Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Soul-making as Evidence for Immortality

Theologian John Hicks on Soul-making, or what he calls 'person-making' as the aim of life, and as an evidence for immortality of personal consciousness:

“The broad picture of man and his place in the universe on which the present speculation is based is teleological, presenting our life in time as a movement towards a goal. The telos to which our existence is directed can be formally described as human perfection, man’s full humanization, the total realization of the potentialities of finite life or, in the daring language of eastern orthodox Christianity, man’s divinization.

We can only experience the nature of this human fulfillment as we come to participate in it; but we have anticipatory glimpses of aspects of it, under the special conditions of this world, in the lives of the great saints of the various religious traditions [and mythologies]. Life, then, is a soul-making or person-making process. We exist in order to grow through our free interactions with a challenging environment towards a human perfection which lies far beyond our present state.

It is evident that such a completion is very seldom (if ever) achieved in the course of this present life. Generally the varied experiences of life bring some growth in understanding in oneself in acceptance of others, in willingness for sacrifice, and some expansion in the capacity to love and be loved. Very often, in these ways men and women take in the course of their lives a smaller or larger step towards their full humanization.

But too often people are so treated by life that they never have the opportunity, or sufficient opportunity, to develop their properly human potential, and end their lives as hard, selfish, embittered personalities who have turned their back upon the possibilities of human fellowship.

Or worse, men become possessed by evil and perhaps live and die violently as enemies of mankind. Thus in this life a few men and women advance a great deal and may come to be recognized as saints; most perhaps advance a certain amount; whilst yet others fail to advance at all, or even degenerate towards a sub-human condition.

Accordingly, it seems clear that if we do indeed exist under the aegis of a cosmic person-making purpose, that purpose must hold us in being beyond this present earthly life.”

Death and Eternal Life, John Hicks, pp. 407-408

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Mirror Christianity and the Bible


I have a friend who is a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. Often, when he meets someone with a problem, he tells them that his A.A. Big Book contains the secret to all of their troubles. When the person asks him for the secret, my friend opens his Big Book and holds it directly in front of the curious onlooker. Glued on the inside of the front cover is a thin mirror. The observer sees only his/her own reflection. My friend then says, “There is your problem, and there is your solution.”

C.S. Lewis wrote a brilliant exposition of Christian theology called, Mere Christianity. My friend’s book might be titled, Mirror Christianity. That might also be a subtitle for the Bible. It may be read as a book that reflects back to each reader the source of the problem, and the solution. I am asking you to look into the Bible as a mirror. Let it reflect those unconscious potentials that will cause your soul to expand. That is where the work must be done. I close with a verse from the New Testament that suggests how the early Christians thought the Bible ought to be encountered.

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” New Testament, Hebrews 4:12

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Necessity of Subjective Suffering

Preface: I am not invalidating the following statement. I am providing a perspective that warns the reader to see them as proverbs, not laws.


One spiritual book said,

Suffering is subjective. Consider the following: One of the worst punishments inflicted on prisoners is solitary confinement. At the same time, some people from Northern California pay thousands of dollars a month for a similar experience but call it a “silent retreat.” The meditator enjoys the experience partially because it is voluntary but also because he or she knows what to do with the mind to create an opportunity out of the solitude, rather than a punishment.

-- The Heart of the Mind

This paragraph contains a perspective that is valuable. However, it runs the risk of negating the subject, of turning the human being into a spiritual cliche. It runs the risk of sacrificing the human experience to the spiritual platitude. Jesus was warning against this when he said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” In other words, spiritual times, spaces and maxims are objects in service to the human subject. When the above quote says, “Suffering is subjective,” it could imply to the reader that the reader is a dope unless he immediately conforms to the spiritual platitude.

Do you know why suffering is subjective? Because we are SUBJECTS! We are not objects, we are not spiritual machines. Soul moves human subjects from A to Z through life events. Such tired expressions risk making the reader feel there is something wrong with him/her for their ‘subjective suffering.’ Humans are elastic little subjective souls that stretch and expand by pain AND suffering. That is the way we are made. And that is what will and must happen, until it doesn’t. I call it spiritual isometrics – increase of soul through painful resistance.


Some teachers are worried that the admission of suffering as valid, normal and legitimate will give people an excuse to remain victims and to linger in their suffering. But I have to ask, is the other extreme any better? Is it better to make them feel inferior, unenlightened, ignorant and failed because they are stuck in suffering? These sayings and quotes can be helpful, and sometimes that are not.

I think some of these teachers are escapists, using spirituality as a kind of drug, or alcohol. Some are incapable of being honest with themselves. They will not admit that in the privacy of their own minds that they are filled with self doubt, self loathing, fear of failure and worry. Rather than pay attention to the voice of the Gods in these ‘negative emotions,’ they chase them off like annoying vultures feeding on a rotting carcass. But instead of dealing with the symptoms, or rotting carcass, they keep chasing the birds of prey away.

To read more, click here: Is it true that pain is mandatory but suffering is optional?

Is it True That 'Pain is unavoidable, but suffering is optional'?

Preface: I am not invalidating the following statement. I am providing a perspective that warns the reader to see them as proverbs, not laws.


“Pain is unavoidable, but suffering is optional.”

-- Sylvia Boorstein

This saying can be taken in many ways. It rightly recognizes that we have the option of nursing our pain and turning it into protracted suffering. We have the option of finding ways to channel the suffering into less painful or non painful experiences.

However, my concern is that people interpret this to mean, “If your suffering lingers, you are doing something wrong.” Or that all suffering beyond the initial moment of pain is bad, useless and ineffective.


Imagine that the Twin Towers in New York had human consciousness. Imagine the day after 9/11, a spiritual Guru standing before the smoldering rubble pile of the Towers saying, “Ahhhh, very painful, but suffering is optional.” When does the ‘pain’ end and the ‘suffering’ begin? As the fire smolders beneath the huge pile of debris for weeks, is that pain or suffering? As the firemen, policemen and volunteer workers dig through the rubble – is that pain or suffering. As construction-workers use wrecking balls to dismantle old walls, and use blow torches to cut and disassemble girders and twisted metal for weeks, is this pain or suffering? As the bull dozers and dump trucks load and haul away the wreckage, is that part of the pain or ‘optional’ suffering? As countless families, friends and citizens wait for body parts to be exhumed, and grieve the dead for weeks and months, is that pain or unnecessary suffering? Some of these spiritual maxims can come off as quite calloused and trite, dismissing the role of prolonged pain/suffering as necessary in the renovation of the psyche or soul of an individual.


The Greek myth of Persephone is helpful here. Persephone was the virgin daughter of Demeter, Goddess of agriculture. One morning she strolled through a sun-bathed field picking wild flowers with her companions. Suddenly the earth shook, a chasm appeared in the ground and Dark Hades, the King of the Underworld, emerged in a charcoal chariot drawn by black stallions. He swept alongside Persephone and yanked her into the chariot, and disappeared back into the chasm. This is sometimes called the Rape of Persephone. This was a ‘painful’ event for both daughter and mother. The young girl was forced down into the dark Underworld where she ate a few seeds from a pomegranate, obliging her to return to Hades for a few months each year. What do we make of this story? Many have said this myth explains the seasons, and others say it describes the violent wedding rituals of ancient Greece where girls were forced to leave home and live with their husband’s families. But let’s look at it psychologically or soulfully.

One soul-making perspective would suggest that often painful events come upon us like a rape, unexpected and suddenly we are yanked from the sunny day into a dark depression. A painful moment becomes protracted suffering. This perspective would say it is not unusual to experience a great loss and know subsequent months of darkness as a result. Eating the seeds and being obligated to return to Hades for 4-6 months out of the year suggest that soul-making includes periods of sunny, florid days with companions, and periods of solitude and reflection in dark places. In other words, Persephone is in each of us, and suffering is not just optional, but required for depth of soul.

This is not a crusade for suffering or dwelling in darkness. It is a recognition that sometimes soul work is done through prolonged emotional affliction. Like the seasons, suffering has a course to run and work to be done; aspects of the old self to be torn down, rubble to be cleared away, renovating to be done at the invisible or unconscious levels of existence.


When my son was killed in Afghanistan, spiritual platitudes about unnecessary suffering were most often annoying. The pain of Jason’s death persisted for months. The pain became suffering, pathos, prolonged agony and it wasn’t optional, unless I chose pharmaceuticals or escapist meditation techniques. There was necessary grief, anger, melancholy, apathy and a host of other emotional wrecking-balls smashing into walls of my old self that did not want to be torn down. I could feel the iron thoughts slam into my head and heart, crushing my assumptions and expectations of how life should look. You should not have to bury your twenty five year old son. I was sure I was having a nightmare and would sometimes literally shake my head to wake up. I resisted and argued with the twisted wreckage of my perceptions of ‘the way it should be.’ I sat in the debris piles of old photographs and grade school journals written by my dead boy. I replayed images of his final living moments, standing, fighting, being shot, falling – was it on his face or his back? Unsolicited images came, of him bleeding and dying in the early morning hours in a remote Afghani valley. I sorted through duffle bags and hauled away old clothes belonging to my sweet son, touching them, wearing them, smelling them, weeping over them as I put them into boxes to take to the Goodwill. Many of them I kept. After about eight months, the darkness and agony began to subside, but this is another story altogether.

Was this suffering a waste of time? Was it really ‘optional’?

No. It was as necessary as the year long demolition and clearing of the Twin Towers. It was required. In order to rebuild a new dwelling, it took time to clear away the old deconstructed Towers.

Before his crucifixion, Jesus was looking at the huge Jewish Temple and said, “This temple will be torn down and in three days be built again.” John’s gospel said Jesus was speaking of his spiritual body, not the literal temple. Soul destroys and rebuilds. “Three days” refers to the perfect amount of time of destruction and suffering, and only the one suffering destruction of self will know that. Soul often unmakes before it remakes, and this is uncomfortable for most of us.

To continue, click here: The Necessity of Subjective Suffering