“…..God knows what would happen in the future.” (link)
I respectfully disagree with this assumption. Or better, I think it needs a clarification.
When I was little more than a child, I remember myself wondering why God should have created such a portent like our existence (and all the rest) knowing since the beginning how everything would have played out. Now maybe I’ll be able to ponder the issue in a less childish way.
Being He omnipotent, the future is simply whatever God wants it to be. But in the case of man, the will of God is for man to be free, absolutely free, even to the point to “kill” Him.
So, in this case the future is determined by the free actions of man and I don’t think we can assume that God knows before what those actions will be.
Assuming that we’d fall into blasphemy because, even if this would not ultimately make Him the responsible of man’s evil actions, we would anyway be claiming that He created some men knowing very well that their fate would be eternal suffering (as a result of their evil doing).
That cannot be possible.
Of course, as every limitation to Him, it’s a self-imposed limitation (not different from those decreed about our freedom and His death on the Cross). He can in any moment intervene and the future will return to be what He wants, i.e. He will know the future. But He interferes very rarely and with sublime, moving discretion, according to His plan.
It’s not a problem of God being vengeful, because the punishement, the hell’s torments, are merely the outcome of the separation from God, of the refusal of God; both are our own choice, conscious or not! Therefore, we suffer because of ourselves, man is the creator of hell, not God. As Adam, we are not punished by God; we simply act, with our free will, and bear the consequences of our acts and choices.
So, maybe “(God’s) love could not bear that (eternal suffering)”, as St. Silouan aptly said, but (God’s) love cannot force anyone too.
The problem is that if God knows the future, He would know that a lot of His creatures would end up suffering eternally, He would know to be creating an endless suffering. I repeat, that is not possible! Is really there anyone willing to depict God as a sadist? Even if the cause of the suffering is the creature’s own free behaviour, the ultimate cause would be his creation. If whatever life is better of non-existence, non-existence is surely better than eternal suffering.
No, if God knows the future, the only possible outcome can be apocatastasis. A final, universal salvation, at the end of this age.
Many associate the apocatastasis exclusively with Origen and the anathema pronounced against him by the Fifth Ecumenical Council. Very few are aware that this doctrine was also supported by St. Gregory of Nyssa, a bastion of Orthodoxy, and St, Isaac of Nineveh, who is also highly revered by the Church.
The terms of the issue are brilliantly explained in this essay by Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware): “Dare we hope for the salvation of all?”. The Metropolitan presents (almost) all the arguments, pro and against, with measure and equilibrium, even if from the paper appears his inclination for the affirmative answer.
Maybe it’s this personal inclination that makes him forget the most important argument against apocatastasis: the Word of God!
“Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven to men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.“
Even if the Metropolitan was able to overcome other references by the Word of God to the perpetuity of suffering for the damned, as the words “eternal”, “unquenchable fire”, “undying worm”, “impassable chasm”, suggesting that they would refer only to this age, the passage quoted above from St. Matthew is unequivocal. It excludes from salvation at least one category of creatures: those who consciously reject God.
Most of the people depart from God because cheated, by the enemy, by other men, by the misery of their existence full of necessities, by the behaviour of their neighbor, by their pride or by the modern secularist propaganda, et cetera. But there are persons who reject God consciously, with a full understanding, just like the devil and his angels; and in fact, these people are demons, even if they still have a body for the time being.
So, St. Gregory was mistaken: the devil (and his court) cannot be saved!
…because the ruler of this world has been condemned.
What is the difference between the two kind of people? In short, the ability to repent!
A man cheated about the Truth, when he faces finally the Truth, will surely repent his previous behaviour and change his way, thoughts and deeds. The public teaching of our Lord starts with the word “Repent“. The same with His Forerunner, St. John the Baptist: “Repent” was his first and incessant crying. Enough to conclude that no salvation is possible for men without repentance.
Unfortunately, most of the cheated persons will depart from this world still cheated and so unable to repent. Only after, separated from their bodies, they will face the Truth. Therefore, the practicability of the apocatastasis depends on this simple question: are the departed able to repent?
The teaching of the Church gives a negative answer. A negative answer come also from the Word of God (cfr. the parable of the rich man and Lazarus). But they provide no explanation, no reason why. Why the departed are not able to repent?
I do not pretend to know it. An answer may be provided pondering the meaning of the repentance. The repentance is a complex act. You cannot repent just with your mind, but acts and deeds must follow. Repentance is not just a change of your mind, it’s a change of your life. You do not just ponder the Truth, you must live according to the Truth. But that is not possible for the departed, they live but not the life of a man. Man was created as an indissoluble unity of body and soul; with the soul separated from the body, man exists but does not live anymore.
A disincarnated man, departed away from the Grace of God, will find himself unable to satisfy the passions which did dominate him during his life, that’s the very core of the hellish torments. Many think that passions arise from the body, but it’s not so. The body has a few necessities, but the passions are a product of the soul, which can try to satisfy them only when it’s united with the body, in the futile attempt to substitute God with that satisfaction. Alas, it’s drinking a water that will make it thirsty again!
Anyway, with a body man can at least delude himself. Once disincarnated, any illusion will collapse. Likewise, he will find himself unable to change his life, while understanding and feeling remorse he will not be able to repent properly.
For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.
That’s why our Lord will resuscitate the faithful at the last day, as there’s no life (eternal or not) for a man without his body. But who will be the faithful that last day? Is it really so fetched to claim that everybody will be? After all, everybody will have then faced the Truth; who could then possibly not believe in the Son? There is no salvation outside the Church, but the Church is not only the visible one. We pray for the dead; why should we do it, if their fate is sealed after their departure from this world?
And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.
So, that is not an insurmountable obstacle to the practicability of the apocatastasis. Everybody will then believe, everyone will then be able, newly incarnated, to complete their repentance, bowing to the Lord.
“Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire”
Everybody but the sinners against the Holy Spirit, like the devil. They have always believed in God, they have always rejected Him. They will reject Him also at the last day, as a drug addict who does not give up the dose which will kill him.
No, the stumbling block for apocatastasis is the Word of God. There will be some who will consciously reject God also at the last day, unable to repent, there will be “sheeps” and “goats” that day.
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven….
Of course, the will of God is for everyone to be saved, as St. Paul said. But that’s not the will of every man or creature. And they will not be forced, because God is love but can’t deny Himself.
In any case, brothers, a single moment of hell is much more than anyone can bear. The problem is not time there!
We need to consider also the answer of fr. John Whiteford to this question.
…we should consider the question of how God knows the future. Does He know the future because He makes it happen in a particular way? According to Orthodox theology, He knows the future because He is uncircumscribed, i.e., He is not limited by time or space. The Wisdom of Sirach says “His gaze spans all the ages; to Him there is nothing unexpected” (Ecclesiasticus 39:20). God sees the future, because He is not limited, is already in the future, and at the same time transcends time.
Glory be to God for all things!