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Nothing, Not Even Hell, Is Outside Of God

Nothing, Not Even Hell, Is Outside Of God August 23, 2021

No Artist Listed: Nothing is outside of God’s kingdom / Maxpixel

Nothing lies outside of God’s presence, for God is the transcendent reality in which all things exist. There is no escape from God. Nothing lies outside of God’s kingdom. Existence itself comes from God as existence can be said to be one of God’s uncreated energies. Wherever we go, we find ourselves bound to existence, and so connected to God. Thus, we read in the Psalms that we can never truly run away from God:

Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend to heaven, thou art there! If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there!  If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,  even there thy hand shall lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.  If I say, “Let only darkness cover me, and the light about me be night,”  even the darkness is not dark to thee, the night is bright as the day; for darkness is as light with thee (Ps. 139:7-12 RSV).

We cannot hide in the darkness, the darkness of sin, that is in the depths of hell itself, for even there, we continue to exist, and in that existence, we are tied to and connected with God. Existence itself brings us into the presence of God. Even if we should try to destroy our own being, all we will be able to do is corrupt it, not annihilate it; that is, when we sin, we weaken it and make ourselves less than what we are by nature, but we do not destroy our nature or our existence. Our nature continues to exist under all the filth of sin, and indeed, in itself, it remains good as it comes to us from God, presenting, in itself, a way in which the light of God comes to us. Thus, though we might become less than who we should be by nature, our nature, like our existence, partakes of the goodness of God. Through both, we always have some connection to God, and so within all of us the kingdom of God can be found. There is nothing outside of God. Even if we try to cut ourselves off from God, and in some fashion do so, we will never be able to do so absolutely. Even if we cover our spiritual senses with sin so that we do not experience the glory of God, God will always be there, directing us, guiding us with love, hoping to use the good which is within us to overcome all the subjective barriers we put between us and the divine reality so that we can experience the beatitude which was meant for us, the beatitude of the kingdom of God.

Thus, despite the way hell is often described as the place in which God’s presence is not felt or known, the ontological reality of hell is that it must still be contained within the presence of God. If it did not, it would not exist. But since it does exist, from that existence itself, we must also acknowledge that there is some good in hell, for existence itself is good. All that exists, insofar as they exist, partake of that existence from God, participating in the reality of God, that is the kingdom of God, which is how and why God can be and is all in all, not just in a post-temporal eschaton separated from history, but in history as well. If God is only all-in-all in an eschaton outside of temporality, there would be something outside of God and God’s transcendence would be lost.

Ontologically all things are good, that is they are good by nature, but sadly, not everything remains to the purity of their nature and so they are not as good as they should be. Nonetheless, everything contains that good in them, and insofar as that good remains, God is there with them, showing how and why God is all in all, in time as well as in eternity. If we believe God will be all in all in the eschaton, since the eschaton is immanent in the incarnation, God must also be said to be all in all in temporal creation as well. But then, in seeing this, we have the problem of evil; how can there be any sense of evil if God is all in all? Here, we come across a great mystery, one in which we have to acknowledge the ontological truth of the kingdom of God as well as that freedom has been given to creation so that creaturely freedom allows creatures to act contrary to that which is good, which means, creaturely freedom allows subjects to do evil. If this is the case, then God being all in all does not preclude creaturely freedom and its resistance to the kingdom of God; somehow, in the good which is, there remains contained in it the possibility of acting contrary to the fullness of that good.

The question of evil is somehow resolved in and through the ontological goodness of creation, the goodness which participates in and experiences the kingdom of God. But this resolution is also paradoxical, for how can evil be said to be contained within what is good and yet still have the good remain good? Metaphysically, the logical solution must always relate to the way evil is not in itself existent, meaning, it is not truly real: there is no substance to evil in itself. But we experience evil, and we can will what is evil (as history demonstrates time and time again).

The question of eternal perdition, that is, how can someone willfully resist God in eternity because God is all in all in eternity cannot be explored unless we first take the question in relation to the temporal order where God is still all in all and yet we see and experience evil all around us (not, again as an ontological substance, but as the resistance of natural good by the promotion and engagement of some lesser and therefore distorted good). God being all in all must include what happens in time and space, and therefore the evil within history; when we recognize that this is a part of the kingdom of God, we realize we cannot just posit an a-temporal solution to the question of evil and think that solves the question at hand.

Are there answers which we can give to the problems which emerge with evil?  It depends upon what we mean by “an answer.” There is no rational explanation for evil, for evil is irrational. There is no good explanation for evil because evil is not good. Evil does not exist, and yet its non-existence wounds existence and can be willed by those who have been given personal freedom by God. Somehow, the kingdom of God allows for evil. It is able to contain evil in such a way that such evil does not subvert the higher destiny and purpose of God and the good which God gave to creation. However, evil remains a problem, and it is a problem which even God confronts in and through the incarnation, so that the God-man personally explores all creation, even unto the lowest depths of hell, granting mercy to all as a way to show evil does not have the final answer:

For our Lord and Savior willed to illuminate all places in order to have mercy on all. He came down from heaven to earth in order to visit the world.  He down further to the lower world in order to illumine those who were being held in the lower world, in accordance with the statement of the prophet who said, “You who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, a light has arisen for you” [Isa 9:2]. [1]

We know God’s work in the incarnation is universal. God’s omnipresence is not merely natural or energetic; it is also personal, which is what we see in the incarnation. All things in creation have God coming to them personally, offering them the grace they need so that they not only find themselves in the presence of God, but transformed by it so that they can become partakers of the divine life. In the full realization of the kingdom of God, all the pain and sorrow of evil passes away and all that is left is the blessedness of the kingdom of God. However, does that mean the offer of mercy will be accepted by all? Can there be some who hold out and say no? If so, would such a holdout undermine the kingdom of God? While we can hope the answer is that all will accept God’s offer of grace, we do not know  that will be the case; we do know, however, as we find the evil done in time does not undermine the kingdom, so such an opposition to grace will not undermine the kingdom. God will always be all in all, even as God is already all in all. God us unchanging. All that is done in time is included in the kingdom.

If the way people sin in time does not undermine the kingdom of  God, then, because eternity includes all that happens in time, the eternal kingdom of God is not undermined due to the fact that people will sin. This is a great mystery, indeed, a paradox which we might not be able to sufficiently grasp so as to understand how this is so.

We can, of course, look at things ontologically and use that as the means by which we engage this paradox for the sake of our own understanding. Objectively, all that is, is good, and we must always keep this in mind when we deal with the question of evil. Objectively evil does not exist, so that there can be no question about the existence of evil in the kingdom of God.

Subjectively, though, we find that we experience and do evil, so that evil has a place in the interior life of the subject. Evil is subjective, indeed, relative in its “nature” (using nature merely as a convention). Evil is not absolute and never will have a place in the absolute. Its place is in the relative state of particular subjects. The experience of evil is a state of being, while the activity of evil is an act of the will. Behind the state of being, behind the will which wills evil, lies some good, some good subject who engages a particular good in a disordered manner. This means the place of evil in  time, and in eternity, is a relative and not an absolute place.

The objective good remains good in both time and eternity. The kingdom of God is found in that good, no matter the subjective state and the act of will found in any of its particular subjects. Evil is confined to the domain of relativity and the subjectivity; it is through such relativity, perdition, limited or eternal, is best stated as being a state of being. What is, is good, however, how that good is experienced, in time or eternity, depends upon the subject and what they do with the goodness given to them. Of course, this does not answer how and why someone would act contrary to the good they have been given,  nor does it let us know whether or not someone can and will contrary to the good in perpetuity; these questions are outside our comprehension as well as what has been revealed to by God. What we do know is that in the kingdom God is all in all. Because it is all in time, time must be a part of it; there is nothing outside of God’s eternal reign. Thus, if the kingdom can include subjects who act against in it, which we see is the way things are when we see the way evil is experienced in time, then we can’t say that there is no place for the will-to-sin in eternity. We know it has a place since we know it has a place in time and time is contained within eternity. To suggest otherwise is to embrace a dualistic error which would undermine the ontological reality of the kingdom of God.


[1] St. Chromatius of Aquileia, Sermons and Tractates on Matthew. Trans. Thomas P. Scheck (New York: Newman Press, 2018), 60 [Sermon 16].

 

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