remember where we started: God desires ALL to be saved…
The question is – will God get what He wants? This prophecy says, “Yes”! (I still deeply believe in the Sovereignty of God! But the Glory of God is not His raw sovereign power – it is His goodness: see Exodus where Moses asks God to show him His Glory – and God responds, “I will cause all my GOODNESS to pass in front of you…”.)
God has sent forth His Word/Logos – not to condemn the world – but to save the world: John 3:17 “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” –Will the ultimate Word accomplish all that it was sent to do? Assuredly, Yes!
And, another very interesting thing to note here: When it comes to the horrible idea of eternal conscious torment – many from the traditional view who (in all honesty) intuitively feel how unfitting it is to believe that the God who IS Love would choose to punish forever (so contrary to Biblical notions of divine Justice – but that’s another chapter!) – appeal to “mystery”: “God’s way are not our ways”. Indeed! But those words come from this passage – where the theme is MERCY – not judgment!
Yes – He is Holy – set apart, transcendent – unlike any other. But this holiness includes His transcendent goodness and mercy (for example):
Hosea 11:9 “I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I devastate Ephraim again. For I am God, and not a man– the Holy One among you. I will not come against their cities.”
He is the God who disappoints those who want to see the utter destruction of the wicked:
Jonah 4:2 “He prayed to the LORD, “Isn’t this what I said, LORD, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”
Before I finish – let me say just one thing in general about the reality of hell: the one critical issue here is “how long would the God who is Love punish sinners?”, or, “what does the equitable punishment of sinners look like?” (Another issue – what is the nature of this punishment? Is it retributive or restorative?)
And central to this dilemma is ONE word – translated (and I am deeply convinced, mistranslated) “eternal”. Suffice it for now just to say this: the word in most if not all passages that speak of “eternal” punishment is the Greek word (transliterated) “Aionos” – Here is the definition:
From the root word “Aion” (or as we would say, eon)
“an age, a cycle (of time), especially of the present age as contrasted with the future age, and of one of a series of ages stretching to infinity.”
“Aionos”: “age-long, and therefore: practically[!] eternal, unending; partaking of the character of that which lasts for an age, as contrasted with that which is brief and fleeting.”
Many books have been written to address this horrific mis-translation – but one good summary can be found in this free online book – Hope Beyond Hell –
Another thing this assumes that I will not get into here is “post mortem repentance” ( a view embraced most notably by the likes of C.S. Lewis) – The question to ponder here is this: if God really loves us BEFORE we die – what changes? Does He not remain the same – still desiring our salvation – and will He not do all to continue to pursue our salvation? Another: where does the Bible teach that it is impossible to repent after we die? We are assured, “It is appointed to man once to die and after this the judgment” – but how can that preclude God’s mercy in judgement? Do the dead not have as much “free will” (a misnomer for sure) as they did while living? Some passages point in another direction – see 1 Peter 3: “18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 19 After being made alive,[d] he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits—” – and 4: “6 For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.”
If you find yourself wanting to dig deeper – here are two books I would specifically recommend to you in particular:
The Evangelical Universalist
Written by a Dutch Reformed (Calvinist) pastor:
The One Purpose of God