It is often objected that Universalism guts the gospel of its necessity in that if everyone is going to be saved, then theres no point in trying to convert people. This position is a result of limited perspective and lack appreciation for the true value of a relationship with God.
Lets say a person was born in a cave in total darkness. One day someone came to them and said “you don’t have to live in darkness” and they showed him how to make fire. He lived by the light of that fire and made his way around that way. Then someone came to him and said, did you know there is a world outside this place where you don’t need to carry a torch because the sun shines and gives light all day long. Would the man say, “Then what good is this torch?” No because the fact is the fire he has is very helpful and good UNTIL he reaches that outside world.
The idea that Christianity is only worthwhile if there is an eternal hell to escape seems to devalue the inherent good in knowing God as soon as possible as an end unto itself. Has eternal hell become such a large fixture in our psyche that without it God’s love and salvation is meaningless to us?
Jesus has a bride. Marriage is a revelation of that mystery. What part of the marriage metaphor requires the threat of eternal punishment to reveal the fulness of the grooms love? The groom marries the bride because he loves her. She marries him because she loves him. They know each other and love each other. No threat of hell is involved in this marriage. In fact if the groom were to use threats to guarantee her acceptance of his proposal, the proposal would no longer be based on love but instead coercion.
As I look back on my own conversion I realize hell had nothing to do with it. I did not really have any kind of understanding of hell. I did fear death. That played a major role. But I did not accept Christ because someone told me I was going to hell. I accepted Christ because I hated what I had made of my life and knew that I was empty and lost and imprisoned by my habits and desires and needed God in my life. I let him in and he revolutionized me. Then later church people taught me about hell. Because they had been so instrumental in helping me find and grow in God I accepted everything they told me.
Yet the idea of eternal hell really was not something fully revealed to me. I just didn’t think it through. But eventually it did sink in and when it did I vomited it out of my heart. I no longer accept hell as a place of eternal torture. I see it as a place where rebellion and unbelief are destroyed so faith in Christ can be accepted.
But had I known that when I got saved would anything have changed? No. I still needed God and my life was still not what I wanted it to be. The idea of continuing in the life I was in simply because I knew hell was not for forever seems ludicrous. It would be like saying I regret moving to Hawaii now that I found out there are some warm sunny days in Alaska.
Knowing God and being loved and cared for by him is the core of my faith, not the escape from hell. This is why the absence of eternal hell does not really leave a empty place in the gospel. There’s too many other reasons to share Jesus.
I mean if God is real and God wants to live in your heart, isn’t that reason enough to feel excited? The creator of the Universe loves you and wants to have a relationship with you, and He died to remove the one obstacle to that relationship.
Eternal hell was never spoken of in the book of Acts as they proclaimed salvation. Then what does salvation mean? It means being saved from Satan and evil and our own sin. Theres plenty to be saved from in that list. Theres plenty to celebrate and worship right there. But there is a hell and being saved means not having to go there right? Yes it does.
But what is hell for? Is it an eternal torture chamber where the God who calls himself Love puts people who never got in on the offer? That introduces serious logical and philosophical as well as theological problems. Love cannot be a torturer. If Love is a torturer then He is not Love. If He is Love he cannot be a torturer. This means hell must be something else besides a torture chamber. Perhaps it’s an operating room. Perhaps it is where the cancer of unbelief and stubbornness is burned off by fire.
Look at the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. Its very hard to tout the importance of free will in that conversion. Saul was forcefully coerced by Jesus himself. He was not convinced by scriptures and Christian love in the church. He was overthrown by Jesus. That in itself is a powerful evidence that God will do what he has to do to get who he wants. He wants everybody and he will get them if he has to send them to hell to coerce them.
But that reality does not negate the fact that the person who is saved through hell instead of from hell could have lived an entire life of fellowship with God. They missed out on something beautiful. I would never want to go back to the life I was living out of assurance I would eventually be saved. There would be too much I would have missed out on living for God and way too much I would have regretted and hurt myself with had I gone on in that path.
So the idea that the absence of eternal hell renders the gospel meaningless is a sad symptom of how meaningless the gospel has become if we cannot appreciate it’s joys without the threat of eternal hell.