January 16, 2021

David Bentley Hart: 4 Meditations on Apokatastasis (5) — The limited conditions of choice

David Bentley Hart: 4 Meditations on Apokatastasis
5: The limited conditions of choice

David Bentley Hart’s book, That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, and Universal Salvation, sets forth a powerful, passionate argument against the traditional Christian doctrine of eternal conscious punishment — that sinners wind up forever in hell — and for the belief that all shall be saved.

Thus far we have considered the concept of apokatastasis and the implications for eschatology that arise from believing that God is the good creator of all. Then we talked about some of the biblical material that Hart uses to support his case. Last time we reflected upon the nature and destiny of human beings, created in the image of God.

In our final post, we consider David Bentley Hart’s fourth meditation on the topic of “free choice.” As most of you may know, one of the most common defenses of the view that sinners will suffer eternal punishment consists of an appeal to human free will. If people choose not to respond in faith to the good news of salvation in Christ, they face an eternal destiny separated from God in the fires of hell. As it is said, “God doesn’t send people to hell, they freely choose to go there.”

Hart finds he cannot tolerate this position. After an extended rant against the very idea of hell and eternal punishment and those theologies which have developed and promulgate these teachings, he focuses in on the free will defense.

Hence, the only defense of the infernalist position that is logically and morally worthy of being either taken seriously or refuted scrupulously is the argument from free will: that hell exists simply because, in order for a creature to be able to love God freely, there must be some real alternative to God open to that creature’s power of choice, and that hell therefore is a state the apostate soul has chosen for itself in perfect freedom, and that the permanency of hell is testament only to how absolute that freedom is. This argument too is wrong in every way, but not contemptibly so. Logically it cannot be true; but morally it can be held without doing irreparable harm to one’s understanding of goodness or of God, and so without requiring the mind to make a secret compromise with evil (explicitly, at least). (p. 171)

Why does David Bentley Hart say that this argument is “wrong in every way” and cannot be logically true?

  • “Freedom is a being’s power to flourish as what it naturally is, to become ever more fully what it is. The freedom of an oak seed is its uninterrupted growth into an oak tree. The freedom of a rational spirit is its consummation in union with God. Freedom is never then the mere “negative liberty” of indeterminate openness to everything; if rational liberty consisted in simple indeterminacy of the will, then no fruitful distinction could be made between personal agency and pure impersonal impulse or pure chance.” (p. 172)
  • “[I]nevitably, true freedom is contingent upon true knowledge and true sanity of mind. To the very degree that either of these is deficient, freedom is absent. And with freedom goes culpability. No mind that possesses so much as a glimmer of a consciousness of reality is wholly lacking in liberty; but, by the same token, no mind save one possessing absolutely undiminished consciousness of reality is wholly free. (p. 177)
  • “So, for anyone to be free, there must be a real correspondence between his or her mind and the structure of reality, and a rational cognizance on his or her part of what constitutes either the fulfilment or the ruin of a human soul. Where this rational cognizance is absent in a soul, there can be only aimlessness in the will, the indeterminacy of the unmoored victim of circumstance, which is the worst imaginable slavery to the accidental and the mindless. If then there is such a thing as eternal perdition as the result of an eternal refusal of repentance, it must also be the result of an eternal ignorance, and therefore has nothing really to do with freedom at all. So, no: Not only is an eternal free rejection of God unlikely; it is a logically vacuous idea.” (p. 178)
  • “Nothing in our existence is so clear and obvious and undeniable that any of us can ever possess the lucidity of mind it would require to make the kind of choice that, supposedly, one can be damned eternally for making or for failing to make.” (p. 180)

Hart summarizes:

If we lived like gods above the sphere of the fixed stars, and saw all things in their eternal aspects in the light of the “Good beyond beings,” then perhaps it would be meaningful to speak of our capacity freely to affirm or freely to reject the God who made us in any absolute sense. As it is, we have never known such powers, and never could in this life. What little we can know may guide us, and what little we can do may earn us some small reward or penalty; but heaven and hell, according to the received views, are absolute destinies, and we have in this life no capacity for the absolute. To me, the question of whether a soul could freely and eternally reject God—whether a rational nature could in unhindered freedom of intellect and will elect endless misery rather than eternal bliss—is not even worth the trouble of asking. Quite apart from the logical issues involved, it is a question that has no meaning in the world we actually inhabit. (pp. 180-181)


  1. Christiane says

    “To me, the question of whether a soul could freely and eternally reject God—whether a rational nature could in unhindered freedom of intellect and will elect endless misery rather than eternal bliss—is not even worth the trouble of asking. Quite apart from the logical issues involved, it is a question that has no meaning in the world we actually inhabit. (pp. 180-181) ”

    when the ‘wounded’ children of Adam and Eve are commanded to ‘choose’ by God, does He take into consideration our ‘woundedness’ in the equation? So that what is meant to be ‘gift’ does not become ‘curse’? Is there biblical reference that helps us figure this out?

    I can look at this and find some meaning in it for myself:
    “When He saw the crowds, He felt sorry for them. They were troubled and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.”
    (from the Holy Gospel of St. Matthew 9:36)

    that verse is all I needed to ‘get it’ that there is ‘mercy’ in that compassion, and that God understands our helplessness ‘in the world we actually inhabit’, THIS WORLD, the world where as Jeremiah the prophet has said “My people are lost sheep; their shepherds have led them astray, causing them to roam the mountains. They have wandered from mountain to hill; they have forgotten their resting place.”

    Inclusive? too inclusive for many fundamentalists, perhaps, but for those of us who would not enjoy fluffy cloud heaven when the rest of those we loved were cast into a pit of fire for all eternity,
    these verses offer a different view of God as revealed to us by the Christ Who had compassion, not contempt.

  2. “The freedom of an oak seed is its uninterrupted growth into an oak tree. The freedom of a rational spirit is its consummation in union with God.”

    Humans aren’t oak seeds. Choice and consequence is an integral part of being human. An oak can’t choose to be a maple – we can choose to do good, or evil.

    • Agree. If the individual human being lacks some sort of autonomy or freedom apart from genetic programming and socialization, or from fulfilling its true “nature” as given in creation, then it’s pointless to even talk about sin or the need for redemption at all. Individual human beings can’t sin, and as individuals have no need for redemption, because, strictly speaking, individual human beings don’t even exist.

      • The idea that the individual human being, or self, does not really exist fits naturally into Buddhism, and has been part of Buddhism since its inception. But then, Buddhism is inherently universalist, has no conception of an eternal hell — though some forms of Buddhism subscribe to the idea that temporary hellish states of being exist — or sin, and as a result does not believe in the need for redemption from sin. Christianity, on the other hand, from it’s beginning has had a very different conception of the purpose of human existence, the existence of the individual human person responsible as a person before God, the problem of the human condition, and the remedy for that problem.

        • Which makes it all the more ironic how Western popularizations of Buddhism have turned it into a vast self-help project with all its talk of “mindfulness” and such.. Westerners can hardly grasp how impersonal the Eastern metaphysic is.

          • Historically, Buddhism first took root among the more elite castes of the Gautama Buddhas time. Historians suggest that an approximation of modern individualism had developed as the result of new socioeconomic developments and the related development of a new quasi middle-class among the “upper” classes of India, educated people engaged in ambitious business and social projects involving much change. That is, these people had a fairly strong sense of ego and personal achievement, and the problems that go with it, but not a strong sense of attachment to caste or the traditional Hindu religious options that fit hand in glove with Indian life; Buddhism came along almost made to order for their condition. So, in a way, it makes some sense that Buddhism in the West would appeal to similarly placed people in our social reality, and to their desire to remedy the alienation they find in their own matrix of ambitions and achievements.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            You saw a similar pattern (and similar bonehead Christian backlash) to the “Pop Hinduism” of the Sixties and Seventies.

    • Michael Z says

      Choice and consequence may be part of being a human being, but we are also victims of circumstances outside our control. Take the same infant and place them either in a loving family or an abusive one, and one is much more likely to grow into an abusive and emotionally damaged adult.

      It’s more of a both/and than an either/or – take any person living in sin and separated from God, and you can probably point to specific times in their life when they chose to turn away from God – or to specific external forces that made them what they are. How do you even begin to sort out those effects and decide whether someone freely chose their life or not? Do you judge each person the same, or take into account how far someone got given the hand they were dealt?

      • I don’t dispute anything you’ve said, or miss the point of any of your questions. It just is apparent to me that Hart is in no better a position to get at the truth of the matter than many of the rest of us, despite his intelligence, erudition, and his verbal eloquence. I prefer universalism, and I abhor “traditional” concepts of hell and believe they are incompatible with the character of a good God; but in regard to the truth of the matter, you and I are in the same position as Hart, and he as us.

      • Good observation. There are so many different hands that have been dealt in history… so many obstacles to making an informed choice to accept Gods love in Christ. It is all such a mystery, but I believe the Good News is better than we can imagine. That’s our hope, at least.

      • Christiane says

        Thank you for that comment, Michael Z.

        well-said, indeed !

      • David Cornwell says

        Somehow I missed your comment earlier. I think you are on the right trail.

  3. “no mind save one possessing absolutely undiminished consciousness of reality is wholly free.” – careful, now, that way lies original sin/total depravity. 😉

    • Christiane says

      from Francis de Sales, who wrote so powerfully in opposition to Calvin’s extreme teachings:

      ““” In spite of the all-powerful strength of God’s merciful hand,
      which touches, enfolds and bends the souls with so many inspirations, calls and attractions,
      the human will remains perfectly FREE, unfettered, and exempt from every form of constraint and necessity.

      Grace is so gracious, and so graciously does it seize our hearts in order to draw them on, that it in no wise impairs the liberty of our will…
      grace has a holy violence, not to violate our liberty but to make it full of love…it presses us but does not oppress our freedom…”

      (Francis de Sales)

      • Christiane says

        “our ruin has been to our advantage, since human nature in fact has received greater graces by the redemption wrought by its Savior than it would ever have received from Adam’s innocence even if he had persevered therein.” (Francis de Sales, ‘Treatise on the Love of God’).

        the power of the great Paschal Mysteries are not something that cage-stage Calvinism understands yet

        as to questions of the ‘meaning of suffering’, there is this to think about:

        “Jesus did not come to explain away suffering, or to remove it. He came to fill it with His presence.”
        (Paul Claudel)

  4. This is just as deterministic as the worst brand of Calvinism that he rails against

    • Yes. If determinism is a problem in Calvinism, it’s a problem in Hart’s universalism as well.

      • anonymous says

        where is ‘mercy’ present in neo-Calvinism?

        • I didn’t say that Hart’s universalism has all the same problems of Calvinism; I said that, if determinism is a problem in Calvinism, as Hart says it is, then it’s a problem in Hart’s system too. I don’t see that individual human agency exists in Hart’s system at all, just as it doesn’t exist in Calvinism.

          • We absolutely do have free choice, just not capacity to make INFINITE choices. Read what he says:

            What little we can know may guide us, and what little we can do may earn us some small reward or penalty; but heaven and hell, according to the received views, are absolute destinies, and we have in this life no capacity for the absolute.

            • To me, that sounds like we are saved because God is more powerful than us. He outlasts us because of his power, not because we repent from our own center of being. I confess that I could easily be wrong. In that case, I hope that God will dispel my ignorance, and enlighten me, the sooner the better.

    • Hart is what’s called a “Compatibilist”. We are free to act out of our own nature. But as an Orthodox theologian he does not accept total depravity.

  5. The “traditional” doctrine of hell is morally repugnant as far as I’m concerned. But the idea that individual human beings have agency both to resist and cooperate with God is not morally repugnant, or logically incoherent. If you can say no to God as an individual on this side of death, I don’t see how you wouldn’t have the same ability on the other side of death. But if you don’t have the ability on this side, because individual human beings just don’t have that ability, then I don’t see how you as an individual can be accountable for sin or evil in any way, either here or hereafter. And that idea seems to me to be in opposition to the idea that human beings are made in the image of God.

    • christiane says

      consider the DIFFERENCE between:

      ‘wounded and in need of the Great Physician’ AND ‘totally depraved’ ?

      • Being able to say no to God does not require total depravity. That’s a false dichotomy. You can say no to your Doctor as well.

    • David Cornwell says

      Hmm. There are many cases where freedom of the will is clouded or non-existent because of the circumstances of birth, environment, ignorance, or whatever. Look at a deeply damaged family and tell me that they have freedom of agency. Each and every member of that family will make choices that are damaging to their cohesive whole or to their individual good. They may have a legal freedom so-called, but real freedom of choice doesn’t exist. And so when many of us in our damage face God in this life we do not see the real God of love, but a clouded God, befogged and mishaped. Only when we can see the face of Christ can we begin to understand God. And seeing Him our choices will become clear and eventually will we see rightly.

  6. anonymous says

    Do we consciously ‘choose’ with our minds rationally ?

    • Do we freely choose anything? If not, then we never sin either; how can we bear responsibility for evil we did not freely choose to do? We just make mistakes, and are lacking knowledge and awareness of our true condition; we need to be enlightened, not saved from sin, death, or nothingness. No need for anyone to die on a cross to enlighten us.

      • Iain Lovejoy says

        “No need for anyone to die on a cross to enlighten us.”
        But there is.
        We are not enlightened by being given information or simply by words. We can’t be enlightened by following instructions or laws, because we will not listen. We require God’s presence in person with us to recognise it for what it is and be drawn to it. We require direct contact with this very self in order for him to break through the walls of the hell that we have built around us.
        God’s presence in his full might and majesty only terrifies and destroys us, because we are too steeped in sin to bear it. God must be present to us incarnate in the world, weak and physical as we are, and in physical body and blood for us to perceive him and accept him.
        If God was only interested in the saving the living and abandoned us when we died, then he would not himself need to die. He could simply destroy the unrepentant dead along with the hell they insisted on remaining in, and leave heaven to the elect, but Jesus had to die and descend into hell, and be present there in his person with the dead also to enlighten us and turn us back to God and bring us out before death itself could be destroyed, as the Bible says it will be.
        Hart’s universalism is grounded in this patristic / Christus Victor model of Christ’s death and resurrection, and doesn’t really work without it.

        • That God needs to be present to “enlighten” us is not quite the same as needing to die. The dying is the means, but the presence is the power to change, both before and after Jesus’ death. In fact, it might be better to thttps://internetmonk.com/archive/92841?replytocom=1156589#respondalk about Jesus’ resurrection in terms of his continuing presence to his followers and the world, in this life and the next. When people talks about bodily resurrection, it often seems to me that they have no idea what the body really is, either in this life or the next.

          • Iain Lovejoy says

            My point was that the dying and descent of Jesus to hell is to the dead what the incarnation of God on earth is to the living. If God needs to be bodily present in this life to reach us while alive, and so needed to be incarnate in a living being, by the same logic he needs to be similarly present in death to reach us in death, and thus must himself go down to death and die to do so. The incarnation and death of Jesus are just two stages of the same descent, as his resurrection and ascension are two stages of the same ascent to heaven. If he became incarnate and did not die, he would only have reached halfway towards us. This is the ancient Christian concept of the “harrowing of hell”.

        • Christiane says

          ‘Christus Victor’
          many thought the final scene in the film Gran Torino was a sort of ‘Christus Victor’ sacrifice


          • Iain Lovejoy says

            Wow, what an ending.
            Exactly so. Here is Gregory of Nyssa (incidentally Hart’s favourite theologian):
            “…the Deity was hidden under the veil of our nature, that so, as with ravenous fish, the hook of the Deity might be gulped down along with the bait of flesh, and thus, life being introduced into the house of death, and light shining in darkness, that which is diametrically opposed to light and life might vanish”
            Death takes the bait and kills Christ, and in doing so, kills himself.

            • Parallels Aslan’s self-sacrifice in the Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. She knows magic, but Aslan knows the Deep Magic that preexisted the Witch and of which she is ignorant. She takes the bait.

    • There is a lot of choice talk. Perhaps “choosing to believe in Jesus or God” is part of most Protestant/Evangelical churches teaching, maybe even RC/EO, it’s not part of Lutheranism. Faith isn’t something we choose to do. It is gift. I’m not sure how this fits into the discussion. Maybe it can’t.

      • Christiane says

        It can. It does. Sometimes I think our hearts believe long before we become cognitively ‘aware’ and have the ‘words’ to express ourselves in response to the gift of faith. Sometimes in matters of faith, our thoughts actually ‘get in the way’, especially when the teaching has been ‘literal’ fundamentalism which cannot handle the breaking of a rule or law even when it is done as ‘ good and necessary trouble’. . . .

        “Le coeur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connait point.”

        “The heart has its reasons of which the mind knows nothing.”
        (Blaise Pascal)

        you might find this post by Dr. Roger Olson interesting:

  7. Burro (Mule) says

    I’m not so certain you dogs have the right scent. Heaven is “cooperating with God” as RobertF put it. Its kind of like when musicians fall into the right head space and almost unconsciously anticipate their bandmates and belnd their talents into a greater whole. Workers have experienced this as well. I have experienced it at work. I have been told soldiers experience it, and it leads to victory. This what I think of when Father uses the word ‘synergy’ in his sermons.

    The opposite is true also, when you don’t ‘get with the program’, but are jealously vigilant to make sure you ‘get your due’ (which likely does not coincide with others’ calculations) and view others as impediments and barriers. One of the most frightening images of Hell in the Orthodox tradition is not the fire and smoke, but the awful isolation, the lack of communion, the pitilessness of the demons.

    If Sartre was right, and hell is other people, then the obverse must be true as well. We will know no solitary bliss as did Gautama under the Bo tree.

    • If this is true, my introversion will need to be burned away. People wear me out and the thought of an eternity w/o some times of isolation sounds miserable to me. *shrug*

      • David Cornwell says

        I’ve never considered this, but YES.

      • Pretty sure introversion is part and parcel of a lot of people’s identities, and is not a design flaw. Introversion will have it’s place.

      • Burro (Mule) says

        Your voice will be heard.

        In my experience, introverts have deeper, more intense friendships for their being less frequent.
        Not at all a design flaw.

    • “Its kind of like when musicians fall into the right head space and almost unconsciously anticipate their bandmates and belnd their talents into a greater whole… This what I think of when Father uses the word ‘synergy’ in his sermons.”

      Reminds me of the Great Music in Tolkien’s Ainulindale…

    • Gautama knew no solitary bliss. There was no one there to be alone with. He was the “Tathagata”. He was here but now he’s gone.

      • That’s about right from a Buddhist perspective. The Buddha is neither together/with nor apart/alone, nor are any of us. He achieved what he did as part of the community of being, not as a result of personal effort. As Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh would say, from a Buddhist perspective we all, including the Gautama Buddha, have inter-being, which is the same as inter-becoming. Mule is misunderstanding the nature of Buddhist enlightenment if he thinks it is the result of lonely personal striving. Taking refuge in the Sangha, the Buddhist monastic community of those striving for nirvana, is one of three vows that a Mahayana Buddhist makes when committing to a the life of a monk, or bhikkhu; and since in the wider sense all beings are striving for enlightenment, the Sangha really includes all beings. One takes refuge in the community of being.

        It is strange that as I get more committed to Christ and Christianity, I become more appreciative of the beauty of the Buddhism I left behind.

        • Robert I have never practiced but I did study Buddhist philosophy academically and there is much there to admire. I dip into my favorite Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna all the time. He reminds me of Wittgenstein, my favorite Western philosopher.

          When I abandoned my evangelical/fundamentalism I also abandoned the notion that no one could have a good idea besides Jesus.

  8. I tend to approach this discussion from a different standpoint. As conscious human beings with at least some degree of free will, we have all at least at one point in our lives felt some degree of guilt or regret, no matter how evil we are. I have no doubt that upon ultimately confronting by God in His goodness and glory, we can be willfully transformed more into the being He created us to be. Therefore, I’m not as concerned about the ability of God to ultimately reconcile people across the morality or even personal beliefs spectrum, even though I still have much uncertainty about the details and actual process. Instead, I question about those who don’t even arguably have “any” degree of consciousness or free will. What about infants who die when they’re 1 year old? 1 month old? 1 day old? 1 hour old? In the womb still? Where do we draw the line? The entire discussion of restoration and reconciliation almost seems moot in these scenarios, since these lives never had a single moment of free will, never an opportunity to even express rejection of God. I admit this is probably an entirely different discussion, but how God handles these scenarios to me is even more illuminating…

  9. Iain Lovejoy says

    I think Hart is a bit wrong on this one. He is too hung up on (medieval) philosophical concepts of things tending towards their own nature and what is natural to them, and, as has been pointed out, this tends towards determinism. Another, more western take on universalism is Thomas Talbott’s “The Inescapable Love of God”. In it, he approaches the same idea differently (although to be fair Hart does touch on similar ideas in his own book). Imagine a big, big, box of dice, millions, even billions of them. The game is that you throw all the dice, and you try to get them all to roll a 6. If any roll 6, you can stop rolling them, but keep rolling the others, and you can have as many goes as you like. The dice aren’t rigged, they fall where they may, but no matter how many dice or how unlucky you are, eventually every dice will show 6 and you win.
    If Hart is right and Christianity is right and universalism is right and we, as humans, can only find our perfect rest and satisfaction in God, we can perfectly free to make whatever decisions we like, and be without constraint, but, so log as God keeps trying, keeps rolling those dice, and never lets up on holding his hand out to us and asking us to come home, eventually we will freely turn to him, if only because we will have exhausted every possible way to be wrong.

    • C.S. Lewis once wrote somewhere, with regard to the compatibility of reincarnation with Christianity, that he believed that IF a million lifetimes were necessary so that someone might be “saved” (though he was skeptical that they could achieve that effect ), God would make that happen. This sounds a little like that.

    • I find his latter arguments much more compelling: as finite, contingent beings, we have free choice, which will be judged, but not capacity to make infinite choices.

  10. This idea of us having a kind of absolute “freedom to choose” is another one of those ideas in which we swim. I think our current expression of it can be traced to the Reformation and Enlightenment Rationalism which arose at nearly the same time. Think about it.

    No, we’re not oak trees. Hart nowhere says (to my knowledge) that our choices don’t have consequences. But y’all are not taking into consideration Eastern Christian anthropology, which holds that what is natural to us as humans – that is, what our Nature is, what constitutes us – what we are – is to be the kind of being who is in communion with God and every other human. Our nature did not change at the Fall; we are still human beings whose telos is that communion. We do not have a “sin nature” (a phrase that does not occur in the Greek of the NT (it’s negligent translation of some instances of sarx, “flesh”, driven by certain presuppositions). We have a human nature that is recognizable, just as a doggy nature is recognizable in dogs. Since sin is the outworking of the disruption of that communion (because of our deep fear of death and non-existence having turned from God and cut ourselves off from the source of life), when we sin we are actually acting against our nature.

    The nature of our choices as fallen contingent beings was a subject of contemplation by Christians as we move through the years, from Paul on. People understood that things happen to us “from the outside” as it were, as David C and Michael Z point out above. It was St Maximos the Confessor (early 600s) who crystallized it when he wrote about how, if our nature were not hampered – from the inside by our fallen condition and from the outside by what happens to us living in a world of people also acting from their fallen condition – we would “automatically” do what is right and good – our wills would be truly free to act in a way that supports our flourishing and our communion with God and others, without needing to stop even for a millisecond and think about it. The reality that we have to deliberate regarding choosing among our behavioral options, and that we often choose something damaging, is a sign that there’s something wrong – that we actually don’t have a completely free will. The kind of will we now have to use to negotiate life in a not-yet-completely-restored world is not optimal. Yes, our choices, such as they are, matter as they help or hinder our flourishing and that of others; we are, after all, the crown of creation, and have retained the image of God – the potentiality of acting from self-giving love. Part of the usefulness of asceticism is that in it our options become more limited, and that’s healthier for us – and closer to Christlikeness – in the state we’re in now and in which we must live until the Lord returns. It all works together to train us to see and operate in self-giving love toward the end of Communion.

    Hope this can help you understand better what Hart is trying to say here. Once Christ returns and we know fully, when we’re not looking into a glass darkly anymore, when we see the fullness of his goodness and love, it would be the height of unreasonableness and illogic to opt for anything that would hinder our flourishing (including both eternal torment and annihilation).

    And Robert, you wrote, “If not, then we never sin either; how can we bear responsibility for evil we did not freely choose to do? We just make mistakes, and are lacking knowledge and awareness of our true condition; we need to be enlightened, not saved from sin, death, or nothingness. No need for anyone to die on a cross to enlighten us.” Well, in Orthodoxy it’s not either/or; it’s both/and. See Athanasius, “On the Incarnation” for just one example of both things being addressed (along with other related issues). Orthodox liturgical hymnody, especially now around Transfiguration, and also around the Baptism of Christ and in the Baptism service itself, is full of references to people being illumined.


    • I’m okay with both/and within limits, Dana. And this area may well fall within those limits, though I’m not completely sure. But my time in Zen study brought me into encounter with a lot of fuzzy-headed both/and thinking, some of it used to justify abusive behavior and power imbalances that promoted dysfunction and bad religion. In many of those cases, behind the both/and rhetoric was an actual hidden either/or wielded by those with more power in the relationship, though they denied it. That is obviously not happening in our discussion, but my experience leads me to be reflexively wary of both/and as an alternative to either/or.

      • All I know is that the call to humility and the Cross isn’t fuzzy-headed, and certainly isn’t about power trips and using others in any way. I don’t know what your both/and experiences have been, but I’m talking about us needing to be rescued from death as well as needing God’s help for us to be able to “see” everything we need to see. Certainly the Christian rhetoric can be misused, but again, the centrality of the Cross mitigates against the misuse.


        • The idea of the cross and self-sacrifice itself can be imposed on others by those with more power to control, use, and oppress them, while the more powerful ones find religious reasons to exempt themselves from the demands they are imposing on the weaker parties. It has happened again and again down through Christian history, both in the West and East. Misuse of the idea of the cross is itself one of the original sins of historic Christianity.

          • Yes. You’re absolutely right. And misuse does not cancel out right use – it shows the difference between them even more (not that we should not deal with the misuse, not at all).

            Look for the people in whom the humility of Christ on the Cross has shone forth. Surely you know some – maybe even they’re Christians. Maybe even they’re Catholics, or Evangelicals…


    • David Cornwell says

      “Hope this can help you understand better what Hart is trying to say here. Once Christ returns and we know fully, when we’re not looking into a glass darkly anymore, when we see the fullness of his goodness and love, it would be the height of unreasonableness and illogic to opt for anything that would hinder our flourishing (including both eternal torment and annihilation).”

      Exactly as I understand it.

  11. Iain Lovejoy says

    Was it CS Lewis who coined the phrase “the Hound of Heaven”?

    • No, it definitely wasn’t him.

      I don’t know how far back it goes, but it was the title of a famous poem by Francis Thompson. There used to be an illustrated, pocket-sized edition of it for sale back in the late 70s-early 80s. It was the kind of thing that was displayed on or near cash register counters, to promote impulse spending as customers stepped up to the register.

      At any rate, it was well-known and Lewis was citing it. It’s available for reading online, and a quick search will turn up plenty 9f links + info. about the writer.

  12. Meant to say that i don’t know how old the phrase “hound of heaven” is, nor where it originated.

  13. Good discussion today. I enjoyed reading all the thoughts and perspectives. I don’t have much to add other than leave these questions that I continually ask myself as a Christian in the face of so many varying theologies and denominational differences:

    -Who is saved?
    -Who does the saving?
    -Why does he save?
    -How does he save?
    -When does he save?
    -What does “being saved” look like?

    I’m not sure there’s consensus on some of these, maybe not even any of them, even amongst Christians. All I know is that the Gospel is Good News, and I hope I will always treat it as such.

  14. Dana, in your 1st two paragraphs, the way you explain EO thought on human nature is much closer to how it is viewed by various schools of thought and practice in both Judaism and Islam than it is to SO much of Western Xtianity.

    You might be surprised to know that there are aspects of EO belief that, to me, seem far more in harmony rwith what i now believe about God and humanity than the seemingly relentless perfectionism that characterizes the evangelical world. I have needed to allow my old beliefs (from 30 years of being in evangelical circles) to just fall away, and to let these assumptions go. I do believe in an infinitely merciful God, and even though i don’t believe certain things that are *big* in my Lutheran upbringing, most of it works well for me and is FAR superior to anything else I’ve encountered, my time around charismatic Catholic nuns excepted. Grace, mercy and love were the most important things for them. (None of the things I’m referring to are mentioned in the Apostles and Nicene creeds.)

    Anyway, I’ve read a lot about varieties of early church thought, ditto Judaism and Islam, in the years since i was forced out of the last evangelical church i attended. While i could not convert to any of the Orthodox churches, there’s still a whole lot there for which i have a great deal of love and respect – things that have helped me tremendously over the past 18 years.

    A very long way of saying “thanks,” but there it is!

    • Dana Ames says

      That would be consistent with Christianity coming out of Judaism. Can’t comment on Islam. And, you’re welcome…


    • Norma Cenva says

      I’ve noticed the same relentless obsession with ‘sin’ and perfectionism in American fundagelicalism.
      I got out many years ago and haven’t looked back.
      Emma Lazarus’s poem about:
      “…Your huddled Masses yearning to breathe free…” comes to mind.
      And yes, modern Judaism is a much more practical and down to earth religion than is Western Christianity.

  15. Oof!

    This was *supposed* to be a reply to Dana, but it’s at the bottom of the page. 🙁

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