In another post I wrote on the traditional understanding of Universalism – that everyone is eventually reconciled to God, but there is another definition of universalism that I do not hear spoken of (at least in these terms) which I am convinced that all Christians believe. From my reformed seminary instruction, I was taught that salvation consisted of three things:
There is however a fourth category that has been left out – Resurrection. Everyone will experience a bodily resurrection and have eternal existence. While we know the body dies, we must remember that the soul is not eternal, in and of itself, we are not Platonists who believe in a self-existing immortal soul. Without the resurrection we would cease to exist. Resurrection needs to seriously be considered a part of salvation; not just human salvation, but all creation (of which we are a part) rejoices at the liberation from corruption (Romans 8:21).
Cosmically, resurrection precedes the above three parts; with Christ’s death and his resurrection he had destroyed death and brought eternal life to all (Acts 24:15). Personally this comes to us as glorification, when after death we are reunited with our bodies.
The critical issue is not whether someone will have eternal life (existence), but the state of their relationship with God in that existence. Augustine considered salvation in terms of ‘eudomia’, the idea that everyone seeks their highest pleasure, with the ultimate pleasure being the presence of God. Inversely, he saw the worst suffering to be separation from God. This line of reasoning developed into the common thinking that salvation is an issue of geography – ‘going to heaven’ and automatically being happy in the presence of God, and the absence of salvation is suffering in hell apart from God. The Eastern Church has an allowable alternative understanding: the possibility that hell does not exist as geography, but as a state of being. In this view all people (as a consequence of the resurrection) are in the presence of God. The presence of God, who is a loving consuming fire, is experienced differently by different people; those who are found in Christ and indwelt by the Spirit will enjoy the love of God to the degree that they have purified themselves and conformed to the loving image of God, and those who have rejected God’s love will find the very love of God to be the ultimate torment.