Theodicy, Hell, and David B. Hart

by Brian C. Moore, Ph.D.

In his recent blog post “The Morality of Gehenna,” Father Lawrence Farley defends the compatibility of traditional notions of hell with the Goodness of the Christian God.  His voice is certainly not inhumane.  He recognizes that hell is “not tolerable,” yet he remains convinced that Scripture and tradition require that, in fact, one must tolerate it.  In the course of his apologia for the “sad truth,” he makes frequent application to C. S. Lewis’ works, as well as adverting to an important article by David Bentley Hart, “God, Creation, and Evil,” as an example of a counter-argument that “simply underestimates the power of evil.” Fr Lawrence classifies the disagreement as a conflict in which “the philosopher smacks up against the exegete.”  The relationship between faith and reason is illuminated by discernment, intellect, and lived experience. The idea that philosophy is ultimately trivial and superseded by theology and revelation is not self-evident.  At minimum, one should recognize that faith does not eradicate the life of the mind and the need for thought. Rather, faith casts a greater light upon reality and poses new questions for philosophy. Scripture and tradition do not close down inquiry. Dogma properly understood advances the mind into greater wonder and sometimes into deeper perplexity.  It is unjust to simply pull a quote out of context, dismiss it out of hand, and then to act as if an argument has been rendered toothless.  However, it may be no such dodgy sleight of hand was intended.  Indeed, what I surmise is that a complacent satisfaction with a particular notion of tradition has caused one to make a show of opposing what is assumed to be already defeated by the consensus of patristic opinion.  In that case, of course, the rendering plausible of infernalist views is less a withstanding of inquiry than an exercise in justification to those who at heart feel no need to actually do so. Since I am not convinced that Dr. Hart’s argument has been actually understood, I will give a rough recapitulation of some key elements in the hopes of making the central claims and the real putting into question of traditional assumptions more vividly evident.

One should pay attention to several key concepts, among them a discussion of divine freedom, human liberty, and the nature of personhood, as well as the requirements of language necessary for any kind of divine revelation to become meaningfully possible at all. All of these are germane and to attempt to give a just assessment of the argument with little or no care to properly represent them is either dishonest or demonstrative of a lack of comprehension. The central assertion asks us to carefully ponder the logical import of creatio ex nihilo. It may help first to quickly glance at a few alternate conceptions. Hegel posits, for instance, an indeterminate Absolute at the origin. What does this mean? Hegel’s “God” needs the world, for it is through all the drama and tragedy of time that the Absolute comes to determinate knowledge of itself. In short, the “divine” as Hegel understands it requires the world for self-realization. Such a God would not be supremely free with regards to creation. Some outside Necessity impels the act of creation. Plato’s Demiurge works to make the cosmos as beautiful as possible. Hence, the Demiurge has a kind of ethical imperative to model a recalcitrant material to be good. Still, the Demiurge is not creating “from nothing.” The Demiurge must make do with starting stuff that contains within it the seeds of defatigation and resistance to the Good. Or consider Aristotle’s serene God—thought thinking itself. Such an Absolute in its beauty and self-sufficiency acts as a perfect exemplar that all of reality imperfectly models. But such a divine is far from Yahweh pining for His faithless people. What happens in the sublunary world does not touch its enclosed contemplation of self.

Now here is where the uniqueness of the Triune God and creatio ex nihilo involve a very different and singular story. This first aspect has become a commonplace in theology, though it is always worth reflecting upon. The God of Christian revelation is not a solitude of completion like Aristotle’s Absolute. Indeed, beyond the simplicity of Jewish monotheism and the later rejection of paradox in Islamic theology, the Triune God contains within Himself community, drama, relation. The act of Being, hidden within the apophatic reserve of the East—or as Aquinas has it, the coincidence of essence and existence—is a dynamic, flourishing plenitude that is anything but merely serene self-contemplation or an inert completion of surfeit. The very short version is that only the Christian God is love. Unlike Hegel’s deity whose origin is incomplete, indeterminate, needy for worldly action in order to develop into a mature fullness, the God of the Gospel is infinitely determinate, infinitely rich in uncircumscribable Being. This Absolute most assuredly does not need the world as a necessary ingredient in coming to perfection. It is because of this plenitude at the origin that God is supremely free. God does not need created being in order to discover an Other. He does not need creation in order to be admired. He does not need creation in order to display a capacity to love. In no way or fashion is God compelled to create—and one must emphasize that this is uniquely true of the God of Jesus Christ.

If Trinity properly negates any sense of erotic need in the Christian God, creatio ex nihilo radically separates Biblical creation from any notion of a Demiurgic dependency upon already existing material. As Hart puts it: “there is no element of the ‘irrational’; something purely spontaneous, or organic, or even mechanical, beyond the power of God’s rational freedom.” In plain language, one might forgive Plato’s Demiurge for evil due to faulty building material that was beyond help. A God who creates from nothing cannot be so easily absolved of complicity in evil. So, if one could construe Hegel’s dialectic as a modern theogony, a birth of a god, Hart advances that the Christian story is the cosmos as theophany, an icon of divine beauty. Note that Hart has purposed to place side-by-side the theophanic and the genuine weight of evil. The very tired and common apologia, of course, is that much evil is the result of the abuse of creaturely freedom, but this, really, does not “get God off the hook.” It might work for a Demiurge, but not for the supremely free Christian God. There is something sly and evasive in the traditional theodicy. A nature called into being from nothing, with all its potencies, for good and evil, remains a mystery that ought, properly, to baffle the sensitive soul. It is ironic that Job’s courageous inquiry, supposedly abashing the doctrinal certitudes of Job’s counselors, has, with time, been taken over by tradition and made to serve the very complacency of Job’s friends. Hart will have none of that. He returns us to stark perplexities that faith should not prematurely vanquish by acknowledgement of human sin and the monstrous in the depths of the human soul:

Thus every evil that time comprises, natural or moral—a worthless distinction, really, since human nature is a natural phenomenon—is an arraignment of God’s goodness: every death of a child, every chance calamity, every act of malice; everything diseased, thwarted, pitiless, purposeless or cruel, and, until the end of all things, no answer has been given.

Equivocity is inalienable from our experience: our path is irreducibly both wonder and anguish. All of this brings into question the assertion that creation is a theophany. The dark perversities, the cruelties, the mass horrors and singular, savage sorrows mirror misery, death, and despair. And such fragile lives engender narrow, defensive postures, tyranny and a mob mentality that seeks power and redress through aggregation, manipulation into abstract simplicities, the harnessing of rage for political gain. Such deformations include as well as the imbecilic crudities, the vulgar satisfactions and coarse heehaws at the expense of delicacy, tact, a courtly festivity that joys in the elemental, yet dances with finesse, grace, wise equilibrium. What manner of theophany is this? There are certain creatures pulled up from the opaque ocean deeps, made to gawk in monstrous nakedness before the gaze of fascinated horror. One puzzles as to what of God is revealed in such a signature. The sage path of love is both compassion and patience. And here, the simple answer is that the iconic beauty of the cosmic theophany may be discovered in hints, in moments of charity, and hope, of artistic insight and garden delights, but the fullness of theophanic glory awaits the eschaton, when all things are made new. This eschatological fulfillment whereby the Sabbath rest explodes into the celebratory Eighth Day is surmised in Hart’s reflections. I place together some of the relevant quotes into a single exposition:

The Christian doctrine of creatio ex nihilo is not merely a cosmological or metaphysical claim, but also an eschatological claim about the world’s relation to God, and hence a moral claim about the nature of God himself . . . protology and eschatology are a single science . . . No matter how great the autonomy one grants the realm of secondary causes two things are certain. First, as God’s act of creation is free, constrained by neither necessity nor ignorance, all contingent ends are intentionally enfolded within his decision. . . . It would be impious, I suppose, to suggest that, in his final judgment of creatures, God will judge himself; but one must hold that by that judgment God truly will disclose himself (which, of course, is to say the same thing, in a more hushed and reverential voice).

Another probative objection to traditional infernalist views is rooted in the conception of personhood integral to its espousal. This cannot properly be articulated in a pithy manner, so I will only make a brief gesture. The kernel of the matter is sketched by Hart:

After all, what is a person other than a whole history of associations, loves, memories, attachments, and affinities? Who are we, other than all the others who have made us who we are, and to whom we belong as much as they to us? We are those others. To say that the sufferings of the damned will either be clouded from the eyes of the blessed or, worse, increase the pitiless bliss of heaven is also to say that no persons can possibly be saved: for, if the memories of others are removed, or lost, or one’s knowledge of their misery is converted into indifference or, God forbid, into greater beatitude, what remains of one in one’s last bliss? Some other being altogether, surely: a spiritual anonymity, a vapid spark of pure intellection, the residue of a soul reduced to no one.

Curiously, this sounds remarkably like Lewis’ discussion of personless remains in the The Great Divorce. Indeed, it begins to look like the Heaven of infernalists is precisely the Hell of Lewis’ allegorical fable. The definitive point, however, is that such a position is metaphysically incoherent. To return to the metaphysics of personhood, one might peruse Norris Clarke’s Person and Beinga brief but compelling demonstration that relationality is not adventitious or an associative dimension added onto an initially atomized and separate identity. Even more astute meditations upon the depth dimension of the created person are discoverable in the profound work of William Desmond. James E. Loder’s The Logic of the Spirit closely follows human development, showing how fear is intrinsic ingredient to ego formation constructed in fragility and deep, preconceptual awareness that we come from nothing: a conatus is already postured towards the other as potentially hostile and untrustworthy, even though the personal call to being is engendered by loving hospitality. Hans Urs von Balthasar famously focused on the importance of the mother’s smile in concretely calling the infant into personal being. This human dimension, however, is merely a participation in an eternal grounding. One must ponder what William Desmond calls the passio essendi, the intimacy of our origin called into being by the eternal agapeic God, to recover a prior root lost to our determinate, conceptual awareness. If one further infers from the analogy of being that Triune God is the archetype of all personhood, one should acknowledge that our personhood is not a pure given, but a task in which we grow into a love that is identical with flourishing personhood. Such a personhood, modeled after divine reality, suffers no detached, isolated selfhood. The modern conception, begun in the doubt and fear of the Cartesian cogito renders an individualism of rights and “free expression” indistinguishable from nihilism. Without the originating call to singular being from God, the modern individual only languishes in a false liberty that leads into a void. But just as a unique teleology is given from the origin, so is the community of being that is imperfectly realized in our temporal sojourns. The refusal of a Triune model of personhood by modern notions of the Self is matched by a truncated sense of community. Modern, nominalist Christians lack a bountiful, cosmic dimension to their imagination. Their eschatology pales in breadth of generosity next to Hindu or Buddhist conceptions that at least envision a whole without remainder in their spiritual conceptions of the Good, however deficient they may be in other respects.

What is perhaps most innovative in Hart’s critique, however, is the exposure of the hidden soteriology of the infernalist postion. If the whole of creation is founded on the real possibility of the damned, then the presence of the damned, real or merely countenanced as genuine possibility, becomes the secret engine at the heart of the enterprise:

. . . let us say God created simply on the chance that humanity might sin, and that a certain number of incorrigibly wicked souls might plunge themselves into Tartarus forever; this still means that, morally, he has purchased the revelation of his power in creation by the same horrendous price— even if, in the end, no one at all happens to be damned . . . for what is hazarded has already been surrendered entirely.

And this cost, more than a vindication of God’s justice, provokes a monstrous overturning of Christology; “for the redeemed, each of whom might just as well have been denied efficacious grace had God so pleased, who is that wretch who endures God’s final wrath, forever and ever, other than the surrogate, their redeemer, the one who suffers in their stead—their Christ?” Audacious, certainly, but not easy to dismiss. One surmises that the morally repugnant implications of such a celestial bliss will be denied by advocates for the traditional hell. Whether they can do so reasonably is another matter. The infernalist tradition spans the historical range of much of ecclesial history—I think it is begging the question to say that it was always dominant or the first interpretive teaching. One might determine that a proper reading of Paul contradicts such a notion. Regardless, a focus on Reformation soteriology is not meant to separate out Protestantism. Reformed thinking merely offers a particularly pure working out of a certain logic of modern freedom. The freedom ascribed to God in the wake of voluntarist and nominalist conceptions in the early modern period bequeathed an inscrutable and capricious God. The spirit of the Reformation imbibed the regnant philosophical conceptions of the day and then read them into Scripture. Far from a Triune God of agapeic love, one is given a sovereignty whereby murder or torture might be decreed the good should the Absolute power declare it so. Make no mistake; this is what is entailed when the Reformed tradition “elevates divine sovereignty to the status of the absolute theological value.” A nihilism comes to infect all language about God. One is “still dogmatically obliged” to ascribe to God biblical predicates such as “good,” “just,” “merciful,” “wise,” and “truthful”; “but transparently, all have been rendered equivocal by the doctrines that surround them; and this equivocity is necessarily contagious; it reduces all theological language to vacuity, for none of it can now be trusted.” As Hart also points out, one may posit as large a gap between finite creatures and the infinite God as one will, but distance that would stretch the analogy of being to a breaking point would destroy our capacity to understand and speak about the Good at all.  One is left with the bare worship of power in which case there is little to distinguish love of God from respect for the devils. Orthodox apophaticism and mystical awareness of an overabundant light experienced as conceptual darkness should not be elided with early modern proclivities. Acknowledgement of apophatic mystery cannot undercut meaningful language without turning revelation into a faux enchantment that belies a genuine revelation of God.

In order to discuss human liberty, Father Lawrence notes that “there is no reason to think that eternity is as linear as time, or that it is like time as we experience it,” but he then goes on to make a positive assertion that seems to forget the limited purchase we actually possess on the nature of eternity. Father Lawrence asserts, and surely with some biblical warrant, that “time and eternity are related to one another as the foundation is to the house built on it.” What exactly this means, however, and how it will ultimately work out remains beyond comfortable conjecture. Analogies are helpful, but imperfect. One must take care to note where analogies fail, as well as where they are genuinely suggestive. For instance, the notion of a small error at the beginning projected out over a large span of time has a rough appeal and no doubt it can apply in some ways to human experience. It has significant limitations. Eternity is not a lot or even an infinite amount of time. Drawing a univocal parallel between an action begun in time to an “eternal” conclusion involves a lot of surmise that is not in any way justified by experience or reason. Further, a human being is not, for instance, an inanimate projectile that is determined by its initial flight path. It is a common surmise that time “sets” without capacity for alteration a mode of being that will simply be “confirmed” in eternity. The fact that a common tradition thinks this way does not in any way prove its metaphysical certitude. Indeed, it is quite possible, as Sergius Bulgakov surmised, that growth and development is part of human post-mortem experience. If the latter is possible, again, the analogy fails.

Yet this is first and foremost not a question of what humans can or cannot do, but about who God is, what He is like. Notice that Hart’s discussion of human will is conditioned by a prior understanding of God’s loving providence.

No one can freely will the evil as evil; one can take the evil for the good, but that does not alter the prior transcendental orientation that wakens all desire. To see the good truly is to desire it insatiably; not to desire it is not to have known it, and so never to have been free to choose it. It makes no more sense to say that God allows creatures to damn themselves than to say a father might reasonably allow his deranged child to thrust her face into a fire out of tender respect for her moral autonomy. And the argument becomes quite insufferable when one considers the personal conditions—ignorance, mortality, defectibility of intellect and will—under which each soul enters the world, and the circumstances—the suffering of all creatures, even the most innocent and delightful of them—with which that world confronts the soul.

The equation of protology with eschatology founds a genuine understanding of human freedom. Just as it is a category mistake to consider the Being of God somehow in competition with the creaturely being that would vanish into nothingness without constant divine solicitude, the freedom that men and women aim at is not a zero sum game in which finite liberty fights against a tyrannical divine heteronomy. The human will is constituted in its origins precisely as desire for the Good. It’s confusions and malevolent failures never touch a peaceful, generous, patient giving that marks the agapeic plenitude of the Origin. And if God’s freedom is manifest in a perfect eschatological realization of the cosmos he desires, then ultimately this is why one cannot simply dismiss Hart’s view of human freedom as hopelessly naïve.

Though on the surface the doctrine of election is overtly about unmerited grace, hiddenly, the elect in infernalist theology often treat the grace given to them as a personal property either through a secret merit that allows them to tolerate its absence in others or simply as a lucky draw that one shouldn’t overly question. There is no significant meditation upon just those mitigating factors to human liberty specified by Hart. The most charitable way to conceive the majority opinion of the Church on this matter is to see it as similar to the attachment to Ptolemy’s geocentric conceptions. While I have little sympathy for Galileo and some awareness of the complexity and ambiguities of the history comprising the debate over heliocentrism—Galileo’s import was covertly more anthropocentric and he marshaled in the disastrous distinction of primary and secondary qualities, the whole modern mathesis that gave us a cold, mechanical universe and love reduced to subjective, emotive ephemera—one can see the fusion of the old astronomy, ancient worldviews remaindered in the Scripture, and the Gospel witness as a false and unnecessary alloy. Likewise, the conviction that the Gospel stands or falls by attachment to traditional ideas of hell is false. A more open and charitable spirit would not seek justification for a split between the redeemed and the damned. There would be more thought in line with a recent quote given in a dialogue between the Catholic, Martin Mosebach, and his Muslim friend, the author Navid Kermani: “If people cannot be with Christ in good faith, the fault lies with Christians who have not portrayed Christianity convincingly enough.”

When Father Lawrence accentuates the asymmetry between the metaphysical reality of transfigured and redeemed reality and the nullity of hell and residual remains, what he thinks he is doing is emphasizing the vacuity of what is putatively a source of grievous pity. If one imagines the division of sheep and goats, wheat and tares as intrapersonal, the basic gesture is unobjectionable. We all have sins and predilections or capacities for darkness for which death is the only cure. But to imagine that a lost soul becomes less and less a source of rational grief because less and less a personal presence is at bottom an aspiration to assuage what is otherwise an obvious, perhaps intractable anguish for those who feel compelled to defend a traditional understanding of hell. I revere C. S. Lewis and prize his imaginative works, including The Great Divorce, but I believe Lewis has not fully worked through the logic of creation from nothing. Even if one posits the reduction to virtual inanity and near zero as a person—and it is not self-evident that this is an actual metaphysical possibility—Hart’s proposal remains unaddressed and one suspects, not truly thought. Either God creates in the liberty of agape love, with assurance grounded in his radically unencumbered will to achieve a true, theophanic cosmos—his risk is always already caught up in a prior determination to make good all wounds and secure the flourishing good of all creation—or creation is a gamble that accepts provisional allowance for eternal loss. The latter would not impugn the goodness of a Demiurge, for the Demiurge is not omnipotent and not fully free. To argue, as is often done, that risk of perdition is the price required in order for God to create creatures capable of liberty and love utterly fails to see the moral seriousness of creatio ex nihilo. The question is, would a truly good God create a world where such a cost was possible? Hart’s argument claims that Goodness would be irredeemably impugned; a fully powerful Good would only countenance a creation that was truly and fully Good and such a creation must not have or avail itself of the possibility of a remainder of unhealed loss. Those who claim that following Hart’s argument involves imposing on revelation a purely philosophical constraint fail to recognize that the logic of the argument derives from revelation. It would never have been possible to a philosopher lacking awareness of the gospel. Hence, a philosophical reflection upon the deep consequences and implications of revelation is itself part of the wondering vocation of theology itself.

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76 Responses to Theodicy, Hell, and David B. Hart

  1. Karl says:

    Yes, for all the eloquence and conceptual casting about, the old problem of evil and suffering remains and always will. In fact, in my worthless opinion, it should be at the centre of any religion worth taking seriously. I can’t abide any covering up with the anaesthetic of God’s innate goodness etc etc.

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  2. Tom says:

    Brian,

    I’ll risk the compliment being confused with the “infernalism” you’re addressing, but let me say it anyhow. You’re on “fire” here. 😀 Thanks for taking the time to address this. I thought DBH’s article was one of the—no, ‘the’ best—theological piece I read last year.

    Re: Fr Farley’s position (I apologize, but I haven’t read him), exactly how does one “underestimate the power of evil” in final/eschatological, metaphysically ultimate, terms? If evil is a ‘privation’ of the Good, one can underestimate the power of evil on occasion within the constraints of an epistemic distance that defines our conatus presently, but eschatologically? Irrevocably? ‘Privation’ of the Good is to be thought equal to the Good it privates in teleological efficacy/import? This seems functionally equivalent to metaphysical dualism—good and evil existing, irrevocably and eternally, side by side.

    But herein lies the strength of Hart’s (Gregory of Nyssa’s) point regarding protology and eschatology. They mutually implicate each other. And I don’t think one has to rely exclusively on philosophy (because Scripture has nothing to say on the matter) to derive this equivalence. But that’s another subject. In any event, if one’s eschatology is functionally equivalent to a dualism that essentially posits ‘evil’ as an abiding reality moving forward, what of one’s protology? What must God as source and ground of creation (ex nihilo) be to ground such a possibility?

    Tom

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  3. Mike H says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you Brian.

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  4. Mike H says:

    Indeed, what I surmise is that a complacent satisfaction with a particular notion of tradition has caused one to make a show of opposing what is assumed to be already defeated by the consensus of patristic opinion. In that case, of course, the rendering plausible of infernalist views is less a withstanding of inquiry that an exercise in justification to those who at heart feel no need to actually do so.

    I’ve definitely observed this. It takes a variety of forms – most often, I think, the conversation (if there is any) disintegrates into a game of hide and seek.

    Start with specific Biblical texts or terminology (gehenna, eternal, “all”, etc.) and you may see, for example, a subtle shift to “justice”. Forget about all that technical detail – you can prove whatever you want from the Bible! What about Justice!! Talk justice and you’ll see a move to “free will”. Talk “free will” and you see a move to Tradition. Talk Tradition, and you see a move to why existence is meaningless without eternal torment because there would be “no consequences.” From there, you can move to “mystery”, knocking down caricatures, name calling, or just starting the whole process over. It’s like spinning in circles, chasing the wind.

    If someone starts levelling accusations of making God into “Santa Claus” or is furious that everyone just sort of “waltzes into heaven” or that “sin isn’t taken seriously”, I know they either aren’t hearing the strongest forms of the arguments, have misunderstood the arguments, or are unwilling to engage them for any number of reasons.

    Of course there is an essential interplay between all those things (biblical texts, tradition, justice, mystery, philosophy etc.) and there are many ambiguities, but my point is that there is something else at work.

    To me, it speaks to how very deep the “traditional” view runs and how much is driven by a variety of fears. I can’t pretend to be immune to them myself.

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    • brian says:

      Yes, Mike, it becomes an impossible game of chasing the wind. But really, this is a common experience of humankind, even when discussing trivial matters.

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      • Mike H says:

        Yes, I agree. Perhaps eschatology is no different than any trivial matter in that respect. If something is settled in the mind (and we don’t and shouldn’t reinvent the wheel each generation), it’s not easily unsettled, lest one become unsettled. I don’t exempt myself from this.

        Still, just in my own observations, with eschatology where so much theological language and “meaning of existence” type stuff seems to come to a head, it seems particularly difficult. Not only does the nature of eschatology mean that it covers a huge amount of ground – biblical, theological, philosophical, etc – but one has to overcome whether it’s “settled” or not before even discussing it. But it needs to be discussed before one can determine if it’s settled or not. It’s a catch 22.

        But I think what makes eschatology uniquely tricky is the way that the fear that it creates feeds on itself. When “the Bible clearly says” trump card comes out (or any other trump card), one begins to sense the not-so-veiled inference that the stakes are infinitely high because you risk the slippery slope down to “rejecting the faith”, and therefore risk subjecting yourself to the unbelievably crappy eschatological fate that you barely have the nerve to examine in the first place. Perhaps that’s my own fear-based tradition talking, but I think there’s truth to it.

        There’s also the fear of, “Could the majority have gotten something this wrong for this long? Look at the history of violence and persecution surrounding eschatological fear? How could God have let us flounder like this!”

        I think the divine love revealed in the Gospel itself (coupled with safe relationships) is the only way in to and out of this spin cycle, but one may have to re-examine the Gospel itself for it to be seen that way.

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        • brian says:

          Yes, Mike, I think you have elucidated well the complexity and nuances of the existential condition we find ourselves in. And no doubt, the stakes could not be higher, so when one is approaching ultimacy, passions and fears are involved. It seems to me that traditionalists tend to be somnambulists. We ought to be the most awake, but there is something pointedly correct in the objection Karl states at the top of this thread. Honestly, I think it is part of the flight from the Cross (which is, of course, fully understandable. Who wants to suffer in agony, often in darkness and lack of certitude, trusting amidst apparent abandonment and silence, whilst the wicked mock and thrive and commit atrocities of cruel violence?) Who wants to face the monstrous depths discoverable within themselves? Yet just as the poet Blake sensed, the Songs of Innocence must seek a transcendence through the bitter Songs of Experience.

          So much theology gives lip service to the Cross, yet when it comes right down to it, the Cross is for Christ and not for us. But it is on the Cross that one meets the particular Other, it is on the Cross where the pledge of love proves itself. In the Descent into Hell, Christ is intimately present for each and every creature, not only in their joyous elemental being, but in despair and anguish, loneliness and the horror of death and separation from God. If the most extreme existential experience of abandonment is secretly embraced by God’s faithful agapeic love, we are called to that kind of love. No one can really escape the call to martyrdom, because love asks for that kind of courage and that kind of attachment to what God has loved into being.

          In short, an eschatology that lacks the daring of Love and an imagination open to the creative mystery of the Spirit is more a reflection of our narrow, defensive egos. This, btw, is the kind of thing Yannaras is trying to get at when he makes a distinction between the radical freedom of love and the restrictions of “religion.”

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  5. frlawrence says:

    Dear Father: Thank you for such a thoughtful and lengthy reply to my blog article. I appreciate your calm and civil approach. Rather than respond here at length, may I simply refer you to my reply to a commenter who referenced your piece? It is found in the comments section of my piece on The Morality of Gehenna to which you linked at the beginning of your own reply. God bless you always!

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Fr Lawrence, I did not write the article (I do so wish I had the intelligence, education, and depth to have done so). Its author is Dr Brian Moore. Thank you for dropping by.

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  6. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Here is Fr Lawrence’s first response to Brian’s article. I wish I could claim responsibility for Dr Moore’s article, but, alas, I am a mere priest.

    Dale: Thank you for the link. In an article as thoughtful (and lengthy) as Fr. Aidan’s, one cannot respond fully and point-by-point in a comments section, but at the risk of over-burdening a comments section I will offer a few thoughts.

    First, I think our main difference revolves around our understanding of the Scriptures and perhaps our understanding of the role of Scripture vis-a-vis philosophy. Fr. Aidan writes that “faith casts a greater light upon reality and poses new questions for philosophy”. It looks as if for Fr. Aidan Scripture poses the question and philosophy gives the answer. I would suggest that Scripture, when properly understood, gives us not “greater light” but the authoritative answer, and it is the task of Christian philosophy to explain Scripture and make its answer credible to inquiring minds. Fr. Aidan (and Dr. Hart) clearly give philosophy a greater role in the debate than I do–and I think than the Fathers would.

    It looks as if Fr. Aidan and I are dealing with different scenarios. For him, the issue of the eternity of Gehenna is unclear and so the universalist option is a live one and his debate is predicated upon the matter being open. For me the issue has been once and for all resolved by the clear teaching of Scripture and the matter is closed, and I conduct my debate on this presupposition. That is why I do not find Dr. Hart’s reasoning at all persuasive, since it contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture. One can debate the assertions of Dr. Hart, but not the clear teaching of the Lord Jesus. If inquiring minds think that there is something “off” about His teaching, they must rethink basic presuppositions.

    My conviction of the clarity of Scripture governs everything else I write about the subject. Fr. Aidan suggests that at the end of the day my suggestion that those in hell are more “remains” than persons is irrelevant, because it involves the loss of a soul either way. I take his point. But IF (grant the “if” for a hypothetical moment) Scripture teaches that souls will be lost, what else can one say? To drag Lewis in here again: “If there’s nothing [left] but ashes we’ll not go on blowing them in our own eyes forever. They must be swept up…Son, son, it must be one way or the other. I know it sounds grand to say ye’ll accept no salvation which leaves even one creature in the dark outside. But watch that sophistry or ye’ll make a Dog in a Manger the tyrant of the universe”. If Scripture teaches that souls will be lost, then we must rethink our negative reactions to it, including the adequacy of our philosophical critique of God’s love.

    Secondly, it seems to me that if one had to explain Dr. Hart’s ideas to a child (and could not use long words), it would come down to this: that everyone must be saved because God wants them to be and He is powerful enough to get His way, and that it would be terrible if anyone were to be lost. People as learned and eloquent as Fr. Aidan and Dr. Hart make the point at greater length and in more detail, but surely it comes down to this? If I am wrong, then I would appreciate the argument being made in such monosyllables as a child could understand. As it is, we seem to disagree about in what God’s power consists.

    Dr. Hart, for example, believes that the distinction between natural evil (such as an earthquake) and moral evil (such as murder) is “a worthless distinction, really, since human nature is a natural phenomenon”. This seems to me to minimize the importance and power of the will, reducing it to the same categories of non-moral nature simply because God created both. Here Dr. Hart expresses a central difference between his view and mine, for I believe that God’s power and humility are revealed in His creation of creatures capable to resisting Him, while he believes that such would overthrow His power and love.

    Finally I would like to appeal for less ad hominem “heat” (forgive the metaphor). Dr. Hart uses the term “infernalist” to describe my position (and even refers us being members of a “Hellfire club”–presumably with St. John Chrysostom as our president?). Surely such name-calling can be avoided in such an important debate? My position is not so much “infernalist” as “traditional” or (if one prefers) “classical”. Sometimes people suggest that one adopting it have a “complacent satisfaction with a particular notion of tradition” or that they even take delight in the thought of people being lost forever. Some (such as Tertullian) probably do, but such an attitude is not required by nor found in everyone holding to the traditional opinion. One can find the particular notion of tradition both intolerable and true.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I have come to the conclusion recently (and a rather interesting conclusion) that God himself is the Hell-fire. Consider, God is a consuming fire (Deut. 4:24, Heb. 12:29). Many places when it talks about God’s judgment upon his people it talks about the “nose of Adonai burning” (this is in the Hebrew, I do not know if the LXX contains this idiom or not).

    So then what does this say about the Hell-fire? This says that anything about the Hell-fire must ultimately start with the goodness of God and must be started off with uniting oneself to God as well. Kind of like Fr Stephen Freeman’s recent article on “Is the Universe Tragic?” as well as the saints of which Hans Urs von Balthasar discusses in Dare we Hope? who asked they be condemned so that everyone else may be saved (especially St Paul – Rom. 9:3).

    This is also the essence of Christianity as well that we are to become united to Christ in his death (Rom. 6:3-4). It is only by descending into Hell with Christ that we can become raised up with him in the resurrection. So if we are to become so intimately connected to Christ that we descend into Hell with him then God must therefore be the Hell-fire.

    Any way, I’m not certain that’s heretical or not but wondering what other peoples’ thoughts on this were…

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  8. Tom says:

    Fr Lawrence asks, “I would appreciate the argument being made in such monosyllables as a child could understand.”

    OK, how’s this—

    “God loves us so much he will never give up on anyone. No matter how much bad we do or how long we do bad, God will leave the way to him open to us and we can always come home to him. He will never lock us out, and we can never lock ourselves out, because his love for us, not how good or bad we are, is what keeps the way open.”

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  9. Morgan Hunter says:

    Father Lawrence asks an interesting question, which I had not thought about: if to enjoy an unimpeded vision of God is necessarily to desire Him insatiably, how can one explain the fall of Satan and the other rebellious angels? The usual answer to similar questions asked about the fall of man is to say that our first parents in their pre-lapsarian state were by no means perfect in their knowledge of God, but only possessed an infantile innocence. On the traditional view, though, the angels did enjoy such an unimpeded vision of God from the beginning–although who’s to say, since they are created and not truly eternal, that they coudn’t change or develop in some (scarcely imaginable) way?

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      If the primordial fall of humanity into disobedience and death is a mystery, then even more so is the fall of the angelic spirits. What do we really know? I suspect our opinions are more influenced by Milton’s Paradise Lost than divine revelation.

      Is the Milton’s portrayal of Lucifer choosing eternal perdition against all reason and good rationally coherent? Does it really make sense? The rejoinder, of course, is that evil does not make sense. See my article “Rational Freedom and the Incoherence of Satan.”

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    • AR says:

      I don’t know if this helps, but my husband and I have been speculating, after reading a lot of Nathaniel Hawthorne, that “the devil is a Puritan.” Our idea is that Lucifer is the prime example of choosing evil because you mistake it for good. On this view, Lucifer falls because he tries, not to be more powerful than God, but to be more just and holy than God. Thus he brings judgment into the created world, and generates a dichotomy in created being that becomes the distinction between good and evil.

      Because of this, religion is never the pure fountain of all good, arrayed against the spring of evil. The great temptation for religious people – for people enamored of goodness and righteousness – is always Puritanism, the temptation to further, rather than heal, this ontological dichotomy.

      As one writer put it, “Beware the snare of selfish holiness with no Jesus in it.”

      I agree with Fr. Aiden (Fr. Kimel?) that we can’t know for sure on the basis of revelation, but I think this view is equally, if not more, supported scripturally than the lust-for-power view.

      Perhaps Milton’s ideas had more to do with the invention of the modern state, its mechanisms of power, and all those related anxieties that arose from the Protestant Reformation.

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      • brian says:

        The devil as puritan and moralist. Nice, I like that.
        And given my penchant for book recommendations,here’s another one.
        Marion Montgomery’s Why Hawthorne Was Melancholy. Part of Montgomery’s terrific series on the Prophetic Poet and the Spirit of the Age. (The other two in the series are Why Poe Drank Liquor and Why Flannery O Connor Stayed Home.)

        Liked by 2 people

      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        I cannot resist quoting H. L. Mencken: “Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”

        I’m sure it’s not fair to the Puritans, but I have to chuckle regardless.

        Liked by 2 people

    • Tom says:

      Morgan,

      My own sense is that angels were not created in a state of unimpeded vision of God. They too, like us as finite and responsible, were created in a context defined by an epistemic distance, i.e., finite in their perspective on the truth of things, a perspective limited enough to create the epistemic space necessary for moral deliberation. They had to ‘become’—through responsible choice relative to their own unique God-given telos—just like we do.

      Tom

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  10. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    May I commend to all Brian Moore’s articles “The Nihilism of the Voluntarist Will” and “The Babel of Autonomy.” In these pieces Brian elaborates on creaturely freedom and challenges conventional understandings.

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  11. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Given that the thread has moved to a discussion of the possible salvation of the evil spirits, I have posted Sergius Bulgakov’s controversial (and hard to find!) essay on the topic. Perhaps it will contribute to the discussion here.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. What intrigues me is how Fr Lawrence accuses those supporting universal salvation of all of philosophical ruminations whereas some have accused him of the same. Both positions start out with the assumption (accurate assumption and truthful assumption) that God is love and then reflect on what this means for the universal salvation of all. Of course, as a result, both sides reduce themselves to analyzing what love means. We are told to love as Christ loved us. We are not told to analyze what this love means. How did Christ love us? He laid down our lives for us. We die with him and lay down our lives for others.

    I think, rather than focusing on Hell as a sub-category of philosophical theology, we should instead be looking at it as a form of applied theology.

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  13. Tom says:

    I was thinking on Fr Lawrence’s reduction of Hart:

    “Secondly, it seems to me that if one had to explain Dr. Hart’s ideas to a child…it would come down to this: that everyone must be saved because God wants them to be and He is powerful enough to get His way, and that it would be terrible if anyone were to be lost…surely it comes down to this?”

    I’d never pretend to speak for Hart (μὴ γένοιτο), but I think I grasp his basic reasons, and none of them appear in Fr Lawrence’s reduction. True, God wants all to be saved and is powerful enough to save all who repent, and it would indeed be terrible if any were lost. I’m sure Fr Lawrence believes that much. But these don’t describe the reasons for believing all will in the end repent and be saved.

    The reasons have more to do with the what’s entailed in saying rational creatures have their being in God, i.e., that God’s sustaining of created beings is as an unconditional act of love that imparts being as an irreducible capacity or freedom always to move in the direction of God as telos. So the fundamental reason to think all are eventually saved is the teleological disposition/nature of created being grounded in love. That’s it. To be created, to ‘be’ at all, is just to be the object of God’s loving invitation to move in his direction. That invitation constitutes our irreducible openness to God—being just is openness to God, not something which is and then constitutes itself as open or closed to God. We can’t private ourselves out of the God-given teleological disposition of being for the simple reason that we didn’t create ourselves and don’t sustain ourselves in being. No power or scope of our wills can give us access to what is true about us transcendentally. I take that this is what the reasons boil down to (not that God always gets what he wants because he’s got the power).

    Tom

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    • Tom says:

      “I take that *this* is what the reasons boil down to.”

      I’m back!

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    • brian says:

      Good, Tom. But Father Lawrence will see all that as “mere” philosophy trying to get it’s way when we already “know” from Scripture and patristic witness that it isn’t so. I did try to explain that Hart is actually teasing out the logical implications of revelation, so it is not an act of philosophy opposed to revelation, but when one begins with the assumption that an eternal hell is inextricably part of revelation, there’s no room for discovering that one is possibly wrong.

      And you did a nice job of pitching an interpretation at a child’s level (in a post above.) While I have argued before for the importance of becoming like a child (especially in my meditation on the importance of animals,) surely Father Lawrence does not believe that all of theology ought to be capable of reduction to a child’s level of comprehension in order to be true. This is akin to the fellow who learned all he ever needed to know in kindergarten. It’s quaint and can be charming, but God cultivates the full flourishing excellence of the human, and that includes the capacity to think thoughts a child cannot imagine or comprehend.

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      • Tom says:

        Right. At some point one has to ‘think through’ the implications of the text. I mean, Athanasius and Arius are an example. Arius was as committed to the truth of the text’s claims as was Athanasius, and he had biblical texts on his side. He certainly argued his Christology textually in ways that didn’t violate grammar or context. There was no defeating Arius strictly within the boundaries of the vocabulary and grammar of the text. It was in drawing out the implications of Arius’ reading that Athanasius argued his understanding had to be false. We wouldn’t have Creeds or Christianity without carefully (philosophically) extending the text out into, and reading it in light of, the context of shared worship and spirituality.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Tom says:

        Case in point (regarding Fr Lawrence’s problem with employing philosophy to establish doctrines not explicitly made in the biblical texts without the help of philosophy), I presume he believes in creation ex nihilo (CEN), a doctrine not ‘explicitly’ established in the Scriptures. He either holds CEN to be an non-essential feature of orthodox Christian faith, or he holds as essential to that faith a doctrine which is established through the aid of philosophical argument.

        Follow me?

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        • It would mean the world to me if either of you (Tom or Brian) could help me better understand the above argument about teleological freedom. This is the only point of Hart’s argument I haven’t been entirely compelled by.

          It makes perfect sense to me that the damned will retain their ability to turn toward the Good throughout the eschaton, but I’m having trouble seeing why we can assert confidently that they *will* in fact all do so. Why could it not be the case, e.g., that a soul continually resists God — and thereby deprives himself of freedom — for all eternity?

          The only answer given to this question by Hart, as far as I can tell, is that if a soul were able to eternally resist God (i.e., to eternally neglect its capacity for freedom), God’s act of creation would not be good. But this answer seems to be little more than a bald assertion about the nature of divine goodness — to which I’m sympathetic, but by which I’m not 100% persuaded. If it is the case that (without ceasing to be good) God created human beings with the potential to rape, murder, and terrorize one another in this life, why would it be *impossible* for Him to allow these same human beings to perpetually reject Him throughout the next? How can we, as finite creatures seeking to understood an infinitely good God, speak with certainty here?

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          • Tom says:

            Heavymetal,

            I can only share how I approach it. As you see, the truth that we retain the God-given ability to turn toward God precludes the possibility of our irrevocably foreclosing upon ourselves. That’s the material point for me. We can never succeed in rejecting God with irrevocable finality. But (to get to your question) can we not go on for all eternity rejecting God? Well, if you mean to ask whether we can succeed in “having rejected God for all eternity,” then obviously that’s impossible, since eternity will always lie before us.

            I don’t make additional claims about a terminus ad quem, some metaphysical line in the sand at which point God decides enough is enough—so to speak, of course—and just saves us; nor do I posit an expiration date for the fundamental liberty of choice (the terms are so slippery—freedom, free will, liberty, self-determining agency) which I think is metaphysically required of (even if it’s fulfilled in) our union with God. So I posit a more open-ended eschatology, one without “will” dates on the calendar. But what we do have is the impossibility of a final, irrevocable “will not.” God is lovingly patient. He’s not going anywhere. Neither are we.

            Hope that helps.

            Tom

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Heavymetal, have you seen these citations from Hart that I culled from an EO discussion thread? They touch on the good question you have asked.

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          • brian says:

            Hi Heavymetal,

            I had intended a rather lengthy explanation, but life got in the way of my writing and now I see that David Hart has recapitulated the argument briefly. I, too, would ask that one peruse, for instance, the last paragraph of my article which covers some of the same material in Hart’s second point. Indeed, the aspect of nihilism, language, the nature of the Good, etc. is part of both Hart’s original and my interpretive essay. Consider again, what kind of Goodness is worthy of God. It is first and foremost about who God is, what He is like. What kind of creation is and is not consistent with the truly Good. Rather than asking for the argument to be re-read and rethought — and I remain convinced, for instance, that Father Lawrence does not understand the argument and does not see that it follows from the specifics of Christian revelation — I will simply add two or three brief addendum.

            I suspect one might think that one could remain metaphysically unfree in eternity. I rather think that part of the Apocalypsis, the unveiling, part of the Last Judgment, is the radical clarifying of the presence of God. In short, I don’t think the persistence of ignorant, gnomic will is a properly thinkable thought if one understands the mercy of eternity.

            Second, the nature of Goodness is both something elementally felt and something wondrously revealed. Our understanding of the Good is increased through revelation, but we know a lot without specific appeal to scripture and tradition. An elemental love of being is inscribed into our being. The coltish play of young animals, the joy of first romantic love, the beauty of nature all inspire some grasp of the Good that transcends univocal determination, our capacity to comprehend and contain such awareness in speech or thought, even though we must speak about it. Get rid of any analogical connection between our sense of the Good and the Goodness of God and one is left in nihilism. It would no longer make sense to speak of a God who is Love. Trust and Hope would be impossible and irrational. As George MacDonald writes: “God is life, and the will-source of life. In the outflowing of that life, I know him; and when I am told that he is love, I see that if he were not love he would not, could not create.”

            Ah, I must go to dinner. If something else comes to me, I’ll add a bit anon.

            Liked by 1 person

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Tom, you’ve really gotten the hang of it. I know I could not express myself so clearly humanity’s innate desire for God.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    C. S. Lewis’s presentation of damnation in The Great Divorce appears to approach annihilation: the damned cease to be persons and therefore become objects undeserving of our pity and compassion (see my article “Hell and the Solidarity of Love“). Dumitru Staniloae can thus speak of God ceasing to remember the reprobate.

    The attraction of annihilationism is understandable. God is no longer portrayed in a punitive manner. He does not directly punish but rather permits the inexorable process toward impersonality and annihilation to occur. Personhood can only be achieved through communion with the Trinity. To the extent that an individual existentially removes himself from this communion, he ceases to be a person. And because the annihilation is freely chosen by the damned, it appears to be a just and fitting end, unfortunate, perhaps, but just nonetheless.

    Yet the fact remains that at least some (many? most? all?) of the annihilated were once loved by someone. Does this mean that the annihilationist position falls foul of the “Argument from God’s Love for the Blessed“?

    In the past year, two Orthodox men (one a priest, another a lay theologian) have privately expressed to me positions along this line, though neither posited total annihilation. They simply do not see a moral problem and therefore do not see why universalists are so passionate about the greater hope.

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    • brian says:

      Father,
      This morning I had to take a kitten to my vet most likely to be euthanized. He was an adorable creature, exceptionally sweet and curious, and a picture postcard to see. For many, his loss will just be a sad fact of nature. They are resigned to loss and do not see it as in any way “touching them” at a metaphysical level. Of course, at the level of the human person, it becomes harder to separate one’s destiny from that of the other, but when people accept as axiomatic a starting point for personhood that is first and primarily separate in an atomistic fashion, they do not understand the relation to the other as a necessary element in their own singular being.

      I have tried to argue, following the various thinkers I frequently allude to, that this is mistaken both at the metaphysical level and in terms of revelation — indeed, the metaphysical level is illuminated by the Gospel. We are created as unique singulars, but the unique singular is also always already created as a network of relations. This is part of the passio essendi, part of what we are gifted with from the agapeic origin. The fact that we do not conceptually or existentially realize the fullness of that gift in time does not take away from the reality of our origin or our vocation to become fully realized as loving persons (the more we realize this, the less callous we should become, in my opinion, towards every unique creature.) It is in this light that one can best anticipate our eschatological destiny where God will be “all in all.” Unfortunately, this kind of thinking is not part of the common sense of Christian tradition. Over time, I think it will become so, but we are not there yet.

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    • Mike H says:

      Father,

      There are other forms of annihilationism that employ the same retributive logic that is seen in many of the “traditionalist” views (there are annihilationists in all theological camps, after all).

      Sticking with the non-punitive forms though, I still think it fails “The Argument from God’s Love for the Blessed.” Of course this is an area where what is meant by “love” becomes absolutely crucial though. And not only “love”, but also “freedom”/“free-will”, “justice”, and the interplay between all of them (and I see a great set of comments on this exact thing in the linked original post).

      Of course we don’t fully understand “love” in our fallen state (as the argument goes), but my goodness. This is one of the points where theological language potentially breaks down and becomes hopelessly equivocal. I think it more helpful to dispose of the language all together (like an honest Calvinist who can flat out admit that God doesn’t love everyone and isn’t “love” by nature) than render it meaningless.

      I do get why, given a certain set of abstract terminology, one might not see a “moral problem” in the view espoused by Lewis. Certainly there are moral problems if “the damned can eternally hold creation hostage”. But neither is the eschatological “moral problem” resolved by a mere lack of retribution or a lack of “coercion”…by letting creation destroy itself, particularly if evil is understood as privation of the good. What about the “original good”?

      “Free-will” as a self-inflicted and self-perpuating downward spiral into what can only be described as “irredeemable madness” and the ultimate expression of love as a fundamental inability to enter into that irredeemable madness also creates moral problems. On the flip side, it has to be acknowledged that “well, if God can just go in and fix everything and chooses not to”, there are moral problems there too. Not suggesting those are the only two options.

      I too think that a different angle to take has to do with what a “person” is. Brian had some important thoughts on this and cited a great quote by DB Hart. Take away my associations and experiences, the people that I care for (warped as my “love” might be), and what is left of me? Michael Hardin (a Rene Girard (RIP) scholar, and using Girard’s terminology) refers to this as “interdividuality”. I think he argues that this isn’t just a sentimental idea akin to “loving relationships are nice”. Rather, this interdividuality is a fundamental aspect of what a human being is.

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    • Lewis’s position seems much like NT Wright’s position.
      http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Rethinking_Tradition.htm
      As both are Anglicans, I would not be surprised if Wright is greatly influenced by Lewis’s position on the subject.

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    • “Which comes first, the exegesis or the philosophy…” may be a chicken or an egg conundrum, but IMO the weakest point for U.R. has historically not been the philosophical arguments but the exegesis.
      The most challenging person to exegete and conclude that U.R. is the best position is not Paul, but Jesus. I’m not suggesting that E.C.T. is the correct exegetical alternative, but one must confess that reading the Parable of the Wheat and Tares, for example, and coming to the conclusion the tares will enjoy the everlasting communion of the Godhead takes some theological gymnastics. (And I’d be more than open to reading some U.R. exegetes on that text and the many others)

      I do wonder if Hart’s argument linking ex nihilo to the eschaton couldn’t as easily be done in favor of annihilation by Hart himself, and the sheer force of his brilliance (and vocabulary) convince the most rigid ECT and UR among us to rethink our positions.

      Really thankful for this blog and all those who contribute in these comments. I rarely if ever leave comments myself as I thoroughly enjoy just learning from all of you.

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      • brian says:

        Paul,

        I have suggested (following Pavel Florensky and others) that one can read the separation of wheat and tares as an intrapersonal judgement. If the intermingling is within each unique person — and also perhaps within the community made up of relations between such persons — it becomes understandable why one cannot prematurely separate them out.

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        • brian says:

          Also, Paul, if each unique singular is chosen by God without anything to necessitate or ultimately impede the full, flourishing realization of the creation, how could one square that with annihilation? The argument about putting “at risk” in a irremediable fashion as the price for such a creation is precisely what Hart questions as logically compatible with creatio ex nihilo and the Goodness of the Christian God.

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          • Thanks for your replies, Brian!

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          • I do think this is the tension between the exegete and the philosopher. The metanarrative of God’s revelation thru the sacred text seems incoherent if finite sovereigns such as angels and humans do not possess the capability to resist the grace of God (and historically have been affirmed as having the ability to resist him to a point of no return). Why isn’t the Goodness of the Christian God any more in question by having a Fall at all when He could have as easily in creating ex nihilo had a universe with no need of redeeming in the first place. To say that because the story ends well for everyone therefore he is good, though it is unspeakably awful for potentially billions along the way BUT that isn’t an indictment on his goodness seems to be just another variation of the hyper-Calvinist saying the Holocaust (though appearing evil) had to be good as part of the divine decree of God.

            The philosophical arguments for why any rational creature could not actually resist God’s grace and beauty are very compelling. But very convincing philosophical arguments for deism, for example, have also led many to reject the mysteries of what has been revealed (and I do think too often “appeals to mystery” are an excuse for intellectual sloth), in turn reject revelation all together, and render any semblance of a historically biblical and orthodox narrative useless.

            This isn’t to say that hoping for the redemption of all isn’t reasonable or exegetically possible, but the case must be made in a significantly better way exegetically to compete with ECT exegete and the annihilationist exegete in order to truly say that this isn’t just the reasonable conclusion but it is the revealed conclusion from the mind of God.

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  15. Tom says:

    I understand Fr Lawrence’s passion for the biblical evidence. But does he really believe it’s an unambiguous slam dunk for irrevocable conscious torment? Does he even treat the counter examples? Does he really believe the evidence for UR is so implausible as to hold the position heterodox? Easily half a dozen such passages come to mind for which there’s no easy explanation of on tradition grounds. I’m not suggesting turning the tables and making the traditional view as heterodox as he believes UR to be, but come on.

    Tom

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  16. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    I asked Dr Hart to elaborate a bit more on the question of whether it might be possible for an individual to everlastingly reject God’s everlastingly offered forgiveness and mercy. Here is his response:

    The truth is that all those questions are answered quite clearly in the original piece. There is no “bald assertion” anywhere in the essay, and so—apart from recapitulating the argument from beginning to end—I am not sure I can make it any more understandable to someone who did not follow it the first time. I admit that the original was written in somewhat high academic form, and presumed an audience that could make some sense of what philosophical moralists call “decision theory” as well as classical metaphysics; but there was no use of symbolic logic or disciplinary jargon that would have rendered it quite so impenetrable as that. I can only offer two remarks, repeating the two principal arguments that he seems to have missed, but perhaps more simply

    1) Whether a soul could eternally reject God is not the question: it is whether a soul could do so freely (in any cogent sense of “free”), and the answer is clearly not. Something all the fathers take as given is that no rational soul freely wills evil as evil, and for obvious reasons. If God is the source and end of all being, and is the Good as such, then the ontological status of evil is pure privation of the good (steresis agathou, privatio boni). Having no proper substance, evil cannot constitute the final cause or transcendental horizon of the natural will of any rational being; to suggest otherwise is to posit an ultimate ontological, moral, and epistemological nihilism. To be rational, to be in the divine image, is to be naturally drawn to the Good as such; this is the primordial impulse of the natural will, upon which every motion of volition depends. Hence every willed evil is evil willed, in however perverse and corrupt a form, as the good: the good for me. And the only way such a “gnomic” departure from the “natural” end of the will is possible is through some degree of failure of knowledge, for no rational will could have a full grasp of the Good in its proper essence and desire any other end. Thus the highest freedom—the highest liberation of a rational nature—is to be unable to sin because one sees so clearly that one’s knowledge and will are perfectly in accord. But then, if sin requires ignorance, then every sin is an act within a greater bondage of mind and will, and so is never free in the fullest sense. So, if there is eternal perdition as the result of an eternal refusal of repentance, then it is also the result of an eternal ignorance, and therefore has never truly been free. So, no: not only is an eternal free rejection of God unlikely; it is a logically meaningless idea.

    And yet, if the reader follows the argument of my original essay, that is all somewhat secondary to the question of God’s goodness in creating.

    2) That a soul’s eternal loss is an evil in the “natural” sense, so to speak, is obvious; it is a tragedy, and one explicitly contrary to God’s will that all human beings (pantas tous anthropous) be saved. It is a “moral” evil, then, only if intended by a rational will. But, if the story of creatio ex nihilo is true, then God intentionally wills all the possible results of his decision to create, in the sense that all such results are accepted as the price (absolute or merely potential, necessary or only stochastically plausible) of creation. If, then, God creates with such a possibility in view, then he has “made a bargain” with a natural evil in order to bring about his good in creating. And then his act of creation is good in a contingent and therefore relative way: very goodish, so to speak, but necessarily encompassing evil of a fairly horrendous variety. And, if God is so constrained by evil in order to express his goodness, that means that in himself he is dependent upon evil, or its possibility, and is not then the good as such. One here posits an ontological, moral, and epistemological dualism that, when subjected to logical analysis, becomes ontological, moral, and epistemological nihilism once more. God is just a being among beings, not perfectly good, dependent on what lies beyond him. If to create he must choose the tragic price of eternal damnation, then he is not God, but only a god, a demiurge.

    One could, I suppose, try to escape the dilemma by imagining a God whose sole divine attribute is sovereignty of a purely voluntarist kind, beyond good and evil: satanism or Calvinism or some other creed of that sort. But, quite apart from the logical incoherence of the idea, and its utterly preposterous deficit of a coherent ontology of God’s transcendence, the very idea is repugnant to Orthodox tradition and to any sane moral sense.

    My thanks to David for this elaboration. All of the above is in David’s original essay. Perhaps we all need to re-read it, and perhaps reread it yet again, very carefully. The crucial point to grasp (I think) is that human beings are created by God for God, and it is this natural desire for God that makes possible all human willing.

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    • Ah, this is very helpful. Thanks to everyone on this thread who offered answers to my question.

      I wish I’d communicated more precisely in my first comment, seeing as it was relayed directly to Dr Hart. I have no difficulty understanding Hart’s first point, and this is why I deliberately dismissed the possibility of souls “freely” rejecting God in hell. My question was simply whether we can affirm, with anything like absolute certainty, that *no* souls will everlastingly choose to be unfree, i.e., ignorant of the Good.

      Hart’s second point of clarification touches on this question more directly. But I’m still having the same difficulty understanding his position. He writes the following:

      “If, then, God creates with [the possibility of a soul’s eternal damnation] in view, then he has ‘made a bargain’ with a natural evil in order to bring about his good in creating. And then his act of creation is good in a contingent and therefore relative way: very goodish, so to speak, but necessarily encompassing evil of a fairly horrendous variety. And, if God is so constrained by evil in order to express his goodness, that means that in himself he is dependent upon evil, or its possibility, and is not then the good as such.”

      Here’s where I’m confused: Why could the same argument not be presented with reference to an earthly natural evil like Auschwitz? Following Hart’s logic, wouldn’t Auschwitz similarly amount to a “bargain with natural evil” on God’s part? I grant that the evil involved in Auschwitz is ‘temporary’ (for lack of a better word), whereas the evil involved in eternal damnation is something like a ‘permanent’ corruption of creation; but I’m not sure I can discern a *qualitative* moral difference between God’s act of permitting the former and His act of permitting the latter. And this is the crux of my original question: Given the fact of God’s decision to create a world which includes earthly evils like Auschwitz, by what means can we affirm — not merely with hope, but with logical certainty — that God could not possibly create a world which includes the eschatological evil of eternal perdition? By what measure can we make this judgment? If creatio ex nihilo requires us to believe that God can only permit natural evils by ‘making bargains’ with them (which is itself a somewhat confusing way of putting it, given the fact that evils are not existent ‘things’ with which God can or cannot make bargains), has God not ‘already’ made such bargains and compromised his goodness by creating this world?

      I hope that makes some sense. To be clear: I could not harbor deeper respect for Hart, and I want more than anything to be persuaded by his position. I’m simply still having trouble grasping the logic of his argument.

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        I’d like to briefly comment on the second point regarding horrific evils. Why is Auschwitz not a bargain with evil on God’s part? I imagine that Hart addresses this question in his book The Doors of the Sea, but it’s been a couple of years since I read that book. But here is my thought: permitting Auschwitz would be a bargain with the Devil if God allowed the evil to stand, if he never healed the victims, if he never punished the wicked, if he never redeemed the horror and incorporated it into the Good. Yet we believe, as Christians, that God has and will do all of this through the Cross of Christ. Evil does not have the last word.

        Yet evil does, apparently, have the last word in Gehenna, according to the infernalist position. Given the divine omniscience and foreknowledge, must not the eternally damned be understood as “tolerable” collateral damage? After all, it must be tolerable if God tolerates it.

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      • Tom says:

        Heavymetal: My question was simply whether we can affirm, with anything like absolute certainty, that *no* souls will everlastingly choose to be unfree, i.e., ignorant of the Good.

        Tom: What would make it “everlasting”? I’m trying to construct a picture of what you’re imagining. It would be “everlastingly” either (a) by virtue of a rejection that is so singular in its intention that its ‘consequence’ is irrevocable thereby foreclosing permanently upon our future, OR (b) by virtue of having successfully maintained our rejection of God for all eternity. But both of these are impossible. So, whence the “everlasting” in your question?

        Heavymetal: Here’s where I’m confused: Why could the same argument not be presented with reference to an earthly natural evil like Auschwitz? Following Hart’s logic, wouldn’t Auschwitz similarly amount to a “bargain with natural evil” on God’s part?

        Tom: It’s a bargain in the sense that its possibility is countenanced by God as an acceptable risk in light of the ends God wills. (See Rom 8:18ff by the way.) Our doing horrible things (or the possibility of our doing horrible things) to ourselves and others “en route” to our final end (because choosing wrongly is inherent in the possibilities of choosing rightly for created beings who must ‘become’) is tolerable. But our doing horrible things to ourselves forever, irrevocably, en route to nowhere and as nothing? That’s not a tolerable possibility in light of anything. What differentiates temporary evils from the traditional view of hell as an irrevocable Auschwitz is teleology. God as the Good can will the possibility of temporary departures from himself if such departures are the price-tag of a kind of choosing that we require to move into the Good as our end. Fine. That’s the world we live in, presumably. But God willing the possibility of eternal-irrevocable departure from himself? To what end? Precisely none. God would have to will something other than himself as end in grounding the irrevocability of such a thing. And that “the Good” cannot do.

        Tom

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        With regard to your first question regarding absolute certainty of eternal salvation, do take a look at this article: “What are the Odds?.” The argument presented relies on a libertarian understanding of freedom that is current in analytic philosophical circles—hence it is not an argument of which Hart would approve—and therefore concludes, not with absolute certainty, but mathematical certainty.

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  17. ” …….but I believe Lewis has not fully worked through the logic of creation from nothing. Even if one posits the reduction to virtual inanity and near zero as a person—and it is not self-evident that this is an actual metaphysical possibility—Hart’s proposal remains unaddressed and one suspects, not truly thought.”

    If the reverse is true in this life as we grow into sentient awareness in this physical body from foetal ‘inanity’ to transient functional connectivity through thalamocortical development into a neurobiological substrate which is integral for the emergence of our human consciousness, then when we die, perhaps the opposite occurs as we are emptied of our neurochemical illusions and that which is the sum total of us, not held in Christ’s hand – ‘the bosom of the Father’, is annihilated i.e. evaporated into oblivion until all that remains is the core of our potentiality in Him. The “chaff of evil” we accrue through non-repentance is burned off and removed forever as we move into the Apocatastasis of eternity. The Resurrection is a physical rebirth into a non-corrosive reality where what we are takes on cosmological transcendence in that we become the essence and reflection of God’s eternal beauty.

    This kind of sounds like a metaphysical lobotomy of sorts but God’s sovereignty reins supreme in his love and mercy for us – our most cleverly crafted sardonic and misanthropic rebellions will not be successful! In our present state, the absence of evil is incomprehensible; In the full and complete presence of God, it will be inconceivable.

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    • brian says:

      Dave,

      Lobotomy implies a kind of violent diminution, even if done for the purposes of healing or amelioration of a persistently vicious condition. If one’s unique identity is rooted first and foremost in God’s loving determination to call one into being from nothingness, that initial gift is always more fundamental than any distortions made through error and sin. I surmise that in transcending towards the fullness of one’s calling to be as God intends, nothing essential to one’s being is sacrificed.

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      • Thanks for responding!

        I think I was being a bit graphically crass there when I said “Lobotomy” but the idea of post-mortem ‘expungement’, where our unrepentant sins at death are then erased in the courts of heaven if you will, via the “Refiners’ Fire” mentioned in Malachi 3:2-3 & Zechariah 13:9 etc… was the idea. Our existential crisis of pride and maliciousness is rolled backwards after death making 2 Corinthians 5:17 as certain for the ‘unsaved’ departed, as it is for those who accept and receive the Good News in this life. And yes, it involves lots of pain! Whether or not one would retain any vestige of those memories of their past ‘sinful’ life is questionable, as we all enter together into His full and complete joy. I remember my own wedding day when I lost all sense of the past, as I bathed in that perfect moment of pure joy; time seemed to stand still.

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  18. Tom says:

    Brian (from Jan 31 up top–too inset to respond to): I rather think that part of the…Last Judgment is the radical clarifying of the presence of God. In short, I don’t think the persistence of ignorant, gnomic will is a properly thinkable thought if one understands the mercy of eternity.

    Johnny One-Note: I’m so grateful for these conversations (about hell/the logic of damnation, etc) because each time we pass through I see something in the positions of others that clarifies things for me.

    I suppose I’d want to push back a bit (to qualify more than to disagree perhaps). I’m suspicious (for reasons I’ve argued here for a while—thus the Johnny One-Note!) of the idea that God overwhelms the wicked with a revelation of himself that removes all possibility of contrary choice and in this way secures his ends. Besides, I don’t see that we can agree that God’s ends for us necessitate our being open only in this life (as we obviously are by God’s design) both to choosing God and to rejecting him while the same ends are achievable post-mortem through God’s simply eliminating the possibility of choosing poorly.

    I’m disinclined to think that post-mortem metaphysics is so other-worldly that it can dispense with what we admit is in fact a necessity of creaturely becoming toward the Good in this world. I’m not suggesting anything like an absolute voluntarism. I’m simply saying that judging by the temporary sorts of horrific possibilities God countenances simply because they’re inherent in the possibilities of our choosing rightly, the loving ends for which we are created require our choosing the Good precisely in a context that does not remove all alternative possibilities from view. God must be chosen when he might not be. When he is so chosen, the choice transforms us and the scope of choices narrows. Ultimately we become what we choose. I don’t see that we can abandon the metaphysics of such becoming in the hereafter.

    Tom

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    • brian says:

      Tom,

      If there are infinite depths to the Good, there is still a place to continually choose the Good that involves something more than simply assenting to the obvious. If in our fallen, temporal world, the gnomic will is always choosing the Good, but choosing it badly or choosing evil under the mistaken understanding that it is the Good, then clarification on the nature of the Good is not removing the root of choice which is always from the origin a desire for the Good.

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      • Tom says:

        Thanks Brian. I grant the transcendental Good as our ground, of course. That’s always present. I just don’t think we get responsible creaturely becoming if we’re reduced to the truth of our ground apart from choice, i.e., apart from our choosing our way into realization of its truth. It’s certainly no violation of creaturely being to know the truth of its grounding in God. It’s the manner of such knowing which I think is of consequence. And I think seeing the glorifying truth of God as our ground is as much a volitional seeing as it is intellectual. I think that’s where we may be differing.

        I’m suggesting that one has to choose one’s way into a seeing that transforms and glorifies. That’s just part of the price-tag of creaturely becoming in/toward the Good. We seem willing enough to insist on this necessity to explain the present mess our world is in. But if God can ‘then’ render us incapable of choosing anything but him by rendering us incapable of seeing anything but him as choosable (and I don’t doubt there is a beatific vision of the Good that renders privation impossible), why not much earlier? Why not now? Why not make the vision of God undeniable from the get-go if nothing required by our perfection forbids it? Whatever reason one would suggest for a divine strategy of not so revealing himself in the past or at present, that reason would, arguably, extend postmortem.

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        • brian says:

          Tom,

          It’s quite possible that the nature of creatures (becoming beings created from nothing) must necessarily incur the fear and divisiveness that coming from nothing engenders. The whole theology of the Fall is complex and I at least feel there is a perduring mystery that is not simply answered by common linkage to a primal moral or intellectual failing in Adam. In any event, I frequently advert to Blake and the romantic notion of innocence passing through experience. I suspect something like this is inevitable and so synonymous with becoming. Whether inevitable or not, it is surely our historical experience.

          I do see, btw, the inherent ambiguity of an intellectual and volitional ground. And there’s no question that love permits an increase of vision, while seeing the good increases love. What I would insist on, however, is that freedom does not in any sense require evil for freedom to be freedom. I do not see that opacity or confusion or some occlusion of the Good is required for human freedom to be genuine.

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          • brian says:

            P.S. And therefore, I do not see why an apocalyptic unveiling of the Good would somehow undermine the authenticity of human choosing of the Good. There are certain deaf people who think there is an illegitimate bias in favor of hearing-folk. They think that is a cultural norm, while in fact it is a natural norm ground in God’s creative liberty. When the man born blind is healed, the transformation allows from more freedom and more choice (he is free to resist the Pharisees and to choose Christ.) Just so, when God is seen as the source of Goodness, men and women will no longer choose the good in despair and madness. Their choice will not be less choice because compelled; it will be more choice because rational.

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          • Tom says:

            Brian: What I would insist on, however, is that freedom does not in any sense require evil for freedom to be freedom. I do not see that opacity or confusion or some occlusion of the Good is required for human freedom to be genuine.

            Tom: Thank you again Brian. Two quick comments (because I can’t go more than 2 rounds in the ring against you, I’ll break something, and because I’m slow).

            (1) Re: your first sentence there, of course no actual evil would be required for us to be free as God intends.

            (2) It’s regarding the second sentence there where I’m trying (poorly) to make my point. We begin our journey in a context in which God is neither revealed so explicitly as to render contrary choice impossible, nor concealed so completely that choosing the Good is impossible. Both are possible, both sufficiently rational given our context. I don’t imagine this state to be the freedom for which we are created. But I do imagine it necessary to becoming free.

            So while your second sentence is true as far as it goes (i.e., human freedom, to be sure, can be genuine without the epistemic distance that presently makes poor choice a possibility), the question (well, my question at least) is, Can human beings become finally free apart from having to take the journey through contrary choices? I think not. I’m reading you as saying something like (my paraphrase, sorry), “Didn’t choose rightly in this life? No worries. God makes poor choices impossible in the afterlife where God will be the only choice you’ll be able to make. And that’s OK because, after all, true freedom is desiring only the Good.”

            Yes, true freedom is desiring only the Good. That’s our telos. But can one simply be brought into the freedom of one’s telos in such a fashion? I could be wrong (probably am), but I don’t see that my objection rests on any denial of our being grounded transcendentally in the Good as such or of our truest freedom being irrevocably free in willing only the Good.

            Tom

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  19. brian says:

    Tom,

    Forgive me, I am at work and have to read quickly.
    These matters are too fundamental for quick responses — and I may still be missing your point somewhat. For what it’s worth, here is an initial response:

    Note again Hart’s articulation of the human condition, i.e., “the personal conditions — ignorance, mortality, defectibility of intellect and will — under which each soul enters the world, and the circumstances — the suffering of creatures, even the most innocent and delightful of them — with which the world confronts the soul.”

    Undoubtedly, equivocity and indeterminacy and what the ancients understood as a certain fate imposes itself upon our concrete, existential situations. Asserting that our being is ground transcendentally in the Good or that incomprehensions and delusions regarding the Good are healed by an apocalyptic vision of the Good does not mean that the eradication of evils automatically removes every and any effect of our journey in time. Seeing the Good clearly would also include seeing the immense gulf between our character and actions and the full flourishing of our being as God desires. Choosing the Good (even in a cloudless sky) will require choice, action, in a word, effort. It isn’t the equivalent of magic or a transfiguration that simply ignores the specifics of our unique journeys. (On the other hand, our unique journeys are always already caught up with the unique journeys of the entire community of being, so one is always asked to make a complex and paradoxical judgement of these things.)

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  20. brian says:

    Paul Anleitner,

    No reply space beneath your comment, so I am responding here.

    “I do think this is the tension between the exegete and the philosopher.”

    I’ve done my best to explain that the views asserted by Hart and myself are derived from a philosophical engagement with reality that is informed by Scripture. The argument presupposes the Triune God and creatio ex nihilo and the Trinitarian structure of personhood. These are not elements that are available to someone unaware of revelation. In short, you are not dealing with a conflict between a biblical exegete and a kind of rationalist philosopher. You are dealing with an exegesis that is not aware it is making philosophical presuppositions and an exegesis that is.

    ” . . . metanarrative seems incoherent if finite sovereigns such as angels and humans do not possess the capability to resist the grace of God (and historically have been affirmed as having the ability to resist him to the point of no return.)”

    These are two separate claims. No one claims that “finite sovereigns” do not resist God’s loving entreaties. And the fact that historically the majority tradition has held infernalist views is immaterial unless one concludes it is established and infallible dogma.

    “Why isn’t the Goodness of the Christian God any more in question by having a Fall at all when he could have as easily in creating ex nihilo had a universe with no need of redeeming in the first place.”

    Look at the immediate posts between Tom and myself above. It isn’t at all self-evident that God could have created ex nihilo a universe of loving, free beings without risk of a Fall. The question is would a Good God have created if the cost was irredeemable loss?

    “To say that because the story ends well for everyone therefore he is good, though it is unspeakably awful for potentially billions along the way BUT that isn’t an indictment of his goodness seems to be just another variation of the hyper-Calvinist saying the Holocaust (though appearing evil) had to be good as part of the divine decree of God.”

    This is deeply confused thinking. First, of all, it is certainly evident that life can be unspeakably awful for mortal flesh. This was what I lauded Hart for not evading (versus Job’s counselors and the traditions that took Job in and somehow turned his wisdom into the complacency of Job’s counselors.) But if one holds the traditional infernalist perspective, does this not accept the unspeakably awful only made eternal and beyond redress?

    Secondly, if you will look over the discussion of nihilism and language about God and the placing of emphasis on the sovereignty of will in Reformation thought, you will see that the agapeic God that is argued for by Hart and myself is radically at odds with the Calvinist understanding of deity. In keeping with this, I recommend a perusal of Hart’s Doors of the Sea where he excoriates just that notion that you seem to think necessary for universalist claims. No one who is sane and decent would argue that the Holocaust only appears to be evil. Holding a universalist view is NOT the same as claiming that somehow the evil in history was necessary to God’s plans or foreordained or that God is complicit in a causal way for the kind of secondary acts of causality performed by creatures.

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  21. Karl says:

    The problem for theologians like Hart, for example, is that regardless of any possible final redemption evil will have existed, it will have worked its horror. Even if our minds were wiped of the memory in some beatific vision the presence and working of evil will be an indelible stain and trauma on Being. Even if we will have forgotten it, God will not. That’s why all theodicies collapse ultimately.

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    • brian says:

      Karl,

      In my recent post to Paul, I recommended Hart’s The Doors of the Sea. It is explicitly written to be an essay that is different from theodicy. What you cannot know, however, is that the “trauma of history” is so grave that any redemptive healing is rendered radically suspect. Part of Christian revelation is that the wounds of Christ remain in the Resurrected Body. These wounds have been understood to be life-giving — they are not a kind of constant recrimination and admonishment. God is not a dissembler and the Christian hope of happiness, when it is not servile or part of the evasions of the ego, that is, when it is true to the gospel, is not ground in any kind of deception or puerile forgetting. Surely, if you have read through all this, you will note that it is part of Hart’s repudiation of an allowance for or celebration of eternal, infernal torments.

      Certainly, the very notion of revelation includes a Good that is not alien to our fundamental grasp, but the Good is always infinitely beyond our imaginative or cognitive abilities to comprehend it. There is a kind of presumptive despair and bitterness that refuses openness to a Good more powerful than our sorrows. The Cross is a recognition of silences and an unspeakable feeling of abandonment, but it is also a victory of love that proclaims we are never actually abandoned. This is true on the ontological level or it is nothing. So, ultimately, it would be better if you did not dismiss all this as empty rhetoric, but even if you do, God is with you.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Karl, your comment reminded me of a passage from E. L. Mascall’s wonderful book The Christian Universe:

      It is not the mere existence of evil that makes it difficult to believe in God; otherwise, people would find it difficult to believe in God because of the discomfort involved in rowing in the Boat Race, and this does not seem to be the case. What does worry us is the occurrence of evil on a scale so great or intense that we cannot imagine any thing that would ultimately compensate for it. The varsity stroke or even the patient in the dentist’s waiting room has little difficulty in envisaging a situation in which his present suffering will be seen to have been not worth while bothering about. We feel very much more difficulty in envisaging a situation in which we should honestly be able to feel like that about Belsen, or babies dying of cancer, or a dozen other horrors that spring to mind. Even God, we feel, couldn’t make those not matter.

      Now, without in the least degree minimizing these evils, I suggest that this very natural reaction is due not only to a vivid and praiseworthy sensitivity to the human situation but also to the intrinsic limitations of our human imaginations. I can imagine what will make the sufferings of the Cambridge stroke ultimately not matter, namely getting to Mortlake Brewery before the Oxford boat. I can imagine what will make my toothache ultimately not matter, namely my power to forget minor agonies and not let my outlook on life become warped by them. But I cannot imagine how even God could produce a situation in which I could say “I now see that even Belsen doesn’t really matter”. However, let us approach the problem from the other end. Suppose—just suppose—that God’s resources are so much beyond all that I can imagine that he can ultimately produce a situation in which I could honestly say “I now see that even Belsen doesn’t matter, and that this is why he didn’t do what I should have done if I had the power, namely strike the Nazis all dead in order to prevent it.” If this is true—I stress the “if“—then God’s resources must be inexpressibly ampler that anything I am able to conceive. (pp. 151-152)

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    • Mike H says:

      Karl,

      I think “The Doors of the Sea” speaks to this – the sheer force of “evil working it’s horror” (as you aptly put it). It’s not an abstract idea to be intellectually resolved.

      It actually seems, at times, as if it would be a concession to the ultimate failure of goodness if we should ever become the kind of people that cease to be affected by the “indelible stain” of the history of evil. The only possible “redemption” would be to forget all together or for “goodness” to be completely other than what we think it to be (perhaps the complete opposite). Thus there would be no such thing as redemption at all, for one person or all people. Not really.

      I feel the force of this argument. There is an “Ivan Karamazov” running around in my head.

      DB Hart presents the “bare choice”, (ultimately believing that Easter is the redemptive answer):

      As soon as one sheds the burden of the desire for total explanation -as soon as one has come to see the history of suffering as a contingency and an absurdity, in which grace is ever at work but upon which it does not depend, and has come also to see the promised end of all things not as the dialectical residue of a great cosmic and moral process, but as something far more glorious than the pitiable resources of fallen time could ever yield -one is confronted with only this bare choice: either one embraces the mystery of created freedom and accepts that the union of free spiritual creatures with the God of love is a thing so wonderful that the power of creation to enslave itself to death must be permitted by God; or one judges that not even such rational freedom is worth the risk of a cosmic fall and the terrible injustice of the consequences that follow from it. –The Doors of the Sea

      This book will be an annual read for me.

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  22. Karl says:

    I agree that if one has faith in the Christian god, then yes of course this is where ratiocination and accounting stops and hope and faith begin or take over.

    However, from a philosophical viewpoint, and particularly the kind of genealogy Hart operates from, we are still left with an uncomfortable and impossible question: Why has God chosen to allow Evil and gratuitous suffering in Being, when we may assume he could have chosen otherwise?

    And yes, these are the old questions, but they are and will remain as valid and potent as ever. Let no one be comfortable in their faith.

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    • Mike H says:

      Yeah, I agree.

      If “faith” is supposed to once and for all relieve me of this tension, it hasn’t worked. In many ways it’s made things worse.

      Someone else usually says it better than I can. From Christian Wiman:

      If you come to an idea of faith as “first of all an intellectual assent” (Thomas Merton); or if you think of it not as a state of mind at all but as “being seized by Being itself” (Paul Tillich); or if you think of faith as primarily “faithfulness to an event” (Abraham Joshua Heschel) in the past in which you or even all of humanity were, in effect, seized by Being; or if you construct some sort of “inductive faith” (Peter Berger) out of the moments of transcendence in your ordinary life; or if you feel that faith is wholly a matter of grace and thus outside of man’s control altogether (Karl Barth); or if you feel, as I do, that every one of these definitions has some truth in it— then you are still left with this question: Why? Why should existence be arranged so that our alienation from God is a given and we must forever fight our way not simply toward what he is but toward the whole notion that he is?

      Regardless of what sort of primordial beginnings one holds to, this “arrangement” is baffling. An abyss.

      Even so, more important to me personally is the question of if evil, tragedy, and gratuitous suffering are the last word of existence. That’s where I appreciated the simplicity of Hart’s “bare choice”. In the Gospel revelation, I don’t think they are the last word. But I’ll concede that “how comfortable we can be with that” and what that means in the end – philosophically, theologically, existentially, etc – is a debated question (an understatement) and is at the heart of much of the content of this particular blog.

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