This is the place to find all the posts in the Damned Nonsense! series, a series exploring the Christian doctrine of salvation, Universalism, and the nonsense of hell.
I have been waiting a while to respond to your Damned Nonesense series, Josh. I actually copied and annotated parts of it. But there were several mere nuances of difference between you and me that I wanted to talk with you about in person rather than in writing. However, somehow, with all the hectic pace of ending last semester and submitting a book proposal with a sample unit (total of 62 pages out of the over 200 I have written), then teaching a DMin intensive, and then finally getting a break in Puerto Rico, where I am now, I decided the only way to respond was to send the current version of the article I am working out of the lecture you once heard me give. Do you get it – sometime in December?
Now that I have a breather of sorts (still working a couple hours a day, even on vacation), my head has cleared enough to ask a question that may be at the heart of our nuances of difference: Is our freedom to choose the divine community, or to reject it, so important to its character as love, that there must be room left in our scheme of judgement/eternity for the one who has become so inhuman in this life that s/he cannot survive in any essential sense the purgation of God’s presence – “Our God is a consuming fire” – glorious, if still painful, for those who love God’s appearing, but completely destructive for others? Is this a function of God’s presence as holy love, rather than of God’s active annihilation?
In order to make room for a yes to these questions, I talked in my essay about differences between active annihilation and passive annihilation pertaining to acceptable casualties, i.e. if one chooses to be a casualty that is of a different order than being made to be one. Jesus died and rose for all everywhere, and the vast, vast majority, and perhaps – indeed, I hope – all will, in the presence of God be revealed to have yet some spark of the divine that the Spirit fans into a flame (Nicholas Berdyaev); but if freedom is indeed so vital for the divine community, and God’s presence as love is purgative by necessity, then must we leave open the possibility of a particular kind of casualty as, at least, a theoretical possibility?
Thanks for your excellent contribution to my students’ learning this fall. I appreciate so much having your blog to refer them to on several subjects.
Don, I think we are very much on the same page when it comes to both hoping for the categorical “all” in God’s salvation as well as the philosophical sympathy for, as you say, “the possibility of a particular kind of casualty as, at least, a theoretical possibility.” I think that honesty requires this posture. So I thank you for the reminder that, rather than conclude with my hope, it is necessary to remain within the tension – and, perhaps more rightly, within the confines of my creaturely finitude. I am, after all, not God!
I also agree with the your assessment of love and freedom. I too believe freedom of volition is essential to love. This is the “bottom line” when it comes to this issue and it is, as I have written, the topic that causes me the most amount of doubt regarding full salvation. Nonetheless, I hope for their to be yet a spark in us all that may be fanned into a flame.
Ultimately, and since I have studied this matter long enough to believe what I believe (and hope what I hope) with some degree of confidence, I have become more interested in how it is that my hope for full salvation affects my belief. That is, now that I have studied scriptural and theological support for the notion that God can/will save all persons [though without “proof” of this notion], how does my hope in this notion affect the content of my belief? After all, the entire Christian kerygma is founded in hope, right? Despite its being used as an answer book or a reference for proofs, the Bible does not provide us with indubitable proof or undeniable evidence for future events. It is an entirely different epistemic framework altogether, an epistemology of hope, if you will. There is certain historical witness, but it is all very much a witness embodied in hope. Therefore, I’ve become quite fascinated in the relationship of my hope and my belief, though I’ve not gotten much further than this.
What is worth noticing, however, is that hope does seem to leave room for the kind of theoretical possibility that you and I both agree must be left intact in order to remain honest (i.e. the possibility of not all being saved). Can I still yet hope in full salvation while leaving this possibility intact? And can I proclaim my hope with a degree of confidence while leaving this possibility intact?
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