Christian universalism is the view that ultimately all people will be saved by God through the atoning work of Jesus Christ. Since that salvation does not occur for all in this life, universalism proposes that it will be completed posthumously. This is where the doctrine of hell comes in: Christian universalists agree that there is a hell (in contrast to Unitarian universalists, pluralistic universalists, and others), but they view hell as restorative rather than retributive.
I am not a universalist, but I am a hopeful universalist insofar as I hope I am wrong in my assessment of universalism. In other words, I hope that the Christian universalists are right and that all people are eventually restored to God through the atoning work of Jesus Christ.
Given that I hope universalism is true, over the years I have invested some effort in dispelling misunderstandings and responding to bad objections to the view. For example, a few years ago I wrote an article titled “The Very Worst Reason to Reject Universalism.” In this article, I’d like to respond to another bad reason (if not the very worst) to reject universalism: namely, the claim that universalism violates God’s justice.
Often the objection is stated in a way that makes it clear the objector misunderstands Christian universalism. Again, the view is not that there is no hell and thus no consequence for sin. Rather, the view is that all are saved in the same manner as some. In short, if the atoning work of Christ makes it possible to save a subset of the human population in accord with God’s justice, the hopeful universalist insists that the atonement also makes it possible to save the entirety of the human population in accord with God’s justice. And they rightly hope that it does.
The Christian who reacts negatively to that prospect should read carefully the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). As the owner says to those diligent workers who are angered to discover those who joined the workday late will receive the same pay: “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ (Matthew 20:15)
I suspect that some Christians who are opposed to universalism just might be susceptible to the same indictment. Our place is not to begrudge God’s mercy, still less to question is justice.
The proper response of the diligent worker is to hope that the landowner does give equal pay to each person, and so to be grateful when he does. In like manner, the proper response of the disciple is to hope that God gives salvation to every wayward soul, and so to be prepared to be grateful should he indeed do so.