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Whether you choose to skip around or read the volume straight through, these profound and enlightening insights will help you draw closer to the One who made you for himself, and deepen your desire for the place he is making for you, and where he wants to live with you throughout eternity. Read More. Pages: ISBN: Keywords: thought provoking, daily devotions, daily devotional, meditation, daily meditation, scripture, eternal perspective, god, faith, trust, daily lessons, perspective, faith and religion, scriptural wisdom, biblical wisdom, inspirational quotes, devotions, bible.
Exclusive Tyndale. Search Submit. But MacDonald insisted that, even as human parents have an obligation to care for their children, so God has a freely accepted responsibility, as our Creator, to meet our moral and spiritual needs. God therefore owes us forgiveness for the same reason that human parents owe it to their children to forgive them in the event that they misbehave. And if the time should come when loving parents are required to respect the misguided choices of a rebellious teenager or an adult child, they will always stand ready to restore fellowship with a prodigal son or daughter in the event of a ruptured relationship.
We thus encounter two radically different religious visions of divine justice, both of which deserve a full and careful examination. So in that sense, our human free choices, particularly the bad ones, are genuine obstacles that God must work around as he tries to bring his loving purposes to fruition. And this may suggest the further possibility that, with respect to some free persons, God cannot both preserve their freedom in relation to him and prevent them from continuing forever to reject him freely.
The basic idea here is that hell is essentially a freely embraced condition and the self-imposed misery it entails rather than a forcibly imposed punishment ; [ 7 ] and because freedom and determinism are incompatible, the creation of free moral agents carries an inherent risk of ultimate tragedy. So even though the perfectly loving God would never reject anyone, sinners can reject God and shut him out forever; they not only have the power as free agents to reject God for a season, during the time when they are mired in ambiguity and subject to illusion, but they are also able to cling forever to the illusions that make such rejection possible in the first place.
But why suppose it even possible that a free creature should freely reject forever the redemptive will of a perfectly loving and infinitely resourceful God? In the relevant literature over the past several decades, advocates of a free—will theodicy of hell have offered at least three quite different answers to this question:. Each of these answers illustrates in its own way how an argument for some controversial philosophical or theological thesis can often include a premise that is no less controversial, or sometimes even more controversial, than the thesis its proponents aim to support.
For Molinism itself is highly controversial see Perszyk for a review of some of the current controversies , and many theistic philosophers who accept the possibility of an everlasting hell nonetheless have serious reservations about the idea of middle knowledge see, for example, Walls , 37— Craig himself has put it this way:. As this passage illustrates, Craig accepts at least the possibility that, because of free will, history includes an element of irreducible tragedy; he even accepts the possibility that if fewer people were damned to hell, then fewer people would have been saved as well.
So perhaps God knows from the outset that his triumph will never be complete no matter what he does; as a result, he merely does the best he can to minimize his defeat, to cut his losses, and in the process to fill heaven with more than he might otherwise have managed to save. The first two answers also represent a fundamental disagreement concerning the existence of free will in hell and perhaps even the nature of free will itself. According to the first answer, the inhabitants of hell are those who have freely acquired a consistently evil will and an irreversibly bad moral character.
So while in hell, these inhabitants do not even continue rejecting God freely in any sense that requires the psychological possibility of choosing otherwise. But is such an irreversibly bad moral character even metaphysically possible? Not according to the second answer, which implies that a morally perfect God would never cease providing those in hell with opportunities for repentance and providing these opportunities in contexts where such repentance remains a genuine psychological possibility.
All of which points once again to the need for a clearer understanding of the nature and purpose of moral freedom. This is not a problem for the Augustinians because, according to them, the damned have no further choice in the matter once their everlasting punishment commences. But it is a problem for those free will theists who believe that the damned freely embrace an eternal destiny apart from God, and the latter view requires, at the very least, a plausible account of the relevant freedom. Note, however, that his sentence in parentheses implies only that PAP is a necessary condition of the relevant freedom; and even if that should be true, it would hardly follow that PAP provides a complete or even an adequate description of it.
For consider again the example, introduced in section 2. Why suppose that such an irrational choice and action, even if not causally determined, would qualify as an instance of acting freely? It is hardly enough to point out that the young man has acted in accordance with his own will in this matter. For that would be true even if his will were the product of sufficient causes that existed in the distant past. Or suppose, if you prefer, that someone should be at least partly responsible for having become cognitively impaired—as when, for example, a teenager foolishly experiments with powerful drugs and ends up with a scrambled brain and an utterly deluded and irrational set of beliefs.
Whatever the explanation for such cognitive impairment, at some point moral freedom is no longer possible, not even in cases where someone retains the power of contrary choice. Either our seriously deluded beliefs, particularly those with destructive consequences in our own lives, are in principle correctable by some degree of powerful evidence against them, or the choices that rest upon them are simply too irrational to qualify as free moral choices. For not just any uncaused event, or just any agent caused choice, or just any randomly generated selection between alternatives will qualify as a free choice for which the choosing agent is morally responsible.
Moral freedom also requires a minimal degree of rationality on the part of the choosing agent, including an ability to learn from experience, an ability to discern normal reasons for acting, and a capacity for moral improvement.
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With good reason, therefore, do we exclude small children, the severely brain damaged, paranoid schizophrenics, and even dogs from the class of free moral agents. For, however causally undetermined some of their behaviors might be, they all lack some part of the rationality required to qualify as free moral agents. Now consider again the view of C. Lewis and many other Christians concerning the bliss that union with the divine nature entails and the objective horror that separation from it entails, and suppose that the outer darkness—a soul suspended alone in nothingness, without even a physical order to experience and without any human relationships at all—should be the logical limit short of annihilation of possible separation from the divine nature.
Within the context of these ideas, two consequences seem to follow. The first is a dilemma argument for the conclusion that a freely chosen eternal destiny apart from God is metaphysically impossible. For either a person S is fully informed about who God is and what both union with him and separation from him entail, or S is not so informed.
Therefore, in either case, whether S is fully informed or less than fully informed, it is simply not possible that S should reject the true God freely see Talbott , ,.
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A second consequence of the above ideas is an obvious asymmetry between heaven and hell. According to Benjamin Matheson see section 3 above , a libertarian freedom to escape from hell is possible only if a libertarian freedom to escape from heaven is likewise possible. But even if one should accept that claim, an important asymmetry would remain.
For suppose that some person S meets the minimal degree of rationality that moral freedom requires. But Walls also contends that, even if those in hell have rejected a caricature of God rather than the true God himself, it remains possible that some of them will finally make a decisive choice of evil and will thus remain in hell forever. He then makes a three-fold claim: first, that the damned have in some sense deluded themselves, second, that they have the power to cling to their delusions forever, and third, that God cannot forcibly remove their self-imposed deceptions without interfering with their freedom in relation to him Walls , Ch.
For more detailed discussions of these and related issues, see Swinburne Ch. See also section 4. In addition to a question about the limits of possible freedom, there is a further question about the limits of permissible freedom. Consider the two kinds of conditions under which we humans typically feel justified in interfering with the freedom of others see Talbott a, We feel justified, on the one hand, in preventing one person from doing irreparable harm—or more accurately, harm that no human being can repair—to another; a loving father may thus report his own son to the police in an effort to prevent the son from committing murder.
We also feel justified, on the other hand, in preventing our loved ones from doing irreparable harm to themselves; a loving father may thus physically overpower his daughter in an effort to prevent her from committing suicide. Harm that no human being can repair may nonetheless be harm that God can repair. It does not follow, therefore, that a loving God, whose goal is the reconciliation of the world, would prevent every suicide and every murder; it follows only that he would prevent every harm that not even omnipotence can repair, and neither suicide nor murder is necessarily an instance of that kind of harm.
So even though a loving God might sometimes permit murder, he would never permit one person to annihilate the soul of another or to destroy the very possibility of future happiness in another; and even though he might sometimes permit suicide, he would never permit his loved ones to destroy the very possibility of future happiness in themselves either. But whatever the resolution of this particular debate, perhaps both parties can agree that God, if he exists, would deal with a much larger picture and a much longer time-frame than that with which we humans are immediately concerned.
So the idea of irreparable harm—that is, of harm that not even omnipotence can repair—is critical to the argument concerning permissible freedom. It is most relevant, perhaps, in cases where someone imagines sinners freely choosing annihilation Kvanvig , or imagines them freely making a decisive and irreversible choice of evil Walls , or imagines them freely locking the gates of hell from the inside C. But proponents of the so-called escapism understanding of hell can plausibly counter that hell is not necessarily an instance of such irreparable harm, and Raymond VanArragon in particular raises the possibility that God might permit his loved ones to continue forever rejecting him in some non-decisive way that would not, at any given time, harm them irreparably see VanArragon , 37ff; see also Kvanvig , He thus explicitly states that rejecting God in his broad sense requires neither an awareness of God nor a conscious decision, however confused it may be, to embrace a life apart from God.
Accordingly, persistent sinning without end would never result, given such an account, in anything like the traditional hell, whether it be understood as a lake of fire, the outer darkness, or any other condition that would reveal the full horror of separation from God given the traditional Christian understanding of such separation.
But here is perhaps the most important point of all. For consider this. Although it is logically possible, given the normal philosophical view of the matter, that a fair coin would never land heads up, not even once in a trillion tosses, such an eventuality is so incredibly improbable and so close to an impossibility that no one need fear it actually happening.
Or, if you prefer, drop the probability to. Over an indefinitely long period of time, S would still have an indefinitely large number of opportunities to repent; and so, according to Reitan, the assumption that sinners retain their libertarian freedom together with the Christian doctrine of the preservation of the saints yields the following result.
We can be just as confident that God will eventually win over all sinners and do so without causally determining their choices , as we can be that a fair coin will land heads up at least once in a trillion tosses. But either the hardened character of those in hell removes forever the psychological possibility of their choosing to repent, or it does not. Beyond that, the most critical issue at this point concerns the relationship between free choice, on the one hand, and character formation, on the other. Our moral experience does seem to provide evidence that a pattern of bad choices can sometimes produce bad habits and a bad moral character, but it also seems to provide evidence that a pattern of bad choices can sometimes bring one closer to a dramatic conversion of some kind.
So why not suppose that a pattern of bad choices might be even more useful to God than a pattern of good choices would be in teaching the hard lessons we sometimes need to learn and in thus rendering a dramatic conversion increasingly more probable over the long run? Theists who accept the traditional idea of everlasting punishment, or even the idea of an everlasting separation from God, must either reject the idea that God wills or desires to save all humans and thus desires to reconcile them all to himself see proposition 1 in section 1 above or reject the idea that God will successfully accomplish his will and satisfy his own desire in this matter proposition 2.
But a theist who accepts proposition 1 , as the Arminians do, and also accepts proposition 2 , as the Augustinians do, can then reason deductively that almighty God will triumph in the end and successfully reconcile to himself each and every human being. From the perspective of an interpretation of the Christian Bible, moreover, Christian universalists need only accept the exegetical arguments of the Arminian theologians in support of 1 and the exegetical arguments of the Augustinian theologians in support of 2 ; that alone would enable them to build an exegetical case for a universalist interpretation of the Bible as a whole.
One argument in support of proposition 1 contends that love especially in the form of willing the very best for another is inclusive in this sense: even where it is logically possible for a loving relationship to come to an end, two persons are bound together in love only when their purposes and interests, even the conditions of their happiness, are so logically intertwined as to be inseparable.
If a mother should love her child even as she loves herself, for example, then any evil that befalls the child is likewise an evil that befalls the mother and any good that befalls the child is likewise a good that befalls the mother; hence, it is simply not possible, according to this argument, for God to will the best for the mother unless he also wills the best for the child as well. That argument seems especially forceful in the context of Augustinian theology, which implies that, for all any set of potential parents know, any child they might produce could be one of the reprobate whom God has hated from the beginning and has destined from the beginning for eternal torment in hell.
In any event, Arminians and universalists both regard an acceptance of proposition 1 as essential to a proper understanding of divine grace. They therefore reject the doctrine of limited election on the ground that it undermines the concept of grace altogether. Or, to put the question in a slightly different way, which position, if either, requires that God interfere with human freedom or human autonomy in morally inappropriate ways?
As the following section should illustrate, the answer to this question may be far more complicated than some might at first imagine. But in fact, no universalist—not even a theological determinist—holds that God sometimes coerces people into heaven against their will. For although many Christian universalists believe that God provided Saul of Tarsus, for example, with certain revelatory experiences that changed his mind in the end and therefore changed his will as well, this is a far cry from claiming that he was coerced against his will.
If God has middle knowledge, moreover, then that already establishes the possibility that God can bring about a universal reconciliation without in any way interfering with human freedom. Is that true? Not according to one of the more surprising arguments for universalism, which has the following conclusion: only by interfering with human freedom in morally inappropriate ways could God protect us from those metaphysical realities that will inevitably teach us, provided we are rational enough to qualify as free moral agents, the true meaning of separation from God.
But to understand this argument, one must first come to appreciate two very different ways in which God might interfere with human freedom. Suppose that a man is standing atop the Empire State Building with the intent of committing suicide by jumping off and plunging to his death below. So one is not free to accomplish some action or to achieve some end, unless God permits one to experience the chosen end, however confusedly one may have chosen it; and neither is one free to separate oneself from God, or from the ultimate source of human happiness as Christians understand it, unless God permits one to experience the very life one has chosen and the full measure of misery that it entails.
Given the almost universal Christian assumption that separation from God in the outer darkness, for example would be an objective horror, it looks as if even God himself would face a dilemma with respect to human freedom: Either he could permit sinners to follow their chosen path, or he could prevent them from following it and from opting for what he knows but they may not yet know is an objective horror. If he should perpetually prevent them from following their chosen path, then they would have no real freedom to do so; and if he should permit them to follow it—to continue opting for what he knows will be an objective horror—then their own experience, provided they are rational enough to qualify as free moral agents, would eventually shatter their illusions and remove their libertarian freedom in this matter.
So in neither case would sinners be able to retain forever their libertarian freedom to continue separating themselves from the ultimate source of human happiness. For an expanded statement of this argument, see Talbott b, —, and Talbott , — If this argument should be sound, it would seem to follow that, no matter how tenaciously some sinners might pursue a life apart from God and resist his loving purpose for their lives, God would have, as a sort of last resort, a sure-fire way to shatter the illusions that make their rebellion possible in the first place.
To do so, he need only honor their own free choices and permit them to experience the very life they have confusedly chosen for themselves. If, as a last resort, God should allow a sinner to live for a while without even an implicit experience of the divine nature, [ 11 ] the resulting horror, they believe, will at last shatter any illusion that some good is achievable apart from him; and such a discovery will in the end elicit a cry for help of a kind that, however faint, is just what God needs in order to begin and eventually to complete the process of reconciliation.
Because the Arminians and the universalists agree that God could never love an elect mother even as he, at the same time, rejects her beloved baby, they both agree that the first alternative is utterly impossible.
But because the issues surrounding the idea of free will are so complex and remain the source of so much philosophical controversy, perhaps they can also agree that a free—will theodicy of hell is the best philosophical account currently available for a doctrine of everlasting separation from God. Rarely are theists very specific about what heaven will supposedly be like, and there are no doubt good reasons for that. For most theists, even those who believe in revelation, would deny that we have much information on this matter.
But two issues have typically arisen in the relevant philosophical literature: first, whether the misery of loved ones in hell would undermine the blessedness of those in heaven, and second, whether immortality of any kind would ultimately lead to tedium, boredom, and an insipid life. When a reporter asked the mother of Ted Bundy, a serial murderer of young women, whether she could still support a son who had become a monster, her answer provided a poignant illustration of the problem.
I love him. I have to support him. But still, one wonders how this suffering woman—a committed Christian, by the way—could ever achieve supreme happiness knowing that the son she continued to love was destined to be lost forever without any future hope of redemption. Such considerations have led some, including the 19 th Century theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher, to argue that the misery of those in hell would undermine altogether the blessedness of the redeemed in heaven see Schleiermacher , —; Kronen and Reitan , 80—89; and Talbott b, — But others have argued that God could always shield forever the redeemed in heaven from painful memories of the lost in hell.
Another concerns how God, as an infinitely loving being, might expunge the infinitely more painful memories from his own mind. But the main issue to be resolved here is whether blissful ignorance qualifies as a worthwhile form of happiness at all. As a matter of historical fact, in any case, some of the most influential theologians in the Western tradition, including some who are widely admired as heroes of faith, have not only made an eternal torture chamber an important part of their teaching about hell; they seem also to have gloried in the idea that the torments of those writhing in hell forever will increase the joy of those in heaven.
II [ available online ]. Remarkably, Edwards was also a theological determinist who held that God determined from the beginning to bring a huge number of people to a horrific end and did so for the precise purpose of increasing the joy of the elect in heaven. If justice were to require that one suffer eternally for sins that God himself causally determined, then such suffering would have to be a source of satisfaction, if not outright bliss, on the part of any fair-minded person witnessing it.
Schleiermacher and many others therefore find it hard to understand how those who receive special favor in this regard could be so deliriously happy in the knowledge that some of their own loved ones do not receive a similar special favor. A second issue concerning heaven that sometimes arises is whether everlasting bliss is even a possible state of affairs.
Such a statement is reminiscent of a quotation often attributed to Charles H. Duell, who became commissioner of the U. According to legend, Duell declared that everything that can be invented has already been invented; and even though this wonderful story is probably apocryphal, it nonetheless illustrates in a humorous way the possible consequences of an impoverished imagination. It would hardly take even 30 years, depending upon the circumstances, for a given life to become dull and insipid. But the idea that a healthy person could exhaust all the possibilities for adventure and meaningful experience in a mere years will strike many as simply preposterous.
A mere years is virtually nothing, it is true, when compared to a life without end. Might not an unending life even increase the possibilities for such a desirable mix? A favorite symphony not heard for a hundred years or so might be experienced as utterly fresh and exciting. And even if we set aside anything that might raise a controversy about personal identity, the mere discovery of an unexpected means of traversing our extravagant universe, with its billions of galaxies and billions of star systems within each of them, might open up—for adventurous spirits anyway—incredible possibilities for new and exciting experiences.
Nor should we ignore the further possibility of experiencing infinitely many other realms and universes that are not spatially contiguous with our own. In caring for her baby, for example, a mother typically performs many mundane tasks that might seem utterly tedious were it not for the joy of interacting with her baby and of watching it grow and flourish.
Paul found even the tedium of prison to be tolerable, so he claimed, because he saw it as part of a larger story that he believed to be both true and glorious. So why allow, many religious people would ask, an impoverished imagination to exclude the very possibility of an over-arching story arc perpetually giving fresh meaning to our individual lives? And if that be true, then the task of rendering someone fit for eternal joy may be far more complicated, even for an omnipotent being, than one might have imagined.
As many religions including Christianity teach, we must first learn to love properly before we can experience enduring happiness, and this requires that we also be purged of all selfish tendencies, all lust for power over others, every temptation to benefit ourselves at the expense of others, and anything else that might separate one person from another. Right here, of course, is where Williams would question whether a suitably transformed person would be the same individual as the unperfected person that existed previously.
But none of our moral imperfections, a religious person might retort, can coherently be numbered among our essential properties—as if we could never progress morally and never learn to become more loving persons. So here, perhaps, is the sum of the matter from a religious perspective: the more self-absorbed we become, the more tedious and dreary our lives inevitably become over time. But the more outwardly focused we become in loving relationships, the more joyful and meaningful our lives also become over time. For the same considerations that lead some to wonder whether immortality would eventually become dreadfully boring may also lead some of the religious to consider favorably the following hypothesis.
Although the problem of evil is the subject of another entry see the entry on The Problem of Evil , the relevant point for the topic of heaven is just this: one need not think of heaven or the coming age, as the Gospel writers sometimes refer to it as a static ethereal realm in which there is nothing to do.
One might instead suppose that God will never stop creating additional persons to love and additional realms for us to experience and that we will always have important roles to play, as Paul hinted in Ephesians , in this ongoing process of creation and revelation. Three Primary Eschatological Views 1.
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The Augustinian Understanding of Hell 2. Free—will Theodicies of Hell 3. The Universalist Rejection of Everlasting Separation 4. Heaven: Two Critical Issues 5. Three Primary Eschatological Views Let theism in general be the belief that a supremely powerful, supremely wise, and supremely good loving, just, merciful personal being exists as the Creator of the universe.
Almighty God will triumph in the end and successfully reconcile to himself each person whose reconciliation he sincerely wills or desires. Some humans will never be reconciled to God and will therefore remain separated from him forever. The Augustinian Understanding of Hell Behind the Augustinian understanding of hell lies a commitment to a retributive theory of punishment, according to which the primary purpose of punishment is to satisfy the demands of justice or, as some might say, to balance the scales of justice. In the relevant literature over the past several decades, advocates of a free—will theodicy of hell have offered at least three quite different answers to this question: Perhaps the most commonly expressed answer concerns the possibility of an irrevocable decision to reject God forever.
Jerry Walls thus describes the damned as those who have made a decisive choice of evil see Walls , Ch. Another proposed answer rejects altogether the traditional idea that those in hell are lost without any further hope of restoration. It also includes a perfect knowledge of what a person would have done freely in circumstances that do not even obtain. So with respect to his decision whether or not to create a given person and to place that person in a given set of circumstances, God can base this decision in part on his knowledge of what the person would do freely if created and placed in these precise circumstances—or if, for that matter, the person were placed in any other possible set of circumstances as well.
From this Molinist perspective, William Lane Craig has defended the possibility that some free persons are utterly irredeemable in this sense: nothing God can do—that is, no revelation he might impart, no punishment he might administer, and no conditions he might create—would ever induce them to repent freely or successfully reconcile them to him Craig Craig himself calls this dreadful property of being irredeemable transworld damnation Craig himself has put it this way: It is possible that the terrible price of filling heaven is also filling hell and that in any other possible world which was feasible for God the balance between saved and lost was worse.
It is possible that had God actualized a world in which there are less persons in hell, there would also have been less persons in heaven. It is possible that in order to achieve this much blessedness, God was forced to accept this much loss , The Universalist Rejection of Everlasting Separation Theists who accept the traditional idea of everlasting punishment, or even the idea of an everlasting separation from God, must either reject the idea that God wills or desires to save all humans and thus desires to reconcile them all to himself see proposition 1 in section 1 above or reject the idea that God will successfully accomplish his will and satisfy his own desire in this matter proposition 2.
Heaven: Two Critical Issues Rarely are theists very specific about what heaven will supposedly be like, and there are no doubt good reasons for that. Stump ed. Almeida, M. Hopkins and H. Richardson eds. Augustine, City of God against the Pagans , in R.
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