“God, Creation, and Evil” by David Bentley Hart

Readers of Eclectic Orthodoxy are well acquainted with David Hart’s 2015 Notre Dame lecture. I have read the written version of the lecture on multiple occasions, but have only listened to it once. It’s a powerful address, both in its oral and written formats. There’s something to be said about the former, and if you haven’t listened to the lecture, do yourself a favor. I know more than one person who was converted to the greater hope because of it.

Which arguments advanced in this lecture do you find most challenging, provocative, convincing or problematic?

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54 Responses to “God, Creation, and Evil” by David Bentley Hart

  1. Curdie says:

    I was listening to a pre-TASBS interview with Hart this morning and he mentioned this address. I was thinking of going back and listening to it today, so this is convenient. The thing that I appreciate most about Hart is his willingness to say “this doesn’t make any sense, full stop” even about widely held doctrine. For a long time Christian thinkers who hold non-majority views have tried too hard to be diplomatic or walk on eggshells. I think Hart connects with so many people because he is willing to speak unapologetically about what people have felt in their conscience for their whole life. Creation Ex Nihilo and eternal conscious torment are incompatible beliefs if God is anything like the God of Love we claim he is, and I thank DBH for helping me be unafraid to claim that.

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  2. Alexander Burdge says:

    I really do love this argument and find it utterly convincing. But I’m having a really hard time relating this to the argument in Doors of the Sea, which I find equally convincing and is for me the only coherent theodicy—it’s no overstatement to say that I couldn’t be a Christian without the view of God, creation, and evil that I encountered in that book.

    I apologize if I’m missing something in what follows, but this really does form a stumbling block for me: Hart argues in this talk that, at the eschatological horizon, there is no real distinction to be made between God’s willing and permitting and that “all contingent ends are intentionally enfolded within His decision [to create].” This forms the basis for arguing that one cannot ultimately distinguish between God’s willing the eternal damnation of even a single rational creature and His permitting them to essentially “damn themselves” through sin/ignorance. And yet how to relate this to the tsunami (or any natural disaster or evil that one could care to mention)? As he argues in Doors of the Sea, God does not have “total and direct sovereignty in all the eventualities of the fallen world” (66) and that “the universe languishes in bondage to the ‘powers’ and ‘principalities’ of this age” (62). God would no doubt condemn the tsunami and the resulting loss of life as “false and damnable” (104), the deeply painful result of humanity’s binding itself and the cosmos to “another master” (63); “he does not desire the convulsive reign of death in nature” (83). But given the collapse of the divine will and permission at the eschatological horizon mentioned above, are we not then also forced to say that God positively wills that reign of death, even as he also wills and will effect His ultimate triumph over it in bringing all things back to Himself? How can we maintain the divine innocence of natural evil at this scale?

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Alexander – this is a misunderstanding. What is meant is that at the eschaton when secondary causality has been completed in the first and final, the two will be aligned. The difference between the primary and secondary will be bridged, the latter completed in the former; and hence (also) the distinction between God’s willing and permitting will be no more. To put it in more evangelical terms, the occasion is the destruction of death and evil.

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  3. Geoffrey McKinney says:

    Of all of DBH’s arguments for apocatastasis, I find the most compelling to be that which says that (to take the strongest example) a parent could not find himself in Heaven if his child were irretrievably lost. Only a very imperfect simulacrum of the parent could find itself in Heaven.

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    • Pretty Lamb says:

      My main objection to reincarnation / transmigration of souls is precisely that it seems to empty our current individual persons and lives of all ultimate meaning. One of the things I think Christianity has over Eastern religions is the centrality of the human person, of personhood in general.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. rephinia says:

    The overarching argument connecting creatio ex nihilo and God’s infinite goodness. That argument marks a point from which there is no going back – the hell debate ended with it.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Universalists, of course, have always asserted the eternal damnation is irreconcilable with God’s goodness; but Hart’s creatio ex nihilo argument, combined with his argument that the Eschaton reveals God’s true nature, brings the contradiction into sharper relief. I find this very powerful and perhaps irrefutable. And so must Hart’s critics, as they all avoid this key argument.

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  5. It’s definitely an interesting experience listening to the essay spoken out loud by the master himself. Certain emphases that I discern in the words when read silently are given a completely different flavour here. Stuff which the voice in my head pronounced as poking and cheeky is here delivered by DBH with utter sobriety and gravity. Subtle changes, but it’s interesting how drastically they change the received message. Thanks for sharing Fr Al!

    (and once again: petitioning DBH to visit Sydney, Oz. Would love to shake your hand, pick your brain, and ask you sensitive questions about psychedelics while no one else is listening :p )

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  6. Reluctant Piskie says:

    I must share Alexander’s misunderstanding, for it seems to me that this response does not answer his concern, but merely restates it.

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    • DBH says:

      I cannot tell you how many times I have answered this question, and on this very site.

      How can it be contradictory to say that God’s ultimate intention in creation cannot entail any ultimate evil or residue of evil and also to say that God’s ultimate intention may entail the possibility—and only the possibility—of transient evil? I admit I find it surpassingly strange that anyone should imagine that temporary suffering that God will heal and abolish as abhorrent to his ultimate intentions in creation (on the one hand) and eternal suffering that God imposes as part of the grand design of his ultimate intentions in creation (on the other) could possibly pose the same logical moral dilemma. It doesn’t matter whether you buy the answer to either problem, but there is simply no tension here.

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      • Robert Fortuin says:

        The possibility of the abhorrent are what seems to trip people up – but the possible and the intended are categorically different, a distinction has to be made. As you say, there’s no tension when the distinction is understood. It is a peculiar modern problem, as it is considered human nature to sin…the sinless isn’t truly human so the story goes. Which of course runs afoul of scriptural and patristic accounts….

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      • TJF says:

        I can see why, since I have been prone to this. The idea is that it seems God shouldn’t allow anything bad to happen ever, so if he allows something as horrible as the tsunami and the holocaust to happen it appears conceivable that he may allow eternal damnation to occur as well. I now see more clearly that there is a huge difference here. The difference between temporary pain and suffering that is able to be fixed versus eternal pain and suffering that can’t be fixed is too great. I still think some could say that the idea that not even God could create a world without the possibility of suffering is a bit of a copout. I even heard someone say it would be a finite god then, since a perfectly infinite God would be able to make a perfect cosmos without even the possibility of sin. Anyways, I see where the confusion comes from since I suffered from it. I guess in the end we have a choice to make while we’re groping in the dark for the pearl of great price.

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      • DBH it must be frustrating to answer the same question over and over again (and i’m one of the people guilty of asking), but thanks for responding as you do, again and again. It’s helpful and I at least am slowly starting to see things more clearly.

        One helpful idea is that there is no distinction between natural and moral evil. All natural evil is moral (because of demonic powers) and all moral evil is natural (because humans are natural beings). If you pair that idea with the idea that “true love must be a free response”, then the possibility of evil falls out onto the page like the QED to a proof of pythagorous’ theorem.

        The difficulty people might wrestle with at that point is, well, if freedom requires the possibility of evil, then what’s to stop a permanent and eternal rejection of God, and therefore, infinite/everlasting damnation? DBH responds to this comprehensively and indisputably in TASBS. The issue isn’t as cut and dried as it might seem.

        All that I would want to add is that while freedom does require the possibility of evil, God is pure actuality, infinite love and bliss; and therefore if Christ has assumed the human nature into the divine one, once the story is all said and done, humanity remains free, but humanity also perfectly shares in the divine impeccability/pure actuality. In this way, while at the beginning of the tale freedom necessitated the possibility of evil, by the end of the tale this necessity has been abolished. Once mankind has been fully assumed into the divine life there is no longer any possibility of sin, evil or suffering.

        Bulgakov helps here by pointing out that all human individuals have been, and will be divinised by Christ’s incarnation, whether they consent to this or not. Hell consists of being divinised without being ready for it, but either way; you will be divinised. Therefore all humans are predestined to the sinless divine pure actuality.

        It all makes sense in my head but i still struggle to write it down clearly and concisely. Hopefully this helps someone.

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        • JBG says:

          The Iron Knuckle: “Once mankind has been fully assumed into the divine life there is no longer any possibility of sin, evil or suffering.”

          When does this happen?

          There are those theologians maintaining that it will happen in the future, those maintaining that it is happening now, and those maintaining that it has already happened. On this blog, I have seen the view that it is an infinite, ongoing process. If the latter is the case, would it not seem that the threshold of becoming “fully assumed” will never actually arrive? Can there be a consummation of an infinite process?

          If the possibility of evil is abolished only upon being fully assumed into the divine life—and this is a process of transformation that endures without end—it would seem that the possibility of evil would never actually become entirely nullified (reduced to absolute zero).

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          • JBG, I have actually attempted to ask DBH that very question here on this blog in the past, but I think I was unable to word it as concisely and accurately as you have here. I pray for both of us that DBH will weigh in. If I had to put the question in my own words, it would be “does apokatastasis precede epektasis, or does epektasis precede apokatastasis?” because the first case gives me hope, but it’s also counter-intuitive and raises all sorts of questions, whereas the second case is far more “consistent” and “coherent” and “logical” (at least it seems so to me), and yet it is also incredibly depressing.

            For what it’s worth, here’s my current understanding based on my knowledge of Bulgakov and the classical universalists (as filtered through the literary and academic output of DBH):

            Salvation has been achieved once and for all – for all creation and everything in it – by Christ, and yet when exactly this occurred or will occur or is occuring is muddied by the fact that Christ is both a human person who lived (and lives) a human life, with all the temporality that entails, as well as God himself who is eternal and timeless (in the classical sense favoured by DBH, not in the creative “open-theistic” sense exemplified by charming thinkers such as Robert Jenson). I used “has been” (the past perfect tense) quite pointedly here, to indicate the guaranteed nature of this salvation, but in the second part of the sentence I also wanted to highlight the fact that a concrete “when” is impossible to pin down.

            In one sense (which I admittedly do not fathom), the apokatastasis has always been a reality, even before Christ’s conception. In another sense, it is a reality right now in the present moment (I do not fathom this one either, but I have a hunch that the Mahayana reflections on Samsara and Nirvana being identical have something relevant to say. The notoriously impenetrable ninth chapter of Shantideva’s bodhicaryavatara says some provocative things about how there is essentially no difference between the state of enlightenment and unenlightenment. A damned soul is a saved soul and vice versa. There’s also the lovely bodhisattva vow to remain in samsara so long as suffering continues.). And finally, the apokatastasis represents the future, in both a dramatically immanent and infinitely distant sense. The world is always ending (“wars and rumours of wars. Plagues, Pestilence, COVID-19, the AI singularity, World wars 3, 4, 5 etc”) and Christ is always about to return tomorrow, and yet life tends to go on doesn’t it? All very mysterious and I don’t fully understand, but I suspect fully understanding it will coincide with the glorious eschaton anyway. Best to enjoy the ride in the meantime, both the highs and the lows.

            Finally for something a bit more in line with Christian thought. Bulgakov’s wonderful eschatology in “The Bride of the Lamb” seems to indicate the following historical narrative sequence:
            1. Creation ->
            2. first man/men, created with freedom to love, which necessarily implies the possibility to not love (evil) ->
            3. the fall, we abuse the freedom ->
            4. the incarnation and qurban (aka “holy mass” aka “divine liturgy”) of christ, God himself becomes a man, uniting his pure and infinitely actualised divine love to our created human freedom. Jesus lives a perfect and sinless life and – in a human manner – says the divine “yes” to God’s love. He does this all the way “to the end,” thus “becoming” the pure actuality that he always was/is, and at the same time bringing all mankind (and even all creation) along with him into that act of God becoming himself (DBH hold your breath, I’m not saying what you might think I’m saying. God remains immutable and impassible in the classical sense you champion, despite this “God becoming himself via his humanity” that I’ve just described) ->
            5. Now we have a situation where all mankind has been divinised, but evidently most – if not all – people aren’t quite ready for this; with our humanity we reject God, but with our assumed divinity, Christ has chosen God on our behalf; there is thus a radical psychological and spiritual cognitive dissonance at play here, which is the essence of Hell. In Christ mankind says yes to God, but as individuals we all say “no” to some degree, this tension and discord will flower into an experience of traditional hell soon ->
            6. life carries on for a time, while we wait for the final revelation of the parousia, at which point the full force of our psycho-onto-logical dissonance between our human “no” and our divine “yes” will be revealed; this is the final judgement which divides every soul into Heaven and Hell internally, according to how well the soul has conformed itself to the perfect human/divine image that is Christ ->
            7. After this Bulgakov does not speculate too much or provide easy answers, but he is convinced that the Hell that results from the parousia and final judgement must exhaust itself somehow and somewhen, because Hell, evil and suffering are essentially finite, while love, bliss, joy are infinite and immutable just as God is. As such Bulgakov does not give an exact “when” for the apokatastasis, except to say that it must follow after the parousia in a finite temporal period.
            8. Apokatastasis happens. Humans remain human, freedom and all, but they have become impeccable in the same way that Christ is impeccable. We all experience something of a chalcedonean dyophysis, and therefore are assumed into the divine pure actuality. Our “yes” to God becomes fully actualised in such a way that it becomes an “immutable” yes. We retain our freedom, but we have overcome all and any potential to abuse that freedom.

            It would definitely help me (and anyone who I in future go on to give spiritual and theological advice to) if DBH or another bulgakov expert could weigh in on all this. I’m still struggling to articulate it concisely but it all makes sense in my head

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          • JBG says:

            The Iron Knuckle: “The notoriously impenetrable ninth chapter of Shantideva’s bodhicaryavatara says some provocative things about how there is essentially no difference between the state of enlightenment and unenlightenment. A damned soul is a saved soul and vice versa.”

            And one must not forget Nagarjuna’s declaration that there is no distinction whatsoever between samsara and nirvana; between the world of pain and struggle and ultimate reality. “One cannot find even the slightest difference between them” (from The Mūlamadhyamakakārikā).

            At is usually at this point that western sojourners into Buddhism are only too happy to return to their native Christianity with its promises of heaven.

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  7. JBG says:

    To my mind, the occurrence of evil/suffering in the here and now, is an everlasting scar on the face of existence. The wound may be temporary but the scar is forever. Nothing will ever erase the fact that horrific gratuitous misery occurred. In that sense, existence can never be perfect.

    There will always be a residue of suffering, even if it is only as the memory of the suffering that occurred. And the memory of suffering, one could argue, is a form of suffering itself.

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    • brian says:

      Well, that is a faith statement, I suppose, JBG. Christ’s Resurrected Body retains the wounds, but they are part of a glorified body, so witness to a transfiguration that may possibly exceed finite imagination.

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    • Pretty Lamb says:

      The memory of suffering is only a suffering when you can’t understand any reason for its occurrence. Nietzsche was right when he said human beings can suffer anything if they can find a reason for it. If one can find the reason one can even be grateful for having suffered.

      I think in some mysterious way the soul has entered this world freely and with the latent intention of becoming perfect, even through suffering. We are not just chance victims who entered this plane of existence at random, but willing pilgrims who come seeking a certain destination. In that sense I think the spiritual writers are correct who have said that a big part of our human condition is forgetfulness – forgetfulness of who we really are, our nature and purpose.

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      • JBG says:

        Nietzsche’s quote is probably better understood in context—religion as a psychological coping mechanism. Furthermore, for the religious mind, the mere notion that there may possibly be a reason for suffering often works to prevent one from becoming totally enervated. Religion never provides a cogent meaning for suffering but it certainly dangles a promissory meaning. And the mere promise of meaning is enough. Religious belief is undoubtedly the crowning adaption of the human species.

        Pray tell, how exactly does a soul become perfected through suffering? What are the mechanics of this process? While it is true that some limited forms of hardship and frustration may stimulate changes that can better a person, this is simply not true for many or even most forms of dire suffering. By its very nature, suffering tends to be destructive rather than constructive. Suffering just begets more suffering.

        I’m probably more sympathetic to the notion of suffering as an ineluctable byproduct of a formative process rather than as an essential causal element of that formative process. Indeed, if we are enmeshed within a formative process and we come out on the other side, it will largely be in spite of suffering rather than because of it.

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        • Iain Lovejoy says:

          “I’m probably more sympathetic to the notion of suffering as an ineluctable byproduct of a formative process rather than as an essential causal element of that formative process.”
          I’d agree (and that seems to be DBH’s point as well) allowing for the possibility that things will (only temporarily) go wrong because without allowing that possibility the desired (and infinitely worth it) end cannot be achieved is a different thing from making the bad stuff an inherent part of what is intended. An analogy I have heard is teaching a child to ride a bicycle – this is impossible unless you are willing to accept the possibility the child will fall off. This doesn’t make falling off intended or good.

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      • JBG says:

        “The memory of suffering is only a suffering when you can’t understand any reason for its occurrence.”

        This is not necessarily true. Think of the trauma that veterans continue to experience even when they firmly believe that they suffered for a good cause. In their minds, there is not only a reason, but the loftiest and most noble of reasons. And yet their suffering is unabated by that conviction. The memory of suffering is yet another form of suffering.

        Only blotting the memory entirely (a la Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) would
        rectify this, although one is left with the puzzling question (as DBH mentions in his lecture) as to whether an individual divorced of their memories can truly be called the same individual.

        Moreover, there is the pesky issue with the notion of divine timelessness. The mystics that are said to have been at one with God, are united in their claim that this divine mind knows neither past nor future and that all time is now; that every event is eternal. This ostensibly implies that at the level of “ultimate reality”, the past is always present and is never gone. At the very least, there will always be residue of the past.

        The eons of unimaginable suffering cannot but destroy the overall perfection of existence. Maybe this too was a price that God was willing to pay. It must be. Any future perfection cannot alter what has happened; existence is eternally marred. Whether or not it will be deemed as “worth it” is beside the point.

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        • TJF says:

          As a veteran of the Operation Iraqi Freedom myself, I can say from experience that you are wrong. In fact, my psychologist told me that the only veterans she has had to work with are those who suffered moral trauma. This means they were either unconvinced that the mission had a purpose, or that the mission had not been accomplished in their eyes. The ones who believe that what they were doing was right and noble (even if it wasn’t) tend to have much less problems, specifically mental trauma like PTSD. Those with more tender consciences and lack of faith in the purpose for their mission are much more likely to face mental trauma. Thomas Talbott pointed that out in his book the Inescapable Love of God. Those with the most empathy actually suffer the most, because they can’t meet a person without internalize their suffering. Those who feel the most and question things the most suffer most. Those who don’t, don’t.

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          • JBG says:

            “The ones who believe that what they were doing was right and noble (even if it wasn’t) tend to have much less problems, specifically mental trauma like PTSD.”

            I agree that this does occur to some degree but it isn’t universally true, as I have read accounts of scores of people that have said otherwise. So, unless one claims that they are all lying, I maintain my point that it is not necessarily true.

            Furthermore, to have less problems related to traumatic memories is not to have no problems. There is an infinite gulf between them. The memory of suffering is intrinsically traumatic, even if it becomes diminished through contextualization or simply with the passage of time. The memory of suffering is the residue of evil, and I would contend this residue cannot be entirely abolished without obliterating all traces of memory.

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          • TJF says:

            Sounds like you don’t want to be convinced, so I won’t stop you from believing doggedly what you want to. It isn’t true though, if that helps.

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          • JBG says:

            Even if one believes that suffering (or at least its potential) is an unavoidable concomitant of our formative process, this obviously cannot be conflated to apply to every instantiation of misery. In other words, while one may be content that our formation couldn’t occur without the possibility of evil, one cannot say the same about that the abduction, rape, torture and murder of their daughter. This is, and will always be, an utterly meaningless event. The same is true for the individual born with spina bifida, the individual who develops a brain tumor, the individual washed away in a tsunami, etc, ad infinitum.

            This is true for nearly all particularizations of suffering, which is how suffering occurs.
            You can attempt to contextualize suffering, but only in the abstract; only for suffering as a broad, general phenomenon. But suffering doesn’t occur in the abstract. Suffering is a personal experience had by individuals. As such, there is no way to contextualize concrete examples of suffering. The vast majority of individual experiences of suffering are, and always will be, wholly meaningless and purposeless. The memories of these particular agonizing and wholly meaningless/purposeless events is the residue of evil.

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  8. M. Robbins says:

    Look, there’s no good answer to the question of how God can allow suffering! At all! If there were, Dostoevsky could have whiled away his days gambling & complaining about his wife. If we’re Christians, we are so in spite of this horrible truth, & we should face it. It seems to me that there is something shameful about searching for a justification for suffering, as if we would be able to live with the knowledge that children are tortured if only we had a good explanation of how it fits into God’s plan. There’s no justification. (David will pardon me for finding his theodicy no more convincing than any other theodicy.)

    David’s point, which he has made many times on this site, is that there is no contradiction between the two arguments cited above by Alexander. They don’t need to be “reconciled,” as they address different concerns.

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    • Jake says:

      Huh? What do you mean could live with it? That seems neither here nor there. We can have an explanation of suffering and not be able to change nor find the suffering in itself evil. Presumably as a Christian you think there is an explanation at the divine level, even if we humans cannot apprehend it in this life. The metaphysics and the experience of suffering, of ourselves and others, are somewhat distinct and should be kept distinct. I think sometimes in modernity at least, the emotional and psychological recoil at suffering and evil takes the place of metaphysics. This is quite obvious in many atheist polemics. They’re both important, but one shouldn’t displace the other from its proper place. If there’s a good explanation for evil and suffering then it seems logically we have can “live with” suffering and evil, which again is not the same as not reviling them as evil and suffering and doing all we can to prevent and stop them.

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    • DBH says:

      Well, Michael, if I had ever written a theodicy, I would pardon you. The Doors of the Sea is a refusal of theodicy. It’s a wait and see argument.

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      • M. Robbins says:

        Yes, I remember the distinction. I’m just using shorthand. As for Jake’s comments, no, I do not think there can possibly be a “good explanation” for suffering, not at the divine or any other level. I’m with Ivan Karamazov, or at least I view his argument as unanswerable, though I remain, in several respects, a Christian. By which I ever mean only that I regard the teachings of Yeshua of Nazareth as true, & affirm that he was God. Christian doctrine, formulated over the centuries, I regard as very often mistaken.

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        • Jake says:

          I have not read that novel, so I am unsure of the precise argument given.

          It seems then that you simply don’t accept any of the answers to the problem of evil, which is a bit different from what is okay for those who do accept one or other answer to think about concrete acts of suffering. If there is a good answer to the problem of evil, then we can in fact “live with it” as Christians ( with living with it here not implyijg not hating evil as evil or doing all we can to prevent or mitigate particular evils, of course ).

          I think it worth underlining the distinction between metaphysics and emotional and psychological response to suffering and evil. Just as a valid discursive answer to the problem of evil doesn’t remove the need to existentially live that answer as part of our entire theology/metaphysics and faith, our quite valid emotional and psychological response to suffering and evil cannot entirely take over from our metaphysics.

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  9. mattk says:

    I’m SUPER late to the party, but I must admit that I share a number of the doubts and concerns that JBG and others bring up. It seems like once suffering has occurred, it is etched indelibly into the fabric of creation itself. While it’s concievable that it’s harmful effects (physical, spiritual, or psychological) could be remedied at some point in the future, the fact of suffering will always be a part of creation’s unalterable history. Having experienced suffering, creation has lost an innocence to which it can never return; can it ever be truly perfect then, having lost that innocence? I don’t know.

    Also, emotionally speaking, it’s tough to stomach the idea that God has His hands tied in regards to the necessity of suffering in creation. It may be logically necessary that freedom entails the possibility of suffering, but isn’t God Himself the one who determines this stuff, so to speak? It’s like you’re at your job, and you go and ask your boss for help, and he/she says, “Sorry, the rules say ‘The boss can’t help employees'”, to which you ask, “Who wrote those rules?”, and they reply, “I did, of course! I’m the boss!”. I know this hardly amounts to a rigorous argument, but that’s just the gut feeling I have. Simply put, if God is restrained by nothing but His own Nature (since he is “The God” and not “a god”), isn’t it His “fault” that freedom entails suffering? If so, what does that say about His Nature?

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Matt,

      As a creature (!) God experienced suffering and in that respect changed, but yet also remained perfect and innocent. So although suffering has an impact it apparently is unable to alter the beauty of perfection, the glory of sacrificial and unending love.

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      • JBG says:

        mattk: “Having experienced suffering, creation has lost an innocence to which it can never return; can it ever be truly perfect then…?”

        No, it can never be perfect.

        Perfection was eternally forfeited with the introduction of evil and suffering. A “future perfection” is nothing other than a partial perfection, which is a contradiction in terms. Perfection must be absolute; it must be all-encompassing; it must refer to the whole, including the whole of time, the whole of experience, and all occurrences. Any “future perfection” will not and cannot erase the fact that imperfection arose.

        Robert Fortuin: “So although suffering has an impact it apparently is unable to alter the beauty of perfection…”

        If evil (and its corollary suffering) were unable to alter the perfection of existence, then there would be no impetus or desire to have them abolished. If they were not contrary to a prior perfection, then there would be no need for liberation.

        Evil and suffering are incontrovertibly, self-evidently imperfect. Suffering is intrinsically and irreducibly aversive. What could more of an imperfection than this?

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        • mattk says:

          This seems true to me, and it raises yet another troubling question: If suffering and evil are and always will be an indelible feature of creation, are they not also an indelible feature of God Himself? If, as DBH appears to argue in his essay, “in creating (God) reveals himself truly”, does not the permanent presence of suffering/evil in creation seem to indicate that the same is true of God’s eternal nature? How then can we call even God Himself perfect?

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Then I would urge you to (re) read DBH again, carefully. Or the NT.
            Spoiler Aert: this age does not have the last word.

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          • mercifullayman says:

            I guess it depends on if you are forcing a purely “classically” oriented view onto what something needs to be “real” in any true sense. Say you read someone like Berdyaev, who is going to fall in to this kind of universal reconciliation tradition as well. Any privative thing (like evil) is real in a perceptual sense, but not real in the actual (Here he matches the classical view mostly). Almost like a shadow, you can feasibly see it, it is real in the sense of what you experience, but it can’t be grasped. It isn’t well, actual. (I wish I could grab my shadow and swing it around, that would cool to experience.)

            So a thing is real, and yet not real, and almost every transcendental has this quality to it (Truth/Flasehood, Being/Non-Being, Good/Evil, etc). I also think, like most patristics, you have to separate suffering & evil. Kind of like squares and rectangles (this may seem elementary but it does make the point). All evil is suffering, but not all suffering is evil. The text of the Bible even tells us that. Even with the case of apocatastasis, one will suffer at some level, it isn’t evil in and of itself but is rather the process by which the very evil is removed. (Be tried as through the fire.) And why God isn’t responsible is because his nature must necessarily exist outside of even the transcendentals. Apophatically, he must “be.” Kataphatically he acts, and there is a long history of explanations that make this point, that even the transcendentals are not God. But rather actions within the Godhead that point us to him, and yet, are not Him.

            There is a sense that the privative side is one in which life must seemingly pass on its way from nothing to something. And, if we take the claims seriously that “all have been bound in sin so that all can be made free” then isn’t this precisely what is occurring? Creation, the act of bringing forth from an abyss of nothing, or non-being, implies that there is a piece of creation itself holding on to the fount from which it is made, and this whole story, is an act of turning non-being, nothingness, into something, incarnation actually (via Maximus, et al)….until the very last drop of non-being is gone from all things.

            (Last time I posted, people told me this was cool for facebook but not here. Hopefully this a better rejoinder.)

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        • Robert Fortuin says:

          I have a different take on it – God will be the “All in all” which I take St Paul to mean that creation will be completely recapitulated in and together with Christ; in the plenitude of the Good, the True and Beautiful which is the eternal and perfect life of the Trinity, the fecundity of beatitude in which creation finds its perfection in ever greater measure by participation in infinite Divinity, while the fulfillment of its apokatastatis constitutes the end of suffering, evil and death having been obtained through the Paschal victory.

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        • mercifullayman says:

          I think there is an analogical gap here. Especially if we are to be able to speak about existence in any meaningful sense (past, present, or future. We use the expression, “It took me years to perfect this recipe.” for example. Why is it that an initial stray necessitates an ability to be perfect? If this is the case, why then, in the sermon on the mount, are we encouraged to be “perfect” as our Father in Heaven is? Surely, it isn’t hyperbole that is flippantly thrown out there for nothing? Perfection, in at least the biblical sense, seems to be rooted more in the becoming ‘like/of” a thing, than a thing in and of itself. God can be perfect as the basis for existence, but even the opening lines of Genesis never imply that things were perfect, but merely “good.” (And that I mean reading it allegorically, not literally) This is where equating transcendentals at all levels as the same can get you in trouble. Perfection was no more forfeited than any thing else in the fall, it merely had to be redeemed. In the end, that perfection will still be. It’s just hiding below the necessities of sin and reason. It will burst forth one day, just as Paul suggests. To imply otherwise, seems strange.

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            I don’t see the problem with perfection as do JBG and mattk above. I aver that creation’s perfection is always, and can only be, by way of participation in God’s perfection, and so it will never be an absolute perfection nor does it have to be. It is an ever greater epektasis towards perfection, having been obtained and yet obtainable in greater measure – the infinite epektasis of St Gregory of Nyssa – the former imperfection marked by suffering and evil, while not erased and and unimportant, overtaken by its share in the fullness of perfection which is the ecstatic of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

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  10. Grant says:

    One thing that has been raised before but seems to keep coming up despite the point being made in every post in response to this argument by DBH (the first meditation in the book) is that this isn’t offered as an answer to the problem of evil, it is not offered as a theodicy. In this there isn’t a contradiction between this argument and his reflections in the Doors of the Sea, as this argument is not tackling or addressing that subject directly. It isn’t meant to be seen as such, again, this isn’t a theodicy, it isn’t an answer or response to the problem of evil. It’s purpose is much simpler and humbler than that, in that it posits only that Christian belief is incoherent and contradictory at it’s most fundamental level in relation to it’s claims except in terms of a universalist view, only in that framework does it hold (or can hope to hold) together. It only relates to the issue of the question of the problem of evil as only in a universalist framework could we coherently hope that there is an answer consistent with Christian claims of God. This is because of the issue DBH relates above, they aren’t the moral dilemma at all, a temporary allowance of evil that will be abolished and heal in it’s entirety, all moments heal and restored, to an intended creation in which evil persists forever and people a subject to suffering forever, being God’s intention and will are simply not the same moral question or problem at all, no matter how strongly you feel present suffering seem to make Christian claims unlikely. As he says, they do not present the same moral problem, and I trouble to see the logic of those seem to be confused that it is, again even if you feel that the problem of evil itself is an insurmountable one for Christianity.

    Again, this argument isn’t a theodicy, yet people seem to keep treating it as one, DBH isn’t offering an answer to the problem of evil here at all.

    Two last thoughts a had relating to the problem of evil discussion, on raised by mattik that since God creates freely unconstrained by anything but His own Nature that to have freedom and space to be, and to fully become from non-being into the infinite that is God requires the possibility of a stumble back to non-being and therefore evil/death/suffering, that God could have set the rules otherwise. If I understand the reasoning of answers DBH and others have sketched, I don’t think it should be viewed as an arbitrary rules or structure that God imposes, but what is logically necessary for free, distinct creation and rational spirits that are truly other that God given space to respond and move towards Him freely and grow and flourish as something truly living and not in some ways puppets (the analogy to a child learning the ride a bike or even more fundamentally, learning to walk, in which falling off or stumbling in a necessary possibility for that growth, development and emergence to happen). In this way it falls under the point that God cannot do that which is logically impossible (i.e. He cannot cause to be a married bachelor, or a square circle), that at least seems to be the point whether you agree or not, or view that not creating at all would be better than creating where a possibility of fall must be necessary. Also, you may of course view the extent of suffering as to much which is a fair point of the how powerful a the problem of evil is, but I imagine that isn’t something that can even yet be given any real logical argument, only the Christian conviction of God’s total opposition and willingness to enter into the very depths of that suffering to overcome and free His creation from it and promise of total healing can be pointed to, a matter of faith looking towards Christ.

    My second thought in relation to the concept of the idea that a residue of evil would remain in the history of persons and sentient beings from past sufferings would remain always, I would suggest that this thinks of the Resurrection and rescue of all as only something further in the future. That is, that however we conceive it, evil will abolished in the sense that it is brought to an end and from that point on it is no more, but the past remains untouched, I think this is an insufficiently limited view of the restoration and healing of all things that Christian vision that is offered, of one in which God is all in all and death is destroyed, not merely abolished. Rather it is a vision which the healing, rescue, reconciliation and glorification reaches into the deepest levels of our beings and of creation, including all our past, present and future, all aspects of of our nature is promised to be restored, healed, transfigured and glorified. In this we can see the wounds of Christ, still borne but transfigured and transformed, no longer a residue of evil but instead turned and transfigured into life-giving glory and embrace of peace and love, the evil undone and abolished so completely there is residue in it, ever present to us in the Eucharist, to be brought into union with Him. It is only an incomplete and hard to understand aspect now, but again as a matter of hope and faith does promise indeed that there will be no residue of evil left even in the manner you think, that God will be all in all.

    But again, I’ll say that this argument in itself isn’t meant to be an answer to the problem of evil, and it’s a confusion to think that it is, and confuse the point that is being made.

    Liked by 1 person

    • JBG says:

      Grant: “…but the past remains untouched, I think this is an insufficiently limited.”

      One’s ideas about the past can certainly be transformed. The past can be “touched” by a different orientation toward it, but this only happens in the present.

      Are you implying that the past will be restored, in that suffering and evil will have never occurred? Because being as though it never occurred is incomparable to it actually having never occurred. Barring some hitherto unknown discovery within the physics of time, I’d say that this is a logical impossibility.

      That is what I am saying: the brute fact that evil and suffering arose cannot be undone. Maybe this fact will be of little or no consequence. Take of it what you will.

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      • Grant says:

        fallen mode of creation, and God is a being, He is Being Itself and transcends it and our created finite structure of being, including any nature of temporal structure of movement of becoming. God all in all is the taking up of our whole being, past, present and future ever more into Him, glorified and completed.

        Any present physics of time as it now stands tells us nothing as the gloried creation in ‘the ages of ages’, this present age tells us little about how things are in the more solid and real age to come.

        But no, it’s not that things won’t be, or be unmade, Christ retains His wounds after Resurrection, but they transformed, transfigured, the evil undone more fundamentally then simply being erased, but are instead part of the very communion with eternal life, joy and love of God, present already this side in the Eucharist, the very heart of all suffering and evil not just after the event but including the events and suffering itself defeated and transformed, overcome and transfigured at their depths, all that restored and transformed from wounds, torture, death, alienation, hatred, betrayal, hunger and poverty, all moments transfigured, death broken, overcome and destroyed from it;s very depths to be the instead overflowing Life, Love and communion into the dance of the Trinity in Christ.

        Basically it the indication all shall be transfigured, the healing going far deeper into and drawing our full beings, including all hurts, damages, all moments that make our being into which God will be all in all. The past will not be left untouched, otherwise God is not all in all, and that isn’t the Resurrection promises nor indicates.

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        • Grant says:

          (Missed the top line of my post, and no edit feature that is my bane here 🙂 )

          Again you are thinking of time and experience remaining as now in our current incomplete and .. (and from there the rest above continues 🙂 ).

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  11. Robert Fortuin says:

    My take Grant is that the confusion in regards to theodicy is a caused by not having read the arguments for universalism or not having understood them. So they jump in half-cocked with ammo that had better been left at home as it is isn’t quite up to the task. Makes for a great gun show though. 😉

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    • JBG says:

      I was addressing the notion of a “residue of evil” which was mentioned in the lecture and not offering a counterargument to the universalism. I suppose that wasn’t understood.

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  12. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Just a brief comment about apokatastasis and theodicy. I find it curious that so many believe that the presence of suffering and evil within creation represents a serious objection to universal salvation. As I see the matter, it represents instead the most serious objection to the Christian confession of a good and omnibenevolent Creator. If the objection holds against universal salvation, it equally holds against all traditional expressions of the Christian faith. Long ago I decided that I must believe in the gospel despite evil and suffering. I do not believe that philosophy can provide a sufficient and convincing solution (though perhaps it can take us part of the way). We either find the solution in Pascha … or we do not.

    If you believe that God cannot redeem horrific suffering, then it was wicked of him to create the world. Why then be a follower of Christ Jesus? Why believe there is a gospel? Why believe that God is Love? You pays your money and you takes your choice.

    Liked by 3 people

    • JBG says:

      Fr Aidan Kimel: “As I see the matter, it represents instead the most serious objection to the Christian confession of a good and omnibenevolent Creator.”

      Suffering and evil absolutely do constitute the most serious objection to the existence of a good and omnibenevolent creator. Evil and suffering work to undermine any expression of faith in the fundamental goodness of existence and the perfectibility of humanity, whether such expressions are Christian or that of other faiths (read: Sufism, Vedanta, etc).

      Within Christianity, universal salvation, in particular, is wholly contingent upon the existence of a good and omnibenevolent creator, standing in stark contradistinction to all other schemes of salvation. Other schemes of salvation—all invariably involving eternal loss or eternal suffering—do not require such a creator. God, in these doctrines, is not only devoid of omnibenevolence but looks to be more like a devil.

      Christian universal salvation/restoration is unique in its requirement of an omnibenevolent creator. At the same time, suffering and evil are a serious objection to the existence of said creator. Therefore, in this regard it would seem to follow that evil and suffering represent a serious objection to universal salvation.

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      • Robert Fortuin says:

        In my estimation JBG this makes the Paschal triumph all the more remarkable. God as creature, the impassable through passion overcoming death by death. This is of course not to marginalize the ‘problem and mystery’ of evil – of course it is the most formidable challenge to faith, to a belief in a benevolent God. This is also why we insist that universalism, the All in all without a remainder of evil and death, is the only Christian perspective. Anything salvific account that falls short of the All in all simply isn’t Christian, it falls short of the Paschal triumph and promise,

        Liked by 1 person

        • Robert Fortuin says:

          New definition of hell: wordpress combox without the ability to edit one’s posts.

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Heaven: wordpress combox with the ability to edit one’s posts. We blogmasters are the elect! How sweet it is! 😎

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