Goddammit, Who Damns Whom?


Is the freedom to reject God—definitively, irrevocably, everlastingly—authentic freedom? Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Arminian, and all other free-will defenders of eternal perdition must answer yes. To answer otherwise would mean that God permits individuals who live under a serious form of bondage, constraint, or limitation—and are thus incapable of morally responsible action—to injure themselves irreparably. As is commonly stated, God does not damn; the damned damn themselves. Yet the notion that human beings are capable of freely separating themselves from the bliss of the Kingdom and thus freely embracing eternal torment is far more complex than we might initially imagine.

I’d like to come at this by first briefly considering our Lord’s famous parable on the Last Judgment:

Now, whenever the Son of Mankind may be coming in His glory, and all the holy messengers with Him, then shall He be seated on the throne of His glory, and in front of Him shall be gathered all the nations. And He shall be severing them from one another even as a shepherd is severing the sheep from the kids. And He shall be standing the sheep, indeed, at His right, yet the kids at the left. Then shall the King be declaring to those at His right, ‘Hither, blessed of My Father! Enjoy the allotment of the kingdom made ready for you from the disruption of the world. For I hunger and you give Me to eat; I thirst and you give Me drink; a stranger was I and you took Me in; naked and you clothed Me; infirm am I and you visit Me; in jail was I and you come to Me.’ Then the just will be answering Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we perceive Thee hungering and nourish Thee, or thirsting and we give Thee drink? Now when did we perceive Thee a stranger and took Thee in, or naked and we clothed Thee? Now when did we perceive Thee infirm, or in jail, and we came to Thee?’ And, answering, the King shall be declaring to them, ‘Verily, I am saying to you, In as much as you do it to one of these, the least of My brethren, you do it to Me. Then shall He be declaring to those also at His left, ‘Go from Me, you cursed, into the fire eonian, made ready for the Adversary and his messengers. For I hunger and you do not give Me to eat; I thirst and you do not give Me drink; a stranger was I and you did not take Me in; naked and you did not clothe Me; infirm and in jail and you did not visit Me.’ Then shall they also be answering, saying, ‘Lord, when did we perceive you hungering or thirsting, or a stranger, or naked, or infirm, or in jail, and we did not serve you?’ Then shall He be answering them, saying, ‘Verily, I am saying to you, In as much as you do it not to one of these, the least, neither do you it to Me.’ And these shall be coming away into chastening eonian, yet the just into life eonian. (Matt 25:31-46 [CLNT])

Both the sheep and the goats are surprised by the divine verdict. The righteous are unaware that by their service to the poor and needy they had served the Lord, and the reprobate are unaware that they had failed to serve the Lord. The former are rewarded with life eonian and the latter with fire eonian. In the exegetical tradition that eventually became the dominant tradition the sentence delivered upon the wicked is understood as an everlasting punishment. The great 11th century Byzantine commentator, St Theophylact of Ohrid, offers the following interpretation:

He does not give honor or punishment until He has first judged. For He loves mankind and teaches us to do the same as well, not to punish until we have made a careful examination. In this way those who are punished after the judgement will have no cause for complaint. … He sends those on the left into the fire which had been prepared for the devil. For as the demons are without compassion and are cruelly and maliciously disposed towards us, it is fitting that they who are of like mind with them, and who have been cursed by their own deeds, should merit the same punishment. See that God did not prepare the fire for men, nor did He make hell for us, but for the devil; but I make myself liable to hell. … Tremble, then, O man, and understand from this that these men were not punished as fornicators, or robbers, or perpetrators of any other vice, but for not having done good. …

There is another reason that could be mentioned, and that is that the sinner is in darkness even in this life, as he has fallen away from the Sun of Righteousness, but as there is still hope of conversion, this is not yet the “outer” darkness. But when he has died and an examination has been made of the things he has done, then the outer darkness in its turn receives him. For there is no longer any hope of conversion, but he undergoes a complete deprivation of the good things of God. (The Explanation of Blessed Theophylact of the Holy Gospel According to Matthew, pp. 219-221)

Theophylact does not hesitate to speak of the retributive punishment of the wicked: God condemns the impious on the basis of the choices they have made–specifically, their multiple failures to do good. Yet as Thomas Talbott pointedly observes, “those subjected to punishment not only do not choose their punishment; they are surprised to receive it” (“Freedom, Damnation and the Power to Sin with Impunity,” p. 1). The reprobate may have freely chosen to act sinfully during their earthly lives. They may have freely chosen to spend their wealth on themselves and their pleasures than to share generously with the poor. They may have freely chosen to close their doors to the hungry and homeless. They are most certainly guilty of their sins of omission, as well as their sins of commission. But they did not freely choose to be cast into the everlasting fire—that is a consequence that they did not intend, just as any criminal does not freely choose imprisonment. In the parable the Divine Judge proclaims the verdict and imposes eschatological retribution upon the wicked, against their will. Perhaps Theophylact’s commentary on the parable might be interpreted to also say that the reprobate are condemned not only for their sins but also for their characters—they have become vicious people who deserve everlasting punishment—but both Jesus and Byzantine exegete focus their attention on the judgment of deeds. Neither explicitly states that the damned have voluntarily embraced an eternal destiny of separation from the life of God, with all of its attendant torments. That conclusion is something we read into the text, based on a prior understanding of divine retribution and eternal damnation.

Modern advocates of the free-will model of hell eschew the notion of eschatological retributive punishment. The intimation that the God of trinitarian Love eternally subjects any of his creatures to everlasting torment is rightly rejected as abhorrent—despite the contrary testimonies that we find throughout the tradition. C. S. Lewis is often quoted: “I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the gates of hell are locked on the inside” (The Problem of Pain, p. 127).

The free-will model of hell depends on the door being locked from the inside. How then do we understand the choice of the damned to remain damned? What does it mean to freely embrace eternal perdition? Why don’t the reprobate avail themselves of the opportunity for escape? Dumitru Stanilaoe differentiates between two kinds of freedom—freedom for God and freedom against God. True freedom is found in communion with God and other persons. “It is in this communion,” Staniloae states, “that the true and complete good is found. He who has attained this has the true freedom (identical with the true and infinite good) from which he no longer wants to depart and from which he can no longer depart, in the sense of an acquired powerlessness” (The Experience of God, VI:37). But there is also a negative freedom, says Staniloae, “a freedom that is opposed to uniting itself with the absolute good, or that refuses communion with the supreme Person, the source of love who makes complete communion with other persons possible” (VI:37-38). In this negative freedom the person “can never be changed by God in his denial of Him, which he considers as the true freedom. … Thus God does not hinder anyone from remaining eternally in the narrowness of his egoism, a narrowness that he interprets as the true freedom” (VI:38).

But is this negative freedom appropriately described as freedom?

(Go to “Hell: Prison or Nothingness?”)

P.S. I chose the Concordant Version translation of Matt 25:31-46 because it does not “prejudge” interpretation of two key Greek words (see “From Here to Eternity“).

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34 Responses to Goddammit, Who Damns Whom?

  1. TDJ says:

    It seems to me that much of the argument, as it’s been developing, depends a lot on speculative psychology.

    I observe this every time you argue that a person cannot choose freely eternal separation from God for reason of a defect in the choice itself. IOW, you seem to argue that because a free agent must have a reasonable knowledge of the choice before him, that the choice can’t be free. Since no one outside of fallen angels have got an inkling of what eternity entails, it follows no one can choose eternal damnation, or would choose it if given a clear choice.

    However, it can be argued that no one has experienced eternal beatitude either, even though “it sounds good” but, wouldn’t a choice for God, eternal love, and beatitude also falls into the trap of our ignorance of the choice for eternal goodness also be free?

    I guess we could argue that the good in the created order hints at the ultimate eternal perfection found in God. However, it can also be argued that feelings of guilt, shame, and alienation from others also offer a foretaste of what eternal perdition must feel like.

    IOW, One can’t argue for the eternal character of our choice for God and counterargue the eternal character of our potential separation from Him on the same grounds.

    We’re left, then, with a psychological speculation as to when and how a free agent is choosing for or against God.

    Finally, we don’t need to invoke ambiguities in the biblical text to justify a universalist reading of Scripture and plead that the normative hermeneutics obscure, rather than illuminate, the biblical meaning. One has to go through several twists and turns to project universalism into the text – the purpose of this essay, as I read it. The sacrifice of Jesus becomes superfluous and the reprobate might as well resist in hellish oblivion until God’s purported will to redeem and save the condemned becomes so overpowering that the latter would have no choice but to submit on true Islamic fashion. Allah then would be revealed as the Father of Jesus Christ.

    Let me close by saying that, as an evangelist, I try to lead a person through dialogue to the personal, existential, and full psychological awareness of the power of their choices to lead them to or away from God FOREVER. Of course, mere human dialectics will not accomplish this. It is God who sends the graces that make man free in that one choice, even if we don’t understand the eternal implications of the choice. Yet choose we must; not choosing by pleading ignorance is no excuse. Each one will be given the grace to choose for or against God. For some that grace will be the first conscious, efficient grace in their lives. For others it may be their last.

    +JMJ,
    ~Theo

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Theo, I don’t know if I’m offering a psychological or philosophical analysis of freedom, maybe both. 😕

      But this kind of reflection is both inevitable and necessary. All free-will defenders of hell ground their arguments on a specific philosophical understanding of freedom and personhood. Whether my analysis in this series, which will be largely dependent on Thomas Talbott, falls into the problems that you raise, well, we’ll just have to see about that. 🙂

      I also ask you to read carefully the two articles by Talbott to which I linked. You may find that he has addressed your objections.

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  2. tgbelt says:

    A few thoughts—
    1) Thank God parents are no longer naming their sons “Theophylact.” Can you imagine going to school today with that name? 😀

    2) If I’m following him, Stanilaoe seems to argue that ‘freedom’ has to be an equal potential for solidification into good or evil. That’s a common line of thought. If I’m free to live forever (finally fixed in/by the Good) with God, then this possibility *entails* an equal possibility to live forever (finally fixed in/by evil) without God. The scale has to balance (with equal magnitude and consequence on either side). I’m a big believer in freedom, but I don’t think this follows. If evil really is ‘privation’, then privation can never be substantially equivalent to the good. And if ‘existence’ itself is God-given goodness which ‘desires the good’, then I’d suggest that one may freely dispose oneself eventually and irrevocably into the good but not irrevocably into evil. It’s simply not possible “to exist” and be in a state of irrevocable metaphysical hopelessness, for ‘to exist’ as such is to have hope because it is to have him who is hope (and love and goodness and mercy) as the very ground on one’s being. How can I exist forever with Love’s sustaining presence as the ground of my “being” and yet “be” irrevocably severed from Love’s possibilities? That would make God the irrevocable ground of hopelessness. Consider Maximus’ discourse on the logoi of created things. If to exist is to have as the ground of one’s being an uncreated ‘logos’ (God’s very presence in a created thing saying, “Become this…!”), then existence as irrevocable loss never even gets off the ground, for so long as you exist at all, your ‘logos’ (which is the telos of the very movement of your existence as created) is your openness to Godward movement. To exist is just to be invited by God into union with him.

    3) At the same time, free will still has its place. Talbot and Reitan both are OK with God simply overriding free will postmortem and determining our response to him by eliminating all options but himself. That is equally troubling. Free will is how one embraces one’s ‘logos’. That’s the only thing that makes Creation ‘a gift given’. An advocate of free will would want to avoid both extremes. Our freedom to choose God is irrevocable because it’s grounded in God’s irrevocable goodness but it remains necessary as a means to God’s end for us. Were God simply to ‘determine’ us in the good all the same objections to theological determinism kick in.

    4) So what we have is a real hell where people are brought to sobriety through the torture of having to face the painful truth about their choices but who may nevertheless freely call upon God. This is their salvation. But the may refuse as well and perpetuate their suffering. But they would have to perpetuate their choice. There’s no making a ‘once-for-all’ choice to foreclose on all possibility of Godward movement. Creaturely existence sustained by God can’t shut God out of its existence ‘absolutely’. Its very capacity for choice is its giftedness and ‘logos’. So we may be free to reject God (because we need to be free in accepting him). We are not free to prevent God’s keeping us open to the possibility of turning to him. So at best, perhaps a ‘hopeful’ and ‘eventual’ UR? But there’s no terminus ad quem (as Talbot and Reitan understand I think), no line in the sand at which point God says, “I’ve had enough of this already! I’m saving you and that’s that.”

    Tom

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    • Tom Talbott says:

      Hey Tom,

      It’s great to run into you again. I always enjoyed your clear thinking when you and I were arguing over at The Evangelical Universalist Forum.

      Anyway, in your important comment above you wrote: “Talbott and Reitan both are OK with God simply overriding free will postmortem and determining our response to him by eliminating all options but himself.” But that is not my current position. I hold instead that, to win us over in the end, God need only permit us to choose freely and to experience the consequences of our free choices, including the horror of separation from God if that is what we confusedly choose for ourselves. And as surprising as it may at first appear, it is a free will theodicy of hell, I hold. that ultimately requires of God that he interfere with human freedom in morally inappropriate ways. But to understand this, we must distinguish carefully between two very different ways in which God might interfere with human freedom.

      I explain these two different ways and briefly outline my current argument against free will theodicies of hell in section 4.2 of my entry on heaven and hell for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which is available online at the following URL:

      http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/heaven-hell/#ArgAgaFreWilTheHel

      I would be most interested in your response to my argument here. I was recently disappointed, by the way, when I made a brief appearance on that other site only to discover that you had since departed!

      All the best,

      -Tom

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      • tgbelt says:

        TomT, how are you? Great to run into you. Small world. Yes, at first my absence from the EUR board was going to be temporary, but life got busy (PhD studies that eventually halted, some overseas work, etc.) and I never made it back. I look forward to reading the SEP article. Blessings!

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Tom, does your understanding of freedom and epistemic distance mean that those who are given to share in the beatific vision are no longer free?

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      • tgbelt says:

        I agree the highest form of freedom is freedom to love without risk (risk of failure, selfishness, sinfulness, etc.), freedom to love unfailingly. That’s God’s form of freedom I take it. What we call ‘libertarian’ freedom, the freedom to choose between good and evil options, as necessary as it is to getting us into relationship with God, eventually gives way. My take is that glorification is the consummation of our present form of freedom–we irrevocably become the sort of loving and Christlike people we’be been faithfully cooperating with God to become. We are finally and irrevocably ‘solidified’ (good word?) into the good and live a risk-free existence. What I don’t think is possible is irrevocably solidifying into evil.

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  3. Jon Anderson says:

    Reblogged this on Hipsterdox and commented:
    “Is the freedom to reject God—definitively, irrevocably, everlastingly—authentic freedom? Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Arminian, and all other free-will defenders of eternal perdition must answer yes. To answer otherwise would mean that God permits individuals who live under a serious form of bondage, constraint, or limitation—and are thus incapable of morally responsible action—to injure themselves irreparably. As is commonly stated, God does not damn; the damned damn themselves. Yet the notion that human beings are capable of freely separating themselves from the bliss of the Kingdom and thus freely embracing eternal torment is far more complex than we might initially imagine.”

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  4. tgbelt says:

    TomT, what a great article. You’re always clear and thorough. If the history of Western philosophy is a footnote to Plato, all the present-day arguments for UR are a footnote to Talbot! 😀

    I think we’re real close. We agree that where God doesn’t permit us to experience the consequences of our choices, we really aren’t free. We agree too that hell is just where and when God lets people come to face the truth of their choices. And we agree that hell doesn’t foreclose upon the possibility of Godward movement.

    Unless I’m misunderstanding you, I think we differ on how ‘free’ we are when the sufferings of hell have had their full effect. And this is where we were a few years ago. It seems you suppose that once the suffering of just consequences shatters all our illusions that libertarian freedom is removed. That’s the point on which I still struggle. In my view there simply is no responsible creaturely movement into personal relationship which isn’t libertarian. If the epistemic distance between us and God in the matter of choosing God is collapsed to zero, that is, if we’re so overwhelmed by evidence for God and are stripped of all possibility for constructing a rational basis upon which to reject God, then it’s arguable that we’re also reduced to less than persons ‘invited’ into relationship. We’re essentially corralled in. There is no real ‘invitation’ (which ostensibly is an irreducible feature of how we do personal relations, love, etc.). That would be a first thought that comes to mind.

    A second thought might be to ask, If God can collapse the epistemic distance to zero by removing every possibility of rationally rejecting God and still achieve his purposes for creating, why wouldn’t God have adopted such relating as a matter of policy from the get-go? If God’s being love means he (to borrow your example) loves the children of the parents he loves, couldn’t we equally suppose God is as likely to take unnecessary risks as any loving and competent parent would be? In the end, that you’re prepared to have God relate to human beings (i.e., in hell, by reducing epistemic distance to zero and leaving us no grounds upon which to rationally reject God) in a mode so obviously not part of his game-place prior to the eschaton begs the question— IF God’s purposes in creating aren’t jeopardized by a zero-degree epistemic distance, why not relate in that mode from the start? God would get all he wants from creating without any risk. Essentially that’s what your present view of hell gets us to, right? The pain of the consequences eliminates all possibility of rationally misconstruing the evidence for God; i.e., all risk is removed.

    I suppose it comes down to the question of whether such risk (the risk inherent in the epistemic distance the defines human existence presently) is somehow necessary in the sense of being the metaphysical price tag God has to pay to get the kind of personal, loving creatures in partnership with him that he wants.

    I know being ‘libertarian’ is a minority opinion among philosophers today. We may be a dying breed. But I’m unable (no pun intended!) to set it aside.

    Tom

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  5. seraphim says:

    People choose what they perceive as the good. If someone has eternity to figure things out it seems that eventually everyone would realize what the true good is and would thus choose it. I think the free-will view of hell must necessarily lead to universalism.

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  6. tgbelt says:

    Something like that makes sense to me, Seraphim. The question (for us libertarians at least) is what is the relationship between God’s ultimate purposes for human becoming (on the one hand) and the fact that the context in which this becoming takes place is one in which God did not think it necessary to make himself as our supreme good so obvious as to leave us no rational means of constructing alternative (false) goods (on the other hand). Presumably this ambiguity (which just is this ‘epistemic distance’ that presently characterizes our existence and becoming) is the necessary context in which God gets created beings such as ourselves into loving, responsible partnership with himself. The ambiguity is necessary to human becoming and eventual theosis. That’s the problem. It’s a problem because TomT (if I’m following him) wants to say that eventually God removes the ambiguity and collapses the epistemic distance to zero in which case God becomes the only rational option. He and I both admit this removes freedom. But for me this also removes the possibility of human being becoming what God intends it to become.

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    • AR says:

      But what if the epistemic distance is largely manufactured by generation upon generation of sinfulness? It does seem that an awareness of God was universal at some point, and has steadily degenerated. So, it’s not that God created the epistemic distance as a test. It’s more like, we are all functioning at a seriously subnormal level, but if he wants to keep working with us he has to leave us in our current state long enough for all the people to be born. Because, collapsing the epistemic distance involves the general resurrection, which leaves us all unable to procreate. And then where is election?

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      • tgbelt says:

        Hi AR. Good Q’s! They really help zero in on the issues. No doubt dysfunctional-sinful socialization (especially compounded over time and generations) would further cloud the mind. That makes sense. Paul (Eph 4) speaks of Gentiles as having “darkened their understanding” through willful hardening of their hearts, and also (1Tm 4.2) of those who have “seared their consciences as with a hot iron.” So we have to grant that whatever epistemic distance is ‘natural’ to our being created/finite per se, we can certainly compound it. If we assume too that human existence was at some point in time sufficiently free from this sort of self-incurred hardening of the heart and darkening of the mind, a time at which awareness of God was universal, the question becomes: Would that original state have been risk-free in the sense that our awareness of God would have been so unambiguously clear as to be rationally undoubtable? And here I think we have to answer ‘No’. It couldn’t have been rationally undoubtable, for the biblical narrative has the first humans rationally doubting God in an optimal context, free from the sinful dysfunctions of hardened hearts and darkened minds. So some minimal epistemic distance seems to be our ‘natural’ state. And that makes sense after all, since that distance is what makes free, responsible moral choice even possible. I’d agree with TomT that hell brings the wicked to a point of original sobriety. We suffer our way through the effects of compounded socialization and self-incurred hardness of heart. That’s good news. But even if we were returned to some original state as described in Genesis, we’d still face ‘some’ ambiguity. God would leave us ‘some’ room in which to self-determine with respect to God. Again, I’m just thinking out loud here myself.

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        • AR says:

          I have a lot to say about this, having spent a couple of hours writing a really really long reply. But to be kind I’ll just start with one quesiton. 🙂 You admit that sin can cause ambiguity. How then does ambiguity cause freedom? Is sin the original cause of freedom?

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Tom, were the Apostles who saw the Lord on Easter and afterwards less free than you and I?

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      • tgbelt says:

        How do you read Mt 28.16f? “Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him. But some doubted.” Some doubted? Wait a sec…

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          I was afraid you were going to mention that … 🙂

          Question about that text: are the ones who “doubted” worship included in the group that worshipped Jesus? I wonder what exactly they “saw.”

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  7. tgbelt says:

    AR, I definitely don’t want to say ‘the more ambiguity we face the freer we are’, so let me try to explain myself a bit better. Thanks for being patient!

    As I see it, ‘ambiguity’ as such is a by-product of being non-omniscient. An omniscient knower like God would never suffer any limitation of perspective, so there can never be any ambiguity for God. He perfectly perceives the truth and relative value of all things. That’s why God can’t ‘deliberate’ like we do between good and evil. Not being ignorant of anything, he can’t manufacture a rational basis upon which to do evil.

    However, non-omniscient knowers like us are different. We know some things (enough to make informed choices for which we can be held responsible) but we are ignorant of other things (ignorant enough to rationally form intentions to do wrongly). This epistemic distance is (at least part of) what makes it even possible for us to ‘rationally’ deliberate between good and evil. Eve can’t ‘rationally’ choose the fruit without having some basis upon which to construct a reason for eating though God told her not to (which the text explains: she saw that the fruit was pleasing to the eye, good for etc., and she compared those relative goods to the good of obeying God as she perceived it). But she can’t ‘responsibly’ choose the fruit without having sufficient grounds for choosing to do otherwise. But how can wrong choices be rational without our being able to rationally intend what we choose?

    So there’s nothing sinful or bad about being characterized by ambiguity per se. It’s just part of being non-omniscient. And who else is the author of this but God? But, from my perspective, such epistemic distance is a wonderful gift. Even if it’s a risk that makes evil possible, it’s also a grace that makes our growth in godliness and loving maturation possible. God must have thought the latter was worth risking the former. My point to TomT is that there’s no getting to the growth and maturation into what God desires for us apart from our freely choosing our way into that, and there’s no choosing to do so freely apart from being able to deliberate the options rationally. But there’s no rational deliberation of competing options without perceiving competing options (i.e., epistemic distance). Remove all such distance (i.e., remove all relevant ignorance or ambiguity) and you remove the very context created beings require (the context God himself gave us to begin with which, presumably, he thought necessary) to move responsibly into relationship with God. THAT looks to be the point of disagreement between TomT and me.

    But going on verses like those from St. Paul already mentioned, we can make things worse by darkening our understanding. There may be a certain ignorance that comes with being human which makes responsible and free choice between good and evil possible. Sure. But when we choose evil, we increase our ignorance beyond what’s necessary for responsible human becoming.

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  8. ddpbf says:

    Hard to go in depth answering all questions raised here, but I am curious why would somebody had to reject free will/freedom in order to profess hope in Universal salvation. Saint Maximus Confessor wrote about his hope in universal Salvation, yett Orthodox understanding of freedom is based on his tought.

    Also, I dont think Orthodox unerstanding of freedom (and anthropology) is fully described in this article. I didnt read fr. Dmitriu’s Dogmatics, but general idea seems familiar to me. Negative freedom of course is, ontologicaly speaking, having its existance in non-existance. (I am parpharsing Saint Gregory of Nyssa). Man is chosing non-existance (Created nature does not exist by itself, it exist just trough relatin with Creator). In his Mystical Theology, Lossky quotes Saint Symeon the New Theologian, Adam and Eve were rejecting to admitt that evil has source in their free will, and ultimately they reject possibility to liberate themselves from freedom. They are subjugating their existance to evil. As created, they have their being just from their relation with God.

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  9. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Tom, I think we need you to define libertarian freedom. Above you describe it as “the freedom to choose between good and evil options.” Is that the definition you want to stick by?

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    • tgbelt says:

      Am I free to define it however I like? (Bad joke.)

      As I understand it, I’m libertarianly free (vs compatibilistically free) if I have it within my powers to choose between competing options; that is, which option I choose isn’t entailed by antecedent causes. Given the same circumstances up to the point of decision, I might do other than I do. It’s sometimes referred as ‘self-determining’ freedom or ‘power to the contrary’. Not very user-friendly terms. It is roughly that version of the will the Orthodox Fathers advocated for.

      A popular alternative understanding of the will is ‘compatibilism’. I’m compatibilistically free where my choosing as I do is compatible with the choice’s being entailed by antecedent causes. How I choose is actually determined by causal factors antecedent to me. But I’m still free so long as I “want” to do what I do. Of course, with compatibilism, your “wanting” is what’s determined. So with libertarian free will the future (so far as there is freedom) branches into a network of possibilities (maybe this, maybe that, could go this way, could go that way). With compatibilism there’s a single storyline the future shall take because future effects are all causally entailed in present states.

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  10. Tom Talbott says:

    Hello again, Tom:

    You raise, as always, some excellent questions, many of which, as you know, we have discussed previously, although others here are unlikely to be privy to those particular discussions. Also, my own position has changed slightly since those previous discussions. But in any event, you asked: “If God can collapse the epistemic distance to zero by removing every possibility of rationally rejecting God and still achieve his purposes for creating, why wouldn’t God have adopted such relating as a matter of policy from the get-go?”

    My own answer to this question, as you may recall, is that God must deal with a hard metaphysical necessity here. I believe, even as you do, that our very creation requires an initial epistemic distance between ourselves and God. It is not even possible that God might have started us out as omniscient, for example, or that he might have created us in a context in which zero epistemic distance exists between us, as creatures, and himself, as the Creator. Here is how I put it in the second edition of The Inescapable Love of God:

    “In general, … we know very little about what is, and is not, logically (or metaphysically) possible in the matter of creating independent rational creatures who are (a) aware of themselves as distinct from their environment and from other people, (b) capable of acting on their own and of making reasonable judgments concerning the best course of action, and (c) capable of learning important lessons from their own experience and from the consequences of their own actions.

    “It is easy enough, I suppose, to imagine an omnipotent being instantaneously creating a self-aware, language using, fully rational, and morally mature person capable of independent action, but I, for one, see no reason to think this possible at all. Are we to suppose that God could have created independent rational agents, or have brought them into being from the abyss, so to speak, without having to satisfy any metaphysically necessary conditions at all of their coming into being? How could God possibly create someone distinct from himself without separating the created person from himself and without, therefore, bringing about an initial separation to be overcome? By “an initial separation to be overcome,” which is admittedly somewhat vague, I mean to imply, among other things, a severance from God’s direct causal control on the metaphysical level and an experience of frustrated desire and frustrated will–the sort of thing that naturally leads to a sense of estrangement and alienation–on the psychological level. If these should be metaphysically necessary conditions of a person’s creation, then perhaps God had no choice, if he wanted to create any persons at all, but to permit their embryonic minds to emerge and to begin functioning on their own in a context of ambiguity, ignorance, misperception, and even a good deal of indeterminism.”

    Accordingly, if an epistemic distance of some degree is an indispensable condition of our emergence as minimally rational agents capable of independent choice and action, then God could hardly have started us out in some other way. Put it this way: Libertarian freedom, as I think you understand it, plays an essential role in the early stages of our lives, but it plays an increasingly minor role as we continue to learn the lessons of love and perhaps no significant role at all in the lives of the perfected saints in heaven.

    For my own part, in any case, I am prepared to defend the following two-fold thesis: first, that God can guarantee a glorious end for each of us without causally determining any of our individual choices, and second, that, even with respect to the hardest of hearts, God can guarantee their free repentance without himself doing anything to them beyond maintaining their freedom in relation to him and permitting them to experience the very condition of separation that they have freely (and confusedly) chosen for themselves.

    Thanks for the discussion. I’m going to be tied up this weekend. But it sure was good to run into you again.

    -Tom

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  11. Tom Talbott says:

    Hello all,

    I noticed, after publishing my post above, that the system here does not accept html commands. Is there a way of editing a post after publishing it? Also, is there a quick way to brush up on what one can and cannot do when typing a reply? Sorry to be so technologically challenged.

    Thanks in advance.

    -Tom

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Tom, I whipped it into shape for you. The formatting commands that commentators can use give here on this webpage: http://goo.gl/0KA7j. You’ll notice that the “less than” and the “greater than” symbols are used instead of brackets. The commands for italics is “em” and “/em” (I don’t know how to show you the actual written commands with the appropriate enclosing symbol.)

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      • Tom Talbott says:

        Thanks, Al. I have bookmarked the relevant page. I should have recalled from past experience that html tags are slightly different on different sites.

        -Tom

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  12. Michael Bauman says:

    One problem that arises for me is whether or not God’s freedom is our freedom. A line from the old play “Inherit the Wind”: “God created man in His own image. Man, being a gentleman, returned the compliment”. Our human idea of freedom is largely an interpretation of the various social contracts we humans have entered into over the centuries and really has little to do with our being

    Our interrelationship with God is personal, intimate, ontological and unique. It is not a social contract in any form. The Church, in her wisdom, sets boundaries that say, if you go there, you are violating the interrelationship and communion with your Creator. Further she has attempted, by the Holy Spirit, to communicate on all levels who God is, and who God is not. Ultimately, however it depends on our participation in God’s revelation of Himself to us within the Church.

    St. Paul and St. Gregory of Nyssa and many others I am sure have pointed out that God’s freedom allows us to move from glory to glory without partaking in sin and the consequent slide toward nothingness.

    Nevertheless, it seems clear to me that there will be some who will continue to reside in outer darkness where there is groaning and gnashing of teeth. Is this God’s wrath or natural and logical consequences applied by a loving and suffering parent?

    No matter what, we are called to “Love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and love our neighbor as our self”. That includes praying for the souls of others after they have departed. Since the Church blesses this activity and recommends it, we can live in the faith that it is salvific. Or so it seems to me.

    How much ‘knowledge’ is essential for faith? Isn’t it rather that faith leads to knowledge?

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  13. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    TomB and TomT, I wonder if St Maximus the Confessor’s analysis of the gnomic will is relevant to the question you two are discussing: “‘Naturally and by Grace’: Maximus the Confessor on the Operation of the Will.”

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    • tgbelt says:

      Great essay. Thanks. You’ll find me somewhere in it! 😀 In my view, the gnomic will is just the tropos of the natural will. That is, the gnomic will just IS the natural well exercised under the constraints of the epistemic distance that defines our present (pre-eschaton/pre-glorification) existence. But re: Maximus, some (i.e., some Orthodox even) feel he emphasized the final union of God and human beings to such an extent that (effectively one operation at work, God’s) the creature’s individual integrity is eclipsed. Others question that reading of Maximus.

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        That’s curious. I did a word search of the essay for “belt” and didn’t come up with anything. 😛

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  14. pcm2fchris says:

    I believe there is an answer to your concerns TGB concerning why God did not start us off from the get-go with irresistible knowledge leading to determined choices even though he does use “trump cards” eventually when people get to certain psychological/spiritual states. It is this – that God evidently wanted a universe in which certain possibilities, sometimes extremely troubling and painful ones, really depend on certain free choices of creatures. It gives them a certain “dignity” and “personhood” otherwise impossible. It’s just that “irrevocably bad” states of affairs are not such possibilities in God’s creation. He has made the boundaries such that the ball can never bounce there, so to speak. How, then, can libertarian freedom and personhood still be maintained in a universe in which universal salvation is a guaranteed outcome? By this essential idea: actual states of consciousness are themselves the result of our libertarian freedom; synergistic creations which are brought about by our acts contributing variously along with God’s acts to create an entirely unique state of affairs. Just like our free choices converge with God’s determination to bring about various states of affairs (eating food will go towards the betterment of my body for instance), so too do acts lead to various mental states for ourselves. Thus, I think there’s nothing absurd supposing that even a free willed sin can lead to a compatibilistic mindset/will that is correctly oriented to the good. After all, our sense of guilt and contrition after we sin is not itself something we freely choose. We choose the sin, it is God who irresistibly convicts of guilt. In other words, it isn’t necessary for a free creature to freely choose good in order to have itself “solidified” in goodness. And if that isn’t necessary, I think it sound to agree with Tom Talbott that universalism can be guaranteed. When we stop and think about it – what is the true objection to supposing that God can allow his creatures to have freedom for a time to commit evil (and also good) in order to bring about a syngergistic creation infused with meaning otherwise impossible, but that he has drawn a point at which he perfects, corrects, and irresistibly illuminates those who have not freely allowed themselves to be illuminated? What is the actual logical objection to this belief?

    Here is part of a letter I sent to Ilaria Rameli about this very question:

    The issue has troubled me for some time, for it seems if God can illumine rational souls in such a way that they infallibly/irresistibly choose good, then he would always do this. At least, it makes one wonder why he would not – as if he created a problem for himself that need not be there. It would be like spilling milk on a clean floor only to mop it up again and end with just how it started.

    I have written a short essay on a possible answer to the problem by expanding on the doctrine of syngery, and how free will is required for the emergence of individual consciousnesses separate from God himself (ie determinism would actually imply pantheism). The key piece that solves the puzzle of ultimate salvation is the idea that actual conscious states themselves are synergistically created by both the soul’s free will and God’s complementary acts on it. What we choose in our moments of freedom – moments which are not always presented or “offered” us – effect our later mental states. In short, our libertarian freedom “builds” our compatibilist freedom in terms of consciousness, illumination of the good, etc. And the reasons why God did not simply make us infallibly, compatibilistically good from the get go are a) without actual libertarian choice true individuality and personhood is abrogated; and b) God evidently really wanted a universe in which certain events (even the avoidance of horrific evils) depended on rational souls. However, God has set up the laws of our consciousness such that there is a point which we can sin ourselves into a “trump card”. That is, at some point (which is dependent on the souls free response) there is a backstop where God will take away the ambiguity that makes free will possible and infallibly illuminate the consciousness of the soul. And this would be the “worst case scenario” of libertarian freedom building compatibilist freedom.

    Here is another more in depth explanation of this idea (from the EU forums actually):

    http://www.evangelicaluniversalist.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=15&t=5579

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  15. Michael Bauman says:

    Human knowledge does not necessarily lead to faith. Adam and Eve had intimate knowledge of God yet still turned away.

    Faith however built on the loving desire to know God (Biblically) leads to real knowledge.

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  16. ddpbf says:

    Nice points Michael.

    “Human knowledge does not necessarily lead to faith. Adam and Eve had intimate knowledge of God yet still turned away. ”

    Yes, I think its point of Saint Symeon the New Theologian. Adam and Eve, had access to God, but they did not try to repent and admitt their mistake, they were making excuses. Reason of fail was freedom, or better to say misuse of it.

    “Faith however built on the loving desire to know God (Biblically) leads to real knowledge.”
    Like we singing on Matins of Sunday and n Memorial Service
    “Blessed art thou o Lord teach me thy statutes”, that is appropriate use of freedom. In manner of God, Who as Being par exellance, does not have two given realities as choices. Just real existance and Love 🙂

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