My post on universalism was pretty black and white because in many ways the best sermon to preach about hell has only two words, “Fear Hell.”
However, the whole question is more subtle and interesting than that. I said I wanted there to be a hell for the brutes who abduct, torture and rape children, then dump them in a ditch and are never sorry. A commenter rightly observed that they too might be forgiven, for God’s forgiveness is unlimited. He also observed tht many self righteous and religious people might be headed downward because they cannot repent because they think they don’t need to repent.
He’s right, and Jesus actually seems to take more time to condemn the self righeous in the gospels. Yesterday’s gospel was a case in point. It was those who had eaten and drunk with the Lord of the house who were locked out. The final word about this aspect of the argument is that we can fully affirm the reality of hell, but it’s not up to us to decide who goes there.
Indeed, I wonder if it is really up to God as well. Yes, being the all powerful one, and the Almighty judge, he is the one who consigns souls to hell, but it is also true that we choose Hell. C.S.Lewis is very good on this. He reminds us that those who have chosen the way of sin, would not actually be happy in heaven. How could it be that a person who, their whole life, has turned away from goodness, turned away from beauty, turned away from self sacrifice, turned away from love, turned away from God, should suddenly find all these things attractive in heaven? I doubt it very much. If a soul hated goodness and beauty and love here on earth, when all is harvested he will hate those things even more. As such, he would choose to be anywhere but in heaven. Heaven would be torture for him.
Perhaps, in the end, we simply get what we have chosen. Maybe the once pure desires we have twisted, will remain twisted. Do you remember the grown ups told you when you made an ugly face that your face might stay that way? Well it’s true, but it happens over a long period of time. The ugly choices we make might change us forever. The lust, the selfishness, the greed, the self righteousness, the anger, the rage, the violence that we exhibit and indulge in, may actually be changing our character for good, and maybe every little choice we make is one more step into the Hell that will be our eternity. Maybe we are making our eternity right in this very moment.
If that is true, then the opposite may also be true, and each and every moment I may turn my heart towards Truth, towards Beauty, towards Love, and towards the one who is Truth, Beauty and Love incarnate. When I do, in acts of worship, in acts of sacrificial love, in the sacraments, in the Scriptures, then I am slowly but surely, by the beautiful grace of God, climbing the stairway to heaven.