What changes at the moment of death?
February 2, 2011 — 11:28

Author: Kevin Timpe  Category: Uncategorized  Tags: , , ,   Comments: 29

Traditionally, Christian theology has held that something imporant changes at the moment of death. (Other monotheistic religions may also make similar claims, I just don’t know. And I should also note that I’m bracketing certain forms of Calvinism according to which ‘once saved always saved’, as the phrase goes.) Prior to death, it is possible for a person who is not justified to chose to accept God’s grace and be justified. Similarly, it is possible for a person who is justified at a certain point to sin away that justification.

But traditionally, it’s been held that after death, this kind of change isn’t possible. Those who are in hell are unable, in some sense, to choose for God; those in heaven are unable to choose against God. I know that there are many contemporary philosophers of religion and theologians who deny this claim, or reject that this claim is traditionally held. But I’m interested in what kinds of philosophical arguments are (or could be) given for the truth of this claim. What is it about death that changes whether or not one is able to turn towards or away from God? Candidates or references to help alleviate my ignorance would be greatly appreciated.

That said, if you want to argue against this claim, you’re welcome to do that as well in the comments.

Comments:
  • Luke 16:19-31 leaves the impression that once death happens, there’s no possibility of repentance, or switching sides.

    February 2, 2011 — 12:27
  • Matthew Mullins

    One argument in favor of not turning against God after death turns on one’s more perfect knowledge of God precluding such decisions. In such a state out rational faculties are perfected and, given our close acquaintance with God, we wouldn’t chose to turn from him. I’ve found this line of reasoning problematic for two reasons. One is that it looks like we loose a certain kind of freedom after we become closer acquainted with God. Second, from a Christian perspective, it seems like some angels stood in a similar position and were able to turn from God.
    If you are an annihilationist, there isn’t going to be a chance to change your mind about God. At least not past some initial judgment period.

    February 2, 2011 — 12:45
  • Robert Allen

    Augustine discusses this problem at length in Ch. 21 CG. The idea there seems to be that what is revealed at the Final Judgment holds for eternity. There has been either acceptance of life eternal or rejection of it- a free choice of eternal death. Even the Almighty must respect that decision, made now with full knowledge of the consequences; it would be unmerciful to do otherwise. (I was amused to read Lance Armstrong say that he would tell God to basically get lost if he rebuked him for not being a Christian. I thought, no you won’t.) And nothing changes in eternity, a la God himself. I know the stakes were considerably lower, but was I wrong in rejecting the request of a student who wanted to redo her tests and term paper after the semester had ended? I felt like telling her, and while we’re at it they can replay the World Series too, since the Yankees should have won.

    February 2, 2011 — 12:48
  • I would say it is possible to change, that those in Hell could choose for God, and those in Heaven could choose against God. However those in Heaven are in such a place and the conditions are optimal where no one would choose against God. Having a glorified body being in the presence of God prevents the thought from occuring.
    Those in Hell may very well be repentant of their past rejection of God but it is now too late. Just as remorseful criminals are not released from prison just because they have had a change of heart.
    I have heard defenses of an eternal Hell which trade on a continual sin, an eternal spiteful bitterness and hatred of God for their punishment which would then require continual punishment. I just do not see this view in the Bible anywhere.

    February 2, 2011 — 16:24
  • Dan Speak

    Hi Kevin,
    One possibility is that making death the no-turning-back point is arbitrary (in one sense). That is, perhaps there is nothing special about the point of death per se that makes it relevant but that it is the point that God has picked. After all, it might seem that any argument for giving a person until her death (D) to make the eternal decision might equally well be an argument for giving her a moment beyond death (D+1). Arguably, the same argument would equally well justify giving her until (D+2) to decide. And so it might go. With no non-arbitrary stopping point along the path to eternity, but with a conviction that it would be unfair to give someone potentially infinite opportunity to make the decision, an arbitrary point would need to be established. Death would be as good a point as any.
    (There are a number of assumptions throughout the above that I am inclined to reject, but you seemed to be looking for “candidates”).

    February 2, 2011 — 17:36
  • conorryananderson

    Matthew, there seem to be some good responses to your objections to a more complete knowledge of God precluding the decision to turn away from him.
    Your second objection states that some angels stood in a similar position yet were able to turn away from God. But there is one crucial difference between angels and humans who end up in heaven–those humans have experienced sin. Granted, there may be infants or others incapable of understanding and thus truly experiencing sin, but in general it seems that those who will never turn from God will do so because of their acquaintance with his greatness (the greatest possible greatness) and their knowledge of what it is like without him (sin); their knowledge of sin should not be underestimated in its contribution to their allegiance to God.
    Regarding your first objection I have little to say but that God seems to limit human freedom in many ways at many times. There are the obvious logical and physical limits to freedom, but there also appear to be limits to moral freedom–not everyone is a serial killer and perhaps that would not be so had God not limited moral freedom. Examples of limiting moral freedom would be revelation of his goodness, rewards for doing good things (see the New Testament), direct determination of actions in certain cases, etc.

    February 2, 2011 — 18:17
  • James A. Gibson

    Kevin: Here is another candidate. Anselm offers one argument for why good angels are unable to sin. Given that he thinks the human predicament is similar in some ways to angels (at least before some angels abandoned rectitude), he might say the same thing of human beings at death – I am bracketing the issue of purgatory. Here is the relevant passage: “Hence, they have progressed so far that they have attained everything they could will, and they no longer see what more they could will; and because of this they are unable to sin.” (De casu diaboli, ch.6; translation from Thomas Williams). – JG

    February 2, 2011 — 22:52
  • Kevin Timpe

    Thanks for the comments, all. Here are some more in reply.
    Craig, yes but people who don’t have the view I’m inquiring about suggest that other parts of Scripture indicate a different view and I’m not interested in sorting out the proper hermeneutic here.
    Matthew, Tim and I (along with James Sennett, Jerry Walls, and others) have argued that the traditional view here doesn’t infact lead to a loss of freedom, as you suggest. The parallel to the primal sin is something that I’ve been thinking about, particularly insofar as I find all accounts of the primal sin to be puzzling.
    Robert, are you suggesting that setting the ‘no turning back’ point at death is simply artibrary? That may not be objectionable, especially in light of Dan’s suggestion. But it seems to me that more would need to be said about why this is a principled choice for this particular ‘no turning back’ point. I have the same response to John’s second paragraph.
    Thanks very much, Dan. That’s an interesting suggestion and one I hadn’t thought about before.
    James, yes I’ve definitely been thinking of the parallel you mention with the good angels. But, for Anselm, there is a reason why angels are not capable of changing their mind after their initial act of will for or against God. And while I don’t have a problem with the same being true of humans in principle, I’m trying to figure out why the timing of the change would happen at death.

    February 3, 2011 — 5:54
  • Matthew Mullins

    Here is a pass at why death is non-arbitrary. Bracket infants and the disabled as God may have different considerations as to whether or not they get into heaven. For functional adults, capable of being responsible for our decisions, it’s important that our decisions with regards to choosing the God team are made under particular epistemic conditions. When we decide to be for God prior to death we do that under conditions of uncertainty that couldn’t be found after death. There is a good that is found in extending belief to other agents in conditions of uncertainty. For example, if we’re friends and you get accused of committing a crime, it’s good for me to continue to stand by you even in the face of damning evidence. (Note that whatever kind of good this is, it isn’t an epistemic one!) This seems to be consistent with the idea that belief in God requires faith and that faith is a special kind of virtue. It’d be hard to have faith after death, provided this includes some new awareness of God’s reality, because the evidence would swamp one’s uncertainty.

    February 3, 2011 — 10:56
  • Gordon Knight

    I think Matt’s view may be the best you can get–if it turns out that after death I lose my morally significant freedom, then one may think this undercuts postmortem salvation.
    But this might require that goodness of being saved is constituted by our acting freely
    Suppose I see someone drowning, jump in and save her at a risk to myself. This is good and noble
    Suppose someone is drowning and i am pushed in the water. It turns out that the only way I can save myself is if I save the drowning person. I don’t think this act is praiseworthy, but its still a good thing–a life is saved.
    So If God can save me by force, as it were, then this may be inferior to my reaching salvation via my freedom, but its still a very very good thing, isn’t it?

    February 3, 2011 — 11:52
  • Ryan

    Traditionally, the *fact* of the doctrine of the will’s immutibility after death is taken from both scripture and the universal magisterium of the Catholic Church.
    Also, the *cause* of the immutibility has had three seperate explainations: that of Scotus and Suarez; that of Cajetan; and that of Ferrariensis and the Salmanticenses.
    Aquinas discusses this matter in great detail in his Summa Contra Gentiles, Book IV, chapters 91-95.
    To get an expert overview of both parts here (the fact and the speculated causes) see Garrigou-Lagrange’s work, Life Everlasting, chapter 9. It has been transcribed and is available for free online reading here:
    http://catholictreasury.info/books/everlasting_life/ev10.php

    February 3, 2011 — 13:53
  • Robert Allen

    “Although the soul in the first instant of separation from the body has a view, an apprehension, intellectually immutable, and although it commences at that moment to be obstinate either in evil or in good, nevertheless at this same time it no longer has a possibility of merit or demerit, whatever others say on the matter, because merit or demerit belongs not to the soul alone, but to the man, the viator, the traveler, the man who still lives. But in the first instant of separation man no longer exists, hence he can no longer merit.” (St. Sylvester of Ferrara)
    “Entrance into the state of separation from the body fixes forever the freely determined choice before death, just as in winter frost fixes moisture on the window in varied figures.” (Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange,OP)
    So there seem to be 2 thoughts here (both taken from Ryan’s VERY helpful reference). One is Matthew Mullin’s re. faith requiring uncertainty; the other mine via St. Anselm re. what it means to be in eternity. I was suggesting both of them by my example. Death is not arbitrary at all because it marks both the end of the possibility of being tested and the beginning of immutability. Better: IN ending the former, it begins the latter.

    February 4, 2011 — 11:58
  • Gordon Knight

    Is there any philosophical reason for supposing that after death one does have this overwhelming experience of God?

    February 4, 2011 — 13:17
  • Matthew Mullins

    I suddenly found myself struggling for what a ‘philosophical reason’ might be. 🙂 I found the question a bit puzzling. Do you mean are there reasons for thinking that we’d have closer experience of God in the afterlife than we do in this life, or are you asking if there are reasons to think such an experience would be overwhelming?
    Here are a couple of reasons that might lead one to think that, provided God exists, we’d have a closer experience of him after death.
    1. God is in a better position to expose himself to us because we’ve met some prior conditions. i.e. we’ve been judged worthy of such largess
    2. Perhaps the immortal self is of a form that God can draw it closer to himself, or such that it can more readily perceive God.

    February 4, 2011 — 14:37
  • Matthew Mullins

    Here is another reason for death being a non-arbitrary cutoff. I’ll put this in terms of a God/Parental model, but I think you could base this in general considerations about God’s justice.
    God, like any parent, wants to treat his children equally. He’s provided them with the same access, same reward structure, etc, though, like any children, God’s children will perform differently given their abilities. Now for those of his children who struggled to know their father, earn his rewards, etc, it’d be a profound injustice if some kids were able to sweep in at the last minute and get the same desserts. You might think the former children are right to claim dad’s been unfair.
    *I just want to note that I’m not actually endorsing any of the reasons I’ve given in this thread

    February 4, 2011 — 15:06
  • Gordon Knight

    Those would be reasons for thinking at some time God would reveal himself to us and we would have a closer experience of him. I guess I was looking for a reason why right after death tsehere need be such an experience. It seems to me there is none.
    There is also the issue of the specific arbitrariness of an individual’s death–Sally dies when she is twenty unsaved but if she lived longer she would have found faith.
    If you go the Molinist route, you can give an account that avoids this conclusion, but non universalist molinism has its own problems.

    February 4, 2011 — 15:07
  • One answer might be that the best conception of hell is that proposed by annihilationism. If this is the case one looses conciousness at death, and so can’t turn from ones sin’s until the general resurrection. However at the general resurrection one is judged and those damned are annihilated, obviously an annihilated person does not exist and so can’t turn from their sins.

    February 8, 2011 — 5:29
  • Claire

    I suspect the reason for the death-cutoff are theological and have something to do with the following…(although these points are of course sketchy).
    (1)Christ’s death and resurrection conquered death for human beings. This means that those human beings who are in Christ are not subject to death in the same way that they would be had Christ not risen from the dead.
    (2) If someone has not accepted God’s grade by the time of death, one is not in Christ at the time of death.
    (3) If one is not in Christ at the time of death, that person is under the full power of death; for such a person it is as if Christ had never been raised, and she belongs to evil in a much stronger sense than she did while alive.
    (4) (This is just speculation). As a result of (3), the divine act that it would take to break the chains of those who die outside of Christ is much more involved than the divine acts typically involved in offers of grace to those who are alive, and God has reasons for not engaging in these acts, at least as a general policy.
    I take it that it’s obvious the NT passages I’m referencing here, and I’m sure that a natural response to the passages is “but those are just metaphors.” But even if they’re “just” metaphors, they mean something, and I suspect they mean more than: “our epistemic state post-death is such that it rules out the possibility of freely accepting divine grace” or anything we are likely to come up with on our own without recourse to revelation.

    March 3, 2011 — 22:03
  • johnny1453

    It seems to me that the issue is related to our union with Christ, who is God. While alive our union is somehow incomplete or immature (as was Adam’s even before his sin). Since Chrit’s death we have a fuller indwelling of the Spirit who unites us to Christ, but it is still only a taste of the eschatological full union (already / not yet). Post death this union is complete or mature to an extent (not clear if there is change between time of death and time of judgment, but I assume that time of death results in sufficient union) that we cannot separate ourselves from this union.
    That is, what changes at death is the nature of our union with Christ, and it is this union that prevents further change in our relationship with God.
    John I.

    March 4, 2011 — 10:26
  • Keith DeRose

    If God is looking for a good test to run on us, such that how well we perform on that test can do a good job of providing a basis for the ultimate UP or DOWN on our eternal destiny, then it would seem kinda strange (at least to me) that the test would focus only on whether we form the relevant belief / accept Him in the relevant way / have the relevant form of faith in Him (whatever variety you want to go for), rather than focus more generally on the lives we lead. This alleged focus feature may be extremely important, but so are other aspects of our lives — and Scripture & tradition would both seem to confirm that God finds other aspects of our lives very important, too.
    But if God is looking for a merit test to run on us with our eternal destiny riding on the result, AND if He for some reason is going to focus on one of the things mentioned above, this earthly life of ours would seem to be very badly set up for the running of such a test. One would think God could do better. Some of the commenters here seem worried that under certain post mortem circumstances this merit test would get too easy. And I don’t know what level of difficulty would be appropriate. (This really isn’t my way of thinking at all.) But whatever level of difficulty would be appropriate, this earthly life will seem badly designed for running this cognitive merit test, for, if folks’ stories (some recorded in Scripture) are to be believed, some are faced with the crucial test under extremely favorable circumstances (faced with an extremely strong personal experience of God, perhaps even literally blinding), and so are given a very easy test, while others seem to be given an extremely hard test: e.g., growing up facing extreme parental abuse, making acceptance & belief in God extremely difficult.
    Anyway, I don’t think the belief/acceptance/faith bit is most at home when it’s employed within the basic framework of thinking this life is (perhaps among other things) a test God has set up so that He might give the ultimate UP to those who perform well enough on the test and the ultimate DOWN to those who don’t make the grade. Here instead, is where it seems (at least to me) very much at home: God has paid the needed price, He’s got the gift to give, and, being the God “who desires everyone to be saved”, wants to give it to everybody. So who’s going to benefit from this gift? Here acceptance provides about the only plausible answer to this question that might end up with less than everyone being saved: Only those who accept the gift will get the gift. It’s offered to all, but not all accept. Free will and all that. But if that’s how we’re looking at it (rather than as some test, that we might worry is getting too easy & letting some riff-raff in), then one would think very favorable circumstances indeed would be what are called for. I mean, it’s a puzzling situation: The price has been paid, the gift was there to be given, the payer of the price dearly wanted Fred to enjoy the gift (admittance to the Great Party, we’ll say), but there’s Fred, locked out of the Party, weeping & wailing. Why? Fred refused the gift (& nobody wants to force someone into the Party against their will) provides about the only plausible answer I know of here. Well, actually, Fred refuses and is continuing to refuse the gift is what’s really plausible. But, at any rate, such answers lose their plausibility if the offer was made under circumstances in which Fred didn’t realize didn’t realize the offer was being made, etc. The very things that make for a good cognitive merit test (at least if you’re thinking the test should be kinda hard) make for a crummy offer.

    March 10, 2011 — 8:40
  • Keith DeRose

    Oh, so, if one is thinking of this an offer rather than a test, then what would seem to make sense is that those who have not been made the offer, or haven’t had it made under favorable circumstances, in this life would get a decent offer after death. Indeed, even those who have had a good offer made in this life but refused would get another offer after death. I mean, that’s what I’d do if I had something I dearly wanted to give to someone I loved. And again, and again…. “Well, wouldn’t it get rather cheap if God just kept hounding people until they finally gave in? Just how free is that?” Well, one might think so, but I have a very different way of viewing this on which there might be a special value to such cases. But, for now, note that some people’s (often inspiring) stories of their salvation include an aspect of repeated obstinate refusal of God’ offer, over and over again, until they finally accepted — all this happening in this earthly life. And I at least don’t generally think “Well, *their* salvation isn’t so good, since it involved such hounding of them by God!” And even if you are subject to such thoughts, it looks (if people are to be believed about their stories) that whether you like it or not, God does seem sometimes to operate in that way.

    March 10, 2011 — 8:53
  • Keith DeRose

    Sorry, Kevin, that my above comments aren’t directly addressed to your question. But I think they are matters that we have to get clear on in assessing some of the answers folks give to your question. Anyway, as you can see, I don’t think anything in the vicinity of the expiration of chances changes at the moment of death.

    March 10, 2011 — 8:57
  • Jon Kvanvig

    Since Keith is coming late to this party, I will too! The traditional explanations overreach, I think, and agree with Keith on this. There is no reason to think that the finality involved in the language of the Final Judgment has to be connected with death. It could be that whatever the issues involved, those issues are all settled by the time of death for everyone, but that would obviously be a contingent fact if a fact at all. I have some speculations about this in the last chapter of my hell book, connecting it with Jesus’s rebuke of the Pharisees for attributing a miracle to the work of Beelzebub, voicing my speculation about what a maximally optimal invitation to, as Keith calls it, the Party would be like. If one combines rejection of such an offer with further facts about the stability and rationality of such a rejection, factors I regard as necessary for damnation, it could easily be that all of that is in place by the time of death. But there is no good reason to think it is, and plenty of reason to doubt it, for the types of reasons Keith emphasizes about the apparent variability of the kinds of invitations humans experience.
    I also agree with Keith on worries about the language of belief and disbelief here. I realize it is Biblical language, but the connotations of such language for us are so cognitive, I think, as to be misleading. My preference is to think in terms of affective theism–something more about one’s deepest cares and concerns, what one is drawn to in terms of being beautiful and attractive, sublime and awe-inspiring. (There’s a conference in the works about less-belief-based understandings of religious conversion and commitment; I think Keith referred to it once as something like the “Religion for non-believers” conference.) Most memorable (for me) fictional portrayal of the view is in Chronicles of Narnia, when at the end all line up to face Aslan.

    March 10, 2011 — 10:25
  • I am a bit more sceptical than Jon and Keith of the “variability of the kinds of invitations humans experience”. The grace that makes it possible to choose Christ is already a miraculous gift from God, and where we have reason to think that miracles are involved, we should be more cautious with trusting the appearances. It doesn’t look like bread and wine change into Christ’s body and blood; it does not look like anything relevant is changed in the person who is baptized (I don’t count getting wet as relevant) or in the couple who are sacramentally married; yet in all these cases a real, non-Cambridge change takes place. Moreover, there is not so much danger of deception in the case of miracles close to the time of death, because by and large human beings think of death as a mysterious process. Thus I find it unproblematic to suppose that God by the gift of his grace should give one as much internal (“subjective”) time prior to death as one needs to make a decision for or against Christ.
    I do accept the principle that miracles should not be posited where not necessary. But grace is already a miraculous transformation of character. And a choice made after death would either (a) be denuded of the embodied aspects of our rationality or (b) involve God miraculously supplying the effects of embodiment to the soul (Aquinas thought, and neuroscience supports this, that memory is physically embodied; if normal human choices involve the use of memory, God would have to miraculously supply memory facilities) or (c) would have to take place after the resurrection of the body. Option (a) is unappealing. Option (b) is just as miraculous as prolongation of internal time prior to death. Option (c) seems to miss out on the effects of fallen embodiment (I assume resurrection is not just resuscitation).
    Here is a potential rationale. Christ came to save us from death. This does not just mean that he made resurrection available to us. Death itself no longer has a sting for those whom he saved. (Why? Maybe because death is not a passage to a shadowy wait in sheol, but directly to reconciliation in purgatory for those who need it and to union with God. Or maybe the nature of death has itself changed in some important way.) And so sufficient opportunity to avoid the sting of death is, naturally, made available to all prior to death.

    March 10, 2011 — 11:14
  • Here’s a way of flipping the question around: Why should God withhold grace fully sufficient for salvation prior to death?

    March 10, 2011 — 11:24
  • Jon Kvanvig

    Alex, the last question you ask is a dangerous one, as you know. There is just way too much we don’t know about the ways of God, most especially about the distribution and amount of suffering and other bad things that happen.
    Notice that the argument you give in the first paragraph doesn’t quite do the work needed to sustain that the conclusion that it isn’t problematic to hold that optimal conditions for salvation occur for everyone prior to death. You’re right that we should be cautious about the appearances here, but to sustain the conclusion, one would need the stronger claim that we have adequate grounds already for ignoring the appearances entirely. If we have such grounds, it would have to be on the basis of extra-Biblical sources–all we can glean from it is that the final judgment is after death.
    I wish your view were true–it would give us one less problem of evil to address! Maybe, though, the key item is your rejection of option (c) above (which, I suppose, can be put in equivalent terms if one is more inclined to use the language of Christian materialism here about the nature of human persons). What I don’t see about it is the move from resurrection isn’t resuscitation to the conlusion that the resurrected body wouldn’t involve fallen embodiment. If one could show that there was a necessary link here, we’d have the happy conclusion. But I doubt that claim. (Although, strict annihilationists, who insist that only the righteous are resurrected, have a great story to tell here! But, I doubt you are a strict annihilationist or were trying to think like one! :-))

    March 11, 2011 — 7:24
  • Jon:
    “You’re right that we should be cautious about the appearances here, but to sustain the conclusion, one would need the stronger claim that we have adequate grounds already for ignoring the appearances entirely. If we have such grounds, it would have to be on the basis of extra-Biblical sources–all we can glean from it is that the final judgment is after death.”
    Right. The argument lowers the evidential weight of the appearances, but they still have some weight. But whether one is Catholic or Protestant, I think one should take the testimony of Christian tradition to have significant weight, at least where it does not contradict Scripture (Catholics will say that Tradition never contradicts Scripture, when you delineate Tradition correctly). (There are some Protestants who seem to think Christian tradition should have no weight, but that is not tenable–the problems of interpreting Scripture with no reliance on tradition are too great.) And Christian tradition has, I think, generally held that judgment is based on decisions and/or actions and/or attitudes prior to death.
    That said, on the side of Scripture I do find very suggestive the story of the Lazarus and the rich man as well as the picture of Judgment Day as based on actions such as visiting the imprisoned and giving drink to the thirsty, which seems more a picture of this life than of another life. Granted the evidence of the latter is weakened by the fact that some people instead of engaging in those literal actions will only have the dispositions for them, and that one could have in another life, but it does seem like one of the things that is accomplished by Jesus’ picture of the judgment is to suggest that it is based on stuff that happens in this life. These texts can be read differently, I agree. But they are read by the tradition in the way in which I read them, and the combined text-and-tradition argument should be pretty strong, even for Protestants.
    “What I don’t see about it is the move from resurrection isn’t resuscitation to the conlusion that the resurrected body wouldn’t involve fallen embodiment.”
    I was assuming what seems to be a standard picture of resurrection in the tradition. But maybe a better move is to note this: Taking option (c) would require that for some people there be a resuscitation to a fallen-type life followed later by a second miracle, the transformation of the body into a glorified body. And so in terms of number of miracles (a measure of theological theory complexity, I suppose), option (c) isn’t a clear winner.
    I also have the following feeling: One of the distinctive things about Christian eschatology as opposed to one of its main competitors, namely reincarnationist eschatology, is that it makes this life be of central importance, and perhaps this is one of the reasons the tradition rejected reincarnation. Option (c) would be a move closer to reincarnation.

    March 11, 2011 — 8:36
  • It might help to do what I didn’t do in my last post: keep apart the questions: (1) “What is the evidence for the claim that judgment is based on what happens prior to death?” and (2) “If judgment is based on what happens prior to death, what reasons does God have for making it be so?” The two questions are related, of course. Good answers to the second provide evidence for a positive answer to the first, and arguments that is no good answer to the second provide evidence for a negative answer to the first. But it still helps to consider (2) on its own, which is what I think Kevin wanted us to do, and I’ve drifted away from that in my comments. Sorry.
    My proposal for an answer to (2), then, is that it is valuable that God provide fully sufficient grace of radical conversion in this life. Why not in this life and the next? Well, maybe for any amount of grace that on some alternate proposal would be provided in this life and the next, it is more fitting that God provide that total grace in this life instead. Why is it more valuable? Both because of the specialness of this life and because those who are radically converted do not suffer the sting of death.

    March 11, 2011 — 8:57
  • Keith DeRose

    In light of my comments a bit above, I think I should add that I do believe in the value epistemic distance in various ways; I just don’t think it makes sense for one’s eternal destiny to ride on what one believes under epistemically cloudy circumstances. If you accept such a picture, I think Emily Dickenson’s question at the end of her great poem about epistemic distance (#338) becomes extremely pressing & uncomfortable (to say the least!):
    I know that He exists.
    Somewhere – in Silence –
    He has hid his rare life
    From our gross eyes.
    ‘Tis an instant’s play.
    ‘Tis a fond Ambush –
    Just to make Bliss
    Earn her own surprise!
    But – should the play
    Prove piercing earnest –
    Should the glee – glaze –
    In Death’s – stiff – stare –
    Would not the fun
    Look too expensive!
    Would not the jest –
    Have crawled too far!

    March 12, 2011 — 23:58