Heavenly Amnesia: How Sweet to Forget the Damned

Through Christ and in Christ, by the Spirit, the Father will perfect in love all who come to him in repentance and faith. In Christ the blessed will love as the Father loves, and their love will comprehend all. In Christ the blessed will desire the good of every human being and intend their fulfillment in the infinite God who is the Good. In Christ the blessed will find their joy in the other, in the communion of the Holy Trinity. Yet in its universal reach and salvific intent, the love of the blessed would also seem to entail an irremediable frustration and thus a diminishment of happiness and joy; for if the traditional under­standing of heaven is true, then the blessed will love the damned and know they are condemned to torment, without possibility of deliverance. God wills that the blessed should enjoy the maximal bliss of the beatific vision, yet this vision is clouded by the knowledge of perditional suffering and despair. The blessed will love the reprobate yet will be powerless to save them. Whether damnation consists of retributive punishment or self-imposed alienation does not matter. In either case the love of the blessed will be frus­trated, their desire thwarted. Hence it would seem that the redeemed must be content with a second-best happiness. That this might be so, however, violates a fundamental intuition of heaven. In Christ we are promised the vision of God. To see him is to experience the ecstasy of love and fullness of joy. It cannot be that perfect charity would entail less than perfect beatitude. We are thus led to the following conclusion: everlasting perdition is a logical impossibility. In a nutshell, this is the Argument from God’s Love for the Blessed, advanced by John Kronen and Eric Reitan in their book God’s Final Victory.

In response to this line of argument, William Lane Craig has conjectured that God will keep the blessed ignorant of the sufferings of the damned, perhaps going so far as to alter their memories of their loved ones who dwell in hell. But surely the Father of Jesus Christ would never build his kingdom on a lie nor shield his children from reality. Even assuming that the blessed forever remained in their state of amnesia, they still would not be enjoying perfect happiness, as Kronen and Reitan explain:

However, can we truly say that they are eternally blessed if they are erroneously happy—eternally living a life of bliss that they would judge inappropriate if they knew the truth? If you are joyously celebrating your child’s college graduation, the truth that your child has actually failed college—even if you are unaware of it—renders the celebration a kind of farce. Craig, in effect, asks us to imagine God presiding over an eternal farce. He asks us to believe that this farcical celebration has the same worth as one that responds to a truth worth celebrating—a highly implausible view. (p. 86)

Not only implausible, I would add, but absurd.

But perhaps there’s another way to think of the blessed as enjoying perfect happiness. Let’s go back to the story of Frank and Sarah Smith in The Great Divorce. Recall how Frank, presented in dual aspect as dwarf and dramatic persona, gradually disappears from the scene during their lengthy conversation. Sarah implores her husband to abandon his false self and walk with her toward the holy mountain. But Frank resists, and with each expres­sion of resistance the dwarf becomes smaller and smaller. Finally there is only the Tragedian:

“Where is Frank,” she said. “And who are you, Sir. I never knew you. Perhaps you had better leave me. Or stay, if you prefer. If it would help you and if it were possible I would go down with you into Hell: but you cannot bring Hell into me.”

“You do not love me,” said the Tragedian in a thin bat-like voice: and he was now very difficult to see.

“I cannot love a lie,” said the Lady. “I cannot love the thing which is not. I am in Love, and out of it I will not go.”

There was no answer. The Tragedian had vanished. The Lady was alone in that woodland place … Presently the Lady got up and began to walk away. The other Bright Spirits came forward to receive her, singing as they came:

“The Happy Trinity is her home: nothing can trouble her joy.” (chap. 13)

In “Hell and the Solidarity of Love” I suggested that the Tragedian’s disappearance expresses Lewis’s belief that the damned lose their personhood and humanity and, in essence, become their sin. Consider this exchange between the narrator and his guide about a disgruntled ghost:

“I am troubled, Sir,” said I, “because that unhappy creature doesn’t seem to me to be the sort of soul that ought to be even in danger of damnation. She’s isn’t wicked: she’s only a silly, garrulous old woman who has got into a habit of grumbling, and one feels that a little kindness, and rest, and change would put her all right.”

“That is what she once was. That is maybe what she still is. If so, she certainly will be cured. But the whole question is whether she is now a grumbler.”

“I should have thought there was no doubt about that!”

“Aye, but ye misunderstand me. The question is whether she is a grumbler, or only a grumble. If there is a real woman—even the least trace of one—still there inside the grumbling, it can be brought to life again. If there’s one wee spark under all those ashes, we’ll blow it till the whole pile is red and clear. But if there’s nothing but ashes we’ll not go on blowing them in our own eyes forever. They must be swept up.”

“But how can there be a grumble without a grumbler?”

“The whole difficulty of understanding Hell is that the thing to be under­stood is so nearly Nothing. But ye’ll have had experiences … it begins with a grumbling mood, and yourself still distinct from it: perhaps criticizing it. And yourself, in a dark hour, may will that mood, embrace it. Ye can repent and come out of it again. But there may come a day when you can do that no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood, nor even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine.” (chap. IX)

Once a person becomes his sin, Lewis suggests, he ceases to be an object of care—there is no person there to love and pity. There are only remains, detritus. Here Lewis anticipates the free-will annihilationism of the Catholic theologian Paul J. Griffiths. In his book Decreation, Griffiths proposes that sin should be understood as a flight from being into nothingness, exemplified in the Lord’s parable of the Prodigal Son, read by St Augustine in Latin translation. At the beginning of the parable the younger son approaches his father and demands the substantia due him. He desires ownership of that which cannot be owned but only freely received as gift from the LORD. “The result,” comments Griffiths, “is loss, and not just the simple loss of an object, but rather a cumulative process of loss, loss piled upon loss—labitur in minus eter minus, ‘[the soul] slips and slides into what is less and less” [De Trinitate 10.5.7]loss tending exactly toward nothing” (p. 199). The prodigal eventually becomes destitute. He has consumed his substance until there is nothing left. “And this,” explains Griffiths, “is just what it would mean to go out of existence altogether: to be devoid of substantia is to be annihilated” (p. 199).

This, I think, is how Lewis wishes us to understand the indifference of the Lady to the fate of her husband, who disappears first into the Tragedian and then simply is no more. There is no one there left to be loved. Yet another, perhaps equally plausible, reading of her indiffer­ence is possible: Sarah is oblivious to the torment of the damned because she is enraptured by the presence of God. The lost are no longer her concern; she can neither hear them nor see them. As long as there was a chance for her husband to repent, she was eager to welcome him into heaven. But once he makes his irrevocable decision to remain in his sin, he becomes invisible to her. The glory of the beatific vision engulfs her aware­ness of Frank’s infernal sufferings. As Craig puts it: “The experience of being in Christ’s immediate presence will be so overwhelming for the redeemed that they will not think of the damned in hell” (“Knowledge of the Fate of the Damned“). The fate of the reprobate is unfortunate, but the ascent up the mountain is so satisfying and the vision of God so consuming that attention to anything else is rendered moot.

I suspect this is how many Christians think about the sufferings of the damned. We all know what it is like to become so absorbed in a movie or novel, painting or concert that we lose touch with everything else. It’s as if the outside world doesn’t exist. There is only the new reality into which we have been imaginatively or ecstatically transported. At least for a short time, the happenings of the world do not impinge on our consciousness. We forget ourselves. Might the beatific vision be like this—so beautiful and compelling that the sufferings of the damned warrant neither our attention nor compassion?

As soon as the matter is drawn so sharply, we recoil. Surely the blessed can never be indifferent to the torment of the lost. That would imply that theosis had effectively diminished their capacity for love, compassion, and pity, not enhanced it. As Thomas Talbott writes:

It is possible that the beatific vision will drive all knowledge of the lost from the consciousness of the redeemed (without obliterating it altogether) only if it is possible that the beatific vision will make the redeemed less loving and thus more calloused. But it is not possible that the beatific vision should undermine supremely worthwhile happiness, and neither, therefore, is it possible that such a vision should make someone less loving or more calloused. It is not possible, therefore, that the beatific vision will drive all knowledge of the lost from the consciousness of the redeemed. (“Craig on the Possibility of Eternal Salvation“)

But perhaps the infernalists have a counter-argument: if the blessed love as God loves, may this not imply that we share, in a creaturely way, in the divine impassibility? Of course, it might be helpful to first know what “divine impassibility” means. Thomas Weinandy offers the following explanation:

Negatively, God is immutable in the sense that He does not change as do creatures, but He does not change for positive reasons as well. God’s immutability radically affirms and profoundly intensifies the absolute perfection and utter goodness of God, who, as Creator, is the one who truly lives and exists. Because God’s love is unchangeably perfect and so cannot diminish, He is then the eternally living God who is unreservedly dynamic in His goodness, love, and perfection. Similarly, while the divine attribute of impassibility primarily tells us what God is not, it does so for entirely positive reasons. God is impassible in that He does not undergo successive and fluctuating emotional states, nor can the created order alter Him in such a way so as to cause Him to suffer any modification or loss. Nor is God the possessor of negative and sinful passions as are human beings, with their susceptibility to fear, anxiety, dread, greed, lust, or unjust anger. For the Fathers, to deny that God is passible is to deny of Him all such passions that would debilitate or cripple Him as God. Almost all the early Fathers attributed impassibility to God in order to safeguard and enhance His utterly passionate love and all-consuming goodness, that is, the divine fervor and zealous resolve with which He pursues the well-being of His cherished people. Origen, for example, while ardently upholding God’s impassibility, can equally speak of His “passion of love” for fallen humankind. Even God’s anger was not conceived by the Fathers as a separate passion or intermittent emotional state within Himself, but as constitutive of His unchanging perfect goodness and providential care in the face of sin and evil. (“Does God Suffer?“)

Divine impassibility has been vigorously discussed and debated throughout the modern period, and the literature is vast. Many (including K & R) find the doctrine flawed, given the biblical portrayal of a living, acting, and feeling God. I am not presently inclined to dispute the classical doctrine, as it seems to me that its principal function is to maintain the clear distinction between Creator and creature and to prevent the inappropriate projection of creaturely characteristics upon the deity. For purposes of our discussion I will simply affirm the divine impassibility. God is the plenitude of being. He does not act out of insufficiency or need. The joy and happiness shared by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is not diminished by the pain and sufferings of his creatures. At no point can God ever be held hostage to the sin and misery of his creatures. Nor should divine impassibility be seen as in any way compro­mising the love of God and his commitment to bring his creatures into the life of his kingdom. “God is absolutely impassible,” Weinandy writes, “because He is absolutely passionate in His love.”

Okay, now what? Do the blessed share in the impassibility of God, and if so, in what sense? I do not know how to proceed forward at this point. Kronen and Reitan touch on this question only briefly. Focusing on just one aspect of divine impassibility, let’s assume that God does not have emotions, that he cannot be negatively impacted by the anguish of his creatures (the authors call this the doctrine of impassivity). Does this mean that through their resur­rection in Christ by the Spirit human beings also become impassive and unfeeling? K & R are worried by this suggestion:

Our emotional responsiveness—the fact that we are angered by wickedness and grieved by suffering—seems essential to our human nature. While it may be a flaw that we have emotional responses unfitting to the circum­stances, this is overcome by rendering our emotions more fitting, not by their elimi­nation. If we cease to feel fear in the state of blessedness, it is because fear does not fit with the security that fellowship with God involves. However, would we have attained blessedness if we did not feel safe in God’s bosom, because we had stopped having feelings altogether? While this might qualify as blessedness for, say, Vulcans, it does not sound like human blessedness. (p. 82)

If we attribute impassivity to the redeemed, state K & R, then “eternal blessedness ceases to be the perfection of our human nature (as Christians have historically believed), and becomes instead the swapping out of our human nature for something else” (pp. 82-83). Would Orthodoxy, with its maximal understanding of theosis, disagree?

Perhaps part of our problem of thinking of the redeemed as having emotions is that in this life emotions can be so erratic and irrational. We forget that they express judgments:

Emotions clearly have a cognitive dimension, even if we do not take emotions as nothing but a species of judgment … Emotions are about something—that is, they have an intentional object, and they involve an evaluation of their object. The intentional object of happiness is the state in which one finds oneself, and the evaluation involved is a positive one. Persons who are happy approve of the state in which they find themselves, and are more or less happy depending on how much they approve and how unmixed their approval is with elements of disapproval. Of course, different people have broader or narrower conceptions of what constitutes their ‘state’, depending on how broadly they incorporate the good of others. However, those who are universally loving would identify with all persons, and so would be supremely happy only if they approved of the state of condition of all. Barring the Thomistic argument [that the blessed rejoice in the punishment of the reprobate] … it seems that anyone possessing perfect love would not approve of a state in which some of God’s beloved creatures are eternally damned. (p. 82)

However we understand the emotional state of the saints in heaven, it does make sense to think of them as being able to assess their condition and express their approval or disap­proval. If the traditional doctrine of hell is true, will they not be disappointed that the lost are not sharing in the joy of the kingdom? If so, this would imply that the blessed are compelled to accept the second-best form of supreme happiness. Maybe that’s just the way of things.

Yet let’s not forget one important point: damnation is the ultimate tragedy for a human being, a catastrophe of infinite proportions. We cannot wave the impassibility wand and make the question posed by Kronen and Reitan disappear: “If we love someone, how could knowledge of their eternal damnation not diminish our happiness?” (p. 81). And the more we personalize the question, the more compelling it becomes. Those who truly love another cannot imagine an eternity without them. Those who truly love another will desire the other’s possession of the same happiness which they desire for themselves. They have made their good their own good and must therefore experience the eternal damna­tion of that other as intolerable. At least that is the apprehension shared by Talbott, Kronen, and Reitan. Yes, the loves and desires that we experience in this life are disordered and twisted; but let’s not go so far as to also deny their goodness and truth. We do not exist as monads. We discover and form our personal identities in community, hopefully a commu­nity of love. And the more we truly love, the more important the needs of the other become to us. The beloved becomes constitutive of our being—not in a pathological way but in the mode of personal communion. Detachment from the sufferings of the lost would violate our humanity. And if that still sounds too abstract, then let’s make it as personal as we can. Who do you love? Can you envision yourself blithely accepting their everlasting torment?

The strength of Kronen & Reitan’s Argument from God’s Love for the Blessed is that it accords with the intuition that the saints will feel more, not less. Emotion is purified, healed, transfigured, not obliterated. Does this not result in the problem of emotional blackmail described in The Great Divorce? No, replies the universalist. The sufferings of hell, as terrible as they are—and precisely because they are as terrible as they are—will ultimately shatter all illusions of the damned and convert them to God. The universalist is therefore free to entertain the temporary diminution of the happiness of the blessed.

The infernalist, on the other hand, believing that hell is an eternal, permanent reality, must insist on the immunity of the blessed to all suffering, pain, distress, dissatisfaction. God wills that the saints enjoy supreme and perfect happiness in his trinitarian life. One way or another, therefore, he will see to it that the blessed transcend the torments of the lost. The misery of the damned cannot be allowed to corrupt the joy of heaven. The infernalist is correct to insist that all natural affection and love must be crucified in Christ and raised into new and glorified existence. As Lewis writes, “Every natural love will rise again and live forever in this country: but none will rise again until it has been buried” (chap. XI). Yet at what cost?

(11 September 2013; revised)

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16 Responses to Heavenly Amnesia: How Sweet to Forget the Damned

  1. David Roxas says:

    This post is full of so much speculation with hardly any looking at what scripture has to say.

    “God wills that the blessed should enjoy the maximal bliss of the beatific vision, yet this vision is clouded by the knowledge of perditional suffering and despair. The blessed will love the reprobate yet will be powerless to save them. Whether damnation consists of retributive punishment or self-imposed alienation does not matter. In either case the love of the blessed will be frustrated, their desire thwarted. ”

    There is a great error in this statement and it is the supposition that the blessed will have love for the reprobate and desire their salvation. We don’t find that in the scriptures at all. Instead we find the blessed, the saints, rejoicing over the destruction of the wicked. We don’t see that they have any desire to save them whatsoever but we do see them rejoice in the judgements of God upon the wicked.

    We also read in Isaiah that the saints shall gaze upon the damned and they shall be abhorrent. No weeping for their salvation here.

    Isaiah 66:24: And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh.

    There is no indication that the saints weep for those whom God has judged. In fact God tells the Israelites to have no pity on their family members if they have sinned and must be put to death. How much more so those whom God has judged to eternal damnation and cast into the lake of fire?

    Deut 13:6: ¶If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers;
    7: Namely, of the gods of the people which are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth;
    8: Thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him:
    9: But thou shalt surely kill him; thine hand shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterwards the hand of all the people.

    In Revelation 16 and 19 we read of the saints rejoicing over God’s judgements upon the wicked.

    Rev 16:7: And I heard another out of the altar say, Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments.

    Rev 19:1: And after these things I heard a great voice of much people in heaven, saying, Alleluia; Salvation, and glory, and honour, and power, unto the Lord our God:
    2: For true and righteous are his judgments: for he hath judged the great whore, which did corrupt the earth with her fornication, and hath avenged the blood of his servants at her hand.

    In Revelation we read the God shall wipe every tear for the eyes of the saints.

    Rev 21:4: And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

    There is no place for grief or sorrow or regret at all in the new heaven and earth because all things are new. The saints are not dwelling on the love they had for the damned in this life. Little Susie won’t be wishing her alcoholic blasphemous mother who laughed at her church going but who she still loved anyway was with her in heaven. She will be rejoicing in God’s judgements just like all the rest of the saints. In short the only reply to these statements:

    “We cannot wave the impassibility wand and make the question posed by Kronen and Reitan disappear: “If we love someone, how could knowledge of their eternal damnation not diminish our happiness?””

    “The strength of Kronen & Reitan’s Argument from God’s Love for the Blessed is that it accords with the intuition that the saints will feel more, not less. Emotion is purified, healed, transfigured, not obliterated. ”

    Is that with a little exegesis of scripture and a lot less focusing on human feelings and more focus on the judgements and prerogatives of God we can eviscerate this statement and demonstrate just how foolish they are. This argument that the saints will feel more and thus wish to save the damned would imply they in fact reject the judgement of God and would also imply that they are in rebellion to God! It would mean God is a big bad meanie and the purified emotions of the saints are more correct than He is in His perfect judgements.

    Thoughts?

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    • Iain Lovejoy says:

      You are absolutely right. That is precisely the argument made. It relies on God being pure love as wholly revealed in Jesus Christ. If, in fact, God is not like that, but instead rejoices in the eternal suffering of his creatures, the argument falls apart.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Greetings, David. I have asked Tom Belt to join us. He’s better with Bible questions than I am. He’s also Pentecostal, so he has lots of Spirit, too. 🙂 But he’s on the road right now. Hopefully he’ll get to us in a couple of days. Meanwhile, a couple of quick thoughts.

      First, in this article I am basically summarizing an argument advanced by two Christian (specifically, Lutheran) philosophers. One simply does not expect extensive biblical exegesis in this kind of work, and I doubt it would have strengthened their analysis. Assume that they have already done the biblical legwork and that it underlies their argument.

      Second, as you intimate the authors assume that the love of God is absolute and unconditional. This is an noncontroversial claim in their Lutheran circles (“Christ died for the ungodly,” etc.); but I know it is by no means accepted universally. One can make a strong exegetical case, e.g., that God’s love is in fact rigorously conditional and that sinners will be ultimately judged by their works. The Latin Church broke itself into pieces precisely on that question. In debates like these, each side has their favorite biblical verses; but ultimately, it’s not the verses (either individually or collectively) that are decisive but rather how they are interpreted in light of what is believed to be the central truths of divine revelation. I briefly touch on some of the hermeneutical considerations in “The Hermeneutics of Perdition.” Hence, when dealing with biblical texts such as you cite, I would ask myself questions like: What do they mean in light of God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ? How does the God who is absolute Love intend us to receive these verses?

      Third, you final paragraph goes too far. Of course it is true that everyone in heaven are fully surrendered to God and therefore incapable of disapproving of God. But this doesn’t mean that we may therefore attribute to God all sort of monstrosities, as if might makes right, and and then insist that I’m supposed to affirm these monstrosities as good and just, even though my conscience cries out to heaven against it. Abraham may have been right, given his historical context, to sacrifice Isaac in obedience to the Lord’s command; but I hope that if an angel came to me today with the same command, I would reply: “No, I will not kill my son. The God I know in Jesus Christ would not command me to do that.”

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      • Grant says:

        A further point might also be to ask what is meant by surrender and obedience when it is applied to God and how will that look like post-resurrection. I think allot of the time as something all of us can be guilty of (as we all currently incomplete and fallen and living in an incomplete and fallen world that is twist askew) is we unthinkingly impose concepts as they exist in the world and human society which is fallen onto our view of God and how He works and relates to us (and how we live in and two Him).

        An example might be God’s sovereignty and glory, a problem I see particularly say in Calvinist interpretations, particularly in John Calvin sometimes is imposing fallen human understanding of such concepts onto theological understanding of God (to me at least there seems a strong link between Calvinist ideas on sovereignty and concepts of idea absolute monarchy and sovereignty that were very much in fashion during John Calvin’s lifetime). These concepts are then unintentionally imposed and read into Scripture and into theological thinking and systems on the Gospel, God’s nature, creation and so on. Rather than look to the Gospel for what does sovereignty and glory look like there outside and fallen meanings (at least as I see it) is read into and imposed on, and then used as a basis, in the Gospel’s the Lord is the Servant King, who heals, frees, and serves others, who gives His Life as a ransom, His glory is displayed on the Cross, being declared fully human by Pilate in His Self-Giving love is the glory of God in human nature fully realized. And He is the Word of God, the full Image and Likeness of the Father, as He is so is the Father.

        So what does surrender and obedience to God or others look like, in our regular world these often have negative aspects, or can seem to lead people to lose autonomy and free expression, perhaps to a noble cause but it can have that aspect. And to surrender is often seen and experienced negatively, I don’t know David or his theological philosophical but he seems to suggest something like a loss of self expression or unthinking complete automatonish surrender, something of surrender and obedience in this vein, like in an army. God is superior, and in we obey and surrender to Him, even or minds and thoughts in this case, and if He says we jump, we say how high, and if He says we hate these people and rejoice in their destruction we do so.

        However I think is again bring fallen and I think somewhat negative views of surrender and obedience onto the Gospel and theological thought, rather than looking to the Gospel itself for understanding of what do these things look like. Again it is liked to the above, Our Lord is, not just was, the Servant King, who gives freely and reigns in service to all, the Holy Spirit who is freely given, helps us, witnesses with us, guides us, comforts us, helps us to pray and so on, and the Father gives the Son, entrusts all to Him and is also freely gives of Himself. The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit give freely to each other, and to all creation, and all and every person in free self-giving love, in surrender and obedience to that love and to each Other, and a free and dynamic dance.

        I know perhaps to use those words in relation to God might shocking to some, but I don’t see how else we can can see it, this deep humility that is God, that takes the nature and likeness of a servant, because that is His nature, as love is free giving and service to the other. Love is free giving, receiving, service and freedom to the other, it is surrender in open trust and faith to that other in a dynamic and free dance full of joy, in knowing that other more and more. Even in our fallen world and ourselves we can still see this imperfectly, to fall in love with another, is to give yourselves to each other in trust and surrender to that person and to your love for them, as that love compels you, yet also gloriously at it’s best frees you. And the same is true been deep and true friends, who give freely and in surrender and obedience to each other, in joy, trust and ever deeper knowing, or parents too their children, siblings and so on.

        And Christ’s example, and commandments and revelations are to live in this love, with God and each other, is self-giving, free and dynamic love, that seems to me at least a little of what obedience and surrender look like, and such would not involve accepting at least just by fiat the destructive torment of others, whom we love, and whom Our Lord has commanded to love, and indeed would seem in defiance of who He is, who the Father is and who the Holy Spirit is, and how they have freed and developed our character.

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      • David Roxas says:

        As you object to my final paragraph so I will have to object to your final paragraph. The judgements of God are always praised in scripture and yet you are referring to them as monstrosities. I understand you are a universalist and do not believe in the doctrine of eternal punishment. (Is that a right understanding of yourself?) But to call the judgements of God monstrosities steps out of bounds of how God is revealed in scripture and introduces an emotional argument. Indeed God has done many “monstrous” things to various groups and individuals in scripture. From the plagues of Egypt to the conquering of Canaan to the death of Herod in Acts 12. But never are theses acts of God spoke of in such terms.

        I think we must have a different understanding of God’s unconditional love as well. Of course the absolute unconditional love of God to men is not a controversial subject. Christ died for sinners. But if those sinners are not ingrafted into Christ by faith and have no part of Him then they are outside of Him and thus outside of the love of God and the wrath of God abides on them as Christ Himself said. It is not that we will be judged by our works but we will be judged by whether or not we have believed in Christ.

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        • Nabisafl says:

          Tangential to the main point, but irresistible given the last assertion here: it was my evangelical father and pastor who observed to me that all the judgment passages in the New Testament describe the decision on the basis of “works”, “the deeds done in the body”, “whatever you have done to the least of these my brethren”, etc. At the time he could not explain it; it was an uncomfortable curiosity for a Sola Fide preacher like himself. For me the cognitive dissonance took 20 years and exposure to an ancient strain of Christianity to begin to resolve. Then I came to realize how carelessly I had been reading the Scriptures, and how brazenly I was asserting things I didn’t really understand. Lord have mercy.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Tom says:

          Hi David,

          Sorry to chime in so late. Still on the road, so forgive my brief comments…

          David: The judgements of God are always praised in scripture…

          Tom: Of course all God does is praiseworthy. When God arranges for us to meet the just consequences of our sinful choices – that’s ‘just’, and God’s justice is praiseworthy. But this leaves unanswered to question of the ‘just’ nature of “irrevocable” punishment. Point is, it doesn’t follow from the fact that Christians universally praise whatever God does as righteous that the irrevocable torment of sinners in hell is to be thought praiseworthy IF such irrevocable torment is not universally believed by all Christians to be something God does.

          David: But to call the judgements of God monstrosities steps out of bounds of how God is revealed in scripture…

          Tom: But consider – if one doesn’t see irrevocable torment revealed in Scripture, then one doesn’t step outside the bounds of how one holds God to be revealed in Scripture to hold irrevocable torment to be unjust and monstrous – obviously. The universalist may step outside the bounds of how ‘some’ believe God to be revealed in Scripture, but these ‘some’ do the same from the perspective of others.

          David: Indeed God has done many “monstrous” things to various groups and individuals in scripture. From the plagues of Egypt to the conquering of Canaan to the death of Herod in Acts 12. But never are theses acts of God spoke of in such terms.

          Tom: Forgetting the interpretive issues about some of these, let’s assume God did all these things. Given that much, I personally wouldn’t hold anything here to be monstrous. But none of these things is irrevocable/eternal torment either, which is what we’re talking about. Once you go from temporal, finite, this-worldly consequences (even the worst of which can conceivably be attributed to God because they can be brought within the embrace of that portrait of God disclosed in Christ crucified/risen) to infinite, irrevocable torment, you move into the realm of an absolute expenditure that cannot be brought within that embrace.

          David: Of course the absolute unconditional love of God to men is not a controversial subject. Christ died for sinners. But if those sinners are not ingrafted into Christ by faith and have no part of Him then they are outside of Him and thus outside of the love of God and the wrath of God abides on them as Christ Himself said.

          Tom: But David, this is just to say that God’s love for us is conditional. If God shows his love to (Rom 5) in that ‘while we were yet sinners Christ died for the ungodly’, then God loves those who are “outside Christ.” This doesn’t mean we don’t suffer the consequence of being outside Christ, but it does mean that being outside of Christ, and suffering whatever may be the consequences of being outside of Christ, doesn’t negate the love of God – not if we’re going to say God loves us unconditionally. And it’s precisely the the undying, unconditional love that God is and has for us – regardless of whether we’re inside or outside – that ought to guide how we read Scripture overall.

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    • Tom says:

      David,

      There’s no establishing the truth of the matter in this case by simply calling to the stand passages that speak of the righteous (or even God) rejoicing at the judgment of sinners. One can also call to the stand passages that reflect, and even command, the very opposite attitude: “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord” (Ez. 18.23; 32; 33.11). The answer of course is ‘No’. In Jer 14.17 God speaks of shedding tears day and night for those who are justly judged. In Isa 63.9 and 19.22 God chastens to heal. We’re commanded “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles, or the Lord will see and be displeased and turn his anger away from him” (Prov. 24:17-18). Job is righteous because he has not rejoiced at the death of his enemies (Job 31:29). Lamentations 3:33 says God does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men. One could go on and on describing this motif in Scripture.

      It won’t do for us to hold up the passages you quote and claim to have gotten to the bottom of the matter. And hermeneutically speaking it’s a mistake to assume all the Scripture – OT and NT combined – speaks with a single voice on such matters. Obviously it doesn’t. And we navigate the travail in the text by learning to read it in the shadow of the Cross and Resurrection. Christ determines the truth of Scripture. So it’s hardly pure speculation detached from all Scriptural grounding on Fr Al’s part to suggest that those passages that describe the abiding compassionate, gracious, forgiving, cruciform, purgative/healing, teleological purpose of all God’s works – even judgment.

      Tom

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  2. Iain Lovejoy says:

    It seems to me that a human being is said to be “impassive” if they cannot be provoked to love or compassion by witnessing the suffering of others. If God is “impassive” and cannot be provoked to love or greater love and compassion by witnessing our suffering it must be because he is already pure infinite and complete love and compassion in action and there are no reserves of love and compassion held back in reserve which God requires further prompting to release. It can’t mean God has in fact no love and compassion for us at all. God is not a neglectful parent who ignores his child until the child cries to remind him the child needs him.
    Infernalists then it seems to me can’t invoke some sharing in divine impassivity to get round the problem of the saved feeling compassion for the damned. This is backwards. The more “impassive” we are the less our love can be thwarted by the fears, changes, distractions and turmoils of life, and the less it requires the prompting of witnessing suffering to be released. To armour ourselves against the suffering of the damned, block out our compassion, to cover our ears and flee is not “impassive” in any sense, and if we think in that state where we are fleeing to could be heaven we are entirely deluded – we are simply fleeing further into hell.

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  3. Grant says:

    Again it seems that the first suggestion that God clouds the minds of the redeemed both during the intermediate state and then continuing post resurrection would first of all mean God is a deceiver of the faithful, and that joy is brought at a lie as you have elaborated above. But further, as you put in your last post in this series, given particular clarity and lucidity in the quote from Hart which I’ll quote here again:

    ‘It is not merely peculiarity of personal temperament that prompts Tertullian to speak of the saved relishing the delightful spectacle of the destruction of the reprobate, or Peter Lombard and Thomas Aquinas to assert that the vision of the torments of the damned will increase the beatitude of the redeemed (as any trace of pity would darken the joys of heaven), or Luther to insist that the saved will rejoice to see their loved ones roasting in hell. All of them were simply following the only poor thread of logic they had to guide them out of a labyrinth of impossible contradictions; the sheer enormity of the idea of a hell of eternal torment forces the mind toward absurdities and atrocities. Of course, the logical deficiencies of such language are obvious: 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 then 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. But not a person—not the person who was. But the deepest problem is not the logic of such claims; it is their sheer moral hideousness. (“God, Creation, and Evil,” p. 9)’

    – such an action would be the loss too each of the redeemed of not just their memory of loved ones, but of all that relationship contained, all it’s content and development of character, place, growth of person and being, and of course of all the complex connections with others and creation that spread outwards in a bewildering complexity. All this would be cut out and amputated from them all others, all would be mutilated and then remains reformed into something wholly other than they were, as Hart argues.

    And interestingly enough, the second possibility offered, that the blessed would be so enraptured that they loss sight of the damned, even their loved ones, and are unable to think of them or are indifferent in ecstasy ends in the same situation. All those web of connections, being and personhood are lost, removed from all the blessed and new things emerge in their place. Again it leads to what Hart elaborates above, to become indifferent to the suffering of any, even more so those you loved, leads to something other then the persons they were, and I emphasis something. Because what they would not be is human, as you suggest covering the idea of some impassivity would lead to something that isn’t what we are but perfected and ever greater, something much lesser, and degeneration. Something able to ignore and be unmoved by pain, hurt, need and suffering for selfish pleasure, even of their own loved ones, have not only lost key aspects of themselves and been refashioned into something wholly new, they have lost their humanity altogether. They would be something horrible and monstrous, not the people they were and they would not be living and participating in love at all, they would be monstrous and demonic, and as Iain says above heading ever further in hell. In such a scenario none are saved, and all are eternally damned, and at least those ‘officially’ damned still retain something of their true self in this horrific picture. As to how this picture essentially paints God, it would in both scenarios be a denial of God goodness, and that He is love, and though unintentionally (since it is offered in honest piety) to me would seem when thought through quite blasphemous.

    Perhaps I’m retreading old ground in this (as my last post laboured on the same issue), but in some ways I find Lewis’s example very revealing because, as I argued in the reply of the first post, it displays to me the very opposite thing that Lewis intends for it to demonstrate. Whether it is because Sarah has had all memory of Frank removed by the end, or whether it is because she is so caught up ‘in Love’ that she is indifferent to him and to that whole relationship with him, she both has had all that was in that removed from here, amputated and been refashioned. We see the end before our eyes, she just like Frank is something that isn’t Sarah anymore, is something wholly other, and is something completely selfish, self-involved and indifferent and unmoved by the other or any suffering or loss. So obsessed with joy that she can feel no compassion or pity. She displays in that scene no love at all, despite believing she is in it, she is in the same position as her husband, only more deceived. And in the end what remains of her disappears as surely as he does, and something inhuman and terrible, and far less than the true Sarah has risen in her place. Far from advocating his point, Lewis unintentionally demonstrates much that is truly wrong and rather horrific in these views, and in narrative shows what Hart is talking about in action. To me it seems clear that both husband and wife are damned and lost in this scene.

    And indifference to suffering is one basic display that someone has little love in them and is not participating in the Life of God in Christ, and is something that Our Lord condemns strongly. To maintain this view, is to believe that somehow love becomes something other post-resurrection, it becomes something that isn’t love, non-love or new kind of love, that has little to no relation to how agapic love is understood now. That doesn’t seem at all possibly to be true, it would mean what has been revealed of love now would be a lie (as God doesn’t change), not something as it is now but complete and far more full than ever before. And again, it suggests God is a deceiver, that also isn’t acceptable, we may see through a glass darkly but in Christ we do see truly though not completely nonetheless. This view would turn the redeemed into the figures of the priest and the Levite who see someone suffering but are indifferent and callous to the Samaritan’s pain and suffering, and refuse to act in love, After all there he is a Samaritan and they are Jews, he is other, unclean and probably to most in the Lord’s audience unrighteous and hated, above the suffering other are the damned and the callous and indifferent ones are the blessed and redeemed. In fact it would ever be worse, because at least the priest and Levite in the parable saw and acknowledged the Samaritan and his suffering, they just refused to care or get involved. In the above scenario, the blessed will not even acknowledge the damned at all, and this is strongly condemned by Christ, Whatever that would be, it would not be to be caught up in love at all, but the total opposite, and what is being suggested isn’t salvation, but damnation.

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  4. brian says:

    Theology is the living witness of the Church to the revelation of God’s love. The listening Church is the praying Church, always brought to astonishment before the ever greater creativity of agapeic generosity. Jesus Christ, the anointed, makes visible the Father’s constant vigilance and solicitude for the creation; the Spirit, free, winsome, beyond prediction, divine Person whose face is obscure to us, the Consoler and Interpreter who dwells in our hearts, opening up the meaning of the Word, healing and divinizing the entire creation, that which broods upon the chaos, turning the waters of the Flood into the sacramental passage towards eternal life in Baptism, this Word of Life requires of us childlike joy in the gift, and what else? At the very least, a poet’s attentive care, the reverent listening that hears the music of divine bliss in the Silence. The God who transcends our antinomies, whose Infinite does not extinguish the finite, who is beyond freedom and necessity, the delightful love of plenitude that conquers death by drinking the bitter cup to the end in order to accompany the benighted flesh, this cannot be accounted for by a narrow reckoning based on an economy of death, scarcity, and individualism. Such frugal accounting counts the cost and thus is never brought into the Holy of Holies, the heart of divine love, the perichoretic dance of giving and receiving that is endless delight and wonder.

    A kind of pious idolatry cannot get past a merely human wisdom. It grumbles at the Prodigality of the Father who returns the ring and embraces the lost; it rages at the inequity of a Divinity who would refuse the common justice of paying out just deserts (Matt. 20: 1 – 16), most assuredly, it will fail to recognize the unique Theo-Logic of TriUne God. The Impassability of God which is the constancy of Infinite Love is more vulnerable than our hard hearts, but also serene, for God’s victory is the freedom of God that cannot be captured in our concepts or limited by our niggardly human sense of the Good. The Father’s great secret, Chesterton glimpsed it, the divine mirth, is Love’s assurance that is never reactive to finite ignorance and evil. All this is not “vain metaphysics.” It is the fruit of the Church meditating upon the mystery of God’s love. Charles Peguy’s The Portal of the Mystery of Hope is a poet’s testimony, the elucidation of the Father’s tender care. No bludgeoning, univocal grasping of the Scripture will do, as if concepts were enough to capture God, as if the gospel only endorses prior understanding, as if God were a competitive freedom, a merely large version of human selfhood, a Demiurgic artisan who grows frustrated and is defeated by the intractable intransigence of created wills. Gen. 6:6-7 – “I will blot out man whom I have created . . . for I am sorry that I have made them.”

    The end of the book of Esther where 75,000 enemies of the Jews are slain is the justice that answers genocidal hostility with eradication of the enemy. Is this the strength of God’s justice? Does the Cross manifest such an easily understood “eye for an eye”? Or perhaps it is of a piece with Job’s Counselors who did not know God. All this is not yet to mention that the archetype of all Personhood is Divine Life, the TriUne joy. Neither the modern individual, nor the tribal collective of primitive culture, anticipates the strangeness of being, the mystery of identity that can only be learned by participation in the very life of Christ. To be person is to live out a unique mission, to be given a special, irreplaceable place in the dynamism that is the life of Jesus Christ. Ultimately, this means that we are all called, and this calling is to radiate the Father’s love which comes to us in darkness, as the midnight sun. To be raised up into the life of Christ is to discover that relation to all of created being is not an elective gratuity that one can just as easily dismiss as accept. You, in your mysterious specificity, emerge even at the natural level as a gift. You do not discover uniqueness except as a result of nurturing in the womb and the home. The language you think with is a mysterious gift, the origin of which is not known by any science — any claims that arrogate more than that are lying. No creature is ultimately separate from the gift of common being. To imagine that any part of Creation can be cut off, a fungible fragment unnecessary to the joyful beatitude of the Whole, is to imagine a justice separable from the Mercy of God. Likewise, to imagine that the Mercy of God is antipathetic to the healing of the sinner, a mere forensic justification content to let the wicked off, is to be blind and insensible to the Passion manifest on the Cross – and hence, the Church as participant in the life of Christ deepens as each member approaches the freedom of the God who is not bound, yet jealous, jealous, that not one sheep be lost, that no beloved be defeated by death and sin.

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  5. Tom says:

    Good piece Fr Aidan. I agree Craig’s option is intolerable. What kind of beatitude ‘depends’ upon ignorance of the sufferings of others? In addition, R&K obviously don’t understand apatheia. And equally difficult to fathom is that beatitude that rejoices in the sufferings of others because God is thereby glorified as author of just judgment. This is impossible not because we can rejoice in ‘no’ divine judgments, but because the particular judgment of ‘eternal’ suffering, by virtue of its irrevocability, severs judgment absolutely from the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. It divorces judgment from the transcendentals. Judgment can never fail to instantiate the benevolent nature of the Good. That’s the problem there.

    But I think I’d differ from your proposal a bit though. When you say since the universalist holds hellish sufferings to be temporary and intended to eventually restore us (I agree) “the universalist is therefore free to entertain the temporary diminution of the happiness of the blessed.” I’d suggest the undiminished nature of the beatitude of the redeemed, for if we know those loved by us who are suffering purgation in the loving embrace of God, then what is left to diminish our beatitude? Just the fact that they’re in pain? The assurance that the infinite God of love remains their unavoidable end isn’t enough to secure us without remainder?

    I’d try to argue that it’s not the case that to ‘desire’ God as the highest good of others we must suffer our own diminishment until they possess that good. It’s true that what we desire for others is unfulfilled, but participation in God makes our desire for others an ecstatic overflow of desiring for other what we are and have. In other words, because our desiring is purified, it needs not the condition of those for whom it desires God to be improved, (though it must know their condition to end in fulfillment to be possible as such). It is not the desire ‘of need’ but precisely the expression of fulfillment.

    Example: I’m walking through a campground one day, observing other campers as I walked. I see one family (parents, a few young kids) having a great time at their site. The kids are chasing each other laughing. The young daughter, maybe 4 or 5, falls and scrapes her knee. Her cries are immediate and the whole world knows about it. She’s obviously shocked and in a lot of pain. She couldn’t world-construct outside her pain. The father? As you might expect, his response didn’t include the slightest discomfort or loss of happiness. He turned to his daughter, moved in her direction, and with a big smile called her name and held out his arms. Why not meet her level of experienced suffering with ‘some measure of suffering’ of his own? Shouldn’t he feel some slight dip in happiness? We know why the answer is no. His joy isn’t diminished because of his perspective on her suffering. He assesses he pain relative to what he believes to be her highest good and well-being. Shouldn’t the beatified desire of the redeemed for the as-yet unredeemed similarly be both ecstatic and undiminished?

    Another example. Your little daughter screams out in the night. You rush to her side and find her stuck inside a nightmare. (It’s actually happened to me.) She cries out, “There’s a monster chasing me!” What do you say? Certainly not “Run faster!” You hold her in your arms and say, “It’s alright my love, Daddy is here! Don’t be afraid.” And you gently rock her in your arms *until her reality conforms to your reality*. You save her from her nightmare by exposing it as false, not by letting it falsify in you the beatitude that saves her. That’s a rough analogy, I think, for the kind of beatitude I think the redeemed will continue to have for others.

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  6. John H says:

    David,

    Very few English translations of Scripture are free of theological bias, so, unless you have the ability to read Scripture in Hebrew or Greek, the original meaning of the text as intended by the author will be distorted.

    David Bentley Hart recently translated the New Testament with the express purpose of expressing in English the original meaning that a 1st century reader of those texts would have likely discerned while reading them.

    I would encourage you to read DBH’s New Testament and ask yourself whether the texts that purportedly refer to the eternal damnation or destruction of the wicked really say that when properly translated with little if any theological presuppositions.

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  7. Tom says:

    We love ‘as we are loved by God’. God’s love ‘for us’ is indivisible from his love ‘for all others’. So to love God is to love them God loves. That’s what makes it impossible to imagine rejoicing over the ‘final/irrevocable/irredeemable’ suffering of the lost, for one can only not love other and desire God for them if one believes God doesn’t love them and desire himself for them – and that is what’s impossible to imagine here.

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    • Tom says:

      “to love THEM God loves”? Or “to love them whom God loves”? Or “to love those God loves”? Grammarian will suffer in hell and we won’t mourn them!

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  8. joel in ga says:

    Christian philosopher Borden Parker Bowne (1847-1910) explained divine impassibility as the fact that God is an independent being, unconditioned by anything outside of Himself. He can be related to beings outside of Himself only as He freely chooses to posit those relationships. So then the question becomes, has God chosen to be so related to His finite creatures that their misery makes Him miserable too? This would seem to be an easy question to answer if we look to how our Lord conducted Himself among men.

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