One of the big criticisms I have observed by many online “bible answer experts” towards Universalism is that it relies so much on sentiment and emotion to substantiate itself instead of scripture. For this reason Universalism is called wishful thinking and a doctrine on shaky ground. But lets put another idea to the same standard. Lets challenge the age of accountability.
We operate by the idea that people are born under the curse of sin from their mothers womb and the only salvation is in acceptance of Jesus. If an infant dies before it has the ability to accept Jesus or even understand any of this, then under the solid doctrinal framework of sin and death, that baby should go to hell because it has not accepted Christ.
But not so fast…nobody accepts that equation. The most hardcore Calvinist or the most staunch Arminian will tell you that babies go straight to heaven when they die. Really? Whats your scriptural basis? They will immediately admit there is not SOLID scriptural foundation on this. Instead we are left to weave together some scriptures that seem to lean towards the idea that babies go to heaven even though scripture does not say that. David lost a baby and declared “He cannot come to me, but I can go to him.” Well thats no guarantee the baby went to heaven because David did not go to heaven until Jesus released the captives from the grave. David went to Sheol where the baby was when he died. David may have went on to heaven, but that baby never put faith in God in this life so under the rules of justification by faith, he should be bound over to the other side of the gulf where the rich man dwelt.
In fact Jonathon Edwards sent babies to hell in several statements.
“For we know they have enough (sin) to make their (infants) damnation very just.”(1.)
“And you, children, who are unconverted, do not you know that you are going down to hell, to bear the dreadful wrath of that God, who is now angry with you every day and every night?” (2)
Augustine the great church father who taught us hell is forever argued with Palagius that infants must be baptized or they will be damned for their original sin.
Now contrast Charles Spurgeon who on infant salvation relies heavily on appealing to the love and mercy of God’s nature where scripture fails to speak specifically.
“First, we ground our conviction very much upon the goodness of the nature of God. We say that the opposite doctrine that some infants perish and are lost, is altogether repugnant to the idea which we have of Him whose name is love. If we had a God, whose name was Moloch, if God were an arbitrary tyrant, without benevolence or grace, we could suppose some infants being cast into hell; but our God, who heareth the young ravens when they cry, certainly will find no delight in the shrieks and cries of infants cast away from his presence.”
We would never object to Spurgeons sentimentality with so little scriptural reference. For where he lacks proof text, he applies scriptural logic and sound biblical philosophy.
In light of the terrible agony put upon parents by the heresy of infant damnation, unto the point of suicide, Spurgeon employs a logic in the absence of scripture that refuses to allow God’s nature to be impugned by the qualities of a monster.
The Christian Universalist however is not allowed such liberties in the struggle with the incomprehensible notion of fiery torture for sinners exceeding a trillion to the trillionth power of years. We see no glory for God in this. We see no purpose in this and further more we see no joy in heaven knowing these suffer this long in hell.
In fact we have a scripture in which God says that He will not allow His name to be defamed by way of – wait for it- staying angry forever.
For my name’s sake will I defer mine anger, and for my praise will I refrain for thee, that I cut thee not off. Behold, I have refined thee, but not as silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction. (Hell?) For mine own sake, for mine own sake, will I do it; for how should my name be profaned? and my glory will I not give to another. Isaiah 48:9-11 ESV
We universalists contend that eternal conscious torment profanes God’s name for it is the name of Love and it gives His glory to another, namely Satan, in that it would appear the devil takes more souls to hell than God takes to heaven. And that matters when all men are made in God’s image and when He has declared He wants all men to be saved.
We say God has shown Himself far too wise and surprising and creative and redemptive to allow Satan to score a trillion souls for hell while God only scored a billion for heaven. God’s progressive revelation keeps pressing towards that which is lost in spite of past judgements. Over and again God’s judgements keep getting followed up by restorations and promises of a better day.
The tune has changed drastically since Augustine and Edwards. The church accepts that an understanding of God’s nature and what we believe His justice to be forbids us from accepting that children could ever burn in hell by virtue of original sin. Yet that somehow becomes heresy when applied to people of age 16 or 20 who never heard the gospel.
Why then can we not appeal to these same virtues and sensibilities to say surely God will not stay angry forever? Surely there will be an end to punishment.