Divine Presence and the River of Fire

The title of Zachary Manis’s book Sinners in the Presence of a Loving God succinctly summarizes his constructive proposal. He calls it the divine presence model: “the eternal suffering of hell is not the result of any divine act that aims to inflict it, but rather the way that a sinful creature necessarily experiences the unmitigated presence of a holy God” (p. 249).

The incarnate Son of God suddenly reveals himself to his creation in the fullness of his glory. The veil between divinity and world is lifted, and all of humanity is given to see the living God face to face in his transfigured flesh. At this moment there is no longer time to make a decision for Christ, for the parousial revelation reveals to each soul the eschato­logical decision they have already and definitively made, expressed in each person’s immediate response to the glorious, overwhelming presence: love and joy for the the blessed; hatred, terror, and anguish for the damned. The redeemed welcome the Lord with hearts filled with overbrimming gladness; the reprobate find the divine presence an intolerable agony. The glory of God surrounds all, intends all, penetrates all—but with different subjective results. All hinges upon one’s spiritual condition. If love and faith indwell the soul, then Christ is recognized as a loving, all-forgiving Savior; if hate and despair, as a wrathful tyrant.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall see God” (Matt 5:3)

But if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! (Matt 6:23)

There is no place to flee, no cave in which to hide. There is now only God revealed in brilliant glory, breathtaking beauty, awesome majesty. There is now only heaven. Yet not all will find heaven heavenly, so perhaps we need to restate: there is now only heaven and hell—and God is both. “Heaven and hell,” Manis explains, “are not two ‘places’ to which the saved and damned are consigned, respectively, but rather two radically different ways that different creatures will experience the same reality of divine omnipresence once the barrier of divine hiddenness is finally and fully removed” (p. 249). The return of Christ is simultaneously revelation and judgment. The existential truth of each soul is laid bare, to themselves and the world:

The judgment that is rendered by Christ is not like that of an earthly judge, who freely renders a verdict and decides upon a punishment to which the condemned will be sentenced. Christ’s judgment is not a decision about a person’s guilt or innocence; it is not something that is made true by declara­tion. The final judgment is, rather, a pronouncement of the existing truth about each individual (“I judge only as I hear”). It is a revealing of what is already the case, as recorded in a person’s own conscience. (p. 371)

All will share in the parousial vision of Christ, but only those reborn in the Spirit will share in it as God intends, as joyous ecstasy. “For all others,” Manis notes, “it is an experience of wrath, an experience of ‘burning,’ an event which causes unrepentant sinners to suffer intensely, without end or relief” (p. 357). God, we might say, will be to us either heaven or heaven-experienced-differently. But why does the parousial unveiling of the Lord in glory not generate the conversion of the damned? Why must it be that “the possibility of repen­tance for the unrighteous is forever lost, along with the possibility of performing other actions or forming other beliefs, desires, and attitudes that are essential to the salvific process” (p. 332)? Manis offers the following speculative thoughts (pp. 333-334):

  • Perhaps the manifestation of the divine presence induces an intensity of pain that makes a genuinely free repentance impossible.
  • Perhaps the torment is so great it renders them incapable of loving and trusting God.
  • Perhaps the damned are so overwhelmed with their own agony that they cannot direct their thoughts to repentance.
  • Perhaps the divine presence inflames the vice in their soul that it becomes even more deeply entrenched and “exacerbates their existing state of self-deception.”

I’m not sure about speculation #4. If the divine manifestation reveals to each soul their existential truth, this would seem to exclude the ability to self-deceive. Or perhaps the self-deception mechanism clicks in immediately upon encountering the truth.

Orthodox Christians will recognize that Manis is presenting (in Protestant idiom) the view of heaven and hell commonly taught in their parishes and popularized by Alexandre Kalomiros’ tract The River of Fire. Kalomiros describes the typical last judgment icon:

In the icon of the Last Judgment we see Our Lord Jesus Christ seated on a throne. On His right we see His friends, the blessed men and women who lived by His love. On His left we see His enemies, all those who passed their life hating Him, even if they appeared to be pious and reverent. And there, in the midst of the two, springing from Christ’s throne, we see a river of fire coming toward us. What is this river of fire? Is it an instrument of torture? Is it an energy of vengeance coming out from God in order to vanquish His enemies? No, nothing of the sort. This river of fire is the river which “came out from Eden to water the paradise” of old (Gen. 2:10). It is the river of the grace of God which irrigated God’s saints from the beginning. In a word, it is the out-pouring of God’s love for His creatures. Love is fire. Anyone who loves knows this. God is Love, so God is Fire. And fire consumes all those who are not fire themselves, and renders bright and shining all those who are fire themselves (Heb. 12:29) … Paradise and hell are one and the same River of God, a loving fire which embraces and covers all with the same beneficial will, without any difference or discrimination. The same vivifying water is life eternal for the faithful and death eternal for the infidels; for the first it is their element of life, for the second it is the instrument of their eternal suffocation; paradise for the one is hell for the other.

Manis has drunk deeply from the Orthodox well. He is the first non-Orthodox thinker to bring the contemporary Eastern view into substantive conversation with Western reflection on hell.

The divine presence model stands between the retributive and choice models discussed in our previous article and draws from both. Like the choice model, it rejects retributive punish­­ment as incompatible with the absolute love of God. God always comes to his children in unconditional love and limitless mercy, eternally intending the unmerited gift of commu­nion. On the other hand, the divine presence model shares with the tradi­tional model the elements of judgment and penalty:

On this [divine presence] model, God’s aim is always toward restoration, and His intention is the salvation of every person, but the damned experience the culminating act of God’s salvific work in history—the revealing of Christ in glory in the echaton—as a retributive punishment, instead. In reclaiming the retributive elements, however, there is at least a worry that the problem of justice is reintroduced. The suffering of the damned is not self-chosen, or even entirely self-inflicted, on this model; there is clearly a sense in which the damned are subjected to the presence of God, against their will, and likewise for the suffering it causes them. Insofar as this suffering is without end, it is infinite, and thus dispropor­tionate to the earthly wrongdoing that precedes it. I submit, however, that for the divine presence model, this disproportion is not a problem of justice, insofar as the suffering of the damned is not inten­ded by God at all, and a fortiori not intended as a punishment, retributive or otherwise … Hell has a retributive function on the divine presence model, but not a retributive intent. (p. 290)

It’s important that we grasp the point Manis is making. He believes that an adequate understanding of eternal perdition “must account for recurring biblical themes such as final judgment, the wrath of God, the destruction of the wicked, divine vengeance, and so on” (p. 285)—all of which are arguably attenuated, if not missing, in the free-will models. As we have seen, Manis finds the choice model unacceptable because the wicked are given the option of choosing their infernal destiny; it is not imposed upon them against their will. They are allowed to choose maximal separation from God (outer darkness). Maximal separation, of course, brings maximal suffering, yet it is a suffering freely embraced by the lost. In the Orthodox and Manisian view, on the other hand, the uncreated light shines upon all without exception. Instead of uttermost distance, there is uttermost nearness. Think of it as being brought against one’s will into a magnificent concert hall and forced to listen to opera—no breaks, no intermissions, no sound-cancelling headphones. (Okay, if you love opera, God bless you—choose another form of music that you hate, maybe rap or Barry Manilow.) Welcome to divine presence hell.

How then is the suffering of the damned not retributive punishment? Because God does not directly intend their suffering, argues Manis:

The elements of the retribution thesis that generate the most severe difficul­ties for the view of hell that incorporate it are (i) that retribution is hell’s intended purpose and (ii) that hell is a punishment that God freely selects for the damned. What the divine presence model demonstrates is that, as strange as it might initially seem, it is possible that hell functions as a punishment (or something much like it) without its having this as its intended purpose; like­wise, it is possible that hell is a state that God imposes upon the damned without its being the case that God chooses this state for the damned. (p. 285)

While it is certainly the case that the reprobate will find God’s parousial self-manifestation an eternal torment, he does not intend it as an expression of his justice. He intends only love and salvation:

What God intends, in exposing all to His presence, is not the suffering of any creature, but rather a state of perfect and everlasting joy for every person. Insofar as we are beings made for communion with God, made to exist everlastingly in His presence in a state of perfect love and worship, the divine intention of the eschaton is the fulfillment of the highest good of every human being. God foresees that this will not in fact be the experience of every individual, but He fully intends this outcome for everyone—that is to say, He wills that all would be saved. (p. 286)

Here is the critical claim upon which the Manisian project stands or falls, and so we must ask: Is it metaphysically and morally coherent?

I’ll address the moral concern first. Six years ago I wrote an article titled “Hell and the Torturous Vision of Christ.” In it I averred: “If the eternal sufferings of the damned are not a divinely-appointed form of retributive punishment, then God is guilty of unjustly inflicting—or at least unjustly permitting, sustaining, and preserving—interminable pain and torment.” I stand by this judgment.

Imagine yourself being tied to the ground. Your head is fixed so that you must always look straight up. Your eyelids are sewn open. The sun is at its noonday position, with nary a cloud to be seen. You are exposed to the solar light in all of its brilliant, scorching, unrelenting radiance. Your skin quickly moves from first-degree to third-degree to fifth-degree burns, yet somehow the nerve endings are not damaged. But this is not the worst of it. The light explodes in your brain, burning into your consciousness and soul. Its intensity overwhelms every thought. Under normal circumstances you would quickly go blind, but your eyes are miraculously restored every second. There is no escape, no relief. There is only the burning, consuming, blinding but never-blinding rays of the sun, an engulfing river of fire. You scream in agony … for all eternity.

This torturous vision of Christ exceeds anything that we find in the Inferno. In the tradi­tional construal of damnation we are told that the sufferings of hell are an expression of the divine justice, but in the divine presence model they are the unintended consequences of God’s mercy and love. Let’s call it collateral damage. A general orders that a nuclear weapon be dropped on a military installation in order to destroy the enemy’s remaining capacity to wage war. The explosion also kills 100,000 civilians. The general did not intend these casualties; he intended only the destruction of the installation, even though he foresaw and accepted the consequent civilian deaths. Likewise, for the divine presence model: the Creator comes in love to bless, heal, save, transfigure, in the process also bringing intolerable agony to the depraved (regret­table, no doubt, but what’s a God to do?). He foreknows the impact his self-manifestation will have on the incorrigibly impenitent, but in his wisdom and love he chooses and accepts the (unintended) consequences. Could there be a a more horrific example of the principle of double effect? Can we continue to believe that God wills the good of the lost? Nor is the horror minimized by the observation that the level of pain will vary from reprobate to reprobate, depending on the corruption of one’s spiritual condition. The only question that matters, I submit, is this: Is the torment deserved?

Years ago I came across the following statement by St Bonaventure in his Breviloquim: “God cannot permit any misery to exist in us except as a punishment of sin.” This helped me to understand the traditional Latin claim that the condition of suffering into which we are born must accord with the divine justice and therefore must somehow be deserved. If it were not “deserved,” then God would not—indeed could not—permit it to exist in his world. For purpose of context, here is the wider citation:

The first Principle acts by His own power, by His own law, and for Himself as an end. He must then be utterly good and righteous, and hence utterly kind and just. That is why all the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth, meaning justice. If God had created man wretched from the very beginning, that would have been neither kind nor just, for He would have imposed great miseries upon His handiwork in the absence of sin. Nor would divine Providence have governed us with kindness and justice had it afflicted us or permitted us to be afflicted with these same miseries in the absence of sin. Now, it is absolutely certain that the first Principle is utterly righteous and merciful both in creating and governing. It follows, then, by necessity that in the beginning He created mankind free from any sin or misery; and it also follows that, in governing mankind, He cannot permit any misery to exist in us except as a punishment of sin. But it is also absolutely certain that we are burdened from the time of our birth with the penalty of countless miseries: hence it is just as certain that, by natural birth, we are all children of wrath, deprived of the righteousness of original justice. That privation is called original sin. (Brev. III.5.3)

I direct attention to the underlying theological-moral principle animating Bonaventure’s reflections: God is good and therefore antecedently wills a world free from suffering. If suffering exists in our world, then it does so only as a just punishment and retribution for sin and is therefore consequently willed by God. I know this raises all sorts of theodicial concerns, but in this article I am only interested in its ramifications for the Eschaton. The whole point of the last judgment is that God makes all things right: evil is definitively dealt with; the just order of creation is restored. We may worry how Bonaventure’s maxim “God cannot permit any misery to exist in us except as a punishment of sin” works in our fallen world, with its almost infinite variety of horrific sufferings (how can Auschwitz be deemed a punishment of sin?); but it must work perfectly in the Final Future. In the Kingdom of the risen Christ, there cannot be, must not be, suffering except that which is demanded by justice, not justice conceived as a standard external to God but as identical to the divine essence. And given that correction is no longer possible, the only kind of punishment left is retribution. The river of fire brings weal and woe.

St John of Damascus distinguishes between the antecedent and consequent willing of God:

One should also bear in mind that God antecedently wills all to be saved and to attain to His kingdom. For He did not form us to be chastised, but, because He is good, that we might share in His goodness. Yet, because He is just, He does wish to punish sinners. So, the first is called antecedent will and approval, and it has Him as its cause; the second is called consequent will and permission, and it has ourselves as its cause. This last is twofold: that which is by dispensation and for our instruction and salvation, and that which is abandonment to absolute chastisement. (On the Orthodox Faith II.29)

The choice of the word “abandonment” indicates John’s reluctance to ascribe responsi­bility for eternal damnation to the good Creator. God did not intend hell when he created the cosmos (antecedent will); but he appropriately, rightly, necessarily abandons to perdition those who have proven themselves irredeemable (consequent will). “He does wish to punish sinners.” John does not explicitly qualify God’s absolute abandonment as retributive, but he does describe it as a just act. The lost deserve their fate—this is the critical point. God hands them over to the damnation of Judas. He permits them to suffer the consequences of their impenitence (note the similarity to the choice model). Whereas Bonaventure prefers the active voice, John prefers the passive, but when speaking of God’s eschatological acts, this is a difference without a difference. In the final judgment whatever happens, God wills (with the proviso that God does not will evil); whatever God wills, God intends. There are no accidents or unintended side-effects. The divine will is perfectly executed, perfectly accom­plished. If God abandons the damned to the intrinsic consequen­ces of their sinful lives, thereby confirming their freely chosen rebellion, then that is his act of retribution. If God returns in glory, knowing that his presence necessarily entails the eternal torture of the degenerate, then that is his purposed punishment.

I do not find the Damascene’s analysis fully satisfactory, for reasons that will hopefully become clear below; but both Bonaventure (certainly) and John (less certainly) would have found Manis’s assertion of an unintended eschatological suffering that is not retributive punishment unconvincing. One way or another, God must deal with sinners, if not by their redemption (apokatastasis) or eradication (annihilation) then by their punishment (retri­bution). The model of divine presence hopes to minimize God’s responsibility for the torturous vision of Christ, yet it only succeeds in compromising the divine love. A love that causes undeserved final misery is neither truly divine nor properly eschatological.

But is it metaphysically coherent to speak of anything happening in the Kingdom that is not directly and approvingly willed by God? Or to put it differently, can there be eschatological double effect? Here I am wading into territories beyond my competence, but I will venture a negative judgment. We can entertain eschatological double effect only if we believe that God is constrained by finite reality and human freedom. That God permits evil within the devastation we must concede, even if we cannot comprehend how or why this can be. By catholic consensus, God does not will evil. Evil is absolute privation and therefore nothing to be willed. Its presence in the good creation is a surd. Analytic philosophers have sought to justify the presence of evil (at least that evil committed by human beings) by according to human willing a measure of metaphysical autonomy. The Creator, they tell us, is causally uninvolved with the free acts of his creatures. It’s as if rational agency exists in a divinity-free zone. But if God is the transcendent source and origin of being, upholding all creaturely reality in existence at every moment, then the free-will theodicy fails. It’s not as if God creates a stage upon which human beings then exercise their autonomy. God is the author and ground of our freedom. Everything that happens—including our thoughts, intentions, decisions, actions—happen because God wills it to happen in his perpetual bestowing of existence. He does not first make beings and then subsequently act upon them. That would misdescribe the Creator-creature relationship. From out of nothing, God creates—and is creating—finite beings in one eternal doing. He is the singer who carries the song of the cosmos on the breath of his Spirit. For humanity this means that God brings us into existence freely choosing and freely acting—at every moment. Brian Davies puts the matter in proper perspective:

God is the Creator, the source of existence (and continued and total exis­tence) of everything other than himself. If God is this, however, then my making a choice has to be something that God is making to be. If everything that exists owes its existence to God, then God must be the source of my free actions, not someone who merely observes them, permits them, or some­how merely supports (what could that mean?) a context in which they are caused by me and not by God. To think otherwise, it seems to me, can only stem from the conviction that God is really an item in the universe, something able to distance itself from its fellows so as to let them act independently of its causality. Yet God … is not an item in the universe. As making the world to be, his causality extends to everything that exists, and free choices are as real as anything else in the world. If you think Mount Everest needs God to account for its being as opposed to not being (for as long as it is), then you ought to think that all human choices need God to account for them being (and therefore being what they are) as opposed to not being. There can be no such thing as a creaturely reality which is not produced or creatively made to be by God. (The Reality of God and the Problem of Evil, p. 122)

Divine (primary) causality, therefore, cannot compete or interfere with creaturely (secon­dary) causality. The difference between the two is too radical to make that kind of difference. (This is the important metaphysical truth that the Damascene could not see. The theological world would need to await the arrival of St Thomas Aquinas.) The desire to get God off the hook for evil and suffering is understandable, but to posit an either/or competi­tion between divine and creaturely agency is ultimately misguided. It cannot be reconciled with the creatio ex nihilo. God acts in our free actions. If he didn’t, they would not be. Nor does the divine making of the cosmos entail the kind of determinism or coercion which many fear, for the transcendent Deity is not a being alongside or external to beings. God is the infinite outpouring of being and therefore transcends our libertarian and compati­bilist formulations (see Brian Shanley, “Divine Causation” and “Beyond Libertari­anism”). For these reasons, and others I am not yet able to articulate, I deem Manis’s assertion that God does not intend the punishment of the damned metaphysically implausible. In the New Creation, God will be all in all.

The divine presence model ultimately resolves into a variant of the retributive model. If at this point you are wondering, “Maybe the good God is a universalist after all,” then know we are on the same page. I’m afraid that is not an option presently available to Dr Manis.

(Go to “Doxastic Problem”)

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32 Responses to Divine Presence and the River of Fire

  1. I’m struggling to articulate the reasons for my immediate negative visceral response to this model, maybe, in part, because I don’t share certain dogmatic presuppositions, some explicit enough but some implicit. So, regarding my own, as pertaining to this topic, I’ve tried to succinctly (hopefully accessibly) make them explicit:

    a) In a way, the answers — to such questions as
    1) “libertarianism or compatibilism?”
    2) “intellectualism or voluntarism?” and
    3) “will or intellect or character?” — aren’t even wrong (regarding either divine or human natures).
    b) For human persons, this is because there are 3 indispensable acts, limited by potentialities, involved in every human choice. These include
    1) existence in potency to being, 2) efficient to material (will) and 3) formal to final (intellect),
    each necessary, none alone sufficient. Of course, this part wouldn’t apply to Actus Purus.
    c) Character (habitus) stands halfway between those acts and potentialities, like iron forged into
    1) leg braces, facilitating and/or 2) a bear trap, crippling the potentialities, although in the latter case, never able (either temporally or eschatologically) to kill them, as they’re, in principle, inherently realizable (both temporally and eternally).
    d) God does not punish habits, only acts, ergo, God allows misery only as a punishment for acts.

    In trying to locate our presuppositional impasses, I feel fairly confident that items c & d figure very prominently.

    I have a hard time navigating most discussions of God’s will & freedom as well as human volition & freedom, not so much because I ordinarily reject others’ premises but because I eventually conclude we don’t even share the same definitions. So, I’ll leave a) & b) alone for fear of inadvertently caricaturizing anyone’s true position.

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  2. Iain Lovejoy says:

    “He is the first non-Orthodox thinker to bring the contemporary Eastern view into substantive conversation with Western reflection on hell.”
    What about George MacDonald? In his “Unspoken Sermon” “Our God is a Consuming Fire” he precisely describes the presence of God as torture to the wicked and light and joy to those who accept it, in exactly the eastern Orthodox fashion.
    Admittedly, the difference for him was that the burning was cleansing and would end when sin was cleansed, rather than go on for ever, but my understanding is that is one eastern Orthodox understanding.
    He also seems to have combined this with the free will notion of hell, talking about the outer darkness where men could flee God’s burning presence, though again he insisted that this was only so long as they felt what it was to be without God and returned.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      MacDonald’s view of hell is unique to MacDonald, I would think. As far as I know, he was ignorant of the Eastern theological and ascetical tradition. Hence he really can’t be counted as someone who brought the Eastern view into conversation with Western theology. MacDonald is his own mountain.

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  3. Dale Crakes says:

    How much of this super uber heavy weight theologizing (sp) takes into account that we are told to pray for the dead? I’m not agin in but I think all this must deal with praying for the dead.

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  4. earsofc says:

    Great post. Reading it did that magical thing that the Gospel alone can do: make me believe – I mean really believe, existentially, in my heart and hope – in God; that our destiny with him is infinitely greater than we can imagine. Thank you for that.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. John H says:

    Father Aidan,

    I believe that the divine presence model of hell is incoherent for another reason as well. Classical theism affirms that God is the perfect and subsistent act of being. As such, He is also Goodness, Truth, Beauty, Justice and Love. Furthermore, because all human beings are created in the image of God, our wills, intellects and souls are drawn by God as Final Cause to unity with Him because He is perfect Goodness, Truth and Beauty. So our natural faculties aim towards the Divine as the ultimate goal. In the words of Augustine, our hearts are restless until they rest in God.

    In view of the foregoing, how is it possible for any human being to experience God as a monstrous presence who instills fear and despair ? It would only be possible, I believe, if God implants such an irrational and insane perception in the intellects of the reprobate in a manner analogous to the way in which the mentally ill misperceive reality due to their sickness.

    So the divine presence model does not in any manner absolve God of responsibility for the suffering of the lost. It is God who maintains the damned in an eternal state of delusion. Otherwise they would recognize God as the fulfillment of all desires in an instant.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Ahh, now you are channeling David Bentley Hart! 😎

      I didn’t want to raise this objection myself, as I know that other readers like yourself, Brian Moore, Robert Fortuin, and Tom Belt would (and hopefully will) express it a lot better than I can. But it is one that Dr Manis will eventually need to address as he continues to elaborate on his divine presence model.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. John H says:

    Thanks for the compliment Father but I am afraid that I am not cool enough to channel DBH, not to mention that the scope of his knowledge far exceeds my own. It would be like Luke Skywalker fighting Master Yoda with light sabres!

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  7. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    I have just added a couple of sentences to clarify, and magnify, the double effect of the torturous vision.

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  8. Why Suffering in God’s Presence doesn’t make sense to me

    I am grateful for these conversations. They make me scratch my head and help me process my muddled thoughts. If anyone catches my drift, that’s a blessing for me. If anyone challenges me to be more artful in expression, that helps me, too. Most of all, any challenges to the substance of my views has, eventually, brought me closer to the truth and our God. In that spirit, then:

    Even once casting aside the classical libertarianism & compatibilism framings as nonsensical category errors (what I mean by saying such “answers aren’t even wrong” but are gibberishtic anthropological caricatures), I have strived, awkwardly, to more intuitively grasp how to avoid the notion that a human person’s eternal destiny isn’t wholly determined.
    In other words, while it may be logically valid and internally consistent to argue, analytically, that humans are created as “freely willing the Godly-determined” by using definitions of freedom that, to many, sound paradoxical (but make perfect sense! In terms of virtu-osity!), I still want more than a syllogism.

    I want a story in which I can participate, holistically and imaginatively. Good news? From the online lectures (youtube) of DBH, one can tell that he will be gifting nourishment for both head & heart in _That All May Be Saved_.

    Still –
    If the will is located in efficient causation, free in the sense of WHETHER one chooses to will at all, and also in the sense of choosing AMONG goods, that, in my view, offers an eminently satisfying account of freedom, not just cognitively but emotionally. In these senses, persons are manifestly self-determined, created as freely willing.

    There is another sense of freedom, which imagines a person’s capacity to choose WHAT is good, in other words to self-determine and to define and to appropriate being & goodness as they imagine same. In this sense, then, some view freedom in terms of choosing BETWEEN good & evil (apparent good), being & nonbeing (apparent being), virtue & vice. This view falls into incoherence because WHAT is good and constitutes being has indeed already been wholly determined by God and we are not free to determine or define same.

    What about the “freedom” to choose otherwise, though, to opt for evil or nonbeing? That’s nonsensical on the grounds that evil or nonbeing, as privation, doesn’t successfully refer, ontologically. That definition of freedom lacks an ontic reference and entails an epistemic error, propositionally.

    Nevertheless, dispositionally, our choices can, indeed, be culpable & such habits, clearly, vicious. Under the true definition of freedom, to refrain from choosing among goods when acting, i.e. giving no “consideration” to what God has determined, is intuitively recognized by most as “inconsiderate” behavior. While such can be just a plain mistake rooted in finitude, it can also be culpable (sinful refusal). Such a willful and culpable blindness, in my view, constitutes a self-determined behavior, “freely” chosen in the “whether & among sense” even though not the “what & between” sense. And it can habitually accrete into a vicious nature. I just believe that God honors such free choices through eternal annihilation, which we can self-determine vis a vis our “second nature” or acquired dispositions.

    And I doubt anyone wholly lacks some measure of a virtuous nature, which will indeed be eternalized.

    Even a person’s essential imago Dei —

    if largely bereft of any significant growth (2nd nature) from that particular image to likeness,

    if primarily wholly determined,

    if self-determined to the most meager degree conceivable and

    if not even discernibly responsive to some post-mortem epistemic-closure & beatific illumination —

    would not experience the Presence in misery, precisely because God has wholly determined otherwise.

    In God’s governance, punishment ensues only from sin (moral choices).

    1) Because our moral nature emerges as a second nature from our essential nature, and

    2) because, eschatologically, there are no longer moral acts, and

    3) because acts not natures are punished under any circumstances,

    no such misery can be experienced.

    However one approaches the reality of innocent suffering in a cosmos fallen into dis-order by sin, temporally, such a disorder will, by definition, be eschatologically repaired.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Zach Manis says:

    Fr. Aidan,

    I’m grateful for this very perceptive analysis and critique of the constructive part of my book. Your review gets right to the heart of the matter of whether the divine presence model can ultimately be a satisfying solution to the problem of hell. Once again, I’d like to say something in response to each of the major criticisms you pose.

    First, regarding the moral concern. You rightly identify the importance of the doctrine of double effect for the divine presence model, but object to the use I make of it. However, it’s unclear to me whether you intended to reject the principle outright, or only certain applications of it. (If the former, then I wonder how you make sense of those cases in which our ethical reasoning seems crucially to rely on the principle. If the latter, then what exactly are the conditions under which the principle is appropriately applied?) Regardless, the question that you pose at the end of the paragraph in which discussion of the principle is introduced (“The only question that matters, I submit, is this: Is the torment deserved?”) suggests that you take the doctrine of double effect to be at best irrelevant to explanations of the final state of persons in the eschaton.

    But *why* can the doctrine of double effect have no legitimate application to the eschaton?

    To answer this, you go on to quote a passage from Bonaventure, which includes this claim: “Now, it is absolutely certain that the first Principle is utterly righteous and merciful both in creating and governing. It follows, then, by necessity that in the beginning He created mankind free from any sin or misery; and it also follows that, in governing mankind, He cannot permit any misery to exist in us except as a punishment of sin.” My question for Bonaventure is this: Does reaping the natural consequences of our sinful actions count as punishment? If not, then his claim is implausible. I see no reason to think that an utterly righteous and merciful Creator could not create us with free will and allow us to misuse it in such a way that we bring misery upon ourselves. But if this *does* count as punishment, then the divine presence model has an account of eschatological punishment. And as a *natural consequence* model of hell, the doctrine of double effect is playing a key role.

    God does not *intend* for us to misuse our free will, but He does foresee and allow it, and He is justified in doing so if this is a necessary condition for achieving some greater good that cannot be achieved without it. The divine presence model, like the standard free will theodicies, holds that God’s creating us with free will is a necessary condition of our eventually achieving a state of perfect communion with Him. In my chapter on the choice model, I argue further that there are direct correlations between (i) our degree of moral freedom and the degree to which we are able to inflict harm, and (ii) our degree of moral freedom and the degree to which we are able to commune with God. I argue that the combination of these proportionality principles suggests that a capacity for self-damnation is a necessary condition for the capacity of achieving eternal communion with God. (Interested readers can find the argument for this on pp. 227-233.)

    To demonstrate that the divine presence model is fatally flawed in its reliance on the doctrine of double effect, it needs to be shown *either* that the doctrine itself is false, *or* that the doctrine, while true, can have no legitimate application to the eschaton. By my lights, neither has been demonstrated in your critique.

    But you (and readers sympathetic to your argument) may protest that this *has* been demonstrated by your argument that in the eschaton, everything in creation is finally as God intends. You write, “In the final judgment whatever happens, God wills (with the proviso that God does not will evil); whatever God wills, God intends. There are no accidents or unintended side-effects. The divine will is perfectly executed, perfectly accom¬plished.” And later: “We can entertain eschatological double effect only if we believe that God is constrained by finite reality and human freedom.”

    This brings us, finally, to the metaphysical issue. My reply to this argument is simply that it is question-begging against the divine presence model. If it is true that in the eschaton, all that happens is exactly as God wills and intends, then of course the divine presence model is false. But why should we assume this? The defenders of meticulous providence are certainly committed to this assumption – they must further hold that everything happening *right now* is exactly as God wills and intends – and I agree that anyone who accepts such a view of providence should be a universalist. But many Christians, myself included, reject this understanding of providence. And many of us who reject this understanding of providence likewise reject the assumption that everything in the eschaton is exactly as God desires. A compelling refutation of the divine presence model must include compelling arguments for these assumptions. (Of course, a failure to prove these assumptions in no way demonstrates the divine presence model to be *true*. It simply results in a verdict of *not proven false*.)

    Let us now return to the question of desert. As noted above, you claim that the question of whether the torment of hell is deserved is “the only question that matters,” and you later write, “A love that causes undeserved final misery is neither truly divine nor properly eschatological.” Now it is certainly the case that a harm’s being deserved cannot be a necessary condition of a proper application of the doctrine of double effect. (If the harm / suffering is deserved, then no appeal to double effect is needed to justify it.) But it is important to note that the appeal to double effect in no way *rules out* the possibility that a certain suffering is deserved.

    A thought experiment might be helpful here. Suppose that someone rushes at you, intending to shove you off a cliff to your death. Recognizing what is happening, you dive out of the way, intending to save your own life but (let’s suppose) also foreseeing that this will result in your attacker’s going over the cliff instead. We would judge your action to be permissible. (Let’s suppose you were entirely innocent, and the attack was malicious and unprovoked.) But we might nevertheless judge that your attacker deserved the end that he brought upon himself. (Let me here try to forestall irrelevant objections some readers might be tempted to lodge at this point by focusing on the ways that the analogy breaks down. The thought experiment is intended *only* to demonstrate that a harm’s being justified by the doctrine of double effect is not logically incompatible with the harm’s being deserved.)

    The divine presence model in no way rules out the possibility that the damned deserve their fate. The damned are those who forever reap the natural consequences of what they have sown. In this sense, they are being punished for their sins. The model simply denies that punishment is God’s *intended purpose* in treating the damned as He does.

    “But surely,” it might be objected, “God should spare the damned from experiencing the horrendous natural consequences of their own persistence in sin.” But what, exactly, is it being demanded that God would or should do differently? A crucial part of the divine presence model is that God does *everything in His power* to save each and every person. You seem to dismiss this in your description of the divine presence model early in the post: “the Creator comes in love to bless, heal, save, transfigure, in the process also bringing intolerable agony to the depraved (regret¬table, no doubt, but what’s a God to do?).” I want to insist that the question is neither rhetorical nor absurd. What, indeed, is God to do with those who *will not* repent, regardless of how much grace He extends to them, or how many opportunities He provides? Anyone who thinks that God should simply try harder, or keep at His efforts longer, has not fully come to terms with this part of the divine presence model.

    Once again, the issue comes down to the way that different parties are conceiving of human free will and the barriers (or lack thereof) that it poses to God’s ability to get what He wants in His relationship to each individual. As I say repeatedly in the book, on a libertarian account of free will, God *cannot* make a person repent, because repentance is, of its very nature, an act of creaturely free will, and anything that God makes a person do is not done freely. I understand that you and many other readers of this blog may reject this understanding of human freedom, preferring instead an account of meticulous providence such as the “double agency” view that we find in Aquinas and in contemporary thinkers like McCann. And I agree that a critique of the traditional understanding of hell that rests on an assumption of meticulous providence can be effective against Calvinism and Molonism. But, I contend, it is question begging against the divine presence model.

    Again, thank you for this detailed and thoughtful review, and I look forward to continuing this discussion — both with you and, hopefully, with other readers as well!

    Blessings,
    zm

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    • The doctrine of double effect involves ontic evils or premoral evils, which ensue from imperfections that afflict a created order permeated by sin. The eschaton, by definition, restores original order or original blessing. There’s no argument to be had, only a definition to be negotiated? Double effect in the eschaton would be incoherent under most understandings?

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    • Jason says:

      “My reply to this argument is simply that it is question-begging against the divine presence model. If it is true that in the eschaton, all that happens is exactly as God wills and intends, then of course the divine presence model is false. But why should we assume this?”

      Respectfully, what warrant is there to *not* believe that some things that God wills won’t be actualized? It seems to me that that the burden to justify the belief that God’s will won’t be done in some matters falls on you.

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      • Zach Manis says:

        Jason: Consider the following three propositions:

        1. God loves every person perfectly.
        2. Some persons are eternally lost.
        3. In the eschaton, God’s will and intention for each person is perfectly realized.

        A part of my project is to try to demonstrate that 1. through 3. form an inconsistent set. If this is right, a follow-up question we might want to ask is this: Of these three propositions, which is the least well established in Christian tradition? By my lights, the answer is proposition 3.

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        • Jason says:

          Mr. Manis (I apologize, I’m unsure of your appropriate title), thank you for responding.

          I agree that the belief in an eternal postmortem state of damnation is inconsistent with the belief in the actualization of God’s will that all persons are reconciled to Him. I guess I would ask to what precedent or example you would point to that would support your implicit view that God’s will won’t be actualized in all matters in which He wills a particular ultimate outcome. Is there some other matter in which He has declared His will wherin His will was ultimately thwarted?

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          • Zach Manis says:

            Jason,

            The answer to your question is either “that never happens” or “it happens all the time,” depending on how one thinks about divine providence. On a theological determinist view, like Calvinism, *everything* that happens is an expression of God’s will; it is impossible for His will to be truly thwarted. Some (not all) versions of Molinism generate the same result. But if creaturely free will precludes divine meticulous providence, as many Christians believe, then God’s will is thwarted all the time. To take one example: God commands (and thereby reveals His will) that no one murder; yet people still commit murder.

            The question, then, is whether things are different in this regard in the eschaton. Universalists have a principled reason for thinking so. But non-universalists often draw a distinction between two aspects of God’s will (antecedent will vs. consequent will, or permissive will vs. perfect will, or revealed will vs. secret will) precisely because they recognize Scripture as teaching *both* that it is God’s will that all be saved (1 Tim 2:4) *and* that some will be finally lost. So on any non-universalist view (even Calvinism), it will have to turn out that God’s will is finally thwarted in *some* sense; the only question is in what sense this is. On a non-universalist theology that rejects meticulous providence, it will have to be that what God *actually* wills and desires for some of His creatures will never be realized. The *possibility* of this outcome is (according to such theologies) the logically necessary consequence of creating morally free creatures, and even God cannot ensure that this possibility will not be actualized (other than by His choosing not to create morally free creatures, of course).

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  10. Grant says:

    It would seem that in some respects engaging Dr Manis’ book on matters of eschatology and what is just or whether God is good is perhaps a premature dialogue as more fundamental issues clearly divide many here, like myself from the conceptions of God and reality that are he considers operative and underlie the assumptions that go into his extensive work and interpretations.

    These seem to me to be questions of divine simplicity, the source and ground of all being and reality, what is freedom both ultimately in and for God (related to the first issues) and what is contingent freedom for creation, and beings of creation (particularly humans such as ourselves. Is it the conception of the ancient tradition of the intellectual tradition or the modern libertarian tradition which Dr Manis views as correct and the assumptions of which he operates under.

    For me the first, the move away from such things as divine simplicity and of God as Being (and Beyond Being), of being the ground, wellspring and source and end of all things, of not being a being alongside beings seems essential, otherwise what is talked about to me seems not God at all. Only a god, who even if the first of anything, and has all great making properties, is dependent on conditions other then himself in some way or other, principles not derived in himself and is not Existence and Reality in himself. such a being redistricted, and might been seen to deliberate between options of intended design, and might gamble and venue on some losses for some proposed outcome (though again even here in doing so, he gives up and sacrifices, at least in principle with his making gamble, those conscious beings brought to life to achieve his aims, which still raises issues of whether such being can be called good, I don’t think so) he deems worth it. But that cannot be God as I see it, and equally sin or evil cannot to me to hold to Christian conception ever either fundamental or necessary for God to achieve His aims, if He requires evil, or the potential of it, that being is not God, but is a limited being, and one dependent on evil emerging to achieve the end he desires, that He cannot achieve full good intents otherwise (therefore some a given over to the destruct and never-ending torture of his presence). That seems to fly in the face orthodox Christianity as I understand it, and so I cannot accept it, God requires nothing to achieves His aims, He needs nothing, let alone either evil or it’s possibility to achieve the highest ends and purposes, anything that does, cannot be God as I see it.

    But again, this is it seems a area of fundamental disagree and this would need to be engaged before ever approaching the questions of the conflicting eschatological views.

    The libertarian view I equally fundamental disagree with, it seems to offer no freedom at all to me, no more then a leaf blown about by the wind has any freedom in the direction it chooses, or random number generator is free, and I don’t think it seems to cohere with how we actually are, which does seems both ground and orientated towards clear telos and ends, and fundamentally orientated towards the Good in any action we make to the degree we can understand an enact that (and are free only to that extent). So it seems another fundamental disagreement exists here, these issues would need to be debated before anything else, otherwise everyone is just talking past each other, using the same terms but meaning fundamentally different things and conceptions by them.

    I will say, that I do find the presence model presented fundamentally disturbing as I related before as creating that picture of a terrifying ultimate dystopia, where creation as by formed so as some are giving up to their ends as beings eternally tortured forever, so in pain to be unable to change, all for the joy of others. That is very disturbing image, I know this is not how Dr Manis seems it, and he fundamentally disagrees with how I seeing things, but that is how it clearly seems to play out to me, such a god I could never worship except out of abject terror. And what would the blessed be like in this picture, where people are screaming in never-ending torment and torture, forever, where it never stops, even more so when some are their own loved ones. How can they be happy or loving, their would either have to be blinded to the suffering, and have such connections removed, and made indifferent (or worse, rejoice), and in effect become demons. They would cease to be the persons they were, and become something else entirely, something utterly inhuman, and in effect would damned in some ways worse then the damned themselves.

    But, now I’m jumping the game, so I apologize, as I see it, the more fundamental theological disagreements would need addressing first, otherwise discussion is ultimately fruitless, as everyone would be talking past each other.

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    • Great reflection. Good points re presuppositions. Brian made a similar appeal on prior thread.

      I’ve found it useful to use Lonergan’s functional specialties as my category outline of subject matters wherein various implicit & explicit presuppositions come into play. Then I survey what others contribute, trying to more precisely locate both the impasses as well as any shared heuristics. I’ve especially been engaging Hart’s prior writings & lectures in this way to better prepare me to constructively engage his upcoming book.

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  11. This is not a rhetorical question. I’m just trying to process things in a way that might improve my intuitive grasp

    Perhaps much turns on one’s implicit post-mortem anthropological presuppositions?

    See, for example, at Eclectic Orthodoxy:

    Is repentance possible after death for mortal sinners?

    U-turns and Transcendentals by Pastor Tom Belt

    If, in temporal reality, the finite human volition freely chooses both 1) whether to will at all and 2) among divinely determined goods, and

    If whether to will at all constitutes a moral choice and if death terminates the human moral life (once redeemed, always redeemed, with no capacity to sin)

    Then, for those who believe that the human volition remains irrevocably free post-mortem and that the divinely determined potentialities of human acts remain inherently realizable eternally (yes, all this notwithstanding virtuous or vicious second natures),

    The only aspect of our finite human volition left to freely choose in the eschaton will be that which chooses among divinely determined goods, exactly as God wills and intends?

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  12. donald says:

    I am not a philosopher, in part because of arguments of this sort. It doesn’t seem to me that all of this verbiage adds anything to the issue. There are for the ordinary person still three choices—

    1. Eternal suffering, possibly of a type too terrible to imagine.
    2. Annihilation of the incurably unrepentant, either at death or later.
    3. Universalism, though perhaps after a period of suffering or punishment or purgation.

    Supposing 3 could be ruled out, it seems absurd to say God couldn’t do number 2. If nothing else, He could resurrect someone and then put them under permanent anesthesia if for some obscure metaphysical reason the soul can’t be destroyed. Give them a body, but keep them unconscious permanently if that is what it takes. I am not serious, but the point is that there is no obvious reason why an Omnipotent God couldn’t be humane. Choice 1 is only “justified” by people who think it is taught by Scripture and then have to go through various contortions to understand how God could inflict unending torment on people. Why would God subject people to an eternity of His Presence if all it will do is cause agony? We highly imperfect mere humans wouldn’t do this, unless we are sadists.

    It always comes back to that.

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  13. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Zach, thank you for your response to my critique of the divine presence model. I doubt I can respond persuasively to your rejoinder, but I will make an attempt.

    You have quickly zeroed in on what may be our central disagreement—namely, the appropriateness of double effect in the Eschaton. You write:

    To demonstrate that the divine presence model is fatally flawed in its reliance on the doctrine of double effect, it needs to be shown *either* that the doctrine itself is false, *or* that the doctrine, while true, can have no legitimate application to the eschaton. By my lights, neither has been demonstrated in your critique.

    You are absolutely right, Zach. I have not offered a demonstration, and I suspect I presently lack the competence to do so. So for the moment, let’s just say I have an intuition of the Eschaton which (hopefully) someone who does have the competence might flesh out for us (and especially for me). It does seem to me that what makes the Eschaton Eschaton is its transformation of the cosmos: death is vanquished, evil is redeemed, sin is forgiven, all is made new without possibility of relapse into chaos and sin. As we pray in the Lord’s Prayer: “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Finally and gloriously, God’s providential and redemptive will is accomplished. This is a fundamental Christian conviction and hope. I imagine we are in total agreement so far.

    Yet in your proposed model, there is eternal suffering. Does this happen by God’s will or not? Surely it is not an accidental consequence that God did not plan for. (This raises questions about the meaning of divine foreknowledge, but by the by.) Surely at the moment of creation God knew that x number of individuals would reject his love and knew how he would eschatologically deal with this eventuality. He decides, let us suppose, to permit these sinners to suffer during their mortal lives the interior sufferings of their quest for a life apart from him, rather than imposing an exterior punishment. But why make this suffering everlasting by the act of general resurrection and the manifestation of his glory? God is not constrained to raise the wicked into everlasting suffering. He could just as easily allow the incorrigibly impenitent to fall into the nothingness they have sought by their definitive rejection of him. Immortality is not an essential natural property of human nature. If it were, we would either not suffer death or would be deemed nonhuman. To avoid this problem, the Latin tradition distinguished that which belongs to humanity by nature and that which belongs to humanity by grace. Nor is God constrained by his Incarnation and Resurrection in Jesus Christ. If the resurrection of Jesus includes the resurrection of the wicked, then that must be by divine design and not by some kind of metaphysical necessity imposed upon God. So when we pull all of this together, how do we avoid the conclusion that God intends the eternal suffering of the wicked? And this takes us back to St Bonaventure.

    Suffering is an evil, Bonaventure says, and can only be justified as an expression of divine retribution. Would he accept the interior consequences of sin as an expression of divine punishment? Good question, Zach. I don’t know. One day I want to sit down and read his Breviloquim cover to cover. I do know that Bonaventure believes that both the damned and the poor souls in purgatory will be punished by fire. But let’s assume that he would. After all, God has created humanity to desire him as their supreme good and happiness and to suffer when they turn away from him as the Good. In this life, therefore, suffering has both retributive and corrective dimensions. In hell suffering is purely retributive. In purgatory, though, while suffering cannot have a corrective purpose, because the orientation of the souls toward God is definitively settled, it does have reparative and cleansing purposes:

    The first Principle, being first, is supremely good and perfect; and, being supremely good, supremely loves good and abhors evil: for, as supreme goodness suffers no good to remain unrewarded, so also it cannot suffer any evil to remain unpunished. But some of the just die before having completed their penance on earth; and their right to life eternal cannot remain unsatisfied nor their guilt of sin unreproved, lest the beauty of universal order be disturbed. Therefore these must be rewarded in the end, but they must also bear a temporal penalty that fits their guilt and sin. Now, because actual sin offends God’s majesty, damages the Church, and distorts the divine image stamped on the soul – especially if the sin is mortal, although venial sin will tend to do the same; and because offense calls for punishment, damage for repair, and distortion for purification: therefore this penalty must be justly punitive, duly reparative, and properly cleansing.

    Once the cleansing is fully achieved, the soul is immediately released into heaven:

    And because such spirits are fully prepared to receive God-conforming glory, the door being now open and the cleansing achieved, they must take flight, for there is within them a fire of love that lifts them up, and no impurity of the soul or any guilt to hold them down. Nor would it befit God’s mercy or His justice further to delay glory now that He finds the vessel to be suitable; great would be the pain if the reward were delayed, nor should a cleansed spirit be punished any longer.

    I’m not sure if this is relevant to our discussion, but I thought I’d mention it.

    Paul Griffiths, on the other hand, calls suffering an artifact of the fall and deems divine retribution (i.e., the direct causing of pain) as inappropriate for the good God:

    For the LORD to inflict pain, eternally or temporally, upon nothing-seekers, would be for him to recognize an absence as a presence, and to respond to it as if it were something. The pain that we suffer is always the result either of the damage to which the fall subjected the cosmos, or of the particular sins we commit in that devastated cosmos. The LORD does not punish us, if that means inflicting pain on us in retribution for the wrongs we have done. The only sense in which he can be said to punish us is that we, because we are damaged and sinful, may find his caress painful. But such pain is epiphenomenal to love, and has the presence of damage (the presence of an absence) as its necessary condition. The LORD, therefore, does not and cannot intend the infliction of pain, and has no causal implication with its occurrence. Pain is, without remainder, the felt component of an absence being reduced by presence.

    As you note in your book, Griffiths advocates annihilation, because a God of love would not permit suffering to continue to no purpose: “Since the LORD does not change, remove himself, punish, or condemn to hell, this must occur as a result of the sinner damaging himself sufficiently that the LORD no longer sustains him—and can no longer sustain him without refusing his freedom to seek the end he prefers, even if that end is nothing.” If I thought the universalist hope either incoherent or heretical, then Griffiths’ position is what I would choose.

    As you present it, the divine presence model accepts suffering—by way of double effect—for the eventual promotion of a greater good. So what greater good does the eternal suffering of the damned accomplish? I am convinced that unless a compelling answer can be given, then the divine presence model fails. The universal Latin answer is retribution. The punishment of the damned is necessary for the sake of justice and the setting of the world to rights. (Don’t ask me how the suffering of the damned fulfills this purpose. I’m with George MacDonald on this.) Justice requires that the wicked endure eternal pain for their wickedness. But the divine presence model disallows this, except accidentally, as it were. The eternal suffering of the damned imposed by God at the Second Coming is asserted to be unintended. In my review I describe this as collateral damage. I don’t think you have adequately addressed this. It’s one thing for finite beings to unintentionally cause other finite beings to suffer in cases of double effect. Typically we regret this unintended suffering but justify it, as you note, for some greater good. But here we are talking about the omnipotent and omniscient Deity eschatologically consummating his good will for his good, though devastated, creation. Surely God does not regret the eternal suffering of the damned. After all, everlasting suffering can only happen as an expression of his consequent will. It cannot be outside his will, as if he did not anticipate it. It must be part of his eternal plan, if the divine presence model is true. If the suffering of hell does not serve a retributive or redemptive purpose, then what purpose does it serve, can it serve? I don’t think we can just say that it serves an unintended retributive function. That compromises either the divine love, the divine wisdom, or the divine justice. Something is awry.

    I fear I have not adequately replied to your rejoinder. Please let me know what I have missed and correct me at any point where I may have misrepresented your views.

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    • Zach Manis says:

      Fr. Aidan,

      This is a really perceptive rejoinder, and I do think that you’ve honed in on a part of my model that is potentially vulnerable. You write,

      “God is not constrained to raise the wicked into everlasting suffering. He could just as easily allow the incorrigibly impenitent to fall into the nothingness they have sought by their definitive rejection of him. … Nor is God constrained by his Incarnation and Resurrection in Jesus Christ. If the resurrection of Jesus includes the resurrection of the wicked, then that must be by divine design and not by some kind of metaphysical necessity imposed upon God. So when we pull all of this together, how do we avoid the conclusion that God intends the eternal suffering of the wicked?”

      As you know, a large portion of my book is devoted to trying to answer the question of why God does not annihilate the damned, mercifully putting them out of their misery once they have reached the point of being incorrigible in their sin and rebellion. And the answer that I settle on is one that is, admittedly, quite speculative. Nothing has been said about this part of the divine presence model so far in your posts or in our discussion, so I’ll briefly sketch it for those following our exchange who haven’t yet read the book. (To any who have access to the book, the relevant passages can be found on pp. 298 – 302 and pp. 374 – 385.)

      The claim that I propose, and attempt to defend, in order to address the problem of annihilation is that *the very presence of God is life-giving.* Rather than try to summarize this part of my book, I’ll simply quote some of the relevant passages here:

      “The upper limit of divine absence is complete nonbeing; the upper limit of divine presence is the state of the world in the eschaton, in which God is finally all in all. Between these two lies earthly existence, characterized by a state of partial divine hiddenness. … To the degree that God is fully present, death is, of metaphysical necessity, absent. To bring about the complete annihilation of a person, God would have to withdraw His presence from a person completely, for the presence of God is life. But in the eschaton, all are destined to be fully in the divine presence. Consequently, there will be no death, and a fortiori no annihilation of any person, regardless of anyone’s individual preference. The state of affairs of God’s being all in all and the state of affairs of some persons’ being annihilated are incompatible states of affairs. God’s bringing about the former in the eschaton rules out, of metaphysical necessity, His bringing about the latter.” (299, 301)

      I later connect this idea to the Parousia:

      “God is the source of all being, the creator and sustainer of everything distinct from Himself, whose very presence is life-conferring, and Christ is the Son of God; hence his presence is likewise life-conferring. The return of Christ – revealed in glory, finally and fully present to all in creation – is thus the destruction of death and the restoring of all to life.
      On the view I am proposing, then, there is no third event that comes between the return of Christ and the general resurrection; there is no separate event of Christ’s performing some volitional act by which the dead are raised. Rather, the Parousia – the appearing/revealing of Christ in glory – *is* that which raises the dead to life. His presence among us is the final defeat of death.” (377)

      In the Appendix of the book, I try to argue that the claim that the divine presence is inherently life-giving is one that enjoys some measure of indirect support from Scripture and tradition. Nevertheless, this claim is the most speculative facet of the divine presence model, and for that reason, it is a point at which some readers may find the model objectionable. This is part of the reason that I sketch hybrid views in the final chapter – to explore what options there are for those who find the core idea of the divine presence model attractive (that heaven and hell are the various ways of experiencing the divine presence) but who find this further claim implausible.

      So now I’m wondering: Is your reason for pressing the objection about annihilation (i) that it wasn’t clear in the book what solution I was trying to develop, or (ii) that you find my solution to be objectionably speculative and/or insufficiently supported by Scripture and tradition, or (iii) that you find my solution to be objectionable for some other reason?

      Let me say something, finally, in response to your closing remarks:

      “Surely God does not regret the eternal suffering of the damned. After all, everlasting suffering can only happen as an expression of his consequent will. It cannot be outside his will, as if he did not anticipate it. It must be part of his eternal plan, if the divine presence model is true. If the suffering of hell does not serve a retributive or redemptive purpose, then what purpose does it serve, can it serve?”

      Again, I wonder why we should assume that God does not regret the eternal suffering of the damned. In discussions of the problem of evil, it is often claimed that God does not allow any pointless evil. But there is a subtle distinction that I think is often overlooked. There is a difference between some evil’s being pointless (i) in the sense that it serves no greater good and (ii) in the sense that *God* could prevent it without the loss of any greater good. The difference is apparent when we reflect on creaturely freedom. It could be the case *both* that a certain misuse of free will serves no greater good (i.e., that nothing of any significant value comes from a certain individual’s evil action on some occasion) *and* that God’s preventing it would have resulted in the loss of a significant good (the destruction of the creature’s moral freedom on that occasion). In such a case, the evil in question is pointless in sense (i) but not in sense (ii).

      It may well be that much of the suffering of hell is pointless in sense (i) but not in sense (ii). Whether God is blameworthy for the suffering of hell depends on whether it is pointless in sense (ii); and on the divine presence model, it is *not* pointless in this sense. Creaturely moral freedom is a logically necessary condition of communion with God, and this freedom is genuine only if God permits misuses of it; hence God’s allowance of creaturely evil is not pointless. But it is consistent with the model that the suffering of hell is pointless in sense (i). There is no compelling reason (that I can see) to think that the suffering of hell *itself* serves some greater good. Hence there is no reason to think that it *must* be either retributive, or restorative, or promote divine glory, etc. It could be that nothing good comes from the suffering of hell, which is why God does not intend it, and why He eternally regrets it (in the sense of lamenting its existence).

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  14. Colt says:

    In the garden of eden the fall of Satan had already taken place. A fallen angel interacting with fallen man. The fall of man brought sin into the world not the angels. Basically time existed in the garden of eden on a comprehendible level because devil fell first. Now if heaven is a restoration to the original state then there can be state changes of beings and it’s not dependent on man. Does the devil have free will to repent in our temporal time? I think so but we know he won’t. Like Peter when Jesus said you will deny me three times. Peter could not have done it. He still did it. I think heaven and hell will be the same and free will is not annihilated. If free will is gone in the next world than it’s something radically different than what existed before sin entered the world. With free will there is the chance of repentance for eternity. Christ’s concurring of sin goes into eternity and so is the chance of reconciliation. For it to be given a timeline and stopped at final judgment makes for weaker atonement with an expiration date. Christ’s sacrifice was an event so spectacular it transcends time. Final judgment will carry a sentence for life but with the ability for pardon because I think the resurrection is bigger than final judgment and supersedes it. For someone to go to hell for eternity they would want to literally be their forever in the same way Satan does.

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  15. Colt says:

    In the garden of eden the fall of Satan had already taken place. A fallen angel interacting with fallen man. The fall of man brought sin into the world not the angels. Basically time existed in the garden of eden on a comprehendible level because devil fell first. Now if heaven is a restoration to the original state then there can be state changes of beings and it’s not dependent on man. Does the devil have free will to repent in our temporal time? I think so but we know he won’t. Like Peter when Jesus said you will deny me three times. Peter could not have done it. He still did it. I think heaven and hell will be the same and free will is not annihilated. If free will is gone in the next world than it’s something radically different than what existed before sin entered the world. With free will there is the chance of repentance for eternity. Christ’s concurring of sin goes into eternity and so is the chance of reconciliation. For it to be given a timeline and stopped at final judgment makes for weaker atonement with an expiration date. Christ’s sacrifice was an event so spectacular it transcends time. Final judgment will carry a sentence for life but with the ability for pardon because I think the resurrection is bigger than final judgment. For someone to go to hell for eternity they would want to literally be their forever in the same way Satan does.

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  16. John H says:

    Hi Zach,

    In my view God is responsible for Hell under the divine presence model because, being omniscient, He knows with absolute certainty that a certain number of sentient beings will reject Him and salvation. A hypothetical may help to illustrate this point. Let us assume that a police officer is in hot pursuit of an armed murder suspect and follows him on to a crowded subway platform. Believing that he has a clear shot at the suspect, the officer draws his weapon and opens fire, accidentally hitting and killing an innocent bystander. Although the officer clearly did not intend to kill the civilian and in fact wanted to stop a dangerous individual from escaping, the law will hold him accountable because he recklessly disregarded a known and grave risk by firing into the crowd. Doesn’t the same reasoning apply a fortitori to God? Why create free beings in the first instance if He infallibly knows that many will be lost in the end to eternal conscious torment? In fact, given the fact that God is omniscient, it is my view the divine presence model comes close to maintaining that God creates evil. Just as the law will not allow an actor to maintain his innocence for knowingly disregarding a grave risk of harm, theology and philosophy may not absolve God from responsibility for creating beings whom He knows will be stuck in a position of evil rebellion for eternity. To me, the divine presence model makes no sense at all.

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  17. I resonate with certain central elements of Dr Manis’ approach, e.g. that in *some* sense the divine will can be thwarted, that annihilation is incompatible with divine presence & that creaturely moral freedom’s a logically necessary condition of communion.

    I also resonate with Fr Aidan’s recognition that no metaphysical necessity’s imposed on God. It is from both general & special revelations that we have been gifted with some knowledge of the logic that onto-logically inheres and theo-logically coheres in the divine’s relationship with determinate realities. That relationship, of course, has ensued from – not metaphysical necessity, but – a self-determinate, divine kenosis.

    Our knowledge of same, at the same time, remains fallible & inchoate. Regarding the problem of evil, for example, I reject (even recoil from) theodicies re the *evidential* problem, instead opting for Job 38 (where were you???!!!), but I do embrace a divine presence solution to the *existential* problem, i.e. (Be not afraid! I AM with you!).

    More directly bearing on this discussion, though, I personally experience much consolation from many of the defenses to the *logical* problem of evil, ranging across the theological spectrum (from classical to process approaches).

    To be fully coherent, then, it seems we must aspire to pull together a solution that satisfies the problem of evil in a way that’s — not only *logically* consistent (and even the best atheistic philosophers now concede that accomplishment, which is why they focus on *evidential* theodicies), but — *existentially* satisfying.

    Such a solution, then, must be neither evidentially pretentious (re: why God allowed this particular evil) nor soteriologically presumptuous (re: why God must do this) in addressing divine reality (e.g. suggesting definite metaphysical and/or moral divine necessities).

    Thus it is that the more nuanced universalist stances will, in my view, aspire to reconcile the best classical defenses with the best existential intuitions, the latter grown — not propositionally from logical argumentations, but — dispositionally from theotic participations.

    Beyond the arguments of Athens & energies of Athos, those participations will also include such quotidian realities as, for a prime example, the raising of children.

    There is, then, in all authentic human loving, a trans-rational apophaticism, which, beyond all proposals of speculative affirmations & negations, disposes one via a movement of the will (e.g. including a will graced with a virtuous habitus)? Such a movement of the will, whether of parental, spousal or other communal loves, pretty much inevitably & in principle, will come up short in what it can articulate via its co-causal movement of the intellect, which falters in its effablings regarding life’s truly ineffable experiences.

    It is from my experience as a parent & grandparent, then, coupled with my gratuitously gifted formation & sacramental participation in a healing, reconciling & loving community of faith, that I want to proclaim “THAT all may be saved,” even as I struggle to give a metaphysical or theological account of *why* or *how*.

    Yet, I’m here to learn how to better defend that hope, which is indeed within me, that I and others might move more swiftly, with less hindrance & greater consolation on our temporal journeys into eternity.

    Another of my feeble efforts to defend my hope follows, but I am more sure regarding why Fr Aidan’s and others’ intuitions truly matter, much less sure that I can convey my own in a sufficiently artful & accessible manner.

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    • I use a lot of question marks, below, not to solicit answers but to indicate my own intellectual tentativeness. My hope is firm but my expression falters.

      While I find it problematic to conceive how there could ever be a definitive teleological foreclosure (cf. Pastor Tom Belt), neither would I want to deny the necessity of a creaturely freedom to refrain from willing. Further, properly understood, both the Thomistic and Scotistic anthropologies, in my view, suitably avoid the libertarian, compatibilist, voluntarist & intellectualist incoherencies. Human acts can indeed, at the same time, be irrational & culpable or impassioned & culpable, because the reality of human freedom presents in degrees.

      Admittedly, we find it hard to define & difficult to discern exactly how and precisely when such thresholds get crossed in terms of degrees of both affectivity & rationality as they impinge on various degrees of culpability.

      Still, if we deny our common sense & sensibilities regarding our experiences of human freedom, whether temporally or eschatologically, we risk abandoning what little intelligibility we enjoy regarding same. We inescapably must rely on that same intelligibility that we must employ in our daily approach to the realities of our dynamical human transformation (including moral conversion, spiritual formation & theosis).

      Therefore, what?

      While creaturely moral freedom’s a logically necessary condition of communion, what if, like freedom, the reality of communion also presents in degrees?

      Is there not a modicum of communion, even in that imago Dei, who’s not crossed the threshold into the human moral life, whether due to age, illnesses or deformative dynamics? Or, who enjoys little in the way of theotic participation in the human spiritual life, i.e. little or no growing in likeness? Or, who’s even culpably developed a vicious second nature, but undeniably remains divinely indwelled and teleologically oriented, eternally & inherently?

      What *is* a vicious nature but a habit of refraining from whether one wills to will at all regarding — not *be-ing* per se, but — one’s *be-coming*? To refrain, that is, from whether one wills to will at all regarding — not one’s essential nature or very existence, but — one’s growing from image to likeness?

      What if one could only self-determinedly choose — not to be or not to be, but — to become or not become?

      What if, in the same way we mustn’t ontologize evil, perhaps, neither should we reify the concept of a vicious nature, which habitually chooses non-becoming?

      What if we should otherwise also, in part, conceive of such an imago Dei in terms of what it has freely & definitively determined not to *become*, even though it would & must, nevertheless, thus persist in *being* for all eternity? Even that putatively definitive determination *not to become*, though, should be approaching the threshold of a practical inconceivability, at least for those of us who couple Belt’s irrevocability thesis with Talbott’s virtual impossibility thesis (my description of the latter)?

      Even stipulating to such an eschatological anthropology, as would remain an essentially hopeful — not a theoretically necessary — universalism, there remains a question regarding how such an imago Dei, bereft of any robustly moral & spiritual becoming, might subjectively experience the Eschaton.

      To what extent might its experience be tortuous, whether formatively, restoratively or retributively?

      In my view, once determinate reality has been made whole, cosmically reconciled, in principle, creatures would not be susceptible to existential deprivations or depredations. An imago Dei, not grown into divine likeness beyond its irrevocable, essential nature, might, rather quietistically, enjoy a minimalist reverie of aesthetic scope, while others enjoy, in various degrees, more expansive scopes (as I’ve discussed elsewhere), continuing to exercise their freedom in an eternal fugue of choosing among divine goods.

      So, perhaps, authentic freedom entails relational, just not existential, self-determination?

      Perhaps one’s self-determined choice to refrain from becoming could, in principle, be exercised irrevocably & eternally, hence never definitively?

      Perhaps such a choosing might best be conceived in terms similar to that of a sacred, precious imago Dei, as one who, prior to the age of reason, possesses the same absolute, intrinsic value as that shared by all innocent children?

      Perhaps such a self-determined refraining (including post-mortem, even after all epistemic closures), eschatologically, no longer could involve a culpable refraining from the consideration or not of goods in one’s acts, in principle, since any such neediness as would have motivated such acts, temporally, will have been obviated, eschatologically, by the cosmic reconciliation?

      In other words, such an eschatological reordering would be metaphysically incompatible with such deprivations & depredations as would’ve formerly been compatible with the old temporal, lapsarian dis-order?

      Eschatological freedom would thus entail only whether one wills to will at all, i.e. one’s *choosing* or not (in & of itself) among eternal goods & becomings, as well as any choosing *among* such potentialities (that array of divinely determined goods & becomings)? It could not otherwise involve a choosing *between* divinely determined goods and reified evils (by disordered appetites or inordinate attachments), which would be ontologically nonsensical. Nor could it involve refraining from a choice from/for non/being, which has never been an existential prerogative of the imago Dei over against the divine will, anyway.

      Eternal annihilation of any imago Dei remains off the table as conceptually incompatible with its essential nature and theologically incoherent, as it would constitute a reversal of the eternal divine intentionale?

      I believe, therefore, that God honors the freedom of human persons by eternalizing all self-determined acts of human becoming (as synergetic divine participations) and by refraining from any eternalizations of our non-participatory acts (such as we refer to in terms of vicious 2nd natures) i.e. our choices “not to become.” As such, our virtuous 2nd natures transition into eternity along with our essential natures, while our vicious 2nd natures will self-determinedly perish (a virtual self-annihilation), which certainly remains, to an extent, and in *some* way, a lamentable thwarting of the divine will. What it would not amount to is an unmitigated loss. Such choices would (self-punitively & consequently) cost one tremendous but nonessential opportunities, but, in the end, no loss of an original & essential goodness. Such choices would amount to a gratuitous superabundance foregone, but with no loss of an abundant life redeemed, that’s to say, reoriented, saved, healed, sanctified & empowered, as a new creation.

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  18. Eric Diamond says:

    Hey,

    I’ve greatly appreciated your blog and the discussions that it has generated.

    I wanted to reach out to see if you had any recommendations for books/articles on Patristic *phronema* or something linking asceticism to phronema. I’m hoping to write a paper exploring Kierkegaard through the lens of asceticism & Hesychasm. I just figured you might be able to point me towards some good resources (primarily on researching the orthodox understanding of these).

    Thanks, Eric

    On Sun, Jul 28, 2019 at 9:01 AM Eclectic Orthodoxy wrote:

    > Fr Aidan Kimel posted: ” The title of Zachary Manis’s book Sinners in the > Presence of a Loving God succinctly summarizes his constructive proposal. > He calls it the divine presence model: “the eternal suffering of hell is > not the result of any divine act that aims to inflict i” >

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