We seek theodicy. We seek justification for the suffering, privation, violence, futility, and death of this world. We desire assurance that this world is good and our Creator is good. We need hope that Christ will triumph over every evil and our final destiny will be glorious. We read the biblical expositions and philosophical treatises, but none satisfy. Only apokatastasis, avers Sergius Bulgakov, provides the needed theodicy:
In the apocatastasis, the final destinies of creation are realized—both in the world of spirits and in the human world—and its final goal is divinization, God all in all [1 Cor 15:28]. What is revealed is the love and the goodness of God, manifested in creation. In the apocatastasis, the eternal plan of God is completed. Wisdom is justified in her deeds (Matt 11:19, “by all her children,” Luke 7:35), “theodicy” is unveiled.1
The final healing and transfiguration of the cosmos in the life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit manifests the divine theodicy accomplished in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Evil and death are conquered, suffering redeemed, history rendered coherent and meaningful. All becomes theophany, ecstasy and joy. As Bulgakov declares: “Only deification is capable of justifying creation. It is the only theodicy.”2
What then of the evil and suffering that marks our present existence? Can it be reconciled with the Christian confession of God as absolute and perfect love? Only if it represents a relative, contingent, and redeemable violation of God’s original purposes:
Human consciousness can reconcile itself neither with the self-sufficiency of evil nor with its finality and unconquerability as expressed in the failure to eradicate evil, which is what the allowance of eternal perdition would represent. If evil does in fact have a place in creation, then this can be only as a relative and thus transitional principle, as a path and a means, but not as the final completion and much less as the primordial state. That is why this state is understood as one of innocence and sinlessness alone, both in relation to the world of spirits and the world of humans; the Manichean confession of the primordiality of evil would represent a satanic blasphemy against the Creator.3
The projection of evil into the protological beginning of the world posed a serious challenge to orthodox Christianity during its early centuries, particularly in the person of Mani and the movement he generated. The Church quickly recognized that Manichaeism could not be reconciled with the biblical confession of the good Creator and the goodness of his creation. Numerous theologians wrote against the dualistic heresy, including St Cyril of Jerusalem, St Epiphanius, St Ephrem, St Augustine of Hippo, and St John of Damascus. Yet despite this dogmatic rejection of Manichaeism, its spirit nonetheless seeped into the doctrine of the Church, projecting evil not into the world’s transcendent origin but its eschatological consummation:
But neither does religious consciousness reconcile itself with the invincibility, and in this sense the “eternality,” of evil as included in the general plan of the world’s creation, insofar as in this plan the guilt and responsibility for the final perdition of creation—in the persons of Satan and the fallen spirits, together with fallen humanity—falls on the Creator himself, who, while not having created evil, has nonetheless permitted it for eternity. The world could only be created, of course, if it contained freedom (for a world of mannequins would be unworthy of the Creator), yet this freedom is only creaturely freedom. And creaturely freedom encompasses either the inevitability or at least the possibility of a fall. To admit the first option is obviously not possible because it would mean blaspheming the Creator, to whom would be ascribed the desire to create the world precisely as fallen, or at least to create a world predestined for a fall. But it is equally impossible to to admit the creation of a world in which the fall, although only possible, would nonetheless be final and irremediable, for this would indicate the world’s absolute self-determination for evil despite the complete relativity and limitation of its created existence. Similarly, admitting an absolute confirmation in evil, given the relativity of the very foundation of created being, contains in itself an ontological contradiction, yet this hardly troubles those defenders of “eternal” torments who also thereby defend the eternity of evil. But at the same time this view imputes to the Creator the creation of a world in which no longer just the possibility but rather the inevitability of evil is actualized, insofar as the latter takes on not just relativity but absoluteness and “eternality” as well.4
The divine goodness requires both a good beginning and a good end. Evil may not be present in either, lest the divine identity be called into radical question. God emanates the cosmos in love and consummates the cosmos in love—in love, by love, with love, always love. This we believe and proclaim. Yet God, precisely because he is God and not a god, cannot escape responsibility for the story he has co-written with angels and human beings. The divine author may permit the admission of evil into the historical in-between, but only if he has made provision for the liberation of both its victims and agents. But if evil and suffering perdures into the eschaton, then it takes on an absolute character from which not even God can be absolved. The conclusion reveals the eternal truth of God. And if one, some, or many are condemned to everlasting suffering, then we are compelled, not only to question or qualify our belief that God is absolute love, but also to speak of a divine determination to perdition: for it is this final end that God foreknew and eternally willed at the moment of creation. Hell eternalizes evil. Hell deifies evil. As David Bentley Hart has incisively noted, at the final judgment the antecedent will of God collapses into his consequential will:
Given the metaphysics and logic of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, any distinction between what God wills and what God permits necessarily collapses at creation’s eschatological horizon; so too any distinction between God’s antecedent and consequent wills. . . . If God creates the world from nothingness, under no compulsion and with no motive but the overflow of his own infinite goodness, it is only in the finished reality of all things that the full nature of God’s activity will be revealed. What will be disclosed, moreover, cannot be only the nature of creation, but must necessarily touch upon the divine nature as well. If it is true that creation in no sense adds to, qualifies, or “perfects” God—if, that is, the God who creates from nothing is always already the infinite God who neither requires nor is susceptible to any process of becoming—nothing proper to creation is beyond his power and intention. Inasmuch as creation is not a process of theogony, by which God forges himself in the fires of the finite, it is a genuine theophany, and its final state—intended as it is in the very act of creating—must reveal something of who God is in himself. . . . While it is true that creation does not modify or qualify God, much less determine what he is in himself, and true also that creation is instead entirely determined by him, for just this reason—creation’s total dependency upon God’s will—the final reality of creation will reveal God for who he is in himself.5
If the doctrine of hell is true, then either God is not infinite love or he is not omnipotent and omniscient. In either case he is not the God whom the Church proclaims in the gospel. Consider the creation of Lucifer:
God creates the supreme archangel, Lucifer, endows him with the very highest of his gifts, making him the anointed cherubim, the “seal of perfection, the fullness of wisdom and the crown of beauty” (Ezek 28:12), places him on the “holy mountain of God” (v. 14), and he is “perfect in his ways from the day of his creation, until lawlessness is found in him” (v. 15). Is his very own perfection, given to Lucifer by God, a temptation that is manageable and conquerable for him, or does his very fall become his inexorable fate? Furthermore, if this fall is also irremediable and the evil from it remains forever, do we not then arrive at this conclusion: that in the original plan for creation such an error was permitted, which, of course, could not have been concealed from the Creator, and for which he is therefore responsible?6
The possibility that Lucifer should become Satan is inherent to the gift of freedom. That Lucifer fell into disobedience and rebellion is terrible enough; but if his sin is beyond even the divine power to repair, and if God condemns him to eternal damnation, then the logic of the creatio ex nihilo dictates that God necessarily shares in Lucifer’s sin and all of its consequences. Regarding the fallen angels and human beings who found themselves powerless to resist the Satanic temptations, Bulgakov asks: “Are they not also, as it were, pre-condemned by virtue of the very plan of creation itself?”7
Nor will Bulgakov allow us to retreat into “mystery” in our defense of the traditional doctrine of hell. “Here we must not dissemble,” he writes. “If what we have been given on this matter is in fact revelation, then that presupposes that our reason and conscience can be satisfied with this revelation.”8 Bulgakov will not accept theological pronouncements that do not satisfy the judgments of Spirit-formed conscience, and conscience cannot affirm eternal damnation as an action of the good God. By the revelation of Christ we know that God wills the salvation of all. We may invoke mystery when speaking of how God accomplishes his salvific will in history; but we are not permitted, says Bulgakov, to doubt the goal and final fulfillment of his plan: “‘God all in all,’ universal pan-en-theosis.”9
If God wills the deification of the cosmos and his will cannot fail, how do we assess the role of evil within history? Ponder this provocative paragraph:
Evil is temporary and relative, accepted by the Creator on the paths of creaturely being in its history, as a fact of anthropology and cosmology, but it suffers failure in the end; it is not in fact evil but rather goodness insofar as it turns out to lead to a good end. Let us grant that evil possesses no natural necessity of its own on the paths of created being and that it arises only as a possibility of the latter. Still, evil is in any case connected with creaturely freedom as one of its modes, and freedom is the most great and inalienable gift of God; it is also the very foundation of created being, its royal privilege, and its value, however we may appraise it, cannot be overestimated. At the same time, freedom does not exist in an ontological contradiction with the divine plan of creation, which, obviously, cannot encompass an eternal perdition predestined even for just a portion of creation. To allow this would effectively mean the failure of creation, and not just in part, but as a whole, and we must not reconcile ourselves with this loss as easily as the partisans of eternal hell do.10
No matter how horrific or heinous, evil may, can, and will be redeemed. By cross and resurrection Christ has gathered and will gather all of history into himself and transform wickedness into goodness. Here is genuine mystery. The Russian theologian even goes so far as to argue that the two paths—“1) the path of a good without sin and 2) the path of a sinful departure from good, coupled with sin’s eventual overcoming”—must ultimately be judged as equivalent.11 Their outcomes are identical; only the respective paths differ. Bulgakov acknowledges the paradox—“the ultimate goodness of evil insofar as it turns into good”12—yet insists upon it:
The latter cannot ultimately be wrested from the hands of God, as it were, and wholly surrendered to the decision of the creature on whom the final determination of the destinies of creation would therefore completely depend. To assume this would be to ascribe to creation the power to truly alter the destinies given by God. This is, of course, as impossible as the admission of the (even partial) failure of creation, as eternal torments and eternal perdition for even a part of creation cannot be counted as creation’s success, even by the most fanatical of the doctrine’s proponents. It remains for us to accept that the final destinies of the world on the paths of God remain independent of created freedom despite that freedom’s ineradicability on the paths of their accomplishment. There occurs here a certain free necessity: the simultaneous ontological immutability of the foundation alongside the modal diversity of freedom in its emergence in life.13
God is not a prisoner to the freedom of his creatures. All is comprehended in his good and wise providence. The conclusion of the cosmic story will justify God in his justification, rectification, deification of his creation. Apokatastasis—the true and only theodicy!
 Sergius Bulgakov, “Apocatastasis and Theodicy,” The Sophiology of Death (2021), p. 92.
 Sergius Bulgakov, The Bride of the Lamb (2002), p. 501.
 Bulgakov, “Apocatastasis,” p. 92.
 Ibid., pp. 92-93; emphasis mine. Also see my 2013 article “Bad Endings Ruin Good Stories.”
 David Bentley Hart, “What God Wills and What God Permits,” Public Orthodoxy (5 May 2020); emphasis mine.
 Bulgakov, “Apocatastasis,” pp. 93-94; emphasis mine.
 Ibid., p. 94.
 Ibid., pp. 94-95.
 Ibid., p. 95.
 Ibid., pp. 95-96.
 Ibid., p. 96.
 Ibid., p. 97.
 Ibid., p. 96.