Universalism and Freedom (by Jeff Cook)

Universalism and Freedom (by Jeff Cook) July 20, 2015

Universalism and Freedom  (Jeff Cook)

Screen Shot 2015-07-18 at 8.49.25 AMI get to begin with a celebration! This is the last official work I am doing to promote Everything New: Reimagining Heaven and HellMost sane authors don’t spend 7 years on a project, but this one was worth it to me. For those who read it, thank you!

Now, to the business of hell. Though I am passionate about the intellectual and ethical failures of the Traditional View of Hell, I do not feel the same way toward the Purgatorial View. I champion Universalism as a far superior option to Traditionalism and think it can be spoken of boldly from within orthodoxy defined by the Creeds.

Though I embrace Annihilationism, I find the purgatorial view both praiseworthy and worth critiquing. If you’d like to see the definitions and preliminaries I’m assuming, the first post of the series is here.

If I Were a Universalist

When I think about the position, my initial critiques of Universalism focus on freedom. Given Universalism, one cannot possibly choose death, cannot choose to live apart from God or God’s community. No one created by God has real options about their destiny, but is this a problem for Universalism? I think it is something worth wrestling through and on the backside assessing.

If I were a Universalist I would advance a principle:

(P) God has foreknowledge of the choices every free creature would make in any world he might actualize.

This is a compatibilist line of thinking and it assumes that human freedom and God’s selection of a specific foreknown future are not incompatible, and therefore God may select a world with a story and final state he sees as best while honoring the choices of all human souls.

If I were a universalist, I would argue something like this: If we presuppose P, then God may look at the trillions of possible worlds he could actualize and see that in at least one of them all the free creatures eventually choose to embrace Him as Father and the community of God as their family through Christ.

Let’s call the most desirable of these foreknown worlds “World F”.

If I were a Universalist, I would argue that prior to creating anything God has foreseen that if he were to actualize World F, all the potential sons and daughters in World F would eventually embrace their identity and the God who loves them. This view can make sense of two very important details: (1) It affirms human freedom, and (2) “God gets what God wants”: the redemption of all those he created.

I personally think this is the most compelling way to setup Universalism.

Possible Worlds and God’s Grace

So, let’s talk about (P) and World F.

Firstit may be the case that given all the possibilities World F does not exist. That is, there may not be a possible world in which all of God’s creatures freely choose to be redeemed. God would foresee this and if God desired to create a world with potential sons and daughters, God would need to make a world in which some are lost. If World F does not exist in the inventory of possible worlds, creating a world with the annihilation of some souls would not be a limitation on God’s foreknowledge—God can see all possible worlds. And this would not be a limitation on God’s power—God could actualize any world that is possible. The inability to create World F would be a metaphysical fact about reality itself.

All this to say, the claim that Robin Parry makes well, that “There are no good reasons to deny that God wants to save all people and that he can save all people without violating their freedom” (Macdonald 163) may be false. On this front, God may not be able to have his cake and eat it too, but that does not call into question God’s power or love. It simply describes the overall inventory of possible worlds.

Second, assuming for a moment that a good God could allow or initiate the annihilation of an unjust soul, it may be the case that God could actualize a world in which all are redeemed, but that those worlds lack other beauties which a world with some ultimately annihilated contain. Yes of course the salvation of all is a great good, but universal salvation may make other great goods impossible.

For example, in a world where all are redeemed, the displays of God’s love may not be available in the depthy ways we experience in our world. In World F, for example, Christ may not die to initiate the salvation of all (that is, in all possible world’s in which all are saved the cross and resurrection events may not occur) and thus that world would lack the amazing display of God’s grace our world experiences. In World F, the stories of all the actual humans may be far less compelling and weighty. World F may lack the dark elements required for genuine soul-making and sanctification. Overall, if God made a World F, we may lose significant experiences of God’s grace and transformation which we encounter in a world where some human souls will choose evaporation. In short: though God may want the salvation of all, there may be other compelling goods that would give God reason to prefer a different kind of world.

Thirdly, it may be the case that in a possible world (like World F) where all come to faith—you and I may not be included. That is, it could be the case that in every possible world where you and I exist, we do not embrace God or his community. We will call this “transworld irredeemability.”

Said another way, it may be an metaohysical fact about you and I (given our personalities in all possible worlds in which we exist) that we are the kinds of people who will never embrace the invitations of God. We could be unredeemable personalities.

But God may have chosen not to create World F because God still loves you and I.

God certainly could have created a world without those with unredeemable hearts, but perhaps God looks on our potential, loves us and wants us to experience our actuality even though our relationship with God will be temporal.  If God desired to create you and I—knowing our annihilation would occur—this is not a knock on God’s character. Creating souls like you and I would be a display of deep graciousness on God’s part.

Imagine again that God foresees that you and I will never choose to embrace God. Unredeemable souls like us do not deserve to exist. Unredeemable souls will never participate in the robust life God offers—but God being utterly gracious makes you and I anyway, and our temporal existence is a grand, temporary gift to people like us. What could miserable souls like you and I who reject God’s love in every possible world, do to deserve to be alive? And yet here, in creating us, God extends grace even to those with transworld irredeemability—those who God foresees will never be a blessing to others or to Himself.

So here’s the argument: on Universalism every human soul will eventually provide some benefit to God and God may have good personal reasons for actualizing every human souls—he foresees every souls future and the joy he will experience with all. But on the Annihilationist view, there may be some souls who will never benefit God, and by making them, dying for them, and allowing them to ultimately reject Him—God’s love is truly offered to the most underserving.

Annihilationism allows God to extend grace at a heightened and more profound level than Universalism.

Foreknowledge

One last word on God’s foreknowledge, my examples all assume God’s knowledge of the future events within all possible worlds. However some Universalist embrace an open future, either because they hold to libertarian freedom or they believe the future is unknowable, which brings us to a last reflection.

We should acknowledge that it is quite difficult to hold to an open future and embrace Universalism. I hear in the language of many Universalist a commitment to the hope that eventually all will receive God’s grace given the trillions upon trillions of years ahead of them. But given an open future, the renewal of all things is only a possibility. In fact, if one holds to an open future, the Universalist have God creating a state of affairs that looks an awful lot like the Traditionalist Hell: a sphere where the unjust dwell after death that goes on and on and on.

All this to say, Annihilation may prove a better position regarding human freedom for the Annihilationist can embrace libertarian free will, avoiding agnosticism about God’s future. The Annihilationist can allow God’s grace expressed in action for even those who will never receive his grace (where the Universalist cannot). As I argued in prior posts, annihilation makes more sense of death and the construction of our world. Finally there are more potential worlds which may include many more impressive beauties if Annihilation is an option for God, and in selecting worlds with such beauties in which some souls will be destroyed, God has not prima facie wronged anyone.

Close

If I had time and space, arguments could be made from the problem of Divine Hiddenness (“Given Universalism, why does God not opt for self-disclosure?”), the problem of hell’s location (“Where do we locate the purgatorial hell in our cosmology?”), the problem of how hell works (“Is God in control of hell where God’s pruning happens or is hell separation from the divine?), the problem of manipulation (“Is Universalism actually coercive? If one is somehow incarcerated until they change, then does not repentance looks much more like the result of Stockholm syndrome than an authentic, life-giving pursuit?”) These are further issues I see Universalists needing to speak to in order to hold a solid position.

To close these posts, I have not wished to offer decisive arguments against Universalism, only to highlight places where Annihilationism strikes me as philosophically superior. I look forward to the emerging conversation between these two theories in the future. I find in the honest Universalists I know worthy interlocutors who challenge my thinking, engage the scriptures in creatively praiseworthy ways, and who stand beside me as kin in Christ.

I do hope our conversation will not result in a divide and conquer scenario, in which traditionalism maintains its dominance, but that our conversation will instead be a new and exciting playground for the many emerging theologians and philosophers to come and play.

Grace and Peace.

Jeff Cook teaches philosophy at the University of Northern Colorado. He is the author of Everything New: Reimagining Heaven and Hell (Subversive 2012). You can connect with him at everythingnew.org and @jeffvcook.


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  • J. Inglis

    Why think that it is important to have all our decisions result from libertarian free choices? Maybe it is important to God for only most of our choices to be ones in which we have the power of alternate or contrary choice. Perhaps in the world God creates he wants the maximum number of people to freely choice him (in a libertarian free sense), and for the residue he will reveal himself in such a way as to make rejection of him impossible. There would be great value to God in having freely willed love for him (i.e., choose Jesus), but also some value in having all people in a final redeemed state. For the residue that don’t choose God before death, they still end up in the renewed heavens and earth, but only as a result of making the only choice possible when faced with the full revelation of the creator God–bow down and worship him. If there are levels of achievement or glory or existence in the new world / heaven, then this last group (the residue) would experience the least amount.

  • KentonS

    Principle P? World F? First…, second…, thirdly? I think this post solidifies the disconnect for me I’ve had with this and the other two posts: eschatology – in your understanding – is a logic problem. The universalist mindset is not about solving a problem, it’s about loving and being loved. I can hang with logic (I develop software for a living.). but there are some things that transcend logic. Why do I sacrifice and care for my family? Not because in world x, principle y is true therefore z is the outcome that will provide some benefit to me. (Really???)

    Love is beyond words and logic. (The sermon on the mount, Matt 20:1-16, Rom. 5:5-8… I got more if that’s not enough.) That’s not to say it is illogical – let’s nip that counter in the bud. Love transcends logic.

    (And btw, I was anxiously awaiting a response on our last back and forth. Why is God limited to redemption pre-mortem?)

    Grace and love to you, Jeff.

  • Bob Wilson

    Like many, it seems that your intuition (or logic) is that creating a world where all can ultimately be voluntarily convinced of the truth is metaphysically impossible for God. But for the intuition of Talbott & I, it seems the most logical conclusion is that God can & would only create precisely such a world of people made for God.

    Thus it seems that your perception requires believing that creating many souls God knows will never be a blessing, but culminate in annihilation, is “deeply gracious,” and “grand.” Instead, it seems to me that the Biblical outlook is that such a life culminating in separation from one’s Father who desires a relationship with them is not bottom line grand, but deeply tragic. I sense that if these many included my own beloved offspring that were cut off from future relation with me, I would find that in itself it a terrible grief and loss that nothing alleviated. I.e., you’re required to argue unconvincingly for a concluding outlook that seems contrary to our own experience of love, and the Bible’s portrait of God’s ultimate character & outlook.

    Thanks for developing your vantage point and graciously inviting ours!

  • danaames

    I agree with Kenton and Bob.

    The attempt to formulate a logic removes everything into the realm of the conceptual. There is no connection to what love means, or what being created in the image of God means, or a telos that is connected to our existence, and to love.

    Why did God create human beings anyway? if God cannot, without coercion, bring us to the point of being fully Human, why even bother???

    Jeff, I strongly recommend Fr John Behr’s talks on becoming human. This is more condensed:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AR5ZEnV-XsI

    or there’s a longer, more detailed series of 4 beginning here:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jaZmvyzOj04

    Best to you-
    Dana

  • Andrew Dowling

    A presumption I find troubling is that God “needs to derive some benefit” from a human soul ultimately. I would say no, “He” doesn’t; despite the many metaphorical flourishes made both in Scripture and later theologians, God is not a feudal Lord requiring tribute. God is so much bigger than that.

  • In God’s sovereignty there is diversity! I’m also a software engineer, BUT passionately argue that purgatorial universalism can be argued coherently and logically, driven by sound premises and exegesis. : )

    Specifically, I think Jeff’s argumentation here depends on non-benign and persuasively stipulative premises — even unscriptural premises — and thus is fallacious. That is, it doesn’t pass the cogency test.

    Jeff’s article was linked today on Reddit’s Christian community, and my response is located here:

    http://www.reddit.com/r/Christianity/comments/3dxu8h/universalism_and_freedom_arguments_against/cta7qly

  • Bev Mitchell

    Great series and comments. Does this make any sense? It’s barely a draft, back of the envelope sort of thinking.

    In this life, there are many who will listen, at least a bit, to the Spirit and, unfortunately many who will not. At the end of this life, the situation will be no different. The love of God will still be perfect, we will still fall far short. Love truly given will still burn, and perfect love fully revealed will burn so effectively that all dross will be consumed. If Christ points out that even our love can “heap coals of fire”, how much more the perfect love of God fully revealed? But the burning is not for endless, non-redemptive punishment, it’s for refining.

    In other words the power that saves all will finally be seen as fully derived from perfect love. Universal acceptance of this love will not be due to some takeover of human will, but rather an expression of our own free will based on having seen a full revelation of love as it is in reality. Spirit and mind will agree that this is as it should be, this is what it all means, this is home.

    We can imagine, and interpret Scripture to say that, at that moment, there will still be those who refuse to look, who refuse to accept God’s love. Those who still insist on being their own god, even in the face of this full revelation – those who refuse to become human (see Dana’s reference). But, we can also imagine, and read Scripture to say, that the fully revealed love of God is sufficient to cause everyone to recognize Christ as Lord – not coercively, but just because it will no longer make any sense to do otherwise. All our objections and the dross that flows from our blind obstinance will be totally consumed. What is left will be made new.

  • Bob Wilson

    Bev, I find your vision compelling! And that once one recognizes the logic of it, he wonders how he ever believed anything less. I agree that Scripture can be read as God’s love being “sufficient” to ultimately make only the truth of Christ’s love make any sense. If Augustine is right that God shapes us so that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God, I just can’t imagine how God could possibly lack the ability to bring us to willingly embrace what alone gloriously satisfies that for which we were made.

  • jeffcook

    Short answer is: I think many find determinism dehumanizing. Would you have an argument against that?

  • jeffcook

    You should reread the article. We didn’t bring up ECT.

  • jeffcook

    Do you think reason matters in this conversation Kenton?

    If it *does*, then my argument is worthy.
    If it *doesn’t* then your answer need not be stated. If reason is off the table, theology would be done non-rational ways. But you are applying to reason here and hoping we see value in your argument. Why not extend the same value to my argument?

    I’ll go look for the last interchange.

    Be well!

  • jeffcook

    For thie sake of those not wanting to bounce somewhere else: can you pitch why you think them “non-benign and persuasively stipulative premises — even unscriptural premises”.

    Also – it seems you are responding to the argument above only in your first comment. I think you have missed my points in the later reflections. Be well.

  • jeffcook

    Bob –

    Thanks again man.

    You wrote,”it seems that your intuition (or logic) is that creating a world where all can ultimately be voluntarily convinced of the truth is metaphysically impossible for God. But for the intuition of Talbott & I, it seems the most logical conclusion is that God can & would only create precisely such a world of people made for God.”

    This is not my argument. I’m being very cautious here and would love for you to reread closely because I’d love your response. (I am making a similar argument in style to Alvin Plantinga’s theodicy, if you are familiar with his work.)

  • jeffcook

    D –

    I’m a non-cognitivist on many fronts.

    But if we are going to dialogue about theology, reason will be essential ya?

    To repeat what I say below:

    Do you think reason matters in this conversation?

    If it *does*, then my argument is worthy.
    If it *doesn’t* then your answer need not be stated. If reason is off the table, theology would be done non-rational ways. You can simply get online and emote. But you are appealing to reason here and hoping we see value in your argument. Why not extend the same value to my argument?

  • jeffcook

    Do relook at the section on grace. It seems your missing the point. I’d like your thoughts.

  • jeffcook

    This may or may not be true.

    I’m pitching arguments regarding this.

    Do you have a response?

  • Bev Mitchell

    Jeff,
    Not sure what you’re asking.

  • jeffcook

    It seems to me, you are restating the universalist position in your comment. Let’s call your comment “C”.

    The question is not what C says, but whether C is the best way to understand God’s future.

    I’d love to see any comments on the post.

  • KentonS

    (SMH) Logic *does* matter, which I why I was quick to counter the “so you’re saying logic doesn’t matter” before you brought it up. I guess my attempt at handling it proactively fell flat.

    It just gets so freakin’ tedious and at the end of the day everyone has logic is on their side. I can use coherent logic and sound exegesis and go any directoin here. Indeed I’ve done it before. I was once in the ECT camp and no less logical than I am now in the UR camp. (Sorry, I never went through the annihilationist camp.)

    But I was a lot less loving. (Not that I have now attained perfection.) And I was less loving in part because we imitate the God we worship and the God of ECT is less loving than the God of UR. The God of annihilationism is in between the two.

    So when you’re argument says logic is on the side of annihilationism because “it benefits God better”, it shows that you may understand logic, but you don’t understand love.

    Does that help?

  • KentonS

    Stan-

    See my response to Jeff above.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Jeff,

    “The best way to understand God’s future” Well, first of all, humbly. A proof, or a ‘what appears best to us is correct’ approach is not the goal. It’s OK to restate either the universalist or the annihilationist position because restatements (should) have as their goal clarification without seeking certainty. I feel strong affinity with the idea, stated here by several, that the spirit of the matter is at least as important as the calculus.

    As for the way I outlined the matter, one could emerge from it with either view. It all depends on what’s left after the dross is consumed by the refiner’s fire. As you say, it may be possible that nothing is left in some cases. Or, perhaps there will always be something left to begin the renewal/recreation/restoration. We would love to know for sure, but, we don’t. At least, I don’t.

    What we seem to know for sure is that no one will escape the comparison of our journey and spiritual development with what could have been had we journeyed closer to the Spirit. All need the righteousness of Christ. I like the emphasis on “It is finished!” made by Fr. John Behr referenced by Dana. If that great statement does mean that the work of making the first true human is now complete, then the goal for us is made even clearer. I also don’t see any mutual exclusivity between this view and the reading that sees in it the completion of whatever was needed for us to follow in his steps.

    The sentiment you expressed off the top is important, and I agree that the ongoing discussions among annihilationists and universalists must be conducted as among spiritual siblings who are part of a fully functional family.

    Blessings

  • Bob Wilson

    I seem unable to grasp your argument. I got your statement that it’s that annihilation allows God to love the underserving (sp?) and is thus more “profound.” But I don’t see a good reason to think that. Am I missing it? I apologize that I’m not familiar enough with Plantinga’s theodicy that it helps me grasp your argument.

    I’m not sure you’re grasping others argument either. We discussed before your belief that compatibilism is best for U.R. I also saw that here, but thought you were suggesting World F may Not exist” in some “inventory of possible worlds.” If I was mistaken and you think World F exists (or not!), I don’t see how that faulty observation matters to my central argument (paragraph 2) that annihilation is not actually a “grand” or superior picture.

  • danaames

    Reason should absolutely be employed; *irrationality* is not good. It’s not about “worthiness” of an argument; to me it’s about what makes sense and holds together with everything else in a (for lack of a better description) system of thought has ramifications in life. I’m saying 1) reason can only get you so far – as DB Hart says, everyone starts from a point of faith, whatever that faith is; and 2) whatever is proposed about freedom has to be able to be lived somehow. I don’t know how to live “principle P” and “world W.” I live in the world the way it is and I have to function within the world the way it is.

    I think your first and second points are conjecture, and reality is that they are irrelevant to my life in the world the way it is. To your third point, “it could be the case that in every possible world where you and I exist, we do not embrace God or his community,” I have to say that if this is the case, the Incarnation makes no sense whatsoever. In Eastern Christian theology, God created a world into which he could one day become incarnate, in order to bring humanity (and everything else) to its telos through/because of his self-giving love. What would be the point of creating the kind of world we actually have if he could not somehow redeem it? (Similarly, what would be the point of creating some other kind of world?) This reason for creation hangs together with the rest of Eastern Christian theology. That’s the main reason I’m there: it’s a seamless, organic whole that explains who God is and what God is up to better than anything else I’ve ever found, and besides that I encounter Christ (and receive the ability to cooperate with the action of the Holy Spirit in me – which action **is** grace) there in the sacramental life no matter what my emotions about that encounter are… (or is that a non-admissible argument because it’s *beyond* rationality and I can’t give any “proof” for it?)

    Universal reconciliation is ***so not*** about providing benefit to God. God doesn’t *need* anything, and he’s no narcissist. In Eastern Christian theology, the very fact of our existence is proof that God loves us and wills good for us. Again, I can’t begin from your premise that somehow non-existence is some kind of good; this flies in the face of any rational understanding of what is “good.” As for freedom, we do have a kind of freedom, but it is limited by the effects of our turn from relationship with God; otherwise, we would freely do good all the time. True freedom is acting in accordance with our human nature (NOT “sin nature”, but rather everything about us that makes us human – that’s why sinful things we do are a manifestation of what is INhuman, the perversion of the good); everything else is “choices” – doing the best we can under the circumstances as we make our way through life. See St Maximus the Confessor on the gnomic will vs the natural will. Or read Fr Stephen Freeman’s blog entry “The Voice of the Natural Will.” When we finally are face to face with Jesus, all will be clear; see Bev Mitchell’s comment below.

    “Why does God not opt for self-disclosure?” He did, fully and finally in Jesus Christ the GodMan, especially on the Cross. The ***Meaning*** of that needed to be interpreted; see Fr John Behr’s talks.

    “Where do we locate the purgatorial hell in our cosmology?” Well, what if it isn’t a “place”? What if our speculations about cosmology are wrong?

    “Is God in control of hell where God’s pruning happens or is hell separation from the divine?” God is not operating on us objects; if we are truly in a relationship, and if we have any kind of freedom, then much depends on our response. But, we can never be ultimately separated from the divine; Ps 139.7-12.

    “Is Universalism actually coercive? If one is somehow incarcerated until they change, then does not repentance looks much more like the result of Stockholm syndrome than an authentic, life-giving pursuit?” Again, see Bev’s remarks. In addition, the “how” of everything just has not been revealed to us, or there would be no place for trust in God’s love. I can’t understand why you reject the possibility of God being able to bring universal reconciliation to pass on the strength of God’s non-coercive love and humility that was strong enough to deal the death-blow to death itself. Morality is not the issue; the fact of Mortality is the issue. Or is it just that *you* can’t figure out how UR is going to happen and can’t construct some philosophy to be able to prove it? This whole discussion is something that can never be “proven” anyhow; everything goes back to a point of faith, of some kind. Forgive me, I don’t want to offend; I am asking you to think about why non-existence can actually be on the horizon of The Good for you.

    “Given an open future, the renewal of all things is only a possibility.” This is where we agree, except for “only”… The Orthodox Church does not dogmatically teach universal reconciliation. But neither does it specify dogmatically what exactly will happen after the Judgment (except that annihilation is rejected), and a goodly number of its best and holiest ***thinkers*** – who have never been anathematized – have held the “minority view” that UR is decidedly within the scope of God’s love. It is a Church where we can hope and pray for the salvation (healing/deliverance) of all. That’s the other huge reason I’m there.

    Do listen to Fr John. Try to open your mind.

    May Christ our God grant you every good thing, Jeff.

    Dana

  • No problem, will do.

    You said, “First, it may be the case that given all the possibilities World F does not exist.”

    Correct. But this is astronomically implausible. What confounder is there such that God cannot somehow work to overcome it? There is no such confounder of which we can conceive (he can overcome ignorance, mental defects, corrupt influences, etc.), and no Scriptural evidence of such a confounder.

    It’s not enough to say there are unlikely but possible niches wherein annihilationism can dwell. However unlikely those niches, however unlikely is annihilationism.

    You said, “In short: though God may want the salvation of all, there may be other compelling goods that would give God reason to prefer a different kind of world.”

    Correct. The “formative drama” is beautiful in a meta-sense. But there’s no reason to say that formative drama can or should be “stacked highest” in God’s preference order, such that some people need be obliterated. There is Scriptural reason, rather, AGAINST this preference order. For example, the many places where God articulates his mission objective as a grand reunion. For example, where Paul’s “theodicy of stumbling” guarantees the eventual reconciliation of the ‘pleroma’ of Jews and ‘Pleroma’ of Gentiles. For example, in Ezekiel, where God would rather have repentance “as surely as he lives.”

    In other words, the claim that the beauty of formative drama is so axial that it requires that there be soul-obliteration in the “story of humanity” is a non-benign stipulation. It needs a hefty weight of support, and right now we’re only seeing Scripture against it.

    You said, “Said another way, it may be an metaohysical fact about you and I (given our personalities in all possible worlds in which we exist) that we are the kinds of people who will never embrace the invitations of God. We could be unredeemable personalities.”

    Correct. But this is astronomically implausible.

    At Judgment, George could be everlastingly incorrigible, or he could submit and fully confess to God. The former, given all uncertainties erased, we 100% know would be an irrational decision against his own highest interests. As such it would represent a mental defect. Furthermore, Scripture (Romans 14:10-11) says that everyone will submit (not wallow in incorrigible rebellion) and fully confess (the same word used for those who sought John the Baptist).

    So, Scripturally and using our noodles, we assert that endless incorrigibility (justifying obliteration, ostensibly) is astronomically implausible. If annihilation is predicated on such a thing, then it inherits that astronimical implausibility. This is why we who assert PUR as the correct view of hell assert a sacred hope that is nonetheless quite certain vs. the two OTHER historically-held alternatives.

    You said, “But given an open future, the renewal of all things is only a possibility.”

    Correct. But “> 12 people are saved” is only a possibility, too, under an “Open future.” “Only a possibility” doesn’t mean “just as likely as anything else.”

    God knows us better than we know ourselves. We aren’t that complicated. If God says that, as surely as he lives, everyone will submit and fully confess, then you can be pretty sure that “even though the future is Open and mankind has libertarian free will” — if held as a true premise — must somehow play along with this promise. And it can do so, easily, through a human’s amusing simplicity and God’s cosmic wisdom (even with an “Open future”).

    I hate to link elsewhere, but I’m going to leave my case here, so this is just for further bonus reading. The “Lonely Patricia” thought experiment shows how universalism plays perfectly nicely with free will, whether your definition is compatibilistic (I’m a compatibilist) or libertarian under Open Theism: http://stanrock.net/2015/01/07/does-universal-reconciliation-destroy-free-will/

  • jeffcook

    On (1), my argument is not about presuppositions, so reason is at work and can get you a long way.

    On (2), my argument is exceedingly loose when talking about theories of human freedom. Feel free to assume whatever you wish and come to the table with it.

    The rest got long. Is there anything specific you want my response to? Be well.

  • jeffcook

    I think compatiblism is the way to go for universalists, but I also can analyze that view with those 3 arguments.

    Its all thinking through the positions.

    Be well.

  • jeffcook

    I’m making an argument with the assumption that God is supremely loving.

    Your last sentence is an ad hominem.

    Be well.

  • jeffcook

    Stan – Lots to say here, but in brief.

    I don’t know how you would assess implausibility in your first two arguments.

    And the remainder of your comments utilize scriptural authority, where I think the annihilationist position is simply dominant.

    Thank you for your great thinking here!

  • Thanks for posting and hosting!

    The implausibility assessments come from the fact that these hypotheticals require sufficient confounders but there is no such confounder of which we can conceive as plausible. In short, annihilationism is burdened to tell us why it’s at all imaginable that many, if not most, with their mental faculties fully informed, would remain endlessly incorrigible in the face of God. This seems ludicrous to the rest of us. We’d be more keen on it if incorrigibility had explicit Scriptural warrant and was not merely inferred/invented after taking Gr. apoleia/apololos as literal obliteration (bad news for the obliterated coin and obliterated prodigal son of Luke 15). And, of course, Romans ch. 11 and Romans 14:10-11 explicate exactly otherwise.

    (The whole strength of the annihilationist Biblical case is predicated on this word family, as well as treating the zoen aionion as a synonym for aphtharsia/athanasia rather than how Jesus defined it — John 17:3 — and how John used it in his first epistle.)

  • Percival

    Jeff, that’s where I am as well. Determinism is dehumanizing. In addition, I assume that our humanity continues forever, even as the humanity of Christ endures. Our union with him in his humanity is where life is found. The computer-mind model of humanity is also dehumanizing. We are not logic machines. I don’t believe people can be compelled to union with Christ, even by the overpowering reasonableness of the reality that outside of Him is only death. Ultimately, people must come to Christ for reasons that go beyond logical self-preservation. If this is true, doesn’t it imply that some people will reject Christ for reasons that go beyond self preservation?

  • Steven

    This is a very interesting post. All these posts on the nature of hell have been informative and well-argued.

    The appeal to a Molinistic view of providence is fascinating and seems to complicate things further—as middle knowledge always seems to do—and even though I also think annihilationism is the best option, I am not sure you make a great case with your the third argument. The idea that it is MORE gracious to create some people who will not be redeemed or be blessings to anyone (but will still be able to experience life and temporal blessings), while it is theoretically LESS gracious to only create people who are foreknown to be redeemed, is not a very compelling argument. For one thing, the good in their life would have to outweigh the bad—which doesn’t seem to be the case for many people.

    The question could also just be: is it worth living at all if they are simply going to be lost? Life for them seems bleak and ultimately meaningless…

    What is a man (subject to transworld irredeemablity) profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

  • jeffcook

    Steven –

    Thank you for your thoughts.

    You wrote, “For one thing, the good in their life would have to outweigh the bad—which doesn’t seem to be the case for many people.”

    It certainly *could be* the case that an annihilated soul experienced more good than bad, ya?

    You wrote, “The question could also just be: is it worth living at all if they are simply going to be lost? Life for them seems bleak and ultimately meaningless…”

    I am sympathetic here, but I do not think there is a contradiction between thinking: this person’s life is meaningless and this person is given the gift of temporary life.

    Be well!

  • jeffcook

    Thanks Bev,

    You wrote, “A proof, or a ‘what appears best to us is correct’ approach is not the goal.”

    Why hold this?

    You wrote, “I feel strong affinity with the idea, stated here by several, that the spirit of the matter is at least as important as the calculus.”

    I agree in part, but what argument does is expose impossibilities and possibilities. If communally discovered theology is worthy at all, reason will be a necessary tool. Otherwise our view of God will be determined by the ignorant emoting of the masses.

    You wrote, “We would love to know for sure, but, we don’t. At least, I don’t.”

    I am very sympathetic to this position and think humility in these cases virtuous. I like these topics as philosophical, speculative topics.

    Much love to you!

  • Andrew Dowling

    Well the other side of the coin seems to be “well maybe that alternative/option isn’t possible” which isn’t really an argument. One can posit that about anything.

    I also take issue with this “unredeemable souls like us do not deserve to exist” because I think part and parcel of the christian story is that there is no such thing as an “unredeemable soul” and that each soul/person reflects God, so annihilation (from God’s perspective) ends up being more akin to slitting one’s wrists than chucking out garbage.

  • jeffcook

    Stan —

    Good thoughts again.

    You wrote, “annihilationism is burdened to tell us why it’s at all imaginable that many, if not most, with their mental faculties fully informed, would remain endlessly incorrigible in the face of God.”

    In my experience, this is this a very common trajectory of human beings (and this assumes all souls are immortal).

    You wrote, “The whole strength of the annihilationist Biblical case is predicated on this word family, as well as treating the zoen aionion as a synonym for aphtharsia/athanasia rather than how Jesus defined it — John 17:3 — and how John used it in his first epistle.”

    Are you serious here? I would recommend Edward Fudge’s excellent book The Fire that Consumes. I think you’ll find the annihilationist position argued from scripture robust.

    (But of course my claims through out have tried to focus on the philosophical argument).

    Much love.

  • Percival

    There might be evidence for incorrigibility in this world that implies incorrigibility in the next. (I know this is supposed to be a philosophical discussion, but I’m not so proficient in that language.) Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him. However, when he came, the reaction of some revealed something about them, that is that what they love may necessitate that they cannot love Christ, and that their hatred of Christ is not a matter of reason. The language that says “they hated both me and my Father” implies that the hatred is not something that will be nullified once they encounter God. They already did, and they wrote their own verdict.

    John 3:19 English Standard Version (ESV)
    19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.

    John 15:23 Whoever hates me hates my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’

  • Lane Lester

    Because you are a prolific writer you may appreciate learning that your use of “you and I” is sometimes incorrect, and you should use instead “you and me.”

    Wrong: But God may have chosen not to create World F because God still loves you and I.

    Correct: Imagine again that God foresees that you and I will never choose to embrace God.

    The easy way to check this is to read the sentence without “you and.”

  • Bev Mitchell

    Jeff,

    To answer your question: as to seeking a proof, a proof does not seem to be available in Scripture, when the full counsel is considered (hence this discussion). A philosophical ‘proof’ should always be suspected as insufficient (the possibility of human error is too high to be certain). As to thinking ‘what appears best to us is correct’, well, there are just too many examples of where this approach has failed. We can only work with what we currently know, even then, we seem quite able to get ourselves in great muddles 🙂

    As for speculation, it’s a wonderful thing, even a necessary habit. The problem, in all fields of thought and endeavour, comes when someone forgets that it began as and remains speculation. Speculation’s greatest value is seen in how it helps us sort out good and productive questions from not so productive ones – rather than give us the answer it is often very effective at improving our questions.

    An analogue from my field of experimental biology would be model building – also used extensively in ecology and systems biology. The temptation is always there to believe the model when all should know that it can never be more than a question refining tool.

    To ever improving questions,

    Bev

  • You wrote, “The language that says ‘they hated both me and my Father’ implies that the hatred is not something that will be nullified once they encounter God. They already did, and they wrote their own verdict.”

    But they didn’t understand their encounter. Their minds were clouded by ignorance. You can assert that they were NOT ignorant, and that they were merely acting according to mental defect (a symptom of which being hating something without any reason), but any mental defect would be a malady, and thus reparable by the Great Surgeon. There is no option remaining, and thus no inference of incorrigibility of the implausible kind annihilationism requires.

  • Thanks, Jeff!

    You wrote, “In my experience, this is this a very common trajectory of human beings (and this assumes all souls are immortal).”

    I have never had experience of someone remaining endlessly incorrigible (this sentence is meant in good humor; I’ve never seen anything linger endlessly, of course!). I have, however, seen seemingly-insurmountable stubbornness erode over time when subjected to love and reason. And that’s just human love and reason!

    Of course, there are some who remain incorrigible until death. But God’s Grace can afford any healing and any time required. This does not assume all souls are immortal (I reject inherent immortality); it merely assumes that God can sustain any soul indefinitely, which is a benign assertion. If God can do this, and God is loving as well as just, and if it is implausible that somebody is an “unsolvable Rubik’s Cube” for God, then the implausibility of annihilationism follows.

    You wrote, “Are you serious here? I would recommend Edward Fudge’s excellent book The Fire that Consumes. I think you’ll find the annihilationist position argued from scripture robust.”

    Of course I have! 🙂 You might re-read it while primed with my bold assertion above about the annihilationist case. Annihilationism captures Gr. apoleia/apololos as “perishing” / “destruction,” but neglects 3 things:

    (1) Apoleia/apololos, as I said before, also refer to the coin and prodigal son, parables about seeking and finding and mercy. They should not be taken as slaughters or Irenaean thousand-year gas chambers, but as “cutting off” and “lostness” from which a person can be procured.

    (2) The loss-suffering (Gr. zemio-) of those who “gain the whole world but are lost or suffer loss” in Luke, and the cutting-off of the lazy servant of Matthew 25 (to where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth), are found again in 1 Corinthians 3:15-17, where Paul again threatens lazy servants with that same zemio loss-suffering, as well as ruination (phtheiro, like the 2 Peter 2 false teacher fate), and fire. But, per verse 15, the person is eventually rescued. See also the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (an eschatological parable, shown by its parallel with the Romans 2 “wrath-storing” for unrepentant hypocrisy).

    (3) Purgatorialism IS annihilationism, but selective. It is a destruction of qualitative identity (in many ways) and a preservation (in others). I don’t think it’s an accident that our most eloquent early purgatorialist, St. Gregory of Nyssa, also wrote an amazing dialogue about the philosophical issues of qualitative/numerical identity and the general resurrection. It’s really amazing bang-for-buck. You get to capture destruction and perishing in a variety of dimensions (including the figurative “lostness” dimensions of Luke 15), and the shame and ruination that comes with it, but continue to assert Christ’s conquest over death and master plan of ‘pleroma’ reconciliation, wherein the unsaved are plucked from their ruin.

    Thanks again for the discussion.

  • KentonS

    1. You’re using “ad hominem” as a noun. It’s an adjective. Just sayin’.
    2. Just because I disagree with you does not therefore make my argument ad hominem. (If I were to say, “UR must be true because Jeff Cook says it’s false,” THAT would be ad hominem.)
    3. Supremely loving: Supreme love is sacrificial and primarily for the benefit of the beloved. You’re arguing the opposite; that God’s relationship to us is primarily for His own benefit. Maybe I really misunderstood you, but that’s how it came across.

    Grace, Jeff.

  • Percival

    1. Adjectives often stand for a shortened expression. Why be pedantic about that?
    2. You said that Jeff didn’t understand love. That goes beyond disagreeing.

  • I thought, real quick, I’d rapid-fire your questions at the end.

    (“Given Universalism, why does God not opt for self-disclosure?”)

    This is a theodicean issue broadly. Take whatever solution you employ and employ it here. Indeed, any eschatology where there is a “too late” capping a period of genuine ignorance is much, much more problematic than universalism. Put another way, I’m not sure how “given universalism” makes the issue more difficult; it seems to relieve difficulty considerably.

    (“Where do we locate the purgatorial hell in our cosmology?”)

    The answer is, “We don’t know.” It’s probably some sort of spiritual process. It certainly defies literal description. A related “dilemma” for annihilationism might be, “How exactly shall God slaughter those he just resurrected? Literally burning them alive and charring their skin? Exploding their brains? Smashing them with a gavel?” and the answer is probably something similar to the first two sentences in this paragraph.

    (“Is God in control of hell where God’s pruning happens or is hell separation from the divine?)

    Literal separation from God, as if God isn’t omnipresent, is false. But there is a figurative sense of separation experienced by those “cut off” and “cast into the Lake of Fire.” This process, however, is sustained by God and adjudicated by Christ.

    (“Is Universalism actually coercive? If one is somehow incarcerated until they change, then does not repentance looks much more like the result of Stockholm syndrome than an authentic, life-giving pursuit?”)

    Is compulsory drug rehabilitation coercive? Sort of. But it’s also authentic, life-giving (life-restoring), and necessary. A phrase like, “Though we can compel rehabilitation, it is better that this person die,” is the absurdum that follows from the argument here.

    We are helped, though, by this: At Judgment, everyone will submit and fully confess, and the unsaved shall do this in shame. As such, it’s not an issue of brainwashing, but an issue of completing a process already begun voluntarily at Judgment: Love and mercy and justice and wrath and reason and purpose, experienced as a deconstructive and purging fire (as with 1 Corinthians 3:15-17’s lazy servant).

    It’s important that we rid ourselves of the alien premise that human liberty must forever trump God’s will. It is a dissonant premise, because we see innumerable times in Scripture when God’s will trumps human liberty. Every time he intervenes to change minds through reason and love. Every time he threatens. Every time he chastises. Every time he pours out his compelling power upon somebody. In each of those cases, he is redirecting people toward a vector they would not have chosen independently.

  • Percival

    You rightly point out that ignorance and mental defects have a role in whether some people believe or not. However the scripture I quoted pinpoints the fact that they rejected the light because their works were evil. that seems to me different than ignorance.

  • KentonS
  • Percival

    That’s one of the strangest apologies I’ve ever seen. Is that you sitting in your office? Nice jacket, by the way.

  • Eric L

    No one brought more clarity to the issue than C. S. Lewis, in several of his books, but especially his chapter on hell in The Problem of Pain. The whole chapter is quotable, but one line sticks out: “So much mercy, yet still there is Hell.” Lewis constantly reminds the reader that he wishes hell were not real – but he comes back to the Gospels and Jesus’ constant threats of final judgment. People today have trouble accepting finality – any marriage can be dissolved, any pregnancy can be terminated, surgery can change a man into a woman and vice versa – so people assume that if nothing is final, maybe there’s no hell. But Jesus seemed to think hell is real.

  • Bob Wilson

    I fear this ends with most sides perceiving their real arguments weren’t addressed, and I’m sorry I’ve failed to grasp yours. While I thought Plantinga’s theodicy involved his classic free-will defense, I Saw that you’d repeated that compatibilism is U.R.’s best bet. But in your early threads asserting this, I’d already argued that it’s a problematical solution, and Not the logic of U.R.’s leading proponents.

    So what further did you want me to address? I perceived here that you too don’t find it a convincing argument for U.R. anyway. Was I completely mistaken that your “3 arguments” push toward my own conclusion that a truly solid basis for U.R. is Not provided by compatibilism?

    If my thus arguing against your conclusion that instead annihilation is what allows God to extend a more “profound grace” missed what you wanted addressed, what is it that you hoped that I (or we) would sensibly argue?

    Grace be with you, my friend.

  • Bob Wilson

    Both annihilationists and universalists are fully aware that Jesus is the one who used the term “Gehenna.” Indeed, like Jeremiah, he warned the devout of a sobering and severe destruction in (literally) Jerusalem’s “Hinnon Valley.” But he Never used a word with the meaning of our English word, “hell,” and we are left to interpret what ‘Gehenna’ was warning about. What seems most plain to me is that C.S. Lewis’ interpretation of what ‘hell’ will be like is nothing like what Jesus meant. Its’ weeping and gnashing of teeth seems clearly not some watered down locale that is what someone would have intentionally chosen, or never prefer to open the door or leave.

  • Percival, you wrote, “However the scripture I quoted pinpoints the fact that they rejected the light because their works were evil. that seems to me different than ignorance.”

    If you would, continue to read the following verse: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who causes misery hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”

    As we see, this is the light of exposure. Those who work misery do not want to be exposed; those who work truth welcome exposure.

    As we read in Romans 2:16, Revelation 20:12, 2 Corinthians 5:10, etc., there will be a universal exposure at Judgment. Everyone will be exposed to the light. So the cause of this particular rebellion will be eliminated. This is why, per Romans 14:10-11, all shall submit and fully confess to God at Judgment (and the unsaved will come to Him in shame, Is. 45:24), and thereby not persist in rebellion (an imagined rebellion at Judgment is stipulative conjecture from the endless hell and annihilationist camps; the Bible doesn’t say it).

  • Flаt Bаroque

    Funny that the use of “He” bothers you, since Jesus and the apostles all referred to God as “Father.” Sounds like you need a different religion.

  • jeffcook

    Lewis changes his position on hell from what he writes in Problem of Pain to what he writes in Great Divorce . Would that effect your take?

    Also, by finality are you pitching annihilation?

  • jeffcook

    🙂 – Lots to say here. Good start!

  • jeffcook

    I do it to agitate.

  • jeffcook

    Again, I think your missing the point of both sections.

  • Andrew Dowling

    I actually put it in italics because people metaphorically think of God as a “person” with is basically like a super-human. But hey if it helps you to sleep at night to think of God as basically a neo-Zeus man in the sky, go for it.

  • Andrew Dowling

    You’ll have to point out what I’m missing . . .

  • Complementary trackback: https://goo.gl/2UnrXK. I’m afraid I must reject the Molinist proposal.

  • Greg Paley

    I’m always suspicious of people who claim to be more compassionate than God. I’m guessing their true religion is narcissism.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Lewis also didn’t really know much about 1st century Judaism or what “Gehenna” meant in Jesus’s context (which was not the hell of future christian theology)

  • Percival

    I think we all agree that judgement day involves exposure.

    You wrote, “Everyone will be exposed to the light. So the cause of this particular rebellion will be eliminated.”

    Could you explain how exposure to the light is the same as transformation? I don’t see it scripturally or philosophically.

    Furthermore, rebellion on Judgement Day? I personally haven’t heard anything like that from Conditionalists. Maybe you are mixing us up with Traditionalists somehow.

  • Percival, you wrote: “Could you explain how exposure to the light is the same as transformation?”

    It is not. But if the reason for somebody’s refusal to repent is a fear of exposure, then compulsory exposure would eliminate the rationale for refusal. And indeed, at Judgment, where all is exposed, all are promised to submit and fully confess. At that juncture, the unrighteous undergo their due purgatorial penalty (“Gehenna”).

    You wrote: “Furthermore, rebellion on Judgement Day? I personally haven’t heard anything like that from Conditionalists.”

    There are several kinds of annihilationists. Some think that the resurrection is not general, and point to things like the Didache. Some think that the unsaved shall be raised to a horrific prolonged torture before a mass re-killing, like Irenaeus postulated. Still others believe that the unsaved, after being resurrected for Judgment, are thereafter instantly obliterated.

    What of postmortem repentance, then, under the latter two perspectives? There are two possible replies from an annihilationist. One is that it’s just too late; though the risen unrighteous are submitting and confessing, God will slaughter them anyway. The other is that these people shall not repent; at Judgment, they will persist in rebellion, and are forever hopeless, justifying their slaughter.

    (There’s a third that Greg Boyd advocates these days, which is something like a postmortem opportunity for everybody, but many will have become “solidified” in their rebellion and must die. The “solidification” is probably an answer against the charge that under Boyd’s Open Theism there’d seem to be limitless future hope for anyone.)

  • Percival

    Thanks for the explanation. I have to admit I have read a lot more Fudge and Pinnock than the Didache and Ireneas. 🙂

    These days often the language of slaughter has given way to the language of death as the natural consequences of sin. The spectrum of belief on the mechanics of destruction is pretty broad.

  • Percival

    Your agitating again!

  • danaames

    Very tired today Jeff – just asking you to ponder on things… that there might be another way.

    I do recommend Fr Stephen Freeman’s blog. You might see something there you’ve never seen before.

    You be well, too.

    Dana

  • louismoreaugottschalk

    final is finite yeah?
    I think God is infinite. I suppose he can get around to fulfilling his promise every knee shall bow every tongue confess. I think we shall what he mean when he says he is not willing that any should perish. C.S. Lewis was only a man tho he
    was gifted w vision and the genius to articulate it.
    here is the quite startling revelation of the genius of Jesus;
    ‘forgive them father for they know not what they do’.

  • Kevin Osborne

    Few know the accurate interpretation, “That sounds great, I’ll have two beers, too.”

  • Eric L

    Everyone claims to be the expert on Lewis. Someone said Lewis was a universalist, based on one sentence in one of the Narnia books – which was absurd. Christians toss the name C. S. Lewis around, but they don’t actually read him, just like they don’t read the Bible. I bet I haven’t met more than 5 people who had actually read his books.

    The main reason Christians don’t believe in hell is that they no longer believe in sin. No sin, no need for salvation, so no need for a Savior, so we end up with the feel-good clubs like Osteen or the political clubs for feminists and homosexuals – no sense of sin in either, God is there to pat you on the head and tell you you are just adorable as you are. As Lewis pointed out, when churches stop believing in hell, they really don’t believe in heaven either, so essentially the American churches in 2015 are just secular clubs with no spiritual purpose at all.

  • Andrew Dowling

    Being a great writer and thinker doesn’t mean one is automatically very knowledgeable of biblical scholarship. Not only that, but there has been a good deal of scholarly work done in 2nd temple Judaism since Lewis died.

  • jeffcook

    I’ve written a book on Lewis.

    I may not get his view correct, but I’d be happy to talk through the details of his intellectual journey.

    I do believe in hell. I’m an annihilationist.

  • Patrick

    This is not such a huge intellectual or theological problem as Lewis imagined. For starters, all humanity is going to believe and confess Christ. That’s a given according to Isaiah and Paul.

    The question is only, does God respect that belief if it is in the eschaton as opposed to now? Yes, if God is truly not a respecter of persons, He forgave and transformed Paul by seeing, one could make the case for Thomas as well and maybe Jude and James.