If there is no eternal, burning hell, does everyone ultimately become part of the Father’s family, whether they wish to or not? I don’t think so.
The idea that everyone will become part of the Father’s house, or as some would put it ‘Everyone will go to heaven’, is called universalism. This is a pleasant and comforting thought, but it raises questions about the important issue of freedom of the individual will.
The Father, in his love toward us, provides us the opportunity to live in peace and happiness forever; this is part of what Jesus came to tell us. I believe that each of us will have an opportunity to grasp the reality of this invitation with a clear understanding devoid of any prior misconceptions about Jesus and without the cloudiness of our mental deficiencies, scarred psyches, or twisted thinking. This might even occur after our death.
However, there is always the prospect that some might choose NOT to align with the Father, even though their thinking is clear; these are those who would say, ‘I would rather die than live in the Father’s community!’ What will happen to them? Will the Father force them into his place of peace and happiness against their will? I don’t think so.
One might ask: for what possible reason would a person reject the Father, when all the facts are clear? The great Christian writer C. S. Lewis proposes a possibility in his book Mere Christianity (Christian Behavior, chapter 8); it is pride or egotism. Lewis does not mean common pride in our accomplishments or relationships but rather competitive, dominating pride.
There are those who MUST be the dominant ego in any relationship. This accounts for a lot of evil among us, but there is no room for such ego-competition in the Father’s place of peace and happiness. Even if there were, the power-seeker would still be unsatisfied because, even if he subjugated every other ego in the Father’s place, he would find himself competing with the Father, himself. And that is a no-win for the egoist.
This situation would not constitute peace in the Father’s house, nor would it bring happiness to one driven by such power needs. It seems that the Father would be cruel to force a person like this into his peaceful society with no opportunity to defeat and exploit others; it would be hell to them.
Surely the Father will make alternative arrangement for such people. What might these arrangements be? Christians have suggested several scenarios.
1. Everlasting punishment in a burning fire. We have explored this in previous blogs and discovered that there is no basis for postulating such an option.
2. Everlasting punishment without fire. This is the view that the imagery of fire in the New Testament is metaphorical.
3. Universalism-everyone will go to heaven. Some believe that everyone WILL respond to the Father’s love. The Father’s love will be so overwhelming that we will have no choice but to accept it once the situation is clear to us. But wouldn’t this make us automatons—robots without the capacity for self-determination? Would we have no free will?
4. Conditional immortality-annihilation. A fourth possibility is that we are not inherently immortal. Jesus’ message in the New Testament is that we can have eternal life (become immortal). However, this immortality does not apply to those who reject eternal life. Therefore, they experience death or extinction.
In my opinion, conditional immortality is the proper answer to the question. Annihilation is not punishment; it is the natural result of our mortality. The Father offers an alternative—eternal life, but if a person rejects the offer they experience the natural consequence of mortality.
We will explore conditional immortality next time. What do YOU think will happen to those who reject the Father’s offer of eternal life?