This is Hell

My speculations of the other day about apokatastasis don’t strike me as heretical, although I suppose they might seem that way, to some. I would emphasize that my conclusion that there is no contradiction between the doctrines of Hell and of apokatastasis does not mean there is no such thing as Hell, or torment; nor does it mean that residence in Hell is not permanent for some, or even most.

God’s ubiquity entails that Hell is a region of his domains. But if the torment of Hell is what it is like to be alienated from God, then this Fallen, busted world is a department of Hell, and our life here below in Midgard is what it is like to be in Hell, or at least in its outer circles. Yet worldly life can seem awfully nice, and much to be preferred to ascesis and mortification of the flesh – this fun, pleasant aspect of sinful life being an indication of why the damned might prefer Hell to the alternative. But it could seem that way only to those who have enjoyed no foretaste of Heaven.

St. Augustine says that the fires of Hell are to the fires of Earth as the fires of Earth are to paintings of fire; likewise, St. Paul says we cannot begin to imagine the ecstasy of Heavenly life. I take these two statements to mean that we are so accustomed to the fires of Earth, to the disease of alienated, Fallen life, that we think it normal and pretty much OK, except in its most acute moments of agony. Presumably the damned who live closer to the central districts of Hell feel the same way about their lives. Meanwhile, if we were once in Heaven, we would instantly see that the pleasures of sin are really horribly painful, by comparison with the beauties of Heaven, which constitute true normality for our natures.

None of this so far really worries me that much, qua theological problem. What really worries me is the problem that Arakawa raised in his comment to my post Sex Matters: if anyone remains in Hell, mustn’t the perfect compassion of the saints and angels result in their torment?

70 thoughts on “This is Hell

  1. What really worries me is the problem that Arakawa raised in his comment to my post Sex Matters: if anyone remains in Hell, mustn’t the perfect compassion of the saints and angels result in their torment?

    Thinking about this some more, “torment” is a bit of a strong word. The problem is that the general doctrine that nothing can be done to rescue the damned from Hell doesn’t hold up when we realize that it implies:

    (1) either the saved in Heaven are forbidden from doing anything for the damned in Hell, which, if not entirely a ‘torment’, is still a stifling restriction if the Saints feel compassion (and are otherwise freed to act on their best inclinations in other respects).

    (2) or the saved in Heaven are modified against their will, in order to no longer feel compassion for the damned in Hell; which is an even more unpleasant thought. (I explained in my earlier post why the damned would draw compassion even if the last trace of anything remotely human had been lost in them — because they still _used_ to be human.)

    It follows that the most reasonable thing to expect is that there _is_ some kind of effort ongoing in Heaven to redeem the damned in Hell, which means that it is feasible to redeem the damned in Hell under some circumstances, which is not a heretical notion, but definitely not the mainstream theological view. As to the precise details of that effort, I am fine not knowing it while still on Earth; but I would like to ascertain whether or not it _is_ reasonable to expect that such an effort exists in one form or another….

    Now, as for this:

    I take these two statements to mean that we are so accustomed to the fires of Earth, to the disease of alienated, Fallen life, that we think it normal and pretty much OK, except in its most acute moments of agony. Presumably the damned who live closer to the central districts of Hell feel the same way about their lives.

    With this idea I have to quibble. Dodging the issue of Hell by saying Hell isn’t all that Hellish (but resembles a continuation of the suffering of a sinful earthly life), solves my objection neatly, but has even less support and precedent in Scripture and Tradition than universalism. And in terms of sheer apologetic argument, didn’t CS Lewis make a good point that a sinner can’t stay in one place; they either improve or deteriorate until they are either a perfectly Good being or a thoroughly demonic one?

    On the other hand e.g. I had a picture in my mind at one point that perhaps a person who was a bit too greedy to be a perfected human being, for instance, would make a perfectly good intelligent Dragon in the future world, as have the right to exist according to fable, and the apokatastasis in general might likewise transform all the incorrigible sinners and their vices into a harmonious ecosystem of such strange beings, consigned to the wilderness outside New Jerusalem — but that picture is completely my invention, mostly built on imbibing too much mythology from ‘Touhou Project’ at one point. (Which is merely a strange and threadbare sub-creation built on the corpse of Japanese paganism… but with the petty-but-entertaining squabbles of all the humanoid ‘youkai’ going on around, it does give a coherent impression of how such an ecosystem of morally sub-human intelligent beings might operate.)

    But there is absolutely no support that I can claim for such ideas in actual revelation, and what you say sounds to be in a similar category to my notions.

    • “The problem is that the general doctrine that nothing can be doesn’t hold up when we realize that it implies:”

      Egh, apologies for the lack of proofreading. That sentence should read: ‘the general doctrine that nothing can be done to rescue the damned from Hell’.

    • I didn’t mean to imply that Hell isn’t hellish. It must be, or God would never have described it in those terms. I was reaching for a deeper understanding of how the damned could prefer the torments of their damnation to blessedness, and realized that many of us here on Earth, the forecourt both of Heaven and of Hell, prefer sinfulness to virtue. And that can help us understand how the damned prefer their personal Hell to God’s Heaven. E.g., we here are as it were given a choice every day between ecstasy that surpasses human knowing and a cheese Danish. We choose the Danish. The damned in Hell are given a choice between that same ecstasy and their own personal torment. They choose their torment.

      I think also that the preference of the damned for their Hells arises in part from the fact that those Hells are just theirs. The gate of Heaven is death, surrender of all that is one’s own in favor of the Lord. But we naturally resist death with all our might. We resist death even when our lives are horrible, and cannot possibly improve. Our idolatry of life makes it quite hard for us to die to ourselves. But there is no other way to get to Heaven.

      And there is value in mere existence, even if its qualia are painful. However great the cost of their resistance, the damned can at least say that they have taken their own way, and have not surrendered. So in some sense the damned must labor honestly under the illusion that they are earning a profit on their damnable enterprise.

      But never mind all that. However horrible Hell may be, the notion that the damned prefer it to blessedness doesn’t touch the problems you raised, even a little bit. If my son were in Hell and I in Heaven, it wouldn’t matter to me at all that he preferred his damnation to the alternative. I’d be in torment at his agony, and at his error, even if I knew he loved his torments, felt them pleasant, and understood his error as correct. I would not be able to rest, no not for a moment. I should search high and low for my little lost lamb, for ever and ever.

      To a father, that sounds like Hell.

      Yet the blessed are assured perfect rest, and an end to pain and sorrow.

      The resolution to this conundrum cannot be found along the causal vector of our cosmos, which under the justice only of its own logic tends incorrigibly to heat death, to moral, economic and ontological debts that cannot ever be repaid even in principle, to everlasting torment, or torpor (if there be any difference). This shouldn’t surprise us at all; nor I suppose should we therefore fash ourselves too much over the fact that we don’t understand how such a complete rescue of this world could come to pass, as arising only from the familiar logic of our causal order; for it cannot thus arise. The basic premise of Christianity is that, just as this world is incompetent either to create or to explain itself, so is it incompetent to save itself, to redeem or heal itself.

      Life everlasting cannot proceed along the timeline of this world. So, we cannot understand it by reference to this world and its Justice (even though this world – howsoever wounded – and its Justice are wholly of God). The essential thing about the protology of the new causal order God has begun to establish – the eschaton, remember, is already well under weigh – is that it is orthogonal to this one.

      And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. – Revelation 21:1-5

      A new Heaven. But, as we have seen, there is no such thing anywhere as existence outside the sway of God’s power: every place is located somewhere in Heaven.

      The New Heaven must then involve a reboot of the whole shooting match, including Hell and this cosmos its forecourt. In the New Heaven, Hell and its Earth, and all their citizens, must stand again, somehow, refreshed and new. The Fall of Adam, and indeed even of Lucifer, and of all the worlds that ever Fell or ever will, belong to the old Heaven. God says he is making a new one: a new Adam, a new Eve, a new Lucifer, a new me, a new you.

      This all sounds utterly incomprehensible. And so it is. But we must remember also that it is quite familiar to us, all. “New every morning is the love our waking and uprising prove.” The whole Heaven is made anew at each moment, and so are Hell, and Earth. This isn’t at all comprehensible to us, either.

      What is the difference between the new Heaven and Earth that we enjoy at each new moment of existence, and the new Heaven and Earth revealed to us in John’s Apocalypse? In the former, the wounds of the past crick and hinder all its motions, whereas in the latter, they shall all be perfectly repaired, sutured and healed without scar, and the flesh of things made young and innocent, as if it had never Fallen, even though it had. What is it that makes this difference between the novelty of this mundane, fallen moment, and that redeemed and glorified world of worlds?


      • Yes, I think I can agree with almost all of this. Any argument that ends in Calvary is better than it gives itself credit for….

        Except, re “healed without scar”, I will point out: we know, for instance, that the martyrs in Heaven retain in some form the scars of their martyrdom, but in a way that is glorifying rather than disfiguring in its effect. So some scarring remains, but it serves (not entirely comprehensibly, not entirely incomprehensibly, from our vantage point) to increase the joy in Heaven.

        And in general, the epithet “he that overcometh” applied to the blessed in Revelation suggests that overcoming is, in the end, something the saved can take special and particular joy in, rather than just acting ‘as if they had never Fallen’.

        … which perhaps brings us back to the question of their relation to their Earthly life, and thus in particular to those who did not overcome, but throughout this conversation I think we’ve given plenty of possible reasons why it should be left open.

      • Just so; my use of “scar” was a figure of speech. I specifically had in mind that the blessed would bear all the marks, all the memories of their Earthly lives, but that these marks and memories would not any longer hinder their expressions of their truest natures.

        “Coincidentally,” Chastek, Brandon, and Eric Reitan have been discussing the question of universalism in respect to the suffering of an otherwise perfectly blessed person on account of the sufferings of the damned. Reitan offers the following argument (quoting Chastek):

        Any experience for which the only possible response is grief is incompatible with blessedness.
        To know about the damned is just such an experience, etc.
        And so the fact that anyone is blessed means that no one can be damned.

      • @Kristor:

        I specifically had in mind that the blessed would bear all the marks, all the memories of their Earthly lives, but that these marks and memories would not any longer hinder their expressions of their truest natures.

        What do you think of this then?

        For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. — Isaiah 65:17

      • It’s a good question. The trick is to reconcile that passage from Isaiah with Job 19:26-27:

        And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me.

        If we took Isaiah to mean that *absolutely nothing* of the old creation will be carried forward into the new, that would make old Job just wrong: some other guy would see God, in some other guy’s body. Job himself would be gone, and never remembered or brought to mind. It would mean also that none of us would see salvation – we’d all suffer the second death, and be annihilated. All that talk of the immortality of the soul would have to be explained away somehow.

        I conclude that Isaiah must have meant that the glories of the new creation will include a complete reconciliation and healing of the causal wounds that the old creation inflicted upon itself, and that, as completely healed, those wounds will no longer trouble us at all, so that we therefore won’t notice them at all, any more than I notice the scar I left on my finger with the axe that time – a wound which almost lost the digit for me – or the seams on my face and throat left by the plate glass, through which I nearly poured out my life back at the cusp of my manhood. The memories of those events persist, in my skin and my brain: but I just don’t bring them to mind. Would that I could say the same about the grievous wounds inflicted on my young son by an accident of venous development. My prayer is that in Heaven he will again have the full use of his right side. We’ll still all remember his trauma, and that memory will make us all the happier and more grateful for his restoration. But the memory will no longer trouble us, *because the wound will no longer trouble him.*

  2. This is slightly off topic, but the dominant Christian view until recently seems to have been that many people whom you might suppose destined for Heaven are, in fact, destined for Hell. Today, and partly in reaction against the austerity of the first view, the dominant view seems to be that many people whom you might suppose destined for Hell are, in fact, destined for Heaven. If the former view yields to the sin of despair, the later would seem to yield to the sin of presumption.

    With respect to Arakawa’s comment, I recall once reading something written in the Middle Ages which stated that the smell of the roasting flesh of sinners rising from the mouth of Hell would be a pleasant fragrance in the nostrils of the saints in Heaven (or words to that effect). At first this sounds barbaric, as if the saved derive positive pleasure from the suffering of the damned, but taken in context I think it meant that the saved would not vicariously participate in the suffering of the damned. In other words, there would be no empathy, no compassion. How this might come about, I could not say. Perhaps through nescience.

    I don’t mean to make light of the basic problem. I’ve felt the same paternal anxieties that you have, Kristor. But I remember reading an article by the philosopher John Finas in which he argued that God’s promises, most especially his promises with respect to salvation and damnation, must be taken together. Once we begin to doubt that God meant what he said about Hell, we are well on our way toward doubting that God meant what he said about Heaven. What is more, Finas adds, if Hell is not a real possibility and a terminal destination, it becomes impossible to intend to go to Heaven. I cannot intend that which is inevitable, so the religious life becomes meaningless.

    And believe me, few people have more reason to hope for Heaven on easy terms than I.

    • JMSmith,

      If we see hell and heaven as states of our being, as CS Lewis taught in The Great Divorce and (I believe!) the Catholic Church now also recognises, then heaven is having a heart full of forgiveness and love, seeing the Divine Presence in others, obeying God because we know He wants what is best for us and His commandments are for our own highest good, not because we are afraid. “Perfect love casteth out fear”.

      I am a woeful sinner myself, but yesterday for the first time I really had a felt realization that God fully accepts and forgives me for my falling short. And I saw that to beat myself up, to look at myself with disgust and sorrow, was, in a perverse way, a form of pride.

      We are nothing special, our sins are nothing special, God has forgiven us, full stop, end of story. A heart that cannot forgive ourselves cannot forgive anyone else for their imperfections either. And that is the hell that Christ came to deliver us from!

      • It’s not my place to lecture anyone on this topic. My opinions are all very tentative and I do not wish to push anyone into the sin of despair or the sin of presumption. I’m certainly glad that you had a realization of forgiveness the other day, particularly if you have been laboring under an oppressive sense of sin; but most of us are, I believe, inclined to presumption rather than despair. As I read the gospels, God’s forgiveness is conditional on repentance.

        Your last paragraph, while rather moving and poetic, leaves me feeling very uneasy. Guilt can be “hell” in a metaphorical sense, to be sure, just as a toothache can be “hell”; but Hell is neither guilt or a toothache. Guilt is fear of discovery and punishment. To a Christian, guilt is fear of discovery on the Day of Judgment and punishment in Hell. This guilt (fear) can certainly be removed, but God does this by forgiving us, not by assuring us that he never really meant to punish us in the first place.

      • Happy new year JMSmith! I hope 2014 is treating you well thus far.

        CS Lewis and the Catholic church both reject the idea of hell as a place that God puts us, they see how as a spiritual condition of our being. I’m not sure if you’ve read the great divorce by Lewis or not. He describes hell as being very real, and a consequence of unredeemed sin, but he also shows that hell can be a self generated punishment. I am largely in agreement with his vision, not completely, but it makes more sense to me that an all loving God does not punish us, instead the punishment is the unrepented sin itself.

        Anyway, this makes sense to me, and it is official doctrine of the world’s largest Christian church, that does not of course mean it is correct.

      • The Church does not teach that Hell is not a place. The damned are resurrected, too, after all, and that’s Scriptural. It even teaches that pain of sense (i.e., of nerve endings, of sight and smell and sensation) is part of the punishment of the damned. Men are bodily creatures and our ultimate destiny — whether the joys of Heaven or the sorrows of Hell — will necessarily include bodily realities.

        To the extent there can be said to have been a development at all it is that the pain of sense is not the primary punishment of Hell but only a logical extension of that primary punishment, which is eternal deprivation of the sight of God. I imagine it’s rather like the physical torments (the breaking heart, the wrenching in his guts, etc.) experienced by a man who has realized, too late, that he has squandered his one shot at true love: however much he is suffering physically, they are only outward signs of the vastly worse interior griefs that are tearing him apart.

      • Matthew C. @ Likewise with the well-wishes for the New Year. I have nothing to complain of with respect to 2014, so far; but querulous old soul that I am, I’ll surely find something to grumble about soon enough. I’ve read The Great Divorce a couple of times and (sad reflection on me) always wished there were at least two more chapters set in the Town. I’ve just now glanced through some pages near the end, where Lewis describes the distortions that are caused by viewing eternity through the lens of time, and I quite agree with him that it is wrong to think of it simply as an infinite future. At the same time, I can’t bring myself to think of it simply as a sense of elation or joy enjoyed at this moment. If I am saved, it seems I must be saved from something; and it seems pretty small potatoes to say that I am saved from the dread that I am not saved, especially if it is true that that which I dreaded does not exist was.

        I think Proph is pointing us in the right direction when he writes (as I read him) that Hell is both a spiritual condition and a place. When I think about these matters, which I don’t often do, I ask myself whether I am better served, as a practical matter, by refined or vulgar symbols of Heaven and Hell. My answer is that the Fiery Pit and the Elysian Fields, while certainly rather vulgar, are not for that reason altogether contemptible. Unlike the refined symbols of theology, they are really dreadful and really lovely, and this side of eternity, that may be all I really need to know.

    • “I recall once reading something written in the Middle Ages which stated that the smell of the roasting flesh of sinners rising from the mouth of Hell would be a pleasant fragrance in the nostrils of the saints in Heaven (or words to that effect).”

      I have read similiar things before (from the Middle Ages), something to the effect of this: “The blessed in Heaven rejoice at the suffering of the damned in Hell, for in it they see the justice of the Lord.”

      I think that version has the answer to the question already within it.

      Also, I personally can not imagine a real Heaven without a real Hell. It destroys the whole system, makes pointless what is meaningful, and seems like rather wishful (not to mention Liberal) thinking. And FWIW, rather than finding Matthew C’s last paragraph below (@ December 31st, 2013 at 6:59 pm) to be “moving and poetic” as you say Mr. Smith, I (honestly) found it to be rather pathetic. I don’t mean to insult Matthew, I just think that if that is the Hell that Christ came to deliver us from (rather than a real place of terrible and eternal damnation), that somebody along the way really overplayed things, making a bigger deal of it than what actually happened, like the fish tales, where the fish keeps getting bigger and bigger with each telling of the tale. I mean it just seems so…unheroic, I guess. So…lacking in…any real sense of something great being done? I don’t know. Let me put it this way, that would not be “the greatest story ever told”, indeed it would remind me of some Buddhist tale: odd, alien, and uninspiring. I am not able to express myself totally here, I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there you go.

      • “And FWIW, rather than finding Matthew C’s last paragraph below (@ December 31st, 2013 at 6:59 pm) to be “moving and poetic” as you say Mr. Smith, I (honestly) found it to be rather pathetic.”

        Here I have to agree that Matthew’s logic is somewhat backward, in the sense that, if anything, the Gospel makes it clear that it’s forgiving others that grants a person to ‘forgive themselves’. Even so, self-forgiveness is probably the last thing to worry about.

        “Also, I personally can not imagine a real Heaven without a real Hell. It destroys the whole system, makes pointless what is meaningful, and seems like rather wishful (not to mention Liberal) thinking.”

        Here, on the other hand, I have to employ the same logic to conclude that eating is meaningless unless someone else starves to death, seeing is meaningless unless someone else has their eye plucked out… what exactly are you getting at?

      • I don’t think that Oberon would say that eating is meaningless unless someone is starving, but he might say that working for one’s bread is meaningless if everyone, industrious and shiftless, is sure to eat three square meals a day. Or, to modify the seeing and blinded analogy, he might say that wearing safety glasses is meaningless if eye injuries are equally common among men who wear them and men who do not. What he is saying, in other words, is that effort is meaningless if outcomes are equal.

        I know there is a lot of vexing theology that we could get tangled up in here, but I think Oberon is giving voice to something very elemental in the lives of many Christians. (Apologies, Oberon, if I’m misrepresenting your views.) The Christian life is not always easy. The duties are not always a joy to perform, the interdicts sometimes cause real deprivation. It is all very well to call the view crude, vulgar, and low, but a man who is successfully struggling against powerful temptation consoles himself with a hope that his forbearance will be somehow “rewarded.” If it isn’t, his forbearance was in vain, which is to say meaningless. Following Christ is meaningless if one reaches the same destination by following Baal.

        And I tend to agree with Oberon that, if Hell is really nothing more than a sense of sin, then Christianity is nothing more than psychotherapy with choral accompaniment. Guilt is fear of discovery and punishment. Christian guilt is fear of Doomsday and Hell. Some of this guilt could be unfounded and neurotic–for instance, if I felt Christian guilt for wearing a jacket with buttons rather than a zipper. That sort of neurotic guilt could be “its own hell,” to be sure. But genuine guilt over sins that will, unrepented, have eternal consequences, strikes me as a healthy conscience.

      • @JMSmith, yes, you make a good point. It makes the other position both more understandable for me, and it helped clarify my own understanding as well.

        Particularly I was being uncharitable when it did not occur to me that this was a possible point of view of someone struggling against a sin:

        “It is all very well to call the view crude, vulgar, and low, but a man who is successfully struggling against powerful temptation consoles himself with a hope that his forbearance will be somehow ‘rewarded.’ If it isn’t, his forbearance was in vain, which is to say meaningless.”

        (My own struggles, when they have been successful, and indeed against things which felt like ‘gratuitous forbearance’ at first, were waged from a completely different point of view, but I’m not the measure of things….)

        Although I notice here there are wildly different emphases between feeling that you are being rewarded relative to the alternate outcome of immense suffering that you, personally, will feel if the sin defeats you in eternity — versus feeling you are being rewarded for fighting because someone else who did not fight is going to Hell.

        But the problem is that the defeat of a sin is by definition a return from error and deviation to normality, and normality… is normal. It doesn’t intrinsically deserve any sort of reward, let alone the eternal joys of Heaven, and not even the limited earthly joys that certainly anyone who is well-off enough to be posting in this forum already partakes in. “We are useless slaves who have done only what was required of us”, and (the hyperbolically unjust!) parable of the vineyard, where the slackers who come in at the last hour get the exact same wages as the people who were busting their backs from sunrise ’till sunset, clearly point to this uncomfortable idea.

        So, at bottom, both existence and existence in Heaven are utterly gratuitous gifts, which I suppose complicates the discussion of Hell — the question of why some people receive and end up enjoying the gift of Heaven, and why others don’t. We can either say that God gratuitously offers the gift to some and not others (which is a variety of predestination, I suppose), or He offers His gifts to everyone but some people (as a result of their free will) choose to gradually alter their natures to make it impossible for themselves to enjoy it; exactly like the Dwarves in CS Lewis’ The Last Battle.

        I would note that, while tragic, the damnation of the Dwarves in that book, unlike the Dwarf&Tragedian scene in Great Divorce by the same author, did not come across to me with the same sense of wrongness. Even if nothing could be done for them — yet the characters were not forbidden from expressing pity for them or failing to do so, according to their own disposition, and indeed a token attempt was made to bring them into the Feast, which may as well stand in for a more serious attempt. In this sense the children’s book — because it had to make sense to children, I suppose! — impresses me as much more morally serious than the highfalutin intellectual parable.

        But this understanding of sin — as a defect in a person’s constitution that causes them to act contrary to the Logos _and therefore_ makes it impossible to enjoy the gift of glorified existence that God wishes all to enjoy, since they will turn any positive good God that grants them into a source of suffering — is something entirely different from these notions of juridical transgression, punishment, and forgiveness. The two understandings of sin, properly speaking, should and can in fact be taken as complementary for the purpose of day-to-day existence, except that….

        While the sacrifice of the Cross serves to make these realms fit together in most areas, one understanding raises this whole question of people ultimately being freed from Hell, and one doesn’t.

        Thus if you understand sin primarily as a reality of justice and its satisfaction, ‘once damned, always damned’ is perfectly reasonable and ties up the loose ends in your doctrine; and your understanding does not lead you to speculate on the salvation of the damned; indeed, such speculation feels perverse.

        But if you understand sin primarily as a reality of one’s internal constitution, whether one acts in harmony with God’s Truth (which is freely offered to all) or out of joint with it, then the question of what can be done to repair the damaged understanding of the damned remains open — possibly eternally — and there is not enough evidence to say either ‘all saved’ or ‘once damned, always damned’. A myriad of outcomes are imaginable.

        Perhaps this is where the underlying conflict lies?

      • I don’t think there is any real difference between sin understood as a disordered soul and sin understood as a behavioral manifestation of that disorder. The first is a disposition that is constant and universal in all of mankind, although individuals vary in the sins to which they are disposed. There seems to be greater variety among individuals in the degree to which they yield to these sinful dispositions and manifest them in behavior. Some people struggle hard against their sinful dispositions, some struggle a little (and intermittently), some struggle not at all. There seem to be several factors that explain the degree to which any individual struggles, but a key one is whether they see the sinful disposition as sinful. The swimmers lunging most desperately for the riverbank are the ones who hear the roar of the waterfall round the bend.

        As I said in an earlier comment, there are all sorts of theological complexities in which we might entangle ourselves, but to the everyday sinner who is making an effort to resist sin, it is disappointing and shocking to hear that making an effort doesn’t matter. Effort may not be sufficient for salvation, but the Christian who is making an effort would sure like to think that it is necessary.

        I don’t think that this idea is exploded, or even called into question, by the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. It is true that each of the hired men did not labor in the vineyard for an equal number of hours, but each hired man did labor. And we may suppose that those who were hired last labored as hard as the others for the duration of their stint, however short that may have been (possibly harder, since they wouldn’t have been so tired). The parable does not report that the landlord also distributed equal portions to random loafers who were not hired and never set foot in the vineyard.

        The relevance of this parable to the general question that we’re debating here appears in verse eight: “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay . . .” Evening came and it was time for a final reckoning. Those who had been called and had labored received their equal portion. For those who had not, it was too late. There is no mention of a night shift or a resumption of work the following morning.

        I think this is the “underlying conflict.” Is there a deadline, a “whistle,” a Day of Reckoning? Or is God like an indulgent professor who gives all of his delinquent students a grade of incomplete and accepts late work for all eternity?

        (By the way, like you, I was more impressed by the image of the dwarves in The Last Battle than I was by the image of the dwarf in The Great Divorce. My reading of the former is not that the Dwarves looked upon Aslan’s Country and refused to enter it, but that they could not see it because they had blinded themselves through a lifetime of selfishness and skepticism.)

      • @JMSmith

        But in general, the best way to avoid sin is to understand without any self-deception what it is. Here the notion of rewards and punishments is only partly helpful, because at some point, for the proper ordering of the soul, sin must be understood as loathsome in itself. We all have this healthy understanding for _some_ types of sin, so we have some idea of what our attitude should properly be towards other sins that we are guilty of, in order to consider ourselves truly healed from them. We may not be able to attain it in this life, of course, which means that we must hope for _some_ form of improvement in the next life, certainly for those who meet the basic requirements of salvation. Otherwise the only people in Heaven would be a tiny handful of saints.

        Thus, while it may well be there is some point at which a whistle sounds and there is no further improvement of any kind for those who have not already been healed — the moment of death cannot (!) be that point. Otherwise such things as last-minute deathbed repentance would be futile, since the person still dies with all their sinful passions intact, just a more accurate awareness thereof, and they have probably as many sins unconfessed as they have confessed…

        And yes, the question of what form this improvement may take opens up too many doctrinal questions for comfort. Is it purification only, or repentance plus purification (which makes salvation a very open-ended process), and what mechanism does the purification take — is it a purgatory, or does the violence of the separation of the soul from the body do it, or what? There’s plenty of room to go astray guessing at the specific details but I can’t help but hope that there is _something_.

        Similarly, it’s said that there are three types of people who seek salvation: slaves who obey the Lord out of fear of punishment, hirelings who labour in the hope of a reward, and the children who do God’s will because they love Him. So, while fear of Hell is an integral motivation in Christianity that helps many people, it cannot be considered the highest motivation to aspire to in our struggles, without distorting the basic message.

        (All three levels are unified by something called ‘fear of God’, but it means something completely different for the children than it does the slaves; for the former, it is manifestly something other than just fear of punishment.)

      • I suppose there may be individuals who are sufficiently deterred from sinning by the inherent loathsomeness of sin, but we design the world (and religion) for the average man. I am, most of the time, deterred from speeding on the highway by a recognition that speeding is dangerous and that other people have a right not to be run down by my speeding vehicle. Most of the time you could set me loose on the highway with no policemen, and hence no threat of punishment for speeding, and I would drive just as I do now–sensibly and slowly. But there would, of course, come a time when the temptation to sped would be very great–let’s say I was late to collect my boss from the airport–and then it would take the presence of policemen and the threat of punishment to keep me in line.

        In my experience, a sin appears in its true loathsome guise only when one is not especially tempted by it. Temptation is in large degree replacement of this loathsome aspect by the “glamor of sin.” And it’s when we are about to fall under the spell of the glamour of sin that fear of hellfire is most salutary. The glamor of sin bypasses our intellect and attacks our soul by way of our imagination. An image that causes desire (which when false we call glamorous) is best neutralized by by an image that causes fear. If hellfire does’t work for you, choose another that is equally repellent.

      • I know in myself that when I see myself as in God’s grace and forgiven, I am MUCH more forgiving and accepting of others. The two go hand in hand, so to speak.

        This has NOTHING to do with seeing oneself as justified, though! We are certainly not that, none of us!

  3. I think C. S. Lewis does a pretty good job of addressing the problem (I have to admit, it’s never been a problem that agonized me too much, which probably means I’m insufficiently compassionate here on earth) of the saved being saddened by the torments of the damned. He addresses it at some length in _The Great Divorce_. Now, perhaps I’m too easily satisfied because it isn’t a problem that exercises me too much, but the “lady and the dwarf” sequence there has always seemed to me quite satisfactory. The dwarf chooses his own damnation, and the lady remains happy. This is because her happiness is firmly rooted in the beatific vision and because she understands the perfection of God’s will, including God’s will to allow the dwarf to choose damnation. She does have one chance to try to save the dwarf, but when he will not be saved and eventually disappears, she goes on in joy. The Macdonald character explains to the Lewis character that self-damning evil is not going to be allowed to play “dog in the manger” to the saved, for that would not be just or right. He also explains that she cannot follow the dwarf to hell and make further attempts to rescue him because hell is too small to contain her. Only Jesus Christ could make himself “small enough” to descend into hell, and that has already been done.

    • I suppose this is a fine example of how perceptions can differ. For me, this exact passage is the one that raised the problem of the relation between the saved and the damned — to a worrying issue. I still can’t quite put my finger on it, but after the lady walks away, the praises of the chorus attending her start to ring distinctly false in my ear.

      Probably the reason isn’t so much even that the dwarf could be damned irrevocably, but the nonchalance with which the fact of the damnation is swept under the rug, without even the most token acknowledgment or mourning of an eternal loss; as if nothing of consequence has happened. I find it very difficult to dissociate this kind of blase rewriting of history in my mind from George Orwell and the Soviet Union….

      You can indeed compare my objection with the hypothetical case of the atheist’s universe where a person once dead is dead forever — the notion that, because nothing can be done for the dead, that rites of mourning are an empty and wasteful distraction from the enjoyment of earthly life, would still seem to me an equally unsupportable notion. More so in Heaven, then, where the life of the blessed is infinite, and thus a rite of mourning or prayer for a damned relative does not even compete for some slice of time that could be otherwise employed….

      I really don’t delude myself that my preoccupation with this kind of problem is the fruit of some kind of superiority of compassion over, say, the medieval philosophers who held that the saved derive positive enjoyment from beholding the damned — especially since the situation discussed is so abstract from our present situation. I happen to be brought up in a sentimental age and environment, quite likely in a bad sense of the word; but if there’s a satisfying answer to the problem, it’s an answer that exists independently of the particular sentiments of any age.

      • The situation exists too in Dante as well. Cato says that his damned wife can not move him anymore. Dante himself kicks a damned soul in Inferno, I believe. He is explicitly instructed not to feel for the damned.

    • This sounds right to me. Christ himself tells us that whoever loves father or mother or child more than him is not worthy of him. If anyone is in Heaven then they are worthy of him — either by grace in this life or in the next. I don’t see why it should be hard to believe that God assists the blessed with the grace necessary to experience the damnation of the reprobate as just.

      • “I don’t see why it should be hard to believe that God assists the blessed with the grace necessary to experience the damnation of the reprobate as just.”

        Would rejection of this form of grace imply rejection of all grace whatsoever, such that anyone who has compassion for the damned is therefore damned as well?

        In the context of a theology where damnation is irrevocable, the Orthodox strike me as having the right idea — even if prayer for those in Hell cannot necessarily free them from their suffering entirely, it may contribute to easing their torment; this is an attitude that is obviously not discontinuous across the border of death. Therefore I hardly see how sparing a prayer for the damned, in this life or moreso the next (when, as I said, there is no lack of time and therefore it does not detract from more important tasks), is equivalent to allowing them to ‘play dog in the manger’ to the universe, as CS Lewis put it — particularly since, if the saved are not forced to forget the damned, it’s fairly clear that neither in particular would they be forced to remember them; such prayer, as with all prayer, is offered on a voluntary basis….

  4. In The Great Divorce, CS Lewis opined that there are no “persons” in hell but merely “remains” of persons-a menagerie of conflicting sins. The damned personality disintegrates.
    One can see it even in this earth. The disintegration of certain people and integrity of other people.

  5. Kristor,
    “The New Heaven must then involve a reboot of the whole shooting match, including Hell and this cosmos its forecourt”

    Again I refer to CS Lewis. Hell is outer nothingness where existence dwindles into non-existence.

  6. “the dominant Christian view until recently seems to have been that many people whom you might suppose destined for Heaven are, in fact, destined for Hell”

    Dominant?? Neither the Catholic Church nor the Orthodox believes so. Read Father Reardon that in Bible, predestination is only used (as a verb) to describe God’s activity to nudge people towards salvation. No one is predestined to hell. This concept is foreign to the Church and exists only in heretical groups. And it is precisely this heretical concept that discredits the presentation of Christianity.

    • I should have chosen my words more carefully, given the theological freight borne by the word destined. What I meant to say is that, in the past, Christians were warned against the sin of presumption and, in the present, they are warned against the sin of despair. In the past Christians were more likely to have a guilty conscience (some would say too guilty); in the present they are more likely to have an easy conscience (some would say too easy).

  7. Proph,
    “Men are bodily creatures and our ultimate destiny — whether the joys of Heaven or the sorrows of Hell — will necessarily include bodily realities.”

    One may conjecture that Catholic teachings such as these nudged CS Lewis away from entering the Catholic Church. CS Lewis held that–see Pilgrim’s Regress and The Great Divorce-that the damned are not “persons” at all but “remains” of what were once persons After all, hell is “outer nothingness” and what kind of bodily reality could there be in this nothingness where being dwindles into non-being?

    • Hell is a great mystery, and like any mystery we ought to cultivate silence before trying to extrapolate fully its character from snippets of inconclusive Scriptural data.

      • But it was your positive assertion that the sorrows of hell will “necessarily” include bodily realities.

        Mine assertion is much weaker– that we can not assume that the damned are like us.

    • I think you are taking Lewis’s words about people in hell being only remains, etc., too literally. To be sure, he skated close to annihilationism with some of those comments, but he always qualified them in such a way that they did not amount to actual annihilationism. Moreover, he was _absolute_ that heaven is a physical reality. If there ever were a man who taught the resurrection of the body, it was Lewis.

      There were plenty of far more prosaic reasons why he did not become Roman Catholic. There is no evidence at all that what he thought about hell was particularly incompatible with Catholic doctrine or that Catholic teaching on hell played any role in his not being Roman Catholic. If anything, his confident declarations of a belief in Purgatory (which he reaffirmed on multiple occasions) might be thought to have made him far more open to Catholicism than otherwise. But in fact, I don’t think he ever even seriously considered becoming Roman Catholic.

  8. Arakawa,
    “this understanding of sin — as a defect in a person’s constitution that causes them to act contrary to the Logos”
    A person is NOT responsible for defects in his constitution. We see the acts performed by others but God sees the heart. He knows the extent of freely willed act and the complementary extent of factors outside the will i.e. the constitution.

    • @Bedarz

      “A person is NOT responsible for defects in his constitution.”

      I may be using the word ‘constitution’ incorrectly, but you seem to be mixing the two different understandings I mentioned in a way that doesn’t make any sense. Try and consider this picture.

      Someone’s smeared black paint on a window — no matter who is responsible, until _someone_ cleans it up, that window _cannot_ be used for looking at Heaven.

      Thus, our soul is like that damaged window. At any given moment, our actions are influenced (as a matter of probability) toward sin by a set of passions, which hinder our perception of the spiritual reality of right and wrong, and (left unhealed) prevent us from dwelling in the coming Kingdom of Heaven without excruciating torment.

      Some of these passions are inherited as a result of Adam’s original sin, and others have taken root in us due to our free assent to evil, which further clouds our perceptions. Here indeed we cannot judge from our actions how much we are responsible for, but we are still simply charged to pursue Good to the best of our ability, instead of using the defects in our soul as a self-justifying excuse.

      But finding who originally is _responsible_ for the damaged window of our soul and punishing them is NOT the condition of our salvation. The condition of our salvation is that someone — to be exactly precise, Christ — is found who is capable of cleaning the window, or putting a brand new window into the same frame.

      (I say this because, even though we are called to display our faith and assent to Christ’s salvation by an active struggle to repent and uproot the passions, we are unable to complete the process by our own effort without the salvific grace offered to us by Christ, both in this life and the next.)

      In this understanding, it is clear that punishing a vandal for damaging a window does not of itself fix the window; neither does rewarding someone someone for trying to fix the window; in the end, fixing the window is what actually fixes the window.

      • You need to define the “constitution” more clearly in order to make sense of the understanding of sin as a defect in the “constitution”.
        Does soul has a constitution, to begin with?. Or are you talking of one’s physical constitution?
        Eg tendency to drink, or have same-sex relations may be part of one’s physical constitution. But the person is NOT responsible to one’s physical constitution, but only for what he does freely.
        That is absolutely non-negotiable.
        So can there be a defect in free will? NO, be definition. if the will is not free, it is not free will.

        So, sin is necessarily freely choice of evil and can not be understood as a defect in some “constitution”.

  9. The original premise that the Saints would feel compassion for the damned is another way of saying the Saints are better than God. Look at God, so lacking in compassion! We are better than that! We humans are the measure of true passion! No. If Hell exists, then no Saint feels “compassion” (i.e., grief over something that should be reversed), because God certainly would not. God would damn someone and then get all twisted up about it (so to speak)? You cringe from the scent of roasting flesh because you cringe from the very notion of Justice. You suppose that Justice is incompatible with Love, but that is only your fallen nature falling short of understanding. (P.S. I don’t claim to be any less fallen, but I am less troubled *intellectually* by eternal damnation.)

    • The original premise that the Saints would feel compassion for the damned is another way of saying the Saints are better than God.

      No. It isn’t. If the saints felt compassion for the damned, then a fortiori so would God. Therein lies the problem.

      If God didn’t feel compassion for the damned, he would never have bothered with Israel, or Calvary. But he did bother with Israel and Calvary; so he feels compassion for the damned.

      You cringe from the scent of roasting flesh because you cringe from the very notion of Justice.

      No. I cringe from the scent of roasting human flesh because it is revolting to think that it is just – or even coherent – to think that we are to relish the torment of those toward whom God commands our charity. It is as if we were expected to believe that a circle is square. The notion is nonsense, and to credit it is to reject rationality – i.e., to reject God.

      You suppose that Justice is incompatible with Love …

      No; their compatibility is not in question anywhere in these threads. God being Simple, his Love and his Justice must be coterminous.

      • But Israel wasn’t “the damned,” was it? Certainly it would’ve been (along with everything else) had he not intervened to restore the order of grace, but it wasn’t.

      • What I meant was that if he had not felt compassion for the damned, he would never have chosen Israel to begin with, or implored her repeatedly to return to him, despite her many damnable infidelities; or spared Noah and his family, for that matter, or restored the fortunes of Job. If he had not felt compassion for the damned, he would not have harrowed Hell, or rescued Elijah and Moses. None of these acts would then even have occurred to him.

  10. I’m far more bothered by the fact that God allows innocent children in the here and now to be raped than by the fact that God allows evil men in eternity to damn themselves. While it’s true that God can (and if they don’t in the end damn themselves will) give the souls of those innocent children eternal joys to which the sufferings of this present life are not to be compared, the fact remains that the rapes and tortures are real events that do not simply get unmade by the eternal joys. If the saints in eternity can glory in the single Divine will/Providence that permits human freedom to bring about evil, including evil acts perpetrated upon innocent victims, I do not understand why it is supposed to be so particularly hard for them to glory in the aspect of that Providence that permits human freedom to bring about the damnation of the evildoers themselves.

    I think perhaps part of the problem here is that we are getting hung up on time. We think of the saved in heaven as looking back upon the rapes of innocent children in 2013 and being unbothered because “those are over now” yet continuing to be bothered by the sufferings of the self-damned in hell because “those are still happening.” But, while I understand that the saved in heaven will still be finite beings and hence will not strictly speaking share the perspective of divine timelessness, surely *that* notion is a little crude and doesn’t allow them *even to some extent* to share in the perspective of divine timelessness. It would seem to me that they will in some sense “see the Plan whole” and thereby understand its eternal logic, which resolves both the sufferings of the innocent “in the past” and the sufferings of the guilty “in the present and future.”

    • I’m not so worried about the temporal coordinates of a particular moment of suffering, or the acuity or sum thereof, as I am troubled at the notion that there might be an infinite quantity of suffering that omnipotent Atonement is permanently impotent to repair.

      It seems clear to me that, given creaturely freedom, the perdurance of a damned soul’s suffering must be due to the fact that – however whacked this seems to us – he must *prefer* it to the alternative. But that consideration doesn’t really help. If my son permanently preferred Hell to Heaven, I’d be permanently grieved over his illusion, and the suffering it entailed, even if everything else was just peachy, and that grief would mortally mar my blessedness. To me, that looks an awful lot like a defeater for the notion of Heaven.

      I see no metaphysical principle that imposes a time limit on repentance. This is another way of saying that I see no reason why God would impose such a time limit. There may be such a principle, but until it has been explained to me, any such limit will look merely capricious. The limit on repentance rather seems to be imposed by the sinner’s own chosen incorrigibility, and thus somewhat adventitiously. This being the case, I can’t see why the passage of some further adventures might not sway a sinner to eventual repentance.

      The divine acceptance of such a prodigal would not mean that the he had got off scot free; he’d still have to suffer purgatory, after all, and since his aeons in Hell’s army would have been due to his own reiterated reenlistments, he’d have aeons of sin to burn away in purgatory. Oh, he’d pay, and dearly. It would be fair; none of the saints and martyrs who had earned their rest here on Earth would envy him for a moment.

      • Kristor,

        There may be no “he” in hell to prefer anything. Why do you assume that the damned are living?

        Will the damned have eternal life? Have they been promised eternal life?If not, there is no “he”.

        The point of Dominical sayings is that judgment is final. The damned, by definition, can not repent. If there is post-death repentance, then the soul was not damned to begin with.

        “If my son permanently preferred Hell to Heaven, I’d be permanently grieved over his illusion and that grief would mortally mar my blessedness.”

        The answer is given above by Lydia.@ 1.02 AM. Also, can you really conceive of the mental states and attitudes of the blessed soul in heaven?

      • If the damned are not persons, then they cannot suffer, and Hell is no problem for them. But it can in that case still be a problem for others. It is true that if my son had been altogether annihilated, I should no longer grieve over his suffering. But I should then still grieve the loss of him.

        If I do not repent, then I am damned. But if I do repent, then I am no longer damned. Repentance seems then to be the dispositive factor. And one cannot repent of anything, *unless* one has done something damnable, so that one has something to repent, and ought therefore to repent, or be damned.

        I’m quite sure I can’t really conceive of the mental states of the blessed. But it is straightforwardly contradictory to propose that it is proper and fitting in God’s eyes for me to lack any charity toward them, toward whom he has commanded my charity. God can’t create a square circle, and he can’t command me not to do what he has commanded me to do.

      • Kristor,

        “toward whom He has commanded my charity”

        Towards whom?. We are commanded charity for living people, on earth and in purgatory. The damned may be beyond charity. That is the point of being damned. People on earth are not damned, none of them. The damned have some kind of existence in hell, but it is not life-more like gibbering shades of Hades–also recall Napoleon’s shade in The Great Divorce–there is nobody in hell who could be object of our charity. Does the Church pray for damned souls?

      • Unless and until you repent, you are damned. You might not yet be suffering the utmost pangs of Hell, but you are suffering some pangs or other thereof; and are bound to suffer more, unless you repent.

        I repeat, if the damned in Hell are not persons, they cannot suffer; their “suffering mechanism” no longer exists. In that case, all talk of suffering in Hell is errant. Likewise, if the damned have no life in them.

      • St Peter in Dante’s Paradiso shows anger-towards the 13C Popes. So, it is not the case that the blessed souls could only joyful and nothing else. Perhaps, some degree of grief towards unredeemed loved ones is not inconsistent with heavenly bliss. Perhaps, the blessed ones grieve over their personal sins too which they committed on earth.

      • Kristor@
        I think the notion that someone would “prefer suffering” is indeed “whacked,” since to suffer is to endure what one would prefer not to endure. We might talk about preferring to suffer X rather than Y, when both X and Y are disagreeable, but X is less disagreeable than Y. In that case the sinner who elects to remain in Hell does so because he believes, rightly or wrongly, that Heaven would be a greater torment. This is, of course, the explanation of Satan that we find in Milton. But I can’t really bring myself to believe that Hell is like the Mayberry jail and the damned are like Otis Campbell, free to take down the keys and let themselves out once they’ve sobered up.

        I don’t know if there is a “metaphysical principle that imposes a time limit on repentance,” but a time limit does seem to be congruent with much if not all of what we read in scripture (e.g. Dives and Lazarus). I’m not rigid on this point and accept the doctrine of Purgatory. There is also something in the very structure of a human life that strongly suggests that death is a crisis. Why the absolute sundering with the past, and why the absolute opacity of what lies beyond, if for some at least some the struggle continues just as before?

        I used to get a ride from a youth group leader who had a sticker on his dashboard that read: “If You Hear Trumpets Blow, Grab the Wheel Because This Driver is Saved.” I didn’t particularly like what that sticker implied about the passenger, but it was the early 1970s and he was up to his tonsils in Hal Lindsey. In the premillennialist church my family was then attending, the fear of being left behind was urged as a great motive for everyone to Get Right with the Lord. Even at that tender age, I realized that I was more likely to go before God by way of natural death than the Rapture, but I do think it makes sense to routinely ask people, “Are you ready?” or to reflect on the Four Last Things.

        As I wrote in an earlier comment, leading the Christian life is not all beer and skittles. There was a reason St. Augustine asked God to make him holy, but not yet. If I am told that I can lead a life of selfish hedonism and blasphemy until I am stone cold dead and yet still hold a valid ticket to heaven, I might be tempted to do just that. It may be true that there is no metaphysical principle that imposes a time limit on repentance,” in which case it is not impossible that there is no eternal damnation, but do you think it is wise to announce this speculation to humans who are looking for reasons to postpone repentance?

      • Kristor, I’m strongly inclined to agree with JM Smith that multiple Scripture passages _do_ imply that hell is eternal, not that you can later repent and get out of it. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is particularly clear, since on a more soft-hearted view one would take it as obvious that the rich man’s state indicates an openness to grace and repentance, yet the parable implies that he is instead in hell eternally. There are many, many other passages that imply the same all through the New Testament.

        Beyond that there are the many ways in which this parallels other scriptural teachings. For example, the fact that we don’t worry about the saved falling into sin and going to hell! If the saved can be confirmed in blessedness, then presumably the lost can be confirmed in damnation. Or the very notion of the end of the world itself. All of human history is going to come to an end! No more marrying and giving in marriage, no more babies being born, no more combination farce, tragedy, and glory marking all the incredibly important choices of human history. All coming to and end in the eschaton. Is it “arbitrary” that God chooses a particular time to bring the history of mankind to an end and stop giving mankind as a whole more chances? No doubt from our perspective, but obviously not from God’s. It is no more arbitrary, then, for there to be a time at which damnation itself is final for the individual.

    • I can’t argue with anything that Lydia or JM Smith have said here. If there is a metaphysical principle at work in damning souls to Hell, it seems to me that it must indeed – as both of them indicate – have something to do with God’s judgement of the definite character of a human life. Some such judgement must occur, in order for the ultimate truth of a creaturely life to become finally definite (God being the definer of the ultimate truth of all things), and ergo for that life to become fully actual. And once a thing is entirely definite, it is thenceforth unchangeably and everlastingly just what it is and nothing else.

      So, when God redeems a murderer, he doesn’t unmake the murders, nor does he make the murderer innocent of murder. He covers and repairs the moral and ontological damage to the murderer of his murders, and provides to him the moral and ontological resources (aka Grace) that can enable him to pay for his murders. Yet despite his rescue, and despite the satisfaction of his moral and ontological debts to other creatures, and despite the characterological transformation effected by his sanctification, which makes him no longer the sort of person who would do murder, the murderer is everlastingly a murderer.

      As Arakawa said in the comment that kicked off this discussion:

      [“free will; therefore, inevitably, Hell.”… but then, how is] the notion (incontrovertible) that God has a plan in motion to redeem creation and to become ‘all in all’, [to] be reconciled with the notion (also incontrovertible) that the effects of freely chosen Evil are permanent[?]

      This is the question with which I still struggle. If the effects of evil are not decisively overcome by the Atonement and the Parousia, so that they no longer have the power to ruin creaturely lives – such, e.g., as those of the denizens of Hell – then have they not failed? But, how could such a failure be possible? It *can’t.* Christ didn’t just compensate for sin and its death. He *destroyed* it. This destruction is not yet wholly evident to us, to be sure, but that’s only because what happens in eternity takes time to happen in time. The powers of Hell have already been completely defeated. It’s a done deal.

      Thus while I’m not sure it works, or even makes sense, the only possible solution to this conundrum that I can see involves the notion that creaturely acts in this world have the meaning and moral character they do only in respect to the history of this world. When this world has been replaced by another, their meaning and character will then be still and forever what it then is, but will no longer have power to ruin the New Heaven, in any of its mansions.

      I don’t mean to dispute that there is a Hell, or that damnation thereto is not permanent. You can repent of your murders, but you can’t get out of being a murderer, nor can you get out of paying the penalty that a murderer must pay under the order of being. The distance between perfection and defection being in some sense infinite (as there is an infinite difference between 0 and 1, between “yes” and “no”), the penalty of unrepentant sin may be infinite; and this infinite depth or intensity of suffering may be expressed temporally as everlasting torment. But then, this world, and ergo the moral meanings of acts internal thereto, are not everlasting. They are finite, and will finish, and be over and done with.

      Something altogether new will supersede them; and God shall wipe away all tears.

      As I said, I’m not sure this all works, or even makes sense. I shall have to do a deal more study on the question. If I come up with anything, I’ll let you know.

    • “I’m far more bothered by the fact that God allows innocent children in the here and now to be raped than by the fact that God allows evil men in eternity to damn themselves.”

      A year or so later, I know what I am bothered by the most. Most of all, I’m bothered by the fact — so I am told — that God allows innocent children in the here and now to grow up to be evil men who damn themselves in eternity.

  11. Since there are so many people with their own different and perfectly sensible explanations of why eternal and irrevocable Hell is reasonable — indeed more sensible than any understanding I have — that I’m losing track of who has what position, I will take this discussion into a more concrete dimension with a challenging example that illustrates why I think all of these explanations are too simple.

    Suppose that, on account of my own vanity, I behave negligently towards an acquaintance (someone completely agnostic, with the usual slightly-blasphemous modern-day attitude towards Christianity) and put them into a situation which they choose to deal with by going off to commit suicide, most probably ending up in Hell.

    (If you wanted for some perverse reason to consign yourself to Hell, suicide completely outwith the Church is about as clear-cut a means to accomplish this as you could ever conceive. Or at least, surely no one would advocate that suicide is not a mortal sin?)

    Later on, I join the true Church, and through baptism and confession, tearfully begging forgiveness from God, I obtain remission of all my sins, including the sin of negligence mentioned above, die, and go to Heaven.

    At this point, according to your best understanding of the matter:

    – is it more consistent with Love and Justice for the person I originally wronged in this way to be freed from Hell — because, as a matter of fact, they would not have committed suicide if I (currently residing in Heaven) had not put them in a horrible situation,

    – or should they remain in Hell for all eternity on account of their nevertheless having committed suicide of their own free will?

    • In the situation you describe, you have not “caused” the suicide. Assuming that your negligence was, indeed, a factor contributing to his decision to kill himself, it was certainly one of many. Unless you were practicing some sort of evil mind-control or deception, the cause of the suicide was the dead man’s decision to kill himself. And if you had practiced mind-control or deception, the act would not have been suicide or sin. It might say that on the Coroner’s report, but I don’t suppose God pays much attention to Coroner’s reports.

      • After long consideration, there is still not much I can say to this, and certainly nothing you would find convincing.

        However, even though my statement above was quite extreme, this is not a thought experiment: day after day we unwittingly place temptations in each other’s path that are, from an eternal perspective, similarly serious. (There was a particular incident in my own life that spurred this meditation but, mercifully, at least no one died because of my negligence….) Is it such an irrelevant concern when we repent, whether there is a way to somehow reverse the damage we have done, or whether there is no way at all?

        Obviously, any reasoned theology must choose to leave something unanswered, labeling it ‘mystery’ and hoping for the best. You and others here prefer to put the mystery in how an outcome that appears evil to human beings can actually be unequivocally good from God’s perspective, so you hope that if I get to Heaven my sense of morality can be surgically replaced with God’s sense of morality, so I can stop pointlessly worrying about such problems. I prefer to put the mystery in how I yet seem to have reason to hope (not demand!) that my own repentance can somehow avert this horror for the people I care about.

        Or, to be more precise, the mystery is how I can be responsible for influencing other people’s choices, even at the same time we all remain ultimately responsible for our own choices. If I read correctly, your understanding quickly disposes of the notion that this needs to be a mystery, by denying that I should consider myself responsible for other people’s choices, even in extreme cases such as the one I’ve given above.

        My understanding is not necessarily better, but I am under the impression that I need it, or something like it, to function; so the real question I am ultimately interested in understanding is not: am I right? But: is my imperfect earthly point of view — imperfect in what I choose to hope for against the available evidence, and what I choose to leave unanswered even when people have devised neat logical systems to sort things out — permissible from the perspective of the Church, or is there some fatal flaw to it that I am not seeing, or a reason why your view is unequivocally more correct?

      • Some of what you are describing is the sin of scandal, and I agree with you that those of us who have been guilty of it are obliged to atone by putting things right if we can. But I think the sin of scandal requires active encouragement of sin, not simple negligence. It would be sinful negligence for me to permit a member of my immediate family or one of my close friends to fall into sin and spiritual ruin without strenuous remonstration, but I don’t think my responsibilities extend much beyond that.

        I don’t see why a man’s responsibility for influencing other people’s choices should be thought of as a “mystery.” If I advise a man to undertake a course of action that will very likely bring him to harm, I know it will very likely bring him to harm, and I hide the likelihood of it bringing him to harm from him, I am somewhat responsible for whatever harm befalls him. If I know that a bridge is dangerously rickety, I nevertheless advise a man to cross it, and it collapses, causing the man to drown, I bear a great deal of responsibility for the man’s death.

        The situation is somewhat different when it comes to sin. As you know, there are three necessary conditions for an act to the sinful: (a) it must be a wrong act, (b) it must be undertaken freely, (c) the sinner must know it is a sin, or be ignorant that it is a sin out of vincible ignorance. If I cause a man to sin through scandal or negligence and his ignorance of its sinfulness was invincible, he has not sinned. At least this is how I understand it.

        I can’t really answer your last question, since I don’t altogether understand your view and am not an authority on Church doctrine. For my part, I approach it this way. I am permitted to hope that any particular individual who has died has been saved. Even in those cases where this appears far from probable, it is possible. However, I think we are pernicious if we encourage the living to believe that heaven may be had on easy terms. I’m not saying that we should all become censorious, long-faced Puritans, but neither should we spread false confidence.

  12. Arakawa,

    You have strange way of putting things. God is hardly going to “surgically replace” your sense of morality. Indeed, you go to Heaven only when you are oriented towards God, and that implies that your sense of Good is aligned to Goodness Himself. That is, only the pure shall see God.

    God does not HAVE a sense of morality. He is Goodness Himself.

    • My strange way of putting things perhaps follows from the fact that I still fail to understand something about the Church position described by most people on this thread. The notion of ‘surgically replaced morality’ is not something I just made up; it refers to the idea mentioned by Proph (and perhaps others) above, where God would supposedly assist the blessed in Heaven with the grace necessary to regard other people in Hell without being tormented by compassion. To me this amounts to a surgical replacement of morality, if a voluntary one (since grace cannot be forced on a person), since what a person formerly perceived as wrong or tragic is no longer perceived as wrong or tragic. This is a change on the level of perceptions, rather than on the level of reactions to those perceptions (only the latter is under the control of free will).

      So, as you point out, that notion might be questionable, because one can say that a person who would _require_ that kind of assistance would simply never get to Heaven in the first place.

      Now, to expand on what I mean that only the reaction to one’s perceptions is subject to free will, not the moral perceptions themselves: now, okay, according to you I am not pure; which is apparently manifested in the form of misplaced guilt and fear that my actions could put someone else in Hell; which leads me to put my hope in God for a solution that the Church doctrine appears to reject. But what exactly am I supposed to be doing different? If I perceive this as a problem, am I supposed to be blithely indifferent to it, because someone else does not perceive it as a problem? That does no one good, if at the least I end up defiling my conscience thereby.

      If the issue here was that my actions are not aligned to my sense of Good, that is clearly and simply sin. In that case, my task is clearly to repent, and sin no more. The Good I thereby obtain may have a clarifying effect on my sense of Good, as a side effect, so I suppose you are free to conjecture something along the lines that I might have some unrepented sin clouding my perception on the matter, and once I realize and repent that I will come over to your position and no longer care if other people’s choices put them in Hell or not.

      On, the other hand, if my _sense_ of Good is not aligned to Goodness, as you are implying, does that mean I am supposed to change it? How would I go about doing so? By definition I would have to act contrary to my understanding of Good, or perceive the world contrary to how I perceive it. So at the very least, I suppose if I want to fix my understanding of the matter of Hell, my understanding of matter of Hell is precisely the wrong end to approach this from.

      • I would worry about my own salvation, which is by no means assured, rather than my actions that could be putting others in Hell.

        Operations of grace are nothing like surgery. It is said that grace perfects nature. It does nothing contrary to nature. So , it is important to get one’s metaphors right. As CS Lewis often writes, in Heaven we find ourselves as we really are. Our eyes are opened. That is what grace would do, in my opinion.

        I think it is much better to read fiction rather than theology. Since Christianity itself is a story, not a philosophy (unlike Vedanta or Zen). I would recommend Dante in Esolen’s translation. He grapples with similar problems–problem of virtuous pagans, or people that never heard of Christ.

        Esolen’s notes are priceless. He says that Christianity is not a philosophy and salvation is not based upon certain criteria. That is, salvation can not be computed. It is contingent; but in divine providence, in which we must have faith, there is no injustice.

        Also, I recommend Sirach. He says that we must not worry ourselves with matters too lofty to understand. Faith in the Church is important.

      • Bedarz, thanks for this recommendation. Esolen’s translation of Dante has been sitting on my shelf since shortly after it was published, unread (“I’ll get to it as soon as I can …”). Your comments have pushed it way, way up the list.

      • “what a person formerly perceived as wrong or tragic”

        “wrong” and “tragic” are not synonyms. It would be tragic to find myself one day in Hell but it would not be wrong. That is, if I found myself in hell, God forbid, it would not be wrong (since divine justice can not err) but still it would be tragic (to me).

  13. Pingback: Lightning Round – 2014/01/08 | Free Northerner

  14. Yes, this is “hell” , and it ain’t all bad, and it ain’t permanent. It’s the result of certain ideas that have snowballed, it’s also an illusion/delusion one can leave at any time. A person’s beliefs/thoughts are what determines the “reality’ experience they have/perceive, here’s something for ya– you “go”(are) where your beliefs/accepted thoughts are compatible with. Certain beliefs/ideas are required to “be” here. “Satan'” is an entity made up of the collective consciousness of humans that believe in the reality of “opposites”, “separation”, and/or “evil”. A human condition that sees ‘good” and “evil” as “real” equals a bi-polar disorder, a conflict with the Real, and the unreal. This place is quaranteened within the Divine Mind, it’s a remnant from the so-called ‘War in Heaven”, no one is here because of punishment, what happens is when one believes, thinks, and acts is ways contrary to our True Nature which is of GOD-SPIRIT-LIFE-LOVE–All ONE BEING, one is entering into the realm of the false/delusion, and one is subject , at least for a time, to the parameters that their mind fabricates to match what one has accepted as “true” and “real”. There are no real opposites, only differences.

    The cross symbolizes the path in the middle of the extremes. One then rises above them both and is no longer subject to them. “Polarity” is a fiction– there is no Real opposite to what is Real– the unreal by definition is a hallucination, an illusion. Don’t take illusions and hallucinations seriously.

    Jesus Christ came in here to prove death is a fiction, and he said “Father, forgive them , for they know not what they do”, what does that mean? It means they were/are severely ignorant– insane, they don’t realize that being in the image and likeness of GOD that they and us have the capability at a smaller scale to make “reality”– literally. The ‘law of attraction”, the idea of “karma”, “what comes around goes around”, why do you think Christ said “do unto others as you would have them do to you”? That’s because beliefs are based on premises, ideas, those things can be taken by an UNDISCIPLINED MIND to places that are not really worth going to. Jesus Christ proved that worldly human judgement is invalid, illegitimate, he was the Spirit Being Man without illusions- GOD spoke and lived through him– Consciously, therefore the “law of karma” has been shown to have been corrupted, subverted. How is it that insane people are “taught a lessen” by “karma”? Is that reasonable or rational?

    The liars are thoughtform entities, the false-judgers are thoughtform enties–demons– they cannot rise to a higher state of Being with the individual– the individual erroneously identifies with these artificial parasitic entities that only exist by stealing consciousness-energy from the unsuspecting person, and these things have learned or were manufactured to be able to influence-manipulate a persons thoughts and feelings. Like say “depression,”, “resesntment”, “shame”, “guilt”, “fear”, “anxiety”, these things in of themselves are “demons”, as is “cancer” and any illness or affliction. They are not real. They do not exist Jesus Christ showed that. To be Real they must be inspired and Created by and of LOVE, that is,,, GOD. Not Mind alone– the mind is a processor– a tool– it is not GOD– GOD IS SPIRIT, ONE SPIRIT-CONSCIOUSNESS THAT IS ALL BEING REAL– LOVE-LIFE-TRUTH. The Spirit-commanded mind is Christ. The “Kingdom of Heaven” is within– and it’s the Spirit that Creates It. I Am That Spirit.
    Judge not.

    The bible is shot through with deception and misunderstanding, the old testament is the only reason so-called “Christians” could judge, punish, go to war, impose false beliefs, torture, or despise any other Living Beings. It’s laughable if it wasn’t so tragic.
    Do no harm. Help when asked. Live in Love. Love All, ALL IS LOVE, GOD IS ALL. And each and every one living Being is GOD BEING ALIVE–
    Behaviors and actions of Beings in this realm do not necessarily describe/define the Being– it is more they describe-define the state of mind of the observer-interpreter. Can you say “projection”?
    Love is the way, the truth and the life. Infinite Love is the only truth, everything else is illusion. So says “GOD”. YOU’RE FREE TO DENY IT, BUT IT’S DOUBTFUL YOU WOULD IF YOU WERE OF A SANE AND INFORMED MIND-STATE.

    It’s not really “purgatory”, but in effect it is.

    • The more I study, the more am I convinced of the Neo-Platonist metaphysics of Dionysius the Areopagite, which might well be called Advaita Christianity. Nevertheless it is I think a little more complicated than you have here supposed. For example: under the terms you suggest, how could any historical event be either “tragic” or “comical”? Or, if there are really no polarities, how could you judge that the judgements of the OT are either wrong or right, and how could your judgement be either wrong or right?

      • I see an Orthosphere heresy trial against you in the near future, Kristor.

        Advaita Christianity. The shame! You probably agree with Julian of Norwich too…


      • Yes! And Meister Eckhart. Actually, it’s all there in Dionysius. And he’s totally orthodox. The only authorities St. Thomas quotes more than Dionysius are Paul and Aristotle.

  15. Oh, and it can be just an amusement park within Infinity too. Kinda like “Hotel California”? No, not anymore. That curse has been broken. Jesus ain’t no fairytale.

  16. Dr. Peter Jones, a pastor, theologian, and speaker, has “rediscovered” what Paul preached in Romans 1:25, namely, that either we can engage in true worship—that of the Creator—or we can engage in false worship—that of the creation. He identifies these worldviews as One-ism, i.e., that all is one, and Two-ism, i.e., that there is a Creator and a separate creation. The only true religion, Christianity, which is Two-ist, correctly identifies the Creator as separate from the creation; all other religions, which are One-ist, instead of worshipping the Creator, worship some aspect of the creation.

    Dr. Jones uses the word advaita in his works; as soon as he mentioned its Sanskrit origins I recognized the roots and their relation to other Indo-European roots: a-, cognate to Latin in-, Greek a-, and English un-, and dva, cognate to Latin duo, Greek di-, and English two: advaita means “not two,” which is the One-ist weltanschauung.

    I admit my ignorance of advaita Christianity, but I do not see how the concept of advaita can be reconciled with the teachings of the Bible.

    An introduction here.

    • Advaita Christianity and Judaism worship the Creator, not creation. Worshipping creation isn’t so much religion as a flat category error; like trying to eat a photograph of an apple, or mistaking a statue of Zeus for Zeus himself.

      Advaita in most of its variants is rather more prone to assimilate the creation to her Creator than vice versa. That too is a mistake. If your life is only an illusion, then your conviction that life is an illusion is an illusion.

      Advaita Christianity neatly avoids both these errors of exaggeration.

      It suggests that from the creaturely perspective creatures are separate from the Creator. This is not so much false, as incomplete.

      From the perspective of the Creator, and thus in very truth, the creature is not separate from the Creator. God is after all ubiquitous, immanent everywhere, surrounding and suffusing all things, and nearer to us than we are to ourselves. (Romans 8:38-39; Acts 17:28) It is not, then, so much that creatures are separate from God – for, separation from God is non-being – as that we are different.

      Consider a human cell. It might well have a life of its own, its own unique perspective on things. But the cell would be mistaken to think that its life was only its own, rather than a procedure and portion of the life of a whole community of beings, and of a regnant human being. It is just this mistake that Christianity calls the sin of pride.


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