The belief in universal salvation was widespread in early Christianity. It was taught by Origen, the famous father of the Church in the third century. He was known to be a very holy man. My professor of New Testament at the seminary said that Origen was the most brilliant biblical scholar that the Church ever had. This gifted genius mused, with poetic imagination inspired by faith, that Christ will be stretched out on the cross until the last demon in hell is saved and brought into heaven.
These beliefs were overturned centuries later due to manipulative politics. The drama enacting the change was mainly staged by Emperor Justinian. He reasoned that his subjects could be more easily controlled, if they lived in the fear of eternal hell. Hence he convened an ecumenical council where the majority of the bishops were forced to condemn Origen’s teachings. All his books were burnt. Pope Vigilius who headed the Church at that time did not attend the Council nor did he approve officially the condemnations.
Denial of universal salvation amounts to the negation of the infinitely joyful, loving and powerful God. He cannot be blissful and loving, while allowing His children to suffer eternally in hell. God would be rather weak due to his incapacity to conquer evil and convert it into good.
My nephew was only five years old when he said to his mother “Certain boys hurt me at times and I get angry with them. Later I forgive and we are friends again. Then how can God send people to hell and make them suffer forever? Does not God love us much more?”
Paramahansa Yogananda was once conversing with a farmer in Seattle, Washington. The farmer claimed that most people are sinners and are bound to burn in the fires of hell forever. Yogananda tried to reason with him, but failed to convince him otherwise.
Then Master changed the subject, referring to the farmer’s wicked son being the cause of constant sorrow to the father. The farmer was wondering how the Master knew about his son, and said he would be ever grateful for Master’s help to resolve his problem.
Yogananda asked him in a serious tone whether he had a large oven, two trustworthy friends and a strong rope. The farmer answered that he had them, while feeling some misgiving. He also stated that his son was a heavy sleeper, coming home having consumed much liquor.
The Master seemed to be enthusiastic as he said: “Tonight, heat your oven as hot as possible; call your friends asking them to be quiet until your son is fast asleep. Then let them tie your son securely with the rope and shove him into the hot oven”
The farmer was furious as he shouted: “Fiend! Murderer! This is outrageous! Whoever heard of a father burning his own son? I wouldn’t do such a thing, even if my son were ten times more wicked.”
Yogananda gently and calmly asked him, if he could not bear the thought of burning his wicked son alive, how can the eternally loving Heavenly Father make his children burn forever in hellfire and brimstone. Master told him that his love for his son was a reflection of God’s infinite love. The farmer realized that the God of love cannot punish us forever, and we punish ourselves for our sins.
God, out of His love and wisdom designed that sin should be followed by pain sooner or later. It is a cause-effect relationship with mathematical precision. Pain is proportionate to the evil act. Hence it is well defined and limited. The way of suffering seems to be the only means by which man can be motivated to free himself from the bondage of his ignorant, sinful self and find God or his true Self.
It may appear that there is an everlasting hell .One who suffers intensely may feel for the moment that there is no end to it, seeing no possible escape. When he humbly surrenders himself to the pain and sorrow as flowing from God’s love and wisdom to purify him, he begins to feel peace which later changes into joy.
Through meditation, prayers and compassionate acts we can expand our consciousness to feel peace, love and joy within ourselves. That is a glimpse of God’s Presence for the start. Perseverance on the spiritual path with determination, concentration and the guidance of a true Master leads to cosmic consciousness and the glorious realization of our utter oneness with God and His whole creation.