As already noted, an important facet of the problem of the doctrine of eternal punishment is the continuation or survival of evil; and this dimension of the subject has been addressed thoroughly and seriously by liberal and conservative Christians alike, in the present century as before. The conditionalist, Harold Guillebaud, of necessity has to reject any thought of evil existing beyond the final judgement. He demonstrates the difficulty involved in the traditional view when he asks :
We do not believe that evil has existed from all eternity in the past, but can we believe that it will exist for all future eternity in hell? Will there always be an "outer darkness" outside the kingdom of God, a prison of evil co-eternal with God himself and his redeemed?
This aspect of theodicy has always been a source of inspiration to the conditionalist tenet that all evil will ultimately cease, while to the traditionalist it has to be something of an embarrassment or obstacle. However, in chapter 3 above, it was observed how an advocate of the orthodox position, T. R. Birks, imaginatively offered a modification of the conventional way. Yet, for his bold inventiveness he was renounced by many of his comrades in the Evangelical Alliance and accused of tampering with essential doctrine. Today, Birks' theory would receive a much less hostile reception. And the proof of this we have in the open promulgation of the same ideas by Henri Blocher.
A major contributor at the Fourth Edinburgh Conference on Christian Dogmatics, 1991, Blocher entitled his contribution, ‘Everlasting Punishment and the Problem of Evil'. His concern is to justify the ways of God in this doctrine; and in the very first line he feels obliged to refer to another theodicean, the celebrated John Hick. Such an interest in this question is no surprise when we recall Blocher's earlier work, Evil and the Cross, in which he considers at the profoundest level the philosophical and religious implications of the existence of evil. Having considered earlier in his book the complexities involved and the views of renowned thinkers such as Berdaev, Monod, Bonhoeffer, Kant, Tillich, Barth, Kierkegaard, etc., he comes to the conclusion that any kind of final solution can be approached only in simple trust in the light of the Cross, through which God triumphed over evil; for the answer is inscrutable and faith and a reverent agnosticism is the only Christian way forward. Referring to this book in his Edinburgh address, he claims that too many attempts at dealing with the problem of evil end up taking the evilness out of evil; and so :
They plead overtly for theodicy ; they work covertly for kakodicy.
There can be no compromise with evil in our explanation of divine providence, and there is no room for the ‘felix culpa [blessed fault] paradox or explanation'; for the cross demonstrates the reality of evil as much as the sovereignty and goodness of God. He is adamant, then, that the cross has decisively dealt with evil :
Evil has been defeated. On the cross, God was in Christ triumphing over all evil; it is finished, for ever.
Yet, he is equally certain that, as far as the doctrine of hell is concerned, there is no escape from orthodoxy, as transmitted by its great teachers, such as Augustine, Charles Hodge and W.G.T. Shedd [although he is not too happy about some aspects of Shedd's republished book] and as supported by Scripture. Consequently, he is dismissive of the annihilationist alternative - even as expounded by Fudge, whose work he has found full and careful but which "come[s] short of the proof needed". Likewise, he is not convinced by universalism or, as he describes it, final restoration, the apokatastasis panton, despite being moved by Tennyson's trust in the ‘larger hope'.
Turning to traditional attempts to defend the dogma of eternal punishment, he enumerates them as: the need and right of retribution; the insistence (in line with Augustine) that such punishment does not add evil to evil but cancels it, repairing the moral order; the claim (e.g. C.S. Lewis) that it is better for the sinner than continuing in the illusion of sinful pleasure; and the view (Ajith Fernando) that it enhances God's glory and restores the goodness of his creation[R1] . As for God's love and mercy, the traditionalist tends to perceive them in the privilege of the elect but has little else to say; and Blocher adds that humble agnosticism and a sense of mystery may well be the right response as urged by John Hick. He also notes A.H. Strong's argument that if God has permitted evil in history, its propriety in eternity can be assumed, and that evil after all is only "incident to a system" which is providing the greatest possible freedom and holiness for God's creatures in a universe where hell may serve as a means of warning and instruction.
Human freedom is the most popular argument among modern defenders of the orthodox dogma, making hell more a matter of human stubbornness and choice than divine imposition. Assuming that such freedom persists in its hatred of God, Blocher sees, as the "sharper end of the argument", the idea of such sin going on throughout eternity, so that the lost will prefer their own increasing hellish degeneration to the presence of God. Advocates of this he lists as Shedd, Strong, C.S. Lewis and others; Lewis going so far as to see this unbridled choice of evil as God's ultimate defeat by some of his creatures.
Blocher's thesis: a re-appraisal of the traditional view
Tentatively responding to the traditional view thus broadly outlined, he begins by asserting that evangelical theology must hold fast to the "retributive principle", for here he sees no problem. However, there is difficulty in trying to reconcile God's love and judgement. Blocher proceeds with caution, compassion and simple trust :
As people under the Word, we believe that justice and love are one in God, the same fire of holy passion. We cannot yet see that truth. We do not know how to reconcile the perfection of divine mercy, the bliss of the redeemed, and the torment of the lost. But we do not presume to teach the Lord lessons of love. But we know him. Our disarmed faith knows God, and it suffices.
Consequently, when considering the problem of the divine permission of evil in human experience, he is scathing of Strong's trifling with tragedy in regarding sin as ‘incident to the system'. Likewise, Strong's idea that sin is necessary for moral instruction holds little credence, for ‘sinless spirits' [angels] need no such lesson, while we have the cross as sufficient proof of divine holiness and human wickedness. Again, the suggestion that there is good reason for evil permitted for time to continue thereafter, overlooks God's patience, which will come to an end in this regard. This is crucial to Blocher's theodicy and is distinctive of his understanding of eternal punishment, which begins now to unfold more specifically.
Blocher's thesis : sin shall be no more
Again, while he agrees with Strong and others that we draw judgement upon ourselves through our misuse of freedom, he cannot accept that the biblical picture of divine wrath presents God in a passive role. Further, he protests that many statements about human freedom in this context belittle God's sovereignty, while explaining evil as the "unavoidable risk of freedom" suggests an ultimate dualism, which tends to make evil "natural", which avoids the awfulness of evil and of hell. This is compounded when the continuance in sin is affirmed, a dogma, which Blocher claims, has no Scriptural proof. It is at this point that we come to the very heart of Blocher's thesis. Taking issue with Charles Hodge's explanation of hell as separation from God, the source of all holiness, so that the lost sinner continues in his sinfulness of necessity, he remonstrates that :
It does not take into account the complexity of ‘separation'; orthodoxy has to maintain that the lost, in the final state, still depend metaphysically on God, and have in him their being if they are to exist at all. Even in life, we say that they are separated from God, ‘without God in the world,' and, yet, the very energy of their sinning, at every instant, is given them of God. Hodge's logic, then, does not envisage the possibility of another relationship with God, in judgement, that will exclude both fellowship and active sinfulness (this relationship we shall presently call death; whereas ‘life' is spent either in divine fellowship or in active sinfulness, in ‘death' there is neither).
Continuing with the insistence that nowhere does Scripture support the idea of sin continuing, Blocher finds, on the contrary, evidence for his view in places such as Philippians 2:10f ("Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess . . ."). The flaw in the conventional view is the contradiction in maintaining that the lost continue in wicked rebellion, while acknowledging the justice of their condemnation. Blocher's contention, then, is that lost sinners will confess the truth, forced to do so not in a merely outward or hypocritical way, but by truth itself; yet, such a part in the final ‘reconciliation' of all things will not mean their salvation for the state of the lost will be remorse not repentance. Such a view makes sense of the biblical imagery of fire and worm, which we can better understand as remorse.
Reflecting on this claim that sin shall be no more, Blocher suggests that it may find more support in the ‘older orthodoxy' than in that of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; and he leaps over the intervening years to find some endorsement of his views in Calvin and Augustine. Considering the close parallel his thesis has with the view of T. R. Birks, author of the controversial, The Victory of Divine Goodness (1867), it seems surprising that Blocher makes no reference at all to him. However, in defence of Blocher it could be said that it cannot be assumed that even his well-read mind, which has been casting around for precedents for his view, has to be aware of such a rare work as Birks', especially considering his continental background. Even so, if there was knowledge of Birks' position, the fellowship of thought here is so close, that one is tempted to wonder if Blocher thought it wiser to omit reference to Birks because of the difficulties caused to the Victorian Evangelical Alliance by the publication of The Victory of Divine Goodness. In which case, Blocher's prudence would leave us to speculate on the extent of Birks' influence on his ideas on this aspect of hell. On the other hand, if Blocher has been truly ignorant of Birks' views, then the independence of his thought would perhaps help to rehabilitate Birks' reputation as another original evangelical thinker; and it would, of course, add weight to his theory. Likewise, the thorough exposition of this approach by Birks could support Blocher's expression of it. Whatever the case might be, as the title to this chapter suggests, the reappearance of Birks' theory in Blocher's teaching is significant and remarkable; and of crucial importance to those wishing to pursue this somewhat kinder and apparently more logical view of eternal punishment.
Any similarities with Calvin are not so obvious; but Blocher's research here has "not met a distinct affirmation that the damned would continue sinning". However, Blocher is more confident when it comes to Augustine. He quotes the Enchiridion (xxix, 111), where Augustine speaks of the division between the Two Cities and says, "The former shall have no longer any desire, the latter any ability, to sin." And Blocher feels that this inability to sin (facultas peccandi) logically entails agreement with God, that reconciliation found in Colossians 1:20. Yet, is Augustine's teaching as straightforward as this? John Hick presents another side to that given by Blocher. On the one hand, Hick compliments Augustine's O felix culpa [O blessed fault] theology of evil, which interprets the divine permission of evil as giving the opportunity for good to come out of evil - better than allowing no evil to exist at all. Yet, on the other hand, Hick laments the annulling of this valuable insight of Augustine by his teaching that in the case of many souls (the majority?) God will not bring the good of salvation out of the evil of sin "but that on the contrary sin will continue without end, accompanied by unending punishment." However, this seems at variance with an earlier comment of Hick concerning Augustine's view of the balancing of or cancellation of sin by retribution.
The contribution of C. S. Lewis
A similar problem of ambiguity is found in C. S. Lewis' writings on hell, of which Blocher makes use - but too little perhaps, in my view. Already we have noted his reference to Lewis' ideas about the continuation of sin and rebellion in hell. Later, Lewis is cited as Blocher grapples with the nature of eternal death, which he [B.] sees in the light of biblical teaching as the loss of life but not non-existence; a state of post-mortem reality, which he describes as " fixity, absolute fixity. Rigor mortis, rigor secundae mortis." Lewis is called upon to help him describe the paradox of this eternal hellish existence which is not life. For Lewis, quotes Blocher, "What is cast (or casts itself) into hell is not a man it is ‘remains' ." Strangely, Blocher does not avail himself more fully, at this point, of Lewis' The Problem of Pain, which tackles head-on this question of duration and consciousness in the context of hell.
If we may digress constructively, in seeking to understand C. S. Lewis on the subject of hell, which he discusses in a number of his books, we need to be aware that "he defies classification [as a theological liberal or conservative] . . . the reason Lewis defies classification is his unsystematic approach to religious truth." There is a rich seam of thought and speculation in Lewis on this, as on other basic Christian doctrines; but we must read him with the willingness to come from him with an open-ended spirit of agnostic humility and not with a tidy complete and definitively systematic understanding. For him, the reality of hell starts with human freedom and persistent self-centredness, which prefers sin and its consequences to the presence of God. Consequently, though the doctrine of hell cannot be described as tolerable, it is moral, despite the objections made against it. Essentially, for him, hell in the teaching of Jesus is portrayed under the three symbols: punishment, destruction and privation (exclusion or banishment). Of course, Lewis deviates from the traditional post-Reformation doctrine in his insistence on the need for Purgatory, albeit a Purgatory of constructive suffering and purification not the corrupted sixteenth-century version of More and Fisher. As for the question of duration and eternity, Lewis is not so easy to follow. On the one hand, he can say "that to be God is to enjoy an infinite present . . . that to make the life of the blessed dead strictly timeless is inconsistent with the resurrection of the body." But when he is considering the objection of the apparent disproportion between eternal damnation and transitory sin, he cautions against thinking of eternity as a mere prolongation of time; and he suggests the geometrical image of time being a line while eternity is more like a plane or a solid - fixity as supposed to mere continuity, if I have not oversimplified him. Certainly, his further definition of duration might give comfort to the annihilationist.
But I notice that Our Lord, while stressing the terror of hell with unsparing severity usually emphasises the idea not of duration but of finality. Consignment to the destroying fire is usually treated as the end of the story - not as the beginning of a new story. That the lost soul is eternally fixed in its diabolical attitude we cannot doubt: but whether this eternal fixity implies endless duration - or duration at all - we cannot say. . . . We know much more about heaven than hell, for heaven is the home of humanity and therefore contains all that is implied in a glorified human life: but hell was not made for men. It is in no sense parallel to heaven: it is "the darkness outside", the outer rim where being fades away into nonentity.
Yet, Lewis' conviction of the ultimate triumph of evil because of the stubbornness of human wickedness, is totally inimical to the triumph of divine goodness as expounded by Birks and Blocher. Nevertheless, one feels the rigidity of Blocher's thesis could benefit from some of the ‘looser' imaginings of Lewis. Then, while he might still reject the O felix culpa dogma, he might find relief in O felix ignorantia, if we may so put it. As noted earlier, the renowned evangelical scholar, F.F. Bruce, was content to align himself with Lewis as far as this doctrine is concerned.
 The Righteous Judge, op. cit. p. 5.
 Universalism and the Doctrine of Hell, op. cit., p. 283. In his earlier work Evil and the Cross, Leicester, Apollos, 1994 (original French ed. 1990), p. 51, Blocher refers to Hick's classic, Evil and the God of Love as "one of the most influential attempts at a theodicy in the English-speaking world".
 Henri Blocher, Evil and the Cross, op. cit., pp. 128-33.
 Universalism and the Doctrine of Hell, op. cit., p. 285.
 Ibid., p. 285f.
 Ibid., p. 286.
 For details of Hodge's position, referred to by Helm, Wenham, Powys as well as Blocher in Universalism and the Doctrine of Hell, op. cit., see Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol. III, London, James Clarke, 1960 edn., pp. 868-880.
 Ibid., p. 286f.
 Ibid., p. 287f.
 Ibid., p. 289f. Blocher continues on p. 290f, making the important observation that since universalists (e.g. John Hick) now seem to concede that the simple exegesis of the N.T. is not on their side, they prefer to speak of hell more as a threat than as an actual prediction, arguing from " the existential-kerygmatic intention of the texts", a view, according to Blocher, prevailing among Roman Catholic theologians.
 Ibid., p. 292f.
 Ibid., p. 293.
 Ibid., p. 293f. Blocher's many refs. to Strong's theology are taken from the latter's Systematic Theology, first published in 1886, 20th printing, 1958, Philadelphia.
 Ibid., p. 295f.
 Ibid., p. 296.The fuller statement of Strong on this crucial point is : "Not only guilt, but eternal sin, demands eternal punishment. So long as moral creatures are opposed to God, they deserve punishment. Since we cannot measure the power of the depraved will to resist God, we cannot deny the possibility of endless sinning. Sin tends evermore to reproduce itself. The Scripture speaks of an ‘eternal sin' (Mark 3:29). But it is just in God to visit endless sinning with endless punishment." Op. cit., 1970 printing, London (Pickering & Inglis), p. 1048. Likewise, Hodge, in addition to Blocher's ref., says "So, also, we are taught that those who die in sin remain sinful forever." Systematic Theology, op. cit., p. 877.
 Ibid., p. 296f. Lewis' ref. to God's defeat in this way is in his The Problem of Pain, London, Collins, 1964 printing, p. 115, where he boldly writes, "Finally, it is objected that the ultimate loss of a single soul means the defeat of omnipotence. And so it does. In creating beings with free will, omnipotence from the outset submits to the possibility of such defeat. What you call defeat, I call a miracle . . ."
 Universalism, op. cit., p. 298.
 If this remark of Strong sounds insensitive, it might be balanced by the conclusion to his Systematic Theology (1970 ed. Op. cit.), "So Richard Baxter wrote, ‘I preached as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men.' It was Robert McCheyne who said that the preacher ought never to speak of everlasting punishment without tears."
 Ibid., p. 298f.
 Ibid., p. 299f.
 Ibid., p. 300f.
 Ibid., p. 301. He maintains that those who hold this dualistic view make no attempt to cite Scriptural evidence, the exception being Strong, who uses only Mark 3:29 (‘he is guilty of an eternal sin') and that erroneously!
 Ibid., p. 302.
 Ibid., p. 302f, where he quotes from W.G.T. Shedd's, The Doctrine of Endless Punishment, op. cit., pages 140 & 150. On pages 153f Shedd entertains no doubts concerning the continuance of sin and rebellion in hell, with no hint of repentance or remorse. Indeed, "The unsubmissive, rebellious, defiant, and impenitent spirit prefers hell to heaven." P. 154f.
 Ibid., pp. 303 & 307. Blocher's understanding of the ‘reconciliation of all things' (Col. 1:20) avoids universalism by interpreting the event not as salvation for everyone but the restoration of God's order, ‘divinely-ruled harmony'. As for repentance it has a future, while remorse only a past.
 Ibid., p. 304.
 Ibid., p. 304f.
 See ch. 3 above on the novel theory of Birks, the acquiescence of the lost in the justice of their deserts.
 I have failed by direct and indirect correspondence to make contact with Blocher to clarify the matter.
 Ibid., p. 304.
 Our source, Marcus Dods' edn., op. cit., has this in ch. CXI, p. 253.
 Ibid., p. 304.
 John Hick, Evil and the God of Love, op. cit., pp. 182f, where Hick is considering, ‘O Felix Culpa versus Eternal Torment'. Hick's own view of post-mortem punishment (Purgatory or ‘progressive sanctification') enables him to treat Jesus' warnings about hell seriously without having to accept "the dualistic notion of an eternal hell" p. 382, where he also raises the ambiguity of the Greek word aionios and urges that these issues ought to be interpreted in the wider context of Jesus' teaching on love and forgiveness.
 Ibid., p. 93.
 Universalism, op. cit. p. 308.
 Ibid., p. 309, where he cites Lewis' The Problem of Pain, (1940), London, Fontana, 1964, p. 113.
 Michael J. Christenson, C.S. Lewis on Scripture, London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1980 print., p. 41.
 The Problem of Pain, op. cit., p. 111.
 Ibid., p. 108.
 Ibid., p. 112f.
 C.S. Lewis, Prayer: Letters to Malcolm, (1964), London, Collins, 1983 print., pp. 109-111.
 Ibid., p. 111.
 The Problem of Pain, op. cit., p. 111f.
 Ibid., p. 115. If the hesitant attempt here to raise the possibility of an ‘annihilationist' streak in Lewis (despite his earlier remark, p. 113, "people often talk as if the annihilation of the soul were intrinsically possible. In all our experience, however, the destruction of one thing means the emergence of something else.") is countered by the ‘activities' of the damned in Lewis' The Great Divorce (London, 1997 ed.), it must be remembered that that work is a ‘fantasy', to quote Lewis, p. ix. Lewis' annihilationist tendencies are noted also by P. Kreeft and R. Tacelli in Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Crowborough, Monarch, 1995, p. 287, where they quote The Problem of Pain, op. cit., p. 113.
 Problem of Pain op. cit. p. 115.
 E.Fudge, The Fire That Consumes, 1st edn., p. viii. Also note Stott's comment about Bruce's agnosticism on this subject. (Universalism, op. cit., p. 166.)