Here are six basic lines of thought, all grounded in Scripture, which when put together reveal the basic outline my hopeful point of view.
1. God is Love and Therefore Loves All Alike and Unconditionally
1 John 4:8 God is love.
Love is the essence of God’s character. Love permeates all God is and all God does. Love is not the way God is at certain moments and then not at other moments. Whatever God is doing is always rooted in God’s essential character as love. Everything God does is loving, even though the love may not be readily apparent to each person.
That God is in essence love, and not a mixture of love and other things, I regard as the most important conclusion which can be reached about God. For if God is not pure love, but some mixture of love and other motivations, then we cannot ever be confident about the actions of our creator.
Fortunately, if we want to know what love is, we are provided a detailed definition in the following passage from 1st Corinthians.
1 Corinthians 13: 4-8
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends.
This passage defines the character of love, which bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, and never ends. If God is love, and if this definition of love is accurate, then here we have a Biblical description of the love of God towards each and every soul. God loves each soul. God bears all for each soul. God believes all for each soul. God hopes all for each soul. God endures all for each soul. God never gives up on a soul. Each soul is tremendously valuable to God. God does not do this because God has to do it. God does it because it is God’s nature. It’s who God is.
Taking all of this into consideration, if there is ever a case in which God completely and utterly gives up on a soul, at that point we could still say many things about God, but we could no longer, I believe, say God is love.
Another characteristic of love is how love extends itself even towards enemies. This is the kind of love Jesus said characterized the love of God.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven;
Jesus here teaches his followers to love their enemies in order to be like their Father in heaven. Loving enemies is not something Jesus commanded only because it was the right thing to do in some abstract way. Loving enemies, in the eyes of Jesus, is the right thing to do because it is what the Father in heaven does.
We infer from this that God is an enemy lover. This further confirms how God loves us unconditionally, whether we are now in the state of being God’s friend or enemy.
Conclusion: God, being in essence love, loves us unconditionally. Nothing we do makes God love us less. Nothing we do makes God love us more. God loves us not because of who we are, but because of who God is. Nothing will ever stop God from loving us, because God is love and love bears all, believes all, hopes all, endures all, and never ends.
2. God Wants All to be Saved
Although much of the story of the Bible centers itself around the story of one specific group of people, the children of Abraham, whom God calls out to be elect, the purpose of this calling out was to be a blessing to all. We see this beginning in Genesis 12:3.
3…in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
God here tells Abraham that in him, or through him, all the families of the earth shall be blessed. The intention of God in calling out a chosen people through Abraham was not to limit salvation to those people only, but to bless all the families of the earth through these chosen people. God’s “elect” people do not exist to be the only recipients of God’s saving efforts. God’s elect people exist to share and demonstrate God’s saving intentions to the whole world for the blessing of the whole world. If salvation was limited to only God’s elect, then there is no way all the families of the earth can be considered blessed through Abraham.
We can see the same kind of intention to bless all people in the ministry of Jesus, particularly in John 12:32.
32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
The word translated “draw” is a form of the Greek verb helkuo. In John 18:10 a form of helkuo is used to describe the action of Peter when he drew his sword to cut off the ear of the High Priest’s servant when Jesus was being arrested. In John 21:11 a form of helkuo is also used to describe what is happening when the disciples drag a net bursting full of fish to Jesus without losing a single one.
Keeping the meaning of helkuo in mind, when we read John 12:32, where Jesus speaks of drawing all people to himself after being lifted up, we can think of a man drawing a sword, or a fishermen dragging in a net full of fish with not one escaping. Implied in these actions is a determined pulling, a helkuo, a sincere commitment to see the task at hand through until it is completed. John 12:32 demonstrates the sincere and determined will of Jesus to helkuo all people to himself for their salvation.
Jesus, in eating with tax collectors and sinners, demonstrated this same saving desire for all, setting off a firestorm of controversy. But the reason Jesus fellowshipped with sinners was for the very purpose of showing them how valuable and loved they were in the eyes of God, even though they were spiritually lost.
Luke 15: 1-7
1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”3 So he told them this parable: 4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
In eating with sinners and tax collectors Jesus shows his bond, his solidarity, with sinful humanity. When criticized for eating with sinners and tax collectors, Jesus begins his response by telling a parable in which a shepherd having a hundred sheep goes after one who is lost. The shepherd sees each one of his sheep as being very valuable to him. Jesus shows here how all lost people are very valuable to him and he is not willing that even one of them should be lost.
In the Greek the basic form of the word for “lost” is apollumi, which has to do with destruction. The lost sheep, in being separated from the shepherd, is in effect destroyed. But when the lost sheep is found it is no longer destroyed, no longer apollumi. When we are separated from Jesus we suffer apollumi, the destruction of wandering away from our Lord. But Jesus is not satisfied for any of us suffer permanent apollumi, so he comes looking for us until he finds us.
This is important because in Jesus’ parables in Luke 15 about the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son they are all described as being apollumi, the same word that is translated as “destroyed” elsewhere in the New Testament.
So we have to keep in mind when reading passages about judgment that “the destruction” sinners experience doesn’t imply an absolute dead end for them. The lost sheep was destroyed when lost and undestroyed when it was found, just as the lost coin was destroyed when lost and undestroyed when it was found, and lost son was destroyed when lost and undestroyed, or alive again, when he came to his senses and returned home.
The intention of God for all to be saved is stated very clearly in 1st Timothy 2:3-4.
1st Timothy 2:3-4
3 …God our Savior, 4 who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
Here it is plainly stated that the desire, and therefore the will, of God is that everyone be saved. Further, it is God’s will that we all come to the knowledge of the truth, which would include a shared understanding about the truth of our salvation. Salvation is not just about deliverance from sin, it is also about coming into a harmonious relationship with God and others, which includes having a knowledge of the truth, a shared understanding about the true nature and purpose of our salvation and existence.
There is not one lost soul that God wants to stay lost forever. It is God’s purpose that the lost would be found in Christ. It is God’s will that all lost souls, like the prodigal son, would eventually come home.
3. All Are Included in the Cross of Christ
The message of Christianity is often proclaimed as being about a saving act Jesus accomplished on the cross for everyone. However, in order to be included in what Jesus did on the cross for everyone, you have to do certain things. These certain things you have to do, however, are not agreed upon by these Christian groups. And so there is a lot of uncertainty and disagreement about just how much faith you need to have, what exactly you need to believe, how you should be baptized, how many good works need to follow, how much evidence of the Holy Spirit there needs to be seen, and so on. But it’s very important to get these things done, whatever exactly they are, because if you don’t, then you will be excluded from God, and God will have no choice but to punish you in hell forever. So, a lot of Christianity, as it is commonly presented, has to do with how to be included in the saving act Jesus accomplished on the cross for everyone.
But what if there is a more inclusive way of thinking about this?
What if being included in what Jesus did on the cross doesn’t have anything to do with what you do? What if everyone is included in what Jesus did on the cross whether or not they currently have faith, or believe, or have done anything Christian?
The argument Paul makes in the 5th Chapter of Romans takes this position. Here Paul argues that all humanity was affected by the disobedience of Adam, whether they believed in Adam or not. Then Paul goes on to argue that all humanity was affected even more, in a positive way, by Jesus’ sacrificial obedience in going to the cross.
Paul’s writing in the 5th chapter of Romans is dense, so the deep meaning is not immediately apparent. When considered more slowly, however, the deep meaning of humanity’s inclusion in the cross comes to the surface. Paul, in the first eleven verses of this 5th chapter, emphasizes how Jesus died for us not when we were at our best but when we were at our worst. Precisely at this low point God demonstrated his own love for us in that when we were still sinners Christ died for our sakes. Paul makes the point that someone might dare to give their life for someone who is good, but Jesus willingly laid down his life for us while we were yet sinners. Having set the stage, we pick up with Paul’s reasoning at verse 12 of chapter 5.
12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned—
The first word in vs. 12 is “therefore” signaling that Paul is preparing to summarize his thought. Therefore, Paul begins, sin and death entered through one man, that one being the first man, Adam. And, according to Paul, we know that all have continued in this sin because death has spread to all.
Romans 5: 13-14
13 sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. 14 Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.
In verse 13 Paul continues his thoughts about the presence of sin in the world up until the time God gave Moses the 10 Commandments. During this time, even though there was no law to convict people as guilty, they still sinned and died because the effect of sin was still at work in the world causing death. People sinned differently than Adam, but they sinned all the same, and the presence of death was the undeniable confirmation of this.
At the end of verse 14 Paul says Adam was a pattern, an image, a type of one to come. Adam was someone who did something to everyone that couldn’t be undone. In this way Adam changed everything. But there was another coming, like Adam, who also was going to change everything.
Romans 5: 15
15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!
Paul here says that the gift is not like the trespass. Why is this? It’s because the trespass of Adam results in something different than the gift of Christ. “The many” affected by Adam are now caught up in something greater than what Adam got them into. “The many” that were caught up in the trespass of Adam have now been caught up in the gift of God’s grace through Jesus Christ.
Romans 5: 16
16 And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification.
Here we see how the trespass of Adam brought the judgment of condemnation, while the gift of Christ, which followed the many sins set into effect by Adam, brings justification. The trespass of Adam brought condemnation, but the gift of Christ brings justification.
17 If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
Paul again contrasts those who received the trespass of the “one man” Adam with those who receive the gift of the “one man” Jesus Christ. Through Adam they became the receivers of the dominion of death. Through Jesus Christ they became receivers of the dominion of life. For example, consider the sentence “The dry land received the rain.” The dry land didn’t have to do anything to receive the rain. In the same way people didn’t have to do anything to receive the consequences of Adam’s disobedience, people don’t have to do anything to receive the blessing of Jesus’ obedience.
In the next verse Paul makes it crystal clear that just as all are included in the condemnation which came through Adam, all are included in the justification and life which comes through Jesus.
Romans 5: 18
18 Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.
Again Paul contrasts the effects of Adam’s act of trespass versus the effect of Jesus’ act of righteousness. Adam’s trespass brings condemnation for all, whereas what Jesus did results in justification that brings life for all. Adam brings guilt and death for all. Jesus brings justification and life for all.
Romans 5: 19
19 For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.
Who are “the many” who were made sinners? “The many” are those identified in Romans 5:15 as the ones who received the consequences of Adam’s disobedience. Who are “the many” who will be made righteous? “The many” are the same many identified in Romans 5:15. The very ones caught up in the effects of the disobedience of Adam are “the many” now being caught up in the obedience of Jesus. “The many” were included in Adam, whether they believed in Adam or not. “The many” were included in Jesus, whether they believed in Jesus or not.
Conclusion: The importance of Romans 5:12-19 is in how it establishes that all humanity is included in Christ whether they know it or not. Just as surely as all humanity was included in the consequences Adam brought, all humanity is now included in the benefits Christ brings.
2nd Corinthians 5:14
14 For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.
Paul here emphasizes how it is that all humanity is included in the death of Christ. Paul’s reasoning is that since Jesus died for all, all have died, or all have been taken together into the death of Christ. In Paul’s way of thinking, the death of Christ on the cross is his act of righteous obedience. Paul contrasts Christ’s act of obedience on the cross with Adam’s act of disobedience in the garden. Just as all were caught up in Adam’s rebellion, all now have been caught up in Christ’s death, Christ’s righteous obedience. In this way then, when Christ died on the cross, all humanity “died” with him.
The consequences of “dying” in Christ are further considered in Colossians 3:3 where we read this word of encouragement written to the early Christian community, “… for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” From this passage in Colossians we find further information about what happens when we die in Christ. When we die in Christ we have our life hidden in Christ. In other words, dying in Christ results in having one’s life included, or hidden in Christ. Because of Jesus’ death on the cross we may then infer that the life of all humanity is taken up, or “hidden” in Christ.
1st John 2:22 and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
John writes here that Jesus’ sacrifice was not only for the sins of the Christian community, but for the sins of the whole world. Again we see how what Jesus did on the cross affected all people, not just Christians. The sins of the whole world were atoned for by Christ on the cross. To atone for something means to make up for it, or make it right, to justify it. Literally speaking, to atone means to overcome whatever difference has caused the division. After the atonement takes place, the division is healed, and the two that were divided are now “at one.” Because of what Christ did on the cross, because of Christ’s atonement for humanity, God and humanity are now at one.
1 Timothy 2:5-6
5 For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human, 6 who gave himself a ransom for all.
If all have been ransomed then a payment of some kind has been made for everyone. Jesus gave himself for all people, not just some people.
Conclusion: From the verses considered a good case can be made that all humanity has been caught up in Christ’s giving of himself. What Jesus did he did for all, and all are included in the effects of it.
4. God is Sovereign Over All
The Bible affirms that God is sovereign over the course of human affairs. There is no power greater than God. Nothing God wants done can fail to be completed because there is no power greater than God to prevent it from happening. The following verses establish the basic idea of the sovereignty of God.
2 Chronicles 20:6
6 and said, “O Lord, God of our ancestors, are you not God in heaven? Do you not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations? In your hand are power and might, so that no one is able to withstand you.
3 Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases.
6 Whatever the Lord pleases he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.
21 The human mind may devise many plans, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will be established.
2 “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
14 The Lord of hosts has sworn: As I have designed, so shall it be; and as I have planned, so shall it come to pass:
“…declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, “My purpose shall stand, and I will fulfill my intention,”
27 See, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too hard for me?
But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”
11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will,
Conclusion: There is really no question about whether or not God is able to accomplish all God sets out to accomplish. Over and over in the Bible we are told that God is able to bring about everything God wants to bring about. No power, no person, no force is able to stop God. Since there is no question about whether God is able to accomplish all God wants to accomplish, the main question falls back to what it is God wants to accomplish. It does not make sense to say God can be defeated in God’s will, because if God is defeated it contradicts the Scriptures which affirm God’s ability to accomplish all God wants to accomplish.
5. God’s Ultimate Victory Includes All
The following verses establish that God is a victorious God, and that God’s victory will be a victory which includes all.
1 Chronicles 29:11
11 Yours, O Lord, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours; yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all.
21 who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets.
32 For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.
9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
By myself I have sworn, from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness a word that shall not return: “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.”
For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.”
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
1 Corinthians 15:28
28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all.
16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
1 John 3:8
8 The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.
Conclusion: The great purpose of God in creation is not to find out what God wants to keep and what God wants to throw away. God’s purpose is not to find out how much of creation God will be able to keep. The great purpose of God in creation is to share the beauty and joy of God’s inner life with beings made in God’s own image. It is God’s purposes to redeem and restore all that has been lost along the way. God’s ultimate purpose is to see the fulfillment of all of God’s initial purposes in creation.
6. God’s Judgment Purifies All
31 For the Lord will not reject forever. 32 Although he causes grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; 33 for he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.
All those who say hell lasts forever will have to contend in some way with this passage from Lamentations. Here we are told God will not reject forever. In the original Hebrew it reads that God will not reject for olam. In Hebrew thought the world olam had to do with something being far off, beyond the horizon, out of sight, but not necessarily forever. So here in this passage from Lamentations the idea is something like, “Although the Lord may put you out a long, long way, the Lord will not take any satisfaction in this, and his purpose is for you to ultimately learn your lesson and to be able to come back home.” This passage of Scripture tells us that rejecting someone forever is not something even being considered by God. “Forever rejection” is not something a loving God has in mind. God may reject and cause grief, but the duration of this only lasts until what is necessary is accomplished. The rejection and the grief proposed here we may imagine as being very unpleasant, even horrible. This is the right place to think about the outer darkness, and weeping, and gnashing of teeth Jesus warned about. Who in their right mind would want to pursue the path where God is forced to cause us to experience rejection and grief and we are required to truly face the evil we have done? Who would think that they will go ahead and sin, knowing that a loving God stands ready and willing to put them through whatever is necessary in order to accomplish their rehabilitation? The thing that’s so scary about the judgment of a loving God is that this God will never relent until the evil is truly removed from the heart. In this kind of judgment one may not stay in denial forever, because God will ultimately win, and the rebellious heart will ultimately be broken for its own good. This isn’t the case with the idea of eternal hell. In eternal hell the soul continues on forever never having to come to grips with what it’s done. Even if the soul is finally annihilated in its state of rebellion it never has to go through the real pain of seeing the truth about itself. But in the case of a loving God who is causing grief for the ultimate purpose of reconciliation, this deity will never relent until what is necessary has been accomplished and the soul is purified from evil. And that’s the scariest thought I can think of when I think about why I want to avoid God’s judgment process for the souls God loves.
2 Samuel 14:14
14 We must all die; we are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up. But God will not take away a life; he will devise plans so as not to keep an outcast banished forever from his presence.
God’s purposes are not to just throw us away forever if we don’t measure up. God doesn’t want that any more than any loving parent would want to never see their beloved child again. God is not sitting around trying to deciding whether or not to kill us forever. Here we see that even in cases where God is banishing someone, the point is that in the larger picture the plan is always to bring the one banished back into God’s presence.
2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; 3 he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.
Here we have an image of the purifying role of fire. Fire is often seen as having the purpose of completely destroying all that is thrown into it. But fire also can be seen as having the purpose of refining and purifying, as when fire is used in the purifying process of gold and silver. The purpose then of the fire of God’s love is to finally destroy all in the soul that needs to be destroyed so that the soul might be purified and free from all the evil that holds it back.