Universalism and the Problem of Hell



Christian tradition speaks mainly of two possible post-mortem human destinies. It holds that those human beings who, in their earthly lives, acted according to God’s will and accepted God’s love will be reconciled to Him in heaven; whereas those who have acted against God’s will and refused His love will be consigned to the everlasting torments of hell. The notion that hell is everlasting and also a place of unending suffering inevitably gives rise to the following question for theists: how could an omnipotent, all-good and all-loving God allow anyone to suffer the torments of hell for eternity? There have been several attempts to shore up the doctrine of hell in the face of this problem. Universalists, in particular, try to evade the problem by claiming that a doctrine of hell is not in fact taught in the scriptures (at least in its traditional form), and that Christians are therefore able to affirm that all human beings will be saved in the end. The paper begins with an explanation of the doctrine of hell and an identification of the main problems and criticisms against it. This will assist us in understanding the increasing popularity of universalism and moreover, on what grounds it is challenged.