Wednesday 27 December 2017

Mortal life is divine-learning - Repentance is explicit divine-learning

I assume that mortal life is about learning, spiritual learning - that is, we have experiences, and therefore, if we make the right choices, opportunities to make spiritual progression towards divinity (i.e. theosis or sanctification).

I shall call this primary purpose of mortality divine-learning...

(The framework of which is that each us is incarnated into a personal situation - in time and space, with particular parents - where our lives have the greatest possibility of divine-leading to the experiences that we, personally, most need.)

But what does this 'divine-learning' mean? Well, what this learning is Not is learning in the everyday or scientific sense of observable 'behavioural-change' in mortal life. Because behavioural-change can't be what learning is about; because we humans are not designed that way, and neither is the world.

(We mortals are feeble, labile, distractible, prone to disease and sin etc. ; and our world is full of evil, temptations, sufferings and distractions (as well as love and creativity). Therefore, unless God is incompetent - which as creator he is not, then Christians (who acknowledge God the creator as wholly Good, and our Father) need to assume that this is (on the whole) the kind of world we need.)

Divine-learning - that learning from Life that you and I are living for - is about something much more than mere behavioural change; it is about a real, permanent... indeed eternal and spiritual change. The learning of our mortal life is designed to benefit our eternal life.

Divine-learning = Positive spiritually-progressing change that affects that which is eternal in us, lasting forever, beyond our mortal death.  

Thus, when we (mortal incarnate Men) learn in this divine sense; it entails a change in reality.

It is repentance (a gift made possible by Jesus) that makes this learning possible.

(Before Jesus - repentance was not possible; without Jesus, repentance would not be possible - thanks to Jesus, repentance became always possible for everybody and anybody - including those who lived before Jesus.)

But what is repentance? - in this ultimate sense of divine-learning which goes far beyond observable mortal behavioural change?...

Repentance was a gift of Jesus - his incarnation, death and resurrection. By repentance, Jesus brought-in the change that from-now-on Men would not only learn passively and unconsciously (like young children)... but in the new dispensation that Christ initiated, our learning would be self-active, conscious, explicit to our-selves.

And this is repentance; repentance is actively learning from our mortal experiences, and knowing that we are learning, and knowing what we have learned. And this is what is permanent - going beyond the contingencies of the behaviours of our mortal lives.

Repentance = explicit and permanent learning from the experiences of mortal life.


Anonymous said...

Dr Charlton, how does Genie, the "feral child", fit into this schema?

Bruce Charlton said...

We cannot know the specifics of the tens of billions of other people's lives just from 'idle curiosity' - but we can know about our own life - and perhaps some few of those whom we love.

Anonymous said...

I apologise, I thought you were attempting to describe reality.

Jared said...

Dr. Charlton, this is a really good post. I like how repentance is clearly distinguished as an eternal type of learning.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

It seems so odd to say that something as fundamentally human as repentance was impossible before Christ!

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - "as fundamentally human as repentance" - on the contrary, I would say that repentance is so rare that some modern people never do it once in their whole adult lives.

And I am talking about the permanent, cosmic, objective nature of repentance - feeling an emotion is something quite different.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Simon - "I thought you were attempting to describe reality." - I don't understand this remark.

But to clarify, if we want to know the reality of a specific situation - e.g. the meaning and purpose of some specific person's incarnation, life and death in the context of God's overall plans and hopes for humanity... if we really want to *know* this rather than spinning some theories about it; then we need to recognise that this is probably a very big question, and one that it is unlikely we can *really* answer.

If we ask about the meaning and purpose and context our own life, then we probably can know. If we ask it about the life of someone we love and know well... we may be able to learn.

But somebody about whom we know only indirectly and unreliably, remote in time and space - I don't see how we can learn such things with any degree of validity. And to spin theories about what a person's life (or a specific incident or historical occurrence such as a disaster) 'might' have meant to God and God's purposes - when done in public fora - is generally a short route to discrediting Christianity.

Anonymous said...

My original comment was to understand whether you grasped that the conception of reality you proposed in your original post is incorrect or, more charitably, incomplete, because it is not universalisable across human existence. Your conception of reality cannot be the bottom line explanation of human existence, because cases such as Genie destroy it.

Apart from this, I generally agree with you: basing our understanding of reality solely upon unique and extreme circumstances of existence is incorrect because it does not recognise that reflecting upon our own existence is the only way we can come to any true conclusions about the nature of reality and our place in it. But at the same time it is important to understand and reflect upon such unique and extreme circumstances of existence, because our understanding of reality will become more complete, and robust - as will our Christianity.

Chiu ChunLing said...

"(Before Jesus - repentance was not possible; without Jesus, repentance would not be possible - thanks to Jesus, repentance became always possible for everybody and anybody - including those who lived before Jesus.)"

I have to admit that "before" in this context is confusing. It seems that you are talking about a sense of causality that exists orthogonal to ordinary time. I suppose the idea you're conveying is that the state of reality in which repentance was impossible is not merely a hypothetical, but an actual state existing 'before' Christ produced the conditions which allowed our world's temporal existence to have been always under the divine mercy.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Simon - I still don't understand. I regard it as vital that Christianity account for the fact that a large majority of humans who have been conceived die in the womb at and just after birth. I don't really see how a wild child would challenge a view that takes into consideration that the *average* human mortal incarnation is one that is embryonic/ fetal.

This is acocunted for by the Mormon understanding that incarnation, getting a 'body', is the first, minimum and essential purpose of our mortal lives - a body being essential for full divinity.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CCL - I just mean before and after in a normal sense of time as linear and sequential (althout able to run at different 'rates').

After Christ, the people born before Christ were offered the same chances as those of us born after Christ. But they had to wait for this, after their mortal bodies had died. There are several Biblical references which seem to point to this.

But there are real differences in difficulties and possibilities through time - and the people incarnated before Christ presumably had different needs than we do - just as Modern Westerners have different needs than Dark Age men or Medievals.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Not to proof-text, but isn't the Book of Jonah about effective repentance before Christ?