I think one of the key points which causes me to lean towards universalism is the conviction that wherever God acts, God acts lovingly for our summum bonum, for us to live in communion with God. The idea that God lovingly torments someone in hell not for our summum bonum of reconciling us to Him makes very little sense to me.
There are three ways to proceed from this argument:
The Calvinist Option: God does not Love everyone Equally
(1) God does not equally act lovingly for everyone towards their summum bonum, this is the Reformed “limited atonement” in all its awesome glory (awesome in the old sense of “awe-inspiring”). In the manner of the Westminster standards, God acts for His glory alone, not for the summum bonum of everyone, and that glory can be magnified in both the salvation of the elect and the damnation of the reprobate.
God therefore does not love everyone equally. Only the elect does he love to bring them to their summum bonum, but the rest he loves in a limited sense of offering to them Christ and the Gospel which they reject but God does not love them to the extent of bringing them to their summum bonum.
Personally, I think there is very little Biblical evidence to recommend the idea that God does not act out of love for everyone’s summum bonum and overwhelming evidence against it. However, unlike most objectors, I don’t feel any righteous moral outrage towards this concept. The possibility of it does not fill me with indignation but fear, fear of the possibility that God may really be like that. Without the Externally Preached Word of Grace administered to me, this would become an existential possibility for me.
But from a Law-Gospel point of view, having received the promises of Christ’s grace, this simply isn’t a live option for me. Thus, in a sense, my understanding is a little subjective. If I look outside of Christ and the revelation of grace there, the possibility of the Calvinistic God who acts for his glory and not out of love for everyone is a live option, an unfathomable mystery before which we can only tremble in fear. But looking full in the face of God in Jesus Christ, the darkness of this mystery is banished and the light of God’s love is revealed therein.
The Universalist Option: God loves everyone by bringing them to their Summum Bonum
(2) Then of course, there is universalism. God truly does act lovingly towards everyone and does direct everyone towards their summum bonum, thus achieving universal reconciliation for all. I think this is a distinct possibility too. In live existential terms, we are commanded to pray and hope for the salvation of anyone whom God has placed in our lives. Even those whom God sustains in “hell”, God sustains them towards the end of their summum bonum to eventually reconcile them back to him after they are purged of their sins. In a sense, this is a sort of universal purgatory.
Annihilationism or Conditional mortality: God loves all that Exists and the Damned Do not Exist
(3) Finally, there is annihilationism or conditional mortality, that is God simply stops sustaining the life or existence of the damned. Thus, they agree with the premise that wherever God acts, he acts lovingly and towards their summum bonum, contrary to the more rigorist Calvinists who says that God acts only for his glory while love is a contingent thing. However unlike the universalist, the annihilationist would say that for the case of the damned, God simply takes no action towards them, thus, He does not sustain their existence or do anything for them, they just vanish and wink out of existence. God doesn’t therefore act to sustain them wilfully in existence to torment them because if he does act he necessarily acts towards their reconciliation in love. In Dostoevsky’s powerful phrase, for the damned, God simply “forgets”. Wherever God’s attention or mind is turned, it is the vision glorious of love. Whatever he ceases to think upon or act towards, simply disappears from existence, forgotten by both God and man, and no longer the object of love.
In the end, I don’t really have a hard or firm opinion on each of these possibilities. I am fearful of (1), hopeful of (2) but think that (3) is the most probable scenario. In practical Christian terms however, I simply oscillate between (2) and (3), (2) when I consider the Gospel, (3) when I ponder the threats of the Law. (1) is whenever I am feeling fatalistic and melancholy in the heathen sense.