Theodicy, Hell, and David Bentley Hart

by Brian C. Moore, Ph.D.

In his recent blog post “The Morality of Gehenna,” Father Lawrence Farley defends the com­patibility of traditional notions of hell with the Goodness of the Christian God. His voice is certainly not inhumane. He recognizes that hell is “not tolerable,” yet he remains convinced that Scripture and tradition require that, in fact, one must tolerate it. In the course of his apologia for the “sad truth,” he makes frequent application to C. S. Lewis’ works, as well as adverting to an important article by David Bentley Hart, “God, Creation, and Evil,” as an example of a counter-argument that “simply underestimates the power of evil.” Fr Lawrence classifies the disagreement as a conflict in which “the philosopher smacks up against the exegete.” The relationship between faith and reason is illuminated by discernment, intellect, and lived experience. The idea that philosophy is ultimately trivial and superseded by theology and revelation is not self-evident. At minimum, one should recognize that faith does not eradicate the life of the mind and the need for thought. Rather, faith casts a greater light upon reality and poses new questions for philosophy. Scripture and tradition do not close down inquiry. Dogma properly under­stood advances the mind into greater wonder and sometimes into deeper perplexity. It is unjust to simply pull a quote out of context, dismiss it out of hand, and then to act as if an argument has been rendered toothless. However, it may be no such dodgy sleight of hand was intended. Indeed, what I surmise is that a complacent satisfaction with a particular notion of tradition has caused one to make a show of opposing what is assumed to be already defeated by the consensus of patristic opinion. In that case, of course, the render­ing plausible of infernalist views is less a withstanding of inquiry than an exercise in justification to those who at heart feel no need to actually do so. Since I am not convinced that Dr. Hart’s argument has been actually understood, I will give a rough recapitulation of some key elements in the hopes of making the central claims and the real putting into question of traditional assumptions more vividly evident.

One should pay attention to several key concepts, among them a discussion of divine free­dom, human liberty, and the nature of personhood, as well as the requirements of lan­guage necessary for any kind of divine revelation to become meaningfully possible at all. All of these are germane and to attempt to give a just assessment of the argument with little or no care to properly represent them is either dishonest or demonstrative of a lack of compre­hension. The central assertion asks us to carefully ponder the logical import of creatio ex nihilo. It may help first to quickly glance at a few alternate conceptions. Hegel posits, for instance, an indeterminate Abso­lute at the origin. What does this mean? Hegel’s “God” needs the world, for it is through all the drama and tragedy of time that the Abso­lute comes to determinate knowledge of itself. In short, the “divine” as Hegel understands it requires the world for self-realization. Such a God would not be supremely free with regards to creation. Some outside Necessity impels the act of creation. Plato’s Demiurge works to make the cosmos as beautiful as possible. Hence, the Demiurge has a kind of ethical imperative to model a recalcitrant material to be good. Still, the Demiurge is not creating “from nothing.” The Demiurge must make do with starting stuff that contains within it the seeds of defatiga­tion and resistance to the Good. Or consider Aristotle’s serene God—thought thinking itself. Such an Absolute in its beauty and self-sufficiency acts as a perfect exemplar that all of reality imperfectly models. But such a divine is far from Yahweh pining for His faithless people. What happens in the sublunary world does not touch its enclosed contemplation of self.

Now here is where the uniqueness of the Triune God and creatio ex nihilo involve a very different and singular story. This first aspect has become a commonplace in theology, though it is always worth reflecting upon. The God of Christian revelation is not a solitude of completion like Aristotle’s Absolute. Indeed, beyond the simplicity of Jewish monothe­ism and the later rejection of paradox in Islamic theology, the Triune God contains within Himself community, drama, relation. The act of Being, hidden within the apophatic reserve of the East—or as Aquinas has it, the coincidence of essence and existence—is a dynamic, flourishing plenitude that is anything but merely serene self-contemplation or an inert completion of surfeit. The very short version is that only the Christian God is love. Unlike Hegel’s deity whose origin is incomplete, indeterminate, needy for worldly action in order to develop into a mature fullness, the God of the Gospel is infinitely determinate, infinitely rich in uncircumscribable Being. This Absolute most assuredly does not need the world as a necessary ingredient in coming to perfection. It is because of this plenitude at the origin that God is supremely free. God does not need created being in order to discover an Other. He does not need creation in order to be admired. He does not need creation in order to display a capacity to love. In no way or fashion is God compelled to create—and one must emphasize that this is uniquely true of the God of Jesus Christ.

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If Trinity properly negates any sense of erotic need in the Christian God, creatio ex nihilo radically separates Biblical creation from any notion of a Demiurgic dependency upon already existing material. As Hart puts it: “there is no element of the ‘irrational’; some­thing purely spontaneous, or organic, or even mechanical, beyond the power of God’s rational freedom.” In plain language, one might forgive Plato’s Demiurge for evil due to faulty build­ing material that was beyond help. A God who creates from nothing cannot be so easily absolved of complicity in evil. So, if one could construe Hegel’s dialectic as a modern theog­ony, a birth of a god, Hart advances that the Christian story is the cosmos as theophany, an icon of divine beauty. Note that Hart has purposed to place side-by-side the theophanic and the genuine weight of evil. The very tired and common apologia, of course, is that much evil is the result of the abuse of creaturely freedom, but this, really, does not “get God off the hook.” It might work for a Demiurge, but not for the supremely free Christian God. There is something sly and evasive in the traditional theodicy. A nature called into being from nothing, with all its potencies, for good and evil, remains a mystery that ought, properly, to baffle the sensitive soul. It is ironic that Job’s courageous inquiry, supposedly abashing the doctrinal certitudes of Job’s counselors, has, with time, been taken over by tradition and made to serve the very complacency of Job’s friends. Hart will have none of that. He returns us to stark perplexities that faith should not prematurely vanquish by acknowledgement of human sin and the monstrous in the depths of the human soul:

Thus every evil that time comprises, natural or moral—a worthless distinction, really, since human nature is a natural phenomenon—is an arraignment of God’s goodness: every death of a child, every chance calamity, every act of malice; everything diseased, thwarted, pitiless, purposeless or cruel, and, until the end of all things, no answer has been given.

Equivocity is inalienable from our experience: our path is irreducibly both wonder and anguish. All of this brings into question the assertion that creation is a theophany. The dark perversities, the cruelties, the mass horrors and singular, savage sorrows mirror misery, death, and despair. And such fragile lives engender narrow, defensive postures, tyranny and a mob mentality that seeks power and redress through aggregation, manip­ulation into abstract simplicities, the harnessing of rage for political gain. Such deforma­tions include as well as the imbecilic crudities, the vulgar satisfactions and coarse heehaws at the expense of delicacy, tact, a courtly festivity that joys in the elemental, yet dances with finesse, grace, wise equilibrium. What manner of theophany is this? There are certain creatures pulled up from the opaque ocean deeps, made to gawk in monstrous nakedness before the gaze of fascinated horror. One puzzles as to what of God is revealed in such a signature. The sage path of love is both compassion and patience. And here, the simple answer is that the iconic beauty of the cosmic theophany may be discovered in hints, in moments of charity, and hope, of artistic insight and garden delights, but the fullness of theophanic glory awaits the eschaton, when all things are made new. This eschatological fulfillment whereby the Sabbath rest explodes into the celebratory Eighth Day is surmised in Hart’s reflections. I place together some of the relevant quotes into a single exposition:

The Christian doctrine of creatio ex nihilo is not merely a cosmological or metaphysical claim, but also an eschatological claim about the world’s relation to God, and hence a moral claim about the nature of God himself . . . protology and eschatology are a single science . . . No matter how great the autonomy one grants the realm of secondary causes two things are certain. First, as God’s act of creation is free, constrained by neither necessity nor ignorance, all contingent ends are intentionally enfolded within his decision. . . . It would be impious, I suppose, to suggest that, in his final judgment of creatures, God will judge himself; but one must hold that by that judgment God truly will disclose himself (which, of course, is to say the same thing, in a more hushed and reverential voice).

Another probative objection to traditional infernalist views is rooted in the conception of personhood integral to its espousal. This cannot properly be articulated in a pithy manner, so I will only make a brief gesture. The kernel of the matter is sketched by Hart:

After all, what is a person other than a whole history of associations, loves, memories, attachments, and affinities? Who are we, other than all the others who have made us who we are, and to whom we belong as much as they to us? We are those others. To say that the sufferings of the damned will either be clouded from the eyes of the blessed or, worse, increase the pitiless bliss of heaven is also to say that no persons can possibly be saved: for, if the memo­ries of others are removed, or lost, or one’s knowledge of their misery is converted into indifference or, God forbid, into greater beatitude, what remains of one in one’s last bliss? Some other being altogether, surely: a spiritual anonymity, a vapid spark of pure intellection, the residue of a soul reduced to no one.

Curiously, this sounds remarkably like Lewis’ discussion of personless remains in the The Great Divorce. Indeed, it begins to look like the Heaven of infernalists is precisely the Hell of Lewis’ allegorical fable. The definitive point, however, is that such a position is meta­phys­ically incoherent. To return to the metaphysics of personhood, one might peruse Norris Clarke’s Person and Being, a brief but compelling demonstration that relationality is not adventitious or an associative dimension added onto an initially atomized and separate identity. Even more astute meditations upon the depth dimension of the created person are discoverable in the profound work of William Desmond. James E. Loder’s The Logic of the Spirit closely follows human development, showing how fear is intrinsic ingredient to ego formation constructed in fragility and deep, preconceptual awareness that we come from nothing: a conatus is already postured towards the other as potentially hostile and untrust­worthy, even though the personal call to being is engendered by loving hospitality. Hans Urs von Balthasar famously focused on the importance of the mother’s smile in concretely call­ing the infant into personal being. This human dimension, however, is merely a participation in an eternal grounding. One must ponder what William Des­mond calls the passio essendi, the intimacy of our origin called into being by the eternal agapeic God, to recover a prior root lost to our determinate, conceptual awareness. If one further infers from the analogy of being that Triune God is the archetype of all person­hood, one should acknowledge that our personhood is not a pure given, but a task in which we grow into a love that is identical with flourishing personhood. Such a personhood, modeled after divine reality, suffers no detached, isolated selfhood. The modern concep­tion, begun in the doubt and fear of the Cartesian cogito renders an individualism of rights and “free expression” indistinguishable from nihilism. Without the originating call to singular being from God, the modern individ­ual only languishes in a false liberty that leads into a void. But just as a unique teleology is given from the origin, so is the community of being that is imperfectly realized in our temporal sojourns. The refusal of a Triune model of personhood by modern notions of the Self is matched by a truncated sense of commu­nity. Modern, nominalist Christians lack a bountiful, cosmic dimension to their imagina­tion. Their eschatology pales in breadth of generosity next to Hindu or Buddhist concep­tions that at least envision a whole without remainder in their spiritual conceptions of the Good, however deficient they may be in other respects.

What is perhaps most innovative in Hart’s critique, however, is the exposure of the hidden soteriology of the infernalist postion. If the whole of creation is founded on the real possibil­ity of the damned, then the presence of the damned, real or merely countenanced as genuine possibility, becomes the secret engine at the heart of the enterprise:

. . . let us say God created simply on the chance that humanity might sin, and that a certain number of incorrigibly wicked souls might plunge themselves into Tartarus forever; this still means that, morally, he has purchased the revelation of his power in creation by the same horrendous price— even if, in the end, no one at all happens to be damned . . . for what is hazarded has already been surrendered entirely.

And this cost, more than a vindication of God’s justice, provokes a monstrous overturning of Christology; “for the redeemed, each of whom might just as well have been denied effica­cious grace had God so pleased, who is that wretch who endures God’s final wrath, forever and ever, other than the surrogate, their redeemer, the one who suffers in their stead—their Christ?” Audacious, certainly, but not easy to dismiss. One surmises that the morally repug­nant implications of such a celestial bliss will be denied by advocates for the traditional hell. Whether they can do so reasonably is another matter. The infernalist tradition spans the historical range of much of ecclesial history—I think it is begging the question to say that it was always dominant or the first interpretive teaching. One might determine that a proper reading of Paul contradicts such a notion. Regardless, a focus on Reformation soteriology is not meant to separate out Protestantism. Reformed thinking merely offers a particularly pure working out of a certain logic of modern freedom. The freedom ascribed to God in the wake of voluntarist and nominalist conceptions in the early modern period bequeathed an inscrutable and capricious God. The spirit of the Reforma­tion imbibed the regnant philo­sophical conceptions of the day and then read them into Scripture. Far from a Triune God of agapeic love, one is given a sovereignty whereby murder or torture might be decreed the good should the Absolute power declare it so. Make no mistake; this is what is entailed when the Reformed tradition “elevates divine sovereignty to the status of the absolute theological value.” A nihilism comes to infect all language about God. One is “still dogmatically obliged” to ascribe to God biblical predi­cates such as “good,” “just,” “merciful,” “wise,” and “truthful”; “but transparently, all have been rendered equivocal by the doctrines that surround them; and this equivocity is necessarily contagious; it reduces all theological language to vacuity, for none of it can now be trusted.” As Hart also points out, one may posit as large a gap between finite creatures and the infinite God as one will, but distance that would stretch the analogy of being to a breaking point would destroy our capacity to understand and speak about the Good at all. One is left with the bare worship of power in which case there is little to distinguish love of God from respect for the devils. Orthodox apophaticism and mystical awareness of an overabundant light experienced as conceptual darkness should not be elided with early modern proclivities. Acknowledgement of apophatic mystery cannot undercut meaningful language without turning revelation into a faux enchantment that belies a genuine revelation of God.

In order to discuss human liberty, Father Lawrence notes that “there is no reason to think that eternity is as linear as time, or that it is like time as we experience it,” but he then goes on to make a positive assertion that seems to forget the limited purchase we actually pos­sess on the nature of eternity. Father Lawrence asserts, and surely with some biblical warrant, that “time and eternity are related to one another as the foundation is to the house built on it.” What exactly this means, however, and how it will ultimately work out remains beyond comfortable conjecture. Analogies are helpful, but imperfect. One must take care to note where analogies fail, as well as where they are genuinely suggestive. For instance, the notion of a small error at the beginning projected out over a large span of time has a rough appeal and no doubt it can apply in some ways to human experience. It has significant limitations. Eternity is not a lot or even an infinite amount of time. Drawing a univocal parallel between an action begun in time to an “eternal” conclusion involves a lot of surmise that is not in any way justified by experience or reason. Further, a human being is not, for instance, an inani­mate projectile that is determined by its initial flight path. It is a common surmise that time “sets” without capacity for alteration a mode of being that will simply be “confirmed” in eternity. The fact that a common tradition thinks this way does not in any way prove its metaphysical certitude. Indeed, it is quite possible, as Sergius Bulgakov surmised, that growth and development is part of human post-mortem experience. If the latter is possible, again, the analogy fails.

Yet this is first and foremost not a question of what humans can or cannot do, but about who God is, what He is like. Notice that Hart’s discussion of human will is conditioned by a prior understanding of God’s loving providence.

No one can freely will the evil as evil; one can take the evil for the good, but that does not alter the prior transcendental orientation that wakens all desire. To see the good truly is to desire it insatiably; not to desire it is not to have known it, and so never to have been free to choose it. It makes no more sense to say that God allows creatures to damn themselves than to say a father might reasonably allow his deranged child to thrust her face into a fire out of tender respect for her moral autonomy. And the argument becomes quite insufferable when one considers the personal conditions—ignorance, mortality, defectibility of intellect and will—under which each soul enters the world, and the circumstances—the suffering of all creatures, even the most innocent and delightful of them—with which that world confronts the soul.

The equation of protology with eschatology founds a genuine understanding of human freedom. Just as it is a category mistake to consider the Being of God somehow in compe­tition with the creaturely being that would vanish into nothingness without constant divine solicitude, the freedom that men and women aim at is not a zero sum game in which finite liberty fights against a tyrannical divine heteronomy. The human will is constituted in its origins precisely as desire for the Good. It’s confusions and malevolent failures never touch a peaceful, generous, patient giving that marks the agapeic plenitude of the Origin. And if God’s freedom is manifest in a perfect eschatological realization of the cosmos he desires, then ultimately this is why one cannot simply dismiss Hart’s view of human freedom as hopelessly naïve.

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Though on the surface the doctrine of election is overtly about unmerited grace, hiddenly, the elect in infernalist theology often treat the grace given to them as a personal property either through a secret merit that allows them to tolerate its absence in others or simply as a lucky draw that one shouldn’t overly question. There is no significant meditation upon just those mitigating factors to human liberty specified by Hart. The most charitable way to conceive the majority opinion of the Church on this matter is to see it as similar to the attachment to Ptolemy’s geocentric conceptions. While I have little sympathy for Galileo and some awareness of the complexity and ambiguities of the history comprising the debate over heliocentrism—Galileo’s import was covertly more anthropocentric and he marshaled in the disastrous distinction of primary and secondary qualities, the whole modern mathesis that gave us a cold, mechanical universe and love reduced to subjective, emotive ephemera—one can see the fusion of the old astronomy, ancient worldviews remaindered in the Scripture, and the Gospel witness as a false and unnecessary alloy. Likewise, the conviction that the Gospel stands or falls by attachment to traditional ideas of hell is false. A more open and charitable spirit would not seek justification for a split between the redeemed and the damned. There would be more thought in line with a recent quote given in a dialogue between the Catholic, Martin Mosebach, and his Muslim friend, the author Navid Kermani: “If people cannot be with Christ in good faith, the fault lies with Christians who have not portrayed Christianity convincingly enough.”

When Father Lawrence accentuates the asymmetry between the metaphysical reality of transfigured and redeemed reality and the nullity of hell and residual remains, what he thinks he is doing is emphasizing the vacuity of what is putatively a source of grievous pity. If one imagines the division of sheep and goats, wheat and tares as intrapersonal, the basic gesture is unobjectionable. We all have sins and predilections or capacities for darkness for which death is the only cure. But to imagine that a lost soul becomes less and less a source of rational grief because less and less a personal presence is at bottom an aspiration to assuage what is otherwise an obvious, perhaps intractable anguish for those who feel compelled to defend a traditional understanding of hell. I revere C. S. Lewis and prize his imaginative works, including The Great Divorce, but I believe Lewis has not fully worked through the logic of creation from nothing. Even if one posits the reduction to virtual inanity and near zero as a person—and it is not self-evident that this is an actual meta­physical possibility—Hart’s proposal remains unaddressed and one suspects, not truly thought. Either God creates in the liberty of agape love, with assurance grounded in his radically unencumbered will to achieve a true, theophanic cosmos—his risk is always already caught up in a prior determination to make good all wounds and secure the flour­ishing good of all creation—or creation is a gamble that accepts provisional allowance for eternal loss. The latter would not impugn the goodness of a Demiurge, for the Demiurge is not omnipotent and not fully free. To argue, as is often done, that risk of perdition is the price required in order for God to create creatures capable of liberty and love utterly fails to see the moral seriousness of creatio ex nihilo. The question is, would a truly good God create a world where such a cost was possible? Hart’s argument claims that Goodness would be irredeemably impugned; a fully powerful Good would only countenance a creation that was truly and fully Good and such a creation must not have or avail itself of the possibility of a remainder of unhealed loss. Those who claim that following Hart’s argument involves imposing on revelation a purely philosophical constraint fail to recog­nize that the logic of the argument derives from revelation. It would never have been possible to a philosopher lacking awareness of the gospel. Hence, a philosophical reflection upon the deep consequences and implications of revelation is itself part of the wondering vocation of theology itself.

(27 January 2016)

* * *

Dr Moore has a Ph.D. in literature from the University of Dallas. He has been a contrib­utor to Eclectic Orthodoxy since before the beginning of time. There is, it must be said, no truth to the rumor that he comes from a family of Druids or that he will drink only plum wine, though it is possibly true that he prefers cats to humans, allowing for exceptions. He is the author of the recently published tale of Noah and the ark, Beneath the Silent Heavens.

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30 Responses to Theodicy, Hell, and David Bentley Hart

  1. Pingback: Theodicy, Hell, and David Bentley Hart — Eclectic Orthodoxy | Talmidimblogging

  2. Brian’s meditations on the matter of Universal Salvation are among the best I have read (not blowing smoke here Brian, it’s an honest observation), and he has shown himself to be one of Hart’s finest readers who is able to draw out the subtlety and force of Hart’s arguments. I do wish that Hart’s opponents, many of whom are not intellectually incapable, would show such clarity when confronting his claims rather than making the often hollow appeals to tradition, or certain well-worn interpretations of Scripture in order to salvage their position.

    As I have slowly chewed upon both Hart’s writings, and upon Brian’s reflections it has occurred to me that there is a kind of placid, but tragic resignation that infernalism ultimately betrays. A case in point are the damned circumscribed in Dante’s Inferno. What is most curious is that, while Dante masterfully preserves the individuality of the accursed, there is an everlasting ungodliness implicit in their fate that no longer allows them to long for the good. Their earthly character has become their eternal destiny which will allow for no change, and in an odd way the everlasting predictability of their torments lulls them into a torpor that allows them no opportunity for the chance or hope to become anything different than what they are. There is no need for repentance, or orientation toward the transcendent Good. This view, which was a product of the Scholastic imagination and reinforced by Dante, whose views of hell (though not Purgatory) have never been seriously challenged, rather reinterpreted along the lines of Lewis’ dystopian and quintessentially modern hellscape that allows for only disintegration of the damned. Freedom has, in some schools of thought, displaced the hard determinism of the Augustinian tradition, but has blunted none of its force – the damned can be nothing other than an iteration or an infinite regress of the selves that they occupied in the breathtakingly short span of their earthly existence.

    Against this backdrop the Christian Universalist position posits a reality that in some sense places an inescapable weight upon the person as such. There will never be placid resignation to Divine judgement. The destination to the true self; with all of the interconnected weight Hart, for example, places upon the nature of the self; is inescapable. We cannot become anything other than what we were made to be. We must be won by Divine love and justice that operates within freedom through Word and Reason. This is our inexorable destiny, of which we have no ability to resign ourselves outside of, we cannot be anything less than what God has intended us to be from the beginning because this is our proper end. While there is an implicit determinism in this, it is played out in the indeterminate contingencies of creaturely existence. We are never off the hook, our debts must be repaid as MacDonald insists in his interpretation of Christ’s own words, down to the uttermost farthing.

    God’s goodness and justice cannot allow for the good to be thwarted. In the final estimation, the apokatastasis becomes a far more arduous and morally rigorous demand upon personal existence. Character, as experienced in the present state of affairs, cannot be our destiny – only the fully formed character can be. We will never be let off the hook, certainly not as Dante’s damned are. We will never be allowed to exist sublimely and mysteriously tormented ad infinitum. Grace is inexorable in a way far more demanding than Calvin’s account of irresistible grace (though I think he ought to be credited at least in part for his recognition that grace cannot be ultimately resisted, even if his focus was woefully narrow on this account). We will never be allowed to exist ensconced in our failures and however short we fall of being what God made us to be in this life, we will not be able to acquiesce to our failures in everlasting torment. We must, at last, be won over by mercy. Our destiny was, in a very real sense fixed at Calvary, we can never be anything other than forgiven. We must awake to the creation of the cosmos at the cross and shake off our slumber.

    Whatever can be said of the torment of aionian judgements, they can’t be said to lack the gravity of the infernalists who wish to affix either a regressive epaktasis or a static state upon either the redeemed or the damned, this is to allow spiritual laziness a space that Goodness will not concede. The dreadful weight of personhood will never be cast off until it has given way to the true self God ventured in the act of creating it, which means we cannot be absolved of the responsibility to be holy as God is holy. While I do not wish to make the sufferings of hell as grotesque as some have, their fires are all the more terrifying when we consider our own responsibilities within them. Moral laxity is impossible for the universalist in a ways that cannot be said of the infernalist because we are destined to be free, forever and always. There will never be a point at which we will be allowed to yield to evil. Perhaps it is the universalist who understands trembling, and the infernalist, as much as they wish to argue to the contrary, have mistaken monstrous terror for a genuine fear of the Lord.

    Liked by 7 people

  3. brian says:

    Thanks for your kind words, Jedidiah. This is beautifully stated and a discerning elucidation of the ardor of our teleological destiny.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Marty says:

    You might find this article of interest?

    JOURNAL ARTICLE
    FEAR AND LOVE OF GOD IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
    BERNARD J. BAMBERGER

    https://www.jstor.org/stable/23502784?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

    Like

  5. mercifullayman says:

    I don’t know that I know much at all, but as a layman, I have been intriguingly interested in the continued debate by both Hart’s exegesis and philosophy. I find myself agreeing with the sentiments of the logical proof, and I do agree with, and even in spite of the air with which it sometimes comes across, his conclusions. Sometimes, I wonder if brilliance leads towards hubris unintentionally, and by no means is that a knock on him as an intellect or author, I just think sometimes people that intelligent find themselves in a different headspace, which leads to constant annoyance for lack of true connectivity. I also think people miss his sardonic tone, even about himself, which complicates the matter.

    What is to follow are genuine questions I have as I begin this journey towards this line of thinking, and questions that kind of stem from interpretation (as someone who has no idea what the Greek literally says, although I am working through Hart’s version of the NT) versus the philosophy thats being expounded:

    (Background – I converted from being a member of the Churches of Christ to Orthodoxy a few years ago, which I’m sure will draw the ire that Hart pointed to as the most fundamental of the Orthodox wing. I don’t see myself that way, but rather one still trying to embrace the more critical side of the faith. This is why I am genuinely here.)

    1. When we talk about “proof-texts” for Hell in light of 1 Cor. 15, how do we interpret the hyperbole of one text over the philosophical consistency of the other? When we talk about the methods of interpretation, how are we supposed to weed through what may or may not be the actual meaning of those texts? I mean you see Christ himself clearly saying “I never knew you,” for instance. It seems that everyone, including Hart, interprets that verse the same. How could the all-knowing disassociate himself, if he didn’t actually mean that? Is this just a hyperbolic scare tactic? Even if we treat the fires of eternal torment as the brilliant fire of God’s love, the “incendium amorosa” of Hildegard for instance, wouldn’t that mean that He’d still be choosing to know us after emphatically saying he would not? Is that me just reading too much into the text or is it really that logically spurious? Am I to assume, like Bulgakov, that changes can be made after death, and so He would eventually come to know us through the purifying actions of his love in Hell? That in us coming to know Him…he comes to know us? Isn’t that kind of a….half-truth?

    2. Following that same vein, what about the unforgivable Sin discussion. This idea of blaspheming the Holy Spirit? Would we just say that the ability to be unforgiven would be (aeon determination – final moment when all is submitted = technically forgiven)? That He doesn’t really mean it isn’t unforgivable there? It’s again hyperbole? Is it that we’d be corrected in the fire to ultimately relinquish that blasphemy ourselves, ergo it’s technically impossible to commit that particular “sin?”

    3. Do we follow Nyssa and the Cappadocians that led to the idea that human death is merely a stage to keep humanity from sinning to cut down on their time in Hell, if they are to serve? In the light of John 8:58 where Christ is saying to the Pharisees “before Abraham was, I am,” is He there not associating himself with the same YHVH that the audience would have understood to be the divine through their own texts? The very same who ordered countless innocent deaths? I know the Fathers wouldn’t have necessarily treated certain stories as brute or even historical fact, but how do we know which ones they do and which they do not? I mean even Origen, in his own rebuttal to Celsus, equates the identities as the same in that particular text. So if He is willing to order the death of countless innocents, why would we think this is any different than the willingness to cut a soul off from the Divinity wholesale. Wouldn’t the definition of the type of “all” surely rest in whatever that “all” would be in the will of Being? I know this seems a bit Hegelian as far as maybe ultimate realization of finality, but it just seems like the all could also be the divine plan as rooted in the mind of God from the beginning. If He can cut off one area for the “Good” in one reality, why do we believe that suddenly the rules would change for the other, even ontologically? If it is good for this world to have removal of persons, for the good of all beings, by the One source of all Being, why couldn’t it be perceived the same way? Do we just have to lean into the philosophical definition of consistency, to see the logic through and as Bulgakov also points us to, that sense of mystery that will be the world of both. The positive and negative and the tension that it is both. This idea of embracing the Divine Nothing? Maybe the paradox is the actual truth of an uncomplete/complete “All?”

    Or is John 8:58 just a way for “John,” as the Fathers would use the text, to equate the hypostasis and personalities of the Godhead. Is this just his anchor to prove the unity over time? However, since He is speaking of himself as the ultimate Being from an associative standpoint, isn’t he somewhat taking on the responsibility of all that is and all that has occurred prior to that point to that specific group of Jewish Authorities and those listening around them from a historical narrative framework?

    4. I now know that the immutability issue is somewhat settled from most modern perspectives and that the open perspective is no longer in vogue, but if we are to accept revelation as the immanent side of God, while still understanding there is a transcendent side that is masked behind the narrative we witness, how are we to understand the tension of choice and what it entails? I mean you clearly see a relational narrative in the OT that displays a co-operative existence between man and God. Is this all fiction or allegory? Are we to assume that God didn’t really “change his mind” even though it clearly states He did? Texts like Jeremiah cause problems here, if we are to witness the scripture as a whole. Isn’t this the same issue we all take issue with when dealing with Calvinism? The text we perceive as true, doesn’t say what it clearly says? One assertion I often see with Hart is that he’s guilty of an inverted form of the Augustinian plight. If we are saying that these texts don’t say what they really say….isn’t that a bit of a pot meet kettle point to deny those issues as superficial, and rudimentary?

    You also see examples in the NT. Take Christ and his telling the Canaanite woman that he is only sent to the children of Israel…she’s willing to take the crumbs. He clearly alters his plan as the Divine to benefit those He was “not” originally called too. How do we balance this? Trying to heal the blind man who could not see, and yet he had to re-spit to fix his sight? While we talk about this fact in the sense of the lack of faith of the man being healed…isn’t that a co-operative grace? The positive for this perspective about the passibility of God would seem to lend credence to universalism. If he can change his mind in this life, why not the next? Am I wrong in sensing that it is more intellectually consistent? If x can be done in this life, it could be done in the next as well?

    5. I’ve read that Origen only meant for these ideas to be embraced by the mature in faith…much like many early fathers meant for Revelation to be left out of the canon for many of the same reasons. If this is the case, then why isn’t it more explicitly stated? It seems to be the same argument that many people who advocate for all kinds of behavioral permittances use. Case in point: people argue about the actual use of wording for homosexual behavior in the NT. Some say certain words don’t point to committed relationships but rather to temple activity within idolatrous settings. One could say the same here. I would imagine that as intellectually gifted as Paul and other church Fathers were, they’d just have come out and said it early on. I know there are hints of it, according to Ramelli, within Ireneaus. That is cool to see an early source. IF, and I do mean IF this is a traditionally held early belief….why not just be more explicit? Even in Paul. I know, according to Hart, these guys aren’t the most eloquent…except maybe Luke and Hebrews…but I’d think they could articulate what they meant, when they meant it. Why all the hurdles?

    Again….this seriously isn’t meant to be argumentative…I’m trying to embrace this position because philosophically, and in my rudimentary philosophical background, I find it too be sound. However, there is a tension with the text that sometimes seems at odds…even with the Logos himself. I just want to figure out what I can to stand on firmer ground.

    I appreciate whatever help you can provide.

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    • Grant says:

      HI mercyfullayman, some interesting questions, to which I’ll give some reflections that might (or might not 🙂 ) help:

      1. One thing to consider, a point that Hart does raise in his book, is that it is quite difficult to fully know what Christ meant exactly with many discussions of judgement (or the authors of the synoptic Gospels) with parables and mythic and allegorical allusions existing with references, meanings and context of early 1st century AD Judea and Galilee that is lost to us, that world being long gone with only scattering of surviving records for us to attempt to understand. It is another world, one who’s meaning was lost even to extent to many early fathers as they did not inhabit that Jewish world, which even by that time was either becoming or was a thing of the past, Judaism itself changing considerably with the destruction of the Temple, and then Judea itself and the loss of homeland, and the theological questions that confronted Judaism at those points. What we do know is that the Judaism that were there, even reflected from the sources we have (including the NT) reflect a dynamic and very diverse religion and society (no really separate) with diversity of views at both the philosophical and intellectual level, and also at the ‘folk’ level. And of considerable diversity in understanding and approach to interpretation, of Scriptures (St Paul’s allegorical approach wasn’t original to him, but was already present in strands of 2nd Temple Judaisms), and of the use of folk stories (use of Beelzebub, the figure of the lord of flies, or possibly the Rich man and the Dives a Jewish story possibly with Egyptian origins). One thing that does have strong support is the largely preterist stance, again mentioned by Hart is that in context, many, and some NT scholars who aren’t universalists argue all, which is it has in immediate view the destruction of the Temple by the Romans is either the judgement of rejecting Christ, or a result of ignoring God’s judgement in Christ (many of course argue this was added post AD 69-70, but I don’t think so, even being the Son, it wasn’t that difficult a prediction in those days of constant war, rebellion, massacres by the Romans to see where things could go).

      This position is a strong one and to be honest fits the narratives of the synoptics well, as it does with the Jeremiah style nature of the judgements, in which historical events (such as the Temple destruction) is invested with it’s cosmic significance, showing the unveiling of the heavenly perspective by the use of the apocalyptic language (just as we see in Jeremiah or other OT prophets for that matter, or in other 2nd Temple Jewish literature). It fits well with Christ’s crying over Jerusalem, that disciples would be alive to see it happen, parables of the son of the owner of the tenants dying, and fits within the historical framework as we know it, and links with the prophetic tradition as we know it. At a historical level then, many are likely not even referring directly to the ultimate judgement at the end of this age,even if implications could be taken from them towards that which is reasonable, it would be difficult to make any definitive stances from it what that would take, and it rightly underlines that no matter what the figurative language and nature of the judgement passages give no hard images or details.

      Hart does I think also correctly remind that though this is likely (and in nearly all the most likely direct application at the time, consistent with the prophetic tradition) that a larger horizon is in view of God’s final revelation, rescue and judgement. Again though, if most don’t directly relate to it, it would be difficult to take any as hard proof of what that judgement involves and would any be lost forever from such, the close door in this view would be the lack of response to the way of love and refusal to violence (to the point of Christ directing His followers to carry their occupier and opposer who enslaved, tortured and crucified them regularly pack if they asked an extra mile, which related directly to the Roman soldiers, and to bless their enemies and do good to them), and that the opposite would lead to ruin and the clear evidence God’s Presence was not in the Temple by it’s destruction. The wider horizon is also there but it would be hard to pin down definite and clear meaning on the fates for those under judgment from those figurative references, the ovens, and closed doors, and angelic harvests, even if we don’t take the preterist line, or assume that post the destruction of the Temple a different meaning comes to the fore, it is even then on themselves difficult to get clear doctrinal meanings from them (that is between the three main eschatological positions ). And again, with our fragmentary knowledge of the world the Lord grew up and lived in, and that His disciples and the Gospel authors did, it becomes even more difficult, references that had easy resonances and understanding to those of that time and culture have gone and we have no access to them, it is a culture that has vanished for us. Just as we have our in-built landscape of meaning in our current age and culture, so that things can be said or mentioned and link in with a much wider world of meaning and understanding which never need explaining, the same here. We can never get at that this side of resurrection, so it is always an interpretative difficulty, things that were just understood and assumed both by Christ and the authors we don’t know, and soon wouldn’t be known much after the close of the 1st century AD and outside Judea and Galilee as well to some degree (I’ll come back to this in relation to another of your questions).

      What can be said, is that with or without the preterist view, most of the judgements, even taking them to be wholly and only referring to final judgement (or believing they refer directly to that final horizon more directly) don’t favour a eternal torment reading much. If taken to have somewhat literal referents it would relate to annihilationism if anything (though again that kind of destruction would fit well with a number of universalist approaches, particularly once we know we cannot take those verses in isolation but consider the whole of Christ’s teaching and revelation, as we as the clearer, and not using figurative imagery and parables, promises of seemingly universal restoration and salvation). It is important here that we all realise the extent to which the traditions we come from condition our reading of the NT (and OT for that matter), they provide the glasses and hermenuetics in which we approach and read these texts (and for that matter also translate them, being also a form of interpretation, how often for instance Hades of Gehenna, the Valley of Hinnom, is translated as hell) and condition how we understand them. We see something like the bridegroom saying ‘I don’t know you’ (of course a thought on that, with your question in the prodigal son, in which the Father declares while lost he was dead, but now he is alive, as dead he was not ‘known’ until he came alive, and was not his true self, hid in Christ, then is He known) or in the Gospel according to St Matthew in the goats and sheep and read eternal torment in hell into this. No text interprets or explains itself, our traditions and their hermeneutics do that for us. Much that seems obvious from a tradition2. is less so once you begin to take those glasses off, and find it isn’t there clearly in the NT as your might previously thought.

      Another resource that might be helpful is Thomas Talbott’s article about reading the Bible from a universalist perspective:

      https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2018/05/29/how-to-read-the-bible-from-a-universalist-perspective/

      2. The sin against the Holy Spirit is a common objection (sometimes along with Hebrews rejecting Christ’s sacrifice, might as well through that into the mix as well 😉 ) though first point is again if taken literally it would run against the clear seeming univeralist promises and declarations (in Hebrews in the same letter) that would lead to incoherence and outright contradiction. That is certainly a position, but ultimately one leading to unknowing agnosticism where we would throw up our hands and just say we don’t know. Hart’s reading in the book suggests the judgement of this end of this age being it’s own definite horizon enclosed within the larger horizon of the end of the ages being the reconciliation of all, is that this two horizon framework (three with preterism I guess), the judgement at the end of this age, and then the culmination of all things (suggested in say st Paul in which Christ is the first-fruits, then those with Him, then all creation brought under and liberated in Him, when He hands things over to the Father, death is destroyed and God is all in all) beyond all ages (ie the ages of ages), in which each has their own definite and final framework of reference. In this, this refers to this age, and would suggest a purgative response and refinement, St Paul’s testing of the works, in which some works are destroyed and they are saved ‘as if through fire’ which links with the refining nature of the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit, the unquenchable fire that burns away the chafe from the wheat). In this view there is not forgiveness in this age and only be healed only through fire, that would be a purgative healing and illumination (if I’m not relating this clearly hopefully someone will correct me).

      For myself, I would also point out that Our Lord (and the letter to the Hebrews) is addressed to those (the Pharisees in relation to Our Lord, and the Jewish Christians having continued the Mosaic sacrificial system) having just committed this act (the Pharisees attributing the acts of the Spirit to Satan) yet this warning is couched in terms in the narrative in terms of a warning and call to repentance (and the whole or main purpose of the epistle to the Hebrews was a call to repentance of those already doing what apparently would if that verse was taken absolutely means there is no sacrifice or redemption for them) to turn from that stance and act. This undermines the stance that these things are unforgivable from God’s stance, since it would make those passages completely contradictory to call repentance and warn those who were already beyond all hope. Given both are given in the context of a call to repentance for those doing the very things warned about, suggests more to me something along the lines of the Lord’s prayer on forgiveness relating to forgiving, which as along as someone holds themselves in this position, unforgiveness, considering God’s Spirit to be the work of evil and death, and that death is good, or rejecting Christ’s sacrifice for another they resist God’s forgiveness and reconciliation in Christ, and in that position there is no forgiveness until it changes (this of course has to be set in the context of say Christ’s statement in the Gospel according to St John, in which He says once raised up He will drag all to Himself, and that the Father has entrusted to Him every human being that He may give eternal life to those the Father has given Him. This of course links well with Hart’s view, for those still in this position at the end of this age, the illumination of Christ’s Light, where there is no darkness of delusion to hide, the baptizing fire of the Holy Spirit revealing all Truth, with be a purgative correction that removes such delusions about Christ and ourselves and the wraiths we mistake for a true selves. Some thoughts there anyhow.

      3. First on this point, assuming (which I definitely reject) that God ordered or caused some deaths directly (say fire on Sodom, definitely coming back to this in a moment) or the Flood to be saved by Christ’s preaching, that they could be saved eternally, it is wholly different to say the causing of a temporary cutting off, being related to Israel sent into exile so it would repent, to destruction that would have no redemptive purpose. Eternal cutting off is the eternal destruction of a person, without any redemptive purpose to bring repentance or healing, but to cast them aside forever in either total annihilation or torture forever. And that brings the central for of creation from nothing of Hart’s first meditation, that God bring such persons into being ultimately for the purpose to being sacrificed for His real objectives for creation, structuring creation so (which He creates freely without any constraint or condition other than His own nature) that they will be lost forever, given over from so other purpose to their eternal destruction. They are a sacrifice offered in creation if this is so for God’s ultimate objective, and are the engine on which creation turns, they are the tortured child in Ursula Le Guin’s story which powers the utopian city, they the saviours of the redeemed, left and given up to damnation for that purpose by God in creation. If any would be permanently lost this inescapable, but this directly refutes clear and constant statements God neither wants any lost, nor the claim that God is Love, and is the Good and is the I AM, transcendent and infinite source and Creator of all. This just brings the force of Hart’s argument directly to the fore, and how to accept this destroys the key revelations of the Gospel and dogmatic declarations about God. I’ll come back to the interpretation of the OT relating to your last question.

      4. Here we have two issues, one of the OT (mostly, I’ll talk about the Canaanite woman below and my views there) showing stories of God changing His mind, or where He seems to have fits of indignant anger (say against the Israelites under Moses) and reacting in a temper tantrum until Moses pacifies Him, of being surprised (when He shouldn’t be given He is God and not a god) and so on. These various depictions are common, particularly in earlier books, they often relate a anthropomorphic view of YHWH that contradicts other statements and declarations about Him. The simple fact is you are not going to get a consist and clear picture from the various books of the OT and behind them, the various prior strands and forms that per-existed the current form the OT takes in which over time developments and evolution of views developed as the OT took form as the Jewish people developed, and gained influence from and influenced other groups, and various stories were edited together (one simple point being the incompatibility even in their edited form of the two creation narratives if taken as historical descriptions of creation, they don’t fit exactly and show them coming from different sources).

      And the contradictions of these with the image relayed in the NT, this was not unknown to the Church, and from the NT (Christ using allegorical use of Scripture, such as Jonah and the whale referencing to His death and resurrection, the time of Noah referencing to the present state of people eating and drinking unaware as God’s judgement was to come), to St Paul’s use and allegorical and typological approach to Scripture (including Abraham, the Exodus narratives, which relate to Christ, to baptism and so on, the use of the flood to relate to present Christian life, and so on) was the approach of the Fathers and the Church in relation to this. These stories must be both understood through and about Christ, and also are stories as both St Paul and the letter of the Hebrews says were written for us, that those who wrote them longed to see Christ’s day, as they didn’t fully understand them, the veil was yet before their eyes as St Paul says, and they read the Scripture without understanding it. These are however initially intended figurative, intended to be instructive for the life of the Church, but are describing our perspective in broad terms of God, not His settled and constant love, this is unquestionably revealed in Christ, both in the Cross where God as ask God to forgive us because we know not what we do, even as we kill and mock Him, He forgives and loves without restraint, healing those who attack Him revealing the Father’s heart, and where we are called to be like the Father, to love, forgive and bless our enemies, to do good to them. To be like the Father and give rain and sun to both good and wicked alike without partiality, as Christ says, you may have heard in the ‘plain’ readings but He says ‘I say’ not ir was that way, now it’s this way. This is what the Father is like, and so the OT must be read through such a light, not with the veil on that as St Paul says prevents understanding, instead knowing as Christ reveals on Emmaus to be about Him and the Gospel. If Christ rebukes the sons of Zebedee for wanting to call down fire on a unrepentant town, then God does not rain fire down and burn people alive, since to see Christ is to see the Father, whom there is no shadow of turning or change, and is the same, yesterday, today and forever, and known has seen the Father but through Him, and the law came by Moses grace and Truth came by Christ, including the Truth of the law and the OT Scriptures (they are about Christ, and to be read through and about Him, and are too and for us). The stories are for us, and are about Christ and life in Christ to us, and must be read as such if we are to read them as Scripture, also stories such as God changing His mind are fine, but they are just a story, showing only our perspective of God and relation with Him into which we are constantly drawn. Our sense of God’s anger and forgiveness and so changing His mind is our understanding of our forgiveness and salvation, it is God’s prior action already at work in us, our sorrow and repentance and experience of God’s forgiveness is God’s already given forgiveness and permanent disposition of love at work. Much the same can be said about most of the other issues in relation to God depicted as deliberating or changing His mind, those are figures for the Church, as St Issac of Nineveh makes clear.

      As for the NT examples, did Christ change His mind, He was correct in that His prime mission at that time was to Israel first, did He change His mind, or was He making a point, in a manner different but similar to the centurion, as the Son He must have known, and the teaching on pressing on with trust is clear, He has already healed others not of Israel (or Samaritans) at this point, and made clear what was launching here would reach to the world, so I favour this view. It also shows God’s response, but also He prior action in those who respond in action, God is ever ready and as we respond to His call and action then responds further, and more deeply we experience the healing action and awareness of His love, healing and forgiveness by our response and faith that is the gift rooted in Him. This leads to the other scenarios as well I think, it is worth in the wider question to bear in mind the different planes on which our freedom and God’s and action work, God is not a being like us, He is Being and beyond Being, His actions are not in competition with creation or anything in it, they are happening of completely different levels. Our very ability to be, exist, to make choices is both from and is God in action, our freedom and every move and decision is from and is God’s creative power in action. There is simply no competition or conflict as they operate at different levels, with our responses being at the same time God’s forgiveness and grace in action. A useful discussion on this is https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2016/04/10/herbert-mccabe-and-the-unfathomable-mystery-of-divine-forgiveness/ that goes into this better than I have just done. One thing to remember in this is the absolute different between us as creatures as the infinite God in whom we live, move and have our being. But that article I think will be a helpful food for thought for you I think (much better than my response here 🙂 ).

      5. Here I come back to a point I made above in relation to the NT being written within a climate and culture, with understanding and references long lost to us, which were clear to them that we do not have. The fact is St Paul I may well have been (and to be honest now seems to be to be even now very clear, with say in Adam all die, and Christ all are made alive, 1 Corinthians 15, and so on and so on to be about the final salvation of all, as doses certain other clear statements in John, in other epistles and so on, but this could be my bias and hermeneutic at work 😉 ). But in the end, some things which would be very clear to original readers, inhabiting that culture, with that landscape of meaning and understanding they were all embedded into, getting references and meanings we just don’t, and likely were not fairly soon after as it the century closed with massive cultural changes and spread of the Gospel into more Gentile dominated contexts increasingly temporally and spatially distant for the original context. So they may have and probably were more direct and eloquent, but we are now reading works of a lost time and culture, without any of those references, doing archaeology to understand and reconstruct the meaning, and understanding it via the living Tradition of the Church, itself living and dynamic. This of course applies to the fathers as well, since they are also the products of times now gone, and world that has passed with it, what they wrote was part of a culture and context now only known to us fragmentary and things they would have just assumed their interlocutors would get and never think needed explaining, of course in a different context and culture do, but unlike present cultures were we can study and understand from the existing living culture we don’t have this with past cultures, only the accidental remains left and our reconstructions of those remains and fragments. To take St Paul and discussion of homosexual behaviours was he discussing the situations faced in the West now and the questions they produce, unlikely from what we understand, that conception of things in terms of orientations likely didn’t occur. Most likely condemnation had to do with the abusive nature, the humiliation in an honour cultures of the 1st century world of being made to ‘act as a woman’ which inherently would devalue a person in that culture, of pedestary practices and selling young and children for sex, from idolatry and so on. It’s unlikely that current consensual and committed homosexual relationships where there is not that kind of humiliation to society that is in view (since such relationships were not in view, even to conceive them was likely not in the mental landscape of the time, at least not in our modern terms). What does that mean for say marriage debates, simply it can’t be discussed from those terms, but rather what is or not in marriage so on. This is a theological and philosophical debate and mediation on the sacramental life and the life in Christ in the Church, as well as the Church’s apprehension and understanding of the truth. As with all things it can’t just be proof-texted but is discerned playfully.

      Anyway very long and TL’DR from everyone else, but some of my thoughts as a starting point for your thinking on these things.

      Christ’s blessing on your and your journey.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. mercifullayman says:

    Grant,

    I appreciate the thoroughness with which you responded and sincerely appreciate the help you have provided. However, I still find some of it somewhat wanting. I don’t meant that in a slight to your own understanding or your attempt to help. I genuinely am thankful in helping me flesh things out.

    1. I still don’t buy that we can just shrug off examples from the OT of God changing his mind due to “anthropomorphisms.” Many an OT religious scholar from Brugemann to Freitheim and more have contextualized those cases. Following Bulgakov somewhat, if we are to believe that revelation is the immanence of God, his energy upon existence occurring now, why would we assume anything less from a God dealing with humanity within time? We see a relational bent that seems symbiotic between us as creator/created? Are we holding that as a facet of God we don’t like to maintain some type of immutability to be logically consistent versus the witness of the people who dealt with his immanence directly? I mean David, seeemingly being someone after His own heart at the time, point blank asked God if he would die if he stayed, God says yes, David stays, and does not die? So is that a fictional narrative? Did God change his mind, thus allowing David to live? What are the implications of that if it goes either way? I think when we say well that was beholden to a time we don’t necessarily really understand, it’s somewhat a logical fallacy of an appeal to culture instead of authority. “We are so far removed from them, we don’t really know.” is no different than appealing to an authority that does exist. “Since a culture says this, we must follow that because they said it.” I just don’t think the unfolding of time and Scripture is well the OT is just a figurative thing we can somewhat cherry pick for a narrative, while the NT is all we care about as definitive only. IF I missing the meaning of your posts, I sincerely apologize, but that’s just the way it came across.

    2. Your statement about the temporary cutting off of some for the “objective” of some moral purpose later seems odd. Why does God need to order the deaths of some for their to be a moral purpose to achieve an end? He’s the root of being, of Good. Aren’t there a plethora of ways to address a situation that could lead to a moral imperative other than killing the innocent? Whether we like to assume He called for those deaths (which as you stated and I agree, I don’t particularly like, the text does lead us to that perspective.) My fear is that we just gloss over those ideas and make God somewhat a terrible playwright, just like the Calvinists. “Well he didn’t really mean some are able to choose him freely in this life.” “Well he didn’t really kill those people, that’s just hyperbole.” is no different in my mind. It’s bad literature at that point.

    3. I also find the story of the Prodigal somewhat a stretch to equate to Eternity. Should we equate ALL stories to eternity that are parables. I would agree if you can. The parable of the seed for instance…there are types of ground that choke off the seed, for example. Do we assume that God suddenly comes in and forces those things to grow in spite of their “falling.” The son returns to the father during his earthly life. The story isn’t about the father finding him after he had died in a pig sty and giving him a burial for a king with much rejoicing. If that were true, I would agree with you. The child clearly recognizes an earthly need for repentance. Other parables have the same element of elimination that was discussed prior. I don’t think that is a sufficient explanation for how those parables contribute to the universalist perspective.

    4. I noticed you used the word competition. I don’t think there is a “competition” element per se. If there was, God would never lose. That isn’t the testimony of Scripture. There are times he does lose, but at some point the story will bend back towards His aims. I think it’s more of a co-operative action between us and the Father. God seemingly finds a way to try and “co-opt” us into his kingdom. To force us, and this is what I see somewhat oddly about the universalist position, into His kingdom seems still dictatorial. You can love me into submission all you’d like, but if you are bending my will to you through even the greatest of love (as fire and purging in this case), you are still bending me. It seems that God reveals Himself as being that wants to be loved for itself, for what it provides, for the enjoyment of assent, for the freedom we have been given to freely experience majesty, love, and transcendence. He wants us to come to Him through the life that leads us to Him, and to freely choose him. So unless we have a complete and utter autonomy we can’t do that. So is our co-operation not really co-operative? Is it a long and drawn out farce?

    I do understand your points and I do find some of them as wonderful food for thought. I still find the universalist perspective more appealing to the nature of the story of God, and especially when you understand Orthodoxy in the light of God and Christ being the Great Physician. To me, it isn’t about taking glasses off, as much as rectifying the witness of Scripture with the Fathers and modern philosophy/theology.

    Again, sincerely thank you. I do mean that.

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    • Grant says:

      Hi mercifullayman, thanks for your thoughts and responses, and I’ll give some of my thoughts in reply:

      1. Well I appreciate the work of the above OT scholars, insisting on a picture which has God actually changing His mind, of having firmly intended one action and then reconsiders, say God deciding to destroy the Israelites to Moses and redoing His plan with Moses (and so making His everlasting and unbreakable covenant with Abraham quite conditional and not that everlasting or unbreakable) until Moses intercedes for them, is to nothing less treat God as a god, a Zeus or Marduk character who must be placated, and is surprised by such actions is anthropomorphism that stands in contrast with the implications of I AM and statements of God as the transcendent Creator elsewhere through the OT cannon, let alone the NT (such as He does same yesterday, today and forever, or His gifts and calling are without repentance, or in Him we live, move and have our being), and the confession and understanding of God in the tradition of the Church. Or assuming that God doesn’t know what is going on after Adam and Eve responded to the serpent, or is surprised by mankind fallen has gotten so bad and so decides He was mistaken and must wipe them out with a flood. Taking these a actual depiction of God rather then both figurative and to be understood as and interpreted as about Christ, and to be understood as figurative and typological and allegorically interpreted is little different really then taking statements of God having wings or hands and such in Psalms and elsewhere as giving us YHVH anatomical descriptions and so on.

      While as I mentioned below our experience with the dynamic and infinite reality that is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, can lead to our reaction and understanding in relation to Him and life in Christ which leads to stories such as God decides to forgive us, or seems to change His mind, but is His forgiveness at work in and with us, and in which our syngetic action with Him are enfolded in His prior and unchanging love towards us with no repentance no change in attitude nor mind to us, of the Father who blesses and forgives those who are currently enemies (even while we were His enemies, He died for us, forgiving and reconciling all things to Himself). These experiences as said are fine stories as they go, but are just stories, and this may well work with Bulgakov that this is our finite (and currently fallen) interaction with the immanence of God and His revelation and our journey in and towards in relationship to Him or away (which is our whole existence, which is our relational existence to, in and towards God in and with all humanity and creation).

      Now you bring a point that this is dismissing an facet of God verses to uphold some image of God, say immutability (or some concept we have of it) or any other facet of God. And you ask if some narratives should be considered fictional, and if this is cherry picking the OT. So heavy charges here, but again, a first point will be, will you adopt a position that all the OT should be taken as historical fact, say the creation accounts (which even internally don’t quite fit together as pointed out), Adam and Eve to the Flood, Noah to Abraham, to Joseph, the Exodus and so on and should Joshua be taken as a historically account, even though it and Deuteronomy don’t fit either, and both don’t fit with Judges and son on. If not what is your criteria from deciding some are not to be taken as historical accounts and some are (St Origen for example took Genesis as figurative). And how do you relate this to evidence from archaeology and other sources which outright contradict such accounts for example no Pharaoh who could have ruled during the Exodus events died in the Red Sea, the one ruling in the most likely time, Ramses II lived to 91 if I remember, as we have his body that has been found, and no Pharaoh around his reign died in such a manner, nor is there evidence of Semitic settlers and slaves of the size Exodus credits. Nor is there any evidence of the destruction and replacement of Canaanite settlements by incoming Israelite settlements, but rather continued Canaanite inhabitantation, Jericho’s settlement continued for centuries and it’s walls remained unfallen. And this doesn’t touch on geological, astronomical, paleontological and genetic evidence. If you don’t take some a historical accurate accounts and not to be interpreted as such, you are already deciding and ‘cherry’ picking which narratives to credit as representing witnesses interacting with real actions and revelations of God and those that should not be interpreted in such manners. And how the reconcile the contradictory pictures of God that emerge from different OT narratives and books even as they have come to us (and all Christian traditions do this, one way or another as do our Jewish brothers and sisters, to bring forth both coherent vision and understanding the revelation to be communicated).

      But all these questions are in some ways irrelevant, my approach is not some new innovation but rather taking first the basic central Christian approach to the OT that has always been held true, that the OT must always be interpreted through the NT, and it cannot be put over and against it, but is to be understood through it. There is nothing new here, but rather a very traditional and standard principle of exegesis that when forgotten leads to very distorted and contradictory images of God being put forward. And further as I explained it is taking very seriously the approach and approach given to the OT and how to read it as Scripture delivered in the Gospels and the rest of the NT. There it is always used and understood to be about Christ and to refer Him, passages that have no actual, in their own context, Messianic meaning our taken to refer to Christ, (out of Egypt I have called my son, the Lord’s use of the story of Jonah or Noah) which all is set out in the revelation that Christ Himself gives at Emmaus. There the Resurrected Christ Himself opens the Scriptures to Cleopas and his company and reveals that they all, the Torah, the Psalms, the Prophets, everything are about Him, every single bit, and are about His Incarnation, death and resurrection, they are about the Gospel and refer to it. Or as St John says, while the law came through Moses, grace and truth alone came through Christ, that none had seen nor known God, had seen or known the Father, until Christ makes Him know, this includes to see God in the OT, or to understand Him there. Because the key is Christ, He brings the Truth, including the truth and the key to the OT. This is central to the ancient and earliest creed of the Church recorded in 1 Corinthians, that Christ died, and was raised according to the Scriptures, all the Scriptures. This principle characterizes St Paul’s entire use of the OT, all of it refers to Christ, and to our life in Christ, whether Abraham, Sarah and Hagar, the passage through the Red Sea (baptism), that everything written is about Him and is written for us, to reveal Christ to us, which the letter to the Hebrews repeats. It emphasizes these were written for and two us, that the traditions and structures as they had been followed and understood where shadows pointing and cast by the real, of Christ and testified to Him. St Paul further stated that the unbelieving Jews read the Scriptures through a veil, not understanding what they were saying, that to read the OT apart from Christ and not about Him is to not read it is Scripture at all, but just as ancient writings, and leads to an image of God that is distorted. When this is then approached on this way, and bolted onto the revelation through Christ it leads to a double-headed Janus image of God, essentially reproducing the error of Marcion but instead of rejecting the misread OT, to embrace it instead.

      In this questions of ‘fictional’ accounts or secondary, none are fictional, all are reflecting truth, but not necessarily historical truth, since to see Christ and know Him is to see and know the Father, who is the exact Image and the Likeness of the invisible Father, and known have known Him but as revealed in Christ, who is the Word of God (not the Scriptures, they testify and point to the Logos, the Word who is alone the Word of God) then Christ who takes the sword out of St Peter’s hand and heals the damage he caused and declares that ‘all who live by the sword shall die by it’ doesn’t order His followers to kill anyone, no then, and not ever, since He is the same yesterday, today and forever, and there is no shadow of change or turning in Him. So no, while the OT is a witness to Christ, people prior to Christ did not truly understand what they engaged with, as the Lord told the disciples prophets and kings longed to see what the disciples did and didn’t, and this wasn’t because they foresaw the Messiah, in most of the traditions and books this figure or idea wasn’t part of either earlier Judaism nor the Yahwehism that proceeded it (it wasn’t so absolutely clear even in Christ’s time, with some denying it altogether, some revering to the Prophet, or to more than one Messiah, or to a general Messianic movement with no Messiah). What they were looking towards was to understand God and His revelation, and understand His promise and salvation, but as St Paul says they only saw through a veil, or as the writer of Hebrews said, they saw only shadows, like in Plato’s cave, and didn’t comprehend what it referred to as it had yet to be revealed, not perceiving Christ and the Gospel it it, being intended for us, or as St John says, He brought and revealed truth to Israel and the whole Cosmos, who is the Truth. And this was in line with Jewish expectations for those expecting either a Messiah or Messianic age of some sort, that it would involve the revealing and opening of the Scriptures to truly understand them.

      It also reminds us that the Church is the pillar and foundation of truth, the Scriptures being Scripture only when read within the context of the life of Christ, within the Eucharistic communion, as of Him, about Him and the Gospel and for the Church, as part of the Tradition, that is the life of believers in the Holy Spirit, and that to read it is Scripture is a inspired reading with the passage and the inspired reader in and through the Spirit revealing Christ, in which both are the ‘lyre of the Spirit’. Otherwise it remains veiled and are just ancient books, testifying to various and at times conflicting concepts of YHVH from the various sources and strands that feed into and became the different books that then were developed (or not in some cases) into the canon of the OT. Since each episode is about Christ, it must be read as such, how that relates in these figures (no matter how they were intended at various stages, which itself in a number of narratives involved changing contexts and meanings even through the OT’s development itself) are to be understood and interpreted theological and understood in light of Christ and the Tradition of the Church so that true readings are obtained will depend on each narrative, and of course far more than just one true reading will and can revealed (the infinitely creative Spirit reveals ever-new revelations to the inspired reader).

      For more you can also try:

      https://publicorthodoxy.org/2019/11/22/marcionism-allegory-universal-salvation/

      But I’ll finish this to again say, my advised approach to the OT is nothing less than following the principle and approach repeatedly laid out and revealed in the NT itself, and followed by and further developed by the early Church following this revelation, and is centered in Christ’s own revelation of the Scriptures as testify and about Him, and this is not just about who Israel got to Christ, this is not consistent with the NT approach and understanding at all. Moses and the Exodus is about Christ and our life in Christ, Joshua crossing the Jordan is about Christ, and His baptism, David and Solomon are about Christ, it all is, everything there is testifying to Him, and He illuminates to and reveals it’s true meaning, only then will you form the mosaic of the OT Scripture into the image of the King.

      2 (I think you have mixed this up with 3, which is the point I assume this is referring to). I think here you have badly misunderstood me somewhere, I explicitly said I reject that God has acted to directly kill anyone, or order anyone’s death, this is rejected in Christ’s revelation of who the Father is, He who blesses His enemies and does good to those against Him, forgives and heals, who rebukes the sons of Zebedee for waiting to call fire down on people, who removes the sword from St Peter’s hand and heals His enemy and in His tortured death and being mocked prayers for forgiveness (God praying to God), and reveals the Father in His constant self-giving love. Death is His enemy, not his accomplice or helper. Again, the key of interpreting the OT as given in the NT and by Christ Himself is our guide as always, and again, to no do so leads to these rather twisted and chimera like images of God (so the Exodus and Passover is about Christ, He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, it isn’t both about the Exodus and Him, it;s about Him, and Christ doesn’t kill infants, He rather strong words for those who would, so God doesn’t kill firstborn children, that contradicts Christ who brings the Truth and reveals the Father, the story refers to His ransom of us, all humanity from the tyranny of death). Again I’m not being in anyway creative or innovative here, I’m being very traditional and taking both the NT and understanding of the Church and Fathers quite seriously, Christ is the key, it is to Him it points.

      My point was rather, though I disagree that God does such, that there is still a absolute difference to be the devil’s advocate, between someone dying in some manner that will lead to repentance and healing so delivering from death forever (and so an action intended and purposed to bring about healing and full restoration to life forever) and created someone to be sacrificed as fuel for God’s real purpose for creation, given over to a destruction with no healing purpose, not a fallen situation in which His grace will work through such to bring the persons to restoration and full life and love but rather where they are given over and indeed created one way or another (given God is God and not a god) for that purpose. To sacrifice persons forever to achieve some other purpose is an evil act, and neither can the purpose be good nor can that which brings the whole situation to be freely be the Good or Love at all, at best benevolent to those who happen to be beneficiaries of such ultimate end purposes. My point was, that the difference between a momentary situation (which I disagree with again), and an ultimate one brings the full force of Hart’s first mediation into view.

      3. (again I assume this is referring to 1 again, so I’ll respond on that assumption) This doesn’t really relate much to what I discussed there, to the difficulties in interpreting the images, figures and imagery of judgement in the Gospel’s and what it refers to or it’s application, certainly historically and also how to interpret it now. Was it’s primary reference the coming Cross and Resurrection and the fall of the Temple and Judea (this fits with the prophetic tradition, narrative, Jeremiah style) and as I said has strong support. Though I will note I talked about how our traditions condition how we approach and read these texts (or any text for that matter) that they don’t interpret nor explain themselves, and you do this a bit right here. You say that it is a reach to equate the Prodigal with Eternity, or that it relates to his earthly life, this is something you reading in and interpreting. This story nor the Lord’s use of it says neither either way, it’s direct purpose alone is God’s unconditional love and forgiveness, His Jubilee, and of the warning for not resentful at seen your brother restored and holding yourself away from that freedom and love like the older brother (in this case directly relating to those Pharisees and scribes who had disputed His embrace of those they considered sinners and unworthy). To close of it’s promise to the earthly life is something you reading into it, to assume it only relates that that point is something that is not said, nor does the story lock out response only during ‘earthly’ life nor the application for the revelation of the Father’s forgiveness. My suggestion was to look at the reference to the son being ‘dead’ in the story, even when he wasn’t (in the story) as a possible means of understanding a ‘I do not know you’ (since God would always know us anyway). His return is treated as nothing less than return from the dead, which it is, it is the freeing and return from the hold of death, which will be complete at the Resurrection, though it equally begins now for all who respond when their turn to Christ. I would also add that as St Paul says, Christ has defeated death, which the Church proclaims, by death He has defeated death, death hold no one captive, there is no point someone falls under it’s power again and goes beyond some point of no return. That power is defeated, and it will be destroyed, swallowed up by Life.

      But again, it was only a suggestion, I wasn’t outright arguing that all parables or judgements unquestionably argue for a universalist perspective, some would of course, the lost sheep, the lost coin for example, but was about the difficult of interpreting the imagery and certainly apply them as referring or clearly teaching infernalism (for which the case as there is, again any literal referent is to be drawn from the various and diverse pictures and imagery would be annihilatism). Again, the Prodigal was a brief suggestion, not my main point, so rather than labouring the point I just refer back to my discussion in 1 again (just ignore the Prodigal 🙂 ), and also suggest re-reading Hart’s second meditation as well.

      4. Again here you are seeing God as something over and against us as if our will was in competition with His own, but God is a being like us, just write large, He is not a being among beings, He is being itself. His will is not in competition with ours, as God He doesn’t operate on the same plane as we creatures, our full freedom is the result and enfolded into His own will, brought into being by His sovereign creative will and creative Act. There is no need for God to force anything, our nature and all natures which exists from, in and towards Him, are by who we are drawn to Him, all our thoughts and choices, or being derives from Him, and in which He works in and through all things will with His illumination and grace which is one with His creative act and in which we exist, move and have our being, in whom we always participate (otherwise we would no be at all), so He will no against but through our freedom draw us to Himself ever more. There is no dictatorship, the opposite, the very defeat of death and sin and all powers, is one that frees us from slavery, confusion and illusions our creative and contingent free coming into being in the primordial mistake and misunderstanding trapped us, even as He creates those conditions of free response all allowed a fall of the created order He was also in it to free from all things from those bounds and fetters that restrained and prevented and held that freedom of being captive. The first creation account is commentary on John 1:1 and is the whole of God’s creative act with everything to be good and very good from our perspective still to be realized but has already in Christ (as the Gospel presents him, here is the man, which God was working to create on the 6th day, and so He is mistaken but not so, for the Garden by St Mary Magdalene), and Christ and His Incarnation is the heart of God’s creative Act, in which all is created and brought to completion. And so is brought to freedom, to being free, not against our choices but within and through them, enabling them and freeing them no matter they direction, it is all woven and drawn in and through Christ. AS the Lord says, when He is raised up He will drag all men to Himself, and will bring eternal life to all humanity that the Father has handed Him, not against our will but in and through it, and because of it and of our nature, which is from Him, the truly Human One, we are not separate from Him but exist only in relationship and participation with Him, being joined in Him and He in us, the second Adam in which all are and will be made alive.

      Our participation and co-operative free life with Him is real but it is contingent upon Him as everything else is and is enfolded in His logical prior creative Act, which again doesn’t force us or make us puppets but rather that telos and grounding, and the very freeing of nature in which ours is founded on and participates with God is the only thing that actually makes us free. You are again adopting an image of God that sadly has risen in Protestant circles particularly recently, that of theistic personalism, or mono-polytheism, in which God is not God, the transcendent Creator, the Source and infinite wellspring of all being, Being Himself and beyond Being, Existence Himself, but just a god, even if he is the only one. Just us, write large. But this isn’t the classical Christian tradition of any of the ancient Churches, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Holy Assyrian Church of the East, Catholic Roman and Eastern, or for that matter the Protestant Churches for most of their existence. There isn’t a competition of our wills against Him, He is that which in which our wills and beings are both enabled, given being, move and is our whole horizon in which we think and make our choices, He is the fulfillment of our natures and personalities which participate and are drawn and exist in the dance of the Holy Trinity (outside which we would not be, since He is Being, there is literally nothing, no thing, outside God, God is the foundation, source and dynamic creative source and end of all things that are, which all are reflections and participation in Him). This doesn’t reduce us, but rather the inexhaustible creative and infinite creative act of God is one which ever brings us and all things ever more into more dynamic life and the Freedom of the Holy Trinity, ever more into the overflowing dance of love and creation which we participate in our creaturely manner, to be made ever more free as in our free nature, enabled and surrounded by Christ we will stumble towards Him to whom we are grounded in, move in and always towards as the object of our every desire, being and instinct behind and within and towards all our choices and wills, finding completion in Him.

      He is the Truth, and that Truth illuminates us more, even as it brings us to be, and as we come into it we are free, we are never free outside fuller knowledge and awareness of Christ, and only to that extent as the Lord said, you shall know the Truth and the Truth will set you free. We have no freedom outside that, it doesn’t exist.

      Again I would advise considering the difference between infinite transcendent Creator and contingent creatures and the wholly different planes of our actions, in Him we live, move and have our being, again there is competition, God is a being among beings, and unlike say Zeus he is not in competition with our wills to enforce or bring about His plan, nor helpless against our actions. Nor do we loss freedom from His actions as if were puppets, it just doesn’t operate on the same levels. I think Father Kimel has a number of articles exploring divine sovereignty, classical theism and the lack of competition between our freedoms and God’s I would definitely recommend reading them.

      I would also recommend re-reading both Hart’s first mediation and his fourth of the nature of freedom, as they deal quite directly with these points. In fact to finish, I would again recommend overall to return and perhaps re-read his book again, much of what you are bring up is dealt with in some length there (and much better than I can deliver). And these articles here:

      https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2014/01/28/double-agency-conceiving-divine-and-creaturely-causality/

      https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2014/02/03/mysteriouser-and-mysteriouser-divine-agency-and-human-freedom/

      https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2015/03/19/creation/

      https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2015/05/25/if-god-is-being-does-prayer-make-sense/

      https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2016/11/14/open-theism-eternity-and-the-biblical-god/

      https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2019/03/18/jesus-of-nazareth-god-or-demigod/

      https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/god-jerry-coyne-and-the-unread-david-b-hart/

      https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2018/05/09/st-gregory-of-nyssa-and-the-incomprehensibility-of-the-incomprehensible-god/

      https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2018/05/03/the-cappadocian-brothers-on-the-propria-of-god-2/

      https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2018/05/07/st-gregory-of-nyssa-and-the-power-of-god-2/

      https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2018/05/08/st-gregory-nyssen-and-the-infinity-of-god-2/

      And his excellent Dionysius series:

      https://afkimel.wordpress.com/category/dionysius-the-areopagite/

      Rather extensive, but I think important to get out of the view of God as some other being out there competing against us in some zero-sum game, it’s easily assumed and sometimes the stories we tell ourselves can re-enforce it, but is vital to grasp the infinite and finite distinction, and what we mean (so inadequately) when we say God.

      Anyway, thank you for your responses, and those were some of my thoughts on your thoughts 🙂 . Again, good luck with your journey, perhaps re-read Hart’s book again for some of your points which I think addresses quite well, and Christ’s blessings and illuminations on your journey.

      I hope your week is a happy and blessed one 🙂 .

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  7. mercifullayman says:

    Pardon my typos….I typed that rather quickly.

    Like

  8. NicholasofKentucky says:

    Mercifullayman,

    I hope that in writing to you I can be a help to your own understanding in the Faith. As someone coming from a similar background, being raised in the Churches of Christ, I’ve grappled with issues similar to the ones that you’ve raised above.

    If I may start with a couple of general points: it seems to me, in my limited understanding, that you still have some lingering traits of a Protestant understanding of the Incarnation, as well as understanding one’s “self” through a hint of modern individualism. I believe that once these two elements of your thought (if they are indeed present in your thought, as I think they are) are more clearly stated, your above concerns will be potentially answered.

    Firstly, the Lord is not an icon that we can prefer to another icon. He is the true undivided Saint present to all, to which we are subtly referring whenever we speak of an individual as a saint. To say that one is a saint, is only to say that we each share in common the same Life of the Lord as it is unconditionally given to us in our very being. This is made clear by the Transfiguration on the Mount, where it was not a change in the Lord that allowed His Light to shine forward, but rather a change in the vision of the disciples. The Lord shines like that always, even quietly within each of us, as He is the light that illumines everyone. The implications of this for how one is to read scripture will hopefully become clear after the following point.

    Secondly, whenever the Lord speaks using pronouns or names, He may not be speaking of the whole of a person. When He speaks of gathering Jerusalem to Himself, He does so in the hopes of calling the soul out of the flesh and back into Him as the Spirit. Further, when He speaks of never knowing someone, He does not speak to that part of them which He Himself has created in Spirit, but rather to that sinful self which will be revealed in the Light of the Lord to be that nothing from which He created us.

    As for your more specific points, I personally find it quite strange that so many may find offense at God’s ordering the deaths of innocents in the Old Testament. It seems to me to be one moment of a much larger history of death as such, which would surely constitute a greater scandal to the same conscience. For how many innocents have died throughout the course of our present predicament, supposedly with each being in the care of the Lord? Surely the answer lies in the death of the Lord. I am not sure how you would read baptism now, or to what extent you were exposed to the theology of the Churches of Christ on this point, but I would implore you to read again Romans 6. In it, notice that St. Paul makes the claims about immersion that he does from within the context that it is the Lord who has first died *our* deaths, not the reverse. And it is because of this fact that, being immersed in our own deaths as we inevitably will be, that we are raised up with the Lord’s resurrection into a newness of Life, one which the Lord has already graciously given us from everlasting.

    Now to the obscure wording of these things in the scriptures. There is only one plain reading of scripture, and it is only one that arises by making oneself the Lordself. As the Lord says, Life is not first encountered in scripture, it is found already within us. This realization is the beginning of the purification of the mind, it seems to me. Perhaps if one is to follow this purification, it will become clear that the scriptures were obscurely worded on purpose, as are the parables of the Lord. This was done so that there might be an inner meaning to them, while also attracting any number of people to them who might serve in stumbling in their reading of them to the benefit of another.

    Finally, as to God changing His mind, we see that it is not the Lord’s mind that changes, but ours. This is done so as to show to each of us the true fulfillment of our own Law, with something similar to this occurring in a different way in the Lord saving those “according to their faith.” I must insist that I do not reject that *God* is represented as changing His mind. What I believe is in need of qualification is the way in which God is personal to each of us. He relates to us from within us, as interior intimo meo et superior summo meo. What this means is that the Word of God is no longer spoken by another, whether that be Moses, Abraham, or one of the apostles. It is taken in as a reflection of one’s own path to the Lord, with all of the various changes that have occurred along the way. In Christ, the story of the Bible becomes the history of every individual, reaching its culmination in the destruction of the chaff for the life of the wheat.

    I hope that I have properly understood you, and that there is at least something here that is helpful.

    In hoping for all things to be well,
    Nicholas

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  9. mercifullayman says:

    Grant and Nicholas,

    Thank you both for your thoughtful responses as I try to wade through this issue. As I’ve stated, I genuinely appreciate the conversation and I’m still trying to ascend the staircase as a layman on a very deep and thoroughly interesting topic.

    A couple things:

    1. I’m sorry if my points are scrambled. I am a History Teacher/Football Coach by profession. We just finished up our season in the state Semi-Finals and so my brain has been somewhat elsewhere. So my apologies on that. Trying to understand the depths of this argument while simultaneously breaking down scouting data as a coordinator and game planning has my mind all over the place haha. Some of what will be below will still be jumbled at least for another week or so as I’m coming off 6 months of 90 hour work weeks, so I appreciate your patience.

    2. My point in asking about the OT isn’t to take those things as necessarily “historic.” By that, I mean literally history. It would fly in the face of what we know about the world, and that would be silly. I’d be better off being an atheist lol. But, what I do find interesting is that there is a “historical” (ie the language of a people, culture, and tracing its values/mythos) and philosophical bent that those allegories, narratives, and metaphors convey to us which ground the history of people, decisions made etc. If it were not so, why even bother with the books? Well we know why. To make manifest the interplay between the Divine and to point us to Christ. We see that, understand it, and more. However, I would still suggest that to discount the meta-narrative of those messages as just some arcane books that must interpreted solely through the Fathers seems somewhat odd. Even the might of the knowledge of the Early Church didn’t agree. Look at the likes of Tertullian and Origen…polar opposites running around the same time reading the same books. All I’m suggesting in bringing these type of texts up is that there is a tension which exists between revelation as historic narrative for a people with implications, and revelation as actuality in the appearance of God in the Flesh. This revelation isn’t about the actuality of an event, per se. It’s about the actuality of meaning behind that narrative, what it reveals or says. Just like if I read any novel that points me to some truth, the truth is still there, regardless of whether or not I think it is a historical fact. (I don’t find the Gita to be historically true, but the overall message of its narrative has a historical shape to it. It’s shaped people for generations now. So do we turn a blind eye to the meaning of that text, merely because it maybe doesn’t exactly jive with some aspect I’m comfortable with? One could philosophize around what is there to make a more adequate worldview, but at that point, am I not still just shaping the perspective to my worldview anyway?).

    If we are to take the whole of scripture to be “inspired,” and I don’t mean literally true, merely that it is there to reveal things to us about this thing we call existence and the One by which it all comes to be and is maintained, do we just say well that aspect of revelation isn’t true because of some philosophical proposition?

    At times, even the stories of the OT lend credence to the relationality we see from Christ himself. The overall witness is the same…and as someone who believes this universalist position to be true, I find it to be more comforting, not less, that God would enter into that type of relationship with us. The ground for universalism is rooted in the ability of God to bring about His supreme ends, while helping us through this journey of life, and into the afterlife…. and I know this may be an appearance we experience, not the actual thing in its actuality, but his ability to allow us to work alongside Him gives me peace. He knows our gnomic wills are going to stray, and the tension in the final question of Job, or even God himself in the OT tell me that we too are allowed to live in that tension, and its more than ok. On this point, maybe we just will have to agree to disagree. Even Hart, in his “The Doors of the Sea,” makes me feel good about this idea of tension. This idea that each and every facet of existence isn’t necessarily tied to some huge systematic plan. That the tension we feel in the midst of despair isn’t always because of God or everything happening for a reason, but because of the world we are encountering every day. Sometimes, life happens and there is no overarching reason. He is merely there working behind the scenes to bring about the best possible outcome and our feelings in those moments are adequate in which He stands with us.

    If what we are allowed to know about God is what He has made manifest to us through narrative, through His own life/death, then I think it does speak to some aspect of reality. We can be philosophically coherent and logically exact all we want to be about things like immutability/passivity, and that’s incredible, but what is the reality in which we experience God? If we experience him as the root of all Being, and that existence demonstrates Itself with a bevy of emotions, then why is that such a thing to be afraid of? It is revealing itself that way to us. Surely there is something to be said for that over the philosophical rigor we find ourselves arguing about. Even someone great like Bulgakov agrees (if i’m understanding him correctly in Unfading Light, especially in his discussion on the Divine Nothing) with Pascal in saying that God is not the God of philosophers, but of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It’s much more relational, and as a universalist, I think this is exactly true. That the very need to save us isn’t merely rooted in some metaphysical/ontological purpose. That’s merely periphery. It’s rooted in his love for humanity. Simply, and I think consistent with the simplicity of what we talk about God being in the traditional approach and arguments.

    2. I only brought up the death conversation because at some point, and Hart addresses this too in his The Doors of the Sea, we have to look at those narratives as well. How do we rationally discuss what is being conveyed and the implications that we do have to account for in our answers. It wasn’t meant to suggest or put words in your mouth on this topic, period. It was more just a question to see where the rabbit trail would lead. Take a verse like Numbers 11:1, take the scene at the foot of Mount Sinai when God gets angry….I’m not afraid to think of Divine Rage. Heck, take the whole narrative of the Flood. It isn’t about the literal flood at all. However, there is a rage that is there that leads to decisions that have consequences. Even Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham begs and pleads and God is genuinely willing to acquiesce to search for the Righteous if they can be found. The ramifications are still the same. What is great for these stories to me is the sense that he is willing to wait and go to the extreme to save us, even in the midst of justified divine anger. Isn’t that Noah’s gripe as well? That he did all this wanting the city to die, mind you also as a legit racist in that tale (I only mention this due to narrative, I think it’s an early tale of how there was already this idea that race was a non-issue to God amongst Jews during this time period, and is fascinating when you think of Noah and parallels to Christ that the early church missed on issues like race) and yet He moans and groans about how God is so willing to forgive someone even after decreeing destruction? Maybe I’m taking things too far, but all of these texts, if anything, seem to suggest a more universal approach if you really break them down when dealing with the appearance of “passibility.”

    3. An odd text in this vein to me is 1 Samuel 15. It has literally both perspectives about immutability in one text. It has the direct ordering of murder by God through Samuel to Saul for the way the Amalekites treated Israel during their wanderings (divine wrath/judgement). Saul allows the soldiers to keep the sheep and cows and lies about his reasoning, allows the king to live(I’m sure for fear if he ever lost, word would get back that he spared a fellow king, and any potential ransom) and God burns with anger. Twice the text tells us that he repented/regretted making Saul king, and it is this moment that Samuel tells him that a new king is going to come better than he. Samuel also tells Saul he can never reclaim his title of true king of Israel with God and that God doesn’t change his mind, although the voice of God says He does? Some decrees are final, some appear to be open, all are working towards the divinely ordered path of existence. Just like my recent encounter with Hart in The Doors of the Sea (albeit if I’m understanding him correctly). The ultimate good of this very bad moment is that it opens the door for David to become king…God bringing about His divine plan to fruition. Yet how do we philosophically balance that narrative out? Again this isn’t about whether or not Saul actually really did all of this historically…but how do we deal with what is presented as morally inspired narrative because of the implications and justification for who becomes the next ruler, that then trickles us down to Jesus, who we need David to be King for historically to justify his claim as Messiah?

    4. My understanding of the Incarnation is no different than the Ecumenical councils. I see no discrepancy towards any issue that I’ve brought up when discussing the topic of God incarnate. I don’t see my rationale pointing towards a blood guilt offering or substitutionary as a modern Protestant would define it. I find it to be the pinnacle of a plan to save us from ourselves and to cure the ills that were introduced “in Eden.” Course correction more than brutality. As to the charge of modern individualism, I see humanity as the axis of the divine. Our vertical relationship to the Father will lead to a direct equality of the horizontal to those around us collectively, and vice versa. As a person who has a career that is solely based on whether or not a group can succeed together, I find that somewhat intriguing to be characterized that way. It’s the one aspect we have to eliminate to be successful. If anything, I’m constantly trying to take the “self” out of things, or redefine the self in the midst of a group dynamic. Much like Christianity….aren’t we really just redefining ourselves with “fear and trembling” in the hopes of becoming like Christ? Isn’t that the point of theosis? Isn’t the church just a collective of pieces with individuated abilities that achieve one goal, one perspective, one unity?

    (I do find the semantic arguments somewhat intriguing between both sides at Chalcedon however, and I think this has even played out in modern ecumenical discussions with churches of the “monophysite” bent. It is a fascinating discussion to try and figure out how all of that works and both sides have their merits – If this is what you actually meant by my view on the Incarnation.)

    These points are just some things I’ve pondered since finally getting to get back to this post. I appreciate the candor and camaraderie here and if i’m just way off base and wrong, I’ll cry out just like the father in Mark 9 “I believe, help my unbelief.” Discussion and “arguing” is fun. It does however come from a place of awe, wonder, and the utmost respect. I can’t thank you guys enough.

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    • Grant says:

      Hi Mercyfullayman,

      1. Don’t worry about it, sounds like you have allot on your plate, surprised you have time for these comment threads, glad too hear you going to have some break coming up 🙂 .

      2. I would say at this point we may be a fundamental impasse, as I would say it is mistaken (and has been a mistake in my view for a number of Christian traditions for a few centuries) to read these narratives in some respects separate from Christ and the Gospel, to take the surface images they give and attempt to then bolt those pieces onto the revelation in Christ (since only through Christ do we see or know the Father). To put them as you say in tension and develop an image of God that seems to become some form of chimera or double-headed Janus is to not read them as Christian Scripture. In respect to why would these books be there (or why do we keep them) it would be because they are part of the tradition developed within the people of God, the Jewish people as they developed, as these narratives and stories developed, and in and through that people, through the whole tradition, stories, Scripture, Temple, feasts, days, rituals and customs, as a cohesive whole they we groping and engaging the reality of Christ (the Incarnation transcends our temporal limits), but they did so (I know I’m repeating myself, sorry about that) through a veil as St Paul says. They did not know what they saw nor understood it, as the writer of Hebrews says, they saw only shadows cast by Christ, and so didn’t understand the full truth of what they saw and engaged, and increasingly understood this as so, as book of Daniel ‘shut up the words, and seal the book, until the time of consummation, until many learn and knowledge abounds. For when the dispersion shall be accomplished, they shall know all these things, or Jeremiah, ‘in the last days they shall understand these things’, they waited until the end when books and their meaning would be opened. As Christ said, prophets, holy men and kings wanted to see what the disciples (and we) see, but did not, because they did have the key to the revelation, understanding and interpretation of what they were engaging and seeing, of Christ incarnate among them, but only saw through a veil and shadows, not understanding the oracles they carried (again, law came by Moses, but only through Christ came truth, and only through Him is the Father revealed, also in the Scriptures, and it is all about Him as He reveals).

      In Christ the veil is torn off and we see what cast the shadows, rather than the just the shadows and are able to make out the true images and meanings, we see now through a glass darkly but we do see the veil coming off. The importance of the OT is they provide both mythic, liturgical and poetic language to understand Christ and the Gospel, even as the four Gospels themselves weave that language and imagery through even as it and Christ revolutionizes it, and this use is seen through the epistles, St Paul’s, Hebrews, the Petrine epistles, the Johannine epistles, the James and Jude ones, or Revelation, the rich imagery, the Temple structures, feasts, days, events and prophetic traditions and language style are central, and are show and interpreted to reveal and create deeper understanding of Christ, of the Gospel and of our life in Christ (as Hebrews says, they written for us). So to use a simple example, the structure of the Gospel according to St John, in terms of the two Genesis stories, and of St Mary Magdalene identifying the Messiah as a gardener or Pilate declaring ‘behold the man ‘ showing that God has created man in His image and likeness, are seated in this tradition and the narratives, and reveal those narratives to relate to Christ, to what is happening in that Gospel, or St Paul using various narratives and stories to understand Christ and our life in Him, Red Sea is baptism, Sarah and Hagar and so on, they mean and talk about Christ, Psalm talking about the Messiah and God violently conquering nations and breaking them is interpreted about Christ destroying death and freeing creation, and so on. The OT is a commentary on the New, with the New giving the illumination revealing what they are really saying and revealing going beyond and against the surface reading, they misunderstanding, to see beyond the shadows to what casts those shadows. And equally from that, a depth of understanding of God is revealed, of Christ, that would be lost if we cast them away. The OT Scriptures provide the framework, imagery, terms and language in which the revelation of God in Christ is understood and proclaimed, in which the apostles knew them, and in which we understand the language of the Gospel and understand Christ and the Gospel more fully

      Proclaiming Christ ‘in accordance with the Scriptures’ in term means Christians read them in a different manner then those from before the encounter with Christ, before the revelation of the One is the Truth. The disciples before the resurrection didn’t understand who He really was or what was really going on, not even after St Peter made his confession, as but a few verses later he is called satan for trying to stop the Lord from going to the Cross, and then abandoned Him, and didn’t understand the meaning of the empty tomb, nor recognize the Risen Christ. Only after He opened the Scriptures (again see Daniel and Jeremiah and so on), from the Law, the Psalms and the Prophets and how they all testified about Him did they understand. They had read and heard them before, but not like this, and had never understood. St Paul, as Saul knew them better to most of his fellow Jews, but persecuted the new Christians, until He was confronted by the Risen Christ and veil as was lifted from His eyes. He read them them differently (as we read in his epistles), they veil that covered Moses face has he descended from the mountain, hiding the glory and revelation of God was lifted, the veil that lay over the Law, the Psalms and the Prophets had been lifted, so see the glory within, to see what was casting the shadows he had been seeing, and attempting to make out their meaning. So to read these as not about Christ, not referring to Him, but as additional pictures of God, is not see or read them, it is put the veil back of Moses, on the OT, and hid the glory, the light and meaning that is contained within, again as St John says, the law came by Moses, but the Truth by Christ, in who the veil was removed and revealed to all who know Him.

      St Irenaeus developed this idea by describing Scripture (and at this point that meant the OT) as a mosaic portraying Christ when seen according to their right ‘hypothesis’ so that Christ is the treasure hidden in the Scriptures, he was hidden there, ‘indicated by means of types and parables, which could not be understood by human beings prior to the consummation of those things which had been predicted, that is, the advent of the Lord’. So he says further ‘For every prophecy, before its fulfillment, is nothing but enigma and ambiguity to human beings; but when the time has arrived, and the prediction has come to pass, then it has an exact exposition (exegesis). And for this reason, when… it is read by Christians, it is a treasure, id in a field, but brought to light by the cross of Christ.’

      The Scriptures are shut, veiled and sealed until they were unveiled and opened by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ, so that without and not through this, it reads only as ‘myth’ but when read in the light of the Cross, of Christ, is Christ revealed and so the Father, and so also deeper our understanding of Christ, and so reader becomes glorified as Moses was (in which Moses is about our encounter with Christ). To no have the image of the King in which to form the mosaic of Scripture is to always misunderstand and misinterpret it, forming another image altogether and not to read it as Scripture at all.

      In all ancient Biblical interpretation there were four points that were common, Scripture is fundamentally cryptic, that if it wasn’t cryptic, requiring to be opened and unveiled, it would not be Scripture. Second it is relevant text, written not to inform us of past events or prior stories or narratives, or attempts to understand the mystery of God they were encountering, the shadows cast, but about the present, as Hebrews and Corinthians relate, ‘these things happened as a type, but were written down for our instruction upon whom the end of the ages has come’ (1 Corinthians 10:11). Third Scriptures is harmonious, the Law, the Psalms and the Prophets speak about the One who opens the books, and how He has to suffer to enter His glory. Fourth on these prior three, it is ‘inspired’, when its inspiration is held together with the opening of the Scriptures in an inspired reading, all turning upon Christ Himself, who speaks to us in and through the Scriptures.

      The reading of Scripture, from the first disciples, and then through that into the period of the Fathers and beyond, operates on this framework delivered by Christ Himself, of ;unveiling’ and ‘opening’ the books, and is always now apocalyptic in the sense of unveiling what was previously unknown and not understood (and so misunderstood). Whether it is called allegorical, typological or spiritual, doesn’t matter, unless it is read as such, it is not being read as Scripture, but only as ‘myths’ and ones still clouded in shadow, to be in fact seeing only shadows and not what casts them. It is a theological reading from the understanding of the One is both it’s end and that which reveals them for what they really are, otherwise we lost sight of the image of the King and form another image with the mosaic pieces the reflects a false and distorted image. This reading characterized Christian reading of Scripture from the beginning and through the Councils, shaping theological, liturgical, devotional understanding and reflection that lead to its dogmatic definitions. First with Marcion and then Diodore of Tarsus and Theodore of Mopsuestia asserted that Scripture (the OT) did not speak of Christ, but should be interpreted according to their historia, their own meaning, as distinct from the historia of the NT, which in the later two’s case corresponded with their ‘dyo-prosopic’ Christology of seeing the Word of God as distinct from the man born of Mary, dwelling in Him as in a Temple. Chalcedon, following St Cyril, that although using the language of two natures, emphasized the unity of the One subject, Jesus Christ, full divine and fully human, spoken in both ways in Scripture, defining for us both who God is and what it is to be human, and the unity of the OT within the New and the Christ within the OT.

      This reading was and is central to the theological reflection that led to the central dogmas of the Church, and the coherence of dogmatic reflection and scriptural exegesis, practiced within the Eucharistic community (again in the Emmaus, the breaking to the bread reveals Christ), ‘puts on Christ’. This is broken when dogmas are extracted from this setting, treated systematically, and independent of the reading of Scripture, and set alongside other ways of reading the OT, resulting on confusion or tension as you say as to how it holds together. To read it as ‘myths’ again, and not as Scripture.

      I would say the statement about God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and not of the philosophers is not that they were wrong, but as with the Scriptures they only saw through shadows. Their understanding needs to brought into captivity and illumination of Christ, so it’s not that God as Aristotle thought is unmindful and even really unaware of us humans so far down the creative path, instead because God is the transcendent Creator the source of all Being, it’s infinite wellspring He is by that very point intimately present to all of us, closer to us then even ourselves and our false images of ourselves. He is relational in a way, that doesn’t disagree with then but rather the revelation pushes and illuminates their ideas beyond what they could imagine within Christ’s revelation, that He isn’t static, but rather by being beyond all finite and created aspects (such as time) He is more real and concrete then our timed existence, more dynamic, and more full, and is by being transcendent dynamically present in all of creation and it’s dance. This being displayed fully in Christ, through the Incarnation and by the Spirit, being us and all creation into the infinite and dynamic love that is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The misunderstanding of this, seen most clearly in the pitting of ‘Greek’ vs ‘Hebraic’ understanding is just a big misunderstanding of the main point, which is since God is immutable and impassible, is simple and so on, it means He is more real, more Personal then our finite person and relations not less, and far more present as well (much thanks to John Behr here 🙂 ).

      2. To take these examples, again for me all must seen and interpreted through Christ, the flood is connected and interpreted with the flood of violence and wickedness, of death that is damaging and ruining creation and humans, the two and tied, the ark is Christ and His Church, drawing all creation into it, outside of the chaos of the waters. The sea itself being symbol of the chaos that would destroy creation to the Hebrew mind, and then via the ark, via Christ, the world is rescued and renewed, and shall not be destroyed again, as with Christ calming the sea of Galilee makes this connection, and in Revelation where the will be no sea anymore, as death has past away and shall be destroyed, there shall be no more crying and all this shall be made new. Sodom and Gomorrah is another image of the destruction of sin, the turn to non-being that is death that is already in the narrative, that of idolatry, which is the turn to nothing in Jewish eyes, and all the evils they represent, and again of the deliverance out of destruction of Christ, via the angels, and of our Christian pilgrim journey through and out of destruction, from death into life. And to truly keep leaving, as Lot’s wife doesn’t leave, by turning back she remains enslaved and under the tyranny and destruction of death, and that figure is us all, until and in fact in each area we ever turn and allow Christ to deliver and heal us. And it is something that goes ever on. And also in can be an image of the consuming fire that is God, of He who baptizes with fire, with the Holy Spirit whose illumination exposes the damage and illusion of death that keep us trapped. And will continue to do so, even at His unveiling, when the damage of death, of Gehenna right now is revealed, our false exposed and vanished, and our true selves know, which will be a sorrow of love betrayed for some then (even as it is now for us time and again), leading to deliverance as in Matthew 25. And Moses, the fire of destruction of death, of our move away from Christ and both our distance and understanding of God, as with those struck down when they handled the ark of the covenant, we see in Christ that holiness doesn’t kill, it heals and restores, therefore is the power of death holding them captive from God and from holiness that destroys and kills. Of being under the ‘power of Satan’ for he and death is what comes to kill, steal and destroy, Christ and God in Him, come that we can have life, and have it in abundance. Moses is Christ delivering us from this destruction, it is the Cross, where that death, the destruction, the fire of hell already here, is meet head on, He is the bronze serpent raised and drawing as all out of death into Life, into Love, into Himself.

      3. With Saul, again Saul represents our rejection of Christ in our confusion and in idolatry for the dark powers of this world, of death and to bow to the current age, the world and the way of death, as the rich man bound by Mammon from following Christ, and Christ being rejected, by the Sanhedrin who reject Him for Rome, the people for Barabus, and for violence, and all mocking Him and killing Him, as we have turned from Him and rejection Him, coming under the dominion of the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil, of creation fallen, and not the Tree of Life which is Christ. And yet as with David, who is Christ He still breaks through to us, is present in and with us, never leaves us, is unchanging in His faithfulness to us, and prayers for our forgiveness because we don’t know what we do, and in which the Father is in reconciling all things to Himself, and delivers us from all the dark powers and illusions and death, seen in the defeats of Goliath and the Philistines, despite our dark and fallen path going astray, nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus. And again, looking to the Christ who took the sword out of St Peter’s hand and said those who live by the sword, shall die by it, and healed the ear that St Peter had cut off, healing the damage of one who came to kill Him, reveals God the image of God ordering the killing of people, of genocide, to read it that way is not to read it as Scripture, to see it through Christ, with the consideration of Saul’s meaning, is to fall under idolatry and coming under death’s power and damage, follow temptation and greed under a spirit of anti-Christ, to fall into the path of ways of death and under the current dark powers of this world (even when they seem Christian), and fall back or remain under it’s control and not the kingship we are called to in Christ. And it is like Joshua a call to remember that we must in our journey be ruthless with such things within is, the Amalekites within us, of all that stands against love, against the revelation of God in Christ within and around us, no against flesh and blood, not with violence or coercion, but we wrestle against spirits, thrones and dominions, the dark powers of this world, of the world system and the power of death we are called to come out and be delivered from, and the call to turn to Christ, and to allow the consuming fire of the Holy Spirit to illuminate and consume the chafe within us and be renewed and healed and to exercise and remember who we are in Christ, and not be deceived by the illusions of the spirit of anti-Christ.

      4. Not to much to say here, but I would say the Church isn’t pieces but is the our life in Christ by the Holy Spirit, and is the life of Christ in the Eucharistic community and that life in the Holy Spirit in the Tradition in which worship, Eucharistic, baptism and books read as Scripture, with a life of growth in self-less love, holiness, sharing and worship and proclamation and act, of forgiveness and healing and reconciliation is the Tradition.

      Anyway, again thank you for your thoughts and I hope you get some rest and peace after your busy weeks 🙂 .

      Liked by 2 people

      • Grant says:

        PS – a further detail in relation to the flood is also the relation between the water of choas and death and the ark of Christ drawing us out of it, that is by baptism, centred on His Own, baptized into His death, where by His death He has defeated death, and our old man dies, our false self, and in Him we are raised out and beyond death into life, our true selves, the new man, and creation drawn with us until the flood (a connection the Petrine epistles draw), the seas of choas and death are no more, when everything is placed under Christ, all is liberated and death destroyed, and creation renewed and God is all in all. Just another aspect I forgot to mention.

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  10. mercifullayman says:

    Grant,

    Thank you for the wonderful allegorical explanations as a key to unfolding scripture, and dealing with some of the texts I’ve provided. I think those are wonderful ways of approaching scripture that do gel well with getting into the depth of the text. I haven’t always read through those lenses, but I could see how it could be beneficial to growth and understanding. I can even journey with you and Irenaeus there, as I’ve read that quote before and fully get what you both mean. I know Origen was the master of the 4 methods of scripture and unpackaged all of that for us so succinctly, and it has been a revelatory method ever since. I do find it interesting to note that the person who was the most familiar with Hebrew, Origen, would also interpret words and texts very similarly to the Rabbis themselves and how they understood hermeneutic methodology and exegesis. You even see someone so much later like Maimonides in his Guide to the Perplexed, doing the same thing. I guess my concern is do we sometimes over allegorize things for the sake of “perspective?” Everything in the OT can’t surely be interpreted as mere allegory 100% of the time. That just seems like forced conjecture, and I am willing to admit I could be completely wrong on this subject. When you’ve had to read the text as I have for so long as more of a dictum of law than allegorical exposition, it is, admittedly, hard to see it any other way just yet. That is something I must fix within myself.

    On another note:
    I was reading Origen’s commentary on John and came across something rather interesting that I was curious about:

    “All, then, who have part in Him who is, and the saints have part in Him, may properly be called Beings; but those who have given up their part in the Being, by depriving themselves of Being, have become Not-beings. But we said when entering on this discussion, that Not-being and Nothing are synonymous, and hence those who are not beings are Nothing, and all evil is nothing, since it is Not-being, and thus since they are called Not-being came into existence without the Logos, not being numbered among the all things which were made through Him. Thus we have shown, so far as our powers admit, what are the all things which were made through the Logos, and what came into existence without Him, since at no time is it Being, and it is, therefore, called Nothing.” (Origen, Point 7. “Of things not made through the Logos.”)
    Origen. The Complete Works of Origen (8 Books): Cross-Linked to the Bible . Amazon.com. Kindle Edition.

    Now if I’ve done my logic correctly here, and I know that there are other things that would lead towards “Apocatastasis” in his writings….Wouldn’t Origen himself here be suggesting that those who do evil, essentially become nothing, as they are synonymous with Not-Being, and thus wouldn’t be considered a part of “all things.” since in effect they weren’t part of the created order. Ergo, if God is to be “all in all” as in 1 Cor. 15, one could surmise that from this perspective, a not-being (ie evil individual) would be considered nothing, and thus fall into the category of not made through the Logos? Thus the submission of all things would be all holy things, who have their true being in God. Thus the righteous. So if nothing is indeed a negation of the “all things made through Him,” and is taken to suddenly not exist because the Logos wouldn’t create evil, it has no existence, logically, God could still be “all in all” without an aspect of himself because by very choice, some things cease to exist on their own by adopting the nature of something that wasn’t made, ie evil. He uses two actionable words there: giving up and depriving. Which means at some point they are at odds with the truth (ie the saints) and make a choice to go against what is part of being made ie righteousness.

    Am I wrong in how that reads there? Granted it isn’t in original Greek, it is translated but any guidance would be helpful.

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    • Grant says:

      Well some might not lead to straight allegory, take say the Ten Commandments, but the principle remains, it is through Christ and His teaching and Life we understand and seem them, so the Sermon of the Mount isn’t something in addition to the Ten Commandments and Law, it is them, it is that Torah fully revealed, as is the Lord’s new Commandment, or His summation of love of God and of neighbour , centreing it all on love and mercy. It is Christ delivering and fully revealing these things that already speak of Him, so it remains commentary, summation and embedded within the New, reveal in Christ and the light of the Cross. But I understand that given it has been an approach pushed aside, people find it difficult to live it again, particularly with recent modernist attitudes to texts makes this feel strange at first, but I think the more you engage in this way, the richer it becomes, seeing the glory of Christ shining back at you 🙂 .

      With Origen this isn’t what he meant by non-being as relates to beings as beings, and came to the fore in his critique of annihilationism advocated by such as Philo, as Professor Ramelli puts it:

      ‘Origen, instead, argued from creation: God created all rational beings, including the devil, in order for them to exist; nothing and nobody can cause them to cease to exist, not even their own free will. (Of course, the Godhead could cause creatures to cease to exist, but it will never want to do that, since this would be the failure of its creation). If creatures do choose evil, which is non-being, they will end up drifting into non-being, but this is a moral, spiritual condition of death that is distinct from ontological annihilation. For spiritual death it is always possible to be resurrected: therapeutic punishment and instruction will work the required conversion, that the choice of the Good may be voluntary for all. From Origen’s and his followers’ standpoint, theodicy rules out the eternity of hell, but also the annihilation of sinners. What befits God’s justice and goodness is only the voluntary conversion of the wicked.’ A Larger Hope? Universal Salvation from Christian beginnings to Julian of Norwich Ramelli, Ilaria, L.E, p.63

      Also in her translation (where Origen identifying death and the devil as one):
      Prince 1:6:3; 3:6:5 “This is why it is also written that ‘the last enemy, death, will be destroyed’ [1 Cor 15:26], that there may be nothing painful left, when death will exist no more, nor anything opposed, when there will be no enemy left.” But the last enemy, who is called “death,” i.e., the devil, “will be destroyed, not in such a way as to exist no more, but so that he may no longer be an enemy and death… [W]e must understand the destruction of the last enemy as the destruction, not of the substance that was created by God, but of the inclination and the hostile will that stemmed, not from God, but from the enemy himself. Therefore, he will be destroyed, not in order for him to exist no more, but in such a way as to be no longer ‘enemy’ and ‘death'”. A Larger Hope? Universal Salvation from Christian beginnings to Julian of Norwich Ramelli, Ilaria, L.E, p.44

      Though I would see the devil as somewhat distinct from death itself, since death would be to me the destructive effect to non-being warping, twisting and holding captive creation and many beings, including who the one we know as Satan truly is, in which he is the angel of death, it’s prime slave and manifestation, this still gets the point I think. The true being is not destroyed or is the twist towards non-being for Origen allowed by God in Christ to destroy them. Instead, they are delivered from it’s shadow and slavery, and the false images and distorted versions of themselves they had been kept captive under and are freed into the knowing and the Truth of Christ, of themselves and by their own free deliverance and response and understanding, healed in His light and illuminated in heart so that their eye sees light and they be no longer filled in darkness, those false illusion selves vanish and fade, as they never truly were, they fade, and the true selves are liberated through the creative redemption in Christ.

      Hopefully that will help, and I’d thoroughly recommend her book, it’s significantly cheaper than her larger monograph and is available on Amazon and other retailers and is quite readable 🙂 . It has a very good chapter on Origen (expected for one of his foremost contemporary scholars 🙂 ). If you can afford the monograph go for that as well, though it was out of my price range 😉 .

      Liked by 1 person

  11. mercifullayman says:

    I actually have read the Ramelli book. I bought it shortly after reading DBH. I see what you’re suggesting, as did I about other writings and his intent, but the logic of that statement I quoted contradicts what he says elsewhere….if taken at face value, hence the question I raised. He is signifying in that particular text, whether that was his intention or not, that there is a distinctive choice one is making in non-being, and following the syllogism, thus into nothing. If you are nothing, you aren’t something that’s created, thus your all in all statement would only apply to all things that are something. In his defense of the Logos not creating evil, he in effect, creates an annihilationist perspective in that particular text. Now I’m not saying it should trump all over texts he’s ever written. Just see it as an odd comment that stands out after reading the principles, etc.

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    • Grant says:

      Origen is a very subtle thinker, one reason people misread him (for example assigning views to him he is actually opposing), and the text should definitely (as all such works) be read in light of his whole thought, particularly where such views are clarified. Even more so when we don’t inhabit his world and thought anymore, with meanings more clear to his interlocutors of his own culture and time now lost. This would same principle to any body of work, unless we gave good reason beyond a single passage to think there us a genuine change of view or belief (which is always possible, but unless outright stated or clearly demonstrated we should interpretated his use and understanding in light of his whole work and thought).

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      • mercifullayman says:

        I notice that quite a bit with Manoussakis. Seems to be of the school that Origen was fully Platonic when it comes to pre-existence, etc. Ramelli seemed to point out that he is actually contra that position. I know what you mean in taking things as a totality, but that seems like a rather odd characterization or assertion for him to make was my point. Even the greats make mistakes from time to time (ie Einstein.) in logic.

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      • Grant says:

        Sorry, St Origen (since I agree with Hart it’s a great injustice he has not been acknowledged as such) 😉

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        • mercifullayman says:

          Oh it’s an awful shame. The ramifications of people who so mischaracterized him, while at the same time we hold the Cappadocians on such a high pedestal. They don’t become who they were without him. In fact, I’d make the suggestion that Orthodoxy would have lost some of its brilliance had they not come along. Such richness there.

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  12. I got into yet another dustup (why do I even bother?) about Apokatastasis, this time with a priest, no less.

    Here’s the problem with the clergy. They take a course or two on philosophy, maybe some Aquinas and suddenly they feel that they can outthink us poor pew slugs. At least, that’s my take on it.

    So I run my concerns about hellism past the priest, along with a suggestion that he should read TASBS, and I get this in reply:

    “and I have read his new book. it’s garbage just like his translation of the New Testament. he doesn’t understand what love or goodness or apokatastasis actually is from a patristic POV, and he cherry picks from Nyssa mainly.”{

    Unfortunately, “it’s garbage” seems to be the highest level of critique some people can mount. I am still waiting to read a point by point attempt to counter DBH’s arguements, and will probably be waiting for a long time, since what he has offered seems airtight to me.

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    • Ben says:

      You’re going to have a long wait. There are no good counterarguments against Hart’s case. So all the infernalists can do is misquote him to make it sound like he spends the whole book insulting people who disagree with him, then misrepresent his arguments, and then start screaming. TASBS does not lend itself to debate. There’s no way of denying its points directly. I also think that these people who shout “garbage” are really aware of how cruel and incoherent their own beliefs are and don’t want to confront the fact.

      Liked by 1 person

      • mercifullayman says:

        I do think that while JPM has some serious issues in his Ethics of Time, mostly from a foundational understanding of St. Maximos and Origen, he does raise a rather intriguing point about Nyssa and the lack of his apocatstasis being rooted in Christology but more in neo-platonic rationales in his “On the Soul and Resurrection.” It also addresses the idea of the body as a created good whereas Nyssa seems so often so Platonic about the soul and yet doesn’t really embrace the physical. I do find the overtures with which Hart embraces Nyssa as the greatest of the exponents of the essential idea to be intriguing considering some of the overarching implications. I don’t have the JPM reference it in front of me currently, but I do remember thinking to myself…”that is a good point” and it wasn’t on the emotional level. I’d have to go back and look for it, and then go through TASBS to see where it was answered I’m sure or at least Hart had already presupposed the conflict. I’ll share it if I can find it again.

        If the law of averages is true, someone somewhere probably has a rebuttal…We just haven’t experienced it yet. It’s going to be overcoming the premises and how they connect formally. Then someone from within the same interpretive framework will have to contend with it. It seems that if someone comes from an external view with a different hermeneutic, it’s just kind of passed off as we aren’t using the same language. Tough sledding to be certain.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Ben says:

    I don’t agree that JPM makes a good point, there or anywhere else. On the Soul and Resurrection’s treatment of the body is based on 1 Corinthians 15, and it’s only one part of his thinking on apokatastasis. But what difference would that make to Hart’s argument? Or even to Hart’s use of Nyssen, which is mostly based on De hominis opificio and In illud Tunc ipse filius?

    And no I don’t believe there’s a rebuttal out there. The law of averages doesn’t make the impossible statistically possible.

    Liked by 3 people

    • mercifullayman says:

      All I was suggesting was that there are points that could be raised about the body itself within the construct of that particular argument he was making. It doesn’t necessitate that Hart isn’t still correct, as I said. Maybe it was somewhat the emotional tug that Hart references himself, again, as a newcomer to the perspective there is a bit of a learning curve here. At least I’d hope there is.

      I’m sure all great philosophers have thought that at some level they were completely sound, irrefutable, and correct. Hegel, for instance, thought he was irrefutable as well, and for awhile, most if not all thought he was. I’m sure Kant had some of the same feelings. All the greats are greats precisely for that reason….their work is influential, stands the test of time, and requires someone else to come along and figure it all out/modify/comment on it. So while you may feel that strongly about the work (and obviously it is an incredible work), the history of philosophy says otherwise to this point…that’s the function of the subject after all isn’t it. Expand knowledge, learn, modify what came prior – that is the heart of what we are trying to do with philosophical inquiry isn’t it?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ben says:

        Normally I would agree. But you’re talking about constructive systems of philosophy. Hegel thought he had provided a key to all Western thought, but he knew that his system could still be rejected.

        Hart’s book is a different kind of argument. It is only meant to demonstrate that a Christianity that is not universalist proves internally incoherent. All he has to do is identify logical impasses. For instance, his first meditation shows the emptiness of the distinction between divine will and permission in relation to the ultimate state of creation, and does that by relying on the Christian doctrine of creation from nothingness. So it touches on God’s identity with the Good as such, which is central to Christian belief. If someone then wants to throw all that over and return to a more Calvinist or Jansenist sort of reliance on God’s inscrutable sovereignty, then Hart has sealed that exit with his argument about contagious equivocity. He then shows that cardinal aspects of the New Testament’s claims about what Christ accomplished fall apart if you accept an eternal hell. He demonstrates also that the very idea of saving persons as persons is meaningless unless all persons are included in that salvation. And he shows that the free-will defense of hell is one that is both illogical in its own terms and contrary to the Christian understanding of freedom. These are all mostly negative arguments that point out places where the dominant version of Christianity destroys its own rationality.

        What I’m saying is that Hart is not proposing notions that can be refuted by analysis or by adopting a different method. He’s not even pretending to have proved universalism directly. He’s simply identifying a series of logical aporias in the received story of Christianity which can’t be evaded without sacrificing some element or other of essential Christian belief. He does it at a very deep level, especially in meditation one, but it’s still crystal clear. No one is going to come up with good counterarguments, because the logic isn’t refutable. Hart is simply right. If you’re a Christian but reject universalism, then you are a believer in a self-contradictory or self-subverting creed.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Ben says:

          I should add that I think most readers have failed to grasp just how powerful the contagious equivocity argument is. No one has commented on it much as far as I know but it’s really pretty devastating when you think about it.

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          • brian says:

            Apart from Hart’s comments in TASBS, it is entailed in numerous places where he asserts the necessity of the analogy of being and the theological nihilism entailed in its rejection. A radical apophaticism that would treat Christological revelation as somehow penultimate to a supposedly unknowable Essence makes a mockery of divine Fatherhood and undermines revelation as love. This has been addressed fairly often on EO I think.

            Liked by 2 people

        • Robert Fortuin says:

          “He’s not even pretending to have proved universalism directly” This is important to note. Arguments operate on assumptions. Fruitful criticism of an internally coherent argument occurs by an examination of its assumptions.

          Liked by 3 people

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