God won’t force everyone to go to heaven

When discussing the topic of Universal Reconciliation, some Christians like to argue that God wouldn’t force everyone to live with Him forever in heaven, because they think He wouldn’t do anything that would go against our supposed ”free will” (many also try to sanitize the idea of never-ending torment in hell or in the lake of fire by claiming that it would somehow actually be more cruel to force people to be in His presence, or to live with Him in heaven, than it would be to let them suffer forever in a lake of fire or to cease to exist forever, although this assertion just goes to show that they don’t even know what the word “heaven” really refers to in Scripture, or just how enormous it is, not to mention the fact that many who die will be resurrected to live on the New Earth as regular, mortal humans again — yes, there will be mortal humans, and even death, on the New Earth during the final age, at least for those who don’t reside in the New Jerusalem, as Isaiah 65:17-20 tells us — and if someone really doesn’t want to be in God’s presence during that particular age, they can do so by simply avoiding the New Jerusalem, since that’s where God will be at that time, at least until the fifth and final age ends).

Now, while their assumptions about “free will” aren’t actually supported by either Scripture or science (we all have a will, but it certainly isn’t free), they are correct that God won’t force everyone (or even anyone) to go to heaven against their will, because the only people who will get to live in heaven are the relatively few people to whom He gives the will to want to be with Him there, and once He’s given them the will to want to be there, it could no longer be said to be against their will (and there’s no scriptural basis for saying that God can’t or won’t change people’s wills; the idea that He can’t or won’t is simply a presupposition one is forced to read into Scripture, since this assumption is, in fact, quite contrary to what Scripture actually teaches). This fact is technically irrelevant to this particular discussion, however, because going to heaven isn’t what we’re talking about when we say that God will save everyone anyway. Salvation — at least the type referred to in Paul’s Gospel — is primarily about being made immortal, and hence sinless; it has nothing to do with “going to heaven” at all, at least not when we’re talking about salvation from an absolute perspective. Of course, there is a form of salvation that does include getting to live in heaven (since the word “salvation” has multiple meanings in Scripture), and it’s true that not everyone will get to experience that particular form of salvation, just like not everyone gets to experience the type of salvation Jesus spoke about while He walked the earth either, but the apostle Paul is very clear that everyone will eventually be made immortal and sinless because Christ died for our sins, and because He was buried and rose again the third day, which is the same thing as saying that everyone will eventually experience the salvation he wrote about because of what Christ did, at least from an absolute perspective.

The confusion arises because most Christians aren’t aware of what Scripture actually says about what’s to come, and hence read the soteriological and eschatological presuppositions they’ve been taught by their religious leaders (as well as the so-called ”free will” that they worship so heartily) into Scripture rather than carefully studying Scripture for themselves to find out what it actually teaches. Most Christians just aren’t aware of the fact that a literal afterlife realm called “hell” is not a scriptural concept at all (the English word ”hell” is a figurative term with many different meanings, depending on the context of the passage it’s used it, and none of them have anything to do with what people typically think of when they hear the word), or that the lake of fire is something entirely different from what they’ve assumed it is as well. And, in fact, few are aware that it’s actually mortality and death (and sinfulness because of our mortality) that we’re saved from, not hell or the lake of fire (although those who join the body of Christ will have the added benefit of not having to worry about the second death, as will the Israelites who experience the Resurrection of the Just, but that’s because we’ll have been made immortal and won’t be able to die a second time when the lake of fire becomes a place people can die a second time in rather than for the reasons that most Christians assume).

So when we take the facts into consideration, and realize that salvation from an absolute perspective means being resurrected from the dead (if one has died) and being made immortal (and hence sinless), the argument against Universal Reconciliation based on the idea that forcing people into heaven, or even into God’s presence, against their will would be wrong becomes quite silly, because we aren’t claiming that God is going to do anything of the sort anyway. Anybody who hasn’t joined the body of Christ and has died will be resurrected to live on the new earth, not to live in heaven with the body of Christ, and being resurrected without prior permission is going to happen whether one likes it or not, according to the Bible (and I’m not aware of any Christians who disagree with this fact, since it would be difficult for the dead to be judged at the Great White Throne without first being resurrected), so it can’t be a resurrection without prior permission that they’re complaining about. And if God later resurrects those people who happen to die a second time in the lake of fire without their permission (as He told us He will through the apostle Paul), well, A) I see no reason why He’d need to have their permission for that resurrection any more than He would have needed to for their first resurrection, but B) I’m pretty sure everyone who died a second time will be happy to be resurrected a second time as well anyway, so it’s likely a moot point.

And if it’s okay for God to resurrect everyone without their prior permission, I see no reason to claim it would then be wrong for Him to eventually also make everyone immortal and sinless — meaning to save everyone — without their permission, if that’s what He wants to happen (which it is). In fact, it would be difficult for an Infernalist (meaning a believer in eternal torment) to argue that it would be wrong for God to make someone immortal against their will, because they already believe He’s done so, based on their belief in the unscriptural doctrine of the immortality of the soul, which means all they can really argue is that it would be wrong for God to make people sinless without them first choosing to be sinless apart from Him giving them the will to be sinless, and to not punish people without end (even if it would go against their will to be punished) if they don’t choose to do what the Christians think they themselves did in order to get saved (which is what this whole disagreement about Universal Reconciliation is actually about). But even if it were true that God had to respect our choices over His own (which isn’t actually a scriptural assumption, but for the sake of argument, let’s pretend it is for a moment), it seems likely that the people He resurrected would prefer to be made immortal and perfect rather than die a third time anyway, so this would also likely be a moot point if God actually had to respect our wishes over His own.

The real problem, as I see it, isn’t in God choosing to save everyone without their prior permission. The real problem is in how the Infernalists and Annihilationists ignore what Scripture teaches about salvation and the future of humanity, preferring to believe what they’ve been taught by their religious leaders rather than taking the time to study the Scriptures for themselves to find out what God really says about the subjects, and also preferring that other people be punished forever if they don’t first have to do what the Christians believe they themselves had to do in order to get saved.

[By the way, I also recommend reading my older article, Is God a gentleman?, for another take on this topic.]