Can I be Saved if I Hate my Mother?

Here is a Spiritual Conundrum submitted to Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life by a reader named Mary:

Greetings, Lee. I have been an Eastern Orthodox Christian my entire life, despite brief forays into other denominations, even considering myself an agnostic at times because of the insufficiency of answers to my questions. The return to Orthodoxy always seemed the best default in encompassing at least “most of the truth.” I stumbled across “Off the Left Eye” and discovered Swedenborg’s works and now find more answers to my struggles in faith than I ever believed possible. I’ve acquired nearly all his most seminal writings and feel a depth of satisfaction and connection I hadn’t believed possible for me. Suddenly, it all makes sense.

Bitter old woman

(stock image)

Yet, I have a continual gnawing problem, regarding my relationship with my very elderly mother. I feel that my intense, nearly lifelong dislike for her (often times, hatred) will keep me from salvation. It is the worst stumbling block I can imagine because I see her as such a horrible, haughty, deceitful, selfish, hateful, Godless person. I can’t even find it within me to pray for her. It is my daily spiritual stumbling. We don’t speak or have any contact and while I know I am not honoring her, I simply cannot do so. Can you possibly enlighten me in this regard? Thank you for any insight you might share.

Thanks, Mary, for sharing your conundrum.

I have often thought that if I had to choose one of the three main branches of Christianity, it would be Orthodox Christianity. It seems to have departed least far from the teachings of the Bible and of Jesus Christ. However, I agree with you that the teachings of Swedenborg take Christianity and our spiritual life to a whole new level. They are also closer to what is taught in the Bible than any other Christian teaching that I am aware of.

Now to your question—which is one that many people face. You touch on this commandment:

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. (Exodus 20:12, and also Deuteronomy 5:16)

In the New Testament, Jesus affirms this commandment in Matthew 15:1–9, Mark 7:9–13, Mark 10:19, and Luke 18:20. However, Jesus also says:

Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26)

Clearly there is more to your question than meets the eye! Let’s take a closer look.

Honor your father and your mother

The commandment to honor your father and your mother is, of course, one of the Ten Commandments. As such, it is one of the core requirements of both Judaism and Christianity.

In Old Testament times, this commandment, like the others, was taken quite literally, and was to be strictly enforced. Jesus refers not only to the Commandment itself, but also to these laws found in the same books in which the Ten Commandments are given:

Whoever curses father or mother shall be put to death. (Exodus 21:17)

All who curse father or mother shall be put to death; having cursed father or mother, their blood is upon them. (Leviticus 20:9)

Old Testament law also says:

Whoever strikes father or mother shall be put to death. (Exodus 21:15)

And:

If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father and mother, who does not heed them when they discipline him, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his town at the gate of that place. They shall say to the elders of his town, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” Then all the men of the town shall stone him to death. So you shall purge the evil from your midst; and all Israel will hear, and be afraid. (Deuteronomy 21:18–21)

In short, if you were living in Old Testament times and you hated your mother, you’d be in serious trouble!

Fortunately, we are no longer living in Old Testament times. Jesus has given us a new covenant that goes beyond the letter of the law and looks to its spirit. By understanding the spirit of the commandment to honor our father and mother, we can gain a whole new perspective on our relationship with our earthly parents. We gain this new perspective by coming to understand our true spiritual and divine parentage, and why we are given earthly parents in the first place.

Who is our real father and mother?

The Psalm says:

If my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up. (Psalm 27:10)

Apparently, even in Old Testament times some parents didn’t quite make the grade! And when parents fail us, the Psalmist tells us that the Lord will take their place for us.

Despite the heavy emphasis on God as our father in the patriarchial times in which the Bible was written, right from its beginning the Bible also makes it clear that God is ultimately both our father and our mother:

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness. . . . So God created humankind in his image. In the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26–27)

The only way both male and female could be created in the image of God is if the essence and ultimate reality of both masculinity and femininity exist in God. This means that if our Creator is our divine father, then our Creator is also our divine mother. That is why the prophet Isaiah, speaking from the spirit of the Lord, could say:

For thus says the Lord . . . . As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. (Isaiah 66:12, 13)

My purpose here is not to suggest that Christians who picture God as a male figure must throw away that image of God and picture God as female instead, or as both male and female. God appears to us in many ways, according to our particular cultural background, upbringing, and experience. Rather, the point is that ultimately God our Creator, not our biological parents, is our real father and mother. For more on this, see: “The Mother of All the Living.”

The role of our earthly parents

Of course, our biological parents are the ones who conceive us and bring us into this world. In doing so, they take responsibility for raising us to adulthood.

At least, they’re supposed to take responsibility for raising us to adulthood.

Unfortunately, many parents just aren’t very good parents. They abdicate their responsibility, either doing a bad job of raising us to adulthood, or abandoning us to others—grandparents, relatives, or foster and adoptive parents—to raise. And if our biological parents aren’t the ones who raised us, we commonly think of those who did raise us as our real parents.

That’s because being a father or mother to children means much more than contributing our DNA to their genetic profiles. Our real father and mother are the people who care for us and provide for our physical and emotional needs until we become self-responsible adults. At that point we can take care of ourselves and form our own family and circle of friends to provide a sense of care and belonging.

Further, from a biblical perspective, our real parents are the ones who provide the spiritual care and guidance we need to travel the path toward our eternal home in heaven. That’s why ancient Israelites were given this law:

Keep, then, this entire commandment that I am commanding you today, so that you may have strength to go in and occupy the land that you are crossing over to occupy, and so that you may live long in the land that the Lord swore to your ancestors to give them and to their descendants, a land flowing with milk and honey. . . .

You shall put these words of mine in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and fix them as an emblem on your forehead. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the Lord swore to your ancestors to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth. (Deuteronomy 11:8–9, 18–21, italics added)

Notice that “living long in the land that the Lord swore to your ancestors” is directly connected to keeping the Lord’s commandments. This gives greater meaning to the commandment:

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. (Exodus 20:12, italics added)

This connection is made here because parents were, and still are, charged by God with teaching their children the commandments of the Lord and guiding them on the pathway to the spiritual land that the Lord our God promises us, which is the land of heaven.

Biblically speaking, our parents’ most important job is to teach and guide us toward heavenly life. We are to honor them because that is what they do for us during our growing-up years.

When parents fail to be parents

But what if they don’t?

What if our parents fail to teach us the ways of the Lord and guide us not only toward healthy, responsible adulthood but also toward eternal life in heaven?

Keep in mind that doing this is not just a matter of verbally telling us about God and the Bible and teaching us right from wrong as we grow up. Actions speak louder than words. If our parents say that we should be good, considerate people, but they themselves are mean, nasty, and spiteful to us and to other people, what message are they really giving us about how to live?

To be a real parent to our children, we must not only talk the talk, but walk the walk.

Unfortunately, some parents spectacularly fail to walk the walk even if they may talk the right talk. And some parents do neither.

If our earthly parents fail to fulfill the responsibility of fathers and mothers that God has put into their hands, are they really the “father and mother” that we are commanded to honor?

We are commanded to honor our parents so that our days may be long in the land that the Lord our God is giving us. But if our parents are not leading us toward that land by word and by example, the entire reason the Bible gives for honoring them is null and void.

This is not to say that we should be mean and nasty to our parents if they are mean and nasty to us. Two wrongs don’t make a right. We are required to give basic human respect to everyone—even to people who make themselves into our enemies. This means not treating people badly even if they treat us badly.

And yet, if our parents abdicate their responsibility toward us as parents, are they really serving as our parents at all? Are they really the ones we are commanded to honor?

“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother . . . .”

When our parents fail us, the words of Jesus that I quoted at the beginning especially come into effect:

Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26)

Now, I don’t think Jesus literally requires us to hate our family members. Rather, I believe that he was using shocking language in an attempt to get us to think about our deep ties to our family, and how those ties can block us from following the path God has laid out for us.

Consider this passage from the book of Deuteronomy:

If anyone secretly entices you—even if it is your brother, your father’s son or your mother’s son, or your own son or daughter, or the wife you embrace, or your most intimate friend—saying, “Let us go worship other gods,” whom neither you nor your ancestors have known, any of the gods of the peoples that are around you, whether near you or far away from you, from one end of the earth to the other, you must not yield to or heed any such persons. Show them no pity or compassion and do not shield them. (Deuteronomy 13:6–8)

The passage goes on to impose the death penalty upon any family member who would entice an Israelite away from serving only the Lord their God. While we thankfully no longer impose such harsh penalties for apostasy, the spirit of the commandment is clear: anyone, even our closest family members and friends, who would pull us away from following the Lord our God is, as the saying goes “dead to us.”

This is why my pragmatic advice for Mary and for anyone else who has been cursed with a toxic parent is to do precisely what Mary is doing, if and when it is possible: cut off all contact. No longer even consider that person to be your parent. They have not acted like a parent to you. They have abdicated their responsibility and their position as your father or mother. They therefore have no claim upon the honor that is due to our father and mother.

And once this reality becomes clear to us, then as David the Psalmist said, we can turn to the Lord as our divine parent.

Healing from the wounds of bad parents

Unfortunately, parents who are, in Mary’s words, horrible, haughty, deceitful, selfish, hateful, and godless people inflict deep wounds upon their children. When the people who are supposed to love us and nurture us from the time of our birth are instead harsh, critical, hard, and unloving toward us, they create a profound pain in our heart and in our spirit that can take a lifetime to heal from.

The beginning of that healing is to recognize that despite the messages our parents may have given us, we are precious and loved by God. It was our parents, not us, who failed to live up to God’s laws and God’s expectations of us as human beings—the most fundamental of which are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love other people as we love ourselves.

In other words, no matter what our toxic parents may have told us or conveyed to us through their hateful actions and example, they, and not we, were the ones at fault.

And the first practical step is to cut off relations with such toxic parents as soon as we are able to do so. This may not be possible when we are still teenagers. But once we reach adulthood and can take care of ourselves, there is no good reason to maintain a relationship with such non-parent parents.

It may seem harsh and unloving to cut people off in this way. But it is what we are commanded to do toward anyone, friend and family member alike, who pulls us away from God’s love for us and from the pathway that God has laid out in front of us. We are not to allow anyone to do that to us, no matter how close a relationship we may have had with them.

Jesus Christ himself did not recognize his own earthly mother as his mother when she and his siblings tried to pull him away from the work that his heavenly Father had given him to do:

The crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” . . .

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.”

And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:20–21, 31–35)

Eventually, Jesus’ earthly mother and at least some of his brothers became his followers. But when they had in mind to restrain him from doing God’s work, he was quick to disown them. Instead, he recognized those who do God’s will as his brother, sister, and mother.

And so we learn from the Lord’s own mouth that our true parents and siblings are those who follow God’s will and support us on our pathway toward God.

In short based on the Bible’s teachings:

  • The first step toward healing from toxic parents, family members, and friends is no longer to recognize them as parents, family members, or friends, and to separate ourselves from them.
  • The second step is to gather around ourselves a new spiritual family and circle of friends who are fellow travelers with us in following God’s will.

Of course, we will still have a lot of hard emotional and spiritual work to do. Wounds inflicted in childhood go deep. But if we are able to take these two steps, our healing will progress much more rapidly.

The first step is just basic common sense. To heal from physical wounds, we must remove ourselves from the cause of those wounds and give our body a chance to heal. We can’t heal from knife wounds if our attacker is still slicing away at us. In the very same way, as long as we remain in contact with those who have harmed us psychologically, and who are still mean and hateful people, they will continue to inflict and aggravate the same old emotional wounds, making it impossible for us to heal from them.

And there is nothing so healing as to find and build around ourselves a new spiritual family who, instead of hurting us and tearing us down, will build us up and support us emotionally and spiritually.

Can we be saved if we hate our parents?

Sooner or later, as difficult as it may be and as long as it may take, we’ll have to leave behind any hostility or hatred we feel toward those who have deeply wronged us, including our parents. To tread the path toward heavenly joy, we must leave behind the bitterness of the past and no longer let it hold us back.

But that doesn’t mean re-embracing and reconnecting with any hateful, godless people who raised us or influenced us as children and young people. Rather, it means leaving them behind and forming a new family and circle of friends who will love us, care about us, and help us on our path toward heaven.

The lingering hostility and hatred we may feel toward toxic parents must eventually fade away. That will happen as we recognize that they were never truly our parents in the first place because they didn’t act like parents to us.

And it will happen as we realize that the Lord our God always was, and still is, our true heavenly father and mother, who loves us with a love that goes beyond all understanding, and who gives us the words of eternal life.

This article is a response to a spiritual conundrum submitted by a reader.

For further reading:

About

Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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14 comments on “Can I be Saved if I Hate my Mother?
  1. Mary says:

    Lee, sincere and countless thanks for your thoughful, indepth response! I was so grateful and pleasantly surprised to discover you had read my question, albeit a little apprehensive. I frankly expected a kindly, but very sound rebuke for my “un- Christian negativity” in cutting her out of my life (that was one pastor’s reproach to my confession, a while back). You have unburdened my heart where years of “self-help” books and even a couple of therapy sessions with Orthodox pastors have failed and only left me feeling worse off, more hypocritical and even more guilt ridden and tormented than before.

    In the past two weeks, after reading possibly all of your incredibly compelling articles (via your very helpful cross referencing!), their content has truly begun a healing process that is changing my world. They are unraveling years of false teachings and depressing dogmas that have poorly influenced my faith, emotional health and even parenting. Fundamentalist, evangelical teachings have proved the most damaging of all, and your illuminating dissection of these unbiblical notions has been unimaginably liberating. Thank you again from the depths of my heart, for your genuine concern and your time in crafting such a careful and caring response. I absolutely believe finding your site and “Off the Left Eye” on You Tube were answers to much prayer and pain. God bless you, Lee.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Mary,

      Thank you for your kind words. I’m glad this article and the other articles here, not to mention the excellent material at the Swedenborg Foundation’s offTheLeftEye Youtube channel, have been so helpful and healing for you. As a very famous person once said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

      Thanks also for the great question. I know from personal experience (thankfully, not my own as a child—I had wonderful parents) that you are far from the only person who is healing from the damage done by immature or downright evil and toxic parents. The least I could do was offer you and others in this situation a more humane, realistic, and biblically and spiritually sound answer than the “suck it up and love ’em anyway” response that seems to be the traditional Christian stock-in-trade—and that, as you say, only heaps more damage upon the damage already done.

      If you have further questions as you read the articles here or face the issues of life, please don’t hesitate to ask. I can’t promise to answer every spiritual conundrum submitted (we get far too many for that to be possible), but I do respond to comments posted here on the blog, usually within a couple of days.

      Meanwhile, Godspeed on your spiritual journey!

    • Lee says:

      Hi Mary,

      I want to add a note to say how happy I am that my articles “dissecting” (great word!) traditional unbiblical notions have hit home for you, and liberated you from a lot of very faulty, very wrong, and unfortunately, very widespread thinking. That is exactly what I hoped those articles would accomplish for people who are confused, beleaguered, and hurt by traditional Christian dogma, and are sincerely seeking the truth.

      Growing up as a Swedenborgian, I didn’t pay much attention to the Acts and the Epistles, since Swedenborg focuses so heavily on the Gospels and the book of Revelation. I just assumed that somewhere in the Epistles it actually said the things Protestants proclaimed as “what the Bible says.” When I finally got around to reading them, I was actually surprised and even a bit shocked to discover that even those books simply don’t say what Protestant fundamentalist claim they do.

      It still boggles my mind how Protestants can, on the one had, proclaim the principle of Sola Scriptura, that scripture by itself is sufficient to teach the truths of Christianity, and then found their own doctrine on a whole raft of teachings that are stated nowhere in the Bible, and are even clearly and specifically denied in the Bible. When I have debates with Protestants, there seems to be a complete disconnect between what they think the Bible says and what it actually says, along with a complete inability on their part to see that the Bible simply doesn’t say or support their doctrines, but in fact roundly rejects them. Their eyes truly have been blinded by false doctrines such that they cannot even read and understand the plain words and teachings of the Bible.

      Some people seem to get impatient with my “persnicketyness” about the Bible actually saying in its own words what various people claim it does. But I still think it’s very important to pay attention to the Bible’s own words, take them seriously, and use them as the basis for our doctrine and our beliefs, rather than reading into the Bible what we think it should say, and what we want it to say.

      So I’m happy that my articles “dissecting” these things are helpful to you. I hope they are helpful to many others as well.

      Thanks again for your good and kind words!

      • Mary says:

        Lee, you can probably only imagine my extreme relief in encountering your articles refuting these false protestant doctrines! It was literally like being freed from a horribly imprisoning physical weight. What was most impressive and liberating for me was your use of clear biblical citation to debunk all these contrived notions. It wasn’t just your educated opinion or interpretaions, and not Swedenborg’s either. It’s plainly right there in the bible! Every single day since I encountered Swedenborg’s writings and hence everything else (happily leading to your site!) it’s been a mix of anger, pity and sorrow for the confusion this harsh, unfounded protestant doctrine causes. Not only for the very real angst and damage these false teachings have caused me, but just as much for my friends and acquaintances, particularly those in evangelical “born again” circles. Having grown up Eastern Orthodox, it innoculated me in a sense from some of this nonsense, but not to the extent that it could prevent a ton of spiritual pain and regression. I’ve struggled my entire adult life with all of these made up doctrines, and I know I’m not alone in that sentiment. So, it’s good to finally be home! :-). That’s really how it feels.

        Thank you again for all you do!!

        • Lee says:

          Hi Mary,

          Welcome home! 🙂

          My sense is that the Orthodox branch of Christianity never went for the idea that we have to placate God, and that Jesus Christ made that possible by dying as a substitute for us (in technical language, the “satisfaction theory of atonement”). That theory was developed within Catholicism by Anselm of Canterbory not long after the Great Schism divided Eastern and Western Christianity, so as far as I know, it never infected Eastern (Orthodox) Christianity. From Catholicism, satisfaction theory took on even more virulent form in Protestantism with its penal substitution theory—the idea that Christ died to pay the penalty for our sins. None of this is ever stated in the Bible, or has even the slightest support in the Bible.

          I used to think that when Swedenborg said that there wasn’t a single truth left in the Christian Church that hadn’t been falsified, he was just being hyperbolic. But when I actually encountered the realities of Protestant doctrine, and to a lesser extent Catholic doctrine, I discovered that, though perhaps it was a bit too blanket a statement, he was basically correct: Every single major doctrine in western Christianity was false and unbiblical, and that fundamental falsity vitiated all of the rest of the teachings in those churches.

          Swedenborg was least familiar with Eastern Christianity, since he lived in northern Europe, and spent much of his time in western Europe, where Protestantism and Catholicism were dominant. So he doesn’t talk much about the Orthodox Church. Of course, he thought it had gone astray as well, since it accepted the doctrine of the Trinity of Persons. But beyond that he didn’t say a lot about it. My sense is that the Orthodox Church still accepts what was the dominant view for the first 1,000 years of Christianity about how Christ saved us: by defeating the power of the Devil over us, and thus freeing us from slavery to the Devil (to use biblical language). It had nothing to do with placating God. It had to do with fighting and winning the battle against evil that we were too weak to fight on our own, and thereby rescuing us from slavery to evil and sin. This is now known as Christus Victor theory of atonement, which is Latin for “Christ the Champion.”

          Is that something like what you grew up believing?

          If so, perhaps that’s why you were somewhat “inoculated” against Protestant doctrine.

          But Protestant doctrine is insidious. It gets its tentacles into people’s minds, and rarely lets go without a major fight. I’ve seen people break free of it, and it didn’t come without lots of argument and backlash and struggle. And I’ve seen people who just couldn’t break free, and lapsed back into it. It just so alluring to think that all you have to do is believe in Jesus and you’re eternally good. But what goes with it is a toxic elixir of harsh, unloving, and intolerant doctrines that eats up people’s minds from the inside out, and makes it impossible for them to read and understand the most basic teachings of Jesus Christ in the Bible.

          If someone in its grip can utterly repudiate faith alone, then they can make it out. But if they’re unable to do that, and faith alone keeps its grip on their mind, they will never break free. That formula, invented within Protestantism by Martin Luther, has a cultlike hold on their psyche. People who are unwilling and unable to flatly say that it is utterly false and contrary to the plain teachings of the Bible will never escape its grip, and they will never know what true Christianity is.

          I have encountered this death grip of faith alone and the resulting spiritual blindness so many times in my discussions and debates with Protestants that I now know from experience what Swedenborg was talking about when he said that the present-day Christian Church is Christian in name only, and not in reality and essence. There just isn’t much of anything left of what Jesus Christ himself taught. If I quote Jesus to a Protestant, the usual reaction is just to ignore it. Some even argue against it, usually quoting something from Paul to refute it. But of course, they have completely misunderstood Paul also. But more often they just ignore it altogether. They know they’re supposed to believe what Jesus teaches. But the fact of the matter is that they don’t. And therefore they have nothing to say. They have a massive and rather baffling blind spot whenever they are confronted with Jesus’ teachings.

          Some Protestants even go so far as to say that Jesus’ teachings were for the Old Covenant (basically, for Jews), but Paul’s teachings are for the New Covenant. And so they explicitly sideline and ignore the teachings of Jesus Christ, while calling themselves Christians. What blasphemy! Even Protestants who don’t explicitly accept this idea seem to follow it in practice: they sideline and ignore the teachings of Jesus Christ in the Gospels, and accept only their false interpretation of Paul’s teachings. If you read Protestant tracts, they’re crammed with quotes from Paul, with only an occasional quote from the Gospels here and there: usually John 3:16-18, which they also completely misunderstand and misinterpret. The simple fact of the matter is that they are Christians in name only because they have wholly rejected the teachings and example of Jesus Christ in favor of man-made doctrines taught nowhere in the Bible.

          And yes, Swedenborg said that Christian doctrine should be based on the plain, literal meaning of the Bible. I have taken that to heart. Not all of my articles here aim to provide the biblical basis for the teachings and guidance in them. But when it comes to the basics of the church about God and salvation, it’s all right there in the plain words of the Bible. I find that focusing on what the Bible says in its own plain words is the most powerful way to break down false teachings and establish true Christian teachings for those who are genuinely seeking them as a guide to living a good, loving, and Christian life.

  2. Mary says:

    Oh, and btw, how did you find that picture of my mother that you posted up there? LOL 🙂 🙂 🙂 (Funny enough, she actually does look kinda like that!)

    • Lee says:

      Hi Mary,

      True confessions: I did an image search for “bitter old woman,” and there she was! Haha!

      • Mary says:

        Thank you, Lee. You’re very gracious and I’m thankful that you selected my question, as I do know that there are a great number submitted for your consideration. You’ve been a true blessing to me, and I’m certain countless others. Thank you again.

      • Mary says:

        Oh, Lee. Your answer made me laugh out loud. Thanks for the great chuckle. 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

  3. Mary says:

    Btw, as an aside, I was contemplating the Eastern Orthodox perspective on death vs. Swedenborg’s writings and am reminded of an Orthodox theory/tradition which has gained some real popularity these past years- that of the “Toll Houses”. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it. In a nutshell, this pretty kooky idea teaches that the departed are subjected to a series of tollboothes (rather literally) wherein they must stop at over 20 such stations to face condemnation for their evil deeds and sins committed whilst alive. The poor souls face torment from the demons awaiting them at every stop. If they can make it through each toll, they will arrive in Heaven. When my dad passed (I loved him dearly and was pretty heavy hearted) the priest who obviously ascribed to this notion, told me to pray hard for my dad, because the Toll Houses awaited him and only God knew if he would make it through! How’s that for compassionate ministry?! Sheesh! Any wonder why people are confused? We desperately need caring insight like yours. Best regards, Lee.

    • Lee says:

      Hi Mary,

      Wow. That is very weird. It sounds like a “running the gauntlet” version of Catholic Purgatory.

      I can’t imagine telling someone whose family member or friend has just died that their loved one is at this very moment going through the spiritual equivalent of the old barbaric earthly practice of punishing people or testing their worthiness by stripping them partially or wholly and forcing them to run between two long lines of people who are jeering them and slapping them and beating them with clubs—and that if they don’t have the stamina to make it through to the other end of this demonic gauntlet, they’re as good as dead . . . eternally.

      That’s pretty much what that priest was telling you was happening to your dad. And though I’m sure he didn’t mean any harm, it is a very cruel thing to say to someone who is grieving the loss of someone they dearly loved. This is just the sort of terrible emotional and psychological damage that is done by false religious teachings.

      The reality is that when people die, God does not leave them vulnerable and exposed to a mob of demons for punishment and “testing.” God is not a barbarian. Instead, God sends angels to attend to them, love them and care for them, answer all of their questions, and protect them from any evil spirits who might be in the area. These angels don’t leave until the recent arrivals have completed their transition from this world, and are ready to begin their new life in the spiritual world.

      One of Swedenborg’s more beautiful teachings is that when people die, they are not punished for anything wrong or evil thing they have done here on earth; only for things they continue to do in the spiritual world. There is no need for Purgatory or for a gauntlet of “Toll Houses” after we die.

      It’s not the wrong things we’ve done, but the character we’ve built that follows us into the spiritual world. If we continue to be mean and hurtful people in the spiritual world, and to do things that are evil and wrong, then yes, we will be punished for them—not by God, but by our fellow evil spirits. But if here on earth we have recognized that our actions are hurtful and wrong, have stopped acting in that way, and have done our best to be good and loving to other people instead, then none of the wrong things will be remembered against us (nor will we be punished for them after we die), just as Ezekiel said:

      But if the wicked turn away from all their sins that they have committed and keep all my statutes and do what is lawful and right, they shall surely live; they shall not die. None of the transgressions that they have committed shall be remembered against them; for the righteousness that they have done they shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that they should turn from their ways and live? (Ezekiel 18:21–23)

  4. Mary says:

    Thank you for the extra reassurances, Lee! My dad passed 11 years ago and the horrible mental picture of this good and kind man running those damned toll booths still creeps into my mind occasionally. I love your imagery of running the gauntlet. You nailed it! While I never accepted this toll booth theory- and many Orthodox do not, the notion of it was so disturbing. Your response was a real palate cleanser. 🙂

    When you mentioned the “tentacles of Protestantism”, wow, that really struck me. Even for someone like myself who never even thought about the penal substitution doctrine, Scripta Solaris, etc until adulthood, it still took more than a couple of decades to untangle my mind, which reached fruition when I started reading Swedenborg and your articles. I can’t believe how infectious and insidious these utterly false teachings become.

    You are correct btw, the Orthodox reject the Catholic and Protestant doctrines regarding Christ’s role in salvation.Theosis is really the ultimate goal of Orthodox Christianity and its belief that this is the very reason Christ came to Earth. Orthodoxy teaches that Christ died to trample evil and death forever and that we must strive in evey moment to become Christlike ourselves. His death does not expunge or atone for our sins. Most Protestants I’ve encountered become enfuriated when I’ve mentioned this and decry it as the Mormon equivalent of mortals becoming Gods, but it’s totally dissimilar (and of course, no debate is ever really fruitful with these folks anyway). Sadly though, Orthodoxy is tainted with much of the same false doctrine as the other branches. So, in the end, is just being “less wrong” good enough?

    Lee, I’m so grateful and appreciative of your time and care in responding as you have. Being free from those “tentacles” means everything and you’ve been such a major catalyst in my finding peace. 🙂
    .

    • Lee says:

      Hi Mary,

      Once again, I’m very glad to hear it, and very happy to help.

      “Theosis” is a somewhat unfortunate term. But the concept is fairly similar to Swedenborg’s “regeneration”—which is just a Latin word for being born again, as Jesus taught in the Gospels. That and the Orthodox rejection of johnny-come-lately Catholic and Protestant theories about atonement and salvation is why, if I had to, I’d pick Orthodox Christianity over Catholic or Protestant. It’s the Western Church, including both Catholicism and Protestantism, that abandoned the long-standing historical Christian doctrines of atonement and salvation that had been in place for 1,000 years by the time Anselm came along and ruined everything. Still, as you say, the Orthodox branch of Christianity has its own troop of false doctrines—including, of course, the Trinity of Persons, which is the granddaddy of ’em all.

      And that “Toll Booth” thing . . . . Whew! Some poor priest must have had a real nightmare on the turnpike to come up with that one! 😛

  5. Mary says:

    Oh my goodness, the toll booths are such a nutty concept aren’t they! A contemporary priest by the name of Seraphim Rose came to this teaching during a vision in the mid-20th century. The EO church is in the process of sainting him now, so this notion sadly won’t be disappearing any time soon. I teasingly told an adherent of this late priest that Swedenborg’s visions were way older than those of Fr. Rose, so I’m stickin’ to Swedenborg. She wasn’t very amused adding the admonishmemt I’m in “grave spiritual danger and deception”. But, generally one thing I can say for my Orthodox brethren is that they will have a conversation and often even change their thinking if given the reason to believe differently. Unfortunately, in my experience I can’t say the same for most Catholics or Protestants.

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Lee & Annette Woofenden

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