The Sophiology of Sergius Bulgakov: Part 6, God Will Be All in All

This will be our last post surveying the theology of Sergius Bulgakov. There is a lot more that could be explored, but I don't want to exhaust you. I do hope, though, that you've found this series thought-provoking. While I don't expect many of us will start showing up at church speaking of "divine Sophia," I do think some of the insights of sophiological theology might stick with you. The panentheistic idea that we exist in God. That our existence is rooted and grounded in divinity. That God works with our agency and choices cooperatively and synergistically. That God is not the cause of the world but its Creator. These are profound ideas worth, I think, the price of admission to this series.

In this, our final post, we'll wrap up by looking at Bulgakov's eschatological vision. 

Given that our existence exists within God, that our being is rooted in divinity, Bulgakov contends that: There is "an ontological connection...between our world and the world to come. They are one and the same world in its different states." And yet, this transition is not a smooth evolutionary process. Between this world and the next there is a "chasm." Something beyond our world enters our world, precipitating a radical transformation. Regarding the apocalyptic, "end of the world" imagery in the Bible, Bulgakov writes:

The fire of the world and the convulsion of the elements are symbolic images of the unimaginable, since the end of the world lies beyond the world's present being, transcends it. The idea that the cosmos is transformed, not abolished but transfigured, is expressed in images of the destruction of the old heaven and old earth and the "creation of a new heaven and a new earth."

...[The "end of the world"] is a renewal of the created world. It is a creative action of God upon the world.

Which bring us to the question everyone is keen to ask: What is the fate of humanity in the new heaven and earth?

As we know, traditional eschatologies posit a bifurcation here. The saved go off to eternal blessedness, and the damned to eternal torment. But given what we've learned about Bulgakov's theology, you would be correct to expect that he believes something different here.

Specifically, created existence, even in the next world, continues to possess a grounding in the divine, continues to exist within God. There is no other way to exist except in God. Relatedly, salvation isn't a unilateral act of God (as believed in Calvinism), but is, rather, synergistic and cooperative. Consequently, a open connection with God is never abolished, not even after death. And the reality of this connection allows Bulgakov to describe a vision of universal reconciliation. 

The Incarnation and resurrection of Jesus creates this ontological possibility. In the Incarnation all humanity was united with God. And in Christ all humanity was resurrected. As Bulgakov writes:

In Christ's resurrection...the whole human race was pre-resurrected, receiving the power of resurrection: "Christ is risen from the dead; he destroyed death by death and given life to those in the grave," as the Easter hymn says...The God-man is the all-man, and his resurrection is ontologically the universal resurrection...

Because all of humanity is connected to God's divine life the resurrected life of Jesus, with its power over death, is universally available to all of humanity. More from Bulgakov:

The resurrection of the dead is universal...The universality of the resurrection corresponds to the universal power of the Incarnation, in which the Lord assumed the entire human nature without any restriction or exclusion; and in his glorious resurrection all humankind is raised.

After the universal resurrection, secured for all of humanity at Easter, there is Judgment Day. Standing under the scrutiny of heaven, our lies and sin will be exposed to the light. This exposure is symbolized as fire in Scripture, a fire that does not destroy but purifies and transforms. Bulgakov:

Human being [will be] clothed in Christ, who is the Truth and the Life, by the life-giving Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of Truth. This means that every human being is inwardly confronted with the truth about himself. Every human being sees himself in truth, by a vision that is not abstract but living, like the consuming flame of a fire from whose light one cannot hide, for all will become visible...

No falsehood, no self-deception, no error will have a place in the kingdom of truth, and this "exposure" by the Spirit of truth is already the judgment. By virtue of the truth this judgment becomes for everyone a self-judgment, a shedding of the veils of falsehood and self-deception that cover emptiness...This illuminating and transfiguring power is expressed in the image of fire, not natural of course but "spiritual," which will penetrate the "spiritual" body and the spirit itself. The fire of the future age consumes, but it also transfigures, illuminates, gladdens...

[E]very human being will be placed before his own eternal image in Christ, that is, before Christ. And in the light of this image, he will see his own reality, and this comparison will be the judgment. It is this that is the Last Judgment of Christ upon every human being.

Most importantly, our confrontation with Christ will result in repentance, as Bulgakov continues:

It is impossible to appear before Christ and to see Him without loving Him. In the resurrection there is no longer any place for anti-Christianity, for enmity toward Christ, for satanic hatred of Him, just as there is no place for fear of Him as the Judge terrible in His omnipotence and the fury of His wrath. The Lord will come as He was on earth: meek and humble in heart, though now in glory. But his meekness and humility will burn hearts by their love and their judgment. God-Love judges with love the sins against love.

In light of this, it is the fate of every human person to come to Christ. For Bulgakov, this outcome is the moral logic of creation. If God created the world then God will rescue the world. Bulgakov writes, "While belonging to the creaturely world, all human beings are, so to speak, obligated by God's love to live in divine life, in glory and deification. This is God's inalienable gift to creation, the completion of His work on the world." In this sense, the beginning of the world and its final redemption should be considered together in a single creative act. What God begins in creation God brings to completion in the new heaven and new earth.

Of course, as we face the exposure of Judgment, human beings find themselves, in that moment, further or closer to Christ. Our moral resumes vary. Consequently, eternal life implies growth rather than stasis. The vision of the afterlife here is one of gradual purgation and developmental transfiguration as we move from glory to glory. Because of this, eternal life is eternally dynamic and creative. Bulgakov:

Creaturely eternity is becoming, growth, ascent from glory to glory...[This growth] excludes the immobility and unchangeability of creaturely eternity...Infinite stages of eternity, an unending ladder of ascent from earth to heaven, are introduced here...The life of the spirit is constant creative activity and spontaneous mobility. Both the stupor of immobility, which is taken for eternity, and inert thingness are alien to this life. The spirit is actual and perpetually dynamic...Eternal life is a path, not a way station, not a stagnation in some nirvana. It is creative ascent in the reception of divine life and its revelations...

Eternal life, or eternal bliss, is deification, the reception of divine life, actualized in sophianization: "God will be all in all." 

Given the openness envisioned here, the specific question can then be asked and answered. What is the fate of those in hell?

For Bulgakov, hell is a problem for all of humanity. If one soul is lost, that affects everyone. As Bulgakov says, "Salvation not only concerns everyone individually, but it is also the business of the love, prayer, and effort of all of humanity, both of its healthy members and of those who are sick and need healing. Hell is therefore an affliction of all humanity." Consequently, Bulgakov continues, "The existence of hell is surrounded not by the cold of an egotistical indifference but by the radiant cloud of the caring love of saved humankind...In the Church, the one humankind is not divided into two and is not reconciled with the severing of one of its parts -- hell -- but sorrows over this part... [For] heaven does not exist in its fullness as long as and insofar as hell exists."

There can be no final healing, then, if humanity remains eternally separated. Nor will the creative act of God come to its final completion. Thus, in the end, all will be saved. Bulgakov:

[H]ell's torments of love necessarily contain the regenerating power of the expiation of sin by the experiencing it to the end. However, this creative experiencing is not only a passive state, in chains imposed from the outside. It is also an inwardly, synergistically accepted spiritual state...This state is appropriately perceived not as a juridical punishment but as an effect of God's justice, which is revealed in its inner persuasiveness. And its acceptance as a just judgment corresponds to an inner movement of the spirit, to a creative determination of the life of the spirit. And in its duration ("in ages of ages"), this life contains the possibility of creative suffering that heals, of a movement of the spirit from within toward good in its triumphant force and persuasiveness. Therefore, it is necessary to stop thinking of hell in terms of static and inert immobility, but instead to associate it with the dynamics of life, always creative and growing. Even in hell, the nature of the spirit remains unchanging in its creative changeability. Therefore, the state of hell must be understood as unceasing creative activity, or more precisely, self-creative activity, of the soul, although this state bears within itself a disastrous split, an alienation from its prototype [the Image of Christ]. All the same, the apostle Paul defines this state as a salvation, yet by fire, after the man's work is burned.

And again, for Bulgakov, this salvation of the lost, through the fires of hell, goes to the very logic of creation itself. "Otherwise," says Bulgakov, "creation would appear to be an error or failure, since it would end with the eternity of hell, even if this were accompanied by the eternity of heaven. An eternal separation of humanity into the elect and reprobate is clearly not the final meaning of creation. One must therefore suppose that this separation has an inner proportionality of grace that assures a final positive sum of all the pluses and minuses of history, a universal harmony, total and beautiful."

As Bulgakov powerfully concludes: 

"Only deification is capable of justifying creation. It is the only theodicy."

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