How do you read judgment texts? It seems like a logical leap to take texts that speak to an eternal hell, and come away with universal salvation. How can you possibly read universal salvation into texts concerning the second death? Allowing all men to go to heaven makes God a pushover and removes him of his sovereignty. Both camps, Calvinists and Arminians, can both agree on this.
The short answer is that I take an annihilationist view concerning judgment texts. Meaning I view annihilation as the annihilation of the old man. To put that into some immediate context—Saul the persecutor of Christians is judged and annihilated, Paul the apostle to the gentiles is brought to life.
As for logical leaps, I think you’d have to decide what’s a greater ‘logical leap’—that God who is Love, Beauty, and Truth Himself, knowingly created those who he would then be eternally tormenting in hell, or that God is victorious in bringing all of creation to freedom in Christ and into unity with His own will, even if it takes an ‘eternity’ to do so?
To quote George MacDonald;
“I love the light, and will not believe at the word of any man, or upon the conviction of any man, that that which seems to me darkness is in God.”
I’m not willing to say that God created the vast majority of mankind in order to torment them for endless time. My opponents can say “well he gave them free will”. This may be true, but being omniscient, God knew how they would use their free will, and He created them anyway—knowing that after what seems an arbitrarily short time span, some 80 or so years if one is lucky, He would then be consigning then to torment, in order to appease his wrath. (If we take the typical Protestant view of the Atonement)
We wouldn’t attribute this to the worst of men. The above is obviously the Arminian stance. The Calvinists stance, in my opinion, is far worse; not only did God know that men would choose to deny him, but he determined them to do so before creating them—in order to bring glory to himself in the torment of the wicked, and in order to magnify the grace he has chosen to show the overwhelming minority. The evilest of men never created a thing only to sustain its existence endlessly while tormenting it. And I’m to say that the God of Love not only creates one creature for this, but billions of them? Never.
What I mean by all of this, is that whatever scripture may or may not say, common sense tells me that it cannot say the above—if the God written of therein is to be worthy of any sort of worship from rational creatures.
As for the second death, the lake of fire and such, I would say that the Christian only dies once. Paul died to himself daily and thus was dying out of this world, and being born into a new one from the first moment that he fell in love with Christ and His Church. When Paul died he awoke to Glory. He put himself to death in the flesh by warring against the passions and striving after the kingdom. Only one death for Paul.
Let’s take Matthew 25:41-46 as an example. Seeing as Matt 25:41-46 is a parable I read it as such. I see myself as both sheep and goat. I do not always care for or visit the sick as I should. I do not always offer food or aid to the poor. Some days I’m a sheep; some days I’m a goat. When I see that passage I see that I have to let go of, annihilate, and eternally damn the goat. Only the sheep can have life. Only the sheep can truly be said to be in Christ because he has the ‘will’ and ‘mind’ of Christ. I have to become a sheep to truly have life. I believe that the Judgment is the separation of the goat and the sheep.
Some men, repent here and now and daily die to themselves as Paul said of himself. That would be those in Christ. Some men—refuse. They will face judgment. But that judgment is still meant to restore. It’s meant to separate the sheep from the goat. The goat has to die for the sheep to truly live. And I think judgment tends to this result.
Those that hate God will die the same physical death that Paul died... but they still must die to themselves. To their passions. To their evil desires. They must die again, this time to their own wickedness.
When we do puzzles, we look at the picture, the final product, in order to arrange the pieces correctly. 1 Cor 15 is the grandest eschatological vision that we have in scripture. We have the final product. We have the ending to the story. So whatever you read in scripture, you must interpret what you read in light of the end credits. All sorts of events and happenings can take place before the end scene, but none of them can supersede the ending. As Christian’s we are free to question the ‘how’ God brings about His ultimate ends, but we are not so free to question the revealed ultimate end itself. And the ending Paul tells us is God being all in all. This entails God being ‘all’ to ‘all’. The all does not change in Paul’s discourse throughout 1 Cor 15.
“for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is plain that this does not include the one who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all.”
1 Corinthians 15:22-28
Seeing as God is Love and God is the Good, and (under classical theism) He is pure act, the ending of the creation narrative cannot end with a perpetual evil... for that would mean that God positively willed evil as an ultimate perpetual end. What I mean by this, is that Gods conclusion to the narrative, cannot be separated in intent from its conception. God wills all to be saved and all to be Good. If He chose to create, and He did create, then the ending will coincide with that ‘willing purpose’ that first brought forth creation. This to me is sovereignty. God bringing about his ultimate ends. And the ultimate end of all creation is to be found only in God. “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”