Salvation 2.0: Part 3.10: David Bentley Hart’s “God, Creation, and Evil,” Part 3

grace5When I first advised Richard Beck that I’d be critiquing Hart’s article, he asked me
this —

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.

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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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12 Responses to Salvation 2.0: Part 3.10: David Bentley Hart’s “God, Creation, and Evil,” Part 3

  1. Richard constant says:

    We want to blame God for everything.
    Who’s culpable here.
    J it’s you.
    It’s Richard beck , and me!

    sad but true and I’ll stand on that one for a while.

  2. laymond says:

    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?

    Jay you brought up the subject of “Hitler’s salvation, or distruction. and I do believe you have said we have to believe in Jesus in order to be saved.

    “My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison. To-day, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed His blood upon the Cross. As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice… And if there is anything which could demonstrate that we are acting rightly it is the distress that daily grows. For as a Christian I have also a duty to my own people.”

    -Adolf Hitler, in a speech on 12 April 1922 (Norman H. Baynes, ed. The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, April 1922-August 1939, Vol. 1 of 2, pp. 19-20, Oxford University Press, 1942)

    Jas 2:14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?

    Yes as I see it Hitler’s view of Jesus was “sick” and formed by a very small glympse of the man Jesus a human with human frailties and temptations.

    Look at Paul before Damascus, the difference between Paul and Hitler they were on different sides of the same fight. Belief in Christ does not always mean salvation.

    PS there are no evil children, so where do you think Hitler’s or Pau’s
    belief came from.
    That said , I am not the judge of either man, and I am pleased that, the decision is not given me to make.

  3. Monty says:

    I may not understand this correctly(wouldn’t be the 1st time) but at the heart of UR it would seem(to me) be that the punishment of the those who don’t make it directly into heaven is redemptive. That is those who need their sins purged are not purged by the blood of Jesus but by and through their own suffering. They have to in a sense “do their time” as we say about those incarcerated for breaking the law. But once they have done their time we say they have “repaid” their debt to society. In UR it’s not God paying the debt through His Son, it’s the criminal serving what punishment God bestows that makes it right. Am I missing something? In order for God to meet the UR’s standard of goodness He is forced to save everyone through HIs prison/parole system instead of the system he chose: of all who have faith in Jesus.

  4. Richard constant says:

    Possibilities / probabilities of possibilities!
    Luke 13:1-5…
    a tad more…

  5. Richard constant says:

    Why did God walk around and ask the question
    who told you you were naked.?
    why was God walking around and ask the question hey Kane where’s your brother?
    to me its pretty simple.
    More later

  6. Richard constant says:

    Also when Jesus is walking around and his disciples can’t cast out a Demon or two.
    He said you of little faith, how long am I going to be with you, boy oh boy!

  7. Richard constant says:

    I do really like 2nd Corinthians 12:11 if that just doesn’t pique your interest, after the above-mentioned verses I guess I could spell it out for you in a little while.
    yep they got Ol Paul self-confessed fool.
    so just keep on reading down.
    what about Jesus on the cross.
    now then ask yourself about the verses Above.

    then think about being as innocent as a dove concerning evil.
    and is devious as a snake concerning good.
    Something like that I’m sure you know J.
    now then concerning
    possibilities / probabilities of possibilities

    . perspectives my brothers.
    is God’s glass half empty!
    or is God’s glass half full.
    More later too much fun

  8. Richard constant says:

    And by the way just as a little PS
    Because we are also tainted and stained.
    hey ask your wifE to take out that stain in your white shirt you know the one you put in with one of your sharpies.
    Then say honey I’d like you to take this stain out of my shirt.
    You be lucky if she doesn’t grab the wooden spoon and put another knot on your head.
    oh well I’m laughIng, andI thought it was just too funny.
    We are SO TAINTED By anthropological ontological theology.
    We wouldn’t know good if it slapped us up the side of the head to say nothing about God’s good!

    thank God I didn’t go to school haha.
    Perspectives yep possibilities / probabilities of possibilities.
    More later.
    you know I can’t help it J

  9. Richard constant says:

    I know that you don’t go looking for a pencil sharpener sharpen up that Wit of yours…

  10. Richard constant says:

    Question number 1
    did God Create, to fix it, or to enjoy it and rest in it.
    I think that has to do with intent.
    although he did it seems to me give us the ability to wonder, kind of like me when I was a real small boy, I’m talking young here.
    when I flushed the toilet I wondered where the water went.
    So I stuck my head in the toilet to see where it went.
    Naturally, I got my head stuck.
    Then one time I noticed that when I unpluged a plug from a light the light went out.
    well of course I decided to spit in the socket and find out what was in there what possibly could make that light work.
    Wonder boy oh boy did I wonder.
    did God set Satan up To fail.

  11. Richard constant says:

    This should allow you to draw some conclusions about about whether or not God is going to clean up the mess that the created made.
    and Why.
    why are the consequences so harsh. as compared to what.
    concerning Satan.
    how self obsessed must a created being get to think and to put into action the Conceived probabilities of possibilities because of exhibited behavior of a creator that seems to be only foolishly good.
    HoW self-deceived when looking into the mirror of the wondrous being that he was. not wonder about those about probabilities of possibilities
    because of The Conceived foolish exhibited concived because of theJoy of Possibilities that God had brought forth.
    and then say to his narcissistic self nobody’s perfect. I’ll catch him in a FAULT…( unrighteous act)

    Why? why? you still ask why?

  12. Richard constant says:

    Let’s explore wonder.
    As mr. Rogers would say.
    NOW, Satan is looking at God’s conceived Achilles heel.
    you bet you he knows about that tree! you know that tree in the middle of the garden the one you’re not supposed to touch “those people!” well we don’t know how the story plays out.
    also what we don’t seem to get.
    Just like Satan we look at the
    no Satan is looking at how much attention God is giving and what kind of attention God is giving.
    Him as compared to what those people those two people.
    you know what breaks the Creation..
    well number one.
    God treats everybody the same.
    That creation was very good and tons of possibilities wondrous possibilities.
    but now I look back and think what was he thinking.
    I mean my gosh look at how he’s going to handle this.
    I mean he turned everything lose, he created this mess, oh and by the way I don’t agree, with Romans 1.
    to say nothing of Romans 1:18-25…
    I’m going to read my Bible in the light of probabilities and possibilities, I mean, what are you doing here evils going rampant poor innocent people are dying good, Lord… can I really say that good Lord. and be true to myself.
    I mean who created this world this cosmos.
    Wait a minute wait a minute wait a minute.
    He did fix it.
    Wait a minute wait a minute.
    now I know who is responsible he did it.Satan

    I know God couldn’t possibly meant.
    Genesis 3 : 22
    wait a minute that means I’m responsible for all the evil because in this stupid world.
    that means I broke the creation wait a minute God fixed it.
    Wait a minute and even with his help? you know probabilities / possibilities.
    You know unfaithfulness

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