Apokatastasis and the Theodicy Objection

Until the reviews of That All Shall Be Saved started coming in, I never considered theodicy as a possible objection to the greater hope. Roberto De La Noval was the first reviewer to raise the question:

If God can be judged morally evil for permitting the possibility eternal suffering, even if not directly or antecedently willed, why would God not also be evil for allowing the possibility of temporal sufferings of the most horrendous and egregious kind, and then, through creating us, for ensuring that this would be the reality for all born into a world already fallen?1

I judge Noval’s to be a thoughtful, well-reasoned presentation of the theodicy objection; but at the time I did not find it compelling (sorry, Rob)—not because I brilliantly discerned the fatal flaws in his argument but simply because I found it personally irrelevant (more on that later).

Michael McClymond, a respected Jonathan Edwards’s scholar, quickly followed suit with his version of the argument:

If creaturely action is always “enfolded within his [God’s] decision,” and God is “making us to do” as we do, then we might legitimately ask: Why does evil exist at all? In seeking to explain how evil is finally overcome, Hart generates a new and perhaps insuperable problem regarding the origination of evil. Or is Hart’s God evil as well as good—sometimes intending and accomplishing good, and sometimes intending and accomplishing evil? That may not be the conclusion Hart wishes, but it’s a possible implication of his reasoning. Hart’s “responsible Creator argument” proves too much, for if God is morally responsible for eschatological outcomes, then why is God not also responsible for historical evils? And if creaturely choices are all dissolved into divine decisions, then God becomes the doer of every evil deed (for there is no other doer), and a universalist happy ending would not then absolve God of all the evil that had occurred along the Yellow Brick Road to the eschaton.2

I recall my initial reaction—huh? I thought it curious that someone in the Calvinist tradition would offer this objection. After all, don’t Reformed Christians, like all who stand in the Augustianian tradition, believe in some version of absolute predestination? If predestination means anything, it means that God enjoys the freedom and power to efficaciously save the elect. But perhaps I am mistaken about McClymond’s location in the theological tradition; regardless, he has misunderstood Hart’s construal of divine and creaturely causality and so I pass by without further comment.

Larry Chapp, an expert in the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar, has recently reiterated the theodicy objection:

However, I do also wonder if Hart’s argument does not prove too much. It seems to me that the argument brings with it certain theodicy problems that inhere in some of its premises. The argument Hart raises against a God who would knowingly create a person he knew was headed to damnation could also be used to condemn any God who would create an order that has any evil in it at all. Surely there are possible alternate universes where no creature ever sins? And our universe as a whole, no matter how immense, is also a purely contingent entity that did not have to exist. So why would God choose to bring this little shop of horrors into existence when he had better alternatives? Why not just refrain from creating a cosmos with sinners in it and only create those without sinners? For that matter, why have a hell at all even in a universe with sinners? Why not just cure sinners in a more clinical setting staffed with angelic therapists who cure through positive rather than negative reinforcements? Why not a salvific scheme that involved the sinner traversing a nested hierarchy of spiritual levels all heading vertically upwards rather than a stint in the dungeon in its electro shock room before climbing on the bus to heaven? Because no matter how “temporary” and purgative hell might be as a place of remediation, it will still be a place of great suffering, as even the great Origen noted. Origen pointed out that even though it might be the case that all are saved eventually, the process whereby that happens will be horribly painful and that is why we should still seek to avoid sin. And are not temporary sufferings as a result of evil still sufferings? And isn’t evil still evil even if God will someday do away with it? Why allow evil at all? I understand that the present evils are temporary and are perhaps allowed by God for the achievement of some greater good. And therefore that God’s permissive will is in play here and not his direct will. Perhaps in some bizarre sense a fallen and redeemed world is a more glorious thing than a world that never fell. We see this expressed in the ancient exultet prayer (“O Felix Culpa”) and in many other residuals of the Christian Platonism of the early fathers. But that seems to me dangerously close to the idea that evil was somehow necessary for God’s creative purposes, a flirtation that was common with many Christian Platonists. I am not saying these are Hart’s views. I am just thinking out loud as to what some of the possible entailments of his arguments might be.3

Chapp is only ruminating. His concerns boil down to one: if God possesses the power and freedom to redeem evil-doers in the end times, why didn’t he create a sinless world from the get-go? Now it just so happens that David Hart addressed this question here on Eclectic Orthodoxy two years ago. The objection, argues Hart, ignores the distinction between the relativity of temporal evil (permitted and redeemable) and the absolute finality of evil in the eschatological consummation:

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.4

Readers are invited to read Hart’s short piece and assess the soundness of his arguments. Noval tells me that he finds it a cogent refutation of the theodicy objection.

As mentioned above, I have not given the theodicy objection serious consideration for two simple reasons:

First, if the theodicy objection holds against apokatastasis, it holds even more convincingly against the existence of an omnibenevolent Creator. Why did the God of absolute love create a world filled with evil? For many, horrific suffering poses the single most powerful, and paralyzing, objection to belief in a good God. For me personally, I have never found satisfying the theodicies advanced by Christians over the centuries. They all ring hollow in the face of the Cambodian genocide and the heinous murder of a child. Every day I must resist the lure of atheism; every day I must fight to keep my faith. Only the crucified and risen Christ, wrapped in his promise to make all things well, keeps me in the Church.

Second, if the theodicy objection holds against apokatastasis, it holds even more convincingly, indeed decisively, against the doctrine of everlasting damnation. Perdition intensifies the problem of evil to the intolerable nth degree. God freely creates a world, so says the traditional doctrine, with full knowledge that for some it will conclude in everlasting suffering. God does not conquer and redeem evil; he only quarantines it within a perduring moment of torment. Infernalism does not solve the problem of evil; it eternalizes it—thereby calling into radical question the character of God as absolute love. How is it then that thoughtful people can declare that apokatastasis raises a pressing theodicial concern, all the while ignoring the incessant screams of the reprobate. At least the doctrine of apokatastasis holds out the hope that God will convert the wicked to righteousness. Love will be all in all. The only theodicy worthy of the Holy Trinity is the deification of the cosmos in Jesus Christ.

I cannot provide a convincing Christian solution to the origin of evil; but the eschatological promise of Christ at least enables me to live in this vale of tears and not be overwhelmed and destroyed.

All shall be well,
and all shall be well,
and all manner of thing shall be well.

 

Footnotes

[1] Roberto De La Noval, “Universalism: The Only Theodicy?,” Eclectic Orthodoxy (16 September 2019).

[2] Michael McClymond, “David Bentley Hart’s Lonely, Last Stand for Christian Universalism,” The Gospel Coalition (2 October 2019).

[3] Larry Chapp, “David Bentley Hart’s Universalism (Part 2),” Gaudium et Spes 22 (3 September 2021). After further discussion with DBH, Dr Chapp has changed his mind and no longer considers the theodicy objection sound.

[4] David Bentley Hart, “Theodicy and Apokatastasis,”Eclectic Orthodoxy (20 September 2019). Also see his article “If God is going to deify everyone anyway …” Eclectic Orthodoxy (20 January 2021).

(cont)

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30 Responses to Apokatastasis and the Theodicy Objection

  1. Jacob K says:

    The more interesting question, the one that stumps me, is, if indeed creaturely action is enfolded within God’s decision, what is it that draws the rational spirit into choosing nothingness, resisting their creation and thereby falling?

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    • dianelos says:

      Jacob K,

      what is it that draws the rational spirit into choosing nothingness, resisting their creation and thereby falling?

      I think it is the other way around: By being made spiritually imperfect (“fallen”), personal creatures often mistake the evil for the good and are thereby deceived into choosing it. DBH has already discussed why there is no such thing as creating a perfect personal creature, or indeed a personal creature in any stage of spiritual maturity. John Hick has explained the same based on the idea of the making of the greatest possible creature.

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      • Dianelos,

        I haven’t read Hick. Where can I find this argument? Very interested in reading more. Or, if you’re so inclined, would you mind elaborating?

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        • dianelos says:

          Jedidiahpaschall,

          The book where John Hick develops the soul-building theodicy is “Evil and the God of Love”. As far as I am concerned it’s one of the most important theological books ever written. Even its detractors agree it’s a classic.

          Hick’s basic idea (based on an insight by St Irenaeus) is very simple: It is evident that God, the greatest conceivable being, would create the world only out of love for his creatures, for whom he would prepare the greatest conceivable end. By considering what the greatest conceivable creaturely end is one understands the reason why God’s creation is as it is.

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      • Jacob K says:

        Thank you for the response. I guess my next question would be how are they deceived?

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        • dianelos says:

          Jacob K,

          Every day of our lives we directly experience how we are deceived into confusing the evil for the good. In my case I often prefer the sweetness of fleeting pleasure from the permanent joy of spiritual growth. Pleasure is a good and God’s creation is full of it; the point is not to let the seeking of pleasure dominate one’s mind because this hurts one’s soul and ultimately makes one miserable and unfree. There is a reason why all religious traditions teach practical spiritual exercises that help deepen one’s understanding and strengthen one’s will, so that one does not become a slave to pleasure seeking.

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    • Tom says:

      Jacob,

      If you haven’t read DBH’s EO post listed in first reference in Footnote 4 above, that should answer your question. What’s enfolded within God’s decision is of course not just the end, but the beginning (which beginning could not be other than it is in light of the end). What’s enfolded in (and grounded in, and sustained by) God is the precarious, risky sort of agency which is the possibility of sin and evil. God gives the necessary terms in which creation must move from origin to end in God, so it’s a question of the kind agency sentient-spiritual creatures must possess if they’re to make the trek to final union with God. (Note what Hart says about the difference in the modes of willing – this difference is why McClymond’s theodicy objection fails.)

      What draws a rational spirit into misrelation is the limited, finite scope of our knowing and perceiving. We know and sense enough of our transcendent end to perceive the good which alone ought to occupy desire and choice, but we are also ignorant enough to misconstrue the conditions of our embodied, finite existence toward lesser ends. You might say the ‘epistemic distance’ (between 0 which is ‘knows nothing’ to 1 which is ‘knows everything’) which constitutes our deliberative agency is greater than 0 (i.e., we know enough of the truth to responsibly relate to ourselves and to God) but less than 1 (i.e., we are not omniscient, so we’re ignorant of enough of the truth of things to be able rationally to construct reasons missing the mark). To be this is not to be ‘fallen’. It’s just the condition of finitude in its infancy and as such is good and excellent ‘as a beginning’ (since it constitutes the necessary terms in which we are to achieve our end).

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  2. dianelos says:

    Roberto De La Noval wrote:

    If God can be judged morally evil for permitting the possibility eternal suffering, even if not directly or antecedently willed, why would God not also be evil for allowing the possibility of temporal sufferings of the most horrendous and egregious kind?

    Creatures made in the image of God are persons and thus ends in themselves. Eternal conscious torment is an evident absolute evil, so surely if God had chosen to create a world where such were even a possibility then one couldn’t call him “good” in any intelligible sense. This much should be clear.

    So what about temporal suffering? Is it intelligible to call God “good” given that he has chosen to create and maintain in being a world in which temporal evils (including those “of the most horrendous and egregious kind”) would obtain? Well if creatures with knowledge of the whole history of creation from beginning to end would judge it to be a perfectly good, then they will consider God’s choice to create this world to be perfectly compatible with his being perfectly good. Indeed they would admire and love God even more for having chosen to create such a world. This much should be clear also; it is incoherent to call God “evil” for having chosen to create a perfectly good world.

    Finally to explain how the actual world with its many moral and natural evils is a perfectly good creation is the task of theodicy. I happen think that the late John Hick has already found the right theodicy in its basic form – but suppose I am wrong. Even then Roberto de la Noval’s question above is akin to asking if there is a theodicy. Well, if there is no theodicy then theism is not true. It is not coherent to be a theist while believing that there is no moral justification for God creating the actual world. (One may of course believe that the right theodicy has not yet been found, or perhaps that it is beyond our cognitive faculties to understand.)

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  3. Jason says:

    A close friend and I have been thinking through what the Fall is for sometime now, and this is our current attempt at trying to understand it: analogously, when someone is expecting a baby, they have a vision within their minds of what that child will be like; fantasies of a wonderful child that conforms to whatever vision they are holding within they mind. From a certain perspective, their vision is of a perfect child, in the sense that their fantasy and hope is a child that perfectly meets their expectations and desires for what that child will be and become.

    But once that child is born, that child never turns out precisely what the vision entails. This, then, is the Fall. God’s vision and desire for humanity is a perfect creation; in one sense Christ is this perfect representation of creation, and in another sense, the fully realized Adam in Genesis is also this eschatological hope of a complete and perfect creation. But what our temporal experience and existence consists of, is the Fall – it is the allowance of making the visions and fantasies real, which necessitates a Fall, due to a separation of the perfect vision from the material reality. Again, analogously, we actually see the Fall all around us: we always have some plan or vision in our heads: the perfect evening, the perfect date, the perfect family, career…the perfect life. But to step out into reality, away from the vision, is to experience a “fall.”

    I would suggest that all this is the Fall; it is the difference between the conception of humanity and creation within the mind of God, and that of the manifestation within reality of that vision. In this sense, the Fall is necessary, but not due to any willing on behalf of God for calamity or evil, or because evil can produce a better Good than what otherwise could have been known, or any such other notion.

    Rather, it is inherent to the act of creation itself. Could God have created universes without sin? No. Because for God to create anything at all necessitates a Fall due to the collapse between the vision and the material reality.

    Now, thankfully, this isn’t the end of the story, because due to the universalism of Origen, Gregory, Maximus, and Hart, we discover that, in one sense, God actually does create us perfect. After all, God isn’t limited like we finite creatures are. But the perfected creation is at the eschaton. Our current temporal lives are merely a footnote, an instant, a moment, in the actual act of God’s creative act. We are merely a history of God creating a universe of perfectly free rational beings.

    Anyway, maybe it’s all nonsense, but that’s how I currently view the Fall and of theodicy within my head canon.

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    • Owen-Maximus says:

      I really like this vision of things, Jason. But I have a question.

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but you said that the Fall indicates “a separation of the perfect vision from the material reality.” That is, fallen beings may imagine perfect scenarios but only end up bringing about, or experiencing, imperfect scenarios in reality. And I assume the reason this pattern of “the Fall” keeps repeating itself is because our entire created reality is fallen. Is that correct? If so, however, wouldn’t that imply (perish the thought) that God is somehow fallen?

      I draw this conclusion because you wrote, “for God to create anything at all necessitates a Fall due to the collapse between the vision and the material reality.” It would seem that if God’s activity works according to the same pattern as fallen man’s activity (perfect vision –> imperfect reality), then God would be impotent in the same way we are. Anyway, just a thought. Forgive me if I’ve misunderstood your reasonings here.

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      • Jason says:

        That’s a great question, thanks. The way I see it, if universalism is false, then I would suggest God is fallen like you proposed, which, logically, would mean God isn’t God (or, at least, he isn’t Good).

        But, since I hold to universalism, God does make us perfect. It’s just that our temporal existence and history is the “moment” and part of the creative act. Does that make sense what I’m trying to articulate? God is different from Man in that He will make his creation perfect, it’s just not something done magically in an instant (DBH has articulated why very sufficiently before, when he has explained that rational spirits inherently have a history; we’re not magically conjured perfect robotic beings, with no history).

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      • Owen-Maximus says:

        That does make sense, Jason. Thanks for clarifying. I think I understand the point, “that rational spirits inherently have a history.” My question about such a history is, Must it include sin and evil? Christians have normally understood the Fall in terms of sin and evil. Yet it seems the history of a rational spirit could be conceived without sin and evil. Perhaps Adam could have progressed along God’s intended path, learning, growing, maturing, cultivating the creation, all the while remaining pure of heart. What I’m hearing is that a “fall” is somehow inherent in the “history” of a rational creature. Is that correct, or have I misunderstood you? Thanks again.

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        • Jason says:

          This gets very messy, quickly. I’m not a trained theologian or philosopher, and I’m just trying to spitball at one of the oldest and most difficult questions of all of human experience, learning and synthesizing what I can from others.

          So, here’s the answer that my friend and I are attempting: I think an argument from theology is a stronger argument for a cosmological multiverse than an empirical or mathematical argument. As the ground of all potentiality and actuality, God literally provides ontological existence to, well, everything. To God, there is a collapse of the distinction between potentiality and actuality; it makes no difference to Him – anything that can exist, does exist. (DBH talks about this some in Roland in Moonlight)

          It’s my understanding that to some Gnostic, Kabbalistic, Neo-Platonic, Origenian, etc. schools, all rational beings consented of their own creation within the atemporal divine pleroma, before the creation of the material paradigm of reality. We all freely consented to our own being and existence, and then we all experience the Fall into material reality. Following this, what I think is that we have a spiritual anchoring of consciousness of who we truly are that gets splintered throughout the multiverse; our existence in this reality is merely a shade of our true selves, and this is equally true for every other iteration of the universe that exists within the multiverse.

          What each iteration of a universe is, is merely the freedom of choice; all choices, every choice, good and bad, gets experienced within the multiverse. Eventually, within temporal history, all of creation throughout all of the multiverse will suffer death. Then the resurrection will occur, and I’m envisioning that all rational beings that originated in the divine pleroma (our true selves) will take on incorruptible material bodies, and we will have full knowledge of all choices we committed, good and bad, throughout all of our lives / iterations in the multiverse. Then the judgment occurs, where God damns our false selves, and uplifts our true selves out of the sin and darkness (and in this sense, we all are damned and worthy of destruction, as well as blessed and worthy of grace). And what our true selves are is the aggregate of all right and true choices that we made within the multiverse. This is the eschaton; the redemption of every moment, every choice; we all are reconciled to each other and to God. This is why God can wipe away every tear, because all the wrong choices, all the hurts, all the sins we committed against others and experienced ourselves from the sins committed by others, we remember all of them; but God redeems every good choice we made and brings the multiversal experience into a symphony. It is the uplifting of every true choice, like a master selecting specific threads out of a larger tapestry to burn away the worthless chaff, but preserve that which is beautiful and true.

          So my answer to your question has to be qualified: could a universe exist where I never sinned? No. But in a multiversal cosmological model, when you combine the aggregate of all the right choices I made across all the iterations, then yes, that true Self of me, without sin, does exist.

          Again, maybe this is all nonsense, and probably has many problems, but it’s the concept that my friend and I have been thinking through for a couple years now.

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          • Owen-Maximus says:

            Interesting view, Jason, thanks for laying it out. I happened across the following quote today, from Olivier Clément’s book, Transfiguring Time, and thought about our conversation here.

            He writes, “The non-biblical religions, which…we shall call “cosmic” religions, have a sense of time that is radically opposed to that of modern man. They are animated by a nostalgia for paradise that leads them to consider history as a fall, preventing the return to the original condition, a return to the paradise that dwells on the other side of the material world, or rather, that is the obverse of the material world and of time.”

            Moreover, “For the archaic community, cyclical repetition is the means of a return to paradise.”

            I’m just starting the book, but I’ll be interested to see how much credence Clément gives to this “non-biblical” religious understanding. My guess is that he will find much of value in the thought of these “archaic communities,” while filtering his reflections through the faith of Orthodox tradition.

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  4. I really like Chapp’s writings overall, but this sticks out to me as a kind of dead end:

    Surely there are possible alternate universes where no creature ever sins? And our universe as a whole, no matter how immense, is also a purely contingent entity that did not have to exist. So why would God choose to bring this little shop of horrors into existence when he had better alternatives?

    I fundamentally question the idea that there are any possible universes where no creature (aside from the God-man) sins and remains a free creature in any meaningful sense. I think this fails to grapple with the provisional behovliness of sin, and its inextricable connection to creaturely freedom. But, the problem runs deeper because most Christian theological strands struggle to find balance amid the antinomic truths we are confronted with, and often fails to countenance the fact that these antinomies do in fact coincide. Is the universe contingent? Yes, in itself it has no necessity. Is Divine freedom of the kind that could not create this universe? No. The infinite identity of the God-world relation is as true as the infinite difference between the two. Furthermore, we have no qualitative means of judging that a universe that experiences no sin as being better than one that does experience sin. The only final judgement we can make is that God can only create universes that reflect his glory truly, cosmoi in which God will be revealed to be All in all, and irrespective of what route each cosmoi takes through the contingencies of its history the destiny of each and every possible world is a world in which God’s goodness in creation is fully manifest.

    Forgive me for being a bit cranky on this point, but more often than not, I find the theodicy objection to universalist eschatology to be nothing less than an evasion. It’s not as if there is any system that can offer a comprehensive theodicy, especially from our current position in history, where we cannot see the beginning from the end in such a way that we have understood God’s purposes for creating in the way he has. However, where other Christian systems, infernalist or annihilationist, absolutely lack is that evil is simply enfolded into eternity, and is not a temporal product that is overcome in the Aeonian world to come. I am personally more inclined to the pedagogical interpretation of the fall, and view it as somewhat of a contingent inevitability that must occur for free, image bearing creatures to emerge through the process of history; but even there, I must finally admit that these are simply leanings and nothing worth dogmatizing. But, the metaphysical choices presented to the Christian mind are fairly simple – evil can and will be finally remedied in the apokatastasis; or its tragedy will be eternally ensconced in the will of God in such a way that some, many, or even most creatures can never hope to escape. None of the infernalist objections to universalism are able to militate against their own fundamental contradictions, or dare I say hypocrisy. I mean, those who advance the argument are ostensibly Christian, and what they are looking for in a defeater argument against universalism is far more destructive to their own systems because one must concede that if universalism isn’t true, when considered in light of all other Christian metaphysical claims, that God is in fact in some way evil. No objection, feigned or simply confused, against universalism can really escape this.

    I really do commend Chapp for attempting a good faith argument against Hart, and I do not doubt his sincerity. However, each and every argument against universalism is, at the end of the day an argument against Christianity.

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    • Tom says:

      Jedidiah: Forgive me for being a bit cranky on this point, but more often than not, I find the theodicy objection to universalist eschatology to be nothing less than an evasion.

      I agree. I don’t find anything convincing in them, especially if they assume, as Chapp does, that God creates ‘this’ world by picking from an menu assortment of possible worlds. If God creates, he cannot but long to unit what he creates to himself, and that means Incarnation.

      I think the objection to UR based on God’s present permission of sin derives from thinking universalists believe God ceases this present permission in the eschaton and saves via other means (means that foreclose upon creaturely, deliberative agency); hence the objection: If God can save through essentially eliminating the need for deliberative agency, then why not start there? My response is, why think he essentially eliminates such agency? If the agency that grounds the possibility of misrelating to the God (whatever we call that agency) is essential to the movement of created wills into union with God, then there’s no way to start at the end, and there’s no other way to end either.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tom, we definitely track here. What I find to be rather remarkable in all of this is the gauzy manner in which many Christians concede to an eschatology that necessitates everlasting loss and tragedy. The question of why God created the world in the manner he has is a perennially valid one. However, to arrive at conclusions, whether out of dogmatic and ecclesiastical loyalties, that are ultimately unfitting of the God who creates remains a mystery to me. This is accentuated to a much greater degree on the contemporary scene where access to a growing body of universalist arguments that may have been hard to find even a few decades ago, seems to remove any real excuse from those who wish to provide counter-arguments. The only arguments I can somewhat respect are Ivan’s objections in The Brothers Karamazov and possibly “my dogmatic commitments don’t allow me to countenance arguments to the contrary,” not because these are valid arguments in themselves, but at least the evasion is honest. Tossing out the theodicy objection, when your system fairs far worse on your own criteria doesn’t seem like an argument at all.

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  5. Iain Lovejoy says:

    I think Hart is pretty clear that he does not seek to demonstrate that universalism is true, but rather that only universalism can possibly be compatible with an omnibenevolent God creating from nothing, and thus is the only end to the story compatible with Christianity. The theodicy objection is essentially that *not even* universalism is compatible with an omnibenevolent God creating from nothing, which (if it were true) would refute Christianity, not Hart’s argument.

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  6. Dave says:

    I would love for Thomas Talbott to weigh in on this. I found his chapter in The Inescapable Love of God “Omnipotence and the Mystery of Evil” (Chapter 10) to be very helpful (to my pea brain). He begins the chapter with this quote

    “Aslan,” said Lucy through her tears, “could you—will you—do something for these poor Dwarfs?” “Dearest,” said Aslan, “I will show you both what I can, and what I cannot, do.” —C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle

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  7. mercifullayman says:

    I don’t think any theodicy as we see it stands on its own. Nearly all theodicies, working towards maintaining an “objective” stance seemingly fall on their own sword. There is never a true answer to the question if you only try to answer it from the Top/Down. Apokatastasis makes sense only as a dialectical overcoming of a freely built world in which all choice is wrapped into a seemingly “tensioned” whole and then overcome. Many people, who seemingly yearn to use theodicy or for that matter, Hell, unwittingly seem to hope that there is Pascal’s “Absconditus” waiting to make all things known as a “hidden” deity that will answer all our questions in the end. Yet, what many forget is that the deity is no longer hidden, nor will he ever be “hidden” again. As St. Paul tells us, He was revealed for our sakes. The overcoming of all things is already done, and will be completed in actu in the end. God becoming Man…. Man becoming God. God as the actual literal example of a dialectic that overcomes all tensions into a unified whole has been made known. The suffering that occupies the world, the self-created spheres that we build for ourselves, and then yet come to see in the end as either standing on the side of the Good, or crumbling under the weight of illusion, requires that all visions of reality, in the end, must be overcome. Evil exists because of the freedom to exist. The more we don’t credit freedom as part of the ground of being…the more we avoid that fact, the more we seek to only make the image of God as a rationally oriented view, the further we get away from what I perceive to be at work within existence. We will answer to God and Man for what has occurred in our lives, and yet, that same answer will be wrapped in how He overcomes the “world” through us all.

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  8. Seamus says:

    Is there an article which treats the necessity and or nature of baptism in light of universalism?

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      I don’t think I’ve addressed it in an article. I’ve never understood the necessity of salvific baptism as rigorously as, say, St Augustine and other Latin Fathers. As I was taught in seminary back in the Dark Ages, in her historical mission the Church is bound to the sacraments but God ain’t. I suppose that’s a more colloquial way way of saying what the CCC says: “God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments.” Hence no conflict exists between baptism and the universalist hope. Does that help?

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      • Mark Chenoweth says:

        Maybe we could say that baptism IS necessary for salvation, BUT…for some this might be a baptism of desire (the thief on the cross), a counterfactual baptism (pagans who WOULD agree to be baptized but were blocked mentally, spiritually, or physically, due to circumstances beyond their control in their earthly life), and for the remaining average degenerates, a baptism by fire that occurs in the fires of Gehenna at the judgment.

        Which is just another way of saying what Fr Aidan just said. Maybe his way is better and mine dies the death of a thousand qualifications…

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        • Seamus says:

          Thank you, yes, I was more looking for an updated philosophical treatise on baptism in light of universalism. Maybe Bulgakov or someone had something novel to say about the necessity, contrasting the Latin fathers etc.

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Actually, I wouldn’t expect the confession to universal salvation to significantly impact the Church’s understanding of baptism, if at all. To say that baptism saves is simply to say that Christ saves, which is to say that we are saved by union with Christ and his Spirit. Where does this (normally or normatively) happen? In his sacramental body, the Church. Or to put it more precisely, baptism saves by initiating us into the mystery of his eucharistic Body and Blood.

            Liked by 2 people

          • Robert Fortuin says:

            “baptism saves by initiating us into the mystery of his eucharistic Body and Blood” – which is absolutely necessary for all. Universalism doesn’t challenge this necessity the least bit – on the contrary, for it insists all will and can only be saved through the Mystery.

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        • Owen-Maximus says:

          Don’t forget the baptism of tears. Making it a thousand and one… 🙂

          I agree the terms of normativity and exception are key. The norm being precisely “water and spirit.” To your point, Mark, I wonder how many exceptions it takes before we no longer can say, Baptism in water is necessary for salvation. If universalism is true, we may actually have moved beyond that threshold.

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          • mercifullayman says:

            I don’t think universalism detracts from the necessity at all. What you’re describing is an act in time itself. Much like the initial salve of an illness, baptism gives us an “inoculation” if you will, against what is within time. Sure, you could skip it, but the activity that occurs within time for you, is still going to happen outside of time for someone else. It is necessary either way. Water gives us the here and now of existential change. It is the medium of action as life is within time itself. It is where we meet Life as being itself and saves one from unnecessary pain.So it is necessary if we want to experience the fullness of being in time.

            Yet, the fire that will burn, the baptism that comes as an intermediary of the transcendent, doesn’t negate what is necessary. You’re going to be immersed either way into something…..water or fire. Contradiction finds its foot in overcoming once again. And yet that is the the point. It is necessary to meet the Divine somewhere. The question is where?

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          • Owen-Maximus says:

            By “necessity,” I meant specifically water baptism (not just any baptism), since Jesus said no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. I don’t think he’d agree that “sure, you could skip it.” Water baptism is portrayed as the necessary means of salvation. It’s at least the norm, to which there are notable exceptions.

            Yet, if everyone is eventually saved and enters the eschatological kingdom, then the vast majority will not have experienced water baptism. They would each constitute exceptional cases, each of which qualify the norm. My question was (above), at what point is a norm qualified to death? Anyway….baptism in general is an enigma to me.

            I hear what you’re saying about a purification “outside of time,” a baptism of fire that enables one to eventually enter the kingdom of God. A question on this: do you understand Jesus’ words in John 3:5 to apply only to those who, as you said, “want to experience the fullness of being in time”? In other words, is water baptism necessary only for this life? My understanding was that rebirth (via water) is necessary in this life in order to enter God’s kingdom in the life to come.

            Thanks for the interaction on this; I’m really seeking to understand how all this works in scripture and the spiritual life.

            Liked by 1 person

  9. mercifullayman says:

    @Owen-Maximus:

    I can’t respond for some reason, but I’d say that the vast majority not knowing “in time” is actually the whole point of St. Paul in all of his discussions about disclosure and revelation. For instance, comments about the “veil” that is over the eyes, the birth pangs of the earth, the eschatological return when every knee bows, when all are tested…etc. I also think about the passage where it’s articulated that John baptized with water but that Christ’s baptism is one of the Spirit. So I think the command that you have to be reborn via that medium is one in which two things are ceremonially and dialectically drawn near. They are the place in which created intention meets with personal acceptance/surrender. One could even draw on motifs from the OT that seems to suggest that the “space” there is holy enough for us to encounter God directly without fear of dying “in time”. And, if we want to be specific, a “death” does occur. So logically, if all only encounter the divine in death for revival or in the end, we can also take the words literally that our old selves die “in time” at that moment. Again, we’re just choosing to do it in time, as opposed to waiting until the end. It is indeed, what should be sought after and is “required” but at the same time, it also creates a limit that can be overcome….which to me is kind of the point. In time, to overcome the world, one’s mind/body/soul can be aligned and it leads to that nexus..it leads to the merging of the transcendent/immanent. Yet, just as the text says, everyone will know in the “end.” Baptism is still a dialectical point of death leading to life. There is an “easier” road in this life, than the baptism of love that will purge us all.

    Qualifications are ways around the “what if” mentality that many have…we need a loophole. Yet, the loopholes seems to be ways around avoiding hell. So if you remove the fire insurance, and just take the view as an entire whole in which it doesn’t operate, there really isn’t any need for extra qualifications. It becomes more about what are we grounding baptism itself into, and then how does that work itself out. I mean, even the Didache starts trying to qualify as many possible ways to get them baptized as is needed. Just about anything counted, it seems. I think that tells us more about the nature of the point than what methodologies are allowed/not allowed. I could be wrong though.

    Liked by 1 person

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