Tag: Gregory of Nyssa

Ultimately, evil is unstable and unchoosable

Over the last few months, I’ve been reflecting on what God’s response to hell was, is, and will be, and how that shapes our response to it. My sermon, God went through hell so we can too, engages with this but in this post, I want to respond to the objection that those in hell may not want God to rescue them—that “the doors of hell are locked on the inside.” (C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 130)

There are times when we do “lock the door”—when we try to shut God out, try to run away from home. Initially, that may even seem desirable and pleasurable. The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) initially was very confident that he didn’t need the father—that he could go it alone (v12-13). At that point, he certainly didn’t imagine he’d ever need forgiving or saving.

However, proud, egotistical hedonism is a path to hell—becoming lost and dead (v14-15).

One of the things I’ve noticed as a clinician and as an observer of people, in general, is that I’ve never ever seen anyone get away with anything and Jacob doesn’t get away with any of this. He is humbled by his eventual experiences and he learns that he did it wrong.

Jordan Peterson, Jacob’s Ladder, 2h7m38s

Thankfully, evil doesn’t have God’s sustenance and strength—it is inherently unstable, it collapses, it shatters, it falls apart, revealing that it’s utterly pointless, boring, disappointing, unattractive, undesirable, and repulsive—utterly unchoosable.

The nature of evil is unstable and passes away. It did not come into existence in the beginning with the creation … and it will not continue to exist eternally …. Consequently, in that life which lies before us in hope, there will remain no trace of evil.

Gregory of Nyssa, On the Titles of the Psalms, 155 (translated by Ilaria Ramelli)

A modern example would be Russell Brand—he made a living out of his infamous lifestyle but things slowly fell apart. He got to the point where he woke up.

My route to spirituality comes through addiction, so it comes from desperation and fear and this sort of defeat, destruction, annihilation of self in a very humiliating way, I suppose… So, I had no choice but to embrace spiritual life, but now I am grateful for this. It makes sense of my life.

Russell Brand, The Second Coming of Russell Brand

Hopefully, you won’t need to go to the same extremes but even if you utterly destroyed your life—literally end up dead—the underlying truth is universal. Whether it be in this life or the next, we need to turn back to God—to be found and made alive (v24, 32). This can only occur because the Father forgives (v20), transforms (v24), and restores us (v22). Indeed, the Lost Sheep/Coin parables show that God even goes out and finds us—which is what Jesus did and the Spirit continues to do.

You always have the opportunity to return to the proper path … There’s no easy out … but there is that positive idea—that’s continually represented—that the individual is the source of moral choice. And the individual is prone to genuine error and temptation in a believable and realistic way but that that doesn’t sever the relationship between the individual and the divine, and the possibility of further growth… thank God for that because without that, who would have a chance!

Jordan Peterson, Jacob’s Ladder, 2h1m24s

As the Prodigal Son shows, delusions take time to break but break they must as darkness cannot withstand Light, ignorance and lies cannot withstand Truth, hate cannot withstand Love, death cannot withstand Life, and evil cannot withstand Good.

There’s no evil so evil that good cannot triumph over it.

Jordan Peterson, Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors, 2h8m47s

Only the Good brings the real joy, meaning, and life with God we were created for.

Google’s definition of “reform” includes “cause someone to relinquish an immoral, criminal, or self-destructive lifestyle” and “make changes in something [such as the trajectory of your life] in order to improve it”. So it makes sense to describe both the Prodigal and Brand’s experience as reform. However, we all need God to reform us—especially those in hell, who are the most lost, sick, and deluded. This is why Jesus went there after His crucifixion, and this is why the Spirit continues to work wherever there is hell—and invites His Body and Bride to do the same now and in the future.

Jordan_Peterson_and_Russell_Brand
Jordan B. Peterson photo © Jesse Blayney 2018. Russell Brand photo via Pinterest.

Hell: Has It Always Been Forever?

Transcript of George Sarris‘ latest video (above):

You are going to die. It makes no difference if you are rich or poor, wise or foolish, educated or uneducated, successful or unsuccessful. You are mortal, and you are going to die!

Most of us don’t want to hear those words. But whether we like it or not, you and I, and everyone else, will someday end up just like those buried here—dust to dust, ashes to ashes. For that reason, death has always occupied the minds of the living. And, more particularly, what happens after we die? That is a question that everyone thinks about at one time or another. That is the question everyone wants to know the answer to.

Coupled with the reality that we will all die is the fact that life just isn’t fair. Some people inherit great wealth and live in luxury every day. Others are born into extreme poverty. Some, through treachery and deception rise to positions of tremendous power and authority. Others through no fault of their own, experience cruelty and severe suffering as a result. Some people grow up in families where the message of God’s saving grace through Christ is heard every day of their lives. Others never hear that message—not even once before they die.

Because of these inequities in life, almost everyone agrees that, somehow, something has to be done in the world to come to even things out. And, most have concluded that there is some kind of balance scale on the other side on which humans are weighed. Those who are good will go to an eternity of bliss in Heaven. Those who are found wanting will be punished forever in a place of anguish and misery—a place called Hell.

Contrary to popular opinion, however, the idea that Hell will last forever has not always been the teaching of the Christian Church. In fact, during the first five hundred years of its existence, a prominent view in the Church—and, according to some scholars, the majority view—was that Hell is temporary in its duration, and that it actually has a positive purpose. It is one more tool that God will use to defeat sin and death completely, and ultimately restore all of His creation to the perfection He intended.

These early Christians believed that God doesn’t defeat evil by simply shutting it up in a corner of His creation and leaving it there forever—like some kind of cosmic graveyard keeping those who are there imprisoned throughout eternity. Rather, He will destroy evil by transforming the hearts of evil-doers—ultimately making them into those who love goodness. At the very end of time, God will actually get everyone He created into heaven.

Wow! Can God really be that great? Is God’s grace really that powerful? Does God’s work in the hearts of men and women actually extend into the age to come?

Most people today don’t think so! But, some very important and influential early Christian Church leaders did.

One was a man known as Clement of Alexandria. Clement was born in Athens about AD 150—within a couple of generations of Jesus and His disciples. He believed that God is absolutely good, and absolutely sovereign. For him, to believe that God is unable to save all was unthinkable because that would be a proof of His weakness. To believe that God is unwilling was also unthinkable because that is not the attribute of a good Being. For Clement, God is the Lord of the universe, and He has arranged all things with a view to the salvation of the universe.

Clement of Alexandria
Clement of Alexandria

Clement saw God as a devoted Father. Earthly fathers don’t punish their children to hurt them. They chasten their children with a view to correcting them. And, that’s what God, our Heavenly Father, does. Punishing for the sake of punishing would simply be returning evil for evil. God doesn’t do that. He chastises for the good of those who are chastised.

Those are pretty bold statements. But, Clement believed in a very bold God—a God whose sovereign power coupled with His unfailing love for all enables Him to ultimately bring about the complete restoration of all.

Another one of the early Church Fathers who believed in ultimate restoration was Gregory of Nyssa. Gregory died around AD 395 and is still revered as one of the greatest of the early Church Fathers. In fact, the Seventh General Council of the Church held in the year 787 honored Gregory by naming him “Father of the Fathers.”

Gregory of Nyssa
Gregory of Nyssa

Does God punish forever with terrifying pain? Gregory didn’t think so. He explained that the thoughtless or immature think this, and fear it—with a good result—it motivates them to flee from wickedness. However, those with more maturity understand the true purpose of after-death punishment—it is a remedial process instituted by a good God to, in Gregory’s words, bring back man, His peculiar creature, to the grace of his primal condition.

Gregory was convinced that evil, in the end, will be completely defeated. God isn’t going to just pack it up, stick it in a corner of His creation and let it go on forever. Evil will become non-existent. Divine goodness will prevail. God is not a loser, and in the end, no single being created by God will fail to achieve the kingdom of God.

Wow! That is a powerful God! With ideas like that, no wonder the early Christians ended up taking over the Roman Empire!

Implications of Everyone Being a Child of God

This is the second post in my series on everyone being a child of God:

  1. Why Everyone is a Child of God
  2. Implications of Everyone Being a Child of God
  3. What if We Disown Our Father in Heaven?
  4. Doesn’t the NT also talk about becoming children of God??

My first post contains most of the biblical reasons I think everyone is a child of God. I also cited some prominent, conservative evangelicals who also appear to hold this position―primarily to show that it can’t be dismissed as a liberal interpretation! Anyway, in this post, I’ll explain some of the significant implications of this view.

Commonality

Family implies at least commonality, connection, and shared attributes. However, often it’s even more than that―across cultures and history―it’s often included loyalty, intimate relationships, lifelong friendships, and mutual dependability. I realise we aren’t perfect and neither are our families, but this highlights further qualities that we want our families to have―compassion, empathy, and forgiveness. Even if you have a terrible fight with a sibling and don’t talk for years, it’s impossible to de-sibling them―you never cease being related.

Now consider how this should apply to our universal family:

  • Dehumanising or killing our brother should be abhorrent.
  • Seeing our sister being prostituted or trafficked should spur us into action.
  • Treating our brother as a slave shouldn’t even be contemplated.
  • Lusting after our sister should be icky.
  • Befriending our brother should be considered time well spent.
  • Showing kindness to our sister should be a joy.

I could go on and on… basically, when treating others we should ask ourselves, “Would I do that to my little sister or brother?”

As I pass people walking through town, in my head I often say, “Hello brother! Hello sister!” (perhaps I’d be brave enough to say it out loud if I wasn’t an introvert). I honestly find it challenges the way I look at people. For example, I feel more compassion for rough/tough looking people. I feel less judgmental of people in suits (contrary to my rural upbringing bias). It generally makes me feel more friendly, even towards people I’ve never met. I can’t write anyone off as I can’t de-sibling them.

Everyone is a child of God
“The Communion of Saints” by Ira Thomas (CatholicWorldArt.com)

Impartiality

While you might naturally get along with some siblings more easily than others, I think most people see the wisdom of not showing favouritism between them. That we should aim to love and care for all of them equally. When this gets applied to everyone, it should decrease sexism, racism, classism, xenophobia, etc. and, conversely, improve justice. A king should be treated as equally valuable as a beggar. On this theme of justice, Boersma points out that:

[The OT ethic of “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” (Ex. 21:24)] assumes the equal value of all human beings. Ideally, to steal from a foreigner warrants the same punishment as if the same amount was stolen from the king since the two are of equal value… The ethical treatment of humans as in the image of God appear in passages like after the flood account:

“Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made mankind” (Gen. 9:6).

Because all people are in this image, all people are God’s children, and thus, all people deserve dignity such that no one can be, at the very least, murdered due to their lack of value to another and the murder [sic] get away with it. The notion that all people are God’s children, in his image, forms the moral bottom line of the Old Testament ethic.

Spencer Boersma, All People are God’s Children

The concept of the universal family subverts and undermines systems based inequality. It’s no surprise that:

Gregory, in what is considered “the most scathing critique of slaveholding in all of antiquity,” attacked the institution as incompatible with humanity’s creation in the image of God [the previous post explains why I see image here synonymous with universal family].

Dustin Bruce, The First Abolitionist: Gregory of Nyssa on Slavery

Undoubtedly influenced by Macrina, his older sister:

Gregory writes of the time in which “Macrina persuaded her mother to give up her customary mode of living … and the services of her maids [servants] … and to put herself on a level with the many by entering into a common life with her maids, making them her sisters and equals rather that her slaves and underlings.”

Eric Denby, The First Abolitionist? Gregory of Nyssa on Ancient Roman Slavery

In the last post of this series, I’ll explain why I think the NT further encourages this trajectory, especially for the slightly “older” children of God―Christians―although we often don’t act our “age”!

Reminding Everyone That They Are God’s Children

Paul unpacks implications of everyone being a child of God in his famous sermon in Athens:

God has done all this [creating and sustaining everyone], so that we will look for him and reach out and find him. He isn’t far from any of us, and he gives us the power to live, to move, and to be who we are. “We are his children,” just as some of your poets have said.

Since we are God’s children, we must not think that he is like an idol made out of gold or silver or stone. He isn’t like anything that humans have thought up and made. In the past, God forgave all this because people did not know what they were doing. But now he says that everyone everywhere must turn to him.

Acts 17:27-30, CEV

As Boersma puts it:

Paul is saying, “You are God’s children, don’t debase yourselves worshiping idols. You were meant for more!”

Spencer Boersma, All People are God’s Children

“Ecclesia semper reformanda” – the church is always to be reformed

One of the things I appreciated growing up in the Reformed tradition, was Reformation Day1. Among other things, this celebrated the ideal that we should always be reforming the church, or at least be willing to consider our beliefs and practices, in light of Scripture.

I believe the Reformers made many important reforms. However, I think that they should have reformed their soteriology2 and eschatology3 further, back past Augustine4, to Gregory of Nyssa5 and Origen6. One of the reasons is because I believe these earlier Church Fathers’ interpretation is more in line with the Apostle Paul.

God willing, over the next few weeks I’ll be able to unpack this…


1. Reformation Day: Celebrated each year on the 31st of October.
2. Soteriology: The study of the doctrine of salvation.
3. Eschatology: The study of the doctrine of the end times and the ultimate destiny of humanity.
4. Augustine (354–430).
5. Gregory of Nyssa (330-395) “The father of [the early Church] fathers”.
6. Origen (184–254).