Tag Archives: Divine Justice

What God Wills and What God Permits
Part Two of an Interim Report on That All Shall Be Saved

by David Bentley Hart

Pantocrator, Bible of St. Louis

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.

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