Sin, Hell, and the Victory of Pascha

by Brian C. Moore, Ph.D.

We are made for joy and love and creativity. We are embodied because the care of the soul requires human touch and beauty, music and vision in order to thrive. Yet we live in a broken, wounded world. Everything good and necessary is so easily corrupted, abused, lost, and wasted. We often bear our torment within ourselves, carrying it wherever we go. I, myself, frequently sorrow over existence. I am not good at life. I was born two months premature in an era where survival was by no means certain. My parents and grandparents prayed ardently that the tiny babe might live; and evidently he did or he would not be writing you now. To what end? Life is often a burden and a disappointment. I have a gift of language and a poet’s sensitivity. I have devoted decades of my life pursuing wisdom, but most days the weather of my soul is a perpetual Scotland. It is a kind of betrayal of the heartfelt love gifted to me by my family who hoped and prayed so passionately that I might live and have the opportunity to experience this life. And surely, they knew or know that I am different and stubborn and weirdly sensitive, a canary in the mine singing vatic songs and complaining of being misunderstood.

Some people think the Christian teaching on the Fall is a gloomy, pessimistic doctrine. They could not be more wrong. Assume for a moment that this is not a broken world, that history, as Hegel noted, is a slaughterboard, an empty, adventitious chronicle without providential care, without resources beyond the limits of a shrewd animal. Indeed, this is the world that people think we inhabit. As James Arraj sketches it, “the stone is made the explanation of the cathedral. Biology and psychology are nothing but physics in disguise. The intricate order the universe manifests is caused by random mutations and the survival of the fittest” (The Mystery of Matter, p. 149). The highest levels of education largely exist to inculcate just such a view of reality. And we have ordered our notions of wealth and leisure, labor and entertainment, social relations and value upon what is taken to be cold logic and scientific knowledge. The apathy of youth and the coddled, neuralgic bathos of their protests are symptomatic. The deep disease is spiritual. They have been assured that there are no grand narratives when humanity is made for stories. They have been encouraged to pursue pleasure when joy is the soul’s delight. They have been told love is a trick of selfish genes or the manifestly sentimental twaddle pushed off by advertising and bad cinema. They have forgotten the divine springs of inspiration and turn the human vocation to participate in God’s act of creation into Gnostic contempt for nature, celebrating deviancy as freedom.

We are Plato’s fevered city and the sickness is grave indeed. I began this meditation with confession, because I don’t want to pretend to be putting one over on anyone. Rhetorical gifts and a modicum of erudition is not a flourishing wisdom. My life has been longing and failure and paralysis before powers and thrones I despise and resist ineffectively. Though on my better days, I would still choose this path — or I assent to a path chosen for me — for surely there is a providential care and my temperament and my kin are not an accident. Like Jacob, I wrestle with angels. I struggle to rise above bitterness and anguish. I walk with a limp. Because of this, I refuse to be satisfied with a gospel that does not answer to the abyssal depths of the heart. And too often, the Tradition seems to me to be offering a mess of pottage. Yet many Traditionalists consider my understanding of the gospel to be heretical. If they are charitable, they think it a perhaps forgivable saccharine indulgence that bends the realism of the gospel towards a dangerous and unfounded optimism. Ironically, the very aesthetic of a pliable virtual world, of Hallmark cards and mawkish romance that I abhor is attributed to the theological vision I hold to be true.

For example, a well-known Thomist with a penchant for polemic recently penned an explanation for why the option of eschatological annihilation of the damned is metaphysically incoherent. I happen to agree with him on this point, but our reasoning differs dramatically. I suppose I might as well name him. Edward Feser is one of those staunch Thomists who resist the kind of “creative retrieval” of Aquinas exhibited by someone like Norris Clarke, for instance.  None of what follows will convince Feser, nor am I engaged in a properly argued refutation. When I allude to Dr. Feser, he merely stands in as a representative for a broad Tradition with a large consensus, though there is a roughly dialectical stance towards some of his determinations regarding the nature of the person, freedom, and eternity. So, for what it is worth, I offer the following.  The first two I have written about numerous times.

1) Traditionalists consistently do not see any potential impugning of God’s goodness in a creation where some or many end up in eternal hell.  I am not really sure that Feser isn’t so unreconstructed in his sensibility that he wouldn’t actually be fine with a purely retributive model of justice.  But even if he embraces the modernist fig leaf of a self-chosen hell, nothing in his argument addresses the implications of creatio ex nihilo.  Would a good God who is not in any way compelled to create truly assent to a creation where the potential cost was such an eternal torment?  (It does not matter if souls “choose” their eternal deformation.  They are suffering, nonetheless, precisely the privation of the flourishing excellence that God intended for them in their creation.  Even if they are supposedly insensible of their loss, it is ridiculous to assert that God and those in communion through theosis would lack awareness or compassion for those trapped in such a state.)  Further, as David Bentley Hart clarifies, this traditional view of creation actually makes the allowance for such a creaturely damnation part of the necessary economy that makes creation possible in the first place.  Logically, then, the suffering souls in hell become the engine that permits and sustains whatever part of the creation actually attains eternal beatitude.  Not only is this a perverse metaphysical picture, but it subtly denies the victory of Christ’s Cross in addition to positing a creator god hardly to be distinguished from Descartes’ malicious devil.

2) Almost all the tradition post Augustine lacks awareness of the pleromatic unity of humankind.  However, one can discern a witness that stretches from the patristics to modern times. Nyssa knows of it.  Origen, too, but one isn’t supposed to mention him.  I think Dostoyevsky and Charles Williams knew about it.  But as I have frequently asserted, if Triune Being is the archetype of truly personal being, then the relational aspect of personhood is not some elective association.  Rather, our relations are metaphysically an irreplaceable constituent of our unique personhood.  It is more in line with a blithe modern individualism to think that the loss of any being to an eternal hell is not in any manner a diminution of my own personhood and hence, flourishing beatitude.

3) I also surmise a tendency of self-congratulatory elitism in a moral diagnosis that can make such “clear metaphysical judgments.”  I recollect Marilyn McCord Adams in Christ and Horrors reflecting upon the typical Catholic view of Communion where the Eucharist is reserved for those in a perfect state of grace.  One can certainly understand the desire of the medieval Church to have a higher standard of sanctity and to ask that clerics and parishioners strive for holiness.  I do not condemn such aspirations.  Yet surely the grace of the Eucharist, as Adams avers, is a grace for wounded souls.  It is the deeply flawed, struggling, difficult soul that needs it most, not those who comfortably embrace the offer of grace.  Analogously, Traditionalists often appear to offer salvation to those least in need of it. (I speak colloquially, for obviously we are all deeply in need of rescue.)  In any event, I always wonder about folks like Feser.  Like many of them, I acknowledge the value and intellectual coherence of a virtue ethics, but unlike them, I also embrace the “outburst of the heart” exemplified in the theological existentialist impulse of figures like Berdyaev and Shestov.  One may regard this as “irrational” or one may discern a suffocating “rationalism” in the builders of systems that seek to comprehend love. I do not believe the celebrated silence of Thomas at the end of his life is a repudiation of his estimable work. There is much wisdom in it, but as Alasdair MacIntyre recognized, it is a mode of inquiry meant to keep one open to an infinitely mysterious reality. Love is always ecstatic, is always renewed in wonder, even if it’s subtle sweetness is sometimes lived out in a companionable domesticity that keeps in reserve the night from which the sun of love emerges. Some scholars have reduced Thomas’ silence to the result of a stroke brought on by overwork and perhaps a concussion due to striking his head against a tree limb. Plausible, perhaps; I prefer to imagine his silence wrought in child-like awe before the overwhelming artistry of God’s love. This, I think, may have been gifted him.

4) Indeed, I simply don’t believe that any of us are pure wheat, even the saints.  Bad hagiography cannot bear the alloy of human frailty. At minimum, if many who seek Christ are a mixture of wheat and tares, this means that our approach to the Good is enmeshed in confusion, sin, and imperfect union.  It is this awkward and unseemly mélange that God kenotically abides in patience for He is not a destroyer of the good. Rather than see this imperfection, this “persistence amidst tares” as an indication of a preference for false goods over the genuine Good, I take it to be a delusion that continues to affirm that the soul is made to desire the Good.  Now Feser wants to assert that post-mortem, the soul is “trapped in amber” in the condition attained at the moment of death.  (I actually prize Dante as a poet, whilst abhorring his infernalist eschatology.  But one of the things I find disturbingly capricious is the way some soul is “saved” after a “life of crime” by a last minute “Ave Maria,” whist others are irredeemable victims of “untimely accident.”)  The whole picture of grace as a kind of game of musical chairs invites forms of neurotic religious life, scrupulosity, and obsessive individualism — one becomes a hypochondriac regarding whether one is currently in a state of grace, etc.  And like all hypochondriacs, it results in a damaged, egocentric life that is largely joyless and lacking in generosity.  Anyway, I think the Traditionalist mindset lacks generosity . . . and mirth, though it remains austerely convinced. It has its metaphysical ducks in a row and just try to find a flaw in its syllogistic logic.  What is the gospel next to logic?

5) I suspect that often a persistence in evil is not only a delusional, inept, if you will, search for the Good, but also, and here is where the Church needs imagination and to think more deeply, partly a reaction against the lack of mystery and amplitude in the concept of the Good as it is taught and exhibited in the lives of the “faithful.”  Machiavelli painted a picture of heroic amoralism where the leader “prudentially” is “beyond good and evil.”  Machiavellian wickedness, like the initial impression of Milton’s Satan, is clever, interesting, daring, and victorious.  In contrast, the good man is represented to be a gullible dupe.  Dante certainly understood evil better.  At the metaphysical nadir of Satan’s cold hell, evil is a bestial inanity.  Yet the point here is that persistence in evil is sometimes due to the dull, undesirable, at times grotesquely sentimental image of the Good that no one of proper sensibility could desire.  And occasionally what we take for evil is a principled refusal. Again, to reference Hart, the theological idol of voluntarist and nominalist provenance is actually a repugnant devil.  To be an atheist in regards to such a god is to be closer to the true God.  Historically, the Jews and early Christians were thought atheist, as was Socrates, because they uniformly rejected the deformations of paganism as unworthy of God.

6) This is not to whitewash persistent, addictive evil.  I have already affirmed Dante’s/Thomas’ privative metaphysics of evil.  Moreover, I am no bleeding-heart liberal.  I am more given to Swiftean satire, melancholia, and misanthropy for the whole miserable mass of imbecilic humanity.  The first really intellectual book I remember reading is Gabriel Marcel’s Man Against Mass Society.  When one is confronted with evil, particularly wickedness of such cruelty and malice as to invite speculation that devils must be exacerbating such malice, hatred for evil is just and necessary.  But can this ever be the last word?  My view is that each unique person has an incommunicable role, no matter how humble or seemingly negligible — but nothing and no one is negligible.  There is a Sophianic Wholeness that requires the entirety of the Cosmos for the realization of God’s “it is good.”  I see the Last Judgment as a “resetting of the spiritual eye/heart” — for all true seeing is “cardiognosis.”  The separation of wheat and tares is to decisively know the distance between one’s unique logoi chosen in Christ from “before creation” or from the “alpha” and what one has attained in time.  Some will have had no chance to achieve this teleological destiny.  They were aborted or died in infancy. Others are limited by genetic abnormalities, catastrophic illness, or horrific circumstances so that the ambit of possible action is severely curtailed.  Everyone will have an incomplete, imperfect actualization.  Some will have built with nothing but straw . . . but if God’s giving is truly agapeic, the primal passio essendi remains.  Why should this gift be withdrawn?  If one asserts that it is not withdrawn, with the proviso that it is a gift doomed to be rejected and abused, I say such a conclusion is to misconstrue gift.  Love is meant to be requited; the gift is not gift unless it is ultimately received.  Grace is either victorious or not.  I continue to think that Thomists, fundamentalists, a certain kind of traditionalist Orthodox, etc. are locked into a pagan metaphysics where difference is intrinsically agonic, not harmonious.  (John Milbank is good on this in Theology and Social Theory.)  Hence, they are satisfied with the victory of the warrior, the conquest of the foe where the enemy is subjugated or annihilated.  But God did not make death . . . the victory of Pascha is not so meager.

7) So, like Bulgakov, I question the notion that the person can be reduced to what is no longer in any significant sense a “will.”  I’m sure Feser sees no illogic, and intelligent Traditionalists may assert that I am changing the terms of the argument and that so long as one assents to Feser’s premises, the logical consequences follow. I still discern at least the suggestion of an aporia in his claims.  What separates modern, libertarian notions of freedom from those of “classical, virtue ethics” is precisely the understanding that the will is directed by the intellectual grasp of the Good.  If the latter becomes impossible, one is no longer capable of freedom.  This is merely to reiterate that metaphysical freedom is equivalent to the sanctification of theosis.  The truth will set you free. Or, as Christ repeatedly asserts and shows in his action, liberty is to do the will of the Father — not in a model of obedience after the arbitrary “command theory” of voluntarism — but following the proper consideration of divine simplicity — freedom is convertible with the perfect flourishing of being that is the plenitude of divine aseity.  The chief point here is that the traditional infernalist wants to claim a perduring will to remain in delusion, but this can only be a madness, not a genuine choice of the will, because such choice is dependent upon the availability of the Good as a guide to the will.  In reality, Feser, like my beloved C. S. Lewis, contemplates “remains” that are no longer human and therefore no longer in need of our compassion.  (All that, however, fails to take into account the objections stated above, especially #1 and #2.)  For infernalists, the Last Judgment is a radical loss of vision of the Good.  As I said in #6, I believe it is a clarifying of the Good.  One sees God without the distorting lens of bad theology and the harm of having lived in a fallen world.  God is a healer and a lover; his Justice is his Mercy — this, too, derives from the simplicity of God.  Thomists think, “Oh, isn’t it better to have heaven and hell where hell is an exhibition of God’s justice.”  The rationale is that heaven is mercy alone.  Balthasar disdained this “balancing picture” that required the “black of damnation” for the “light of salvation.”  Such an aesthetics is hardly that of the glory of the gospel of Christ.

8) If God’s justice is his Mercy, the proper conclusion of his Creation is the perfection of the Eighth Day.  It is true that we will have to lucidly understand and acknowledge the evil and deformation in our lives.  To be honest, however, I suspect that often there is good in our evil and evil in our good.  When we strive to be holy, there is an intractable and residual egotism only the Cross can kill.  If our evil choices are inseparable from an imperfect desire for the Good, isn’t it more likely that the full revelation of the Good would ultimately result in the actual choosing of the Good?  Feser has asserted a metaphysics whereby this kind of redirection of choice is impossible.  As a counter-argument, one might propose Gregory of Nyssa’s ever increasing advance into the infinite Good.  I see no reason why such an advance could not or would not include a remedial “time” in which the damage of sinful dereliction is undone.

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38 Responses to Sin, Hell, and the Victory of Pascha

  1. “The apathy of youth and the coddled, neuralgic bathos of their protests are symptomatic.”

    “Moreover, I am no bleeding-heart liberal. I am more given to Swiftean satire, melancholia, and misanthropy for the whole miserable mass of imbecilic humanity.”

    Ha! I Love it. My exact sentiments expressed adroitly when stuck in habitual traffic. My son in the back seat always reminds me though – “You’re one of the cars too!”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Young and Rested says:

    “…they are satisfied with the victory of the warrior, the conquest of the foe where the enemy is subjugated or annihilated.”

    For the majority of my formative years I was taught (sometimes quite explicitly) that God’s “victory” was essentially that of a mighty potentate crushing those who defied him. In retrospect, I can see that this was a damaging and psychologically unbalancing view.

    One major turning point for me was when I began to question whether such an outcome could really be considered a “victory” over sin. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the eternal punishment, “banishment” or annihilation of sinful creatures as opposed to their reformation and restoration was conspicuously the opposite of a true victory over sin and death. Would it not seem silly if a man possessed of many sets of fine clothing were to burn or bury a portion of them which were stained and then claim victory over the stains?

    The enemy must indeed be annihilated, but the enemy is sin/death. The only way to achieve victory over sin is to reform and restore the sinner (which in no way precludes even severe punishment). Universalism is the only eschatological view which takes sin seriously enough.

    God’s final victory must be a victory of love and goodness. There can be no end to love’s conquest until not a speck of darkness remains.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Young and Rested says:

      Another thing that always strikes me about this “warrior’s victory” view is that it is such a paltry display of superiority. It’s more impressive for me to step on an ant than it is for God to “conquer” a rebellious human by crushing them. But to conquer the way that Christ did, by an unfathomable display of humble, self-giving love… ah, there is a power beyond our comprehension and a victory worthy of God. When gifted glimpses into this deep mystery, worship becomes less of a choice than a compulsion and my weary soul finds hope.

      Liked by 4 people

  3. Bob Sacamano says:

    Wonderfully well-written (as usual).

    Feser is sharp as a tack and does great work on Aquinas, Classical metaphysics, New Atheism, and philosophy of mind. His views on hell are tightly reasoned and, like you said, he has his metaphysical ducks in a row. He always does.

    But reading Hart’s essay on God, Creation, and Evil was like a theological bomb going off in my head (most of his work has had that effect on me, to be fair). Feser’s otherwise sound logic does not, in my opinion, adequately address Hart’s objections to eternal hell (though given his blog posts weren’t directly engaging with Hart, that’s not altogether unexpected).

    Ultimately, I think Feser and fellow “traditionalists” just miss the forest for the trees, for all the reasons you (and Hart) mentioned.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Veronica says:

      Feser actually cured my atheism. So, I don’t dislike him. But, I very much disliked the series of posts in question.

      I think there is a tendency among “traditionalists” of particularly rule-bound bents to discount the fact that life, truth, and ultimate reality are sometimes just, ya know… weird. Sometimes things just aren’t the way that pure logic would indicate. Sometimes the hero is embodied in a passive infant, sometimes God lets us kill him. Sometimes the reality of the physical world is counter-intuitive. Sometimes the poem is more true than the report. If a man can go to bat for the reality of miracles, but absolutely refuse to believe that God may be ultimately merciful and scandalously loving? His logic might not be as airtight as advertised.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. Mike H says:

    Your writing is such a gift and encouragement to me Brian. I’ll read this one many times. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    I have come to believe that the sophisticated, and sometimes horrifying, Thomist argument for eternal reprobation is ultimately grounded in the conviction that hell is populated. This conviction cannot be tested or questioned because it is believed to be grounded on the infallible dogmatic teaching of the Church. Hence Thomas and his followers have no choice but to advance justifications and arguments that try to make moral sense of it, no matter how seemingly outrageous or unpersuasive. Thomas’s argument that the saved will rejoice in the sufferings of the damned falls into this category, I think. Thomas knows that these irredeemable sufferings somehow need to be morally justified.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Thomas says:

    “I continue to think that Thomists, fundamentalists, a certain kind of traditionalist Orthodox, etc. are locked into a pagan metaphysics where difference is intrinsically agonic, not harmonious…. Hence, they are satisfied with the victory of the warrior, the conquest of the foe where the enemy is subjugated or annihilated.”

    This is a very interesting point. A similar point has struck me in other contexts of Aquinas’ work. For instance, Aquinas thinks that animal violence and suffering–and indeed natural evil–are entirely natural and even good. I do not know whether he believes that would continue in the eschaton, but it seems to me that if animals are present in some form, it poses no particular problem for Aquinas. That’s not quite as grotesque as rejoicing in the torment of the damned, but Aquinas certainly seems to regard violence and pain as built into the proper order of things, even without the fall.

    Liked by 1 person

    • brian says:

      Yes, I agree with you. I have posted in an article or two and in various threads here my strong dissatisfaction with the typical view of animals and animal suffering exhibited by Thomists, without in any way distancing myself from the debt I owe to Maritain, Pieper, Clarke, Burrell, and various other Thomists.

      As for the existence of violence and pain in an unfallen world, I am skeptical if one intends a univocal transference of death and violence as we experience and understand it, though it is evident that in this world, the flourishing of an ecosystem is dependent upon predation and death. Balthasar has speculated that the possibilities of action by created being are “always already” founded upon TriUne being, though one must recollect the analogical difference. So, Balthasar will talk of something like “death” in TriUne life and this obviously has scandalized some and caused others to dismiss much of Balthasar’s Trinitarian thought as forms of gnostic myth or as an unfortunate legacy of his enthusiasm for the mystical insights of Adrienne von Speyr. I think these critics are a little too earnest and forgetful of Balthasar’s equal debt to Erich Przywara. Whatever analogical approach of similarity allowed to us through time and finite being, the difference is always greater. The difficult and dexterous wisdom of discernment requires the capacity to affirm positive knowledge so that one is not ultimately plumping for a radical apophaticism that reduces revelation to a penultimate mask for theological nihilism, whilst simultaneously keeping open the ever greater infinity of God’s plenitude that necessarily breaks any attempted conceptual capture.

      Hence, I surmise that there is in TriUne life everything that makes for daring, and adventure, and the renewal of the blush of first love, discovery, and even the endurance of arduous conditions as a way of expressing and “proving” love, but I do not suppose that any of this involves the kind of anguish, devastation, and loss we associate with mortality in a fallen world. The problem is similar to how we must grapple with talk of time and eternity. When we say that eternity is not lots and lots of time, even infinite time, we are largely offering a definition of what eternity is not, though we also affirm that in some way eternity is the condition of possibility for temporal existence and that time can be a “moving image of eternity.” Just so, I would be prepared to say Unfallen existence is not a kind of uneventful bliss, a continual suck of the babe at the maternal breast. We are much more complex creatures and theosis is no doubt demanding of excellence our imaginations can only guess at.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Grant says:

    Your articles and posts are always so rich and full of insight and beauty, I truly appreciate them and gain so much from reading them, so thank you for you effort in these.

    In regards to arguments such as advanced by Feser, I always have the intuition as you and others have said here that it is driven by a conviction that this is already established truth/dogma and that any form of universal restoration is heresy, and the goal seems to both be to defend this and justify the unjustifiable somehow. I understand, I have been there before, just feeling if you were to be a serious Christian you had to accept this, and then I had to keep trying to make work somehow and not seem as truly horrific and repugnant an idea it truly is, and what it says about God, ultimate Reality if true, you just have to justify it somehow so you can still hold that God is good, that He is love in any meaningful manner, where those terms actually have any meaning and aren’t just meaningless words piously given in fear, but that amount to so much gibberish.

    It would be one thing if we were dealing with just a god, even a really powerful one that was the only one, but was subject himself, herself or itself to the true Reality upon which he was contingent and dependant, just a being among beings, just a force. That being would have constraints upon what it does, even if they might wish otherwise, but that isn’t God, He is Being itself and Beyond Being, pure Act, Existence, Reality etc, and He creates freely without any constraints, conditions, or restraints, creation is as He intended it to be freely, all other secondary causes and acts, enfolded into His first prior creative act. That makes suffering even now difficult, but that this will be justified and healed when all is summed up in Christ, and God is all in all and everything is brought to completion, we will understand and see God as He truly is, with the end revealing the purpose of the beginning. But to say that eternal suffering or annihilation is true, even potentially so, is to say that was part of the intention of creation all along, that the torture and concentration camp suffering, all horrors worse than anything any human could ever do or imagine, is true of God, it is part of His essential nature and intention. This is such a deep blasphemy when you truly think about it, that it is really deeply shocking that so many Christians hold it, that I held to it for so long, it is something truly scary, that we are really so complacent and content with this, even when those like I did said we held to this regretfully and wished it weren’t so. We were content to say the most horrific things about God, and were just sad it was so, I can’t really recognise that person that I was or his reasoning, but it’s true so many of us are there for so many different reasons, we think it’s our only option, otherwise we go into heresy, so in fear we stay and end up saying truly the most terrible things about God imaginable. It should cause all Christians to stand up in shock and sorrow but it doesn’t, we say this of God and then say He is love, these two things can’t both be true. Sometimes as Hart said, Christians do defend the gates of hell against all challenges and attacks, and it feels sometimes none shall stand against them.

    If this were really true, then we should reject God, it would be better and more nobler to stand defiant of such ‘Reality’, to refuse to utter the inane of love that isn’t love, good that isn’t good, and I would rather be a heretic than submit to such perverse ‘Reality’. But how can that be true, how can we think of a fuller reality that that which is Reality, one which is more nobler, truer and more full and beautiful, than He that is Beauty, something higher and more glorious then tragic terror of the image of God if eternal desolation is true? While I accept this isn’t an argument, it doesn’t seem comprehensible to me anymore, that we can have a more beautiful, full, glorious and nobler view of God then God, one where love fills everything with a burning intensity, to me this is insanity.

    And as you say, such a view makes a mockery of the Incarnation of Christ, since it becomes the lost themselves that are the saviours of all, and are the engine upon which creation reaches completion and God’s intentions are fulfilled and the resurrection and joy of the blessed and the glorification of creation is achieved. That too is perverse and blasphemous to me, what this belief says about Christ now seems a constant mockery, and that it is done with the intention of defending His Truth is enough to make you weep sometimes.

    And while the arguments are constructed to have all their ‘metaphysical ducks in a row’ it does feel as if the purpose of most is to defend a point already held to be clearly true rather than an investigation of that claim, and so often seem to have logic that is colder than the deepest voids of space, one from which love seems to have no place and to have been pushed aside as inconvenient or worse, reinterpreted and explained away into something that isn’t love at all, it’s just called that, but is a word without any meaning anymore.

    And if love has been cast aside, or rendered a secondary concern and doesn’t ignite, guide, fill and lead any action, inquiry, contemplation, investigation or argument, particularly in relation to God, humanity and all rational creatures and creation itself, than it is worthless, and has missed the point completely in my view.

    In the end, the artist and the visionary caught up by love see far clearer that anyone else.

    Liked by 4 people

  8. brian says:

    Grant,
    As Balthasar states in the title of one his best short works, love alone is credible.

    Like

  9. Reblogged this on New Horizons and commented:
    The ultimate conclusion of “love God and love your neighbor as yourself” is the whole human family standing in solidarity with each other, not willing that any should perish, with the divine LOGOS from heaven saying, “This is good.”

    Liked by 1 person

  10. chuck says:

    well, it was certainly well written and thought out. I tend to respect that over the usual blather posted on the internet. Another thing i appreciate is that the author spend little time (actually, no time) trying to argue that the opinion offered is biblical. Now this may be because centuries of trying to justify the view of annihilation has failed from the biblical perspective. The view of supposedly “love” and “all” verses are terribly outweighed by “justice” “wrath” and “everlasting torment” verses and passages. Any honest and correct exegetical exercise on this topic is going to arrive at the conclusion that the torment is eternal. The bible and it’s authors (and Author) clearly state this. So i appreciate the lack of biblical arguments.
    What the author tries for (and judging by some responses, succeeds at) is the appeal to emotions, to “our” sense of fairness and what’s right. Gee, I hope i don’t have to warn how terribly wrong that can go. Any time you find “God” and “fair” in the same sentence, you can surely bet that the conclusion is going to be wrong. The appeal to how we or God can enjoy eternity with eternal torment going on is on the same level. It ends up being about us, and bless our hearts, about God’s emotional health. I am not sure how annihilation helps answer this question, because i have yet to read where any proponent of this view ever offers any idea of “how long” torment goes on before annihilation occurs. Thus it only begs and extends the question. How are we going to be happy knowing that people are suffering for, let’s say, a hundred years? A thousand? A million? When is the proper threshold of wrath or justice reached? No answer if given is really going to deal with the supposed dilemma for those who see the essence or attribute of God being love overruling (and here we truly have heresy) some or all of His other attributes. As i have said before, God doesn’t “have” love, as if it is something separate from Him, nor is He “bound” to love as if love is something He is “subject” to. All of these are non-biblical and heretical views.
    Now if your response is that God instantly annihilates those who reject Him, this makes judgement and the words eternal or everlasting, or even as some plead, “ages”, silly and meaningless. It would also, i would argue, cast some doubt on the believers “eternal life” actually being eternal. You can’t (logically and sensibly) have it both ways. If it’s “fair” for God to blot from existence those who reject, why not also blot out the believers, after some artificially reasoned period of time? After all, we aren’t there because we earned it, or even contributed to it (my apologies to many Arminians).
    Now please, don’t misunderstand me. There are many mysteries about God and His ways to wade through, but we will never arrive at any correct answers on the basis of our own emotions and reasonings. Need i quote “My ways are not your ways, nor my thoughts your thoughts…”? I appreciate the intellectual struggles. I myself prefer the “hell is a black hole theory.”(which, like the author’s article, is based on my own reasoning.) You know, after all, that a black hole is dark. It is also incredibly hot (seems weird, doesn’t it?). And because of it’s incredibly intense gravity, it slows down time significantly or even incredibly. For instance, some black holes, depending on size and gravitation pull, could cause someone “in” it to experience only seconds or hours while thousands, even millions of years of “time” are “passing by” in other parts of the universe. So, on this reasoning, believers could experience thousands or millions of years (assuming our concept of time) while those in the “black hole hell”. only experience seconds or hours. Now surely one should find this proposal attractive, shouldn’t one? It allows torment to still be, technically, eternal, at least to believers, while only seconds or hours to the tormented. I find this not only possible but emotionally pleasing.
    It is not, however, a biblical argument. And i only consider it (or some version of it) possible. But, like the authors article, it is not based on God’s word but simply on intellect and emotion (just like the article). You may disagree with it, but not biblically. Thus you should be wary of it, just like the article.
    One last note, but I sense in this article, and others like it, especially those who argue for immediate or eventual annihilation or universal salvation, the concept that many, most, or everyone, if they could only see the beauty of God and His love, would “come around” and want to make the “right” choice. This reasoning, or desired belief, makes a mockery of biblical revelation concerning humans and their “sin nature”, and renders God’s attribute of wrath against injustice and disobedience facile. It reveals a sad absence of correct understanding, or even the absence of the desire to understand, the completeness of God’s revelation. For annihilationists who throw out the “arrogance” of those who believe in eternal torment, may i suggest a long, meditative look in the mirror before casting that stone. Truly anyone who could look a clear teaching in scripture and decide it’s wrong or not fair suffers no less from pride, perhaps even moreso. Enjoyed the article. Merry Christmas everyone.

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  11. brian says:

    “For example, a well-known Thomist with a penchant for polemic recently penned an explanation for why the option of eschatological annihilation of the damned is metaphysically incoherent. I happen to agree with him on this point, but our reasoning differs dramatically.”

    “Yet many Traditionalists consider my understanding of the gospel to be heretical. If they are charitable, they think it a perhaps forgivable saccharine indulgence that bends the realism of the gospel towards a dangerous and unfounded optimism. Ironically, the very aesthetic of a pliable virtual world, of Hallmark cards and mawkish romance that I abhor is attributed to the theological vision I hold to be true.”

    No doubt you are aware, Chuck, that biblical exegesis can quickly degenerate into an unhelpful and unpersuasive clash of proof texts. My argument is drawn from the metaphysical implications of my understanding of the gospel, it being presumed that readers will understand that it is based on an interpretation of revelation.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      That is an important distinction Brian. I would argue that your position is supremely biblical, in the best and most complete sense of that term. You draw deeply from scriptural teachings and themes, whilst taking into account the theological and metaphysical implications. Kudos.

      Liked by 1 person

    • chuck says:

      you seem to have not understood my point. I actually agree with you concerning your basis for your argument. I clearly stated it is not biblical. It is based on your own understanding and interpretive philosophy. And this is what you state in your reply. I offered little in the way of biblical refutation ( and judging by what one respondent to me said, even one verse was too much) because you offered little or no biblical support. Your’s was a metaphysical article, as you clearly state. I offered my own metaphysical response.
      Yes, biblical exegesis can degenerate into unhelpful clashes. In the same way, space exploration can degenerate into unfortunate fatalities, boat fishing can degenerate into watery graves, and mathematical proofs can degenerate into unpersuasive formulas. But this is the only way to do these, and many other, things. The potential for bad results, however, has obviously not deterred us in the above mentioned endeavors, nor should they. Neither should the potential for misuse of scripture deter us from attempting to have a correct understanding of it. If you prefer the “I’ll just look at it, mix in my emotions and desires, and come up with what i find pleasing” method, then by all means, have at it. I, in my hopes for you, hope you are also aware of the great dangers inherent in that method. Logically, there is no other way to understand scripture other than to read it, understand it’s background and purpose, confirm accurate translation of words, and to factor in the whole teaching of scripture. This has been the practice for thousands of years, and despite it’s potential pitfalls (which is no fault of the method, but it’s users), no one has, or will, come up with a better way.
      You certainly are entitled to your perspective, and i would in no way desire to censor it. But metaphysical arguments often prove to be quite relative, sort of like “feet firmly planted in mid-air”. I enjoyed your article, thought it quite articulate and thoughtful, and worth the currency on which it was based. I offered an alternative perspective no more worthy than your own. All that aside, i prefer scripture having the final say. And pulling a few “love” and “all” verses out of context and using them to found an argument is exactly the type of clashing i find unpersuasive. I have no objection to your argument unless you present it as the teaching of scripture, for there we actually have a material witness that can be “cross-examined”, if you will. Have a safe holiday. Blessings.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Young and Rested says:

        An argument can be thoroughly “biblical” without listing or quoting verses from the bible if it is based on ideas/principles derived from the scriptures.

        You say, “I have no objection to your argument unless you present it as the teaching of scripture…” which seems roughly equivalent to saying “I have no objection to your argument unless you’re saying that it’s true,” which is just a more passive-aggressive way of asserting, “you’re wrong.”

        Also, it is just silly for you to say that “Any honest and correct exegetical exercise on this topic is going to arrive at the conclusion that the torment is eternal.” This unjustly impugns the personal integrity of everyone who disagrees with you and displays a kind of dogmatic certainty which outpaces the merits of your argumentation.

        I’m not sure why you insist on insinuating that Brian is just arguing off of emotion. It seems like merely another way of trying to dismiss what he is saying out of hand, without really engaging with it.

        I feel compelled to point out that there is a significant difference between “arguing from emotion” and “appealing to our sense of what is fair and right.” I’m not even saying that Brian is doing either, but just making the point.

        Liked by 3 people

        • chuck says:

          well, at least your response is thoughtful and reasoned. I’ll respond accordingly. First, my reason for the “honest” comment is backed by centuries of christian studies and writings. This is why the majority opinion on hell believes that scripture teaches eternal torment. Now when someone comes along and posits a contrary opinion, i believe that the burden is on them to show their version to be both true and biblical. I think we know that thousands of biblical scholars and millions of christians have considered all the relevant bible passages, not only those that teach God’s love, but those that teach His judgement and wrath. To come along (and of course, Brian is not the first, not alone, and won’t be the last) and propose that “love” passages teach annihilation and overrule passages that teach eternal torment is not doing proper exegesis. We don’t add up verses and see who wins. If we did, eternal torment would win hands down. Context is key.
          Now when anyone proposes annihilation, the weakness they encounter immediately is that there isn’t a single passage of scripture that clearly teaches it (and i would posit there are none). So i understand why Brian’s (and those who agree with him) arguments are metaphysical in nature. There is no scripture to back it up. I am not against metaphysical arguments. In fact, sometimes it may be all that we can resort to. But in the case of our topic, there is a vast wealth of verses and passages that clearly state that hell is “eternal” or “everlasting torment”. Love is God’s nature. Judgement is what He exercises. And scripture clearly teaches that the results are eternal.
          Thus, as appreciative as i am of metaphysical arguments, when they are not necessary (as in the case of abundant scriptural teaching) they are tenuous at best and often dangerous if not heretical.
          I am not accusing Brian of being heretical. But his opinions and the others who hold it go against centuries of biblical interpretation, so a metaphysical argument is not sufficient, even if supported by dubious exegetical exercise. Do we really believe that no one, over the centuries, has struggled with the concept of eternal torment? If we are honest with ourselves, and think no better of ourselves concerning all who have come before us, millions have struggled with it yet have been persuaded by scripture that torment is eternal.
          While i appreciate your support of Brian, and i am sure he does to, you commented on my position yet offered no counter-argument whatsoever. Let me challenge you again. If unbelievers are annihilated, WHEN does this happen? How long, if at all, do they suffer? I don’t think you will have an answer that is supported at all by scripture. You know, I can take the concept of “God’s love” and teach all sort of metaphysical and philosophical arguments. I can do etymology ad nauseam and reach endless speculations, but they will be worthless and little more than sinful and darkened reasonings unless i can redeem them with clear and biblical support.
          Thus i tire of “love” arguments. They have been soundly answered over and over again. So i will ask you, Brian, and everyone else one more time. Where is annihilation taught in scripture? And if you think it is, offer more than emotive pleas. Show me where it is taught, and then answer my above questions. If you can’t, than may i suggest, as attractive as the love arguments are, you abandon them, accept historical church doctrine, difficult though they may be. You just can’t, and those three words are backed up by the history of the church, it’s teachings and doctrine, try out novel ideas and metaphysical arguments that go against clear biblical teaching and expect, reasonably, for serious students and scholars to accept them. Now i know some do, but their arguments are parallel with Brian’s, which again, have been soundly answered many times before.
          I prefer, and so should all christians, clear teachings of scripture over attractive metaphysical arguments. Even ignorance is better than incorrect answers. I have no doubt that Brian is honest. He’s just honestly wrong.

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Chuck, Brian has already, I think, addressed your principal critique–namely, he did not intend in his article to present an exegetical argument. This does not mean that his reflections are not thoroughly informed by biblical study and exegesis. They most certainly are. That is what theologians do. They read, study, learn, and inwardly digest the Scriptures and theological tradition, and then reflect constructively and creatively. And that is why your criticism that Brian is simply indulging in metaphysics completely misses the mark. To the extent that he is doing metaphysics, he is doing Christian metaphysics. But in fact, I do not see Brian doing metaphysics in this article. He is simply doing theological reflection.

            I can understand why you might not find his arguments persuasive. If you are looking for close exegesis of biblical texts, you won’t find it here on this blog. That’s not because I think it’s unimportant, but because it’s not my principal interest. I myself am more interested in dogmatic theology and more recently philosophical theology. I leave the exegesis to others. They have their own blogs.

            Regarding the universalist hope and Scripture, this in fact is a topic that has been debated on this blog for the past four years. Feel free to research the archives. I for one do not find the biblical evidence probative on this question. But perhaps more importantly, as an Orthodox Christian I do not believe historical exegesis alone can resolve important theological questions.

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          • Sarah says:

            “So I will ask you, Brian, and everyone else one more time. Where is annihilation taught in scripture.”

            I’m not entirely sure how this was missed, but the above article doesn’t support annihilation.

            Liked by 1 person

          • chuck says:

            my question would apply equally to both annihilation and universalism. I’m trying to cover all avenues. Those who can’t accept universalism will often default to the annihilation position. Thanks for the response.

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          • chuck says:

            From my experience, or others perspectives, you can find scripture to support any position, including contrary ones. We all have an interpretive agenda when we approach and philosophical or exegetical study. This is just human. And normal. It’s why appeal is often made to a consensus in the hope that the majority are not wrong. That, or course, can end up being wrong also. Therefore i hope to stick with what i think the scriptures, overall, teach. Proof-texting, while not inherently wrong (what else can you do when referencing scripture than to use) also has it’s weaknesses. When one mixes scripture and philosophy, the dangers become magnified, especially when philosophy overrules biblical teaching (thus Paul’s warning against vain philosophies). And no, i do not find scriptural references to “all” to always mean “every single one”. A concordance will reveal numerous passages using that word that do not validate using that interpretation with every usage.I find the universal perspective wanting. If all are eventually saved, how so? Are those who don’t want to be forced to? Or is the assumption that every single person, if shown God’s presence and character, will make the “right decision” and chose salvation. Strange, but the first chapters of Genesis show us that is not a logical conclusion. May i suggest, for those interested, the counterpoints series by Zondervan or the one by Intervarsity where you will find scholars of various positions on most any doctrine debating and responding to one another. I find these types of books most helpful, often superior to a book presenting one point of view. Thanks for the response.

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          • Young and Rested says:

            The Fire that Consumes – a Biblical and historical study by Edward Fudge

            If you want to learn about how annihilationists come to their conclusions, I would warmly recommend the work of Edward Fudge.

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          • chuck says:

            thank you Young. I hope you are rested for the christmas holidays. I am familiar with Fudge, have read some of his work, and responses to it. I find it unconvincing, but that’s just my opinion. I sincerely appreciate the reference and you taking the time to make it. Blessings for the holidays.

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Young and Rested, you are of course right. There are plenty of passages in the New Testament that support the universalist hope, if read the right way, just as there are plenty of passages that support the eternal torment position, if read the wrong way. The challenge, therefore, is how do we read the Scriptures, which immediately leads us into thorny issues of hermeneutics, gospel, and dogma. There simply is no such thing as a “plain” reading of the Bible. Important theological questions are never resolved by the citation of a biblical verse or two. Something deeper is always going on. I touch on this in my article “The Hermeneutics of Perdition.”

            Liked by 3 people

      • brian says:

        Chuck,

        I invite you to consider that different genres differentiate themselves by different forms. One would not expect a lyric poem to do the work of a scholarly monograph, for example. The kind of essay I wrote does not set itself up to be an argument of biblical exegesis, so it would indeed be a category mistake to fault it for lacking such. (You assert that you are aware of this.) Nonetheless, I have tried to explain to you that just because it is not such an argument does not mean or imply that the metaphysical claims are bereft of biblical warrant. If you like, one could think of various orders of argument. First order arguments may look at biblical evidence. Second order may presuppose all that and draw the consequences of various scriptural interpretations. You are trying to judge a “second order” discourse by a first order criteria. Furthermore, you simply presume the dogmatic sufficiency of the majority opinion and then assert sacred authority for your proclivities.

        In addition, you appear to presuppose that metaphysics are perhaps interesting and diverting, but ultimately not germane to biblical truth. A more hostile variation might posit a strong antithesis between “Greek philosophy” and “Hebrew revelation,” etc. This is by now an old argument that ought to have been ended on the merits, but it persists largely due to widespread ignorance about metaphysics. The pedagogy of “shrewd animals” has little use for topics that appear abstruse and lacking in pragmatic relevance. (Though such are wrong, even there.) Go look at Father’s recent meditations on the nature of Pure Act. These are not optional issues if one is pursuing theological wisdom. Questions about God’s simplicity or the proper ontology of love go to the very heart of who God is, so they are not marginal to revelation. While the language and nature of this inquiry may seem alien to scripture, it is actually teasing out the implications of John’s Logos language or his assertions about love in the Johannine epistles. There is a significant theological anthropology to be discovered in Paul’s eschatological proclamations.

        Embedded in my discussion of wheat and tares is a suggestion of the kind of biblical interpretation I am engaged in. If you are interested in engaging a purely scriptural exegesis of these matters, there are works of that kind for you to do so. I caution, however, that it is a serious error to believe that one has left behind the substance of the dispute when one enters into a discussion more attuned to “philosophical theology” or to think that the latter is immaterial to the elemental depths of revelation.

        Liked by 2 people

        • chuck says:

          Again, thanks for the articulate and reasoned response. It may appear that i am gushing over them, but it is so hard to find one these days that i am impressed when i read one. Let me attend to another matter first, this one to your supporters. I AM NOT ATTACKING BRIAN. I wrote that very loud for the hard of reading. One person objected to my use of the word “honest” in argumentation, thinking it implied that you were dishonest. If i had used the word “careful”, i would be accused of calling you careless If i had said thorough, the accusation would be that i thought you shallow. If thoughtful, then you were thoughtless. It really wouldn’t matter. If i had wanted to attack you clearly, i am more than capable of doing so. The object i am aiming at is your argument, but the argument to author tactic is one often used by those with no other ammunition.
          This touches more deeply on a previous topic i broached, one i am sure you are already familiar with. When one launches into metaphysics and philosophy, dangers are widespread. As i stated before, i enjoy both, and have taught the later, and indulge in them quite often. But when relative argumentation is used, or that which appeals to our own darkened and sinful concepts, great danger awaits. I am not saying we shouldn’t go there, but should tred carefully. If you are reading the comments, you will note that your supporters have been, up to now, indulging in just the pattern i warned against. In their response to me, there is not biblical support offered, or even church history or doctrine. Their final court of appeal is YOU. You are a nice guy, honest guy, thoughtful guy, etc. and thus should be trusted. Or the emotive reasoning is attractive, appealing, etc. I mean, who wouldn’t agree with it? Only people who want people to rot eternally in hell. Only hate filled individuals, or perhaps self-righteous. I’ve seen these responses so often it sickens. Just the typical ad hominem attacks. No substance. No proofs. Just character assasination.
          Now i realize you are not responsible for others harangues. So let’s be clear i am not blaming you. I am just noting where emotive arguments most often end. With emotions.
          As to your “first order”, “second order” comments, I would agree. Your offering a second order argument. It is based, however, on a first order one. Your ultimate appeal to God’s love and mercy. Where are these concepts found? In scripture. What is your argument based on? Scripture verses and passages (such as the Johannine books). Ultimately, no matter where you sail, your home port is scripture. I have stated, and i will say it again, that i accept metaphysical arguments. I did not realize, however, that this was a site only for metaphysical or second order arguments (not that i don’t see them here often, but i didn’t know the site was exclusive to them). I would counter that if you don’t have first order support, then second order, while entertaining and challenging, leaves the argument weakened.
          I’m not sure what i could have said that would have led you to think i undervalued simplicity or ontological nature in reference to God. I have argued just the opposite, especially against those who offer arguments that are detrimental to either subject. Again, these doctrines come from our understanding of scripture. Now that can be wrong, and i imagine when we (believers) “arrive” in heaven, we will be terribly surprised at how wrong we have been, and are, wrong, no matter how much scripture we read and how metaphysical we were. My argument is partially based on scriptural teaching on sin and our imprisonment by it, especially our thinking. As stated before in a previous post, i much prefer the “hell is a black hole” option. It is based on both science and scripture. Yet i offer no biblical support for it. Do you understand now? If you want to offer second order (in this case, non-biblical) statements, by all means, do so. Just know that once you appeal to scripture, you’ve entered a whole new phase. It’s no longer about just concepts and cliches, it’s about statements. In the bible. Inspired by God. Revealed in His word. I may be mistaken, but it seems that you, and others, want to have your cake and eat it too. If you think the bible and it’s revelations are helpful, then you use it. If it appears to contravene your metaphysical travels, then ignore it or find etymological escape hatches. Don’t take that personal. After over four decades of study and teaching, i have found myself guilty of that very thing. It’s a common malady, obviously. That’s why there is much disagreement. Obviously contradictory conclusions can’t both be right. But they can both be wrong. Now if my comments offend you, simply let me know, and i will direct no further comments directly to you. I often make the mistake of assuming everyone is interested in an exchange of ideas (even different ones). Some, however, only seek approval and confirmation. I have assumed you weren’t such a person. Please correct me if i am wrong. Again, thanks for the articulate and thoughtful response.

          Like

          • But……..even Black Holes have “hair”, unlike some theologians.

            Stephen Hawking Now Says Black Holes Are Portals to Hell

            Like

          • chuck says:

            Much appreciated Dave. Great to find scientists behind the curve. LOL. I will check these out. Thank you for taking the time. Happy holidays.

            Like

          • brian says:

            Chuck,

            The fact that you continue to conflate annihilation and apokatastasis indicates, of course, that for you both are simply different ways of getting it wrong. However, I pulled a quote from my essay and others have pointed out that I do not defend the annihilation teaching. To continue to therefore imply that I do makes one feel that you are not reading carefully enough. I have also tried to clarify in my last post to you that it is a mistaken conclusion on your part to surmise that because I have not offered you a biblical argument of the nature you prefer that I have resorted to philosophical theology because the scripture is flatly against what I assert. When I talk about simplicity, this is not a gesture towards a particular kind of rhetoric, but a metaphysical truth about God. (I could not chastise anyone for lacking a plain style.)

            As Father indicated in his comment above, this blog does not generally engage in close biblical exegesis of the kind you are looking for. There are scholarly and popular works that discuss eschatology with the focus you are interested in. You will discover there that diverse schools of thought can appeal to scripture. I write the sort of thing that I am interested in and what my gifts are best suited to. You have determined that what I have written is an emotive appeal contrary to scripture and that individuals are merely defending the authority of my individual voice. On the contrary, my argument is theological and reasoned with considerable allusive “tags” embedded within the essay meant to point readers to the voices that have offered me wisdom through the years. Most of your interlocutors, all, so far as I can tell, are trying to disabuse you of the notion that my essay represents what you characterize it to be.

            Like

          • chuck says:

            Thank you for the reasoned response. I am not attempting to conflate annihilation and universalism. I am trying to deal with both. I could assume that everyone here is a universalist, but that might be wrong. I believe both positions to be wrong and based in part on similiar emotive appeals such as “how can a loving God….” or “how is this fair” or “where is love”. These are not inherently invalid questions (though i have warned above of putting the words God and fair in the same question. It presumes far too much on our part, thus my Isaiah reference to underlay said warning). I could offer so many more, but as you say, this is not an exegetical site. I merely attempt to point out what i consider an inconsistency (no great sin, for sure). To “treasure” the scriptures but adjourn from the very tools needed to understand those scriptures i do not understand. I understand no one here is condemning their usage or urging the forbiddance thereof, I simply exhort to use the tools that will give the most secure (but no guarantee of correct) foundation to build on, emphasis on “build on”. I am not against philosophy or metaphysics. I’m just saying, and i think Paul would support me on this, that when philosophy trumps over scripture, something is wrong. I’m not accusing anyone here of doing this, just giving an exhortation.
            My apologies if it appears i was trying to misrepresent you. Understand that i am getting numerous responses and am attempting to correlate and cover different perspective. I received ten just today. I enjoy the to and fro, but it is time consuming. As i have offered the site master, if my perspectives are disruptive i will gladly leave. I often make the mistake that sites are intended for discourse and debate. Some however, are not. If this a merely what i call an “echo” site, then i will move on and leave all of you to group confirmation. Obviously i prefer exchange of viewpoints, and this will often, by it’s very nature”, lead to disagreement. I would like to think love could be ubiquitous, but am realistic enough to realize that some interpret disagreement as lack of love or arrogance. I think the confrontation between Peter and Paul prove otherwise. Thanks again for responding. Have a merry Christmas.

            Like

    • Mike H says:

      “biblical exegesis can quickly degenerate into an unhelpful and unpersuasive clash of proof texts”.

      Yes. This.

      What are God’s “ways”? How are they “higher”?

      Of all of the proof texts/clobber texts tossed about, chuck’s appeal to “my ways are not your ways” from Isaiah 55 (a quite common appeal) to sort of frame and settle the matter as truth vs. raw emotion has to be one of the most destructive, unfortunate, and negligent examples.

      Liked by 2 people

      • chuck says:

        strange that this post appears in my box a second time, yet my answer to it has diappeared. Am i being censured? I’ll briefly respond again. Are you offended by the above verse? It seems your treatment of it is rather snide. Do you not like it? And perhaps you should answer your own questions. If you can’t, then perhaps non-participation is the better option. The implication of my statements were clear. There are going to be things, events, actions, concepts, sayings, etc. that related to God, are simply going to be beyond our ability to answer or even understand, at least fully. That’s it. A simple concept.
        And i’ll say again, and perhaps this time it won’t disappear, a quick perusal of church history and teachings will reveal far more destructive uses of scripture than my usage of Isaiah. So if hyperbole and vacuous statements were your purpose, you succeeded. Do better next time.

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Chuck, you ask if you are being censored. Yes. I reserve the right to delete all postings that do not conform to the level of civility that I have established for this blog over the past four years. How does one know when one has transgressed the boundaries? When a comment disappears. Think of it as a learning experience.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Mike H says:

          Chuck, I’m not at all offended by the above verse. Far from it. What about my comment would suggest that I “don’t like it”?

          I’m not suggesting that there are not things that are beyond our ability to understand. Didn’t say that nor do I think that.

          The verse simply doesn’t say what you say it does. I commonly see it used as a way to argue (without arguing) in support of “self-evident Biblical truths that offend modern sensibilities”, and against “appeals to emotions”, no questions asked. But it’s not a weaponized clobber text whereby one’s particular views about ______ (which become the ominous “your ways”) can be dismissed merely by invoking the verse and claiming correct exegetics.

          God’s thoughts and ways are not “higher” than the “your” ways in the context of Isaiah 55 because God’s ways are unknowable, but rather because they are knowable. The entirety of Isaiah 55 is about God’s desired reconciliation and renewal – reconciliation that is freely given and outside the realm of economic exchange or “earning”, reconciliation which we often don’t wish to extend to one another, nor do we wish God to extend to those we don’t care for (Jonah, miserable under his withered vine – that’s “our ways” in this context).

          Right before the “for my ways are not your ways” is this:

          “Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the LORD, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.”

          God’s ways are not “higher” in the sense that we are the reconciling and renewing force in the universe, while God (being rather petty and stingy) simply wants to remind humanity that he has legal permission to smite anyone and everyone if he so chooses, “higher” becoming a term of pure power or hostility under the guise of “mystery”.

          No, it’s the opposite. “Higher ways” are specifically attached to mercy and “abundant pardon” and to Isaiah 55 in it’s entirety (and find their telos and ultimate revealing in the Gospel), not to intellectual unknowability (of course we don’t know everything) or the “attribute” of wrath as you called it.

          And “my ways are higher” is followed by this:

          “For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, And do not return there, But water the earth, And make it bring forth and bud, That it may give seed to the sower And bread to the eater,”
          “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”

          The “accomplishing” here is tied to what came before, not an accomplishing that is fully obscured in an abyss of mystery.

          Does any of this decidedly “prove” anything with regard to eschatological destiny? No. Not in a math equation sense of “proving”. No math.

          But “my ways are not your ways” – the lens by which you seem to read the original post and the guiding principle that supports your general comments about “emotional appeals” and “the absence of the desire to understand” – just doesn’t fit. All I’m saying. And particularly because it’s usage in Isaiah 55 is one of restorative justice, it’s not just out of place but destructive.

          Liked by 2 people

  12. Grant says:

    I’m not sure where the discussions relating to annihilation come into this, as it doesn’t really have anything to do with what the article is discussing, and seems to be engaging a completely different discussion than the one at hand.

    On to the clear biblical evidence compelling a view of eternal torment, I’m afraid that isn’t something that is there, it’s only there for some traditions and hermeneutics, the ancient documents that make up the Bible aren’t self-explaining, belong to various different cultural periods, histories and methods of transmission and meaning, with their own cultural landscapes of meaning and understanding into which these narratives, poetry, psalms etc functioned. And we only have a fragmentary understanding of many of these periods, and how these were used across those times, how they were formed etc, what seems an clear meaning in one current Christian tradition can be dramatically different to how it was understand at the time of it’s formation.

    Just take the New Testament, a number of recent and quite prominent New Testament biblical scholars have in various ways re-examined the various gospels and epistles in the context of the cultures they belonged to, for example the 2nd Temple Jewish period, particularly in relation to our better understanding of how the culture thought, and how it understood terms, concepts, ideas and methods and styles of language and their likely meaning in a 1st century AD Jewish context. Such ideas where concepts of what kingdom of God, Messiah, Messianic movements, gospel (with it’s imperial connotations) would be understood to mean, the resonances it would have, how it would be heard etc, and therefore just how what is presented in the gospels would be understood. This combined with an increasing understanding of apocalyptic language and how it was used and understood has lead a number (for example N.T. Wright, who is not a universalist or an annihilationist) to argue very strongly that none of the references to Gehanna or the coming of the Son of Man (or any text that many traditions commonly taken to refer to the Last Judgement or eternal destruction, as well as parables etc) are or would be understood to refer to this at all.

    Instead the are argued to be the use of apocalyptic language and imagery that was part and parcel of the language and discourse of 2nd Temple Jewish culture (and it’s diverse Judaic traditions) to discuss present events and invest them with the full theological meaning, and open up the perspective of the ‘heavenly’ dimension on events. In this case, the parables, stories and discourses are discussing and explaining the present events of the coming of the kingdom of God in Jesus Himself, reframing those ideas and explaining how it works, and revealing the judgement of God in their midst and how it was working, and how the kingdom really comes and how the saving rescue and judgment work. And how the true reality of things would be once God’s judgement was made manifest in the Messiah’s vindication and ascension to the Right Hand of Power (which links with the Son of Man reference, bringing in the Daniellic imagery, where of course the one like a son of man goes upwards to receive the authority to rule the world and bring God’s kingdom, it’s an upwards movement not a downwards one, this is fulfilled in Christ’s ascension in the texts in this view). It always therefore has Jesus warn Jerusalem and Judea not to follow the destructive paths that only lead to present destruction, that the rejection of His way would lead to the destruction of Gehenna, the Valley of Hinnom (the massacre of Jewish people by pagan powers) which indicated the imagery of present destruction by war and the destruction of the Temple, which would be a visible sign when it happened that they had missed God’s way and His glory which wasn’t in the temple. Gehenna would be understood aa imagery which would manifest the truth of the judgement of God when it happened. It specifically is focused on the destruction of Jerusalem and the Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension as the true lord of the world in and through whom God’s kingdom comes on earth in heaven in the manner Christ brought it.

    Now I’m not doing the above view any justice here, nor do I intend to for a comment (for that there are ample books and articles that can be sought to understand this interpretation, NT Wright’s both academic and popular works are fairly easy to get hold of), rather I’m pointing to one current reading that very attempts to read these texts in their contemporary setting with the best understand we can get from our historical understands of the cultures, societies, politics, arts, meanings etc to situate and understand them and interprets them along these lines. And this line very much doesn’t view the synoptics (and much of Paul, and sometimes all of Paul) and referring at all to the final judgement or the ultimate fate of people. None of these judgement texts are taken to refer to a future final judgement, or going to heaven etc, but are referring to present situations, and using apocalyptic imagery to invest them with their true theological meaning and understanding, and are warning of the dangers of present destruction and disaster if certain courses are followed, which would manifest the reality of judgement of God through the death and resurrection of Christ, and the destruction that failure to follow that would lead to Jerusalem etc.

    And as for the Old Testament texts, they have a diverse view of judgement, afterlife, and theological views when taken on their own account, at times contradiction and at odds with each other, but then that isn’t what makes them Scripture, on their own, their are just ancient documents.

    And church history and the Church Fathers can show a diverse approach and understanding of these texts, Gregory of Nyssa understanding of these texts is quite different I think to say Chrysostom, and both would have disagreements with various Protestant traditions and hermeneutics and the underlying understanding behind it.

    And this can bring up what makes these documents Scripture in the end, the view of much of the history of Christian tradition isn’t the documents on their own, and are not a manual from heaven, but rather to be read within the apostolic tradition and the gospel of Christ and the Church, reading the work in the light of Christ, and as being about Him, the Gospel and the Church (following how He explained to Cleopas how the Scriptures were all about Him and what happened) where inspired text and inspired reader are the lyre of the Holy Spirit, whereby a true reading is possible (this would not be the only reading, but a true reading). This would follow the literal meaning of the text (not necessarily take the apparent face value of the text literally), also this would be understood in the light of the Gospel, and of Christ and to be about Him and the Gospel, and that would be the meaning followed (which might and often could be a variance with the face value and presumed original intention and understanding of the author). This is where the allegorical tradition arose as part of this (which itself is the development of the method of using the OT documents as Scripture evidenced by Jesus in the gospels and by Paul in his epistles).

    This tradition isn’t followed by all or even many Christian traditions, and I’m not really doing it justice here (here is a link to a video explaining this much better than myself : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EOShHXaqt0M&t=188s and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gy-gCEWh5-4&list=PLdd0ovwzp-25DA8qk7UFWpbypq1bAJWE4 ), and perhaps it isn’t found convincing by all. I personally have found it to be very compelling but that is neither here nor there.

    Rather, my point here is there is no such thing as very many obvious clear biblical truths that if we read the biblical documents without emotion, on face value, even with the aid of historical and textual studies as important and illumining as these can be to our practice of understanding them as Scripture. The documents that would make up Scripture are not self-explaining, and they are not the supreme authority in any Christian tradition, rather it is each Christian communities own tradition and it’s hermeneutics that are supreme, underlined and informed by the wider worldview and theology (which is even more dominate) that provides both what they bring to that reading, what they think and understand various terms and concepts to mean, what different words and ideas mean, how various texts are used, understood and their terms comprehended, and what their meaning (including the supposed clear meaning) is supposed to be and how it is supposed to be understood. Even though various traditions therefore can give both now, and when we relate present methods of reading these documents, how exegesis is done, hermeneutics employed and even how and what Scripture is understood to be when related to ancient and medieval Christian traditions, have such different perspectives, views, and understands of what is being said (and these are all by ‘orthodox’ or non-liberal readings).

    The underlying world-view, theology, and therefore the reading tradition and hermeneutics are what dominates, fills and informs all reading, their are the glasses we bring to this, how we understand what is there and how to read them as Scripture within the Christian tradition we currently align with.

    And therefore, statements of clear biblical readings forcing a view of eternal torment just don’t seem credible to me as an pure assertion, the documents don’t themselves demand it as a whole (they assert many different things, and in their own culture not what many Christian traditions have assumed them to say), and how they read as Scripture and if that is the same as the plan reading and so on. Only particular hermeneutic traditions declare eternal torment is clear in their system of reading, but that is a very different thing (and they are in these areas, traditions whose readings I find now dubious for numerous reasons).

    And of course, all this has nothing to do with Brian’s article, which should discussed on it’s own terms (so apologies for potentially derailing).

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    • chuck says:

      A quick response to a long a detailed post. No need to tell you what i agree with. You already believe it. I would point out that N.T. Wright’s “new perspective” has not been warmly received by many biblical scholars. Nor is Dunn’s or Sanders work without serious challenge. Their contributions are acknowledged by all, but their conclusions have been and are being challenged or at least refined. I’ve read Wright and Dunn, and parts of Sanders work. Also, the views on apocalyptic writings also face challenges and refinement. Nothing wrong with this, part of the scholarly process.
      I do want to question one statement. You said that ” scripture” is “not the supreme authority in any christian tradition”. Did i misread this? Did you misstate? Certainly, if you meant that literally, it is a gross simplification and entirely incorrect if you meant “not” and “any” to be taken at face value.
      The rest of your post, well thought out and articulate, unfortunately includes what has become pandemic in certain circles of thought, the relativistic view that we can’t really take scripture at face value, and various interpretations seem to confirm a view that turns scripture into mystery writings and, intentional or not, encourages a sort of Gnostic approach to them. It all revolves around “inner enlightenment” or individual understanding. This will inevitably evolve into (I know this because it has) self-revelation taking top rung on the ladder of understanding. This becomes a quick sand trap that sucks one down into positions that have no correlative anchors. This subjective approach is not necessary. One needs to trust that God is quite capable of revealing HImself through the work of the Holy Spirit that produced the written word. If there appear to be contradictions (which is not an attribute of God), the problem is man, not God’s word. To see this and then appeal to the source of the problem i do not find helpful. Thanks for your post. Merry Christmas.

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