My previous post, a quotation of Abba Barsanuphios, was about free will and the message of salvation. In this post, I will be stealing from, and introducing my readers to, a dude by the name of Fr Neo, who is an Episcopal priest who preempts our questions with, "Yes, I am orthodox." His recent blog post "Dare We Hope for the Salvation of All?" drew some comments from me and a couple of others that I'd like to share on my blog. Since Fr Neo's post is short enough, I'm quoting it entirely, and then adding the comments somewhat edited for relevance. To read the whole thing, click the link above.
by Fr Neo
So asks the Orthodox bishop, Kallistos Ware. In his work The Inner Kingdom, he dares to ask the question. Ware is not a squishy theologian. He is thoroughly traditional and Orthodox in all points. But he is expressing a true and, I think, orthodox hope.
He mentions that St. Gregory of Nyssa also had such hopes. Ware says,
“Gregory [writes], ‘the wickedness which is now mingled and consolidated with our nature has been finally expelled from it, and when all those things that are now sunk down in evil are restored to their original state, there will ascend from the entire creation a united hymn of thanksgiving…All this is contained in the great mystery of the Divine Incarnation.’ This final restoration, Gregory clearly states, will embrace even the devil.”
Ware does not deny the existence of hell, he only questions the purpose for it. Is it a place of condemnation and judgment, or does it have a restorative or healing element to it? Is the fire of God wrathful or is it remedial? Ware is not trying to presume that God’s purpose will eventually win out to save everyone, he is only expressing a hope and a sincere prayer.
Now, for the comments…
Human speculations and “sincere prayers” aside, even bishop Kallistos cannot gloss over the plain meaning of scripture regarding salvation and damnation. The bible, using baby talk as it were to communicate to us the truths of “how it all works” is not to be underestimated. Rather than the opposite, I think the little that is said in the scriptures about eternal separation from God (hell, damnation, lake of fire, etc.) is a merciful shielding of our eyes from the real horror inherent in the wrong use of our free will. Rather than “God doesn’t speak much or clearly about damnation, and we know He’s so good, well, maybe these are just little incentives for us to try to be nice,” perhaps something like this may be true, “God doesn’t tell us too much about the nature of damnation, because He doesn’t want us to be terrorized into accepting Him.” [Romanós]
Dare we hope for the salvation of all?
To do otherwise is nothing short of a sin. [Constantine]
Indeed, it would be a sin not to hope for the salvation of all. To assume the salvation of all would also be a sin, to place ourselves in the place where only Christ belongs. [John H]
Forgive me, brother, but can we really hope for something that the scriptures reveal as impossible? Pretty strong wording to say that hoping for anything other than the salvation of all is a “sin”. In a perfect world, that is, in a world where everyone (eventually) did what was right, humans and hypersomatic beings included, we could hope that all of them, even the sometimes naughty ones, would repent and turn back to God. That would be a legitimate hope, even in the face of temporal, and temporary, wickedness. But, brother, it’s not a perfect world, at least, not yet. Sometime soon, the Alpha and the Omega, the Pantokrator, will come to separate the sheep from the goats. It is not in vain that He spoke those words, nor was He fantasizing when He revealed to John the Revelator what was, what is, and what is to come. Scripture doesn’t speak to us in vain, nor is it for our entertainment, but for our investiture.
Stick close to the revealed Word, since you claim Him as your Lord, and let Him be a “curb for the wild horses” of your mind, as Clement of Alexandria so aptly wrote. Submit your thoughts to that Word.
If you can be safe, don’t put yourself in danger.
I could wish that everyone would be saved, but not one wish of mine will I work against the will of Him who has created all things, nor against His plan of “as it must be.” [Romanós]
As to your comment regarding the sovereignty of God, I suspect you are right. SDG as the Reformers cried out, no? I’m just counting on (trusting?) the same Christ to win the day, if you will–what He has begun, He will complete. I truly don’t say this in a snide or supercilious manner. I really believe Christ will make all well in His own way and time. I equally suspect it may be a painful process. But can anything, included the “free will” of man, thwart God’s ultimate eschatological purpose and intent for His creation? And what is that? Restoration! Wholeness! A union of love triumphant!
Have you read the late eminent theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar on said subject? I would contend that Holy Writ is not as clear and cut and dry as you propose (in spite of what the magisterial Reformer Luther would have us believe). When you say, “as it must be,” I wonder if we are not of the same hermeneutical mind, but just drawing different conclusions. The hyper-Calvinist insists in such a manner as well. I find it almost humorous that so many think and believe that all is determined categorically this side of the grave.
May I also ask of you: What is Hell–God’s absence or presence? [Constantine]
You’ve lost me on most of what you said in your last comment. Holy scripture IS clear on everything that really matters. I wouldn’t use the term ‘cut and dry’ when referring to biblical truth, though, because ‘whatever you think it’s more than that, more than that’.
I don’t know what hell is, except what the bible says it is, acknowledging at the same time that God has given us very little detail about it, except that it is.
Your question, what is hell, God’s absence or presence, cannot be asked without begging the question. It’s an ontological issue. God is present always and everywhere, even in hell. The scriptures declare it, the fathers teach it, the Orthodox believe it, human conscience senses it. Whether you are in heaven or hell now or in some future state, depends solely on whether you really love God or really hate Him. Now and always it boils down to accepting God’s ‘as it must be.’ We are derivative beings. Our whole nature, when it’s in order, wants to submit to the Father’s will, because He is our Source. Even the Son and the Holy Spirit want to submit to the Father’s will because He is their Source, and this, being of one will, is the foundation and nature of the Holy Triad, and for us, of the ‘three-personal life’ as C.S. Lewis calls it in Mere Christianity. Any and all beings that possess free will receive their freedom by laying it down before the Throne, or be imprisoned by withholding it, while crying “MINE!”
It seems that we’ve actually said everything that can be reasonably said on this subject, at least for me. Time to get back to the Word of God, and let Him form us His servants and sons, renew our minds and, in Christ, restore His divine image broken in us. Go with God, Constantine, my brother. Thanks for your comments. [Romanós]
I don't want this post to end with something I've written, so let me close with a quote from C.S. Lewis' book The Great Divorce. This is put in the mouth of George MacDonald, who is correcting a mistaken sentiment that Lewis expresses to him. Read on…
'Son, son, it must be one way or the other. Either the day must come when joy prevails and all the makers of misery are no longer able to infect it; or else for ever and ever the makers of misery can destroy in others the happiness they reject for themselves. I know it has a grand sound to say ye'll accept no salvation which leaves even one creature in the dark outside. But watch that sophistry or ye'll make a Dog in a Manger the tyrant of the universe.' [C.S. Lewis]