“But beyond evil, there is yet a ‘being as nothing’ with the forgiving ‘yes’ that offers release again, beyond the ‘no’ that blights being”

What of God as the absolute judge? We tend today to be uncomfortable with judgment: we think it smacks too much of revenge. Can we evade judgment, finally? Justice is God’s, it is said. But true judgment is not vengeance, it is doing justice. We would ourselves be done justice; we would do justice to ourselves. Doing justice has to do with redeeming the promise of what we are to be: being agapeic. There is a sign of the unconditional in judgment: this is; this is good. The “is” and “is good” make an ultimate claim on us. Not to acknowledge it would be a betrayal, a treason. God as (doing) justice concerns the ultimate in being true, and with redeeming the unconditional promise of being agapeic. The hyperbolic good suggests more than justice on the measure of human retribution. Doing justice in the hyperbolic dimension is immeasurable.

The last judgment is thought to determine the ultimate difference of heaven and hell. We might wonder about God’s justice by asking: What is damnation? Do we have to deny damnation if there is a hyperbolic God, good beyond a univocal retributive justice and beyond counteracting vengeance? Do the damned damn themselves? We incarnate a certain absoluteness. We enjoy the given absoluteness of being for self. We can forget or neglect the givenness. We can hate it. Then the absoluteness becomes evil: I am God – I am the whole, the whole that is untrue, the counterfeit double of God. Hell is when we make ourselves our own heaven. Damnation is the self-closure that bars the door from within, devouring the key it has turned, the key which turns itself into itself. The damned turned themselves into themselves and become what they endeavor to be – themselves only. They are given what they will – themselves as entirely themselves and nothing but themselves. Themselves as circling in the singularized self-mediation which has cut off, and cut itself off from, the other side of its given nature, namely, its intermediation with the other. Damnation is absolute autonomy. We excommunicate ourselves.

Hell is the counterfeit double of heaven – the deconsecrated parody of being agapeic. Hell is being God – by a being who is not God. Hell is not the other but a kind of selving, frozen in the fire of its own envy of God. It is so stuffed with itself, there is no porosity. Its mouth is so full of itself it cannot speak to another. It cannot pray, it is so full with itself. Refusing repenting, it also damns the source of its own vulnerability – unbecoming for self, hell becomes the other. The self for whom hell is the other is already in hell, for it is already hell. It is a living lie. Hell is a detestation of the metaxological truth of finite being, the execration of a selving that loathes its own porosity, its own passio, as it turns the key on its own closure, irrevocably from the inside. Does the God of agapeic goodness leave it at that? Is what is left be also awaited? The key can be turned again but only freedom can unlock what is here shut in, become porous again to the pluralism of the metaxological relation. Autonomy realized as hell is beyond self-determination. Heaven gifted freedom is also beyond self-determination.

Does God wait at the gates of hell? More, is there a harrowing of hell, a descent of the divine into the infernal? Is a music of release sung there, melting the frozen fire, allowing the damned to turn again and go, to be let go? I do not know. Does the fig tree once cursed come back to life again? I do not know. Is there a limit in our self-becoming beyond which the self we have made ourselves to be is irrevocable? I do not know for sure. Heaven is beyond self-determination, but is there any entry into heaven, except for those who will it heart and mind and spirit? Are those who refuse it with heart and mind and spirit damned, not just continuing to be in a place/noplace of absolute closure, but consigning themselves to nothingness by insisting and persisting in being everything? I do not know. For one cannot be at all outside of metaxological relation to the origin, and this relation is what is radically declined here. Is this turning down not an undoing that repudiates being, and the good of “to be”? Ontologically, it is impossible to sustain the “to be” outside the affirmation of its goodness, but is this “outside” not where the damned would place themselves? Is not the conclusion, then, that there is no possible place for such beings to be, and they are given their will, and become nothing? Does God give us what we exact? My will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven – except the result is hell. My will be done – in hell – as it is in heaven.

Nietzsche hated the God of hell, seeing therein the apotheosis of hateful vengeance. The moral God will not do, and he refers us to a condition beyond good and evil. Nietzsche’s “beyond” is not the hyperbolic goodness of agapeic love but self-affirming will to power. One might agree that any moral interpretation tailored to the measure of our self-mediation risks being an idol. But we do not want to erect new amoral idols beyond good and evil. There is an ethical–religious freedom beyond moral autonomy. God is more than the law; the free human is more than law. Law is a name for constancies of integrity that must be respected if the good of being is to be loved. But being good exceeds the law, even as the law articulates the necessary more or less determinate constancies of integrity. Agapeic freedom is not an autonomy that hates law, as constraining its putative liberty as self-law, and that bucks under anything superior to itself.

There is an idiocy to the divine beyond moral good and evil that would present difficulties for both Kant and Nietzsche, so far as each wants to secure his own will, be it moral or amoral. Is not this divine idiocy an agapeic mindfulness beyond our principle of sufficient reason? Beyond object and subject? Beyond determinate being and self-determining? A willingness beyond willfulness, beyond this or that will, beyond self-determining will? Is it not imaged for us in those elemental ones with a taste for the elemental beauty of creation, like the lilies of the field? The mad love of ethical–religious heroes? The Buddha: compassion and smiling serenity? Francis: joy the sign of God? Jesus – becoming as little children – dead man or divine child? Resurrection in death of the unborn infant? Is this the idiot wisdom of excessive goodness such as we find in the madness of the beatitudes: blessed are the poor; blessed are those who weep …? We must ask for everything, for everything is asked of us. We must ask for nothing, for already we have been given everything.

If we take everything, we cease to be divine children and make of our excess something monstrous. There is a “becoming nothing” that is other to the nihilation of the damned. There is a “being nothing” that is the hyperbole of “being good.” It is agapeic consent that, in making way, makes a way. The opening of the God beyond good and evil to the good of beings is an outpouring of agapeic letting. The letting to be at all of finite beings is agapeic generosity. The letting of this being good would be like a “being nothing” or “becoming as nothing,” such that the opening for the other is created. God becomes nothing, in giving the good of being over to those who seem as if nothing. We too are asked to be such a giving. In truth, we are all as nothing, and are at all because God consents to be as nothing. Kenotic goodness places us at the opposite extreme to the nihilation of the damned. It is a liberation, a consent, a “yes” that frees. The finite being that is freed is also free to refuse the agapeic promise given to it, and can turn to evil. But beyond evil, there is yet a “being as nothing” with the forgiving “yes” that offers release again, beyond the “no” that blights being. The forgiving “yes” is one which sets at naught. It says, “It is nothing.” Such a setting at naught is the release of new life and joy. The uplift of life is given in forgiving, and the downthrown are recreated as if from nothing. It is the agapeic letting of the good which allows one to begin again. “Being as nothing” allows again the communication of goodness in the erstwhile clogged porosity of the between, uncongealing a defective self-becoming, allowing “coming to be” to regenerate the promise of life, beyond the partially redeemed or betrayed promise we have become. The flagging “once” of our “coming to be” is marvelously refreshed.

No moral understanding can completely comprehend this kenotic nothing. It visits us with a mercy beyond justice. This is a transmoral good, but it is no joyless mercy. The good of being is for nothing, nothing but goodness itself. We want that good to be for us. The release of “becoming as nothing” releases us beyond the good that we would make for ourselves. This is for us to learn how to look on life as God looks: with agapeic love. This becoming as nothing calls to mind again our exposure to nihilism and its return to zero. The good beyond good and evil makes its call in this return to zero. This return is the possibility of re-creation, of beginning again. There are breakdowns, but there are different nothings. There is the empty nothing of nihilism; the howling nothing of the damned; the forgiving nothing that consents to the good, even of the evil; there is the kenotic nothing which sings in the porosity of the between the release of generosity that redeems by accepting.

William Desmond


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