It is a popular topic in Christian theology to discuss who will be saved when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead. There are a variety of opinions on this topic. Some believe that very few people will be saved, citing Christ’s words that, “the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13). Others cite the all-inclusive power of God’s salvific will, noting that the Apostle Paul states that, “God… desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:3-4). Clearly Scripture itself is undecided on this issue. Different verses could be cited and counter-cited back and forth endlessly.
The reason this issue remains unsolved by Scripture is because we are not supposed to know who will be saved and who will not be saved. The eternal salvation of each human person is a mystery that is known only to God, who alone holds the Book of Life in which the names of the elect are written. However, this does not mean that we are not able to speculate and consider this issue from a theological perspective and see where our thoughts lead us.
Perhaps we should start with what we know to not be true. We know for certain that God eternally respects the free will of each human person, and therefore God will not force salvation on anyone. As God gave Adam and Eve the choice in the Garden of Eden to remain in union with him out of free will or to reject him by eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil by free will, he also gives us the choice in the present moment to accept or reject his salvation. Therefore we know for certain that God will not force salvation on anyone. It thus follows that universal salvation cannot be a dogmatic certainty because we know that people are free to reject God.
On the other hand, we also know it to be true that God is good and loves mankind. We know for certain that God eternally desires “all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4). We know that “God is love,” and indeed the most powerful love that exists (1 John 4:8). How could Love himself bear to leave even one human soul in eternal hell? Indeed, Christ is the one who descended into hell and rose from the dead to rescue those captive to sin and death, both the righteous and the unrighteous. Given God’s overwhelming love, how could he not save all people?
Given these two truths- that God is love, and that God eternally respects the free will of each human person, I suggest a mediating position.1 While we cannot know for certain that every human person will be saved due to human free will, we do have reason to hope that every human person will be saved because we know God as love. While we cannot be certain, we can certainly pray for the salvation of every person we meet, and indeed for the salvation of the whole world. May God save the world through the prayers of His Most Pure Mother and all the saints.
1: This line is based off of Metropolitan Kallistos Ware’s article “Dare We Hope for the Salvation of All?” which can be found here.