Salvation 2.0: Part 3.13: David Bentley Hart’s “God, Creation, and Evil,” Part 6

grace5Justice vs. forgiveness

Ah, but there is a problem with Wright’s thesis. The saved — Christians — will have the opportunity to forgive those who’ve sinned against them, thereby releasing themselves from the hold that the sin of others has over them. I entirely agree. But what of the lost?

Well, the lost will cease to exist. They will be destroyed and, to the extent God’s perfect justice so requires, they will be punished for their own sins. And they will be vindicated, in that those who’ve sinned against them will suffer the same fate — except, of course, for the saved. But the saved who’ve sinned against others — all of us — will be forgiven by God but at the price of being made fully aware of the awful price that our sins have cost God — especially Jesus on the cross. (I both look forward to and dread that day!) I mean, we can’t become truly in God’s image and not be fully aware of the cost of the cross.

I mean, there really are only two ways to deal with evil. Either the evil doer can be punished for his sins — retributive justice — or the evil doer can come to realize the awfulness of his sins, repent of his sins, and ask for forgiveness. And these are the two outcomes that Conditionalism anticipates.

You could argue that God should not punish the damned, that the damned should be forgiven and suffer not at all. After all, shouldn’t the saved forgive them entirely and so release them from punishment?

Perhaps. Of course, the first problem with this is that the people they’ve harmed aren’t all saved people. And the damned are entitled to justice, too. So doesn’t it make sense that Mao’s victims receive justice? Don’t even the damned deserve justice?

Perhaps the damned will forgive, thereby freeing God from the need to exact retributive justice? Perhaps. But the scriptures don’t remotely suggest any such thing, and it seems unlikely to me. And no one is entitled to forgiveness. Not me. Not you. Not Mao. Not Mao’s victims. Forgiveness is a gift because it is not an entitlement. And it’s a gift received and therefore given only by those who follow Jesus.

Outside of Jesus, there is no forgiveness, and therefore there must be justice. And why not? Should Hitler and Mao be dealt with by God’s perfect justice? Of course. Even though it’s on behalf of the damned? Sin against the unforgiven is still sin. Don’t the damned deserve at least this much? Indeed they do. The Jews who died in the Holocaust are entitled to see Hitler justly punished — whether or not they are saved.

So, to me, it’s simple. What we deserve, and what we’re entitled to, is justice. Not grace. Grace is undeserved, unearned, and not an entitlement. And so, when we turn grace into an entitlement, we get far outside the scriptures and, in the end, we send Hitler to heaven because, unless Hitler goes to heaven, no one goes to heaven (in Universal Reconciliation). And that’s not the world described in the Bible. Nor would it be just.

What if Hitler apologizes? Well, there is simply no hope in the scriptures that this will happen — and one of the many beauties of the Bible is its realistic comprehension of human nature. No, Hitler is not going to be sorry.

Creation ex nihilo

Another challenge implicit in Hart’s argument is that God cannot make a rational being who truly deserves punishment. A good God may not create evil.

Hart tests what is good only at the end of time plus, it seems likely, a time of punishment or purging of evil. After all, what fool would deny that evil exists today? Therefore, he is looking for a solution that eliminates evil within a finite time from creation. Temporary evil is philosophically permitted so long as the evil is eliminated in the end, so that the creation, in the end, is good. Make sense?

But Conditionalism easily meets this test. It’s just that the unredeemed of this world are not granted immortality. It’s not just their evil that is purged but the person themselves. God destroys the unredeemed, whereas the faithful are granted immortality — but they are also purified so that they no longer sin.

Hence, once God has dispensed perfect justice to the damned and then allowed the damned to die the Second Death — to cease to exist — then the Creation will be good. There will be no continuing evil. Evil will have existed temporarily, but it will not last for eternity.

You might distinguish Conditionalism from Universal Reconciliation this way. Conditionalism sees unredeemed people as unredeemed and thus properly allowed by God to cease to exist. Universal Reconciliation sees unredeemed people as essentially good but burdened with evil. God can, through punishment, purge that evil and allow the good to survive forever.

And so, a problem with the UC position is that it treats the damned very much like the saved. The saved have their imperfections removed in the general resurrection and then live forever with God while being perfectly good. The lost have the same thing happen. It’s just that the removal process for them is painful, and so they suffer a just punishment for their wickedness.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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3 Responses to Salvation 2.0: Part 3.13: David Bentley Hart’s “God, Creation, and Evil,” Part 6

  1. Richard constant says:

    Romans chapter 16 vs 17 through 20.
    More later

  2. Richard constant says:

    I. still think your brusH too broad
    I don’t think that you do with Genesis 4:26 at all. That I know of.
    Righteous Abel and his righteous faith Hebrews 11 other places to say nothing Adam and Eve knowing good from evil as God does 3:24 Genesis.
    am I wrong here to explain this to me once again please

  3. Richard constant says:

    To say nothing of the wrath of God that was exhibited
    Romans 1 verses 26 through 32 who are these people.
    Where is the divine decree in the scriptures!
    Paul starts out with a therefore chapter 2 what in the world did he just say who in the world is he talking to if not talking about the pre Abrahamic world along with the Gentile world outside the Tora law and that would be in conjunction with Romans2 – which leads to Romans 3 the law of faithfulness and why in chapter 4 can’t you see in Chapter five, so then in chapter 6 although you should know in chapter 7 and thank God in chapter 8.

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