April 27, 2009
The Delight of the Saints in the Suffering of the Damned (or: This Is Why I Like Victor Reppert)
I’m not enamored of Victor Reppert’s favorite apologetic argument, the so-called Argument from Reason, but I do appreciate his honesty and his willingness to tackle the strange and the unpalatable within his own belief system.
Today, it’s the long-standing Christian tradition (expressed here by Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologica and here by Puritan — and all-around jerk — Jonathan Edwards) that those in Heaven will have their eternal enjoyment magnified through the knowledge that the damned are suffering eternal torment in hell. Here’s how Aquinas puts it:
Now everything is known the more for being compared with its contrary, because when contraries are placed beside one another they become more conspicuous. Wherefore in order that the happiness of the saints may be more delightful to them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, they are allowed to see perfectly the sufferings of the damned.
And here’s Edwards:
When the saints in glory, therefore, shall see the doleful state of the damned, how will this heighten their sense of the blessedness of their own state, so exceedingly different from it! When they shall see how miserable others of their fellow creatures are, who were naturally in the same circumstances with themselves; when they shall see the smoke of their torment, and the raging of the flames of their burning, and hear their dolorous shrieks and cries, and consider that they in the mean time are in the most blissful state, and shall surely be in it to all eternity; how will they rejoice!
I know that some Christians try to mitigate the implications of this line of analysis by becoming annihiliationists (which Theopedia describes as heretical), but other than that, I don’t know how Christians can answer the common-sense objection that for many people, it simply wouldn’t be heaven to know that others are suffering for an eternity in Hell.