On the lack of eschatological regret

Posted on May 22, 2008

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In a public conversation with Ian Coffey (at this conference), I hit upon a phrase, quite by accident, which I’ve been musing on since. A vital theme in Christian eschatology is an adequate account of ‘the lack of eschatological regret’. That is, it seems to me a necessary part of the experience of eternal life that there is nothing we–or indeed God–look[s] back on and thinks ‘I wish it had been different’.

One consequence of this, of some pastoral importance, is the suggestion that I will not regret God’s sovereign decisions concerning the final fate of my parents, wife, children, …

A universalist stance is acceptable on this canon, it seems to me (even if not on several others); the older Reformed orthodoxy which suggested (on the basis of a reading of Lk 16:19ff.) that the saints in heaven would see the sufferings of the damned, and rejoice at the display of the glory of God’s justice also makes sense in these terms (and is also unacceptable for various other reasons). Most of the recent ‘soft conservative’ eschatologies just fail, however. Whether perdition is annihilation, or some form of conscious torment that is quietly ignored in heaven, unless I simply forget the relationships that have made me who I am on earth (and I don’t find Volf convincing on this point), I will still regret God’s decisions. And an eternity of regret is indistinguishable from hell, as far as I can see.

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