On June 12 a Polk County, Georgia, sheriff’s deputy started going down. And this wasn’t a good time for that. You see, he was overseeing six prison inmates who were out on work detail sprucing up a local cemetery in preparation for Father’s Day.
But go down he did. He suffers from a rare brain malformation, and the Georgia heat that day was too much for him. As he lay unconscious on the grass, the inmates had access to his gun, his cellphone, and his van. They could have made a run for it.
Instead, this story has a happy ending.
You see, he was their deputy. They spent five days a week, seven hours a day with him out on work detail. When they saw him go down, they knew what they had to do.
Doing the right thing
Anything could have been done. Anything could have happened. But all the right things happened, and that’s what makes that whole day just so much better.
That is one of the inmates speaking. And another inmate:
When that happened, in my opinion, it wasn’t about who was in jail and who wasn’t. It was about, you know, a man was going down and we had to help him.
What they did was to rush to his side, turn him over to make sure he was okay, and then remove his gun belt and bulletproof vest in case he needed CPR when the paramedics arrived. They fished his phone out of his pocked and called 911. Here is the local news coverage on the event:
And you can read all about it here: “Sheriff to cut sentences of inmates who helped fallen deputy.”
Good deeds have good consequences
For these nonviolent offenders who did the right thing, their good deed had good consequences.
Of course, the most important consequence was that thanks to their quick action, the officer recovered and is doing fine.
But their good deed also led to good consequences for the six inmates. Yes, the pizza and dessert party thrown for them was great! But even better, their sentences will be shortened in recognition of what they did—and didn’t—do on that day. Polk County Sheriff Johnny Moats said:
Any time we have a trustee or inmate crew that goes beyond normal duties, we cut them some extra time off.
It all goes to show that no matter who we are and no matter what our situation may be, we can always choose to do a good deed instead of a bad one. And when we do, things will go better in so many ways!
For further reading:
That’s awesome! Wow, I’m impressed. It shows the Lord is always working through us, no matter our situation, as long as we are receptive to it.
Are there ever instances in which something like selflessness becomes twisted in terms of evil, while still being an act of selflessness? Imagine someone who goes out of their way educate others to do evil because they feel it will bring them pleasure, perhaps due to the pleasure that they themselves receive from it. Or someone who wishes to see more evil in the world because that’s just how it ought to be, in their eyes, and helps further the cause of evil without actually seeking something for themselves in return.
These are especially, unconscionably evil things to do, but are they still technically selfless, because the person is not after personal gain? Selflessness is not charity, though it’s essential for *charity* to be charity. Does selflessness have any value in and of itself, and can it be married to either good or evil?
I can’t offhand think of anywhere that the Bible talks about “selflessness.” It talks about loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. It talks about “charity,” or doing good deeds out of love for our fellow human beings. But “selflessness” and “altruism” seem to be more modern inventions.
The commandment of the Bible is not to be “selfless,” but to:
Regardless, then, of whether your theoretical person was being “selfless” about educating others to do evil (which, I think, is probably a spiritual and psychological impossibility), it would still be evil, wrong, and destructive.
Oh ok, so do spiritual laws just not work that way? Because there are times when people can and do help others to do evil things that they don’t necessarily believe to be evil that are still in a sense acts of kindness (like my earlier example of the men in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, when the men set the virgin up with a prostitute), but ‘lovingly helping others to be evil’ just seems to be inherently contradictory?
I think a better scenario to drive at what I’m asking would be something like this: imagine two friends who are both murdereds, and as a ‘surprise,’ one friend gets the other someone who they can kill because they would enjoy it. It’s a horrible atrocity, but also in some hideous way a technical act of kindness between friends.
Not a pleasant analogy, I know, but is this an example of how love can be horribly corrupted by evil while still being an act of love? I ask because good and evil in Swedenborg’s work seems characterized by being focused on the other or on the self, but it seems to me that anyone who takes pleasure in hurting others would destroy their ability to do good for others, and that includes any and all acts of kindness, which means that all gestures become self-serving ones.
It’s possible to come up with all sorts of theoretical scenarios that turn things on their heads. And though it’s theoretically possible that such a thing could be “an act of love,” every society on the face of the earth knows and teaches that it’s wrong to murder people. Yes, there are complications, such as in a state of war. But basically, people know it’s wrong to murder, and if they are murderers, they know that what they are doing is wrong. They just do it anyway. So the same principles I stated in the previous response apply. Our job is to stop doing evil and to do good instead.
I might be inclined to go a bit further and reject the idea that anything of the sort could be an act of love. There’s a logic to love, and love doesn’t do that. Evil is evil because it castes harm, to ourselves and to others, and love doesn’t bake you a poison pie and tell you it’s delicious, even if you the other person wants it.
It may be an act of friendship, but it’s one that’s warped around ugliness, and friendship alone is not heavenly.
But like you said, there are complications, both in terms of circumstance and the consciences that we form through our experiences, and I think the way movie ‘Fury’ has a scene that reflects both, where Brad Pitt basically forces a new soldier to execute a prisoner of war against his will, simply because he has, as a hardened veteran, developed his own code of right and wrong.
If they truly don’t know it is wrong, then it’s possible that they will not be held culpable. However, we do have a responsibility to learn what’s right and wrong. And even if people do evil with good intentions, it is a very low level of good intention, because it is steeped in darkness.
Is there a spiritual equivalent of ‘tainted love,’ where love becomes wedded to evil and just becomes ugliness?
I ask all this because good and evil are polar opppsites and correlate with selflessness and selfishness, but I’m trying to get a handle on scenarios in which incredibly evil things still have what is technically a hint of goodness in them,
It is possible for someone to have been instructed so falsely that they believe that evil is good, and good is evil. And if nothing disabuses them of their falsity, it is possible for them to in good conscience do evil things with good intentions. And especially in the case of milder evils, this happens all the time. We are not held guilty of things we did that we were taught are the right thing to do, and about which we’ve had no effective opportunity to learn otherwise.
However, evil tends to show itself as evil, and if we keep acting in a way that is obviously destructive, justifying our actions and refusing to see the damage we’re doing that’s right in front of our eyes, then we begin to be culpable for the evil we do even if we had been taught it was not evil. Once again, we are required to learn what is good and evil, and that is an ongoing thing.
If we continue to mix good and evil, or love and evil, then we are likely to fall into “corruption” or “profanation,” which is a very serious state to be in, and basically eats us alive spiritually from the inside out, so that there is very little life left in us.
And in general, most of us have many opportunities to learn what’s right and wrong. If we persistently don’t take advantage of those opportunities, we can be held responsible for evil things we do from “good” intentions even though technically we weren’t taught that they were wrong.
In practice, people generally know whether what they’re doing is right or wrong, and plead ignorance as an excuse, without any solid basis for excusing themselves.
Thanks for the clarification. I admit it’s sometimes difficult, with the sheer varieties of evil in the world, no neatky map it all to the dichotomy of selfishness or selflessness- that you either love yourself or others. I believe everything does indeed boil down to this, though they appear outwardly more complicated than that.
A guy finds out someone slapped his sister, so he goes out and beats the guy up thinking it will make her happy. It’s evil, but it wasn’t selfish. So how does that work?
I think it’s essentially selfish because he’s still acting from this idea that someone else’s wants and needs are more important than another’s, and more important than behaving with love and kindness. So what he’s serving here is selfishness, even though it’s not his own.
Take The Godfather films. These are truly, evil gangsters who are also devoted family men and charitable members of their communities who commit all kinds of crime in their benefit, which is the exaltatibg of group of people over another.
So I think it’s not merely having love and acting in accordance with love that’s important, it’s what you’re ultimately serving with it.
On your point about the Godfather films, people—especially selfish and greedy people—commonly think of their families as an extension of themselves. Therefore loving their family members is really just a broader version of loving themselves. Our real character is shown by how we treat people who are outside of our tight circle of family and friends.
But what about what you said in an earlier post, where you said the gang member who died could be in heaven because although his life was outside the law, he was loyal to his fellow gang members and therefore showing charity? Remember?
Hi Lee, Hi Rob,
Just to kind of set this question within the context of a larger question, where does charity toward friends and family rank on the scale of charity? It’s certainly easier to show love toward those who are closer to us, and it’s also easy to see in them something that reminds us of ourselves, but obviously familial love is not a self-centered kind of love, if for no other reason than to refuse charity toward those close to us would be evil. How does this kind of love factor into our spiritual development?
Love for family members isn’t qualitatively different than love for non-family members. The difference is that, as you say, family members are closer to us, and are a constant presence in our lives whereas our relationship with non-family members is usually not as close and constant. Still, both are part of the “neighbor” that we are commanded to love.
Parents do have a special responsibility to love and care for their children because parents are responsible for bringing their children into the world. That responsibility largely ends when their children become adults, but the strong relationship built up over the years commonly remains.
Raising children can also be a key forum for spiritual growth. It requires people to think of the welfare of others (their children) even before their own welfare, which means it provides a continual exercise in loving others as much as, if not more than, oneself.
Where parenting becomes toxic is when parents consider children to be mere extensions of themselves, and tools for their own wellbeing and glory. When parents have this attitude, they tend to do a bad job of parenting, raising their children to be narcissistic and overly attached to the parents. Parenting then becomes a forum for becoming even more selfish and materialistic instead of for becoming more loving and spiritual.
Good parenting involves thinking not only of the short-term and physical well-being of children, but also their long-term moral and spiritual wellbeing. See: “How Can I Raise My Children from a Spiritual Perspective?”
In other words, the quality of parental love, and of parenting, depends on the quality of the character of the parents. Selfish, greedy, materialistic parents will not benefit from parenting, but will pass on the burden of their warped character to their children, who may or may not break out of it in their adult lives. Thoughtful, loving, spiritually oriented parents will gain great benefits from parenting, and can pass on their values to their children—who will also be able to choose in their own adult lives whether to continue on that path or choose a negative path.
Life is complicated. Some people are truly confused and misled. And if they are truly attempting to care about at least some of their fellow human beings as best they know how, then yes, God will accept that even if their version of “doing good” is very twisted from an outside, more objective perspective.
However, my own opinion is that that’s the exception rather than the rule among gang members. Most of them, I think, know very well that what they’re doing is immoral and wrong, and they just don’t care because they are interested mostly in money and power for themselves, and don’t care if they hurt and kill lots of people to get it.
Is the spirit of this article to say that an impulse to do good can penetrate beyond any circumstance and state of mind, even if it’s little more than a faint glimmer? If so, are you also saying that salvation is therefore available despite circumstance for the same reason that it’s possible to do good?
There are countless people who are born into, or conditioned by, circumstances that are by and large beyond their control. Children can be recruited as child soldiers and trained to commit horrible atrocities; children and young men can be indoctrinated by extremist ideologies and taught that committing acts of violence against others is not only their duty but a divine commandment. Or there are even more commonplace circumstances, like people who grow up in harsh, impoverished inner city environments, where things like theft and violence are a part of every day life, and even looked at as a means of survival.
In all these cases, we’re dealing with deeply ingrained mindsets that would appear to stand between someone’s outer self and connecting with the inner self from which the drive to do good springs. Is it possible that even in the most brainwashed terrorist is an inner voice that’s telling them what they’re doing is wrong? My understanding is that the purpose of this physical life is to basically set our orientation for our eternal lives, but for some people fulfilling that purpose seems much more difficult due to circumstances that had nothing to do with.
So is salvation- in the way that you (and Swedenborg) describe it- something that is equally available to everyone, everywhere, and in this life? And is everyone equally culpable for the rejection of that opportunity?
Before I respond, please give this article a read:
Can Gang Members Go to Heaven? (Is Life Fair?)
If any of your questioning still stands after reading it, please ping me again either there or here.
I recall reading about the conscience-based idea of salvation in some of your other articles, in that as long as one abides by what they *think* is right, salvation is still possible for them.
But I think the purpose of my question was to ask if we have an inherent sense of right and wrong, and from where everyone- regardless of circumstance and mindset- experiences an impulse to do good?
We read in Romans 2:15 that the law is written on the hearts of Gentiles, which is taken to mean that even unbelievers have an innate, basic understanding of what’s right and wrong, which is something we might commonly understand as a conscience. This idea of a conscience as something inherent strikes me as standing somewhat apart from the idea that a conscience is essentially formed from our experiences, upbringings, and factors outside of our control, which would then be more akin to ‘conditioning.’
So if we each possess an inherent sense of right and wrong, is everyone regardless of circumstance 1.) able to do good, and 2.) culpable for not choosing to do so?
I’m inclined to make an exception when it comes to moral capacity and culpability for things like extreme indoctrination and brainwashing, because those states seem more akin to mental illness than a conscious rejection of an impulse to do good.
That is really a very big question, and deserves a whole article or series of articles on its own. But I’ll at least give you a short version for now.
If humanity had not fallen (as described in Genesis 3 and in its spiritual meaning), humans would indeed have an innate knowledge of what is good and true, though it would really be a knowledge of what is good and true flowing in unimpeded from God through heaven. But since we have fallen, and are born into tendencies toward evil, what flows in through heaven from God by an internal route is cut off or corrupted, so that we are not born knowing what is good and true, nor do we “naturally” learn or develop it without being taught.
We therefore must be taught what is good and true by parents, teachers, spiritual leaders (as found in the various cultures), and so on. What we have is the ability to understand and accept what is good and true when we hear it, and to some extent even an inner sense, when we hear it, that it is right—though that is quite variable and not at all reliable. So basically, we must be taught what is good and true from the outside, and what we are taught will vary according to the culture and family into which we are born.
However, as we look around at the various cultures of the world, we see there are some rules that are pretty constant, such as not lying, stealing, killing, committing adultery, and so on. These basic laws of good and truth, and of right and wrong, are for all intents and purposes universal in human society, even if there may be some highly corrupted pockets (such as gangs and organized crime families) where they’ve been nearly destroyed.
When Gentiles have the law “written on their hearts,” then, it is not from some internal, instinctual source, but from the basic moral laws that exist in all decent cultures everywhere, and that in the Judeo-Christian world are expressed in the Ten Commandments.
So no, since the Fall we humans no longer possess an inherent sense of right or wrong. But nearly all people in nearly every culture around the world grow up being taught the basics of moral law. And since nearly all humans have been taught these basics, we do become culpable if we choose not to abide by them.
But yes, there are exceptions for extreme indoctrination, brainwashing, major mental illness, and so on. If those who were supposed to teach us right from wrong instead fill us full of horrible and errant falsity, or if we simply don’t have the mental capacity to distinguish right from wrong, then we are not held responsible for actions engaged in under those circumstances, because they don’t come from our own will, but from circumstances beyond our control.
But certainly human beings have not fallen so deep into depravity so as to have no inherent connection to even the most basic, most fundamental moral laws? I’m sure many of us have been on the receiving end of a teaching that just inexplicably doesn’t sit well with us. Teachings that are basically evil of which we just have a natural, instinctive reaction against. Likewise, we find ourselves with an opposite reaction to morally upright teachings that just naturally ‘click’ with us as right (and I’ve experienced this many times when surveying Swedenborg’s writings). After all, why else did earlier moral teachers who have helped to propagate these lessons to our species so readily accept them in the first place? I feel inclined to be there’s just something essential against which basic teachings- both good and evil- are weighed.
I admit that what I’m describing as an instinctive reaction may just be the influences of other teachings that we have received along the way. If you indoctrinate a child from day one that it’s okay to hurt others to get what you want, odds are that’s going to persist unchecked into adulthood (even then, I don’t think it’s at all unreasonable to believe that some kind of inherent moral fiber kicks in at some point to try and steer that now adult away from that kind of behavior).
But do we really have nothing to connect us to basic truths besides our moral teachers?
I do think that there is an inherent tendency in us to accept what is good and true, and even to believe in God. It’s just that it is commonly countered by our inborn tendency to think of ourselves and our own pleasure, power, and possessions first. And that can cause us to seize on teachings that are false and regard them as true because they support our selfish and materialistic desires. This, I believe, is the ultimate source of all religious and Christian heresy. (But that does not mean I think everyone who accepts heresies is evil and selfish. Many, if not most of them just accept those false teachings in sincerity because that is what their teachers and preachers have taught them.)
So it’s not that the instinctive reaction doesn’t exist. It’s that it’s not necessarily a reliable indicator of what’s true and false because we also have inborn tendencies that prompt us to embrace things that are not good and true.
I do think that as our spirit is opened up more and more by actually living according to the moral and spiritual rules we have been taught, we are able more and more to recognize what is good and true when we see it, without having to engage in all sorts of fancy reasoning and scholarly studies. It is not our intellect, but living a good, loving, and charitable life that gives us the greatest ability to “instinctively” recognize what is good and true.
Hi again Lee,
One distinction I know you repeatedly emphasize is that between ‘evil’ and ‘sin,’ where evil is an objective reality, and sin is relative to what our consciences tell us is good and evil- and I would generally seem to agree with this.
However testing this notion in a real world setting might leave us with some implications we would have a hard time accepting. To draw from your example of gang members in a previous post, imagine a gang member who is indoctrinated with the idea that it’s his sworn duty to avenge the death of a fellow gang member by killing his rival. And it’s not too hard to fathom this as realistic. But if that person decides to shirk on his sense of duty and loyalty for reasons like apathy or self preservation, that gang member is in effect acting against his conscience. This would seem to imply:
-the gang member sinner by not killing his rival.
-the right thing for that person to do was to kill his rival.
Again, I think we would all have a hard time entertaining these conclusions. That’s why I feel compelled to believe that however distant we may have grown from our primordial connection to God, that there is a basic sense of right and wrong that the human conscience would never advise against/fail to impel us toward.
It’s important for us not to spiritually impose our own morality on others who have grown up with a very different morality.
It may very well be the case that a gang member who failed to kill a rival was sinning. The rival gang member he failed to kill might then go on to kill some of the apathetic gang member’s own gang, so that the apathetic gang member failed to protect his “family.”
What if, instead of gang members, we talked about soldiers? What if a soldier fighting in a war against an invading army decided that he just didn’t feel like killing the enemy? What if he conveniently lost his weapon when on the front line with his fellow soldiers? And what if his failure to shoot and kill the enemy resulted in their position being overrun, his fellow soldiers being killed or captured, and his side losing the battle? What if the enemy army then swarmed into the cities and towns he was defending, killing everyone who resisted, looting everything of value, and stripping and raping all of the women and girls? This result of defeat in war is not too hard to fathom as realistic because it has happened many times throughout human history, and continues to happen even today.
Wouldn’t we condemn the apathetic soldier for not killing his rival (the enemy), and thereby allowing many innocent people to be brutalized by the invading army?
Not killing members of rival gang members who are attempting to move in on his gang’s turf may look exactly the same to a gang member as a solder not killing the invading enemy looks to us.
Of course, in a civil society we still must impose law and order. We can’t let gangs go around killing each other with impunity. Not if we want to preserve the peace of our cities and neighborhoods. So although a gang member may not be sinning by killing a rival gang member, it is still the duty of a civil society and its police force to arrest, prosecute, and punish the killer.
And the hope is that through this experience, at least some gang members may rethink their morality, and realize that the violent life they’ve been living is wrong. Then they can readjust their conscience to a better standard to guide their lives going forward.
For more on this, see my article, “Can Gang Members Go to Heaven? (Is Life Fair?)”
Ok then, Lee: my hope was to emphasize the counterintuitive implications that come from the idea of following your conscience if a conscience is, as you say, forged through instruction and the way humans process their experiences, and has little or no direct connection to God.
It seems you believe that anyone abiding by their conscience- however off the mark it is from what is objectively good and true- is eligible for salvation. But does everyone on this earth get a fair shot at getting it right during their time here? Are we really just stumbling around via a conscience that may or may not be informed by truth with no God-given opportunities to correct our misjudgements we either inherit, or make on our own because we’re fallible humans who can’t process every experience perfectly?
I think I may have used this example in the past, but in the movie Fury, Brad Pitt’s character forces a reluctant new soldier to execute an unarmed, defenseless prisoner of war pleading for his life. Why? To avenge the deaths of their fellow soldiers, and out of a hatred that steadily develops as they endure more of their wartime experiences. While it is obviously against the rules of war, they ignore that for the same reasons that many criminal organizations reject social laws: they have their own ethical code.
But afterward, Pitt’s character expresses a private, tearful remorse over his actions. Maybe he lamented the murder he participated in, maybe he’s mourning the loss of his own humanity, or both. But in any case, here we see an expression of conscience, which means 1.) it was still able to penetrate all the horrible layers of his experiences, and 2.) he is (or was always) culpable for knowing and acting better.
I don’t think real world examples like this are uncommon, and that’s why I feel compelled to believe that the human conscience is more than a collection of instructions and experiences for the same reasons I believe that human beings are more than just bags of meat and bones. 🙂
God does not leave us without guidance or instruction. Every nation and culture on the face of the earth has (at least historically) some religion and some teachings about right and wrong that are regarded as coming from God, or from a spiritual source. People in the various cultures who pay attention to those teachings can develop a reasonably sound conscience as a guide to living their life. And that provides them with a pathway to heaven.
The examples we’ve been throwing around, of gang members in the midst of gang warfare and soldiers in the midst of war, are of extreme circumstances that go beyond what most ordinary people experience most of the time. And they do stretch the boundaries of conscience beyond their usual limits.
In the movie example you mention, however, Brad Pitt’s character knew very well that what he was doing was wrong and contrary to the rules of war. But he did it anyway. This is not an example of faulty conscience. It is an example of violating a reasonably sound conscience. That’s why he later regretted his actions.
Further, as I suggested in my previous comment, our conscience can be and often is modified over time. One of the problems with a faulty conscience is that quite often it doesn’t work well in practice. Gang members who shoot rival gang members tend only to create more and more violence, and they tend to either get killed themselves or, better, get arrested and charged with murder. And when our behavior pursuant to our conscience leads to adverse effects that “weren’t supposed to happen,” that may give us pause to rethink our notions of right and wrong.
In the mix of that rethinking will be what God has revealed to us about right and wrong in the various sacred books of humanity, and through the various holy men and women who articulate to human society a divine ideal of human life. In various ways, and through various means, God is always seeking to reshape and hone our conscience into something that is more in harmony with spiritual and divine truth.
Hi again Lee,
I was reflecting a bit more on this topic lately, and it began with the question of ‘are there unavoidable evils?’ We’ve all at one point or another confronted some very challenging ethical dilemmas, and some of them seem so complex so as to be beyond our abilities of discernment. That is, there’s simply too many variables and too many complex interactions among them for us, in our limited capacities, to *know* what to do.
However *knowing* what the right thing to do is, and *seeking* to do the right thing are two different things, and speak to the distinction you’ve drawn between ‘evil’ and ‘sin.’ Sin- in its deliberateness- can progressively lead to our spiritual ruin is not attended to. Evil, however, can sometimes be brought about through otherwise good intentions. We may seek to do good, but wind up doing evil as a result of the complexities involved in certain decision making.
But this prompts us to ask: what are the side effects of evil? We know all too well the destructiveness of sin, but what about evil that’s done with the intention of doing good? After all, evil attracts more evil, so shouldn’t it affect us once we allow it into our lives, well intentioned or not?
My own take- and I would love your feedback on this- is that yes, it does, especially if it’s an ongoing evil. While our consciences can sometimes be faulty, especially if they’ve been handed down to us by faulty teachers, I think that evil makes its presence known the more time you spend around it. It just feels ‘off.’ It doesn’t feel ‘right.’ While doing good opens our intuition up to Heaven, doing evil opens our intuition up to hell, and we begin to feel it. Once we do, for us to persist in the evil our intuition is informing us about becomes deliberate, and deliberate evil is a sin.
This speaks to a separate discussion that you and I had, about the need to ‘try things out’ when it comes to good and evil. While that may have been the cause of The Fall, that’s just the state we’re in now, and it might be that some moral decisions are beyond our ability to figure out through reflection alone. Sometimes we just need to do our best and pay attention to what our intuition is telling us about the decisions we’ve made.
A part of my has some hesitation about this. It sounds as though our consciences can be forged, in part, through evil. It also means that sometimes evil is unavoidable. You have any thoughts on this?
aaaaand I’m just now realizing I’m reiterating a point you already made. Maybe some of this is just conversational osmosis or something 😉
We created human beings are limited and fallible. As a race we have already invited evil into our world and our life. So yes, some evil is now unavoidable and inevitable, even if it wasn’t from our first creation.
And yes, sometimes, even often, we just have to do the best we can in a situation, knowing that there is no path that is entirely good, and that there will be some bad effects no matter what we do. It is, as you say, our continual intention to move toward the good that ultimately makes the difference. If that is our intention and goal, then as various unintended side-effects of our actions take place, we will seek to readjust our words and actions to bring about better results down the line, rather than letting the unintended evil snowball into something bigger.
Our life and our rebirth is unavoidably a process. We don’t root out all of our evils all at once. It happens by stages, as we gain experience, strength, and knowledge through the many and varied situations we face, which are commonly a mix of good and evil.
And rather than some one absolute sin, or shunning of some one sin, causing us to go up or down, it is the overall direction we are traveling, whether up or down, from wherever we are that determines our eternal destination and path.
And yes, our conscience is continually developing as we travel the upward path. We learn through study and through experience, and apply what we are learning to the situations we face as we go along. That is part of our spiritual journey.
And yes, if we don’t pay attention and notice that our well-intentioned actions are causing more harm than good, we are in clear danger of slipping over into the grip of evil, and into an evil life. Paying attention to how our words and actions affect others is part of loving our neighbor as ourselves. And if we don’t do that, we are not traveling the path to heaven.
And yes, this has been a general subject of a lot of our discussions. Whether you’re picking it up through conversational osmosis here or simply gaining some understanding from thought and experience, I do think that you and I are seeing eye-to-eye on many of these subjects.
Hi Lee, I was wondering if you could please explain this persons NDE account to me and the many other accounts that she has witnessed. It is causing me a lot of distress because she has observed that not all good people have good NDEs and not all bad people have bad ones. Please read the full article for all the details before you answer my question. She even claims that some children have had distressing NDEs! http://ndestories.org/nancy-evans-bush/
Thanks for your good question and for the link. I did read the whole page, and also watched/listened to the videos there. Here are two points I would pick out from Nancy Evans Bush’s own conclusions about negative NDEs:
The first point, it seems to me, is just common sense. If a person gets mugged, that doesn’t mean that person is a bad person. Just that something bad happened to them. If anyone is bad, it’s the mugger, not the victim.
The same is true of spiritual experiences such as near-death experiences. Having a bad spiritual experience doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. But it does mean that you’ve been “mugged” by some bad spiritual entities or forces.
Getting mugged or otherwise attacked and harmed can be a shattering experience. But the idea that bad things happen to us because we’re evil people headed to hell makes it far worse than it needs to be. All of us have both good and bad experiences in life. Our response to these experiences is ultimately more important than the experience itself. If we get mugged, do we get bitter about humankind and become dark and cynical in our outlook on life? Or do we recognize that evil is a reality, that it hurts people, and that we need to face and overcome it in our world, and in our own psyche?
In the case of Nancy Evans Bush, her hellish NDE put her on a lifelong search for greater meaning in her life. So although the experience itself was a shattering and terrifying one, it ultimately led to greater understanding, and a much broader and more comprehensive understanding of the nature of our life here on earth.
On the second point, the spiritual world does not work the same way the physical world does. Here on earth we see things, and for all practical purposes, that’s what’s there. But in the spiritual world, what we see may be a representation of what’s actually there, or it may be a symbolic or metaphorical representation of the inner nature of what’s there. So if we see red, horned demons in the spiritual world, that may actually be a mataphorical representation of spirits whose heart and intentions are evil and destructive. If we saw those spirits in person, they might look like ordinary, if unbeautiful, human beings. The imagery we see represents their inner character rather than what they actually look like.
NDEs in general, both good and bad, are not necessarily depictions of what the spiritual world actually looks like. Rather, they are commonly experiences filled with symbolism and metaphor representing good and evil aspects of human life and character. These things become much more real and visible in the spiritual world, where NDEs commonly take place, than in the physical world. But like dreams, NDEs are often more like being in a spiritual movie theater than like walking out in the streets of the spiritual world.
So even if some NDEers experience horrible, hellish imagery of flames, pitchforks, demons, and people screaming out in agony, that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what the evil realms of the spiritual world are actually like. Rather, it is a symbolic or archetypal representation of the spiritual nature of the evil side of human existence.
For more on what hell is really like, please see: “Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like?”
And once more, just because someone has a hellish experience, either here on earth or in the spiritual world during an NDE, that doesn’t mean that person is evil or is going to hell. It means that that person has experienced something of the evil side of human life. And I believe that’s not a condemnation, but rather a call to action to face and overcome the remaining evil in our lives, both as individual people and as a society.
Of course, there’s much more to this. But I hope these few thoughts are helpful to you.
Thank you! That was very helpful. Just one more thought, if good people have hellish NDE’s, what does that mean for when they’re actually dead? Because the spirit world doesn’t know they will be revived so what happens to people then? Would a good person be trapped in hell for all eternity?
sorry for all the questions I am just very worried about everything regarding this
You’re welcome. And please feel free to ask any questions that may be on your mind.
To answer this one, no, there is no possible way a good person would be trapped in hell for all eternity.
Our final home in heaven or hell is not determined by any one experience or event, but by the character we have built up through our choices and actions throughout our lifetime here on earth. Though good people might have some temporary hellish experiences in the spiritual world after they die for various reasons—usually to break them away from bad friends or bad habits or bad attitudes that they’ve gotten stuck on—in the end people’s real, inner character will determine where they make their final home.
For more on this, please see: “What Happens To Us When We Die?”
well that proves the saying god works in mysterious ways. But in this case its a little on the cruel side. I seriously hope you are right about that. Just one more question. How exactly did Emmanuel Swedenborg make contact with the afterlife so often? Did he ever die? Why is his account of hell so much more moderate than we hear from other people’s modern day NDE’s? A lot of people recall being dragged by demons and tortured. Again thank you for all your answers, you definitely give me a piece of mind as I tend to be quite the irrational worrier.
https://fellowshipoftheminds.com/2014/08/10/marines-near-death-experience-of-hell/ also can you take a look at this NDE and tell me what you think. I know he most likely went to hell to change his way of life but the angel said he would’ve stayed there if it had been his time, which distresses me because he wasn’t exactly a bad person
I am so sorry, I would also like you to give me your advice on this please https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4_3thytWnXU
First, Calvinism is indeed a horribly false doctrine. The idea that God predestines some people to heaven and others to hell before they are even born, and even before creation, is a terrible blasphemy against the love and mercy of God.
My sense, from watching the video, is that this man knew he was teaching terrible falsehoods when he was a Calvinist, but couldn’t bring himself to renounce them. Then God intervened, and gave him a powerful experience that prompted him finally to do what his conscience had been telling him he needed to do, but that he was resisting: renounce these false teachings.
However, drawing general conclusions about the nature of hell from this one man’s particular experience, aimed at his own particular situation, would be a mistake. Once again, he had only a brief experience of the spiritual world. And it’s likely that he was not really seeing the spiritual world as it is in itself, but rather was being shown a “spiritual movie” aimed at his own particular state of mind and life.
For one thing, we have a pretty good idea what’s at the center of the earth, and it’s not people bobbing up and down in a lake of fire. These experiences of his were not of literal things, but were spiritual imagery illustrating some of the false notions that were in his mind, and that he needed to be jolted out of.
Also, nobody goes to hell just for believing the wrong thing. Yes, inveterate lying can cause someone to go to hell. But that would be because it was practicing deception, usually for selfish reasons. So I don’t believe any of his former parishioners were in hell just because they believed the false teachings of Calvinism. Really, we don’t know if any of them were in hell at all. All we know is that he had an experience of seeing them there. Whether that is literally true, or whether it was simply something he was shown to break him out of his false teaching, we do not know.
These are a few of my thoughts in response to the video. If you have any more specific questions about anything else he says, feel free to ask.
Fascinating story and testimony. Thanks for the link.
One thing you have to understand is that God and the angels speak to us, not according to some absolute truth, which would be beyond our ability to understand, but according to the concepts we already have in our mind about God, heaven and hell, spirit, the Bible, and so on. While they can expand our minds somewhat beyond what we already know, they do have to work with the contents of our mind and memory, our experiences, what we’ve learned and believe, and so on.
Further, in the spiritual world, things aren’t just presented to us in words, but in full-on experience and imagery. I’ve mentioned being in a spiritual movie theater, but it’s really more like being in a Star Trek Holodeck: you experience everything as if being fully immersed in a real experience, not just watching a screen and hearing sound from a speaker.
I have no doubt that this marine experienced exactly what he describes. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean hell is actually like what he experienced. Rather, he was given an experience based on ideas in his own mind, from his religious upbringing, that he needed to experience in order to stop wasting his life and start doing something good with it instead. And if he needed to believe that he would have ended out in hell if he’d permanently died at that point, then that’s what he’ll be led to believe in order to get it through his skull that this is serious business with serious, long-term consequences.
Further, the imagery of 13′ demons and 9’6″ angels also has metaphorical, or spiritual significance. It’s not just stuff that was already in his mind, but also signifies the enormity and power of evil once we get in its grip, as well as the even greater power of good (even if it doesn’t look as powerful to our mind) if we will look to it and ask for help, recognizing that on our own we’re likely headed to hell. So even though I don’t believe hell is actually literal flames as Mr. Weed experienced it, I do believe that there’s a reason and a symbolism to its being presented that way in the Bible and elsewhere. But there’s more about that in the article about hell that I linked you to in an earlier comment.
According to Swedenborg, God called him specially, and opened his spiritual eyes, so that he could learn first-hand about the spiritual world and tell people on earth what it is like. Here are two links about Swedenborg, the first to a video about him produced by the Swedenborg Foundation, and the second to an article I wrote about Swedenborg and his writings in comparison to the Bible:
Yes, Swedenborg did die, in 1772, at the age of 84. He never claimed to be anything other than an ordinary, mortal human being. But an ordinary, mortal person whom God called for a special task. And in order to do that task, God made it possible for Swedenborg to be fully conscious in the spiritual world while he was still living in the material world, for the last 27 years of his life. He was able to visit angels and spirits in the spiritual world daily, and in that way get acclimated enough to see what it is really like there.
NDEers, by contrast, have only a very brief experience in the spiritual world. And though it is often very vivid, it is not long enough to really get their bearings and figure out what the spiritual world is all about. Most of them come back not really understanding what their experience meant or how it happened, but with a new sense of the reality of the spiritual world, and often a better sense of their purpose here on earth. The second article above goes into more detail about how Swedenborg was able to describe the spiritual world so clearly when so many others who briefly visited it can give only much briefer and more personal vignettes.
There certainly are demons in hell, and some of them certainly do love to torture people. So it’s very possible for people to have those experiences. But they still have only one brief experience of one part of the spiritual world—a very hellish part—which doesn’t give them the big picture of what the spiritual world is all about. Some parts of hell are much worse than others, depending upon how mild or malevolent the evil spirits are in the various parts of hell.
To get the big picture of the afterlife, I highly recommend that you get and read Swedenborg’s book Heaven and Hell.
Thank you for answering all my questions you were very helpful!
You are very welcome. It is my pleasure and my joy.
Hi Lee, I apologize for bothering you again with my questions but I cant seem to shake all these things I worry about. unfortunately I am a very busy university student in Nursing and often don’t have time to seek a pastor to talk to where I live so you seem to be very helpful. I was wondering if you could give me your insight on this youtube video please. It is about lukewarm christian who is now a pastor and he didn’t do anything bad except become “lukewarm”. He didn’t lie, or steal, or cheat or anything like that. So I don’t understand why he is told that he would stay in hell if that were his dying day. Is there really only going to be a few people saved because of our ignorance and because were not perfect? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sh2NUhpDcek It is a half hour long video so just skip to the end where he explains why he was sent to hell and watch the beginning. I am very very confused.
This is a fine example of people interpreting their spiritual experiences according to their own pre-existing theology. Once again, I don’t doubt that this young pastor had that experience. Maybe he needed a kick in the rear end to get him moving forward again on his journey of spiritual growth. And that’s not a bad thing. But then he took it and plugged it into what he already believed about God, the Bible, salvation, and so on. All of his conclusions weren’t revealed to him by God. They were his understanding and interpretation of what happened to him.
Once again, God and the angels must speak to us according to what’s already in our mind, and what we already believe. And for him, based on his beliefs, this experience conveyed to him that he couldn’t be a halfway Christian. That’s a good message, even if the theology he surrounded it with is faulty.
Could you explain to me what being a lukewarm Christian means? There are many websites that try to explain this but its very confusing. I dont want to end up In hell because I didn’t give god enough of my time!
Also didn’t it say in the video that God told him that he went to hell for being lukewarm?
That’s certainly what he believes. But once again, people commonly hear what they need to hear, based on what they already believe, in order to get them to reconsider their life, stop wasting it, and start devoting it to good and godly things. God uses our already existing beliefs, even if they are mistaken, to move us forward spiritually.
There are many people who say that God told them many different things. And they commonly contradict one another. One will say that God told them anyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus Christ will go to hell. Another will say that God told them that good people of all religions go to heaven. If we believed everything that people have claimed God told them, we would not be able to believe anything at all.
No matter what various people claim God told them, we have to test those things for ourselves, and decide for ourselves whether or not we think they are true.
For Christians, one of the ways to do this is to test their claims against what the Bible says. And the reality is that many of these “Christian” preachers are preaching doctrines that the Bible does not teach at all, even if they claim that it comes from the Bible. They are teaching doctrines that various human theologians made up at various times in history, but that the Bible doesn’t actually say.
For example, the Bible never says that we are saved or justified by faith alone. In fact, in the only place in the Bible that mentions faith alone, it is specifically rejected:
It was not the Bible, but Martin Luther (1483–1546), one of the main founders of Protestantism, who said, 1,500 years after the Bible was written, that we are saved by faith alone. That’s why Protestants commonly believe that we are saved simply by believing in Jesus Christ, and that we are not saved because of the good things we do. But the Bible says the opposite. See my article, “Faith Alone Does Not Save . . . No Matter How Many Times Protestants Say It Does.”
Unfortunately, most of what traditional Christianity teaches as “basic Christian doctrine” simply isn’t in the Bible, but was made up by human beings centuries after the Bible was written. For more of these non-Biblical teachings, see “‘Christian Beliefs’ that the Bible Doesn’t Teach,” and the articles linked from it.
If these people who claim that God told them this or that are also preaching and teaching all of these false, non-Biblical, human-invented doctrines while claiming that “this is what the Bible says,” should we really listen to them?
That’s a big question, and one that deserves a whole article of its own. But here’s the short version.
Being “lukewarm” as it is used in the message to Laodicea in Revelation 3:14–22 is not just being apathetic and half-hearted. Rather, it is mixing “hot” and “cold,” or good and evil, and thereby corrupting good things with evil things. This is worse than not being good at all.
The Laodiceans are not described as being just half-hearted Christians. Rather, they are described as saying they are rich and prosperous and need nothing, when in fact they are “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” These are people who have an exaggerated view of their own goodness when in fact they are very bad people.
An example of being “lukewarm” due to mixing good and evil would be a minister who preaches great sermons and everyone loves him, but he uses his position to have affairs with various young, pretty female parishioners, duping them into thinking that having sex with him is a godly thing. This is corruption, plain and simple. Such people are judged very harshly by society when their deeds become known. And if they don’t repent as God commands them to in that passage from the book of Revelation, they will have a very miserable life in hell after they die.
and what about stories like Bill Wiese http://www1.cbn.com/700club/bill-wiese-what-happens-when-i-die and Mary K Baxter who went to hell and claim you have to be saved and be a christian to go to heaven and God told them that. I honestly dont know what to believe these people seem very convincing and you cant really make this stuff up and it totally contradicts other NDEs and swedenborgs teachings. Swedenborg seems like the more loving way to go and I really want to believe him but im afraid that the other people are telling the truth and so many people are going to be condemned
They also say that hell is eternal and you can’t get out ever 😦
That’s not how it works. It’s not so much that you can’t ever get out of hell. It’s that if you choose to go to hell, you don’t want to leave hell, because that’s where you can live in the evil way you want to live, even if there is also pain and punishment there. Nobody is in hell against their will. If they’re in hell, it’s because that’s where they want to be—as crazy as that may sound to you and me. Please do read the article on hell that I linked for you earlier.
And yet another one who experienced things and interpreted them according to what he already believed. When God speaks to us, what we hear is not necessarily what God actually said. It gets filtered through our own mind and beliefs. So although I don’t doubt that Bill Wiese heard God saying these things to him, I still don’t believe those things are actually true. Rather, they are what these particular people needed to hear to jolt them out of the patterns they were stuck in and move forward with their spiritual life.
Ultimately, of course, you’ll have to make up your own mind what to believe. I hope you will read some of the articles I’ve linked for you. Here are two more:
I noticed in the video that after Bill Weise had finished giving his testimony, Pat Robertson started talking about Jesus paying the penalty for our sins. This is simply false. Nowhere does the Bible ever say that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. You can look for it as hard as you like, but it’s just not there. There are several articles here about that if you’re interested. So once again, these people believe a false theology, and when they have spiritual experiences, they interpret them according to their false theology.
Comparing this to Swedenborg, I would ask you this question: If you wanted to learn about another country, would you turn to someone who had been there for 23 minutes, or someone who had been there for 27 years? Bill Weise spent 23 minutes in what he thought was hell. Swedenborg spent 27 years traveling throughout the spiritual world and learning what it is like. Who do you think has a better understanding of what heaven and hell are really like?
okay thanks Lee ill try to look into Swedenborgs teachings some more. But didn’t some people say he had schizophrenia and epilepsy? How do we make sure he’s telling the truth and not just a result of his mental disorders?
thanks again I extremely appreciate you’re very detailed feedback and the fact that you take the time to answer all these questions!:)
Yes, I would encourage you to read the articles I’ve linked, and learn for yourself about Swedenborg and what he taught. Then you can make up your own mind.
Naturally, since Swedenborg said that traditional Christianity was wrong about almost everything, their priests and ministers didn’t take too kindly to him. So they made up all sorts of scandalous stories about him, said he was mentally ill, and so on. However, there is no actual evidence for any of these things. They were all thoroughly investigated after Swedenborg’s death, and thoroughly debunked.
The fact of the matter is that Swedenborg was healthy as a horse. He was rarely even sick. He lived to be 84 years old in a day and age when few people lived that long, and had only a brief illness of a few days before he died. Incidentally, he also predicted the day of his own death, and according reports by people who knew him, seemed quite pleased that he would finally be going to the spiritual world for good.
Yes, some atheists and skeptics, and even some religious people, claim that he was mentally ill because he said that God opened his spiritual eyes so that he could visit the spiritual world on a daily basis. But if having that sort of spiritual experience makes a person mentally ill, then we’ll have to throw away almost the entire Bible. It is full of people who have spiritual experiences and visions of God. Consider, for example, John the Apostle, who wrote the book of Revelation based on a spiritual vision that God gave him.
Further, if Swedenborg was crazy because he experienced the spiritual world, what about Bill Weise and others who claim to have experienced hell? Wouldn’t that make them crazy, too?
The simple fact of the matter is that there is no evidence whatsoever that Swedenborg was physically or mentally ill. But those rumors persist because people who want to discredit his teachings keep on repeating them.
Once again, I encourage you to read about him for yourself, and make up your own mind. Here are the two posts I linked for you before, one with a video about Swedenborg produced by the Swedenborg Foundation, and one in which, among other things, I look at Swedenborg’s claim to have been fully conscious in the spiritual world while still alive on this earth:
Also why would God tell Bill Weise to tell everybody about hell if it was only for his spiritual guidance and not that it was for eternity? Isn’t that god unneccesarily scaring people?
For some people, being scared into being good is the only thing that works. This is commonly true of people who are not actually very spiritual at all, and who think that living a self-indulgent life is good and pleasurable. They need to be shaken out of their complacency. To use the vernacular, they need a kick in the butt to get them to straighten up and fly right.
There are also many dire warnings in the Bible of what God will do to people who disobey God and live selfish, self-indulgent, greedy, and power-hungry lives. The Bible says that God will be angry with them and punish them miserably, and so on. And though it’s not actually true that God is angry with evil people (see “What is the Wrath of God? Why was the Old Testament God so Angry, yet Jesus was so Peaceful?”) many people need to believe that God is angry and wrathful or they won’t take God seriously. They would consider a “nice” God to be a weak God, and would thumb their nose at God. So God allows such people to think that God is an angry, punishing God for their own spiritual good.
That’s why there are so many churches and preachers that preach fire and brimstone and scare their congregations into being good. God’s primary goal is to get us to heaven. And if “the fear of God” is the only thing that will shake up a lot of very materialistic people enough to get them to take stock of their lives and change their ways, then God will let them experience that fear. However, that fear is really not from God, but, in psychological terms, is a projection of their own “dark side,” or in religious terms, a result of the evil, selfishness, and materialism within themselves, which they believe is very powerful, and which therefore masquerades as God for them.
For more on this, please read the article on the wrath of God that I linked just above.
Thank you so much Lee! I really appreciate all the answers that you have provided to my questions. Now, about Paul the Apostle, he has a passage that particularly scares me and I was wondering if you can explain it to me?Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9–11)
This passage scares me. My parents conceived my sister before marriage. There are lots of great gay people in the world. Sometimes our family likes to have a good time and we end up getting drunk. Does that mean anyone who gets drunk ever or has sex before marriage or any of these things go to hell? This is a scary passage!
Yes, Paul could be pretty hard core. But it’s good to keep in mind that the ancient Mediterranean society in which he lived was very different from today’s Western society—especially when it came to human sexuality.
Most people in those days got married fairly young, and had sex mostly to have children. “Fornicators” refers mainly to people who had a lot of promiscuous sex or frequented prostitutes. The Bible is actually quite pragmatic about premarital sex. In fact, premarital sex is not prohibited anywhere in the Bible, although it was not considered a very good idea. For more on this, see “Is Sex Before Marriage Forbidden in the Bible?”
Also, the word Paul uses there really shouldn’t be translated “homosexuals.” That gives a wrong impression of what he was referring to.
When we think of a homosexual relationship today, what usually comes to mind is two socially and legally equal men or women (or teenage boys or girls) engaged in a romantic and sexual relationship. However, that sort of relationship didn’t really exist in the cultures of Paul’s day—or if it ever did happen, it was frowned upon socially, and in some societies there were even laws against it.
Instead, the most common pattern for a homosexual relationship in Paul’s day was for a middle-aged or older man, who was most likely a heterosexual, married man, having sex with a young man or teenage boy. This sort of relationship was not only repugnant to Paul’s Jewish and Christian standards, but even today it is frowned upon socially and, in the case of adults having sex with teenage boys (or teenage girls), it is legally prohibited as statutory rape. In other words, the types of homosexual relationships that Paul was familiar with, and condemned, are condemned in today’s society as well. For much more on this subject, see my extensive article, “Homosexuality, the Bible, and Christianity.” For the Cliff’s Notes version, see: “Homosexuality, the Bible, and Christianity: A Summary.”
Oh, and “sodomites” is a bad translation of the original Greek word, too—as covered in the main homosexuality article. See also my article, “What is the Sin of Sodom?”
And about “drunkards,” that’s not talking about people who occasionally get drunk on their time off. It’s talking about people who are drunk all the time so that they can’t hold down a job and are of no use to anyone. People in Paul’s culture drank wine just as we do today. In fact, it was a very common drink. And it wasn’t unusual for people to get drunk at a party. It was people who went overboard and destroyed their lives, and their family’s lives, through continuous very heavy drinking who were condemned as “drunkards.”
Thanks Lee you are truly amazing at what you do and have very awesome theology! does Drunkenness mean the same as drunkard? like because he also says “The sins of the flesh are evident…many things and then drunkenness…will not inherit the kingdom of God”. Just trying to tie up all these loose ends. Thanks so much Lee! You are truly an amazingly spiritual person! 🙂
Thank you for your kind words.
And yes, both “drunkenness” and “drunkard” come from the same basic Greek word.
Thanks Lee for all your kind comments and patience! Those are all my questions for now and I am so grateful to you for answering all my questions with so much detail!:) Thanks and God Bless! 🙂
Hi Lee, I know I said I was done with questions but my curious mind keeps coming up with more haha. Take your time answering me though if you are busy. I was just wondering what this bible quote means if most people are going to heaven. it is quite confusing.”Enter by the narrow gate…For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
Haha! No problem.
Though I don’t have an article here on that particular passage (maybe I should?), please see this comment in response to another reader.
In addition to what I say there, in the longer version in Luke 13:22–30, Jesus ends by saying that many people from the east, west, north, and south (basically meaning Gentiles, or non-Jews) will enter the kingdom, but few of the in-crowd (observant Jews) who expect to enter the kingdom will do so. When Swedenborg comments on this passage, he says the same thing, only instead of saying few Jews will enter, he says few Christians will, but many non-Christians, because non-Christians live by their religion much better than Christians—who now think they are God’s chosen people—do.
A lot of your questions revolve around a fear or concern that you and the people you love will end out in hell for various reasons. As it turns out, that is a very common fear. So common that this article, which I wrote to address it, consistently stays near the top of the list of most popular (highest hit count) articles on the site:
If You Think You’re Going to Hell, Please Read This First
Hi Lee! Thanks for clearing that up for me! I totally think you should do an article on this passage, it would clear up things for A LOT of people 🙂 Thank you so much I really enjoy reading all your articles on this website!
God Bless 🙂
Lee, I was wondering if you could tell me how much of the bible today is actually accurate? So much of it has changed in as it has been passed down in history and it makes it really confusing to decipher what is fact or fiction?
For the most part, it doesn’t matter whether most of the Bible is fact or fiction. From a spiritual perspective, the purpose of the Bible is not to inform us about historical events or to teach us about science or geology, but to guide us on a path toward heaven. For that purpose, the Bible consists of all different genres. Though some of its books are written in the form of history and biography, really, it’s all about our relationship with God and about how to get along with our fellow human beings. With very few exceptions, whether or not what it describes actually happened historically as described just doesn’t matter for the spiritual purposes of the Bible.
My general view is that after the first eleven books of Genesis, which were never meant to be taken literally in the first place, something like what is described in the Bible probably happened, but it may have happened quite differently than the way it is described there. And some stories, such as the story of Jonah and the “whale,” were probably composed as morality tales rather than describing events that actually happened.
But the short answer is: Mostly, it just doesn’t matter what’s fact and what’s fiction in the Bible. The important thing is the spiritual message from God to humankind contained in its stories, poetry, and prophecy. Here are some articles that cover this in more detail:
Thanks Lee I really appreciate all your help 🙂
Okay theres something else I need to know. I know you said it doesn’t matter if the bible is mostly fact or fiction and im with you there, but some scholars say that half of the writings of the apostles are forged by other people pretending to be them, and they claim most of them were illiterate, and half of Paul’s writings were too to be his because apparently he wrote in short sentences. and the story about casting the first stone is not in the oldest text of the bible they have ever found which is the codex Sinaik or something close to that and the verses 9-20 in mark about Jesus showing up to the 12 Apostles after his resurrection in the flesh and Mary Magdalene and the crowd is not written in that version either. They said that the original version actually has the bible switched around in a different order and Jesus does appear to Peter and Paul but in more of a vision. It just sort of ends abruptly after someone tells I think Peter and someone that Jesus has been resurrected and they go in the tomb and its empty. Apparently a lot of the bible was changed by the church to fit in with their own world view at the time. Its like a giant game of telephone. So really my question is, if the whole basis of Christianity revolves around the resurrection, how are we supposed to believe it happened when verses 9-20 seem to have been added in a later version of the bible?
The issue of the biblical manuscripts and the varying canons of Scripture (which books are included as scripture by the various branches of Christianity) is a very complex one, and I don’t claim to be an expert. However, here are some basic responses to your questions.
First, it is true that there are variations in the manuscripts, and that some well-known passages, such as the last part of the last chapter of the Gospel of Mark and the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 7:53–8:11, do not appear in manuscripts that are considered earliest and most reliable.
Different churches have different views on this. My own view is that God’s hand was in this process enough that the manuscripts that came down to us do form a book (the Bible) that is fully functional as the Word of God, from which we can learn God’s will and God’s commandments for us. So personally, I’m not all that worried about which manuscripts are right, and I don’t usually deal with manuscript issues in my articles here on Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life.
Even if that last part of Mark isn’t authentic, the Gospel of Mark, which is considered the earliest Gospel, still does report that Jesus has risen. It just doesn’t provide the stories of the women and the disciples meeting Jesus after the resurrection. And the other three Gospels all have accounts of the resurrection as well. So despite the claims of the hard-core skeptics, there is still a good biblical basis for the reality of Jesus’ resurrection.
And even if we were to lose the story of the woman caught in adultery, the bulk of the Gospel of John would still remain intact as the most philosophical and spiritual of the Gospels.
Most of the other textual variations are fairly minor, and don’t have any major impact on the meaning or flow of the text. In fact, compared to other ancient texts, such as the writings of ancient Greek and Roman philosophers, poets, and historians, we have a wealth of very old manuscripts and manuscript fragments for the various books of the Bible, and the general evidence is that the text has been preserved fairly well.
About the letters of Paul, yes, many New Testament scholars consider some of them to be actual works of Paul, and others to be written by other authors and attributed to Paul. This sort of thing was very common in those days. It doesn’t necessarily mean that those letters are worthless. If they were written in the general style and spirit of Paul, they might be accepted even if Paul didn’t actually write them.
A more recent parallel is that much of Lutheran theology was actually written by a man named Philip Melanchthon, who was a close associate of Luther, and more of a systematic theologian than Luther. And yet, the theology written by Melanchthon is still commonly accepted in the Lutheran Church as representing authentic Lutheran doctrine.
The question, really, is whether the content of these letters supports and expands upon genuine Christian history and doctrine.
The Christian Church did not “rewrite the Bible” over the centuries as some opponents of Christianity claim. There are too many ancient manuscripts attesting to the authenticity of the various texts to support such an idea. (One exception is the “Comma Johanneum” in 1 John 5:7 8, which was most likely a much later addition to the text.) Rather, what happened was that various Christian councils looked at the books that were circulating as Christian literature, and decided which ones to include in the canon of scripture and which not to. And not all of the councils and churches agreed. For more on the varying canons of scripture, and their history, see this page on Wikipedia: Biblical canon. The Catholic Church, for example, includes a group of books called the Apocrypha in its canon that Protestantism does not. Other branches of the Christian church include or exclude various books. If you scroll down on that Wikipedia page, you’ll see a chart listing the biblical canons of some of the better known branches of Christianity.
You may not be surprised to hear, then, that Swedenborgians have their own canon of scripture, which is considerably smaller, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, than any other canon of scripture that I’m aware of. It doesn’t include any books that are not in the Catholic and Protestant canons, but notably, in the New Testament it includes only the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and the book of Revelation. For a full listing and explanation, see this answer of mine on Christianity StackExchange: “What writings are held as “‘biblical canon’ by Swedenborgians?”
In relation to your questions, this means that we don’t accept Paul’s writings as part of the Word of God—though we do consider the Acts and the Epistles, including Paul’s letters, to be good Christian books and well worth reading and studying. And for the purposes of this website, which reaches out to a more general Christian (and non-Christian) audience, I commonly refer to the Acts and the Epistles as scripture because they are accepted as scripture by the vast majority of Christians. Plus, if they are read properly, they, like the rest of the traditionally accepted Bible, support the doctrines that Swedenborg taught and that Swedenborgians believe in—and perhaps more to the point, do not support many of the key Protestant and Catholic doctrines that are supposedly based on them.
I should add that among the things in the Bible that are important to Swedenborgians to have happened historically are the virgin birth of Jesus Christ, his life as a real human being on earth, his death by execution, and his resurrection. Whether or not these things happened exactly as described in the Gospels, without them our theology would have serious problems. That’s why I said that it mostly doesn’t matter whether the things described in the Bible actually happened historically.
By the same token, these are not the sorts of things that could be proven or disproven by any kind of archaeological research. Naturally, secular scientists don’t accept the virgin birth or the resurrection. But other than relying on general scientific principles that such things can’t realistically happen from a scientific point of view, these scientists can’t actually provide any evidence that they didn’t happen. That’s because these things took place (or not) two thousand years ago, and there weren’t any scientific instruments present in Mary’s womb, or at Christ’s tomb, to provide us with any actual scientific evidence about what took place.
For my own view on these things, and why I believe that God did indeed become a human being, Jesus Christ, born on this earth, I invite you to read my article, “The Logic of Love: Why God became Jesus.”
Thank you Lee!:) just wondering, how do you explain the concept of Jesus’s older brother? Or is that just something historians made up or suspected? 🙂
There are various theories about the brothers of Jesus who are mentioned several times in the Gospels and the Epistles. The belief that Jesus had older brothers is based on the idea that the four brothers of Jesus mentioned in the New Testament were Joseph’s sons by a previous marriage. This ties in with the (largely Catholic) belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary—or to put it plainly, the belief that throughout her entire life, Mary never had sex.
However, there is no basis in the Bible for the idea that Mary remained a virgin after having Jesus, nor is there any mention of a previous marriage of Joseph. Later apocryphal books contain such stories, but these were written centuries later and, in my view, simply told tales based on the already existing belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary, in order to support it.
It seems obvious enough to me that after Mary had Jesus, she had a normal husband-and-wife relationship with Joseph, including having sexual relations with him, and that the four brothers of Jesus mentioned in the New Testament were his younger half-brothers, the sons of Mary and Joseph. (According to the Gospels, of course, Jesus’ father was not Joseph, but God.)
Short version: I don’t see any sound biblical evidence that Jesus had any older brothers. I believe the brothers of Jesus mentioned in the New Testament were his younger half brothers.
Thanks for clearing that up Lee 🙂
Got something of a mind bender you might be able to help me untangle.
Imagine this scenario: a mob affiliate is given the task of performing a hit on a member of a rival family, which this person agrees to do, despite being fully aware that murder is evil. However, out of sloth and pure laziness, the gang member fails to perform his task as ordered.
So couple of questions. First, is slothfulness evil in this case? It’s certainly an ugly human feature, but it’s hard to see it as an act of evil when it, say, prevents you from doing something you know is wrong.
Secondly, I understand our evil impulses to originate from hell, but how could those impulses compel someone in two conflictingly evil ways? The forces of hell wish to inspire this man’s murderousness. But those same forces are leaving him with a slothfulness that, while evil (in some basic way?), prevents him from doing something else that’s evil.
Thanks for your further comments and questions. I will get to answering them, but it may be a few days, since I have family visiting—and as usual, your probing questions are going to take some time to consider and respond to. Meanwhile, I hope you and yours have a wonderful New Year!
It’s possible that the would-be hit man’s slothfulness combined with his awareness that what he had been tasked with doing would be evil in order to swing the balance over to the side of not committing the murder.
Ironically, if he did not believe that the murder was evil, but didn’t do it because of sloth, it would be worse for him spiritually than his not doing it with a recognition that it would be an evil act. In that case, he would be acting against his (rather defective) conscience and “societal” (in this case, mob) code in not carrying out the hit.
However, murder is a worse sin than sloth. “Thou shalt not kill” is one of the Ten Commandments. “Thou shalt not be lazy” is not. The so-called Seven Deadly Sins, of which sloth is the seventh, were a human invention—and not an entirely biblical one. Even if his not committing the murder was purely a matter of sloth, it is still better overall for him not to commit the more serious crime and sin of murder. Not doing serious evil is the first step toward no longer being seriously evil.
About conflicting evil impulses coming from hell, that is in accord with the nature of hell. Unlike heaven, which works in a coordinated and harmonious way to accomplish good, hell works in a discordant and conflicting way to accomplish evil. That’s why hell as a whole looks like a hideously deformed beast, whereas heaven as a whole looks like a beautiful, angelic human being. And that’s why thieves are prone to murder one another in conflicts over who gets the loot.
Within hell, there is constant strife and discord as competing evil desires and false beliefs fight it out with one another. This also means that the flow of hell into human society and individual human beings is discordant and conflicting. Your example of murder vs. sloth is only one of many, many examples of this phenomenon that could be given. What about a guy who would love to drink himself to oblivion, but he happens to be at a brothel and realizes that if he gets too drunk, he’ll pass out and won’t be able to take advantage of all that enticing female flesh moving around him? Now he’s got a choice between drunkenness and adultery, which are duking it out against one another in his mind and his desires.
So yes, we humans here on earth commonly do have many conflicting evil thoughts and desires working upon us. And if we give them their head, they can easily tear us apart spiritually, emotionally, and physically.