Hell, Damnation, Salvation, Freedom, Omnipotence, Sovereignty and Goodness: Tough Apologetics Questions for the Non-Universalist

Apologetics Question 1. Does God love the people in Hell?


If they say No:

So he doesn’t love the people in Hell? How can you call him a loving God? Doesn’t this contradict scripture, tradition, the church? How could you worship such a monster?

“But those people deserve to be punished”

Isn’t the Christian message that we all deserve to be punished? And isn’t the gospel of grace a message that God gratuitously rescues us from this punishment? Why would he only rescue some people and not rescue everyone? He has the power to rescue everyone; so what’s stopping him?

“We should be happy that God even rescues a single one of us. He is under no obligation to rescue anyone at all, let alone everyone”

Nonsense. Once I had a Calvinist friend use an analogy to justify God’s condemning people to Hell that went something like this: “Imagine a backstreet where 10 homeless people live, and then imagine that a rich man comes along and chooses one of them to take into his home; washing, cleaning, feeding and generally taking care of him. This rich man has done a good thing, and cannot be blamed for failing to rescue all 10 of the hobos who reside in the backstreet, let alone all the hobos in the world.” This analogy fails: If God is the rich man, he is a rich man who has infinite money and material wealth. If this is the case then the rich man has a moral obligation to use his money to rescue all of the hobos. If he does not use his limitless financial power to save all the hobos, he is culpably negligent and malevolent. So it is with God, salvation, and us: God has the power to save everyone; he suffers from no limitations whatsoever, and saving everyone would not detract from him or his glory in any way, so he is morally obligated to save us.

“But God can not be obligated to do anything”

If he is a perfect father, then yes, he can. Parents are obligated to care for, raise, and will the good of their children, and if they fail to do so they have failed as parents. If God truly is our perfect father in heaven, then he is obligated to care for us as his children and prevent us from irreparably harming ourselves (ie, entering into eternal damnation). He will not sit idly by while we commit spiritual suicide: he will intervene, like a good parent should. Sometimes he rewards us and sometimes he punishes us, but the punishment is always remedial and with the purpose of correcting us and helping us grow into the creations we were meant to be, in divine union with him. This is the entire purpose of Hell: to drive home to those rebellious souls who refuse to listen that they are living a life that leads to destruction: God lets us experience that destruction in Hell, so as to teach us a lesson that will bring us back to repentance and union with him.

If they say yes:

In what sick world is “everlasting conscious torment” compatible with or an expression of love?

“God loves the people in Hell, but he loves them differently”

Does this not compromise divine simplicity? Why is it that God chooses to love the people in heaven in such a way that they are saved, while he chooses to love the people in Hell in such a way that they experience infinite tortures for all eternity? It seems completely arbitrary. Do you even know what you’re talking about? At the point where “love” can hold the definition “brutal torture forever and ever”, the word has simply lost all meaning.

Apologetics Question 2. Can God’s will be defeated?


If they say yes:

Why would you want to worship such a weak and pathetic God? Isn’t God supposed to be sovereign? Doesn’t God get what he wants? If God wills something to happen, what on earth could prevent it? Isn’t he omnipotent?

“God has two wills: his ordaining will and his permissive will. He desires the salvation of all via his ordaining will, but he allows the damnation of some via his permissive will”

This makes God sound like a schizophrenic, and certainly not the omnipotent sovereign lord of all reality. I accept the distinction between ordaining will and permissive will, as a solution to the problem of evil in the present time. However I do not accept that the permissive will can remain out of sync with the ordaining will forever. In the end times, in the eschaton, the permissive will and the ordaining will will coincide perfectly, because there will be no evil: everything that God will permit to happen will be exactly what God wants to happen. This is not the case now – in the present age – because we still have to contend with evil, which God does not desire. However in the eschaton all tears will be wiped away, the lion will lie down with the lamb, there will be no more sickness, suffering or death. Everything will be perfect. God will no longer need to “permit” anything because everything that happens will be perfectly in line with his ordaining will.

If they say no:

If God’s will can’t be defeated, then how the heck do people end up in Hell? Doesn’t it clearly state in the bible that God wills the salvation of everyone?

“God wants those people to be damned, he doesn’t really will the salvation of all”

So how can he be a loving God? It sounds like he hates some/most people and takes pleasure in torturing them forever.

“God doesn’t damn us: we choose to be damned. We damn ourselves”

And why would God allow us to do that? Wouldn’t it make him a terrible parent? What parent would not seek help for a suicidal child? Who on earth would simply “accept” their child’s attempts at suicide? So it is with us and God: If he really is God, he’s not just going to “put up” with our attempts to damn ourselves; he’s going to use his omnipotence to rescue us. What parent gives total autonomy to their baby? What parent waits for consent to change a baby’s nappy? The parents are the ones who decide what’s going to happen; not the children. In the same way, God decides who will be saved, not us, and as he has clearly spelt out in many places in sacred scripture, he has decided to save everyone, so that’s damn well what’s going to happen. If this is the argument you’re going to make, then you’re essentially saying that the children have veto power over the parents: God can say that he’s going to save everyone, but we have the power to thwart this plan of his and damn ourselves forever.

Apologetics Question 3. How do the people in Heaven feel about the people in Hell? Do they feel sad?


If they say yes:

How can you say that they are sad? If they are in Heaven, then nothing could possibly detract from their joy. Otherwise it simply wouldn’t be heaven. Either they are not sad, or they are not really in heaven, and therefore not really saved.

Furthermore, if they are sad, then why don’t they do something about it? Why don’t they go down to Hell and evangelise the poor souls who are trapped there? Why don’t they storm God’s throne with prayers to save these people?

“These people are frozen in their rejection. They can no longer repent”

Bollocks. There is a strong tradition of afterlife repentance in Apostolic Christianity. In the east, there is the efficacious prayers for the dead, which assist those in hades to move from there to paradise. In the west, there is the doctrine of afterlife sanctification in purgatory; presumably this sanctification involves repentance in both life and afterlife. Furthermore the eastern understanding of the Harrowing of Hell on Holy Saturday provides precedent for afterlife repentance: Jesus descended into Hell and preached the Gospel to the souls who were imprisoned there, giving them the opportunity to repent and accept the good news. If Jesus was willing and able to do that, we should too. Furthermore, there is a Marian devotion which says that Mary visits the souls in purgatory once a year; if Mary can do it, we can too.

If they say no:

They don’t feel sad to witness their families burning in Hell? Well, how on earth do they feel?

“They are so enthralled by God’s goodness and beauty that they simply cease to be aware of the damned”

I like to call this the “Heroin addiction” view of Heaven: The saved are so high on God that they simply cease to care about what else is going on in creation. The fact that their parents, children, brothers and sisters are suffering unspeakable agonies does not concern this soul; he simply doesn’t care. I ask you; in what strange world is this the perfection of Christian charity? Surely so long as there is a single soul outside heaven, the saints cannot be truly happy and satisfied until that soul is saved? Heaven is not heaven unless everyone is there.

“The people in Heaven rejoice in the sufferings of the damned, because nothing can subtract from the joy of heaven, and the joy of heaven can only be increased by created things”

Does this really need any comment in order to highlight how sickening and contrary to Christian love it is? Lets spell it out: A mother loses her baby, the baby goes to Hell and the mother goes to heaven. The mother peers over the clouds of heaven in order to take a look at those who are suffering in Hell. She sees her baby burning in the infernal flames and cries tears of ecstatic joy, praising God for his most glorious display of justice, and beseeching him to increase the degree of torment even more, revelling in the brutal torture of her child. Aren’t the saved supposed to be perfected in Christian charity? Aren’t they supposed to have empathy and compassion for those who are stuck walking in darkness? If this is what it means to be saved, I want nothing of it. I would rather go and be with my family in Hell, because there is more love down there with them than with your evil vindictive God and his bloodthirsty, sadistic saints.


27 thoughts on “Hell, Damnation, Salvation, Freedom, Omnipotence, Sovereignty and Goodness: Tough Apologetics Questions for the Non-Universalist

  1. ” there is the efficacious prayers for the dead” – this may only apply to those suffering souls in Purgatory.

    Interesting and thought provoking post. I think that the price of God’s glory is human suffering (and perhaps even the suffering of poor animals in this world, I am against animal sacrifice and kosher and halal slaughter). This is what my life’s experiences have taught me. But, there are those that would say to me that I do not understand the theology of suffering. Perhaps, the eternally damned give God some glory through their terrible torments in what we call Hell.

    • I do struggle with this (typically Calvinist) idea that people eternally suffering in Hell gives God glory. It instead seems to me that it completely detracts from his glory by showing him to be either an evil monster or a weak and incompetent failure

      • I don’t think that Calvin was the originator of the idea. Tertullian in the 3rd century or so asserted that the saved souls in Heaven will have their glory enhanced by the suffering of the damned souls in Hell.

  2. Reblogged this on larrysmusings and commented:
    Here is a thought provoking post from another blogger earlier today. Christians have many views (doctrines, interpretations, speculations) on Heaven and Hell. Let’s all strive to live a more loving and responsible life here in this miserable world prior to our departure.

  3. Hi The Iron Knuckle,

    I don’t expect you to change your mind (I think we’ve had conversations before). But I’ll answer your questions from the point of view of a Swedenborgian Christian non-universalist.

    1. Yes, God loves the people in hell.

    Hell is not “eternal conscious torment.” This horrible and insane idea comes from reading literally statements in the Bible that should be read metaphorically. There is no literal hellfire. Rather, hellfire is the spiritual fire (in a negative sense) of anger and hatred that people in hell feel and express toward one another and toward God. Hell is not a place where people are punished by God for sins committed on earth. Rather, it is a place where people who have chosen to enjoy evil rather than enjoying good are allowed to engage in their particular foul enjoyments as much as is possible, but suffer the inevitable consequences of their actions, inflicted, not by God, but by each other and by themselves. I invite you to read my article:
    Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like?

    God does not love the people in hell differently. God’s love is always, everywhere, with everyone and everything, the same. However, people in hell accept God’s love differently than people in heaven. Specifically, people in hell reject God’s love, and what they do inadvertently accept they twist into its opposite.

    This means that God did not make hell, as your opening meme suggests. Nor does God send anyone to hell. Though the power to make hell comes from God (there is no other source of power), the people who live in hell make hell for themselves by twisting the power of God’s love into its opposite: greed, selfishness, lust for power over others, lust for promiscuous and adulterous sex, anger, hatred, jealousy, and so on. The people who go to hell send themselves there because they prefer hell over heaven.

    2. God’s will cannot be defeated.

    However, God’s will is not fully described by the single biblical statement that God “desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:3).

    God also wills that people be saved in freedom, by their own free will choice, so that the relationship with God is real and human rather than automatic and pre-programmed—which would cause us to be puppets or robots, not human beings. This is why our Lord says:

    Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. (Revelation 3:20)

    And it is why the Lord says:

    See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. . . . I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days. (Deuteronomy 30:15, 19–20a)

    God’s will is not fully described by any single statement or verse in the Bible, but by the entire Bible.

    God’s will is more complex than simply wanting to save everyone. God’s will is to have a freely chosen, mutual relationship with beings whom God has created. This means that God’s will is that we be free to accept or reject a relationship with God.

    Giving us that freedom requires that God accept and respect our choice if we choose not to have a loving relationship with God. This also is a part of God’s will. Yes, when we choose evil instead of good it invokes God’s “permissive” rather than “ordaining” will, to use your terms. (Swedenborg discusses these concepts under the terms “divine permission” and “divine providence.”) Yet both are part of God’s will and God’s purpose for creation.

    In short, God both loves us and respects us enough to give us a choice about whether or not to return God’s love. Giving us that choice and respecting the choice we make is part of God’s will.

    Yes, we are children of God. But God wants us to grow up from spiritual infancy to spiritual adulthood. We do not remain infants as your parent/child analysis assumes.

    After raising their children from infancy to emancipation, parents must let go of control of their adult children. They must allow their adult children to live their own lives, even if it is not the life that the parent wanted for his or her child. Not doing so causes major problems in the lives of their adult children, often extending to a complete rupture of the relationship.

    I have three adult children. And I don’t intervene in their lives to prevent them from doing things I don’t think they should do and that could actually harm them. They are responsible for their own lives now. I give them my love, and I give them my perspective and my counsel if they ask for it. But I let them live their own lives and make heir own choices.

    Just as parents must let go of control of their adult children, so God lets go of control of God’s adult children. God wants to be our eternal friend, not our eternal dictator, just as Jesus says:

    I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. (John 15:15)

    God’s will includes a will not to control us, but to give us the freedom to live our lives as we wish to live them, and to be in loving relationship with God, or not, according to our own freely made choice.

    True omnipotence is not rigidly controlling everything. Nor is it being able to do just any old thing, including self-contradictory things like creating a stone that God cannot lift. A desire to control everything is psychological and spiritual weakness, not strength. Doing contradictory and self-cancelling things is weakness, not strength. A house divided against itself cannot stand.

    True omnipotence involves accomplishing things. True omnipotence is God having the ability to do everything God wants to do, pursuant to God’s purpose for creation. And true omnipotence includes the ability to step back enough to allow others to have and use power as they wish to use it, though still within the realities of eternal divine law.

    On the nature of God’s omnipotence in relation to the created universe in general, and in relation to human beings in particular, please see my article:
    God: Puppetmaster or Manager of the Universe?

    3. The people in heaven do feel sad about the state of people in hell. However, like God their Father, they recognize that they must allow the people in hell to live the life of enjoyment of evil that they have chosen.

    Jesus said that there is a great chasm between heaven and hell (Luke 16:26). Due to that chasm, most people in heaven do not live in daily awareness of the state of people in hell. Some people in heaven, however, do serve as what might today be called “peace officers” in hell, moderating the worst excesses of the evil spirits there, and carrying out God’s will of not allowing the evil spirits in hell to fall into even lower and worse levels of hell than they chose through their life and decisions here on earth.

    In short, the people in heaven also love the people in hell, and have mercy on them, but will not violate their free will as human beings, and will therefore leave them in freedom to engage in the type of life and pleasures they have chosen to the extent that that is possible, even if the people in heaven find that life very sad and distressing. (But the evil spirits in hell find it intensely pleasurable, even if they have to suffer the painful consequences.)

    The people in heaven are also realistic in recognizing that the people in hell have no interest in hearing the good news of Jesus Christ and salvation, and will violently reject it if they attempt to preach that good news to them. This is what Jesus was saying metaphorically when he taught:

    Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you. (Matthew 7:6)

    I have the same problem with Western universalism as I have with the Eastern belief in reincarnation. Both posit that eventually, all people end out in a version of heaven. Both therefore take away our humanity, and make us into mere puppets, and our life and suffering here on earth a mere play and charade, with no real purpose at all. See:
    The Bible, Emanuel Swedenborg, and Reincarnation

    If eventually all people will inevitably “choose” heaven, then it is really no choice at all, but a predetermined outcome. This would mean that we are not free, not human, and ultimately just an extension of God. And so it would defeat the whole purpose of creation, which is for God to have others to love and to be in mutual loving relationship with.

    For a choice to have any ultimate reality, it must be permanent, not temporary. Temporary things are relatively unreal compared to eternal ones.

    And if we all end out in heaven anyway, then there is no good reason for God to put us through all this earthly confusion and misery. A truly loving God would simply create us directly in heaven, and skip all the suffering. If universalism were true, then a truly loving God could not stand to subject us to even one second of suffering. It would be utterly incompatible with God’s love and mercy to do so.

    If God’s whole will is that there be no evil, then there is absolutely no reason for evil to exist in the first place, and no possibility that evil could exist, since it is contrary to God’s will—and God’s will cannot be defeated.

    That is my response to your questions as a non-universalist, non-traditional Christian.

    Meanwhile, I have a question for you. How do you interpret Jesus’ final words in his statement about the judgment of the nations?

    And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. (Matthew 25:46)

    Do you believe (as some say) that the Greek αἰώνιος does not mean “eternal,” but only “for an age?” If so, shouldn’t the same also apply to “eternal life”—that it is only “for an age,” and not eternal—and therefore revokable at the end of that age, just as “eternal punishment” would be revokable?

    What about all of the rest of the places where that word is usually understood to refer to eternity? Does the Bible not actually speak of anything being eternal? Even God and God’s love and wisdom? And if the Bible does speak of some things being eternal, why should that word be interpreted as “eternal” in reference to heaven, but as only temporary in reference to hell, when Jesus used the exact same word for both, without distinction?

    • I find your argument to be riddled with errors, misunderstandings, contradictions and fallacies, however it was a long comment so I’m not sure if I’ll have the time to reply to everything right now.

      Starting at the end: Yes, I read aionion literally as “of the Age”, which says nothing about temporal duration. Matthew 25 cannot be invoked to affirm the everlastingness of either the life or the punishment, This does not mean that both the life and the punishment are revocable, from other passages of scripture we conclude that the life is permanent. There is however no scriptural warrant whatsoever to say that the punishment is temporally everlasting, and much scriptural evidence to indicate that it is a temporary process.

      Your long response to question 1 is basically just a massive non-sequitur. It doesn’t matter who damns who, who punishes who, whether or not God “created” a “place” of torture or whatever. There are all irrelevant questions. The fact of the matter is that there are supposedly people who are going to fail to achieve the heavenly bliss that they were created for, and instead end up experiencing something akin to everlasting conscious torment. You seem to admit as much, although you also seem to lean towards this silly idea that the people in Hell “want” to be there and that it isn’t really so bad after all because “they get what they want”

      If God loves the people in Hell just as much and in the same way as he loves the people in Heaven, he should save them, rather than just “accepting their choice” and abandoning them to the darkness.

      For someone who prides themself on following what the bible says, you manage to espouse some incredibly unbiblical things.

      “The people who go to hell send themselves there because they prefer hell over heaven.” – this is nowhere to be found in scripture. The image of Hell in the bible is that of an angry God actively casting sinners into the flames and brutally torturing them with fire. Also, this idea that someone could “prefer Hell over heaven” is incredibly retarded. To actually believe that is to not think the issue through at all.

      Your long response to 2 is yet another non-sequitur. No where have I said that God is going to march us into heaven like preprogrammed robots. I affirm predestination, not predetermination. In predetermination God is just a puppet master pulling our strings, whereas in predestination, God simply fixes the end goal and waits for us to get there, giving us freedom to walk whatever path we choose. Many people choose to go to Hell, some people choose to go to heaven, but either way the end result is salvation.

      You are clearly worshipping a weak and pathetic God. “He wants to save everyone…. but not really”. You seem to be worshipping a false God who places a higher value on the “freedom” of his creatures than on their salvation. Your God is a strange one, who would prefer that people freely choose hell, than that they all freely choose heaven.

      In any event, your account of freedom is incredibly naive. I recommend you go and study the eastern church fathers. To summarise: to reject God is never a free choice. We are only free when we love. To reject God is instead a demonstration of slavery to sin and the powers of darkness. The true God is a God who delights in rescuing people from this slavery.

      Your God is also not a sovereign one. I am not interested in worshipping such a God as the one you describe, because he is clearly not omnipotent and not sovereign. I’m interested in worshipping a God who is able to actualise all his desires and achieve all of his purposes. And he has clearly stated that his desires and purposes are the salvation of the entire world. His desire for us to be “Free” does not trump this purpose, but instead is an integral part of its’ coming about. You set up “freedom” and “universal salvation” as if they are mutually incompatible, but this is a false dichotomy.

      Your response to 3 is similarly riddled with contradiction. If the people in heaven feel sad about the people in Hell, then they aren’t really in heaven, which is defined as infinite bliss and happiness.

      Again you are espousing non-biblical speculation with this “peace-officers” thing. I have no problem with extra-biblical speculation, but I’m going to call you out on it because you claim to be a “bible alone” christian and it’s incredibly hypocritical to be saying this stuff without clear, hard scriptural evidence.

      Your understanding of evil is similarly naive and silly. Evil does not exist, it has no substance. And no, God could not just create us in heaven. If he could have done that he would have done it. Instead he creates us in the midst of history as the entire creation moves towards glory. In the meantime, evil is present, but it will be completely wiped away in the eschaton. Whereas in your account, evil persists forever and ever and God is ultimately defeated rather than victorious

      • I have already outlined many objections and counter arguments in my previous response. Either respond to them or admit that you are unable to do so. My view of omnipotence is not naive; yours is inadequete.

        And yes, you are being incredibly patronising. My arguments are logical and foolproof. Yours are riddled with holes and fallacies. “Waiting 30 years” isn’t going to change that fact.

        And yes, if you were to actually convince me that i was wrong, i would cease to be a christian and set out to search for meaning elsewhere. I have no interest in worshipping the evil, weak and pathetic God that you worship. I am only interested in a victorious Christ, who promises inescapable love. Not an impotent christ who values “freedom” over “salvation”. If freedom really is as you’ve described, then i sincerely want nothing to do with it. I would rather not be free

        • Hi The Iron Knuckle,

          All of this is precisely why it would be best for me not to engage in a debate with you on this subject at this point in your life and faith. Why would I want to weaken and destroy your faith when you’ve told me that it depends upon your believing the things you currently believe?

          • You are assuming that you would win the debate. I think it is more likely that i would convert you to universalism if you actually engaged me with an open mind. I have no active fears that anything you could say would actually damage my faith. You’re more likely to embarrass yourself with further illogical assertions

      • Cleaned up this comment thread, which consisted of nothing but trash talking, chest beating, childish ad hominims, vitriolic polemic and patronising nonsense.

        Lee, you are welcome to continue posting but if your comments don’t respond to the actual issues raised and instead consist of mere assertions of superiority, I’m going to trash them again

    • On a lighter and less antagonistic note: thanks for stopping by, I do appreciate the comment and the interaction ?

      I was also wondering how you managed to put formatting into your comment? My response is a rather ugly wall of text but I would have liked to make it more readable, just like your initial comment

      • Hi The Iron Knuckle,

        There is a limited subset of html codes that are allowed by default in WordPress comments. Here are a couple of posts on the WordPress.com tips blog that cover the ground:

        Comments: allowed HTML (1)

        Comments: allowed HTML (2)

        I just type them in by hand. And sometimes mess it up by not properly closing a code, so that the entire rest of my comment is in bold or italics. 🙁

    • Lee,

      Your description of hell fire is in contradiction to what various Catholic saints of the latter Middle Ages saw in visions of Purgatory. The fires of purgation, or purification of the soul, in Purgatory are the same type of flames found in Hell. Now, many people will dismiss the mystical visions of others, but, are you on such solid ground for your interpretation of what the “fire” of hell-fire actually is?

      I ask this as I wish to understand your viewpoint, that is all. We do not need to get into a verbal combat as that is not how I operate.

      • Hi larryzb,

        First, I should mention that Swedenborg doesn’t accept the Catholic concept of Purgatory. Instead, he taught that there is a “world of spirits” intermediate between heaven and hell, where the spirits of newly deceased people go until they are prepared for their final home in either heaven or hell—a process that involves their gradually shedding outward layers or “masks” that don’t correspond to their true inner character. Though there are some superficial parallels to the Catholic concept of purgatory, the purpose and process are quite different.

        However, to answer your question, in Swedenborg’s own mystical visions he also saw hell as a fiery place from a distance, and said that this is a common visual for people outside of hell looking toward or into hell. That’s because the spiritual fire of anger and hatred turns into a corresponding visual representation of flames when seen from a distance, even though that’s not what the evil spirits in hell are actually experiencing. This is a function of “correspondences,” in which specific physical things are analogs or expressions of specific spiritual things. This is also why hell is described in the Bible as a place of fire.

        So it’s not contradictory that Catholic saints and mystics saw a place of purgation as fiery. It’s just that this is a symbolic, or correspondential, or metaphorical representation of the spiritual processes that are going on there rather than a literal, physical phenomenon that the spirits there are actually experiencing. This symbolic visual representation of spiritual phenomena is very common in dreams, visions, and sacred literature. Specifically on this subject, In the Bible there are a number of passages speaking of the Lord as a cleansing fire purifying the people. This, too, is clearly not speaking of literal fire, but of the fire of divine love purging and purifying people’s souls and lives of the taint of evil and falsity.

  4. Pingback: Response to a Christian Universalist: Is There an Eternal Hell? Wouldn’t an All-Powerful God Save All People? | Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life

  5. Lee:

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply. As I noted when I reblogged this post at my blog, Christians have various doctrines, interpretations and speculations on Heaven and Hell. One man’s visions are effectively “inspired truth” for some, and for others just mere hallucinations. I do not trivialize authentic spiritual experiences and mystic visions. However, one must be careful in this area. There were those who in the 1960s were taking LSD and telling folks these drug induced experiences were authentic spiritual experiences. As well, altering the blood chemistry to the brain is widely known to primitive, tribal cultures and can be achieved through several means, or at times, used in combination (such as fasting, hyper ventilating, causing serious loss of blood (as in extreme flagellation), and consuming hallucinogenic plants. These are some of the ways in which primitives seek and experience “visions”.

    None of us can really claim to know in this area, we can only choose to believe or not to believe as regards Heaven and Hell. As al-Ghazzali asked: what are the bases of certitude?

    • The question of psychedelic drugs is an interesting one. I personally think they lead to valid spiritual insights and experiences. Those hippies in the 60s were onto something. It’s too bad that the church and state reacted against it so negatively. I think there is totally room for psychedelic experimentation in Christianity and society.

      • Yes, there are folks, even psychiatrists, who believe that psychedelic experiences are, or can be viewed as, bona fide spiritual experiences. Another angle here is the concept of mind. Does mind transcend the protoplasmic brain? Altering the blood chemistry of the brain does alter consciousness, but I do not believe the brain to be the source of consciousness. Our consciousness survives bodily death and it is transcendent. But, I am terribly sorry to go off topic.

      • That’s fine, it’s an interesting tangent.

        There is clearly some relationship between brains and consciousness; Most materialistic atheists these days seem to be assuming that causality flows strictly from brains to minds, and that free will is therefore illusionary, but I’m sceptical. I prefer to think of the situation as some sort of “double agency” rather than as a one way causal arrow, whether that arrow point from consciousness to brain or brain to consciousness. There is obviously a close link between brain activity and mental phenomenon, but the causality might be simultaneous (as described by Aquinas) rather than sequential (as described by pretty much every modern today). That is to say, there is a link between electrical impulses in the brain and mental experiences, however it is inaccurate to say that these electrical impulses caused the mental experiences as if the mental experiences did not also cause the electrical impulses. Traditional causality is a two-way street, and the interaction between cause and effect is simultaneous and instantaneous, rather than temporally separated as in modern construals

    • Hi larryzb,

      Just checked in here and noticed your reply.

      Yes, sorting out the real from the illusive in mystical visions, dreams, and drug-induced hallucinations is tricky business. I believe that all of these involve experiences of spiritual phenomena. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean they all give an accurate picture of the nature of the spiritual realms.

      An analogy I commonly use is that of going to a spiritual movie theater as compared to walking out in the streets of the spiritual world. There are all kinds of movies, some of them quite surrealistic. But when the movie is over, you go outside, get in your car, and drive home.

      Similarly, many spiritual experiences—and I would especially include drug-induced ones in this category—are more like going to a fantastical spiritual movie rather than walking out in the streets of the spiritual world. Yes, they’re spiritual experiences. But they don’t give any accurate information about what daily life in the spiritual world is like.

      One of the reasons I trust Swedenborg’s spiritual experiences as authentic is the sheer length of time he spent in the spiritual world (by his claims). For nearly thirty years he spent extensive time there on a nearly daily basis. As I say in my article “Do the Teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg take Precedence over the Bible?,” it’s like taking travel advice from someone who has traveled extensively in a country as compared to taking travel advice from someone who’s visited there for a few days.

      Most people who claim spiritual experiences report only brief encounters with the spiritual world and spiritual phenomena. That’s simply not long enough to get acclimated there, sort out the real from the illusory, and get a solid grasp of what the spiritual world is really like. And those who only hear voices from the other side are largely at the mercy of the people doing the talking.

      About drug-induced experiences, I do think they can be useful for some people in providing assurance through experience that there is more to life than this physical realm. But as a source of sound information about the nature of the spiritual world, for the most part I don’t think they’re very useful.

  6. The brain is a reducing valve or filter (for the mind) so that we would not be over whelmed by all that is out there, This is necessary for biological survival in this world – the material plane of existence.

    • Hi larryzb,

      I agree that the physical brain filters what comes from the mind—which I believe to be a spiritual entity, and more specifically, a spiritual organ. This filtering is necessary because spiritual things are so much more complex and detailed than physical ones that our physical self would go on overload if it tried to process the full spiritual signal coming its way.

      Having said that, the filtration, I believe, happens not by eliminating whole chunks of information, but by reducing the incoming signal to a lower resolution—by pixellating it, so to speak—and also by representing it via symbolic or metaphorical expressions, such as picturing God as the sun. God isn’t actually a sun, but an infinitely conscious and loving being. However, the sun’s central and life-giving location and function in the physical solar system provides a material-level expression of God’s relationship with humanity and the universe. This type of expression of higher things in lower things is what Swedenborg calls “correspondences.”

      About the nature of the flow between the mind and the body, and between spiritual and material things generally, Swedenborg comes down on the side of a one-way flow from higher to lower, meaning from God to spirit to matter. However, lower things can still send information to higher things by way of their receptivity or lack of it.

      As an analogy, the flow of water in a city’s water system is always from the water tower or reservoir outward to people’s faucets. It never flows from people’s faucets to the water tower. However, the utility can tell how much water people are using by reading the meters on their houses, and also in aggregate by noticing how much water flows out of the water tower. This will determine how much water the city pumps into the water tower’s tank to replenish it. So even though the flow is always in one direction, the receptivity of that flow on the part of what it’s flowing to provides for a two-way relationship, and affects what the higher level does.

      Applying this to the brain, I believe (with Swedenborg) that the flow is always from mind (which is spiritual) to brain (which is physical). But the brain affects that flow by what it does and doesn’t accept from the spirit, and by what it does with it once accepted. So although the brain doesn’t flow into the mind, it does determine, as long as we’re living in our physical body, what the mind can express, and therefore what parts of the mind develop, and how, and what parts of the mind don’t develop. Parts of our mind that are allowed no expression remain undeveloped. Parts that are allowed expression do develop.

      This means that even though the flow is always in one direction, from mind (or spirit) to brain (or body), there is a true mutual relationship between the mind and the brain, and both have a critical part in determining what our experiences will be and what kind of person we will become.

      • Lee,

        Thank you for your comments. Have you read any of the works by Sri Aurobindo (Ghose). He died in late 1950, had been educated in England around the turn of the century, and had had a very substantive spiritual conversion while in prison (circa 1908, he was involved early in the Indian independence movement in India). He wrote extensively on consciousness and its evolution. He is known for such works as Savitri, and the Life Divine.

        His main thesis is that consciousness descends into matter and then eventually evolves or ascends back upwards towards the spiritual plane. He spent many years in his ashram in southern India and spent much time in the last 35 years or so of his life in meditative or spiritual states of consciousness.

  7. Mind blown. I’ve always had my suspicions about universal christianity in that we would all be saved. I’ve never really paid attention to it because I thought it was nothing. Stumbled upon leewof’s comment on his website and came here. Very interesting points from both sides (The Iron Knuckle and Lee). Still kind of on the fence about this issue but I guess I am leaning more towards Iron Knuckle’s insight that there’s a predestination not a predetermination because why would a perfect, all powerful all loving God allow people to suffer when He can save them?
    I don’t have a lot of authority on the subject though.
    I appreciate the work you guys are doing though. Gotten so much insight!

    Brian Luvaga.

    • I appreciate your stopping by 🙂

      If you’ve got questions, you’re more than welcome to ask them here, or even email me. I’d love to chat. The Gospel of Universalism drives my entire life and it is always a great joy to discuss the good news with a seeker.

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