A Theological Journey Toward Hope

I grew up with the teaching of eternal torment as a given. I was led to believe it was simply the nature of reality—Christians go to Heaven and anyone who rejects Christ goes to suffer forever in everlasting fire. By the way, “Christians” in the context I was raised in did not often include Catholics. It really was not an optimistic picture of most of mankind’s destiny.

As a kid, I never heard the other two major options—annihilationism or universalism—mentioned as legitimate Christian views. Those views would have seemed as foreign to me as the concepts of reincarnation, Vallhalla, or Nirvana found in other religions. I had no idea that many people in the early days of Christianity believed different things about hell than what I was being taught.

It wasn’t until I started reading resources from the wider evangelical world that I encountered various arguments from the likes of Clark Pinnock and John Stott in favor of annihilationism, also known as conditional immortality. They advocated for the idea that, if someone rejects God and the salvation found in Christ, then that person will ultimately pass out of existence. Someone who rejects God is rejecting the very source of life, so the logic made sense to me. After all, the vocabulary of fire, death, darkness, and destruction in the Bible could quite naturally seem to fit in with the understanding that Hell signifies eventual annihilation. 

So I quite seamlessly and slowly came to believe in the annihilationist view of Hell and held to it for a number of years… until I finally became convinced of the freeing truth that the death of our earthly bodies is no boundary for the transformative grace of God. 

I had been reluctant to consider universal salvation as an option because I was still fairly convinced of that heavily-emphasized boundary often laid out in the evangelicalism that I had been raised in: death here and now marks the end of hope for anyone who rejects God. I had felt that since there was no verse saying something like “it is possible to repent after you die,” I couldn’t be justified in believing that God kept working with people after they passed away here in our physical world.

But, thankfully, after I encountered arguments presented by thinkers like Robin Parry, David Bentley Hart, and others, I came to see that the patience and persistence of God will follow us even beyond the grave. Although the explicit statement “post-mortem repentance is a possibility” is nowhere to be seen in scripture, it is the logical consequence of ideas that are clearly presented there. The enduring mercy of God (Psalm 136:1), the inability of death to stop God’s love (Romans 8:38-39), the announcement that all people will be made alive in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:22)—all these concepts and more fit best in a framework of Christian universalism that retains hope for anyone who rejects God while here on Earth. 

However, this does not mean sin has no consequences or that God turns a blind eye to the evil perpetrated by the people he lovingly created. Universal restoration does not reject the justice of God—in fact, it affirms it convincingly and powerfully—but God is like a good Teacher or a loving Parent, not like a judge condemning someone to life in a torturous prison or death in the electric chair. In the case of a good teacher, punishment is intended to be useful for a student in teaching them right from wrong, the difference between what is beneficial and what is harmful. And in the case of loving parents, any consequences for rule-breaking they apply would only be helpful to their child if the repercussions were intended to teach the child a better way.

So there is indeed outer darkness, grim death, painful fire, and horrible destruction to be wary of. But these do not have the final word. God has no plans of allowing any of his image-bearers to be tortured forever or annihilated in the end. Even for the most self-destructive individual, there is hope in the future—although perhaps the very far future—but there is much work to be done in the present. This is why Christians who believe that God will reconcile everyone to himself must continue to proclaim the “good tidings of great joy” for all people because there are still many corners of the world where it is believed that darkness is an attribute of God. But we have been called to announce that “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” It is this God of light, the infinitely loving God as seen in Christ Jesus, that will slowly but surely purge the universe of sin—and of any notion that some people will be lost forever.

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  1. Thank you for your good work. Who says this view and the radical contrast between it and Reformed Orthodoxy won’t persuade and free many from the banality of a belief that God created most of humanity to be tormented forever? God bless you and your collaborators.

  2. The only punishment God gives is LOSS OF REWARD OR NO REWARD AT ALL .Matt.6:1,2 Luke 23:39-41 Col.3:24 2John 8 Rev.22:12

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