The Argument from God’s Love for the Blessed (Part 1)

At the age of 65 actor George Sanders committed suicide. He left the following note:

Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck.

Perhaps, as life takes its toll upon us, we may begin to think that our eternal destiny and the possibility of perdition does not matter. Let’s just get life over with. The monotony, the pain, the failures, the losses and tragedies, the indignities of aging, disease and the breakdown of the body—it’s just all unbearable. My family and friends will understand. They’ll quickly forget me and move on with their lives. But of course this is nonsense. My tragedy becomes the tragedy of all who love me.

If the traditional doctrine of hell is true, the eternal torment of the damned will cause a profound problem for anyone who loves them. If I choose eternal separation from God, then not only have I done irreparable harm to myself, but I will have brought terrible suffering into the lives of all who love me.

In my preceding article, “Hell and the Solidarity of Love,” I briefly summarized Thomas Talbott’s argument that the traditional Christian doctrine of hell is incompatible with the gospel assertion that God wills our supremely worthwhile happiness. We cannot enjoy the first and best form of eschatological bliss if we know and love one or more of the lost. John Kronen and Eric Reitan have formulated the argument in syllogistic form in their book God’s Final Victory. They title it the Argument from God’s Love for the Blessed:

1. Anyone in a state of eternal blessedness possesses both perfect bliss and universal love for all persons.

2. Anyone who possesses universal love for all persons and who is aware that some persons are eternally damned cannot possess perfect bliss.

3. Therefore, anyone who is aware that some persons are eternally damned cannot possess eternal blessedness (1, 2).

4. If anyone is eternally damned, anyone who possesses eternal blessedness would be aware of this.

5. Thus, if anyone is eternally damned, then none possess eternal blessedness (3, 4).

6. God, out of benevolent love for His creatures, confers blessedness at least on those who earnestly repent and seek communion with Him.

7. Therefore, God does not eternally damn anyone (5, 6). (p. 80)

The first premise is no doubt the most important. Surely all Christians can agree that God intends human beings to enjoy in heaven (substitute “kingdom,” if you prefer) the most supreme and worthwhile form of joy in an eternal communion of love and holiness. All of the saved will, by grace, come to share in God’s universal love for humanity, including the condemned. As K & R note, “The prevailing Christian interpretation of divine love is that it is unconditional, encompassing even the damned” (p. 81). The blessed will love not only each other but also the reprobate, just as God does. Neither second-best happiness nor defective charity makes the grade. The optimal eschatological condition will include “(a) perfect bliss—that is, happiness that is the best kind of happiness a person can know, untainted by any dissatisfaction; and (b) moral sanctification, including being perfected in love such that the saved love as God does” (p. 81).

Perhaps the second premise is the most controversial: assuming that the redeemed share in God’s universal love for humanity, then their eschatological happiness will be diminished if they know that one or more of their fellow human beings are enduring eternal misery. “If we love someone,” K & R ask, “how could knowledge of their eternal damnation not diminish our happiness?” (p. 81). This will be true even if the condition of perdition is freely chosen. Damnation is, after all, not just a tragic outcome for a human being; it is the ultimate tragedy, the worst possible conclusion of human existence.

Kronen and Reitan have advanced Talbott’s argument beyond the love of loved ones (parent for child, lover for beloved, friend for friend) to reflect the universal intention and character of the divine charity. The blessed have been perfected in love. “The degree to which they love the damned will exceed the degree to which we love even our dearest and closest friends” (p. 83). There are no strangers. No matter how evil and corrupt, no matter how possessed of hatred for God and the company of heaven, the reprobate remain persons made in the image of God and therefore remain objects of love and concern both for God and the redeemed. The blessed cannot be indifferent to the awful plight of those who inhabit hell, precisely because they love as God loves.  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:33-35).

One might imagine someone setting aside the distress caused by the torment of another if he knew that the torment was temporary; but it is quite another thing to envision that same person remaining supremely happy if he knows that the torment being suffered by the other is interminable and irredeemable. K & R elaborate:

There is a difference between temporary and permanent bad states. Perhaps it is possible for happiness to be undiminished by the former—especially if there is an assurance that the bad state will be redeemed. However, it is something else again to suppose that happiness can be undiminished by the latter, especially if there is no hope of redemption. In the former case, the intentional object of one’s happiness might be the final state that is ultimately realized. Insofar as this state is worthy of unmitigated approval, supreme happiness might be fitting given even passing evils. What is not compatible with supreme happiness is permanent and ultimate tragedy–for in that case the final state is not one towards which an unmitigated positive judgment is fitting. (p. 84)

But didn’t Jesus declare, “If any man come to Me and hate not his father and mother, and wife and children, and brethren and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26)? I can understand Jesus calling his disciples to rightly prioritize loves and loyalties, to abandon all forms of egotistical affection and put service to him and to his Father above all other considerations; but is our Lord actually asking us to renounce our love for family and friends? I remember preaching on this text twenty-five years ago in Highland, Maryland. A distressed mother came up to me afterwards and asked, “Is Jesus telling me that I must stop loving my husband and children?” The young preacher began to hem and haw.

(Go to “Part 2”)

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63 Responses to The Argument from God’s Love for the Blessed (Part 1)

  1. Rhonda says:

    Looking forward to part 2 🙂


  2. I think the problem here is the definition of the word love. I think the modern (forgive me for clumsy terminology) romantic view of love simply isn’t love. It might be the place where love learns to grow, but it is not love. And I believe this modern romantic “possessive” love is the root of a number of dangerous problems for the Church, including universalism. The idea that I “need” you for my happiness is an objectification of you. That I “need” some destiny for you is equally as dehumanizing. This is no different than a father’s dream that his son become the firefighter or a mother’s wish that her daughter be beautiful on her wedding day or whatever might fulfill some selfish need.

    I believe the deep sin of our time is the failure to recognize the depth of our sin and the state of our supreme delusion*. Our every work of charity (for this is what love really is, freely given without attachment) has been tainted by our neurotic self-centered ego-narrative. We have become “individuals” in the worst sense of the word and have cast others into the realm of possessions that exist for the purpose of pleasing us, fulfilling us, and making our experience perfect.

    It is flawed. It is flawed in universalism. It is flawed in our marriages (and in efforts to redefine marriage). This is the real story of modernity: The loss of love in a sea of sentimentalism. It lacks profundity like Disneyland, Thomas Kinkade and Christian Rock.

    “But I ‘need’ those people to be happy for me to be happy!” Then you do not love them. This sounds more like co-dependency than love. If you love, you are happy because of what you give away, not because of what you receive. You know this Father Aidan and everyone who reads this blog should know it too.

    This reminds me so much of the difference between “regret” and “repentance”; in the same way regret might (if properly chastened) turn to true repentance, this needful love might eventually turn to the true love of God, who does not need our love, who does not need our worship, who does not need our bliss to fulfill His purpose, not for Himself, nor for any of those in His Kingdom.

    I would not put it as C.S. Lewis did, but I can see the sense in saying that Heaven need not allow Hell to hold it hostage. Your proposal is the liquidation of nature of man, not deified, but utterly subsumed into oblivion. You say you cannot see that God could truly love a man and leave him in hell, but I contend that if God so deliberately and purposefully alters a man (monergistically) then what you really have is annihilism.

    Perhaps those passages in the scripture are truly and plainly spoken. Though I do not think that is the position you would like to take. That when the “old man” is “put to death” he really is. The “me” in heaven isn’t “me” at all. There is no good news for “me” but God will make something else and call it “me”, a puppet for the amusement of puppets.


    • Dino says:

      You make a very interesting point above David! It is reminiscent of Zizioulas as well as CSLewis…


    • Nicole says:

      I feel your missing the point in that your separating love from empathy. Empathy is one of the greatest ways God teaches love for others and I believe he empathizes with every one of us. This is not selfish but rather selfless. It’s taking another person’s point of view rather than your own. I do not believe God ceases to empathize with humans in hell (which I believe to be temporary).


      • Empathy is a modern concept and has nothing to do with love ( it is the simulation of emotional states in ourselves that we observe in others that may lead to (but is not) compassion. God cannot empathize with us because His love is utterly unclouded by the passions.

        Compassion is the awareness of suffering, but it does not require (and I believe it is misled when it has resulted from) motivations arising from our passions. Our “need” for others to be happy for us to be happy is intrinsically objectifying. That is, such a need presupposes the purpose of another person to serve our desires.

        Nowhere in the scriptures is the word empathy appropriate regardless of the modern fashion for the word. True charity (God-like love) would only have its judgment clouded by empathy rather than enriched.

        We must be careful. We have decided that there is a good passion and that we should hitch our wagons to us to motivate us to do what we believe is good. But this is not what the father’s taught. They taught that real love is not externally motivated/manipulated but rather flows in utter freedom from the throne of God.

        We have been set free from the bonds of sin, we should not delude ourselves back into slavery in the name of something our clouded vision delights in.


      • dino says:

        I have been ‘scandalised’ by the extent to which some Saintly Elders on mount Athos have demonstrated their profound respect of one’s’ freedom (or that of others). One never encounters such a love in the natural world. You might get small-scale glimpses of such a magnanimous love on occasion, but never to such a degree of respecting another’s freedom (without ever verging on indifference).
        In the parable of the prodigal son we also witness this love that contains a scandalous respect of the other, an ‘absurd’ regard for another’s freedom. It is shown towards both the younger son (to his initial detriment as well as his subsequent salvation -one might argue-) as well as towards the older brother (who paints an icon of the unrepentant, those who -to rephrase CS Lewis – lock themselves outside of Heaven of their own accord, the end of which is never revealed within the parable given us).
        One reason I found David’s comment particularly interesting is because what we human’s never comprehend according to our natural experience of love is the sublime difference between ‘having’ love, and ‘being’ love.
        God is (rather than ‘has’) Love.
        We can only get glimpses of this in some of his Saints and taste of it partially, through the Holy Spirit.
        The instant God’s Grace subsides however, this otherworldly love co-mingles with our ‘natural’ love (including wretched attachment and selfish ‘need’). However, when Grace comes anew, we forget of all that once again and we taste of the total freedom that is “being” love.
        Saint Silouan and Elder Sophrony speaks of this frequently.
        Of course all this might not prove anything concerning universalism etc. but mustn’t we at least clarify our understanding (or simply fathom our lack of such comprehension) concerning the first and the second most important aspects of existence: love and freedom….? (not as they act “naturally”, but as these act through the Holy Spirit)


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      David, your point regarding “possessive” love may, or may not, apply to some of the comments I have made; but it does not apply to the argument as formulated by Kronen and Reitan–at least not unless love is divorced from compassion and pity. Their argument has nothing to do with “But I ‘need’ those people to be happy for me to be happy!”

      Perhaps one might argue that the blessed come to share in the impassibility of the divine–hence they are beyond being touched or affected by the sufferings of the damned. I suspect this may be be the strongest objection to their argument. I’ll share K&R’s rejoinder in part 2.

      You have introduced such a disjunct between the human experience of love and the love of God that one might wonder if the word “love” is being used equivocally. Calvinists and Augustinians make a similar response to Arminian and Orthodox criticisms of their formulation of predestination and limited atonement: divine love, they say, must not be interpreted through fallen experience–God alone is our definition of love. Just saying … 🙂


      • “but is our Lord actually asking us to renounce our love for family and friends?”

        Our Lord is asking to to admit that we do not love our family and friends, not truly. He points us toward truly loving them, but to do that we must abandon our fallen understanding of love. Real love can look like hate to those who see “attachment” as love. Dispassion looks heartless, even cold and cruel, like hate in the eyes of those who have “romantic” notions of love.

        It is this divine impassibility that God calls us to, lifts us into and by grace will cause us to participate in.

        I think this is the disjunct Christ introduced. I am merely repeating and defending the disjunct you, yourself, speculated about in your post.


    • Rhonda says:

      “I think the problem here is the definition of the word love. I think the modern (forgive me for clumsy terminology) romantic view of love simply isn’t love.”
      Agreed! I think that part of the problem is that English has only 1 word for love whereas the
      Greek has several. So many nuances & much meaning can be lost in the reduction.

      “We have become ‘individuals’ in the worst sense of the word and have cast others into the realm of possessions that exist for the purpose of pleasing us, fulfilling us, and making our experience perfect.”
      I see this so much myself today. Far too many enter into marriage with the expectation that their significant other will fulfill all of their wishes & desires without considering or realizing that they too will have obligations to the relationship in order for it to succeed.

      “That I “need” some destiny for you is equally as dehumanizing. This is no different than a father’s dream that his son become the firefighter or a mother’s wish that her daughter be beautiful on her wedding day or whatever might fulfill some selfish need.”
      I see your point, but I think that this analogy fails. While such well wishes for our children may be the result of parents living vicariously through their children, the great majority of the time they are the result of the parents’ love for the future well-being of their child. I like Nicole’s comment, love of God & love for others are linked & I think of the sheep/goats parable of Matt 25. Theologically today most do not realize that when mankind at the Fall fell out of union with God, we also fell out of union with each other. It is through our love of our fellow man that we learn to love God & through our love of God we learn to love our fellow man. Both go hand in hand, IMO.

      God created us as beings to live in union, both with Him & with others; this has not changed, nor do I believe will it at the 2nd Glorious Coming/Final Judgment. Will we be perfected in our expression of that love before then? No, that is what God will bring to full fruition. I find it hard to believe that we will not have social relationships in the eternal hereafter because that is how God created us. Your argument leaves us with if we love God perfectly then our loved ones will no longer matter to us. While I admit that there will be no marriage in heaven (i.e., things will definitely be different that this temporal existence) this is a far cry from our loved ones not mattering to use if we but have perfect love.


      • I guess that is where I disagree with you. I think the vast majority of the things we call love are nothing of the sort. They may glimpse at love, they may be foreshadowings of it, they might even lead us to it someday, but I think they are predominantly (I’m not talking total depravity here, I’m talking about the fallen nous which we all suffer from) coming from these selfish desires/passions.

        That feeling of “need” is probably as good a test as any for those of us who are not yet dispassionate to recognize the corrupted element we are trying to call love. Another word that would come up might be “disappointment”. If others “disappoint” us then we had expectations on them, preconceptions, and they failed to “fulfil” something “for us”. I’m not saying these are perfect indicators, but they seem helpful in the context of this conversation.


    • I understand what you are saying – namely, that neither the love of others nor the love of God can twist a soul’s metaphysical arm to enter heaven. Of course, some Orthodox would say that’s precisely what happens. Looking beside that, the question remains whether that “me” (which is the real “me” as I have developed “me” – not the real “me” which God intended from the beginning and towards which my true good lies) can remain locked in its obstinancy and delusions forever, even if totally left to its will without coercion. Assuming that in Hell a soul discovers it has lost whatever intimations of heaven it found on earth and was left with only its own miserable pieces of its former life, could that soul not find the deepest good within itself – given that knowledge and given the pathology of sin which it must undertake as a “cross,” a vountary self-annihilation? I agree that so long as that soul persists in its current – and it believes – authentic identity it will remain in Hell and – as Mephistoles said in “Faustus” (and echoed in the “Christmas Carol” where the presence of Hell is made portable by the chains even when Marley visiting earth) – “I remain in Hell even wherever I am” (because Hell exists as state which follows you around, even if you were in Heaven itself – which indeed would be more painful due to the contrasts). The question remains, with nowhere else to go in eternity: ought things remain that way, for eternity?

      One must especially consider that, in the parables of Jesus at least, the door does not seem to locked “on the inside.” Rather, those who arrive late for the wedding feast are genuinely distressed and pleading to get in when the eschaton within history is finalized into the one beyond within eternity. I suppose that’s a separate question altogether. Maybe Father has a suggestion.


      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        This is the question, Dante. I share some provisional thoughts on this in my earlier pieces “Can Aslan Pierce our Infernal Deafness?” and “The Active Passivity of the Afterlife.” I don’t know if you’ve seen them yet. But as you will see, I haven’t even touched the surface and my vision is limited.

        The Orthodox understanding of prayer for the dead would certainly seem to support the belief that no one is “frozen” in his perditional state. Do the damned cease to be bearers of the divine image? Are they not, as are all human beings, created with an ontological thirst for God? Can the sinner actually eradicate this thirst? If so, does this not mean that he has changed his nature?


      • No. I did not, but I certainly will now.

        Thank you.


  3. Nicole says:

    David, the first part of the definition of empathy you pointed out on wikipedia says “Empathy is the capacity to recognize emotions that are being experienced by another sentient or fictional being. ”
    The next sentence says,
    “One may need to have a certain amount of empathy before being able to experience accurate sympathy or compassion”
    My only argument with this is the word “may” need to have a certain amount of empathy. If one us unable, as in the first part, to recognize the emotions of another sentient being (and remember we’re made in God’s image), I would say that being does not know the other being at all. I should hope that the God I believe in knows me and my emotions! As for the second part of the defininition, remember that by definition in the bible “Love is kind.”

    Anyhow, as far as love and freedom go, I believe God is love and loves us all. Love is stronger than death, for it rose Jesus from the grave. He will therefore raise us all from the dead (not just physically, but spiritually too) unto true life and death (even spiritual death) will be done away with. I believe he will one day truly be “all in all”. In that sense, even though we have the freedom to reject him, I do not believe anyone will eternally because he will be in that very person’s being. I remember a pastor telling the story of a devout devil worshiper waking up realizing she believed in Jesus. She was seriously concerned about this because it wasn’t the way she was used to being. In that way, I agree with Talbott that God’s Love is inescapable.


    • “One may need to have a certain amount of empathy” but that doesn’t mean they must have empathy (as you point out) and certainly before Theodor Vischer and Robert Vischer came up with the concept a few decades before, no one could have any empathy.

      That’s my point. Empathy is a fabrication to explain certain psychological (not spiritual) processes (originally about art) built out of anthropological models which exclude the God-man Christ. It, along with the rest of Freudian (in this case proto-Freudian), nonsense has no place in theology.

      It may very well be that God is like the God you paint. I certainly hope not. For all my understanding (and it is frail indeed!) that is not the God of the scriptures or the fathers of the Church. I do not want an “empathetic” God who “feels my pain”. God is the prime mover and is not moved. He is the uncreated, He should not be said to be created.

      Again I must contend that Talbott’s definition of love is not one reconcilable with the texts or the tradition of the Church. God’s love may be inescapable, it may be that such love is torture for those who do not want it (this is one attempt to understand the tradition of the Church which may yet be vindicated, though I do not know). But it is not love as Talbott comprehends it.


      • Nicole says:

        I believe Christ took part in our pain through becoming man and his suffering. I believe he does every day and especially the pain caused by sin. What you want seems more like a solid entity rather than a God who cares. I think one of the scariest things in religion is when people try to redefine the concepts of Good and Love as just whatever intellectual (and often not very deep) understanding they have of scripture. Muslim fundamentalists claim their God is a God of love. Yet their redefinition of him according to their understanding of scripture is how we get terrorists. Christians become spiritual terrorists when we redefine the reflection of true love that we’ve been given by God to be something that does not resemble love at all. Our understanding may be imperfect. But a child has a better understanding than many theologians out there.


  4. Connie says:

    David, I cannot speak with the erudition of Father Aidan, but my own response as a lowly member of the Orthodox Church is this: I think you are using the word “passions” too broadly. Not all passions are bad. When we love others with the love that God has for them it is not devoid of passion. Jesus was the Perfect Man. Jesus wept. Jesus sweat drops of blood. There are many instances of His tenderness. Does not that tenderness derive from the unifying nature of His Love? How could it not?

    On another note: Too many people assume that Christian universalists are not sufficiently cognizant of their lower nature and their tendency to sin. But it is often an extra keen awareness of our own sinfulness that makes us so identify with the lowest of the low, that gives us the certainty that God’s love will ultimately reach and redeem them too. I have found it immensely edifying to know that there is an ultimately good end to all whom we are called to love. I cannot imagine loving anyone without that knowledge.

    Father Aidan, you are doing us such a wonderful service. Your perspective on this issue has far too long been kept out of the public conversation. I appreciate you more than words can say.


    • It is a very simple thing Connie. Does God move in complete freedom and love, or is He moved, Himself a creature bound by the sin of this world?

      Christ’s tears and tenderness were utterly genuine and utterly freely given. They were not something manipulated in Him by an attachment to those He ministered to as we are discussing here. What a greater gift is this, that God moves! He is not moved, but freely moves Himself! Mystery beyond glorious mystery that without any lack, loss, or infirmity God chooses to act on my behalf and share in my nature at no time suffering any change, but changing man, deifying His nature. Those drops of blood, each one was purposed before the foundation of the world to fall as they did that day. Christ wasn’t overcome with emotion, He was pouring out His spirit beyond the human body’s ability to sustain as He always had intended from before all time.

      My problem is not with universalists not realizing “how bad they are” or the “depth of their sin” … that is nonsense. No one has an appreciation of that save a few of the most holy saints in Heaven. My problem is not admitting that the sin they have tarnishes their judgement. That the sin is treated as a result rather than a condition. The condition of sin we exhibit inhibits our vision, the clarity of our thought and our knowledge of God, each other and ourselves.


      • Rhonda says:

        “That the sin is treated as a result rather than a condition. The condition of sin we exhibit inhibits our vision, the clarity of our thought and our knowledge of God, each other and ourselves.”

        Too true!


      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        “My problem is not admitting that the sin they have tarnishes their judgement. That the sin is treated as a result rather than a condition. The condition of sin we exhibit inhibits our vision, the clarity of our thought and our knowledge of God, each other and ourselves.”

        David, I quote the above as a sample of your argumentation to which I’d like to respond.

        Let us say this is true. Let us say that our understanding of love is terribly warped and distorted by sin. Let us grant all of this. Why does this argument apply only to universalists and not to the proponents of eternal hell? Is not your view of love warped and distorted by sin? Aren’t we all in the same boat?

        Dino raised a concern similar to yours in one of his comments about our need for purification and healing if we are to see and think clearly on these questions. Who can disagree? Yet once having acknowledged this need, we are still stuck with the theological question at hand, namely, the everlastingness of perdition.

        You are (apparently) convinced that the Argument from God’s Love for the Blessed is flawed because you (apparently) know the blessed will not feel distressed by the sufferings of the damned. Am I correctly interpreting your opinion? I need to ask: How do you know this? I presume that you, like me, have not yet attained a state of dispassion. Might it not also be possible that once having been perfectly purified that the blessed will “feel” the sufferings of the damned even more intensely?

        I am reminded of the conversation between Elder Silouan and a fellow monk about the sufferings of the damned. I’m sure you know it, so I won’t repeat it. (Besides, I want to save it for a blog post sometime soon). The monk gleefully declares that God will punish all atheists–they deserve it, after all. Silouan replies, “Love could not bear that. We must pray for all.” “Love could not bear that”–this is an odd way of speaking if your views on this matter (at least as I understand them) is the truth of the matter.

        It is proper for one to say that our conceptions and experiences of love are terribly distorted by our egotism and neediness. It is proper for one to say that we need to be purified if we are to think properly on theological questions and attain the capacity to discern our errors. But what we cannot properly do is to simply assume the truth of our position, as if only the people who disagree with us are the ones who do not understand what true and authentic love is.

        I could easily turn your approach back upon you. It seems far more likely to me, e.g., that the traditional doctrine of hell is a projection upon God of our own sinful passion to punish the guilty and exact vengeance. Quite frankly this seems so obvious to me that I do not understand why the rest of the world does not agree with me. But do I know this to be true beyond a reasonable doubt? Of course not. But it makes terribly good sense to me, in light of the gospel portraits of Jesus and in light of the teachings of St Isaac the Syrian.

        The bottomline: we are still left with the need to make arguments–biblical, theological, historical, ascetical, liturgical, philosophical, homiletical. I doubt any single argument will prove decisive, one way or the other. I don’t think that’s how assent works.

        I’m going to get back now to part 2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with all of us.


  5. dino says:

    I see David’s argumentation grounded on the ‘Zizioulian’ defence of God’s utter freedom from ALL necessity. Whereas, my point was more paraenetic (the classic point that has always been made concerning theological speculations – especially towards monks): that we must have at least as much time offered in prayer to counterbalance such vast amounts of talk and speculation…


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  7. tgbelt says:

    Thanks Fr Aidan for your blog and for such consistently challenging thoughts.

    I don’t think Kronen/Rietan’s (KR) argument finally works, and I’m inclined to agree with David (assuming I’m following him) that divine impassibility is why it doesn’t work. Perfect bliss, understood rightly, is not conceivably disturbable (if I can create that word). God is unsurpassably blissful. His pleasure and his existence are essentially one and the same, and as such his pleasure is both undiminishable and unimprovable. That itself, it seems to me, dismisses KR’s argument. KR might think this a reason for concluding that God is not impassible in the sense of being undiminishably and unimprovingly blissful. But from where I stand at present, I’d rather deal with the difficulties of KR’s argument being false than with God being diminishable and/or improvable in terms of his own God-defining bliss.

    I note that KR’s argument has to do only with those who are ‘eternally’ (i.e., irrevocably) damned. They admit that one may be able to set aside the torment of another if he knew the torment was temporary, so KR focus on the irrevocably damned. I think this also (together with divine apatheia) is a weakness in KR’s argument. If I assume KR’s understanding of divine bliss as the SUM of all the reasons God has for being happy + all the reasons God has for being sad or dejected, I’d be disinclined to think of God as less than perfectly blissful only where suffering is a permanent state. All, even temporary, evils and sufferings would compromise divine bliss. In other words, KR assume an understanding of divine bliss that makes divine bliss contingent upon all less-than-optimally good states and not just upon irrevocable torment. So it seems to me they would have to expand their argument a great deal.

    But even if KR’s argument fails as an Orthodox basis for universalistic hope, that’s not to say there aren’t good reasons the Orthodox have for believing all shall be redeemed. And while I agree with David that much of our modern understanding of love is perversely self-servicing and objectifying, it doesn’t follow from this (as he seems to think; not sure) that divine love (and its perfection in us) would tolerate a state of irrevocable torment in others. In other words, divine apatheia, though imperturbable to diminishment, is not “indifference to” the sufferings of others, and that’s all we need to begin to mount a better argument for universalism.

    As perfect love, God may unfailingly wish the highest good of others without ‘needing’ (to address David’s concerns) others to experience this good as a means of securing God’s own highest good. Make no mistake about it—God (eternally always already) is his own highest good and as such is his own source of perfect undisturbed bliss wholly unconditioned by anything outside himself, whether good or evil. But it doesn’t follow from this that we can consistently suppose that irrevocable torment is conceivable. I agree with KR that it’s not conceivable. I just don’t think their argument does a good job at expressing why it’s inconceivable, because it asks us to deny divine apatheia. I think a better argument, one based on the sort of divine apatheia KR reject, can be had.


    • tgbelt says:

      Sorry for the typos! Self-serving, not self-servicing!

      And “I’d be disinclined to think of God as less than perfectly blissful only where suffering is a permanent state” wasn’t that clear. More like “I’d be disinclined to think of God as perfectly blissful wherever there was suffering, and not just where there was irrevocable suffering.”


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Tom, thanks so much for jumping into the discussion. I agree with you that the question of impassibility, both of God and the blessed, is a critical question for K & R’s argument. I’ll be touching on this question in part 2, but I don’t have a lot of insight (as you will see). I think K & R (and Talbott) need to address this concern to solidify their argument.


  8. john burnett says:

    Fr Aidan, i’m surprised at the tenaciousness with which you seem to insist that God’s will, the eschatology of sinners, the particular fate of each, love, salvation, damnation etc etc— can and in fact MUST be penetrable by logic and reason. THAT is the problem, right there. You’re trying to figure out something that can’t be figured out. Every good answer you come up with, your mind proposes an equal and effective refutation. And every bad answer you come up with, your mind proposes and equal and convincing denial. This strikes me as just like the effort to prove or disprove homosexuality right or wrong: we know what the Bible says, but then we know real people too, and it just doesn’t add up. So we say, ‘but’, but then we say ‘but’, and again we have to say ‘but’, which evokes another ‘but’— and everybody weighs in with their ‘reasoning’, when the only answer that counts is God’s and, unless you’re content with a handful of Bible passages torn out of context, he remains silent.

    So is this just a big elaborate game, to get people debating and see what they think?

    We can’t PROVE that people are, or are not going to hell, or heaven, because in the end, God is not a syllogism but a Tri-Unity of Persons, and we know he would be justified in condemning ourselves, and we are informed that every self-aware person has a similar self-awareness. Yet we do know that ‘God so loved the world’, etc. We also do know by dominical affirmation that we will all be raised and judged. We know as well, each of us, our shortcomings and— hopefully, at least on our better days— we also know that if we could find at least *some* reason to be lenient even to the worst of men (assuming there could even be one worse than oneself), God must be able to do the same. And we certainly hope that we might ourselves find mercy, so why not everyone?

    But God is not a syllogism, nor do our syllogisms ever come even remotely near him. These arguments fall *infinitely* short of him! The whole attempt to reason out whether God ‘could’ or ‘could not’ ever condemn (or for that matter, save) anyone is absurd on the face of it, perhaps even faintly blasphemous, and at the very least, altogether contrary and opposed to faith in his mercy.

    And that’s all we have, you know: faith, and his mercy.

    There is nothing else.

    There is no proof, nor can there be.

    If i may dare to put it in personal terms, only to sharpen my point— your problem is not whether God will eternally condemn someone. Your problem is that you can’t accept faith, mercy, or God, and therefore you want to rest in a syllogism.

    In your mind, you’ve set up a lawcourt where an infinite sentence is handed down for every finite act. No finite act could ever be adequate to an infinite acquittal, nor to an infinite condemnation. Even if the purpose of the court is to find a reason to acquit, what finite reason could ever justify an infinite acquittal? Even if its purpose were to condemn, what finite reason could ever justify an infinite condemnation?

    But what if the legal metaphor is contained within, and conditioned by, a hospital metaphor? What if even eternal condemnation were part of an infinite therapy? You’d pretty much have the cross.

    You know, in Buddhism dead people go to the ‘Western Paradise’. Interestingly, that’s a land where you get absolutely everything you want— but at the same time, there are no obstacles to practicing the Dharma. You want a beautiful girl? She’s yours! And without karma! (But what would a girl be, without karma?) Eventually, no matter how long it takes, you figure it out and you practice until you find your liberation. Do you think God could not devise something more clever than this story about the compassion of Amida Buddha?

    The Last Judgment was given once and for all— on the cross. Comprehend that, and you have all the answer you’ll ever need, about salvation and condemnation.


  9. tgbelt says:

    David: My problem is [their (viz., universalists)] not admitting that the sin they have tarnishes their judgement. That the sin is treated as a result rather than a condition. The condition of sin we exhibit inhibits our vision, the clarity of our thought and our knowledge of God, each other and ourselves.

    Tom: The noetic effects of our sinfulness. Yes. I don’t think anyone wants to claim that our reasoning capacities are entirely unaffected by sin. But as I’ve read and talked to a lot of universalists, I haven’t encountered any who has ever claimed to have escaped these effects. By in large, the universalists I’ve read are pretty aware of their finitude and the limitations of human reasoning. Conversely, many of the advocates of irrevocable conscious torment (ICT) I’ve conversed with are very confident that the reasoning that led THEM to their beliefs all but guarantees the truth of their position.

    Fr Aidan is surely right to reply that the effects of our sinfulness and finitude embrace David’s reasoning capacities and conclusions as much as anyone, as I’m sure David agrees.

    It’s even worse than we think, though, because this very belief—i.e., the belief in the adverse noetic effects of sin—is itself subject to the noetic effects of sin since it’s a conclusion we reach through thoughtful deliberation as fallen thinkers. So the most this is gonna get us is a sober encouragement to hold ALL our beliefs humbly and do all our theologizing prayerfully and in community.

    But even IF many universalists are unaware of the effects of sin upon their reasoning, it is no argument against their arguments that we’re aware of these effects and they aren’t. It takes an argument to defeat an argument.

    John B’s comments are similar. And while I appreciate them (in the sense I appreciate the Orthodox-Dionysian belief in the failure of created categories to capture and exhaust the truth about God or to reduce God to the truths we possess), it’s possible to turn them upon his own positions (or anyone’s position). In other words, the belief in our universal sinfulness and the limitations of our finitude can easily be used by anyone to maintain that his/her position is sufficiently justified while contrary beliefs all overreach in their attempt to answer questions. In fact, I’m inclined to think that this tendency is surely one of the noetic effects of our sinfulness upon our thinking–i.e., to think that OUR reasons for believing what WE believe have escaped the effect of our sinfulness upon us while others who disagree with us have all overreached by asking questions that can’t be answered or by reasoning in ways that violate our creaturely finitude. Fortunately for us the questions that we think have no answers are the questions OUR positions have no answers for.

    I don’t think David and John’s warnings (as generally right on as they are) matter to the questions before us. We can just as easily embrace our sinfulness and the limitations of our language and finitude as universalists as we can embrace them as proponents of ICT. There’s no ‘argument’ for or against universalism in recognizing the ultimate failure of our language to express the truth about God and the world.


    • john burnett says:

      ‘to think that OUR reasons for believing what WE believe have escaped the effect of our sinfulness upon us while others who disagree with us have all overreached by asking questions that can’t be answered or by reasoning in ways that violate our creaturely finitude.’

      —I suggested nothing of the kind. I just said that some things are not rightly approached by logic. Would you try to discover whether your child loves you by logical proofs?

      I’ll agree, though: ‘There’s no ‘argument’ for or against universalism in recognizing the ultimate failure of our language to express the truth about God and the world.’ There isn’t any argument for or against it on any grounds. That’s why the hauling and bailing is endless.


    • markbasil says:

      Hello tgbelt (not sure of your name).

      Yes it’s certainly true those who hold a more non-universalist-inclined understanding of hell (perhaps traditional for Evangelicalism or at least fashionable among classical protestantism) are as unable to perceive truth and think rightly, with a purified heart, as are those inclined toward universalism. The issue, which John mentioned, is that it seems dubious to then speculate at all on this question. It is something that might actually be spiritually detrimental. At best we are spinning our wheels.
      You said that some find a conclusion through this- some are convinced. But even this is no ‘success’. Whatever peace it brings is false and bound to our own passionate minds; not the peace of Christ that surpasses understanding.

      Fr Aidan lightheartedly suggested that another person could do the praying while he does the blogging on the subject. Fair enough. But this is not consistent with accepting the teachings of God-bearing elders on how we should spend our time if we wish to know and understand God.
      Is there a fear that it’s futile? Too late for us to really know? That we are not monks so I guess we have to “settle” for a lessor method- that of reasoning and argument?
      These conclusions are just not helpful for our salvation. The matter is always one of salvation. We are called to engage in our repentance.

      I am becoming aware of the extent of my own hypocrisy in this. I spend far too much time speculating and thinking and discussing things beyond me. This is a mistake. It comes from my own weakness and I will try to take the steps needed to turn myself toward Christ and away from this mistake.

      I would like to share a couple words from a couple men wiser than I am in line with the movement I am speaking of:

      God looks upon this war [with our passions] in order to see whether we will seek Him and His help from the heart or not. He is always waiting to help us. However there are few living examples in this life to whom we can look. We hear a lot of words and see a lot of examples on how to live, how to behave toward our neighbors and family, and how to instruct them to acquire peace and joy. It is doubtful whether we will apply all of this in our lives. It is quite another thing when we see a living example, a person who is quiet and peaceful, full of love– when you become annoyed, that person does not. He forgives everything and is joyful about everything. When we see such a living example, it stays with us and we yearn to acquire that kind of peace.
      — Elder Thaddeus, in Our thoughts determine our lives p. 174

      “…In the vast sea which is the life of the Church the true tradition of the Spirit flows like a thin pure stream, and he who would be in this stream must renounce argument. When anything of self is introduced the waters no longer run clear, for God’s supreme wisdom and truth are the opposite of human wisdom and truth. Such renunciation appears intolerable, insane even, to the self-willed, but the man who is not afraid to “become a fool” (cf. I Cor. iii:18-19) has found true life and true wisdom.” (from Blessed Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov), the disciple of Saint Silouan the Athonite in “Saint Silouan the Athonite”).

      The person who constantly sharpens his mind with knowledge, but lives a life apart from God, will eventually turn his mind into a double-edged sword. With the one side of the sword, he will be slowly putting himself to the slaughter, while with the other, he will be slicing people to pieces with all kinds of absolute human views, sharpened by his unyielding mind.
      – Elder Paisios
      (I have seen first hand that this sort of “violence” is certainly not being done by Fr Aidan! I include this quote mostly because I have been thinking about it recently. It is relevant because of the “absolute human views” that we attain to when we try reasoning with unenlightened minds.)

      Of course as I already mentioned elsewhere there’s also St Paul:
      “Knowledge puffs up,” St. Paul says, “but love builds up.” He goes on, “If anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he aught to know it.”
      – 1Cor. 8:2

      I will try to take my own advise and stop arguing for this here. At my best I am really pleading and trying to persuade Fr Aidan and others that there is a better way. But in so doing perhaps I am just failing to live it myself?
      Obviously I cannot be much of an “example” in the manner Elder Thaddeus speaks of, over the internet. I am really doubting there is much value in all I have been “learning” online. But that’s my own story. I’ll get on with living it a bit. By your prayers, please.


  10. tgbelt says:

    John, your comments did remind me of many who have used that line of reasoning to exempt themselves from their own arguments. I’m glad that’s not the case with you. Fair enough.

    I agree that the knowledge of many things isn’t available to logical argumentation. True, I would not try to discover whether my child loves me by logic. However, I don’t think that trying to discover whether irrevocable conscious torment is biblical or whether it’s compatible with the goodness of God is equivalent to trying to discover whether my child loves me. I think the question re: the destiny of human being IS accessible to theological reasoning. So I’d disagree entirely that there are no arguments on any grounds for or against universalism. I appreciate the tentative nature of the arguments, sure. But not all who hold to a reasoned conviction one way or another feel themselves condemned to endless hauling and bailing. On the contrary, for some the hauling is over finally over, even if others don’t find the arguments compelling.


  11. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Brothers and sisters, a few brief thoughts off the top of my head.

    1) It’s been asked why I am so tenaciously blogging on this topic. The answer is simple: because it’s a topic of interest to me. That is what my blog is all about. I read something I want to read and then I share the stuff with you guys. If it’s of interest to you–great. If not, well, stop paying attention to my articles on this subject and patiently wait until I start writing on another topic. I tend to do blog series. The number of articles is determined both by my interest in the subject and by what I am reading. My articles on St Gregory the Theologian, for example, went on for months and months. Given the minimal interest (I mean minimal) they generated, I know that they were not of interest to very many people. That’s too bad, because I think there is some really good stuff on St Gregory in my articles. Regardless, I kept blogging on him until such time as I stopped reading him and moved on to another topic.

    Be patient.

    2) Is God beyond logic? I assume that this expression is a way of indicating the radical transcendence of God. My answer: of course. Who says otherwise? But that doesn’t mean that we may not or should not think about this question of universal salvation–or any other question. We all have our preferred modes of reflection. Some prefer exegesis of Scripture, some prefer exegesis of the Church Fathers and ecumenical councils, some prefer exegesis of the spiritual elders, some prefer philosophical reflection, etc., etc. As far as I am concerned, they all have their properly qualified place.

    At the moment I am blogging on what some philosophers have written on hell. Why? Because they are the ones who are writing the most interesting stuff on the subject right now. Now philosophers play a special kind of language game, and if you want to benefit from what they are doing, you have to play the game along with them. Not being trained in their discipline, I do not play the game very well at all, but still I like to watch from the sidelines. This doesn’t mean that we are subjecting God to our fallen reason and re-making him in our own image. It just means that we are engaging in a special kind of reflection in the hope that we may attain a little insight on the subject we are exploring. All truth is God’s truth. We need not fear philosophy any more than any other mode of reflection. Philosophers have a special talent for unveiling nonsense, which is a good reason to pay attention to them.

    3) Is theological reflection spiritually dangerous? It might be. Some people should definitely stay away from it. If you are this person, then please get off the internet and stop visiting any blog or forum where theology or church matters are discussed. One typically does not find healthy theological reflection in these places. What one finds is polemic, ideology, and demagoguery. Participation in them will only poison your soul.

    I hope and pray that my blog is not like this, which is one reason I am sometimes peremptory in my decisions on what kinds of discussions to allow.

    I do not expect everyone to agree with me (quite the contrary); but I do insist on civility and mutual respect. I insist on substance, rather than shallow polemic, which is what we find on most theological blogs and forums.

    I happen to be an Orthodox priest; but as you have already seen, I am not your ordinary Orthodox priest, for good or ill. If that’s a problem for you, I’m sorry. (Actually I’m not sorry.) I do not have a great deal of patience for those who simply dismiss “Western” modes of theological reflection. The funny thing is, when I read the 4th century Church Fathers (and I’ve read a lot of patristic material over the past year and a half), I find they are much more “Western” (whatever that means) than “Eastern” (whatever that means).

    I welcome thoughtful, civil, and respectful comments from everyone! I especially insist on civility and respect. If you are not in the mood to be civil and respectful, or are simply incapable of it, it’s best that you bite your tongue and take your fingers of the keyboard.

    4) Yes, I sometimes push the theological envelope on some topics. The question of universal salvation is case-in-point. For most, the question was magisterially decided long ago: the Bible is clear that hell is everlasting, the Church has decided by conciliar decision that hell is everlasting, the Church Fathers are unanimous that hell is everlasting, my priest/pastor tells me that hell is unanimous. At each point the person is invoking a form of infallibility, seeking to close discussion immediately. We all do this, myself included. I do not question the trinitarian dogma of Nicaea, for example. I do not do so because my Church is dogmatically committed to it. Hence I do not feel the need to look again at the Scriptures or the Ante-Nicene Fathers to determine whether or not their testimony supports the homoousion. I read Scripture through the hermeneutical lens of the councils. I do not apologize for this. That’s just the way it is.

    But on questions that have not been dogmatically defined–and the question of an eternal hell has not been dogmatically defined by the Orthodox Church, then I believe I am free to explore this question. If you disagree, well, what can I say? You can either engage me at a substantive level, or you can just stay silent on the sidelines shaking your head at my hutzpah, heresy, or stupidity.

    5) I approach all theological questions from the position of a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I no longer preach on a regular basis. As far as I know I will never preach again. (Preaching at my son’s funeral was the most difficult thing I have ever done. I do not see myself stepping into the pulpit again.) I am not a systematic theologian. I am not a neptic elder. I am a preacher of the good news of the resurrection. If you really want to know where my hutzpah is located, let me share this: deep in my heart I really believe that all theology is about preaching good news–and it is this which makes me different from most Orthodox and Catholic priests that I know.

    That’s all. Back to our regularly scheduled programming.


    • Rhonda says:

      Fr. A.
      I may question what a priest has said, but I seldom contradict what a priest says. But I must in this case. Preaching is not limited to pulpits or homilies anymore than a priest is only that when their cassock is being worn or when they are standing at the altar or when they are listening/guiding in Confession! No, you are still preaching, dear father, just via different formats–blog, & in my case, email–for which I thank you. Please forgive my impertinence!

      One thing that drew me to Orthodoxy was the depth of Christian faith as well as the freedom of thought concerning things not doctrinally defined. Few outside of Orthodoxy truly understand what that means & few cradle Orthodox truly appreciate it. I was raised within a shallow faith framework & when I tried to think deeper I was frequently told that such thinking was only for those in academia, most of which were surely going to hell, & that sort of thing was unnecessary for faith…just believe in Christ so God won’t burn you in hell forever…But how can one be wiser than the serpent if one does not think?

      I actually think that more people should think about their faith & its beliefs. Much error & many inconsistencies can be revealed & resolved (if they are willing) through a little bit of logic & reasoning. Yes, there are things that we cannot understand or know through logic lest insanity ensue (for example: the Trinity or God in His pure & absolute essence). Yes, God is beyond logic, especially fallen human logic, but as others have stated, that does not require us to stop thinking altogether. Sorry, but that was the “mindset” I was raised under & cannot go back to. That was the “mindset” that almost destroyed my faith altogether, so much so that I had to leave all things “Christian” before I could return to Christ & become a Christian (a feeble one at best) once again.


  12. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Brandon over at his Siris blog offers the following critique of K & R’s argument:

    As Fr. Kimel notes, (2) is the most controversial premise, and, although he provides some argument to motivate it, it is in fact fatally wrong: while it may be possible to provide a reasonably workable argument from divine love to universalism, one cannot possibly do it by way of the bliss of heaven. The particular complete joy that is intrinsic to heaven itself (which is all that can be meant by perfect bliss in (1)) consists of possession of God as universal and consummate good by love and understanding, or to look at it in the opposite direction, being energized by God as universal good in both understanding and will. It follows immediately and directly from such a union, and therefore cannot be affected by anything else, however important in other ways. Indeed, since by nature it flows directly from God in that union, it is not in the power of the blessed not to have it, regardless of anything else that may happen to them. Now, one can argue (as Fr. Kimel does) that God would in fact seek to please the blessed in secondary ways that presuppose this complete joy — and there is reason for thinking this at least sometimes true — but this turns what at first sight looks like a rigorous argument into a rather weak, merely probabilistic and limited one: as (2) then becomes only probable and all-things-considered, the conclusion can be only probable and all-things-considered. It is at best a default that can be defeated by contrary reasons. Thus the argument against hell ironically founders on its conception of heavenly bliss.

    Has he refuted the argument?


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      I asked John Kronen to take a look at Brandon’s article and here is his brief reply (with his permission):

      Eric and I take up exactly the sort of critique that Brandon mentions in our book and respond to it at some length. In general it is amazing to me that someone who believes that the blessed are in union with one who is love itself also believes that the blessed wouldn’t have their love of all persons increased rather than being so caught up in their OWN union with God that they take no notice of thousands suffering in hell. This makes it sound as if the union of the blessed with God is like some sort of teenage infatuation (or drug high) which cuts people of from concern for others; I think nothing could be farther from the truth. “How can you love God if you don’t love your fellow man”, applies to the blessed just as much to the pilgrims here.


      • Karen says:

        Amen, and furthermore Brandon’s argument seems to me to fly in the face of the Orthodox understanding of both Divine and human personhood as being inherently that of “being as communion.” We cannot be fully persons (as God is in His tripartite Being) apart from being in a communion of love with the Holy Trinity and with all other persons. For an Orthodox, this is what it means to be in communion with God. It seems to me Brandon’s argument presupposes an individualistic understanding of personhood.


      • Rhonda says:

        I am reminded of a quote as I read Brandon’s text. “We are not saved alone, but we do fall alone.” (or something along those lines), but do not know who said the original (someone help me out, please).

        I wonder about the argument that we will be so over-awed by union with or by being in God’s presence that we will be unaware of the fallen. We would also therefore be unaware of even the other redeemed ones in heaven; in essence we would be alone with God. If it was not good for man to be alone with God in Paradise before the fall, then how can it be good for man be alone with God in heaven after the fall has been fully recapitulated? Just thinking out loud…


      • dino says:

        (Concerning the over-awed by union non-awareness of others as you described it)
        Your comment makes sense but (from a non-speculative point of view now), based on the experience of the Saints in this life, the experience of God that approaches theosis – according to all the Saints is thus. All is forgotten in His presence, all is complete, although He is everyone’s God we experience Him as exclusively our own in a complete “only You and me” sense… References are so replete I wouldn’t know what to pick and choose first…


      • Rhonda says:

        I wondered who would mention that aspect as I was formatting my post 🙂 Yes, it is a flaw in my thoughts & something I have been deliberating throughout this series. I am heading off to Vigil for tomorrow’s feast, so I have no time to comment on my thoughts now. Later, my friend 🙂


      • Fr. Kimel,

        I think it needs to be pointed out that Kronen here is simply projecting and not actually addressing anything I say; nothing in my argument implies any of the claims he brings up here. My post was not a general attack on universalism — I very carefully avoided that — but a criticism of this particular argument, which seems, depending on how exactly one takes it, either (1) to fail because its account of perfect bliss is defective or (2) to require such a weak interpretation that the perfect bliss of the blessed actually plays no substantive role in it and that one can only get a very weak and uncertain conclusion from it.

        Indeed, I think Kronen’s response here simply makes my point: when he tries to explain his position here, the perfect bliss of the blessed falls out completely and the whole argument ends up just being about the nature of love — which is not the same argument, and should not be confused with it.


        I don’t see how it can be as individualistic as you say, given that the explicit foundation of it is that the joy of heaven is not individualistic feelings but communion with God.


      • Karen says:

        Brandon, perhaps I’m not understanding what you mean by communion. What I understand by this term is something that inherently involves an awareness of our connection with all other human beings and being aflame with God’s own love for all of humankind. Tom’s comment below from earlier today (particularly the third paragraph) touches on what I was thinking here.


  13. dino says:

    Fr Aidan,
    Yes but….

    I gave int to speculation 🙂 I am thinking of extremes here…
    God in His humility will crucify Himself eternally again and again rather than enforce upon one’s freedom. He ‘asks’.He doesn’t enforce. We see this in Christ Crucified… It is attractive beyond comprehension, but only if you want such a God. If you do not want the taste of such love and the only pleasure you can ever recognise as pleasure is dark, self-fulfilling, to a point of perversion that inverts everything so that the only ‘paradise’ for you (a demon) is hell?
    Let us take two extremes to clarify the problem that remains and make the point (the problem of personal interpretation which is key to the Light/Fire tradition):
    1) A humble Saint thinks thus:
    “even if I am in the darkest Hell as I truly deserve, having been the most diligent researcher of sin and practitioner of sin and voluntary enslaver of myself to sin, I only care that YOU God are not sad, that YOU look upon me joyfully, and that would make even the darkest hell into a bright Heaven.

    2) A demon thinks: even if I am in the brightest heaven, I want ME to be the only happy one, all others, especially you God must be sad, I cannot stand that you love me and rejoice in my ‘salvation’. I want none of it, if it has that bright ‘taste’.

    The first is impossible to be damned due to his good “obsession” with God and the way of God, the second is impossible to be pleased (to not be damned) due to his bad obsession with his self – the only God he can ever ever recognise.


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Haha, Dino, so I have become a corrupting influence in your life–such speculation! 🙂

      You have vividly presented the two extremes. I cannot disagree your presentation–and I’ll probably use it in a future posting! 🙂

      But K&R’s argument is only concerned with the question “If the capacity to love has been purified and perfected in the lives of the blessed, will their happiness be diminished by their knowledge of the eternal sufferings of the damned?”


      • dino says:

        The case for the happiness of those who love being diminished by their knowledge of the eternal sufferings of the damned (or not) can also use an ‘extreme example’ – I mean as extreme as I can think of (here goes more speculation! 🙂 )

        If the demon’s only possible “paradise” can only ever (ever ever ever) be recognised in and by the self-centredness that will interpret any situation its own way (since it is not about the situation or the place -of heaven or hell etc-, but all about the personal interpretation here). What is God’s (and the Saints’) respect to do? God’s love, God’s love and respect can only remain respectful. (Let us ponder that this respect of God has proved itself to the point of becoming crucified by those who’s freedom to sin he has respected -to the inconceivable point of voluntarily becoming the subject of their wrath, the subject that forgives them when they crucify Him. And they Crucified Him because he has not fulfilled the image of the “kind” of God they would have rather liked – He did not fulfil it through his extreme respect, humility and love – they wanted worldly Power to serve their vested interests instead).

        The meaning of existence is a love we do not fully comprehend. It is a humble and respectful love (that passes all human understanding) that comes from Him. Although this love suffers, although it is not ‘happy’ to see those loved ones in anguish, it is still paradise. Love, not happiness is paradisial bliss… It is the joy of giving, not of taking. This is a paradox of course to our mind, but there is some sense to it too – even intellectually.
        This joy of giving, not of taking respects “how things are according to another will” with a scandalous respect and it attracts (those who will be attracted) very powerfully towards it.
        But the demon might still be “in paradise” only in his hell…!!! God and the Saints will carry on joyfully giving, not demanding respect of his will.
        Forgive the fairly convoluted explanation please!


  14. Eric Reitan says:

    For those interested, I say a bit more about this argument (and about how it fits into the broader dialectic that John Kronen and I pursue in God’s Final Victory) on my blog today: The Piety that Lies Between.


  15. Tom Talbott says:

    In his blog entitled “Heaven and Hell and Perfect Bliss,” Brandon Watson argued as follows: “The particular complete joy that is intrinsic to heaven itself … consists of possession of God as universal and consummate good by love and understanding, or to look at it in the opposite direction, being energized by God as universal good in both understanding and will. It follows immediately and directly from such a union, and therefore cannot be affected by anything else, however important in other ways.”

    My question concerns the nature of the relevant union with God, as Brandon understands it. Could God, if he so chose, unite with hardened, vicious, and unrepentant sinners and thereby impart to them the “complete joy that is intrinsic to heaven itself”? That is, could he unite with them without first transforming them? If so, then John Kronen’s reply seems to me right on target. Such joy would be “like some sort of teenage infatuation (or drug high) which cuts people off from concern for others”; that would not even be a worthwhile form of joy, however intense and captivating it may seem. But if, given Brandon’s understanding, God could not unite with such cruel sinners in a relevant way and hence could not impart to them the most worthwhile form of joy, then the conditions of such a union with God would also be conditions of the joy “intrinsic to heaven itself.” No one could experience such heavenly joy, in other words, unless certain conditions were met.

    Accordingly, if a condition of our being united with God is that we become like him in that we too are filled with love for others, then two consequences seem to follow. First, not just any experience of ecstatic bliss will qualify as the kind of joy “intrinsic to heaven itself,” what Eric Reitan calls true blessedness. Drug induced euphoria will not so qualify, and neither will any other euphoria, whatever its source, so distracting that it would induce in us a lack of concern for the welfare of others. Second, we cannot even experience the full joy “intrinsic to heaven itself” until we first become the kind of persons who would indeed be affected, contrary to what Brandon suggests, by the fate of our loved ones in hell. That, at least, is how I see the matter.

    My thanks to Brandon Watson and to all others posting here for an excellent discussion.



  16. John Kronen says:

    I realize now that Brandon is sketching an argument which Eric and I did not specifically address in our book (though, as Eric points out, we implicitly respond to it, at least if it is understood in a certain way). I believe the argument goes something as follows:

    1) If heaven consists of union with the infinite Good, God, then no state of affairs which doesn’t sever that union could disturb the happiness of a blessed soul.

    2) Heaven consists of union with the infinite Good, God.

    3) That some are damned doesn’t sever the union of a blessed soul with God.

    4) Therefore, that some are damned, couldn’t disturb the happiness of a blessed soul.

    This is an interesting argument, but I am unconvinced. I am unconvinced because I agree with a really crucial point Aquinas makes. In the Summa, at I-II, Q. 4, a. 8, Aquinas asks “Whether the Fellowship of Friends is Necessary for Happiness”? This is his answer:

    If we speak of the happiness of this life, the happy man needs friends, as the Philosophers says.., not, indeed, to make use of them, since he suffices himself; nor to delight in them, since he possesses perfect delight in the operation of virtue [actually I am not sure I agree with the Angelic doctor on this point–but anyway]; but for the purpose of a good operation, viz. that he may do good to them; that he may delight in seeing them do good; and again that he may be helped by them in his good work. For in order that man may do well, whether in the works of the active life, or in those of the contemplative life, he needs the fellowship of friends. But if we speak of perfect Happiness which will be in our heavenly fatherland, the fellowship of friends is not essential to Happiness, since man has the entire fullness of his perfection in God. But the fellowship of friends conduces to the well-being of Happiness …

    So far, the Angelic doctor seems to be supporting premise (1) of my formulation of Brandon’s argument. But, it must be remembered that here Aquinas is imagining what he takes to be a logically possible state of affairs (i.e. God created one finite person and that person comes to be blessed), not the actual state of affairs. Further, he makes it clear in his reply to objection 3 of this article that blessedness includes being perfected in love in such a way that, if God were to create another finite person, any blessed person would love that second created person with perfect friendship. He writes:

    Perfection of charity is essential to Happiness, as to the love of God, but not as to the love of our neighbor. [By the “perfection” of a virtue Aquinas means the exercise of that virtue since for him a virtue is a disposition to act in a morally excellent way.] Wherefore, if there were but one soul enjoying God, it would be happy, though having no neighbor to love. But supposing one neighbor to be there, love of him results from perfect love of God. Consequently, friendship is, as it were, concomitant with perfect happiness. [Fathers of the English Dominican Province translation]

    The argument Eric and I give from the happiness of the blessed focuses on this last point of Aquinas–“friendship is, as it were, concomitant with perfect happiness”, i.e. the blessed, being perfectly happy [for Aquinas, as for Aristotle, happiness necessarily includes perfect virtue], are disposed to love with the greatest possible friendship (Aquinas’s word for agapic love) any created person God might create–hence they are disposed to love all the created persons God did create–hence they are disposed to love the damned–hence, if there are any that are damned, the blessed’s happiness would be diminished in virtue of something which is a necessary concomitant of perfect happiness, viz. the perfect love of all persons.

    Now, Aquinas was a hellist because He believed that the damned deserve to suffer, and so, the blessed’s love of God, and of God’s honor, means they will NOT be disturbed at the sufferings of the damned–indeed they will rejoice in them based on their love of God. This is the objection from justice to the argument from the joys of the blessed, and it is an important objection. But Eric and I devote an entire chapter to it in our book–a long chapter–the arguments of which I cannot rehearse here.



    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      John, thank you for contributing to the discussion!

      Would it be fair to say that for Aquinas the damned cease to be objects of love–at least in the sense that God ceases to will their salvation? If yes, is it accurate to say that this is representative of Western theology (at least until the free-will construal of damnation becomes dominant)? This would seem to follow from the claim that the damned deserve their condemnation and punishment, and so I would be surprised if this was not representative for the pre-modern tradition, both Catholic and Protestant. If I am reading him accurately, I think this was also the position of St John Damascene.

      I keep wondering if one of the differences between myself (I won’t speak for anyone else) and Brandon W. has to deal with my own personalist theological background and training. Scholasticism is just “beyond my sympathies” (to use an expression Tolkien liked to use). So though I think I can understand (at least a bit) why it might be correct to say that because “complete happiness of heaven resides in possession of God as the universal and consummate Good, and [that] the joy of heaven is the delight that follows directly on this,” the bliss of the blessed therefore is undiminishable. Yet from a personalist viewpoint I simply cannot imagine accepting, much less applauding, the torment of the reprobate. Maybe this is just an emotional reaction on my part.


  17. dino says:


    The prime issue here, of a ‘potential diminishment of heavenly bliss due to our love of the damned’, is generally presented in “non – hesychastic” argumentation. Ok. I am kind of returning to the significance of first-hand experience rather than speculation (singularly rooted in reasoning) by saying this, but that does not mean I am not speculating myself – even if that is on the hesychastic ‘experience’ as kept in the heart of the Orthodox tradition.

    The hesychastic know-how points to a certain type of ‘end’ in the first commandment of the love of God (the fullness of paradisial bliss due to union with God). It also points to a certain ‘pain’ due to the second commandment while on this earth (Elder Sophrony’s particular outspokenness on this comes to mind). However, the 2nd commandment is different:

    We are one, but we ‘face’ our Source – God. Not one another.

    Various famed hesychastic mottos go: “be one with all, yet detached from all”, and “live as if there is only you and God on the face of the Earth” etc.

    Our union with others – as mentioned in an earlier comment – can only ever be In Christ, all other “unions” (well before they even come remotely close to possibly degenerating to some ‘tower of Babel’ unholy union) are still asking for trouble…

    In the image of the amphitheatre (the metaphor used above for the ‘graded’ Heaven) where all people face the Glorious Light at the centre, yet each one has a subjectively very different experience of It, we can liken the experience to a radiant one only while we do not look at each other. (As this would be a fallen ‘love’, a kind of interest that rivals rather than enhances the first commandment, this reminds us of all that Christ demands we vehemently renounce.)

    Let us describe it with this image:

    Those who turn to look away from the Light source suddenly darken their face by looking at those around them instead of the source of light, which is only on “stage”. Clearly, we can only say if this holds true in this life according to “if I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? Follow thou me”.

    But here let us carry it over to the eschata. Those who never take eyes off God – off the stage – have radiant faces and know full well that those around them that also gaze upon the same “stage” are there too. They feel a total communion with them; but it is entirely based on the ‘show on stage’ (sorry if it sounds like the bonding of those who watch sports a bit…).

    The point is that we can existentially know that we are communicating vessels more and more, but the instant we lose the infinite primacy of the 1st commandment we are confused as to the proper application of the second…

    p.s: Here also lies the danger of our love for others becoming a weapon in the hands of the adversary to make us blame God the way he always does.


  18. dino says:

    (cont) so, it follows from the above that there might be some room for a certain kind of ‘ignorance’ (for lack of a better word), as Elder Paisios often described the relation of those ‘inside’ towards the state of those ‘outside’. Just speculating. 🙂


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Here’s the crucial question, Dino: does your hesychastic vision allow me to share a whisky with Jack and Tollers down at the (resurrected) Bird & Baby? If not … well … you may just have to count me out. 🙂


      • dino says:

        I have no hesychastic vision to speak of myself. I only read or have heard directly what those who have been through the true hesychastic experience say on these matters.
        Elder Paisios (who for a very long period spent the majority of his prayer for the damned, clearly believing in their potential salvation – at least now) in particular, was mentioned above because he is especially explicit and clear on this. Whether I like it or not… And his experience in these matters was truly “one in a million”!
        His words go something like this (my own translation):

        “Look my child , just like those who are out at night in the dark see who is inside a lit room, so those who will be in Hell will see those who will be in Paradise. And this will make it worse for them. And just as those who are in the lit room at night do not see what is out in the dark, so those who will be in Paradise will not see those who will be in hell. Because if they saw the damned, they would ache, they would grieve on their behalf, and would certainly not “enjoy” Paradise. But in Paradise, as we sing: “pain is no more … “. And not only will they not see the damned, but neither will they remember if they had a brother or father or mother, if these are ‘missing’ from Paradise!. “in that very day his thoughts perish.” says the Psalmist… Because if they remember them, how would Paradise be Paradise? In fact all who will be in Paradise, will think there are no other people, nor will they remember their sins! Because if they remember the sins they had once done, they would not bear the thought that they had grieved God.

        The amount again of each one’s joy in Paradise will be different(….) But everyone will feel full and no one will know the size of joy, of gladness, of another. Our Good God has arranged it thus(…)The “visibility” of God will not be prescribed by God, but it will depend on each one’s own purity.


      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        But is there single malt Scotch? 🙂


      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        I didn’t mean to sound flippant, Dino. Just want everyone to know that my “imagining” of heaven can be pretty homey and simplistic–a good whisky, a roaring fire in the hearth, good conversation. That sounds like heaven to me. 🙂 (And watching the Redskins bet blown out of the game by the Packers is surely hell!)

        But your hesychastic references do raise an interesting question for me: given that the final judgment has not occurred, how could anyone know whether the blessed are aware of the sufferings of the damned or not. I am skeptical that anyone has been given a private revelation of this. But I can see how a theologian, even an Athonite elder, would deduce the unawareness of the basis of prior conviction of an eternal hell.

        What I think we do know, by faith, is that the those who are now experiencing paradisial bliss are aware of those who are suffering in Hades and from this awareness they intercede for them before the face of the Father. How otherwise could they effectively pray otherwise. Do you disagree?


        • dino says:

          I cannot disagree or agree myself, I just go by what Saint Silouan says which mainly agrees, even if not that explicitly… (I assume you remember his words that describe a mixture of unawareness – at extreme ‘Grace” -and a return to awareness when the intensity of Grace subsides)


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      And please keep the holy elders coming, Dino!


      • dino says:

        It wouldn’t be “Eclectic Orthodoxy” of I didn’t Father…!

        On a more serious note, I see Saint Silouan repeatedly shedding copious light on these matters discussed here – even though this is done somewhat indirectly.
        He returns to the unsurpassed value and trustworthiness of those words that are ‘not spoken from one’s mind’ (remember the conversations with Fr. Stratonicos), but given us by the Spirit; as well as reiterating time and again that the world is “completely left behind” when in the loftiest states of Grace (in paradise if you like and -in accordance with Elder Paisios above), while the world’s remembrance (and that of ‘others’) returns to our mind (and we then fervently pray for its salvation) only when we subsequently fall back down to a lesser state of Grace…
        Don’t you think this is entirely relevant (as well as authoritative) to this discussion? How can we sweep it under the carpet?


      • dino says:

        It might be interesting to also remind ourselves that St Silouan’s experience of ‘utter oblivion of others’ (as Elder Paisios describes above) due to the intensity of paradisial Grace, would often come as a result of prayer and great tears for those others

        God inspired -ie: Holy Spirit moved- prayer for the world, (as opposed to the beginner’s self motivated prayer for others- that contains attachment) invariably leads to the assimilation of the prayerful soul into the Life of God which is Paradise, (whether “we laugh or cry”)


  19. tgbelt says:

    I don’t think Eric’s rebuttal to Brandon succeeds. But then again, I don’t think Brandon’s being right about divine bliss (and the perfection of human participation in that bliss) means irrevocable conscious torment (ICT) is conceivable in light of that bliss. There are other ways to ground their incompatibility without supposing that divine bliss (or our glorified participation in it) would be diminished by sufferings of those in hell. And since Eric’s view of bliss isn’t acceptably Orthodox, for the Orthodox his view would fall on that account. Divine apatheia and goodness (divine goodness/love and apatheia entail each other) need not be diminished by the sufferings of others in order to suppose that God would not permit ICT.

    Eric grounds God’s happiness in worldly affairs by arguing that it is “fitting to [his] circumstances” in the sense that “it is appropriate [for God] to feel that level of joy” given the totality of God’s relations and context (created and uncreated). So essentially for Eric, divine joy, or let us say, the ‘felt quality of God’s experience as God’ is not in qualitative terms transcendent of the world. God derives his joys in part from the well-being of the world. Not that he doesn’t derive joy from self-contemplation (the Patristic idea) either, but for Eric that can’t be the only source. If God’s happiness is not conditional in part upon the happiness of others, then (if I understand Eric) God cannot love others. Hence, the felt quality of God’s existence and experience as God is the sum total of ‘reasons God has to be happy’ + ‘reasons God has to be sad’. And how well the world is doing constitutes a reason that would determine God’s joy.

    This isn’t something I think an Orthodox can get on board with, and I’m not even Orthodox.

    Brandon’s mistake (if I’m following him) is to assume that since the joy definitive of the divine nature is transcendent of the world’s sufferings and so undiminishable, and since the glorified/perfected in his presence participate in this apatheia, one can posit ICT without theological consequence. That’s not right either. It doesn’t follow that because the sufferings of others cannot diminish God’s essential joy (or our glorified joy in his presence) that God’s love for creation would accept the irrevocable loss of loved ones.



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