“In the end, even when we reject the good, we always do so out of a longing for the Good”

The more one is in one’s right mind—the more, that is, that one is conscious of God as the Goodness that fulfills all beings, and the more one recognizes that one’s own nature can have its true completion and joy nowhere but in him, and the more one is unfettered by distorting misperceptions, deranged passions, and the encumbrances of past mistakes—the more inevitable is one’s surrender to God. Liberated from all ignorance, emancipated from all the adverse conditions of this life, the rational soul could freely will only its own union with God, and thereby its own supreme beatitude. We are, as it were, doomed to happiness, so long as our natures follow their healthiest impulses unhindered; we cannot not will the satisfaction of our beings in our true final end, a transcendent Good lying behind and beyond all the proximate ends we might be moved to pursue. This is no constraint upon the freedom of the will, coherently conceived; it is simply the consequence of possessing a nature produced by and for the transcendent Good: a nature whose proper end has been fashioned in harmony with a supernatural purpose. God has made us for himself, as Augustine would say, and our hearts are restless till they rest in him. A rational nature seeks a rational end: Truth, which is God himself. The irresistibility of God for any soul that has been truly set free is no more a constraint placed upon its liberty than is the irresistible attraction of a flowing spring of fresh water in a desert place to a man who is dying of thirst; to choose not to drink in that circumstance would be not an act of freedom on his part, but only a manifestation of delusions that enslave him and force him to inflict violence upon himself, contrary to his nature. A woman who chooses to run into a burning building not to save another’s life, but only because she can imagine no greater joy than burning to death, may be exercising a kind of “liberty,” but in the end she is captive to a far profounder poverty of rational freedom.

So, yes, we can act irrationally, but that is no more than a trivial deliberative power; it is not yet true liberty. Only because there is such a thing as a real rational terminus for intentional action, which is objectively distinguishable from irrational ends, is there such a thing as real freedom. This is, in fact, an ancient Christian orthodoxy, common to the teachings of the church fathers and great mediaeval theologians; and, were it not true, the whole edifice of the Christian conception of existence and of creation and of God and of the unity of the ontological and moral dimensions of reality would entirely collapse. Even the suicide is merely fleeing pain and seeking a peace that the world cannot give, though he or she might be able in the crucial moment of decision to imagine this peace only under the illusory form of oblivion; his or her fault is one only of perception, in a moment of severe confusion and sadness, and certainly not some ultimate rejection of God. One cannot even choose nothing­ness, at least not as nothingness; to will nonexistence positively, one must first conceive it as a positive end, and so one can at most choose it as the “good” cessation of this world, and therefore as just another mask of that which is supremely desirable in itself. In the end, even when we reject the good, we always do so out of a longing for the Good. We may not explic­itly conceive of our actions in this way, but there is no question that this is what we are doing. We act always toward an end that we desire, whether morally, affectively, or patho­logically; and, so long as we are rational agents, that end is the place where the “good” and the “desirable” are essentially synonymous terms. And our ability to will anything at all, in its deepest wellsprings, is sustained by this aboriginal orientation within us toward that one transcendental Good that alone can complete us, and that prompts reason to move the will toward an object of longing. Needless to say, we can induce moral ignorance in ourselves through our own wicked actions and motives; but, conversely, those wicked actions and motives are themselves possible only on account of some degree of prior ignorance on our part. This circles admits of no breaks; it has no beginning or end, no point of entry or exit. When, therefore, we try to account for the human rejection of God, we can never trace the wanderings of the will back to some primordial moment of perfect liberty, some epistem­ically pristine instant when a perverse impulse spontaneously arose within an isolated, wholly sane individual will, or within a mind perfectly cognizant of the whole truth of things; we will never find that place where some purely uncompelled apostasy on the part of a particular soul, possessed of a perfect rational knowledge of reality, severed us from God. Such a movement of volition would have had no object to prompt it, and so could never have been a real rational choice. Thus it is, for instance, that the Eastern church fathers, when interpreting the story of Eden, generally tended to ascribe the cause of the fall to the childlike ignorance of unformed souls, not yet mature enough to resist false notions (and this, lest we forget, accords exactly with the Eden story in Genesis, which tells the story of two persons so guileless and ignorant that they did not even know they were naked until a talking snake had shown them the way to the fruit of knowledge). Hence, absolute culpa­bility—eternal culpability—lies forever beyond the capacities of any finite being. So does an eternal free defiance of the Good. We are not blameless, certainly; but, then again, that very fact proves that we have never been entirely free not to be blameless—and so neither can we ever be entirely to blame.

David Bentley Hart

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33 Responses to “In the end, even when we reject the good, we always do so out of a longing for the Good”

  1. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Source: ‘That All Shall Be Saved,’ pp. 40-42

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  2. Tom says:

    He certainly has a surgeon’s scalpel-like precision. When I started reading Hart years ago I thought him the most inaccessible writer/thinker I’d ever run into. But I now find him to be perhaps the clearest and most accessible.

    That said, I’m confused by two statements:

    The final statement of the post states:

    “…we have never been entirely free not to be blameless—and so neither can we ever be entirely to blame.”

    And earlier in the quote he writes:

    “Liberated from all ignorance, emancipated from all the adverse conditions of this life, the rational soul could freely will only its own union with God, and thereby its own supreme beatitude.”

    Doesn’t Hart believe in creation’s beginning as a state of ignorance-free, adversity-free existence? An original innocence and uncorrupted goodness not subject to any privation, to past mistakes, congenital weaknesses, debilitating adversities of a fallen material order, etc., free from the shrouding effects of our present mortal existence?

    If he does view creation’s beginning in such terms (and I’m fairly sure he does), then we have a problem to confront. For it is in precisely such peak, optimal conditions that creation fell. So how is it the case that liberating the damned from the constraints of ignorance and the adverse conditions of life, the rational soul will choose God?

    I don’t disagree that the soul is transcendentally oriented toward God, that it can never escape God as its final end, and that all our despairing choices are a veiled desire for God. I’m down with all that. But ‘transcendental orientation’ isn’t a methodology that guarantees desired outcomes – as the fall demonstrates. That orientation defines the outer limits of choice, so that there’s no misrelating out of all possibility of Godward movement. But if hell is merely pushing the reset button to restore human beings to their original, default ‘factory settings’ (entirely or in part), why suppose such a reset will secure the right choice? It didn’t at the beginning; why think it will at the end? To be clear, I’m not saying hell is not the pain of ‘having’ to face the truth about our despair. I’m just saying that clarity cannot ‘produce’ the right choice. We know this to be true given our belief in a fall from original clarity and innocence.

    One last thought. Hart writes:

    “Yes, we can act irrationally, but that is no more than a trivial deliberative power; it is not yet true liberty.”

    Here I agree too that true freedom is the will’s final rest in its natural disposition for the good. We will be free from gnomic deliberation ‘with respect to the Good’. However (forgive me if I’m nit-picking), this deliberative power that presently defines us is no trival capacity. Evil and hell exist because of it. And – paradoxically – so does heaven, for (we can say based on Hart’s mortal argument) were God capable of uniting creation to himself apart from the risk involved in gnomic deliberation, he surely would have done so. He didn’t, so this deliberative power (as a ‘means’ to our end) is anything but trivial.

    What counts as rational is perspectival. Obviously, from God’s point of view any creaturely choice that fails to aim at the highest good is ‘irrational’. But we’re not God and we don’t have his perspective on the truth of things. We have to choose within our epistemic constraints, which means our poor choices ‘can’ count as minimally/sufficiently rational (and hence, our responsibility for them, the ‘blameworthiness’ Hart mentions) precisely because they are driven by transcendental desire ‘within’ the constraints of epistemic distance (‘distance’, not pure irrationality). And that defines the pathway out – God may design hell as a kind of reset button that shatters the false narratives, like depriving an addict of his drugs to restore his sanity/clarity of mind. But we must choose deliberatively, gnomically, our way into a vision of things that finally liberates. If God can (have us) by-pass gnomic deliberation (in hell) with respect to the Good, he would’ve done so and spared us all.

    Johnny One-Note

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Tom, doesn’t your “epistemic distance” that you have posited in various articles to explain humanity’s original fall imply ignorance?

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      • Tom says:

        Yes. Finite as we are, we’ll always be ignorant of a good deal. We’re not omniscient. I understood that by “liberated from all ignorance” Hart meant ignorance relevant to our sinful histories, a sinful/fallen ignorance (resulting from our fall). It understood him to say that once all such relevant ignorance is removed (basically equivalent to our primordial/pre-fall state of clarity), the right choice for God follows as a matter of course. But if we started out with such clarity and the right choice did *not* follow as a matter of course, why think it’ll work out if tried a second time? (I agree God brings that clarity, even if it involves our suffering the loss of our falsehoods; I just don’t see how ‘that’ alone secures the desired outcome when we’re already on record as believing it failed to do so the first time round.)

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Tom, good questions. Here’s my take on them

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Tom, good questions. Here’s my take on them

      The Edenic innocence was not a state of perfection – this state is not to be thought of as the ideal and the optimal to which we are to return. Recall Gregory of Nyssa’s vision of bifold creation – the divine ideal and the historical unfolding: the two will become one in the eschaton, and only then humanity will have been created. The unfolding in time is marked by the gnomic loss of imperfect immaturity, a tragic descend into nothingness. As such we are not blameless, and thus we are in need to be emancipated from adverse conditions, willful ignorance, the darkness which our irrational choices have come to create and come to obscure that which is our proper end.

      As such then too, transcendental orientation is indeed not a method which guarantees a desired outcome (hence precisely the need for the incarnation, death, resurrection of Christ). The orientation failed in Eden, it fails for us.

      As to Hell as a reset – I think here the notion of divine love as restorative fire is of help. Which is to say that Hell is not merely more of the same. It is rather the revelation of God-self, the silencing, healing presence of the love of God in all his death-and-injustice-and-pain conquering splendor.

      As to “trivial” – I would think that the meaning there is not “insignificant” but rather trivial in the sense of foolish or superficial (i.e. concerning itself with what is deemed the good, the immediate good, rather than the Good).

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      • Tom says:

        Thanks Robert. I like the way you posted ‘twice’. Was that a ‘bifold’ response meant to mirror God’s creative act? The first one being a proleptic/primordial embodiment of what you wanted to say and the second post actually saying it? Nice!

        OK, so what I’m hearing is this: Creation’s Edenic state only exists in God’s mind and as expression of the ‘end’ to which creation is called. Concretely, creation has never been that. I’m not sure that’s Hart’s view, but I’m ready to be surprised.

        But it seems that in denying an actual Edenic beginning for the world (not ‘perfect’ [because not what it ‘shall’ be] but at least not privated, fallen, or morally corrupt), one posits a world that was never anything but fallen and corrupt. That’s essentially Manoussakis’s view – that “evil is a moment in the temporal unfolding of the good” (and that this is the “scandal of the good,” i.e., the impossibility of its temporal manifestation without evil).

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        • Robert Fortuin says:

          Tom, who cares what Hart thinks 🙂

          Unless I am misunderstanding him, which is possible, I do think a two-fold creation is what Hart holds to though, see page 138ff. This is of course based on Gregory of Nyssa’s eschatological vision and objections to it usually involve notions of a failure of God’s eternal creative act. The ideal didn’t work, so we are stuck with history as we know. But this is not what Gregory envisions. It is rather that history unfolds in the one divine creative act towards it fulfilment in the eschaton.

          The Edenic state was good, but not perfected, it was incomplete but not defective. Lacking perfection it is open to the possibility temptation. I don’t think this makes a “scandal of the good” at all necessary; such, it seems to me goes to contrary to what we hold about the Incarnation, viz. that the good became history without evil.

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      • I think that Irenaeus is also helpful in explaining the fall. His emphases are slightly different than what I have read in Gregory of Nyssa or Maximus the Confessor, but not at all in contradiction the thrust of their arguments. For Irenaeus the fall was ultimately pedagogical. Humanity was created good (exceedingly so) but not mature, and the fall placed the species in the school of righteousness. This comports with Maximus’ understanding of how God uses our sin in the economy of salvation – where sin’s misery is an instructor of its own that causes us to reach for righteousness and virtue; and the transitory and disappointing nature of living in this present world causes us to look beyond this world for permanence and joy.

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  3. Mateo Porter says:

    But what about Satan? We can play “blame the serpent” all we want, but somebody had to make a free choice for evil, otherwise it wouldn’t exist, because nothing evil can come from God.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Mateo, I think that we must say that the aboriginal angelic rebellion was just as irrational as humanity’s rebellion, for the reasons mentioned by Dr Talbott. We do not, of course, know anything whatsoever about the angelic rebellion and the conditions under which it occurred, but I think must infer some sort of epistemic distance, and therefore ignorance, which also conditioned their apostasy.

      But I’ll let Tom Belt and Robert Fortuin elaborate further. 🙂

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Mateo,

      I suggest that it makes sense to understand the account of Satan in the light of Eden – that the angelic realm was good as God made it, but incomplete in need of becoming and in need to acquire perfection while open to deliberation and temptation. The angelic failure is our failure.

      Our lot as creatures is not as black and white as we like to think of it. My own experience is that invariably a range of competing desires, motivations, needs, perceptions, consequences, etc. form or influence to one extent or another my awareness and choices. In regards to all of these (and even in regards to my own self-understanding!) I lack a pure and complete perspective. I suggest then what this means that the choices we make (and I am including the angelic in this as well) are a melange of the rational and the irrational, the Good and the trivial good (i.e. what we mistake for the good). This is not to take away culpability mind you – but it is show the role of delusion and self-delusion.

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  4. Is “distortion misperceptions” Hart’s phrase? I thought it might be a typo on “distortED misperceptions,” but it could be a newly coined phrase/idea that I don’t quite get…. It seems redundant or a double-negative or something.

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  5. George Domazetis says:

    As I understand it, in Eden, Adam communed with God, so it is difficult to see how he acted from ignorance. I also note that we as human beings heard the Gospel from Christ, and saw Christ heal the sick – so I wonder if “not knowing what we do…” has additional meaning in the sense that we may choose to continue with our ignorance …..?

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Not all ignorance is the same – it may range from an ignorance which bears culpability for resulting actions as when it is a consequence of and results in a series of persistent and willful bad choices (some situation such as the prodigal son comes to mind, drawn by his misplaced desires and series of bad choices he had lost his good sense), to more or less excusable choice based on partial knowledge or more or less obscured understanding. Recall that it was only after Pentecost that the disciples understood the true meaning of what had happened in their midst. They witnessed many miracles and amazing events – but they remained ignorant until their were divinely illumined. Adam communed with God, but did he fully understand what this meant? I am not so sure – one can make a strong case that Adam did not know what it meant: for if had he known the temptation would not have born the fruit of sin.

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      • George Domazetis says:

        I am not sure what Adam and Eve understood, and I am inclined to think that his knowledge of “the snake” and temptation was lacking (but I think they understood God).

        As a general statement, I think growing in grace and knowledge covers these matters.What can be said of human knowledge, even if it is argued that this amounts to an awareness of self, the world of objects, archetypes, and myths? Awareness of self does away with the idea that knowledge is totally a ‘brain thing’ (modern thinkers have suggested that a distinction should be made between consciousness and self-consciousness). These matters are compatible with ‘self as I am alive’. However, difficulties arise when we humans entertain thoughts of or about God, and thus think of what may appear as ‘super-natural’ (another word which is difficult to use sensibly).

        Thoughts of God are the result of the Holy Spirit of God. It is not possible to believe that a human being can think God in any manner. Only the Holy Spirit can know the things of God. I note that Christ, as the teacher to his disciples, asked them who they thought Christ was. (“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”… He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Mat 16:17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven”). Christ himself is showing this cannot be taught as in a classroom by a teacher. In this example, all of the other people who heard Christ would have comprehended the teaching if it was simply communicated knowledge. Christ is the revelation itself but this revelation is such that God reveals this to a human being.

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        • Robert Fortuin says:

          “It is not possible to believe that a human being can think God in any manner.”

          And yet we do. But not every thought is equally tenable or equally conforming to the Truth – and that is my point.

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          • George Domazetis says:

            We humans have a poor record in seeking for the truth – I am reminded that Christ is the way and the truth. Hart’s emphasis on the end result of creation should, I suggest, be read with the way of life we all face day to day. Awareness of self begins as knowledge of self-life (soul). Within this view, all knowledge revolves about life. Death is the cessation of life – as such death is the contradiction of knowledge. Reason arises spontaneously from life-self-awareness and is subordinate to life. Reason is ‘bound’ to the continuation of life. There is nothing for reason beyond this, no Kantian ultimate end to reason (but the end result of salvation is a given). The completeness of a human being is found in the male-female relationship, as this is the means for the continuation of life; our awareness and knowledge may be complete in that life does not cease. The relationship of male-female is given added importance within the Christian context as it includes not only sexual attraction and romantic attachment but also: ‘God has shed his love abroad in our hearts’. This provides a Godly basis for the continuation of life as it includes God’s love in the male-female relationship. (As this discussion deals with human attributes, it is necessary to restrict the term ‘love’ with either the ‘meaning of God’, or synonymous with the phrase ‘The Holy Spirit’ and the ‘fruits of the Spirit’). As our sins are forgiven through Christ, knowledge of God becomes synonymous with life and the completeness of human beings. Those in Christ are abroad with God’s love which is the basis for all things to life.

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  6. Robert Fortuin says:

    Not all ignorance is the same – it may range from an ignorance which bears culpability for resulting actions as when it is a consequence of and results in a series of persistent and willful bad choices (some situation such as the prodigal son comes to mind, drawn by his misplaced desires and series of bad choices he had lost his good sense), to more or less excusable choice based on partial knowledge or more or less obscured understanding. Recall that it was only after Pentecost that the disciples understood the true meaning of what had happened in their midst. They witnessed many miracles and amazing events – but they remained ignorant until their were divinely illumined. Adam communed with God, but did he fully understand what this meant? I am not so sure – one can make a strong case that Adam did not know what it meant: for if had he known the temptation would not have born the fruit of sin.

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  7. Tom says:

    Just finishing up DBH’s book today. Wow. Devastating. I have issues with a few points in his final two chapters (on ‘persons’ and on ‘freedom’), but nothing that underminds the book. Won’t David be pleased to hear that? :o)

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Did 138ff help with the bi-fold vision of creation? I find it the most compelling account of creation and eschatology.

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      • Tom says:

        It leaves unanswered the question of a ‘fall’. One can fail to conform to one’s divine purpose, but that ‘one’ is concrete/actual, and the ‘fall’ is a concrete fall. So I’m wondering where/when Hart supposes this fall takes place. In a review of Solovyev, he posits a primordial rupture/fall of the cosmos. So, my question: from what state did the cosmos fall?

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        • Robert Fortuin says:

          From its original goodness when it was corrupted by misuse. That’s the when and the from.

          It’s a metaphysical question from which a historical answer is attempted to be obtained. A fool’s errand it seems to me – like asking when was the universe created, for the “when” and the “what” are commensurate. Now I know you are not asking about a day on the calendar (although you seem to be leaning to that when you speak of “concrete/actual”) – however as I see it the point is that the historical unfolding of creation is commensurate with and enfolded within the prior eternal, proto-eschatological creation of divine counsel. The history is ours, we do the falling, but as it unfolds within the embrace of the creative act of God, it also is concretely and actually a part of the divine counsel (“the kingdom of God is at hand”) the completion of the beginning has not unfolded as of yet in its eventual culmination in its fulfillment of the divine “All in all”.

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          • Tom says:

            Robert: From its original goodness when it was corrupted by misuse. That’s the when and the from.

            Tom: Excellent. That’s all I wanted.

            Robert: I know you are not asking about a day on the calendar (although you seem to be leaning to that when you speak of “concrete/actual”)…

            Tom: Nah, sorry I was not clear. Not interested in specific dates. I just wanted to know if creation is believed to have ever ‘actually’ been not-fallen and uncorrupted. In other words – it fell – if not from an Edenic state of absolute perfection – at least from an original innocence and purity not subject to the slightest privation. What I’m hearing is ‘Yes’, creation did fall from such a state.

            This probably isn’t the place to get into it, but I’d love to ask:

            (1) What must this primordial state have been if it was defined, in part, by the possibility of falling? What constitutes the capacity of so innocent and uncorrupted a state to misuse its powers of choice?

            We might say creation was good and innocent but ‘immature’, and immaturity/infancy is no fault. I agree. Can we say anything more about this immaturity? Hart seems to. That is, he holds that this original state was, for example, not subject to mortality/death (which is a consequence of the fall), and if I’m following various essays/lectures of his rightly, he holds the movement of creation’s original state to be quite different than, even unrecognizable from, our present embodied form weighted down by time’s movement within the grip of gnomic deliberation and indeterminateness regarding the Good. That’s seems crucial. I might be misreading his new book, but I think he takes the gnomic exercise of the will to be a consequence of the fall and not an original feature of creation’s original state that explains how the fall is even possible. But as you say, only ignorance (epistemic distance) can account for the abuse of will. But that’s all the gnomic use of the will is; so I wonder why Hart (unless I’m misreading him) feel the gnomic will is itself a corruption of fallen nature.

            Obviously, I see the gnomic exercise of the will as absolutely necessary to creation’s journey toward its perfection in Christ. The gnomic will is God-given and good even if it is a temporary means of getting us to our end – not a regrettable corruption of nature.

            (2) As I asked already – If the original state is, as you say, unfallen, innocent, not subject to death/mortality, privation, the debilitation effects of a history of sin – and we nevertheless blew it in so optimal an environment – why is Hart confident that the wicked will get it right when the mind and its environment are purged of these effects? It’s not like our original state was at a far greater disadvantage relative to choice than what we imagine hell will be (if anything, the original state was in a far more advantageous position to get it right) – and yet evil erupted originally. So how are we confident it will expire finally if the post-mortem environment is made optimal?

            I’m not arguing against UR. I’m just trying to settle into a better account of it. I’m just not seeing where Hart really explains his confidence by saying God restores sanity to minds, shatters false narratives, and frees the soul from debilitating habituation, etc. The original state was at least that (arguably better!) and we still screwed up. So…?

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    • Tom says:

      “Nothing that underminds the book.”

      Hey Rocky watch me pull a Hartian phrase out of my hat: “How embarrassing.”

      Correction: Undermines.

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  8. brian says:

    Tom,

    Either Adamic lucidity is unequal to final eschatological lucidity and/or the unity of human nature achieved in Christ allows for personal will to be healed in a manner more profound than what we know of the mere psychic ego which is only a fragment of the gifted self.

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  9. Robert Fortuin says:

    Tom: “why is Hart confident that the wicked will get it right when the mind and its environment are purged of these effects”

    Robert: In my understanding the confidence is based on God’s relentless self-revelation to the rational soul as its proper end, its satisfaction, its rest. I see the Incarnation and Christ’s willingness to endure the cross as a foreshadowing, a deposit if you will, of the extent God is willing to go to save his creatures. If true, I am not sure we are fully understanding how completely out of this world his love is.

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  10. Robert Fortuin says:

    The personal knowledge I have of this kind of love is as a parent. Upon learning my child is in dire need or danger, I would not have anything or anyone stand in my way to rescue my beloved, not a distance to far, not a labor too much, not a cost too high. Not a question, not a doubt.

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    • Iain Lovejoy says:

      Perhaps apposite:
      “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor beginnings, nor present things, nor things to come, nor any powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall have the power to separate us from the love of God that us in Jesus the Anointed our Lord.”

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  11. Pingback: Rolling the Dice vs. Trusting God’s Promises: A Critique of Hart’s That All Shall Be Saved. | theology like a child

  12. Father Kimel,

    Thanks for posting this extended quotation. I’ve posted a critique of it at my blog theology like a child.

    I take it that Dr. Hart doesn’t think too highly of Luther’s efforts in the Bondage of the Will. : )

    +Nathan

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  13. Grant says:

    Interesting reflections on the Eden story, and of our awareness in origins of God, but I’m not sure I would look in the directions of speculating over what Adam was aware of when we bear in mind we are dealing with a myth, one already taken from a aboriginal context lost to us, combined and set within the first creation myth, and which as Christians we see through the revelation of Christ and the New Testament.

    A myth I believe should be approached in a mythic manner (that is, as a myth), and as all Scripture, as concerning and about Christ. It is situated within the context of the first creation myth which depicts the calling into being of creation and the calling into being and ordering creation towards flourishing and the Good, with it ending within the calling to being of humanity into the image and likeness of God, creation is declared very good. This is intertwined within John 1:1 and further brings that whole Gospel to be frame it, and reminds us that this creation myth is a revelation of God’s creative act which we find ourselves still currently in, in St John’s Gospel we see the Messiah is presented as ‘behold the man’ in Him, humanity is created at last, God’s Image and Likeness revealed, and in Him all of us are being raised towards our true selves into the image and likeness of God, each with our myriad and diverse and near infinite variations of this. The Gospel provides the link to the next creation myth, when St Mary Magdalene mistakes Him for the gardener, both the true Adam and the one by all humanity come to the Tree of Life, the one who is the Tree of Life, and also become as God, as was and is humanity calling in the first place. I’ll return to this a little bit below. Also in Him is the promise of creation in that myth does and will reach it’s purpose of good and very good, the fulfillment it strains towards, as St Paul tells us, that which it groans in travail, waiting to be freed from futility by the revelation of the sons of God, as a pregnant woman. In this the first creation myth is one that frames the whole of the Scripture narrative and of the vision of the creation act with Christ at the centre, one that is not something God has done, but something He is and will do, it is an overall vision that is protology and eschatology, and within seen within and through Christ, the Gospel promise itself, a vision of God’s purpose for creation.

    In this overall frame, the second Genesis myth has been nestled, and reveals the dichotomies we find ourselves in now in this fallen age, we feel the call and vision of the Cosmos as it should be, however distorted that picture is in us. Not only do we get glimpses and gleams of beauty, meaning and a luminescence in creation that goes beyond what there is, sometimes if not often in indescribable, that senses something in creation that reaches beyond what it is too what it should be and what it will be, both that thing in it’s particular and the whole. It re-enforces for us, that something is wrong with creation as it is, it is Wrong, deeply so, even as it is all we have ever known, we strain to escape the prison even as we keep struggling under it. So as with Adam and Eve, they exist in Eden, seeing the world as the Paradise around them, yet at the same time the reality they inhabit is a fallen one, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil already exists, that of death already hold sways around them, it has already stunted and warped creation they exist in, the serpent (both as representative of animal and spiritual agencies) shows these are fallen in the story. And in the tension between creation as it should be, and creation as it is, is played out, as they miss that promise and Christ, and their true selves in Him, in the Logos, and so fall short of the glory of God and mistake the creation for the Creator, and with it, true creation for the false and distorted creation, and become distorted from it and themselves. And so Eden becomes something sensed far off, guarded by a flaming sword, in a creation drained and restrained from it’s promise, the promise of being frustrated as death holds all it seems, an apparent lost dream, but also a promise held before us, that a way to the Tree of Life will come, that He will come to us.

    This is the story of us all, as we come into creation, both individually and corporately, of humanity falling away from our true selves in Christ, and of creation we a part of, each of us has lived this out in our own lives, while the promise of God that is within repentance is held before us and is revealed in Christ calling us out of the fallen realm forward to the gleam of that fulfilled hope buried within us beyond and behind all that builds up over it

    It is no doubt the tale of the emergent humanity coming into awareness in those faraway times in Africa, of a fall played out through our history as we came into being through various stages, and all our brothers and sisters in that time, but it has as I said, been that of all of us, we are all in Adam, and await and turn the Second Adam to lift and free us from this fall of our being, will and person to enslavement to death, illusion and ignorance, to our dislocation from creation and ourselves just as from God, falling short of the glory of God, and missing our calling until we are renewed and are old self is killed to be reborn as our true selves in Him, and our mistaken seeking after God and to be like God in the fallen world is swept away, to be drawn into the glory that is what it is to be truly like Him, as He calls us to be from the beginning and unto the end (as in the first creation myth). To be freed from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil to the Tree of Life, and false knowledge to true knowledge, futile seeking after divinity and immorality to true immortality that is the gift of God to us, that calling to raise us from things of mud to be as Him (and so to be truly human, as this is what it means to be human). It is true none can see God and live, as first our old self must die, as He kills to make alive, our false selves die in Him so we can be brought to life, and death can be destroyed in us, and in all creation. To see Him face to face, is for our old self to be swept away before His Glory, to be freed from darkness and false images, as the fire sweeps through. burning Love kindling all us back to life and freeing our bonds and drawing us to our true selves in Him, into His freedom, joy and love, and to a Glory beyond all things, creation will be very good and humanity will be in Christ in His image and likeness.

    And looking more deeply at the second Genesis myth, as it sits with and interlaced with the first, perhaps it hints at something deeper. Not an event in the past as such, but rather of our call into being itself, of us all, of all angelic and spiritual beings and creation, called into being, and in that complex interplay at the very threshold of being and existence. Not something seen in time but ‘before’ this as such, of creation and us all given free being and called to be what we are called to be, and in that free emergence and agapic calling becoming lost in that gifted freedom and mistaking our move to our true image in Christ, our emergent nature yet distorting in that beginning awareness but suffering such early ignorance, one each but as a complex symphony of all of us distorting in that freedom, as in the myth, with creation, the serpent we miss Christ and our true self, and creation’s true nature in the Tree of Life, turning from it, falling from it and emerging into the creation that is under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which is the evil of the fall but with our awareness of and drawn to the Good. Perhaps it depicts that very calling into being, that border of non-being into being, of something mysterious in our very core of being which happened and happens, involving us, the angelic and all creation missing the glory of God and mistaking the creation emergent for God, of missing Christ and ourselves, in this way St Origen’s thoughts of a pre-creation fall from grace might be so, not that we were perfect but in that borderland we fell from our true selves that yet are in the Son, and became estranged from ourselves, and indeed all creation did. The guide that leads me more towards this direction is the theology of Tolkien in the Song of Ainur, of creation called in being and song to be itself but in that emergence becoming misguided and lost of it’s true self in various levels and interactions, and creation being distorted as a result, as it flows out into existence from this pre-time, borderland moment, and see more and more ties with the first and second Genesis myths as they interlace together.

    It is an event before time as such, and yet one we are all tied into and from, centred in the Logos, and come into being from, and from there I think we derive our sense of both aboriginal loss and guilt, and yet also hope even before knowledge of Christ, as we come into the fallen and stunted creation we shall be freed and found ourselves and our home yet. This isn’t something to be found in creation as it is (that is clearly a fools errand, creation as is is fallen as far back as we can see, for the billions of years it has been around), but is prior to and before I am thinking, from our very call into being, as we fall in Adam, both in terms of humanity but also as being of creation (the earth) and falling from the celestial, into the second Adam unites with us and all of the earth in the Incarnation drawing us out and free into the full life, breaking free Eden and is the Tree of Life coming to us.

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