Tom Talbott Reviews ‘That All Shall Be Saved’ (Part III)

by Thomas Talbott, Ph.D.

The Limits of Possible Free Choice

According to David Bentley Hart:

[T]he keener consciences among believers have always recognized that the Christian story of creation, redemption, and cosmic restoration . . . is a claim about the revelation of God’s nature as a goodness that truly is infinite love, essentially and irreducibly. Hence, the only defense of the infernalist position that is logically and morally worthy of being either taken seriously or refuted scrupulously is the argument from free will: that hell exists simply because, in order for a creature to be able to love God freely, there must be some real alternative to God open to that creature’s power of choice, and that hell therefore is a state the apostate soul has chosen for itself in perfect freedom, and that the permanence of hell is testament only to how absolute this freedom is. This argument too is wrong in every respect, but [unlike the Augustinian and Reformed understanding of limited election] not contemptibly so. (That All Shall Be Saved, p. 171)

This brings us back to Hart’s question, first mentioned in Part II of this review: “Could such a refusal of God’s love be sustained eternally,” he asks, “while still being truly free?” Even the idea of someone rejecting the true God temporarily is problematic because, as Hart also points out, “you cannot reject God except defectively, by having failed to recognize him as the primordial of all your deepest longings” (p. 185). For how could we possibly reject the Creator and Father of our souls without also rejecting ourselves, oppose his will for our lives without opposing, schizophrenically perhaps, our own will for our lives? If God is our loving Creator, then he wills for us exactly what, at the most fundamental level, we want for ourselves; he wills that we should experience supreme happiness, that our deepest yearnings should be satisfied, and that all of our spiritual needs should be met. So if that is true, if God wills for us the very thing we really want for ourselves, whether we know it or not, how then are we to understand human disobedience and opposition to God?

Hart’s short answer is that “sin [always] requires some degree of ignorance” (p. 36); and even though Christians sometime seem suspicious of the Socratic idea that the essence of virtue is a certain kind of knowledge, insight, and clarity of vision, we find ample support for such an idea in the Bible itself. Did not Jesus declare from the Cross, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing”? (Luke 23:34—NRSV). I understand that this well-known prayer from the Cross is omitted from many of the best manuscripts. But even if one should doubt, as I do not, that it nonetheless represents a reliable tradition, Peter expressed a similar attitude when he charged an audience with killing “the Author of life”: “I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers” (Acts 3:17—NRSV). The clear implication here is that those who crucified the Lord had no idea that they were acting wrongly and may even have presumed that they were doing the right thing; in that respect, they were no different from those who drowned Anabaptists in Zurich, or those who burned Servetus at the stake in Geneva, or those who hanged young women as witches in Salem, Massachusetts. Or consider, finally, the example of Paul. Whether or not he actually wrote (in his own hand) the letter known as 1 Timothy, the self-description attributed to him there—namely, that he had been “the foremost” or “the worst” of sinners (see 1 Tim. 1:15 & 17)—surely did reflect accurately the converted Paul’s understanding of his former life. He clearly numbered himself, in other words, among those whose sincere efforts at cultivating a more virtuous character had contributed to, or at least had revealed, even deeper character flaws. They had revealed, in particular, the heart of a religious terrorist who was, prior to his conversion on the road to Damascus, “a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence.” If his actions were less destructive on the whole than were those of a Hitler or a Stalin, this is only because he did not have 20th Century technology or the power of a modern state at his fingertips. But despite all of this, Paul went wrong, so we read in the text, precisely because he had “acted ignorantly in unbelief” (see 1 Tim. 1:13).

According to the Christian faith, of course, Paul received on the road to Damascus a special revelation from the risen Lord himself, and that revelation also shattered some of his most destructive illusions, corrected a lot of his misinformation, and imparted clarity of vision to him. In doing so, it immediately transformed this religious terrorist into an apostle of Jesus Christ. But because he never saw himself as having rejected, so it appears, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, his motives may never have included a desire to separate himself from his Creator altogether. So perhaps not just anyone would have responded to the revelation Paul received in exactly the same way that he did; perhaps the delusions of some are so deeply entrenched that they would merely have hardened themselves further in the face of a similar revelation. Still, insofar as someone has in mind a caricature of God or a faulty conception of any kind, such a person’s perceived rejection of God could hardly qualify as a rejection of the true God himself. And that is but one reason why I seriously doubt that even a temporary rejection of the true God is logically possible.

Accordingly, if the idea of someone rejecting the true God, however temporarily, is already incoherent, the idea of someone freely rejecting him forever is simply riddled with incoherence. Hart complains (see p. 79), even as I do, that Christian philosophers have too often allowed free choice to figure into their abstract calculations no differently than an utterly random event or chance occurrence would. Relying upon a seriously incomplete analysis of freedom, they have typically proceeded as if there are no limits of any kind to the range of possible free choices. They have typically specified, that is, a single necessary condition of moral freedom, namely, that a choice is free in the libertarian sense only if it is not causally determined by factors outside the choosing agent’s control, and they have then seemed content to leave it at that—as if there were no other necessary conditions of free choice, which there surely are. For not just any uncaused event, or just any agent-caused choice, or just any randomly generated selection between alternatives will qualify as a free choice of the relevant kind. At the very least, moral freedom also requires a minimal degree of rationality on the part of the choosing agent, including an ability to learn from experience, an ability to discern reasons for acting, and a capacity for moral improvement. With good reason, therefore, do we exclude small children, the severely brain-damaged, paranoid schizophrenics, and even dogs from the class of free moral agents. For however causally undetermined some of their behaviors might be, they all lack some part of the rationality required to qualify as free moral agents.

The obvious question at this point is where to draw the line, and that question may have no clear answer because both moral freedom and moral responsibility probably come in degrees, even as rationality does. All that is required for our present purposes, however, is some idea of when an action falls well below the relevant threshold. If someone does something without any intelligible motive for doing it and in the presence of the strongest possible motive for not doing it, then this person, whether acting compulsively or simply irrationally, has not acted freely. As an illustration, we might suppose that a young boy should irrationally and inexplicably thrust his hand into a fire and hold it there, all the while screaming his lungs out. Would we regard such an irrational and inexplicable act as free? Clearly not. The rationality condition thus limits the range of possible free choice, and one must at least raise the question, therefore, of whether someone’s continuing to embrace a hellish condition forever would eventually become too irrational to qualify as an instance of acting freely. If so, then no one could freely embrace a hellish condition forever. As Hart points out:

Those who argue for the infernalist position from the principle of the soul’s power to reject God freely . . . recognize, correctly, that this act of rejection can be a perpetual state freely assumed by the soul only if that soul is free in perpetuity . . . And so this notion—that a soul fully aware of who God is, and of how he alone could fulfill and beatify a rational nature, and suffering all the most extreme torments consequent upon turning from God and subjecting itself to an unnatural severance from the Good, could freely elect forever, successively, and continuously to dwell in misery—makes a mockery of the most basic logic of the very idea of created freedom. (p. 192)

For such reasons as these, God has no need to control our individual choices in order to checkmate each of us in the end; he need only permit us to experience the very condition of separation that we sometimes confusedly choose for ourselves. Suppose we think of the outer darkness as the logical limit, short of annihilation, of possible separation from every implicit experience of God. When Paul quoted the poet Epimenides of Crete in order to make the point that “in him [God] we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28), this seems to imply that God is not only our moral and spiritual environment, but our physical environment as well. And if that is true, then our experience of the physical order itself qualifies as an implicit experience of God; hence, a separation from every implicit experience of God would be analogous to a soul suspended alone in sheer nothingness without even a physical order to experience. It would be a condition, in other words, in which no good of any kind would be available (unless one regards bare existence as a good of some kind); it would be a condition in which no desire, no ambition, and no yearning, however misguided, could ever be satisfied. If you add to that the loneliness and terror of such isolation in the outer darkness, it seems obvious that no one who retains enough rationality to choose freely could continue freely choosing such a condition forever—not when the alternative is the bliss of union with God. As George MacDonald put it in his great sermon “The Consuming Fire“: “Imagination cannot mislead us into too much horror of being without God—that one living death.” Here is why:

For let a man think and care ever so little about God, he does not therefore exist without God. God is here with him, upholding, warming, delighting, teaching him—making life a good thing to him. God gives him himself, though he knows it not. But when God withdraws from a man [or the individual withdraws from God] as far as that can be without the man’s ceasing to be; when the man feels himself abandoned, hanging in a ceaseless vertigo of existence upon the verge of the gulf of his being, without support, without refuge, without aim, without end . . . with no inbreathing of joy, with nothing [including the faintest experience of love] to make life good, then will he listen in agony for the faintest sound of life from the closed door . . .

Accordingly, no matter how tenaciously some sinners might pursue a life apart from God and resist his loving purpose for their lives, God has, as a sort of last resort, a sure-fire way of shattering the illusions that make their rebellion possible in the first place. To do so, he need only honor their own choices and permit them to experience the very life they have confusedly chosen for themselves. When, as a last resort, God allows a sinner to live without even an implicit experience of the divine nature, the resulting horror will at last shatter any illusion that some perceived good is achievable apart from God. Or to put it another way: if their own experience in the outer darkness were not to shatter their illusions in the end, then they would have become too delusional and too irrational even to qualify as free moral agents; and even if they should become too irrational to choose freely, God could still rescue them from such irrationality, that is, illuminate their hearts in a way that would cause them to repent voluntarily. That would hardly interfere with some nonexistent freedom, and this also illustrates the fatal flaw in free will theodicies of hell.

(Go to Part IV)

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28 Responses to Tom Talbott Reviews ‘That All Shall Be Saved’ (Part III)

  1. David Di Giacomo says:

    If this is the one argument that Hart deems worthy of being refuted, then it is also sadly the one he refutes the least convincingly. Rejection of God is not rooted in rationality (though it is certainly irrational) or ignorance. The issue is pride. (This seems so self-evident that I am amazed I even have to say it). How many times have we witnessed in human history someone holding on to the bitter end, even to their own destruction and the destruction of everything they claimed to love and value, simply because they refuse to humble themselves enough to admit they were wrong?

    One does not enter the Kingdom of Heaven with a rational choice or by informed consent: only one thing is required, and that is humility. This is a matter of the will, which is rooted in the heart, not the mind. If you have ever raised children, you know that self-destructive, foolish, willful pride is something which is already deeply entrenched before any kind of reasoning or rationality appears. It is completely dumb and admits no reason. It goes completely against our self-interest, whether real or imagined, and yet we cling to it like life itself. The one thing that seems worse to us than any torment is to lose face.

    Based on my own observation of others and of my own heart, it does not seem to me illogical, improbable, unthinkable or incoherent that, even with all illusions completely shattered and all truth known, one would still, out of insane pride, refuse to admit that one is wrong. I would even say the reverse is what is improbable. And therefore not only must hell exist (which I know no one is denying here) but its eternality is not only possible, but probable. I will not say certain. I hope I am wrong. But Hart (and Fr. Kimel, and you, Dr. Talbott) is proving to be very unpersuasive to any but the already persuaded.

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    • I find it very telling that you put it this way: “…one would still, out of insane pride, refuse to admit that one is wrong.” This is the whole force of their argument. As in most courts of law, insanity is an absolutely valid defense. When sin is viewed as a disease to be cured rather than an infraction to be punished it starts to make sense. Pride is like an autoimmune disease, and God would surely have no intention of leaving even one child to remain untreated for it, even if she is (by definition) irrationally opposed to it.

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      • David Di Giacomo says:

        But this is not a court of law, and we are not talking about legal defense. This is the human heart we are talking about. The issue is not God leaving one child untreated, the issue is the child refusing the treatment, and refusing the one method by which the treatment can be received, and that is to humble oneself. The issue is never ever God (and all these arguments ultimately boil down to this, “God would never… God could never…”). The issue is always us eternally digging our heels in and screaming “I won’t!”. There is no reason or rationality in such a stance, no ignorance or knowledge, just stubborn, willful pride.

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        • Can you imagine having a child who is emotionally/psychologically disturbed and can’t wait to harm himself? Hart mentioned this in one of his talks:

          “In simple terms, if a deranged man chooses to slash himself with a knife or set fire to himself, you would not be interfering with his “freedom” by preventing him from doing so. You would be rescuing him from his slavery to madness. This is why the free-will defense of the idea of an eternal hell is essentially gibberish.”

          No one with a clear enough mind to be considered a competent free moral agent would be able to see God for who he is and still choose her own path. We don’t just let the psychologically I’ll (“insane” was your word) harm themselves however they will, even if they fight against the straight jacket or the needle with the medication. I’m not sure how much more plainly this can be stated.

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          • David Di Giacomo says:

            At least with your last sentence, I can totally agree: I also don’t know how much more plainly this can be stated. But this is the crux of our disagreement: “No one with a clear enough mind to be considered a competent free moral agent would be able to see God for who he is and still choose her own path.” State it as plainly as you will, I don’t believe that assertion is true, and simply stating it over and over again does not make it more true or more convincing.

            I think you make far to much of the “mind”, whatever that is. It is not the mind that does the rejecting and refuses to be humbled, it is the heart. Rejecting what is good for us because we want to save face is completely and utterly irrational, and yet otherwise rational people do it all the time. I do it. You do it. Everybody does it. All this talk about what makes someone a competent free moral agent or not is completely missing the point.

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          • “Rejecting what is good for us because we want to save face is completely and utterly irrational, and yet otherwise rational people do it all the time.”

            It is actually not “completely and utterly irrational” to reject something good in order to save face; it is merely the result of valuing face-saving more than the good thing we’re rejecting. And if you think that doing this is not something that someone whose “heart” is healthy would do, then you’re in agreement with me (and Hart, etc.). So forget the mental aspect. God is our Cardiologist.

            And yes, binding someone in a straight jacket in perpetuity without hope of release would be quite an infernalist thing to do. But here again, the idea is that the engineer of our lives – hearts, minds, everything – knows exactly what it would take to cure us, not leave us in the straight jacket. How many patients have been bound to the hospital bed in order to keep them from harming themselves? Do you not put a cone on a dog that’s likely to bite at its wound? Examples abound.

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          • David Di Giacomo says:

            I might add that I don’t disagree with Hart’s analogy of a deranged man, or your analogy of a disturbed child. But the conclusion does not follow from the premise. Say you have your deranged man and you put him in a straightjacket and you forcibly prevent him from harming himself for all eternity. Does that sound like paradise to you? Say you want to further help him, so you sedate him, and perhaps, in the last resort, lobotomize him so he is all peaceful again, a happy drooling vegetable. Does that sound like paradise to you? Is that what a “final victory over sin” looks like to you?

            Sounds like hell to me.

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          • David Di Giacomo says:

            “…the engineer of our lives – hearts, minds, everything – knows exactly what it would take to cure us…”

            Yes, He does (and so do we, because He has told us) but it is the one thing He cannot do for us: it is humility, and he cannot make us humble despite ourselves. Unless of course you are a Calvinist, in which case frankly you have no choice but to be a universalist, or else a moral monster. Monergism is the only framework that makes universalism possible, and in monergism it is inescapable. But then, monergism isn’t true either.

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          • “Yes, He does (and so do we, because He has told us) but it is the one thing He cannot do for us: it is humility, and he cannot make us humble despite ourselves.”

            What a curious claim! This is one of the very easiest things for God to do. Hear our Savior: “And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Nebuchadnezzar is another case; even Paul talked of God humbling him.

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          • Matthew Hryniewicz says:

            “Saving face” is a good of a certain kind, so choosing it isn’t completely irrational even if the good that someone is rejecting far outweighs it. Likewise, pride leeches on the back of a number of lesser goods (real and mistaken). The choice of God or not-God is one that literally involves choosing between All-good and no-good, so we have to ask ourselves what could possibly motivate the choice for no-good. Unless somehow we are capable of willing evil for its own sake (which I think is manifestly absurd), then we must consider that it is fundamentally a desire for the good as such that motivates us. I would then ask how it is possible for a creature whose will is naturally ordered towards the good to clearly see the good and reject it.

            You’ll have to explain more about how you define the terms will, heart, and mind. It sounds like you may be using will and heart almost interchangeably. My understanding is that typically the distinction is drawn between intellect and will, with the main dividing lines being between those who say that what we will reflects what we think, and those who say that what we think reflects what we will. Are you saying that what we will is determined by what we feel? And further, that what we will does not depend at all upon the workings of the intellect (mind)?

            Anyway, perhaps more to the point, it seems clear to me that when someone is behaving so irrationally as to harm themself (especially irreparably as Talbott would say) it is completely licit to override their “freedom” to do so. I would even say that love would compel you to keep them from doing what they want..

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        • TJF says:

          Gregory of Nyssa talks about this in De hominis opificio. I think he quite convincingly argues that the selfish and prideful child who disobeys and rebels against God and refuses his medicine will ultimately lose. The reason is simple. God is infinite and eternal and we are not. Just mathematically speaking the finite will never triumph over the infinite. We can go through every possible combination of evil for as long as we want, and eventually we will exhaust all options since evil too is finite (since only God, properly speaking, is infinite in being). The infinite triumphs over the finite. We can delay his purposes, but cannot ultimately frustrate them.

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        • Having been the insane man myself, allow me to offer you a viewpoint defending what DBH is presenting:

          https://http4281.wordpress.com/2017/07/03/gods-hand-our-free-will/

          I will appreciate your comments on my experience and how it relates to this post.

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    • Tom says:

      Forgive my brevity. Heading to the airport. But David, I don’t see why we have to opt for an either/or. Either rationality or pride. I don’t see how we can suppose our decisions to embrace sinful ways of relating are not minimally rational. That we also act pridefully can also be true. Rationality isn’t an all or nothing (or a zero-sum) game. It’s perspectival, and perspectives fall along a continuum of being more or less informed. Eve’s choice to take the fruit is from God’s perspective irrational, certainly. But that’s because God suffers from no epistemic distance. So there’s no deliberative/gnomic room in God’s perspective to get a choice to misrelate off the ground, so to speak. But Eve is different. From her spective, she ‘reasons her way’ into taking the fruit – deliberatively. And it’s her limited-finite scope on the value or things that makes that choice possible and responsible.

      Just because no minimally rational choice can be supposed which makes moral sense of a ‘final/irrevocable choice for to reject God and embrace evil for evil’s sake’ doesn’t mean the sinful choices we do make aren’t sufficiently rational. So demonstrating the former (final, irrevocable rejection of God) to be impossible to construe as rational and free doesn’t require all a general principle that sinful choice as such be taken as absolutely irrational. It’s because the rejection of God MUST be rational (measured by the finite agencies doing the rejecting) that a final-irrevocable rejection of God is impossible.

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    • Stephen Martin says:

      Pride is establishing one’s own self worth. But it is easily destroyed with the knowledge of true dignity and the righteousness of God. When God is revealed in truth, pride is consumed. It has no standing at all! To think that pride can stand and justify itself before the full discloser of Logos, is insanity. 🙂

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      • danaames says:

        I would say that pride is easily destroyed by the Beauty of God, which is a sort of summing up of dignity and righteousness and goodness and all the rest. If one day we will know as we are known, then the full disclosure of the Logos will indeed shatter pride.

        Dana

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    • Steven says:

      David, your examples only take into account destructive episodes of pride in this life, and assume the prideful will know/see/behave similarly in the next life. Perhaps this is the case, but perhaps not. Problem I have with that is, in this life the self-destructive proud are that way precisely because they will not, cannot, see themselves as they truly are. While it is a matter of “heart”, I think we’re making too much of an imagined difference between “heart” and “mind”, but I think that’s a misstep of Western philosophy. When we stand before God in the bare truth of who we are, with nowhere to divert our attention, we’ll no longer have the luxury of self-deception. Who knows then what will happen? If in this life repentance is made possible when God breaks through the hardness of our hearts to make us see ourselves as we are (to some extent), will the truth in all its fullness have a similar effect on sinners when they stand before God in the next?

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    • Tom Talbott says:

      Hi David,

      You wrote: “But Hart (and Fr. Kimel, and you, Dr. Talbott) is proving to be very unpersuasive to any but the already persuaded.”

      Obviously, Part III of my review did not persuade you, and that is fine. But may I suggest, as gently as possible, that the issue of whether it will persuade others who were previously unpersuaded is not for either you or me to say? In any case, I’m curious whether there is some specific claim in Part III that you would finally reject. I would be happy to discuss any such disagreement with you. But I first need to know what it is before I can know how to discuss it.

      You do mention pride, the stubborn refusal to admit that one is wrong, and correctly point out the following: “If you have ever raised children, you know that self-destructive, foolish, willful pride is something which is already deeply entrenched before any kind of reasoning or rationality appears.” But how, pray tell, is that even relevant to any specific claim made in Part III of my review? Are you suggesting that these young children are free moral agents even before “any kind of reasoning or rationality appears”? You also point out in your first paragraph, again correctly, how easily pride can lead to one’s “own destruction and the destruction of everything” one “claimed to love and value . . .” In Part IV I will try to show how, according to Paul, such destruction is an important means of grace. But I’m also wondering how long such pride could last in the outer darkness, as described in Part III by George MacDonald. What would likely become of it, if I may borrow a phrase from Hart, “after a trillion years, or then a trillion trillion, or then a trillion vigintillion” in a context of absolute horror and in a context where one’s experience includes no one at all to impress?

      Anyway, thanks for your vigorous responses.

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  2. joel in ga says:

    “our experience of the physical order itself qualifies as an implicit experience of God”

    Philosopher George Berkeley (1685-1753) would agree. Like the moral order, the physical order we know as consisting of ideas devised by a Mind greater than ours.

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  3. Deb says:

    Just a quick question. All of this presupposes that people can still choose to turn to God after death. Aren’t there some Christians (Evangelicals?) who believe the choice must be made in this life and that there is no more turning back after death? What would you say to them?

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    • Matthew Hryniewicz says:

      Hey Deb, I can’t speak for Dr. Talbott, but here are my 2 cents. I would first ask them to explain why it is that people can’t choose to turn to God after death. It’s far from a given that no such choice is possible. If they were somehow able to show that a person’s choice is irrevocable once they die, then I would ask them to show (following Dr. Hart and Dr. Talbott) how the choice of not-God could be a genuinely free one, and how a God who is love could allow someone to solidify themself in such a state by permitting their death. It seems to me that they would need to successfully argue that posthumous reformation is impossible and that God is incapable of sustaining (or reviving) physical existence without committing some moral atrocity.

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      • Deb says:

        Thank you, this is very helpful!

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      • I think that the idea of not being able to repent after death was really codified by Aquinas’s theological musings on the subject. For him, if you are not in a corporeal body, then you have no further ability to make change. My response to that is that only God cannot change because in the theory of Divine Simplicity, God is perfect and has no potentiality, therefore change is not possible for Him because it is not needed. How any Thomist could say that a soul has no further potentiality in the next age is simply beyond me. That would be making it equal to God.

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Given that belief in the impossibility of alteration of personal orientation predates Thomas’s own argument, I think that your assertion that Thomas codified it may be too strong, but I do not question that his eventually became the popular answer in the Latin Church.

          I’m sure that Thomas’s argument must be convincing to Thomists, as they cite it whenever the question comes up, but I am not persuaded. It presupposes, as Joseph Thomas White has remarked, an Aristotelian anthropology, which is just one possible Christian anthropology among many in the tradition. I do not know how Eastern construals of the human being stand on the question, but I do know that Sergius Bulgakov does not believe in the unalterability of personal orientation in the intermediate state: “Afterlife Possibilities.”

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    • TJF says:

      I would say that they are wrong. The best study on this in my opinion is Christ the Conqueror of Hell by Hilarion Alfeyev.

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  4. Jonathan says:

    On the issue of the rationality of choosing to oppose God, I think it’s important to rule out the idea of beings wanting to have nothing to do with God. That is clearly impossible, since all beings have their existence in the Creator (Acts 17:28). But rational beings who have free will and know that God respects that free will, and who have cultivated desires that do not include loving all that God loves, could choose rationally to not participate in particular activities in the age to come. They certainly won’t be able to participate in activities that God does *not* love, which would involve their sinning actively. In this sense, they are “chained” in the age to come. But these abstainers’ non-participation in some of the activities willed by God distinguishes them from the Saints, who surrender to God and consequently are able to participate fully in all that God wills for them to do and be, to be “filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19). And would God be unloving or unmerciful to respect the wishes of those who have by their own free will shaped their character to not be in complete conformity to His own? The abstainers from virtue might even view themselves as more “free” than the Saints, since in some sense they are free *from* God, although in the age to come they will not be free to sin actively. Maybe this is why those outside the Kingdom shed tears after the Judgment, not for the loss of God’s love or their complete exile from His presence, but for their loss of activities that God no longer permits. I pray that no created being will be in such a state for all of eternity, but I don’t see how the possibility of created beings remaining in such a state would be inconsistent with God’s love for them. The Creator would still love the abstainers, respect their freedom to shape their own desires, and permit their active participation in good things for all eternity to the extent that they also would be willing to do so. I also think a loving Creator would allow even abstainers to grow in knowledge and change their views in the age to come. But I think sin is not simply a matter of knowledge. It is also a matter of desire, and of cultivating desires that are not fully aligned with that which God loves. While I hope that abstainers from virtue will grow out of these misaligned desires, I don’t think it is guaranteed that this will in fact happen, and I don’t believe God would impose virtuous desires on them against their consent. This is why I think an alternative way to view Gehenna is not as total annihilation of the wicked, nor as their total separation from God, but as a kind of straitjacket used by God to restrain abstainers from virtue from sinning in the age to come. I hope that the abstainers will mature spiritually so this straitjacket is no longer necessary. But I view that choice to yield completely to God as up to them. If the choice is rooted in their intrinsic desires and not only their knowledge, then it is possible that they will *never* want to acquire godly desires and conform their wills fully to the will of God. As I do not believe in irresistible grace, I think the eternal destiny of these abstainers from virtue will be to be eternally constrained by God and therefore separated, at least at times, from the Saints, even though the good and merciful God will love both them and the Saints. Even with this possibility of eternal separation of the wicked from the Saints, I don’t believe that anything that is good and of God in any created being will be lost or unable to express itself in the age to come. Maybe this is why the Saints will not shed tears once the Kingdom arrives (Revelation 21:4).

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    • Matthew Hryniewicz says:

      So long as a person is free to move towards or away from God, it would seem to me that God merely sitting back and respecting that person’s choices would lead them towards the knowledge necessary for repentance. The natural consequences of Godward motion are increasing beatitude, while the consequences of moving away are painful. In choosing to run from God they would be running away from the “primordial of [their] deepest longings” as stated above. I don’t see how that could be a sustainable course of action, even if we grant that it is not logically inconsistent.

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      • Matthew Hryniewicz says:

        I’m not sure how the “straightjacket” that keeps someone from sinning could actually work. Considering that sin can be a purely internal act, wouldn’t God have to restrict them from even thinking wrong thoughts? At that point, what is left of freedom?

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        • Just for clarification, when I introduced the “straight jacket” term into the discussion it did not refer to constraints on will. It was a very limited analogy to a temporary treatment for the psychologically/mentally disturbed that would seem to the individual like punishment (rather than any sort of deterrence) but would actually be part of treatment.

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