An interesting feature of universal reconciliation is God’s utter determination to win back every soul God has created, no matter the cost or time.
Humans can also be incredibly stubborn, however, and many likely will utterly refuse to be swayed or to submit, some of them for many aeons of time.
The book of Revelation is highly figurative and metaphorical, and I think there’s some room to take its various statements in alternate ways. One that occurred to me in this matter is from the Revelation of Jesus given to John, after the Lamb opens the sixth seal – right before He opens the seventh seal and FINALLY there is silence in heaven for a time. After that sixth seal and the upheavals on the earth, “Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?‘” (Rev 6:15-17)
“Wrath” here is Greek ὀργή, “orgḗ,” meaning “(“settled anger”) proceeds from an internal disposition which steadfastly opposes someone or something based on extended personal exposure, i.e. solidifying what the beholder considers wrong (unjust, evil).” — https://biblehub.com/greek/3709.htm
What if – really! – what if this is a picture of the strongest-willed and most deeply resistant and arrogant humans finally meeting God, and in that moment as the sixth seal over their eyes is abruptly opened, recognizing the utter and implacable determination and “steadfast” opposition in God’s eyes to redeem them and purify them of sin and refine their souls… suddenly realizing that God’s wrath is not actually destructive, that they cannot bait God into simply wiping them out, that God will not in fact merely destroy them, but is determined to diligently and painfully destroy only the evil in them – and in that moment, they cry out to the rocks, genuinely wishing for the peace of eternal death rather than the deep pain of acknowledging their unrighteousness and choosing to submit to God?
That seems to me a perfect picture of the pain expressed in the traditional idea of hell – but in some very real sense, it’s not something that God does to them, as much as something that they inflict upon themselves. And importantly, it’s something that they could choose to end at any moment. It’s not a place. It’s not demons with pitchforks. It’s not sulfurous fire on their skin, but something much deeper at their very core, a purifying flame burning them from inside out.
That, to me, is far more terrifying than a generic hell, because it requires personal, individual accountability, and denies the ability to simply abandon oneself to cursing God forever. Given the depths of human pride, willfully surrendering to a higher power is difficult – and for those accustomed to wielding power over others, is even harder.
And in this sense, God cannot be charged with injustice – the punishment, such as it will surely seem to them, will exactly and perfectly fit the crime, and last exactly and only as long as absolutely necessary for them to be purified and redeemed.
In the moment, the very instant, when they finally repent, and recognize that God is right and just, and they deserve this fate, they will discover that “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:20-21)
And in that moment, “through one act of righteousness the result was justification of life to all mankind.” (Romans 5:18)
Every single human.
And with that in mind, read this familiar passage – perhaps with new vision, and don’t add ANY qualifiers to it – read it as talking about ALL humanity. It may start with the church, but God is “not willing for ANY to perish but for ALL to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9):
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him in love, by predestining us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He graciously bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our transgressions, according to the riches of His grace which He caused to abound to us in all wisdom and insight, making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Him for an administration of the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth in Him. In Him, we also have been made an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, to the end that we who first have hoped in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. In Him, you also, after listening to the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation – having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, unto the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.
And on the day when that last human surrenders…
Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing.” And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be the blessing and the honor and the glory and the might forever and ever.” And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshiped.
Every created thing.
EVERY created thing.
So may it be!
(If you have time, read this: https://churchlifejournal.nd.edu/articles/the-severity-of-universal-salvation/ which inspired this thinking.)