Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Futility of Evil: The Knot of the Naughty

The other day I posted a thread from Facebook that led me to the brink of despair.

Here's one that proves that Facebook can be a source of light as well as darkness.  A friend of mine, Paul from Pluto (Pluto, Mississippi), writes the post, and Cory Dupont and I share some thoughts as comments ...

THE POST: ... if hell is eternal punishment for evil, and evil is according to classical metaphysics non-being, then how can hell be any kind of entity at all?
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  • Cory Dupont likes this.
  • Cory Dupont Why not expand your scope?
    3 hrs · Like
  • Kevin O'Brien In C. S. Lewis' "The Great Divorce", hell is impossible to see from heaven because it's so small. "The difficulty of hell," explains Macdonald, "Is that it's almost nearly nothing."
    3 hrs · Like
  • Kevin O'Brien There are lots of souls there, but it's hard to pinpoint from heaven.
    3 hrs · Like
  • Cory Dupont There is a long tradition in Eastern Christian thought that says "hell is heaven experienced differently" by those who have, of their own free-will, rejected the love and mercy of God. In contrast to, say, Lewis and others like him who are clearly working from a Western Medieval point of observation, the Eastern Church has never really felt comfortable or pressed to locate and/or define Hell. Instead, the Church does feel it necessary to show us how to avoid such a destiny, and this lays greater emphasis upon Hell as a state-of-being-towards-God, rather than a peripheral blot on a celestial map. Then again, there may be good cause to question this position, as many of the Latin and Greek Fathers feel quite comfortable defining Hell as a condition of punishment and divine retribution. I'm thinking primarily of exegetes such as St. Chrysostom. In a dogmatic sense, however, it's tough to find a single Church Father, with the exceptions of Origen, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Augustine, who spent any considerable thought on the matter.
    2 hrs · Like
  • Cory Dupont Any observation made on the matter of eschatology was never done so outside of the early Church's continuous battles over Christology. I only say this because later reflection upon Hell, such as that of the Medieval Schoolmen, was frequently far too abstract and at times somewhat irrelevant in relation to the mysterium fidei.
    2 hrs · Like
  • Kevin O'Brien Actually, Cory Dupont, Lewis does not locate or define hell in "The Great Divorce". The narrator tries to, but is frustrated in his attempts. Even in Marlowe's "Dr. Faustus", written in Elizabethan England, the demon Mephistopheles says, "Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscrib'd
    In one self-place; but where we are is hell,
    And where hell is, there must we ever be:
    And, to be short, when all the world dissolves,
    And every creature shall be purified,
    All places shall be hell that are not heaven."
    So I don't think you're quite right that Western Christianity has tended to localize hell.

    My question for Paul - is there a state of absolute zero, and if so, can you go there without a jacket?
    2 hrs · Like
  • Kevin O'Brien Compare Our Lord's statement in Luke where He says you cannot say of the Kingdom, "Here it is" or "there it is".
    2 hrs · Like
  • Cory Dupont Fair enough, but I wouldn't so hastily make Lewis the arbiter of the entire Western Christian tradition.
    2 hrs · Like
  • Kevin O'Brien No, but neither is Marlowe - and yet he too refuses to have his demon character localize hell. In fact, he shows Faustus as being foolish and materialistic for trying to do so.
    2 hrs · Like
  • Cory Dupont Forgive me, but I haven't read Marlowe since college. : (
    2 hrs · Like
  • Kevin O'Brien As to the reality of hell if evil is the privation of good (Paul's original point), one of the odd aspects of Divine Mercy is the (you might say) sly power of it, the hidden reality of it as compared with what seems to be the pervasive presence of evil. We carry hell in our hearts, but it remains a kind of nothing.

... and Divine Mercy, though often hidden, is the Reality that overcomes that Nothing.  That last comment of mine is something I want to expand upon.


When we sin, we seek some sort of evil.  Evil, properly speaking, is the absence of good.  It is a kind of "nothing".  It is "naught" - which is what it means to be "naughty" in a sense.

But no matter how "naughty" we are, no matter how much we pride ourselves on what we've built - our corrupt and teetering Earthly City, which stands against the solid and eternal City of God - it all comes to naught.  As Shakespeare wrote ...

The sceptre, learning, physic, must
All follow this and come to dust.

And St. Paul points to this great mystery - the mystery of the Futility of Evil when he quotes the prophet Isaiah, saying ...

For it is written, "As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God." (Rom. 14:11)

In other words, at the End of Time, God will proclaim in our hearts what J.R.R. Tolkien echoes when he says ...

... no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined. 

Even our sins, then, and their futile consequences, ultimately stand as a witness and a tribute to the Reality that God has made, to the Reality that God is.  In spite of ourselves, we sinners show that we can only deny God and His plan by turning toward nothing, toward evil, toward the Unreal.  All sinners will therefore sooner or later bend the knee and confess to God in spite of ourselves, for that's the way the cosmos is structured.

And we will do this not only then, at the Coming of Christ, but occasionally we do it even now, typically in moments of silence, of despair or anguish, of great regret - moments when the silly game we play is revealed to be the utter waste that it is.  To quote the atheist John Lennon (who often got it right) ...

All my little patterns and schemes
Lost like some forgotten dreams
Seems that all I really was doing
Was waiting for you

Just like little girls and boys
Playing with their little toys
Seems like all they really were doing
Was waiting for love

We flatter ourselves with our worldly accomplishments and pursuits.  We flatter ourselves with our sins.  But we are only "little girls and boys" being naughty.  And even when our naughtiness comes to naught, we find ourselves bending the knee and confessing to God, by the very futility of our attempts to turn away from Him.

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