Wow! What a set of fascinating discussions I have with some people whose opinions I truly value. I am grateful to Fr Gregory Wassen and Archbishop Jerome Lloyd for their comments on my earlier post, and to Fr Chadwick for his own thoughts which he has published here.
Archbishop Jerome focussed on the fact that Love requires reciprocity. We all receive the love of God, yet, if we reject that then we reject Him. He has always been prepared to suffer for us, and thus He suffers us to reject Him. This rejection forces us to suffer the logical consequences of that rejection. We human beings have no excuse for our sins. St Paul says,
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:(Romans i.18-20)This is galling to say the least. We are also minded of those who say "Lord, Lord!" and yet the Lord will say, "in truth, I never knew you!"
From my thoughts on this, the fear that the Christian should have is not a fear of Hell in itself, but the fear of losing God which logically leads to Hell. Yet how sweet it is for us to hear that God say to us, "be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest." We tremble before Almighty God in sheer awe. I find it odd how human beings of the present age have lost the ability to feel awe, yet surely we must have awe for this mighty Being of Beings whose command of existence is so absolute and yet will strip Himself of that command in order to be with us in Humanity that we might share in His Divinity.
Fr Wassen asks a different question and draws on the theology of Origen and St Isaac the Syrian. The discussion he draws on centres around two Greek words αἰώνιος and ἀίδιος (a-Idios) which are both used to describe the notion of eternity. We've already seen the word αἰώνιος used in the context of "eternal" life and "eternal" punishment. The word ἀίδιος is used above in Romans i.20 in discussing God's eternal power. In Jude 6, we read:
ἀγγέλους τε τοὺς μὴ τηρήσαντας τὴν ἑαυτῶν ἀρχὴν ἀλλὰ ἀπολιπόντας τὸ ἴδιον οἰκητήριον εἰς κρίσιν μεγάλης ἡμέρας δεσμοῖς ἀϊδίοις ὑπὸ ζόφον τετήρηκεν:Again we see ἀίδιος describing the "everlasting" chains of the fallen angels. And Wisdom herself "is the brightness of the everlasting light, the unspotted mirror of the power of God, and the image of his goodness." (Wisdom vii.26) Again, the word ἀίδιος used to describe the everlasting light. One might imagine the angels, being pure spirit, being subject to different bonds to human beings but we know that both the fallen angels and the unrepentant end up in the same Abyss. In the biblical sense, are αἰώνιος and ἀίδιος synonyms? Etymologically not: αἰώνιος can be translated as age, whence we have the wonderful phrase of "unto the age of ages" in Orthodox liturgies where we in the West would say "and ever shall be world without end". The Eon is a passage of finite time. Yet it does possess a notion of permanence. The Latin is "saecula saeculorum" and we understand that as "everlasting".
And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.
What is also important is that, in the parable of Dives and Lazarus (St Luke xvi), between the blessed and the damned "there is a great gulf fixed : so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot * ; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence." The terms are absolute, and not relative. It would seem that there is something wrong in Origen's thought and with St Isaac the Syrian too. But let us not be hasty: do we stretch the parable too far?
On an apparently unrelated note (bear with me) it is interesting that Black Holes evaporate into radiation. Mathematically speaking, the Black Hole possesses a singularity where the laws of space and time break down. This is represented in mathematics as an infinity. An object which goes over the Event Horizon will be seen to be sen to be slowing down to a halt to an observer outside the black hole. We also have Zeno's paradox of motion in which in order to cross a room, we first need to cross half the distance, then a quarter, then an eighth, then... et c. Thus we never seem to be able to cross the room. We have mathematical ideas of limits. An eternal pruning is mathematically possible and thus, although it be an activity, it can still happen eternally and thus in a limitless fashion. The juxtaposition that the Lord gives in Matthew xxv.46 between κόλασιν αἰώνιον and ζωὴν αἰώνιον seems ample evidence that the two senses mean the same. Yet, nonetheless, is it possible that Hell itself, being the blackest of black holes might evaporate? Milton suggests that Hell is coldest at its heart.
Outside of Time, it is difficult to say. We lack the eyes to say so. We can test for black holes by observing their effects on the objects around them. Likewise, we can observe the presence of Evil by its effect on our world. In the presence of God, we cannot have the presence of Evil and to an extent it becomes unobservable because we cannot bridge this gulf. My instinct is to understand αἰώνιος in the sense of Eternity because of God's Eternity. I may be wrong, but my prayers and efforts are the all humanity should be able to get on the right side of Eternity.
I need to think more on what Eternity means. Perhaps the dialogue needs to continue further.