Soulbook: Will All Souls Be Saved?
There are several different views about what will happen after our mortal bodies die. Some believe that there is no such thing as a soul and that when our earthly bodies die, we simply cease to exist. Others believe that people do have souls, but that the soul simply dies when the body dies, (e.g. Sadducees). There is also the view that all people will go to Heaven regardless of their spiritual state at death. Another view is that the saved will go on to Heaven while those who are not saved will simply be annihilated. The view that has gained much prevalence recently is that of “universalism” or the belief that all will be saved. While this is an appealing view, there are some major Scriptural issues that prevent it from being plausible or logical. Most of the reason behind the wide acceptance of such a view centers on misunderstandings of Scripture and the nature of God.
Where did the idea of universalism start? Origen, a well-known, third-century preacher (c. A.D. 185-254 ), was among the first to accept it and has been joined by many others over the centuries. Alfred Lord Tennyson, in his poem, In Memoriam, advocated universalism. William Barclay, Scottish theologian and University of Glasgow divinity professor, was one of the concept’s most enthusiastic twentieth-century defenders. Barclay wrote: “It seems to us that if God is the God who is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and if the total impression of the Gospel is true, we may dare to hope that when time ends God’s family will be complete, for surely we must think in terms, not of a king who is satisfied with a victory which destroys his enemies, but of a Father who can never be content when even a single child of his is outside the circle of his love.” While this may seem like a just plea at first glance, it’s important to realize that God’s justice is not ours and His understanding of how salvation works is more perfect than what human beings might dream. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD,” (Isaiah 55:8). God is eternally just and righteous. But, how does that apply to sin and the afterlife?
It’s not really surprising that people would resort to an idea like this is it? Wouldn’t it be great if everyone could go to Heaven? Or would it? In his book, How Can a God of Love Send People to Hell?, British author John Benton addressed the inherent appeal of universalism when he wrote: “I am sure that there is a part in all of us which would like to believe that that was true. If not, we are in danger of becoming very hard and unloving people, indeed. We sympathize with the emotions which draw some people in the direction of universalism. But, in all honesty, it is impossible to interpret Jesus as teaching universalism.” The fact that the idea of Hell may be distasteful to us is not a reason for us to simply discount its existence or the fact that God would allow someone to suffer there for eternity. Have you ever wondered what Hell would be like? Of course, there are numerous descriptions of Hell in the Bible, but the actual condition of being eternally separated from all things good, especially from God, is brain-shattering. Nevertheless, according to the Bible, there is such an existence and we must be in a right condition with God to avoid it. Overall, there is a desire that all be saved, but the teachings of Jesus obviously do not support the supposition that all will be saved.
There are two primary views of universalism. First, there is the idea that entails “remedial suffering”. This is the idea that those who were not saved will do a sort of “penance” and then will be allowed to go to Heaven. Then, there is the idea known as “transcendentalism,” which one writer expressed as follows: “This idea held that every soul is a part of the “oversoul” of the universe. To use a common metaphor, man is a spark of the universal flame and will eventually return to it to be absorbed into the One Soul of all time…. Hell, according to this nebulous theory, is a training school for fragments of the Eternal Self which must be disciplined into final merger. The soul of man is only a spark of the divine flame and will finally be reabsorbed into it,” (Woodson, 1973, p. 60).
In both views, Hell is just a place for people who need a “second chance” or a remedial period of discipline before they can go on to enjoy Heaven forever. In order to undergird these views, some people have tried to use Scripture as a support. For example, Romans 5:18 (“through one act of righteousness the free gift came unto all men to justification of life”); Romans 11:25-26 (“all Israel shall be saved”); 1 Corinthians 15:22 (“in Christ all shall be made alive”); and 2 Corinthians 5:14 (“the love of Christ constrains us; because we thus judge, that one died for all.” Of course, in all of these instances, a misrepresentation of Scripture or incidence of “Bible bingo” is taking place. Just because there is a verse that says something like “all Israel shall be saved”, (referring to the faithful in the church, who, of course, will be saved) doesn’t mean that this verse is being read in the proper context or with an eye for right division of Scripture. Again, simply wanting something to be true does not make it so. Additionally, anyone who accepts the verses above and doesn’t read the verses that further clarify them regarding the afterlife, is missing a huge portion of the message and justice of God.
Does Universalism stand up to scrutiny? Jesus Himself explained, in Matthew 25:31-46, exactly what would happen to the those outside of Him (whom He termed “goats,” as opposed to the righteous, whom He labeled “sheep”) on that great Judgment Day: “And these shall go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life,” (v. 46). The eternality in Jesus’ description of both Heaven and Hell cannot be disputed. There is punishment here that lasts forever. In 2 Thessalonians 1:8, Paul referred to the fact that one day the Lord would return “from Heaven with the angels of his power in flaming fire, rendering vengeance to them that know not God, and to them that obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus.” Interestingly, in the very next verse, he wrote that such people “shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of His might.” This passage also fills in the gaps and answers questions as to whether or not all will be saved. In the end, Universalism must be rejected by Christians. When it comes to the soul, we must realize the power and conviction of what Jesus said in Matt 28:19-20, “Go therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you.” Universalism says that the Great Commission is meaningless and that Souls are basically worthless. Why would Jesus tell us to save Souls if they didn’t need saving? Anyone can easily see that the innate worth of the soul is tied directly to God’s view of eternal life or punishment.
Another reason for the necessity of a place of punishment set apart from God and Heaven is the fact that God is all good and He cannot and will not look upon evil and sin. “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God,” (I John 3:9). God eschews sin at every turn. He even makes sin a stench to us. The more we turn from sin, the more we hate it. Even when Jesus was suffering and dying on the cross, God turned away from Him, (Mark 15:34). The sin that covered Jesus (our sins) created a division between God and His own Son. How can we expect God to allow this sin into His dwelling place when He could not even abide it in Jesus, who was perfect?
Therefore, our souls must be in Christ, Who is the only One ever to take sin and completely destroy it. Jesus in Himself took sin and, like a filter, strained away our sins and completely obliterated them. Thus, if sin is not taken away from our souls, they must be destroyed someplace. Unfortunately, the place where these sins are destroyed is a place that can never fully expunge them. Hell is a burning fire that burns at the sin and the soul forever without ever effectively burning that sin away. In Jesus, those sins are taken and completely incinerated, making us clean, pure, and ready to live eternally with God and separate from those sins. John the Baptizer put it well when he said, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire,” (Matthew 3:11-12). The soul without Jesus is in danger of this unquenchable fire that can never burn away the evil that remains, just as the blood of animals could never forgive sins.
Universalism is very dangerous in that it teaches people to not be concerned about Souls. Basically, it says, “Don’t panic! Everyone will be okay!” Unfortunately, there are many today who are teaching this and more who are believing it. This philosophy has been perpetuated by the misinformed “post-modern” movement, many of whom are more interested in pleasing everyone and selling books than teaching truth. While this movement is beginning to lose ground due to its lack of logic and its flawed premises, there are those in every generation who espouse the idea that people will go to everlasting rest regardless of their salvation. God does want all to be saved, but He never guarantees it for all. He just offers us all the opportunity. If we do not take that opportunity, we are lost to the fire that is never quenched.
We need to go by the example of Paul who “did not shrink from declaring the whole counsel of God,” (Acts 20:2). Rather, he proclaimed: “Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in His kindness. Otherwise you, too, will be cut off,” (Romans 11:22). Writer David Brown observed: “One of the great obligations of the church in getting lost men to see the error of their ways and obey the Gospel is to preach the truth of the Bible regarding Hell and who is going there. To preach only the goodness of God is to omit part of the whole counsel of God.” The whole counsel of God is more than just the understanding that we will be eternally saved or lost. It is comprehending your lostness and His goodness to save and bear your sins away forever. He is love (I John 4:8) and His love covers those who accept that love and are covered in that love by Jesus’ blood. The soul who takes advantage of this love not only will live eternally, but will live in the knowledge of love and perfect peace. That soul will understand exactly why those who are not in Christ are condemned and will know it is right and just and that God’s love is not lessened or incomplete.