Note to My Readers: from mid-June to mid-August (6/18 - 8/20), I will be taking a summer break from posting new articles for my Thursday and Friday slots. This will only affect my Thursday series on the global growth of Christianity, and my Friday series, the "Theological Bestiary" of birds, both of which will resume in late August. During the summer, I'll be dusting off some of my best essays from the first few years of this blog (a decade ago), as well as my verse play "Thus Ends the World," and re-posting them in the Thursday and Friday slots. All other weekdays will continue to feature new material throughout the summer.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

95 Theses, #91-92: Heaven and Hell in Fresh Perspective

To see the introduction and disclaimers for my 95 Theses, first go to: 95-Theses-Introduction

 (Painting: "The Last Judgment," by Giorgio Vasari, c.1575, ceiling fresco)

91.) Heaven and Hell as the Experience of the Love of God - The Final Judgment is God's, not mine. But I have a hopeward inkling that it might just be spectacular in its mercy. A merciful picture of the afterlife traces a long pedigree through the ideas of major church fathers like Gregory of Nyssa, Maximus the Confessor, and Isaac the Syrian. Theologically speaking, there are certain things about hell that just don't make a lot of sense, at least not in its traditional representation as a discrete place that is cut off from the presence of God. Since God is immanent in all things, there can be no such place as "hell" (at least not when defined as a discrete place), where God is not present. Rather, the one reality in which we will all find ourselves will be the only reality of all—the love of God. Those who, in their own free will, have oriented themselves with a Yes to that love and have been prepared for the experience of it through the long road of virtue, will find themselves in bliss in the presence of unending love. Those who have, of their own free will, oriented themselves with a No toward that love will find the experience of it a rather miserable affair (rather like the way that the presence of a rejected-but-still-present-love is one of the most painful possible aspects of human relationship). Even in the new heavens and the new earth, free will is respected—no one can be forced to respond with a Yes to the love of God. However, I think that those who have already said Yes to him will be able, beginning at varying degrees in the process, to proceed ever deeper, for all eternity, into his love, to the point where we truly do become “divinized” (a favorite early-church way of talking about sanctification). This seems to be part of John’s view of eternal life in the renewed creation: “We shall see him as he is, and we shall be like him.” The fact is that we, as creatures who were able to learn love and the other higher virtues during our experience of a pain-bound world, will be able to take whatever level of love of which we became capable in our lives, and have it transformed and expanded in the presence of True Love. Our moral growth began in this earthly life (and it could have begun nowhere else: if we had been created as heavenly creatures, our love would have been a mere echo of God’s rather than a free choosing of our own wills), but it is able to grow in the life to come.

92.) The New Heavens and the New Earth - The new heavens and the new earth will be a place in which God himself enters into our level of reality. Just as he did in the Incarnation, Revelation hints that now the full presence of the eternal Trinity will be “among men.” As such, I would posit that the restored creation will be a reality in which all things, even those parts of creation which previously had existed outside of the limits of time and space, will now experience reality from within some kind of temporal sequence (God himself will remain, at the same time, “wholly other,” but his union with embodied, sequential creation will bring all things within the eternal sequence). If true, this supposition allows for more than the mere static changelessness of an eternity outside of time; rather, all moral beings continue to be capable of growing, learning, exploring, and loving, in ever increasing measure, as they reflect the unmediated light and love of God.

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