One of the most trafficked posts on my blog regarding UR is a post where I discuss how my attraction to UR has more to do with theodicy than with soteriology.
(Some quick definitions if you need them. Soteriology has to do with salvation, theories about how one ends up saved versus damned. Theodicy has to do with the problem of horrific suffering, sometimes called “the problem of evil” or “the problem of pain.”)
Most of the conversation and debate regarding UR is decidedly soteriological in content, focusing on issues such as sin, forgiveness, judgment, justice, heaven, and hell.
To be clear, those issues are of interest to me. But what most people fail to understand is that my attraction to UR hasn’t been motivated by soteriological issues. UR isn’t attractive to me because it solves the problem of hell (though it does that). UR is attractive to me because it addresses the problem of pain.
(Incidentally, this is also why I reject annihilationism. Annihilationism is trying to fix the problem of hell rather than what I consider to be the deeper theological problem, the problem of suffering and the goodness of God.)
In short, for me universalism is about theodicy. Not soteriology. The issue isn’t about salvation (traditionally understood). It’s about suffering. Universalism, as best I can tell, is the only Christian doctrine that takes the problem of suffering seriously. As evidence for this, just note that when a theologian starts taking suffering seriously he or she starts moving toward UR. Examples include Jürgen Moltmann, Marilyn McCord Adams, and John Hick. Take suffering seriously and the doctrine of UR soon follows.
I gravitated to UR in college because the problem of horrific suffering became (and remains) the defining theological predicament of my faith experience. It’s a problem that still keeps me up at night. And while I find the doctrine of ECT distasteful, this is really just another facet of my larger theodicy concerns. Is God really loving if he tortures people for eternity? More, isn’t “accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior” largely contingent upon where you were born in the world, a manifestation of what philosophers call moral luck?
Everything comes back to theodicy for me.
Here’s a test I floated on my blog about this connection. Whenever you find a person who doesn’t “get” UR (not that they have to believe it, they just have to “get” it) you’ll have person who doesn’t “get” the problem of horrific suffering. The two, in my experience, are of a piece.
This quote from Jürgen Moltmann’s Trinity and Kingdom captures a lot of what I’m trying to say:
Theodicy and the suffering it is honoring is the “open wound of life.” And theology, all this conversation we have on this forum, exists “to make it possible for us to survive, to go on living, with this open wound.”
And in the face of all the suffering in this world–past, present, and future–UR is the only theological answer that has enabled me to survive.