Friday, 6 September 2013

The justice of damnation


A Christian may well find himself asked to justify damnation in terms which are comprehensible and make sense according to human instincts (gut feelings) about what is just.

I believe this question ought to be answerable; and without recourse either to emphasizing divine incomprehensibility (which argument can be used to justify anything at all); or to doctrines about the utter depravity and undeservingness of Man (which are completely out of harmony with the whole tenor of the Bible, and rapidly lead to insoluble paradoxes).

(Man does not, of course, 'deserve' the marvellous gift and Good News of Christ's work - but it is not legitimate to make the whole matter of salvation/ damnation into the arbitrary workings of Grace - because that is to remove Christianity from the realms of justice and desert.)

Also, this question is so basic to Christianity, that if it cannot be answered truthfully and reasonably accurately, then this is a very serious flaw.


So, how can it be just that someone be damned, with all that entails?

Ultimately, if the damned person chooses to put himself beyond the reach of salvation, then it is just that he be damned - not only just, but the possibility of damnation is a necessity for a being with free will: nobody can be forced to choose salvation.


This argument has implications: there must be a very strong, indeed total, autonomy of human choice for damnation to be just: the choice to reject salvation must be independent of circumstance, otherwise it would not be fair to damn someone because they lived in bad circumstances.

And total autonomy of choice requires that Man be considerably more god-like than Man is depicted in some Christian traditions.

(Man cannot, as I suggested above, be regarded as utterly weak, utterly sinful - else  it would not be just to damn him for making the wrong choices.)


If, by contrast, Man is regarded as utterly weak and depraved in his nature (his nature being given him by God); and if all good in Men comes from God; then such a miserable creature as this depiction of Man could not justly be allowed to choose damnation - so if Man is regarded as utterly vile in himself with all Goodness from God, then such a Man is having damnation forced-upon him: which would be unjust since he is punished for that which he cannot affect. 


In sum - damnation is perfectly easily explicable in terms of Man being a creature with radical autonomy of will, with the intrinsic ability to choose or to reject salvation, which entails that Man has god-like attributes such as intrinsic goodness and judgement.

That makes sense; and is I believe harmonious with the general tenor, the overall spirit or essential core,  of Scripture.



Bruce B. said...

Interesting. I assume you are not a big fan of Calvinism. Are some forms of Calvinism outside of your definition of mere Christianity?
I realize you made no mention of the LDS but I always think of them and their place when I read your postings. As a Catholic-minded (currently Anglican but with a strong inclination to swim the Tiber) Christian I sometimes feel closer to them (at least in some ways) than I do to the Calvinist-Evangelicals that I am surrounded by.

Bruce Charlton said...

@BB - I think Calvinism has several large and obvious errors of theology - which could/would lead to a monstrously unChristian religion if followed-up. Nonetheless, many Calvinists rise above this and are exemplary Christians - for example I have benefited a lot from Martyn Lloyd Jones and Jerram Barrs in recent months.

Mormon theology developed as a reaction to the prevalent Calvinism (and similar Protestant denominations) of the time - and triumphantly solves many of the major problems with Calvinism.

It is, for me, much easier to love the God of Mormonism than of Calvinism.

The Crow said...

Nobody and nothing 'damns' a man.
A man damns himself by his failure/refusal to merge with the workings of life.
Jesus discovered how to merge with life, and did his best to share it with others. Christianity took his teachings and tried to do the same.
Damnation is a human concept, just as God is.
Neither one is what its name symbolizes.

So justice has nothing to do with damnation, other than humans trying to figure things out that need no figuring out by humans.
Live right, die right, continue on.
Live wrong, die wrong, get nowhere.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Crow - I agree with you mostly, but what you say leaves-out that which makes possible our knowing this stuff; and which gives it point, meaning, direction, relevance... it leaves-out God as our Heavenly Father (emphasis on Father).

The Crow said...

Many 'fathers' in the natural world, plant their seed and move on.
The meaning is in the miracle.
Life is the meaning of life.
Reverence is gratitude for life.
Direction is where life goes, all by itself.
Knowing you owe it all to your Father is enough. Only ego desires one's Father to know one's feelings for him.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Crow - I hope I am not trying to trip you up or catch you out - but "The meaning is in the miracle.
Life is the meaning of life.
Reverence is gratitude for life.
Direction is where life goes, all by itself. "

seems completely and totally inadequate as an answer to anything!

It seems to be a tautological statement that what is, is.

But how does that tell us what to do, what not to do - how does it tell us what is the best attitude to reality - why be grateful rather than angry and resentful; why accept rather than to fight, why create rather than destroy? Are are equally art of life as it is...

Honestly, it just doesn't make sense to me - *unless* there is a hidden additional assumption/s, above and behind 'what-is-is'; which I am *sure* there is in your case (whether or not you admit it!)

Bruce Charlton said...

@Crow - I am not criticizing you, or your life - merely your account of the theory behind it.

The Crow said...

What could I say, Bruce? I've seen.
I can only report what I've seen.
These things aren't something that can be treated in the way anything else can. That is what gives them their power, over millennia.

As for theory: I don't have one, this isn't one, and none is either necessary, or even possible.
When you get out of bed in the morning, you don't need a theory on how to do it.

Sorry Bruce: I know your academic nature. You do what you do. I am not put together that way. I do it for real. And like real explorers and adventurers, sometimes they find what they set out to find :)

p.s: The best attitude to reality is not to have an attitude. It is to be like a crow, and be reality. That's what a crow taught me: don't look at life, live it!

Bruce Charlton said...

@Crow - Maybe theory is too inflammatory a word - try 'reason'.

Even to write a description of your life is to imply a reason for doing so - there is selection, there is 'a moral', there is a recommendation of what to do and what not to do...

Such things cannot come out of a what-is-is attitude. There must be, there *is*, something more - even if not articulated.

The Crow said...

Is there a reason a crow plays in a pond?
Why does it look at its reflection and squawk?
What makes it do a barrel roll for no visible reason?
Why does it hop when it could fly?

People always think I write for some other reason than I actually write. I write because I have something to write. Experience shares itself. Knowledge seeps into every crack. Wisdom settles at the lowest level it can, like the ocean.

Perhaps there is a reason, but perhaps, also, that reason is not mine. Perhaps I have become an instrument, a delivery system, doing what sentient beings are designed to do: to add, to share, to spread, to create, without having any intellectually discernible reason for doing so.

Brett Stevens said...

I think Crow makes a good point here.

God is a form of divine order. Orders have function. God's sovereignty is the logicality of that order. We can fulfill it to varying degrees by our actions, and we are rewarded proportional to that.

Does this sound like anything else to you?

In nature, certain actions are rewarded because they achieve their ends. What determines what succeeds? Some form of natural and/or divine law (many of think the two are the same, or have a common ancestor). You are rewarded to the degree you understand reality and implement your design so as to work with its workings.

God is much the same way. As you say throughout the article, Bruce, He is not devoted to unkindness or unfairness and would not tolerate either. He gives us the obvious clues to what should be done, and it is only our sin (error: our pre-occupation with our own thoughts coming before His order, which is hubris on our parts) that prevents us from seeing this.

That, I think, is Crow's point. There is no damnation outside the result itself. People who live like coarse animals get coarse animal results and are excluded by their own hand from the transcendental beauties of life which are required to get to whatever lies beyond. People who refine themselves, work to understand life, and find divinity in it, will find more of that divinity. Reward in proportion to understanding.

Great article and great comment thread. I'm really glad I read this and it reminds me, again, that I have to stop by here more often.