Thursday 27 February 2014

A loving personal relationship with God cannot be coerced, therefore Hell cannot be the *only* alternative


A passage from William Arkle's mini-book Equations of Being (excerpt posted below) evoked some thoughts about salvation. Although I have not previously encountered the argument, I find the logic compelling.


Our personal loving relationship with God (with Jesus Christ) must be freely chosen - otherwise it is not love; and therefore this personal relationship cannot be imposed under duress.

Therefore there cannot be a straight either/or dichotomy between Christ and Hell: it cannot be either a personal relationship with Christ; or else eternal torment in Hell if you reject this. (Because that would be coercion.)

(I say 'cannot', because I find it inconceivable that our loving God would have set things up like that - with salvation as a pseudo-choice; the opposite of a real choice.)

Therefore there must be a kind of salvation which does not entail a personal relationship with Christ (this would be a lesser salvation for sure, but salvation nonetheless); and this salvation will be impersonal - will not involve a personal relationship with God.

So there must be at least three alternatives: Heaven, Hell and some Impersonal (yet 'pleasant') form of eternal life. 


Such a lesser, impersonal but real salvation might perhaps be understood as broadly corresponding with the description of lower Heaven/s in Mormonism, or with the states of static, blissful, impersonal enlightenment of 'Eastern Religions'.


[emphasis and paragraphing added]

...we are here introduced to another very important decision which our Creator had to reach in regard to His responsibility towards His children and pupils.

We have been led by much of religious thinking on Earth to the belief that our love for our God, in the individual sense, was the only way to eternal life in the Divine Society.

But, if we look closely at this, we will see that, here again, our Creators hands were tied. For, if He made the ‘personal’ love between Himself and His children a condition of their obtaining everlasting life, then this would be an improper pressure placed upon love and friendship, which may well force it into a distorted and unwholesome attitude.

It is over just this most tender and intimate relationship of real loving friendship that our responses must be most completely free, or else the great treasure is once again lost.           


But if we now realise that there is another area of Divine Reality, which is not represented to us by the Person of God, but rather by the impersonal Divine qualities, we can see that it is possible for us to reach a state of ‘impersonal’ integration with the one Divine Life in respect of the collective features in it and in us.

In this way, the impersonal in us can love and unite with the impersonal in the Divine, thus giving a real and valid choice to ‘the way’ in which we endeavour to enter eternal life.


This spectrum of approaches will then free our Creator from the abuse of His friendship, if it were the sole condition of our survival.

This is not to say that our Creator will not be sad in each case when His friendship is not noticed and valued, and is thus by-passed. But He must accept this as another equation of the total reality of Being in which His work has to be accomplished.


In these cases, where individuality and friendship is not chosen as ‘the way’ to eternal life, but eradication of individuality or the Divine Ego is considered to be the highest achievement, the entity, while being harmonised back into the Absolute, may, nevertheless, be brought forth again in some other scheme of creation in which the presentation of ‘personal’ value is done in such a way that it is then chosen.

[Arkle is here implying reincarnation - but it could equally be taken to imply some form of post-mortal spiritual progression.]

For, while those who see the value of the friend can also appreciate the impersonal aspect of life, those who see the way to be impersonal find it very difficult to appreciate the more personal end of the spectrum of life, and they are thus inclined to lose sight of the creativity and on-going purpose behind our Creators motivation.
from William Arkle - Equations of Being



David Stanley said...

I wondered how you came to be familiar with Bill Arkle. I knew the name from somewhere then I realised it was as an artist. His painting is on the cover of "In the region of the summer stars", an album by The Enid that I aquired in my youthful prog rock phase. At the time I didn't know who Charles Williams was either. I am experiencing a lot of these circular connections at the moment.d

Bruce Charlton said...

@DB - Bill Arkle was a(rather far off) neighbour during my schooldays in Somerset - although I never met him except once in passing when I visited his son Nick - who was (at that time) a composer of electronic music.

David S. said...

Your ending up in Hell because you reject Christ is a consequence. By rejecting Christ (hence God, hence Good), you have chosen Hell; you have demonstrated your unsuitability for Heaven. Even if you become friends with Christ merely because you fear Hell, you have demonstrated a fear of God's wrath, which is itself an act of faith in Him. You have not thereby been coerced. It is still your choice.

George Goerlich said...

Purgatory and/or Limbo is perhaps best left-in to our conceptions and I think leaves room for this idea. Perhaps not imagine as a fixed-state, but a long climb/ladder towards perfection. Only after having purged our impurities are we capable of dwelling with God in Heaven.

Bruce Charlton said...

@David S - But the question is *why* Hell is a consequence (assuming, for the moment, that Hell is the one and only consequence).

Other consequences were (in principle) possible as alternative schemes of creation.

David S. said...

The alternatives offend Justice.

One cannot be in a loving relationship with God in Heaven unless one is cleansed of sin and all accounts have been paid. I think we agree that one still stained by sin cannot be in Heaven. But why should one who is stained enjoy even a natural happiness after death?

One's time is done. The chances are over. The afterlife is not more time, another sort of time, another opportunity. And so, one is what one is at that point, and Justice demands that the unrepentant sinner, the hater of God, enjoy nothing -- that is, inhabit only Hell.

The only real alternative is Limbo, the place of natural but not supernatural happiness. But that is available only to those who are sinless yet, per the Wisdom of God, not to be granted the beatific vision. It is again a matter of Justice that they have an eternal happiness of some sort.

It seems to me that Heaven, Hell, and Limbo cover all contingencies. (Purgatory is just the rather unpleasant waiting room for Heaven, and not something that will endure past the eschaton anyhow.)

P.S. Yes, I am using "rejecting Christ" and "being sinful" as equivalent terms, but only because I think they are.

Bruce Charlton said...

@David S - What is interesting about the argument I took from Arkle is that it assumes that God's idea of justice is *at least* as tender as the justice of a loving (human) Father to his children, and that the aimed-at relationship between God and Man must be chosen, therefore could not be a product of coercion. From these premises the conclusion seems that more than two options must be provided.

Limbo would perhaps suffice, but have to be conceptualized as accessible in an expanded fashion - and its basis was really quite different - Limbo has never been yearned for, not very seriously 'believed' I think - it seems like the solution to a philosophical problem (and a mistakenly conceptualized philosophical problem, at that!).

Gyan said...

I have been reading Dorothy Sayers' translation and notes on Dante's Inferno. She writes that the virtuous pagan philosophers, Aristotle, Plato etc wanted an impersonal God and this is precisely what they get in the First Circle of Hell. They do not suffer torments but enjoy natural happiness.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Gyan - Thanks - I haven't read Dante, and never heard this (or more accurately never noticed it) before.

George Goerlich said...

I really need to read Dante's inferno! Thanks for the translation recommendation.