David Bentley Hart controversially asserts that human beings are doomed to everlasting happiness—yet should the claim be controversial? Christianity has long taught that the human being, created by the divine Word in the image of the Word, exists in dynamic orientation to its transcendent Creator. In all things and at all times, God is the Goodness, Beauty and Truth we desire and seek. As St Augustine memorably states: “Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.”1 We cannot help but to crave communion with our Creator. This is how we have been made; this is who we are by nature and grace. We were not created in a neutral state in relation to divinity, as if it were possible for us to generate abiding happiness on our own terms. Our freedom is not a mode of indifference. The human being is nothing less than insatiable thirst for the divine, an inspirited ever-seeking for the One who is our completion and fulfillment. In the words of St Maximus the Confessor:
God, who created all nature with wisdom and secretly planted in each intelligent being knowledge of Himself as its first power, like a munificent Lord gave also to us men a natural desire and longing for Him, combining it in a natural way with the power of our intelligence.2
God has created humanity for union with himself. Apart from him we cannot find happiness. He is the power and fulfillment of our searchings, the origin and end of all our desires. Every finite good we seek betokens the transcendent Good to which we are ordered. We desire goodness and beauty because of our desire for God; we seek to know truth because of our appetite for God. “Even in desiring to flee God,” remarks Hart, “we are desiring God as the ‘good end’ we seek in godlessness.”3 Simultaneously the plenitude of being and immanent ground of existence, the infinite Creator is our supreme beatitude and therefore our final cause and consummation. Henri de Lubac once asked Maurice Blondel: “How can a conscious spirit be anything other than an absolute desire for God?” Exactly.
Given that we are created by God for union with God, Hart’s assertion that humanity is destined to eternal bliss makes perfect sense. God will have his way with us, one way or another, not by force or coercion but by the appetition he has placed in our hearts. The following passage summarizes Hart’s fundamental thesis:
The more one is in one’s right mind—the more, that is, that one is conscious of God as the Goodness that fulfills all beings, and the more one recognizes that one’s own nature can have its true completion and joy nowhere but in him, and the more one is unfettered by distorting misperceptions, deranged passions, and the encumbrances of past mistakes—the more inevitable is one’s surrender to God. Liberated from all ignorance, emancipated from all the adverse conditions of this life, the rational soul could freely will only its own union with God, and thereby its own supreme beatitude. We are, as it were, doomed to happiness, so long as our natures follow their healthiest impulses unhindered; we cannot not will the satisfaction of our beings in our true final end, a transcendent Good lying behind and beyond all the proximate ends we might be moved to pursue. This is no constraint upon the freedom of the will, coherently conceived; it is simply the consequence of possessing a nature produced by and for the transcendent Good: a nature whose proper end has been fashioned in harmony with a supernatural purpose. God has made us for himself, as Augustine would say, and our hearts are restless till they rest in him. A rational nature seeks a rational end: Truth, which is God himself. The irresistibility of God for any soul that has truly been set free is no more a constraint placed upon its liberty than is the irresistible attraction of a flowing spring of fresh water in a desert place to a man who is dying of thirst; to choose not to drink in that circumstance would be not an act of freedom on his part, but only a manifestation of the delusions that enslave him and force him to inflict violence upon himself, contrary to his nature. A woman who chooses to run into a burning building not to save another’s life, but only because she can imagine no greater joy than burning to death, may be exercising a kind of “liberty,” but in the end she is captive to a far profounder poverty of rational freedom.4
The essential point is plain enough. The desire for God is intrinsic to human nature. In our fallen existence, we do not experience this desire in its purity and perfection. It can be temporarily forgotten; it can be perverted and corrupted and twisted from its proper goal; but ultimately it can be neither extinguished nor eradicated. If it could be, we would cease to be human. As theologian Stephen J. Duffy puts it:
In the concrete nature of fallen humanity there is an interior, absolute desire of the Kingdom that correlates with the universal salvific divine will. This determination is an existential. It is prior to all personal options and persists through all possible acceptances or rejections of one’s end. Whatever one does, one remains interiorly ordered to absolute communion with God.5
Once we grasp the truth of humanity’s primordial desire for the Good, the traditional claim that human beings might freely give themselves over to everlasting misery becomes increasingly problematic. Surely the burden of proof rests upon the defenders of hell.
In 2015 David Bentley Hart delivered a now much-discussed lecture at the University of Notre Dame titled “God, Creation, and Evil.” When I watched the video of the lecture, this statement jumped out at me:
No one can freely will the evil as evil; one can take the evil for the good, but that does not alter the prior transcendental orientation that wakens all desire. To see the good truly is to desire it insatiably; not to desire it is not to have known it, and so never to have been free to choose it.6
It was a quiet eureka moment. Everything fell into place. Of course, I said to myself, how could it be otherwise? That God is the Good whom all human beings seek I had been taught by my parish priest when I entered the Episcopal Church decades ago. I later came to hope that the grace of God might be irresistible. I likened it to falling in love. Does the lover choose to fall in love? Certainly not in the way one chooses to order bacon rather than sausage for breakfast. All lovers know the existential difference. Falling in love comes as astonishment and revelation. “Here is the person I have been looking for. Here is the one who completes me.” The choice is embedded in the recognition. To be in the presence of one’s beloved is perfect joy; to be joined to him or her in coital union, rapture. Lovers find each other enthralling. They see each other with the eyes of divinity: “You are altogether beautiful; there is no flaw in you” (Song of Songs 4:7). They are drawn together, as if by some kind of magnetic force. Frequently they will invoke the language of slavery, even madness, when speaking of their mutual attraction—yet it is a slavery of utter freedom and an insanity of delight and wonder. They are filled with an intensity of life they have never before known. Their one joy is to give themselves to each other and become one flesh, one mind, one soul.
My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.7
Beyond all doubt lovers know they will adore and cherish each other forever. They cannot imagine a future apart from their beloved. They exchange solemn vows and promises.
Ye are Blood of my Blood, and Bone of my Bone.
I give ye my Body, that we two might be One.
I give ye my Spirit, `til our Life shall be done.
Their bond transcends the limits and hardships of time.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.8
Surely this must be what it will be like when we see God face to face. All doubts and hesitations will vanish; all obstinacy and egoism forever banished. Here is the true happiness I have been searching for all my life, though I knew it not. Here is the abundant life that conquers death. Even the ecstasy of lovers will be infinitely eclipsed.
“Falling in love, being in love”—a door, I propose, through which we might enter to better grasp Hart’s vision of apokatastasis and human freedom. The Holy Scriptures, after all, contain the Song of Songs, one of the most beautiful love poems in all of literature. The beloved sings of the wound of love:
Bring me into the house of wine,
Set love in order upon me.
Strengthen me with perfumes,
Encompass me with applies,
for I have been wounded by love.
“I have been wounded by love”—all lovers have experienced this rending. The arrow that pierces the heart cannot be removed; the wound it brings cannot be healed. Once struck the beloved cries out for union with her lover. Only through the most profound joining can the pain be assuaged and wholeness restored. As it is between human lovers, so it is between God and the soul. St Gregory of Nyssa comments:
After she has said these things, she praises the accurate archer because he has directed his arrow straight at her, for she says, I have been wounded by love. By these words she signifies the arrow that lies deep in her heart. But the archer who discharges the arrow is love. From Holy Scripture, however, we have learned that God is love (cf. 1 John 4:8, 16), and he discharges his own chosen arrow (cf. Isa 49:2)—the Only Begotten God—at those who are being saved, having smeared over the triple point of the barb with the Spirit of life (the barb is faith), so that, in the person in whom it is planted, it may introduce the archer together with the arrow, as the Lord says: “I and my Father will come and make our dwelling with him” (John 14:23). See, then, the soul that has been exalted through the divine ascents sees in herself the sweet arrow of love by which she is wounded and makes boast of such a blow by saying, I have been wounded by love.9
Commenting on Song 3:1-8, Gregory writes:
God comes into the soul, and correspondingly the soul is brought into God. For she says, “My beloved is mine, and I am his. He does his pasturing among the lilies and transfers human life from the realm of shadowy images to the truth of that which is.” You see to what a height she has climbed, this soul that, in accordance with the prophetic word, is going “from strength to strength” (Ps 83:8): she seems to attain the hope of the very highest good. For what is higher than to be in the One who is the object of desire and to receive the object of desire within oneself? But in this situation too she bewails the fact that she is needy for the Good. As one who does not yet have what is present to her desire, she is perplexed and dissatisfied, and she broadcasts this perplexity of her soul in her story, describing in her account how she found the one she sought.10
Charles Williams speaks of romantic love as a foretaste of heaven: when we fall in love, “a sudden apprehension of the Good takes place.”11 At their best and purest, human lovers mirror our encounter with the divine. To know the Good is to desire the Good; to experience Love is to surrender to Love. The metaphysics of the Good may be difficult to grasp, but we know something about the irresistibility of the One who is Love, if not by direct experience then through literature and art.
We return to the featured sentences. Hart has incorporated them in That All Shall Be Saved, with minor changes:
But to me it seems impossible to speak of freedom in any meaningful sense at all unless one begins from the assumption that, for a rational spirit, to see the good and know it truly is to desire it insatiably and to obey it unconditionally, while not to desire it is not to have known it truly, and so never to have been free to choose it.12
Note the addition of the response of obedience. The vision of the Good immediately engenders the obedience of love. The will of the lover freely conforms itself to the will of the beloved. But perhaps we need to reverse the roles. In the biblical narrative, God is the Lover who has in Christ made us the objects of his love. By grace he takes the initiative. “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). And this love arouses within the soul a reciprocal love for the divine lover. “For when God loves,” writes St Bernard of Clairvaux, “he desires only to be loved in return. His love’s only purpose is to be loved, as he knows that all who love him are made happy by their love of him.”13
Sinners most especially know that it is only by the ravishment of God that they may attain the liberty of the blessed. John Donne knew this well:
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.14
But does this not sound like some kind of determinism? Here is Hart’s answer:
For those who worry that this all amounts to a kind of metaphysical determinism of the will, I may not be able to provide perfect comfort. Of course it is a kind of determinism, but only at the transcendental level, and only because rational volition must be determinate to be anything at all. Rational will is by nature the capacity for intentional action, and so must exist as a clear relation between (in Aristotelian terms) the “origin of motion” within it and the “end” that prompts that motion—between, that is, its efficient and final causes. Freedom is a relation to reality, which means liberty from delusion. This divine determinism toward the transcendent Good, then, is precisely what freedom is for a rational nature. Even God could not create a rational being not oriented toward the Good, any more than he could create a reality in which 2 + 2 = 5. That is not to deny that, within the embrace of this relation between the will’s origin and its end in the Good (what, again, Maximus the Confessor calls our “natural will”), there is considerable room for deliberative liberty with regard to differing finite options (what Maximus calls the “gnomic will”), and considerable room in which to stray from the ideal path. But, even so, if a rational creature—one whose mind is entirely unimpaired and who has the capacity truly to know the substance and the consequences of the choice confronting him or her—is allowed, without coercion from any force extrinsic to his or her nature, to make a choice between a union with God in bliss that will utterly fulfill his or her nature in its deepest yearnings and a separation from God that will result in endless suffering and the total absence of his or her nature’s satisfaction, only one truly free choice is possible. A fool might thrust his hand into the flame; only a lunatic would not then immediately withdraw it. To say that the only sane and therefore free natural end of the will is the Good is no more problematic than to say that the only sane and therefore free natural end of the intellect is Truth. Rational spirit could no more will evil on the grounds that it is truly evil than the intellect could believe something on the grounds that it is certainly false. So, yes, there is an original and ultimate divine determinism of the creature’s intellect and will, and for just this reason there is such a thing as true freedom in the created realm. As on the cross (John 12:32), so in the whole of being: God frees souls by dragging them to himself.15
Hart bites the bullet. Yes, humanity is determined to the Good, but we must not think of this determinism as a form of violence or coercion. It does not constrict our freedom but creates and establishes it. Apart from this innate relation of reason to the Good, the True, and the Beautiful—in other words, God—we would not will anything at all. Volition is intrinsically teleological and intentional. We act to attain a specific end we deem good. Consider how we actually make choices. Invariably we have our reasons:
At the same time, rationality must by definition be intentionality: the mind’s awareness, that is, of a purpose it seeks or an end it wishes to achieve or a meaning it wishes to affirm. Rational freedom, in its every action, must be teleological in structure: one must know the end one is choosing, and why. Any act of the mind or will done without a reason, conversely, would be by definition irrational and therefore a symptom of bondage to something outside of or lower than the rational will. It is not even very sensible to ask, then, whether a free will might not “spontaneously” posit an end for itself out of the sheer exuberance of its power to choose, and then pursue that end out of pure unreasoning perversity. Absolute spontaneity would be an unfree act, a mere brute event beyond the control of mind and desire, while merely partial spontaneity would still be guided by some kind of purpose. If you wish to prove this to yourself, you need only attempt freely to posit an end for yourself without rationale. Then again, do not bother, since you would not actually be acting without rationale; you would instead be pursuing the conscious purpose of following my suggestion that you try to act spontaneously. Anything you might willfully choose to do for the purpose of doing something arbitrary would not, in fact, be arbitrary. And you will find also that even that supposedly arbitrary act, if you conceived of it before doing it, was not really arbitrary after all, but rather corresponded to some concrete intention that you knowingly chose, and for some specific reason, out of a strictly limited range of possible options. This too you can prove to yourself. You would not, for instance, simply in order to try to prove me wrong, leap off the top of a high building. Or, rather, if you did, the rest of us would immediately recognize your action as a feat of lunacy, and therefore not truly free. You cannot actually force yourself to behave “irrationally” except in an ultimately rational way. And to seek to find a first moment of perfect mindless impulse in any free act is to pursue a hopeless descent back along an infinite regress.16
All of this is easy enough to grasp upon phenomenological analysis. I eat the apple because I am hungry. I get in the car because I want to go downtown. I study the ant farm because I wish to understand how they organize their societal life. I give $5 to a homeless person because I wish to assist him in his or her need. Rational action is teleological.
But what, or who, awakens the will to act in the first place? If we stay within the Christian reading of the Song of Songs, then there can be only one answer: Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God, who has created us in dynamic orientation to the transcendentals of being and thus to himself. Christ is “the transcendental horizon of reality that animates every single stirring of reason and desire, the always more remote end present within every more immediate end. Insofar as we are able freely to will anything at all, therefore, it is precisely because he is making us to do so: as at once the source of all action and intentionality in rational natures and also the transcendental object of rational desire that elicits every act of mind and will toward any purposes whatsoever.”17 In the depths of the human soul, he acts upon our mind and will as ultimate source and final cause. Because we are enveloped by the Good, we are moved to pursue finite goods for ourselves and the welfare of others; because we are encompassed by the Truth, we desire to understand stars and quasars, molecules and neutrinos, bats and cuttlefish; because we are enfolded in the Beautiful, we seek out the delights of Beethoven’s 5th symphony, the starry nights of Vincent Van Gogh, and the poetry of John Keats and William Butler Yeats. In all our actions we intend the the one Lover in whom we live and move and have our being.
I know what many readers are thinking: I can still say no to God, can’t I? I can still choose eternity in hell, right? But can you, could you, and most importantly, why do you want to? There’s something deep in Adamic man that resists the the notion that the grace of God is ultimately irresistible. We resist it because it seems to violate human freedom and takes our final destiny out of our hands. Consider Gerhard Forde’s answer to the question “But you don’t mean that grace is irresistible, do you?”
Another tricky question. But again the answer can only, in the end, be yes. “Yes, I find it to be so, don’t you?” Remember it is grace we are talking about, not force. Absolute and unconditional grace has by very definition to be irresistible, one would think. Did you ever meet someone with irresistible grace? All that means is that you are utterly and completely captivated and so cannot finally “resist.” Certainly God’s whole purpose in coming was to make grace irresistible, was it not? Do we not hope that in the end all enemies will be overcome, all opposition stilled, grace completely triumphant and God all in all? How can that be if grace is not finally irresistible?18
The irresistibility of grace brings us back to Hart’s key claim that humanity possesses by its creation a natural desire for God. Every particle of our being cries out for the Good, Beauty, and Truth that is our Creator.
As a hart longs
for flowing streams,
so longs my soul
for thee, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
Every human being is divinely ordered to God under the aspects of the transcendentals of Being—the the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. We hunger and thirst for union with him, for only in him can we enjoy supreme and overflowing happiness. Divinity is inscribed in the ontological depths of human nature. In the words of Dumitru Staniloae:
Man, without being himself infinite, not only is fit, but is also thirsty for the infinite and precisely for this reason is also capable of, and longs for, God, the true and only infinite (homo capax divini—man capable of the divine). He has a capacity and is thirsty for the infinite not in the sense that he is in a state to win it, to absorb it in his nature—because then human nature itself would become infinite—but in the sense that he can and must be nourished spiritually from the infinite, and infinitely. He seeks and is able to live in a continual communication with it, in a sharing with it.19
Created in the image of God, we are incomplete without God. Of course, no one is truly without God. As divine Creator, he acts in the ontological depths of every person. He is more intimate to us than we are to ourselves. Yet we suffer from an existential inquietude that evidences our brokenness and alienation. Despite the counsel of the Church’s ascetics and spiritual teachers, we continue to seek our fulfillment in the relative goods and delights of the cosmos, with predictable results. We remain dissatisfied, unsettled, restless and discontent. Once we obtain that which we think will fill the hole in our hearts, we find that we need something else, someone else. And so the quest continues, ad infinitum. We are inescapably drawn to fullness of life. Contrary to the Latin theorists of the natura pura, human beings have not been given two ends, natural and supernatural.20 There is only one telos and beatitude for mankind—eternal life in the perichoretic Love that is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Orthodox Church calls this theosis. Hart elaborates:
Above all, a Christian is more or less obliged to believe that there is such a thing as an intrinsic nature in rational spirits: We are created, that is to say, according to a divine design, after the divine image, oriented toward a divine purpose, and thus are fulfilled in ourselves only insofar as we can achieve the perfection of our natures in union with God. There alone our true happiness lies. This inevitably places Christian thought in the classical moral and metaphysical tradition that assumes that true freedom consists in the realization of a complex nature in its own proper good (the “intellectualist” model of freedom, as I have called it above). Freedom is a being’s power to flourish as what it naturally is, to become ever more fully what it is. The freedom of an oak seed is its uninterrupted growth into an oak tree. The freedom of a rational spirit is its consummation in union with God.21
God, and God alone, is the true happiness of the human being. He is our absolute good and the consummation of all desire. Under the present fallen condition of ignorance, delusion, and disordered passions, we only apprehend the Good partially and defectively through the prism of finite goods. We therefore often find ourselves choosing lesser goods over greater goods, apparent goods instead of real goods—the Church calls this sin—but if we were ever presented with a full and perfect apprehension of the Good—the Latin Church calls this the beatific vision—free from ignorance, delusion, and disordered passions, we would necessarily embrace the Good as our own, for we would recognize it as the true and final happiness for which we yearn. Or to put it differently, we would know that the happiness that we will for ourselves and the happiness that God wills for us are identical. Hence the Hartian maxim: to see the Good is to insatiably desire the Good. In the unmediated presence of the infinite and transcendent Creator, the will cannot help but to desire and possess him. There is no longer a “choosing” between different possible happinesses: there is only the eternal bliss of the one God who is Holy Trinity. Choosing him is no choice at all. St Thomas Aquinas explains:
Man does not choose of necessity. And this is because that which is possible not to be, is not of necessity. Now the reason why it is possible not to choose, or to choose, may be gathered from a twofold power in man. For man can will and not will, act and not act; again, he can will this or that, and do this or that. The reason of this is seated in the very power of the reason. For the will can tend to whatever the reason can apprehend as good. Now the reason can apprehend as good, not only this, viz. “to will” or “to act,” but also this, viz. “not to will” or “not to act.” Again, in all particular goods, the reason can consider an aspect of some good, and the lack of some good, which has the aspect of evil: and in this respect, it can apprehend any single one of such goods as to be chosen or to be avoided. The perfect good alone, which is Happiness, cannot be apprehended by the reason as an evil, or as lacking in any way. Consequently man wills Happiness of necessity, nor can he will not to be happy, or to be unhappy. Now since choice is not of the end, but of the means . . . ; it is not of the perfect good, which is Happiness, but of other particular goods. Therefore man chooses not of necessity, but freely.22
In this sense, but only in this sense, we are eschatologically doomed to happiness.
If we still balk at our transcendental determination to the Good, perhaps the reason lies in our defective understanding of who and what God is and therefore what authentic freedom must mean. If we think of Deity as a being among beings, then it might appear that we can ultimately choose other gods and other goods instead of him. Why not Baal instead of the LORD? Why not wealth and power instead of the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? But once God is properly understood as the infinite plenitude and actuality of Being, then he cannot be understood as just one option among many. He is not a discrete object that we can simply choose, as one might choose cake instead of a chocolate sundae. He does not stand alongside other beings and other possible goods. He is Truth itself, Goodness itself, Beauty itself. He is the wellspring of delight and joy. To be free is to flourish in communion with him. We are not free because we have multiple choices available to us; we become free when we choose well, thereby achieving the happiness for which we are divinely destined. This choosing well in turn requires that we “ever more clearly see the ‘sun of the Good’ (to employ the lovely Platonic metaphor), and to see more clearly we must continue to choose well; and the more we are emancipated from illusion and caprice, and the more our will is informed by and responds to the Good, the more perfect our vision becomes, and the less there is really to choose.”23 The impossibility of a free and final rejection of God becomes even clearer when we recall the teleological structure of human activity:
Neither, though, can God be merely one option among others, for the very simple reason that he is not just another object alongside the willing agent or alongside other objects of desire, but is rather the sole ultimate content of all rational longing. Being himself the source and end of the real, God can never be for the will simply one plausible terminus of desire in competition with another; he could never confront the intellect simply as a relative and evaluative good, from which one might reasonably turn to some other. He remains forever the encompassing final object that motivates and makes actual every choice, the Good that makes the will free in the first place. Even an act of apostasy, then, traced back to its most primordial impulse, is motivated by the desire for God. Even the satanist can embrace evil only insofar as he thinks it will satisfy a desire for what is most agreeable to his own nature. He is in error in the choice he makes, and is culpable to the degree that he abets the error willingly; but it is also then the case that, to the degree he knows the Good in itself, he cannot but desire it rationally. However the “gnomic” faculty may wander, the “natural” will animating it seeks only one ultimate end. You can reject a glass of wine absolutely; you can even reject evil in its (insubstantial) totality without any remainder of intentionality. Neither of these things possesses more than a finite allure in itself. But you cannot reject God except defectively, by having failed to recognize him as the primordial object of all your deepest longings, the very source of their activity. We cannot choose between him and some other end in an absolute sense; we can choose only between better or worse approaches to his transcendence. As I have said, to reject God is still, however obscurely and uncomprehendingly, to seek God.
This means also that God could never be, for the rational will, merely some extrinsic causality intruding upon the will’s autonomy, or some irresistible heteronomous power overwhelming the feebler powers of the creature. He is freedom as such, the fiery energy that liberates the flame from the wood. He is the very power of agency. He is the Good that makes the rational will exist. He is the eternal infinite source of all knowledge and all truth, of all love and delight in the object of love, who enlivens and acts within every created act. As an infinite and transcendental end, God’s goodness may be indeterminate as regards proximate ends, and that very indeterminacy may be what allows for deliberative determinations. There may be conflicts and confusions, mistakes and perversities in the great middle distance of life; as Duns Scotus says, we frequently must deliberate between which aspect of the Good to pursue, whether to be guided in any moment by our affectio iustitiae (our sense of what is just) or the affectio commodi (our sense of what is suitable or convenient); but the encircling horizon never alters, and the Sun of the Good never sets. No soul can relent in its deepest motives from the will’s constant and consuming preoccupation with God. If this were not so, and if reason had no natural, ontological, and necessary relation to God as the final rationale in all desire and agency, then God would himself be something separate from the Good as such, and from rationality as such, and could attract the rational will merely in the manner of a predilection. But then he would not actually be God in any meaningful sense. In truth, he gives his creatures freedom always by making them freely seek him as the ultimate end in all else that intentional consciousness seeks.24
Human beings desire happiness and act toward this end, no matter how perverted and twisted the desire has become. The belief that we may reject God absolutely assumes an absolute—but ontologically impossible—divorce between God and Goodness and therefore between God and happiness. From his very different analytic philosophy perspective, Thomas Talbott has come to a similar conclusion:
Religious people sometimes speak of God as if he were just another human magistrate who seeks his own glory and requires obedience for its own sake; they speak as if we might reject the Creator and Father of our souls without rejecting ourselves, oppose his will for our lives without opposing, schizophrenically perhaps, our own will for our lives. . . . But if God is our loving Creator, then he wills for us exactly what at the most fundamental level, we want for ourselves; he wills that we should experience supreme happiness, that our deepest yearnings should be satisfied, and that all of our needs should be met.25
God wills our good, and our good is God. He has created us with an insatiable hunger for him, to the end that we might become adopted sons of the God and Father of Jesus Christ. This natural desire for communion with the Holy Trinity is the secret of the universalist hope. John Kronen and Eric Reitan state the argument:
Rational creatures, by definition, can choose based on reasons—that is, they are motivated to act not merely by instinct or appetite, but by the recognition that certain apprehended truths (reason) entail that a course of action is good to do. Saying that rational creatures are ordered to the good means two things: first, when they directly and clearly encounter the perfect good in unclouded experience, they will recognize it as the perfect good; and second, the perfect good (which, by definition, is the standard according to which all other goods are measured) would, under conditions of immediate and unclouded apprehension, present itself as overridingly worthy of love. Creatures’ subjective values will thus spontaneously fall into harmony with the objective good, with all choices reflecting this proper valuation.
Put another way, immediate awareness of the perfect good will so sing to the natural inclinations of the soul that love for the good will swamp all potentially contrary affective states. One would have every reason to conform one’s will to the perfect good and no reason not to. This latter point gains further strength from the Christian notion that what is prudentially good for rational creatures (what promotes their welfare) does not ultimately conflict with what is morally good—both are realized through union with God. Unclouded apprehension of the perfect good will thus harmonize prudential motives such that every rational creature presented with a clear vision of God would have every reason to love God and no reason to reject Him.
From all of this it follows that God could guarantee uniform salvation-inducing motives in rational creatures simply by presenting an unclouded vision of Himself. God’s doing this certainly seems metaphysically possible, and hence within God’s power; and if (as Aquinas maintained) free acts are not random but motivated, it follows that any rational creature presented with the vision of God will freely but inevitably respond affirmatively to the promise of loving union.26
The key to the above argument is the ability of the omnipotent Creator to bring every rational creature to an “unclouded apprehension” of God as perfect goodness. Does God have the power to bring this about? If he does, can he wield it without violating the libertarian freedom of human beings? Exponents of the free will defense of hell seem to think this impossible, even for an omnipotent Deity. Any attempt by God to effect a happy eschatological ending will inevitably violate human free will. We must be free to damn ourselves. Hart finds this a curious line of reasoning that ultimately collapses into a mythological construal of divinity. Properly understood, divine causality does not and cannot compete with creaturely causality. God is not a being among beings. Creator and creature do not operate on the same metaphysical plane:
The suggestion, then, that God—properly understood—could not assure that a person freely will one thing rather than another is simply false. Inasmuch as he acts upon the mind and will both as their final cause and also as the deepest source of their movements, he is already intrinsic to the very structure of reason and desire within the soul. He is not merely some external agency who would have to exercise coercion or external compulsion of a creature’s intentions to bring them to the end he decrees. If he were, then the entire Christian doctrine of providence—the vital teaching that God can so order all conditions, circumstances, and contingencies among created things as to bring about everything he wills for his creatures while still not in any way violating the autonomy of secondary causality—would be a logical contradiction. God, in his omnipotence and omniscience, is wholly capable of determining the result of all secondary causes, including free will, while not acting as yet another discrete cause among them. In one sense, naturally, this is merely a function of the coincidence in his nature of omniscience and omnipotence. Knowing not only all the events that constitute each individual life, but also all of an agent’s inner motives and predispositions and desires—all thoughts, impulses, hopes, preferences, yearnings, and aversions—and so knowing what choice any given soul will make when confronted with certain options and situated among certain circumambient forces, God can (if nothing else) so arrange the shape of reality that all beings, one way or another, come at the last upon the right path by way of their own freedom, in this life or the next. . . . God, being infinitely resourceful and infinitely knowledgeable, can weave the whole of time into a perfectly coherent continuity whose ultimate result is that all circumstances and forces conduce to the union of every creature with himself, and can do this precisely by confronting every rational nature with possibilities he knows they will realize through their own free volitions. It is true that he might accomplish this by imposing limited conditions of choice upon every life; but the conditions of choice are always limited anyway, and deliberative freedom is always capable of only a finite set of possible determinations.27
Now we see through a glass darkly, but when we are brought face to face before him and see him in the glory of his Goodness, Beauty, and Truth, how can we not love him?28
 Augustine, Confessions I.1.
 Maximus, Various Texts on Theology, the Divine Economy and Virtue and Vice 5.100.
 Eclectic Orthodoxy (4 May 2015): https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2015/05/19/david-b-hart-on-universal-salvation-and-human-freedom/
 David Bentley Hart, That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation (2019), pp. 40-41.
 Stephen J. Duffy, The Graced Horizon (1992), p. 23.
 David Bentley Hart, “God, Creation, and Evil,” The Hidden and the Manifest (2017), p. 345.
 Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act II, sc. 2.
 William Shakespeare, Sonnet 116.
 Gregory of Nyssa, Homilies on the Song of Songs, Hom. 4; trans. Richard A. Norris, Jr. (2013).
 Ibid., Hom. 6.
 Charles Williams, “The Theology of Romantic Love,” Outlines of Romantic Theology 1990, p. 109.
 Hart, pp. 79-80; emphasis mine.
 Quoted in David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God (2014), p. 276.
 John Donne, Holy Sonnet 14.
 Hart, TASBS, pp. 178-179.
 Ibid., pp. 173-174.
 Ibid., p. 184.
 Gerhard Forde, Theology is for Proclamation (1990), pp. 169-170.
 Dumitru Staniloae, Orthodox Spirituality (2003), p. 78.
 For a helpful introduction to the natura pura debate in Catholic theology, see Edward T. Oakes, A Theology of Grace in Six Controversies, chap. 1. The notion of a human nature not oriented to theosis is alien to Orthodox theology. Hart decidededly rejects the hypothesis of the natura pura, both in TASBS and in his more recent book You Are Gods: On Nature and Supernature (2022).
 TASBS, p. 172.
 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I.II.13. On Aquinas’ understanding of human freedom and divine agency, see Servais Pinckaers, The Sources of Christian Ethics, chap. 16, esp. pp. 394-398.
 Hart, TASBS, p. 173.
 Ibid., pp. 184-186). For a fuller discussion by Hart of divine transcendence and causality, see his essay “Impassibility as Transcendence,” The Hidden and the Manifest, pp. 167-190. This essay is an indispensable companion piece to That All Shall Be Saved.
 Thomas Talbott, The Inescapable Love of God (2014), 2nd ed., p. 172.
 John Kronen and Eric Reitan, God’s Final Victory (2013), p. 136.
 Hart, TASBS, pp. 183-184.
 This blog post is a compilation and revision of three articles published on Eclectic Orthodoxy in March 2020.