Sunday, 12 February 2017

Conceptualising Heaven (and Hell): salvation- versus theosis-based Christianity

It seems that many Christians are and have been focused on the problem of achieving salvation by faith and right choices during mortal life: this links-up with an understanding of Heaven as a reward for those who have achieved salvation - and Hell as the place of punishment for those who do not.

Mortal life is then seen as a battle to attain salvation and/ or to avoid damnation (the emphasis varies) - and a good life beyond death is the reward for good performance. From this perspective nothing much important 'happens' in Heaven - it is a state of being.

But if we instead take the view that Jesus won salvation as a gift for everyone, by his life and death - then salvation is there for us, and the primary condition is simply that we accept it.

Of course, accepting salvation entails more than merely saying 'yes, okay' - because salvation is into God's world and God's plan, and entails accepting and embracing these. And this is something that, apparently, some people - probably many people - do not want and will not accept.

If salvation is a gift to those who will accept it, then salvation is straightforward and secure (for those who want it); and the main purpose of mortal life is not salvation but theosis - the process of striving to become more God-like; or more exactly the voluntary process of becoming more God-like on the basis that we begin as partly divine (being children of God) and end-up as being brothers and sisters of Christ - of the same nature as him.

Heaven is the not a reward but the place where people who have chosen theosis continue to work on this - Heaven is a place of striving, of change, of work.

Hell, by contrast, is the place for people are are not aiming at theosis - people who are not trying to become more divine, more like Jesus Christ.

Which is the reward and which the punishment depends on what is wanted.

God was creator and has a plan for his creation - this plan includes creating possibilities for those who want-to 'join' God as a god; to become fully-divine sons and daughters of God - being able to 'work on' this goal, co-operatively and with love - partly during mortal life, but also necessarily after it.

By this account, God's main concern is theosis - so that men and women may choose to become divine, and may incrementally (and over a long timescale) achieve this by being born incarnated, dying and resurrecting; and also by learning from their experiences throughout.

Our primary choice is whether to join God's plan - or not. Hell is the place of nay-sayers. Not joining the plan may mean going-it-alone, or it may mean living among the others who rejected God's plan - and seeking what solutions and satisfactions that company may bring in a universe without meaning or purpose.

In sum, since the 'Mormon Restoration' of Christianity, and the change in understanding it brings; there has been a qualitative change in explaining the basic nature and purpose of Heaven and Hell.

(The extent to which Mormonism was a cause of these general changes in understanding Heaven and Hell, and to what extent it was a shared consequence of underlying spiritual causes, I don't know - something of both I expect.)

I don't think many Christians have fully 'taken on board' this change, aside from feeling a deepening dissatisfaction with the idea of Heaven and Hell as merely reward and punishment, and mortal life as merely a kind of qualifying exam.

But if (thanks to Christ) salvation is there for for the accepting, and on conditions no more onerous than repentance; then theosis is the main business of human existence - theosis in pre-mortal, mortal and post-mortal life - then the nature and purpose of Heaven and Hell are profoundly different.

Heaven and Hell are not states of being, but domains distinguished by the positive or negative purpose of those who choose them. Their 'state' is a consequence of this choice, and of the make-up of the populations that result from that choice.   

Heaven is not a fixed state of being, but the place of mutual love where a particular purpose of divine destiny is being actively, voluntarily and joyfully pursued - and Hell is... well, all the rest.


William Wildblood said...

Acceptance of this would be of the greatest benefit to Christians and non-Christians alike. The former so they could have a deeper understanding of their religion and its purpose, and the latter so they could see that the way of Christ and, in particular, the destination to which it leads is not so simplistic as often presented but has deeper and deeper stages. The many mansions in my Father's house can be seen as representing these stages to theosis from a position of basic salvation to full son or daughter ship. And then even further. Why not? I doubt there is any end to spiritual unfoldment.

sayingthetruthisofensive said...

Well what you describe is very similar to Roman Catholicism, with one big difference. What you call Heaven, Roman Catholics call Purgatory, a state where people strive for being more Christ-like until they are ready to be in the presence of God. Then they enter Heaven although I don't know if there is further spiritual progression in Heaven. I think Orthodox Church has the same view, which was the one of the first Christians. Only Protestants disagree.

Bruce Charlton said...

@s - What I am saying isn't the Catholic (either Eastern or Western view) - at least not the official theology - but there are indeed similarities, and the Orthodox especially have a big emphasis on theosis.

sayingthetruthisofensive said...

Of course, this is why I said, it was similar but not the same. In Catholic and Orthodox view the emphasis is not about justification (the forgiveness of sins, which is considered a firsy step) but about santification (theosis). Since santification cannot often be achieved in this life, it must continue after life. For luther and Calvin santification was not possible because man is irremediably corrupt.

Christopher Finch said...

This article’s vision of both Heaven and Hell is not only similar but identical to Catholic ‘official’ theology. In fact, everything written on this blog concerning Salvation in general and the evolution of Reality in particular are contained here, straight from the horse’s mouth:

Heaven is a ‘communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed’, and at the End of Time, when even the very fabric of the Universe will be renewed, the Blessed will be ‘adopted as sons’ of Christ. Heaven consists in falling ever deeper into a fathomless River of Love. I would like to also add that Heaven is necessarily not an unchanging ‘state’. Although the Divine Essence is immutable, and God’s Love Itself is truly infinite (not a mathematically infinite limiting process such as our feeble, finite minds now conceive of, hence God Himself cannot love us any more than he already does), our active capacity to love is not infinite, and will increase as we progress from Purgatory to Heaven, and perhaps even in Heaven itself.

And as love of God always implies love of his creatures, yes, we even continue our good works There: this is precisely why Catholics pray for the Intercession of the Saints. Indeed, Therese of Liesieux beautifully declared ‘I will spend my Heaven by doing good on earth’. Likewise, if there were no ‘progression’ in the afterlife it would be fruitless to pray for the Dead. Though when offering our own speculations on such grave matters, it would seem prudent to recall that “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him”.

I should also point out that when the Catechism mentions we are judged on our works and faith, this does not single out ‘good works’ but speaks in general. So it also includes all those things that we ought to repent. And I completely agree that repentance is the most important thing. Because although God will count our good works against the temporal punishment due to our sins (here and in Purgatory), nonetheless, a man can do all the good works he wants, but if he doesn’t repent of his (inevitable) mortal sins he has made his choice, all the same.

Christopher Finch said...

Apologies, I meant to write "@Prof. Charlton and S" at the top