Apprehending Apokatastasis: Revealing the God Behind the Curtain

“In my end is my beginning”—so concludes T. S. Eliot’s poem “East Coker.” The line may also be taken as a succinct expression of David Bentley Hart’s understanding of God’s free creation of the cosmos and its eschatological consummation in the glorified Jesus Christ. Because the LORD‘s making of the cosmos is a truly free and unconditioned act (a making that need not have been), it manifests the intentions, purposes, and identity of the Creator; yet because the creation is an unfolding in time, we will only truly apprehend it in its apocalyptic fulfillment, when God will be all in all:

Precisely because God does not determine himself in creation—precisely because there is no dialectical necessity binding him to time or chaos, no need to shape his identity in the refining fires of history—in creating he reveals himself truly. Thus every evil that time comprises, natural or moral …, 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. Precisely because creation is not a theogony, all of it is theophany. It would be impious, I suppose, to suggest that, in his final divine judgment on his creatures, God will judge himself; but one must hold that by that judgment God will truly disclose himself. (That All Shall Be Saved, pp. 72-73)

Who will be revealed when the curtain is pulled back? In faith we confess that the God revealed at the final judgment will be—and is—the God of absolute Love already made known in Jesus Christ, yet the traditional doctrine of hell also declares that this judgment will be a time of final division: the righteous will be rewarded with eternal life and the wicked con­demned to everlasting torment and misery. St Cyprian of Carthage enounced the retributive vision in the third century:

What glory of the faith will there be then, what punishment for perfidy, when the day of judgment shall come! What joy for believers, what sorrow for unbelievers, that they were unwilling before to believe here and cannot now return to believe! An ever burning Gehenna and a devouring punish­ment of lively flames will consume the condemned, and there will be no means whereby the torments can at any time have respite and end. Souls with their bodies will be reserved in infinite tortures for suffering…. Then there will be the pain of punishment without the fruit of repentance, useless weeping, and ineffectual prayer. Too late do they believe in eternal punish­ment who were unwilling to believe in eternal life. (To Demetrian 24)

The vision terrifies. Upon hearing it, some may be led to repentance and urgent efforts to attain righteousness. Others may experience the opposite effect, a kind of moral and spiritual paralysis. Others may rejoice and celebrate, believing they have already acquired the requisite virtues and good works. And still others may find themselves filled with such deep moral revulsion that they abandon faith altogether. We might think that the mixed responses can be explained by the spiritual and psychological condition of the hearers. I disagree. The problem, I submit, lies with the doctrine of eternal perdition itself and its corrupting impact upon our apprehension of divinity.

Recall Hart’s three-pronged incoherence argument. The Church traditionally teaches three doctrines:

  • God freely created the cosmos ex nihilo.
  • God is the Good and wills only the good.
  • God will condemn a portion of his rational creatures to everlasting torment.

Yet only two of them (take your pick) can be logically affirmed without contradiction. If I affirm 1 and 2, then I will infer that all will be saved (contra 3); if I affirm 2 and 3, that God was bound to create this particular world, as opposed to some other possible world or no world at all, by metaphysical necessity (contra 1); if 1 and 3, that God is not perfectly good (contra 2). To affirm all three propositions inevitably results in theological and spiritual confusion.

Here, however, again, the issue is the reducibility of all causes to their first cause, and the determination of the first cause by the final, which is also by extension the issue of God’s primordial “venture” in calling all things into being freely. If Christians did not proclaim a creatio ex nihilo—if they thought God a being limited by some external principle or internal imperfection, or if they were dualists, or dialectical idealists, or what have you—the question of evil would be an aetiological query only for them, not a terrible moral conun­drum. But, because they say God creates freely, they must believe that his final judgment shall reveal him for who he is. And as God is act—as are we all in some sense—and as God is what he does, if there is a final irreconcilable dual result to his act in creating, then there is also an original irreconcilable dual premise stretch­ing all the way back into the divine nature. So, if all are not saved, if God creates souls he knows to be destined for eternal misery, is God evil? Well, perhaps one might conclude instead that he is both good and evil, or that he is beyond good and evil altogether, which is to say beyond the supremacy of the Good; but, then again, to stand outside the sovereignty of the Good is in fact to be evil after all, so it all amounts to the same thing. But maybe every analogy ultimately fails. What is not debatable is that, if God does so create, in himself he cannot be the Good as such, and creation cannot be a morally meaningful act: It is, seen from one vantage, an act of predilective love; but, seen from another—logically necessary—vantage, it is an act of prudential malevo­lence. And so it cannot be true. (pp. 89-90; emphasis mine)

If God is truly revealed in the final judgment, and if the doctrine of eternal perdition is true, then we must logically posit either a dualistic conflict within the heart of God or deny his goodness altogether. In either case we are no longer talking about the God of the gospel.

“I think you are a very bad man,” said Dorothy.

“Oh, no, my dear; I’m really a very good man, but I’m a very bad Wizard, I must admit.”

At this point theologians will raise the scholastic distinction between God’s antecedent will and his consequent will. The former refers to God’s willing of a good prior to historical and particularist considerations; the latter to his willing of a specific good in concrete circum­stances. St Thomas Aquinas explicitly invokes this distinction in his consideration of the question “Whether the will of God is always fulfilled?” It appears that the divine will is not always fulfilled, he states in objection 1, and cites the classic New Testament state­ment of God’s universal salvific will: “God will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowl­edge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4). In response, Thomas explains that the Apostle’s statement refers to God’s intent for humanity before history got messy. God desires the salvation of all (antecedent, or initial, will), but given the fall, his salvific will is now refracted through the circumstances of human sinning (consequent, or final, will):

To understand this we must consider that everything, in so far as it is good, is willed by God. A thing taken in its primary sense, and absolutely consid­ered, may be good or evil, and yet when some additional circumstances are taken into account, by a consequent consideration may be changed into the contrary. Thus that a man should live is good; and that a man should be killed is evil, absolutely considered. But if in a particular case we add that a man is a murderer or dangerous to society, to kill him is a good; that he live is an evil. Hence it may be said of a just judge, that antecedently he wills all men to live; but consequently wills the murderer to be hanged. In the same way God antecedently wills all men to be saved, but consequently wills some to be damned, as His justice exacts. Nor do we will simply, what we will antecedently, but rather we will it in a qualified manner; for the will is directed to things as they are in them­selves, and in themselves they exist under particular qualifications. Hence we will a thing simply inasmuch as we will it when all particular circum­stances are considered; and this is what is meant by willing consequently. Thus it may be said that a just judge wills simply the hanging of a murderer, but in a qualified manner he would will him to live, to wit, inasmuch as he is a man. Such a qualified will may be called a willingness rather than an absolute will. Thus it is clear that whatever God simply wills takes place; although what He wills antecedently may not take place. (ST I.19.6; emphasis mine)

I’d love to sit down with an expert on Thomas and have him go through this text, line by line. I do not find the antecedent–consequent will distinction illuminating with reference to the eschatological judgment. It obscures more than it clarifies. The final judgment is not like the judgments a human jurist makes within history: in the eschaton God sets the cosmos to rights, once and for all. I am tempted to suggest that the antecedent–conse­quent distinction is meaningful only to those who have already embraced the dogma of everlasting perdition. Question for the infernalist: if we know by divine revelation that God punishes the impeni­tent everlastingly, how do we reconcile this punishment with God’s foundational love? Possible answer: reconciliation is unnecessary. Once sin is brought into the equation, God’s salvific will becomes expressed as retributive justice. This is its inner content, as it were. As Hart comments: “Under the canopy of God’s omnipotence and omniscience, the consequent is already wholly virtually present in the antecedent” (p. 82). God wills only the damnation, not the salvation, of the obdurately wicked (cf. ST Suppl. 99.2). The eschatological curtain is pulled back, and the divine mercy is disclosed as conditional upon repentance. Hence there can be no forgiveness for the impenitent; they get what they deserve. James Brent explains:

Aquinas’s example is a judge in court. Prior to considering what crimes a certain human being has committed, a judge wills all human beings to live. The judge antecedently wills all human beings to live. But given the consider­ation that a certain human being has committed a certain crime, say murder, the judge consequently wills him or her to die as punishment. Similarly, God antecedently wills all human beings to be saved. But God does not conse­quently will the salvation of this or that particular human being. Aquinas is careful to say that “this distinction must not be taken as applying to the divine will itself,” as though God’s will could change from one moment to the next or as though his knowledge of circumstances could change as his attention turns from one thing to another. Rather than being a distinction between two acts of will in God, Aquinas says, it is a distinc­tion in “the things willed.” (“God’s Knowledge and Will,” in The Oxford Handbook of Aquinas, p. `67)

“Do not arouse the wrath of the great and powerful Oz!” Absolute love collapses into pitiless hate, at least for the reprobate. The antecedent becomes the consequent; the final defini­tively interprets the initial. The Creator wills both heaven and hell, eternal beatitude and interminable suffer­ing. We cannot pretend that God wishes otherwise; if he did, he would have created a different world or not created one at all. God’s end is his beginning. Such is the logic of the eschaton.

The injustice and horror of eternal damnation has led some theologians to propose the annihilation of the wicked. God permits the obdurate to fall into the nothingness they have chosen. While acknowledging the proposal as an improvement upon everlasting punish­ment, Hart still finds it evangelically deficient:

But such an eventuality would still be an irreducible price exacted, a sacri­fice eternally preserved in the economy of God’s Kingdom. The ultimate absence of a certain number of created rational natures would still be a kind of last end inscribed in God’s eternity, a measure of failure or loss forever preserved within the totality of the tale of divine victory. If what is lost is lost finally and absolutely, then whatever remains, however glorious, is the residue of an unresolved and no less ultimate tragedy, and so could constitute only a contingent and relative “happy ending.” Seen in that way, the lost are still the price that God has contracted from everlasting—whether by predestination or mere permission—for the sake of his King­dom; and so it remains a Kingdom founded upon both an original and a final sacrificial exclusion. In either case—eternal torment, eternal oblivion—creation and redemption are negotiations with evil, death, and suffering, and so never in an absolute sense God’s good working of all things. (p. 87)

Reading Hart is not always easy. We skim the surface of his elegant and sometimes convo­luted sentences, without carefully attending to his reasoning. So it is when weighing his assertion that the eschatological consummation of the cosmos defines the character and identity of the Creator. It makes sense but perhaps not indisputable sense. We do not wish to think ill of the God whom the Church has taught (just because someone writes a bad novel doesn’t mean he’s a bad person, though it may mean he’s a bad novelist), nor do we wish to admit the possibility that the Church has erred in her teaching. Hence we fall back upon our default position: if there’s a hell, it’s our fault, not God’s. Eternal damnation must be right and just. And so the horror of perdition quickly recedes into the back­ground. We don’t give it a second thought. We hold tight onto the catechetical myth (no doubt bolstered by the arguments of a C. S. Lewis or a Garrigou-Lagrange) that the God of absolute and uncondi­tional Love could freely choose—has freely chosen—to create a cosmos in which a portion of humanity is consigned to everlasting suffering and anguish. Deep down we may have an inkling that something is wrong with this scenario, but then we remember: it ain’t God’s fault.

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!

(Go to “The Damned Are Suffering …”)

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32 Responses to Apprehending Apokatastasis: Revealing the God Behind the Curtain

  1. sybrandmac says:

    … While there is still time, I hasten to protect myself, and so I renounce the higher harmony altogether. It’s not worth the tears of that one tortured child who beat itself on the breast with its little fist and prayed in its stinking outhouse, with its unexpiated tears to ‘dear, kind God’! It’s not worth it, because those tears are unatoned for. They must be atoned for, or there can be no harmony. But how? …

    Liked by 1 person

    • Iain Lovejoy says:

      The tears can be atoned for if the girl herself is saved and recompensed, whether in this life, or the next, or at the resurrection, and there is a reason why such things have to be if the greater joy and glory of the eschaton is to be achieved, both for her and the rest of us. I can’t see any other response except nihilism.

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      • sybrandmac says:

        I don’t want harmony. From love for humanity I don’t want it.

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        • Grant says:

          Yet with your love you would deny that girl agency, freedom, healing and joy, and the right to forgive and be a god, as God Himself. You would deny her choice for herself, and condemn to be trapped and enslaved to her torment and anguish forever. Your love of humanity destroys it would proclaim to love in it’s enslaving possessiveness and seems to lead away from love and humanity towards something pitiless and terrible if left to it’s path, into warped shadow of the live that first prompted it.

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          • sybrandmac says:

            I want to embrace. I don’t want more suffering. And if the sufferings of children go to swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to pay for truth, then I protest that the truth is not worth such a price.

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          • Grant says:

            There is no suffering that is necessary to pay for truth, the Truth is Christ, and there us no darkness in Him, death is His enemy, it has no part in Him, it has been and is defeated, He has come to liberate all us, all creation from it’s twisted and marring effects, and will be destroyed to pass way to nothing as it is nothing, all rescued and restored and completed. Christ comes that all may have life and abundance, the theif comes to steal and destroy. Death is no equal to God, it comes not from Him nor has it or is necessary nor intended nor will it add anything to Jis glory and creation’s glorification. Only in our and creation’s deliverance.

            Suffering exists and is part of enslaving enemy, to be and become what will be it and we all have be allowed to trip, but we will not stay there, all tears shall be wiped, all hurts healed and reconciled, all beauty made full beyond comprehension.

            In this neither hold others from from love, freedom, agency and life, nor yourself to be trapped by death and it’s despair in such a way, neither let it’s fear or despair dominate you from seeing the beauty of life now and it’s liberation now and to come, and neither kerp yourself locked in on yourself and impose it on others but be free and move more towards and in Love, against the very enemy you rightly react against. We a permitted to hate death with a perfect hatred.

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  2. david foutch says:

    I doubt we are rational creatures…

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  3. david foutch says:

    The same level of vehemence that Hart feels about hell is how I feel about this world. The question posed here is whether the idea of eternal torment is consistent with the attributes of God and I’m still wrestling with the question of whether this world as it is is consistent with the attributes of God. If I reject hell or I go so far to reject any idea of God that would ever permit a place like hell, then what about this world?? We have had plenty of hell on this planet.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Iain Lovejoy says:

      That’s the “problem of evil” in a nutshell. The only answer I have is to flip it round and ask “If God is evil, where does the good come from?” I can conceive (although unclear how) that all the evil and suffering might have a point and aim to it that leads to good (although again, I a unclear what). What I can’t see is how the existence of good in the world (and there is indeed good amongst the evil) could ultimately stem from an evil, malignant being. The very concept of “evil” assumes a good which it negates, rejects, distorts or destroys, while good doesn’t require evil to be good. If creating is good and destroying is bad (and what other definition of “good” have we?) then the ultimate creator (and his creation) ought logically to be fundamentally good.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Ben says:

      But, as has been laid out here in the past, that is a different question. As Hart says, the problem of evil always remains one of evaluation and personal judgment. The problem of hell as part of the final eschatological design is a matter of strict logic. So, not discounting your view, it is philosophically different from the question raised here.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. sinkovski says:

    Could it be that the all of the hypostasis (being good) will be saved and all of the par-hypostasis (being evil) will be damned?
    Probably not framed right, but I just don’t get what is vice / sin / evil / par-hypostasis in relation with being (nature and hypostasis).

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Haha! One doesn’t run across the word “parhypostasis” in daily conversation very often. I had to reread my article on Dionysius to remember what it means. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • sinkovski says:

        Exactly : ) It was actually:

        1 Cor 3:15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

        that started that train of thought of mine – what if we are to suffer (as by fire) the loss of our par-hypostatic parts?

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  5. Tom says:

    I appreciate having your review Fr Al, along with the others.

    For me the key to Hart’s whole argument is, as you’ve said, creation ‘ex nihilo’, and thus God’s absolute freedom in creating. Supposing God creates this freely means creation’s final end must disclose God’s character. Simply stated, the ‘end’ tells us ‘why’ God created. I think the logic is fairly straightforward actually. It’s not difficult to grasp at all. That no dissenting reviewer has engaged it say something about how constrained human perspectives of what is possible become. I’m rather shocked nobody’s actually stated and addressed the logic of Hart’s moral argument.

    I began to move toward UR before ever getting into Hart and I moved in precisely the terms of the logic Hart argues from – i.e., as I got into thinking through the logic of ex nihilo, the eschatological was right there, along with the problem of evil in its most acute form (eternal conscious torment). It was naturally automatic to ask: What kind of God, who cannot in any conceivable sense need to create, would nevertheless risk the everlasting torment of creatures he would infinitely love were he to create them? No benevolent God would (rationally) do so. So on the supposition that God is love and that he creates freely, it seemed to follow for me (again, this was before I ran into Hart) that not even the possibility of everlasting loss or torment could be part of the project.

    I’ve recently been trying to bring this logic to bear upon human acts – specifically having children. We have children. I assume we do so freely (not under the constraint of any logical or natural necessity). So for Christians who hold to the traditional view on hell, they have children knowing that their children ‘might’ (and I don’t mean purely logical possibility, I mean historical possibility) reject God and suffer in hell eternally. Now, by Hart’s logic, having children under such conditions is cruel and monstrous. But such parents obviously love their children. So I can only assume their love is less than sufficiently informed. They cannot have intentionally and thoughtfully brought their (traditional) eschatology to bear upon the choice to have children. No loving parent would knowingly and unnecessarily expose her children to even the possibility of irredeemable torment. Antinatalism is the only rationally loving position to take in the face of such a possibility.

    I would have liked to hear Hart flesh out the logic of his argument in terms of such arguments re: antinatalism. Personally, I can no longer justify the goodness of having children under the conditions of believing the traditional view of hell.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Robrto De La Noval has just finished a piece on apocatastasis and antinatlism and submitted it to some journal. You might want to contact him through facebook.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Mike H says:

      I agree, Tom.

      The logic of it is inexorable. I went through this exact thing after the birth of my daughter, now 6 years old. It’s terrible. I’d wake up in the middle of the night, terrified w/ heart racing, literally begging God to make her ok (in this eschatological not-going-to-hell sense). Of course, such a “promise” isn’t possible in a creation where eternal torment/annihilation is willed or permitted. And God is the one who sets these “rules of the game”, so to speak. Talk about cognitive dissonance! There have been many steps – some more philosophical/theological, some admittedly more emotional/subjective, many a blending of the two – on my road towards seeing the UR implications (which I believe to be) implicit in the Gospel. This and related things like the “age of accountability” were not insignificant ones for me. I also have a brother with Down Syndrome & have experience in a world where anything typically considered a “free decision” is an impossibility.

      DBH alludes to as much in TASBS, but I think the only reason that things like this – the logic of antinatalism/the age of accountability, etc. – don’t blow up the paradigm that necessitates them in the first place is that people don’t actually believe them. If you did truly believe, I mean really believed without a doubt, that your 6 year old was guaranteed a spot in eternal bliss but that each future moment of existence was little more than a ticking clock of infinite risk, a hurdling towards some unknown moment in time in which the eternal loss of that happy destiny becomes more and more possible….what do you do? An unflinching moral repulsion at a certain disturbing answer to that question, to me, should call into question any theological system that necessitates that answer in the first place.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tom says:

        Exactly Mike. I can’t escape the logic of it either. If one believes ECT is be true, antinatalism is the only morally acceptable position to hold. (BTW, I think you meant to say “If you DIDN’T truly believe, I mean really believed without a doubt, that your 6 year old was guaranteed a spot….” but maybe I’m misreading ya.)

        And then there’s John Piper who admits up front that such knowledge doesn’t dissuade him in the slightest because he loves and rejoices and takes comfort in knowing that his children’s fate is unconditionally determined by God and that this may in in fact mean some or all of his 5 kids are destined by God for hell. After all, if God rejoices in the goodness of reprobation, it can only be a corruption of mind and heart to object. So he’s concluded that for one to feel anything contrary for one’s kids (i.e., to ‘have a problem’ with the idea that God in his wisdom might decide that your kids spending eternity in hell is how God has decided their existence will best serve his glory) is just to fail to conform one’s values and sensibilities to God.

        I confess – I believe such a worldview can only be embraced if one’s mind is sick. (But remember, he feels the same about those who flatly deny his view.) Psychosis might be true strong a term, I don’t know. It’s not that there is some quantifiable chemical imbalance in the brain. Perhaps “aesthetically deranged” is better. When one’s God-given capacity for aesthetic perception and moral intuition have over time become captive to so deranged a story, and the denial of every contrary impulse becomes so automatic – all you’re left with is a kind of ‘cult’ worship of absolute, cosmic power, even if certain particular lines of the story can be lifted out of context and seen to agree formally with Orthodoxy. Only God comprehends the pathology that explains how a mind can become so malformed.

        Tom

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        • Mike H says:

          Yeah, we’re in agreement.

          I actually did intend to say “If you DID truly believe”, meaning “What might we expect people who truly, deeply believe in an age of accountability to do re: their young kids if their early death means bliss and every future moment represents an infinite risk that this bliss will slip away?” It’s dark territory imo. But we DON’T see people, say, drown their kids (although there ARE stories of this) because people don’t actually believe it. It’s incoherent.

          Interestingly enough, Piper actually DOES believe in an age of accountability, or at least did back in 2008….. Google “Why Do You Believe That Infants Who Die Go to Heaven” and you’ll find it. It’s all still predestined and all that good stuff I guess, it’s just that babies and “imbeciles” who don’t have the mental capacity to put their faith in him during their earthly lives are “covered by the blood” before they have a chance to believe and so won’t be condemned. So basically, possessing the mental capacity to believe is, eschatologically speaking, about the worst thing that a person could be cursed with. It’s all downside, really.

          It’s pretty absurd, and rather than chalk it up to “mystery” I think it should cause a deeper examination of whatever (doctrines) led to it in the first place.

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          • Tom says:

            Mike: Interestingly enough, Piper actually DOES believe in an age of accountability, or at least did back in 2008….. Google “Why Do You Believe That Infants Who Die Go to Heaven” and you’ll find it. It’s all still predestined and all that good stuff I guess, it’s just that babies and “imbeciles” who don’t have the mental capacity to put their faith in him during their earthly lives are “covered by the blood” before they have a chance to believe and so won’t be condemned.

            Tom: That’s interesting. A few years ago he had a different answer on DG website. I saved it and kept it for a while but no longer have it. In that answer he said infants (and mentally dysfunctional adults) are brought by God postmortem to sane adult maturity in which condition they THEN accept or reject the gospel (as determined by God), etc. I’m not making this up. Several of my friends put me onto the link. I’ll see if any of them saved an offline version of it.

            Tom

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      • Robert Fortuin says:

        Tom/Mike,

        Leaving aside the uncertain ruminations about the after-life, knowing the certainty that there is evil and death in this world, how does one rationally justify natalism?

        Hope springs eternal regardless of one’s beliefs about eternity. I don’t think this can be held against infernalists.

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        • Mike H says:

          Robert, I’m not holding anything against anyone.

          I just more or less agree with this from TASBS:

          “But, putting the issue of my prejudice aside, I cannot take the claims of this Catholic philosopher entirely seriously from any angle, for the simple reason that his actions so resplendently belie what he professes to believe. If he truly thought that our situation in this world were as horribly perilous as he claims, and that every mortal soul labored under the shadow of so dreadful a doom, and that the stakes were so high and the odds so poor for everyone—a mere three score and ten years to get it right if we are fortunate, and then an eternity of agony in which to rue the consequences if we get it wrong—he would never dare to bring a child into this world, let alone five children; nor would he be able to rest even for a moment, because he would be driven ceaselessly around the world in a desperate frenzy of evangelism, seeking to save as many souls from the eternal fire as possible. I think of him as a remarkably compassionate person, you see, and so his more or less sedentary and distractedly scholarly style of life to my mind speaks volumes, even libraries. If he were really absolutely convinced of the things he thinks he is convinced of, but still continued to go his merry recreant’s way along the path of happy fatherhood and professional contentment, he would have to be a moral monster. But I do not think that he is a monster.”

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            I just meant that all alike have children in the hope they will not endure suffering. Hope is equally blind, albeit the stakes infinitely higher for the infernalist.

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  6. Simon says:

    In some sense, I feel like the discussion of hell puts the cart before the horse. At bottom Hart’s argument is one of conscience. Even if there were some premise that made hell logically consistent with all the other theological premises that he would assume, the emotional content in Hart’s defense of apokatastasis and arguments against hell betrays a concern for something other than the logical coherence of the argument. If that is the level of energy elicited by logical incongruities, then he must care a great deal about coherence. But, probably at bottom the force of the emotional content derives from a deep seated intuition that fuels his opposition to hell. The question I have is this: ‘Why isn’t that level of concern appropriate for what we experience here on Earth? Why isn’t this suffering and this evil beyond the pale?’ My two cents is this: We should first figure out how in the world this place is compatible with the idea of a God of love before we worry about what’s going to happen to us after we die. If in the end the suffering human beings experience in the world cannot be reconciled with the idea of a God of love, then what does it matter whether or not we are reconciled to ideas about what happens to us after we die?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ben says:

      No. You can’t have anything really meaningful to say about suffering in this life until you have a picture of where you think it all leads. You have to ask about the end first and whether your story makes sense at all before you attempt to make either sense or senselessness of life in transitu. But Hart wrote about the things you’re asking fifteen years ago in The Doors of the Sea.

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      • Simon says:

        “No. You can’t have anything really meaningful to say about suffering in this life until you have a picture of where you think it all leads.”

        Ends justifies the means. I guess all kinds of suffering is permissible if everyone just ends up in heaven…We have to be careful about how we understand the contextualization of suffering. Because the underlying assumption is that suffering in and of itself isn’t evil or if it is, it’s permission can be rationalized based on a yet realized good.

        “But Hart wrote about the things you’re asking fifteen years ago in The Doors of the Sea.”

        That seems like a very dismissive thing to say. Are you saying that the question was not satisfactorily answered until 15 years ago and now it’s case closed? I am not familiar with The Doors of the Sea. Would you give me your take on it?

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        • mercifullayman says:

          I am the first to admit that I probably lean too far towards our side of the analogical when it comes to discussing these things. I am a teenager trying to jump into the pool of metaphysics and hoping to not get hurt in the shallow end as I cannonball my way in.

          I’m also curious about suffering as an existential act. I too am often left to wonder why we worry about the final end as much as the present or past, as they precisely seem to be what we must contend with in the future. Even Hart acknowledges that as products of our past/environment/culture, we can’t finally be held culpable for ALL that we do. This allows for a world in which God would have to save us all to be considered Good in its completeness. I must admit that as I deal between the realms of metaphysics I am drawn to some of the Process minds because they are at least trying to come to terms with how relationality works with the balance of Creator as root and us as free moral agents (even if some get made at the use of a libertarian model in some of them.) here and now. They deal with the text itself and the analogy and appearances we have to go off of. I’ve even recently been drawn to someone like Farrer, also for similar reasons, albeit different in scope. I think his carpenter and potter metaphors in Faith and Speculation are an intriguing idea that could exist between activity as mind and activity as action. I know he never really explains how the causal joint between both sides works, but it is interesting to surmise a text like Jeremiah 18 in that light. Hyperbolic as it might be, it is an analogy one can understand. This isn’t even about being a literalist as some may charge, its about understanding the existential metaphor.

          I am the root of your being, I being God of course. I shape the story of your existence but it is your choices, what you are made of (experience), and what tools are available that shape the final outcome. It is an and/both situation. It isn’t about any fundamental change to God. He is a part of who he reveals Himself to be, and that is a tiny small sliver of what we will ever even understand but we can at least understand it somewhat. If he is the root of being, then He is the mind behind the occasions that do indeed mold us. The clay won’t ever change Him in any real sense, but it does require him to act/adjust. Just like a knot in a piece of wood when trying to build something, it isn’t changing the builder’s intent or purpose, it’s merely a thing to address. It’s also why I feel this whole discussion around apokatastasis is beautiful. It’s an artist shaping the perfect work over time, no matter how many knots, lumps, or hiccups appear within the material itself, the final goal is guaranteed.

          The idea of creatio ex nihilo surmises that all that has ever been created is created. Why can’t nothing be the constant fountain with which something appears? Or, honestly, isn’t that the point? Creatio continua being the constant creation of or upholding of being by being itself seems to indicate that each moment is known but also free precisely because it follows the same pattern with which all moments have ever been rooted from the beginning.

          So is suffering no more than the tool of the Artist(ie Being itself)? Hart and some of the patristics seem to think that Hell would be no more than the dross burning away from our souls as we ascend towards the infinite at the final consummation of all things. I can reason around suffering as act in that light, as ultimately my decisions within the context of life will balance out the time. The more I trust in the good news of the Gospel, and can rectify my life through the help of grace towards what it means to truly be alive, as in Christ to become like him (ie theosis), I get it. Maybe that’s a positivist view to hold.

          My mother has a severe case of MS, for instance, and I live trying to wrap my head around why a good Creator would allow that suffering to take place. I always come back to the best of all worlds must be one in which the parameters are set for things to go awry so that in a limited sense, we are truly free. I don’t see it as a “natural evil” per se, but merely a natural consequence of change. Clearly we need change or it wouldn’t have been rooted in being as such…without change, one can never truly become. In her case, becoming has meant something very different. I don’t like it, but I also know that the changes within the world we experience are also needed at some level, or else we couldn’t exist as beautifully as we do. I’m not naive to believe that every act happens for a reason, in fact I don’t think there HAS to be a reason at all, but rather there CAN be a reason – there MIGHT be a reason. What I do find fascinating though is that even in the palm of the great Being, it’s building towards some final moment/conclusion.

          Suffering may be the bridge by which we leave or enter the realm of the privation of good. To leave the good some suffering will occur with each evil act for someone, somewhere, even if its toll is not collected until the end. For every evil that becomes good, some suffering will occur as we cross the barrier from evil/sin to holiness. In the end, isn’t that the Hell we’re all describing through Hart anyway?

          Just general musings, and not meant to be antagonistic.
          Thank you for your thoughts Simon.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Simon says:

            mercifullayman,

            I love the sincerity and concern in your comments. My personal take on this whole discussion goes something like this. The only way to know God is to become like God. Becoming like God is, more or less, to share in the self-awareness and life of God. As that happens, we won’t have to resort to rationalizations. True understanding will itself become a matter of self-revelation, ‘If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory‘. The revelation of Christ becomes for those in Christ something of a self-revelation. ‘We are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.’ We cannot ‘see’ God or the ‘things’ of God unless we bear the likeness of God.

            Therefore, if there is something I don’t understand I accept it with patience. What what this implies is that there is room for growth in my likeness to God perhaps one day as Christ’s likeness is revealed in me I will understand how to commune with a fallen world. This may also mean accepting that we may be approaching a boundary that God has drawn and that when that boundary is respected it allows us to grow in our experience of the sacred nature of what it is that God has delimited by our ignorance.

            At the end of the day, if God is Good, then we have hope. If God is not Good, then all is lost. I have to believe that God is Good in order to believe that there is any hope at all for everyone we have lost along the way.

            If you are young, no worries, my brother. God willing you will have plenty of time to grow in grace.

            Liked by 1 person

        • Ben says:

          Hardly dismissive. I’m not even sure why you use that word. I meant only that Hart is not putting the cart before the horse, since he started with the horse as many as 15 years back, in a small book that’s something of a classic already.

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  7. JAK says:

    If God is not good…then perhaps Hitler was a devoted disciple.

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