Thursday, April 15, 2004

Dialogue on Salvation After Death (vs. Sogn Mill-Scout)

This discussion took place on the Apologetics / Ecumenism Internet List, which I founded, with another Christian. Sogn's words will be in blue:


In numerous discussions with other Christians I've defended the idea that salvation is available to people after death. My reasoning has always been from basic moral principles as I understand them, rather than from scripture, which I have thought to be inconclusive on the subject.

Why is it "morally unreasonable" to assume that God would give every person enough knowledge and revelation of Himself, thus ample opportunity, in this life to repent, so that a further opportunity after death is superfluous? Romans 1:18-32 and 2:12-16 would seem to make that clear. The truth of God and the moral law is known intrinsically by humans, but it is suppressed. Also, passages about sudden death seem to me to imply that judgment follows, with no further chance of salvation: e.g., "Thou fool! This very night thy soul is required of thee!" or, "The Son of Man will come as a thief in the night" (i.e., some people will be unprepared).

But for those who believe God wholeheartedly desires all to be saved, yet believe death ends the opportunity for salvation, the quoted scriptures should pose an interesting challenge.

Not at all. Read on . . .

Matthew 11:20-24 (NRSV)

[20] Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not repent. [21] "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. [22] But I tell you, on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. [23] And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades. For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. [24] But I tell you that on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you."

There is a briefer parallel in Luke:

Luke 10:13-14 (NRSV)

[13] "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. [14] But at the judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you."

Here is a formal argument built upon the quoted scripture. I shall call it the Argument from Counterfactual Repentance (ACR):

(1) God wholeheartedly desires all persons to be saved. {Somewhat controversial premise: precludes Calvinism}

Yes: universal atonement as opposed to limited. Catholics, Orthodox, and Arminian Protestants all agree; over against Calvinists.

(2) God will do whatever is necessary to ensure that all persons are provided with the best possible opportunity to respond positively to God in repentance. {from 1, assuming that God's acts are always consistent with his ultimate desires; presumably an uncontroversial assumption for all Christians}.

I'm not sure about "best possible opportunity," if by that you mean circumstantial contingencies. E.g., many people never hear the gospel preached. I do think that God gives sufficient knowledge and grace for all to know Him and to repent. The ones who haven't heard the gospel still know enough - simply by being made in God's image, conscience, etc. - to possibly be saved, but that is not the "best possible opportunity" by any stretch of the imagination.

(3) For every person, God knows whether there are possible circumstances under which that person would respond positively (penitently) to God. {premise, assuming omniscience}.

This starts to undermine your argument, as you are expressing Middle Knowledge (scientia media), which provides one of the several ways out of your dilemma.

(4) For every person who would in some possible circumstances respond positively to God, God knows what circumstances are required to elicit their repentance. {premise, assuming omniscience}.

Ditto.

(5) For every person who would in some possible circumstances respond positively to God, God will certainly provide them with the necessary and optimum circumstances to elicit their repentance. {from 1-4}

I don't think so, based on my answer to (2) above. Universal Atonement requires free will, which in turn makes much evil possible, by virtue of God's allowance of evil acts which men do to each other, and which result in many, many less than "optimum" circumstances. The only alternative is universalism: God simply declares all men saved. But that is hardly a possible option for anyone who believes in the biblical teaching, which includes many references to hellfire and damnation.

(6) According to Jesus, some persons who would under some possible circumstances repent are not provided with the required circumstances for repentance during their lifetimes. (Jesus specifically identifies the populations - or at least large portions thereof - of Tyre, Sidon and Sodom.) {based on Matthew 11:20-24 and Luke 10:13-14}

You neglect to see two things:

a) In speaking of whole cities, Jesus obviously generalizes, and this, of course, does not take in every individual. E.g., one might cite the Nineveh which heard Jonah's preaching and repented, but no one would particularize that to every single person. Needless to say, cities cannot be saved, only human beings can be.

b) "Repentance" is not synonymous with salvation. It is a necessary prerequisite, but not at all the same thing, as it deals with the inner state of heart rather than one's final eschatological destination. Nor is it necessarily a one-time event leading inexorably to salvation. That is the eternal security position, which itself is fraught with biblical difficulties - as I think you would agree.

(7) Therefore, those persons must be provided after death with the optimum circumstances which will evoke their repentance. {from 5 & 6}

No, because this assumes that people didn't have enough knowledge to either accept or reject God. The Bible says otherwise (my citations above). It has less to do with "circumstances" than it does with the rebellious will and the inner instinctual realization that we were made by and for a Creator. I deny premise #2, so your conclusion does not follow. I believe Jesus is speaking in terms of Middle Knowledge. He knows what cities would have done, had they heard the gospel. People experience different levels of blessing. But I believe no one will have any excuse on Judgment Day, whether they heard the Christian gospel or not, because the law is "written on their hearts."

The ubiquitous Ludwig Ott writes in his Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (Rockford, IL: TAN, 1974 {orig. 1952}, 40-43):

    While exhaustively knowing His creative causality He also knows therein all the operations which flow or can flow from this, and indeed, just as comprehensively as He knows Himself. 1 Jn 1:5: 'God is light and in Him there is no darkness.' . . .

    GOD KNOWS ALL THAT IS MERELY POSSIBLE BY THE KNOWLEDGE OF SIMPLE INTELLIGENCE (scientia simplicic intelligentiae). (DE FIDE)

    . . . Holy Writ teaches that God knows all things and hence also the merely possible [cites Est 14:14, 1 Cor 2:10, S. Th. I, 14,9] . . .

    GOD ALSO KNOWS THE CONDITIONED FUTURE FREE ACTIONS WITH INFALLIBLE CERTAINTY . . .

    By these are understood free actions of the future which indeed will never occur, but which would occur, if certain conditions were fulfilled. The Molinists call this Divine knowledge scientia media . . . The Thomists deny that this knowledge of the conditioned future is a special kind of Divine knowledge which precedes the decrees of the Divine Will.

    That God possesses the certain knowledge of conditioned future free actions (futuribilia) may be positively proved from Scripture. Mt 11:21: 'Woe to thee, Corozain! Woe to thee, Bethsaida! For if in Tyre and Sidon had been wrought the miracles that have been wrought in you, they had long ago done penance in sackcloth and ashes.' Cf. 1 Sam 23:1-13; Wis 4:11.

    The Fathers assert Divine foresight of conditioned future things when they teach that God does not always hear our prayer for temporal goods, in order to prevent their misuse; or that God allows a man to die at an early age in order to save him from eternal damnation [cites St. Gregory of Nyssa, which will be cited below] . . .

    Speculatively, the Divine foreknowing of conditioned future things is based on the infinite perfection of the Divine knowing, on the infallibility of the Divine providence, and on the practice of prayer in the Church . . .

    Molinism, deriving from the Jesuit theologian Louis Molina (+ 1600) explains the infallible Divine prescience of future free actions by recourse to scientia media, which precedes the Divine decrees of will conceptually, not in time, and which is independent of them. Through scientia simplicis intelligentiae God knows from all eternity how every creature endowed with reason will act in all possible circumstances. Through scientia media He knows how it would act in all possible conditions, in the case of new conditions being realised. In the light of scientia media He then resolves with the fullest freedom to realise certain determined conditions. Now He knows through scientia visionis with infallible certainty, how the person will, in fact, act in these conditions . . .

This explains the whole scenario you present. Salvation after death need not be posited at all. But my argument requires a prior belief in God-breathed Scripture, from which is derived much of what I present here. You did say that Scripture was inconclusive on this point. That I vigorously deny.

The majority of Christians are not Calvinists, however, and tend to take at face value the many scriptural references to God's desire to save everyone. (This logically entails that our free will endows us with the awesome capacity to successfully resist God's wholehearted will; In other words, God's sovereignty is limited by our free will).

No, not his sovereignty (which incorporates our free will within itself, at least partially by the operation of Middle Knowledge), but a world without evil, which we brought about by our freely-chosen rebellion, both corporate and individual. Hell is also made necessary by free will.

Many such Christians, including many subscribers to this list, also believe our opportunity to respond penitently to God is strictly limited to our mortal life spans and that at death our eternal fate is sealed.

Like the doctrine of hell, this has always been the orthodox position of all the major branches of Christianity. Purgatory offers an aspect of further grace after death, but it is not a second chance. Whoever goes there is already "saved" in the sense that they are destined for heaven. Purgatory is the anteroom to heaven; not a fire escape from hell. It is not a "minimum security" hell, but rather, a beastly and uncomfortable "hot room" of the heavenly mansion. Even so, there are more pleasures to be had there than on earth. One is much closer to God there.

Such Christians must reject my argument if they wish to maintain their belief that death ends our opportunity for salvation. I am curious to learn the nature of their objections to ACR. Assuming ACR is unsound, where does it go wrong?

I showed that. Let me reiterate:

1) Scripture teaches that sufficient grace is available for all regardless of circumstances of time, place, and other variables. The damned reject what they know. They are not merely ignorant of what they could have known, given a different, more fortunate circumstance. This is the biblical position;

2) You confused corporate, general repentance (Tyre and Sidon) with individual salvation.

3) You start out in your point #1 speaking of salvation, yet in #2-7 you always speak of repentance. The two are not identical, so this is a major weakness in your logic and presentation;

4) The existence of Middle Knowledge within God's omniscience allows one to take a position that these cities could have possibly repented in another world. It does not follow at all, however, that therefore God will give them that chance after death. Theoreticals do not entail actualities. God could have, e.g., created a world in which the angels never fell; hence no Satan, no fall, no original sin, no actual sin, etc. That's a possible world, but it's possibility obviously does not mean that it was an actuality.

5) The incompatibility of free will with the "best possible circumstances" for attaining salvation for all. An internal inconsistency in your argument . . .

In my experience the Christians with whom I'm concerned (again, excluding Calvinists) generally seem to accept propositions 1-5 of ACR. When I've pointed out that apparently not everyone has an adequate opportunity to respond positively to God during this life, the usual reply is to insist that, appearances notwithstanding, everyone does have such opportunity, if only to respond to what is usually called either common grace or general revelation.

Yes, as in my case.

So it would seem that my disagreement with such Christians boils down to a dispute over the truth of proposition 6 in ACR, which makes this a matter of straightforward scriptural exegesis.

I don't see anything in the passage you cite which suggests to me a "second chance." They merely recount "another world" in which two cities heard the gospel and acted differently than they in fact did in actual history.

Let us call the common Christian assumption that all persons are ensured the best possible opportunity to respond positively to God during their natural lives, Universal Optimum Opportunity (UOO). UOO is the contradictory of proposition 6 in ACR.

OK. But again, not "best possible" but sufficient for salvation (based on what people do with what they know - "to whom much is given, much is required"). USO? LOL

What I have belatedly noticed in the relevant gospel passages is strong evidence (I would go so far as to call it proof), from the mouth of our Lord himself, that UOO is false.

Hardly. I think it is a matter of eisegesis and special pleading. :-)

If UOO is false (and, of course, if Calvinism is false),

UOO is largely true, and Calvinism is false.

it follows that my argument is sound and that, therefore, some people attain salvation after death.

If you can overcome all my objections and contrary biblical indications!

So my basic question, for those who refuse to accept that conclusion, is this: How can you maintain belief in UOO in the face of Jesus' contrary testimony?

I just showed you. :-)

Jesus clearly asserts that if only the wicked denizens of Tyre, Sidon and Sodom had been privileged to witness the "deeds of power" he performed for the impenitent cities of Galilee, they would have repented. Jesus is making a counterfactual claim involving repentance and the conditions under which it may be evoked. Is this counterfactual assertion an instance of genuine knowledge on Jesus' part, or shall we say he was merely expostulating in his typical emotional and hyperbolic manner?

Genuine Middle Knowledge: an aspect of omniscience.

One could deny the literal truth of Jesus' counterfactual statements, ascribing it merely to a loose way of public speaking for dramatic effect.

No, Jesus never did that.

My reasoning about salvation vis-a-vis death "has always been from basic moral principles" in the sense that I start from the premises that God is perfectly good, benevolent, just, merciful, and so on. Fairness and benevolence dictate treating everyone with equal concern and, in particular, giving everyone an equal opportunity to be saved. Unlike you, I did not "assume that God would give every person enough knowledge and revelation of Himself, thus ample opportunity, in this life to repent, so that a further opportunity after death is superfluous. I rejected that assumption because it seems obviously contrary to fact. It just does not seem to be the case (based on my experience of people, reading of history and biographies, etc) that in all cases another opportunity for salvation after death would be superfluous.

You mention everything except Scripture, which alone can determine this, as it is ultimately a revelation. It's from revelation that we get the notion that there is no further chance to be saved after we die. Otherwise, we simply wouldn't know.

In fact it has always seemed utterly implausible to imagine that some magical property of death renders people incapable of repentance. I can't imagine why this incapacity would occur in every case.

It's not that they're incapable, just that they've had the chance to do so in this life, and God has to draw the line somewhere.

And it goes without saying, based on both morality and scriptural teaching, that God does not cease to love people and desire their salvation just because they've crossed the threshold of death.

Love and justice are two different things. You have to establish this from Scripture, and I don't think you have.

I disagree with your claim that "Romans 1:18-32 and 2:12-16 would seem to make ... clear [that] The truth of God and the moral law is known intrinsically by humans, but it is suppressed." I've never been impressed with that reading of the former passage because it seems apparent to me that Paul is not talking about all humans, but rather about some humans, specifically "those who by their wickedness suppress the truth."

The most relevant portion is Romans 1:20, which is a general statement, applying to all people. In othyer words all people know there is a God, through creation (cf. Job 12:7-9; Ps 19:1-6; Jer 5:21-24). Romans 1:19 says it is plain to the wicked as well. So all know that God exists, but some wickedly suppress what they know to be true (1:18,21,25,28,32). So my argument is not affected in the least.

The context, which concerns unusually wicked or immoral people, makes this clear enough. He isn't talking about the Gandhis and Buddhas of the world! The latter passage is more interesting and relevant:

He sure is. Read 1:20 and try to prove that it isn't a general statement.

Romans 2:15-16: [15] They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse OR PERHAPS EXCUSE THEM [16] on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all.

This seems perfectly congruent with the scenario of some people being saved only when they fully perceive the truth after death.

No, because it is an application of their thoughts and actions in this life to the Judgment Day. It does not follow that they have another chance. It is simply saying that they will have that "loophole," so to speak when judgment happens. They obviously learn more at death, but it doesn't therefore follow that they are saved after death (where before they were lost). The law is already in their hearts. What more do they need? That is the whole point of the passage: they already know what is required, and they are not invincibly ignorant.

As for sudden death and God's sudden judgment, since I never claimed to have proven universalism, this seems an irrelevant objection.

Not at all, because it is the language of finality. If a further chance after death existed, why the warning about sudden death? I would say the nonexistence of a second chance after death is presupposed in, e.g., the parables of the wedding feast (Matthew 22:1-14) and the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). This is even more evident in the parable of the ten bridesmaids (Matthew 25:1-13), where the damned persons in the parable went to Jesus (i.e., after the 2nd coming: 25:6,10), but the "door was shut." If you are right, it should have been open. But it was already too late. Jesus did not "know" them (25:12). So the moral of that story is:

    Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. (Matt 25:12; NRSV)
All of this makes little sense on the assumption that there exists another chance for salvation after death. Note that they are described as "foolish," not merely ignorant. They obviously knew about the bridegroom. This is all harmonious with Romans 1:18-32. Hebrews 9:27 is clear anyway:
    . . . it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment. (NRSV)
If you are correct, shouldn't this read?:
    . . . it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after a second chance to repent after death, the judgment.
Furthermore, there is another frightening passage where Jesus discusses the coming of the Kingdom: Luke 17:20-37 (cf. Matt 24:26-28,37-44; Mk 13:32-37; Lk 21:34-36). It is entirely consistent with my beliefs on this (and that of orthodoxy as a whole). He makes analogies to the Second Coming, which is alluded to in 17:24 and 17:30. "In the days of Noah" men were "eating and drinking, and marrying . . ." until "the flood came and destroyed all of them." (17:26-27). Not much of a second chance there (by analogy). They did have a hundred years or so to listen to old man Noah, but then that was all in this life, not the next. They rejected his counsel, and were judged and killed, and this is later compared to being thrown into hell, as I will explain shortly.

Then Jesus compares Sodom to those who will be alive at the time of the Second Coming. They were "eating and drinking, buying and selling," etc. (17:28). Then "it rained fire and sulfur from heaven and destroyed all of them" (17:29). Jesus says that's how it will be when He returns (17:30). Our Lord urges vigilance and preparation in order to avoid damnation and judgment (17:31-33). Then the climax: He proceeds to explain that "on that night [when the Son of Man returns] there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other left" (17:34). He reiterates the point in 17:35. This is our warning of (sudden) judgment, as compared to the situations before the flood and the destruction of Sodom. The disciples ask Jesus where the persons who are "taken" go. He answers:

    . . . Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. (17:37)
Now, apparently it is variously interpreted by commentators, but it seems to me that Jesus is here referring to hell, specifically Gehenna, which was His own word-picture for hell. Gehenna (from valley of Hinnom) was the garbage-heap of Jerusalem, outside the city walls. Much evil had previously taken place there (false idols, child sacrifice, pagan ceremonies, etc.). Gehenna/hell is described by Jesus in Mark 9:48 as a place "where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched" (cf. Isa 14:11). Dead bodies of executed criminals used to be cast into Gehenna (see, e.g., Jer 31:40). Worms used to feed upon the bodies, and fires were kept burning, for obvious reasons. In Isaiah 66:24, we read:
    And they shall go out and look at the dead bodies of the people who have rebelled against me; for their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.
Interestingly, the latter statement is also in the context of the Second Coming of Christ, as indicated by Isaiah 66:15-16,22. The conclusion I draw, therefore, is this: Jesus is showing how judgment is very sudden. There will be no time to repent, and judgment will be swift. Physical death is clearly analogous to spiritual death in these passages. No second chance for salvation is even remotely implied. Granting your scenario, surely all these parables and teachings and warnings would incorporate a description of such a second chance, as the very mercy of God you want to emphasize would demand it. But it never occurs. Therefore, on these and other grounds, your viewpoint collapses as unbiblical. If we had such a further hope as this, the Bible would explicitly mention it somewhere, wouldn't you think? Certainly enough is written about judgment to make the absence of this hypothetical second chance inexplicable, under your premises.

The possibility that some people have rendered themselves beyond saving is consistent with my argument that the opportunity to be saved is not ended for everyone at death.

Logically, yes; but your views are not in accord with Scripture, as I believe I am demonstrating.

Obviously, according to Jesus, the people of Tyre, Sidon and Sodom did not render themselves beyond saving, because an optimum revelation would have saved them.

Again, the text doesn't say they were saved, only that there was corporate repentance. There is a vast difference. Salvation is an individual matter, and it is not a one-time matter, either. You presuppose the Protestant notion of instant salvation.

By "best possible opportunity" I meant the best opportunity it is possible for God to give, relative to each individual person's situation. Jesus tells us the wicked people of Tyre, Sidon and Sodom could have had a much better opportunity for salvation than they in fact had, namely, the same opportunity Jesus gave to the people of Capernaum, Bethsaida, etc.

If you were God, would you have prevented the Fall of Satan and of man, and thus not allowed the entrance of evil and suffering and misery into the universe? There are obviously many facts of our existence which are very difficult to understand, given our moral sense and sense of justice. Yet we also know that God is all-good and all-loving, and that if we suffer, so also did He, beyond our comprehension, on the Cross, for our sakes. This is another of those instances. People are born in different circumstances, but the Bible reveals that all have sufficient knowledge to know there is a God, and to be saved. God judges them based on what they know. What we don't see in Scripture at all, on the other hand, is any notion of possible salvation after death. That is an assumption you bring to the text by your own admission, from your moral reasoning.

I did not intend to invoke middle knowledge, mainly because I remain skeptical about its reality.

I know. I did that! :-)

That is not to say I confidently reject the concept, but I'm not convinced that God possesses middle knowledge. (I'm especially doubtful that God could know possible beings in the same concretely detailed way he knows actual beings; the difference between abstract possibility and concrete actuality seems to consist largely in the relative vagueness or indefiniteness of possibility).

How then does God know what the inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon would have done, in different circumstances?

Nothing in my argument entails middle knowledge. All that is required is omniscience in its 'basic' sense. More precisely, God must know every actual person perfectly and thoroughly - well enough, surely, to be able to predict with extremely high accuracy how each person would react to any set of circumstances. All I'm saying, basically, is that the omniscient God is capable of optimally tailoring his revelation to each individual. But clearly the optimum revelation may not be feasible for each person during their natural lifetime.

There is no "prediction" in God. He knows, and He knows absolutely, without the slightest shade of uncertainty. You statements violate omniscience (e.g., "extremely high accuracy"). You wrongly ascribe human limitations to God.

That is my own point, that this world provides too many people with less than optimum circumstances conducive to their positive response to God. On purely moral grounds, therefore, I would have argued that God, being perfectly good, must then provide those optimum circumstances after death to those who were denied them before death.

Whether God is known or not and followed or not isn't ultimately dependent on circumstances, but on one's heart and moral sense. We all have an innate moral sense, since we are made in His image.

The evidence of the scriptures I quoted in my argument is that Jesus clearly implies that optimum circumstances (his own ministry) would have been sufficient to win over the majority of the condemned people of Tyre, Sidon and Sodom. Therefore, those circumstances can only be provided to those people after death. That is the only possibility, if God is just. And we know the Judge of the universe deals justly with us.

The fallacy here - again - is that you falsely equate temporal repentance with eschatological salvation. If you insist on God's justice requiring an "outward equivalency" for everyone, then why didn't God prevent evil in the first place? Then no one would even have to strive after salvation. Everyone would have possessed it simply by virtue of being alive. In fact, salvation in that world would have been a meaningless concept, as there would have been nothing to be "saved" from.

Your argument seems essentially like this: Even though we know from Jesus' words that most Tyreans, Sidonites and Sodomites (TSS) would have repented, i.e. responded in the way Jesus desired his audience to respond, if only they had been as privileged as the people of Galilee, nevertheless, TSS will still be damned simply because they didn't respond to the sub-optimum revelation they received.

1) Cities as a whole aren't damned, only individuals are. People can be judged in an earthly way (as innocent bystanders in a larger catastrophe) but not damned. E.g., the fall of Jerusalem in Jeremiah's day; Jeremiah suffered with the others, but he was not "damned."

2) The text doesn't say the whole city (if that makes sense) was damned anyway, only that they would have repented in different circumstances. Repentance does not equal salvation. These are the two fatal fallacies in your argument.

The crux of your reasoning seems to be that the revelation received by TSS, even though less than optimum, was still sufficient for salvation.

Correct, and this is the case for all men. But men have to choose to follow God. He will not force anyone. The grace is available, if they will just receive it.

But I say, sufficient for whom? Certainly not for TSS, as evidenced by the fact that they did not respond positively to the revelation they received.

We don't know the destiny of each person there. Why is it so difficult to grasp these distinctions?

All you can mean is that they had revelation which would be sufficient for some hypothetical people, or perhaps for some other actual people, to respond to God. But why is this relevant? We are concerned with the salvation of each individual person; God deals with individuals, not abstract generic humanity.

Exactly. Romans 1 and 2 nail this point down.

The context of the passages supports the idea that Jesus is talking about the majority, or at least a very large proportion, of the citizens of those ancient cities, but certainly not about every individual.

Then how is that relevant to an individual second chance after death? We shall all be judged individually. Or do you deny that?

I did not mean to equate repentance with salvation. However, once again, consideration of the context of Jesus' statements supports the idea that, for all practical purposes, repentance leads to salvation. Repentance, after all, is a necessary albeit not sufficient condition for salvation. And repentance is what Jesus was seeking from his Galilean audience. Obviously Jesus didn't desire to evoke only repentance from his listeners; he demanded repentance as the first step in the process of salvation. I am applying to the situation of TSS the same meaning Jesus' statements about repentance had for his audience. Surely this is hermeneutically sound.

Only if the Protestant notion of eternal security is presupposed.

I maintain that scripture, apart from the quoted statements of Jesus, is vague and inconclusive on the issue of the finality of death vis-a-vis salvation.

Please explain the parables I brought up, Lk 17:20-37, and Hebrews 9:27 in an alternate sense, then.

But why would God draw an arbitrary line, which is what death is, unless God is not, after all, perfectly loving and desiring that everyone be saved?

Nothing with God is arbitrary. That is your merely human judgment on God. There has to be a line somewhere, unless one accepts universalism. Why should it not be at death? That seems self-evidently plausible to me (apart from the biblical evidence). We are judged on our works in this life and acceptance or rejection of God's gracious gift of salvation.

Does God get fatigued, or impatient or exasperated, so that he just says "to hell with them" when people die? What kind of God is that? Certainly not the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

I agree. Why make this scenario at all? No one believes this sort of claptrap.

You, however, prefer to bite the bullet and seem content to suppose that God just cuts people off regardless of their willingness to repent. God just says, "Tough luck, time's up"?? Again I ask, what kind of God is that? I wouldn't treat my worst enemies so callously, and I'm quite certain that God is considerably more merciful than me.

Again, there has to be a cutting-off point, assuming there is such a thing as judgment. What is truly callous is a view which lets people do whatever they want, until they stand before God and "make it right" when all the cards are on the table. They had more than enough time while on earth. God reveals Himself to all who seek Him. Don't you believe that? Someone who willfully rejects God all their life will not accept Him once they meet Him face to face, except out of a desire to save their own skin. You greatly underestimate human rebellion and wickedness.

But you see, self-preservation is not a good enough reason for God to save someone. There must be real repentance, and an acceptance of salvation as a free gift, and a true desire to follow God. Jesus taught (recounting Abraham's words) that if people didn't believe Moses and the Prophets, they wouldn't believe even if someone were to rise from the dead (Lk 16:27-31). Again, this is sheer rebellion, my friend, not ignorance.

What exactly do you mean, in this context, by saying "Love and justice are two different things"?

Justice is what a judge does when he sentences a person to life in prison. Are you saying that that act requires the judge to hate the person in so doing?

It seems common for Christians to oppose God's love and justice, but I see no basis for this.

They're not opposed - they're just different aspects of God. Justice flows from His holiness, love from His "Father heart" and mercy.

So whence this persistent tendency among Christian apologists for hell to oppose God's justice and love? Perhaps the insistence on using the term 'justice' rather than 'discipline' has something to do with it. It conjures up the image of God as Judge confronting accused criminals rather than the proper image of God as aggrieved Father confronting his beloved prodigal children.

The Bible shows both aspects of God. We presuppose the validity of God's Revelation and adjust our views accordingly. You apparently have no such restraints, as you are quite willing to contradict the biblical text if it runs contrary to your own moral understanding. So how can we possibly resolve this?

Consider: a good parent treats a child with severity strictly as a lovingly remedial act in the child's long-term best interest. If there is divine punishment awaiting people after death, it stands to reason that it can't be morally inferior to the punishments administered by good and loving human parents.

It certainly isn't. Hell is the equivalent of a son - properly raised and loved - going out and joining the Mafia or KKK and totally rejecting his upbringing. His parents love him but alas, he goes further astray with each passing day. They reach out - he spurns them repeatedly. Now whose fault is that? Is this lifestyle choice by the son directly attributable to a lack of love from the parents?

Any suffering inflicted by our morally impeccable God must ultimately serve a constructive or remedial purpose for those who are afflicted. I don't see any rational and moral way of evading this fact.

It's simple: it's called free will. God didn't make robots. He made free agents whom He will allow even to reject Him if they so choose. If that free will is real and not just illusory, then hell is inevitable. There has to be a place reserved for people who want nothing to do with God.

It is an a priori truth of reason and morality. Therefore, any scripture which seems to contradict it must either be in error, or else must be wrongly interpreted.

Rather, your reasoning is flawed. Free will makes both evil and hell inevitable.

If a passage of scripture seemed to indicate that God approves of killing babies, we would simply know that we must be misinterpreting the text (if it is in fact revelation), or else we would conclude the scripture is wrong (not revelation after all). At least, we would know this if our moral compass were not already seriously damaged.

God did do that in certain instances in the OT (another huge topic which I don't want to open up!). God has the power over life and death. "The Lord giveth; the Lord taketh away." (Job, who understood this very well). All people know there is a God, through creation (cf. Job 12:7-9; Ps 19:1-6; Jer 5:21-24). Romans 1:19 says it is plain to the wicked as well. So all know that God exists . . .

But this interpretation is consistent with mine, i.e. "some wickedly suppress what they know to be true."

Yes, but my point was that these passages also teach that all know there is a God and have sufficient knowledge and grace to decide to follow Him. That is what makes a second chance after death superfluous. Nothing you have shown me in the passage convinces me otherwise. Your point that this passage is talking about the wicked only is largely true, but it is irrelevant to my argument, since Romans 1:19 says that the wicked, too, know about God. Therefore, they don't need to learn about God after death in order for God to be just.

Tell me, what would be the point of allowing people to learn more at death, if it can serve no constructive or redemptive purpose?

Because that is the requirement of justice. When Hitler or Stalin or Harry Blackmun stand before God, they will be forced to explain themselves and their evil actions. They will be made to know beyond any doubt, beyond any of man's foolish rationalizations, delusions, blame-shifting, and excuses, that their penalty is just; that they chose it of their own free will, and that God respects free will so much that he will let them spend eternity without Him. In a realm where God is not, there is indescribable evil. That is all that is necessary to explain the existence and nature of hell. It is not God's fault at all. Rather, it is Satan and man which have created the aberration of hell.

Perhaps it's God's way of saying, "Ha! I told you so! Now off to hell with you!" I don't find this to be a very gracious image of God.

This borders on mockery of God. You would do well to ponder that. I don't mind so much if you caricature my views, but when you do that to God, then you are on very shaky ground. I understand that this is hypothetical rhetoric, but even so . . .

Perhaps you will say that grace runs out at death. I reply, what kind of grace is it that runs on a clock? I would be more gracious than that, and I'm quite certain that God is considerably more gracious than me.

Again: if grace is universally applied just because God is God and He loves everyone (irregardless of free will and obedience of men), then the logical result is universalism. Short of that, there must be a point at which judgment takes place: the separation of the sheep and the goats.

Those stories don't clearly identify any particular time, certainly not death, as the point of no return. Well, I guess the bridesmaids parable refers to the second coming, but is that equivalent to death?

The Second Coming brings with it judgment of mankind as well (Matthew 25:31-46). There is not the slightest hint of any second chance in this passage. Rather, the wicked are judged on the basis of what they didn't do (i.e., in this life - 25:41-46). This passage alone utterly destroys your position, as far as I am concerned. And I have presented many more proof texts in addition to this one.

Frankly, I don't know how best to interpret the parables which admittedly suggest some point of irreparable alienation from God and Christ. I would very much like to know what exactly Jesus meant to convey.

Then you should take an agnostic position until you can conclude what He meant. These passages are crucial.

But one thing I do know is that if Jesus was indeed God incarnate, and if we are meant to learn something important about our relationship to God from these stories, they cannot possibly be interpreted as you suggest.

On what grounds is it impossible? Your fallible and finite moral sense, which you are willing to place above that of the God who is revealed in Holy Scripture? That very moral sense which you possess comes from God in the first place, so you can't judge Him with it, as if He is evil.

Your interpretation seems to clearly imply that Jesus is an arbitrary despot who grows irritated or impatient with people's obstinacy or obtuseness, and then decides to wash his hands of them, no matter how penitent they may be.

So all judges must remit sentences when the murderers constantly exhibit repentance in the court room? This trivializes both love and justice.

This is a paradigm case of unmerciful, ungodly behavior. Isn't it possible that Jesus meant us to view the bridesmaids, for example, as not motivated by genuine faith when they came knocking belatedly on the door? If so, then this is not a counterexample to my belief that genuinely penitent and sincerely faith-seeking people may be accepted by God after death. Was Jesus really telling stories about the kind of people I'm talking about? That is not obvious.

They have already long since made their choice before they die. You apparently reject the fact that men are profoundly wicked and rebellious by nature, and but for God's grace, will resist Him at every turn. You deny the fact that God gives sufficient grace for all in this life. You disbelieve in hell, and think that if it existed, this would cast doubt on God's goodness. When all else fails you are willing to reject biblical texts as "immoral," based on your own ultimately arbitrary moral standard. You always have an "out." What can I do?

Hebrews 9:27 is clear anyway:

    ... it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment. (NRSV)
I have no idea why this verse seems impressive to you and countless others who defend the Line of Death. First of all, this verse does not specify any particular time after death at which judgement takes place, and it certainly does not say that judgement follows immediately after death, which is the way you're reading it. You're reading between the words there, in my opinion.

I think it is far more consistent with my view than it is with yours. You would have us assume that in the very context of a discussion of judgment and death, no mention is made of something which would be of great comfort.

Second, even supposing that we face a judgement before God immediately after we die, why must this judgement be assumed to be devoid of clemency? If Jane Doe, an atheist, dies and goes immediately to judgement before God, and then throws herself on God's mercy, what will happen, on your view? Apparently you think God will say something like, "Tough luck, Jane, you had your chance! I'm no longer interested in your repentance. Now off to perdition you go." Yet I assume you believe that if Jane had repented and cast herself on God's mercy mere seconds before expiring, perhaps even as the priest administered last rites, God would have accepted her into his kingdom. With all due respect, this seems crazy to me. We're talking about a difference of a few seconds here, as well as a change of metaphysical venue - that's all. How can that possibly make the difference between salvation and damnation without impugning God's character?

In the Catholic view, salvation is a process of continual growth. Righteousness (and sanctification) is an acquired habit, which we must cultivate, guard and "pamper," if you will - all due to the enabling power of God's grace. Everyone makes a choice at every moment of the day to follow the path of righteousness or the path of death and destruction. Choices become habits; habits form character. Someone who gives little thought to God all during their life is not likely at all to accept God, even after death. They have coddled and babied their rebellion and wickedness throughout their life. Many have concluded that God is evil, and are willing to say that to His face when they meet Him. I have heard people say this, many times. What folly man commits! This is what Malcolm Muggeridge (in his inimitable manner) called "unresisting imbecility" or "fathomless incredulity."

This psychological/spiritual dynamic is amply verified by the treatment of Jesus. The truly humble and repentant ones instinctively understood who He was, or at least that they should follow His teachings and He Himself. Those who were prideful and trusting in their own works or the fact of their Jewishness to save themselves (Pelagianism) rejected Him, no matter what He did. When He performed miracles, they simply said He had a demon, and performed miracles by the power of Beelzebub. They saw Him as a threat to their political and ecclesiastical power, and so trumped up charges to dispose of Him (as John the Baptist was also treated).

This is similar to our rationalizations by which we pretend that God doesn't exist, so that He doesn't mess up our lives. Finally, even His Resurrection didn't move these people at all (as He had predicted: Luke 16:31). They immediately adopted a ludicrous view that the disciples stole the body. It's obvious that human rebelliousness knows no bounds. Yet you simplistically assume that once such a person dies they will immediately repent. I have said above that such a "repentance" is likely only the self-preservation instinct and not true contrition. I can conceive of a situation in which God does offer one last chance right before He commences judgment, but the Bible doesn't reveal it that way, and the Church has never held such a view. In any event, I think people's minds and wills are already made up by the time they die - by virtue of the life choices they have made.

The judgement which we all will face is a direct confrontation between each of us and God in Christ. Such an occasion is the optimum moment to finally recognize the truth of our situation and, if our hearts are not already hopelessly corrupted and perverted, to reach out to God's love and mercy. Only a cruel and unjust judge would spurn those who repent and seek his mercy at any time.

So judges ought to grant total pardons to mass murderers who repent, huh? This is what your position reduces to. You think ours is so unloving, yet look at the scenario yours produces!

It's odd that in the context of my argument you accused me of conflating two distinct senses of repentance, while here you seem to conflate two distinct senses of judgement or punishment. If the Noah story is true, it only shows that God destroyed an earthly civilization; this says absolutely nothing about the eternal destiny of each individual member of that civilization who perished in the flood.

You miss the point. Jesus was making an analogy to His Second Coming. The Flood was an earthly judgment (people died). The Second Coming will usher in the Final Judgment (where people will be saved or condemned for eternity). Jesus was trying to graphically portray the fact that there will be no more time to repent, and that the Final Judgment will be as swift and unexpected as the Flood was. None of this is really consistent with the scenario you propose.

This is interesting, because I've heard that verse about being "taken" interpreted by pretrib prophecy fans as referring to the rapture!

Yes, I used to do that myself. :-)

Be that as it may, supposing your interpretation is correct on that point, it still leaves the moral problem unresolved. Are you positing a Jesus who is essentially an arbitrary judge who throws people into eternal hell when the secret clock runs out on them?

It isn't arbitrary at all, as I think I have shown.

You may worship a person like that, but I don't understand how.

Of course I don't, but the notion of God you posit is exceedingly perplexing to me also.

Bear in mind that you're talking about a man who taught his disciples to forgive their enemies without limit (unless you take his 490 times figure literally!). Yet you want me to believe that Jesus as judge of the earth stands his own principle on its head and disregards any further concern with mercy and forgiveness after an arbitrary time limit expires. I don't get it.

God (Jesus) is Judge, and He is holy. As for the meek and mild Jesus - as Judge -, see Rev 19:11-21. It is interesting to note that "birds" (probably vultures) eating human flesh are again mentioned (19:17-18,21), as in Luke 17:37 (my example in a previous post). This time it is in the direct context of judgment and hellfire (19:20-21). God has the prerogative to judge His creatures, who have rebelled against Him and rejected His infinite love and mercy.

I don't know why this is so hard for you to comprehend. It all follows as soon as free will is accepted. You want to blame God (or more accurately, in effect change His nature to fit the image you have of what God should be like); I put the blame squarely on man. It is a fundamentally different approach. I accept God's Revelation and His self-description on their own terms; you try to judge God and Revelation by a moral sense which was given to you by God in the first place. The stream can't rise higher than the Source . . . Without a moral and loving God ("God *is* love") there can be no absolute and binding standard of morality in the first place.

I don't see how physical death is analogous to spiritual death. Therefore I don't see how any inferences regarding a second chance for salvation can be drawn.

Then how do you alternately interpret Jesus' recounting of what will happen at the Second Coming and the parallel with Noah and Sodom which He draws? What point was He trying to make there?

I think Jesus was primarily interested in waking people up to the gravity of their choices in life, and I think his two-fisted talk about judgement fits and reflects that concern quite clearly. He wasn't teaching the subtle nuances of theological ramifications. He wanted to shake people out of their complacency - hence the prominence of judgement stories. Given the realities of human psychology, it would not serve Jesus' pedagogical purpose very well to be hedging his judgement stories with qualifications about last second repentance. Therefore, this emphasis in Jesus' teaching is consistent with the belief that Jesus could not finally turn away a sincerely penitent prodigal. Only a morally depraved person could do so. Surely you don't wish to cast Jesus in such a pejorative light.

Well, this is remarkable - the lengths you will go to preserve your preconceptions. I think you are special pleading at this point. If the truth is as you say, I don't see how Jesus or some NT writer could fail to make it clear, as it would indicate this mistaken notion of divine mercy which you are so zealous to preserve. We take somewhat similar criticism with regard to purgatory - that there is no other state after death except for heaven and hell. But we can produce many biblical proofs for purgatory, whereas you can come up with nothing for your view, except for a tenuous interpretation of the Tyre and Sidon discourse. But purgatory is not a second chance in the first place; rather, it is a cleansing, and the requirement for the elect to enter heaven - kinda like (forgive my lousy analogy) showering before going swimming in a pool. :-)

I'll pass over your rhetorical question since I can't profitably speculate on what I would do if I were God.

Yet you feel perfectly comfortable making judgments as to what He should or shouldn't do, based on your acceptance or rejection (on altogether shaky grounds) of His Revelation of Himself.

I maintain, however, that it would be unjust for God to condemn people based on what they know if they would have been saved if only they had known more.

There is sufficient knowledge, and there is more than sufficient knowledge (an additional "bonus," so to speak). E.g., the American public had sufficient knowledge to know that President Clinton had a problem with lying and extramarital sex in 1992. They had even more in 1996. Yet they overlooked that and voted for him both times. Now we have - shall we say - extremely sufficient, almost compelling knowledge about these things because he has made an admission, so people are changing their minds about him.

So my point is that all the levels of knowledge ('92, '96, and '98) were sufficient to reveal Clinton's character, but they became more verified and more evident with time. Likewise with people's knowledge of God's character and mercy. All men have enough knowledge to choose to follow and adore God, but some men are granted extra knowledge. And some choose not to accept what is self-evident. Again, this necessarily derives from a fallen world, in which much unfairness exists. And it is always ultimately a great mystery why some are saved and others are not.

I concede that we don't see any explicit teaching of post mortem salvation in scripture, but why should this trouble us?

1. All spiritual truths should be taught in Scripture, either explicitly or implicitly (this is called the material sufficiency of Scripture);

2. It is implausible to believe that a spiritual and eschatological reality which would be eminently comforting to us, is omitted in Scripture, in the very places where we would expect it to turn up, were it true;

3. Counter-examples (which I have brought to the table) abound. These are both direct, and straightforward deductions from related topics. Judgment at death is harmonious with all else that Scripture teaches about the afterlife.

You of all people, being Catholic, should not place such emphasis on this argument from scriptural silence. After all, there is no explicit scriptural teaching of Mary's perpetual virginity or sinlessness or immaculate conception or assumption into heaven, and so on.

But there is much implicit indication (#1 above), and also a consensus of Tradition. You have neither support for your belief. See my Biblical Treatise on Mary.

Your church believes in "development of doctrine," which seems to function as a sort of progressive revelation. Well, I too believe in such development or progression in our grasp of God's truth. One of the doctrines we ought to recognize and develop is the possibility of salvation after death.

This is not a development, but a corruption, as it overturns the constant teaching of the Church. Development is not simply any change at all, but a consistent change which doesn't affect the essence of what came before it. It can't contradict its antecedent; it can only further explain it, in more detail and complexity.

I don't violate omniscience, I employ a different concept of omniscience. I don't think your concept of omniscience is logically possible, therefore it does no disservice to God to suggest that your concept of omniscience does not describe God. Omniscience, as I understand it, is the flawless, unsurpassable and infallible knowledge of everything that exists. Since I don't believe the future exists, it cannot be a logically possible object of God's knowledge. Again, this is no defect in God.

Then this undercuts your argument from Tyre and Sidon, does it not? I think you are defeating your own contention here. Your notion of omniscience is contrary to that of the Catholic Church. Ludwig Ott writes, as to dogmatic Catholic teaching:

    God knows all that is merely possible by the knowledge of simple intelligence . . .

    God knows all real things in the past, the present and the future . . .

    By the knowledge of vision God also foresees the future free acts of the rational creatures with infallible certainty . . .

    God also knows the conditioned future free actions with infallible certainty.

The first three propositions Ott classifies as de fide, the highest level of Church teaching and dogma. The fourth is sententia communis ("Common Teaching"), which, as he states, "in itself belongs to the field of the free opinions, but which is accepted by theologians generally." He says that Thomists (over against Molinists, which is what I am) "deny that this knowledge of the conditioned future is a special kind of Divine Knowledge which precedes the decrees of the Divine Will." Ott continues:
    The Fathers assert Divine foresight of conditioned future things when they teach that God does not always hear our prayer for temporal goods, in order to prevent their misuse; or that God allows a man to die at an early age in order to save him from eternal damnation. Speculatively, the Divine foreknowing of conditioned future things is based on the infinite perfection of the Divine knowing, on the infallibility of Divine providence, and on the practice of prayer in the Church.

    {Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, tr. Patrick Lynch, Rockford, IL: TAN Books and Publishers, 1974 (orig. 1952), 10, 40-42}

None of these propositions are consistent of your notion that God can "predict with extremely high accuracy." These things are certain. Whatever God can know, within His omniscience, is certain, not probable in any way, shape, or form. If One has "all knowledge," then whatever pertains to real and possible knowledge - in the nature of things - is absolutely known by God, without the slightest hint of uncertainty. This is orthodox and historic Christianity.

I hasten to point out that when I refer to Capernaum, or TSS or the people thereof, I'm talking about either the majority of their citizens, or at least a large proportion of their populations. This is based on what I take to be the plain sense of Jesus' remarks.

Fair enough.

I do not "insist on God's justice requiring an 'outward equivalency' for everyone."

Good. Thanks for the clarification.

Circumstances pertaining to repentance and salvation need not be equivalent among all people. I only maintain that every individual must receive the best possible chance for their salvation. Jesus said that TSS didn't get that oportunity, whereas Galilee did.

But this is equally implausible, because of the presence of evil in the world. We maintain that all men have sufficient knowledge for salvation. Some have better knowledge than others, but all such knowledge is sufficient. You deny that; hence your concern that God is being unfair, unjust, or unloving. False premises lead to momentously false conclusions.

I don't see how you draw your inferences above regarding the prevention of the fall, etc.

The Fall brought about the inequities that you observe. But the Fall is our fault, not God's. I continue to maintain that your desired state of affairs is only possible if: 1) there had never been a Fall; or 2) universalism is true. But of course, both of those notions are as radically unbiblical as the second chance after death is.

Come now, TSS were all destroyed because of the general level of wickedness or depravity among their inhabitants. Of course a handful of their people may have found salvation through common grace, but we're talking about the general populace.

That "common grace" is what I am talking about. All could have been saved by that common grace if they had only chosen to accept it (whether or not they were judged temporally).

I accept your distinction between repentance and salvation. I overreacted on that point.

Now, before I close this multi-part extravaganza, I will augment my argument from scripture with an argument from personal experience. As I've implied before, I don't require the argument from scripture that I composed to convince me that the opportunity for salvation doesn't end with death. It is self-evident to me, based on nothing more than general moral and theological reflection, that the traditional doctrine is scandalously wrong.

This is what I mean about your ability and self-granted prerogative to judge Holy Writ, historic Christianity, and - by implication - God Himself. But you don't seem to grasp the pretentiousness and folly of that approach.

Suppose I had died ten years ago when I was an atheist. According to your doctrine I would have been given no opportunity to repent upon learning that my atheism (for which I believed I had very good reasons) was in error. According to you, Dave, it would have been off to hell forever for me - no reprieve.

I (and the Church) believe that you knew all along that God existed, but that you wickedly repressed that knowledge (Romans 1). Therefore, you were responsible to a large degree all along for your disbelief. Even so, however, I don't think we could say with any certainty that you would have been damned. For all we know, God could have judged you by virtue of Middle Knowledge, based on what you would have done, given more time and knowledge and life experience (just as is the case with Tyre and Sidon).

Also, God (knowing you were about to die) would have surely given you an abundance of grace in His mercy before you died, in order to give you a chance to repent. So my arguments on this would have worked in your favor, since you in fact did come to believe later on in your life. Purgatory exists as a merciful entity for those who have not fully purged themselves of sin, and thus are not fit yet to enter heaven, but who are destined for heaven from the outset.

The whole problem comes from our trying to perceive God as if He is limited in knowledge and in time, like ourselves. But He is not. God is all-loving, all-holy, and all-knowing. He knows what people would have done, given the chance, and I believe He incorporates that into His Final Judgment of each individual, just as I believe this is particularly true for infants (e.g., those slaughtered in their mother's wombs). God looks at the heart. We look at outward appearances. All this being the case, your scenario above is nonsensical, because it presupposes an arbitrary, petulant God far different from the God we find revealed in Scripture, history, and in our own individual experiences of His ever-present mercy and forgiveness.

Secondly, you claim your atheism had "good reasons." Well, obviously, it didn't or else you wouldn't have rejected it. It turned out to be a false belief. All false beliefs come from below, and we allow ourselves to be deceived by the Evil One to a far greater degree than we are aware. I know that these beliefs were held sincerely, and all of us no doubt have sincere, false beliefs at this very moment. But there is an underlying spiritual battle to which Romans 1 refers. I believe that all individuals can arrive at spiritual truth if they just seek it wholeheartedly. I believe this (necessarily) derives from the same grace which makes our salvation possible, because God is Knowledge as well as Love. Truth and salvation go hand in hand.

Yet here I am, ten years later, in the bosom of God. Simple logic should tell us that something is wrong with that picture! The very fact that I later received sufficient insight to convince me of the error of my thinking and thus enable me to return to Christ proves that, as of ten years ago, I had not yet received sufficient insight (or revelation) relative to my needs.

But if God knows what you would have done, according to His Middle Knowledge - part of His omniscience - then whether or not you lived to actually do it is irrelevant. God could conceivably incorporate His knowledge of conditioned future actions into His judgment. If so (I'm not positive that this is true, or that it is obligatory Catholic teaching - it may be a permissible "free opinion"), your difficulty would be completely resolved. This also rectifies any unfairness which falls upon human beings as a result of the inequities brought about by the Fall and evil actions of other human beings, as well as the devil's tactics. God gives everyone an equal chance, we can rest assured. His love would not allow otherwise.

If Jesus' counterfactual remarks about Tyre, Sidon and Sodom are literally true, it is very much analogous - apart from the depth of depravity involved! ;) - to my own soteriological situation. Ten years ago I was not in a position to see the truth of Christ - "ripeness is all," as Shakespeare said. If this seems to contradict the a priori pronouncements of Paul in Romans or whatever epistle, so much the worse for Paul - or for our interpretation of Paul. For God to have banished me to hell without further opportunity for reconciliation if I had died at 30 is, by simple logic, obviously absurd in light of my later conversion.

But what I just stated above adequately resolves this objection, I think. My solution maintains God's infinite mercy without resorting to a postulate of an unbiblical "second chance" after death, or denigrations of St. Paul's clear teaching on the universality of knowledge of God, or universal atonement. Nor does it take away His prerogative as Judge, or undermine His omniscience, or cast doubt upon the actuality of hellfire (all of which is entailed in your hypothesis). My view holds the holiness, benevolence, and omniscience of God together, as harmonious aspects of God's character and nature. None have to be denied or minimized. Perhaps what I have proposed can be a solution to your dilemma. I devoutly hope so, for the sake of your peace of mind on these matters.

Since this is true of me, I assume it is true of any number of other people, since people obviously don't all die at a point of optimum awareness of God relative to their own needs. Anyone not wearing dogmatic blinders can look at the world of real people and see plainly that people are widely distributed among an incredible variety of epistemic situations with regard to God and salvation.

You see dogma as "wearing blinders" and unreality - opposed to self-evident observational truths. I view it quite otherwise. Those who deny received dogma are blind to the dire consequences that heterodoxy brings (and has historically brought) about. We have watched you deny one doctrine of the faith after another (as just illustrated in my last paragraph) - including the trustworthiness of Scripture itself, in order to salvage your individualist interpretation of what God should be like, and what He should do. You claim to be a Christian (and I accept that), yet you try so hard to saw off the very limb you are sitting on (Scripture, Church, Tradition). That's because one error leads to another. It is a house of cards which the slightest wind will destroy.

Orthodoxy is - as Chesterton said - like a hilltop with precipitous ledges all around. Without a fence, children are very afraid to play, for fear that they will fall off the edge. With a fence, they are free, as they don't have to worry about inadvertant self-destruction. That fence is orthodoxy, Tradition, the Church. Your difficulties are more than adequately resolved within an orthodox framework, without ditching universally-held Christian doctrine. What is "blind" here is your seeming unwillingness to grant that the Holy Spirit and the "Voice of Reason" may have spoken to all those other millions of Christians through the centuries, just as you feel that He and it has spoken to you. Thus, you reveal yourself to be far more "dogmatic" in the worst sense of that word than you feel us orthodox Christians to be.

G.K. Chesterton wrote (14 years before he converted to Catholicism):

    People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy. It was sanity: and to be sane is more dramatic than to be mad . . . The orthodox Church never took the tame course or accepted the conventions; the orthodox Church was never respectable . . . It is easy to be a madman: it is easy to be a heretic. It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one's own. It is always easy to be a modernist; as it is easy to be a snob . . . It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to avoid them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect.

    {Orthodoxy, Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image, 1908, 100-101}

In terms of philosophical theology, I submit that it was impossible for God to endow us with free will while also ensuring that all individuals would receive during their natural lifetimes a degree of revelation or insight sufficient to evoke their repentance and desire for reconciliation with God.

It's not impossible in the sense that God distributes His grace sufficiently for all, despite differential circumstances and willingness to receive and act upon it. And God "evens things out" by taking into account the individual's circumstances and environment, which affect both his judgment and culpability. Middle Knowledge allows God to know what people would have done, and I believe He acts accordingly, where the salvation of individuals is concerned.

It may also have been impossible for God to avoid creating some people whose repentance could not be evoked under any circumstances -

Any is untrue, I think, unless one presupposes a Calvinist notion of double predestination.

this is the implication of the existence of hell, if in fact there is a hell as depicted in Scripture.

Hell flows from free will, but not the inherent impossibility of the damned ever achieving salvation. That would undermine their free will, which you accept, by eliminating the possibility of contrary choices and actions.

But, in any event, the first proposition is, I submit, quite definitely true. And, if true, it rules out the belief that the opportunity to find - or be found by - God ends for everyone at death.

Again, I reiterate that "equal opportunity salvation" is grounded in God's sufficient grace for all, universal atonement, and God's recognition of the unfair burdens and deficiencies that many of us labor under, through no fault of our own (without undermining man's profound and willful rebellion and wickedness at all). God knows everything, including future conditionals, and this makes His final judgment fair and just and loving, whether or not we fully comprehend it. I submit that we will one day, as we will be given extraordinary knowledge in heaven. You will have all of eternity to ponder these questions and God's ineffable character and Providence which trouble you so much now.

Thanks so much for challenging me to develop some theological and philosophical thought which I have never pursued in quite this fashion before. This is the fruit of dialogue. I hope I have provided you and others some food for thought as well.

Thanks for the excellent and thorough critique. You haven't convinced me I'm wrong, but I appreciate the disciplined thought you're willing to invest in the issue.

Likewise. Very interesting discussion.

Uploaded in 1998 by Dave Armstrong.

2 comments:

Chris M said...

Very interesting discussion. Universalists (I used to be one) think all men will be saved, because they think all men will or would repent. It never enters their minds that maybe, when they die, the vision of God actually *drives* them to Hell, just as much as God sending them there. Like running away - willfully - of a truth, not that you cannot admit (because you secretly do admit it and have always admitted it), but a truth you do not *want* to admit. That is all the difference. It's the whole God telling them "Thy will be done" idea. It is not so much a matter of intellectual assent - for who would morally condemn someone for an intellectual mistake? - but of a willing rebellion. That's why it's unwise in my opinion to make broad statements like "all atheists are going to Hell", because only God knows the individual's reason for being atheist. I know that I would probably be atheist if I were raised in a Calvinist family. But, would I really be rejecting God? Would I not rather be rejecting a false God, *because of* my allegiance to the true good God that I felt deep down in myself?

Also, this poster was particularly concerned about Jesus being able to, seemingly, save whoever he spoke to, if only the audience were given sufficient info. Well, if free will is granted (regardless of how much is man's will and how much is God's grace. It matters only that there is *some* free will), then there is no guarantee that man would ever actually assent, *even given* sufficient info. You cannot judge if info is sufficient by only looking at whether or not the other party complies. I could give a man sufficient means to make a sandwich - intructions, bread, meat, etc - but that doesn't mean he will, in fact, make it (so long as HE has any say in the matter). The poster is conflating understanding (which relates to the intellect) to submission (which is an act of will made *after* intellectual assent is made). It's not like the people of those cities lacked intellectual knowledge, but rather they chose not to accept what they already knew, so to speak.

Another good example are the Pharisees. The original poster would have to say that they weren't given enough knowledge or sufficient means to submit to Christ, but, what was actually the case is not lack of knowledge, but a willing refusal of the Holy Spirit speaking in their hearts.

Maroun said...

Sogn Mill-Scout)you keep insisting that all will repent after death and you believe in universalism .
Well , there are a few things which you must remember and understand .
First , we walk by faith not by sight . So after death , no one can say now i believe,it`s too late . After we see there is no need for faith , and as Dave told you from scripture,then we live once,after that comes death and after death judgement (plz pay attention to the word judgement).
Second , may i suggest that you should not worry about God?God is merciful and God is just (and not unjust)and God is the truth and never lies .
Now how many times did you read in the scriptures that there is hell?and not only there is a hell,but also many are in it(we dont know who of course)the only thing we do know,is that those which are in hell,definitly deserve to be there because God is just and not unjust .
What i am going to tell you next might seem a bit strange for you . But the truth is that those which are in hell,are in there because they didnt want to be with God,and God respects their freedom . Because as C.S.Lewis said , if God were to force someone to be with Him in heaven , then heaven would be hell for that person,why you may ask?well,simply because that person didnt want to be with God,that person refused God as his ruler,his King,his savior,his redeemer,his God...And our God is a lover and not a rapist,and because He is not a rapist,He will never ever force anyone to accept Him and love Him and be with Him ...
Third . Also you seem to ignore the fact that eternity is (timeless and endless)there is no past nor future,but only now , only present . So how could someone according to your belief repent and change after death and because of that , that person will later also be saved,when there is no later?
Fifth.Why do we have a free will , if in the end no matter what i chose,what i believe , what i do or not do , i will be in heaven anyway?And How could God be just if He must be unjust?because the way you think and the way you believe when you say that all will repent even after death and all will inherit God`s kingdom even though they were enemies of God`s kingdom on earth?
How could anyone , who is not an adopted child of God and refused to be one,could ever inherit God`s kingdom?
I think i`m going to stop here , Dave has said mor than enough , but one more thing i wish to say , Believe God , He never lies,He said very clearly that there is a hell(eternel). The same way He also spoke about and of Heaven,He also spoke about hell. Do you think that He said the truth when He spoke about heaven and lied when He spoke about hell?
So, if a man or a woman or you or even if an angel would try to convince you that there is no hell and that all will be saved and that people can repent even after death,let that person be anathema .Otherwise everything the bible is telling us is a lie (which is not true of course).
GBU and hopefully you are not a universalist anymore...