Apprehending Apokatastasis: The Damned Are Suffering For Your Bliss

The transcendent, omnipotent and omniscient Deity has freely created a cosmos whose eschatological consummation will be heaven and hell—so traditional theology tells us. He might have created a different cosmos, one in which all rational beings enjoy eternal beati­tude (no everlasting damnation); or, if no such cosmoses were available to be actualized (transworld damnation), he might have decided not to create a cosmos at all. Yet here we are. Before us lies the possibility of eternal happiness in Jesus Christ or everlasting misery. Some reading this article will be saved, but some will be damned. Given the divine freedom, the final responsibility for this outcome lies with the Creator himself. God’s responsibility for the suffering of the damned cannot be mitigated by considerations like creaturely freedom (human beings have brought the outcome upon themselves by their voluntary disobedience; human beings have brought the outcome upon themselves by their voluntary refusal to accept God’s love and mercy). God foreknew the eschatological conclusion yet chose to create this specific cosmos regardless. The goodness of God is thus called into inevitable question. Such is the powerful argument advanced by David Bentley Hart in his book That All Shall Be Saved (see the two previous articles in this series).

Numerous Christian philosophers and theologians have advanced apologetic arguments to justify God’s decision to create a cosmos in which he condemns millions of souls (or maybe just one) to everlasting torment. To the frustration of many readers, Hart does not analyze these arguments in the depth they believe they deserve, leaving the extended treatments to others. (If you are one such frustrated reader, I commend to you God’s Final Victory by John Kronen and Eric Reitan.) To consciences formed in the gospel of Christ’s absolute love and unconditional grace all such justifications must ultimately prove sophistical and hollow. The God revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of his Son would never tolerate, much less intend, the interminable, irredeemable suffering of his children. Period. Hart formulates the fundamental question: “Would God truly be the Good in an ultimate sense—and his act of creation good in a final sense—if the eternal loss of any soul to endless sorrow were a real possibility?” (pp. 27-28). The question answers itself—yet for many, for whatever reasons, it does not. The answer did not become absolutely crystal clear to me until my son Aaron died. In a moment of fiery revelation, all my objections to apocatastasis were burned away. The God who is Love will not abandon his children.

If Hart’s argument from divine freedom and the creatio ex nihilo is sound, what then is the role of the damned in the story of salvation? Role? What kind of role could they possibly have? Yet if God has created the cosmos with a view to their perdition, then the question is neither insane nor nonsensical. Hart provocatively invites us to think of the damned as collateral damage, the cost of the salvation of the blessed:

What then, we might well ask, does this make of the story of salvation—of its cost? What would any damned soul be, after all, as enfolded within the eternal will of God, other than a price settled upon by God with his own power, an oblation willingly exchanged for a finite benefit—the lamb slain from the foundation of the world? And is hell not then the innermost secret of heaven, its sacrificial heart? And what then is God’s moral nature, inasmuch as the moral character of any intended final cause must include within its calculus what one is willing to sacrifice to achieve that end; and, if the “acceptable” price is the eternal torment of a rational nature, what room remains for any moral analogy comprehensible within finite terms? After all, the economics of the exchange is as monstrous as it is exact. (p. 83; emphasis mine)

For me, this passage is one of the most illuminating and compelling in the book. I remember being particularly struck by it when I read Hart’s essay “God, Creation, and Evil” back in 2015. This was a new thought for me. When the question “What is the cost of our salvation?” is asked, all Christians immediately answer, the death of the Son of God! I had never consid­ered the horrific possibility of the damned as also bearing it. Yet how could it be logi­cally otherwise? When God creates the cosmos, he accepts the cost of an eternally populated hell, simultaneously imposing this cost upon the reprobate. We cannot get God off the hook by positing either his ignorance or impotence. Maybe open and process theists can entertain these possibilities but no Christian steeped in the catholic tradition can. God is omniscient and omnipotent. The eschatological end is enfolded within God’s eternal act of creation. It cannot be otherwise.

Nor need we think that the cost is dependent upon numbers. It doesn’t matter whether the damned are many or just a single person. We can even give him a name, say, Adolf Hitler. If any man deserves to burn in hell forever, surely Hitler does. Yet the arithmetic is inflex­ible, as Hart notes. Whether many or one, “the price is raised beyond any calculus of relative goods, and into the realm of absolute—of infinite—expenditure” (p. 84). We cannot add to or subtract from the infinite. One damnation is one too many.

For what it is worth, I for one do not object in the least to Hitler being purged of his sins and saved, over however many aeons of inconceivably painful purification in hell that might take, but I do most definitely object to Hitler fixed forever in his sins serving as my redeemer in some shadow eternity of perpetual torment, offering up his screams of agony as the price of my hope for salvation. The very thought reduces all the central articles of the Chris­tian faith to cheap trifles. Compared to that unspeakable offering, after all, that interminable and abominable oblation of infinite misery, what would the cross of Christ be? How would it be diminished for us? And to what? A bad afternoon? A vanishingly temporary indisposition of the infinite? And what would the mystery of God becoming a man in order to effect a merely partial rescue of created order truly be, as compared to the far deeper mys­tery of a worthless man becoming the suffering god upon whose perpetual holocaust the entire order of creation finally depends? A smaller gesture within the greater? A minor, local economy within the totality of the universal? (pp. 84-85)

My guess is that many readers of That All Shall Be Saved have quickly dismissed passages like this as just so much Hartian hyperbole. If so, they have made an unfortunate blunder. Hart is merely describing that which must be the case if the doctrine of eternal punish­ment is true.

But maybe there is still yet a way of escape from the implacable logic. Let us suppose that God has created human beings with genuine libertarian freedom, that they “possess real autonomy of almost godlike scope, and that no one goes to hell save by his or her own Promethean industry and ingenuity” (p. 85). Yet nothing changes! The logic still obtains:

Let us, that is, say God created simply on the chance that humanity might sin, and on the chance that a certain number of incorrigibly wicked souls might plunge themselves into the fiery abyss 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 should happen to be damned. The logic is irresistible. God creates. The die is cast. Alea iacta est. But then again, as Mallarme says, “Un coup de des jamais n’abolira le hasard” (A throw of the dice will never abolish the hazard): for what is hazarded has already been surrendered, entirely, no matter how the dice may fall. The outcome of the aleatory venture may be intentionally indeterminate, but the wager itself is an irrevocable intentional decision, wherein every possible cost has already been accepted; the irrecuperable expenditure has been offered even if, happily, it is never actually lost, and so the moral nature of the act is the same in either case. To venture the life of your child for some other end is, morally, already to have killed your child, even if at the last moment Artemis or Heracles or the Angel of the LORD should stay your hand. And so, the revelation of God’s glory in creatures would still always be dependent upon that evil, or that venture beyond good and evil, even if at the last no one should perish. Creation could never then be called “good” in an unconditional sense; nor God the “Good as such,” no matter what conditional goods he might accomplish in creating. And, here too, the losing lot might just as well have fallen to the blessed, given the stochastic vagaries of existence: accidents of birth, congenital qualities of character, natural intellectual endowments, native moral aptitudes, material circumstances, personal powers of resolve, impersonal forces of chance, the grim encum­brances of sin and mortality … The saved might, by this or that small twist of fate or folly, have been the damned, and the damned the saved. Once again, then, who would the damned be but the redeemers of the blessed, the price eternally paid by God for the sake of the Kingdom’s felicity? (pp. 85-86; emphasis mine)

Hell, and therefore God, cannot be justified by appealing to libertarian freedom. This approach reduces the the divine act of creation to a wager—the LORD gambling on the free choices of his creatures. Perhaps he even hopes that all will be saved, all the while anticipa­ting the self-damnation of some. Yet the wager itself, no matter the outcome, testifies against the goodness of God. A loving Father does not put his children at such risk; he does not gamble with their eternal destiny.

Has Hart yet persuaded you that the infinitely good and loving God would not create a cosmos whose consummation will include hell? No? Then ruminate on the above passages and test the rigor of his reasoning.

(Go to “What the Bible Says”)

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78 Responses to Apprehending Apokatastasis: The Damned Are Suffering For Your Bliss

  1. David Moore says:

    This life is given to us for repentance as Isaac of Nineveh says. I hope for the salvation of all but do not presume my own. May God grant every last one of us true compunction.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Ben says:

      Good way utterly to avoid the question. You know, God is still the principal agent in this story.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Marian Catholic says:

        God has the initiative, but not to the preclusion of our free will.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Marian Catholic, may I guess that you haven’t yet read Hart’s book. If so, please read (or re-read) the first two articles in this series, as well as the above piece,, and then figure out how Hart might respond to your comment on free will.

          I will eventually be getting to Hart’s own views on human freedom, but Hart’s key argument does not depend upon them. His primary goal is to persuade us that the good God would never ever ever create a world that includes eternal damnation. We can’t even talk rationally about human freedom until that initial point is grasped.

          Liked by 1 person

          • apoorcatinstasis says:

            I apologise in advance for the length of this comment. I have been following the discussions here for a while, so this comment contains a number of questions/comments that have occurred to me at various times. Having read some of the discussions here, and some of the negative reviews of David Bentley Hart’s book, I have been very struck by the extent to which he and his critics are, as he says in one of his responses to Maximus here, “talking past each other.” It seems to me that identifying the causes of this miscommunication is essential to identifying what is fundamentally at stake in the debate. In other words, I sometimes get the distinct impression that what animates critics are not solely the concerns visible at the surface of their arguments, but, rather, more fundamental, and perhaps unconscious, assumptions which predetermine the limits of their theological and moral imaginations.

            Appeals to tradition, for instance, often seem somewhat dissembling, since it is clear that critics who make that move are already convinced, for a variety of other reasons (such as a commitment to a libertarian conception of free will) that there is nothing problematic about the infernalist position, or even that it is morally and theologically superior to the universalist one. I assume very few infernalists would defend the obviously evil institution of slavery, by appealing to figures in the tradition who appear to condone it, or who are less than unambiguous in their condemnation of it.

            What then, are these deeper motivating factors? David Bentley Hart has suggested some of them, in a recent article. He suggests, for instance, the very apt analogy of the self-made person who manages to send their child to a fine school, and who is horrified to find that the school has a generous policy of scholarships for those who have not earned their places in the proper way. It seems to me that this gets at something very fundamental, in relation to this whole debate. Apart from this sort of “rugged individualism,” which is horrified by the possibility that God would create a cosmic regime hospitable to slackers, there is the constellation of fundamental philosophical commitments, which many have discussed: a basically libertarian conception of free will, a conception of justice which amounts to no more than everyone getting what they deserve, and the sense that whatever value other aspects of our humanity (for instance, our constitutive relations to others and to God) might have, it is this inviolable core of absolute, amoral autonomy that constitutes our deepest essence, to which God must sacrifice everything else, when other considerations appear to conflict with it.

            While I am in complete agreement with David Bentley Hart, as regards all his fundamental arguments, I wonder if more could be said about certain of these deep limiting assumptions, and what they actually imply about the eschatological vision of infernalists. Take for instance the question of whether there is a symmetry with regard to heaven and hell, such that both are equally eternal. Is it not obvious that an eschatology which includes an eternal hell implies that the ultimate consummation of God’s creation includes the eternalising of evil? In our present lives, evil is clearly not eternal: thankfully, even the worst human beings die eventually, and their capacity to harm others and themselves is constrained in many ways. But this temporal limitation vanishes in an eternal hell, which would be nothing other than an evil counter-creation, which is assumed to continue eternally, parallel to the redeemed creation enjoyed by the saved. Since the damned would no longer be able to harm the saved in any way, any justification of this state which appeals to penal metaphors can only be read as a justification of either absolute retribution (since there is no possibility of reform, and the damned are not being “imprisoned” apart from the rest of the human community in order to protect the latter from their depredations) or the claim that God positively sanctions evil. What I mean here is that infernalists often seem to equivocate when it comes to characterising the moral status of free will: on the one hand, they imply that free will is so constitutive of our very being, and such an unconditional good, that its preservation would justify the loss of everything else (including the loss of communion with God, the very source of our being and, obviously, of that very free will); on the other hand, they clearly see the will that chooses hell as in some sense evil.

            I offer the following thought very tentatively, because I am aware of how easily it could be completely misunderstood. Nevertheless: is it not a straightforward, and unavoidable, logical consequence of the privative nature of evil that those who do evil are themselves victims of evil? Indeed, from an eschatological perspective—which is, after all, the only one that is ultimately relevant to the question of hell—are they not victims in a deeper and more tragic sense than those of their innocent historical victims who are now enjoying communion with God and the rest of the saved? Is it not an inseparable part of any acceptable conception of God, and certainly the Christian one, that goodness is, in its deepest ground, utterly impervious to evil, however much it may seem to be vulnerable to it, when seen through the dark glass of history?

            Would any infernalist seriously suggest that it is really “better” for Hitler to go on being Hitler eternally, going round and round in the labyrinth of his hatreds and illusions (not “better for him” according to his own delusions, but better objectively)? But if he genuinely understands the full horror of what he has been, in his final encounter with God, what could possibly motivate his continued hopeless and utterly meaningless wanderings, if not an utterly irrational and positively (rather than privatively) evil malevolence? But where exactly would such absolute malevolence come from? Does Hitler have access to some utterly autonomous source of malevolent will, which would surely have to exist somewhere outside the good cosmos created by God? And if he does have such access, does the infernalist position not imply that such a will could be utterly impervious even in the face of his full recognition of the evil of his past actions and, as a result, present us with a picture of the damned as utterly riven, at their very core, into two parts: a part capable of finally recognising their own evil, and another part in some utterly mysterious sense choosing to continue in that evil eternally? And if so, why would we assume that this malevolent will—which seems so utterly alien to the entire created order, and also at odds with what is objectively in the best interests of the damned—is somehow a more authentic expression of who they are, in the deepest core of their created human personhood? I have occasionally come across infernalists who suggest that God allows the damned to have what they really want. But this seems to be an outright lie, at least if interpreted according to the libertarian picture they seem to assume. It is not as if the damned are given the option of creating their own parallel universe, in which hatred and racism and sadistic glee in the suffering of others are a positive good, or of consenting to be created within the world actually created by God. They are not given the choice to opt out of the moral framework of the creation. I am not, I hope it is clear, suggesting that their lack of “consent” is an issue, but rather that this entire way of framing the issue is absurd, although it seems necessary to make sense of the sort of free-will defences infernalists typically produce.

            To go back to my point about the deeper, as opposed to the surface, issues: it seems to me that, for instance, the real disagreement is not about whether one believes in free will or not, but rather about the fundamental moral and theological character of different conceptions. Perhaps someone has already made this point, but what strikes me as most deeply characteristic of infernalist free-will defences of hell is not the appeal to free-will, but how profoundly egotistical their entire picture is, from an eschatological perspective. It is, eschatologically speaking, based on a sort of group egotism, according to which God opts to achieve a final state of the creation in which he privileges the interests of precisely that group of people who, in the eschatological state, are no longer in need of this, and to the eternal detriment of precisely that group of people who are.

            It seems to me that this is one of the fundamental sources of confusion: namely, that infernalists continue to think about eschatology in categories that only make sense within history. Obviously, within history we should always take the side of the innocent victim. But it seems equally obvious, at least to me, that this is only because the innocent victim is still living in a fallen world, in which they are vulnerable to the violence of the wicked. It is for precisely this reason that even someone who believes imprisonment should aim primarily for the rehabilitation of criminals, can still grant that it is necessary to exclude certain individuals from the human community, or to make use of coercive measures of one sort or another to protect the innocent, or to protect people from worse selves. The only way in which I can make sense of the suggestion that this would still be necessary at the end of all things, is if one continues to believe that the damned are still able to injure or pervert the saved in some way (for instance, that some of the saved are still tormented by the memories of their former sufferings at the hands of particular damned persons, have not forgiven them, etc.). But it baffles me that someone could believe that a vision of the life of the saved which still includes such suffering is theologically, or morally, acceptable. Apart from that, the eschatological picture seems to me to fundamentally alter how one must assess the relation between the saved and the damned. I simply cannot see how a former human victim could countenance the eternal suffering of their former tormentor, who is now reduced, by the very metaphysical context in which he finds himself, to a tragic and pathetic impotence, without this implying that the former victim’s pain has now degenerated into positive malevolence with regard to that former, and now impotent, tormentor. Obviously, those who have undergone horrific injustices are sometimes completely broken by them, and would be incapable, in this life, of forgiving their oppressors in a way that would not only free them of all oppressive memory, but allow them to genuinely hope for the redemption of those oppressors. But the question of hell should, surely, not be asked in terms of what is psychologically possible for a broken person, or what makes sense in the context of a wounded creation.

            In sum, it seems to me that it is precisely the infernalist who ends up destroying freedom, because the best they can offer is a picture that is, according to their own libertarian assumptions, obviously coercive—since the damned clearly do not “consent” to being part of God’s experiment and God, according to this picture, accepts their eternal slavery to a hostile, foreign power, which is in some incoherent way both created (and therefore good in its origins) and, as utterly amoral, a foreign power, which cannot be given any eternal place within the creation, without irredeemably marring it with evil.

            Liked by 1 person

        • Ben says:

          See TASBS pp. 159-195. They pretty devastatingly reduce that argument to ashes.

          Like

        • I have an answer for you regarding Universal Salvation and free-will. I would be honored if you would read and consider it.

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

          PS I am nowhere the philosopher and thinker that Dr. Hart is. I write as the more common man of limited intellect.

          Like

  2. Marian Catholic says:

    Universal instrumental salvation amounts to God’s mercy negating His justice.

    Like

    • sangeleski says:

      It’s a bizarre concept of justice that requires God to consign anyone at all to *eternal* torment.

      Like

    • Ben says:

      Read the book. Simply making pronouncements of that sort when you do not know the argument you’re rejecting is silly. Freedom and justice are two central issues in TASBS, and they are treated with extreme seriousness.

      Like

    • Iain Lovejoy says:

      I’m not clear what “justice” you refer to?
      If by “justice” you mean tit for tat retributive justice then infinite punishment for finite sins isn’t it.
      If God’s “justice” is infliction of infinite suffering simply for the sake of exercising or demonstrating God’s infinite power to punish, then that’s even less justice than the other.

      Like

    • David Farcas says:

      To the contrary universal, unbounded salvation (healing and liberating) fulfills God’s justice ( tsedaq/dikaiosune). The justice of God gives us what we need and not what we deserve. There is no tension between God’s justice and mercy for God’s justice is restorative and liberating and not retributive and damning.The justice of God liberates us from the power of death and heals all the harms suffered from sin and death. If salvation is not truly universal, as in all things in the creation, then there is no real salvation at all for anyone. All things will be reconciled through the singular act of Jesus’ death and resurrection because God’s justice was fulfilled by Jesus for all of us.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Jason says:

      Marian,

      God, being complete and perfect in His being, does not possess what we would think of as separate aspects or characteristics such as mercy and justice. Hod doesn’t do what his just, He is just as such. And he doesn’t grant mercy, He is merciful as such. So, contrary to how we think about and implement these ideas in practice – which is to say at times simultaneously and at times separately and each to varying degrees – God does not. They are for Him one and the same, displayed to the full and never contradictory or weighted unequally. His mercy *is* His justice and His justice *is* His mercy. We must avoid the error of anthropomorphizing God, assuming that our flawed implementation of retributive punishment for certain crimes is therefore what God intends also in His application of justice. If there is no end goal of correction, repentance, restoration, and reconciliation between the offender and the offended in the expression of justice, then justice isn’t really being sought after – it merely becomes a word that is used only to politely mask what is actually the desire of the offended – vengeance.

      Like

  3. Sherry says:

    I thought the ‘devil’ is damned (and all the angels who followed), they are in hell. Maybe not?

    Like

    • Ben says:

      Universalists traditionally do not deny the reality of hell. They deny that it is an eternity of retributive wrath rather than a process of healing and restoration.

      Like

      • Sherry says:

        hmmmm, so, universalists believe the devil and all those angels that chose to join him against Our Father will have healing and restoration. That’s kind of a big! wow. the blessed hope even for the devil. ultimately of course it’s all up to Our Father anyways, God can and will do what He wants, we are all stupid little souls, and only through Our Father are we anything.

        Like

        • TJF says:

          Not all universalists are for the salvation of demons, Satan, etc. but I would say the most consistent are. Just look at your words. It seem you may think it’s crazy that God will have mercy on whom He will have mercy and compassion on whom He will have compassion? If He helps people like you and me, who rebel against Him constantly why would He deny it to anyone?

          Like

          • Sherry says:

            I guess it’s really kind of simple then, if the devil and his angels change and want to be with God, how wonderful, I wish they would change right this minute and stop trying to have us humans turn against God. I thought that the devil and his 1/3 of angel followers totally hate Our Father in a way we can’t imagine at all.
            They were with God, before God made Adam. I am Catholic and learned that when those angels chose to turn from God, that choice was it, but really, you are certainly right. We constantly hear during the year at Mass many stories from the gospel about Christ being so happy to have
            the lost return to him, and there is great rejoicing in heaven.. This is still though such a big deal to me, the devil becoming holy, loving God, having love for us instead of hate, something to discuss with my orthodox relatives, …….thanks for your reply.

            Like

        • TJF says:

          Sherry,

          But wouldn’t it be wonderful if God was able to soften even the hard hearts of the demons? It seems like you are maximizing the power of the demons and limiting God’s power. I, for one, can’t personally think of anything more glorious than the Almighty power it takes to convert the worst of sinners into the greatest of saints. Saint Paul said something to that effect as well. As to why God doesn’t change that just this minute, you’ve just hit on the million dollar question that causes us all to question our faith from time to time. If God is so good, then why evil at all? I can’t answer that. I don’t think any human being ever has been able to. I hope we find out later. But we do catch a glimpse to the answer in the person of Jesus Christ, in whom is all our hope.

          Like

          • pmyshkin says:

            this: “I, for one, can’t personally think of anything more glorious than the Almighty power it takes to convert the worst of sinners into the greatest of saints.” I couldn’t agree w/you more. As I contemplate this, I am lost in Him. Imagine that He would draw even a fool such as this writer to Himself; miracle of miracles. One thinks of St Catherine of Siena’s claim that God is mad w/love for his creatures; yes, what would a God mad w/love for His creatures do, and with the talents given me in this life, how may I help Him.

            Like

  4. Paul Hunter says:

    I too found this one of the most persuasive arguments back when I listened to God, Creation and Evil. When I was teetering on the edge of universalism that lecture provided the final push. Finally universalism flows not from philosophical speculation but from the logic of the cross. I also note that I’ve seen no one among Hart ‘s critics respond to this particular argument, which is telling. It’s quite hard to see any way of evading the logic.

    Like

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      You’re right. DBH’s critics have ignored this aspect of his argument, as they have ignored his argument, upon which it is based, that if the world is freely created, and if eternal damnation is true, then God wills hell.

      Like

      • Ben says:

        Actually, have any of his critics responded to any of his real arguments? Any? Farrow, McClymond, Guyer, Manoussakis—not one of them showed any sign of following a single point the book makes. My theory is that their subconscious minds realized they had no answer, so blanked it all out and created a fantasy text to attack. I’m not joking. I haven’t seen even one accurate response to any part of the book by any critic. That tells me something about the book. It also tells me something about the psychologies of the critics.

        Like

      • Perhaps the most disingenuous and, to me, disgusting response from the infernalist crowd when presented with DBH’s writings on free-will, love, the character of God, etc., is when they respond with some form of saying, “But God isn’t like us. He’s different.” as if that means He can, without contradiction within the Trinity, be the moral equivalent of the worst mass murdered that ever lived because He, being God, is not held to the very standards of morality which He has said to us compromise acts of love and are requisite for us to be like Christ. (Matthew 5 – 7)

        In other words, we are bound by the definition of love, but He is not. Sheeeesh!!!

        Like

  5. George Domazetis says:

    My 2cents worth – I think the argument against endless torture can be dismissed as something taken in the Middle Ages from an obsession with the demonic. The seemingly blanket statement that (as it may appear) that all will be saved, is too general – as we have scripture that states the wicked will be subject to God’s justice (which includes me and I dare say many others). So can we generalise on how God may judge, or instead have faith in His mercy?

    Like

    • Iain Lovejoy says:

      Universalism doesn’t deny that the wicked will be subject to God’s justice: it asserts that, having been subject to God’s justice, the wicked, no longer being wicked, will then be saved.

      Like

      • George Domazetis says:

        The central point is the wicked will repent and be rid of their wickedness. Can you or me decide if this would include all humans, demons and any source of evil. I am inclined to the view that evil itself would be removed or destroyed – if anyone were to cling to evil in spite of God’s mercy, they would somehow be removed from the Kingdom.

        Like

        • Iain Lovejoy says:

          “if anyone were to cling to evil in spite of God’s mercy, they would somehow be removed from the Kingdom.”
          The Kingdom, we are told, is open to all who accept Christ. It is once we cease clinging to evil that we enter into it. The universalist position is that Christ descended to the dead precisely to free the wicked confined in Gehenna from their wickedness, and to bring them out again whole into the Kingdom, so that death and Gehenna might then be destroyed forever and Christ be all in all.

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          • George Domazetis says:

            I would agree with all you say with the addition that we are not in the position to say if all would be willing to cease clinging to evil – the question goes to the heart and soul of every human being, and that is a large number.

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          • TJF says:

            Hello George,

            I understand your concerns, but they don’t seem warranted in light of the argument. It doesn’t really matter if we think some people will or won’t keep clinging to evil. In the argument in TASBS above, DBH argues that since God was perfectly free in creating us then he 100% intentionally would be willing the eternal damnation of some “tragically conscious puppets.” Theology is about God, not man. As St. Isaac says ideas of eternal damnation are not worthy of the Infinite Maker, since they put him on par with our dim ideas of justice. Since God was 100% free and is omniscient, he would be knowingly creating people in order to damn them if eternal damnation is true. Why would He do that? There are 2 possible answers as I see it:

            1. He isn’t fully free to make a world where everyone will be saved. His hands are tied so to speak. The damned are the price paid to allow some of us into the Kingdom. Is this price worth it? DBH says hell no. In striking words he asks, What would the cross of Christ be but “a temporary indisposition of the infinite, or a bad afternoon?” Wouldn’t the damned in hell be the price paid, the little christs on whose back the blessed stand? The lambs slain from before the foundation of the world? THIS is the argument we need to contend with. It is the singlemost convincing argument I’ve ever heard for UR. Also he would be constrained and thus limited (it’s unclear why, except that we need eternal hell for some reason?) and thus a god and not God.

            2. God is fully free and does will eternal damnation on purpose in which case He is evil and thus a god, not God.

            Please, do you have a refutation for #1? That is the argument here. It is quite secondary what humans do. Theology is about what God does. He is our savior.

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  6. Columba Silouan says:

    Here’s a different line of reasoning / a different progression: God the Undivided Trinity, the perfect and perfectly happy original community of love, wished to share that happiness with additional beings.

    The price of sharing His perfect happiness was the risk that some reject that love, hurting not only themselves, but all the others who wish to accept that love and enter into it.

    He sent His only Son to help as many as possible to accept His love.

    Even after this sacrifice, some continue to reject His love.

    Those who make and finalize this insane decision to reject God put His well-being and the well-being of everyone else in doubt / at risk.

    Thus, Hell is a quarantine, keeping these evil ones from infecting others with their self-chosen malevolence.

    The Eternal Happiness of God and everyone else is worth the quarantine of the evil ones who refuse to repent.

    God’s Love Wins. And His Love should win.

    The Chief End of Man is to Glorify God and Enjoy Him Forever.

    This is what He created us for.

    Blessings in Christ, the Absolute God

    Columba Silouan

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Columba Silouan says:

    Here’s another simple concept. No matter how happy God or anyone else starts off as, that happiness and well being cannot help but be affected if subjected to a continual / eternal assault.

    “Drive out the mocker, out goes strife.”

    Is it right / meet that some evil demon or human being gets to assault God or His people for eternity?

    If God is perfectly Good, imparting that goodness to many others, it is not good or right that any evil being attack or attempt to subjugate that goodness.

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    • Iain Lovejoy says:

      This is actually one of DBH’s points. Unless we reject Christ’s teaching that we must love our enemies, and all mankind are our neighbours and brothers, eternal bliss is not possible while one of our brothers is missing from the celebration and we are aware of him still suffering outside. None can be saved unless all are. Read the book.

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  8. Columba Silouan says:

    Some final thoughts. It seems to be the thinking that the so-called “infernalist position” puts God on trial all by His lonesome / all by Himself.

    Rather, the possibility that some, indeed, might be lost puts God and His People Together on trial, a trial where they are completely cleared of any wrongdoing or evil. God and Goodness wins out.

    The Accuser of the Brethren, and the Accuser of God is defeated and thrown down.

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    • Ben says:

      Read the book. I know you think you’re making good points. But the book deals with these issues pretty decisively.

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      • Marian Catholic says:

        If I may further add, those who reject God’s grace will not enter heaven against their will. Universalism presupposes that God coerces unrepentant souls to choose eternal life with Him rather than persuades them to through the grace of faith. We are saved by grace through faith (Eph 2:8). In the afterlife, faith no longer exists but only hope (in Purgatory) and love (Purgatory and Heaven). So, in the hereafter, no soul can merit condign grace for themselves any longer. We read in 1 Timothy 2:4: “God desires (θέλει) all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.” We must acquire this knowledge in this life and act upon it in faith and not in the next life where faith is no longer relevant and thereby does not exist, since “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). Universalism proposes that a soul can be saved without faith (empirically unconfirmed knowledge) which is contrary to the Scriptures (2 Cor 4:18, etc.). But souls basically end up in Hell not only because they don’t believe in God, but because they make themselves to be like God and before God according to their own will.

        Anyway, it is God’s antecedent will (desire) that everyone be saved, but God also desires that we not sin so that we should not be eternally punished (consequent will). God desires good for all his creatures, both angels (including Lucifer) and human beings, but because He has also given them free will, it follows that God will permit us to enjoy or suffer the eternal consequences of our choice, even if it means being eternally separated from Him. Recall what Jesus said to the doubting apostle: “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed (μακάριοι) are they that have not seen, and yet have believed (Jn 20:29). The Greek word for blessed is used in an eschatological context and points to a final consummation that requires faith. We are saved by grace through faith. Finally, if universalism is true, then those who freely reject the Gospel would no longer be “the lost” who Jesus came to save by his passion and death, but rather ‘the detained’ (Lk 19:10).

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        • Iain Lovejoy says:

          “Universalism presupposes that God coerces unrepentant souls to choose eternal life with Him rather than persuades them to through the grace of faith.”
          No it doesn’t. Read the book.
          “Finally, if universalism is true, then those who freely reject the Gospel would no longer be “the lost” who Jesus came to save by his passion and death, but rather ‘the detained'”
          What on earth does this even mean? I don’t think you understand in the slightest the argument you think you are arguing against. Read the book.

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        • Ben says:

          Oh, for goodness’ sake, READ THE BOOK! You’re simply repeating the arguments that Hart systematically demolishes. This is like all those village atheists who attacked Hart’s The Experience of God with all the familiar bad arguments because they never read what they were dismissing.

          Liked by 2 people

    • Iain Lovejoy says:

      “The Accuser of the Brethren, and the Accuser of God is defeated and thrown down.”
      Hasn’t the Accuser of the Brethren actually *won* if he is successful in eternally separating a large part of mankind from God? Wasn’t that what he aimed to do in the first place?

      Like

    • markbasil says:

      Dear Columba Silouan;

      I am an Orthodox Christian. I adore St Columba (and have prayed to him on his beach on Iona), and adore St Silouan (who above all today teaches us to love our enemies as we would love our own lives).

      You have not read the book. Your arguments simply do not rise to the level of anything new- and your arguments and lines of thought, while they can be found within Orthodox Tradition, are not *THE* Tradition.
      Read St Isaac the Syrian if you prefer a saint praised by all the greatest ascetics in the past 1000 years; he disagrees with your arguments too.
      The reality is simply that God’s love exceeds so vastly what we have reduced it to in our fumblings. The greatest of our saints have *felt* this in their very communion with the God we all strive to know. What Hart does is simply demonstrate it logically. You may not like this approach, and it is not the only way. It is not even necessary (as we are not saved for having the right ideas, but aligning our lives to the One who is this very love).
      But I suggest you soften yourself on this.
      Be willing to embrace those saints within our Holy Tradition who held the ultimate restoration of all things to be the surest outcome from the knowledge of the God they knew and know.

      I believe you are trying to, but in your efforts here you are not “defending the faith”. The Faith includes universalists. Hart is just suggesting that the Faith does not include ‘infernalist dogma’ (though no question one can hold this ‘majority but incorrect’ view and still become very holy. Again we are saved by our orientation toward Christ in humility and love, not by holding the logically correct ideas. But logically correct ideas will never be a threat to the true faith.)

      I will take St Silouan at his own word, not needing to run him through the theological mill, when he says of those still in hell: “love could not bear that.”
      Today, we pray for all. What do we do in the eternal tomorrow? Indeed to love our enemies truly means to never leave a single one in hell. They do in fact get to hold all of heaven captive- in so much as God’s totally free love for his creatures holds him captive to our wellbeing, and in this as in all we imitate the One who made us in his own image.

      From a brother;
      -Mark Basil

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    A general word to commentators: the articles in this series are devoted to reflection upon That All Shall Be Saved. While I’m not averse to folks debating universalism in generalistic fashion, I would prefer for you to stay on point. If you have not read the book (and I hope you’ll read it soon), it may be best for you to restrict your comments to questions about the book, until such time as you have actually engaged Hart’s thinking. At the very least you need to read my articles closely. Simply repeating old apologetic arguments is neither helpful nor constructive. This blog is NOT a Facebook forum.

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  10. Grant says:

    In reading some of the critical responses here, it first is quite clear those have not read the book, which as a number, including the blog owner Father Kimel have urged is important before commenting as otherwise your are engaging from ignorance. At the very least you should acquaint yourself with Hart’s lecture God, Creation and Evil, it is available on YouTube so it isn’t difficult to find, and it’s free to listen to. It doesn’t cover everything but at least gives some understanding of the issues pertaining to this article that the book engages and develops.

    And perhaps before of the above, they should a clear missing of the point and main thrust of the argument. The argue as if God is a god, a being among other beings, someone operating at the same level we do, like a Zeus or an Odin, constrained by realities other than Himself, and beholden to transcend realities beyond Himself and not founded in and off Himself, to whom is only a maker not the Creator. Who simply starts the process, driven by some other need or want, and seem only to hope for the best, is surprised when it goes wrong is is dealing with the resistant beings and material at best he can and can’t do anything in the face of the tragedy of those being lost.

    But this is simply not God as proclaimed by all Christian communities, this is not the transcend Creator, in whom all things live, move and have their being, it is not the I AM THAT I AM, the source of all reality and existence, to Whom there is no reference but to Himself as the infinite and transcend Source all being and Existence, who transcends all finite limitations by definition, of space time etc. Who is not a being among beings, but Being Itself, and Beyond Being, who brings what exists from nothing.

    God as Creator creates freely, completely freely without any constraint upon Himself or any conditions other than His own Nature, and He does not need to create at all, to bring things from nothing at all, creation adds nothing Him at all, He needs nothing. This is all very basic Christian Dogma, and this is the central point of this argument that is being missed. God brings the exact nature of reality He wishes into being, and I mean of of it, all beings, all it’s spatial and temporal and mental existence is brought into being by Him from nothing, past, present and future, into the ages of ages, He brings it into being with all the various aspects and natures and properties it will have, that each being in it, and their interaction and inter-relationship and embeddedness with all other things in the order of creation will have. The shape and nature of the senses, their minds, the situations and contexts they find themselves in, how they will and can relate to those and so on an so on. This is what it means to say God is Creator, and that He is I AM.

    So, if God either infernalism or anhilationism is true, then this reality that God as freely brought into being, He brought and created, was not with just some hope that some might share His Life and Love, rather He brought forth freely a reality in which humans, angels and other beings whole and might easily fall, and that seeming to be important to that end that He wished to bring about, then so structured creation that those who might be lost and lost, created a reality such that they might never be able to find restoration and redemption would be be eternally damned. That was in this view, God’s wager and intent with His creation, a willing giving and sacrificing of the living beings He freely brings into being on a gamble for an ultimate objective, it would be the same a parent locking children in a maze with limited food and resources, so that the children might possible learn to work together and overcome and survive and get through the maze, though it is filled with deadly paths, and they might under such conditions turn against each other. The parent might say they hope it works out and they come out the people some able to love, but in truth they have sacrificed the children to death already even if all make it, and created the situation they find themselves in in the first place. The parent would neither be loving nor benevolent, they would a be a monstrous, sadistic monster, and even this analogy fails, because the parent is still a being among other beings (such as they can say they hope the children might make it, but of course God is transcendent of such finite limitations, He knows the created reality He brings into being, and which are to be damned and destroyed).

    No it is worse in relation to God, because whatever the realities of secondary causation and actions, such as people’s responses and actions within the order of creation, this is all enfolded, every action, interaction and reaction, into God’s Primary Act of Creation, to which all subsequent actions are reducible. If some are lost forever, if that is even possibly, that is a possibly that God as brought freely into being from the beginning, as an inherent intention and part of His bring things into being from nothing, freely without any constraint or any requirement to either create in this way, and this form of reality, or to create at all. So, in the end, it doesn’t matter if your reject say Calvinism, you by affirming this positions are in the same place, God brings beings into existence to becomes damned, His willing abandoning of them to that fate, to be brought inot being into the situations they are, with the natures they have, in this view they are sacrifices God gives for His ultimate purpose for reality.

    And these lost, then become the true secret of God’s purpose, they are the ones on which creation turns, the Kingdom He brings to bear in such a reality is fueled by these sacrifices, and so the Cross of Christ is rendered as nothing, is in fact made a mockery of, as these poor witless souls lost to the evil God abandoned and brought them forth from nothing to, whose eternal loss and destruction His intention and purpose of creation requires (again, a requirement He freely brings into being, nothing constraints His creating other than His Own Nature) they are blessed saviours, the one suffering eternal in their stead, on whom creation depends, they are lamb slain before the foundation of the Cosmos. Such a reality is instead is not Paradise but a horrific dystopia, like Ursula La Guin’s story in which a utopian city is powered by the perpetual torture of a child, and in the context of God’s free creation, in which all secondary actions are enfolded this end is the same, only magnified into the infinite .

    And this becomes a blasphemy against the Gospel, the Cross of Christ, and it is a denial that God is love, that He is mercy and the Good, that He is just. If these words are retain any meaning, if Christ claim to reveal the Father and what love is has any meaning, then either infernalism or annihilationism is not true, or Christianity is false and Christ a false Messiah. And if someone claims they don’t mean anything related to God and bare no relation to our own understanding of love and goodness and justice, first the denial of analogy again by saying God wholly other and alien, that love and goodness bear no relation to love and goodness in Him is a denial that He is Being Itself and Beyond Being, but just as with univocal claims makes Him not God but a god, and a being among beings. Secondly it makes such words void of any meaning, and therefore evil could be love, and we have no way of knowing, and our faith in God rather than is a matter only of self-preservation and prudence not for truth, and it really creates theistic atheism, where we can know nothing of God, and have nothing upon which to evaluate one revelation’s claim over another, and so Christianity is denied and refused, how could we evaluate Christ’s claims at all over any other claim? And finally such a position denies Christ again, who claims and declares we can know the Father, and to see Him is to see and know the Father.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. George Domazetis says:

    (I cannot see a reply button so I am posting here).

    “Theology is about God, not man”.
    The subject is salvation of mankind by Christ. Your argument can be flipped, to say if God is all powerful and all knowing, why would He create a world that has so much suffering? (btw I have read some of Hart’s work, but not the book, and also some U-tube presentations). Does that make God a sadist? And why would humans kill someone who healed the sick, restored the lame, brought hope and joy to so many?

    Salvation cannot be an anachronism – the subject of salvation is humanity and it encompasses all of the hopes and aspirations of the human race. It is this universality that makes the subject of salvation both easy to discuss and also easy to dismiss. All of us hope for peace and wellbeing; such great generalisations may become vacuous statements and are often not taken seriously by practical people faced with the day-to-day difficulties of life. When endeavouring to discuss Salvation it is easier to reflect on elements that may become evident on reading and hearing the Gospels than to state what Salvation is. Indeed, the Gospels make a great point of showing that the major role of the Apostles and those called by God in that day was to act as faithful witness to the truth; and this truth concerned Christ as he lived amongst them, Christ crucified, and Christ resurrected from the dead. As we all agree, this has made salvation possible; it is by the grace and mercy of almighty God.

    I do not dispute the philosophical basis for universalism; I dispute the suggestion that anyone of us can speak for God on my (and your) salvation.

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    • TJF says:

      Hello George,

      I actually ask myself that first question you asked all the time. I don’t have a good answer. I don’t think anyone does. The best we can do as far as I see (which isn’t too far) is to hold to what saint paul said about it. Mother Theresa echoed this well when she said she supposed that all the worst suffering in this life is probably like one night in an uncomfortable hotel compared to the glory and joy that awaits us. At any rate, I think that is the crux most people hold onto, but it is quite odd when you look into it. By using that argument, it seems you are saying that God really may be a sadist and that it is likely the horror and evil that he allows in this life is nothing compared to that which he will allow to overpower us in the next.

      As DBH says in in the book and elsewhere, there is a massive difference in God allowing temporary evils that He will rectify in the Kingdom versus an eternal evil that flows from the source of all things; logically that would make God evil. I don’t see a way out of this.

      By doing this, DBH isn’t trying to speak for God, he’s saying it may well be that we don’t know anything and I’m not saying words and you’re not understanding them. But if words do have meaning and they mean at least somewhat what we think they mean, it becomes overwhelmingly apparent that captial GOD would never allow even the possibility of eternal torment for any of His creatures.

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      • George Domazetis says:

        Yes TJF, the question of evil has been asked many times and I do not think anyone has a complete answer. The notion seems to be that as God transcends time and space, creation may be viewed as containing the end result in (or from) the beginning. Thus, we may look forward to a new earth and heaven where all sins are forgiven and we are one with God. The “stuff” in between the beginning and the end includes a great deal of good and evil done by us.

        I am interested in understanding the “in between” (I am not trivialising this) as it is here that Christ comes amongst us – and it is here that we crucify Him – this I believe is the central message. The logic of creation needs to include the possibility that humans may make a variety of choices, and the logic seems to me to fail on this.

        Liked by 1 person

        • TJF says:

          Well George, I have a couple of things to say to that.

          First I think the logic behind all secondary causes necessarily are reduced to the primary cause is airtight. Secondly, I believe DBH’s argument that choice is actually a relic of fallen humanity, in no way proper to or a necessary component of being free. This is seen clearly in orthodox Christology. Christ didn’t have choices. He just knew the good and did it. That’s the highest level of freedom, to have no choice. One day I hope we will all have that.

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          • George Domazetis says:

            TJF we are taught that the first humans (A&E) were tempted and made a wrong choice, instead of the right one. The subsequent effect from this cause is our fallen state.

            We pray that we would not be led into temptation and to be delivered from evil.

            Whatever argument that is provided cannot negate these ‘brute’ facts.

            I think the arguments for eternal torment are wrong – but we are also taught the old earth will be removed (however God does this) and a new heaven and earth created. This implies the removal of all touched by evil.

            Thus eternal torment, no.

            Hope that all would repent and turn to God and cleansed by the blood of Christ, yes.

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          • TJF says:

            I guess we are in agreement then?

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  12. Maximus says:

    The whole sacrificial argument does not hold. God lovingly made the world good, and He foreknew men would make themselves worthless through sinning, by departing from communion with Him and deforming themselves into brute beasts. This is the imagery used by the New Testament. What sort of redemption price do men who make themselves useless in this way provide? God hands men over to their to wicked ways, and they devolve into subhuman animality (cf. Rom 1). Do they ever lose the imago dei? Maybe not, but they certainly become a brutish excuse for human being.

    In His foreknowledge, God made the world in light of the fact this would happen to some people by their own sinful choice. The burning question is: why create at all if people could not make such a choice against Him? God created *despite* the fact that people make the wrong choice, people who continue to make that choice perpetually. But a vice-laden, useless creature is no spotless “lamb slain from the foundation of the world,” on the basis of which God saves those who seek Him. Wild beasts are worthy only of the cage (2 Pet 2:12).

    Have we grown so effeminate in our culture that we can no longer stomach the statements of divine Revelation? If God creates a world of free agents, but does not save them all, what a brute monster He is! More “merciful” than God, we.

    For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned. (Heb 6:7-8)

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    • TJF says:

      Way to preach the gospel! How tough and manly and brave you are! What a joke.

      Like

    • Iain Lovejoy says:

      You are quite right, we have become so effeminate as a culture we almost manage to love, or at least feel sorry for, our enemies, see strangers as neighbours and care about people we scarcely know. We are prepared to do good to those who hate us, forgive those who wrong us, seek out the lost, even welcome back those who have run away and bestially fed with the pigs. What kind of useless feeble people are we to do such things, and who have we been listening to?
      Anyone spouting such degenerate nonsense is clearly a dangerous subversive who doesn’t understand the realities of power: best he be silenced for the good of the people. Nail him to a tree, maybe? Let’s see him get out of that!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Maximus says:

      All, please forgive me if what I wrote was what unnecessarily provocative. Sincerely. I can see that vehemence was stirred. I admit, my own was aroused when I read the article and posted my comment. Yet most of what I wrote is simply Holy Scripture, with several questions placed within. It is not “a joke,” TJF. I stand by the biblical verbiage. The comment was indeed meant to provoke rhetorical effect. But the point is that Scripture speaks hard words about men who make themselves worthless in sin. And such men can never reach the status of the worthy oblation DBH argues that they can.

      Iain, I’m sorry you heard me saying we shouldn’t do those things: love and pity our enemies, see strangers as neighbors, care about people we scarcely know, do good to those who hate us, forgive those who wrong us, and seek out the lost. I hope I do these, as Christ taught. I ask your forgiveness and God’s where I haven’t. Christ also teaches, however, that if a man asks my forgiveness and I refuse, God will also refuse my forgiveness. Let’s not subtract from the full counsel of the Gospel.

      Here’s my argument. Since the loving God refuses to compel men to love Him, He creates a world in which some may not, and in His foreknowledge He knows some will not. Yet His good creation does not *depend* on those wicked persons who are eventually bound hand-and-foot and thrown into outer darkness, even if DBH insists on such a dependence. They are not “the price eternally paid by God for the sake of the Kingdom’s felicity.” That price is free will. Men use that glorious gift of free will—the only means of true communion—as they see fit. Just because God foreknows the final result of its use does not imply His culpability in its misuse.

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      • Ben says:

        Except that the logic of the relationship between creation from nothingness means that Hart’s argument is clearly correct. You can say “No it isn’t!” but you actually need to make a compelling counterargument.

        And the free will defense of eternal hell—if you think that survives Hart’s argument in Meditation Four, you simply haven’t understood it. Again, just throwing the words “free will” around is not a refutation.

        If these are your dialectical strategies, you’ve already lost.

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      • Grant says:

        Looking at the above Maximus, all you’ve done is restate the issue in different terms, and then suggest that someone that change in terminology removes the problem Hart has identified, just putting forward the argument made again by CS Lewis and others. I’m not going to say much to the free will argument itself, but to suggest you read Hart book (or re-read it if you have, as that is dealt with comprehensively there, and your argument sees to show no awareness of Hart’s addressing of the substantial problems of the free will defense of eternal loss) as until you engage his arguments around there there isn’t much to talk about.

        As relates to God, you either are falling into the same problem that all defenses of eternal loss seem to go to, which is make God not transcendent Creator and I AM but just a being who gets it all going, rather than the One in whom we live, move and have our being. It suggests God has to deal with existing principles or recalcitrant matter and a rival of chaos (like the gods of old) in forming the universe. And so is confronted with the impossibility of saving some beings from destruction, rendered impotent, yet while this is fine for a Zeus figure, or a Marduk and so on, a powerful being but not what Christianity reveals and says of God. He is the transcendent Creator of all things, bringing them out of nothing, who has no reference but to Himself, is the source and wellspring of all existence, He is the I AM THAT I AM. No where else do Christians usually do this, rightly acknowledging the difference, the infinite gulf between Creator and creation, but here, where it’s implications are ignored (in this St Augustine was more consistant, but by accepting infernalism as true, arrived at a terrible but necessary conclusion).

        But as God is GOd, as He is the transcendent Creator nothing conditions Him, and nothing limits what He brings to bear, nothing forces Him to either create or create in the specific manner in which He does but Himself, He does not deliberate between alternatives and then brings some creation into being that against His desire some beings might be lost. If eternal loss is true, nothing forced God to bring forth not only a creation in which it would fall, but within that fallen order, that order would be such that beings would become in your words ‘useless’ creatures forever and not get out of it, but He does in this view, brings it and them into being. Brings into begin a creation where willing gives His creatures to such a possible fate, and indeed being infinite and transcendent brings those who do into being freely and gives them over to this purpose, for the sake of His larger purpose. He could create otherwise, have differing natures, apprehension of truth, in any myriad and infinite ways, have such persons appear in different contexts where they would not fall eternally and being infinite make sure that would also not affect others chances. He could not create them at all since they are doomed to fall, or have any infinite beyond our comprehension ways for creation to be to make sure such such would not happen, or simply not create at all, again in whole or part. He neither needs creation nor does add anything to Him.

        And again, secondary actions as important as they are on our plane, at the Primary level of creation into which they are all reducible and enfolded, it matters not. As I said, your argument simply restates the point, God brings this whole order of creation, all of it into being, freely creating humans and other noetic beings given over to damned, in which since that is both a possibility (and for those it happens to an eventuality) would be not a surprise or subsequent difficult God has deal with, but was and is His purpose and intention in creation all along. If it happens it was and is part of His purpose and end goal, or He is isn’t I AM, and is instead just a god, having to bargain with the power of death and chaos, either way, a rejection of Christian declaration of who God is. Because would intend in creation that eternal loss be part of the act of creation, as He freely creates from nothing with noting conditioning Him but Himself terrible risk would be part of His intention, and those who fall for it, are given over to for that purpose.

        Again, you claim that they are not spotless, but again, at the level of Primary Act of Creation into which all their subsequent actions depend and are enfolded, they are brought into being and given up to destructive forces and let to be destroyed is bringing them into being to be be exactly that, sacrificed in His act of creation for His creation’s end point. They are exactly the fuel and terrible secret of the Kingdom in this view, they are the suffering saviours of the saved (if you could call such that), their suffering and agony will fuel and sustain the Paradise of His Kingdom, their damnation is what the creation He brings freely into being turns on. The cross is made as nothing before this, and it is a rejection of God as the Good and Love, as the One Christ reveals Him to be.

        And again, with different terminology, you have simply restated the essential Calvinist position, from the difference between Creator and creation, of the infinite and transcendent God, and finite beings, with different words you say the same thing. There is no real difference in the end between your position and Calvinism, it was because Calvin followed St Augustine on this point, and had infernalism as a fixed fact among other things which is why he understood God could not under such a view be called love as such, but only experienced that way by the saved. He understood that if some end up damned, that is because gave them up to that fate from creation, while saving others, and the implications of that. Of course such was a rejection and denial of central dogmas which all Christian confessions share, and key revelations about who God is shown in Christ, but that is simply the truthful implications of both God being God and who Christianity proclaims as Creator and eternal loss (but then becomes incoherent and a refutation of other key claims of God).

        You haven’t really shown anywhere where Hart’s point fails, or how the buck doesn’t begin and stop with God, you have as I said, just restated the problem without realizing it, and how if eternal loss is so, God is not who Christ proclaims and show to be, and thereby is false.

        A final note on giving so proof-texts from Scripture, this is not just to yourself but to a few other critical commentators who have done this (such as a notable Roman Catholic gentleman quoting a verse from the end of Gospel according to St Mark). A number of times people just put the judgement verses out, and then implies that either settles the matter, and seem to mean it’s clear there and universalists are just not being faithful or avoiding Scriptural testimony. To be honest this is getting a bit tiring and frustrating, they quote those lines, and ignore the verses and narratives that seem, without qualification or condition, promise the salvation of all (and then get accused such as yourself above, for avoiding clear revelation). They also mostly assume and seem to think the judgement verses clearly teach infernalism, when in of themselves they do nothing of the sort (both universalist and annihilationist interpretations are equally viable) and refuse to recognize (or just to be fair, never really see) the extent to which they condition the univeralist promises and statements and narratives in light of their interpretation and views of the former judgement verse. They privilege these verses (and the understanding of those verses which the tradition they came into Christianity gave them to understand what those verse mean) over the universlist ones and so condition those.

        Which brings mean to the point, it is not univeralists refusing to see Scriptural revelation while infernalists are just being faithful to what it says, rather the issue is one of hermeneutics, and the culture that informs it. They are glasses through which we approach and read Scripture, Scripture doesn’t interpret itself (as an Orthodox you knows this), rather it is read through the understanding of that text we recieve that conditoins how we read and understanding it. That is disagreement when it comes to Scripture, which is how to read and understand what it says relating to the final things, and over which verses to privilege as the key to that interpretation and revelation, univeralists simply privilege the univeralist promises and passages as providing the key point to see and understand God’s purposes and the final things and understand the judgement passages in light of that and believe such as more consistent and coherent with the full revelation of God in Christ.

        And nor is this a matter of being always an outlying or heterodox interpretation, not only are there great Fathers and saints who were universalists, who knew the Scriptures and the Gospel, and in Greek close to the time both in terms of language and society to it’s writing, and so nothing in Scripture that was a problem for universalism, indeed they centred their understanding of it on Scripture and from Scripture. We know for much of the first millennium among orthodox and catholic Christians univeraslim was a strongly held view, and in some places, particularly Greek speaking areas it was was even the majority belief, for whose witness we have no less august a personage that St Basil the Great. So it has always been a legitimate interpretative approach to Scripture, no matter how much some of it’s opponents which to imply otherwise. Like I said, this isn’t just to you, but more generally, such proof-texting and suggestions of lack of faithfulness to Scriptural revelation is frustrating and annoying, particularly as it is untrue, even if they disagree with the univeralist heurmeneutic.

        And it is on heremenetics that the discussion must be, not just putting forth proof-texts. And ultimately in that discussion, not just of Scripture but also onto Councils and Tradition, it becomes a matter of theology and philosophy in terms principally of of what Hart has offered. Which is to see which interpretation best coherence with the revelation of God in Christ, of the Gospel and what are the no-nonnegotiable dogmas and truths they declare that doesn’t not lead to effectively refuting one or another (even as it is piously but emptly stated that remain still) that the discussion must move.

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  13. Edward says:

    Just wondering Maximus how your understanding of things differs from the Calvinistic doctrine of double predestination. You speak of foreknowledge, but, in fact, if God knows that some whom He creates will be eternally damned and yet freely chooses to create them, then it follows that He wills their damnation by His very act of creation. He is certainly not disturbed by it in any manner. It is His sovereign will before all time. Moreover, it is useless for us to pray or hope for the salvation of all since this would be to pray and hope for something which is contrary to God’s sovereign will.
    Now it is interesting to me that when St. Paul states that “God desires that all men should be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth,” he does so within the context of prayer. The implication is that we should pray for all to be saved. But your theological position would imply that such prayer is , in fact, contrary to God’s will.

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    • Maximus says:

      Thanks, Edward. My view differs in that divine foreknowledge is not based on an arbitrary divine plan to meticulously determine a world, as in Calvinism. It is the opposite: God takes in account what free creatures would do and then creates accordingly. Divine foreknowledge logically precedes divine choice, the latter being based on the former. It’s important to remember that predestination and election are biblical concepts. But their mode is synergistic, not monergistic. Grace is never alone in the saved but works together with free, human acceptance thereof. God also respects human choice in denying His love, and He creates in light of this foreseen choice to reject His embrace.

      “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

      Since we have no idea the population of hell, we pray for all mankind, prior to the Final Judgment. We are promised that righteous prayers avail much, and when combined with the humble acceptance of God’s grace by willing souls, many more, even of the reposed, may enter the Kingdom. God desires all to be saved, but he foreknows who will and who won’t. We pray for all to be saved. But we are never promised that all shall be saved and hopes for such a conclusion seem misdirected. Indeed, the images of Final Judgment we are given reveal that two separate groups will ultimately be represented.

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      • Ben says:

        You know, between Hart and Thomas Talbott, the claim that eternal hell is the result of human freedom has been so thoroughly destroyed for me that I can’t even pretend to take it seriously. Every attempt to rescue the argument (Walls, Stump, whoever) is so clearly a failure that I have to assume that anyone still talking in those terms just hasn’t understood the issue.

        Even if it were a logically coherent idea, what a miserable monster of a God would be a creator who would surrender his children to eternal torment. If my daughter chose to douse herself in gasoline and strike a match, it wouldn’t be a sign of my goodness, wisdom, or love if I just let her do so because I don’t want to rob her of her precious liberty.

        Fortunately, the free will defense of eternal suffering is totally logically contradictory. So the whole issue is a distraction.

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      • Ben says:

        Oh, by the way: John 12:32. 1 Corinthians 15:22. Romans 5:18. Those sound like promises to me.

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      • markbasil says:

        Maximus, I take no issue with the scriptures you draw on. But as always with Holy Scripture, it is the overall picture you put together that matters.
        There is a failure here in understanding what a free person is. What freedom consists in for a *creature* made in the image of His creator, but operating in a world where from his infancy a cunning serpent has endeavored to deceive him (I am content to limit myself to the restoration of the whole Adam, for the sake of argument. We can leave our adversary to God’s business.)
        There is also a failure- far more significantly- to really enter into the ocean of God’s loving mercy.
        The “manliness” that you want from us is found only in imitating the true man himself- and there is nothing, whether life, death, judgment, or the vilest sin, that can separate us from the love of Jesus Christ. He shows us this love in his ‘judgment’ from the cross. Then his descent into hades to rescue the whole Adam there. The whole pattern of God’s behaviour is given in the lengths he goes to rescue his creature. There is no reason (biblically, logically, etc.) to presume he will not continue these creative, courageous, manly efforts to pursue his beloved creature no matter how far He must go.
        I find it helpful to meditate on this love in terms of my own children. It helps to keep from just being academic about this question, and brings it to our own hearts; the existential moment for repentance and salvation. If it were my (now 15mo. old) daughter Abigail who was the free soul ultimately refusing God’s love and in hell, where would I be? Where would you suggest I be?
        I will never forget her beginning, the daughter I know now. The sweet living icon of the One who made her, all full of beauty and potential goodness. I will never forget either all that (hypothetically) influenced her path in life that led to perdition. All the wrong done to her, and all the missed opportunities for her to turn toward grace. Of course she did not start out evil- right now she is good! And so something must go terribly wrong- something must *act* upon her, to so distort her to move away from the Good who gives her life.
        It is her very freedom that you so cherish, that assures me there is *always* hope for her.

        So, I who am a wicked father- where will I be? I will not be with you in a heavenly bliss apart from my dear daughter. I will ever be waiting on her; never content to forget her or abandon her to her fate no matter how obstinate she refuses my love, for no matter how great an epoch. Unless God constrains my own freedom in just the way you rightly claim he does not, then I will be with Abigail. This pursuit of her- it would infarct be heavenly bliss for me. I would rejoice in the ceaseless pursuit of the one I love- endowed with the divine gift of freedom that assures she may yet turn and be saved. I would never tire of this; it would be bliss for me, not torment, to draw on the burning sun of my God’s energy while I forge out to her ceaselessly offering the gift of life that energizes and delights me (should God be so merciful to grant me a share in his kingdom my own self).

        And indeed- if she is made in the image of her Father in Heaven- the only True and infinitely satisfying Good Himself- then she will exhaust her passions and delusions eventually. These are all finite; they cannot feed to lie of her delusion and miserable separation from God forever. Even the maddest addict will eventually exhaust the chain of addiction’s appeal. There is nothing eternal in our false objects of desire; the only drug that can satisfy us eternal is inebriation with God’s love.
        And I will be waiting for her, when she turns.
        If I, a wicked father, will do this. Then how much more, oceans and oceans more, do I trust and rejoice in God’s love for his beloved daughters and sons.

        It is okay to trust in this love as the final end of all freedom. It is biblical, it is patristic, it is manly in its daring and courage and strength. Most importantly, it is good for our hearts to learn to love our enemies as we love our little sons and daughters.

        I’m actually not very bothered if people still dont accept Hart’s argument (though I believe it is entirely persuasive). It’s a question of what’s going on in our hearts. Each of us is far more complex than strict adherence to logical truth can allow us; God seems to have prefered to make creatures who are not flawlessly logical. And even if we are correct in our reasonings, we can fail to live like the truth we love. This movement of the heart is the real thing; it is aided by proper belief but even more so I think is *how* we believe what we believe.
        That’s for you to consider, as it is for me to consider in my own heart. I dont have access to your inner life. But I will suggest as a friend that it’s okay to make room for as much mercy as we can. Or at least, make room for those of us fools who make so much room as to believe in the ultimate restoration of all (we are not unbiblical or contrary to Christian faith and Holy Tradition, after all. Why then would you persuade us from our excess in mercy?).
        Human freedom is not compromised by the even greater ocean of God’s loving mercy.
        Let’s cultivate as much of St. Isaac’s merciful heart as we possibly can.

        [if I’ve double posted by accident, my apologies.]

        Liked by 1 person

        • Iain Lovejoy says:

          Just wanted to say thanks for that, and beautifully put.

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        • Maximus says:

          Thanks, markbasil. As a father myself, I certainly empathize with your heartfelt desire for the salvation of your children. I weep over such things. I also agree that God has not made us to be mere logical-chopping machines, in opposition to authentic feelings of emotion. The rational mind has its proper role, and so do the lower functions of sentiment. Even more importantly, however, our noetic faculty is the core of our human being, the center of our self-awareness, and is meant to see God. The passions tend to cloud this vision of authentic divine experience. My sincere concern is that we have exchanged a well-ordered anthropology, one led by the spirit, for one led about by the lesser faculties of reason and emotion.

          When I made the comment above about the effeminacy of our culture—which interestingly stirred up a veritable hornet’s nest—I was referring to just this exchange. The art of making decisions based on emotion pervades not only our secular society but also many theological conversations. When people hear this claim, they sometimes respond, “Well, are you against all emotion?” No, but emotions ought not govern our lives. They ought rather to be governed by Truth, not in the Western academic sense that places emphasis on the use of logic, but in the Eastern, patristic, biblical sense of walking in wisdom by apprehending the spiritual amid the mundane through noetic perception.

          In other words, Christians are called to be “spiritual” men and not “natural” men, as St Paul teaches. The natural man lives the levels either of logic or emotion, thereby failing to be ordered rightly by the Spirit of God, having the mind planted in the spiritual heart. It must be said—and this was the point I was making about the effeminacy of our culture—that much which passes as theology nowadays is merely natural. Either logic or emotion leads the way. Clear teaching is extremely important, but we only know such teaching is true when it flows from authentic spiritual experience of God.

          The person writing true theology displays humility as a mark of true encounter with the Lord. This is true biblical manhood—led neither by rationalism nor emotionalism. I find that DBH’s arguments in the book depend on these two lower faculties. This is *not* judgment of his subjective spiritual state but rather an objective judgment concerning the content of, and the manner in which he has fashioned, his arguments. I am not the first to point this out. He vaguely appeals to the phromena of the Church, but resists its authority whenever “strict logic” says otherwise. The emotional pleas in the book compliment this method, adding, for many readers, a much-needed “human dimension” to his soaring rational infrastructure. Speaking strictly of his method, the missing hegemony of the nous is key.

          All this is to say that poetic appeals for “greater mercy,” no matter one’s thoroughly good intentions, miss the mark of Truth. I do not dispute that some claim to have experienced the “greater ocean of God’s loving mercy,” which will eventually enrapture every living soul ever created. There is an authentic Christian mysticism as well as a deceived variety, and only Truth can adjudicate the difference. Thankfully, those who have truly touched Reality form a consistent witness in the Church, an experience of God in Christ transcribed in traditional Orthodox doctrine. (This is why, when “Orthodox dogmatics” books are written, they present the traditional view on heaven and hell.) In turn, this consistently-proclaimed doctrine is meant to guide individual spiritual experience. Traditional doctrines form the guardrails of healthy, healing spiritual experience, establishing boundaries beyond which roaring lions dwell. To “make room” for other teachings, i.e. to adjust the ancient boundary markers, is dangerous for one’s soul.

          Spiritual inebriation is good indeed, but only when received from the Lord’s cup. For our own salvation, and for that of our children (!), may the Lord help us to discern the spirits.

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          • TJF says:

            There’s nothing healthy and nothing good comes from torturing people against their will forever. That seems like it would be obvious, but I guess not to everyone. Also, by their fruits shall you know them. The doctrine of eternal hell has caused much bad fruit, like being the main line of reasoning for killing heretics, etc. There’s nothing good about it at all. It is blasphemous to say of the Creator as St. Isaac noticed.

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          • Iain Lovejoy says:

            If I understand correctly you seem to be saying that no amount of reasoning, logic or thought, or biblical study, or anything else counts, but rather you must be right because you, or someone else you have not identified, have received a divine revelation from God that it is so?

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          • Ben says:

            So reason is rationalism and compassion is emotionalism by your lights. So fideism must be truth. Hmmm. Well argued.

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          • David says:

            Maximus, I would invite you to imagine a father who is offered a fabulous yet terrible gamble with respect to their child’s wellbeing. We flip a coin (for this is all libertarian freedom amounts to): and, should it come up heads, the child receives ten million bucks, a wonderful academic and spiritual education, and the promise of a happy life free of all physical and psychological infirmities; if it’s tails, the child is tortured to death.

            If you like, instead of a coin toss, whether or not the child lives or dies hinges on whether they freely choose the correct response to a certain moral decision: resist temptation, security and happiness, steal the cookie, torture and death. Or maybe the outcome is just a question of whether or not they agree that Jesus is Lord: right belief, life life life, wrong belief, torture torture torture.

            I submit that no loving parent – or even evil parents like us – would ever consent to allow their child to be exposed to the possibility of literally being tortured to death, no matter how great the ‘prize’ they might win should they pick the correct option and avoid this terrible outcome. Nor could we ever justify such a gamble by appealing to the empty claim that, by having some sway over the outcome, the child had nobody but themselves to blame. And even if the child were in some sense to blame, we would be all the more blameworthy for ever thinking to expose our beloved to such a demonic game of chance. The fact that the we had nothing to gain from the bargain is irrelevant, the fact that we hoped the child would choose wisely is irrelevant, the fact that choosing wisely would have resulted in an exceptionally happy and otherwise unachievable life is irrelevant, and the fact that the child made the wrong choice is most definitely irrelevant. You just don’t play craps with your child’s life; and whether you throw the dice yourself, or let your kid do the honours, it doesn’t make a lick of difference.

            The analogy hardly needs stating, but I will ask the obvious question: if a human father would never expose his own children to the risk of being tortured to death, why do you suppose that your heavenly Father would do the same (no, worse, torture forever) with his? In fact, why would you ever have children at all if you thought they had a decent chance – any chance at all, in fact – of being everlastingly tortured (or otherwise being eternally miserable) without hope of redemption?

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          • David says:

            (Btw, even if you could infallibly foresee that your child would make the correct choice and win the bargain – lucky them – if the price of this victory was that each one of the billions of other children of this world were exposed to the same identical risk – with the practically inevitable consequence that at least some of them would suffer torture and death, however much they ‘deserved’ it – this would not make the gamble any less depraved. And it would be trivially true to state the obvious truth that your child’s happiness was bought at the cost of those who lost: that is just the logical consequence of the claim that such a universal gamble is the necessary condition of your child receiving a chance at perfect happiness, with the necessary consequence that some might (and almost certainly will) lose the ‘game’.)

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          • Maximus says:

            David, billions of fathers who believed the traditional view of everlasting hell have had children. Speaking for myself, I don’t think my son at 2.5 years old has the fully-matured decision-making capabilities to reject God. But, if he lives that long, there will come a day when he does. He will then stand before his mother and I, and before God, as a morally responsible human being. Of course, God holds each person responsible only for the light they’ve received. There are degrees of responsibility based on degrees of divine revelation given. What he will eventually do with that revelation I can not say. We are trying to train him well. We pray with him and for him, and do what we can to lead him to God’s love. But there will come a time when we cannot make him “drink.” If he chooses not to love Christ and His Church, we’ll be devastated, of course. But not in the sense that we his parents are *ultimately* responsible. We will have done all we could (in the midst of many failings, on the basis of which we’ll be judged); but we cannot say, “Thy will be done,” for him.

            At the appropriate age, he will be responsible. His parents will not be responsible for him. Even if we abused him every day of his life, God would finally judge him based on the amount of light he received—which in such a case would seemingly be very little. My point is that there is such a thing as individual moral agency. I don’t claim such an individuality is *isolated* by any means, but I do claim that moral responsibility resides with hypostases, distinct persons of a certain maturity and moral awareness. Raising children to eventually be sent out into the world, and out into eternity, is a risk. No doubt. But to call a father depraved for taking this risk loses sight of the fact that children mature to adulthood, at which point they become (more or less) responsible. Christ will judge all men according to their works, always omnisciently-informed concerning the (more or less) Revelation given to each. He’s not to blame when His responsible creatures refuse His loving embrace.

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          • David says:

            Maximus, you have basically made two points: 1) billions of fathers have had children despite believing in the traditional doctrine of hell; and 2) our children, at least once they have reached an age of accountability or otherwise, are responsible agents who deserve to be excluded from the divine life and to suffer eternally if they make the wrong choices..

            As for your first point: yup, they sure have, but I think if they reflected on their choice critically, they would either revise their view of hell, else adopt the anti-natalist position and not have kids in the first place, seeing that no good their hypothetical child might enjoy could possibly be worth the risk of them being tortured forever. Doesn’t mean they’re bad people, just that, like all of us, they hold some inconsistent positions and haven’t thought everything through. But really, think how many billions of fathers have thought that slavery was moral, that a man can have his wife whenever he pleases. People are wrong all the time.

            As for your second point, please attend to the fact that the argument I am making is that it would appear to be unjust to consent to a gamble in which, should we win, our children have a great life, but should we lose, they are tortured to death – it is NOT about whether or not they deserve it. This is because it appears to hold that this wrong even if the gamble is predicated on whether our child makes a specific moral decision, or submits to certain religious truth claim, or indeed whether they are a good or bad person in general. The fact that the child might ‘deserve it’ on account of their being responsible individuals is irrelevant because such a terrible outcome should never have been risked in the first place. To deliberately gamble with your children’s wellbeing such that, should they choose x rather than y, they are tortured to death, is obviously evil, no matter how good (even infinitely good!) the benefits of winning, and no matter how much they deserve it.

            But let’s face it, the idea that you should not torture someone to death, however much they deserve it, is pretty intuitive; and it’s equally intuitive that it is just as bad to risk it. So if it would be wrong for a human father to enter a gamble in which one of the likely outcomes is that their kids are tortured to death (regardless of whether the kids are responsible for losing the gamble), it would appear to be even more wrong to run a similar gamble in which one of the likely outcomes is that they are excluded from the source of all life and tortured forever. Emphatically, the argument is NOT that they don’t deserve it; but rather that, if there was ever a risk of them deserving it, and if deserving it automatically meant they got it, then it would be immoral to create them in the first place.

            So a response to my argument would need to either question the intuition that exposing one’s child to a gamble in which they are likely to be tortured to death is wrong; or it would admit that this scenario is always wrong, but seek to distinguish it from, or show that it is not analogous to, a situation in which God creates children out of nothing in order to submit them to a gamble in which they are likely to be tortured forever. Your comment does neither, so thank you for your thoughts, but I have to say I remain unconvinced.

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          • Maximus says:

            Thanks, David. I do admit there is always risk involved in fatherhood. Because the Lord commands us to be fruitful and multiply, however, the anti-natalist position is not an option within the mystery of marriage (in general). You argue that if only those billions of fathers who have upheld the Church’s eschatology would have reasoned more clearly, they’d have either become universalists or stopped having children. Forgive me, and you are not the only one speaking this way, but inherent in such a statement is a heavy dose of chronological snobbery. Have we finally cleared away the moral and theological weeds now, in the 21st century? This suggestion seems preposterous. God commands children to be borne, and He commands those children, once mature, to faithfully walk the path of His commandments in loving communion with Him and others…wait for it…or else. It is not His fault if they do not. It is not the parents’ fault, ultimately, if they do not. This sort of plain logic has been apparent to believers for millennia.

            Because free will is *not* like the flip of a coin, the moral status of a father’s choice to bear children in ignorance of their final destination has *everything* to do with whether those children-now-become-responsible-persons deserve it. If these children-now-become-responsible-persons did not earn their just reward, as Scripture says they do (Matt 16:27; Rom 2:6-11), then I would agree that fatherhood is a mere coin-toss gamble. But because God has commanded the multiplication of children, and because these children become responsible for their own destiny (in appropriate co-operation with God, of course), fathers need not feel the unbearable weight which you describe when they have children. Kids aren’t coins. Seek your own salvation with fear and trembling, teach your children in the Way, and trust in God’s proverbial wisdom: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” If he does depart after being trained in the Way, it is not ultimately the father’s fault.

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          • David says:

            Maximus, I fear we are talking past each other. You keep giving arguments for why children, at least once they’ve grown up, are responsible moral agents, and that by misusing their agency they deserve punishment. I’m not disputing any of that. My argument is not based on whether or not we deserve punishment. It is based on the moral truth that, if by doing a certain act (i.e. creating billions of people) we

            Imagine a father whose son had gone down the wrong path – arrogant and unkind, prefers drinking all day to looking after his family, cheats on his wife, just plain old mean. Now he’s about to face a choice: he could make the immoral decision of drink-driving, or he could choose to walk home. Little does he know however that, knowing what he’s like, the father swiped his car keys! So fortunately for all, the son won’t need to make that choice at all. Unless…

            A billionaire offers the father a choice. “Put those car keys back in your son’s pocket. Let him face that moral choice, give him the option of choosing whether to drink drive or not. If you give him the car keys, but he nevertheless chooses to walk home, I’ll reward him with millions of dollars, unlimited therapy and support to help him get better and be a better man, make his life as perfect as it could possibly be. But if he makes the immoral choice of drink-driving, your son will crash his car and slowly and painfully burn to death”.

            So if the son chooses to drink drive against his better judgement again, if he goes and risks others’ lives and stupidly gets himself killed, he’s only got himself to blame right? The guy is a real nasty piece of work anyway. He deserves it.

            And yet it would manifestly be totally wrong for the father to consent to the bargain and give the son that choice. No matter how high the payoff, no matter how ‘responsible’ the child would be for the result. Yes, he would be 100% to blame for his own actions and their obvious likely consequences, yet the father would still be a moral monster to allow him to make the choice in the first place.

            And if that is wrong, it seems to me that, say, creating billions of souls with the gamble that some of them might do things that meant they deserved to be tortured forever, and it was “just the way things were” that those who deserved to be tortured forever do in fact get tortured forever… well, that would be far worse. No good is possibly worth the risk of single being literally being tortured forever (particularly given that God is already the infinite plenitude of divine bliss, so reality is already perfect prior to creation – so introducing hell can only possibly make things worse!)

            To repeat: my argument is NOT that the punishment is disproportionate or undeserved, but rather that it would be wrong to create anything that could ever conceivably deserve (and then receive) such a punishment.

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          • David says:

            (By the way, it is disappointing to be accused of ‘chronological snobbery’, when all I have done is literally stated that I believe some people in the past failed to work out exhaustively all possible implications of their beliefs (not that unusual for humans!) and that therefore, had they exhaustively worked out said implications, they would likely have done things differently. People are wrong and don’t think things through all the time, yesterday and today – I am not privileging the present over the past, but just relying on the obvious and banal truth that our ancestors weren’t right about everything)

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          • Maximus says:

            David, thanks for clarifying. I think, however, that I really do understand what you’re arguing, “that it would be wrong to create anything that could ever conceivably deserve (and then receive) such a punishment,” i.e. the punishment of an eternal hell. In essence, what you’re saying is that it would be morally wrong for God to create beings with the power of contrary choice. This sort of power, unless constrained, has the capability to resist God. And it can do so for eternity—unless constrained, unless redirected by force. Love, however, does not redirect by force. If you argue that the only way God’s moral rectitude can be vindicated in light of an eternal hell is by Him constraining our power of choice, then we are no longer speaking of the God who seeks loving communion with His human creatures. And just to clarify, such divine-human communion *just is* salvation, and hell the lack thereof. To force men into communion with Himself, to constrain their choice so that they must positively respond to His invitations to Life is not the method of Love.

            God tempts no man (Jam 1:13). And, unlike the father in your anecdote, He ensures we aren’t tempted beyond what we’re able to bear (1 Cor 10:13). But He will not take away our power of choice, even the power to choose against Him, the ultimate source of our happiness, for to do so would be to take away His image in us, our very humanity. I understand the thrust of your argument, and the analogy you make is strong one, but I do not think it holds in respect to our relation to God. Providentially, He “takes away the keys” every day, protecting us from temptations that are beyond our strength. But He allows us to face many temptations also, to test our resolve and try our faith. Some people fail that test, and perpetuate that failure into eternity—failing to love the God who made them. God is not a moral monster for allowing this departure from His love because love cannot be forced. Concerning those who continuously resist His invitations and harden their heart to His love, he hands them over to their own ways. Love can do no other.
            So, the issue is not a general moral question about the risk of someone being tortured for eternity, but rather a question of divine-human communion. God does not constrain man to be saved, because this would be identical to forcing him into loving communion with Himself.

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          • David says:

            Maximus, I’m curious as to why, if you understood all along that my point was about it being wrong to create a being that could suffer infinite torture, rather than the blame/responsibility point, then I’m curious as to why all your responses focused on showing that the damned are to blame for their agonies, rather than whether or not it was right to create beings who would face the option of undergoing such agonies in the first place.

            Anyway, your response focusing on this point now is appreciated, although rather than engaging with the moral question I raised directly, you seem to just be repeating a very particular and disputable concept of free will, which holds that humans have a power of arbitrary, spontaneous choice that can hold out against the natural will’s teleological destiny forever. Personally I hold this understanding of the will to be unintelligible (it is basically modernist folk psychology supercharged by medieval voluntarism) but let’s assume for the sake of argument that it’s true.

            Now, if the *only* way for God to create beings fit for the good of heaven, was for him to risk the near-certainty of some people being tortured forever, then yes, I submit that it would be immoral to create anything at all – just as if the *only* way to get one’s child a million dollars and a super happy life was to risk them burning to death, it would be immoral to create those conditions (regardless of the degree of moral agency they might possess and how much they deserve it). You assert that because this is “a question of divine-human communion” then it is not “a general moral question”, but you offer no actual reason for drawing a moral distinction here. You’re right that this is a question of divine-human communion, but it is precisely my point that, IF divine-human communion necessitated the possibility of eternal torture, an everlasting concentration camp, then seeking to establish divine-human communion at the cost of this torture would never be morally justifiable. It would obviously be better to just leave things alone: particularly given that, as I stated in my last post, God is already infinite plenitude and bliss on his own, do you really think an eternal hell makes a good and worthy divine addendum?

            Luckily there are alternatives to this understanding of free will. I agree with you that God does not “constrain man to be saved” or “force him into loving communion”. We are not “constrained” or “directed by force”. But why suppose that this is how free will works? Why could it not be that our natural will is forever orientated towards God as the good and, though we can redirect our will towards other things for a time, eventually the will must perceive the good clearly and naturally submit to it, not through force, but love – you would not describe a father’s love the first time he sees his baby as ‘forced’ even though he can realistically do no other. Or think of the ‘free’ novice playing chess against the Grandmaster: his freedom is not overridden, he can move however he likes, but the end result is always the same. More generally, thinking about free will in the way that you seem to – as if it is something had the power to prevent God from achieving his ultimate will ‘that all may be saved’, as if human liberty were more powerful than God’s love, as if the finite could overrule the infinite, as if God’s omnipotence were impotent – is, in my view, a rationalistic and fruitless exercise to the extreme. It turns ‘free will’ into a god, into something that tames and dominates the divine. But I don’t believe that God is as helpless as I think your view implies: free will is not God’s mum, it cannot tell him what to do.

            Anyway, those are just banal metaphors highlighting that there is more than one way of thinking about free will – for the actual arguments you’ll need to read DBH’s book, although those of Tom Talbott and others make similar cases. Surely you must know that the view of free will you seem to assume is highly controversial, and indeed is controverted most vigorously within the debates around universalism. Anyway, I’d rather not get into a protracted discussion about the nature of free will, just pointing out that there are alternative views.

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          • Maximus says:

            Hi David, I appreciate the thoughtful response. You have touched on one of the specific reasons I cannot accept your and DBH’s understanding of apokatastasis as it regards free will, namely: “…eventually the will must perceive the good clearly and naturally submit to it…” I agree that we have a natural will which is transcendentally “magnetized” to God. But what I remain unconvinced of is that our gnomic will “must” do anything at any time. I perceive no logical, historical, biblical or theological reason why “eventually the [gnomic] will must perceive the good clearly and naturally submit” to the natural will’s orientation to God. Why can’t it remain “restless” (cf. St Augustine) forever? I submit that I can. This view of free will may be “highly controversial” for some people, especially in within academia, but it’s been obvious to most people.

            I find it interesting that while Scripture does teach the sort of freedom you advocate, i.e. freedom from sin—“You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free”—it also teaches the libertarian variety: “You were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” The first kind of freedom (John 8:32) results from a personal, experiential knowledge of God in Christ, one that transforms a person and sets them free from slavery to sin. The second kind (Gal 5:13) provides the power of contrary choice and can be used either for the flesh or for loving service. I would content that the second kind of freedom is common to all man (for Paul is speaking merely of freedom from Mosaic stipulations in Galatians). This is the generic form of human freedom in which a choice pertains between good and evil. The other, more specific kind of freedom that Christ proclaims is given only to those in union with Him. Not everyone is free in this sense, because not everyone has a saving knowledge of the Truth.

            So, the New Testament seems to teach two kinds of freedom. The Tradition does as well. We will be completely free in the theological sense in heaven. But all men are free now in the generic sense, even after the Fall, having the power to “use” freedom, as Paul teaches, in one way or another. Unless God takes away, alters, or constrains that generic freedom—that capacity central to our being human—then He cannot *guarantee* all will be saved. That generic freedom is actually the means by which we gain (or reject) theological freedom, freedom from sin, since we must freely choose to be united to Christ. We are saved through the synergy of our will with God’s will, a doctrine expressed by St. Athanasius: “God does not save us without us.” When St. John Chrysostom was asked why not everybody is saved, he said, “Because you yourselves do not want to [be saved]. Even though the grace is indeed the grace, and it saves, it saves only those who desire it, but not those who do not want it and turn away from it.” In other words, freedom can be misused.

            I even might state it like this. (1) Made in the image of God, man has generic freedom; (2) In free cooperation with God’s grace, man in the likeness of God has to theological freedom. Theological freedom realizes the gnomic will’s perfect semblance to the natural will. How can God guarantee, however, that all men shall use their gnomic will in this way? It seems that He cannot, unless he constrains them to do so. And He will not constrain them, for the very end to which He invites them is loving communion, which can never be constrained or forced.

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          • David says:

            Thank you Maximus. As I say I’m not interested in having a prolonged discussion about the nature of the free will, although I would point out that most universalists I know do in fact affirm libertarian free will. Is this really so surprising? You yourself are happy to affirm both that those in heaven are ‘fixed’ on good, and the lost are ‘fixed’ on evil forever. That doesn’t mean you’re not a libertarian, but just that you think that at some point the will crystalises or is fixed 100% one way or another. Universalists agree with you, except they think the final outcome remains the same – as illustrated, if not argued for, by the chess grandmaster example.

            As for your view of free will being ‘obvious’ to most people, I personally doubt that this is the case, but either way I don’t think it’s particularly helpful to focus on what ‘most people’ think – most people think Christianity is garbage. That said, most people also think that it would not be possible for them to be happy if they knew that God was eternally torturing their children, so maybe they are onto something. Anyway, if you really want to discuss the nature of free will I’d recommend looking at the arguments of DBH and Thomas Talbott (who in my view anticipate and engage with all the points about free will you have made, and rebut them effectively) – all I am doing is pointing out that there is breadth of views on the subject, and what you think is obvious ain’t so obvious to some.

            But again we are talking past each other. I appreciate you providing your reasons for why you think free will is as you say it is, but it doesn’t engage with the argument I have made. I will repeat that argument below just to make sure:

            “Now, if the *only* way for God to create beings fit for the good of heaven, was for him to risk the near-certainty of some people being tortured forever, then yes, I submit that it would be immoral to create anything at all – just as if the *only* way to get one’s child a million dollars and a super happy life was to risk them burning to death, it would be immoral to create those conditions (regardless of the degree of moral agency they might possess and how much they deserve it). You assert that because this is “a question of divine-human communion” then it is not “a general moral question”, but you offer no actual reason for drawing a moral distinction here. You’re right that this is a question of divine-human communion, but it is precisely my point that, IF divine-human communion necessitated the possibility of eternal torture, an everlasting concentration camp, then seeking to establish divine-human communion at the cost of this torture would never be morally justifiable. It would obviously be better to just leave things alone: particularly given that, as I stated in my last post, God is already infinite plenitude and bliss on his own, do you really think an eternal hell makes a good and worthy divine addendum?”

            So you telling me that you think free will is like this or that just doesn’t cut it. If you can conclusively prove that free will is as you say, then what you have there is an excellent argument that God is either evil or non-existent.

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  14. George Domazetis says:

    TJF, we agree on the irrationality of eternal torment option of a medieval hell. I think we disagree on a total saving of all no matter what evil has been done and no matter what may be in the heart of some evil beings, be they human or demonic.

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  15. B. STEPHEN says:

    St. John Chrysostom in his Second Homily to Eutropios says the following:

    I am insatiable, I do not wish many to be saved but all. And if but one be left in a perishing condition, I perish also, and deem that the Shepherd should be imitated who had ninety-nine sheep, and yet hastened after the one which had gone astray (Luke 15:4).

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