Life may well give us, in a concentrated dose, the soul-stretching most necessary to our long-range spiritual development. That would explain the urgency for acting in the here and now to pursue the path of virtue. For those with the understanding and capacity, procrastinating repentance does not just prolong our pain and forestall our happiness; it may greatly prolong and complicate the process when repentance does begin. But even for those who live and die in obliviousness to God's eternal purposes, death does not freeze the soul in time.

In God's universe nothing is stationary. For the last two centuries, we have known that the stars and planets are not arrayed in a perfect celestial order, a once and forever system of static harmony. When William Herschel plied his magnificent telescopes in the late 1700s, he observed a universe in process of continual disruption, upheaval, and transformation on a colossal scale. As suns died and faded away in one quadrant of the galaxy, whole star systems sprang into being in another. If God takes as much care with the destinies of human souls as with the planets they inhabit, surely they too gain in splendor and glory through the cycles of eternity.

What challenges and conditions may come when we have passed into that undiscovered country, death, we cannot know. What we do know is that Jesus spoke in simple, hopeful terms about the people for whom He died. "This is the father's will . . . that of all which He hath given me I should lose nothing, but raise it up again at the last day." Surely, the work of redeeming and exalting that He began before the earth was formed will continue after it passes away.

In the language of conventional Christianity, will all be saved? Put another way, will anyone be eternally consigned to hell? If our intended destiny is to become like our Father in Heaven, "joint-heirs with Christ," then anything short of that eventuality is damnation. As cycles of poor choices may tend ever downward in mortality, so may they hereafter. For redemption to be permanently beyond reach, however, one would have to choose to put oneself beyond reach.

Hell, in the sense of permanent alienation from God, a stunting of one's infinite potential, must exist as an option if freedom is to exist. That anyone would choose such a fate is hard to imagine, and yet some of us choose our own private hells often enough in the here and now. The difference is that at present we see "through a glass darkly." Our decisions are often made in weakness, or with deficient will or understanding. We live on an uneven playing field, where to greater or lesser degree the weakness of the flesh, of intellect, or of judgment intrudes. Poor instruction, crushing environment, chemical imbalances, deafening white noise, all cloud and impair our judgment.

Hardly ever, then, is a choice made with perfect, uncompromised freedom of the will. That, we saw, is why repentance is possible in the first place. We repent when upon reflection, with a stronger will, clearer insight, or deeper desire, we wish to choose differently. To be outside the reach of forgiveness and change, one would have to choose evil, to reject the love of a vulnerable God and His suffering son, in the most absolute and perfect light of understanding, with no impediments to the exercise of full freedom. It is not that repentance would not be allowable in such circumstances; repentance would simply not be conceivable. No new factor, no new understanding, no suddenly healed mind or soul, could abruptly appear to provide a basis for reconsideration or regret.