Saturday, May 23, 2020

When Heaven invades Hell

Philosopher and philosophical theologian Josh Rasmussen and his wife Rachel just published a novelistic defense of universalism. Josh is a far better philosopher than theologian. I'm going to quote and comment on some representative passages from the novel. 

So, perhaps some forgiveness for some souls will come after an age of separation.”
Moses replies sharply, “But what about the unforgivable sin, Adam?”
Moses points down at the scroll. “Look! Here it is written, ‘whoever blasphemes against
the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.’ The words are plain. Never means never. Are you going to tell me that never doesn’t mean never?”
Adam smiles. He asks, “Where does meaning come from, Moses? Does not your own experience create the meanings you associate with words?”
Adam then touches the text on the scroll and pulls his finger upward. Golden words appear above the scroll. The words are translated in your mind as follows:
‘Whoever may speak evil in regard to the Holy Spirit hath not forgiveness for an age, but is in danger of age-enduring judgment.’
Different people, depending on their experiences, will read the scroll according to different interpretations.
“So, what if the meaning in someone’s mind concerning what the scroll says is inconsistent with the meaning in someone else’s mind? Where will you find the truth then?”
Different people, depending on their experiences, will read the scroll according to different interpretations.
“So, what if the meaning in someone’s mind concerning what the scroll says is inconsistent with the meaning in someone else’s mind? Where will you find the truth then?”
Adam shares his reasoning with Moses:
“Our experiences unlock our understanding of the Lord’s revelation. To have sight, we must have the Lord’s light. Where we do not have light, we do not have sight.
“Let me tell you, Moses, what I see most clearly. By the Lord’s light inside my heart, I see that love creates boundaries of protection. Joshua and Rachel Rasmussen, When Heaven Invades Hell (Great Legacy Books 2020), chap 5, 72-74.

i) This gets into complicated debates over the locus of meaning. Is meaning located in the text or the reader? In one sense, a text must have a recognizable meaning to the reader. So the reader brings something to the text. But there must be something in the text to recognize. So that's something the text brings to the reader. As a rule, authors write to be understood. They draw upon a cultural preunderstanding which the author and the target audience share in common. So even though there's a sense in which the reader must complete the process of communication, the reader is expected to interpret the text in a certain way. To recognize what the text means is not to determine what it means. Authors write with an ideal reader (the implied reader) in mind. 

ii) In folk theology, the Holy Spirit gives Christians the correct interoperation of Scripture. Josh seems to be making a similar claim. But the Bible doesn't promise that, and interpretive diversity among Christians belies that. Some unbelievers have a more accurate understanding of Scripture than many believers. For instance, a critical Bible commentator.

“We suffer by the sight of this beast’s suffering. But would our suffering end if this beast were no longer in our sight? It would not. We would still suffer, knowing that this beast is suffering somewhere separated from our presence. Even if the suffering of this beast were blocked from our sight—and removed from our memory—that would still not eliminate all suffering in heaven.
“Remember, the Lord also suffers as the beast suffers. Can the Lord, the Ruler of Heaven and Earth, choose not to see or even remember the suffering of this dark soul? It is written, ‘If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.’ Where could we possibly send a soul to escape the Lord’s sight? I tell you, the suffering of even one soul, even the darkest of souls, will be felt by the Lord.
“Children of the Most High, I present to you a mystery: how can heaven be fully heaven while there remains the pain of seeing someone in hell?”
The quiet whisper of the Lord replies, “My heart is large enough for all the cosmos to fit inside.” The Lion’s gaze then returns to the dark orb and the suffering beast.
The desire for the suffering in heaven to end builds. As it builds in size and power, something strange happens...Suddenly, a violent shock wave erupts from the singularity...Everyone watches in shock.
Lucifer is no longer in his cage of torment. The beast is now free, chap 8 (104).

“When I brought Lucifer, who was the Dark One, into heaven, I protected him inside an orb... chap. 10 (125).

The Lion walks close to the pitiful creature who is rolled up in a ball on the ground. Instead of towering over the creature, the Lion kneels on the ground beside him. Tears stream from the Lion’s glossy eyes, down his cheeks, and onto His mane. Emotions of love pour out of the Lion’s chest in the form of gentle waves. The waves flow from the Lion’s chest to the dark creature beside him...The multitude joins the Lion in expressing love toward the beast. Waves of love roll out of every being, chap 9 (105-6).

The Lion turns to Lucifer and speaks: “This first insight is about you, my beloved angel.
Lucifer, you have a great power to affect my emotions. I traveled through the caverns of darkness to reach you. But when I stood in your presence, you felt something inside of me. Do you remember what you felt? You said you sensed fear in me. You were right, Lucifer. I was afraid.
“You, my dear angel, didn’t understand my fear or your power. You had the power to make me tremble. I trembled at the thought of losing you...“All beings are connected. Every being affects me...“My love for Lucifer was so great that I would do anything to restore him to wholeness. If I could suffer the torments of hell a million times over in his place, I would do it... chap 10 (123-4).

i) Freewill theism ranges along a continuum. The view of God expressed in these passages represents what happens when that's taken to a logical extreme. Creatures wield power over God. He's an emotional hostage to our uncontrollable actions. Because he's afraid of losing us, we can pull his strings. It's like parent and child trading places. 

ii) In the acknowledgments, the authors thank Jerry Walls (among others) for his "inspiration and valuable feedback on an earlier draft of this book". That's a window into his own position. He recently published Does God Love Everyone?: The Heart of What's Wrong with Calvinism. For Jerry, the worst possible thing you can believe is to deny that God loves everybody. But the universalism in the novel represents the consistent alternative. Everyone including Satan will be saved. 

iii) Then there's the feminist angle, where Josh and Rachel make Eve a heavenly counselor, font of spiritual insight and wisdom.

iv) I wonder if part of the problem is due to the pernicious influence of C. S. Lewis. My immediate point isn't to bash Lewis, but the use people make of  him. For instance, it's striking how many professing Christians get their eschatology from The Great Divorce. The popularity of Lewis fosters a mentality in which many professing Christians begin with fiction as their source of theology. An inspirational fictional story. 

1 comment:

  1. Good grief. Those quotations are...awful. Literarily even aside from the theological problems.

    I prefer the real Aslan, who leaps on the White Witch and devours her.