For believing Latter-day Saints, universalism speaks to a legitimate problem and a legitimate yearning.
The problem universalism speaks to is as follows: exaltation is the product of choices in the direction of eternal life (God’s life) that are made by souls who see their options with clarity. In mortality, many of us — to some extent all of us — have trouble seeing our choices with clarity. Some of the reasons for this (sin, rebellion) are within our control, but other reasons for our inability to see clearly (culture, trauma, neurological wiring, lack of opportunity) are to some extent not within our control. So after this life, there will be periods of time where people come to see reality with the clarity that has not been possible in mortality. Universalists are confident that everyone who sees with this clarity will choose eternal life, or that God will somehow unilaterally impose eternal life on everyone, regardless of their choices.
The legitimate yearning that universalism answers is the desire to be with loved ones for eternity. Latter-day Saint universalists see in the statement “families can be together forever” not a statement of possibility, but a statement of divine intention. They view any possibility of eternal separation from loved ones as being contrary to God’s plan, and view the eternal gathering of our Heavenly Parents’ children as being an ideal that is fully within our Heavenly Parents’ power to achieve.
There is a degree of legitimate truth in these universalist ideas, and we would do well to honestly acknowledge that.
In April 2019 and again in April 2020 General Conference, President Dallin H. Oaks offered members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints an insight into one of his assignments as a member of the First Presidency. President Oaks said in his April 2019 talk on repentance:
My message today is one of hope for all of us, including those who have lost their membership in the Church by excommunication or name removal. We are all sinners who can be cleansed by repentance.
A year later in April 2020, President Oaks said in a talk on the Plan of Salvation:
In conclusion, I share the conviction that has come to me from many letters and by reviewing many requests to return to the Church after name removal or apostasy. Many of our members do not fully understand this plan of salvation, which answers most questions about the doctrine and inspired policies of the restored Church. We who know God’s plan and who have covenanted to participate have a clear responsibility to teach these truths and do all that we can to further them for others and in our own circumstances in mortality.
In light of what President Oaks said here, do we understand God’s Plan? Obviously there are a lot of aspects of it that we can’t understand, but what are the things we can understand from scripture, from prophetic teachings, and from our own experiences? The following is a set of questions we can ask to gauge our level of understanding of the Plan of Salvation.
There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it.C.S. Lewis, the Great Divorce
The purpose of God’s plan of salvation is to show us — and God — what we really desire, so that God can give that to us. The caveat is that if we want any kind of life that is not God’s life, we will not feel comfortable in the presence of God, in the society that God inhabits.