In my previous installment of this report, I addressed the final phase of the argument put forward in That All Shall Be Saved, which concerns the nature of rational freedom and the question of whether the idea of a hell of eternal torment can plausibly be defended as an expression of the free will of creatures. In reaching the answer to that question—“No,” to be precise—I asserted it as a given that “God cannot positively will evil precisely because he is infinitely free.” But I gave no indication the precise significance of that claim within the context of the book’s larger argument. So now I want to retreat to the beginning of my promised “itinerary” of that argument. Normally I would be unwilling to recapitulate a case I felt I had already made with sufficient clarity; and obviously I cannot condense the book’s logic into a few paragraphs. But on this occasion a sufficient number of misconceptions have taken root around the book, and I think I should try to clear some of the undergrowth away if I can.
There are two questions that define the path the book’s reasoning takes, and every step along the way falls between them: First, can the God who either imposes or permits a state of perpetual conscious torment for rational creatures really be not only good, but (as reason and faith alike say he must be) Goodness in itself? And, second, could finite creatures possessed of real freedom (as opposed to a mere voluntarist power of spontaneous movement toward any end whatsoever) actually freely reject God eternally and, by the exercise of that liberty, merit perpetual torment? And, again, the answer to both questions is “No.” Other questions of equal import are also addressed, but these two dominant questions give the argument its shape. That said, the argument unfolds by way of roughly half a dozen major themes, which must be held together if one is to make sense of the book as a whole.
In my early days in the University of Bucharest, I was confronted by the opinion of many colleagues and students that the Orthodox must side with creationism against evolution. This meant presenting Genesis 1–2 literally, as a scientifically accurate report on the universe. I begged to differ and ended up quite isolated. After my relocation to Sydney, I discovered that many “first world” Orthodox reasoned much the same way and that, once again, my rejection of creationism looked suspicious. My attempts to show that, surreptitiously, Orthodox creationists largely borrow from denominational backgrounds which they traditionally despised fell on deaf ears. This prompted me to continue my work of patristic exploration, particularly seeking how Genesis was read in the early Christian centuries. In what follows, I refer to several findings that contradict the creationist view of Genesis as a scientific report, even though the authors I mention here unceasingly proclaimed the sublimity of the Genesis creation narrative. There was no biblical “science” of creation for them, no creationism. Instead, Genesis was a theological account of the mystery of the universe as God’s creation.
Before I turn to examples, a few words about the current understanding of the Genesis narrative are in order. It does not read like a regular story, from head to tail, instead adopting the symmetrical pattern of chiastic structures. Continue reading →
Over the centuries the notion of a fall of humanity from a state of primeval bliss and communion with God has been, faute de mieux, a convenient theological coat-rack to hang such important Christian doctrines as the origin of evil and death, original sin, human moral weakness, the Incarnation of Christ and baptismal theology. The problem, as we pointed out in an article in 2013, is that it is not possible, despite brave attempts to do so, to reconcile a historical understanding of the biblical account of paradise and the fall of Adam and Eve with scientific data and theories. Genesis 1-3 must instead be read as allegory or literary myth, intended to convey certain fundamental truths, such as the divine origin of creation and of humanity and the reality of human evil.
In the project of de-historicizing Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden and the fall, three areas predominate: the nature of human existence; the origin of evil; and the motivation for Christ’s Incarnation. Genesis predicates a form of human perfection prior to the fall (“prelapsarian”), and a much-weakened human existence after the fall (“postlapsarian”). In the standard interpretation, Adam’s fall introduced evil (and the decay and death which accompanied it) into creation. The alternative narrative, we argued, is that God created a world which was neither perfect nor imperfect, but perfectible; decay and death, whether on a galactic or microscopic scale, were inherent in creation from the first moment.
Did God create death? At first blush, the answer is evident: A good God could not have created something as evil as death; to suggest otherwise is outrageous, if not blasphemous. Continue Reading…