Parry—The Hospital

The alternative tradition, which predates Augustine, is that God annihilates evil by restoring the universe to himself, thereby healing it. The restoration of creation is the destruction of evil, for evil has no substantial reality.

 

Evil must necessarily be eliminated, absolutely and in every respect, once and for all, from all that is, and since in fact it is not […], neither will it have to exist at all. For, as evil does not exist in its nature outside will, once each will has come to be in God, evil will be reduced to complete disappearance, because no receptacle will be left for it. . . . [I]t seems to me that Scripture teaches the complete disappearance of evil. For, if in all beings there will be God, clearly in them there will be no evil.1

Gregory of Nyssa, De an. 101, 104

And God will not obliterate the good substantial beings he has made. As Al Wolters one said: “God does not create trash, and he does not trash what he creates.” Commenting on Psalm 59:6, 14, Gregory writes, “There will be no destruction of humans, that the work of God may not be emptied by annihilation. Instead of human creatures, what will be destroyed and reduced to non-being will be sin.” In a similar vein, Athanasius writes: “Christ, because he is good and loves humanity, came to bring fire onto earth. . . . He wanted the repentance and conversion of the human being rather than its death. In this way, evilness, all of it, will be burnt away from all human beings” (Ep. 3.4.8). Exitus et reditus.

Sun shining over a hospital

I ought to flag up at this point that all analogies have limitations, and the problem in this context with the hospital analogy is that it fails to do justice to the critical notions of human responsibility for evil and divine judgment on human evil. So I am not trying to be comprehensive here, to say everything that needs to be said about God’s response to human evil, but merely to indicate the manner in which evil is finally annihilated: namely, by eradicating it from humans, rather than by eradicating the humans themselves. The idea of healing communicates that well.

This was the theological framework within which eschatological punishment was interpreted by more than a few of the Fathers. Consequently, hell was understood to be a means to a salvific end, not the everlasting fate of anyone. Such Fathers had no qualms about affirming the biblical teachings on final punishment, and did not shrink from the biblical imagery and language, but such were understood in this wider theological framework. The flames of hell were understood as flames of justice, of course, but simultaneously as flames of divine love. Hell was God’s burning love. St Isaac of Nineveh puts this rather well:

If we said or thought that what concerns Gehenna is not in fact full of love and mixed with compassion, this would be an opinion full of blasphemy and abuse against God our Lord. . . . Among all his deeds, there is none that is not entirely dictated by mercy, love, and compassion. This is the beginning and the end of God’s attitude toward us.2.

St Isaac of Nineveh, Second Part, 39.22

Or, as someone else put it, LOVE WINS.


1. “For it is clear that it will be the case that God is ‘in all’ only when in the beings it will be impossible to detect any evil” (Gregory of Nyssa, In Illud, 17 Downing).
2. “I also maintain that those who are punished in Gehenna are scourged by the scourge of love. For what is so bitter and vehement as the punishment of love? I mean that those who have become conscious that they have sinned against love suffer greater torment from this than from any fear of punishment. For the sorrow caused in the heart by sin against love is sharper than any torment that can be. It would be improper for a man to think that sinners in Gehenna are deprived of the love of God. Love is the offspring of knowledge of the truth which, as is commonly confessed, is given to all. The power of love works in two ways: it torments those who have played the fool, even as happens here when a friend suffers from a friend; but it becomes a source of joy for those who have observed its duties. Thus I say that this is the torment of Gehenna: bitter regret. But love inebriates the souls of the sons of Heaven by its delectability.” (Isaac, I.28, p. 266)


Above is the tenth (and last) section of the excellent talk Robin Parry gave at the 2015 Rethinking Hell Conference (video below). See here for more.

2 thoughts on “Parry—The Hospital

  1. A question that has been on my mind a lot recently is — adopting the analogy of this post —
    “where (and when) is the hospital?” The answer typically proffered by evangelical universalists is, at least in past, “in a period of post-mortem purification, which may involve suffering of some kind”. That’s pretty clearly Dr. Parry’s view. That might be right, but the (as it seems to me) apparent lack of interest in questions of post-mortem “intermediate state” experience in the entire OT and the likelihood (as it seems to me) that this is also the basic posture of the NT, suggests that perhaps we should understand the answer to the question of “where and when is the ‘hospital;” to be “here and now”, ie, “under the sun” for the simple reason that that is what the Scriptures themselves are focused on.

    I for most of my life was puzzled by Paul’s seeming throwaway remark in Romans 6 that “anyone who has died has been set free from sin.” I used to think that that could not be meant literally, since it would imply that those who have died in unbelief are also “free from sin”, which would conflict with the anthropology, soteriology and infernalist eschatology to which I then held. I now think that Paul here is speaking of literal mortality — those who are bodily dead don’t sin (which is a very OT-ish kind of idea, sort of the other side of the famous remark that the dead do not praise YHWH). Paul then spiritualizes this and brings it into present-day “under the sun” lived experience of believers through their union with Christ.To suppose that the primary meaning of Romans 6:7 is already spiritualized kind of makes the statement pointless and redundant (which is why it seemed to me a throwaway remark). I have come to believe that the primary sense refers to bodily death, and this sense is what Paul builds on to make the case that believers should regard themselves to be no longer in bondage to sin, and to live “under the sun” accordingly, since they have in some sense already died with Christ.

    But if it is true that all who die bodily are liberated from sin, that would seem to do away with need for post-mortem purification from sin. The dead no longer sin, being freed from its bondage. If you hold to a dualist anthropology, that would imply that in the intermediate state the non-material component of the human person doesn’t sin, since that is all that remains after the dissolution of the material component, the physical body.

    I’m somewhat curious what evangeliical universalists reckon that Christ saves us from. The answer for infernalists is clear — “Christ saves us from justly deserved ECT”. The answer for annihilationists is clear — “Christ saves from justly deserved everlasting destruction from the Lord”. Is there a clear consensus answer in the evangelical universalist camp?

    I suggest that a simple biblical answer is “Christ saves us from remaining in the condition of bodily death” or “Christ saves us from the mortality/corruptibility of our present condition.” That’s part of why Jesus’ resurrection was so central to the Apostolic proclamation. The problem isn’t post-mortem suffering, but the bare reality of mortality itself, which is, biblically speaking, the penalty or wages of sin. I think this view makes better sense of the text, than do the alternatives.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Samuel for the articulate comment. I haven’t considered Romans 6 from that perspective before so I’d have to ponder it some more…

      I think Christ saves us from lots of things: death, ongoing sin, evil, delusion, self-destruction. Some EUs would say He saves us from justly deserved ECT—that those not saved in this life will be saved out of the future conscious torment. Personally, I suspect Robin is right in believing that the “hospital” is in the age to come—that whatever/wherever the intense experience actually is, it’s primarily remedial. Having said that, I do think both Heaven & Hell (the New Creation & the consequences of sin/destruction of the age to come) seep into this age—that we’re already experiencing a foretaste of both.

      Like

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