Friday, May 30, 2014

Is God glorified by the damnation of anyone?

No! Hell no!

As I've had opportunity to argue on previous occasions, the picture painted of God in the Bible is one which is fundamentally benevolent, pro mundo if I may express myself that way; God is "for the world." Of course I don't deny that there are some instances in scripture which seem positively contrary to this, but scripture does not naively assume that God's punishment or wrath is on the same level as his goodness and love. No, one is prior to and more ultimate than the other.

Today being the 30th of May, I thought it would be good to read Ps 30, where we find: Sing praises to the LORD, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning (Ps 30.4-5). Here there is an affirmed asymmetry between God's anger and his love; they are not on a par, they are not equally valid or normal expressions of his character. In some way love is truer to God than wrath.

Indeed from Ps 30 we may gather the idea that, if anything, damnation makes the glorification of God impossible. The psalmist writes: To you, O LORD, I cried, and to the LORD I made supplication: "What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me! O LORD, be my helper!" (vv. 8-10). This line of argumentation presupposes that God is not interested in the worship of just any number of individuals, but of the worship of every individual in particular. If God were just interested in numbers, then this kind of supplication wouldn't fly: for every person who goes into the dust, he could easily be glorified by two who remain in life. But God is interested in the worship of every individual in particular, an interest which the eternal damnation of anyone would compromise and undermine.

Other texts in the Old Testament affirm that God is in some way unwilling to punish or to kill, that doing so is not what he wants or an expression of his desires for his creation. Lamentations 3.31-33 says: For the Lord will not reject forever. Although he causes grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone. Likewise Ezek 18.23 says: Have I any pleasure in the death o the wicked, says the Lord GOD, and not rather that they should turn from their ways and live? It doesn't please God to see sinners damned and punished for their sins. What he wants to see, actually, is the opposite, that they turn from their sins and seek his fellowship.

These important scriptural insights speak against the Augustinian notion that God may be glorified through the damnation of sinners. On the contrary, God seeks the fellowship of sinners and their divinization. The fact that at moments sinners must be punished, the evil must be removed, doesn't change this fact. However, as Levenson appreciates in Creation and the Persistence of Evil, this tension between the intended benevolence of God and the momentary malevolence, the desire of God to be good and merciful and the necessity to punish sinners and do away with them, the struggle for God to be who he wants to be with the creation he intended to realize -- this tension must be resolved in the eschaton. Permit me to submit that this rules out in principle the eternal damnation of any sinner.