The major, but often unstated argument against the idea of universalism – that is that all will be saved – is that Christ was incarnated, died and was resurrected to save us. If we are all saved by God’s mercy, the question arises why did he bother? There was a purpose in his mission, his suffering and in the work of the Church he founded, none of which can be adequately accounted for in the belief that we are all saved. At the very least, the requirement for salvation is faith that Jesus is Lord and that we are saved through faith in him. It follows from this that, embracing our salvation, our new life in him should bear witness to the changes it has wrought in us. That’s not asking for the sort of behaviour which some of us might find excessive (although we might pull ourselves up a bit here and ask how else one is supposed to respond to the Good News that we are saved?), but it is to say that a faith which in no way evidences itself is a strange phenomenon (St James has harder things to say about this, of course). Now we can, and we do, argue about the Church, but as four years or so here shows (and as history confirms) this is a fruitless pursuit; but the churches all have in common the view that Jesus came to save us, and to offer us eternal life.
Now it may be, as some would argue, that the alternative to eternal life is death, extinction, non-existence, and we have discussed this here many times (as the link will show, a surprisingly large number). In my simple way, I take the many mentions of hell in the New Testament by Jesus to mean that there is a hell. I am quite content to think, with St Isaac the Syrian, that it is a state of separation from God that sinful and wilful men bring on themselves, and that the realisation of what one has done is like a burning pain, and I am uneasy with the literal view; but I know what my Churches teaches and reject the crude caricature foisted on us by atheists who ought to know better. But whatever view one takes, there is a place of separation from God, and it is a place from which, if we but knew it, we should pray to be saved. But we do not need to pray for a Saviour – we have one in Christ Jesus. Although, as a Catholic, I would, of course, say that the best place to find him is in the Church he founded, I don’t, as I say, want to be side-tracked by confessional disputes. I know many people who are better followers of Christ than I am if judged by their behaviour, and many of them are not Catholics, and if pressed I should simply say God is the only Just Judge and he alone can say who is saved and who is not; I should also add that I have found the Catholic Church the best place to find my Lord and could only say, if asked, that I am sure others would find it so too. But, and this gets us back to the main point of this post, the fact remains there is something from which to be saved. That being so, then unless all men embrace Christ as Saviour, they cannot be saved. Those who are ignorant of his holy name are in another category – that of invincible ignorance, and the failure is that of those who preach his name, not of those we have not reached. But again, the conclusion is that people need saving.
Our friend Bosco tells us truly that Christ is knocking at the door of our heart – and we should let him in, not because we fear hell-fire, but because we recognised in his out-stretched arms the love he first had for us. Now there’s a thought for Advent.