When talking about what Christ accomplished on the cross, it is important to begin with a simple foundation: objectively, he worked for and achieved the redemption of all creation. Objectively, his goal has been achieved. Objectively, all things are reconciled to him, as Paul in Colossians states:
For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross (Col. 1:19-20 RSV).
His goal is to unite all things to himself so as to share his deifying grace to the whole of creation:
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us. For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth (Eph. 1:7-10 RSV).
In Christ, all things are united: heaven and earth, spiritual and material, animals and human, female and male; in him all things are united as one, not in an absolute nihilistic rejection of the subject, but in the interdependent reality of the church, the body of Christ, which finds Christ in all things and all things in Christ. There will be an objective restoration of all things. The dead will rise. In Christ, every person will rise again. The Logos who entered into creation by becoming man has assumed the whole of creation unto himself; he has transversed the whole chain of being so as to work with and heal creation from the damage done to it by sin.
And yet, we are also told some, if not many, in the world can be lost and perish. How is this possible if Christ has reconciled all things and handed all things over to the Father so that the kingdom of God can be all in all? This is certainly a difficult question, and at best, only speculative answers can be given based upon what we do know, realizing with all humility, that our best guess can be wrong and is liable to be changed if and when we have better resources to deal with the question.
The solution, it would seem, lies in the difference between the objective accomplishment of Christ and the subjective relationship people establish in relation to that accomplishment. Objectively all are redeemed, but subjectively, many resist grace; they put up a barrier between themselves and the deifying grace which is offered to them. They become, as it were, stuck in themselves. They put up a wall between them and the rest of the redeemed world, keeping out all the objective goodness God offers to them through the accomplishments of Christ, making, as a result, a place in which they exist in their own private hell. They have themselves and the limited good which they possess, but when it is all they have for eternity, that good is so limited it becomes like nothing; they need the infinite grace of God for eternity to be eternal beatitude. If they let go of that barrier, they will find the grace of God penetrating them, raising them up, and bringing them into the beatified state; if they resist, they will find and experience that grace of God, the fiery love of God, as an external threat; God will be at work, taking down that barrier as they get building it up. As long as they continue to resist God, God’s grace will continue to work at that barrier, burning it up, causing them to experience the love of God in a negative sense. This is a part of what it means for someone to suffer perdition: to be stuck in the everlasting fire of God’s purifying love, suffering the loss which comes from that fire, suffering the pain and sorrow of being burned by that fire, without relief, without the soothing balm of grace. God is doing all that he can do to meet all persons face to face; if they stop resisting, he will tear down the wall and help the one trapped behind it to overcome themselves and experience the fullness of the kingdom of God, while if they never stop resisting, he will never stop acting, and it will become an endless loop of needless suffering for the one who subjectively has denied the grace given to them.
Will someone always resist God or will everyone eventually let go of their individualistic ego which divides them from God so as to receive glory of God and experience the beatitude all desire? We do not know; this is how and why Balthasar was able to say both he hoped that all will be saved while knowing that the possibility that some could be lost and suffer eternal perdition is real (I explore this in detail in my book, The Eschatological Judgment of Christ from Wipf and Stock). We can only go with what we know. We know that Christ seeks to draw people to him, so that they are saved, not just objectively, but subjectively, and he has shown he is willing to do all that it takes to bring people to him and accept his offer of salvation:
Consequently he is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he alwTays lives to make intercession for them (Heb. 7:25 RSV).
All who open themselves up to Christ, will receive Christ, will be able to be transformed not just objectively, but subjectively so as to experience eternal life as a child of God. In that transformation, the state of their being is changed. Hell, which is experienced due to the resistance someone has against God, is a state which one creates for themselves; it is resisting the truth, the goodness, the beauty, the joy, the beatitude which God offers with his deifying grace. The experience of heaven is likewise a state of being which comes about when they are open to the beautiful glory of the kingdom of God. Those who do not resist it will experience it in glory. Both the lost and the saved will experience eternity, and so both experience the objectivity of Christ’s accomplishment, but it is on the subjective level whether or not the possibility of hell is to be found.
When so-called universalists reflect upon salvation and see the universe is indeed reconciled to Christ, they are right, but only to the extent of the objective dimension of reality. They assume this will mean the subjective transformation will also be attained, and in many ways, it is hard to imagine how and why some would resist that transformation. But God is a giver of freedom, making free subjects who exist in a way beyond pure objectivity; this is why universalism is to rejected, for it changes subjects into purely objective tools of God who have no real freedom in and of themselves.
Yet, on the other hand, this is how and why we can hope for the salvation of all. Objectively, what needs to be done has been done, and objectively there is a form of universal salvation. This means free subjects can then open up and accept the transformative grace ushered into creation; they can subjectively engage the objective redemption, bringing the two together as one. They will not lose their freedom when they do so, but rather, they will find it expanded as they accept the objective grace given to them and the whole of creation.
Nonetheless, the question remains: if the whole of creation is objectively saved, and if some subjectively damn themselves for eternity, what kind of interaction will there be between the one who has embraced salvation with the one who only receives it on an objective level? Perhaps the answer lies in beauty: whatever is good and true is preserved, and can be loved by all, with the person subjectively denying grace appearing like a wonderful statue in the kingdom of God. The one who has embraced the heavenly state will be able to see and encounter anyone, and see and engage the good in what was created, with none of it being lost, which is why they will have no tears, no sorrow in regards those suffering perdition because, in the objective sense, they are not lost; but yet for the one stuck in such a state, they will not be able to enjoy the beauty and glory all around them as they have reified their position in such a stone-like state for eternity. Nonetheless, this is not to say there is no loss; for every free subject who decides to stay closed in on themselves, the kingdom of God suffers in the sense it has lost some of the great potential those subjects would have brought to it if they opened up and interacted with the grace offered to them. This, as Balthasar also explained, is a part of the risk God takes in creating free subjects; it is not an ontological but subjective loss, so that the loss is real, the wound to God’s love is real, even if God does not lose anything of his own being. And yet because freedom is makes personal being greater, the risk is worth it.
[Image=Doom Painting, St Thomas Salisbury Church; photography by Nessino (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons]
Stay in touch! Like A Little Bit of Nothing on Facebook