My Love-Hate Relationship with Universalism

I think the greatest challenge to Christian faith is the problem of evil.

And I think the Christian’s best chance of dealing with the problem is by (1) turning to the incarnation, death, and resurrection of the Son of God and (2) the doctrine of the afterlife.

When I look around the world and see horrendous evils, I see the results of real, radically-free agents. I look at some people around me, and I see them make not just foolish or bad decisions, but deeply destructive decisions-destructive to themselves and others, and decisions that cannot be undone, decisions that are fixed and will have permanent, everlasting effects. 

While some evils can be undone, others, it seems to me, cannot. Without listing them, we can easily imagine evil choices that have been made that perpetrators and victims have to live with for the rest of their lives. There are no time machines.

What strikes me about these choices is the radical independence to which God has granted the world. The independence to make real decisions, and participate in the making of reality. This isn’t a world where God is holding our hand every step of the way. This is a world in which God has entrusted it to human beings to do as they will.

So, that’s the situation…now what?

One tempting offer on the table to address these horrendous and wide spread evils is to believe that in the end everyone will be saved. Problem of evil? No problem! Universalism: God ties everything up in a nice bow. Everything is taken care of.

Sounds great. There’s something deeply attractive about this possibility. You would have to be sort of twisted not to at least want it. Even God is not willing that any should perish.

Yet, at the same time, there is something about it that seems cheap.

People make all these horrific decisions throughout the course of their lives, but somehow they will eventually be saved. If all will be tidied up, the evils people have endured and suffered through raises the question in me: Why?? I get the image of a really intense board game, lasting for hours, pieces have been lost, points have been won, and just before the game is over, one player turns over the whole thing and none of the game really mattered.

This strikes me at odds with Scripture. 

The story of Scripture from beginning to end seems to be a story of a God at conflict with real evil, where there are real casualties and real stakes.

While it scares the hell out of me that the decisions people make are real and lasting, I see no way of seeing it differently (and dare I say may be wouldn’t have it any other way). Those decisions are not just illusory or temporary; they must be real. It seems like God has committed himself to honoring the reality of his creation in this life and in the next.

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