I am revisiting again the Evangelical Anglican article by Andy Saville about an intriguing idea about how hell would be “without sin”. He outlines three main propositions to his thesis-
(1) “ … the damned do not sin;”
(2) “ the damned are lucid;”
(3) “ and the damned are reconciled to God in the sense of praising God for his justice w
hile remaining in torment”
His basic motivation for this theory is that to postulate that the damn will continue to sin and rebel against God in hell for all eternity is unacceptably dualistic. He cites Pinnock approvingly who argues, ‘A final objection to the traditional doctrine of the nature of hell is cosmological dualism…evil and rebellion continue in hell…heaven and hell go on existing alongside each other forever in everlasting cosmological dualism…’ He continues with Paul Helm who also objects to the traditional account, “So hell is a place of pain, but not of defiance or resistance. It is not a demonic colony which has gained unilateral independence from God. Because there is full recognition of God’s justice, God’s character is vindicated, and hence glorified, even by those who in this life have defied him and suffer for it.” In a sense, I think he wants to cut off the idea of Milton’s Satan and his army of fallen angels who “reign” gloriously in hell in a sort of Nietzschean gleeful and glorious rebellion against God with their palaces of glittering jewels and rare minerals, etc.
I cannot help but be reminded once more of Scotus and his denial of the “infinity” of sin. Scotus also objects to the idea that there can be such a thing as an “infinite sin” because that postulates a sort of “summum malum” or Chief Evil or Goal in a dualistic parallel to the “summum bonum” or Chief Good or end of God.
But I wonder about his argument that the damned will praise God for his justice and righteous judgment against them (Point 3). Will they derive pleasure from such praise in a sort of perverse masochistic sense of praising joyfully the torments visited upon them? I believe that in fact Scotus here provides a more plausible alternative for the “psychology” of the damn consistent with the other two points.
According to medieval consensus, Scotus argues that God is the proper end (terminus) of all rational creatures, the only infinite being or good. Thus humanity is meant to move in a perpetual journeying into the infinite being of God. Sin turns humanity away from the proper end of God. But Scotus is very careful not to postulate an alternative dualistic “infinite evil end” towards which the impenitent sinner journeys towards for all eternity.
So what simply happens to the impenitent sinner? I am not sure what would Scotus’ actual opinion be, but if one is to “develop” his thought further, one could argue that well, nothing happens to them. They “freeze” as it were, statically limited to their finite experiences and being for all eternity, having nothing further to move towards. Thus, what happens to the damn is that they recognize the “end” of all creaturely life and finite being as pointing towards God, but because they “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1), and have never desired or willed the end of all creaturely life or finite being, they are simply “stuck” with what they have for all eternity. At the Judgement they will know, recognize and acknowledge the proper end of their lives and everything in it, but they will have no desire to move beyond that towards God. Thus, in a sense, they will simply be “left behind”, left to contemplate or recall with shame their lives in the light of God, condemned to replay over and over again their lives in the face of the truth of God, tormented by their shame forever, because there was nothing in their past whereby they have desire or sought God and thereby able to move out of the finite lives and escape this cessation of activity or development or movement. (In a sense, this is concept of “hell” is actually like Nirvana. Complete static nihilism or obliteration into nothingness.)
In a strange way, the conception of heaven as a perpetual “movement” or development of us towards and in God corresponds to Scotus’s conception of the original paradise and the fall. For Scotus, Adam in the state of original innocent was not inherently immortal. In order to live, he had to keep eating from the fruit of the tree of life, thus, his “life” is sustained by a perpetual eating or enjoying or activity in the Garden. But Scotus strangely enough argues that Adam didn’t possess original righteousness. He had to “acquire it” by passing the test of the Tree of Knowledge, in other words, Adam was not a complete “mature” being, but is actually a growing entity developing towards the righteous ends of God. By failing this “test” Adam, in some sense, was merely “stunted” in its development. But then Scotus also argues that even if Adam didn’t fall, Christ would have become incarnate anyway and “complete” creation by being in creaturely fellowship with Adam. The fall only meant that for Christ to be in fellowship and to love Adam would entail risk and the danger of being suffering at the hands of his rebellious creations. But Christ went ahead anyway…