Bryan’s Story: From Missionary to Almost Atheist to Present Day

The opening shot of my book Evolution 2.0 is an argument between me and my brother about evolution. Bryan had been a missionary in China, but in four years he went from right-wing Christian seminary grad to almost atheist.

He was dragging me with him. I wasn’t enjoying it, but I knew I had to be intellectually honest.

I found myself retreating to what I know best, which is science. I said, “Bryan, look at the hand at the end of your arm. I’m an engineer, and your hand is a fine, fine piece of engineering. You don’t think your hand is an accumulation of random accidents, do you?”

Bryan was good and ready for that question, and he pushed back with a standard-issue Darwinian answer. His answer didn’t quite jive with my experience… but I admitted my intuitions could be wrong. So instead of arguing, I decided to dive down the rabbit hole. I resolved to get to the hard truth, and follow it wherever it carried me.

Our argument in the back of a Chinese bus led to a book that took six years to write, a technology prize, and a quest for life’s origin that now includes some of the world’s most renowned scientists at top universities. You can read the rest of that story in Evolution 2.0.

But… what about Bryan?

Recently we held a business seminar where we presented Evolution 2.0 and the technology prize as a case study. Everyone at the seminar was asking Bryan “OK, so what’s your story?”

Here is Bryan’s story…

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Perry: Everybody at this conference has been coming and asking Bryan: “So you and Perry had all these debates and arguments and everything. So what’s up with you?” Bryan said to me, “Why don’t I take the microphone and talk about it.” I said, alright – let’s have you talk about that! So without further ado, Bryan, you’re up!

Bryan: Thank you. I did have at least ten people yesterday come up to me and say, “So, Bryan, how does your story end?” So I will get to that. You’ll indulge me in a few minutes of storytelling if that’s ok… 

I have a question for you, which is: How do you know when you’ve gotten a good education? One of my answers to that question goes back to the seminary I graduated from.

Perry knows I’m a guy that likes certainty and crispness and clarity and nice definitions. So when I went to The Master’s Seminary in Sun Valley California in 1995, I was going to get my certainty in the world, and that’s what I did.

It’s an arch-conservative fundamentalist seminary where they do not admit women to the program. That’s how arch-conservative it is.

Their motto is: We train men as though their lives depended on it. And that’s the whole mindset. It’s a three or four year program. Guys would get up–and it was always guys—they would get up for their senior testimonies prior to graduation and they would, almost to a man, they would say–you go to seminary usually fresh out of college often fresh out of Bible college–you’re cocky, you’re young and you think you know everything–

And the guys would say I arrived at seminary thinking I knew the answers. Now I’m graduating and I realize I don’t even know what all the questions are yet.

So, Perry, you actually got a tiny bit of the narrative wrong yesterday. The seminary doesn’t give you a spreadsheet full of answers. The seminary gives you a mountain of questions, questions and more questions because– everybody learns Hebrew. Everybody learns Greek.

Everybody you know learns to parse your verbs and decline your nouns and so on and you’re doing stuff in Genesis and you’re dealing with all of these historical questions and interpretive questions and exegetical questions.

You’re picking apart the historicity of the Book of Genesis and you’re picking it apart–you’re dealing with questions of the archaeological evidence for or against the ten plagues in Egypt and stuff like that.

And you’re dealing with the Gospels and the Q theory and do we follow the Textus Receptus or the Alexandrian, and the apparent contradictions between the Gospel narratives and so on.

And Paul in the book of Romans in chapter 6 verse 5 and this use of the genitive and the thirteen possible meanings of this particular use of the genitive case and so on.

And that’s the education you’re getting so you get questions questions questions and you graduate with a mountain of them.

Perry: Google AdWords is simple by comparison!

Bryan: Yes, it is! And the thing about an arch fundamentalist seminary like that is: the answers you are allowed to come up with must fall neatly within some very well-defined boundaries.

So any answer you come up with is fine as long as the Bible is still inerrant, and Jesus is still Deity, and you still believe that all of its records are fundamentally historical grammatical and so on.

So that there was a real Jesus and there was a real apostle Paul and there was a real King David and a real king Solomon and a real Moses and a real Noah and a real Cain and Abel. And a real literal Adam and Eve who were created in six literal 24 hour days by the hand of God. And so on.

So, that was my background. And when I graduated in 1999 I had all of this exposure to all of these mountains and mountains and mountains of questions.

And that, in my view, is a good education.

So I got the opportunity to go to China. It just dropped in my lap. In January of 2000 I went and I took a teaching job at a luxury hotel in southwestern China. Beautiful mountain city in the foothills of the Himalayas.

And since I enjoy language I was going to throw myself into learning Chinese, and I did make great friends. This was totally unexpected, and it was a marvelous experience.

One of the things I was not prepared for was just how secular a culture China actually is.

Secular secular secular to the hilt. There’s something about living under Communism and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution has a tendency to wipe all religious influence away from a culture. And this is a part of the world that had really never in any significant way been touched by Christianity.

And so I’m dealing with this very secular culture and in my time there–I had four and a half years–I had one mostly convert I guess. This despite the fact that I was there to be a missionary. I was supported by the church back home in Los Angeles.

My evangelistic efforts were not all that super effective, let’s be honest. But it was a marvelous experience and very eye opening. It was the very first time that I had ever just been out, completely out of my Christian bubble. And cultural reinforcement of my Christian beliefs on every level–I was finally out from under that. And I had free time that I hadn’t in quite some time.

Fast forward to Tuesday, September 4th, 2001 which is exactly one week before 9/11. I was one of the few people in town that had CNN because I worked for a hotel, so I had it in my dorm. I come home from an afternoon of teaching, and I turn on CNN, and they’re playing a replay of LARRY KING LIVE from the previous day and on LARRY KING LIVE are two people with very often opposite views of the world.

This particular day there is Sylvia Browne. If you’ve ever heard of her she’s the psychic who can contact your relatives and loved ones who have crossed over. Opposite her that day was James Randi the atheist skeptic former magician kind of–he had replicated a bunch of Houdini’s old stunts.

He was in the Guinness Book of World Records and he was a psychic and paranormal de-bunker.

It was him versus her on LARRY KING LIVE, and I was absolutely transfixed. He was challenging her. He was saying, “Miss Brown, if you can come to our center in Fort Lauderdale Florida and, following our protocols under proper observing conditions, demonstrate that you actually do have paranormal ability, then the James Randi Educational Foundation will pay you one million dollars.”

I saw this and I was blown away by this because I thought I had a pretty good education, but I had never been exposed to this particular way of testing truth claims because I had a seminary degree and I had graduated from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln with a degree in history and Spanish which tend to kind of bypass engineering and the scientific method and so on.

In fact, two days after I graduated in 1994 with my degree in history and Spanish I started a job scooping popcorn for minimum wage. That was my career path.

Well anyway I’m watching this and I’m fascinated. As soon as the as soon as the episode is over I run to my computer and go look up Randi.org and discovered that every week he would blog on Fridays. He would talk about people who had come into the center who claimed to have paranormal abilities and he would give a narrative of how they tested them.

I was blown away by this because this was a great education. Like here’s how you test someone who claims that they can do dowsing. Here’s how you test the girl whose parents say that she can read completely blindfolded. Here’s how you test when a person says that you can draw a card and they can tell you what the next card is going to be in the deck.

Every week he would he would talk about these different tests and this was an amazing education.

And so I started following this and all of a sudden a bunch of questions started popping up that really started causing me some trouble. And mind you I am a missionary supported by Grace Community Church in Sun Valley California, and I’m here in China to make disciples and do church planning. That’s what I’m here for.

But week after week I start I’m reading these blogs and I’m starting to ask questions that are deeply troubling me. Such as: I’ve always believed my entire life that if you need something you get on your knees you pray, you ask God for it, and then God answers you. And how do you know that God answers prayer? Well, you keep a journal.

I asked for this on such and such a date. And then two days later three weeks later I got this. Therefore, we know my prayers were answered.

And all of a sudden as I am and I’m reading Randi’s stuff then I start clicking on other hyperlinks and reading some other skeptics’ stuff. I start finding new methods to question whether maybe that’s not the most scientific approach to answering how whether you get your prayers answered or not.

And this really started bothering me. And September turned into October and October turned into November and the questions got deeper and more painful and scarier. And I suddenly by December I found myself in a serious crisis of faith.

Remember: I had a seminary education. I like the metaphor you used yesterday, Perry, it’s like you learn where all the bones are buried. When you have your bible in front of you, you know all of these places where there are serious interpretive problems, serious archaeological questions, serious textual questions serious ambiguities and philosophical contradictions and so you know all this stuff.

And here I am more or less alone. In China. As secular a place as you’ll ever find. And by December I was sick. And terrified. In fact the last week of December 2001. Something weird with my stomach. And it just stopped digesting food for a few days.

I would eat stuff and it would just sit there. I could not digest what I was wrestling with. And this was terrifying. Because as much as a person could leave everything and throw themselves into ministry and missions. This is that was exactly what I had done.

And suddenly for the first time in my life and question “is there anything out there” Hello. And I couldn’t digest food. And I’m cold because it’s winter and there’s no central heating where I live. It’s late at night and I’m curled up in a fetal position in my bed and it’s dark and it’s quiet and I’m like Hello Is there anyone out there. Is there anything out there.

Perry: That’s a Pink Floyd song.

Bryan: Well, so you can understand a little bit of existential hell–I’m 30 years old. Did I just throw away the last 30 years of my life for nothing. Thankfully a doctor had some nice herbal stuff that cleared up my stomach.

Right after first of the year 2002–and Perry will remember this–I thought about this and I’m like I need some help. And the last thing I’m going to do is e-mail the guys in the missions department for the seminarian and say, “I’m here, I’m an evangelist church planter in China, and I’m having serious doubts is all of this…”

Perry: Because that never happened to anybody else anyway.

Bryan: Right. But I’m saying, well, who? Is there anyone neutral?

Perry!

Who–and when I say neutral I mean, Perry’s clearly Christian, he’s committed to his Christianity. But I attended one of your coffeehouse theology meetings with you. Perry can deal with this. OK.

And Perry understands my upbringing. And we have our secure email connection and so on. So I think the first question I shot you is OK let’s start with this one, Perry, because I’m really struggling. Why do you believe the Bible?

Which is not the greatest question you could ask, but it’s a good starting place.

Perry and I went back and forth and back and forth and back and forth, and Perry gave the best answers he could find. And it honestly wasn’t working for him. Because it just seemed that every answer and reply you gave me on historical questions or philosophical questions.

It was always as though–OK if you are committed to Christianity being true, then that answer will satisfy you. But if you’re starting with a blank slate. I don’t see anything that would lead me to that conclusion.

But Perry was a very very good sparring partner. I had no idea until 10 years later what my questions were actually doing to you, in terms of moving you to the edge. At one point you sent me a bunch of books you sent me some William Lane Craig and I think there was some Geisler in there as well. Big armful of books that wasn’t cheap.

Perry: [Laughs] No.

Bryan: Very helpful, but I’m watching as my whole belief system is just more or less eroding. By the end of 2002 I was like I just don’t believe this Christianity thing anymore. At all.

I came back for a visit stateside. I ended the relationship with the church in L.A. Turned around and went back to China where I spent an additional year and a half. Now I was just a guy in China teaching English at a hotel and was not a missionary church planter anymore. And I’m watching.

As my whole life and my whole world view is changing. Well, something started–I started to become aware of something that became a real issue and that was: I was angry. I was really angry about a lot of stuff. Angry that I had given up 30 years of my life for something that I decided was empty. Angry that all of those dogmatic preachers and all those dogmatic professors all those years had just been feeding me a bunch of bull.

So fast forward to 2004. Perry brought Tannah and came out. I was already planning on going home which was why you were doing that trip. “Oh, I got to get Tannah to China before Uncle Bryan moves home.”

Perry came out to visit, spent a few days. I’m not sure we spent the whole time arguing, like you said yesterday, but there was the conversation in the van on the way to Leaping Tiger Gorge which we all remember the falcons and the mutations in the eyes, eyesight and so on. And that was a good conversation. I don’t know if you remember that same evening.

Perry: Yeah, I do.

Bryan: We went to Richard’s family’s house, and they fed us this wonderful dinner, and somehow you and I ended up in this conversation I think about homosexuality. I was angry about the subject of homosexuality because–it wasn’t an issue I had struggled with myself, but one of my best friends all through college had. And had been fed the fundamentalist line about homosexuality.

And I just watched it torture him and torture him and torture him.

Somehow that subject came up, and I just lit into Perry. We’re sitting in these people’s living room, having been fed a meal, and here I am. Just going off at Perry.

Perry: Of course, they don’t understand what we’re talking about at all.

Bryan: No, they don’t. Not at all! One of the one of the other ironies about that particular evening is we watched we all watched the movie “The Truman Show” which is–it’s this funny little comedy that is one of the most disturbingly profound journeys into human epistemology that has shown up on film in the last 50 years. Seriously.

Perry: Next year we’ll have an epistemology seminar.

Bryan: We should!

Audience: What’s epistemology?

Bryan: Sorry I used the word epistemology. Epistemology is basically the study of the question of how do you know what you think you know? Or how do you come to believe the things that you come to believe? And so on. And what’s your basis for believing things. So ‘The Truman Show.’ That was actually my story.

It’s like, “holy crap is this whole thing just a giant construct? This just man-made construct?” So you told me, Perry, maybe a couple of years later, you told me “that night at Richard’s house I could tell something inside of you had died.” You said it was really really scary.

Perry: Yeah. He was turning into one of them. Namely the furious militant atheists. Whose happy plug fell out and are now furious at the world and spewing their venom on everybody. Oh no. It really scared me.

And I thought: Yeah, I know there’s all these questions, and we can argue about homosexuality and whatever else, but, man, Bryan just went over some dotted line. That really scared me. It all kind of jerked me back.

I almost felt like I was following him in a sense but then suddenly realized: I don’t want THAT. I’ve seen a whole bunch of that. There’s nothing healthy about it. I don’t know where this thing is going. But this is going to be an interesting ride.

Bryan: So, Perry, as a result of that day you launched on your evolution journey. I moved home to Lincoln after nine years away. And for the next five and a half years. I was on a journey of anger.

What I will say about your evolution journey was I’m really grateful for it because you know what you learned about the brilliance of cells? And how they how they engineer evolution and so forth? You’ve had lots of Christian people tell you that you gave them a rational reason to continue to embrace their faith. And not be at odds with science. Right?

I was thinking about this yesterday. What this new model this Evolution 2.0 model also does is, for the person who doesn’t have a religious commitment, it gives us the ability to accept evolution as true without feeling really stupid. When you raise honest questions like:

Seriously that tree is just the result of accident upon accident upon accident? Cuz I had decided that evolution has to be true–and then I would walk outside, and I would see these trees, and something deep deep down inside of me would be like Really, Bryan? Seriously? Just random mutation plus natural selection, rinse and repeat? Seriously?

And then I’d just shake my head and be like No no no no, this is SCIENCE people. This is SCIENCE. And always somewhere in there is like really Bryan? Seriously?

Perry: And everybody experiences that, and that’s why this topic is so volatile. Because that is the elephant in the room nobody wants to talk about on the secular side.

Bryan: So you supplied me with a way to accept evolution.  And not have to be beholden, for example, to the old traditional interpretation of the biblical narrative.

And that was very very helpful. And so there was never much of a debate about evolution. Not after that. I was very interested in what you were doing, although I was not crazy about your eagerness to just tie it intimately into Christianity so quickly.

But.

I spent several years very very angry until one day in 2010. We had hired Drew Bishof to come be our operations guy. He and Jessica and all of us became very good friends. I don’t know how many of you here know Drew Bishof, but Drew and Jessica were a couple, they were living in Austin Texas at the time and they had grown up in an arch fundamentalist community in California that was almost identical to ours except that it was worse in a lot of ways.

Perry: A little bit louder and a little bit worse.

Bryan: A little bit louder and a little bit worse. And their particular thing–there had been all this grotesque sexual repression and shaming and all that stuff that was part of their fundamentalism.

And they invited me, since Drew and I were working on a Facebook project at the time, Drew said, come down to Austin and spend New Year’s with Jessica and me. So I did. And we had a blast. And literally from the first night there we get to talking about some deep stuff, and we’re up until 3:00 a.m. talking and laughing and crying and sharing stories of life under fundamentalism, the pain of this and the pain of that, and how we’ve dealt with this issue, and how we’re working through that issue and so on.

The following Sunday they said, “You can sleep in if you want Bryan, or you can come to church with Jessica and me. It’s up to you.”

Do church. That’s cool. That’s great. I have no problem with that. So we go to their church service. And. I’m sitting there and their big worship center is this 21st century modern evangelical urban kind of Christianity.

They have the worship team, they have the pastor who gets up and talks.

I remember precious little about what the service was about except for this: That the worship team really irritated me.

It was all it was all the classical stuff that has irritated me for years about 21st century evangelical Christian worship. They have the PowerPoint up on the screen. They have the band playing some song that was written a year and a half ago.

And the PowerPoint is misspelled. And the song doesn’t make coherent grammatical sense. In the same sentence you’ll use “thee” and then “you” and then go back to using “thee” again.

And I’m like this is supposed to be transcendently supernatural and we can’t even get the PowerPoint right?

And it was it was all stuff that had just irritated me just to the nth degree about Christianity and modern Christian worship.

And then I look out of the corner of my eye and standing over here is Drew. And Drew has one hand in his pocket and one hand in the air. And he’s just kind of swaying very gently to the music. And I see that and I’m like you idiot. A room full of people having a made up experience with song lyrics that don’t even make sense. And this is supposed to be supernatural worship? I just hate this.

All of a sudden, a thought hits me that I had been reflecting on over the previous couple of years because I had been doing some self-help stuff that was very very good and very very valuable. And the thought was this–Perry quoted this yesterday, although you got one word wrong, I’m thinking to myself how much I hate this and have always hated this Christian modern worship stuff–and the thought was:

Hate is just another word for “Want, but cannot have.”

And that is a truth.

I’d invite you to go reflect on that and reflect on it deeply. You cannot hate another person unless you have at some point expected something from them. Thought that they should behave a certain way. You wanted something from them. Loved them, needed something from them.

You cannot hate another human being up to and including someone you met 30 seconds ago, and you see them and you just feel this resentment. You cannot do that without some deep subconscious unconscious other than conscious part of you having wanted something first. Otherwise it is impossible to experience hatred.

And so if you are feeling hatred, then you know there’s something inside of you that you want. OK? And I realized in this moment. Sitting there with Drew doing his thing that this was true of me. And I’m like. Oh crap. And I started crying.

And I’m thinking I’m angry because I want something. What is it I want? I want this whole Christianity thing to be true. Or: I want this whole supernatural experience to actually be real. I want this, but I’m convinced it’s not. But I want it to be real.

And I started crying. And I start sobbing. And the worship band is still playing. And Drew is still there. And Jessica sees me, and she puts her arm around me. And I continued, and I’m thinking through this, and I suddenly realize: This is what all of those atheist people are so pissed about. There not pissed because it’s not true. They’re pissed because they wanted it to be true.

And I’m just crying and crying and the worship band continues playing and eventually they finish their song. The pastor gets up and he delivers his benediction and the service is over, and I’m still sitting there crying. Jessica has her arm around me, and eventually Drew comes around and he sits down, and they don’t know what’s going on.

They just know Bryan’s here sobbing. And it continues for five minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes.

Eventually the pastor comes over, and he sits–is it OK if I pray over you Bryan? Between sobs I’m like fine fine yeah it’d be good.

And then it’s like… why are people who have come out of religion so angry about it? Because it’s as though you were told that daddy, who’s away at the moment is going to be home by Christmas time and when Daddy comes home at Christmas time we’re going to be together as a family and he’s got lots of gifts. He’s got gifts for you and gifts for you and gifts for you.

And daddy’s going to be home at Christmas and Christmas comes and Christmas goes and daddy doesn’t show up.

And you find out there never was a daddy in the first place.

And it was just a story and people people’s narratives of their lives are like this.

I believed daddy was coming home for Christmas with an armful of gifts. And there was no daddy in the first place. Who would not feel angry and betrayed if that was your narrative? And some of the most angry miserable people you will ever meet are people with daddy issues. Right? Male and female both. And I realize this was what I was so angry about.

All these years. I was so pissed. Not just because of the funny grammar on the slides and the arm waving and all that. I was pissed because really I wanted this to be real. And it wasn’t. It was just made up human stuff. But I wanted it to be real.

Somewhere 10 or 20 minutes after the service is over I’m finally done crying. And Drew said, are you good? So can we go home? And I say yeah we can go home.

And in the car on the way home… well so the elephant in the room here, and I got to ask: Are you a Christian now?

And I said, to be honest Drew, no. I don’t think my actual views about the historicity of Christianity have changed.

All I know is: What I was so angry about was I just wanted this to be true. And it turned out it wasn’t. As far as I could tell, and that’s why I was so pissed. And I know this I’m not angry anymore. There’s not a drop of anger left. Because I got it–what I really needed was just to acknowledge the child inside that wanted it to be true.

And if you just let the child say it, and experience it, and feel it, then even if it’s not true the child can be happy. Because the child can acknowledge what the child always wanted. And Drew says: It’s a little complex but ok, I can understand that.

And that literally was seven and a half years ago. That was one of the major turning points in my life. It was like the anger was gone because I knew what it was I had always wanted.

If we can fast forward fast forward to 2016.

Perry, your 30-day reboot. It was really, really super valuable. And I think I think he did a show of hands yesterday, all the people who’ve done 30 day reboot. So if you have not done 30 day reboot please do. Because we’re going to we’re going to offer it again some point in the next month or two or three.

It’s really really important that you understand why ancient literature is so valuable, and why it’s worth your time in 2017 and beyond to be spending your time every day in old and ancient writings.

OK so you talked yesterday about the libraries burning and people keeping this stuff in the clay jars to save it from the Marauders and so forth because it was valuable to them.

The great old works of literature are valuable because, of course they were meaningful to those people and kept them around and they’ve survived and all that, but another really important reason which I didn’t really understand until this year when I–like a whole bunch of us here–discovered Jordan Peterson, Professor at University of Toronto, who explains that the oldest and greatest works of literature are archetypal.

Jordan Peterson’s “Psychological Significance of the Genesis Stories” lecture series led Bryan to say to me, “Jordan’s videos gave me permission to no longer feel stupid for being fascinated with the Bible.”

In other words, they tell stories that reflect the deepest most relatable experiences we have and that reflect our internal hard wiring almost perfectly.

Why did Harry Potter sell so well and become this mega sensation? Was it because J.K. Rowling is just a really nifty storyteller?

She is a really nifty storyteller. But that’s not why Harry Potter just hit this massive international nerve. It’s because J.K. Rowling–what did she study at university–she studied Latin Greek and the classics. And immersed herself for years of her education in the oldest most enduring classical works of Western literature.

As the story goes, that one day on the train when she’s either heading from London or to London, and suddenly gets this inspiration where it’s as though this entire story just appears in her head. That came from her years and years of deep immersion in old classical literature.

The old stories of classical literature resonate with us because they reflect something deep inside our soul. We all I think know the story of Cain and Abel, it’s chapter four in Genesis probably, and I understood this just within the last month or two for the very first time.

Why do we all resonate with the story of Cain and Abel? I mean it’s this tiny little snippet of text. But you go around and you just mentioned Cain and Abel to any person on the street and they’ll recognize it and they’ll remember it.

The atheist version of Cain and Abel, which if you listen to Sam Harris’s podcast, he’ll give you that. (I have great respect for Sam Harris but I think he’s completely bankrupt on this particular point.)

The atheist version of Cain and Abel goes like this:

“Two brothers believe in a magical fairy in the sky. And brother one believes in his version of the magical fairy in the sky and brother two believes in his version of the magical fairy in the sky. And their ideas conflict. And because my magical fairy in the sky doesn’t match your magical fairy in the sky therefore I’m going to kill you. And that ladies and gentlemen is what happens every time you let people believe in magical fairies in the sky.”

  1. That’s the Atheist Narrative of things and it is so drained of life and meaning and vitality and in my view it’s ugly. It’s just an ugly ugly thing.

Why does the story of Cain and Abel resonate with us?

Because it says:

“I am making a sacrifice, I am giving up something of value, because I want to please someone important to me. I have a sibling, the sibling is giving up something of value to him, and he wants to please someone who is important to him. The authority figure, for whatever reason unknown to you or me, decides that he likes your sacrifice, and mine is not acceptable. We don’t know why. I don’t know all the reasons it’s just you’re accepted by the beloved authority figure, I’m not and that’s enough to make me hate you enough to kill you.”

OK now that’s not a beautiful narrative. In a sense, it’s not anymore beautiful than the Atheist Narrative. But it’s a narrative with meaning that we can all relate with.

Have we all experienced deep jealousy over someone who has accepted and we weren’t? We all have. And so you tell a kid the story of Cain and Abel once and they’ll remember it for their lifetime, right?

And all kinds of stories that make their way through our culture are that way. I can’t tell you how many different people of different cultures have asked me: Bryan do you know the story of the boy who cried wolf? I’ve had people in Chinese come up to me and ask:

Have you ever heard this story? There was a boy who was a shepherd… So, we all recognized the narrative of the boy that cried wolf and I don’t know where the very first boy that cried wolf story ever originated.

Was it in the Middle East? Was it Far East Asia? I have no idea. But everywhere I’ve been people know this story because they read, they respond to it.

Everywhere I’ve been people know the story of the emperor who had no clothes. Which as far as I know is was just the Hans Christian Andersen story from the 1800’s.

But I’ve had Chinese people tell me “Bryan do you know the story of the emperor who had no clothes?” Because this is a narrative that just catches on everywhere you go.

Why do people love the stories of Jesus so much?

I have several answers to that but I’ll give you one of them that I think is really important. How many how many of you have spent time reading the Tao Te Ching which is Laozi’s… Well Taoism basically. It’s an ancient piece of Chinese literature very very well known in the Far East. I can, if I want, read the Tao in Chinese.

I’ve given it the old college try, I don’t know how many times, and it just doesn’t do much for me. Because it’s just selection after selection after selection of these incredibly profound sounding but utterly non-concrete bits about life and existence.

I’ll give you something concrete. Pull open the Gospel of Luke and you’ll get concrete concrete concrete. Real living breathing concrete narratives. They are so full of grit and life and reality.

Jesus arose before dawn and went up the hillside to pray. Afterwards he came down and he and the disciples got in the boat and went across the lake to Gennaseret. This is so concrete, right? It’s living breathing people and they had names. And if you want to get on a plane you can fly to the Holy Land, and you can you visit these exact sites. I mean it’s just so real.

And I think the late film critic Roger Ebert said years ago, he said the most specifically local stories you’ll ever find actually end up being stories that have the most universal relevance.

So a story about a Jewish man and his followers in first century Palestine actually resonates more universally with people than an Asian story that is nowhere near as specific as that.

Let me just highlight three things from the gospels that have spoken to me in the last year.

Story number one: Jesus is invited by some religious leaders to go eat dinner at the home of one of the religious leaders. He goes in, he sits down, he’s eating with them and somewhere in the middle of the meal in comes a woman.

Everybody in the room knows this woman. She’s got the reputation. She comes in, she goes to Jesus feet, and she starts crying. She’s crying and she’s crying on his feet and she’s wiping off her tears with her hair.

And the men in the room are saying, “Jesus, do you know who this person is that you’re just letting touch you like this?!” And Jesus says, “Let me ask you a question. Let’s say a guy has two people who owe him money one owes him $5000. The other guy owes him $50,000. He forgives the $5000 guy; he forgives the $50,000 guy. Which one of these guys do you think might be a little more grateful?”

The guy says: Well, probably the $50,000 guy.

He says, thank you, that’s the good answer. He says, for the record, Mr. Pharisee religious leader, when a guy comes to your home, normal protocol around here is you wash his feet. I noticed you didn’t bother washing my feet when I came in. But this lady has not stopped washing my feet with her tears. The person who has been forgiven little loves little; the person who’s been forgiven much loves much.

I don’t care whether you believe–this is now Bryan talking–I don’t care whether you believe there was a historical Jesus or Jesus was a complete myth, you cannot read that story and not be moved to the core by it. And recognize that this is a beautiful piece of spiritual religious and moral thought. You cannot, if you have a soul inside your body.

You cannot read the story of the Prodigal Son and not be moved almost to tears by it. Young man, goes to his dad. Basically says–forgive the French—F*** you, I wish you were dead. Give me all my inheritance money–I’m gone. He leaves. He squanders it. He has no money. He’s broke. He’s feeding pigs.

He decides: hey you know what, even the even the slaves that worked for my dad have it better than I do. I’m going to go back to dad, and he says make me a slave. And when he comes back Dad doesn’t want his son to be a slave.

He celebrates–he wants to kill the fatted calf and invite his son willingly back into the family.

Perry, if I’m not mistaken one of the more profound moments of your life in the last 10 years riveted on the story of the prodigal son. With you seeing yourself in the narrative for the very first time.

No matter what you think of Jesus and whether he was really historical or not, you cannot read the story of the prodigal son and not be moved by it.

Third story. I spent time in the Gospel of Luke this year. And had the bizarre experience that when we got to the end of chapter 23 — Jesus has now been delivered up and he’s been crucified and he’s dead and he’s buried. After, I don’t know how many years away from Christianity, I’m reading the story of Jesus.

Who is this very complex contradictory irascible Jewish guy who seems to have not very modern views on slavery and so on and so forth. And I’m reading this story and at the end of the chapter I’m broken hearted. This is bizarre. The hero of this story is dead and I’m crushed.

Fortunately, there is one more chapter, and it has a very happy ending. But I but I realized after reading about the crucifixion of Jesus for the very first time–I had the bizarre thought where I’m realizing I think I might actually love this guy. Now I ‘get’ it. Like all those people all those years that I thought were so corny “I just LOVE Jesus!!!”

And suddenly here I am I as a couple of months ago I guess–I just finished the narrative where he’s being crucified–and for one of the very first times in my life–I’m heartbroken.

And I’m like, OK maybe the “I Love Jesus” people aren’t so crazy after all.

Do I believe the Bible is the inspired inerrant word of God? I don’t think so. I think that’s a no. Do I believe there was a historical Jesus? I don’t think there’s much question about that. Do I believe he’s the Jewish Messiah? I don’t know.

Do I believe that immersing yourself in these old stories and learning more about yourself is immensely valuable? Yes absolutely.

Do I have answers–is there supernatural cause behind the big bang and the origin of life and so on? I don’t know, and I think it’s wonderfully liberating to not know the answer for me at this stage in my particular life.

But that is my story and I think there’s nothing more valuable than just diving in and reading the literature of old and looking at your soul and being challenged. And knowing there are some really hard questions out there that we don’t know answers to yet.

~

RELATED: Bryan and I debate miracles

156 Responses

  1. Tom Godfrey says:

    Jim Lea,

    Whenever I say what I believe you meant in my own words, but you recognize a misunderstanding, by all means, please set the record straight here through a clarification. I do not want to distort or pervert anything you have said. When I am expressing my own views, ones with which you disagree, it should be clear that I am not trying to echo your thoughts, and you should always feel free to explain why you disagree.

    Yes, from my own perspective, I would “want to bring hope and purpose to people,” if possible, so this is not what I find hard to understand. You wondered why I imagined you wouldn’t feel the same way from your own perspective too, since you believe in the Golden Rule, but I had already given you two reasons.

    Let’s review your response to my first reason, which you quoted and then said that I “make it sound somehow shameful that a human would reflect on his life and ask himself honestly if he was being as kind, loving, forgiving, tolerant, honest, etc. as he should be.” I plead not guilty to this charge, which is all about a case of introspection. I was talking about your trying to bring hope and purpose to other people.

    You went on to say that I “seem to imply if [you] advised a person that his life would be better if he adopted these spiritual characteristics and followed the golden rule because that would help him grow spiritually and fulfill one of the purposes for which he came to earth, that this advice could be misleading and hurtful.” I think you missed the point of the second reason I gave you.

    In a case like this, you may have good intentions, all right, but how do you know that the disillusionment and purposelessness being experienced by the other person is not part of the plan for his life that he himself chose after consulting with his expert spirit guides before he was born? How could you possibly know that this stage in that other person’s life is not a key aspect of his adventure on earth necessary for his spiritual advancement? Would your interfering with this really be helpful? By the same token, how do you know whether the other person has been misbehaving and not following the Golden Rule simply because this was planned before birth to provide an opportunity for someone else to grow spiritually? Would your interfering with this really help the intended beneficiary? All of these questions are based on an assumption that your beliefs about reincarnation are correct and not my own beliefs.

    You also said, “Stating to those who ask me about reincarnation that they should develop all aspects of love in their character is NOT misleading or harmful in any way. I would be just reminding them of the reason they came to earth.” Similar questions apply to this scenario too. How do you know the reason some other person came to earth? Wasn’t this supposed to be settled expertly before that other person was born and without your knowledge? You might guess, all right, but if you could possibly guess wrong, then yes, your intervention in this case could be misleading and tend to thwart what had been planned, right?

    I think you tried to answer these questions in the paragraph where you asked, “Why would someone like me who believes in the golden rule want to thwart someone’s current adventure?” Good question. I suppose you would not want to do such a thing, but if you really believe what you say you believe about reincarnation and the review process required before embarking on another adventure in this vale of tears, I think you should want to do as little as possible to influence the adventures and challenges of other souls for fear that you might be messing up the careful plans that expert spirit guides had in mind. You certainly would not need to encourage belief in reincarnation, because you believe the other person already believed in it before he was born and will certainly be aware of it again in due course, right? As for this life, not even doubt changes the bottom line of the alleged final destiny for everyone, does it? So why sweat it?

    At least you did agree with my summary of your testimony of disillusionment, and you added, “I did extensive research, analysis, and prayer, and I concluded that my sources—some earthly and some heavenly—made more logical sense than ‘whoever wrote the Bible,’ because [1] we don’t really know who wrote it, [2] we have no proof God inspired it, and [3] Christians cannot agree on what it means in hundreds of areas.” Okay, you listed three reasons for preferring your sources. These all undoubtedly seem adequate to you now, but let’s reconsider each one together.

    [1] When you come to a stop sign, do you ever know who wrote that one word on it or who put the sign there? Does it really matter? What about an inscription on an Egyptian monument? Does an archaeologist have to know for sure who wrote it or who tried to change or deface it to get any credible information from it? Or suppose we do know the name of the person who allegedly wrote a portion of a holy book, but we do not actually know the person, since he lived so long ago. What impact should this have on its credibility? You know the names of the authors of your sources, but can you ever be sure that the real author was not a ghost writer? What can you ever possibly know for sure about the honesty of a “heavenly” source?

    [2] We have already discussed proof, and I think we agreed that we are not talking about absolute proof here, only evidence accepted as adequate. We know that a measure of faith has to be involved. If we apply this criterion [2] to decide between the Bible and your personally selected sources, what is the adequate evidence that yours were inspired by God and not by secret or undisclosed enemies of God?

    [3] You must realize that not every driver agrees on the meaning of a stop sign. To me, it means come to a complete stop and proceed with caution. To other drivers, it evidently means just slow down to check for oncoming traffic. What about an op-ed piece in the New York Times? Can you point to any substantive document on which every reader will necessarily settle on a single meaning? If the honest answer to this question is no, does it follow that none of them deserve your respect? Even if you are unaware of any disputes about the meaning of what your sources say, if you later found out that someone else interpreted a part of what one of them says differently, would you really have to stop considering that one reliable?

    Yes, we should all consider our reasons for accepting a source of information about spiritual matters. I did not intend to imply that you, I, or anyone else is an exception in this regard. Personally, I find the reasons for respecting the Bible as the word of God far greater than anything written in modern times, but I recognize that everyone is free to decide for himself, you included. I am only encouraging you and others who may read our comments here to think about this carefully.

    You wanted me to ask myself “why the Holy Spirit has led each cult, denomination, and church to radically different conclusions rather than into ‘the truth.’” I don’t accept this premise. Cults may indeed reach radically different conclusions, but I am under no obligation to believe that the leading of the Holy Spirit had anything to do with those differences. Besides this, I recognize a central body of doctrines that many denominations hold in common, along with side disputes about relatively minor differences. I do not see them as a threat to my belief in divine inspiration. I suspect your belief in the reliability of your selected sources is at least similar in this regard.

    Thanks for explaining how you know that God cares about us. You have to trust what a few of those “thousands of witnesses” tell you, right? Nevertheless, you still stand by your admission that you “have no idea how God works the whole process,” right? None of those witnesses can tell you how either, but they have led you to believe that spirit guides and a council of elders provide guidance about what should be in your next adventure, without God ever getting directly involved, right?

    According to your philosophy, God did not leave us anything like a Bible, so I suppose you teach that everyone else in every age should do what you did and individually collect a private selection of sources that should be trusted to tell the truth about spiritual matters and the afterlife. The picture that emerges in my mind is that you believe God has unconditional love for the souls he created, as claimed by your witnesses or selected sources, but you cannot point to any specific act of God that demonstrates it. Forgiving everyone is completely passive. If I missed or forgot an active expression of genuine love that you already mentioned, please remind me.

    Merry Christmas!

    • Jim Lea says:

      Tom, I’d like to wish you a happy, healthy new year. I read your 12/15/19 response, but I’m going to try a new approach to start this response since I’ve typed over 60 pages of responses to your questions. I’d like to pose some questions to you about the reincarnation issue. While I’m aware you believe Christianity is the true religion and the Bible is God’s inspired word and that reincarnation is unsupported and not realistic, I’d like you to step away from these assumptions for a few minutes and respond to my questions as though the idea of reincarnation is correct. I’d like to hear your opinion on the logic and fairness of some of the details of the process and whether you think God would do it the way I believe he does it. I will start with several statements about the process and then ask you a question. Each question will start with Assuming Reincarnation Is True (ARIT).

      1. In general I believe God makes each soul—each of his children—immortal at birth. ARIT, is it illogical that God would decide to make a soul immortal at birth since it reincarnates and would need to be immortal to keep incarnating and evolving spiritually over eons of time?

      2. The new soul receives training in heaven until it is deemed ready to reincarnate, and then it usually reincarnates to learn certain lessons it is unable to learn as well in heaven, to expand its consciousness, and to test its learning progress. Mary C. Neal, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon who studied at UCLA School of Medicine and completed her orthopedic residency at the University of Southern California, had a near-death experience. In her book “To Heaven and Back,” she writes about why suffering is valuable on earth: “Even the most terrible circumstances and events can stimulate great change in individuals and/or societies. Without observing cruelty, we would not be moved to compassion. Without personal trials, we would not develop patience or faithfulness….The acceptance that change rarely comes without difficulty and challenge can truly free a person to ‘rejoice always’” (pp 100-101). ARIT, does it seem logical that a soul would have to learn certain lessons outside of the peaceful heavenly realm, such as the lessons that killing and war are bad and counterproductive—since souls wouldn’t be allowed to practice killing and war in heaven and since they would have no need to desire war and killing in a heavenly paradise? ARIT, knowing how humans love challenges and like to learn by experimenting and taking risk, does it seem illogical that souls would find it challenging and fascinating to journey into a human body on a planet, have fellow souls join them as their friends or babies & raise their children as family members, use the elements and materials on Earth to design and build a society complete with entertaining books, plays, music, musical instruments, roads, political systems, homes, sports, cars, airplanes, spaceships, telephones, TVs, etc.?

      3. I believe most souls that reincarnate have two or more spirit guides (sometimes called “guardian angels”) or mentors that help train them, assist them on earth, and help them plan for incarnations. Each soul is advised by a group of more advanced spirit beings called elders (by many writers) before incarnating. All these higher-level spirit beings help select a body for an incarnating soul that will help it advance spiritually and experience karmic lessons it needs to learn so it can grow in wisdom. ARIT, does it seem logical that a loving God would make sure each of his children—each soul—is loved, assisted, and personally groomed for success rather than being thrown into a reincarnation cycle with no help or explanation like the Buddhists envision? ARIT, since newborn souls—just like human children—must grow and develop their knowledge and wisdom and since they will be around for eternity (however God defines “eternity” for a soul), does it make sense that souls would be expected to and want to learn, grow, and develop spiritually to become more like their Creator—as opposed to sitting around paradise for eternity and enjoying it with no challenges and no incentive to ever improve their knowledge and wisdom or grow spiritually?

      4. Before incarnating, each soul reviews and studies its past life with the help of its spirit advisers and members of its soul family or group to determine what spiritual characteristics and aspects of love it needs to work on in its next life to evolve spiritually. Based on karma from past lives and the soul’s needs, God and the elders offer the soul several body choices that will accomplish the soul’s objectives. A life plan or contract for life is devised for each soul with objectives and expectations for the next life. Sometimes a soul’s role is to personally develop and strengthen the fruits of its spirit (e.g., love, kindness, patience, joy, peace, goodness, etc.), sometimes a soul’s role is to help someone else develop the fruits of the spirit, and many times it involves both roles. ARIT, once you have selected a body, would you expect a wise God and a loving spirit world to come up with a plan for your next life, complete with goals, objectives, and roles to accomplish based on your soul’s real needs and talents, as opposed to just forcing a soul to accept any body in a situation that would not enhance the soul’s real development needs?

      5. It seems as if a soul has free will as to whether it will incarnate and which planet it will incarnate on. (There are no heavenly Gallup polls as to how many souls choose to incarnate and how many go to which planet, but my sources seem to indicate most choose to incarnate.) The soul also chooses potential challenges and trials in the life to come in pre-birth planning sessions, and it has free will to choose or reject the roles it will play with other fellow souls in the coming life. ARIT, do you think a God of total love is too easy on the souls to give them free will and he should just assert his authority and tell them what he has selected, or do you think a wise loving God made a good decision to let each soul buy in, so to speak, to its coming life plan and have a say in the plan? ARIT, if a soul chooses a hard life and a horrible death in a war in pre-birth planning to advance more quickly spiritually, does it have a right to accuse God of blind-siding it and being unfair? ARIT, if a soul chooses a life of ease and riches while hoping to make spiritual progress but fails and makes no spiritual progress because it gave in to every temptation of the flesh, can it or should it blame God for its poor choices or poor execution of its life plan?

      Now, Tom, to answer a few of your questions. You asked: “How do you know that the disillusionment and purposelessness being experienced by the other person is not part of the plan for his life that he himself chose after consulting with his expert spirit guides before he was born?” Answer: I wouldn’t know what another soul’s plan is. However, I haven’t read about any cases where a soul chooses such an experience without hoping to grow spiritually from it and develop a purpose. And many humans, seeing a disillusioned person, would be expected to offer help and advice, and the spirit planners would know this. Tom, you asked: “How could you possibly know that this stage in that other person’s life is not a key aspect of his adventure on earth necessary for his spiritual advancement? Would your interfering with this really be helpful?” Answer: I never try to interfere with someone’s life plan. But let’s suppose this soul consults with a Christian minister and a psychologist, and these persons unintentionally try to steer the person in a wrong direction. While that bad advice could somehow interfere with a soul’s life plan, the soul comes to earth knowing this could happen, the other souls all have free will, and situations can change. The soul knows it is responsible to think critically, make decisions, and make adjustments to its life.

      You ask: “By the same token, how do you know whether the other person has been misbehaving and not following the Golden Rule simply because this was planned before birth to provide an opportunity for someone else to grow spiritually? Would your interfering with this really help the intended beneficiary?” I have read of cases where a soul agrees to have a drug or alcohol addiction both to help someone else grow spiritually and to give that soul a chance to conquer the addiction. Again, if someone tries to help the soul overcome its addiction, I see no interference here. In fact, the soul trying to help the other soul overcome an addiction may have agreed to assume that role in its life plan as it tries to develop love, kindness, and tolerance.

      I will finish answering the other questions in a second post in 2 or 3 days, Tom. May the truth always be obvious! Jim

      P.S. –Tom, last time when I tried to post, and when I hit reply and typed in my name & email address, the system rejected my posts with the following comment: “Duplicate comment detected; it looks as though you’ve already said that!” I tried varying my name and opening remarks and it went thru, so I will try using a variant to my name, as I did last time to get the post to go thru.

    • Jim LEA says:

      Tom, here is the second half of my response to your Dec. 15, 2019 post with questions for me on various subjects.

      Tom, you asked: “How do you know the reason some other person came to earth? Wasn’t this supposed to be settled expertly before that other person was born and without your knowledge?” Answer: Earth is a training center for the spirit world, and souls incarnate here to learn and develop. That’s why they are here. I would not, however, know the specific objectives and goals in a soul’s life plan that it came to improve on. You state: “You certainly would not need to encourage belief in reincarnation, because you believe the other person already believed in it before he was born and will certainly be aware of it again in due course, right?” You are right that the soul knows it is going to incarnate before doing so, and when it returns to the afterlife, it does soon remember that it incarnated and why it did so, but there is a reason someone might want to remind a person he is reincarnating. Souls while on earth do not remember the reason they came here, and some souls get overwhelmed by materialism or addictions and feel there is no hope or reason for change. Reminding those persons, if they ask you, might help them decide to turn their life around instead of wasting it, accomplishing none of their life’s goals, and dying. If a person’s life is wasted, he/she just has to come back in another life and face the same challenges again since he/she made no progress.

      Tom, you wonder what impact knowing a source should have on its credibility? The Bible comes from ancient manuscripts whose authors are unknown, the manuscripts often differ from one another and may be incomplete, some were edited but we don’t know where or by whom, and many were excluded by allegedly knowledgeable individuals for unknown reasons. All the chosen manuscripts are said to be inspired by God, but there is no way to support that assumption.

      On the other hand, all my sources are all modern. You can buy their books, see most of them on YouTube, and look them up on Google. Sometimes an author like Dr. Gary E. Schwartz, who wrote The Afterlife Experiments, will use a co-author. Schwartz put the co-author’s name (William L. Simon) on the front cover, but no one claims Schwartz, a university professor at the University of Arizona and the Director of its Laboratory for Advances in Consciousness and Health, doesn’t exist and a ghost writer made the book up. In fact you can go to Schwartz’s own website to see he is a real professor. No one questions the existence of any of the authors of my sources. For instance, no one questions that Dr. Raymond Moody wrote his books on the near-death experience or postulates that he doesn’t exist. You can see several clips of him on YouTube. I don’t claim God inspired any of my sources, so I don’t have to prove he did. Given a choice between the mysterious ancient biblical manuscripts and my easily confirmed sources, I think mine have far more credibility.

      “You wonder what is the adequate evidence that my metaphysical sources were inspired by God and not by secret or undisclosed enemies of God. First of all, I don’t claim my sources were inspired by God. Second, I don’t believe enemies of God inspired either the Bible or my sources, but I can’t disprove a negative. About all you or I can do is look at the fruits being produced, to use a biblical expression. My sources describe a divine Source of All That Is who created our vast universe and is a being of unconditional love, and these sources emphasize the supremacy of the path of love and urge others to be kind, forgiving, tolerant, compassionate, humble, etc. People who have had a near-death experience often speak of how it turned their life around and caused them to see things from a more spiritual experience. Those who underwent hypnotherapy also speak of changed lives and becoming more spiritual and less religious. Frankly, Tom, if your imagined “enemies of God” are now in the business of helping people believe in God and change their lives to a forgiving, loving spiritual orientation, then they have ceased to be God’s enemies. I can’t conceive of real enemies of God dedicating their lives to helping humans believe in a loving God and follow is ways of love. Just like you, Tom, I have to analyze what I see and read and make a decision based on the facts I see. When I see how interconnected and consistent the messages from my various sources are and when I see their messages emphasize a loving, forgiving God and the need to develop godly virtues and grow spiritually, I believe I have strong evidence to support my position.

      Neither my sources nor your biblical sources agree 100% on everything, but that doesn’t prove them wrong or unreliable. My sources seem to agree on the big issues, but sometimes they don’t totally agree on all the details. For instance, some of the sources on reincarnation will discuss suicide, and some will say it is more serious than others, but all tend to emphasize that the suicide victim should be treated with love and that victim will still have to face and overcome the challenges that precipitated the suicide in another life. Many sources describe the life reviews souls go through in heaven, and some descriptions are more complete and descriptive than others, but none of these sources say there are no life reviews between lives and none say God will have a final judgment and toss unbelievers into an eternal hell fire.

      You ask: “Neither of us knows how God ‘works the whole process’ right?” I do not consult or know of any book or manuscript that is inspired by God that supposedly reveals God’s will. However, I believe God oversees the whole reincarnation process for his children. I don’t have a book describing the detailed procedures for, let’s say, how God and the spiritual elders help a soul plan its coming life. In my mind there is no question that souls reincarnate, that they pre-plan their next incarnation, that they can choose their body and roles to play in the next life, that they review their previous life, and that they have free will. But the few smaller details I read about can vary. For instance, I don’t know if each soul gets a choice of 1, 2, 3, or some other number of bodies—or does the number always vary? I know a body is selected that will benefit a soul, but I don’t know how a body is selected for a specific soul or specifically why a certain body was chosen. I don’t know how many souls—if any—change their mind at the last minute and refuse to incarnate? I believe souls review their lives after entering the afterlife, but I have no idea how the spirit world can show a soul what seems to be a movie of its whole life including all its thoughts and intentions and how it can feel the harm and anguish it caused other humans. Two hundred years ago if people were told they’d see what amounts to a movie of their life, they would not even know what was meant by a movie and think it impossible. All those interesting smaller details and the accompanying statistics are missing. But I believe I see the very basic structure of how the process works overall, and it all makes total sense to me.

      I asked you “why the Holy Spirit has led each cult, denomination, and church to radically different conclusions rather than into ‘the truth.’” You said that you didn’t “accept this premise. Cults may indeed reach radically different conclusions, but I am under no obligation to believe that the leading of the Holy Spirit had anything to do with those differences.” I’m still puzzled. Christian theology teaches that the holy spirit leads Christians into all truth after baptism, yet there are dozens of conflicting “truths” and beliefs. Some Christians insist they must keep the Sabbath on Saturday based on the 4th commandment, others abstain from eating unclean meats, others emphasize speaking in tongues, others (Catholics) say mass every day and teach you should use rosaries and go to confessionals, others say tithing is mandatory, others believe in Joseph Smith and baptizing nonbelievers for the dead, and some baptize by sprinkling and others by immersion, etc. If all these Christians are led by the holy spirit into truth, why the mass confusion and diversity of weird teachings? Or would you conclude there are only one or two true churches led by the holy spirit and all the others are fakes and not led by the holy spirit?

      May the truth always shine brightly. Jim

  2. Tom Godfrey says:

    Jim Lea,

    Thanks for your patience in continuing our discussion and for your new year’s greeting. The same to you in 2020.

    I want to make an honest effort to complete the exercise you described in the first paragraph of your December 26 comment, but anyone who reads this needs to understand that I will carefully distinguish here between what I actually believe and what I might believe if I were to adopt certain aspects of your perspective instead of mine. My general approach to accomplishing this will be to say back to you what I think you believe (ARIT = Assuming Reincarnation Is True) and then comment on anything that seems logically problematic (LP), based on my own reasoning and understanding of logic. Fair enough?

    1. ARIT, you believe that God makes each soul—each of his children—immortal at birth since it reincarnates and would need to be immortal to keep incarnating and evolving spiritually over eons of time.

    LP: If God makes each soul at birth, whether immortal or not, then a newly made soul could not have existed earlier to participate in planning before birth. If a future birth or reincarnation is possible for a given soul, it makes no sense to believe that God makes each soul at birth. In other words, according to the first part of the belief described here, each soul should be made and born just once, contradicting the rest of belief 1. Should you have said that God makes each soul before its first birth?

    2a. ARIT, you believe that a new soul would have to learn certain lessons outside of the peaceful heavenly realm, such as the lessons that killing and war are bad and counterproductive—since souls wouldn’t be allowed to practice killing and war in heaven and since they would have no need to desire war and killing in a heavenly paradise.

    LP: This belief also involves what seems to be a logical contradiction. Believing that the example lessons need to be learned implies that a new soul could have a desire for war and killing even in heaven as well as an ability to satisfy it there too, but this contradicts the belief that no such thing is allowed there. Conversely, if neither war nor killing is allowed in heaven, and no one there has a need to desire such a thing, then there should not be any need to learn any lesson about war or killing either. If I am never going to fly a helicopter, why should I ever have to take lessons on how to fly one?

    2b. ARIT, you believe that each new soul receives training in heaven until it is deemed ready to reincarnate and that it would consider it challenging and fascinating to journey into a body on some planet, have fellow souls be its friends or babies there, raise its children as family members, and use the elements and materials available on its chosen planet to contribute to the development of a society.

    LP: This belief might make sense if, for whatever reason, a soul would expect to be less satisfied in its eternal home in heaven, where I suppose its existence actually begins, than on some challenging planet. If heaven is actually less desirable than wherever one goes on his challenging journey, why would a loving God establish a cosmos where such a heaven is the final destiny of everyone regardless of behavior or misbehavior?

    3a. ARIT, you believe that a loving God makes sure each of his children—each soul—is loved, assisted, and personally groomed for success, never thrown into a reincarnation cycle without any help or explanation, so each soul has spirit beings called elders, along with two or more less advanced mentors or spirit guides in most cases, and these beings cooperate to help train the soul, plan for an incarnation, whenever one is desired, and possibly assist during life on a chosen planet.

    LP: Consider the first souls to be made. Unless there are multiple beings who, like God, existed before them, those pioneering souls would have to do without any guidance from spirit guides. If they received any guidance at all, I think God would have to provide it, and if he could do this for them, he could also have done it for every soul made later. God’s guidance should be flawless from the start. How could relatively inexperienced spirit guides ever possibly be just as helpful? This part of your reincarnation scenario makes no sense to me.

    3b. ARIT, you believe that newborn souls—just like human children—must grow and develop their knowledge and wisdom, that they will be around for eternity (however God defines “eternity” for a soul), that they will want to learn, grow, and develop spiritually, as expected, to become more like their Creator, and that they will not want to sit around paradise for eternity and enjoy it without experiencing challenges and without any incentive to improve their knowledge and wisdom or grow spiritually.

    LP: Let’s assume a newborn soul has just been made and has had no prior wisdom, knowledge, or experience gained innately or from a previous incarnation. I think this implies that such a soul would have no basis for wanting to learn anything, no knowledge of a Creator or divine attributes, and no way to recognize a need for spiritual development. On the other hand, if a loving God created this soul with an innate felt need for such development, why wouldn’t it make even more sense for God to create each soul fully developed spiritually, with all of the wisdom and knowledge that it would ever require during its eternal existence?

    4. ARIT, you believe that, prior to each incarnation, a soul reviews and studies its most recent previous life, if any, selects a body, and then a wise God and a loving spirit world come up with a plan for this next incarnation on some planet, complete with goals, objectives, and roles to accomplish, based on its real needs and talents, so it is never just forced to accept any body in a situation that would not satisfy its real development needs.

    5. ARIT, you believe that each soul has free will and can determine whether it will incarnate, and, whenever incarnation is desired, it can also select the planet that will be the place for the next incarnation and choose how hard or easy life will be there, but no soul can ever accuse God of being unfair or of blind-siding it with an unexpected life plan, and it can never blame God for its own poor choices or its own poor execution of its life plan.

    LP: I cannot understand how to reconcile your doctrine that each soul has free will with your doctrine that it can choose how hard or easy life will be. I think the latter should be determined in part by the free will choices made by others, not entirely by the free will choices of a single given individual.

    You may be disappointed that I have only added to my pile of questions for you, but of course, you are under no obligation to answer any of them. They might help you think these issues over for yourself. Have you ever wished that God had left you (and the whole world) a trustworthy holy book with answers to such questions about the nature of life and the afterlife?

    Thanks for answering some of my questions. You admitted that you “wouldn’t know what another soul’s plan is,” so, for all you know, ARIT, the disillusionment and purposelessness being experienced by another person could be part of the plan for his life that he himself chose after consulting with his expert spirit guides before he was born. I think it follows immediately that you would not be helping him by trying to block him from experiencing this feature of his plan, regardless of what concerned spirit guides know.

    You said, “…the other souls all have free will, and situations can change. The soul knows it is responsible to think critically, make decisions, and make adjustments to its life.” Okay, but I think this means that a lot of the planning allegedly done before birth will actually be futile, especially if we have no idea here on earth what those plans were anyway.

    You wrote about “cases where a soul agrees to have a drug or alcohol addiction both to help someone else grow spiritually and to give that soul a chance to conquer the addiction,” but, to be consistent, I think you realize that such a plan would not be known to anyone on the planet during the incarnation. Consequently, another person might try to keep the adventurer away from addictive substances and thereby interfere with the plan, albeit with the best of intentions. I think, ARIT, no one who believes your reincarnation idea would want to run the risk of messing up someone’s else plan.

    The only time I see the complaint here about a duplicate comment is when I try to post a given message a second time without realizing that it was already accepted on the first attempt. If you are sure your scenario is different, you may want to post a short message to the moderator to explain the problem.

  3. Gary M says:

    Here is the best way to convert an atheist to Christianity:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAWY4hrp8gg

    • Gary Mayer says:

      My name is Gary T. Mayer, but it was certainly not I who referred people to the email above that tries to defend atheism. The way to defend Christianity is to direct people to a deep study of the Bible because God decided to reveal Himself to the world through the Hebrew people and the Jewish nation. The evidence is there. The crossing of the Red Sea has been proven and it was amazing. For example see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dzb2Rxt6o0A&t=1241s. And then we have the fulfilled prophecies of the Hebrew prophets, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the shroud of Turin, etc. It is true that unless you are one of the elect you will not believe, but Jesus said, “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost” (Revelation 22:17; NASB). To find God, look to God’s revelation in the Bible.

  4. Tom Godfrey says:

    Jim Lea,

    Thank you for your December 29 comment with more detailed responses to what I posted on December 15. I join you in wishing that the truth may always shine brightly.

    Thanks for admitting that you “would not […] know the specific objectives and goals in a soul’s life plan that it came to improve on” during what you believe is a reincarnation on earth, which you called “a training center for the spirit world [where souls come] to learn and develop.” You also explained, “Souls while on earth do not remember the reason they came here, and some souls get overwhelmed by materialism or addictions and feel there is no hope or reason for change. […] If a person’s life is wasted, he/she just has to come back in another life and face the same challenges again since he/she made no progress.”

    This part of your philosophy suggests an analogy that may help you understand why I am so inclined to doubt that this is an example the truth shining brightly. Suppose a teacher gave you detailed homework instructions too difficult to remember, so you wanted to write them down, but you had to go home without any written homework instructions. Naturally, you quickly forgot what you were supposed to do—even before you got home. You hoped a classmate could help, but he didn’t know what you were supposed to do either. The next day, you returned to class, had your homework checked, and found out that you had failed miserably, so the whole cycle had to be repeated. Nevertheless, a classmate later told you not to worry, because the teacher gives instructions that do not necessarily work out as designed anyway. Besides, everyone is supposed to graduate eventually. It really won’t matter how many days of school you miss, or how many years you are held back and have to repeat a grade, because everyone gets to live in an eternal utopia, no matter what. Take all the time you need. Sooner or later, all of that pain and frustration will be behind you forever.

    You don’t really need to have me explain this analogy, do you? Maybe you can explain to me why this kind of system still looks to you like an arrangement designed by a God of unconditional love. I don’t get it.

    You wrote, “I believe God oversees the whole reincarnation process for his children.” In the past, you explained that life plans are supposed to be developed by each soul, upon deciding that it is time to be reincarnated, during “life-between-life planning sessions with his spirit guides and council of elders.” You also said, “The soul knows it is responsible to think critically, make decisions, and make adjustments to its life” as situations change. Do you really believe that fallible souls make these plans, while God, who is omniscient, oversees the whole process, and yet the plans are not necessarily perfect? Did you find any good reason to believe that God has anything at all to do with life plans? What makes you think he cares? After all, you believe he extends unconditional love and total forgiveness with infinite patience, right? With such gifts from God, who needs life plans too, plans that might involve painful incarnation adventures? You foresee an eternity of bliss without them in the end, right?

    Thanks for responding to my call for “a reason someone might want to remind a person he is reincarnating.” You explained, “Reminding those persons, if they ask you, might help them decide to turn their life around instead of wasting it, accomplishing none of their life’s goals, and dying.” Considering the analogy I gave you, you should see that convincing such a person that your philosophy is correct might not have the result you have in mind. Instead of feeling motivated to turn his life around, I think he might feel that no such effort is required, because the sooner it is over, the sooner he can get back to heaven and never have to go through an unpleasant adventure like this again. What’s the use anyway, because you also tell him that he is bound to end up in a utopia regardless, right? I think you are teaching that no matter what he may have done wrong, on purpose or not, a God of total forgiveness should just let it go unpunished.

    One alternative reason for teaching reincarnation still makes total sense, if in fact spiritual powers aim to discredit the God of the Bible. They would not be concerned about what might be learned after death. During a victim’s life on earth, they can reuse the same tactic that worked so well against Eve in the Garden of Eden and ask (Gen. 3:1), “Did God really say, [… you can fill in the blank …]?”

    On the issue of the credibility of alternative sources of information about spiritual realities, you said, “I don’t claim God inspired any of my sources, so I don’t have to prove he did.” Right. You do not have to prove any such thing, and it is a good thing we already agree on this much. I think you go farther than I do, however, and believe that God didn’t leave mankind any holy book or inspired selection of trustworthy sources. People can still trust whatever they find credible, of course, considering the limited sources available in one’s own lifetime, but you have no problem believing in a God who is supposed to love us but is nevertheless uninterested in communicating with us, right?

    I turn now to your statement, “… if your imagined ‘enemies of God’ are now in the business of helping people believe in God and change their lives to a forgiving, loving spiritual orientation, then they have ceased to be God’s enemies. I can’t conceive of real enemies of God dedicating their lives to helping humans believe in a loving God and follow [his] ways of love.” Let’s consider a clearer statement. If former enemies of the God described in the Bible are now helping people repent and believe in him, then they have ceased to be his enemies. By the same token, current enemies of God may well encourage people to doubt him and to believe instead in reincarnation and the alternative kind of God that you have described to me, based on your private selection of modern witnesses or authorities.

    You wrote, “My sources seem to agree on the big issues, […] but none of these sources say there are no life reviews between lives and none say God will have a final judgment and toss unbelievers into an eternal hell fire.” It is important to realize that this illusion of agreement can be achieved simply by ignoring or excluding from your list any sources that disagree. Do you remember this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dn-PKUPYCg4? I hasten to add that I do not necessarily endorse everything that Joe Hadwin says in his testimony. The point is that it seems to be just one example of a candidate source that you cannot include without ruining the consistency claimed for your private collection of sources.

    Near the end of your comment, you asked, “If all these Christians are led by the holy spirit into truth, why the mass confusion and diversity of weird teachings? Or would you conclude there are only one or two true churches led by the holy spirit and all the others are fakes and not led by the holy spirit?” Again, I do not accept the premise that all of those groups really are led by the Holy Spirit. On the second question, I am in no position to settle on an exact count, but it seems clear to me that this is not a binary choice, black or white. One might be led by the Holy Spirit sometimes but not always, or one might agree with the Holy Spirit on some issues but not on others. If we are talking about two logically incompatible positions, one or the other (or both) must not be truly consistent with the leading of the Holy Spirit. Christians are commanded to beware of false teachers (1John 4:1), and we should all realize that our attempts to obey this command are hardly perfect. God is the final judge of how well we did.

    Okay. I had better stop here and let you catch up.

    • JAMES LEA says:

      Sent Jan 9 2020: Greetings Tom. Sorry for the confusion but this is the other half of my response to your Dec. 27, 2019 post. I really confused myself by sending splitting the response into 2 pieces. You wrote that your general approach to discussing my points about reincarnation will be to say back to me what you think I believe (ARIT = Assuming Reincarnation Is True) and then comment on anything that seems logically problematic (LP), based on your “own reasoning and understanding of logic. Fair enough?” Actually, this is not what I wanted you to do at all. Perhaps I could have explained it better.

      What I wanted you to comment on was, assuming God uses the reincarnation process I describe to you, for instance, do you think what I say God does is fair & logical—or do you feel God would never do that? For instance, I believe God creates a soul and trains each soul until it is ready for reincarnation. Assuming this is what God does, do you think God is doing the right thing or should he just push the soul out of heaven into a human body without training? God gives souls free will in the reincarnation process. Assuming this is what God does, do you think that is a good idea? God gives souls a choice of bodies to select for reincarnation. Assuming God does this, does that show a loving God or a weak God? Should God just tell the soul it is going into this body whether or not it likes it, or do you think it fair that God offers the soul a choice of bodies and a choice of planets to reincarnate on? Souls plan their next incarnation with help of their spirit guides, their soul group, the elders, and God. Assuming this is how God does this, do you think this creates buy-in for the soul and is fair because it gives the soul a chance to exercise its free will as to the trials it will face in the next life, or does it not seem logical that a loving God would work with souls instead of dictating to them? So Tom I want to know from you that if the reincarnation process I describe is the process being used, how fair and logical is it based on my descriptions of the major details of it. You could agree that my whole description seems fair and logical but still not agree that the process occurs. I could understand that.

      I will now discuss your objections to my five points from the previous post:

      1. Each soul is created (born) immortal in heaven. As I said in point 2, the newly created soul receives training in heaven until it is deemed ready to incarnate, and then it usually incarnates. Each soul incarnates by being born inside of the human baby.

      2a. You wrote: “Conversely, if neither war nor killing is allowed in heaven, and no one there has a need to desire such a thing, then there should not be any need to learn any lesson about war or killing either.” You have a good point. I have no idea what specific desires newly created souls have. You could also point out that in heaven there are no floods, hurricanes, droughts, tornadoes, viruses, diseases, famines, kidnappings, fatal accidents, or need to kill animals or plants to eat them. So why are souls sent to planets to deal with these types of problems? I have never seen a detailed chapter in a book describing exactly why God wants souls to experience each of the various trials and horrors. My sources say they are learning experiences and challenges but don’t specifically say why each one occurs and what it is supposed to accomplish. Why couldn’t God have specifically skipped the mosquitoes and earthquakes and maybe just allowed a few floods but no wars and diseases? These are the questions atheists bring up. They’ll have to talk to God about his master plan to get a full answer. A Christian believer could ask the same question and say, “If all I need to do is believe on Jesus and accept his sacrifice, why must I endure all this other horror and nightmares?” Tom, I believe God wants our souls to agree of our own free will to follow him and his ways of love and become like him, but God can’t create a being like that unless he makes the being a preprogrammed robot. But for a soul to develop and grow spiritually to become like God, the soul has to encounter trials and challenges until it learns to always freely choose the correct path of love. To fully understand the various aspects of love, a soul must understand the opposite of love—such as fighting and hatred—and learn to choose wisely the way of love. So this probably explains part of why we come to earth and have to endure and learn to manage all these trials. I have never seen a perfect answer to this question.

      2b. I haven’t read of any examples where a soul is said to be “less satisfied in its eternal home in heaven…than on some challenging planet.” Though I have no data on this, perhaps some souls prefer facing risks and challenges on an alien planet after a long sojourn in heaven. This type of restlessness seems to happen on earth. Some men would rather risk death conquering Mt. Everest than work at a profitable job and live in a nice home. You ask: “Why would a loving God establish a cosmos where such a heaven is the final destiny of everyone regardless of behavior or misbehavior?” I view heaven as both our original home and our eternal home, not our “final” destiny. Loving parents generally welcome their imperfect children into their home on earth, so it doesn’t shock me that a God of unconditional love would tolerate his children in a heavenly atmosphere as they are improving and growing spiritually over the eons of time.

      3a. You said when the first souls were made, those pioneering souls would have to do without any guidance from spirit guides and get their sole guidance from God. You wonder if he could do this for them, he could also have done it for every soul made later rather than having a soul rely on a relatively inexperienced spirit guide. God is omniscient and omnipotent, so I suppose he could do that if he wanted to. I’m sure he had no problem finding a solution to the problem. But God also trains his children and gives them major responsibility—just like we do in human society—and God oversees the whole process.

      3b. You ask: “Why wouldn’t it make even more sense for God to create each soul fully developed spiritually, with all of the wisdom and knowledge that it would ever require during its eternal existence?” Because God doesn’t want a preprogrammed robot to associate with but wants a being that, of its own free will, chooses to go God’s way 100%. Getting such a being involves giving that being free will and trials to overcome so the being can finally determine on its own that God’s way is the only perfect way to go. See also my detailed answer in paragraph 2a. I might ask a Christian: Why didn’t God just save all of his children once they were born? Why make his children go through repentance and baptism when he could have saved them without it—like the thief on the cross?

      4. I believe a soul is never just forced to accept any body in a situation that would not satisfy its real development needs. That would violate a soul’s free will.

      5. Tom, you say: “I cannot understand how to reconcile your doctrine that each soul has free will with your doctrine that it can choose how hard or easy life will be. I think the latter should be determined in part by the free will choices made by others, not entirely by the free will choices of a single given individual.” The free will of each soul on earth does have an effect on every other soul. But the soul can choose to be an accountant in the Los Angeles area and marry a lady from a rich family as opposed to being the 8th child of a Sudanese refugee starving in a war zone. True, the rich lady could divorce the accountant, and the accountant could use his free will to become an alcoholic or use his free will to be successful in the stock market. You speculate: “I think this means that a lot of the planning allegedly done before birth will actually be futile, especially if we have no idea here on earth what those plans were anyway.” I can’t say some planning in the spirit world might turn out to be futile due to free will, but remember God and his divine elders are putting these plans together—not lazy, incompetent members of the U.S. government bureaucracy. I find it difficult to believe God is too stupid to see that his plans are mostly futile—unless he is not all wise and all powerful.

      Tom, I said there are cases where a soul agrees to have a drug or alcohol addiction both to help someone else grow spiritually and to give that soul a chance to conquer the addiction,. You state correctly that such a plan would not be known to anyone on the planet during the incarnation. So you reason that “another person might try to keep the adventurer away from addictive substances and thereby interfere with the plan, albeit with the best of intentions.” I can’t say this could never happen. You have to realize with free will the addict could decide to solve certain life problems that would normally cause an addiction, and, that being the case, the addiction would not occur—and the soul would have solved the underlying issues.

      May the bright light at the end of the tunnel not be a train coming the other way. —Jim

  5. Jim Lea says:

    Tom, below I will answer your Dec. 30, 2019 comments and questions. I wrote that souls while on earth do not remember the reason they came here. You wonder: “Suppose a teacher gave you detailed homework instructions too difficult to remember, so you wanted to write them down, but you had to go home without any written homework instructions. Naturally, you quickly forgot what you were supposed to do—even before you got home. You hoped a classmate could help, but he didn’t know what you were supposed to do either. The next day, you returned to class, had your homework checked, and found out that you had failed miserably, so the whole cycle had to be repeated. Nevertheless, a classmate later told you not to worry, because the teacher gives instructions that do not necessarily work out as designed anyway. Besides, everyone is supposed to graduate eventually. It really won’t matter how many days of school you miss, or how many years you are held back and have to repeat a grade, because everyone gets to live in an eternal utopia, no matter what. Take all the time you need. Sooner or later, all of that pain and frustration will be behind you forever.” Tom, I’m amazed at your question. You seem to be assuming that God’s plan for reincarnation is poorly thought out, somewhat illogical, full of holes, and rather inefficient and silly.

    The process just doesn’t work like your school analogy. A soul’s life contract or plan takes a lot of planning and insight. It contains objectives and goals that the soul agrees to try to accomplish with its free will. The soul undergoes training in the spirit world knowing it is going to be tested while on earth. Before the soul leaves the spirit world, the goals and objectives are embedded in its consciousness. The soul doesn’t specifically recall its objectives and goals, nor does it recall its past mistakes in past lives—that’s the way the process is designed—but the soul is put into an environment where it gets to test its soul’s character against the trials and challenges that it signed up for. The soul’s spirit guides help assure the soul’s life goes according to the general plan, but, as I have said, free will can and sometimes does alter the plan. I have no data on the frequency of plan alterations, but if the plans were always ineffective and completely altered or of no value, obviously God and the spirit world either correct or change the process. When the soul’s body dies and it returns to the spirit world, the soul reviews and evaluates its performance in the past life. The process produces spiritual growth or there wouldn’t be advanced souls and spirit guides who have ceased reincarnating because they had learned all the relevant lessons. Some souls get distracted and live a selfish life of total materialism. Yes they are accepted back in heaven since they have free will as to the choices they make, but they cannot advance. Arriving back in heaven after a life of goofing off and stalling around doesn’t gain the soul anything, Tom. Eventually, any lazy souls apparently choose to get serious because they want to grow spiritually and advance to new areas of responsibility with their peer groups.

    You asked: “Do you really believe that fallible souls make these plans, while God, who is omniscient, oversees the whole process, and yet the plans are not necessarily perfect?” I believe souls work with other more highly advanced spirit teachers and their spirit guides to make their life plan while God oversees the process. I have never seen the plan described as either perfect or imperfect. I would assume any life plan overseen by our omniscient God is a good valid plan. You ask: “Did you find any good reason to believe that God has anything at all to do with life plans? What makes you think he cares?” When I read my many sources that discuss people who had near-death experiences, findings by hypnotherapists doing life-between-life and past-life regressions, and information from psychic mediums, I read statement after statement describing the spirit world or heaven as a place of total love and caring, of how God cares for each and every one of his children. I see described a well-organized place of beauty and peace that functions on love where God’s presence is said to be everywhere.

    You commented that I should see that convincing a person that my philosophy is correct might not have the result I have in mind. You declared: “Instead of feeling motivated to turn his life around, I think he might feel that no such effort is required, because the sooner it is over, the sooner he can get back to heaven and never have to go through an unpleasant adventure like this again. What’s the use anyway, because you also tell him that he is bound to end up in a utopia regardless, right? I think you are teaching that no matter what he may have done wrong, on purpose or not, a God of total forgiveness should just let it go unpunished.” God does not punish or torture and is not like the human-designed God described in the Bible. God is looking for very long-term results, not short-term failures. Each soul has to take responsibility for its own actions, so if it decides it wants to lead a self-centered, unproductive life and still end up back in utopia, it can do so, but it will find it can’t advance and assume any higher responsibilities. It should be stated that soul learns lessons even from self-centered lives that don’t accomplish its life plan.

    Tom, it’s actually Christianity that has promoted to some degree getting to heaven without turning your life around. You can eat, drink, carouse, be merry, abuse women, and steal money from your colleagues until you are about to die, but as long as you repent and believe in Jesus before death, you apparently get to go to heaven and then lounge around for all eternity with no more incarnations—even though you didn’t ever live long enough to prove your character had improved and you didn’t live long enough after conversion to grow spiritually. With reincarnation, you don’t just say I am sorry for my misdeeds. Instead you have to demonstrate through testing of your character that you have indeed changed and made following God’s way of love your life path—if you want to advance spiritually.

    You asked if I believe “in a God who is supposed to love us but is nevertheless uninterested in communicating with us….” I do not. Just because I don’t believe the books of the Christian Bibles are inspired by God doesn’t mean God is uninterested in communicating with us. We humans would like to interview God regularly whenever we felt like it, we would love to have a toll free number to God, and we would really like God to send multiple miracle workers to earth to heal us, pull us out of poverty, and fulfill our wishes, but God and the spirit world don’t communicate that way. God and the spirit world work with us between lives before we incarnate. They communicate with us through dreams, out-of-the-body experiences, psychic mediums, answered prayers, and unseen miracles—to name a few. Those in the spirit world would laugh at the idea that God is uninterested in communicating with us as they know God is intimately involved everyone’s life.

    Tom, I’ve covered your “enemies of God” scenario several times. You seem stuck on the idea that “current enemies of God may well encourage people to doubt him and to believe instead in reincarnation.” But, Tom, those who believe in reincarnation also believe in God, and we don’t doubt God. Of course you assume the enemies of God are trying to discredit Christianity by convincing people reincarnation is fact and Christianity is false. As I have emphasized before, it seems obvious looking at the sad disarray in the Christian churches that your enemies of God have destroyed the churches from within, so they don’t need to even waste their time by tempting them with belief in reincarnation.

    In my last post I pointed out that if all these various Christian churches are allegedly guided by the holy spirit into ALL TRUTH (John 16:13), as promised in the Bible and as believed by the members of these churches, why the major doctrinal differences in the churches and the major diversity of contradictory teachings like baptism for the dead, infant baptism, or baptism by sprinkling vs. immersion; or Sabbath keeping vs. Sunday keeping; or saying daily masses and having confessionals and rosary beads; or condemning the homosexual conduct of gays vs. allowing them to marry in the church? Since there are hundreds of different, contradictory church doctrines—in spite of the Bible—they can’t by definition all be true. So if the teachings of one church are true Christianity, the different teachings of all the other churches are by definition false to some degree. So that would mean the holy spirit is only totally successful in leading Christians in one church, and all the other churches that think they are following God’s truth are not and are not led by the holy spirit into all truth, which means apparently the holy spirit’s guidance is often a failure or ineffective. So a modern observer could easily conclude your enemies of God have made such a mess of Christianity that no one can even figure out which church is really Christian.

    Tom, you state that you “do not accept the premise that all of those groups really are led by the Holy Spirit.” On the second question, you say you are “in no position to settle on an exact count, but it seems clear to me that this is not a binary choice, black or white. One might be led by the Holy Spirit sometimes but not always, or one might agree with the Holy Spirit on some issues but not on others.” But, Tom, if you are properly baptized and converted, why would the holy spirit lead you some of the time and ignore you the rest of the time—unless the holy spirit if terribly inefficient or disorganized? It makes no sense that the holy spirit would be inefficient. And why would a Christian disagree with the holy spirit on any issue, rather than on, as you wrote, “some issues but not on others.” Isn’t the holy spirit part of the trinity and thus God? So if you disagree with the holy spirit, you’d disagree with God, right? You added: “If we are talking about two logically incompatible positions, one or the other (or both) must not be truly consistent with the leading of the Holy Spirit.” So it looks as if the Christian God and the holy spirit have lost control of many of their churches and can’t lead them into truth, and the Christian Gods (Father & Son) and the holy spirit can’t even inspire their churches to believe and teach the same doctrines. Are we to believe the enemies of God are far smarter, more powerful, and better organized than God and the holy spirit when it comes dealing with Christians? One could easily assume that to be true just looking at the biggest Christian church, the Catholics.

    May the truth always be the bright light at the end of the tunnel. —Jim

  6. Tom Godfrey says:

    Jim Lea,

    Thanks for catching up on my replies. It seems to be my turn to respond.

    When you commented on my homework analogy, you wrote in amazement, “You seem to be assuming that God’s plan for reincarnation is poorly thought out, somewhat illogical, full of holes, and rather inefficient and silly.” Your words, not mine—but if my analogy accurately reflects what you have been telling me about your philosophy, think of what your own reaction means. Of course, if it misrepresents your position, then it is up to you to clarify. You protested, “The process just doesn’t work like your school analogy.” You went on to explain in the same long paragraph, but I think you left the main points of my analogy standing.

    Maybe the most straightforward way for you to clarify whatever is misleading would be revise my analogy so that it accurately reflects the way you believe the process works. If you want to go the second mile, you could even quote key comments you have made here that I overlooked. In my analogy, the teacher is one or more spirit guides, the student could be any soul, the homework assignment is a life plan, and the friend during a reincarnation on earth is someone like you giving advice about reincarnation and what people should think about God and the afterlife.

    I wanted to know what makes you think that God cares. Thanks for answering, but I looks to me as though all you have are verbal assurances that he cares—words—not specific acts that show his care. For example, you said, “I see described a well-organized place of beauty and peace that functions on love where God’s presence is said to be everywhere.” Fine, but being present is not the same as demonstrating love, and this place you describe as so attractive is also supposed to be a place where people who still have plenty to learn about loving others can stay as long as they please without subjecting themselves to painful adventures to advance spiritually, right?

    Thanks for explaining, “Each soul has to take responsibility for its own actions, so if it decides it wants to lead a self-centered, unproductive life and still end up back in utopia, it can do so, but it will find it can’t advance and assume any higher responsibilities.” An inability to advance and assume higher responsibilities strikes me as the weakest possible deterrent for anyone who “wants to lead a self-centered, unproductive life and still end up back in utopia.” What a bargain! Who would pass that up?

    Has Christianity “promoted to some degree getting to heaven without turning your life around”? You may have been away from Christians too long to remember the old hymn, “Just As I am” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yuNFAB4mTn8), but I think it reflects a clearer understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s not about proving our character or just saying we are sorry. God know us thoroughly. No one gets to heaven just because he turned his life around. We are saved by grace, not by works (Eph. 2:8-9). If our life ever truly gets turned around spiritually before we die, it is by the power of God working in us (Romans 8). I hope you are not imagining that God could be fooled by a death-bed “conversion” lacking sincere repentance (Heb. 4:12-13).

    To understand this point and to contrast it with the philosophy you currently prefer, imagine this scenario. A new soul who has never had even one adventure on earth is being advised to begin a process of spiritual development, because he clearly needs plenty. He is so mean and self-centered. Suppose his spirit guides train him and talk him into getting started with serious progress through an experience of life on earth. When he comes back, he reports that he ditched his recommended life plan early in the experience, because he was having so much fun robbing or murdering his victims, but then he was sentenced to life in prison, and his years in a penitentiary were hell on earth.

    His spirit guides are going to recommend going back for those “very long-term results, not short-term failures” you wrote about, right? Now what if he says, “No! Hell no!” Aren’t his spirit guides, after failing to change his mind, going to say something like, “Well, okay, okay. Never mind. No problem. You are welcome to stay right here, where you can find plenty of tempting victims you can abuse at will. They are well trained to turn the other cheek. However, there is a down side. There are also plenty of other souls here with an attitude much like yours, so you may have to fight with some of them over the choicest victims, and you never know when a previously docile victim may suddenly forget his training, take advantage of his free will, and surprise you by suddenly retaliating, but don’t worry, because at least God is totally forgiving and will never punish you, force you to advance, or give you any higher responsibilities, and you can carry on like this up here eternally.”

    Do you see anything wrong with this picture? Is it really a picture of a wonderful “place of total love and caring” or “a well-organized place of beauty and peace that functions on love”? Does it sound like an attractive utopia to you?

    You explained that you believe, “God and the spirit world work with us between lives before we incarnate. They communicate with us through dreams, out-of-the-body experiences, psychic mediums, answered prayers, and unseen miracles—to name a few.” You did not explain how you distinguish between what God communicates and what “the spirit world” communicates through those various means. I think you just have to hope that you are not being fooled by enemies of God pretending to speak for him. Christians also believe that God does not necessarily communicate with his people directly. He might speak through dreams, angels, prophets, or maybe even through circumstances, but he has also spoken directly (Heb. 1:1-4), and we have the Bible, which we hold to be inspired by God.

    Christian churches may seem to be in “sad disarray,” but you should be amazed how well they have survived through the centuries, even in times and places where believers have been subjected to severe persecution. This continues to be true even in our time, fulfilling an old prophecy (Matt. 16:18). Your idea that the true churches of God have already been destroyed from within is exaggerated. Think of the Bible translation effort, for example. If you are impressed by what seems to you to be destruction of churches, what must you think when you compare evangelistic churches with whatever organizations are promoting your own beliefs?

    John 16:13 is not proved wrong by the existence of false doctrines being taught, even in churches and throughout history. Guiding believers into all truth does not mean that we instantly know everything we need to know. It is a process that is ongoing and does not necessarily ever reach a point of completion in this life. If anyone wants to know which churches are really Christian, I recommend comparing their major doctrines with what the Bible teaches. I understand that different people may have honest differences of opinion about how those teachings should be interpreted, but I think the major doctrines should all be quite clear. If any teaching seems unclear or ambiguous, it is probably not intended to be a major doctrine.

    We don’t need to worry that the Holy Spirit might lead a believer some of the time but not all of time. The problem is rather that a believer may not consistently follow the leading of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:13-26).

    You went on to say, “So it looks as if the Christian God and the holy spirit have lost control of many of their churches and can’t lead them into truth, and the Christian Gods (Father & Son) and the holy spirit can’t even inspire their churches to believe and teach the same doctrines.” As you know, Christians are not robots, and the Holy Spirit is not attempting to operate some kind of spiritual remote control device. We still have free will and misuse it to disobey God and to disagree with him. We cannot claim to have achieved perfection (Phil. 3:12-14). Can your complaint about the shortcomings of Christians as a reflection of a weakness of God be reworded to apply to people who agree with you and your own concept of God?

    You asked a fair question. “Are we to believe the enemies of God are far smarter, more powerful, and better organized than God and the holy spirit when it comes dealing with Christians?” My answer is no, but to make this judgment fair, I don’t think our evidence should be limited to just what we see now in this life. I am reminded of another old hymn, “Victory in Jesus” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eGq0J9IGmxQ).

    Moving on now to your January 9, 2020, reply, I don’t believe that God ever pushes any “soul out of heaven into a human body without training,” I suppose because I do not believe in reincarnation. You asked a lot of questions based on an assumption that I do believe the way you do. Before you assume that I should give you the same answers that you expect, the answers that you would give, it may help to consider the scenario I described above. Does your whole description still seem fair and logical even to you?

    I agree with you that “God wants our souls to agree of our own free will to follow him and his ways of love and become like him, but God can’t create a being like that unless he makes the being a preprogrammed robot.” The rub comes when you go on to describe a system based on works, where it is up to each soul to turn his own life around, only, as I understand your idea, none of this really matters at the end of the day. No one is punished eternally, right? No one is excluded from an eternal utopia, right? I see no incentive in the system you describe to work on spiritual advancement, especially if it involves “trials and challenges” that can be extremely painful.

    This has turned into another long comment, maybe even too long. Take your time. No rush. I am praying for you and hoping that this discussion is worth the time we are spending on it.

    • JAMES LEA says:

      Greetings, Tom, from sunny southern California, responding to your Jan. 12, 2020 response. You responded to me: “I am praying for you and hoping that this discussion is worth the time we are spending on it.” I appreciate your thoughtfulness and believe God has led me to more answers about just how the reincarnation process works as a result of your prayers & questions. I have seen areas where my explanations could be more precise and better written, and this has already helped me in discussions and increased my understanding of the process. I just returned from a wonderful week at Yosemite national park.

      Concerning your homework analogy from your Dec. 30, 2019 post. I think your attempt to characterize a soul’s years of planning and study for an upcoming life as a homework assignment is totally off base and way too simplistic, and I explained why in detail in my Jan. 7, 2020 post, so I’ll leave it at that.

      You asked me what makes me think God cares. I have seen many examples of God opening doors for me in life, such as getting me jobs I never dreamed existed and didn’t even know about. When I was 8 years old, I ran a stop sign on my bicycle and a car ran into me throwing me off my bike 20 feet across the road. I was knocked unconscious and rushed to the hospital, but I sustained only minor bruises. My wife got leukemia at age 27, was given a 5% chance of living maybe 5 years, and after a month of chemotherapy, she did not go into remission in spite of our prayers, but since she wasn’t dead, the hospital gave her more drugs. She had a dream that she would recover, and, miraculously, she did. She is still with me over 40 years later. So, Tom, what about you? What convinces you God cares?

      I wrote that each soul on earth has to take responsibility for its own actions, so if it decides it wants to lead a self-centered, unproductive life and still end up back in the spirit world, it can do so, but it will find it can’t advance and assume any higher responsibilities. You felt an inability to advance and assume higher responsibilities strikes me as the weakest possible deterrent for anyone who “wants to lead a self-centered, unproductive life and still end up back in utopia,” and you said: “What a bargain! Who would pass that up?” Our God, Tom, is a God of unconditional love. He gives a soul free will so it can experiment and learn, and like any good parent he welcomes a soul back after its body dies. The soul may not have accomplished its planned goals, but it always learns something—even if it is that selfishness, partying, and material wealth do not produce happiness or fulfillment in the end.

      I do not imagine that God could be fooled by a death-bed “conversion” lacking sincere repentance. Why? Because God is not looking to see if a person has or has not converted to Christianity. Souls that incarnate return to the spirit world when their body dies regardless as to whether or not they were converted to Christianity and saved. A person can be sorry for their mistakes, or sins as you term them, and undergo baptism and believe in Jesus, but God is looking for spiritual growth in a soul over time—not belief in Jesus. Becoming aware as a member of any religion that you don’t practice many of the godly virtues and “wanting” to improve is certainly good and helpful, but to really grow spiritually you have to be able to demonstrate that you have mastered each and every facet of every godly virtue—which are all expressions of love. A soul can’t master all the facets of all the godly virtues in one life in one body. The soul needs a variety of different lives and environments to gather necessary learning experiences and test its mastery of the virtues under these different circumstances.

      Yes, it takes effort and overcoming many challenges, but a soul has good coaching and spends many years in utopia having fun and preparing for another life. Under the Christian philosophy, a saved soul may have righteousness and grace imputed to it, but its character has had only one life—maybe long or short—to grow and develop. If God somehow then makes that Christian soul perfect in spiritual character, God has a preprogrammed robot with no free will. I believe God wants each soul to freely choose all of his ways and develop a character of total love based on its own free will. These types of souls will not be preprogramed robots, but it takes many lives to develop these types of souls because souls learn the way of love thru trial and error by encountering thousands of different circumstances.

      You wonder what might happen “if a soul reports that he ditched his recommended life plan early in the experience because he was having so much fun robbing or murdering his victims, but then he was sentenced to life in prison, and his years in a penitentiary were hell on earth.” Well, first of all, Tom, wouldn’t you say he learned robbing and murdering didn’t produce a very fulfilling, happy life after all? Of course this soul’s spirit guides will provide the soul training & will eventually recommend it incarnate again to deal with the karmic issues the soul has created. You seem to think that a soul will mock his spirit guides and refuse to incarnate, and his guides will just give up and say you are welcome to stay here in utopia and enjoy yourself. Sorry, Tom, but it doesn’t work that way. A disturbed soul that commits evil, cruel acts against other souls on earth is drawn aside from the other souls when it returns to heaven, separated, and put into seclusion. It must undergo re-education, and its contaminated energy (souls are intelligent immortal light energy) may have to be partially erased and reshaped or remodeled. In one situation if the soul refuses to come back to earth and work through its karma, it will have its energy “disseminated,” a form of remodeling. It is a breaking up of energy. The contaminated soul’s energy is diluted to make the contaminated part ineffectual, but a small part of the original identity remains intact. There are many possible scenarios that could occur, and I have been given no detailed instruction manual as to how the process is handled in each unique situation.

      Tom, you seem obsessed with the idea that I might be fooled by enemies of God pretending to speak for him. As I have replied on many occasions, I don’t believe there are enemies of God as you envision them—the devil and his demons being fallen angels is just a myth propagated to enhance fear religion—but if they exist, they have certainly done a superb job in the last 1,500 years inducing self-righteous Christians to war against one another, torture people thru the Inquisition, and rape innocent women and children in the name of God. History is clear on this point. While the holy spirit is said by the Bible to lead Christians into all truth (John 16:13), it looks as if these enemies you refer to have thwarted the holy spirit’s (God’s) will and are far more successful than the holy spirit. The holy spirit has had almost 2,000 years to lead Christians into all truth, yet the confusion and falsehoods taught by various churches grows daily instead of diminishing.

      You claim “Christians also believe that God does not necessarily communicate with his people directly. He might speak through dreams, angels, prophets, or maybe even through circumstances, but he has also spoken directly (Heb. 1:1-4), and we have the Bible, which we hold to be inspired by God.” All I can say about that is if God really speaks to us thru the Bible—which only Christians have decided to be inspired by God—then the Christian God is revealed to be an angry, jealous, vengeful God who plays favorites; who is an incompetent, unwise parent; and who plans to torture those who reject him for all eternity even though those humans lived only one sinful life for a few years. I do not believe such a god exists except in stories and fables. Perhaps carnal-minded humans added these vengeful characteristics to the God of the Bible and corrupted the original scriptures. But a Bible where a God of love is shown to exhibit the works of the flesh is contradictory, illogical, and unrealistic.

      You advise: “If anyone wants to know which churches are really Christian, I recommend comparing their major doctrines with what the Bible teaches. I understand that different people may have honest differences of opinion about how those teachings should be interpreted, but I think the major doctrines should all be quite clear.” I do not think the major doctrines are clear at all but can be and ARE interpreted in many confusing ways. Baptism is a major doctrine that seems to require immersion of mature adults, but the Catholics, claiming to be the true church, perform infant baptisms. Many churches sprinkle you for baptism and may mention the thief on the cross who was told he’d be in paradise that day without any form of baptism. The Catholics have daily masses and confessionals, while the Protestants do not. Some churches require tithing and point to OT & NT scriptures, which others say do not apply to the Christians churches. Christians claim to keep the 10 Commandments, yet most do not because they ignore the 4th commandment about keeping the Sabbath on the 7th day. Christians keep Christmas, Lent, and Easter and believe in the Trinity, yet none of these are mentioned by name in the Bible. You can argue unclear, uninspired scriptures all day and never, never come to the knowledge of the truth about God and the universe.

      You wrote: “As you know, Christians are not robots, and the Holy Spirit is not attempting to operate some kind of spiritual remote control device. We still have free will and misuse it to disobey God and to disagree with him. We cannot claim to have achieved perfection.” This makes no sense from a Christian point of view. If a Christian is saved by repentance and belief in Jesus, why does a Christian need to be led into ALL truth? Being led into ALL truth might be nice, but it is irrelevant to salvation. Furthermore, since there is great doctrinal confusion among the Christians churches, what good is it to say the holy spirit is leading Christians into ALL truth when, after 2,000 years, it appears the various churches are further apart in doctrine than ever in history.

      Tom, you asked if my whole description of the reincarnation process seems fair and logical. Yes, it does. I’ve never seen any philosophy that makes more sense and seems fairer and easier to understand than reincarnation as I understand it to be. The way the world is set up, the trials we see, the many differing churches and religions on earth, the descriptions of heaven from NDEs, psychics, and hypnotherapists—everything seems to fit logically together like a finished puzzle. The big picture seems logical, clear, and fair, but many of the small details and the whys connected to the small details are still unknown.

      Tom, you say reincarnation is “a system based on works, where it is up to each soul to turn his own life around; only, as I understand your idea, none of this really matters at the end of the day. No one is punished eternally, right? No one is excluded from an eternal utopia, right?” It is up to each soul to put forth the effort to succeed—just like it is on earth. Why is that so odd, Tom? On earth, in general you have to go to school, learn your subjects, learn to get along with others and develop your personality, learn a career, learn how to handle money, learn how to drive, pay your taxes, etc.—all to be successful. If you skip school, screw your friends, get addicted to drugs, refuse to work, disobey all the traffic rules, etc., you will find yourself at odds with society and probably in jail—unless, of course, you are the son of some rich dictator—but you get the picture. If a soul doesn’t begin working on turning its life around, it may be in utopia for a time, but it won’t be advancing with its friends and fellow souls. It won’t be qualifying for new responsibilities. Instead it will probably be sent back to earth to work through your karmic issues in difficult lives.

      Are all these alleged smart-ass souls that don’t want to succeed but just want to sit around utopia allowed to? Tom, I can’t answer that question fully because in all the literature I’ve read, I have seen no descriptions of these types of souls being around in heaven, but I can’t prove there are not 1, 10, or a thousand such souls. If such types of souls exist, I have never read what happens to them one way or the other. But there is no mention of eternal torture or ruthless punishment awaiting any soul. Perhaps there are no such souls like this because sitting around utopia for thousands of years without learning or training to do something would seem to me to get pretty boring very fast. I have seen a lot of descriptions of souls who weren’t successful, but in all cases, Tom, in their Council of Elder meetings and their pre-birth planning meetings these souls asked for and received more training and more new chances to succeed in the next life. They were treated with encouragement, patience, love, and understanding. A few souls refuse to go into the light when their body dies, and they become ghosts or disembodied spirits. Some of these souls are still attached to their material possessions on earth or want revenge, and other souls who have committed horrible crimes may not want to go into the light, so they choose based on their free will to live in a self-imposed area of darkness. God sends divine teachers out to help these poor, mixed-up souls, and apparently most come around and return to heaven to resume the reincarnation process. Does every single one of them? I don’t know. There is a lot of general information available on reincarnation, but when you get down to the little details of each specific part of the process, there isn’t always a lot of information and no real statistics or survey numbers like you’d find in a Gallup Poll.

      You observed: “I see no incentive in the system you describe to work on spiritual advancement, especially if it involves “trials and challenges” that can be extremely painful. I have described the incentives before, and apparently 7 billion souls decided the adventure was worth it today. But what you just wrote applies to Christians. Once they accept Jesus and are saved, what incentives do they have to work on spiritual advancement? None. Most Christians over the last 2,000 years will have developed little spiritual growth when they arrive at the Pearly Gate because they had one short life. They will not have learned to perfectly apply all the many facets of love in thousands of complex situations because they never experienced these situations in one short life. So how will they grow to become like God using their free will without some type of reincarnation? The Bible doesn’t address this issue. Reincarnation does. —Jim

  7. Tom Godfrey says:

    Jim Lea,

    Welcome back from your vacation, and I am glad that you find value in our discussion. Anyone who follows it without participating should realize that we are both interested in our topic and patient enough to discuss it in great detail and in an atmosphere of mutual respect. We should thank Perry for the opportunity to do this here, more or less in public. I thank you for not ignoring my questions and challenges.

    After explaining why you think God cares, you asked me why I am convinced that God cares. My answer could be similar to yours, with variation only in the details of specific life experiences, but I would add the testimony of other witnesses throughout human history. Some of their testimony is recorded in the Bible. Consider, for example, John 3:16; Acts 5:17-32, 12:1-19a; and especially 1Peter 5:7. I am convinced that their testimony is as true and trustworthy as my own.

    Your own answer raises more questions. You claim that good things happening to you and doors opening for you in life should count as evidence that God cares, but how do you reconcile this with your belief that those events were planned by spirit guides or a council of elders before you were born? In other words, how do you know God had anything to do with it? How do you know how much credit rightfully belongs to God, if any, and how much to those other beings?

    You tried to explain why no one should decide to remain in a heavenly utopia, avoiding painful training on earth (or some other planet) but also failing “to advance and assume higher responsibilities” in heaven. You concluded by saying, “The soul may not have accomplished its planned goals, but it always learns something—even if it is that selfishness, partying, and material wealth do not produce happiness or fulfillment in the end.” I think you have in mind a scenario where a soul decided to undergo training outside of his heavenly home that involved planned goals. A soul might try such an adventure once, but if it was unpleasant, staying in heaven could become a highly attractive alternative with little or no incentive to venture out again.

    Since God gives a soul free will, I assume it could be exercised even in heaven. Is there any reason why a soul determined to remain in heaven could not indulge his preference for selfishness, partying, and material wealth even at home in heaven? Would the behavior of souls like this not have any impact on others who would otherwise tend to be better behaved? I am not so sure you are really describing a heavenly utopia, where God has no need to punish anyone and can sit idly by without intervening, no matter what.

    I think you tried to address these questions when you wrote, “A disturbed soul that commits evil, cruel acts against other souls on earth is drawn aside from the other souls when it returns to heaven, separated, and put into seclusion. It must undergo re-education, and its contaminated energy (souls are intelligent immortal light energy) may have to be partially erased and reshaped or remodeled.” This part of your comment is new to me, but let’s think about it.

    You explained earlier that you do not believe in hell, a place where a soul who rejected God’s gracious offer of salvation is separated from other souls who accepted it and are enjoying eternal life in an incorruptible body. Now you seem to be suggesting that there are two separate areas, one of which is similar to hell, except that the soul’s free will is “partially erased and reshaped or remodeled,” presumably allowing a fresh start when the re-education process is complete. Did your respected sources give you any examples of souls that went through this process? Who judges a returning soul and condemns him to confinement? Can he appeal to a higher court if the judgment seems unfair? How do your sources describe the living conditions in this dark area outside of heaven? Might a soul be happy enough just to stay there?

    You also told me that a soul who seriously misbehaves “will probably be sent back to earth to work through [his] karmic issues in difficult lives,” right? Didn’t you tell me earlier that reincarnation is always voluntary? Who would do the sending in a case like this? Is there any limit to the number of times a soul might be “sent back,” according to your sources? Does God ever tell the spirit guides, “Forget it! That’s enough of that!”? I understand that you cannot answer all of these questions, because your sources have not given you answers to them. I think they are still good questions that even you should keep in mind. I can’t answer every question either.

    You later added more about “souls who have committed horrible crimes” and wrote, “… they choose based on their free will to live in a self-imposed area of darkness. God sends divine teachers out to help these poor, mixed-up souls, and apparently most come around and return to heaven to resume the reincarnation process.” If they really have free will even in a scenario like this, doesn’t it mean that they also have an option not to live in “a self-imposed area of darkness” in heaven? Intuitively, people like this would be sure to stay away from such a place, if they have any say in the matter.

    You may suspect that I am “obsessed” with the idea that you “might have been fooled by enemies of God,” but I don’t agree that it as an obsession. It is an honest concern that you ought to take seriously. People may or may not believe that God has enemies, but if they really do exist, disbelieving them has no impact on their reality. By the same token, if reincarnation really does happen, my disbelief would not change the fact. Our discussion of this should show that we both take the matter seriously.

    The term “self-righteous Christians” is an oxymoron. A true Christian admits that his own righteousness is like a filthy rag (Is. 64:6; Luke 18:9-14), but this is beside the point you wanted to make. People who profess to be Christians may indeed have done terrible things, but does this mean that the Holy Spirit is losing a struggle to lead true believers “into all truth” as promised (John 16:13) in the face of opposition from the enemies of God? I don’t think so.

    But when would it be fair to say this promise has been kept, in your opinion? In mine, it could be kept even if believers sin, even if they still have plenty of truth to learn, and even if relatively few people decide to be led by the Holy Spirit (Matt. 7:13-14). Someone can be truly led into water even before he is completely wet and even though his body may never touch every drop in the whole body of water, right? Billions of other people not allowing themselves to be led into the water wouldn’t diminish the fact either, right? Christian misbehavior and “the confusion and falsehoods taught by various churches” may have persuaded you to reject the claim that God has enemies, but they have not persuaded me.

    Does the Bible picture God as “an angry, jealous, vengeful God who plays favorites; who is an incompetent, unwise parent; and who plans to torture those who reject him for all eternity even though those humans lived only one sinful life for a few years”? I see only one point in your list that strikes me as quite true. According to Nahum 1:2, God is jealous, but this is for our own good too, not just his. When people are jealous, the best interests of others are typically ignored, and it tends to be all about promoting the interest of the person who is jealous at the expense of others.

    You also described God as angry and vengeful, and the same passage may seem to support this, but notice what it says: “The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; / The Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. / The Lord takes vengeance on his foes / and vents his wrath against his enemies. / The Lord is slow to anger but great in power; / the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished” (Nahum 1:2-3). God’s anger and revenge is limited, directed at his enemies alone. To get a true picture, we must also take into consideration his mercy and grace, even toward sinners (Is. 61:1-3; Rom. 5:8; 2Peter 3:9).

    Does God play favorites? What makes you think that he might do this? I doubt that he ever does (Rom. 2:5-11). Is God unwise or incompetent? I think of his great works of creation and salvation and see wonderful proof of God’s power, wisdom, and competence (Ps. 92:4-7; 104:24; Rom. 16:27). Who can match him?

    Does God have “plans to torture those who reject him for all eternity even though those humans lived only one sinful life for a few years”? Every human (except Jesus) old enough and mentally competent enough to be responsible for his actions is supposed to have lived one sinful life (Rom. 3:23) and has probably spent at least some of it rejecting God (Eph. 5:8), so the torture is not planned for people just because of our sin and temporary rejection, which God is willing to forgive (Is. 55:7). It is planned to handle a more serious kind of rejection, the kind that is permanent (John 3:17-18; 1John 5:12).

    Baptism is a major doctrine, all right (Eph. 4:5), but if we are talking about only an outward sign of what God does inwardly when a person believes (Luke 3:16; Acts 11:15-17), I think this teaching is not a major doctrine. Baptists like me prefer to imitate as well as we can the New Testament practice of baptism by immersion (Matt. 3:16; Acts 8:39), but all believers should recognize that the baptism performed by God on all believers is what really matters with regard to salvation (Luke 23:39-43; 1Peter 3:21). Descriptions should not necessarily be considered prescriptions.

    All Christian believers should agree that we are not saved by our works or by our faithfulness in keeping commandments (Eph. 2:8-10). Salvation is a gift from God, who is gracious and merciful, and we are invited to approach his throne with confidence in him (Heb. 4:16), not in ourselves or our own efforts.

    I have been thinking recently that much of our disagreement concerns our concept of salvation. I think you addressed this difference in your final paragraph. Regardless of the system, the salvation concept involves both personal danger and a way to escape it. What is the danger? How can it be escaped? I think we both need to settle on satisfactory answers to both questions or else ignore whatever real danger may exist, if any.

    If you are right about reincarnation, the danger would be just a failure to grow or advance spiritually, leaving the soul unqualified to assume any higher responsibilities. I think you believe that a newly created soul has not yet learned to apply perfectly “all the many facets of love in thousands of complex situations because they never experienced these situations.” He might remain in this state forever, because God has already granted him eternal life. He could even stay forever in heaven, which is supposed to be “a place of light and love,” regardless of his state of spiritual advancement, right? God is never going to punish him, regardless of what he does with his free will, right? I assume nobody else will either, not in “a place of light and love,” so how terrible could the danger he faces possibly be? I think it could be ignored. The soul could conclude that he really needs no salvation at all.

    But suppose the soul does see some need for escape from the “danger” of never qualifying for higher responsibilities. Can he possibly escape it? If so how? What you have told me so far makes it look as though his prospects for escape through his own efforts, with advice from his spirit guides and council of elders, is pretty remote. It would involve an unspecified number of reincarnations for training that could involve having to endure considerable pain, even torture, in the process. I think a wise soul would weigh the “danger” in his status quo against the suffering to be endured in training. I would not be flabbergasted by a decision to stay put and forget about needing salvation from any serious danger. He has it made right there in “a place of light and love.” Simple. If you are describing reality, and if this were the kind of salvation offered to me after this life, I think my decision would be easy to make. No practically endless cycles of reincarnation for me.

    Now think of the biblical concept of salvation. The danger is the wrath of God due to my willful rebellion against him. He is the Creator. I am but a creature, so he rightfully owns me, and I owe him all that I am and have. Is this danger serious? What do I have to fear if I ignore an offer of salvation? It is certainly not eternal life in a place of light and love. It is eternal life in a place of “darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8:12). Belief that this danger is real should lead to a strong desire for salvation, a way to escape the danger, but how can a sinner possibly save himself from an angry God? He can’t.

    This is one big difference between the systems of thought we have been considering. If a soul could not save himself in a reincarnation scenario, it would be no big deal, because he is already at home in heaven and could never be thrown out against his will, right? In the biblical scenario, he cannot save himself, but God graciously provided a Savior who can save him, forgive his sin and rebellion, and mercifully welcome him into “a living hope” and “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade,” one that is “kept in heaven” for him (1Peter 1:3-4). In this system, salvation is a big deal. It involves both a great reward for turning in faith to our loving Savior and a terrible penalty for dismissing or neglecting “so great a salvation” (Heb. 2:1-4).

    So there you have it. This is not rocket science. Even a child can understand these options. Everyone gets to decide for himself, and we are no exception. I hope we all make the best decision possible, given our options.

    • JAMES LEA says:

      Tom, I noticed in your last reply that you are a Baptist. I assume you would be a southern Baptist since you live in Virginia rather than a northern Baptist, or some other kind. Somehow you never seemed like a Catholic. My hiking partner is a devoted member of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley pastored by John MacArthur. Like you, he sees no redeeming benefit in reincarnation. I assume the teachings of these two churches are similar, though MacArthur is a Calvinist. Before I continue, I want to offer you a 54-minute BBC documentary on the near-death experience. It is one of the best ones I’ve seen on the subject. SOURCE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VU6O91GHrzY. It’s titled “THE DAY I DIED — NDEs Near Death Experiences — Scientific Evaluation” and it has had 174,437 views.

      I want to stress one thing about my approach in writing about my beliefs in reincarnation on this website. I usually try to write in general terms about my general understanding of the subject since I am not trying to document a thesis on this website. I believe my general understanding of the subject is accurate and confirmed by convincing evidence from thousands of sources. Most of the literature I rely on is somewhat general in nature. It is specific about the broad terms. For instance, it is specific that there is a heaven, a loving creator God, that the soul is immortal and leaves the body at death, and that there is no hell. It is specific that there are souls in heaven from all religions—both non-Christian and Christian—that souls review their previous lives when they return to heaven, that souls have spirit guides who teach and guide them, that various groups of advanced spirit beings often called elders assist souls in evaluating their lives and planning for future lives, that there are soul groups, that souls can assist and watch over their loved ones on earth to some undefined extent, that souls have schooling during the afterlife, that souls communicate thru telepathy, etc.

      Tom, you and I are both intellectually inclined and very curious about life. So no matter how many details we hear about the purpose of life, God, and the afterlife, we always want to understand more details and know exactly how the process works and why a process was chosen. I understand your hunger for details, but there are limits to the amount of details I can provide you about the reincarnation process. I have to depend on accounts from mediums, hypnotherapists, and thousands of individuals who had an NDE. I have no Gallup polls or interviews by news reporters of how God and the divine beings in heaven interact, when they interact, whether they have procedures to follow, how much God delegates, how much free will the divine beings have, etc.

      For instance, all souls have free will. I believe that is a fact! But how much? Do we have free will in everything, and, if not, what are the restrictions? I don’t believe free will applies to everything, but I don’t know what specific restrictions are in place. Sources say we can choose which body we will incarnate in. Is this absolute? I don’t know. Sources say souls can choose not to incarnate. Does this apply for all eternity, for a few thousand years, or some other time period? I haven’t heard how it works. Sources say souls choose easier planets to reincarnate on other than earth, which is said to be a difficult, challenging school. What percentage of souls choose to avoid earth? I haven’t heard. Exactly why would they do this? I have little information on this. Some souls refuse to go into the light after their body dies, and they stay around the earth plane for years as ghosts. What percentage of souls choose this option and how long does the average soul remain as a ghost? I have no statistics on this. A few souls (e.g., serial killers, mass murderers, other evil humans) who performed very evil acts on fellow human beings choose to avoid heaven and live in a shadow world. Little is written on this aspect, so I have no idea how many souls are in this category or how long they stay there. The sources say God sends messengers to these disturbed souls to help them and ask them to return to the light, and they also say God doesn’t have a hell for these souls. The sources say these disturbed souls create their own mental hell, and they are allowed to stay in exile, but can or do they stay there for 10,000 years, 100 years, forever—there is no information on this.

      Tom, in spite of how unclear you think my description of the afterlife is based on my literature, Christians have much, much less information about the afterlife detailed in the Bible than I have access to about the reincarnation process. For instance, I Cor. 6:3 relates that “we shall judge angels,” but the scripture doesn’t say why saints need to judge the angels, how they will be judged, why God can’t judge them himself, or which saints will be the judges. One could ask why God needs angels, when he created them, how many are there, how much free will and power do they have, can they sin, and if so, can they repent? One could also ask how you could prove there are angels in the first place. Yes, I know the Bible mentions them, but quoting the Bible is not proof. The Bible talks about fallen angels and Satan, but mention of these alleged beings is not proof they even exist.

      You may not be happy that I use “general” terms to describe reincarnation. I say a soul can choose its body. This is generally true for most cases, but are there one or two exceptions? Probably, but I’m not sure. Same situation is true for the Bible. It says you must repent and accept Jesus for salvation. This sounds pretty dogmatic, but I believe it is a generally true statement because apparently Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Noah, Elisha, Job, David, and who knows how many others will also somehow qualify even though they didn’t even know Jesus. And what about the Neanderthals, the pre-Flood beings, Rahab the harlot, Noah’s sons, the 12 sons and daughter of Jacob, Ruth, Bathsheba and Uriah, etc.? Apologists can say whatever they want and attempt to justify it with scripture quotes, but the Bible just isn’t clear on this, just like my sources aren’t clear on all the details you might like to know.

      Speaking of how God cares, you wonder how I reconcile this with my “belief that those events were planned by spirit guides or a council of elders before you were born? In other words, how do you know God had anything to do with it?” God works with the spirit guides and elders, and it seems as if he also delegates certain decision-making to them. If my prayer is answered or if something wonderful or life changing events happen to me, I’m grateful. It’s irrelevant what percent of the event was directly caused by God. However, if God’s presence or consciousness is everywhere, then he is always involved.

      You ask: “Is there any reason why a soul determined to remain in heaven could not indulge his preference for selfishness, partying, and material wealth even at home in heaven?” Tom, you are good at asking hypothetical questions. I’ve never read of such a case. Souls that can’t stand to give up their partying and material wealth tend to stay on the earth plane as ghosts. But I’ll ask you the same question. What happens if a Christian who has been saved and arrives in heaven suddenly has a change of based on free will and decides to be selfish and want to party with drugs, offensive music, and alcohol, or perhaps he rejects Christ?

      I wrote that a disturbed soul that commits evil, cruel acts against other souls on earth is drawn aside from the other souls when it returns to heaven, separated, and put into seclusion. It must undergo re-education. Tom, this seclusion is definitely not the biblical hell where a soul is tortured for all eternity. That type of hell is nonexistent except in the minds of vengeful Christians. Very little is written about what the process is for treating heavily contaminated, greatly disturbed souls, but torture is not part of the process—while kindness is. I stated earlier that a soul who seriously misbehaves “will probably be sent back to earth to work through his karmic issues in difficult lives.” You ask: “Didn’t you tell me earlier that reincarnation is always voluntary?” In general it is voluntary, but it may not be voluntary in certain exceptional cases due to the law of karma. If I had access to what happened to a few billion souls, I could give you a more accurate answer and discuss the details of the process, but I don’t.

      I had written that souls who have committed horrible crimes choose to live in a self-imposed area of darkness. The metaphysical sources state that these horribly evil souls prefer a place of dim light or darkness, so apparently they freely choose it. This reminds me of the scripture about some men loving darkness because their deeds are evil. Since they reject the light of heaven, perhaps the other realms are semi-dark or dark. I have access to no survey as to why they have chosen to dwell where they dwell.

      Tom, you declare that “the term ‘self-righteous Christians’ is an oxymoron.” I totally disagree. Just because a Christian is suddenly baptized doesn’t mean he exhibits all the fruits of the spirit 100%. I believe most Christians want to be better, more loving people, but this takes practice, experience, wisdom, and understanding. This doesn’t magically occur at conversion, so a Christian could easily be self-righteous, vain, and dishonest at times, impatient, etc. after conversion. Of course you believe Jesus wipes all of this sin out, but that doesn’t correct and alter one’s character flaws. I believe over many lives a soul evolves spiritually to where it can express the spiritual values of love all the time.

      I commented that the Bible pictures God as an angry, jealous, vengeful God who plays favorites; who is an incompetent, unwise parent; and who plans to torture those who reject him for all eternity even though those humans lived only one sinful life for a few years. You agree that, according to Nahum 1:2, God is a jealous, avenging God, but you conclude this is for our own good too, not just his. We have a major difference here that can’t be reconciled. You and other Christians are content to have a God of love whose version of love somehow allows God to be angry, jealous, and vengeful and to destroy sinners in floods and torture them eternally in fire as long as this is directed at those who oppose him or is used to allegedly help Christians. This idea is illogical and contradictory, and I don’t buy it for a minute. If God is really an omniscient God of love who teaches forgiveness of one’s enemies, then it would be contradictory and impossible for him to exhibit jealousy or vengeance toward another being simply because it is unwise.

      You ask if God plays favorites. The true God doesn’t, but the biblical God does play favorites. It is so obvious. The biblical God is said to have favored David—a gang member who robbed and killed members of caravans and who committed adultery and killed Uriah. This God favored the Israelites over other nations and allowed the men, women, children, and animals at Jericho to be killed so Israel could take over their lands, while showing favoritism to a prostitute and saving her and her kindred. He allegedly saves the worst most evil people if only they will worship him and accept Jesus, but all others—even kind-hearted people who choose not to accept Jesus or people who are never told about Jesus—are tortured in hell for eternity, along with the allegedly fallen angels. The idea in John 3:18 that anyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus is condemned proves my point that the biblical God is not a God of total love but a God who practices vengeance and plays favorites. It is hypocritical for Jesus to preach that we should forgive our enemies and forgive them 7 times 7 while in fact torturing his enemies over the fact that in their one and only life they didn’t choose Jesus.

      The apologists claim baptism is a major doctrine, but when challenged, suddenly they claim it isn’t because somehow God, I guess, figuratively baptizes you. This is but one of many examples in the Bible where the biblical God’s infallible teaching is contradictory. If God somehow baptizes believers, why have immersion in the first place? Why after 2,000 years of trying to lead Christians into all truth hasn’t the holy spirit been able to convince Christians that infant baptism is irrelevant and stupid, as is sprinkling—and immersion is unnecessary?

      Tom, you wrote: “I have been thinking recently that much of our disagreement concerns our concept of salvation.” You believe salvation is necessary to enter the afterlife in heaven, and I believe there is no such thing as salvation because God creates each soul immortal, trains it in heaven, and eventually sends souls back and forth to various planets to evolve spiritually. You ask me if a soul who doesn’t want to evolve spiritually could stay in heaven forever without punishment “regardless of what he does with his free will.” Again, Tom, this is a hypothetical question. I have not read of a single example of this ever happening, and it seems unlikely to occur. But let’s assume it occurs and our omniscient God fails to convince this soul what is best for its advancement. What happens? Could God fail? Could this really occur? Who knows. We will find out one day.

      But, you ask, suppose the soul does see some need for escape from the danger of never qualifying for higher responsibilities. Can he possibly escape it? If so how? As I have explained in the past, when a soul’s body dies, it does not have to go into the light in Paradise. It can remain as a disembodied ghost spirit, or it can choose to isolate itself somewhere in the universe in a dark place. I have no idea where dark places might be, how long a soul might stay there, whether or not any soul would want to or be allowed to stay there eternally if they chose, etc. These are hypothetical questions. God offers help & love to all such souls and sends messengers to them, but I have no idea how the details of the process work. —Jim

    • Jimmy Lea says:

      Bonjour, Tom, I saw in your last post that you are a Baptist. I assume you would be a southern Baptist since you live in Virginia rather than a northern Baptist, or some other kind. Somehow you never seemed like a Catholic. My hiking partner is a devoted member of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley pastored by John MacArthur. Like you, he sees no redeeming benefit in reincarnation. I assume the teachings of these two churches are similar, though MacArthur is a Calvinist. Before I continue, I want to offer you a 54-minute BBC documentary on the near-death experience. It is one of the best ones I’ve seen on the subject. SOURCE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VU6O91GHrzY. It’s titled “THE DAY I DIED — NDEs Near Death Experiences — Scientific Evaluation” and it has had 174,437 views.

      I want to stress one thing about my approach in writing about my beliefs in reincarnation on this website. I usually try to write in general terms about my general understanding of the subject since I am not trying to document a thesis on this website. I believe my general understanding of the subject is accurate and confirmed by convincing evidence from thousands of sources. Most of the literature I rely on is somewhat general in nature. It is specific about the broad terms. For instance, it is specific that there is a heaven, a loving creator God, that the soul is immortal and leaves the body at death, and that there is no hell. It is specific that there are souls in heaven from all religions—both non-Christian and Christian—that souls review their previous lives when they return to heaven, that souls have spirit guides who teach and guide them, that various groups of advanced spirit beings often called elders assist souls in evaluating their lives and planning for future lives, that there are soul groups, that souls can assist and watch over their loved ones on earth to some undefined extent, that souls have schooling during the afterlife, that souls communicate thru telepathy, etc.

      Tom, you and I are both intellectually inclined and very curious about life. So no matter how many details we hear about the purpose of life, God, and the afterlife, we always want to understand more details and know exactly how the process works and why a process was chosen. I understand your hunger for details, but there are limits to the amount of details I can provide you about the reincarnation process. I have to depend on accounts from mediums, hypnotherapists, and thousands of individuals who had an NDE. I have no Gallup polls or interviews by news reporters of how God and the divine beings in heaven interact, when they interact, whether they have procedures to follow, how much God delegates, how much free will the divine beings have, etc.

      For instance, all souls have free will. I believe that is a fact! But how much? Do we have free will in everything, and, if not, what are the restrictions? I don’t believe free will applies to everything, but I don’t know what specific restrictions are in place. Sources say we can choose which body we will incarnate in. Is this absolute? I don’t know. Sources say souls can choose not to incarnate. Does this apply for all eternity, for a few thousand years, or some other time period? I haven’t heard how it works. Sources say souls choose easier planets to reincarnate on other than earth, which is said to be a difficult, challenging school. What percentage of souls choose to avoid earth? I haven’t heard. Exactly why would they do this? I have little information on this. Some souls refuse to go into the light after their body dies, and they stay around the earth plane for years as ghosts. What percentage of souls choose this option and how long does the average soul remain as a ghost? I have no statistics on this. A few souls (e.g., serial killers, mass murderers, other evil humans) who performed very evil acts on fellow human beings choose to avoid heaven and live in a shadow world. Little is written on this aspect, so I have no idea how many souls are in this category or how long they stay there. The sources say God sends messengers to these disturbed souls to help them and ask them to return to the light, and they also say God doesn’t have a hell for these souls. The sources say these disturbed souls create their own mental hell, and they are allowed to stay in exile, but can or do they stay there for 10,000 years, 100 years, forever—there is no information on this.

      Tom, in spite of how unclear you think my description of the afterlife is based on my literature, Christians have much, much less information about the afterlife detailed in the Bible than I have access to about the reincarnation process. For instance, I Cor. 6:3 relates that “we shall judge angels,” but the scripture doesn’t say why saints need to judge the angels, how they will be judged, why God can’t judge them himself, or which saints will be the judges. One could ask why God needs angels, when he created them, how many are there, how much free will and power do they have, can they sin, and if so, can they repent? One could also ask how you could prove there are angels in the first place. Yes, I know the Bible mentions them, but quoting the Bible is not proof. The Bible talks about fallen angels and Satan, but mention of these alleged beings is not proof they even exist.

      You may not be happy that I use “general” terms to describe reincarnation. I say a soul can choose its body. This is generally true for most cases, but are there one or two exceptions? Probably, but I’m not sure. Same situation is true for the Bible. It says you must repent and accept Jesus for salvation. This sounds pretty dogmatic, but I believe it is a generally true statement because apparently Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Noah, Elisha, Job, David, and who knows how many others will also somehow qualify even though they didn’t even know Jesus. And what about the Neanderthals, the pre-Flood beings, Rahab the harlot, Noah’s sons, the 12 sons and daughter of Jacob, Ruth, Bathsheba and Uriah, etc.? Apologists can say whatever they want and attempt to justify it with scripture quotes, but the Bible just isn’t clear on this, just like my sources aren’t clear on all the details you might like to know.

      Speaking of how God cares, you wonder how I reconcile this with my “belief that those events were planned by spirit guides or a council of elders before you were born? In other words, how do you know God had anything to do with it?” God works with the spirit guides and elders, and it seems as if he also delegates certain decision-making to them. If my prayer is answered or if something wonderful or life changing events happen to me, I’m grateful. It’s irrelevant what percent of the event was directly caused by God. However, if God’s presence or consciousness is everywhere, then he is always involved.

      You ask: “Is there any reason why a soul determined to remain in heaven could not indulge his preference for selfishness, partying, and material wealth even at home in heaven?” Tom, you are good at asking hypothetical questions. I’ve never read of such a case. Souls that can’t stand to give up their partying and material wealth tend to stay on the earth plane as ghosts. But I’ll ask you the same question. What happens if a Christian who has been saved and arrives in heaven suddenly has a change of based on free will and decides to be selfish and want to party with drugs, offensive music, and alcohol, or perhaps he rejects Christ?

      I wrote that a disturbed soul that commits evil, cruel acts against other souls on earth is drawn aside from the other souls when it returns to heaven, separated, and put into seclusion. It must undergo re-education. Tom, this seclusion is definitely not the biblical hell where a soul is tortured for all eternity. That type of hell is nonexistent except in the minds of vengeful Christians. Very little is written about what the process is for treating heavily contaminated, greatly disturbed souls, but torture is not part of the process—while kindness is. I stated earlier that a soul who seriously misbehaves “will probably be sent back to earth to work through his karmic issues in difficult lives.” You ask: “Didn’t you tell me earlier that reincarnation is always voluntary?” In general it is voluntary, but it may not be voluntary in certain exceptional cases due to the law of karma. If I had access to what happened to a few billion souls, I could give you a more accurate answer and discuss the details of the process, but I don’t.

      I had written that souls who have committed horrible crimes choose to live in a self-imposed area of darkness. The metaphysical sources state that these horribly evil souls prefer a place of dim light or darkness, so apparently they freely choose it. This reminds me of the scripture about some men loving darkness because their deeds are evil. Since they reject the light of heaven, perhaps the other realms are semi-dark or dark. I have access to no survey as to why they have chosen to dwell where they dwell.

      Tom, you declare that “the term ‘self-righteous Christians’ is an oxymoron.” I totally disagree. Just because a Christian is suddenly baptized doesn’t mean he exhibits all the fruits of the spirit 100%. I believe most Christians want to be better, more loving people, but this takes practice, experience, wisdom, and understanding. This doesn’t magically occur at conversion, so a Christian could easily be self-righteous, vain, and dishonest at times, impatient, etc. after conversion. Of course you believe Jesus wipes all of this sin out, but that doesn’t correct and alter one’s character flaws. I believe over many lives a soul evolves spiritually to where it can express the spiritual values of love all the time.

      I commented that the Bible pictures God as an angry, jealous, vengeful God who plays favorites; who is an incompetent, unwise parent; and who plans to torture those who reject him for all eternity even though those humans lived only one sinful life for a few years. You agree that, according to Nahum 1:2, God is a jealous, avenging God, but you conclude this is for our own good too, not just his. We have a major difference here that can’t be reconciled. You and other Christians are content to have a God of love whose version of love somehow allows God to be angry, jealous, and vengeful and to destroy sinners in floods and torture them eternally in fire as long as this is directed at those who oppose him or is used to allegedly help Christians. This idea is illogical and contradictory, and I don’t buy it for a minute. If God is really an omniscient God of love who teaches forgiveness of one’s enemies, then it would be contradictory and impossible for him to exhibit jealousy or vengeance toward another being simply because it is unwise.

      You ask if God plays favorites. The true God doesn’t, but the biblical God does play favorites. It is so obvious. The biblical God is said to have favored David—a gang member who robbed and killed members of caravans and who committed adultery and killed Uriah. This God favored the Israelites over other nations and allowed the men, women, children, and animals at Jericho to be killed so Israel could take over their lands, while showing favoritism to a prostitute and saving her and her kindred. He allegedly saves the worst most evil people if only they will worship him and accept Jesus, but all others—even kind-hearted people who choose not to accept Jesus or people who are never told about Jesus—are tortured in hell for eternity, along with the allegedly fallen angels. The idea in John 3:18 that anyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus is condemned proves my point that the biblical God is not a God of total love but a God who practices vengeance and plays favorites. It is hypocritical for Jesus to preach that we should forgive our enemies and forgive them 7 times 7 while in fact torturing his enemies over the fact that in their one and only life they didn’t choose Jesus.

      The apologists claim baptism is a major doctrine, but when challenged, suddenly they claim it isn’t because somehow God, I guess, figuratively baptizes you. This is but one of many examples in the Bible where the biblical God’s infallible teaching is contradictory. If God somehow baptizes believers, why have immersion in the first place? Why after 2,000 years of trying to lead Christians into all truth hasn’t the holy spirit been able to convince Christians that infant baptism is irrelevant and stupid, as is sprinkling—and immersion is unnecessary?

      Tom, you wrote: “I have been thinking recently that much of our disagreement concerns our concept of salvation.” You believe salvation is necessary to enter the afterlife in heaven, and I believe there is no such thing as salvation because God creates each soul immortal, trains it in heaven, and eventually sends souls back and forth to various planets to evolve spiritually. You ask me if a soul who doesn’t want to evolve spiritually could stay in heaven forever without punishment “regardless of what he does with his free will.” Again, Tom, this is a hypothetical question. I have not read of a single example of this ever happening, and it seems unlikely to occur. But let’s assume it occurs and our omniscient God fails to convince this soul what is best for its advancement. What happens? Could God fail? Could this really occur? Who knows. We will find out one day.

      But, you ask, suppose the soul does see some need for escape from the danger of never qualifying for higher responsibilities. Can he possibly escape it? If so how? As I have explained in the past, when a soul’s body dies, it does not have to go into the light in Paradise. It can remain as a disembodied ghost spirit, or it can choose to isolate itself somewhere in the universe in a dark place. I have no idea where dark places might be, how long a soul might stay there, whether or not any soul would want to or be allowed to stay there eternally if they chose, etc. These are hypothetical questions. God offers help & love to all such souls and sends messengers to them, but I have no idea how the details of the process work. —Jim

  8. Tom Godfrey says:

    Jim Lea,

    This may be irrelevant context, but you guessed right. Although I am currently a member of an independent Baptist church, I still consider myself a Southern Baptist at heart, having grown up entirely in Southern Baptist churches, mostly in Louisiana.

    We certainly agree that many mysteries and unanswered questions remain, regardless of what we believe. This follows from our belief that God is omniscient, but we will always have plenty to learn, right? This much is understood and beyond dispute. We can still ask questions, of course, but the focus of our discussion here ought to be on what we have come to believe. This leaves plenty on the table to discuss.

    Thanks for the link to the video documentary on NDE’s with “a scientific evaluation” of them. I found it interesting, and as I mentioned before, I have the book by Dr. Ralph Moody mentioned at 3:40 – 4:00 in the video. Maybe the main thing to be learned from the studies mentioned is that we have good reason to believe that our immaterial mind is distinct from our material brain, and that there is another realm beyond the physical realm, what might be called a spiritual realm. Even you and I agree with this conclusion, don’t we? On the other hand, many scientists evidently disagree, maybe because of their commitment to methodological materialism.

    Since I watched your entire video, maybe you will return the favor by watching this one with a similar message from a more philosophical perspective.
    https://www.discovery.org/v/how-biology-confirms-design/
    Assuming you have watched it, did Dr. Axe say anything in his lecture with which you do not agree? If so, please explain, and we can discuss it. While we are sheltering in place, this might be a good time to take stock of two big pictures.

    On one side, we have the idea that the Bible is the Word of God, including John 3:16-18. In this view, which I share, God created the heavens and the earth in six days, and everything was very good until mankind fell, having trusted the serpent more than God, and ever since, our main problem has been our rebellion against God. This is not the end of the story for us, though, because God loved us enough to reach out to us, who are utterly unable to save ourselves from the punishment that necessarily results from our rebellion. He has spoken “through the prophets at many times and in various ways” (Heb. 1:1) and even “by his Son” (Heb. 1:2), who provided a way for us to be reconciled to God through faith in him (Rom. 5:1). We can know about this good news because we have and believe the Bible.

    On another side, we have the idea that the Bible is not the Word of God and cannot be trusted to communicate the truth. In this view, the truth is supposed to be learned either directly from spiritual beings lower than God in the hierarchy or indirectly from other ordinary people who say they learned things that way directly. God never had to be directly involved, except perhaps through some mysterious, primordial acts of creation. The message presented by those spiritual beings, whether directly or indirectly, is that we have nothing to fear, because God does not seriously punish anyone, and the goal set for mankind is to work on becoming more and more loving and like God, a giver of perfect, unconditional love. This work of ours is not supposed to be possible to complete in just one lifetime, so a system of reincarnation has been established to allow everyone to try again, and again, and again, right? This evidently goes on and on without any light at the end of the tunnel.

    Please let me know if you see any reason to disagree with those summaries, but assuming they are close to accurate, individual people face what is really a fairly simple choice. If the Bible has the truth, then we either fear God (Ps. 111:10; Prov. 9:10; Acts 13:26; Rev. 14:7) and accept by faith his gracious offer of eternal life and joy in fellowship with him in heaven (1John 5:11-12; Rev. 22:17), or else we face eternal death in hell in rebellion against him (Luke 16:19-31; Rev. 20:11-15). If the Bible is false, and your idea of the truth is correct, then we have no good reason to fear God, and everything could be fine forever, no matter what, except possibly during a painful reincarnation. A person may choose to work on trying to become like God for as long as he pleases, but this fool’s errand is strictly optional, right?

    I wonder how much your trusted sources pressure you to try to convince people to switch from my side to yours. How bad is it supposed to be, according to them, if we continue to believe that the Bible is the Word of God? Intuitively, it should be no big deal, and we should have nothing to worry about. On the other hand, the Bible warns us not to take anything away from what God has told us and not to add anything to it (Rev. 22:18-19).

    A week or two ago, I finished reading a book that my pastor gave me. It is A Hill on Which to Die, by Judge Paul Pressler (1999). It is about the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention that took place 1979-1998. Judge Pressler became involved in this movement when he discovered that many “false teachers” were taking words away from the Bible. On page 151, he wrote, “Some have quipped that the liberals have a Dalmatian theory about the inspiration of Scripture. According to the quip, liberals believe Scripture is inspired in spots and that they are inspired to spot the spots. I think it is dangerous to attempt to edit God. What objective standard exists for doing the editing if a person believes that only portions of the Bible are inspired?”

    Over on your side, I gather that you spot in the Bible no inspired spots at all, but you can confidently spot the truth that comes ultimately from just those spiritual beings that should be trusted to tell the truth. Over on our side, we have been warned, “… do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1John 4:1). I think you are urging me to trust the same spirits that you trust, but I keep pushing back. What is the test? Read the next two verses after the one I just quoted.

    After I watched your video, I watched the first one that YouTube had queued up as a suggestion. I think you will find Alexander’s testimony related to his NDE largely consistent with the position you have presented here. While I do not question his honesty in reporting what he experienced, I do question the truthfulness of the messages he believed, so I certainly do not recommend accepting them by faith. I think his core messages are nicely summarized at the end of his lecture (beginning at about 1:38:02 in the video): “You are deeply loved and cherished forever. You will be taken care of. You have nothing to fear.”
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qbkgj5J91hE

    After I watched the video (the whole thing), I looked up the Theosophical Society, which sponsored the event at which Alexander spoke in 2014.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theosophical_Society
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theosophy
    It doesn’t take a genius to recognize an occult or satanic orientation to this movement, and I dare say the serpent that encircles the society’s logo is no coincidence. The oldest trick in the book is the serpent’s ancient question to Eve, “Did god really say …?” (Gen. 3:1), a bold attempt to encourage her to doubt what God had said to our first ancestors. No one should fall for that trick today, but evidently, sadly, many still do. Don’t be fooled. Remember that “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2Cor. 11:14). Remember, too, the prediction that “false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect (Matt. 24:24; Mark 13:22).

    If you have time to watch it, here’s another NDE testimonial from a Catholic perspective. As you can see, not every NDE fully conforms to the system or philosophy that you have embraced as true to life.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HA4OqR1nVfI

    You asked, “What happens if a Christian who has been saved and arrives in heaven suddenly has a change of [heart] based on free will and decides to be selfish and want to party with drugs, offensive music, and alcohol, or perhaps he rejects Christ?” There is no way I can possibly answer this hypothetical question with authority. I can only guess, but a strong hint may be found in 1Cor. 15:50-57. Having been granted victory over sin and death in our imperishable body, we will no longer have even the slightest desire to fall victim to them again. This is my best guess. Since our victory and salvation are gifts that we did not earn and could never earn, even if we tried really hard, there is no need for practically endless cycles of reincarnation to save ourselves by our own efforts from our once fallen condition. I see this as good news, even better news, the gospel in which I have put my faith, a faith long ago “entrusted to the saints” (Jude 1:3).

    • Jim Lea says:

      Tom, All my posts are being blocked with “Error 403 Forbidden Access to this resource on the server is denied!” I don’t know if these 2 sentences will go thru, but here goes. Jim

    • Jim LEA says:

      This website blocks me at every turn when I hit Reply and try to Submit. David Seldon, the moderator, told me to try one more time and notify him exactly when I do it. He hopes the issue was resolved. A week later, it wasn’t resolved. If it can’t be resolved, Tom, you can phone me at 626 798-8333 and we can work something else out. The 2-line message went thru May 15 but the main posts are blocked. Jim

  9. Tom Godfrey says:

    Moderator,

    Can you help Jim Lea with his 403 error? I would like to see what he wanted to post. Thanks.

  10. Tom Godfrey says:

    Jim Lea,

    We could continue our discussion through private email, of course, and this alternative is okay with me, if this public forum really cannot accommodate it.

    You have succeeded in posting two brief messages since the trouble began, so I wonder whether message length is the problem. I assume that you compose your messages offline, as I do, and then cut and paste here when you are ready to post. If so, you should not have lost any of the original content that you had wanted to post. Why not try posting just the first couple of paragraphs to see whether the error still occurs? If it does not, try posting the next few paragraphs but more than the previous time, and repeat until either the whole post is complete or you find out what the undisclosed maximum length is in practice.

    I will hold off replying again until I see your post marked as a finishing installment or else another brief message requesting a switch to private email. In that case, I can call you to give you my preferred email address. I remain interested in your reply.

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