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Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Alvin Plantinga on the afterlife

This one is most interesting to me because Plantinga expresses his openness to universalism. I was told many years ago that he was a hopeful universalist but I had not seen any documentary evidence of this (and when I asked him in an indirect way he avoided answering. To be honest, I was probably too indirect and he did not see what I was getting at). Well, here he is saying what I suspected he thought.

31 comments:

David said...

He says the same thing in this debate http://vimeo.com/8899005

Alex Smith said...

I've seen it said that, "Alvin Plantinga is often named as the most important living philosopher of religion today". It's encouraging to have someone of that caliber as a hopeful universalist :D

Paul said...

A Molinist and a universalist? Wowzers, God hit the CCF lottery! What a lucky God. :-)

Peter Gurry said...

What does it mean that Christians should hope that universalism is true? This sort of "universalists have the moral high ground" argument seems to come up again and again in this discussion. I don't really get it. What exactly is the nature of this supposedly virtuous hope in universal reconciliation? Is it the kind of hope I have about Christ's return? Or the kind of hope that my kids will grow up and turn out all right? I've been wondering along with James Smith whether we're not falling prey to a kind of hubris in suggesting that a hopeful universalism has the moral high ground. As Smith says, "...even our wishes, hopes, and desires need discipline." At what point in this "hopeful" universalism are we in danger of saying we know a better ending to the story than God does? This uncomfortable question really needs to be asked by those who use this kind of rhetoric.

Also, people have got to stop citing Lewis's Great Divorce as any kind of support for post-mortem second-chances. As N.D. Wilson (who's currently writing the screenplay adaptation) rightly points out, "And, of course, Lewis put the universalist George MacDonald in Heaven and made him watch the unrepentant damned get back on the bus to Hell. A little wink and gloat at one of his favorite authors."

If Lewis meant The Great Divorce to be any kind of argument for second chances he failed miserably. Every one in the story who visits the outskirts of heaven returns to hell whence they came. Lewis is making a point about the after life, but it is not that folks will change their minds once they get there. Quite the reverse, in fact. He is making the point that our trajectory upon exiting this life continues on into the next.

Alex Smith said...

Hi Peter, sorry my reply probably won't be as good as either Alvin's or Robin's, however, I'll have a go :)

"First of all, then, I urge that requests, prayers, intercessions, and thanks be offered on behalf of all people, even for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. Such prayer for all is good and welcomed before God our Savior, since He wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one intermediary between God and humanity, Christ Jesus, Himself human, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, revealing God’s purpose at His appointed time." (1 Tim 2:1-6)

"Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." (1 Cor 13:7)

"As for the Great Divorce, the man with the lizard of Lust on his shoulder was saved. The lizard turned into the horse Desire, and the man rode off into deep heaven." (My dad)

Sherman Nobles said...

Thanks for sharing that interview Robin. I appreciated Plantinga's grace, peace, and humility. It's ok to say "I don't know." I also appreciated him sharing a few of the scriptures that seem to affirm Universal Reconciliation. In the Christian tradition I was raised in, the certainty of damnation for most of humanity was so strongly believed that such UR passages were quickly dismissed as not meaning what they actually say. But, I've come to not only hope for the salvation of all humanity, but have faith in Jesus for the salvation of all humanity. I trust Him to accomplish what He set out to do, and I believe He set out to save the world, all humanity, all creation. And if He can save me, He can save anyone, everyone.

Sherman Nobles said...

Peter, I believe that God desires all humanity to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. It seems that God is at least a hopeful universalist Himself. Furthermore, if we love someone, then we at least hope they'll be saved; and I believe that we are called to love everyone. Thus we should all as Christians at least be hopeful universalists. Whether that is "moral high ground" or not, I don't know, but it does seem to me to have a firm biblical foundation.

Jason Pratt said...

Peter: {{What does it mean that Christians should hope that universalism is true? This sort of "universalists have the moral high ground" argument seems to come up again and again in this discussion. I don't really get it. What exactly is the nature of this supposedly virtuous hope in universal reconciliation? [...] I've been wondering along with James Smith whether we're not falling prey to a kind of hubris in suggesting that a hopeful universalism has the moral high ground. As Smith says, "...even our wishes, hopes, and desires need discipline." At what point in this "hopeful" universalism are we in danger of saying we know a better ending to the story than God does?}}

Perhaps the question can be answered by asking whether/how it is possible to hope that God will not save some from sin, and yet have the moral high ground, or even moral parity, with hoping that God will save all people from sin?

Because it seems fairly self-evident to me that it is moral to hope that God will save someone, thus up to everyone, from immorality; but it does not seem evident to me at all that it can be moral to hope that God will not save (or be able to save?) someone from immorality.


Peter: {{If Lewis meant The Great Divorce to be any kind of argument for second chances he failed miserably. Every one in the story who visits the outskirts of heaven returns to hell whence they came.}}

As Alex noted, we definitely see one person saved from hell this way, the guy with the lustful lizard. And the character of MacDonald, while assuring Lewis that the woman frightened by the unicorn stampede may yet be saved, testifies that he has seen it happen numerous times, even in people who by appearances were furiously opposed to God.

Lewis does rewrite MacDonald to be a marginally hopeful universalist who nevertheless expected annihilation of sinners (because he had seen it happen, including right there in the story at the end with the Tragedian); instead of a very sure universalist who allowed that annihilationism would be the next best thing (but who definitely rejected it as even being possible.) But he absolutely doesn't gloat at MacDonald!--Lewis never treated him with anything less than reverent awe, including in TGD. On the contrary, Lewis was trying to reconcile his teacher to Lewis' own views, meeting MacD on their shared belief of the possibility of post-mortem salvation out of hell.

If ND Wilson is that ignorant of the book he's supposed to be writing the screenplay to, I have to say I'm worried about what the end result of the film will be like... (He almost sounds like Lewis' goofy unofficial biographer A. Wilson... a relative maybe?)

JRP

Peter Gurry said...

Thanks folks, I'll have to go back through The Great Divorce more carefully. I forgot about the guy with the lizard and the others mentioned.

Jason, you're still asking the same question. And I still don't get it. Why am I less moral for not hoping that God will do something he has not committed himself to do? Your accusation that I am less moral for not hoping for universal salvation assumes a conclusion that needs to be proven (that God will save everyone). By suggesting that my failure to hope for universal salvation makes me morally inferior, you have assumed I am wrong about universalism. Now maybe I am, but that needs to be shown. In any case, we would do well to think of the consequences of being wrong. If God will not save everyone in the end, then we are hoping for something that has no basis in reality. We may as well hope for unicorns and then make ourselves feel better by saying we're so much more loving and kind because we hope they exist. When did wishful thinking take on such moral freight?

So I ask again, What kind of hope are universalists suggesting we should all have? Is it the kind of hope I have in Christ's return (which is promised by God) or is it the kind of hope I have that my will kids turn out all right (which God does not promise)? If hopeful universalism is talking about the latter kind, I have no problem with it. But if it is the former kind--and saying things like "we should all as Christians at least be hopeful universalists" implies that it is--then I have serious problems with it.

Sherman, your phrasing most certainly does suggest you have the moral high ground. If I should be a hopeful universalist, then my failure to be one is a fault on my part and thus gives you the moral high ground on me. Let's not mince words. But as noted above, a lot hangs on what you mean by "hopeful." I think we're probably not using the word very carefully in this discussion.

Alex, if "all" in 1 Timothy 2:1-6 means "every individual who ever lived" then I wonder when the last time was you thanked God for Ghengis Khan or prayed for Cicero? When was the last time you offered intercessions for every African who lived during the height of the British Empire? Have you made intercessions recently for every individual Moabite who ever lived? Let's be honest, if God wants every individual who ever lived to be saved in v. 4, then it's every individual who ever lived in v. 1 too. Your prayer list just expanded by about 10 billion. I'm not trying to be smart alec for the fun of it, but I am trying to make the point that the context shows Paul's concern for all kinds of people, not for every individual who ever lived. Notice the use of "kings" and "all who are in authority." These verses are rightly used to condemn our all-too common parochialism in prayer, but they hardly suggest that those who reject the Gospel will ultimately be saved anyway. Still less that I am somehow heartless for thinking that the fate of those who are already dead is sealed. If I am guilty for not hoping for the salvation of those who have died in unbelief, then I am equally guilty for not praying and interceding for those who have died. And so are you. Unless, of course, Paul isn't talking about "every individual who ever lived."

Alex Smith said...

I don't think I have to pray for each individual person, by name, to make "pray for all" valid. For example, when I can pray for my government, I do that hoping God will be working in all the members of the government. I see Paul making an inclusive statement similar to "love your enemies" and just because I fail to live up to that, doesn't make it any less valid.

I don't see God just loving all kinds of people, I see Him loving all people without exception. Otherwise I would have to say God hates all kinds of people too, which doesn't fit with the character of Jesus and philosophically doesn't work for a number of reasons, not least that I'm commanded to, unconditionally and inclusively, love my neighbor whilst knowing that there a 90% chance God hates them!

Now that Christ has defeated death and brought resurrection, I don't see why death has to be an obstacle to people coming to repentance and faith.

Peter Gurry said...

Alex, I did not mean to suggest that your obedience to Paul's instruction has the power to validate it. But do you think Paul is urging us to pray for every individual who ever lived? Even those who are dead? If you don't, why do you think he means "every individual who ever lived" in v. 4? I'm trying to see if you're consistent in your definition of "all" in this passage not whether you're obedient, in practice, to Paul's instructions.

I don't deny that God loves every individual without exception. But 1 Tim 2:1-6 doesn't mention God's love so what does that have to do with what "all" means in this context? You seem to be reading an assumption about the nature of God's love into a text that says nothing about love.

Death is an obstacle to repentance precisely because judgment immediately follows. In Daniel 12:2, the resurrected awake to their eternal destinies, not to repentance and faith. The same holds in Rev 20:11-15. The resurrection of the dead leads to their judgment not to a further opportunity to repent. Hence Jesus' warning that unless we repent we will all likewise perish (Luke 13:1-5). The perishing here is not less than physical death, but it is more. So yes, physical death is an obstacle precisely because it is part and parcel of God's full and final judgment on sin. If physical death is not part of God's judgment on sin, then why does Paul feel the need to explain why Christian death is not a judgment but a transposition in 1 Cor 15? His whole argument assumes that physical death is part of God's judgment on sin. Hence the need for physical resurrection. But physical death does not exhaust God's judgment. Hence the judgment that follows resurrection in Dan 12:2 and Rev 20:11-15.

For the Christian, physical death is not a judgment for their sin. For the non-Christian it is. And the future judgment that follows the resurrection from the dead will be precisely what makes the difference in these similar-looking deaths clear and public to the whole world.

Alex Smith said...

Peter, I think Paul didn't want us to exclude anyone in our prays because God desires all to be saved & part of the way that can happen is through prayer. I would say that God giving Himself as a ransom for all people so that all people would be saved (assuming God gets what He wants eventually, at His appointed time), is definitely part of His love for all people. I'm glad you think God loves everyone. Given that's the case (as far as I know), why would He stop loving people when they die? I thought God couldn't change His mind? Also even humans don't stop loving people when they die, and we have a mere shadow of God's love.

Why does judgement stop God loving people? Isn't judgement part of God's love for people? i.e. it part of process of making things right in the universe. It will undoubtedly be extremely unpleasant for most people (& I imagine even Christians will feel embarrassed by the ways they have failed to live up to Christ's standards), but that doesn't mean He's doing it because He suddenly hates most people. The Hebrew word in Dan 12:2 is oulm, which doesn't have to mean "everlasting". i.e. it appears hundreds of times in the OT, and from memory there are places which it logically can't mean everlasting, which is probably why Young's Literal Translation says, "And the multitude of those sleeping in the dust of the ground do awake, some to life age-during, and some to reproaches-to abhorrence age-during." In regards to Revelations, I suggest reading Robin's "The Evangelical Universalist" :)

For sure, I agree that Jesus strongly warned people of the coming judgement & wrath, and encouraged everyone to immediately repent. I also agree that death is the consequence of sin and part of judgement we share through Adam in the Fall, but given resurrection, I don't see it as the end of the road. Out of love for all people, God paid the ransom for all people, therefore all further judgment is primarily remedial/corrective/educative (even though those in hell will think it's retributive, from their perspective).

Sherman Nobles said...

Peter, "hopeful universalist" simply means that one hopes all are saved, though one is not certain all, or anyone is saved. It's to desire the salvation of all, though one does not have faith that all shall be saved. I believe that Christians should love everyone, and love hopes the best for everyone.

Jason Pratt said...

Peter,

My apologies! I did not realize you were asking “Why am I less moral for not hoping that God will do something he has not committed himself to do?” I thought you were asking what I quoted from your comment, which is a somewhat different kind of question.

To quote your previous comment again, to which I was replying: “What does it mean that Christians should hope that universalism is true? What exactly is the nature of this supposedly virtuous hope in universal reconciliation? At what point in this ‘hopeful’ universalism are we in danger of saying we know a better ending to the story than God does?”

These are questions of principle application, which can be asked and (as I did) answered without assuming the truth or falsity of universalism. (Although I could have also gone further in answering the latter question by noting that if we believe God has revealed Z then we are in danger of saying we know a better ending to the story if we insist on A instead of Z.)

If universalism is presumed false from the outset, as would be true in your new question--where the data of the question includes God refusing to persist in saving at least some sinners from sin, or perhaps refusing to even intend to save at least some sinners from sin, or at least being agnostic about one or both topics--then of course the type of question has changed. I did not notice you asking this question in the paragraph I quoted with some fullness, even in the parts I ellipsed past. (The remaining parts of your comment dealt with TGD, which I also addressed.) Was it in a prior comment?

So, since the question has either changed or you were pointing out where I missed answering a question you were also concerned about, I will attempt an answer to that now. (In the next comment, per Blogger’s length contraint.)

Jason Pratt said...

The first distinction is this: is the situation that God reveals He will not persist in saving some sinners from sin? Or is the situation that God has not said one way or another whether He will persist? Either one might be implied by the statement “He has not committed Himself to do so.” Alternately, the same distinction between a revealed position and an unrevealed position could be applied to the topic of whether God does not even intend to save at least some sinners at all.

If the situation is proposed to be agnostic as to revelation on either topic (thus we do not find God has committed Himself to full scope or full persistence, or to limited scope, or to limited persistence), then I refer back to my original answer: it is fairly self-evident to me that it is more moral to hope for God to save people from immorality (including from their own immorality), than to hope God will not save people from immorality (including from their own immorality.) Obviously, if I think (as I do) that I find God revealing both full scope and full persistence of salvation of immoral people from immorality (including from their own immorality), this hardly makes such a hope less moral!

If the situation is proposed to be certain that God has revealed limited scope or limited persistence (I am not aware of any Christian who believes God has revealed both, much less is limited in both for salvation, although I suppose it is possible to at least try to take such a position), and certainly not full scope and full persistence (or, if apparently the latter, too, then if it is certain that this data must be interpreted by the other data instead of the other way around); then the question of which position is more moral is somewhat mooted. The truth is true, whether the truth is more or less moral than a proposed non-truth, and we shall just have to deal with the truth as it is where (as with God) we have no ability to alter the truth to be truly some other truth.

But for what it is worth, I would say it is still more moral, though wrong as to evident facts in that case, to hope for God to save all people from their own immorality, than to hope for God to save only some people from their own immorality. Universalism would be too moral to be true; God would be less moral than the universalist supposed Him to be (or perhaps wished He was.) But paradoxically, in such a case the universalist would be less moral than the non-universalist for trying to hope in contradiction of what both (per this hypothesis) find and believe to be true, namely that God certainly limits Himself in saving people from immorality.

If the universalist simply did not see this was true, though, then the universalist would be too moral in being more moral, in his hope and/or belief, than the truth of morality. Similarly, if atheism is true, then both Christians, the universalist and the non-universalist, would be more moral than the truth of morality (as in this case fundamental reality must be amoral.) We would be factually wrong to be, or to even try to be, more moral than the truth of morality; but at worst we would be equally immoral (so long as we are being honest in our beliefs of course.) The honestly mistaken universalist in a reality ultimately founded on a God Who refuses to save all immoral persons from immorality, would at worst be no more moral than the non-universalist; but the non-universalist would have the advantage of being factually correct and so (to that extent) in better correspondence with the truth.

JRP

Jason Pratt said...

Peter: {{Your accusation that I am less moral for not hoping for universal salvation assumes a conclusion that needs to be proven (that God will save everyone). By suggesting that my failure to hope for universal salvation makes me morally inferior, you have assumed I am wrong about universalism.}}

No, I have only assumed (perhaps wrongly??) that you are hoping for only some people to be saved from immorality, instead of hoping for all people to be saved from immorality. Whether it is factually true that all people will be saved from immorality, or not, is not something that has to be assumed either way, for purposes of comparing these positions.

If you wish to claim you are being just as moral (or moreso?) to hope for only some people to be saved from immorality, compared to someone who hopes for all people to saved from immorality, you are welcome to try making a case for that. Relatedly (and I would say more to the point), you can try to make a case that you are being just as moral (or moreso?) to hope for only some immoral people to someday be moral, compared to someone who hopes for all immoral people to someday be moral.

{{In any case, we would do well to think of the consequences of being wrong.}}

If I am wrong, then God will not persistently act toward saving all sinners from sin, much less accomplish this; as a result of God’s refusal or inability in this, some sinners will be hopelessly lost (for whatever reason) since unless God persists to completion in acting to save a person from sin that person has no hope of being saved from sin (there being no salvation from sin apart from God.) Consequently, there will be more immorality in reality at last than if God succeeded in bringing all people to being subordinate to Himself as the Son submits to the Father so that God may be altogether in all. Even if the immoral person is annihilated by God out of existence, there will thus be injustices that were not finally reconciled between people, thanks to God. (Or thanks to the sinner who was stronger than God, in which case supernaturalistic theism is not true after all, or even theism at all.)

If you are wrong, then God will persistently act toward saving all sinners from sin (including your children), and being omnicompetent God Most High might even manage to accomplish this. But even in the case of a persistent stalemate, God will still always be acting toward the fulfillment of fair-togetherness between persons. It will only be the sinner who acts, ever untriumphantly, toward fulfilling non-fair-togetheness (i.e. unrighteousness) between persons; not God. The maximum gospel will still continue and still be true and still be worth preaching; and the hope of the righteous, in God, will still remain.

JRP

Jason Pratt said...

Peter: {{If hopeful universalism is talking about the latter kind [being supposedly a hope God does not promise], I have no problem with it.}}

Really? Even though such a hope would still have no basis in reality? Or do you yourself also see some basis in reality for such a hope? And if a basis in reality, what basis? Something more than the wishful thinking you attribute to dogmatic Christian universalists who are basing their hope in God, including what they understand to be scriptural testimony on the topic?

We may be mistaken about the details, whether about what the details actually are and/or about what they add up to; but we do not consider our beliefs in regard to those details (and from those details) to be wishful thinking--nor would they be even if we are wrong. The person who is a wishful thinker has only his emotions or perhaps his mere assertion as ground for his beliefs (such as they are).

But since you bring up the topic, what kind of hope do you have for your kids? I hope for your children that God will persist in saving them from their sins. I have no hopelessness that God may stop acting to save them from their sins; and I have no hopelessness that God may not have ever intended to save them from their sins.

I may be factually wrong about the extent of my hope in God for your children’s salvation from sin, but surely it is clear that I have more hope in God for them (even if I am wrong about that hope) than those who deny the scope or the persistence of God’s salvation (even if they would not yet apply that denial to your children).

Now, am I being equally as moral to certainly hope in God for the salvation of your children from immorality, as someone who hopes less in God for your children’s salvation from immorality? Am I being less moral than such a person who has less hope in God for your children’s salvation from immorality?

JRP

Jason Pratt said...

Peter (to Alex): {{I don't deny that God loves every individual without exception. But 1 Tim 2:1-6 doesn't mention God's love so what does that have to do with what "all" means in this context? You seem to be reading an assumption about the nature of God's love into a text that says nothing about love.}}

Those verses do however state that God wills all mankind be saved and come into a realization of the truth; and that this is why our petitions, prayers, pleadings and thanksgivings be made for all mankind (including for kings and those in superior stations) are ideal and welcome in the sight of God our Savior (Who wills that all mankind be saved etc.) Paul stresses in those same verses, in regard to this scope, “For there is one God, and one Mediator of God and mankind, the Man Christ Jesus, Who is giving Himself a correspondent Ransom for the same all.” (The translation of that kerygma is somewhat disputed, but the point is the scope of God’s action of salvation in Christ for all.)

I don’t know why you are asking why Alex or anyone else is “reading an assumption about the nature of God’s love” into this text, especially since you yourself “don’t deny that God loves every individual without exception”. Perhaps you deny that God’s salvation has anything to do with God’s love?

But if you insist on there being some connection between love and salvation nearby this statement, before you believe that the nature of God’s love has something to do with the salvation in these verses, rejoice!--for Paul only a minute earlier wrote (or dictated), “Grateful am I to the One Who invigorates me, Christ Jesus, our Lord, for He deems me faithful, assigning me into a service: I, who was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and an outrager! But I was shown mercy, seeing that I did it being ignorant in unbelief. Yet the grace of our Lord overwhelmed with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Faithful is the saying and worthy of every welcome!--that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost! But therefore was I shown mercy, that in me, the foremost, Jesus Christ should be displaying every patience of His, toward (being) a pattern of the ones who are about to be believing on Him into life eonian!” (1 Tim 1:12-16)

JRP

Peter Gurry said...

Jason, I'm sorry but you lost me in there.

I happily affirm that God loves every individual whose life he sustains for even a breath. But I do not assume that God's love is only truly loving if it culminates in a person's eternal salvation. Jesus says rain and sunshine are loving and they are, in fact, so loving that they become the basis for our love for our enemies (Matt 5:43-48). Yet rain and sunshine save no one. If the most exciting and moving display of God's love is seen in salvation, then Jesus picked weak illustrations of divine love in this attempt to motivate one of the toughest forms of human love.

But I return to my question about 1 Timothy 2 that remains unanswered. Does the "all" in v. 1 refer to "every individual who ever lived"? If it does, then Paul is urging us to pray for every individual who ever lived--dead or alive, known or unknown to us.

And Alex, if people can be saved post-mortem, then should we pray for the dead? How do we pray for dead people we don't know by name? Do we just offer up general prayers, "Lord, please save the ancient Egyptians. Amen."

And Alex, no. God's judgment is not always loving for those who are on the receiving end. Sometimes it is. But not always and not forever. Since death is the very antithesis of life, in the Bible, it would be odd indeed if "the wages of sin is death" really meant "the wages of sin is character development." If the final judgment is eternal, it can't possibly be remedial hence the necessity to limit the length of hell by universalists. But when you shorten hell, you shorten heaven too. At least in Matt 25:46.

Thanks, folks. I'm really not trying to difficult or stubborn but I am trying to push you to think more carefully about some oft-misused verses and conceptions.

And Jason, I can surely rejoice with Paul that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost! What a glorious thought. That he has saved any of us is a wonder we shall rejoice in for all eternity. Oh how marvelous that he who owes us nothing has given us everything!

Alex Smith said...

I think God's love is way more than just sustaining people.

"my question about 1 Timothy 2 that remains unanswered. Does the "all" in v. 1 refer to "every individual who ever lived"?" LOL, sorry, I thought I had clearly said yes, in both my last posts :)

Most days I pray for persecuted Christians around the world, even though I don't know most of their names...

I think that God's judgment is always loving, otherwise it would be hating, which is inconsistent with His intertrinitarian love.

"aionios" in Matt 25:46 can be either "age beyond site" or the life/punishment associated uniquely with God (i.e. qualitative rather than quantitative).

Peter Gurry said...

Thanks, Alex. Do you pray for dead Christians and non-Christians too? You said it's "everyone who ever lived." That included dead people, does it not?

"Just sustaining people"?! As if that's not enough in itself! My goodness when did God's constant sustaining of us become such a small matter? It surely was not to the psalmist (Psalm 104) or to Jesus (Matt 5:43-48). You are starting to confirm my suspicion that universalists tend to belittle any expression of God's love that does not culminate in eternal salvation.

Where are you getting your definitions of aionios? Not to put too fine a point on it, but I'm looking at five Greek dictionaries, four of which are for the NT, and none of them list your definitions. All of them do, however, list "eternal" as the sole or primary definition. None of them even hint that aionios is qualitative rather than quantitative. So on what basis do you diverge from these authorities?

Alex Smith said...

I have no issues praying for dead Christians and non-Christians, though I can't say I do it as much as I should.

I meant no offense by using the word "just" there. I agree it is remarkable that God has created us and continues to sustain us, largely unthanked. However, please remember that the sustaining of God is a curse for most people if Eternal Conscious Torment is real. In fact for the perspective of all those in ECT, it would've been better to have never been conceived.

Furthermore, whilst God's sustaining love is indeed a blessing for Christians, it is only the a small part of what God has done, and will do for us. Thinking of Romans 8:18-30, God's love also consists of the incarnation, the revelation of God in Jesus, His teaching of how to live, His amazing self-sacrifice on the Cross, His resurrection (& ours guaranteed), our complete justification, our cleansing sanctification, the gifts & fruits of the Spirit, the new life in relationship with Him and ultimately the New Creation with everlasting rejoicing, sharing in His glory!!

Unfortunately, the definition of aionios is still being hotly debated as it's seen as one of the proofs of ECT. However, here are a few sources and comments that might help:
Dr. David Konstan's Terms for Eternity: Aiônios and Aïdios in Classical and Christian Texts

A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition (BDAG) also lists possible definitions which aren't infinite duration.

Talbott is the best at explaining the reasons it's probably qualitative. e.g. this post

As a friend of mine said, "I like the concluding definition for aionios found in The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament (edited by James Hope Moulton and George Milligan): "In general, the word depicts that of which the horizon is not in view, whether the horizon be at an infinite distance, or whether it lies no farther than the span of a Caesar's life." That is, the word stands for a "hidden" and indefinite duration of time, whether past or future. This seems to be the meaning of olam in the Hebrew Bible, and since aion and aionion seem to have been employed by the inspired writers of the NT as the Greek equivalents of this single Hebrew word, this definition would be most consistent. And as it seems likely that Jesus would've spoken Hebrew or Aramaic (at least, when he was speaking to his disciples, like in Matt 25:46), the word he would have used would have either been olam or alam." See also http://www.ancient-hebrew.org/27_eternity.html and http://owlam.com/index.html

Another friend said, "Having looked the word up in secular and other sources, I have concluded that the best English translation of the adjective is "lasting". One secular source used it as part of a description of a stone wall. Also, the Jewish historian Josephus, used the word in reference to the length of the prison sentence of a person called "Jonathan". It has been said that that it was a 3-year sentence.... hardly "eternal". Though the word doesn't mean "eternal" it sometimes is used in reference to that which is eternal. There is a Greek word, “αἰδιος”, which does mean "eternal". The word occurs in Romans 1:20 with reference to God's "eternal power and deity". If Matthew had understood Jesus to refer to "eternal punishment" and "eternal life" in Matthew 25:46, why did he choose the Greek adjective “αἰωνιος”? Why did he not choose “αἰδιος”?"

Peter Gurry said...

Alex, I'm not sure how the perspective of those in hell somehow turns God's providential care for them in this life into a curse. How does their rejection of him nullify his goodness in this life?

And note that God's sustaining is not just a blessing for believers. In Matt 5:43-48 rain and sunshine are explicitly loving actions for both the just and the unjust, both the righteous and the wicked.

I'm not sure where the hot debate is around aionios. I read Thomas Talbott's comments in the link you provided as well as his comments in Universal Salvation? The Current Debate and he is a much better philosopher than he is a linguist. For example, I don't even know what to make of this definition: "It is the very nature of an adjective for its meaning to vary, sometimes greatly, depending upon which noun it qualifies." If adjectives derived their meaning from the nouns they modify, they would not be needed. It would be enough to use the noun and leave the adjective off altogether. In fact, adjectives modify nouns and in doing so make them more concrete and specific not less so. It is hardly the nature of an adjective "for its meaning to vary."

Also, aionios cannot be the equivalent of the Hebrew olam because the former is an adjective and the latter a noun. But even if they were, then by your own definition, you cannot be sure that the punishment will not be eternal since, according to you, olam means an "indefinite duration of time." An indefinite time could be eternal just as much as it could be less, right?

Also, there is good reason for using aionios instead of aidios. The latter is very rare (only used twice in the NT) while the latter is much more common. Aionios is the much more common word for speaking of never ending.

Also note that BDAG (p. 33) lists only one definition (not definitions) which is not an infinite duration. And there are only 3 occurrences of this meaning in the NT (Rom 16:25; 2 Tim 1:9; Tit 1:2) according to BDAG. There are over 30 verses, however, where aionios is said to mean "without end" and these are "very often of God's judgment."

Alex Smith said...

Do we agree that God sustaining people in ECT is a curse from the perspective of the people in ECT? From the perspective of the people in ECT, this life was a mere nanosecond of blessing, like giving a child one lick of an ice-cream before taking it away from them and giving it to someone else to slowly enjoy in their presence. Yes, technically being sustained was a blessing during this life, but they would prefer to have never existed and not to have received that blessing because the curse (ECT) which followed it would entirely ruin it for them.

The problem is that for most people (elected for ECT), this life is just like “fattening the turkey”, God’s feeding and looking after them, only to (continuously) slaughter them later. It ultimately does most people no good at all. However, if as I believe, the rain and sunshine are foretastes of God’s continuing mercy and love to His enemies, than yes I can see it as ultimately benefiting them, and from their perspective, they’ll be able to look back and thank God for sustaining them.

Unfortunately, I’m not a linguist and don’t know very much Greek or Hebrew. Sorry, I only have a scan of p32 & p33 of BDAG and you’re correct there’s only the one non-infinite definition there, “pertaining to a long period of time, long ago” (I was also looking at definitions of the previous word!).

As far as I can tell, “Terms for Eternity” is a thorough book on the topic, perhaps that would be more helpful to you?

I don’t think aionios means “never ending” or “without end”, although I obviously need to improve my justifications for saying that :)

Peter Gurry said...

Alex, it's not a matter of justifying what you think aionios means. It's a matter of determining, from its context, what the word actually means. We don't get to define what words used 2000 years ago in another language meant. We discover those meanings to the best of our ability regardless of the consequences for our views of the after life.

If by "curse" you mean a highly unenjoyable experience, then yes, I agree that hell is a curse for those who are sent their. But if by "curse" you mean a horrible injustice they ought not to be suffering, then no.

You may struggle with how an eternal punishment could possibly be just but do you recognize that it is possible for an omniscient Creator to know the perfectly just way to treat those who do not repent of their failure to love him with heart and mind and soul and strength?

The Bible describes God as incredibly patient with people in this life. In fact, in the Bible, God's patience with people who refuse to repent is a cause for their greater condemnation. In Romans 2:4-5 Paul asks, "Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed." God's very kindness, then, when met with unrepentance increases a person's judgment. If God's patience somehow outlasts everyone's attempts in eternity to resist his kindnesses, then Paul's logic is most odd.

Their is a grave danger in store for those who have presumed that God's kindnesses in this life (whether rain, sunshine or otherwise) guarantee them a safe haven in the next. On the contrary, God's kindnesses in this life carry the same message as his sternness: repent!

May we be found to be such people on that awful day.

Leonhard said...

To Peter: I'm sorry to see that you didn't spend any effort to interact with any of the writings of Jason Pratt, except that 'lost track'. He went into a lot effort to answer the many questions you put up, and you didn't acknowledge that.

It always takes longer to answer a question than to ask it. What did you expect, a soundbyte for each of your questions?

Peter Gurry said...

Leonhard, I read all 2,194 words of Jason's later comments but I honestly struggled to follow his argument. His comments also came 6 days after my wife gave birth (it's a girl!) so I have been running low on time and energy lately. I think you're right, however, that my terse response was dismissive and disrespectful of the time he put into his answers and for that I apologize.

I didn't realize anyone but Alex was still following this thread, but since I was mistaken in that too, I will go back and try to make more of an effort to follow Jason Pratt's responses.

Robin Parry said...

Peter

congratulations. What is your daughter's name? (Girls are just the best)

Robin

Peter Gurry said...

Thank you, sir. June Lavely. She's named after a great grandmother.

Alex Smith said...

Congratulations Peter! I hope she's settling into home life and you're all getting enough sleep :)

Funny coincidence, my wife also had a baby girl, Ruby, just a few weeks ago.

Peter Gurry said...

No kidding, Alex? How about that. It is quite an adjustment to be sure. But we're loving it when we awake enough to think straight ;)