Dare We Admit That Not All Will Be Saved?

“To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him forever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called ‘hell.’” (CCC 1033)

Michelangelo, “The Last Judgment,” 1536-1541
Michelangelo, “The Last Judgment,” 1536-1541 )

Universalism is the Protestant, Muslim and gnostic idea that regardless of what anyone wants, does or cheers for, everyone must go to Heaven, nolens volens –– against his will. No one has a choice. Murderer and victim. Burglar and burgled. Drunk and teetotaler.

Let’s break down the arguments against this pernicious and baseless notion:

1. If universalism is correct, it would mean Jesus was wrong. And not just merely wrong in the conventual sense as in “missed the mark,” but rather in the sense of being a spectacularly crazed lunatic. I’m very wary of Christians who say, explicitly or implicitly, “Had Jesus only had the common sense and decency to have consulted me, I could have explained to Him why He was so dreadfully wrong.” There’s no doubt God wants us all in Heaven (Psalm 98:3, Psalm 67:2, Isaiah 45:22, Zechariah 8:7, Luke 13:23, John 5:34, Romans 11:26, Romans 10:1, 1 Timothy 2:4). But each time God or his mouthpieces announced his desire that all may be saved, he added a proviso. “Repent!” “Be holy as I am holy!” He never said, “Sin and sin boldly!” or “Knock yourselves out! I didn’t expect anyone to take this stuff seriously!”

2. Universalism cheapens not only Christ’s message but also casts doubt upon who and what Jesus is. Why trust anyone who is so wrong about his own message? But the truth is twofold: (1) We have no proof that Jesus was wrong about Christian ecclesiology –– he’s God and he has always told us the truth (Genesis 22:16). Why come to doubt him now? (2) We have absolutely zero proof that universalism is correct. Why would a universalist ignore more than 100 references to Hell in the New Testament alone? Could Jesus be that wrong or is it just the universalists who are wrong? 

3. If everyone is going to Heaven, nolens volens and willy-nilly, then Jesus was misguided and poorly-advised to go through the most excruciating torture in human history. Why bother? What virtue would lie in his sacrifice?

4. Universalists would have us believe that child molesters and the very children they molested are both headed for the Pearly Gates. A mistreated and abused wife must sit at the Heavenly Banquet and be expected for civility’s sake to engage in celestial chit-chat with her torturer husband who killed her. “So... did you abuse anyone else while alive, Sweetheart?”

5. If universalism is correct, then what else can we expect in terms of changed to core Catholic doctrine? It’s the slipperiest of slopes. If Christians have misinterpreted Jesus in this fundamental way, then what else did we get wrong? If the Bible is wrong, then upon what will we will rely for our understanding of Jesus’ message? If Jesus got it wrong, then why would we trust him ever again?

6. Universal reconciliation is one lethal step away from annihilationism –– the idea espoused by Martin Luther that instead of Hell, naughty people would simply “disappear.” That is, they will shuffle off the immortal coil into oblivion. This idea is still promulgated by the Jehovah’s Witnesses to little acclaim. Keep in mind that the JWs announced the world would end 13 times already and they were obviously wrong. There’s no reason to bet the farm on anything they say.

7. If universalism is accurate, then Jesus lied to us at every chance he got. He reminds us that some people are going to Hell. First, we’d have to take the entire Book of Revelation straight out of the Bible to maintain universalism as “Jesus’ little joke.” In Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, he teaches the reality of Hell (Matthew 5:20–30; 7:13–27) and that it’s a bad end for bad people (Matthew 5:20–30) and that Hell is a hellish place/condition best avoided (Matthew 7:13– 27). Jesus speaks of Hell in horrific, condemning tones as he banishes demons to that place/condition which he describes as the end of a broad, immoral road (Matthew 7:13-14, John 14:6, Luke 13:24).

8. Jesus identifies himself as the Judge who condemns the unrepentant to depart from him (Matthew 7:23). Jesus is not playing or using metaphors. If there is no Hell, then no one needs a Judge. Hell is real or Jesus is lying/exaggerating for effect which is reprehensible considering he is God and the Author of Life and Truth and Reason. 

9. Jesus condemned demons to Hell for their prideful rebellion (Luke 10:18). What makes the universalist believe he is shielded from similar punishment?

10. If Jesus is so consistently wrong, it boggles the mind and raises the question, why would a universalist call Christ her Lord and Savior? I have much less than zero respect for anyone who claims to be my moral and/or superior when he’s found out to be befuddled and so often downright lying.

11. Jesus said there was a narrow path to righteousness (Matthew 7:13-14). Universalism insists that all paths are equally correct and efficacious. Both can’t be correct.

12. Universalism means there is no ultimate justice in the universe. Kill millions like Mao did? Don’t worry! Care for and inspire millions like Mother Teresa did? That’s nice, too!”

13. Embracing universalism means that virtue is meaningless and a waste of time. Why bother being good or altruistic or chaste if you could alsobe naughty, selfish or promiscuous? In a universalist universe, virtuous Christians would be party-poopers and wet blankets at a party.

14. Universalism doesn’t explain the need for Christ’s Passion and death or indeed the place of pain and suffering in the world. The least efficient thing a universalist-minded Jesus could have done was to suffer an ignominious death. If everyone is going to Heaven, then the torture and death of God’s only Son was the worst idea God ever had. 

15. If universalism teaches that everyone’s going to Heaven, why would God saddle us with any time on Earth in the first place? Our mortal existence is meant to prepare us for our Eternal Life –– wherever we choose to live out that life, whether in Heaven or Hell. If we don’t have a choice on where we end up, life is meaningless and cruel. 

16. Universalism was roundly denounced throughout all of salvation history. All heretical aberrations of Christianity, including Islam, teach some form of universalism. In fact, Muslims don’t believe in an eternal Hell but merely one in which even the worst sinners will eventually find reprieve. Buddhism similarly operates a catch-and-release program. 

17. If universalism were correct, its purveyors would be committing suicide en masse. If everyone goes to Heaven, why would the universalist bother staying another cringe-worthy moment upon this plane of existence? Why bother struggling with this life at all when they can be enjoying the beatific vision while eating hot fudge sundaes all day and never gaining a pound?

18. By refusing to take Jesus at his word and claiming he has a “secret” he never told us, universalists are presenting themselves as the “special interpreters” of God’s will unknown to the world. In political circles, this is called a “power grab” or putsch. The Catholic Church has the sole authority to interpret Scriptures because God said so (Matthew 18:18).

All heresies sound clever, useful, enlightening and practical at first blush but when examined critically and in the light of Christ’s revealed truth, they show themselves to be hellish horrors that the Devil planned them to be. They are divisive and dismissive of Christ’s Body. Universalism depends, like all heresies, on our willingness to ignore Christ’s recorded words and actions.