Does God Conceal the Truth from Christians?


#1

Reply to William Lane Craig

At the following URL: reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=6765, William Lane Craig explains why, in his opinion, those suffering in hell forever need not undermine the blessedness of the redeemed in heaven. He writes:

Here Craig makes a two-fold claim. So I’ll take up his first claim now and take up the second claim in a subsequent post.

According to Craig’s first claim, I have assumed “without justification that the redeemed in heaven do know that some persons are damned” forever. But strictly speaking, as a universalist who rejects the idea of eternal damnation altogether, I could hardly make any such assumption as that. Neither have I ever denied that God could, if he so desired, damn some of my own loved ones even as he renders me blissfully ignorant of this fact. Could I not experience great joy, for example, at the very moment that my daughter is being raped, tortured, and murdered? Of course I could–provided, of course, that I remain wholly ignorant of what is happening to her. But why suppose that such blissful ignorance would qualify as true blessedness at all, or even as an objectively worthwhile form of happiness? Not all forms of happiness, after all, are equally worthwhile. If I should be happy while acting immorally, or if I should delight in the sufferings of others, then my happiness would hardly qualify as true blessedness in the Christian sense. So the issue finally boils down to this: Just what are the conditions of true blessedness? I contend that, according to the Christian religion, true blessedness is precisely the kind of happiness that God himself enjoys: It can literally endure forever, it requires a heart filled with love for others, and it must be able to survive, even as God’s own happiness does survive, a complete disclosure of truth about the universe. Jesus himself put it this way: “you shall know the truth, and the truth [not blissful ignorance and not an elaborate deception] shall make you free (Jn. 8:32). But it is almost as if Craig wants him to say: “You shall not know the truth, and your blissful ignorance shall preserve your happiness even in the face of terrible tragedy.”

Craig does not, I should perhaps point out, claim that God will in fact keep the redeemed in a state of blissful ignorance; he claims only that this is a genuine possibility, one that will suffice to defeat my own argument. But I see no reason to think it even logically possible that a God of truth and of love would do such a thing.

Any comments? Would keeping the redeemed in heaven blissfully ignorant really be an act of mercy, as Craig suggests?


#2

Hi Tom,

I think you are correct. A God of love would not leave the blessed in ignorance about the fate of their neighbors. However, I like C.S. Lewis’ answer to this in The Great Divorce. The assumption behind the question about the joy in Heaven being dampened by the knowledge that people are in Hell is that the self-centeredness of the lost will “blackmail the universe” by not allowing the saved to be joyful except on the terms of the self-imprisoned. Lewis distinguishes between what he calls the ‘Action of Pity’ and the ‘Passion of Pity.’ Those in Heaven will have the first but not the second. The first brings one to act in a self-sacrificial manner to bring healing and happiness to those who lack it. The second is the feeling that causes us to suffer and concede what we should not; to flatter when we should speak the truth, to speak nice pleasantries when courageous opposition is required.

The biggest weakness I see in a few of your philosophical arguments for universalism (especially the argument accepting a premise of Arminianism, that God wills all be saved, and Calvinism, that God can accomplish whatever he wills) to be utterly discounting human free will which is presupposed by the Bible. I’m wrestling with the doctrine of hell myself and am conducting a Bible study on the topic that you can see on the “Biblical Theology” part of this forum. Two examples of this are Judas, whom Jesus says it would have been better if he were never born, and Jesus’ question, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but forfeit his soul?” From the parables of Jesus and these two bits of evidence, I think it is safe to conclude that our choices can have irreparable consequences. Right now, I see no way out from this line of reasoning.


#3

Hi Tom,

I think another problem here is that, as long as our memories are still with us, we would want to see and interact with our damned loved ones. After a while, we’d say “hey God, where is so-and-so?”

Upon learning that our loved one is damned forever in endless misery, well, we would also be pretty damn upset (if we were not upset, then we wouldn’t truly love that person as ourself, something that Jesus requires…)

So what would Craig say to this? He would probably say that God could wipe away our memories.

But that has a problem too. Memories of our loved ones often go far back and have major themes associated with them. If God wiped away our memories of loved ones, then, as you (Tom) have also pointed out, it would also wipe away a chunk of our personality. Gaps of information would also be missing. We would ask God “hey, what was here?” How would God answer that question??

  • Pat

#4

Probably just as well, since there is some biblical testimony to the effect that the redeemed do know what’s happening to the unredeemed post-judgment.

Certainly God would know. (Unless omniscience is being denied as well as omnipresence; the latter denial being a staple of non-universalist soteriologies in my experience, though I don’t recall right this moment if WLC goes that route.) Then we get into the question of why it would be too… what, exactly…? for redeemed souls to be aware of and/or to know that the unredeemed are hopelessly lost, but not too… what, exactly…? for God to know that.

The whole manuever looks like a device to avoid admitting that a man may (on this system) be more merciful than God (Who in His mercy to the man more merciful than He would spare the man the cost of being more merciful than He)! Which is probably another reason why WLC doesn’t claim that God will in fact keep the redeemed in a state of blissful ignorance. But merely raising the technical possibility of such a thing does not look to me like much of a defeater, even in the weak inductive sense. (This is aside from the question of whether it makes any coherent sense at all to claim that an essentially trinitarian God even could do such a thing without ceasing to exist Himself; but that’s a larger issue anyway.)

Be that as it may. I’m even less impressed by his second tactic involving knowledge and awareness. (But I’ll wait till you comment on that first. :sunglasses: )


#5

I’m dubious that such a sharp divorce (so to speak) can be wedged between the action and any possible passion of pity: it seems to say that there can be no proper passion of pity following in subordination to the action of pity. But that would count against any real self-sacrificial result–including by Christ!

Self-sacrifice can hurt; and isn’t less likely to hurt (or more likely to hurt less) in proportion to the inequity of those being sacrificed for. The sin of Israel, and of all of us, is that God receives the wrong kind of passion when He comes to be our Husband; but He submits to it anyway, for our sake.

I love Lewis, and admire him terribly as my own mediate Teacher; but he wasn’t quite playing fair with his own mediate Teacher (George MacDonald) in TGD. GMacD understood that the action of pity rightly leads to a proper passion of pity–without having to acceed to demands by sinners that they be allowed to continue loving and fondling their sinning. (MacD was stern enough about that himself, as Lewis rightly understood, to his credit.) The refusal to acceed to those demands doesn’t eliminate the passion (much less the action) of pity; it intensifies the passion. Even Arms and Calvs agree that Jesus could have said, in effect, “to hell with you all” and come down from the cross at any time, leaving us to die in our sins.

He went the farthest distance instead.

In any case, that those in heaven have the self-sacrificial action of pity toward those in hell, is hardly any argument against universalism. :slight_smile:

(I know what I would say about the combinant argument from positive Calv and Arm claims, in relation to human free will, but you asked it of Tom so I’ll move along and watch for how he would answer it. And I’ll be visiting your other thread again soon, now that my huge catchup project is half-posted. :wink: )


#6

Concerning my response to Craig, ImagoDei wrote:

Thanks for this comment and for your second thoughtful comment as well. Whatever Lewis might have meant by “blackmail” in the present context, I quite agree with you that God could never permit the damned to blackmail the redeemed eternally, and neither could he permit them to “hijack,” so to speak, the supreme happiness of the redeemed. As I see it, however, this is precisely why God must eventually achieve a complete victory over sin and death. A partial victory is not enough; neither is it enough merely to quarantine sinners forever or to confine them to a particular region of God’s creation, a region known as hell. God must instead destroy their sinfulness altogether and thus eliminate all separation from God, so that God can truly be “all in all” (I Cor.15:28). He must, in other words, destroy sinners in the only way possible short of annihilating them: by saving them or rescuing them from their sin. Otherwise “the self-centeredness of the lost” would indeed achieve a kind of perverse victory over God and would indeed “hijack” the blessedness of the redeemed. And as we both agree, a loving God with the power to prevent it would never permit that to happen.

Consider a specific illustration. When the mother of Ted Bundy declared, so agonizingly and yet so appropriately, her continuing love for a son who had become a monster (as the serial killer of young women), she illustrated why keeping sin alive throughout an eternity in hell is simply not an acceptable option. A reporter (working for 60 Minutes, if I remember correctly) had just asked her whether she still supported her son, and here is how I have elsewhere described her reaction: “As the camera zoomed in on her face, she literally began to shake and her eyes filled with tears, as she barely whispered the words: ‘Of course I still support him. He is my son. I love him. I have to support him!’ She did not, of course, support his monstrous crimes, or even object to the severity of his punishment. But she did continue to support him and to yearn for his ultimate redemption. All of which raises a most profound question: How could God’s grace possibly reach this suffering mother unless it should also find a way to reach (or transform) her son?” (Universal Salvation? The Current Debate, p. 16).

So how, I wonder, would you classify the anguish and the suffering of Ted Bundy’s mother. Would you classify it as an instance of an improper ‘Passion of Pity,’ as Lewis called it? We certainly have no evidence that this mother’s anguish induced her–and here I paraphrase your own words–to concede what she should not have conceded, or to flatter when she should have spoken the truth, or to speak nice pleasantries when she should have displayed courageous opposition to her son’s demonic actions; and even if we did have such evidence, her obvious anguish, like the anguish that Jesus experienced when he wept over Jerusalem, would still have been perfectly appropriate in and of itself. It would also have been an unavoidable consequence of her love in the given circumstances. For it is simply not possible, I claim, both to love someone even as you love yourself and to remain indifferent concerning that person’s ultimate fate. According to Jesus, “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Lk. 15:7). And, for exactly the same kind of reason—namely, the love that exists in heaven—the eternal damnation of a single soul, if it should occur, would be the source of eternal sadness and regret in heaven as well. (See also my comments at [Reformed Journal))

Does any of this make sense to you? Thanks again for your comments.

-Tom


#7

Hi Pat,

I think you have made a couple excellent points. As for your question of whether Craig claims that “God could wipe away our memories,” that is exactly what he does claim, at least as a possibility open to God. For as Craig sees it, the truth about the universe is ultimately tragic; so according to his first suggestion, God could always adopt the desperate remedy of obliterating from the minds of his redeemed “any knowledge of lost persons so that they experience no pangs of remorse for them.” If God should do that, however, he would in effect perform a kind of lobotomy on the redeemed, and you are also right about this: In a case of someone whose entire family is lost, God would then have to expunge every memory of parents and other family members; and that would entail a huge portion of a person’s mind that he would end up destroying.

In defense of such a possibility, Craig writes: “We can all think of cases in which we shield persons from knowledge which would be painful for them and which they do not need to have, and, far from doing something immoral, we are, in so sparing them, exemplifying the virtue of mercy.” But withholding information is one thing; obliterating part of a mind something else altogether. And in any event, we must also consider the conditions under which it is appropriate to withhold painful information from a loved one. In every case, I would suggest, this is either a concession to someone’s poor physical health–as when a doctor conceals from a woman, critically injured in a traffic accident, that her child was killed–or a concession to someone’s psychological or spiritual immaturity. The blissful ignorance that results from such deception is hardly the most worthwhile kind of happiness; it is even inferior to the experience of misery under certain conditions. For no one who truly loves another would want to remain blissfully ignorant of the other’s fate, however painful the knowledge of such a fate might be. No loving father, for example–not even one whose daughter endures a brutal rape and murder and not even one whose son commits suicide–would want to remain blissfully ignorant about what happened. It is far better, he would judge, to know the truth of the matter; he might even take elaborate steps to discover the truth. And the idea that he might prefer to have all memory of a son or a daughter obliterated from his mind forever–that he might prefer this over his anguish–is simply preposterous. Or at least so it seems to me.

Anyway, I agree with your comments, as I said, and I thank you for them.

-Tom


#8

Hi Jason,

You made an excellent point when you wrote: “Certainly God would know” about the ultimate fate of the damned. For even if God could conceal their terrible fate from us, he could hardly conceal it from himself. So if God’s love for them is even greater than our own, as it surely is, then their eternal misery would pose an even greater threat to his own happiness than it would to our own.

Thanks for your contribution.

-Tom


#9

Calvs of course would flatly deny that surety I’ve bolded above, both in practice and in principle.

I don’t recall offhand where WLC stands on that issue, but some Arms (like Lewis) do try to keep God’s superior love for the damned (compared to whatever love we might also have for them) while also keeping the finally hopeless damnation. My impression is that most Arminianistic theologians would quibble about it when push comes to shove, however.

That God never did or no longer loves those in hell, would get around the problem of God’s joy being threatened or undermined or tainted or whatever. But then, why would God have to lobotomize or delude or mislead the rest of us about them, so that we wouldn’t remember them? Hm!

(To be fair, I’m somewhat doubtful that this is a popular option among either Calvs or Arms. Even WLC was hesitant about trying to play this card as a solution. The simpler solution would be that once God perfects and fulfills us in love, we will no longer love those sinners down in hell whom we used to love, any more than God ever loved or still loves them. Insert irony here as applicable…)

By the way, I don’t think you’ve addressed Imago’s second crit yet (concerning free will). That’s a much larger issue which might be better addressed in another thread; but I can see some interesting ways in which it would be applicable to your topic here, too.

(edited to add: Gregory and Dr. Joel Green (writing as Eutychus) have begun their dialogue with the topic of free will over in the Premier Quarterly section, with some reference by Gregory to your arguments along this line.)


#10

This seems to be the way I see it as well. I appears that the exclusive love of God becomes somewhat of a temptation even for the arm. As an example: If we speak of the Devil and his minions being tormented in hell day and night then will God need to vanquish this from the minds of the redeemed? Probably not, because they have no love for the devil and the fallen.

So enter the literal view of Revelation.
Why is it that if a child sides with satan that mom/dad would still love that child if in fact that person is damned for the very reason satan is?
Revelation seems to paint an image that the redeemed are very aware of God’s judgement upon the ungodly (regardless of offspring or relationship) and are fully in approval of it, not ignorant of it. And if they are in approval of it then why do they need their mind wiped? Perhaps they might argue, the redeemed are in approval of it but do not want it? Would that make sense?

Suddenly it seems the exclusivity of “us vs. them” shines a bit brighter on this issue. It’s ok to hate those who practice evil UNLESS it’s one of your own? Don’t even pagans do that? Is this not similar to politics (us vs them). The terrorists vs. the free? The good guys vs. the bad guys? Conservatives vs. the liberal?

Aug


#11

Exactly. (Not even counting the end of RevJohn when the redeemed are being exhorted to go out and help encourage the sinners still outside to wash clean and obtain permission to enter the New Jerusalem!!)

A few more such examples could be adduced from scripture as well, including examples which on the face of it wouldn’t seem to bode so well for universalism. I’m thinking of the places in the OT prophets where the redeemed will see the smoking ruined bodies of the lost, which will be an affront to the redeemed into the age. Dr. Bacch’, in that chapter of his I analyzed, was never quite able to synch up his annihilation theory with that, however: the same scripture, if taken to mean how he reads it, would mean that those who are saved end up tormented forever by those sinners who don’t even exist anymore! The redeemed are being tormented hopelessly by what remains of Gehenna, and the sinners are gone!


#12

You make a good point here, Jason. If God has no love for those in hell (and does not, therefore, experience true blessedness in my sense), then whatever kind of happiness he does have will in no way be jeopardized by the sufferings of those in hell. Neither need he conceal the truth from us. He need only give us a callous and stony heart, so that we no longer love them either.

But this leads directly to an even more serious problem. Suppose that in obedience to Christ I love my daughter even as I love myself. If so, then how could God possibly love me unless he loves my daughter as well?–and how could he possibly love Rebecca unless he loves Esau as well? (See the latter part of my post at Reformed Journal

Thanks for your willingness to think along with me.

-Tom


#13

Heck, if it comes to that, there would seem to be little reason why a God Who has no love for those in hell would even bother giving us a stony heart concerning those in hell; it isn’t like His happiness would be jeopardized by our unhappiness over the hopelessly lost, either! The point being that if He simply hardens his heart against the hopelessly lost, He could just as easily harden His heart against our unhappiness about the hopelessly lost.

(But, to be fair, an Arm or Calv soteriologist would probably go with God hardening our hearts against the hopelessly lost, as being part of our redemption by God into becoming as loving and fair as He is. So to speak. :wink: )


#14

Tom,

I find this argument interesting but I am leery of believing in universalism for purely philosophical reasons. Ultimately, I think it comes down to what scripture has to say about the matter. That being said, when it comes to the nature of ‘true blessedness’ I think we can run into problems when we assume we can know exactly what that must require. God will judge us as individuals and as individuals we will have to both face possible punishment and the consequences of our choices. Lewis argues in *The Problem of Pain *that giving an exam multiple times to a student will not automatically ensure that they will one day pass. Also, we know that sin is habitual. The offer of the free gift of grace and the call to repentance may be refused by a person *ad infinitum *due to shaping of habitual sin. After all, we know that salvation is by grace, but damnation can occur by works. I think that God would find a way to not let genuine anguish over the lost ruin the joy of the blessed in heaven. I agree with you against Craig, that altering the memories of the saved would not be in accord with perfect joy. I suspect it would have to do with a whole new perspective that would cast a different light on those memories and feelings. Being one speaking before the judgment, it is difficult for me to speculate much more.

What I disagree most with you is your focus on necessity rather than choice. It’s about the necessity of God’s will or the necessity the blessed in heaven having true joy. Perhaps if you can speak more about the lost individually, it might help. I think I need to read the books of you and Gregory. Scripture should trump any purely philosophical arguments on this matter.


#15

Imagodei,

I recommend reading Bob Wilsons paper on “A case against Jesus” which raises deep concerns with just saying “the bible says”. We all know what it says, but what does it mean? Thats where the question of God’s love has to be sorted out logically. So I understand Tom’s approach to sorting through ideas which would conflict with God’s love (cor 13).

Would it make any sense to argue that God will supplant a false sense of happiness to create heaven for each of the redeemed in order to maintain a sense of hapiness? This is hardly the point scripture seems to paint.

God wiping away every tear, no more pain HARDLY seems to mean that God UP’s the level of tolerance for pain. Meaning sin is still prevalant but we’ve simply been numbed and immune. It seems to mean he makes things right (reconciles creation rom 8).

So I’m sympathetic with Tom’s argument.


#16

Just to add a little straw here - Aquinas said that the screams of the tortured would sound like sweet music to the saved. I presume unending music. So his twist is not so much that we will be ignorant - but rather our senses will be changed to hear one thing for another. Perhaps even to see one thing for another - not the typical human revulsion at torture but glee at the sight. Pass the popcorn.

But perhaps that thinking was a product of medieval times when princes would assemble the entire town to watch a torture. The ‘beauty’ of justice. Entertainment.


#17

Imagodei,
heres the link to “A Case Against Jesus” I mentioned.

Aug


#18

Of course a rich person enering into heaven is as impossible as passing a camel (or a rope as the Aramaic bible more plausibly puts it) through the eye of a needle - yet in the very next instant it is made clear that what is impossible for a man is possible for God. Maybe that kind of God could just pull off the job of turning all from their sin.

Also on the point of annihilation I must confess all the billions of years that I didn’t exist before my birth weren’t unpleasant at all - why are so many people aghast at the idea of not existing after death (whether because there is nothing or annihilated by God for being an unrepentant sinner)?


#19

auggy,

Thanks for the paper and the comments. I think these sayings show that Jesus thought of himself as more than a prophet, much more in fact. In my posts I have only drawn on the New Testament, particularly the words of Jesus. On this topic the NT texts are primary since in most (maybe all) of the OT there wasn’t any alleged idea of everlasting punishment. The New Testament is key.


#20

I probably draw less of a sharp distinction between philosophical reasoning and biblical interpretation than you do. But in any case, you may (or may not) be happy to know that, as a matter of historical fact, it was my reading of the New Testament that first led me to universalism, and only after that did I begin formulating philosophical arguments in support of what I thought I saw there. Indeed, virtually every philosophical argument I have ever offered in support of universalism is an elaboration of something I thought I saw in the New Testament. And that is especially true of my understanding that love is a condition of supreme happiness or true blessedness. I do not know how the New Testament could be any clearer on this point than it is. See also my post at [Reformed Journal)

Thanks for continuing to think along with me.

-Tom