A good friend of mine who also happens to be a great thinker raised an interesting question to me today in a conversation we were having on Facebook. We've been discussing hell and sort of bouncing ideas off of one another and he raised the point that if everyone were going to heaven and no one was going to experience an eternal Hell then it would make kingdom work here and now quite pointless. He said, "It's difficult to see the purpose of furthering the Kingdom of God if we're all going to be in it in the end anyways." In other words, why should we do anything if we're all going to heaven anyway?
Well, keeping in mind that the kingdom of God is an eternity that starts now and that we shouldn't put all our eggs in the "afterlife" basket, I think that it's possible that the belief that ALL will be saved could actually empower our kingdom work here and now (not that I wish to advocate a universalist or even an inclusivist perspective just yet). Isn't it, after all, the hope that we're all going to be there or could be there that drives us to further God's kingdom? If I didn't have hope that in the end you would enter the Kingdom of God, why would I waste my time with you? It's because I think you can that I do take the time to work towards that hope. If I know that the reality of God's kingdom, which was made a reality through Jesus Christ, is the only true reality there is, then I am going to do whatever I can to implement that reality wherever it has been hidden. When I see people suffering from poverty, I know that the reality they live in is not the reality that Christ brought to bear upon the world through his resurrection, so my work of freeing them from that poverty or giving them hope in that poverty is the work of furthering God's kingdom. It's a work worth doing because I believe that the Kingdom is theirs. If, on the other hand, I didn't believe in my bones that all could be saved, I might be inclined to give up on some or to make judgments about to whom I should or shouldn't extend grace.
On the other hand, I'm not so sure that the doctrine of Hell is incompatible with the hope of the Kingdom. It may be, in fact, that hell provides the sense of urgency we should have. But then again, if people dying of starvation, for example, does not provide a sense of urgency I don't know what would. Wherever we end up, we must conclude that the practical work of furthering the kingdom will be important until all are saved. I think this is true whether or not we believe in eternal damnation.