Does God ever give up on us? Is there ever a point at which someone is “too far gone” for God? I think most people would say no, and I think that feeling matches what most people believe about hell. It seems that most people who believe in the possibility of a never-ending hell, also believe that it is possible because we reject God forever, not because God rejects us forever. But the apostle Paul doesn’t just say that God never gives up on us, he says that, “God never fails.” When I think about this statement, I can’t help but feel that if God wants to save everyone, and if he never fails, then it must mean that in the end everyone will be saved. Last week I shared some photos of my favorite quotes from David Bentley Hart’s book on Christian Universalism, That All Shall Be Saved. For those unfamiliar with the topic, Christian Universalism is the belief that all people will be saved, and in the book Hart points out that even those who say they believe in a never-ending hell really don’t, and to an extent I agree with him.
I think some of the strongest evidence for this claim can be found in most people’s reaction to Lauren Daigle’s “Rescue.” Here is a sample of the lyrics…
You are not hidden
There’s never been a moment
You were forgotten
You are not hopeless
Though you have been broken
Your innocence stolen
I hear you whisper underneath your breath
I hear your SOS, your SOS
I will send out an army to find you
In the middle of the darkest night It’s true, I will rescue you
Daigle does not say that God will “try” to rescue us, she says that God “will” rescue you. When we hear this song, something inside of us knows that it is true, but only later, I think, are we tempted to wrestle with whether or not God really does rescue everyone, and an argument could be made that we only wrestle with it because we’ve been taught that God will not succeed in saving everyone.
Not only have people been taught that God will not rescue everyone, most have also been told that to even claim there’s a possibility that God will succeed in rescuing everyone is heretical. The first thing people often say in response to the Christian Universalist claim is that to believe God succeeds in rescuing everyone is to deny that hell exists, but that simply is not true. Many people who believe in universal salvation also believe that hell exists, but that it does not last forever. And some would even say that hell is eternal, but it does not last forever (if you’re interested in learning about a relationship between time and eternity that could make this possible check out Thomas Aquinas’ thoughts on the topic here, On the Eternity of the World).
Again, I think most people instinctively know that the lyrics of Daigle’s song are true because they’ve felt the type of love that will never give up, and this is a key point in Hart’s book. Parents know that there is a part of us that will never give up on our children. We know that we could never be at peace with ourselves if we were separated from one of our children forever. As Hart puts it, “is all of that – those memories, those anxieties and delights, those feelings of desperate love – really to be consigned to the fire, as just so much combustible chaff?” And this is precisely how we are supposed to feel, because it is the root of what it means to love and to be loved. To love someone is to make their peace your peace, to make their sorrow your sorrow, and to make their joy your joy.
I understand that this is primarily an emotional argument, and that the “facts don’t care about your feelings” crowd might dismiss it offhand, but I think that would be a mistake. I wrote this from an emotional perspective on purpose, first because many reviews of That All Shall Be Saved have already been written regarding the logic of Hart’s arguments, but also because Daigle’s song has had a tremendous impact on many people in my community. I do agree with those who, like Jeremiah, warn against the deceitfulness of the heart, but at the same time I also agree with the Proverb that says we guard our hearts BECAUSE from our hearts flows a spring of life.
P. S. Many others have written or spoken about their thoughts regarding David Bentley Hart’s book specifically, and universalism in general. Two of my favorites can be found here, a Protestant and Orthodox Response, and here a Catholic Response.