As I pointed out in a previous post entitled “Does God Conceal the Truth from Christians?” William Lane Craig responds to an argument of mine as follows:
Having already addressed Craig’s first claim, I now turn to his second claim. By way of further elaboration, he explores the possibility that “the redeemed do retain knowledge of the fate of the damned but they are not conscious of it. When you think about it, we’re not conscious of most of what we know.” That is correct. Even if I know that my daughter is being raped, tortured, and murdered, we can imagine many experiences that might drive this knowledge out of my immediate consciousness. Indeed, Craig’s own example is most instructive in this regard. He asks us to “imagine an experience of pain–say, having your leg amputated on the battlefield without anesthetic–which is so intense that it drives out awareness of anything else. In such a condition you wouldn’t be thinking of your child at all.” That may also be correct–though we should never underestimate the power of love, even under such conditions of terrible duress as Craig imagines, to focus one’s awareness on the objects of one’s love. More often than not, a persistent awareness of loved ones is the very thing that enables prisoners of war, for example, to endure even protracted torture.
But the important point is this: Whether it be excruciating pain, an ecstatic drug-induced high, or a pseudo-beatific vision, nothing that drives the knowledge of our loved ones from our consciousness and thereby undermines our ability to love them fully could possibly qualify as true blessedness. Craig asks us to imagine “a feeling [my emphasis] of joy and elation, but immeasurably more intense and enthralling,” sort of like an ecstatic drug-induced high, I suppose; he then concludes that precisely this is “the beatific vision of the redeemed in heaven!” The problem, however, is that he says nothing about love and nothing about the traditional Christian view that love is an essential condition of true blessedness. Apart from a heart filled with love for all of our known neighbors–that is, for all of those whom we are commanded to love–no mere “feeling of joy and elation,” whether drug induced or not, will qualify as true blessedness or supreme happiness. Given the Christian understanding of the beatific vision, in other words, that vision should make us more aware of our loved ones, not less; and it should make us care for them more, not less. Indeed, if the beatific vision, like a drug-induced ecstatic high, were to drive the knowledge of our loved ones from our consciousness, why should anyone suppose it to be a good thing at all, however “intense and enthralling” it may seem? And if it should undermine our awareness of our loved one’s in hell, why would it not also undermine our awareness of our loved ones in heaven?