St Maximus the Confessor and Apokatastasis

St Maximus the confessor draws a distinction between the “wanting” of God and the “willing” of God. Importantly, this maps directly onto the “wanting” of the soul and the “willing” of the soul. This is very important for understanding how universal Salvation is compatible with the popular understanding of free will.

The Willing and Wanting of God

God wants to save everyone: According to Catholics this is indisputable and fundamental. Because God is love, how could he ever want to damn someone? However, just because God wants something doesn’t mean he wills it. Wanting is a desire, whereas willing is an active manifestation of an intention, aimed at the satisfaction of a desire.

So on the one hand, God loves us all and wants to save us all. However, we abuse our freedom, and therefore God wills to punish us. The analogy of the father and the child helps to make sense of this.

A good father never wants to punish his child. So too, God never wants to punish us. However, the father sometimes feels compelled to punish his child, so as to “teach the child a lesson”. This should be both a corrective and a retributive punishment – which is to say, the punishment should be fitting and in proportion to the crime, but the punishment should also be aimed at educating and correcting the child and encouraging him to return to the right path.

Now, all of us have sinned, and therefore even though God wants to save us all, his will is compelled by his perfection of justice to condemn all mankind to damnation in Hell (Samsara). So there’s two things happening here: there is the Apokatastasis (Universal Salvation), in which both God’s willing and God’s wanting are in perfect harmony, and then there is the Massa Damnata, in which God’s willing is out of sync with God’s wanting: In the Apokatastasis, God both wants and wills all to be saved, and so all are saved. Whereas in the Massa Damnata, God wants to save everyone, and he does not want to punish anyone, but his will is compelled by his perfect justice to punish us all.

The summary with respect to God is that God always wants to save us all, however because all of us sin, he wills to damn us all.

The Willing and Wanting of The Soul

The analysis of willing and wanting with respect to God maps directly onto the willing and wanting of the Soul.

Every soul wants and desires God, and every action that a soul undertakes is aimed at trying to move that soul towards God. However due to our limited perspective, we often make mistakes, due to lack of prayer and mindfulness of what is right and wrong in any given situation. With our will we make choices which we think will satisfy our wanting, but often we are mistaken and our choice has the opposite effect.

In this way, with our wanting, we always seek after God, but with our willing we often fall short of God and find ourselves deeper in the darkness.

Synergism and Predestination

Now, the doctrine of synergism states that there is a perfect harmony between the wanting of the soul and the wanting of God, as well as – startlingly – perfect accord between the willing of the soul and the willing of God. That is to say, the soul always wants God, and God always wants the soul.

However when the willing of the soul is not directed towards that which will truly satisfy it’s wanting, then so too the willing of God will not be in accord with that which truly satisfies his wanting. Both God and the soul always want the soul to move towards God, but sometimes the soul wills to move away from God, and whenever it does this, God accordingly wills to move away from the soul.

In this way when someone sins they have failed to act correctly and have chosen wrongly. The result is an explosion of justice from God in the form of an increase of retributive punishment. And so when we reject God, we are punished, but the key thing is that this is not the punishment of a king towards a slave; it is instead the punishment of a father towards a son.

As such, God’s justice is a merciful justice: it aims at the salvation of the sinner. But God’s justice is also a retributive justice: his punishment always fits the crime.

Lets take things to the extremes: When the soul definitively rejects God (and St Maximus firmly maintains – along with popular catholic tradition – that this is possible), God’s justice responds with definitive rejection of the soul.

According to Paul in his letter to the Romans, all of us have definitively rejected God and we all continue and persist in this rejection. And so all of us have tasted Hell. In a sense, St Augustine was right about the massa damnata: all of us will be damned forever.

But there’s a rubber band effect in play here. It is just because all of us are damned, that all of us will be saved; the punishment of Hell (Samsara) is the very means by which God educates us to be able to make the right choices. Sometimes it takes total damnation of a soul; it requires a soul to hit rock bottom, in order for that soul to finally realise the truth of his situation and repent.

So even if a soul ends up in Hell by means of it’s own mistaken willing, that soul still desires to be in heaven by it’s infallible wanting. Everlasting damnation is the educative means by which God will bring that soul back to heaven.

If a soul ends up in Hell, that soul’s wanting and willing are out of sync. They are willing the wrong things in an attempt to satisfy their wanting. Similarly with God; when a soul ends up in Hell, God does not want the soul to be in hell, but he does will that the soul be in Hell.

In summary, the willing of the soul is directed towards the satisfaction of the wanting of the soul. So too, the willing of God is directed towards the satisfaction of the wanting of God.

The implication of this is that everything God wills, ultimately has the purpose of satisfying his wanting. So if God wills that someone be everlastingly and eternally damned forever and ever, then in a most mysterious way this act of will has the purpose of satisfying God’s want to save that soul. In other words, everlasting and eternal damnation is sometimes exactly what it takes in order for the soul to ultimately get what it wants, and also for God to ultimately get what he wants.

Conclusion – God or Hell: Which is More Eternal?

St Gregory of Nyssa – who was a firm universalist – pondered these ideas, and speculated that for most souls the stay in Hell would be a temporary one, but for some souls (for example perhaps Satan and/or Judas) their damnation will be so complete that their purification will “extend into infinity”.

But he also remembered that “God is infinitely more infinite than infinity and eternally more eternal than eternity”, and so he had the wisdom to ask “What happens after forever?” and his answer was αποκαταστασις; the final and universal rest of all souls in paradise . Those who find themselves stuck in Hell forever will finally begin to repent after a forever has elapsed. For the forever of Hell cannot compare to the forever of God. Hell may very well feel like forever to a soul who is stuck there, but to God, the punishments of Hell do not last even as long as the blink of an eye.

In this way, we have both the massa damnata and the Universal Salvation shown to be compatible with each other. Everyone will be damned for all eternity, and everyone will be saved for all eternity, and the key to understanding how this can be, is St Maximus’ distinction between willing and wanting.

Footnote

Just as the Catholics are correct to insist that “God loves everyone and desires to save all without exception”, so too, the Calvinists are correct to insist that “God is just and actively wills to send sinners to Hell”: When a soul finds itself stuck in the torments of Hell, this is because God wills it, but not because he wants it.

David Bentley Hart – That All Shall Be Saved

I’ve just read the recently released book length essay by David Bentley Hart concerning Universal Salvation – “That All Shall Be Saved”. I was pleasantly surprised to be struck with some insights regarding theodicy and the mystery of evil, which now seem completely obvious to me despite being elusive up to this point. Here they are in dot point form

  1. Contrary to popular educated Christian opinion, evil does have an identifiable reality and substance and essence; evil is not merely an illusion. The experience of pain is the essence and substance of evil. In this way, evil is a real and true component of the fabric of reality – and we are all intimately familiar with it – even if it is understood to be a privation and purely negative, parasitical phenomenon. For example when someone is tortured, both the act and the outcome are evil (although even in the case of a torture the intention is good, as in the case of torturing someone to obtain information which would prevent a destructive act of terrorism).
  2. God does not sovereignly determine evil acts and outcomes. He merely sovereignly permits them. The one single thing that God sovereignly determines is the glorious eschaton and a creation which is constructed in such a way that it infallibly arrives at this eschaton – this is the essence of predestination. The intermediate details are almost entirely determined by us and our autonomous agency (ie, free will) – putting aside direct and divine miraculous intervention.
  3. God does not control all things, but he does create all things. Everything that happens happens because God sustains it in existence and creates it – including our autonomous “free” choices. However God is not a puppet master; nothing is caused by God in the same sense that a puppeteer pulls strings to animate his puppet, or in the same sense that I cause a billiard ball to move by striking it. (For more on this point, search for “Double Agency” and “Synergism” and “The Causal Joint”)
  4. Evil is not part of God’s plan and God’s original design had no evil in it. If it were up to God, there would be no evil. God neither desired nor ordained the Holocaust, he merely permitted it. The holocaust is not an integral component of God’s plan, and he still would bring about the glorious apokatastasis even if the holocaust had never happened.
  5. Our freedom means that the possibility of evil is necessary, but the actuality of evil is not essential. In other words rapes, murders, tsunamis and genocides are not crucial components of God’s plan to bring us to the eschaton, even though rapes, murders and tsunamis are accounted for in that plan. In other words, God has built contingencies into evil, such that it always rubber-bands back to good, in both a temporary and ultimate sense, but his plan does not require evil in order for him to achieve his purposes.
  6. God does not play dice; he knew all possible outcomes of his act of creation before he created – to speak analogically – and yet he went ahead and created anyway. He arranged creation such that everything works together to bring about the glorious eschaton, regardless of whether evil occurs or not. This implies that regardless of how much or how little evil we commit, all things are predestined to the happy ending of the eschaton. To put it in a catchy sound bite, freedom pertains to history while sovereignty pertains to eschatology.
  7. It will not do to complain that the one true gospel of universal salvation renders all action meaningless, “so we may as well eat, drink, have sex and be merry, because it will all be ok in the end anyway regardless of how we behave”. This attitude is completely delusional. Evil is not a step towards the eschaton, it is always a step away from it. For this reason, so long as we remain in our sins, the eschaton is prevented from being actualised. You can’t “sin and still be saved”: So long as you go on sinning, the promised eschaton is prevented from being realised. However, God has created reality in such a way that eventually everyone will infallibly be enlightened as to the truth of things and cease from sinning.
  8. There are two relevant conceptions of Hell to entertain.
    • The first is where someone else holds us in the flames against our will (for example in the case of rape or torture) for sadistic ends. For example the Calvinist god (ie, Satan) wants to demonstrate his attributes and glory, so he damns people to hell and derives selfish glory from their tortures and takes sadistic pleasure in their pain, and all the while they are screaming for mercy and trying to escape. In this first conception, we are in Hell because someone has abducted us and carried us there and held us against our will. To escape from this damnation, some third party has to come and defeat the monstrous prison master and trample the gates of Hell, allowing everyone to escape to freedom. (cf, early “ransom” theories of atonement)
    • The second conception of Hell is where no one is actively holding us in the flames but our very own selves. In this second conception, to remain in the fire could only be due to slavery to ignorance and insanity. However unlike the first conception of Hell, in this conception we do retain our agency and autonomy and dignity, despite being enslaved to the powers of darkness and delusion. Under this second schema we retain the ability to make mistakes and learn from them, and as the ages go by it is inevitable that we will eventually make all the possible mistakes and learn all the possible lessons, and therefore eventually arrive at a state of being wherein we always make the right choices; it is only at this point that we truly can be said to be “free”, “liberated” and “saved”. In this second conception, the process of salvation is less of a “prisonbreak” and more of an education.
  9. People always seek God in everything that they do, it’s just that sometimes (often) they do it in entirely the wrong way. Even the sadistic rapist is not primarily trying to inflict harm on his victim; he is merely seeking pleasure, which is itself a good thing, but unfortunately in this case the pleasure is coming at the expense of the pain of a second person, and this pain is an evil thing. As such, the ultimate sin is to seek retribution: “You hurt me, so I will hurt you”, which only leads to “I hurt you, so you are going to hurt me” and this continues in a vicious circle forever, condemning all of us to an everlasting Hell. The only way to break free from this samsaric cycle of vengeance inflicted and vengeance suffered is to adopt an attitude of mercy, grace and true justice, which involves striving for love and unconditional forgiveness, rather than clinging on to a disordered desire for revenge and “justice”.
  10. It should be recognised that even the desire for revenge and retributive “justice” is in actual fact a desire for God, but it is a fundamentally disordered desire because it has conflated seeking heaven for oneself with inflicting Hell on someone else, and this will in actual fact only serve to perpetuate the current situation – which is a seemingly endless circle of evil, pain and suffering; something of a massa damnata. Retributive justice can only serve to postpone the glorious apokatastasis that we all ultimately crave. However at the point where everyone understands that always and unconditionally seeking the good for the other is the key to true happiness – rather than seeking revenge – the eschaton will have finally been inaugurated. Cue the second coming. Cue the final resurrection. Cue the glorification of Satan and his demons. God is finally all in all, and the glory is infinite and the rejoicing never ends. All are in love and love is in all, and all the evils we had suffered were worth enduring after all. Thanks be to God

Jesus Prays For the Salvation of the Damned

(Click here for printable word doc version: Parable of the Gracious king)

I found the following lying around at my local bus stop. It touched me so I’ve decided to type it up and put it online for all to see. Does anyone know who the author is? Or where it comes from? I’m unaware of any Gospel which contains this story.

Study 15: The Parable of the Gracious King

21 At that time on the sabbath Jesus was teaching the multitudes outside the entrance to the synagogue, and a tax collector approached him and said, 22 “Teacher, my father[a] entered death as an unrepentant sinner with blasphemies on his lips – According to the law and the prophets he is doomed to everlasting punishment forever, and I will not meet him ever again. What hope is there for me in this kingdom[b] that you preach?”

23 Jesus immediately took pity on the man, cast his eyes to heaven, and prayed: 24 “My good father, witness the misery of your children who remain wandering in the darkness. 25 Give them hope. Bring all people into your kingdom, especially those in most need of thy mercy; those who did not believe, who did not repent, who died without the law and the scriptures, and who rejected you unto the eternal destruction of the age.”

26 The pharisees began to murmur amongst themselves, saying to each other 27 “It is clearly written that not all will share in the glory of the resurrection[c]. By what authority does he dare contradict the scriptures and our traditions by praying in this way?” 28 And Jesus immediately perceived the idolatry[d] reigning in their hearts, and he begun to speak unto them a parable:

29 There once was a king who sent out a decree into all the towns and villages of his kingdom and of the neighboring kingdoms saying, 30 “In order that I might demonstrate my graciousness, I decree that on the 40th day of the year, all must come to my palace, and assemble before me and make their petitions, 31 and they may ask me for anything, and I promise that I will give it to them, whatever it is that they may ask.”

32 And so on the 40th day of the year, all the people of the world assembled in the court of the king, and one by one they began to bring their petitions before him. 33 A fisherman approached the throne and said, “My good lord, my fishing net is broken, and I do not have enough money to afford a new one”. 34 The king said, “I will pay for you to have a new fishing net, the finest fishing net in the kingdom.” and the man departed from his presence rejoicing. 35 A baker approached the throne and said, “My good lord, we fell short in the wheat harvest this year, and do not have enough wheat to bake bread”. 36 The king responded, “Be not afraid, I myself will provide you all the wheat you require from the stocks of my own royal storehouses”. 37 After this, a town fool from a neighboring kingdom approached the throne and said 38 “My sweet and gracious lord, I want to have a palace, and a castle, and fields, and livestock, and a kingdom of my own, and more servants and wives and slaves than Solomon possessed at the height of his glory.” 39 The advisors of the king rose from their seats and angrily shouted 40 “Cease this outrageous insolence! By what heights of arrogance do you dare to insult our king like this? 41 Depart from the presence of the Lord and never return!” 42 But the king rose and rebuked his advisors, saying: 43 “Do not condemn this man, for he has done no wrong. Behold: This is the first man who has truly made me feel like a king. 44 I tell you this day, I will give him all that he has asked out of my own infinite abundance, wealth and possessions.”

45 And Jesus asked the crowd: “Who do you think glorified the king more? The fisherman, the baker, or the fool? 46 I tell you, the kingdom of heaven has no limits, 47 and if you desire to worship your gracious father in heaven, you should ask him for all things, fully convinced that he is able and willing to give them to you, 48 even things that seem impossible and outrageous[e], and even the good things that he has clearly told you that he will not do. 49 There is no limit to the generosity[f] of God.” 50 The crowd’s eyes were opened, and they marveled at these good words, but the pharisees continued to murmur, and continued plotting as to how they might entrap Jesus and kill him.

Footnotes

[a] Some authorities “my son” [b] Some add “of God” [c] Some add “and of heaven”, others “and of the life of the age” [d] Some add “of scripture”, others “of Tradition and the Church”, others “of the fathers and the teachers” [e] Some add “and the salvation of those in Gehenna” [f] Some add “and mercy”

Study 15: Discussion questions

  1. Who can you relate to most in this passage of scripture?
    1. Are you like the pharisees and the king’s advisors? Are you convinced that you know the truth of scripture and that the people you disagree with do not? Do you abuse the scary parts of the bible by ripping them out of their context in the light of the supreme and total victory of the cross and resurrection? Do you employ the scary Hell passages of scripture to argue against and crush the pure hope and simple faith of the people around you?
    2. Are you like the tax collector? Are you someone who is searching for hope and assurance on behalf of those whom you love (and other people who most definitely died in unbelief and unrepentance)? Do you only find condemnation and despair in the pages of scripture, the preaching of your ministers, and the counsel of your church family?
    3. Are you like the baker and the fisherman? Are you weak in faith and too nervous to ask God for what you really want? Is your vision of heaven smaller than the vision of heaven God has proclaimed in the scriptures (related question: what exactly IS that vision? Cf. Romans 11:32)? Do you only ask God for little things, and not have the confidence to ask him for the big things (such as the salvation of the entire world?)
    4. Are you like the fool? Do you pray to God asking him for everything, regardless of how outlandish it may seem?
    5. Are you like the king? Do you overflow with mercy and grace to all those around you?
    6. Are you like Jesus? Do you offer confident assurance of hope for the damned to those around you who have lost loved ones to unbelief and an unrepentant death? Do you pray for the salvation of all people – including those who are in Hell, being fully convinced that God is able and willing to save such people?
  2. What is the most outlandish thing that you would like to pray for? Are you praying for it? If not, why not? How does your answer reflect the strength of your faith in God’s promises, especially considering that God both commands us to pray and promises us that he will answer our prayer by giving us whatever it is that we ask for or something even better?
  3. Have you ever prayed for the salvation of Judas? Have you ever prayed for the salvation of those in Hell? Have you ever prayed for the salvation of Satan and his demons? Do you believe that God is able and willing to bring about such an astonishing and amazing salvation of his entire creation and everything in it?
  4. Have you been idolizing the bible, like the pharisees in this scripture? Have you forgotten that the entire creation is good, and that God therefore speaks through everything? Including sermons, songs, music, liturgy, other believers, and even unbelievers and the scriptures of other religions? Have you ever asked yourself why you only respect the authority of the bible, and never humble yourself to listen openly to other voices?

Study 15: Next steps

  1. Pray for the salvation of the damned and those in Hell, and anyone who you think might be rejected by God, definitively excluded from his kingdom and beyond redemption.
  2. Familiarize yourself with the wisdom, theology and doctrine of other denominations and variations of Christianity, recognizing that the spirit moves in them as well.
  3. Consider sincerely investigating other religions, worldviews and philosophies. Remember that humble one-to-one interfaith discussion is the most effective way to evangelize!
  4. If this passage has touched you or made you grow in faith in any way whatsoever, consider holding on to this study and sharing it with people around you, rather than throwing it out.

(Click here for printable word doc version: Parable of the Gracious king)