Apprehending Apokastasis: Human Being is Absolute Desire for God

Finally and at long last, we arrive at David Bentley Hart’s fourth meditation in That All Shall Be Saved. This is my favorite chapter of the book. It certainly is the philosophically meatiest and most challenging, which is probably why most reviewers to date have vir­tually ignored it. One reviewer was content, for example, to assure us that St Thomas Aquinas had provided us the solution to the problem posed by Hart—namely, the impossi­bility of definitive and irrevocable rejection of the Good by a rational creature whose happiness is the Good—but without sharing with us the details of Thomas’s solution. Perhaps I am expecting too much from a book review. The simple fact is most of us lack the philosophical competence to address the substance of Hart’s key arguments. One needs to have read the relevant writings of Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, St Gregory of Nyssa, Dionysius the Areopagite, and St Maximus the Confessor, along with a dash of Aquinas. That’s a tall order. I certainly do not qualify. (I’m a blogger, dammit, not a philosopher.) Yet here I am, daring to wade into waters in which angels fear to swim.

Hart controversially asserts that human beings are doomed to happiness with God, yet should it be controversial? Both Eastern and Western Christianity have taught that the human being, created by the Word in the image of the Word, exists in dynamic orientation to its transcendent Creator. God is the Good, Beauty and Truth we desire and seek. As St Augustine memorably stated: “Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are rest­less till they find rest in Thee” (Confessions I.1). We cannot help but to crave fellowship with our Creator and consummation in him. This is how we have been made; this is who we are by nature and grace. We were not created in a neutral state in relation to divinity, as if it were possible for us to generate abiding happiness on our own terms. Our freedom is not a mode of indifference. The human being is nothing less than insatiable thirst for the divine, a spirited and inspirited ever-seeking for the One who is our completion and fulfillment. In the words of St Maximus the Confessor: “God, who created all nature with wisdom and secretly planted in each intelligent being knowledge of Himself as its first power, like a munificent Lord gave also to us men a natural desire and longing for Him, combining it in a natural way with the power of our intelligence” (Various Texts on Theology, the Divine Economy and Virtue and Vice 5.100). God has created humanity for communion with himself. Apart from him we cannot find happiness. He is the power and fulfillment of our searchings, the origin and end of all human desire. Every finite good that we seek in this world betokens the transcendent Good to which we are ordered. We desire anything and everything because of our original desire for God as the transcendental Good and Beautiful; we seek to know anything and everything because of our original intellec­tual appetite for God as transcenden­tal Truth. “Even in desiring to flee God,” remarks Hart, “we are desiring God as the ‘good end’ we seek in godlessness” (EO, 4 May 2015). Simultaneously the plenitude of being and immanent ground of existence,  the infinite Creator is our supreme beatitude and there­fore our final cause and end. Henri de Lubac once asked Maurice Blondel: “How can a conscious spirit be anything other than an absolute desire for God?” Exactly.

Given that we are created by God for union with God, Hart’s assertion that humanity is destined to eternal bliss makes perfect sense. God will have his way with us, one way or another, not by force or coercion but by his very Goodness and the appetition he has placed in our hearts. The following passage summarizes Hart’s fundamental thesis:

The more one is in one’s right mind—the more, that is, that one is conscious of God as the Goodness that fulfills all beings, and the more one recognizes that one’s own nature can have its true completion and joy nowhere but in him, and the more one is unfettered by distorting misperceptions, deranged passions, and the encumbrances of past mistakes—the more inevitable fis one’s surrender to God. Liberated from all ignorance, emancipated from all the adverse conditions of this life, the rational soul could freely will only its own union with God, and thereby its own supreme beatitude. We are, as it were, doomed to happiness, so long as our natures follow their healthiest impulses unhindered; we cannot not will the satisfaction of our beings in our true final end, a transcendent Good lying behind and beyond all the proxi­mate ends we might be moved to pursue. This is no constraint upon the freedom of the will, coherently conceived; it is simply the consequence of possessing a nature produced by and for the transcendent Good: a nature whose proper end has been fashioned in harmony with a supernatural purpose. God has made us for himself, as Augustine would say, and our hearts are restless till they rest in him. A rational nature seeks a rational end: Truth, which is God himself. The irresistibility of God for any soul that has truly been set free is no more a constraint placed upon its liberty than is the irresistible attraction of a flowing spring of fresh water in a desert place to a man who is dying of thirst; to choose not to drink in that circum­stance would be not an act of freedom on his part, but only a manifestation of the delusions that enslave him and force him to inflict violence upon himself, contrary to his nature. A woman who chooses to run into a burn­ing building not to save another’s life, but only because she can imagine no greater joy than burning to death, may be exercising a kind of “liberty,” but in the end she is captive to a far profounder poverty of rational freedom. (pp. 40-41)

We will unpack this passage (and many others) in future installments, but the essential point is plain enough. The desire for God is intrinsic to human nature. In our fallen exis­tence, we do not experience this desire in its purity and perfection. It can be temporarily forgotten; it can be perverted and corrupted and twisted from its proper goal; but ulti­mately it can be neither extinguished nor eradicated. If it could be, we would, at that very moment, cease to be human. As Catholic theologian Stephen Duffy puts it:

In the concrete nature of fallen humanity there is an interior, absolute desire of the Kingdom that correlates with the universal salvific divine will. This determination is an existential. It is prior to all personal options and persists through all possible acceptances or rejections of one’s end. What­ever one does, one remains interiorly ordered to absolute communion with God. (The Graced Horizon, p. 23)

Once we grasp the truth of humanity’s primordial desire for the Good, the traditional claim that human beings might freely give themselves over to everlasting misery becomes increasingly problematic. Surely the burden of proof rests upon the defenders of hell.

(Go to “Ravished by Irresistible Love”)

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80 Responses to Apprehending Apokastasis: Human Being is Absolute Desire for God

  1. Mark Chenoweth says:

    Dr. Hart,

    Since I see your comments on here every once in a while, I thought I would give this a shot.

    Regarding the above argument, how do you see the incarnation fitting into all this? Would it be to liberate humanity from bondage to its ignorance/defective will? Although I know speaking in counterfactuals is always dangerous, if the incarnation had not occured, or if God had not provided humanity a way out, what would be humanity’s lot?

    When I first came across this argument of yours, it initially struck me as getting rid of the need for the incarnation, since through necessity, every human will would find its way to God no matter what. But reading through Nyssa’s Catechetical Oration, and looking through your book again, I’m guessing I’m wrong. For Gregory and Maximus, Christ “leads” human nature up to God, which to me, implies that had God not become human, the human will would still be bound in ignorance and universal salvation would not be possible. Christ’s incarnation is what frees every human will so that it can eventually find its “rest” in God.

    Am I on the right track here? Is this, more or less, how you see things?

    Thanks,

    -Mark

    Liked by 1 person

    • DBH says:

      Well, for free will not only to be operative, but to find its true end in the Good, it still must be *set* free from what binds it to death and ignorance and cruelty. The book’s argument is that the free-will defense of hell is incoherent, not that we are free without grace.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Liam says:

        Hi Dr. Hart,

        I read “The Doors of the Sea” after reading “That All Shall Be Saved” because I wanted to see how you approached the problem of evil. In “The Doors of the Sea,” you write, “…it seems worth noting that there is a point at which an explanation becomes so comprehensive that it ceases to explain anything at all, because it has become a mere tautology. In the case of a pure determinism, this is always so. To assert that every finite contingency is solely and unambiguously the effect of a single will working through all things – without any deeper mystery of created freedom – is to assert that the world is what it is, for any meaningful distinction between the will of God and the simple totality of cosmic eventuality has collapsed” (29-30). Did you reject the libertarian conception of free will at the time you wrote “The Doors of the Sea”? Is your current approach to the problem of evil different than the approach you took in “The Doors of the Sea”?

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        • DBH says:

          My thinking had not changed at all. There is nothing in that quotation that suggests a libertarian picture of free will.

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          • Liam says:

            I think I’m confused about your interpretation of the libertarian picture of free will. Do you think people can ever choose to do otherwise?

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          • DBH says:

            Otherwise than what? Of course people can choose. They have real deliberative liberty. That’s the whole point of an intellectualist model of free will: precisely because a rational nature has an intrinsic transcendental finality, it possesses a real power of making free deliberative choices. A purely libertarian model of freedom makes choice purely spontaneous and so (paradoxically) unfree.

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          • Liam says:

            Otherwise than how one actually acted. For example, could you have chosen to not respond to my last comment?

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Liam, you already know the answer. The answer is yes. We are free to choose between finite goods. Please reread David’s fourth meditation in TASBS.

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          • Liam says:

            Hi Fr Aidan,

            I think you’re referring to this passage from the fourth meditation:

            “That is not to deny that, within the embrace of this relation between the will’s origin and its end in the Good (that, again, Maximus the Confessor calls our “natural will”), there is considerable room for deliberative liberty with regard to differing finite options (what Maximus calls the “gnomic will”), and considerable room in which to stray from the ideal path.” (179).

            In one of the articles on your blog, Dr. Bradshaw says the following:

            “This means that, in contemporary terms, Maximus is closer to being a libertarian than a compatibilist, including a theological compatibilist. However, it would not be right to identify his view simply as libertarian, for it includes an element that contemporary libertarianism normally does not—namely, the fundamental structure contained in the three logoi of being, well-being, and eternal being. Because human choice always takes place within this structure it is never wholly de novo, but always a response to the invitation to deification present within God’s creative intent.”

            https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2016/08/03/st-maximus-the-confessor-on-the-will-natural-and-gnomic/

            Dr. Hart seems to embrace an intellectualist model, which, based on what Dr. Bradshaw says later in the article, seems to be more aligned with compatibilism than with libertarianism:

            “Yet if the will is not determined by reason, then how can we avoid positing it simply as a capacity for deciding arbitrarily among alternatives? Such a view leads to at least two significant worries. One is that it makes the acts of will arbitrary, and thus unintelligible. The other is that it makes them not truly free, for we normally think of someone as acting freely precisely when his reasons can be understood. If it turns out that free choice is instead simply a random process operating in the mind, then it would seem that we are at the mercy of that random process, rather than free agents. This was in essence the reply of the medieval intellectualists to the voluntarists, as it is the reply today of compatibilists to libertarians.”

            I guess my point is that this is a complicated issue that doesn’t have a clear answer.

            Liked by 1 person

          • DBH says:

            Liam,

            There are more possibilities than pure libertarianism (which is voluntarism) and pure compatibilism (which is thoroughly determinist). There is a proper intellectualism that presumes both a transcendental orientation toward infinite Goodness and also an empirical openness to a variety of finite goods under which the Good appears in various aspects. (For the Scotist, for instance, there is always a distinction between the Good as apprehended by the affectio iustitiae and the Godd as apprehended by the affectio commodi.) Whatever the case, a choice feely made will be made purposively and teleologically directed. To the degree that this freedom is contingent upon perception, knowledge, condition, etc., it is limited and can go astray; so freedom is never perfect in this life. The will follows the intellect but the intellect can be mistaken. And, to a degree, the intellect also follows the will, since the prior transcendental intentionality permits the intellect to perceive anything at all, and so a misguided will draws the intellect further away from truth. But that is different from a pure unconditioned will that is determined by mere physical antecedents. Curiously enough, the libertarian model in its purest form is the one that is truly deterministic.

            As for “compatibilism,” that term should be used with care. In modern usage it means a perfect compatibility between total determinism and total liberty; but that is not what the intellectualist model, properly speaking, is.

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          • Liam says:

            Hi Dr. Hart,

            I’m not familiar with the pure libertarianism and non-pure libertarianism distinction. Would you say the intellectualist model is a non-pure libertarian model? I thought libertarianism and compatibilism exhausted all of the free will models.

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          • Liam says:

            Hi Fr. Aidan,

            I’ve given it some more thought, and I think we need to distinguish between the following questions:

            1. Can we freely choose between finite goods?
            2. Could I have chosen a different finite good than the one I chose?

            Based on the definition of freedom that Dr. Hart uses, his answer to the first question is “Yes.” But I think Dr. Hart’s answer to the second question would be “No,” based on what he says in the fourth meditation and in his comments on this blog.

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          • TJF says:

            Freedom and choice are not synonymous. In fact, when you are perfectly free there is no choice.

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          • Liam says:

            Hi TJF,

            Does this mean that when I am not perfectly free, I could have chosen a different finite good than the one I chose?

            Like

          • TJF says:

            Based on what?

            Like

          • Liam says:

            Hi TJF,

            How are you defining choice? I thought this statement implied that having perfect freedom means that you could not have chosen otherwise: “In fact, when you are perfectly free there is no choice.”

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          • TJF says:

            DBH and Fr. Aidan and many others are far more competent than me. I have nothing to add to what they have said. I will respectfully bow out of the conversation, since I think they have answered your question better than I could ever hope to do.

            Liked by 1 person

      • Liam says:

        Hi Fr Aidan,

        Thanks, I must have misunderstood the fourth meditation. I will reread it.

        Like

        • Michael Robbins says:

          If I might butt in, I think there are different models of determinism (as David gets at in the book), & different ways of construing free will. None of us is totally free from determining circumstances (one of the main reasons hell would be unjust). People make their own history but not as they please, etc. On the model David proposes, it seems to me that there is no contradiction in holding both that we are free to choose and that no one would in the fullness of time choose to reject God’s goodness, rightly understood. In a similar way, it is not regarded as a contradiction of free will that no one in his right mind would choose what would make things go worse for himself (unless a greater good compels him, which is to say that he sacrifices his own well-being for something he regards as more important—which is still to say, in a sense, that not to do so would make things go worse for him in certain respects). To say that a given conception of the will is deterministic or not is not to have said much without further elucidation. Some degree of some sort of determinism is surely always in play.

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          • Liam says:

            Hi Michael,

            I have encountered four different types of determinism: causal determinism, logical determinism, epistemic determinism, and theological determinism. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on free will says the following about theological determinism:

            “Some religious traditions hold that God is ultimately responsible for everything that happens. According to these traditions, God’s willing x is necessary and sufficient for x. But if He is ultimately responsible for everything in virtue of what He wills, then He is ultimately responsible for all the actions and volitions performed by agents.”

            https://www.iep.utm.edu/freewill/#SH6a

            I don’t think David is a theological determinist. Maybe there is a fifth type of determinism that David subscribes to. He expresses sympathy for some sort of “transcendental determinism”:

            “For those who worry that this all amounts to a kind of metaphysical determinism of the will, I may not be able to provide perfect comfort. Of course it is a kind of determinism, but only at the transcendental level, and only because rational violation must be determinate to be anything at all.” (178)

            I’m still not sure how David would answer the following question: If all factors are held constant, could I have chosen a different finite good than the one I chose?

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          • DBH says:

            Liam

            You’re asking the wrong question. At least, it’s a question to which no one has a real answer and that is actually quite unimportant. If you confine yourself to a bare polarity between “libertarianism” or “compatibilism,” you miss the point.

            As long as you grasp that free intentionality is determined by a final causality, a horizon of transcendental appetite, and not by antecedent physical causes, then you have understood enough. Whatever we do with any degree of real liberty we do toward an end, rather than as a result of the forces impelling us “from behind” or “from below.” To be free means not to be propelled into an action by external forces contrary to your desire. Still, Schopenhauer is right: “You are free to do as you wish; you are not able to choose what you wish.” Which means also that the more clearly you have a knowledge of what you truly desire, the less chance there is that you could have chosen otherwise.

            As for the circumstances defining or shaping our decisions– It may be the case that perception is often so uncertain that there is an element of “chance” in your choosing, not because you are “free” to make a spontaneous choice between two paths, but because you are so unfree that your spontaneity overwhelms your reason. My claim is not that we are incapable of irrational actions, but only that we are incapable of irrational actions that are in any meaningful sense free. So, yes, it’s perhaps quite possible you could have done otherwise, but only because of the bondage of your will and the imperfection of your reason.

            Now, are the irrational forces that move us so invariable that, in any given instance, they are wholly determinate in their effects? Impossible to say. Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps there are two possible worlds (to use a strategy I dislike) where the same empirical situation in both leads to you doing different things in each, because the “chance” was equal either way. (Whether that possibility obeys the Principle of Sufficient Reason is an argument for some other decade.) But it does not really matter: whether those force are wholly determinate in effect or not, their effect is not freedom.

            Grasp the difference between determinism in the sense of “no other possibility,” and a transcendental determination of rational freedom toward its only possible transcendent terminus of desire. You seem to think that the issue of “choice” is where the libertarian or intellectualist issue has to be resolved; but, in fact, that is to limit the discussion to a single empirical plane where all talk of free will is meaningless.

            If you think there are only two models of freedom, moreover, libertarian or compatibilist, and that these two models are univocally definable, you need to get out of the analytic world and roam around a bit. “Compatibilism” is a largely worthless term here because it fails to distinguish between real determinism (the determination of the will by an extrinsic agency or causality) and transcendental determination (the horizon of the Good-True-Beautiful that sets the rational will free to seek what it truly desires). The former is inevitably a somewhat mechanistic account of human action in terms of exterior causes, while the latter simply has to do with the interior rational structure of an agent’s will. (Remember, that transcendental horizon is not external to your rational will: it is an immanent finality always already present within it, making it in fact both rational and free.) Since “choice” is always a realm of unfreedom to some degree, how many real possible ends it entails has nothing to do with the question of freedom.

            Liked by 3 people

          • DBH says:

            I should add, Liam, that even in saying that we are capable of irrational actions, I don’t mean wholly irrational. Everything has a motive. To the degree that we are prisoners of delusion, that motive will be removed from proper rationality. But, even when we act that way, we have SOME rationale (however confused or misconstrued).

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      • Liam says:

        Thanks Dr. Hart; I think I have a better understanding of your position now. In order to make sure I understand you, I’m going to put Godwin’s law into effect: Does this mean Hitler could not have chosen to act differently?

        My understanding is that I have free will in the libertarian sense if and only if there is at least one time in my life where more than one choice is possible. But that may be the result of me favoring the analytic approach over the continental approach.

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        • DBH says:

          No it does not mean that Hitler could not have chosen otherwise. As a question of logical possibility, of course he could have done. As a question of practical possibility in any given situation, it is impossible to quantify the degree to which chance forces can inhibit the rational will. I don’t believe in “physical” determinism in the scholastic sense; there is a real struggle within us between the rational longing for the good and the irrational forces (within and without) that bind us. But, again, who knows?

          You need to abandon the crude analytic dichotomy between libertarian and compatibilist models of freedom. Both are inadequate. Pure libertarianism would require pure spontaneity; but pure spontaneity could not be really free. Pure compatibilism requires total determinism, but total determinism is not freedom either, because it would operate mechanically and extrinsically to the will and intellect.

          We are free to the degree that the moral causality of the Good causes us within ourselves to embrace that finality of our nature, which we desire before and above all else. We are free in coming to rest in God. To the degree that we are unfree, we are ever more the victims of subrational spontaneities. I suspect that the nearer to the level of pure fortuity in the will we get—the nearer the level of prime matter in the will, so to speak—the more indeterminate and stochastic the results.

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          • Liam says:

            At the level of metaphysical possibility, could Hitler have chosen otherwise? Forgive me for using a strategy you dislike: Is there a metaphysically possible world where Hitler acted differently, without that difference in action being the result of involuntary spontaneity? To me, determinism of any type implies that there was a never a time when Hitler actually could have chosen otherwise, even if it was logically possible for him to have chosen otherwise.

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Liam, I need to close down this line of discussion about Hitler and determinism. As philosophically interesting as this topic might be, it’s not germane to my article and the transcendental evel of determinism that David is talking about in his book. Thanks for understanding.

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          • Liam says:

            Hi Fr. Aidan,

            OK. I invite anyone who wants to continue this discussion to comment on my post on the problem of evil and suffering on my blog:

            https://reasonablydoubtful1.wordpress.com/2020/02/27/the-problem-of-evil-and-suffering-revisited/

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        • mercifullayman says:

          The Hitler question, in my opinion, is a false dilemma. Flip it around: Could Hitler have chosen to act differently in which case? A specific instance, or all of them? If you mean in that his actions as defined are a cumulative account of all of his choices as “act differently” then we have to get into the discussion of habits, influence, and passion and their own effects on the mind/will (church fathers like Maximus, and John of Damascus talk about this quite a bit). In a sense, the more irrationally he chooses, the deeper entrenched in that irrationality he becomes. I would identify that as what Sin is…the entrenching of ourselves in irrationality. If in his ultimate quest for the good, being replaced by his own irrational definition of what that good is, he might have gone so far from reality that he essentially becomes the irrational thing itself and in losing himself, couldn’t do other wise. For him to be pulled out of the depths of that irrationality, it would have taken a “seismic act” where the irrationality is superseded by the good in such a way to alter his environment.

          So in a sense, based on the sum total of his existence as well as influence, he COULD have chosen differently at different points in his life but how would we know what moment would be a defining moment for him in the whole of his History. It isn’t like he could just wake up one day and so “Oh, all of the other stuff in my life that have gotten me here, let me act in the exact opposite.” Maybe another choice would have then led to say the Hitler who was a painter, etc., but he didn’t and that could be for a thousand reasons. So anecdotally, we have to look at it from what we know to be true about the effects those choices, environment, and more had on him or the result of his person. Was the option to really, and effectively choose differently there for him, based on where all of that led him to? It would be hard to say, at least in my opinion. Things are neither fully determined, nor are they fully open. To assume either end of the spectrum in the sense I think you mean, is futile. Life never plays out that way, nor could it be dumbed down as such. We all know choices are motivated by differing factors. I think, unfortunately, there is a metaphysic mystery here, and that’s ok. The “butterfly effect” in a way, is to me as much a fact in all of this as anything. Existence seems to be rooted as much in community as in individual decision making. There is more than just I have or don’t have a choice for x or y.

          DBH, in my opinion, just happens to have the clearest example of what I think love (as justice and mercy) requires in the end. And also, how both views could be reconciled as open and closed.

          Maybe I’m wrong, and don’t understand the nuts and bolts of the argument, but that’s at least what it kind of sounds like to me.

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          • Liam says:

            Hi mercifullayman,

            I think the false dilemma can be avoided by asking if there was any instance in which Hitler could have chosen to act differently. My understanding is that Hitler had free will in the libertarian sense if and only if there was at least one time in his life where more than one choice was possible, although Dr. Hart doesn’t like the libertarian/compatibilist dichotomy.

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  2. Robert Fortuin says:

    Yes, it is the 4th meditation where the theological rubber hits the road because it tackles the most respectable objection to universalism, namely that of freedom. This is the most common objection one will hear, coming from all the various ideological and confessional corners – the hell is locked from the inside argument. What we are forced to consider is the nature of freedom – this is not a small task as moderns we presume to know what freedom means and entails. Christian or not, we have uncritically consumed the ‘freedom Kool-aid’ that has been set before us. David calls us to reconsider the accepted ‘libertarian’ model of freedom. Are we ready?

    Liked by 3 people

  3. DBH says:

    Al,

    Thanks for this, as for all the rest of your postings on the book. I am not sure that I regard the Fourth Meditation as the philosophically “meatiest,” but I certainly see it as meeting the infernalist position on its final battlefield.

    Whoever the critic is who claims that Aquinas has already provided the answer to my argument there, he is obviously talking through his hat. (I assume the reviewer is male because of my basic misandry.) This is a common enough tactic in certain quarters when one reaches a theological cul-de-sac: wave the name of Aquinas like a magic wand in the hope that somewhere Thomas says something solvent on the issue and you can fool your readers into thinking you know what it is, so they needn’t bother worrying about it.

    There genuinely is, however, a “Thomistic” riposte (if not an actual answer) to the Fourth Meditation, so long as that chapter is entirely abstracted from the rest of the book. One must recall that, for Thomas—as for Augustine or Calvin or Luther or a great many saints and doctors of the church—the vast, vast, vast majority of human souls have never enjoyed and will never enjoy so much as a moment of genuinely unfettered rational freedom, in this world or the next. They are born enslaved to sin, death, and delusion and, in the natural course of things, are headed for eternal torment without ever had any real hope of avoiding it. Adam and Eve possessed, by Thomism’s logic, a moment of purely graced natural liberty, but failed the test, and so God justly consigns most of their posterity to a condition of everlasting torture and ignorance and bondage because, hey, he can, and somehow they deserve it (though of course they don’t).

    This is because, while God’s “antecedent saving will” is universal and Christ’s work provides “sufficient grace” for universal salvation, God in his inscrutable counsels has determined that his “consequent saving will” encompasses only the tiny company of those he predestines (ante praevisa merita) to beatitude, for whom (and for whom alone) he provides actual “efficacious grace.” Thus far, it all comes down to the long tradition of Augustine’s catastrophic misreading of Paul, and Romans 9-11 in particular. Added to this, however, is the utterly illogical Thomistic belief that a rational creature can in fact rest content in a purely natural end, and that the beatific vision comes as the complete additional grace of the lumen gloriae, which alone superelevates nature to an adventitious supernatural end (that somehow perfects rather than abolishes nature), and you have the perfect formula for God just leaving most of his creatures to be damned for no other reason than that they really do not deserve any better (though of course they do).

    Now, Thomists traditionally do not call this double predestination, but rather the predestination of election for the few accompanied by the eternal “irresistible permissive decree” that condemns every other soul to hell by virtue of the withholding of that aforementioned “efficacious grace.”

    Of course, if my Fourth Meditation is left in its proper place within the whole book, the Thomistic riposte simply throws us back upon the earlier arguments regarding how the metaphysics of creatio ex nihilo entails the collapse of any meaningful distinction between divine will and permission—or between the divine antecedent and consequent wills—at the eschatological horizon, and regarding the “contagion of equivocity” that such doctrines inaugurate, and regarding the analogical disjunction a view like the Thomistic one introduces into all divine predications, and regarding the ontological and moral constitution of personhood….

    This is why all parts of the argument must be held together, so that all the escape hatches are sealed. Because, basically, the Thomistic riposte, when denuded of its specious reasoning, is: God is evil and malevolent, but we are going to call his evil good and his malevolence benevolence, and insist that he is in fact Goodness as such, because he’s—you know—omnipotent, and because tradition tells us we have to accept these contradictions, as abominably cruel as the ultimate picture turns out to be.

    But hasn’t that been the logic of huge portions of the Christian theological tradition for better than a millennium and a half?

    I hope that doesn’t sound too cynical.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      I suspect the ‘grace vs nature’ model is what underwrites the notion of libertarian freedom. Once one decouples nature one ends up with a freedom which is indeterminate, without proper telos. Grace has to rescue nature by a sort of violence, a tour de force of the divine will in opposition the creature. Curiously (or maybe not) the opposition between grace and nature is rooted in the Augustinian understanding of depravity. It is here where eastern Christianity does better: yet even so, alas, the hell-is-locked-from-the-inside is the common refrain even in these quarters.

      Liked by 3 people

      • DBH says:

        Half the way to the truth is better than nothing. At least, the East does not start presuming a God.

        Liked by 2 people

        • DBH says:

          presuming a God who is wicked.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Yes exactly. The re-defining of terms, as in the ‘good’ God who in truth is wicked. Invariably such is accompanied by the stretching of the ‘divine mystery’ to entirely have lost, as you have pointed out, analogical purchase.

            If my intuition serves me right, it is the nature of freedom which demands the most attention and which will in turn yield a harvest commensurate to effort. Indeterminate volition is the de-facto position.

            Like

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      And thank you David for the work you have done on this subject. Truly invaluable.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. horizon74 says:

    Hart, a Hindu at heart (like me) forces himself to believe that home is guaranteed. (But we are lazy.)

    Like

  5. DBH, I know that you are well-read in both eastern and western theology and philosophy. Surely you are aware of the Indian and Buddhist “non-aristotelian” logical traditions? In such logical frameworks, (some) contradictions are permissible and do not lead to explosion. Would your argument for universalism change at all when considered from the perspective of non-western/non-classical logic? Because many of your key claims in your brilliant book seem to rest on proof-by-contradiction principles. (eg, your claim that Creatio ex nihilo necessarily implies apokatastasis because any alternative is contradictory)

    My vague intuition says that both massa (or tota) damnata and apokatastasis are compatible from such a different logical perspective. Everyone is (or will be) simultaneously damned and saved. God can be both infinitely evil and infinitely good. And so on. Just wondering if you’ve ever reflected on these themes and ideas, because your argument in your fantastic book seems to be firmly planted in the western tradition, rather than drawing upon your knowledge of Indian and Eastern thought.

    PS, if you do actually take the time to respond to this message, know that it will leave me feeling incredibly star struck. You are a hero of mine, I look up to you, and I aspire to be like you. I’m studying a masters in theology at notre dame sydney and am hoping to use that to launch into academia and get established as an expert in the fields of comparative world theology and philosophy. I’ve given up a lucrative career in IT in order to pursue this path and it’s a very hungry journey right now. Pray for me!

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    • Iain Lovejoy says:

      I’d be interested if you get an answer because my understanding of the acceptance of contradictions in eastern thought is principally through an acceptance that statements in general are and can only be provisionally true, with absolute truth unexpressable, which is much the same as a lot of Christian, especially Eastern Orthodox, thought about God, which maintains that he can only be spoken of by analogy or by defining what he is not. I don’t think that eastern thought allows for two flatly contradictory straightforward concrete statements about matters that can be expressed meaningfully in concrete terms to both be equally true.
      There’s certainly to my mind an argument that you have to be highly cautious about the meaningfulness of concrete statements about what our ultimate eternal destination is like. If DBH is wrong (I tremble writing these words!) it would not be because the infernalists are right but because infernalism, annihilationism and universalism are all equally misguided attempts to describe and analyse something which cannot be meaningfully analysed in this manner at all, and all both right and wrong to the extent that they intersect with the deeper reality. (For the record, I don’t think this is the case: while any attempt to describe the state of things in the apokatastasis or how we might get there is necessarily going to be hopelessly off base, that we who are created as rational, purposed beings are travelling towards that purpose, and that the achieving the purpose for which we are created is necessarily going to be our ultimate good seems to me a necessary corallary of our existing, without worrying about any shaky specifics of the logic-chopping to reach that conclusion.)

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    • DBH says:

      Dear Iron Knuckle,

      You are too easily star-struck. In this case, think of it as getting a speck of ornamental glitter in your eye.

      One can easily exaggerate the difference between Eastern and Western logical schools on these issues, of course. Nyaya logic, for instance, is often rigidly syllogistic, and its method is considered foundational to all of the Vedic ashtika systems. Navya Naya has produced thinkers who anticipated many of the most siccative brands of analytic logic. (as in everything else in philosophy, India got there centuries before Europe: Fregean logical syntax was alive in well in the Navya Nyaya of 13th century Bengal.) Buddhist pramana logic is often blandly verificationist. Sarvastivada in general relies on a very precise and univocal kind of logic in order to deconstruct “essences.”

      Still, Westerners looking for alternatives tend to look Eastward rather than–as they might just as well–backward. Graham Priest, for instance, being trained primarily in analytic philosophy, finds the Indian catuskoti usefully subversive–especially as perfected in the Madhyamika, and most especially by Nagarjuna–but in fact (as Iain rightly notes) many of the paradoxes generated by tolerable contradictions in that tradition have to do with the inadequacy of conditioned concepts and language and the unconditioned nature of truth. In this respect, the whole neoplatonic and apophatic tradition in the West would find nothing amiss in many of the negations and negations of negations that Nagarjuna perfected. In fact, there is a venerable school of Greek reasoning on the possibility of paradoxes that entail no analytic violation of logic (Such as: This proposition is false.) And, of course, Yogacara ultimately generated forms of “contradictory logic” in, say, certain schools of Chan or Zen; but there the issue is not predication but, again, the failure of conditioned concepts to attain an enlightened recognition of Sunyata.

      In any event, many of these strategies are analogous to similar trends in Western tradition. Nicholas of Cusa can say that God is both the absolute maximum and the absolute minimum, or that he is the coincidence of opposites, or that he is an infinite circle because he is trying to make his readers grasp that the principles of non-contradiction and identity are proper (in their usual acceptation) only to the realm of finite substances (conditioned reality, as the Buddhists would say) and do not apply to the supereminent infinity of God (nor, in fact, are they applicable to the pure potency of materia prima).

      Anyway, not to get lost in the weeds: No, there is no serious school of logic that would challenge my argument, Western or Eastern, except to remind me that all the language I use of God is only a analogically remote sign pointing toward an incomprehensibly greater truth. (And even Adi Shankaracharya would tell you that some predicates are more coherent with regard not only to Brahman saguna, but to Brahman nirguna too.) Certainly no school of logic would credibly oblige me to deny that a set of claims that are–taken as a whole–internally incoherent are in fact also perfectly coherent.

      Like

  6. Thomas says:

    > God is evil and malevolent, but we are going to call his evil good and his malevolence benevolence, and insist that he is in fact Goodness as such, because he’s—you know—omnipotent.

    There’s more subtlety to the Thomist view than that. Thomists would generally grant that God brings about natural evils and suffering, but the term evil is equivocal.

    There is the “evil” whose criteria is pleasure and pain, or what is simply desirable or repugnant. In this sense, punishment is an evil, and God can be said to bring it about. We might recognize this the view of good and evil proportioned mostly to animal intelligence: avoiding pain, seeking enjoyment, attempting to preserve and extend one’s life, and so on.

    There is the evil which is the absence of some good proper to a thing, such as blindness, and the occurrence of blindness can be attributed, with appropriate qualifications, to God. These sorts of evil are involved in the entire chain of life, which involves the destruction and transformation of one thing to another through the processes of evolution, photosynthesis, digestion, etc.

    But the primary, proper criterion of good and evil is intelligibility or its opposite. And objective unintelligibility only occurs in sin, which is more or less when a person intentionally chooses an inadequate justification for a course of action. When one is asked “why did you do X?”, the justification is inadequate (there is no ultimate “why”), and is recognized as such when it is chosen.

    The other forms of evil aren’t “really” evil, from the Thomist point of view. Suffering makes sense on the biological level for the survival of life forms. On a human level, suffering is explicable as a punishment. It is not ultimately evil, because we can understand why it occurs. Likewise, evil as privation is explicable in light of the food chain, material limitations (etc.). Only the irrational principle of a rational, reflective act is unintelligible, and therefore truly evil.

    Thomists aren’t voluntarists, and it’s not an appeal to raw power that prevents attributing evil to God; it’s a matter of having the right criteria for good and evil. Evil can only be attributed directly to God if God had an inadequate principle of action (and he can’t because he is his own principle of action) or if he caused humans to sin, which he doesn’t. But it is also the case that St. Thomas doesn’t believe God unrestrictedly loves everyone, and it is due to the partial nature of God’s love that not everyone receives the grace that would save them.

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    • DBH says:

      Obviously Thomists do not use that language. It happens to be correct nonetheless. Because, make whatever excuses one may, they attribute acts and intentions to God that can only be evil, and then make bad arguments for why those acts are good. A little refresher in Thomistic catechetics isn’t really needed here. Let’s be clear: To say that God irresistibly permissively decrees the eternal torment of creatures, especially when those creatures have never had the *actual* liberty to do otherwise than sin and die in sin, is to say that he acts malevolently. To say that God predestines a small elect to salvation out of the bounty of his grace but determines ante praevisa merita–despite having the power to do otherwise–to withhold that grace from others is to say that he is evil. To say God creates creatures whom he loves in differing degrees not because of their merits but out of his sovereign will so to do, and condemns all but his favorites to perdition, is to say he is a moral monster. To say that God creates a world willingly in full knowledge of the inevitable eternal torture of his rational creatures, as a result of the consequences of a transgression they had no part in save through a spurious divine imputation, is to say that he is infinitely unjust and infinitely cruel. It does not matter how one twists reason to create an innocent God out of this worthless heap of depraved assertions. To call that God good or just or rational is to trade in equivocity, and thereby to render all theological assertions meaningless. The attempt to justify a ridiculous set of teachings by pretending that there is some logical distinction between divine will and divine permission that can survive logical scrutiny, or that it is possible to maintain that God creates “sinners” as sinners from nothingness without being the ultimate cause of their sin, is proof that bad doctrine renders us stupid. This entire tradition of reasoning is an embarrassment to Christian theology.

      By the way, the Thomistic understanding of natural “evils” as proper to an unfallen world lacking gratuitous and superelevating grace is not only deeply unbiblical. It too makes God evil.

      Liked by 1 person

      • DBH says:

        Sorry, meant to say: “pretending that there is some logical distinction between divine will and divine permission in the final shape of creation that can survive logical scrutiny…”

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      • Thomas says:

        Accusing Thomists of equivocity here seems odd to me. The predominate strategy is to analyze what is meant by good and evil, to restrict the proper sense of evil to sin and the proper sense of good to intelligibility, and to argue in that sense that God is not evil–precisely to avoid ambiguity or equivocity around the term “evil”. Terminological and conceptual consistency seem to be a virtue of this approach, though consistency does not mean the arguments are ultimately correct.

        And Thomists do, in my experience, readily (often cheerfully) admit that God brings about the evil of suffering by inflicting punishment. St. Thomas himself certainly wasn’t shy to assert that. Attributing evil to God by pros hen analogy doesn’t seem out of place, even if Thomists don’t usually go out of their way to do that.

        On the main issue, it’s not clear to me (from this response) whether you’re contesting the sharp distinction Thomists would make between the proper sense of good and evil (where the criterion is intelligibility) and the other senses, where, for instance, the criteria of animal consciousness stands out. The repeated association of evil with torture seems to suggest that you may contest St. Thomas’ criterion and the sharp distinction he makes between types of evil, rather than the application of that criterion, but that’s just an impression.

        For the record, I agree with the Thomist criteria of the good solely as the intelligible, but I think this cuts against the eternal persistence of moral evil in hell’s population. (Can the objectively unintelligible have a say in the ultimate structure of the universe?) The further fact that God cannot be, on the St. Thomas’ view, unrestrictedly loving is a separate issue, but probably more pressing for me on a purely personal level.

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        • DBH says:

          Excuse my yawn. Thomists restrict the attribution of evil to acts without intelligible rationale, but fail to see moral intelligibility as the only acceptable rationale. All of these issues are more than adequately dealt with in my book’s first meditation. An evil act is evil if its author fails to will the morally good. And yes, I deny the partition between natural and moral evil as viewed from the vantage of God’s ultimate intentionality in creation. Just as I deny, from that same vantage, the distinction of divine will and permission, or divine antecedent and consequent will.

          You are missing the point. Yes, the evil is the irrational. What the bloody Thomists don’t realize is that the God of their theology acts irrationally. If the good is the rational, then conversely the rational must be good. And the withholding of efficacious grace from rational creatures (for instance) is malice, cruelty, injustice.

          Simply saying that Thomists have defined evil in such a parsimonious way as to avoid equivocity does not mean they have succeeded in doing so. Cruelty, for instance, is evil in se. If the Thomist account of God is, by any correct application of reason, of a cruel creator, then it is a sin against reason not to use the proper predicate: evil.

          It is a shame you take such nonsense seriously.

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          • Thomas says:

            > You are missing the point. Yes, the evil is the irrational. What the bloody Thomists don’t realize is that the God of their theology acts irrationally. If the good is the rational, then conversely the rational must be good.

            But … isn’t that exactly the position I advanced when I said Thomists are right in sharply distinguishing the intelligible good from the merely desirable good, but wrong in the application (i.e., in concluding for that reason that God can torment people for all eternity that he could have saved)?

            Recall the original claim I contested was that Thomists appeal ultimately to power to defend God’s goodness. All I’m saying is that this mistakes what the primary counter-argument–not whether it ultimately holds.

            There’s an essential step, in my view, to contesting a theological/philosophical position, and that’s having a fairly exhaustive, well-documented (even generous quotations of passages and detailed footnotes are not out of line!), and precise account of what it says and why before proceeding to the merits. One should be able to get a position right before saying why it is wrong.

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          • DBH says:

            By the same token, Thomas, if I mock the traditionalist Thomists for talking nonsense out of fear of divine omnipotence, you ought not be so literalist as to imagine I am saying that that is their actual explicit rationale. A joke is not a proposition.

            Effectively, though, there is a divine voluntarism implicit in the late Augustinian theology of grace, and Thomism does not escape its logic. The emergence of full voluntarism in the fourteenth century and after was simply the final result of a thousand years of predestinarian thinking.

            I need to stop commenting. This quarantine (mine started last week because of my damaged lungs) is making me stir-crazy.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            David, speaking of voluntarism, perhaps you can answer this question for me: Is it your impression that some/many/most Orthodox theologians today are voluntarists? I was wondering about the other day regarding Zizioulas.

            Liked by 1 person

          • TJF says:

            I have a question that may be slightly off topic, so if it is then please delete my comment. Can this difference between east and west be traced all the way back to the differences between Aristotle and Plato, where the East followed more along the lines of Plato’s thought and the West, Aristotle’s as Philip Sherrard claimed? I know that is a crude generalization, but is it basically right?

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  7. I am reminded, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each man. . .” (Blaise Pascal). That we, each of us, measure and react to this longing — something to go towards to relax in a womb while simultaneously urging us forward to future accomplishments or failure (we do not know beforehand) — by our own choice to follow a degree of willing commitment, merely watch, or re-define the “issue” into something more palatable, downgrading its character, to our liking.

    I have greatly appreciated the dialogue. Thanks. -Jeff

    Liked by 1 person

  8. david foutch says:

    I have two questions for DBH: (1) If we allow ourselves to shake-fists against a god that would consign human beings to eternal torment, what prevents us from surrounding the big house with pitchforks and torches against a god that creates a world in which every sort of horror cuts life short and makes it wretched? Isn’t it possible that a person can feel equally indignant at god for the cruelties of this world as one might feel toward god that permits hell? And (2) there’s the question of moral authority. I get the distinct impression that you are assuming that “good” has objective value and even the balance of god’s actions can be weighed against the feather of Ma’at with a crouching Anubian-DBH waiting to jump at his lunch.

    In essence, I hear you saying, in lay-speak, “It’s wrong to burn dummies in the fire. Ergo, if you worship a dummy-burning god, then you’re god is no different than–Satan!” Even if you appeal to the assumption that the character of God is the foundation of what is “good”, then we are still left with the first question above. Isn’t it legitimate to be indignant at god for the sad-sackery of the human condition?

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    • Iain Lovejoy says:

      It’s perfectly OK to be indignant at God for temporary and transient suffering as well, and for not giving anybody a clue why all this sh*t is necessary and why he is so long fixing it – in the Bible Job is exactly that, and is commended by God for it. DBH has written another book, “The Doors of the Sea” IIRC, on this theme (although I’ve not read that one). The issue is though that while it is conceivable that finite suffering might somehow turn out to be necessary on the way to an end which is a much greater good for the sufferer, and thus actually a good if properly understood (as a child thinks their parents are horrible for taking them to the dentist), a final end in infinite torment obviously cannot be.

      Like

      • david foutch says:

        First, do you see any problems with the argument that the ends justify the means? In principle, that means that there is no conceivable finite horror so awful that some sufficiently powerful god can’t justify its existence with some end. You see the problem with that? It becomes a dilemma in delay-discounting. Burn alive for a billion years? No problems! God will grant you a thousand billion years of rewarding life after. Second, since DBH has already said that he denies any distinction between divine will and permission–and I completely agree–then, essentially, my question becomes: why isn’t the suffering of this world sufficient to reject the worship of any god right out of hand? Basically, DBH is arguing that there is a moral ground on which human beings can evaluate the actions of any god we might intend to worship and based on how they measure up we are entitled to deny worship to that god. It’s like a litmus test. And whatever else that god might say to justify his/her actions no appeal to power or to our ignorance suffices. AND that god can’t wave a magical moral wand and make silk purses out of sow’s ears. We gave thumbs-down to cthulhu, xenu, and the spaghetti monster…so why not say that the very existence of horror in this world is sufficient reason not to worship any god?

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        • mercifullayman says:

          Not that I’m one with the intellect to argue with you guys, but I think there is a distinction between the age to come as a penultimate source of manifestation/reward, and then the final submission to God of 1 Cor. 15. I see it more as God coming full circle, enfolding into Himself, much like prior to creation. When all things are submitted, even the Son himself, I think means “all in all” means all parts are placed back in the whole. So does one really get a reprieve per se, if after an allotted time, the intended purpose of being is just wrapped back up into itself? Also, how much suffering does one have to have for something to be placated, even in a sense of justice defining torment? Retributive justice in that sense, does nothing more than equate to an eye for an eye, and now we’re drawing distinctions between the speck of one eye and the log of another. Subjectively, we could all assign a value, but that wouldn’t negate the choice God chooses from being the ultimate arbiter of that justice. The fact that any justice exists at all, especially in the corrective sense, seems to point towards the type of nature He has, and what we can see from the text and fathers is that God’s justice is always limited by his mercy. They are equal aspects of ultimate being as such. God’s action of justice for one being in a sense could not also trump his action of mercy for another, if we take the claims that he desires all men to come to the knowledge of the truth seriously. Then when that truth is learned, he has to be consistent there.

          I could be way off, but that’s my two cents.

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          • david foutch says:

            So, if at bottom the question I’m asking is ‘why not say that the very existence of horror in this world is sufficient reason not to worship any god?’ How does what you say answer that question? I’m not seeing the connection.

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        • Iain Lovejoy says:

          The question “what justifies worshipping God” isn’t one universalism is actually an answer to, nor is that the point DBH is trying to make. His point is that without assuming universalism, God is *necessarily* evil: that is, God might still not be good even if you *do* assume universalism, but he is very definitely not good if you don’t.
          Your question “why worship any god” is a wholly different can of worms: my answer is that you shouldn’t. “God” in the Christian sense doesn’t refer to a divine being in the sense of, say, Zeus or Thor but to the origin and source of existence itself and the foundation on which it rests. Even the actual worshippers of Zeus, Thor etc did not consider them “God” in the Christian sense of the word.
          “God” is a brute fact of existence, not an entity within existence that we can choose to ignore – our entire existence depends on and is a constant interaction with “God”, because it is this very thing that we are interacting with that we call “God”, and it is the thing by which we exist and interact at all. The question is not whether he is “worthy of worship” but how best we are to relate to the source and origin of our being in which we live, and move and breathe.

          Liked by 1 person

    • TJF says:

      Hello david,

      I will try to answer your question. As Iain said it is actually perfectly reasonable for us to shout in anger at God as a form of prayer, just read the Psalms. Ultimately the problem of evil is mysterious. If there was no logical reason to believe in God, then you would be obviously correct to say that we should just abandon belief in God due to temporal suffering. That’s the problem though, the problem of evil is made more mysterious by the problem of the Good and by metaphysics that seem to rationally point to the existence of a God who is the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. We also have the testimony of the saints and the unanimous refrain is that this suffering we endure doesn’t really matter too much in the grand scheme of things. And this comes from people who have endured the most squalid and brutal lives imaginable. That does carry weight with most people. Also, like a said you can go all the way back to the Pre-socratics and Plato to see that there is a rational basis for God. I am ultimately convinced that Platonic metaphysics is correct ergo God must exist for anything to make sense. So how do we square this with the reality for evil? IDK, I don’t think anyone does. The only answer is, I guess we will find out and see. You also seem to think the God is like some greek deity. He is not. He is not a creature alongside other creatures. We cannot judge Him by some ethical standard outside of Himself since He Himself contains all things. That’s not what DBH is doing. He is asking (and responding) to the question: Does the story we have told about this Transcedent God (The Good) make sense? He says on an infernalist basis, no it doesn’t. Universal salvation it does. And yes there is a difference between temporary and eternal. Some would say an infinite difference. There are differences in kind and not degree, so yes even if you suffered for a billion years to gain eternal life that would be worth it. A billion is infinitely less than eternity after all.

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      • david foutch says:

        TJF
        There’s a number of fallacies and assumptions that you’re making. I am tempted to point them out, but in my experience that just becomes a rabbit hole. If you take a second and third look I think you will see that you did not answer my question–you answered your question. And in essence you are saying ‘Because answers like these are ‘morally intelligible’ to myself and most folks then why don’t you join us on the bandwagon?’

        Calling the problem of suffering, or evil, mysterious doesn’t help. It pushes the question back while giving oneself the sense that an answer was given.

        Saying that the suffering we endure doesn’t really matter too much in the grand scheme of things is just another way of saying that the ends justify the means. I guess what happened in name-your-favorite-holocaust doesn’t really matter…not really…not in the big picture. You’re basically saying that there is no evil so contrary to God’s nature that can’t
        be permitted as long as it is justified by some big picture. I don’t buy it.

        Like

      • david foutch says:

        Why can’t I reply???

        Like

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      In terms of Hart’s primary argument against eternal damnation, there is a critical difference between asserting that God has created a world fully intending a populated hell, thereby demonstrating that he is not infinite goodness, and asserting that the temporal horrors of this world demonstrate that he is not infinite goodness. That difference may not seem existentially relevant, yet there is a difference, nonetheless.

      The questions you raise were discussed a few months ago here on the blog. See “Universalism the Only Theodicy?” and Hart’s response “Theodicy and Apokatastasis.”

      To your specific concern, I personally do not believe that a fully convincing theodicy is possible when speaking of unspeakable horrors. E. L. Mascall has provided what I deem the only possible answer, and as you’ll see, it’s not an answer at all. This does not mean that Christians do not have reasons (some theological, others existential) for believing that God is absolute love, despite the horrors humanity endures. We do. But the question of suffering will always remain urgent.

      Liked by 1 person

      • david foutch says:

        Fr Aidan Kimel,
        I find that a world where god is effectively nonexistent to be more than sufficient reason for any rational person to dismiss any claim would-be candidate deities might have on human devotion. How is permitting evil effectively any different than willing evil when you have the inexhaustible might to do or do otherwise? Does the fact that god can ‘make it all better’ in some future time exonerate him from complicity with the original commission of evil? I get the sense that people are using the god-can-make-it-better card as a get-out-of jail-free card.

        BTW, isn’t it the official doctrine of the EOC that there is no repentance after judgment for those in hell? There are several official web sites that say as much. Doesn’t that mean that the official position of the EOC is that human history has just been a baby-maker for hell? So, basically, DBH is throwing stones at his own house?

        Here is where I am at. Do not misunderstand me…I am Orthodox through and through. BUT…I think that to be fair we should just acknowledge that this world is sufficient justification to doubt the existence of any god. Why is that so hard to concede? I just did and lightning didn’t strike. I have no patience for arm-chair indignation. If you’re going to shake fists do it from your guts. I’ve met people where life took its pound of flesh and left a gaping hole. Time doesn’t always heal as the song says “the years burn”. As an Orthodox Christian my understanding of God is inarticulable and may need to explain has all but passed. Most days I don’t understand what I’m doing or why I’m doing it, but here is what I think…I am Orthodox not just for myself but for those who can’t or won’t. I hold an Orthodox hope not not just for myself but for those who can’t or won’t. I take Orthodox communion not just for myself but for those who can’t or won’t. I pray Orthodox prayers not just for myself but for those who can’t or won’t. Is God good? Well, he better be or it’s been one big giant waste of time. My Orthodoxy feels like “hope against all hope.” I can’t reconcile the world as it is with the God I profess. I can’t do it. I simply accept that these two are entirely incommensurate. But, I feel compelled to make a choice and so for better or for worse I have thrown in my lot with the Orthodox and I accept that this may be entirely unresolvable in my life.

        In the mean time I occasionally distract myself try to see what good may come from pushing the boundary.

        By the way, I am Simon. Forgive me if I have given any reason for offense.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Simon, horrific suffering will always be the single greatest objection to faith. I do not have a philosophical answer which either you or anyone else would find probative. As a Christian, all I can do is look to the cross. That must be sufficient (or not) until our Lord returns.

          It’s unclear to me whether you have read That All Shall Be Saved. This thread is devoted to Hart’s arguments in the book. The articles in this series may not make a great deal of sense if you have not read it. As already noted, theodicy is the theme of another of Hart’s books: Doors of the Sea. In many ways it is a companion to TASBS. I commend it to you.

          You ask whether it is the official doctrine of the EOC that there is no repentance after judgment for those in hell. I understand that many believe that to be the case, but not only has the question never been addressed by an ecumenical council, there is also much in our tradition that would suggest otherwise. I commend to you Met Hilarion Alfeyev, Christ the Conqueror of Hell. I have addressed this question in several articles, but this is one of my favorites: “Afterlife Possibilities.”

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          • david foutch says:

            This is from the official OCA website https://www.oca.org/reflections/fr.-lawrence-farley/will-everyone-eventually-be-saved

            I suggest that the recent interest in Universalism—the belief that everyone will eventually be saved – is the latest fad. Evidence of this may be found in the fact that the view is being promoted by a number of different people who have little contact with one another and with little else in common, such as by scholar David Bentley Hart (in his essay God, Creation, and Evil), and also by Rob Bell (in his best-seller Love Wins). Admittedly the conviction that everyone will eventually be saved, including Satan and the demons, has been expressed from time to time throughout Christian history, but the majority of Christians have decided to pass on it. For people like the Orthodox who believe that God guides His Church and that therefore consensus matters, the solid fact of Christian consensus about the eternity of hell is surely significant.

            I have read That All Shall be Saved and the implication that fell out of that for me is that he was persuading me to be an atheist. The same degree of vehemence with which he objects to the logical incongruity of eternal hell is the same vehemence I feel at the incongruity between the claim that God is love and the ‘existence’ of evil. Even though he denies that the one is entailed by the other, they are tied together at bottom by the initial assumption that logical incongruity + moral intelligibility = rejection of narrative. That is how they are connected.

            I think it’s funny that DBH says “Let me, however, add one more observation that will seem insufferably pompous or a little insane: to wit, that the argument I make in my book—that Christianity can be a coherent system of belief if and only if it is understood as involving universal salvation—is irrefutable.” Really? Hmmm. First, I’m not certain that’s true. Second, it is absolutely demonstrable that that coherence does not entail truth. So, the idea that he thinks that he has proven that the only coherent Christian system is one that entails universalism really only implies two things. First, Christianity is false. If coherence = truth and the Christianity at present is incoherent, then it is false. OR, second, the truth is to our understanding incoherent and the effort to force it to be coherent is doing violence to the truth.

            Here is another formula:
            willingness_to_believe * (appeal_to_ignorance + appeal_to_big_picture) = belief_in_absolutely_anything_no_matter_how_absurd

            If at the start you have absolutely no willingness to believe then that is the same as multiplying by zero. Also, if the logical fallacies like appealing to our ignorance or appealing to some far off in the future big picture that will explain everything have no value, then again it’s multiply by zero. However, the strength of one’s willingness to believe will magnify or scale the effect of the combination of the other two values such that the greater one’s willingness to believe is the more susceptible they are to believing something absurd. And this is why people believe in God despite all evidence to the contrary. And I include myself in that. My belief–what little of it I have–is a contradiction. I feel like a living contradiction and the only way I can think to restore the logical coherence in my life is to walk away from it. For me to embrace Orthodoxy means that I have have to embrace contradiction. Yet DBH argues that logical incongruity and moral intelligibility are perfectly sound reasons to reject any -ism. That to me is the quintessential element of his argument.

            Liked by 1 person

        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Simon, I have uploaded a piece by DBH that you should find interest: “The Devil’s March.”

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      • david foutch says:

        Sorry…I don’t see how DBH’s response constitutes an answer. His argument is somewhat tautaulogous. His QED remark is hilarious. I had to read that over again.

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    • Michael Robbins says:

      I would say that it is entirely reasonable to feel indignant that God allows such suffering, & that this is the main reason that many intelligent & good people turn away from belief, or “return the ticket.” It really has no answer, in my view, & Ivan Karamazov does not receive a convincing one. I don’t know a Christian who doesn’t struggle with the question. It’s where faith comes in, I suppose.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. mercifullayman says:

    For some reason I can’t reply to you David, but I, in my limited understanding, would suggest that the very horror of the world means that it itself IS a sufficient reason to worship a God, particularly as revealed to us through the faith. Now what I mean by that is that in a world that’s full of potential and actuality as I believe it to be, the best world had to have the choice to move away from the good, to deprieve itself, to be truly free. In that case, justice and mercy would have to be points that matter in the discussion precisely because its how we make sense of the horrors that can exist around us, but also, what seems to be neglected in these discussions, is the amplified good. Since we live in a world where horrors exist (as deprivation of good choices), then a truly good God would work to right those wrongs and point us back to what is true freedom, which in essence, is the story of reconciliation we find in the whole Christian narrative. It just gets into the age old argument of, “well if God is so good, why not make a world where evil is not possible. Isn’t that the best possible world?” And yet, this world seems empty of fulfillment and freedom, to me at least, if we start at the end with no journey in between. It isn’t a world of loving choice and acceptance to the good/being but rather an existence of automation, and that doesn’t allow us any true freedom.

    So even Hell itself, not as a form of torment in the retributive sense but corrective sense, appears to be nothing more than God’s love showing us where we chose wrongly. For some, that could be a long time based on a lot of poor choosing and stubbornness. I don’t see how that would diminish God’s majesty at all. The only thing that would diminish Him, is if in the grandeur of His existence, the best he could come up with is to just torture someone endlessly.

    Maybe I’m too soft-hearted! haha lol 🙂

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  10. david foutch says:

    If we assume that there is no justification whatsoever to refuse worship to god, then this whole discussion is pointless. Because we are all going to end up singing his praises whether he deserves it or not. If there is no reason to refuse worship, then all we are debating is whether we are being honest with ourselves when we call him ‘good’. But, if there are justifications in refusing to worship god, then what are some of those reasons? Can we describe what that looks like? DBH has made it plainly clear that if God has sufficient grace to save all (universalism), but only ordains the salvation of a few while by default permitting the remainder to burn in hell for eternity, then by the moral authority invested in him, he declares that god unworthy of worship. I agree. But, what if I–by exercise of analogous authority–say that a world like this is entirely incommensurate with the idea of a god of love? What if I am forced by my conscience to conclude that this world is so evil that it precludes the possibility that God is love? And what if I, therefore, refuse to submit myself to said god or gods? Am I justified?

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    • TJF says:

      david,

      You are still misunderstanding the point. Hart is not judging God, he makes this explicit in his first meditation although he really didn’t need to since it is obvious that if the God of classical Christian tradition exists then it’s not just impious but actually illogical and in fact, impossible for a created being to judge God. He is the standard by which things are judge. A crude analogy would be trying to judge the 1 kg mass standard in Paris by referring to some 45 lb. plates at your local gym. It’s nonsensical to try. So no, Hart is not judging God. He is judging STORIES CREATED by humans ABOUT God. All serious religious people admit to having doubts about God’s goodness as we see the evil around us, Hart explicitly says that every act of evil is an arraignment of God’s goodness in the first meditation and he is right I believe. I at least would say that it can be hard to see beyond that pain and suffering to what lays beyond and would not fault you for not being convinced. We all have those moments. But the problem here is that this is an emotional and not a logical response. Logically, what makes most sense is that God exists and He is good. It has the greatest explanatory power and it is conceivable that perhaps this earthly existence can be redeemed in the hereafter. I am a Platonist through and through and do believe that rationality is the most important thing, so no matter how my emotions are swaying me, they should be led by reason. Hope this helps.

      Liked by 2 people

      • sybrandmac says:

        I know this is off-topic, but the 1 kg mass standard is no longer in Paris:
        As of 20 May 2019 the kilogram is defined in terms of three fundamental physical constants: The speed of light c, a specific atomic transition frequency ΔνCs, and the Planck constant h.
        🙂

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      • david foutch says:

        You are still misunderstanding the point. Hart is not judging God, he makes this explicit in his first meditation although he really didn’t need to since it is obvious that if the God of classical Christian tradition exists then it’s not just impious but actually illogical and in fact, impossible for a created being to judge God. He is the standard by which things are judge.

        First, I am not misunderstanding his point at all. I just can’t believe how difficult it is to get a straight answer to really simple straightforward questions.

        Second, all we anyone ever has are stories. That is literally all we have. If you didn’t see a blazing light on Tabor or fill your tub up with water and walk across it, then all your information comes from other sources which means–if you’re like me–all you have is stories. I completely understand that. Furthermore any time I evaluate what another person or religion says about god all I am really evaluating is whether their story makes any sense–that includes the stories of the EOC.

        Third, we can talk all day long about how evil is contrary to god’s purpose, but you gotta ask why did he make a universe in which evil is possible? God created the universe in which the rules that govern that universe made the emergence of evil possible. Since DBH denies all distinction between divine will and permission, then that means we cannot distinguish between evil that is permitted and evil that is willed by god.

        Ergo, why isn’t the evil of this world sufficient reason to refuse worship of the god?

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        • TJF says:

          1. Simple questions are often the hardest to answer. This is a case in point. I’d say what we are discussing now is not at all straightforward, it concerns one of the deepest mysteries of existence and not one person in the history of the world has been able to satisfactorily answer it.

          2. Stories are not all we have. We also have reason and logic. Somethings are the purview of syllogistic logic, some are in the domain of revelation and some partake of both. Which leads me to

          3. The short answer to your straightforward question is also straightforward: I have absolutely no idea. This baffles me, and during acute times in my life when I personally feel the full weight of evil it can momentarily convince me God does not exist and all this stuff is a bunch of fluff and fairytales. I think to myself, “If I was God, I would do things differently” but I’m not God and I have a lot of things that perplex me that I’d like to ask Him. However, I have to reiterate something in different words, and see if that makes sense to you.

          I believe that all logic points to the reality of a God who is Good. There is only one thing that does not and that is the reality of evil. But that’s one argument out of dozens, so just by sheer quantity I am led to believe in God’s existence not to mention that the logical proofs of His existence make far more sense than the counterarguments by far. The only place where there is even remotely a problem is the existence of evil and as I said before, it is still logically possible that God could have a reason for allowing temporary evils, but there is NO logical reason for allowing eternal evil. BTW DBH only sees divine will and permission collapsing in regards to ultimate things, in the domain of the this age the distinction remains and is licit. I may be incorrect though. Anyways, I’m a little confused by your terminology. You don’t seem to understand the difference between a god and God. To refuse worship to God would be utter insanity if you knew Him to be the Good. Again, DBH is not saying that God if he allowed eternal punishment would be an evil God (that’s a 100% contradiction and essentially gibberish). He says that he believes that God is the Good as such and it is logically impossible for Him to FINALLY allow all evil to remain unto ETERNITY. The only reason you should have to not worship God is because you believe he doesn’t exist.

          As it so happens, DBH actually gave a brief answer to your question himself elsewhere. https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2019/09/20/theodicy-and-apokatastasis/

          Here is the meat of the argument. He says it much better than I can:

          “it is one thing to attempt to judge the relative goodness or badness of a discrete evil in relation to final purposes we either can or cannot see, but another thing altogether to judge a supposed total narrative that pretends to describe the whole rationality of all its discrete events. The former can never be more than conjectural and inductive; the latter is a matter of logic. There may logically be such a thing as an evil that is redeemed in the greater good toward which it leads; there is no such thing as an unredeemed evil that does not reduce the good toward which it might lead to a mere relative value. In the former case, it is logically possible that evil may be non-necessary in the ultimate sense, but may necessarily be possible in the provisional sense. In the latter case, evil figures as a necessary aspect of the eternal identity of whatever reality it helps bring about.”

          This may or may not convince you. If it doesn’t, I understand. But I do hope you see that the question of temporary evils being redeemed is a completely different type of question than final ultimate evil, even if you do not accept the conclusion of what that difference is. It seems you think that God would have to be a consequentialist or something. I don’t think so, and consequentialism when followed rigidly is bad, but sometimes it’s correct. An example would be lying to a Nazi to hide Jews. Of course lying is bad, but you’d have to be a moral cretin to advocate telling the truth that allows murder.

          This has been a fruitful exchange david. Thank you!

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          • david foutch says:

            Somehow I keep getting autobiographical explanations of how people have justified their belief in god despite evidence to the contrary. Which isn’t surprising. Human beings are notoriously good at mitigating against cognitive dissonance by creating ad hoc hypotheticals that scaffold their psychological certainty. Telling me about your scaffolding and your resulting psychological certainty doesn’t answer the question. And then there is the pseudo-profound statements “evil is a deep mystery” or “simple questions are often the hardest to answer” or some other similar vapid gibberish (as you say).

            The question is simple: Are there any conditions in which it is justified to refuse to worship god? Look at the alternatives. a) No, there are no such conditions. Fine. Discussion over and we move on to whatever else tickles the fancy. b) Yes, there are such conditions. Fine. What are they? Well, DBH has defined moral intelligibility as one of those conditions. In fact, DBH has unequivocally answered this question. He has as much as said that if we allow for the possibility of say…a distinctly Calvinists god, then based on the moral unintelligibility of the narrative surrounding that god we would be compelled by force of conscience to refuse worship to that god. Fine. I agree. But, I am also certain that this isn’t the only justification for telling would be deities to step off.

            I think that it is very telling that you say “I believe that all logic (a mental construct) points to the reality of a God who is Good. There is only one thing that does not and that is the reality of evil.” Mental constructs point one way…reality points another.

            So, essentially the argument here is no different than the big picture argument, which implies that the ends justifies the means. There is no evil so unimaginable or so horrible that it cannot be redeemed, used to create a greater good, and finally in the big picture we find its permission is justified. There is so much wrong with that that I don’t even know where to begin. And you’re still dodging the question. We can believe–which is the same thing as “be of the opinion” or “assume” or be “psychologically convinced”–that god is good, but that is not the same thing as reality.

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          • Grant says:

            To jump in here I think you are being more than a little unfair to say TJF is dogging the question, the problem of evil is not simple, and if you genuinely engaged in the question rather then either offering simply religious platitudes or pseudo-righteous condemnation of such, given by those to feel superior morally and intellectually to the former (and to any other that disagrees with their conclusion), and which are really two sides of the same coin (both being false self-righteousness and condemnation against others, as it ends up not being really anger directed at God, but belittling of their fellow human beings and persons). I take it from your passion that it is genuine, but given the extent that this issue has had and found expression over millennia in many different cultures, contexts and schools of thought (yes, it remains a problem even for materialists, even if it becomes more a problem of good, but that is another issue) if you are serious and don’t want pat answers, you are not going to easily get ‘simple’ answers to a complex issue, that in this age we won’t fully know or understand (and if Christianity is false, might not ever).

            It is worth pointing out that the problem of evil is more a problem for Christianity, and Judaism to an extent, but other belief systems that have far less to no problems with such things (in that, they don’t present a fundamental challenge to the claims of those belief systems). And if we did accept if meant that God is not the Good, it would not mean God as the Source of being is not so, far more terribly then materialism, it would mean the ultimate reality is inscrutable horror from our perspective, and that evil would be the prime nature and destiny of reality. A terrible thought, but that is where it would lead, not to no God (due to the other metaphysical arguments to accept the theistic understanding of reality).

            It is also worth saying that none of us can be impartial observers or arguments about this, we are always living in this broken reality, and all of us have experienced it’s pain and hurt to some extent. The personal and emotional together with reason will always play a part in this answer, because our intuition towards it and wrestling with it (as with Jacob wrestling with God) is in the darkness of our own confusion, mystery, often sense of loneliness and pain, to understand and cry out, and come to views and answers that transcend mere intellectual arguments or things that can easily or at all put into words, but a deeper experience that is not ‘cognitive dissonance’ or ‘psychological convinced’ but a deeper engagement in the very midst of such terrible situations, looking death and evil in it’s face as it were. They are not finding easy answers nor engaging in psychological tricks, to believe such not only belittles such engagement and experience and the insights that such persons find, but refuses to give them hearing and respect to such direct engagement (and that includes ‘negative’ insights for us Christians as well, the need to see, hear and respect works more than one way of course). So again, I caution against such easily dismissals, and to recognize that you cannot separate our own personal engagement from our engagement in this question (which is of course evident in your own replies, your anger against the suffering your perceive is evident, and right, and that reaction of conscience guides your own position, reasoning and argumentation). And in this vein, it’s worth bearing in mind, when you engage with someone, you don’t know what they have been through, what suffering and loss they have known and are perhaps even now going through, and is guiding their own response, I would bear this also in mind when you continue engaging in this argument, particularly in this, respect your interlocutor, and don’t lash out at them, they aren’t your enemies, just because they come currently to a different view then you, nor are they evading your questions, because they don’t respond in a way you feel is appropriate or you feel fails what you are inquiring. You can say that of course, but respect the answer they have given, it reflects they own lived engagement with this issue, and should not be dismissed as just having ‘psychologically convinced’ themselves, that is disrespectful, even though I don’t think you meant it to be, as I think and understand you are being caught up in your passionate engagement over the topic.

            For me, if I had a simple answer (bearing in mind I don’t think there is the simple answer you seek), that is Christ, in Christ we see that death, in all it’s manifestations is not of God, nor His intention, confronted by it, He healed and restored, even His enemies without question, it was revealed to evil and of ‘the kingdom of Satan’ to be that which is against His will. In the Cross He takes upon Himself (as He has down through the entire Incarnation) the fallen nature of humanity and creation, He faces death, all the pain, suffering, humiliation, loneliness, illumination, all the very depths of evil, revealing it the evil as it is, and overcomes it, the Resurrection not only showing it’s defeat, but also the depth of it’s evil, and the depth to which it is against the will and desire of God. There in Him, for a Christian is God and His intention revealed, and the promise to that it has been overcome, and so as St Paul says, death is an enemy, is the enemy of God, one defeated and one that will be destroyed to pass away.

            Does this answer why God brought forth creation in such a way as it could turn towards nothing and become fallen, that the terrible history of billions of years of suffering and death can occur, no. That the Father allowed not just humanity but all creation to be the prodigal and leave to it’s diminished and destitution, no. But again, the Christian (or at least this Christian) can look to it, and see that He hasn’t left it abandoned, and has taken responsibility for His creation that He freely brought forth from nothing, entering into the very heart of it’s pain, suffering and enslavement to death and nothingness, and taken into upon Himself, to face what He has allowed to be, and overcome it, and will redeem, save and heal all, and all moments of pain and loss. That doesn’t explain the why, no, that remains the mystery that particularly in painful moments and moments of horror we wrestle uncomprehendingly with, and our faith might lead people in different directions (including some in genuine faith to reject what they understand of Christ in following Him in truth) but only in the completion of the Judgement on the Cross, when all have been brought back to Him, and all creation freed, will God reveal Himself, and in that unveiling will we gain understanding of the why (and as such allow creation in a sense to judge Him, as only then can we know why it was permitted in the way that it has been).

            So Christ is the answer for me, if you need a simple answer if you want a reason for a conviction in the face of the problem of evil of both the Goodness and Love of the transcendent God, in the face of the evil we currently are enmeshed in, suffering from, perpetrated upon each other, and mocked by. Is it enough for you, probably not, but in the end, each of us walks this road with God and each other, and through prayer, personal experience and struggle we remain like Job, and engaging and wrestling with God like Jacob in the dark of the night of this present evil age. That will lead to understandings, responses and answers that go deeper and more personal and meditative than any argument or reasoning, that cannot be expressed in words, and it is true for every person that is or has ever been, or will ever be until the Lord returns.

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  11. brian says:

    Folks, you might usefully engage Soloviev’s The Justification of the Good or Iris Murdoch’s Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals. The latter, btw, a non-theist account. Seems to me that there is an intrinsic dynamic of the mind that inherently reaches out towards “the infinite.” Maurice Blondel was astute on this aspect of human intellect. We’re not asked to, nor do I think it plausible, to assert a theodicy that “explains” evil or how it is licit for us to continue to worship God in the face of horrific evil. As far back as Job, revelation acknowledges that wrestling with darkness is preferable to easy religious bromides. Nonetheless, the assertion that one is engaged in mere psychology when living out theology, begs the question, reducing the profound complexity of liturgy (both existential and metaphysical — as Catherine Pickstock’s After Writing articulates, an exercise in analgoical reaching out to reality that cannot be conceptually mastered) to a level where one can putatively condescend. But from what basis? Does David, for instance, transcend the human condition? Is he placed beyond the between of the metaxy (to invoke William Desmond) so that he can justly pronounce upon what is truthful and what is “all too human”?

    Years ago now, John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et Ratio asserted the synergy of faith and reason. It’s not simply a rejection of fideism or rationalism, nor a claim that faith and reason are complimentary or at minimum not opposed to one another. D.C. Schindler has explicated reason’s ecstatic openness — we are constituted by desire, by will moved by intellect and intellect frequently directed by will, but in no case can one determine reason as an action that pronounces from a position of systematic comprehension. Either one takes “the problem of evil” as an expression of existential anguish — and this is utterly legitimate, though one must then acknowledge that one is also involved in psychological autobiography, even if one pretends to be speaking from a speculative platform outside time and the human condition — or one asserts “sufficient reason” in a manner that implies the equivalence of finite intellect and reason to what is apophatically beyond concepts. Either thought moves towards epistemological closure (and I think Aristotle is ancient most like the moderns in this prejudice) or thought moves towards a dynamic of love that knows differently. For modernity, the post-Galilean mathesis and Enlightenment narratives of “reason” resist the entire wisdom tradition of antiquity that persisted into the high Middle Ages. It’s the sort of thing that disastrously misinterprets something like Anselms argument for God in the Proslogion. Anselm is not making a mere conceptual thesis that is proposed for the debate of scholastic doctors. Sed contra, he is proposing reflection upon the oddity of an experience where one finds oneself in the true Copernican reversal, suddenly cognizant that the thought one believed one was thinking is thinking you.

    This is bound to seem a mere trick of paradox to someone who cannot think with finesse . . . but the pithy response to all this is that Plato already understood that the Good was analogical for human intellect and that we cannot “judge” the Good because for one, all our thoughts are a product of participation in the Good, and secondly, the Good comes to us via a mythos because there is something about the Good that cannot be limited to the deliberations of ratio — this is not simply a sad fact of our finite obtuseness, but an acknowledgement of a plenitude that cannot be approached by a sagacity other than childlike wonder. But really, it’s tiresome and ultimately counterproductive to attempt to persuade the fella who is primarly invested in a particular stance — neutrality, as Peguy recognized, is always a posture. In my view, reason and intellect are naturally open to a reality of infinite depths. This cannot be mastered or commanded — like beauty, it has the shock of the new, of surprise, or perhaps one can invoke Heraclitus, “unless the unhoped for is hoped for, it will not be discovered.” Prayer and thought are ultimately not antithetical; at the deepest level, they are identical — and it’s possible even the angry refusal is a kind of prayer.

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  12. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Liam, you ask: “Could I have chosen a different finite good than the one I chose?”

    You have formulated the question in the past tense, which makes it more difficult to answer. So let’s rephrase it in the present tense: “Are you free at this moment to go to the grocery store, laundry mat, or just stay at home?”

    Let’s assume that you are not subject to any physical constraints (like you don’t have a car) or mental constraints (you are not paralyzed by an irrational fear of grocery stores) and no in is pointing a gun at your head. The point of rational freedom is that you are free to choose between these alternatives (or any others), but no matter which one you choose, you will have reasons for your choice. Even if you decide to flip a coin, you will have one or more reasons to employ the coin-flip for your decision-making. This is why David can write: “You cannot actually force yourself to behave ‘irrationally’ [or spontaneously] except in an ultimately rational way” (p. 174).

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