Universalism vs. action movies

There are a lot of versions of the how could a mother be happy in heaven knowing her child was in hell argument. David Bentley Hart gives one based on the ontology of persons, but it’s easy enough to make the case from the nature of charity. The case is often made easier in that those who argue for the eternity of hellfire are perhaps justifiably hesitant to praise the condemnation of the wicked, and it’s impossible to think that this hesitation or indifference could carry over to the blessed. Hart, for one, takes joy in tossing and goring those who speak of God’s perpetual condemnation of the sinner as just a hard saying we need to accept.

I can’t keep up with Hart’s rhetoric and won’t even begin to try, but for all that his argument can’t even do justice to our experience of watching movies. When you’re watching Die Hard you don’t weep over the death of Hans Gruber or wonder why McClane didn’t do more to save him – you feel both joy and relief to watch him fall to is death, and you’re supposed to. This is what Thomas calls rejoicing in the order of justice that characterizes the blessed in their vision of the damned.

But isn’t there something unchristian in this? Aren’t we supposed to seek out the sinner, love our enemies, and pray for their conversion? This is all true, but none of it is incompatible with rejoicing over the destruction of the wicked. This is clearest in the climax of Return of the Jedi, where in one and the same act we rejoice over the conversion of Vader and the destruction of the Emperor.

If I’m not ashamed for the death of the wicked, why be ashamed of God bringing it about? The universe, like any story, is better with antagonists, which was exactly the lesson we learned from Roddenberry wanting no antagonists on the Enterprise in Star Trek: The Next Generation and thereby ruining its first two seasons. The evil of antagonists  is necessary for the good of the story, and we love a universe more with freely acting antagonists than one without them.

But again, one can just insist that it makes no sense for a mother to be happy in heaven when her child is in hell. Maybe so, and this might even have eschatological significance. Either the mother loves God more than her child or she doesn’t: if so, she hates anyone who hates what she loves most e.g. A mother hates a stranger who harms her child since she would hate anyone who hated what she loved most; and if the mother didn’t love God more than her child then, don’t worry, she won’t be in heaven.

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