Doctrines of hell—in both Augustinian and freewill versions, and both eternal torment and annihilationist editions—have more problems than a hedgehog has spikes. It is hard to know how best to handle the issue in so short a time. So I thought I’d use the “Rethinking Hell” triangle as my guide on the journey and use the issue of God’s victory over evil as a way in.
First, a word on the ontology of evil. Here one of my part-time heroes, Augustine, offers some helpful insight. He argued that all created things come from the goodness of the Creator and are good (Ench. ad Laur. 9–10). Evil itself is not a substance, not a thing, but an absence of good.
In the bodies of animals, disease and wounds mean nothing but the absence of health; for when a cure is effected, that does not mean that the evils which were present—namely, the disease and wounds—go away from the body and dwell elsewhere: they altogether cease to exist; for the wound or disease is not a substance, but a defect in the fleshly substance—the flesh itself being a substance, and therefore something good, of which those evils—that is, privations of the good which we call health—are accidents. Just in the same way, what are called vices in the soul are nothing but privations of natural good. And when they are cured, they are not transferred elsewhere: when they cease to exist in a healthy soul, they cannot exist anywhere else.
Augustine, Ench. ad Laur. 11.
The ontology of evil that Augustine articulated here was in fact a widely shared Christian view by his day. The Christian Platonist tradition prior to Augustine held firmly to the notion that evil was not ontologically essential to creation and that God would defeat it. But defeat it how? Two options have been considered by Christians: you can either (a) imprison it or (b) annihilate it. And there are two very different ways one can annihilate evil: one can either annihilate the substance that has been corrupted by evil or one can heal the substance that has been corrupted by evil, thereby eradicating the evil. This yields the three basic options of the hell triangle.
- The Prison: forever balance evil with perfectly proportioned retributive punishment.
- The Guillotine: annihilate evil by annihilating those infected with it.
- The Hospital: annihilate evil by healing those afflicted with it.
Or, as we better know them: everlasting torment, annihilationism, and universalism. (I ought to add that Jerry Walls has his own hybrid version and the following analysis does not do justice to it.)
Above is the seventh section of the excellent talk Robin Parry gave at the 2015 Rethinking Hell Conference (video below). See here for more.
3 thoughts on “Parry—The Victory of Divine Love over Evil”
Thank you for posting this. Robin is insightful, and communicates his thoughts clearly.
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I wish I could believe this more firmly. I am still studying the concept of restorative justice and the scourging of God’s love to produce a change in the soul, but as I watch human beings and see how utterly abandoned to doing evil they are, I find it hard to conceive of any change in their desires or ontological being in the next life. After repeated rebukes, even by a pope, Nancy Pelosi remains unaffected by the truth and lives in the delusion that she is a faithful Catholic. Other people in Protestant denominations are likewise so deluded.
And they do not wish to change. It is bizarre to me.
Yes, there are days where the extent of human evil makes me wonder how on earth even God is going to pull it off At the same time, each and every Christian is an example of God turning/drawing/converting a rebel—even some very extremely stubborn ones—so that gives me hope. You might find the second half of https://reforminghell.com/2017/03/18/engaging-orr-ewing-how-could-a-holyloving-god-send-people-to-hell/ encouraging too.