Salvation 2.0: Part 3.18: David Bentley Hart’s “God, Creation, and Evil,” Part 11

grace5So, to wrap up, I don’t buy the Universal Reconciliation Argument. Neither do I agree with the traditional Perpetual Conscious Torment of the damned position.

Rather, I’m sold that Edward Fudge is right in teaching Conditionalism, that is, that the damned will be punished with God’s perfect justice and then destroyed — they will cease to exist forever.

This position has several advantages, some of which are dealt with Hart’s essay on “God, Creation, and Evil,” which is where we began this sub-series.

  1. As Hart correctly argues, a good God cannot create a good Creation in which it is certain (or all but certain) that the majority of its rational inhabitants will wind up suffering perpetual, conscious torment (PCT) for all eternity. This is especially a problem in the Calvinist perspective that insists that a majority of the rational beings made by God are elected by God himself to PCT with no other choice. But even in the Arminian perspective (the non-Calvinist perspective), God is pictured as sending a majority of the rational inhabitants of his good Creation into a very un-good PCT. I agree. This cannot be.
  2. Free will does not change this result because God in creating the Creation knew its contingent possibilities — that Adam and Eve might sin and their descendants would not only sin but reject God altogether — resulting in PCT for a majority of the humans made by God.
  3. The solution is not Universal Reconciliation (UR) because UR —
    1. Requires that even Hitler be saved. To save the victims of men such as Hitler, we must also suppose that Hitler himself will be saved. This violates God’s just nature and many promises of justice.
    2. Assumes that everyone will live forever — whereas the scriptures insist that only the saved will be given immortality.
    3. Assumes that the damned will live forever even though the scriptures refer to the damned as destroyed and perishing in the next age (eternity).
    4. Takes away much of the mission impulse. After all, if the unsaved will be justly punished and then given eternity in bliss, that’s not a bad deal. Why bother to save someone from a fate that isn’t all that bad?
    5. Contradicts the story of Acts and Rom 9 – 11, in which the apostles and Paul work with the greatest of zeal to bring salvation to the Jews. Why bother if they were already saved?
    6. At least in some cases is motivated by the Postmodern desire to give power to victims, even victims who’ve rejected Jesus as Messiah, rather than the Christian desire to leave power with God and Jesus and to trust them to mete out justice perfectly. Therefore, there is no great moral crisis created by the eternal fate of the Jews killed in the Holocaust. They aren’t saved — having rejected Jesus — but they are punished only to the extent that God’s perfect justice requires punishment. And I would imagine that God’s perfect justice takes into account suffering already endured in this age. Justice should take into account, as it were, time served. That is, pain suffered in this life is surely taken into account in determining what punishment is deserved in the next. Hence, it seems likely that many who suffered greatly in this life will not suffer in the next age at all.
    7. The problem of pain and suffering does require that the saved learn to forgive those who’ve sinned against them. Contrary to Calvin and Luther, the saved will not delight in the sufferings of the damned. Rather, the saved will be vindicated by a perfectly just God meting out perfect justice, and the saved will forgive those who’ve sinned against them — freeing them to live eternally with God and Jesus.
    8. The saved will be forgiven — but at the cost of becoming fully aware of what their sins cost. Just as it partly true in this life, we are saved only when we realize that horrific price paid by Jesus for our sins. Our realization that we are responsible for the crucifixion is part of the price of our salvation — because to be forgiven, we need to become fully conscious of what we’ve done and at what price.
    9. The damned will suffer separation from God — a choice they make. And the separation will be painful (but only to the extent perfect justice so requires), followed by ceasing to exist.
    10. However, the damned will be vindicated. Those who’ve sinned against them will be punished. Hitler will pay a truly high price for the Holocaust, and the Jews he killed will see justice done. They may not forgive him, nor may he ask for forgiveness. The damned are not promised any release from the sins against them other than vindication.
    11. Thus, at the end of the time of punishment, there will be no damned people in existence. The Creation will be purged of all wickedness, and the saved will have forgiven those who’ve sinned against them — both the saved sinners and the damned sinner. Thus, the saved will be freed from the pain that sin brings them.
    12. Much harder is sussing out the fate of the Gentiles pre-Jesus, but Paul’s sermon on Mars Hills seems to plainly say that the Gentiles had not yet been offered repentance and so had not yet suffered accountability for their sins. That is, Gentiles, when they died, they just died with no afterlife. They received neither punishment nor reward after death.
    13. As we covered in the recent Salvation of the Jews series, the Jews pre-Jesus were saved by faith in God and the Messiah not yet revealed. Those without faith — who rejected God’s covenant faithfulness — would seem to suffer the same damnation as the damned described earlier.
    14. As to Gentiles living after the resurrection of Jesus who never heard the gospel, they either are like the Gentiles pre-Jesus or the damned post-Jesus. Paul’s Mars Hill sermon seems to say that, whether or not they’ve heard the gospel, they are accountable for what they know is wrong (as Paul explains in Rom 1 – 2). They will be punished to the extent they are accountable for God’s law, as seen through nature, their own culture, or their own moral natures.
    15. There is an argument that the post-resurrection Gentiles are only accountable and punished to the extent they reject the gospel. If the gospel has not been preached to them, they are like the Gentile pre-resurrection — with no afterlife good or bad. But this argument makes the preaching of the gospel bad news for some, and rather like Hart, I struggle to imagine a world in which “good news” damns. Hence, I take Paul at his word in Athens, Greece —

(Acts 17:30–31 ESV) 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

That is, I take “now” to mean “now” not “when the gospel is preached to others.” On the other hand, there surely is greater accountability and hence greater punishment for those who’ve heard the good news and rejected it.

The scriptures seem clear that greater knowledge of God’s will leads to greater accountability — and hence greater punishment. The solution that Paul promises is greater grace through faith in Jesus —

(Rom. 5:20-21 ESV)  20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,  21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

There is no other solution.

P.  And so, the verses that threaten punishment for those who reject the gospel are likely speaking of greater accountability and greater punishment rather than declaring that those never preached to receive no punishment at all. For example —

(Lk. 12:45-48 ESV)  45 But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk,  46 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful.  47 And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating.  48 But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.

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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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17 Responses to Salvation 2.0: Part 3.18: David Bentley Hart’s “God, Creation, and Evil,” Part 11

  1. Richard constant says:

    Thanks J another great study.

  2. Chris says:

    Jay, great study. Can you please do a study on the intermediate state – what happens upon death- heaven or sleep until resurrection? Thanks!

  3. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Chris,

    The Bible doesn’t say a lot about the so-called intermediate state. I’ve considered the question before —

    http://oneinjesus.info/2007/10/the-new-perspective-where-are-the-dead-before-the-second-coming-part-1/
    http://oneinjesus.info/2007/10/the-new-perspective-where-are-the-dead-before-the-second-coming-part-2-modern-physics-and-the-second-coming/

    This material overlaps somewhat with what I just covered, but it covers some other ground as well. Where else can you get theology combined with the physics of proton decay?

  4. Christopher says:

    I think Fudge has done a great service in writing an exhaustive study of the Scriptures in support of annihilationism. One thing I think is often overlooked is a consideration of how God’s mercy may factor into the fate of some or many souls on the day of Judgement. It occured to me some years ago to wonder if Jesus could had the power to verbally forgive sins on earth, might He not also have that power in heaven? It is, I think, widely assumed that the thief on the cross pardoned by Jesus had not been baptized. The author of Hebrews states that it has been appointed for [all?] men to die once, but it would appear that this did not hold for Elijah and possibly Enoch. As Jesus Himself points out, David and his men ate the consecrated bread restricted by law to only priests. God, it seems, makes exceptions. I think it is presumptuous to assume that the only people who will make it into heaven are those who have believed, repented, confessed, been baptized into Christ and prove their repentance by their deeds. While that is certainly the plan laid out in the gospel, to argue with certainty that God will make no exceptions in view of the preceding points is, I think, to assume the place of Christ in judgement.

  5. Randy says:

    Yes. Fudge has it right.

  6. JES says:

    Chris, we have a tendency to search for the exceptions to the norm in order to reconcile doing what we want, then we act surprised when the bill arrives.

  7. John F says:

    Those who would would restrict God’s sovereignty have a “God too small.” God will make exactly the right decision in every case — this is consistent with His nature of perfect justice. Since Christ is returning consistent with. . . .

    2 Thess 1:5-11 This is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering. 6 For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, 8 dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, 10 when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed — for our testimony to you was believed. NASU

    it is our privilege and responsibility to proclaim redemption through the resurrection.

    Can He make “EXCEPTIONS” — of course, but we have no “right or reason” to make an exception the rule — concerning anything.

  8. Dwight says:

    Is it within God’s power and nature to accept those who come to Him who were not baptized and were not able or capable or in a situation where it could be done, absolutely, but it is also within His power and nature to reject people who rejected those things that God set up for man because man wants to do it his way. The possibility and probability of mercy second doesn’t change the reality of the being obedient and humble first to His desires of faith and baptism and confessions and serving, which are based on mercy.

  9. Randy says:

    But “Amen.” Banking on or making doctrine from the possibility of God’s exception is foolish.

  10. Christopher says:

    No one is saying the good news should not be preached. But just how is it preached – in love or judgment? It would be an error to think hypocritical religiosity rather than righteousness is characteristic of only the Pharisees in Jesus’ time. I was baptized into Christ in 1986 but can tell you I have seen an astounding amount of religious legalism in the CoC, a preoccupation with watching one’s doctrine but not one’s life (and I am not talking about obvious sins of commission but the less obvious sins of omission). Consider this passage:

    “When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, ‘Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'” (Matthew 8:10-12, NIV).

    It is interesting to me that the Centurian (for personal reasons) never became a Jew, even though that was required to be a party to God’s (Old Testament) covenant with humanity. Yet he, by Jesus’ own assessment, had more faith than anyone in Isreal.

    Part of preaching the good news is being able to answer the tough questions about God’s nature that life and writings like even the book of Job raise. Jesus or the apostles did not have that problem, because God was manifesting His goodness not merely by what we can see in an orderly and wonderful created universe (Psalm 19 and Romans 1) but by miraculous activity. When you have an absence of the latter and (as in the case of Job and countless other instances) not just men, but evil angelic beings (invisible and, in many cases, irresistable forces of destruction – like the whirlwind Satan visited upon Job’s children), causing great harm and destruction to mankind, God’s goodness is called into question.

    Why? Because Jesus likens God to a father who gives his son an inheritance he didn’t earn when he demanded it, lets him do what he will with the money (even evil that might, in a Jewish community under Old Testament law, lead to stoning) and yet daily looks for his return and rejoices when he does return broken and remorseful. Because Jesus likens God to a father who give his son bread (and not a stone) when he asks for it, fish (and not a snake) when he asks for it. And yet, even in the book of Job, we see God allowing His son and his family to be brutally savaged by the most evil being in the universe. What earthly father would allow his son to be sodomized, tortured and murdered by Jeffrey Dahmer? But that, in figurative terms, is what God allowed to happen to Job. How do you explain that apparent contradiction in character? God had shielded Job up to a point in time from that kind of evil, so we know He can and does protect people. The prodigal son experienced a famine and great hunger. Job lost all ten of his children in whom he had invested decades of his time, treasure and love – they were all murdered by Satan. He lost many servants – they, too, were murdered. He was afflicted for many months with a horrible disease, nightmares, the loss of human companionship and so on.

    Why is such evil in the word necessary? And secondly (and this is the far bigger question), if it is necessary, why do many people get no relief from it when they cry out for help? Even Job got an answer in time. Two groups of men in Psalm 107 were afflcted because of their evil behavior, but were delivered when they finally cried out to God. Even arguably the most evil king in Israeal’s history, Manasseh, was delivered out of his affliction upon crying out to God.

    In practical terms, how do you persuade someone of God’s goodness who was, say, maimed and sexually abused as a child and maybe sold into sexual slavery and made into a drug addict? Arms lopped off by guerilla rebels? Parents murdered by a crack-addicted robber and then being placed in a bad foster home where they are abused? The examples could fill volumes of books. If you treat such people with love and compassion, act like the good Samaritan, that might be enough to prove to them that you (and maybe some other people) in this world are good. But is it enough to prove that God is good, when they consider that their cries for help to God went unheeded? You can tell them Jesus loves them and proved it by dying on the cross. But what do you say when they reply that Jesus also miraculously fed and healed people and preached that God is our father who acts like mentioned above? What “power” can you demonstrate to win them over?

    “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” (I Corinthains 2:4-5, NIV)

  11. Randy says:

    The story of the prodigal is so rich. I would point people to the dubious nature of his repentance. Yet, the Father runs to him, reaffirms his sonship and throws a party. God’s grace is truly amazing.

  12. Randy says:

    It appears to me that some will suffer “destruction from the presence of the Lord” and this will be forever.

  13. Bob Davis says:

    Being a curious follower of the Way concerning God’s character I wondered about how the idea of “immortal soul” gained a foothold in Christendom after a couple of preachers sent me Edward’s TFTC. In going to the Internet I discovered the following, something I had never read before in any conditional writings, but it’s possible that I missed it. I found the following: During the 5th Lateran Council held in Rome (1512-1517), during session 8 on December 19th in 1513 pope Leo X stated “For the soul not only exists of itself and essentially as the form of the human body, as is said in the canon of our predecessor of happy memory, pope Clement V, promulgated in the general council of Vienne (1311-1312), but IT IS ALSO IMMORTAL; and further, for the enormous number of bodies into which it is infused individually, it can and ought to be and is multiplied.” (caps mine) When efforts were made to break from papal power, this, among other biblical errors, was carried forth by most because their focus wasn’t on details about the afterlife compared to their focus on authority. Is there yet more we should examine about what we are teaching?

  14. Randy says:

    Yes. Absolutely.

  15. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Bob Davis,

    The Protestant Reformation corrected many errors but solidified into a new creedalism and legalism all too quickly. Europe did not know how to deal with semper reformandum (always reforming) — especially given how painful the first round of reformation was. The Restoration Movement tried to take the Reformation to another level, but soon descended into legalistic squabbling itself. Change is hard.

    It’s amazing that Calvin and Luther accomplished as much as they did. Sad that they connected the church so closely with the state that further reformation meant further revolution — and war.

    We now live in a time when people from many denominations are re-considering the scriptures afresh. The New Perspective on Paul, the neo-Anabaptist perspectives, Kingdom theology, covenant theology, and many others are being kicked around, discussed, and studied. We truly live in an amazing time for theology. So much good is happening it’s hard to keep up …

  16. Randy says:

    Amen!

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