God wills in all things to accomplish the mystery of his Incarnation
A great question. I wonder if it is too facile to reverse the query to "Can you be Christian and not believe in universal salvation?" Clearly this easily begets its own form of judgmentalism. Better to rely always and completely on the graciousness and mercy of God in Christ for all us prodigals. Otherwise we are easily tempted to seek the "deserving" of God's favor. In CS Lewis's "The Great Divorce" one of the riders on the bus cries out that they only want what they deserve. The bus driver responds, "Oh, it's not that bad." Thank God we don't get what we deserve, but what God wills for us, in Christ.
I like to think of George MacDonald a wonderful not-quite universalist. When after his death, MacDonald was accused of universalism C.S. Lewis defended him saying that MacDonald, 'Never believed that all men would go to heaven but he always HOPED that all men would go to heaven.'(rough quote from memory) In this debate there is one essential that all Christians must believe, that is that Christ can be trusted to judge. Not trusted to give us the judgment that we hope for or have proven ought to be, but trust that whatever He judges, whether heaven for all, or hell for all, or some discrimination(based not on anything in us but on His good pleasure for we know what everything in us argues for) that His judgment is the height of love and husbanding not simply for all in general but for each in particular.
'Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”' from Revelation 14
Two things that I have learned and can share on this passage:
1) this word 'torment' is basanismos and while it can refer to torture it often refers not so much to being strung up on the rack as to hard labor, to slaving away at our own works
2) the 'presence' of the holy angels and the lamb here is enopion and refers to the eyes, 'in the eyes of' and is often used to contrast the way that something appears to us against the way that it appears to God.
Based on that, may I suggest that it is in the sight of the Lamb that the sinners are tormented and this is 'the real reality' but that in their own minds their hard labor is useful and meaningful. The picture that we should have of election and judgment is not men beating on the doors of heaven and Christ turning them away because they aren't in His book but of men working, slaving their way--into Hell. Determinedly, stubbornly, doggedly pursuing our own damnation. And in some cases, the Rider of the White Horse swoops in and kidnaps us away, marriage by capture indeed!, exercises His veto over our will. The Saints might be in Heaven a million years before they stop kicking and screaming about their rights and what is due to them, grieving the hell that they have missed out on.
Like Glen, I also increasingly turn the question back: Can you believe Jesus was truly victorious if not everyone will be saved? If in the kingdom of God there is a place of endless death, when we’re told that death will be swallowed up in victory?
I do in fact that many ECT believers are simply trying to be faithful to what they’ve been told the Bible says. But again, why not reverse it; why not take the scripture that seems to clearly teach universal reconciliation “literally”, and in this truth, see how we can understand passages that seem to imply “eternal torment”. Most people are taught to do the opposite of this.
So I would ask: Do they believe that every knee will bow, or just some knees? Every tongue confess, or just a few tongues?
But, finally, I think one motivating factor is the jeopardy it creates for “easy grace”. The notion that all you have to do is say the prayer and you will be accepted, warts and all, into the kingdom of God, whereas others who did not specifically repent will be tormented, however well they lived. (Didn’t Jesus address this directly…?!) If all are made alive in Christ, the purpose and scope of purgative judgement becomes a little more mysterious, and I think may start to singe the toes of those who thought they were in the comfortable Fast Track lane…!
Thank you for this!