God’s Judgment Does Not End Free Will

“God is love” (1 John 4:8).   This theological statement is at the heart the Christian understanding of God.  It has led some to believe in the idea of apokatastasis, the idea that ultimately God will restore all thing to union with him and will destroy hell.  It is the notion that a loving God in the end will save everyone and all things.

Dr. Alexander Kalomiros explained in his talk “River of Fire” that the idea of apokatastasis becomes popular and perhaps even necessary among Christians because of a mistaken idea of God’s judgment.   His basic notion is that God created humans with free will, and God in His love for His creation, limits His own power in order to fully respect the free will of humans.  Thus God will never force humans to love Him, believe in Him or obey Him.  Kalomiros argues apokatastasis is in fact incompatible with God’s own choice to respect human freedom.  God will not in the end save those who do not wish to be saved.    However, he says for those who believe God is good, any sense of His judgment seems incompatible with His love, and they find apokatastasis a way to hold to an idea of God’s goodness. 

xcenthronedKalomiros, on the other hand, argues that what happens to each of us in the end is exactly what we choose to happen to us – this is what God allows and respects.  God’s judgment in the end is not God weighing every sin and punishing sinners, but rather God respecting the wish of each human being and allowing each human to experience God’s eternity as they chose by their way of life and relationship to God.   In the end, those humans who do not wish to abide in God’s presence, will by their own choice be banished from God’s presence for all eternity – they will fully experience their choice in the afterlife, totally separated from God or any hope in God.  Those who hate God and see God’s commands as oppressive will find God’s presence unbearable for all eternity.  Those who love God will rejoice in the eternal presence of their Creator.   God will in His love respect the choices we make and made.    What will be different for each of us is not how God treats us, but how we experience God’s presence and love because of our beliefs and choices, not because of what God is doing.  In this sense our final judgment is our own choice, not God’s wish for us on sentence on us.   “Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11; see 1 Timothy 2:3-4)

In this thinking, when Adam and Eve sinned and chose to live lives separated from God, God did not punish them with eternal hell.  Rather he let them experience their choice – separation from God.    Eternal punishment is not mentioned in the Genesis story.  Rather death, something which exists in time and whose effect is limited by time, is introduced into the human story.  In this sense, seeing death around us and experiencing the pain it causes us are things which gives us a chance to consider what separation from God really means.  Death can thus serve as a corrective to our thinking – separation from God is painful.

Death is not something which existed from all eternity, and neither is hell – that place of punishment.  Death and hell cannot be eternal because they are the antithesis of God, not godliness.    Thus death and hell are limited to the existence of time and space – to this world.  They have no existence in the eternity of God.  Death’s purpose – to allow us to experience our choice and the pain of separation from God – holds no meaning in eternity and will in fact be brought to an end by Christ destroying death (1 Corinthians 15:26).

The Kingdom of God is eternal and all things will become part of God’s holy Kingdom.  The only difference for sinners and saints will be how they experience this Kingdom and God’s eternal presence.  They will rejoice in it if that is what they sought in this lifetime.  They will suffer in it if they found God and His way oppressive to their self will in this lifetime.  God will not impose judgment on anyone; rather, He will make this world to be His Kingdom, and He will limit His power and allow His eternal presence be experienced by what we humans chose  for all eternity.   He won’t save us from our choice but will respect our free will.  Thus God does not condemn people to hell for eternity, rather He accepts our choice for how we want to relate to Him.   We get a glimpse of this in the parable of the laborers and the vineyard in Matthew 20:1-16.   Jesus is telling us what the Kingdom of Heaven is like.  The Master in the parable at the time of reckoning is incredibly generous to the people who came last to His field and who labored the least.  Those who worked the longest grumbled and experienced the Master’s generosity in a very negative way and as totally unfair.  They could not rejoice in the Master’s goodness.  Such it will be for all of us in the final judgment of God – we will each experience God’s presence as we choose to judge God!

Christmas: Revealing the Image of God

theotokos2In reflecting on the Incarnation of God the Word, many of the patristic writers believed that Adam was created by God with the Incarnation in mind – so that when the Word became flesh His form was already known.  Adam created in God’s image is created by God in the image of the Word Incarnate.  This is done by God in anticipation of where God wanted history to move – in fulfillment of His plan.   The sin of Eve and Adam thus never threatened God’s plan, nor could it thwart it.  Rather their sin gave new importance to God’s intended plan for the Incarnation would not be mere fulfillment of God’s plan for humanity but now also the healing and restoration of humanity.    When the Word became flesh, God was actually bringing to reality the image of which Adam was but a prototype, a scale model of the reality that God intended to reveal. 

Adam the prototype of humanity ultimately dies.  His death leads to further death as all humanity which follows him and Eve inherit mortality.  Christ, who is the new Adam, is the fulfillment of what humanity is to be.  Christ is the reality from whom Adam received His image.   Christ, like Adam, also dies.  But Christ’s death does not lead to further death, but rather becomes the destruction of death.  Adam’s death gives mortality to humanityChrist’s death gives immortality to humanity.   What Christ’s death gives to humanity reveal the importance of the Nativity of Christ.  Christmas is our celebration of God in humanity overcoming death to give life to the world.

From Adam, from Adam’s rib, from Eve came their descendents, and from them came Mary, and from her came the perfect human being, Jesus Christ.   The ultimate response of God to human sin was not punishment but perfection.  St. Symeon the New Theologian (d. 1022AD) wrote: 

Adam was formed from clay by the hands of God, so he became a perfect human being, endowed with a living soul, not by carnal intercourse and not by seed.  In the same way the Word also became human without carnal intercourse and without seed.

In the Old Testament we read that God made a deep sleep fall upon Adam; then he took one of his ribs and formed a woman from it.  In consequence, God the Word took a body with a soul from the actual rib of Adam, that is, from the woman, and built it into a perfect human being.  In this way he became truly the child of Adam.  In making himself a human being, becoming like us in everything except sin, the Word joined the human family.

On the other hand, he was at the same time human and God, so that his soul and body were holy, and more than holy.  He was, he is, and he always will be God the Holy.  The Virgin too is holy, without spot, just as the rib taken from Adam was holy.

As regards the rest of the human race they are, according to the flesh, really part of the same family; they are their brothers and sisters.  Nevertheless, because of their nature they remain earthly and do not suddenly become holy.

But if God has himself been made a human being and has deigned to be called the brother of the human race, we ought to be born again, in water by the grace of the Holy Spirit.