Does God Conceal the Truth from Christians?


#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


#21

Hello Tom:

I used to read WLC a lot; he played an important role in helping me build a coherent and reasonable faith early on in my journey. However, when I read his replies to your Universalism ideas, my eyes just skipped on to something else; for everybody knows Universalism ain’t true. Fast forward some years when Universalism finally made sense to me… By the time I read your book and got to the part where you deal with Dr Craigs contention that God messes with our memories in order to spare us the pain of seeing loved ones in hell (or anihilated for that matter) I instantly saw through the weakness in his arguements and agreed with yours.

My reasons are that when God says sin will be no more (albeit sometimes in the future) it seems it is not because God has simply killed off the opposition; for that would lead to worship from fear. Which is precisely the idea that Christ came to dispell it seems to me. Rather, it seems to me that the reason sin will be no more is because no one will choose it anymore. And the reason they won’t is because of memories; the redeemed (all of us) will know – as personal witnessess – what sin does to people and so we will reject it. Our choice for God will be a fully informed one. Informed in the positive sense ie how good and wonderful God is, as well as informed in the negative sense; we know from experience (experience which memories remind us of) how bad the alternative to God really is.

So, given our human history, we really did come to experience the knowledge of good and evil. Taking away pertinent memories is to take away the very thing which makes us “safe” for eternity. Further, all that memory plays a crucial role in our very identities. Our restored and bebuilt and redeemed identities.

thanks,
TotalVictory


#22

Isaiah 66:24 looks like it teaches that the redeemed are aware of the sufferings of the damned in hell:

“Then they will go forth and look
On the corpses of the men
Who have transgressed against Me
For their worm will not die
And their fire will not be quenched;
And they will be an abhorrence to all mankind.”
(Isaiah 66:24 NASB)


#23

f it is true that a forced revelation unto humility is defective (due to the lack of a free choice) then how is the glory not defective if the confession of the arrogant is forced (not being confession from the heart)?

It seems to me that if the love of a person who has received an irresistable revelation is meaningless then a forced confession, from a irresistable revelation (namely God kicks in their heads) should be equally meaningless. For the person did not confess out of their own free will but due to the irresistable power of God.

(taken from my argument of humility thread)
Aug


#24

One wonders , if God were in the business of directly altering minds against an individual’s will, why he wouldn’t just alter the minds of the damned to accept his gift of salvation. Seems like a superior method of dealing with the issue.


#25

The question itself begs another question: “If God is concealing the Truth from Christians - then how could that concealment be known?” The short answer is that it cannot be known. Is Universalism concealed? No, it can be known from scripture and from knowing God. Is ‘knowing God’ then a special revelation? Not if you consider that not one of the OT believers addressed him as “Father” and that we, through the Gospel, now know Him to be so. “Nothing is concealed that cannot be known.”