Species of Hell, Kronen & Reitan

Probably the best objection to hell I have ever read, or at least it seemed so to me at the time of reading. There are longer and more substantial works, like Talbott, but none as subtle and sophisticated.





Despite all His infinite resources, despite infinite time in which to work, despite His perfect knowledge of every nuance of the souls of the damned, despite His unrelenting love, His efforts will be for naught. At least in some human souls, sin will prove more powerful than God. This seems an unavoidable implication of any of the “liberal” versions of DH, and it is an implication that should give every defender of DH pause. In fact, it strikes us as verging on blasphemy. And this may be a main reason why the classical doctrine of hell has not entirely gone away despite its drawbacks. If God’s salvific aims simply do not include the damned, then we are not driven to the unsettling conclusion that God’s aims are, in some human souls, ultimately defeated. In the various forms of the classical version of DH, the eternal alienation of the damned is directly intended by God, and so cannot be viewed as God’s failure or defeat.

To see the full magnitude of the difficulty here, it may help to reflect for  a moment on exactly what is so bad about sin. Sin at its heart is a failure to value things according to their objective degree of value. It is a failure to appropriately express, in actions and dispositions, due reverence for the inherent worth of things. The most significant element of sin, on classical theology, is the failure to do this with respect to God. God has infinite worth, and thus ought to be valued above all things. To fail to do so is an objective affront to the divine majesty, akin to the sociopath’s failure to properly value his victim but magnified in severity by the infinite worthiness of God.

According to the classical doctrine of hell, God responds to this infinite affront against his dignity by deliberately acting to ensure that this affront to His dignity continues for all eternity. While he could stop it from continuing, he chooses instead to make sure that this most intolerable of all evils persists forever in the souls of the damned by deliberately withholding the necessary condition for bringing it to an end. And so the defender of any form of the classical version of DH must explain why it would be a demand of justice to bring it about that a criminal never stop committing his crime. We, at least, cannot conceive of any coherent conception of justice under which this would make any sense at all.

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