Sunday 3 March 2013

Explaining eternal goodness - a speculative story/ analogy


Yesterday's post on theosis and free will elicited two accounts (in the comments) of how it is that after death and resurrection a human characterized by free will can nonetheless choose only good: the idea that the choice of good after death functions rather like a freely-subscribed oath binding us for eternity, and the idea that the last choice as we pass from time into eternity becomes eternal.


The fact that needs to be explained is that somehow a creature of free will can become such as to choose only good.

But the answer must be such that we can understand the purpose or necessity of mortal incarnate life in this world.  And I do not think either of the above answers help us to understand this.

I have been thinking along somewhat different lines.

What follows is a mixture of conviction and rational elaboration - regard it as a fantasy if you wish.


If Man has a pre-mortal spirit existence of the soul, then the choice of good or evil could have been made with full foreknowledge of the nature and consequences of the choice, such that the decision was of necessity permanent.

(This is the orthodox account of why fallen angels are irreversibly damned - because - unlike mortal men - they knew exactly what they were doing, and the consequences, and chose damnation.)

Then the spirits of those Men who chose good were enhanced with bodies - but mortal bodies, on earth. The reason for which was that incarnation in mortal bodies provides and unique and essential experience.

Thus, mortal life and death is ultimately an experience, not a test.


For the human soul (or spirit), even living very briefly in a body and then dying is a necessary experience to qualify us to become Sons of God.

So that for a soul even to live very briefly as a baby, even perhaps living only as an embryo in the womb, is an experience of incarnate mortality; which is of such great value to the soul, that the difference between a spirit who has lived and died as a mortal and a spirit who has lived only as an un-incarnated spirit is a qualitative difference.

The spirit who has lived a mortal life and died, and then been resurrected, is a qualitatively higher state than is attainable by a spirit lacking this experience.


But free agency continues throughout as part of the essence of being a Man.

So Men who have chosen good, and which choice is irrevocable (because made with full knowledge) choose then to embark upon mortal life in which there is partial and distorted knowledge and during which they regain the freedom to choose evil.

Because, during mortal life they are subject to temptation from those pre-mortal spirits who originally chose evil.

So mortal life is a hazard; a risk taken freely by the pre-mortal spirit in hope and expectation of attaining a higher state; but which opens the human soul to the possibility of losing everything.


Yet, if the benefits of mortal life and death can be attained by living briefly as an embryo or baby, then why should humans live longer and suffer the corruptions and temptations of childhood and adult life, of disease and senility?

The answer would presumably be that the benefits of mortality are qualitative with respect to the preceding spirit state, but quantitative with respect to one another - that to survive the hazards a longer life without yielding to the temptation to choose damnation is a higher thing.

So, when a man dies (at any age: an unborn baby, an old and sick adult) then the innocence of the less experienced human has a reward that is certain - but  a lower place in Heaven; while the endurance of the old and sick is rewarded by a higher place in Heaven (assuming that the offer is accepted, not rejected), because the result is a higher being - a more complex resurrected Man capable of a higher role - just as a mortal adult is potentially more complex than a child.


In terms of free will the sequence is:

1. Pre-mortal spirits (souls) with free agency, irrevocably chooses good - irrevocably so long as they remain in the spiritual state (those spirits who choose evil are damned which means excluded from the following - they remain spirits).

2. Those spirits who choose good may become incarnate mortals with free agency.

3. The experience of being an incarnate mortal, however briefly, is of qualitative value or benefit - it enhances the pre-mortal spirit beyond his former state and in a way otherwise impossible.

4. But the experience of being an incarnate mortal re-opens the possibility of rejecting good/ God and choosing evil - so that a pre-mortal spirit who could not have chosen damnation as an incarnate mortal again becomes capable of choosing damnation.

5. However, the default of mortal life is salvation - due to the once-and-for-always (past, present, future) work of Christ 's atonement - his death and resurrection. Thus Men will be saved by default, and eternal damnation is only by active rejection of salvation.

(This is the safeguard of mortal incarnate life, without which it would not just be a hazard but a hopeless gamble against overwhelming odds. It is only by Christ's work - in cleansing us of the sin from innumerable bad choices - that there is any possibility of the incarnate soul coming through an extended mortal life with a hope of salvation - because that hope has been made an assurance of salvation (unless it is rejected by choice.)

6. At the end of mortal life, those who have-not-rejected salvation (a negative definition) will return to the spiritual realm outwith the earth (Heaven) to await ultimate resurrection in the same but perfected bodies they inhabited during mortal life - at which point they have a higher state than they would otherwise have had without the experience of mortal life.

So for the good souls, the judgment is a matter being allocated between the 'many mansions' of Heaven - by analogy their job, role, authority. 

(Those good spirits who have not been through the experience of mortal life simply remained as they were, at a lower hierarchical level - remembering that all levels are blessed.)

7. At the end of mortal life, those who reject salvation, go to hell (or pre-hell, perhaps) to await ultimate resurrection and the final judgment; at which point decision for- or against-good must be made in light of its full consequences; and those who actively-choose evil instead of good are then - in resurrected form - sequestered in that permanent hell which they have chosen.


This may seem, and probably is, an over-elaborated, over-complex and fanciful tale - but parts of it seem to answer some of my most pressing problems in a simple and pictorial fashion.

In particular, I find the explanation of incarnate mortal life as primarily an experience (and only secondarily as a test) to be valuable - especially because it makes sense both of the fact of mortal incarnate existence, and also the fact that so many humans have got no further than being fetuses or babies, and many other do not reach adulthood - on the basis that it is potentially of great value to have been an incarnate mortal human at all and however briefly, while on the other hand extended life is potentially of additional value.

Incarnate mortal life is thereby conceptualized as a high risk, high reward venture - freely chosen.


In terms of choice, the above seems to regard choice in an extended fashion - that as free agents interacting withe the world, we are making choices all the time - only a very few of which (or perhaps none of which) are conscious.

Yet since Men are intrinsically free agents, we necessarily make these choices - it is intrinsic to our relation with the world.

Thus even a baby makes choices. However, these baby choices do not have the same status as conscious, deliberate choice. Because salvation is a default, damnation must be chosen - and a baby cannot choose damnation - thus a baby is Innocent.


The above account is tentative, conjectural, no doubt garbled and contains errors (as do all human things, but maybe more than usual!), and its theological basis will be obvious to some; but I think it is pretty-much (if corrections were made) - or perhaps - not-impossible to reconcile with, potentially compatible with, standard Christianity and Scriptural interpretation - if not currently, and in all denominations - then across the sweep of Christian history...

In other words: take it, modify it, or leave it - as you will.



dearieme said...


P.S. If you didn't watch Howard Goodall's musical history the other evening, do take a look. One thing he did was play The Blessed Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag with and without syncopation: very enlightening!

George Goerlich said...

Is there then a waiting line in Heaven? And does the apparent culmination and exponential growth of Human quantity indicate some sort of end-of-times?

Are the souls assigned or do they chose? I am thinking here perhaps of physical and intellectual differences, such that perhaps a genius could be capable of both greater good and evil, so does he contain a greater soul or is it just chance?

Bruce Charlton said...

@d - I am that.

Yes I am working through Goodall's series but haven't yet reached Joppers.

sykes.1 said...

Tht orthodox Catholic belief is that the soul is created at conception; there is no premortal state.

However, the possibility of a saved person retaining free will and electing evil while ressurectect is interesting.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Sykes - There are various idea of when the soul is created or that souls always existed - the crucial advantage of supposing souls to have existed before mortal life is that it creates the possibility of understanding why mortal life happens. Most Christian theories don't allow any function for mortal life - and suggest that the sooner it is over the better; better still if we had been created straight into Heaven: born ready-resurrected, as it were. But that can't be right - or so it unshakably seems to me. Mortal life must be *for* something.

Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

I agree with Sykes : …the soul is created at conception; there is no premortal state. I don’t know if Sykes is Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic, but I confirm that Roman Catholics believe the same thing. So, babies and everyone not conscious or unable to reason do not make choices. I think the general belief is that they are saved by the baptism of desire, in other words the desire of God which is implicit in all souls.

BGC: Mortal life must be *for* something.
I recall Tolkien, a devout Roman Catholic, wrote that human mortality is a “gift.” It makes me think that Our Lord Jesus Christ becoming a mortal man to lift us up to Divine Life by partaking of his Body and Blood is certainly a gift.

The spirit who has lived a mortal life and died, and then been resurrected, is a qualitatively higher state than is attainable by a spirit lacking this experience.
Human nature in itself is not higher than an angelic nature, it became higher because of Incarnation and adoption. It seems that the Incarnation of the Son of God and humans placed higher than angels was the test for the angels’ choice.

We must consider that there is no such thing as a nature common to all angels: every one is of a different nature, or form, than the next. They are close to each other but this is how they are individualized, otherwise there would be only one angel. From the sublime seraphim who see the Face of God directly, every other angel see himself and God through his brothers in an immense hierarchy, where the highest – Lucifer – became a stranger to heaven by cutting himself from his Creator, while the least – Michael – became the leader of all and won the terrible primordial fight with his cry: Who is like God?

We humans happen to be at the lowest possible level of spiritual creatures: a hylemorphic composite, whose spirit is the form – a form common to all: there is only one human nature – and the body its matter and its principle of individuation. Before the Fall, man was not subject to death as we know it: we think he should have passed in eternity by a smooth transition. Death consecutive to the Fall is a horror and a scandal: it is a tearing apart of our being and necessitated Redemption, so that our being would be made complete again immediately when we step in eternity, for good or bad, depending on our choice.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SDR - while we do not *need* to knwo what we are doing here, but ought to trust childlike and keep the commandments - nonetheless it is hard to understand why a soul should be created and incarnated only for that body to die almost immediately or before maturity, or to have the merest chance of salvation/ probability of damnation.

It is certainly not impossible, but it seems strange to create a soul at that particular point in the proceedings...

BUt if others are not troubled by this matter, then there is no reason why they *should* be!

Adam G. said...

The perspective that mortal life is not just a test but also an experience is an extremely valuable one.

That said, I see two issues raised by your account. First, if mortality disrupts our firm pre-existent choice for good, one wonders why the devil and his angels would not also be made mortal to disrupt their pre-existent rejection.

Second, if mortality is good and more mortality is better, its hard to see why most people would be denied a full experience of mortality, since I believe the great majority of the human race have died as embryos or during pregnancy or birth. You would have to posit that there are degrees of embrace of the good and that (1) the ones who embraced it to the greatest extent are the ones who get the greatest mortal experience and therefore the correspondingly greater mansion in heaven or, oppositely (2) the ones who didn't embrace the good very much are the ones who have the greatest degree of mortal experience, being in more need of the disruption of the old self and opportunities that it provides.

Combining my two objections, you get the fascinating but unfortunately untrue notion that we who make it into adulthood are mostly devils being given a second chance, and that modernity with its advanced medicine and all has led to a greater increase of devils in the population. Nearly everybody who is born now, we could say, will make it to adulthood and therefore nearly everybody born is a fallen angel being given some shock treatment.

Bruce Charlton said...

@AG - "First, if mortality disrupts our firm pre-existent choice for good, one wonders why the devil and his angels would not also be made mortal to disrupt their pre-existent rejection."

I don't find this particularly difficult to understand if life is seen in terms of progression. There is this first stage of spirit life where those who choose good are separated from those who choose evil (and the evil are consigned to remain unincarnated).

Then *among those who chose good*, there is a choice of trying to progress *further* by experiencing incarnate mortal existence. This risks are real (as they must me - life is not a simulation), but the potential rewards are real too.

"if mortality is good and more mortality is better, its hard to see why most people would be denied a full experience of mortality"

This makes sense if (but only if) God is seen as constrained in power. God is doing His best, with the material at hand; but how incarnate mortal life actually turns out for each specific person is not under his direct control - it is 'a hazard'...

As William James put it in Pramatism Lecture VIII:

"Suppose that the world’s author put the case to you before creation, saying: “I am going to make a world not certain to be saved, a world the perfection of which shall be conditional merely, the condition being that each several agent does its own ’level best.’ I offer you the chance of taking part in such a world.

"Its safety, you see, is unwarranted. It is a real adventure, with real danger, yet it may win through. It is a social scheme of co-operative work genuinely to be done. Will you join the procession? Will you trust yourself and trust the other agents enough to face the risk?”

"Should you in all seriousness, if participation in such a world were proposed to you, feel bound to reject it as not safe enough? Would you say that, rather than be part and parcel of so fundamentally pluralistic and irrational a universe, you preferred to relapse into the slumber of nonentity from which you had been momentarily aroused by the tempter’s voice?

"Of course if you are normally constituted, you would do nothing of the sort. There is a healthy-minded buoyancy in most of us which such a universe would exactly fit. We would therefore accept the offer–"Top! und schlag auf schlag!” It would be just like the world we practically live in; and loyalty to our old nurse Nature would forbid us to say no.

"The world proposed would seem ’rational’ to us in the most living way.

"Most of us, I say, would therefore welcome the proposition and add our fiat to the fiat of the creator.

"Yet perhaps some would not; for there are morbid minds in every human collection, and to them the prospect of a universe with only a fighting chance of safety would probably make no appeal. There are moments of discouragement in us all, when we are sick of self and tired of vainly striving. Our own life breaks down, and we fall into the attitude of the prodigal son. We mistrust the chances of things. We want a universe where we can just give up, fall on our father’s neck, and be absorbed into the absolute life as a drop of water melts into the river or the sea."

Adam G. said...

I can't accept your argument for leaving the devils be, so I'll pass over that.

**This makes sense if (but only if) God is seen as constrained in power. God is doing His best, with the material at hand; but how incarnate mortal life actually turns out for each specific person is not under his direct control - it is 'a hazard'...

But surely even a constrained God has enough power to bring a baby to term?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Ag -

"But surely even a constrained God has enough power to bring a baby to term?"

This is a very interesting example. There seem to be two general answers:

1. No, God can't bring the baby to term - although he wants to (which includes refinements about He cannot in the context of the world, without causing more harm than good, or something of that sort. Noting that the constraints on God might be conceptualized as extrinsic limitations, or as self-imposed constraints - for reasons which may or may not be guessed.).

2. Or God kills the baby before term (which includes that He lets evil spirits kill the baby, or that He kills the baby for some greater good - but one way or another in the ultimate analysis it is God's will that that baby dies).

Now either might be possible in any specific instance. But it makes a difference which is our default explanation, and it makes a difference which specific explanation we use in a particular instance.

The William James quote was used to illustrate the idea of a God that is wholly good - in the exact sense that we humans understand as good, and who always does his utmost to do good, but is externally constrained in what he can do. A God who loves us totally, is striving to help but is only partially successful.

A God, that is, understood very much as an ideal and extremely powerful Father - but although more powerful than anything else He is not omnipotent. There are things, many things, which he cannot do.

Or there is an abstract omnipotent God whose nature is incomprehensible by any Fatherly metaphor, who could help us but does not for reasons not understood, who we must trust and to whose will we must submit. Such a God is intrinsically abstract because he is not human-like.

I think we need to understand God as our wholly good Heavenly Father, and as simply as possible with the minimum of abstraction - therefore I think we must conceptualize Him as limited in power.

Therefore I would say that - on the whole - God *cannot* (much as he would want to) always bring babies to term, or ensure that all babies are healthy.

Agellius said...

From Leo XIII's "Libertas":

"The end, or object, both of the rational will and of its liberty is that good only which is in conformity with reason.

6. Since, however, both these faculties are imperfect, it is possible, as is often seen, that the reason should propose something which is not really good, but which has the appearance of good, and that the will should choose accordingly. For, as the possibility of error, and actual error, are defects of the mind and attest its imperfection, so the pursuit of what has a false appearance of good, though a proof of our freedom, just as a disease is a proof of our vitality, implies defect in human liberty. The will also, simply because of its dependence on the reason, no sooner desires anything contrary thereto than it abuses its freedom of choice and corrupts its very essence. Thus it is that the infinitely perfect God, although supremely free, because of the supremacy of His intellect and of His essential goodness, nevertheless cannot choose evil; neither can the angels and saints, who enjoy the beatific vision [because the choice of evil corrupts the essence, and God's essence, as well as those of the angels and saints (i.e. those in heaven), is incorruptible].

St. Augustine and others urged most admirably against the Pelagians that, if the possibility of deflection from good belonged to the essence or perfection of liberty, then God, Jesus Christ, and the angels and saints, who have not this power, would have no liberty at all, or would have less liberty than man has in his state of pilgrimage and imperfection. This subject is often discussed by the Angelic Doctor in his demonstration that the possibility of sinning is not freedom, but slavery. It will suffice to quote his subtle commentary on the words of our Lord: "Whosoever committeth sin is the slave of sin."(3) "Everything," he says, "is that which belongs to it a naturally. When, therefore, it acts through a power outside itself, it does not act of itself, but through another, that is, as a slave. But man is by nature rational. When, therefore, he acts according to reason, he acts of himself and according to his free will; and this is liberty. Whereas, when he sins, he acts in opposition to reason, is moved by another, and is the victim of foreign misapprehensions. Therefore, `Whosoever committeth sin is the slave of sin.'"

Arakawa said...

Still digesting the story itself; an unrelated observation re. the "take it or leave it" clause: there seem to be three entirely different levels of plausibility in theology.

(1) dogmatic plausibility. This idea can be derived from the accepted precepts and teachings of some denomination, without twisting their logic or trampling over their spirit.

(2) speculative plausibility. This idea requires rethinking one or more dogmatic assumptions. This also includes the addition of assumptions that force existing doctrines to be reinterpreted in a different light. (e.g. proposing that the soul is not a unitary but a composite entity forces massive rethinking of existing assumptions; it's useless to pretend that the resulting ideas are anywhere close to level (1).)

(3) fictional plausibility. One can always consider an idea by writing a fiction, instantiating it in a 'possible' universe, which is not necessarily the same universe as reality, but which we perceive as reasonable enough that recognizably human stories can take place in it.

I notice that in some cases for the great writers of the Inklings tradition (Tolkien, Lewis, and their predecessor George Macdonald), trying to write an idea at level (3) may have been part of the process of feeling out whether it was worth entertaining as a speculation at level (2). (I'm given the impression that something like this may have been the case for The Great Divorce, or for Tolkien's Leaf by Niggle, which explores the hope that Niggle will find the full reality of his subcreative vision in Heaven.) Or, perhaps, the Notion Club Papers material suggests the reverse: Tolkien in particular came up with a lot of level (2) speculations, some based on personal experience, that he 'shoved down' into level (3), where they were safer to contemplate and express publically.

(And on the other hand, there are the theological ideas that were only intended for the purpose of fiction. e.g. CS Lewis' Narnia stories about a parallel dimension where the Logos is incarnate as a Lion. Rejection of the validity of such level (3) alterations is generally behind some denominations' dislike of fantasy fiction; for instance, Harry Potter can obviously only be received as a reasonable story when taken as a description of an entirely different universe, one where there is another category of magic entirely distinct from the quackery and conjuration of demons condemned in the Bible.)

But in general, being able to write fiction for these writers was an evident aid in being able to reason theologically. Obviously, if a notion did not make sense even as a story, there was no use to considering it further.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Arakawa - Yes, I have often found myself thinking deeply and for sustained periods about some of these fictional theologies which you mention. Leading me to regard them as true in some way which often I cannot articulate.

Tolkien's debate of Finrod and Andreth - - has been of great importance to me at several times - leading up to my becoming a Christian, and also included in some of the ideas presented here.

In real life Tolkien would not say anything except the Roman Catholic view; but in his fiction he was striving to make sense of death, evil, freedom and other areas in which the Roman Catholic view is inadequate.

Adam G. said...

Mr. Charlton,

your two versions of God are useful, so I'll reformulate my objection in those terms.

Even a significantly constrained God has the physical ability to keep an embryo or an infant alive. He doesn't have fear of legal consequences or punishment or social pressure or any of the other things we mean when we say we "can't" do something. He also doesn't have the opportunity costs that we do. Keeping an embryo alive with his power doesn't prevent him from hearing a prayer at the same time. A being who doesn't have the ability to keep many more embryos and infants alive is a being we can relate to, but isn't a being we can relate to as a God.

So if God doesn't save the little ones, it must be because of some internal constraint, some ultimate purpose he has that is inconsistent with consistent intervention of that kind. But that is already a God that is hard to understand as a Father. Even more so when you eliminate the idea that life and its travails are a test. The idea that life is meant as an experience also doesn't stand up, since embryos experience very little. So what we are left with is a wholly good God who doesn't do what we think a wholly good person would do, and he doesn't do it for inscrutable personal reasons--reasons that, as you say, we "can't guess at." This doesn't sound much like a God that is easy to comprehend to as an ideal Father.

Bruce Charlton said...

@AG -

Firs, I'd just like to make clear that I am not in any way putting forward an explanation of all forms of pain and suffering. Some evils are indeed a test, for our own good, just punishments and the like.

But some sufferings are evils.

The test is whether a loving Father would inflict this type of suffering on his own children.

This concept of God requires a view of the earth and mortal life such that it was 'set up' rather as an ecological experiment, with mimimal interference.

There are natural disasters and there are the workings of evil wills.

How does God intervene? Sometimes when there is faith this provides a 'channel' for God to intervene - but this needs a channel to be opened by faith freely chosen.

But there is much suffering, and some evil, which God cannot prevent.

God can, perhaps after mortality, always and completely heal the results of evil.

But healing would not be necessary if He could have prevented the evil.

Kristor said...

Your suggestion that worldly life was set up as an ecological experiment – a notion in good agreement with the pluralistic universe of William James – is a suitable segue to a suggestion that has often occurred to me: that the world is a garden, and the fruit is incorruptible embodied beings. This suggestion arises in the first instance from the Bible itself, which talks nowhere of worldly life as either a school, or a test, or an experiment, but explicitly and originally as a garden, that was at first perfect, but then went wild. Agricultural metaphors perfuse both the OT and the NT.

Further, this notion may be reconciled with your speculations about various decisions in the lives of humans, beginning with a pre-embodied decision, and without doing the slightest violence to either.

Some points, in no particular order:

1. The Fathers suggested that the mustard seed at the origin of every moment of every being’s career was a tiny portion of the logos, a seed of the logos, a “logos spermatikos.” The logos spermatikos of a given being was God’s proposal of the form that it should take as it developed toward the completion of its motion of becoming. Translating this notion into the terms of your scheme, the pre-mundane existence of a person – of his whole life, and of any moment thereof – would be purely formal. The technical term in ancient theology for the form of a living being is “soul.” So the existence of the human soul prior to its concrete mundane actualization would be its formal existence in the understanding of God.

2. Before a moment of existence of a being has finished its process of becoming, it is not yet actual. Until it is thus actual, it cannot play a causal role in any particular world. Thus as a moment of existence comes into being, one of the first decisions it must make is how and where and when to take up its existence in some actual world. Only once it has made this decision can it know what its past would be, what its creaturely causal inputs would be, were it to take up locus x in world y. Choosing a locus is choosing a worldline. Some souls might fail to choose, I suppose, and never end up playing a role in any causal system, including even that of Heaven.

3. Once a becoming actuality has selected its worldline, it must begin deciding what it shall make of itself in respect thereto. In its own coming together, its own constitution, which elements of the past implicit in its worldline will it emphasize, which will it omit? Naturally its logos spermatikos, which is what gave it inception in the first place, will play a more or less significant role in its final constitution. But there is room in its development for it to differ from the Divine Will implicit in its own origins. It can go wild.

4. Thus as Christ said, some seeds will fall on barren ground, some in the thistles, and some on the high road; but some will fall on fertile soil and grow to maturity and fruition.

5. The original intention of the Garden of the World was that all the beings God planted there would grow to fruition. But because the Garden went wild, so that there were weeds, and wolves, and so forth, so there had to be a Gardener and a Shepherd, in order for any of the seeds to reach their intended goal.

I'll continue this in a subsequent comment.

Kristor said...

Continued from my last comment:

6. What is the purpose of the whole enterprise? I.e., why have a garden in the first place? I suggest again what the whole of Christendom thought about this until very recently: just as the completion of the world calls not just for stars, but for planets with biospheres – these being implicit in the system of laws, the logos, that governs and guides and constrains the cosmos – so in the meta-mundane created order there is implicit, not only immaterial worlds populated by angels and gods, but material worlds populated by embodied beings. The notion is that the infinite goodness and power of God would not omit to create any sort of good thing that could be created: so every sort of good world must exist, in the many mansions of the Lord; and in every such world, because it is complete, every sort of good creature compossible thereto must sooner or later find a place.

7. As this world is a garden of souls, there is likewise a garden of worlds. Worlds, too, have souls: are living things, with careers full of adventures, with destinies.

8. Although we must think of any world as having a beginning, we need not think that worlds as such are temporally finite. They may live everlastingly. That ours will not live everlastingly is a result of its early infection by evil and error, by its early wandering away from the paths proposed for it by God. This illness of our world is fatal. For, not only does evil and error devour itself, leading inexorably to chaos, so that the eventual death of our world is inevitable on its own wicked terms, but that the death of our world is needful: the only way that its evil causal effects in the supramundane ecology of worlds can be limited is by killing it, the good of it together with the bad.

9. Death, then, is just the weeding of the garden.

10. But death is not necessary except under circumstances of worldly corruption. A world, or a being from within any world, that has escaped circumstances of corruption, may live on without limit.

11. And there is nothing to stop the re-implementation of a given being’s form – as it were, its rebooting – so that, purged of its errors – its corrupted files and defective memes – its good and healthy and proper and righteous bits may continue to live, grow and develop everlastingly. As men may be resurrected, then, so may worlds. Thus Christians believe in “the life of the world to come.” What is the sine qua non of Christianity, what makes it unique among all other understandings? Easter.

One more comment to come.

Kristor said...

This is the last bit:

12. The resurrection of the body to everlasting life in an everlasting world in a world of worlds offers us limitless opportunities for further exploration and exploitation of the many “ecological niches,” the many opportunities for different goodly forms of living, that are implicit in any world’s logos. We will be free to explore them.

13. We will in principle also be free – in the sense that it will be metaphysically possible to us – to err and fall from that state of limitless power and grace and goodness, as happened at the first instants of our world with Lucifer. A free man may always sell himself into slavery. But we won’t want to. Why? Because as we take up our loci in the world resurrected and rebooted – its memories of fallen life intact, but its errors purged – we will actualize our true nature. One important aspect of that nature is an angelic, synoptic perspective on things. The angelic perspective isn’t omniscience – finite beings cannot comprehend the infinite – but rather approaches omniscience asymptotically. Meister Eckhart called it spatiosissimus, and characterized spiritual development as a continuous increase in the spaciousness of human life. Spatiosissimus is now inaccessible to us except when we are taken up in the mystical ecstasies of the Heavenly Ascent. But in our resurrection bodies, it will not be; we will be able to climb as far up Jacob’s Ladder as we want. And as resurrected beings redeemed from a Fall, we will have an advantage over Lucifer and Adam: we will know quite well what sin and pain feel like, we will know what it is like to be Fallen. And we won’t want to go there again.

Arakawa said...

In general, talk of a benevolent God creating worlds without end seems to me reasonable... but incredibly difficult to talk about!

Reasoning the notion (and its plausibility) through generally brings me back to an absolute requirement for theosis.

Whether we want to know the worlds without end, or the innermost minds and souls of other people (something that can be crudely stated as getting to be someone else for a while; a desire that seems to me inextricably bound up with any desire to experience alternate creations), as we are now, we would certainly end up either lost and dissolved in someone else's consciousness, or eternally suffering among such a bounty of other worlds with their own problems and sorrows heaped on top of our own.

(Primitive beliefs about reincarnation indeed entail repeatedly getting to be someone else... in an endless cycle... with the most essential self a weak and empty thing that cannot bring anything from one incarnation to another. So, to get to be someone else without horrifying repercussions, we must at the least become more fully ourselves than that. Then we would have to become divine in order to not be overwhelmed by the accumulation of sin and suffering from everyone whose soul we wished to have knowledge of.)

So a divine nature is required to actually satisfy more than a vicarious shadow of any of these desires. Nor, do I think, can such desires be denied without consequence.

Of course the promise of divine forgiveness and adoption must be sought for its own sake. But I think it is not an either/or choice; honest pursuit of each eventually entails the other. (On the one hand, the storyteller (in a sense, the ultimate vicarious seeker of being other people) honestly seeking to write True fiction, will sooner or later be forced to make a choice between pride and hence bad storytelling, or a sense of humility that they are merely copying a fragment of a greater story, originally envisioned by a far greater Author than they. It was no coincidence that the Ancient Greeks, having no gospel, still imagined all their best works to have been brought to them by some Muse or other. On the other hand, knowledge of God certainly entails knowledge of the joys of His creative act; or of His knowledge of the innermost souls of His creatures.)

Then there is the point that everyone's innermost desire is somewhat different; sparing a long argument, I get the sense that either these desires intersect in the knowledge of a common God, or in our innermost essences we are doomed to eternal conflict.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Kristor - What I seem to be getting from the conclusion of your piece, is that the experience of mortal life and death in this world teaches men such an aversive lesson about sin that, even though free to choose it in the resurrected body, such a choice becomes inconceivable.

Is that about it?

Kristor said...

Yes. Think of the worst pain you have ever experienced. Would you ever volunteer to subject yourself to it everlastingly and without hope of remission, for the sake of the pleasure of, say, eating a piece of chocolate cake?

That is what the prospect of sinning would be like for the blessed.

The thing is that we don't reckon how unspeakably wonderful blessedness is. Take the most wonderful, sublime experience of your life, of any type, and it is as nothing to blessedness. "For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room." Compared to blessedness, run of the mill cheerful good health and worldly happiness here on Earth is as sleep to wakefulness.

Adam G. said...

I hesitate to keep disagreeing, but I don't see how your 'experience' explanation helps a child understand God as a loving Father. Do loving Fathers let 2/3 upwards of their children die without getting a good thing--"experience"? No, not really. Perhaps the Father can't for some reason, but there is no reason offered that has childlike simplicity. You suggest as an alternative that even embryos have the relevant "experience," but this is certainly an unusual understanding of experience and hardly one that would suggest itself to a child. I'm a bit at a loss to understand it myself.

I can see a child asking,
"Papa, why did God make us have bodies?" And the answer "So we could have experiences, like running and hugging and eating" would be an answer that satisfies the child. But this is because the child isn't aware that most created humans die in embryo or during fetal development, and that historically many perhaps most children that made it to term died in infancy or early childhood. With this additional knowledge, the answer to the child makes little sense.

One way of salvaging your speculation is to suggest that we do indeed benefit from being embodied for experience, but that the bulk of the bodily experience we enjoy comes after the resurrection.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Adam G -

"that the bulk of the bodily experience we enjoy comes after the resurrection."

I am not prepared to accept this as a first line explanation - nor that of Kristor - because it devalues mortal life.

By that *kind* of argument, nothing that happens in mortal life really matters, because it is infinitesimal compared with eternity.

But to get back to your main point.

BY this account we *chose* mortal life, and so did everyone (you will be familiar with this idea!)- we chose to take the risk.

Our loving Father did *not* choose to *let* 2/3 of children die - this is the risk of the hazard of life. But they return to Heaven triumphant, enhanced qualitatively - having experienced incarnation and death. They have not failed.

Only those fail who are so corrupted by life that they choose to reject or refuse the return to Heaven. (We knew that was a risk of the experiment of life in which we chose to participate - and *that* is the realest and most terrible risk.)

I think a child old enough to ask the question would perhaps understand this.

Death as an infant is like someone who volunteers for a war, but dies of malaria while still en route to the frontline - it is an honourable death, it is indeed a death in active service.

Adam Greenwood said...

**By that *kind* of argument, nothing that happens in mortal life really matters, because it is infinitesimal compared with eternity. **

Only if the purpose of life is experience. If the primary purpose is something else--getting a body, for example--then our own incarnation isn't devalued, any more than buying a new car is devalued because the bulk of your driving time will be after it is no longer new.

**Our loving Father did *not* choose to *let* 2/3 of children die - this is the risk of the hazard of life. But they return to Heaven triumphant, enhanced qualitatively - having experienced incarnation and death. They have not failed. **

I agree, but this moves us away from your original experience paradigm and especially your notion that those who live longer are better off because they have had much more valuable experience.

Adam G. said...

I don't share Kristor's notion that mortality is to teach us sin-aversion, though it's intriguing. A comparable notion among Mormons is that us folks can't truly understand and enjoy the good unless we have experienced its lack by way of contrast. One could extrapolate from that Mormon notion or from Kristor's notion that even the limited experience of separation from God and of extreme limitation/deprivation inherent in being an embryo or a fetus or an infant is more than enough to teach you an aversion to that separation for eternity (to use Kristof's phrasing) or to let you know how good the Good truly is (to use the Mormon phrasing).

I believe that your objection that by focusing on the eternities these explanations devalue mortality misses the true force of these accounts. Properly understood, by making mortality essential to the enjoyment of the eternities, they give mortality all the importance that the eternities enjoy. Just as the long years of marriage don't devalue the seconds it took to say 'I do,' or just as the infinite duration of blessedness for the saved doesn't devalue the moment of conversion.

My own objection to either Kristor's account or the Mormon account is that if they are a complete explanation they only give our incarnation a negative value. Being in the flesh is only valuable as a terrible warning, so to speak. This doesn't mean these accounts are wrong, however, only that they are incomplete.