Ask Ivor

Jenny asks:

"So, if you're not Christian, do you go to Hell?"

Jesus does say "Whoever does not believe [in me] stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son" (Jn 3:18-19) and "No one comes to the Father except through me" (Jn 14:6). But Jesus says nothing about Christians and non-Christians. Instead, Jesus distinguishes between wise and foolish (Mt 7:24-27), worthy and unwelcoming (Mt 10:11-15), good and evil (Mt 12:35-36), faithful and wicked (Mt 24:45-51), those who do—and don't—give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, welcome to the stranger, clothes to the naked, healing to the sick, and visitation to the prisoner (Mt 25:31-46), and between those who don't know, and those who know but don't do (Lk 12:47-48). Jesus denounces the unrepentant (Mt 11:20-24), the hypocritical (Mt 23: 13-14), and "the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters, and all liars" (Re 21:8). He warns, "By their fruit you will recognize them. Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father" (Mt 7:20-21).


Christians hold a spectrum of views on Hell. Some understand it to be a place of eternal suffering: "They will go away to eternal punishment" (Mt 25:46); "Hell, where 'Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched'" (Mk 9:48); "The smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever" (Re 14:11).


Other Christians understand Hell to be, rather, a place of annihilation: "They will be punished with everlasting destruction" (2Th 1:9); "The present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men" (2Pe 3:7).


Still other Christians understand Hell to be just one more route to salvation: "God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all" (Ro 11:32); "The fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved" (1Co 3:13-15); "In Christ all will be made alive" (1Co 15:22); "That God may be all in all" (1Co 15:28); "God... wants all men to be saved" (1Ti 2:3-4); "The Lord... is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (2Pe 3:9).


Albeit a minority view, the idea of universal salvation has a long history in Christianity:


Clement of Alexandria (150-215):


If in this life there are so many ways for purification and repentance, how much more should there be after death! ...We can set no limits to the agency of the Redeemer - to redeem, to rescue, to discipline, is his work, and so will he continue to operate after this life.... God's punishments are saving and disciplinary (in Hades) leading to conversion, and choosing rather the repentance than the death of the sinner.... How is He Savior and Lord, if not the Savior and Lord of all? ...All things are ordered, both generally and particularly by the Lord of the universe toward the salvation of the whole.... Needful corrections, by the goodness of the great, overseeing judge, through the attendant angels, through various prior judgments, through the final judgment, compel even those who have become more callous to repent.


Origen (185-254):


The Word, who is the Wisdom of God, shall bring together all intelligent creatures, and convert them into his own perfection.... Stronger than all the evils in the soul is the Word, and the healing power that dwells in him; and this healing he applies, according to the will of God, to every man. The consummation of all things is the destruction of evil.... There is punishment, but not everlasting. For when the body is punished the soul is gradually purified, and so restored to its ancient rank. For all wicked men, and for demons, too, punishment has an end, and both wicked men and demons shall be restored to their former rank.


Macrina (327-380):


The process of healing shall be proportioned to the measure of evil in each of us, and when the evil is purged and blotted out, there shall come in each place, to each, immortality and life and honor.


Gregory of Nazianzus (330-389):


A few drops of blood renew the whole world, and become for all men that which rennet is for milk, uniting and drawing us into one.... [Christ is] like leaven for the entire mass, and having made that which was damned one with himself, frees the whole from damnation.


Gregory of Nyssa (330-395):


Our Lord is the One who delivers man (all men), and who heals the inventor of evil himself.... The nature of evil shall one day be wholly exterminated, and divine, immortal goodness embrace within itself all intelligent natures; so that of all who were made by God, not one shall be exiled from his kingdom; when all the alloy of evil that like a corrupt matter is mingled in things shall be dissolved and consumed in the furnace of purifying fire and everything that had its origin from God shall be restored to its pristine state of purity.


Jerome (348-420):


In the end of things, the whole body which had been dissipated and torn into divers parts shall be restored.... The fallen angel will begin to be that which he was created, and man who has been expelled from Paradise will be once more restored to the tilling of Paradise.... In the end and consummation of the Universe all are to be restored into their original harmonious state, and we all shall be made one body and be united once more into a perfect man, and the prayer of our Savior shall be fulfilled that all may be one.... The apostate angels, and the prince of this world, and Lucifer, the morning star, though now ungovernable, licentiously wandering about, and plunging themselves into the depths of sin shall, in the end, embrace the happy dominion of Christ and his saints.


Diodore (?-390):


For the wicked... they shall... suffer punishment for a short space, but immortal blessedness having no end awaits them.... The penalties to be inflicted for their many and grave sins are very far surpassed by the magnitude of the mercy to be showed them.


Maximus the Confessor (580-662):


[There will be a] general change and renewal which will take place in the future, at the end of the ages, through God our Savior: a universal renewal of the whole human race, natural but by grace.


Julian of Norwich (1342-1416):


On the last day... just as the Holy Trinity made all things from nothing, so the Holy Trinity shall make all well that is not well.... One point of our faith is that many shall be damned, and given all this, I thought it impossible that all manner of things should be well.... And I received no other answer in showing from our Lord God but this: "What is impossible to you is not impossible to me. I shall keep my word in all things and I shall make all things well."


Hans Denck (1500-1527):


Since love in him was perfect and since love hates or is envious of none, but includes everyone, even though we were all his enemies, surely he would not wish to exclude anyone. And if he had excluded anyone, then love would have been squint-eyed and a respecter of persons. And that, [love, God] is not!


William Law (1686-1761):


To suppose God be an arbitrary Power, willing and decreeing its eternal Happiness in some, and willing and decreeing its eternal Misery in others, is a blasphemous Absurdity.... But Truth... will eternally say, that his Love is as universal and unchangeable as his Being, that his Mercy over all his Works can no more cease, than his Omnipotence can begin to grow weak.... Though this is called "wrath," and that called "punishment," "curse," and "death," it is all from the beginning to the end nothing but the work of the first creating Love, and means nothing else, and does nothing else, but those works of purifying fire, which must and alone can burn away all that dark evil which separates the creature from its first-created union with God.... God creating, God illuminating, God sanctifying, God threatening and punishing, God forgiving and redeeming, are all but one and the same essential, immutable, never-ceasing working of the Divine Nature.


George de Benneville (1703-1793):


I hold the restoration of all souls; because having myself been the chief of sinners... God... granted me the mercy and the pardon of all my sins, and... I could not have a doubt but the whole world would be saved by the same power.... Preach the Universal and Everlasting Gospel of Boundless, Universal Love for the entire human race, without exception, and for each one in particular.


John Murray (1741-1815):


Give them, not Hell, but hope and courage. Do not push them deeper into their theological despair, but preach the kindness and everlasting love of God.


Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834):


All evil shall be overcome. Misery cannot increase, but must decrease.... The sympathy which the saved have with their former companions, who are in Hell, will prevent the happiness of the saved. The world of mankind, and also the whole universe, is so connected that the endless misery of a part will destroy the happiness of the remainder.... Through the force of the Redemption, a universal restoration of souls will follow.


Hosea Ballou (1771-1852):


The gloomy doctrine of eternal misery... renders that, which in its divine and native beauty possesses the most powerful attractions, the most deformed picture that ever repelled the human affections. It is this heaven-dishonoring doctrine, so repugnant to and irreconcilable with the known goodness of God manifested to all nations in his divine providence, that has, more than any thing else, so buffeted all the best feelings of man, as in thousands of instances to drive the heart of benevolence to lay aside the scriptures to whose authority this unmerciful doctrine has been erroneously ascribed.... What an absurdity! Eternal misery an essential article of the faith of a Savior! ...We have no reason to wonder that religion is so little set by, while it is held up in such a character.


F.D. Maurice (1805-1872):


Our Heavenly Father, we thank you that... all persons of all tribes and kindreds are called to celebrate a complete conquest and a universal redemption.... Christ's redemption and atonement are universal. God in Christ has redeemed mankind. As we are one of mankind we may trust that we are redeemed.... Christ has come into the world to fulfil it.... I am sure that I shall never convert a single sinner if I leave him in doubt whether it is God's will that he and every man should be converted or not.... There is an abyss of love deeper than the abyss of death.


Anne Bronte (1820-1849):


And, oh! there lives within my heart, A hope, long nursed by me; (And, should its cheering ray depart, How dark my soul would be!) That as in Adam all have died, In Christ shall all men live; And ever round his throne abide, Eternal praise to give. That even the wicked shall at last, Be fitted for the skies; And, when their dreadful doom is past, To life and light arise. I ask not, how remote the day, Nor what the sinners' woe, Before their dross is purged away; Enough for me, to know, That when the cup of wrath is drained, The metal purified, They'll cling to what they once disdained, And live by Him that died.


George MacDonald (1824-1905):


God is not bound to punish sin; he is bound to destroy sin.... Hell is God's and not the devil's. Hell is on the side of God and man, to free the child of God from the corruption of death. Not one soul will ever be redeemed from hell but by being saved from his sins, from the evil in him. If hell be needful to save him, hell will blaze, and the worm will writhe and bite, until he takes refuge in the will of the Father.... Justice and mercy are simply one and the same thing. Such is the mercy of God that he will hold his children in the consuming fire of his distance until they pay the uttermost farthing, until they drop the purse of selfishness with all the dross that is in it, and rush home to the Father and the Son, and the many brethren, rush inside the center of the life-giving fire whose outer circles burn.


Hannah Whitall Smith (1832-1911):


I saw that ours was the suffering, and that His was the joy of sacrificing Himself to save us.... Christ is to be satisfied! ...The remedy must necessarily be equal to the disease, the salvation must be as universal as the fall.... God is the Creator of every human being, therefore He is the Father of each one and they are all His children; and Christ died for every one.... However great the ignorance, therefore, or however grievous the sin, the promise of salvation is positive and without limitations.... Somewhere and somehow God was going to make everything right for all the creatures He had created.... God's wrath is against the sin not against the sinner.... His sword is the righteousness that puts to death sin in order to save the sinner.... I began to see that the wideness of God's love was far beyond any wideness that I could even conceive of; and that if I took all the unselfish love of every mother's heart the whole world over, and piled it all together, and multiplied it by millions, I would still only get a faint idea of the unselfishness of God.


G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936):


To hope for all souls is imperative; and it is quite tenable that their salvation is inevitable.


Hans urs von Balthasar (1905-1988):


I would like to request that one be permitted to hope that God's redemptive work for his creation might succeed. Certainty cannot be obtained, but hope can be justified. That is probably the reason why the Church which has sanctified so many men, has never said anything about the damnation of any individual. Not even about that of Judas.


William Barclay (1907-1978):


In the end all men will be gathered into the love of God.... The choice is whether we accept God's offer and invitation willingly, or take the long and terrible way round through ages of purification.... It is impossible to set limits to the grace of God.... The grace of God is as wide as the universe.... If one man remains outside the love of God at the end of time, it means that that one man has defeated the love of God - and that is impossible.... God is not only King and Judge, God is Father - he is indeed Father more than anything else.... The only triumph a father can know is to have all his family back home.


Jacques Ellul (1912-1994):


All people from the beginning of time are saved by God... they have all been recipients of his grace no matter what they have done.... How can we conceive of him who is love ceasing to love one of his creatures? ...Being love, God cannot send to hell the creation which he so loved that he gave his only Son for it.... God directs his justice upon himself; he has taken upon himself the condemnation of our wickedness. What would be the point, then, of a second condemnation of individuals? Was the judgment passed on Jesus insufficient? ...What could grace mean if it were granted only to some sinners and not to others? ...God being who he is, hell is impossible.... This reconciliation is for all... and it will apply to them whether they know it or not, whether they will it or not. God is reconciled to them even if they are not reconciled to God.... All are written in the book of life.... All are saved, but only those who believe the gospel know it. This is no small matter, for people are full of anguish and anxiety and fear, fear of the future and of war and of death.... They are desperate because they have lost their loved ones, or think they have lived in vain, or see the world degraded and nature violated and slowly plundered. They are doubly crushed because they do not know that they are loved and accompanied and saved and reunited and promised a future of truth, righteousness, and light.


Carlton Pearson (1953-):


The world is already saved, they just don't know it; and, unfortunately, most Christians don't believe it.... Jesus did not just die for Christians, He died to redeem, reconcile, and ultimately save the Cosmos.... God... can't be and... is not limited to a person's or culture's perception of Him. He loves everybody, He understands everybody, and He has a covenant with everybody - again, whether they know it or not.... Jesus came to redeem mankind back to God. He did that without your vote or permission. This is a fixed fight and a fixed Light. The gospel agrees with humanity whether humanity agrees with it or not. The good news of the gospels is not so much that you accept Christ, but that Christ accepts you. Jesus said, "You did not choose me, I chose you."