Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Hell and Beyond Interview and Discussion, Part 5

Below is the fifth and final segment of the interview I did with my dad on his new e-book Hell and Beyond.

For background about the book and this interview, see my earlier post 'Introducing Hell and Beyond.'

To read all the interview segments on this blog click here.

To download the entire interview as a pdf, click here.

A Facebook plugin has been imported into the end of this and every other interview segment to facilitate a user-friendly discussion. We want to here from you, so please don't hesitate to leave your thoughts or further questions.



RP 18: In chapter 3 you suggest that the goal of our life on earth is to develop “The Self”, which you describe as being “spotless, clean, pure” at birth. If the Self is born spotless and clean at birth, and if the purpose of our life on earth is "to see what you have made of it," then why do you suggest that the purpose of the hereafter is to purge away the Self (chapter 5) or to facilitate "self-death" (chapter 9). If what you call the Self is clean and spotless, and if it is the seat of who we are, why must it be destroyed?

MP 18: This raises one of the many great conundrums of Christian theology. Is humanity intrinsically good or evil...do we still retain “God’s image” or are we, in the words of Calvinist theology, “totally depraved”? These are hard questions. They have been debated throughout Christianity’s history. By emphasizing man’s inborn created goodness, do we minimize his sin? By emphasizing his sin (and the doctrine of original sin) do we lose sight of the germ of goodness that resides in the heart of every man and woman? We are commanded to love ourselves, and to hate ourselves. We are told to deny ourselves, to put ourselves to death, while at the same time we are told to use and rejoice in the personhood and talents God gave us. 
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Obviously to understand the nature of man requires striking a balance. Man is a complex being. We are both good and evil. We are created in the image of God, yet we are fallen beings who have succumbed to sin. These apparent contradictions are not really contradictions at all. They simply describe the complexity of humanity. Opposing forces are at work within us. This is the message of Romans 6-8. The war between good and evil is waged daily within the human heart.
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As is often the case, I find that C.S. Lewis is able to explain this perhaps more lucidly than I can: “Self-renunciation is thought to be, and indeed is, very near the core of Christian ethics…the New Testament bids me love my neighbour ‘as myself’…Yet Our Lord also says that a true disciple must ‘hate his own life’…Now, the self can be regarded in two ways. On the one hand, it is God’s creature, an occasion of love and rejoicing; now, indeed, hateful in condition, but to be pitied and healed. On the other hand, it is that one self of all others which is called I and me, and which on that ground puts forward an irrational claim to preference. This claim is to be not only hated, but simply killed; ‘never’, as George MacDonald says, ‘to be allowed a moment’s respite from eternal death.’” (Two Ways With the Self) 
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Therefore, I do not see any inconsistency in what I have portrayed in Hell and Beyond, drawing precisely this contrast between the pure and spotless (the good side) Self we are given at birth which indeed reflects the fingerprint of our Creator, and the selfish side of that same Self (the bad side, the fallen half of our nature) which must be purged and put to death. There is no great mystery here. The battle between the two halves of our nature, in a manner of speaking, defines the essence of life’s struggle and meaning.
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RP 19: To grow in sanctification is to renounce our sinful side that is enslaved to passions and lusts. As we do this, the person God created in His image flourishes and is fulfilled. Thus, our personhood is not denied but affirmed as we grow in Christlikeness. Would you agree with this? The reason I ask is because sometimes in Hell and Beyond you seem to be talking about the death of personhood rather than simply the death of the sin principle within us. For example, you suggest that our will has been given to us by God as “a priceless gift” (chapter 11) and elsewhere you write “Your will was the essential you” (chapter 10). Yet you also speak of “the deathing of their wills” (chapter 9) and the relinquishment of the will (chapter 14). So my question is this: if the will is the essential part of us (and that might itself be open to debate), then is its death approximate to the annihilation of personhood?
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MP 19: Yes, in answer to your first question I would agree that the sanctification process fulfils our in-God’s-image-created personhood and causes it to flourish. I couldn’t have stated it better!
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It may be that I should have attempted more precision in the use and definition and ongoing clarification of the terms I used in the book. I was, exactly as you articulate, attempting to say that we must put to death the “sin principle” within us. But it is more than a principle of sin, it is a living, breathing, organic, evil…it is sin itself residing in our innermost being. That sin will corrupt our true personhood at every opportunity and utterly destroy it if it can. You speak of it “enslaving” us, which is exactly what it does. I think of sin as a cancer, a parasite, clinging to and living on and feeding on and actually consuming our personhood. Perhaps a better way of saying it would be that it seeks to transform our personhood into evil. Sin wants to be our master, and wants us as its slave.
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However, all the while, the fingerprint of God on and within our deepest being, our “personhood,” remains. Thus the battle wages. Our intrinsic personhood is of God and reflects his image. But the cancer is ever present. To be as clear as I can be—we are attempting to put sin to death, not our created personhood. Our life’s goal is that our God-created personhood will flourish and, by being yielded to Jesus in obedience, will grow more and more to reflect his nature. Therefore, though our personhood has been created by God, and though it is distinct from our sin nature, that personhood is still not perfect. It must grow and develop and mature into Christlikeness by yielded, sacrificial, obedience to the will of God. I also call this maturing, developing, God-yielded personhood the true “childship” into which we are meant to grow as God’s obedient sons and daughters.
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God’s tool enabling us to do battle against the cancer of sin, the tool to help accomplish this growth into Christlikeness, is the human will. It is a gift, indeed a priceless gift. I understand the ambiguity of my language. In saying that we are to put the will to death, I mean self-will, the use of the will for selfish ends, not the gift itself. We are to use the will to death self-will, thus relinquishing what we call “the will” into “the will of God.” This, it seems to me, is the essence of Jesus’ Gethsemane prayer. He used his will as a man to death his personal human self-will into the higher will of God. Certainly the nomenclature is complicated. We are using the word “will” in three distinct but related contexts.
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So clearly our understanding is rendered all the more difficult by the limitations imposed by language. We talk around some of these things because the concepts themselves are so formidable to lay hold of. We speak of will and self-will almost interchangeably even though, as you point out, true linguistic precision would discern the dividing line between them. We talk about personhood at one moment as a wonderful expression of God’s creation, and the next as the battleground against sin. The language is complex because the working of these spiritual principles in our lives is complex. 
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In the discussion of such high principles, language will probably always be obscure. One of my favorite passages in MacDonald reads as a confusing jumble of apparent contradictions…until one grasps his point. I reference it fairly frequently because even the confusing language pinpoints with such force God’s eternal purpose in our lives at the same time as it affirms his universal Fatherhood. I note it here because, in different terms, it highlights the same distinction we have been talking about—growth into the highest personhood and childship by denying, relinquishing, deathing the lower sin-forms of our fallen humanity. 
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The point MacDonald makes is this: Created by his hand and in his image, all humanity are God’s children. This is what I term “the universal Fatherhood.” Yet we are put upon this earth to become something more, to become sons and daughters of chosen obedience. This is eternal “childship.” Given life and, in time, independence, our destiny is gained by yielding back that independence into the hand of our Creator, and thus, by that relinquishment, discovering what MacDonald calls “the true sonship.” He illuminates this pivotal command to childship by juxtaposing the words child, son, and daughter for emphasis. Though we are God’s children, says MacDonald, we have to BE his children. This is exactly the same point I try to make in speaking of personhood. Though we were created as children, we have to BECOME true sons and daughters. 
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MacDonald writes: “To be a child is not necessarily to be a son or daughter. The childship is the lower condition of the upward process towards the sonship, the soil out of which the true sonship shall grow…God can no more than an earthly parent be content to have only children: he must have sons and daughters—children of his soul, of his spirit, of his love...For this…he dies to give them himself, thereby to raise his own to his heart; he gives them a birth from above; they are born again out of himself and into himself…His children are not his real, true sons and daughters until they think like him, feel with him, judge as he judges, are at home with him…because he and they mean the same thing, love the same things, seek the same ends. For this are we created; it is the one end of our being…He is our father all the time, for he is true; but until we respond with the truth of children, he cannot let all the father out to us; there is no place for the dove of his tenderness to alight. He is our father, but we are not his children. Because we are his children, we must become his sons and daughters.” (Unspoken Sermons, Second Series, “Abba Father”)
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RP 20: Thanks for that clarification. The question is important because sometimes in the book it seems as if personhood is being absorbed into Fatherhood, as if all diversity is simply an emanation from the original singularity of God’s Fatherhood. And this relates to a concern that a couple readers shared with me, namely that there were Arian overtones in the book. Would you care to comment on this?
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MP 20: Before I do, could you just clarify briefly, as much for your readers as myself, a little more specifically what you mean by "Arian overtones?" I assume you mean a non-Trinitarian flavor in the discussion of Fatherhood and Sonship within the Godhead.
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RP 21: Yes, and also that the Son is simply an adjunct to the Father, that diversity and personhood are lesser realities than the singularity of fatherhood, which tends to function as the first principle of everything else.
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MP 21: Let me try to be clear at the outset so there is no mistaking, then we can proceed to discuss your question more profitably without straw men getting in the way. I consider myself Trinitarian in theological orientation. But attempting to “explain” the doctrine of the Trinity does not represent a major point of emphasis for me in the same way that it did not for George MacDonald. It is part of my belief system. I accept it. But I don’t find the need to talk about it all the time, or to refer every discussion back to the Trinity.
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Some people do think it important to bring everything back to the Trinity. If such is their passion, and if this is what God has given them to focus on, they should be faithful to that. Christian communicators have to be faithful to their callings, and those callings are not all identical. Attempting to explain the Trinity is simply not what God has given me to focus on. That focus for me is God’s Fatherhood. I consider, as you say, Fatherhood to be the first principle out of which all the Godhead—the Sonship and the Spirit, and thus all of Trinitarian doctrine—proceeds. 
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Specific to your question, I’m not sure what you mean by calling the Son “simply an adjunct to the Father.” Your simply implies a lesser function. I would take exception to that characterization as somehow pulled from between the lines of Hell and Beyond. The Sonship is essential and equal. But not the same, thus not equal in function. The Sonship is begotten of and proceeds out of the Fatherhood. How, then, can Fatherhood not be seen, as you say, as the “first principle” of everything? I see no heresy, no Arian overtones, no non-Trinitarian implication in this. As I read it, the Nicene Creed says exactly this, that the Father (Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth) is the originating foundation, that Jesus (the only-begotten Son of God) is begotten of the Father, and that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.
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There is an even more foundational reason for recognizing Fatherhood as the preeminent, originating “first principle” within the Divine Character of Father, Son, and Spirit. Because Jesus said so.
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Clearly this is the most divisive and complex doctrine in all Christendom. My few words here will probably do little to advance insight upon it. But I hope they will make clear my own commitment to Trinitarian belief. Saying this, however, the Trinity is not a doctrine I choose to stress overmuch in my writing. When it comes up, I don’t mind talking about it. I have written separate books on all three aspects of the Godhead—a book on the Fatherhood, a book on the Sonship, and a book on the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, the Trinity is not a doctrine I obsess on. 
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To re-emphasize the imperative point, Fatherhood is the message God has charged me to emphasize. Fatherhood is the primary prism through which he has given me to attempt to shine his light. So I write about it with some consistency. That cannot be taken to imply a lesser belief in the Trinity. It’s simply that God leads people to focus on different aspects of his plan and purpose. Paul’s writings are different in emphasis than John’s. Matthew’s gospel has a distinct flavor from Mark’s or John’s. Does one read Mark’s lack of Old Testament references, in light of Matthew’s extreme reliance on the Old Testament, and conclude that Mark did not believe in the Old Testament? Of course not. The two gospelists were writing for different purposes and to different audiences. They thus wrote with distinct emphases.
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I would, therefore, caution against reading non-Trinitarian overtones into my writing.
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Interestingly, one of the reviews of Hell and Beyond posted on Amazon right now goes to some lengths to detail how each of the three personalities of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) spoke to this reader specifically in the book. Whereas some feel I do not emphasize the Trinity enough, other readers see a strong and definite Trinitarian message in my writing. I suppose it’s a case of reading into anything what you choose to see in it.
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Let me give you an example. I happen to love politics. I love the political dialogue, political ideas, the entire political landscape. It is a very frustrating landscape at present!  But I love the political world. However, early in my writing career I received a message from the Lord, to me loud and clear, that I was not to participate in that discussion, that contemporary causes and issues and events were not the arena where I was to focus the attention of my writing. It has often been a difficult charge to obey. All my natural instincts want to leap into the fray. I often have to pause, take a deep breath, and refocus on what he has given me to write about...which is God’s nature, character, and purposes as a Father. That is the charge he has given me. That cannot be taken to imply that I consider other aspects of Christian doctrine unimportant. It is simply the charge and commission he has given me as a writer and communicator.
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I would echo Lewis in his Introduction to Mere Christianity. He did not try to address every point of Christian theology. He said he wanted to address those areas where he felt he could do the most good. In my own case, I have never felt a need to speak at length about the Trinity. Many able men and women have done so more capably than I could. Instead, like Lewis, I have attempted to focus my attention where I might perhaps have some insight to offer, and thus where I could do the most good. 
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RP 22: While we’re on the subject of God’s fatherhood, I wanted to ask you about something that puzzled me. A theme of the first half of the narrative is that “All wrongs must be set right” (chapter 10) and “all must be set right—even the tiniest sins.” (chapter 16). You expand on this in chapter 17 by suggesting that each person must shoulder the guilt not only for his own sins, but also for the unintended consequences of those sins in other people’s lives. The backdrop to this is the recurring theme that every person’s story interrelates with the story of others and that none of our stories are separate. You illustrate this in a powerful way by having characters in the narrative go up to those who have wronged them and explain the consequences that the other person’s sin had in their life and the guilt the other person is consequently shouldering as a result. Yet when the protagonist meets his father in chapter 18, while the father says “I know I hurt you”, he doesn’t actually ask the son’s forgiveness and you emphasize that their stories are separate, and the guilt we take on our shoulders cannot have anything to do with someone’s else’s behaviour, since “what others had done to be became of no consequence.” Is there a disjunction between two paradigms here?

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MP 22: The reason the father doesn’t ask the son’s forgiveness is simple—this is not the father’s story. We are not (as readers, nor was I as an author) attempting to probe the depths of the heart and mind and eternal journey of the father. His story is merely hinted at by his, “I know I hurt you.” But this is not his story. I was not trying to tell all the stories of eternity, but to tell “everyman’s” story by telling one story. 
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A fiction book has to maintain a consistent point of view, a camera angle, a perspective. That is all the more true when you use the first person device to tell a story. It’s part of the creative craft. For the father to have asked the son’s forgiveness (as important as that might be from the point of view of the father’s eternal story) would have weakened the truth the narrator was learning at that moment, that all responsibility was on him for the right-making of the relationship.
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RP 23: In chapter 20 and 21 you suggest that even saints will have to pass through the judgement of hell-fire subsequent to death. What would you say to those who allege that this undermines a more orthodox understanding of both salvation and sanctification?
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MP 23: Of all my speculations and “imaginative supposals,” this is perhaps the most speculative…and perhaps the most controversial. I truly don’t know about this, nor would say that I even have an ironclad opinion about it.
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Before addressing the substance of the question, however, a little brush has to be cleared away so that we can find a path through the theological thicket. Several words in your question raise implications that I think inaccurately characterize my intent. I do not suggest anything. I am trying to imagine possibilities. Suggesting and imagining are quite different communicative tools. And the phrase “even saints will have to pass through the judgment of hell-fire” is full to overflowing with inaccurate implications. I would prefer you use the word may in place of will. I do not suggest that Christians will experience the fire, but I can imagine the possibility that they may. Nor do I think you can reference anything in the book that suggests so bluntly as you put it that “saints will have to pass through the judgment of hell-fire.” In other words, that Christians will go to hell—even if temporarily. That seems to be the underlying implication of your question. I consider that to be a dramatic mischaracterization of the message of the book.
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Now, with the brush of those erroneous implications cleared away, I will try to address the various issues your question raises.
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I most strongly believe that Christians will assuredly continue to grow on the other side. I believe that we will require advanced stages of refinement, purification, and even what we might call “sanctification” that are not possible until we get there. The Bible clearly teaches from beginning to end that the refinement of God’s people is a progressive process. I believe that the imagery and parable of Malachi’s furnace indicates that God’s purifying fires are primarily for “the sons of Levi,” in other words, believers. This will be a good fire, a cleansing fire, a purifying fire that we will welcome because it will make us clean. Speaking for myself, I eagerly anticipate that cleansing to do its complete work within me. I long for it to reach to my very depths, for it will be the cleansing and purifying of God’s fire, his “consuming fire” that will consume and destroy all within me that is contrary to my being a son who can reflect him perfectly.
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It seems to me, however, that these purifying fires that believers may experience (note: “may”) are much different than what you term the “judgment of hell-fire.” Your question seems to imply that all afterlife fires are created equal, that they are equal in intensity and duration and especially in purpose. But this is not the case. There is fire, and then there is fire.
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How much more clearly could Paul say that believers will experience fire too (“the fire will test what sort of work each has done”) when he speak in 1 Corinthians 3 about being “saved…as through fire.” How else is the wood, hay, and stubble to be burned up if not by fire?
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The whole message of Hell and Beyond is that God’s fire is uniquely purifying for each individual. In the book I say, “Some hardly feel the fire,” while making the point that others may experience horrifying and tormenting fires of punishment and purification for aeons. I draw a clear distinction between the fire that is for judgment and the fire that is for the refinement of gold. I think God may use both, and many more “fires” for many specific purposes which we cannot even imagine.
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I recognize that the idea of a sort of “progressive sanctification” will be difficult for some, but I believe that the Bible clearly teaches it. At the very least, the Bible teaches that sanctification is not instantaneous. Scriptures that are proof-texted about sanctification, in my opinion, are often misinterpreted in order to bolster a doctrine that Christians imagine lets them off the hook for growing into Christlikeness by a lifetime of disciplined Not-my-will choices. C.S. Lewis clearly speaks of the job (of sanctification) “not being completed” in this life. Lewis could hardly be more clear in endorsing the importance of progressivity in our understanding of how God works.
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You also bring up salvation. This, too, admittedly raises difficulties. If salvation is all or nothing, black or white, you’re in or you’re out, saved or unsaved, no middle ground…then why will “saved” people need the fire at all? This will be a question on many readers’ minds.
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As I often do when I need insight about some difficult spiritual question, I return to C.S. Lewis’s wonderful insight, wisdom, and common sense. To do so in this case is highly instructive. He says that there are many people who are slowly in the process of “becoming” Christians, and many who are slowly and invisibly “ceasing” to be Christians. In other words, Lewis does not believe salvation to be as black and white as we often try to make it. Presumably many of these upwardly-journeying and downwardly-journeying men and women die en route.  In Hell and Beyond I am trying to raise possibilities about how their spiritual journeys may continue—toward whatever is their ultimate destination—on the other side. I am merely trying to explore in a fictional format this great truth that Lewis uncovers with the above observation.
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To answer your question directly, I do not think that Hell and Beyond suggests that all believers will pass through the “judgment of hell-fire” after death. Some may. Some may pass through different types of purifying fire. Some may not experience the fire at all. These are realms that lay far beyond our ken. 
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I really could not speculate further. I just don’t know. The book is full of imaginative possibilities only.
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RP 24: There are theologians in the Eastern tradition that have suggested that the fires of hell are the fires of God’s love, but the damned simply experience that love as torment because of the choices they have made. Have you thought much about that idea?
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MP 24: This obviously flows out of the previous question and answer. No, I have not thought about it phrased exactly in this way. I like that concept very much! I’m going to remember this.
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It is also very much in keeping with George MacDonald’s interpretation of “the consuming fire.” MacDonald emphasizes that the fire of God is felt and experienced differently depending on one’s closeness or distance from the Love that is at the core of the consuming fire, which is God Himself. I suppose these are two different ways of saying the same thing. It was this point I tried to make in Hell and Beyond by distinguishing the fire of the “outer darkness” with the fire of painful though comforting cleansing.
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It actually seems that the tradition you reference is making precisely the same point I did in the previous question—that all people (saints and sinners and everyone between) may experience the fire, and, if so, will experience it uniquely. I’m not sure whether the Eastern tradition you speak of differs or adds unique light to what I have said, or to MacDonald’s view of the consuming fire. But I do like the concept as you have phrased it.
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RP 25: My final questions have to do with free will. In chapter 3 you write that "free will is my Father's gift to you, and the most powerful tool for the building of your character." Yet elsewhere you suggest that unrepentant sinners will be forced to come to God. For example, you have a character say "You chose what we must choose in the end" (chapter 10) while someone else says, "Do not force God to compel you" (Chapter 16 and 17) and "He has means of compelling you, if you do not choose it. You must choose it. But it is always best to choose his way before extreme measures become necessary." (Chapter 19). If God can force people to come to Him, then in what sense do we have free will?"
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MP 25: Again, a very perceptive question. Once more, however, it is a question which I have no choice but to answer with an ambiguity that some of your readers may not find satisfying or satisfactory. Yet the question of free will and God’s sovereignty probes so profoundly into the deepest marrow of what humanity is, who God is, and what is God’s eternal plan, that we simply cannot see to the end of it. 
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It clearly appears contradictory to speak of God compelling us to choose. The compulsion, as you point out, seems to abolish free will altogether. So how can compulsion and free will both be at work in eternity?
I don’t know. Honestly…I don’t know if they can work together. Or is it possible when we get to the other side we will find them functioning harmoniously in some kind of wondrous, seemingly contradictory salvationary dance? I don’t know. Amid the many “imaginary supposals” in Hell and Beyond, this is one that lies outside even my imagination. 
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Yet I cannot say that it lies outside the reach of God’s imagination. How big do we believe God truly is? Is he big enough…for anything? Do we or do we not believe in an infinite God…with whom any thing and all things are possible?
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I do believe in such a God.
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So is the seemingly contradictory possible? I believe the answer is yes. I would not use your word “forced,” and do not feel that was implied in the book. The difference between compulsion and forced coercion may be a subtle one, yet is, I think, an enormously important one. I do not believe God’s methods of compulsion can be equated with being “forced” against one’s will.
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I make the point in the book that the rules and equations of eternity will be different than those of this present world. What is impossible here may be possible there. What if there, where the high equations of eternity rule, compulsion and free will are not mutually exclusive at all? How can we categorically insist that what is impossible here may not be perfectly fitting and reasonable and expected there? Do we have the audacity to believe that God can only do what we can wrap our own tiny minds around, that the afterlife will lie within parameters set by the constraints of our own feeble human understanding?
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At this point it becomes patently clear, as I have tried to make abundantly plain in this interview, that I am not attempting to formulate a theology or doctrine of the afterlife. I do not suggest this “divine compulsion” as a doctrine, or even as a truth that I am trying to put forward. I offer it merely as a possibility how, governed by higher rules than we are presently capable of apprehending, the mathematics of eternity may come together in a complex equation of infinite sovereignty and free will. It is a great mystery. I do not claim to be able to envision how it could work. I have no idea how it could work. That being said, why would I put it forward as a theological premise? Therefore, I don’t put it forward as a doctrine. I only offer it as one more element in a fascinating smorgasbord of ideas for us to think about and ask God about.
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High spiritual thinkers throughout history have asked What if? about the things of God—from Milton and Dante to DorĂ© and Michelangelo to C.S. Lewis and George MacDonald. The potential interplay between compulsion and free will is one more among many “what ifs” that the Bible does not answer with categoric assurances one way or the other.
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The concept of the Divine Compulsion is not my own idea. It comes straight from George MacDonald. The quote you reference is from him. It is upon this quote that this imaginative supposal rests. In his sermon “The Last Farthing,” MacDonald writes: “You will have to do it, and that under less easy circumstances than now. Putting off is of no use. You must. The thing has to be done; there are means of compelling you.” This is also a foundational theme in MacDonald’s great mysterious afterlife fantasy Lilith—the compulsion that leads to the choice of free will. 
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Let us return a moment to the distinction between the spiritual equations that will rule in eternity from those that rule while we are yet in the flesh. I think we are helped enormously in being able to conceptualize the transition we will all one day make into a world of new and higher realities by contrasting the finite (which we see and touch and understand around us) with the Infinite (which we cannot see or even imagine, and certainly cannot yet understand.) These are both spiritual and mathematical terms.  
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One of the reasons Christians allow themselves to become such shallow thinkers, and become wedded to superficial doctrines and theologies, is because they insist on explaining the Infinite ways of God by the finite ways and means of their own understandings. They cannot conceptualize the transition from finite into Infinite. They are compelled to explain God’s ways by finite equations that make sense to their own small conceptions of spiritual principles. 
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The vast majority of doctrinal orthodoxy is thus made up of 98% finite human reasoning, with perhaps 2% of the mysterious Infinite mixed in. Most doctrinal orthodoxy about heaven and hell, I would venture to suggest, is made up of 100% human reasoning, without even the 2%. That is one of the reasons I wrote Hell and Beyond in the format I did—to use the imagination to help us break through the barrier of finite human understanding into the great “beyond” of Infinite eternity. We don’t know what will happen in eternity. But we do know that eternity will operate according to different spiritual rules than human understanding can fully grasp on this side of death’s door.
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The finite and the Infinite are governed by distinct spiritual equations. To the finite mind the separation between compulsion and free will is total. The two things cannot intersect. Once the spiritual equations of Infinity take over, however…everything changes.
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The preeminent mathematician at our local university was an outspoken atheist. This was fifty years ago when atheism was still something of a taboo. This man might well have been the narrator in Hell and Beyond, though I was not thinking of him in particular when writing the book. He would probably turn over in his grave (an interesting phrase, now that I think about it, knowing that he is now in the great “beyond,” having journeyed there initially, I assume, as an unbeliever much as portrayed in the book) to know that he—the resident campus atheist—contributed to my views about the character of God in ways that have reached so many in the years since. Even atheists may unwittingly further the Kingdom without knowing it! I hope he knows it now. 
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I thank God for this man, and have an abiding affection for him as a result of his influence on my thinking. Curiously, his name was Householder…Dr. James Householder—a fitting name for one who, in his own way, held a door open for me (without knowing he was doing so) into the great House of Infinity thinking where God dwells.
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I first encountered Dr. Householder during my junior year in high school. He was invited to give a guest lecture in our Algebra II class. I remember little about his talk, except being mesmerized by his absolute love for and fascination with the world of mathematics. He made it all sound like such fun!
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The door this prominent atheist opened in my mind into the character of God came as he spoke about the idea of Infinity. In “Infinity,” he said, everything changes. The rules change. The mathematical equations change. It is a different realm altogether. Little did I know then what I would know a few years later when studying math at the university, how great a role the idea of Infinity played in the equations of higher mathematics. 
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I have never forgotten the statement that jolted me where I sat. “In Infinity,” said Dr. Householder, “parallel lines have the audacity to run into each another.”
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It was such a powerful way to convey the idea that the equations of Infinity are not merely different from the equations of the finite realm. They are completely opposite. By definition, in the here and now, parallel lines cannot cross. That’s what “parallel” means. Yet by the equations of Infinity, parallel lines intersect. In Infinity, the impossible actually happens. Opposites meet. In the equations of Infinity, opposites even join forces.
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Now is this some magician’s trick? Is it all an imaginary parlor game that mathematicians play with each other? The amazing aspect of the whole thing is that the answer is No. The equations that regulate Infinity are very, very real. In fact, the higher one progresses into the world of mathematics, the more the equations that seem completely bizarre at lower finite levels actually come to dominate the higher realms of mathematics. Infinity is a very real and necessary concept. Its equations are intrinsic to a mathematician’s understanding of the universe. In the highest mathematics of all, the equations of Infinity actually govern the workings of the universe almost completely. The lower math falls away and yields to the higher Truths contained in the equations of Infinity.
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What a door this opened for me into my understanding of God. The spiritual realm functions in exactly the same way. The laws of mathematics point us to Eternity where God’s higher equations of Infinity take over. It is a spiritual realm where parallel lines meet!
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The equations of God’s eternal purposes cannot be understood by the finite equations of man’s limited theological understanding. In the Infinity of Eternity, the equations become dramatically altered. The equations of Infinite Eternity are different, perhaps even opposite, from the equations of man’s finite understanding. 
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God himself is the Infinite! In Eternity opposites meet. The spiritual mathematics of Eternity are governed by new rules. Opposites may even join forces to accomplish God’s purposes. 
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To my finite mind, compulsion and free will are parallel lines. They cannot intersect. Yet in God’s realm, where the higher mathematical equations of eternity reign, perhaps even these opposites can make music together in a glorious symphony of reconciliation whose melodies at present we cannot even imagine. 
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This is God’s signature tune, the high melody of his eternal purpose and man’s ultimate destiny. It is the far-off song that tells us that all is right, and that he will one day swallow up all the world’s pain and grief and unbelief and sin, and set the universe singing the symphony of unity in his whole creation.
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Thank you, Robin! This has been a most enjoyable and thought-provoking exchange. Your questions were probing, honest, fair, and insightful. I hope we might have the opportunity to do this again sometime on other topics.


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