There are some intelligent theists who are very confident that hell, if such a word means anything at all, will most certainly be unoccupied at the end of all things, and into eternity.
I do not deny absolutely such a possibility, though I believe that according to the texts and teachings of the Christian faith at least, it is highly improbable that “hell will be empty.”
However, one thing that I will never allow, nor even understand, is the utter certainty with which such people assert their conclusion.
Now, some people are allergic to any sort of certainties, and that’s not me. I don’t think that certainty as such is always mistaken. I only ask what is the basis for certainty in any given case.
The proponents of universal salvation are certain of their teaching because they think it is an inescapable consequence of God’s goodness. If God is good, they think, and of course God is good, then there is no possible world in which God allows some people to suffer forever.
Such an argument diminishes God. It replaces God with an idol, with an imagining of our own creation. It may be well-intended — I’m sure that it is. It may be able to reinterpret every line of Scripture and every Christian doctrine into alignment with its desired conclusion.
But its root is the desire for the taming of God. It tries to contain the incomprehensible, and so it has no standing.
God is good, truly. God is goodness itself. But God is not goodness as we have ever known goodness. God is not trapped by our understanding of what is good. The good as we know it is derived from and bounded by who God is, certainly, but the inverse is by no means true.
The goodness of God must not be tamed. It is a wild thing, unreachable. The goodness that we know is only the smallest part of God, is, by comparison, nothing at all.
If we think we have understood God, then we have turned away from God, toward a creaturely fiction to which we have given the name of God.
God as God is unknowable, overflowing all our categories, bursting out of our human theories and conjectures and speculations.
We can love this God who is beyond our minds, and we can fear this God, indeed, but we cannot intellectually capture divinity in any meaningful formula, in any combination of words or intuitions or images.
If we say we have determined what God must be like, how God must act, we have committed the ultimate arrogance. O humanity, remember what you are. Know yourself.
Maybe God’s plan includes an emptiness of hell, an abolition of hell. But we cannot expect it, cannot demand it, cannot just assert it. We will discover what the goodness of God means, with wonder and fear and love and adoration at every step of the way. That is all we can hope for.
I say this as someone who has thought through, and read, and discussed, carefully and seriously the arguments for universal salvation. I do not dismiss them lightly. But I’ve concluded that I cannot see a way ever to come to see things from their viewpoint, as long as I seek to let God be God.