As far as any advice I’d offer you as [you] take on that task is to give your readers a clear and specific answer to how conditionalism handles something like the Holocaust. Specifically, I’d like to see Fudge or you give an clear and unambiguous answer as to where those six-million Jews stand in relation to eternity. Are they in 1) in hell, 2) annihilated (or dead forever) or 3) eventually saved?
I’m not sure I understand the question. I mean, I understand the words, but not why this is supposed to be a particular challenge. But evidently it’s a standard argument in the Universal Reconciliation (UR) debate, as NT Wright addresses it in defending his own view of theodicy (how to reconcile a good God with evil in the Creation). The point seems to be that it’s unthinkable to declare that the Holocaust victims went to hell; therefore, we must accept UR. Not so fast my friend!
Of course, the Jews killed in the Holocaust suffered greatly in this life. So did the Russians starved to death by Stalin. So did the victims of the Black Death in the Middle Ages. So did the victims of Genghis Khan. So did countless millions of humans who have suffered in this life in countless ways. Is the point that Jews, as God’s Chosen People, shouldn’t suffer as do the rest of mankind? Or that, in their suffering, God should take special cognizance and make it up to them in the afterlife? And if Jews are entitled to special concern, why just the Jews? Why not the victims of Chairman Mao’s Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution?
I can certainly see an emotionally appealing argument that people for whom we have great sympathy and who have suffered greatly in this life (such as the Jews killed in the Holocaust) should get to live in eternal bliss despite their lack of faith in Jesus. But the Universal Reconciliation theory assumes an entitlement to a blissful afterlife. And it insists on a Creation in which Hitler goes to heaven — because “Universal” means universal. To save the the poor, suffering Jews, it seems we must also save the people who made them suffer. And this violates the plain teachings of scripture.
(Eph 5:5-6 ESV) 5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.
(1Pe 4:17-18 ESV) 17 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”
Peter thus teaches,
The fire of God’s holiness is so intense that even the righteous feel pain in its discipline. The impious (a godless person, a person without true reverence for God) and sinner will, by implication, find it to be a fire of eternal destruction.
Wayne A. Grudem, 1 Peter: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale NTC 6; IVP/Accordance electronic ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988), n.p.
Now, the UR theory, per Hart, is that everyone must be saved because God created a very good Creation. For the Creation to be very good, it must be good in all its contingent possibilities — such as the possibility that some created, rational beings, i.e., Adam and Eve and their descendants will sin and deserve damnation. Hart insists that God cannot escape the moral implications of creating a world that would possibly — indeed, inevitably — result in perpetual, conscious torment (PCT) for the humans that populate his very good world. That is, PCT is bad. PCT was not only a logical possibility but a virtual inevitability when God made his Creation; God made the Creation from nothing — that is, not from bad stuff — and so anything bad in the Creation, such as PCT, is from God.
I agree. Hence, I reject PCT and accept Conditionalism — not the UR theory that the damned will be punished and then go to heaven to live in undeserved bliss with Hitler, Chairman Mao, and Genghis Kahn. Rather, as Edward Fudge has concluded from the scriptures, the damned will be punished with perfect justice, and then they will cease to exist.
The problem of evil
I don’t know why there is evil is a good world. But there is. I find it beyond rational disagreement that (a) God created the heavens and the earth and (b) there is evil in the earth. I mean, even the Universal Reconciliation proponents agree with both (a) and (b). So the problem isn’t the presence of evil. I mean, who could deny that a good Creation produced evil?
Now, the traditional response is free will, and I’m okay with that. My own thinking (and I’m sure I’m not the first) is that God is a being of love, and he wished to create beings who could love him back. And love that is not chosen is not love. Hence, the desire to make beings capable of love absolutely requires free will (and hence we disprove Calvinism).
The same is true of worship, but what is worship but a means of expressing love for a transcendentally greater Being? Hence, for there to be worship, there must be free will.
And the presence of free will necessarily implies the ability to choose not to love and not to worship (even though Hart seems to argue that anyone who encounters God will feel compelled to worship him. Not true! We are broken, fallen beings, and part of that is a tendency toward making foolish, self-destructive decisions. We are not all nearly so rational as Hart.)
So we have to begin by accepting that a very good Creation can have evil in it. After all, it does. To solve this problem, Hart prescribes UR — so that at the end, the evil is gone. Conditionalism does the same, except rather than treating people as inherently immortal who must therefore either be damned or saved — forcing the salvation of Hitler — in Conditionalism, Hitler is punished with perfect justice and then destroyed, dies the Second Death, and ceases to exist — forever. And hence, the evil is purged from the very good Creation, producing a new (kainos) heavens and new (kainos) earth.
So who is right? Does God purge the evil from our eternal souls and then ship our purified souls off to heaven — so that even Hitler is saved — or does God purge the evil from the earth by destroying evil people so that they cease to exist?
And so the question becomes, not whether God will allow evil to exist for all eternity (he will not) but whether he will deal with evil with perfect justice — because to me, a just God cannot save Hitler, even after a million years of gehenna. I mean, the net effect of eternal bliss following finite punishment is to bless evil. Infinity is infinitely greater than any finite period of punishment.