The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Pre-existence: the missing piece to the Universalist puzzle

Nice find! Another verse I like that supports the idea that the Jews had some notion of pre-mortal existence is Psalm 139:15:

“My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.”

I appreciate your careful engagement this subject Dave. Let’s see what I can say about your questions.

  1. I’m not sure about this! I do want to say that we are ‘human’, in the sense that we are still ‘ourselves’, but ‘fully human’ - I don’t know. What does that mean, anyway? Are we fully human while in the womb? What about in the next life? I think I’d be content with simply saying that we existed somehow, though as to the type of body we had or exactly how we existed, I’m not sure.

  2. What do you mean by putting ‘but not pre-existing??’ in parentheses? All I mean by ‘pre-mortal’ is ‘pre-this earthly body’. Technically, ‘pre-mortal existence’ and ‘pre-existence’ do not have to mean different things.

I do think that what you say follows from a concept of pre-existence. Namely that we were created at an epistemic distance from God, enough that enables us to choose freely without being determined by what we saw as good. I’m fine with calling this a ‘spiritual world’. We could even steal from Scripture and say that it exists ‘before the foundations of the world’! :sunglasses:

Thanks Chris.

I was thinking of this paragraph in your essay:

“As far as how this particular view of pre-mortal existence differs from Origenism, more on that will be said at the end. For now I will only say that Origen posited a state of ideal pre-existence, in which the soul communed with God in a heavenly realm and was, metaphysically speaking, ‘closer’ to Him than we are now. Hence his doctrine of a heavenly fall and subsequent restoration. On the contrary, the view I shall argue for is one where the initial existential situation is not one in which the soul itself is ‘communing’ with God. Instead, it is created in a primordial state which begins, and ultimately determines, its journey towards God.”

In what way was Origen’s doctrine of pre-existence different from yours of pre-mortal existence? I have read the end of the essay and, due to a mental condition with the technical name of ‘fuzzyhead’ the penny has not quite dropped. :laughing:

Yeah! I didn’t do a very good job of separating what I believe vs. what Origen believed. I mainly put the part in there about Origen simply to appeal more towards those who wish to maintain historic ‘orthodoxy’ and distance themselves from thinkers that have been labeled, in whatever degree, heretical.

But the view I espouse does differ from Origen’s in that Origen seemed to posit a ‘heavenly fall’, whereas I’m positing more of a primordial point of spiritual origination. That is, Origen (who seems to follow Plato), seems to say that the pre-existent realm was a place in which we beheld God’s glory and the eternal truths or forms, etc. But, due to the sins of lazziness and carelessness, we fell from that vantage point by not attending to what we should have been attending to. I, on the other hand, think it’s much more reasonable to posit a ‘beginning’ point, in which we, rather than being closer to God and beholding Him, are at a distance and make an initial movement towards the Good. You could call this imperfect movement towards the good ‘a fall’, but only in the sense of someone falling as they try to climb up a set of stairs. It is not a fall from a ‘higher’ or ‘more divine’ state of being.

One positive of this view is that it’s able to square better with Universalism. If we are simply regaining a status we’ve already had, what’s to prevent us falling again? However, if we posit an initial movement of the will towards the Good, which itself conditions all our subsequent becoming, then we can say, since no act can ever be absolutely evil, all primordial acts in the pre-existent realm, however imperfect they were made, of necessity will result in the perfection of the one who made them. This happens through the particular process of temporal becoming that is appropriate given the initial, particular act that was made.

It is sort of like going into college. You make a decision, say, to be a doctor. Well, once that decision is made you’re set out on a course that furnishes you with the necessary experiences in order to become a doctor. The difference is, of course, that there can be no such thing as a choice for evil as evil. There is only stunted choices for the good. So the ‘final result’ of the temporal process of becoming is a state of absolute goodness, by purifying and perfecting the initial ‘stunted’ choice towards the Good that the soul or spirit makes.

Does that make any sense at all? :blush::mrgreen:

By the way, for an amazing summary of Orien see Mark Scott’s book: Journey Back to God: Origen on the Problem of Evil ( … eml_rv0_dp)

IMO you did a great job of writing that essay - writing clearly is hard work.

Various approaches to problems of divergence/paradox have always fascinated me - whether Kant postulating the nuomenal world in his transcendental critique, or astronomers ‘saving the appearances’ by postulating the epicycles, or even Plato theorizing on why people fall in love with certain ‘types’ (because they were in the presence of certain gods/goddesses in a pre-existence - actually a very lovely theory).

Whether your move accomplishes what it set out to do or not, I’m not sure yet, but it certainly has hooked me. And I admire anyone’s effort that is put out into pubic view - it makes for a big target - especially with that provocative title! :smiley: - and I’ve got to thank you for not being thin-skinned about it, Chris.
Thanks again.

I might add… I don’t buy either pre-existence or reincarnation myself, but that these notions couldn’t have been in the hearts or minds of some in biblical times I should think a no-brainer, i.e., why like today wouldn’t some have pondered on these things?

God is infinite creativity, so it stands to reason that a spark of Himself placed into a chunk of clay would animate into a unique living soul illumined by His Spirit and that what it would become would be an individual reflection of His many faceted glory. The pre-existence I can see is that spirit, before it was given away as a piece of the Almighty into a mortal frame, to cause that soul to seek to return with that spirt to the One who gave it.

The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’

Thanks for your thought Eaglesway. You express yourself quite gracefully.

I wonder, have you thought about how, if the spirit does not pre-exist the body, we handle some of the tensions I mentioned in the opening post and in my essay?

I touch on this a little in something I posted yesterday called “another theory of everything.”

Essentially, I believe God has provided freedom of choice in an environment with certain controls. We read in 2 Thess 2 about “He who restrains will restrain until He is taken out of the way” in relationship to the rise of the spirit of anti-christ which is already in the world, as John tells us, but at some point will increase in influence in the world towrd the end of the age preceding the ephiphanea/parousia/erchomai of the Lord Jesus. There is a lot of debate about that verse in detail but in principle it shows a precedent for God having a hand upon the mystery of iniquity to moderate it, and (I think)some of His restraint involves the “righteous acts of the saints”.

I see “free will” as a stone cast into a spinning pot to keep the elements within from stratifying. Always churning up chaos in every generation and providing the necessity of “discernment in the moment”, being aware and awake(watch and pray) in the “Now” of God (walking in the Spirit- Enoch walked with God) who says “I AM”. For those who choose chaos, evil and self, futility will eventually consume their energy, their substance, their “life” until they are broken as a natural consequence within the parameters and working principles of the Creation Centrifuge :wink:(Romans 8:12 and 20; Acts 17:26,27)

But the awe and reverence of God in His might and in His “eternal power and divine nature” is the beginning of wisdom. So the harder one kicks against the pricks the more forcefully one brings oneself agaisnt the superior cohesiveness of His love and truth, and eventually every rock will receive the Word that will crack it and allow water to come forth(Nmbers 20). God “speaks” to the rock- He does not strike it, and so we see Moses was corrected for “not believing”- and that unbelief is the reason for a spirit of anger and condemnation(hellism). God believes and knows the result of His speaking (“I believe therefore I have spoken”)… “Let there be Light”----- transforming chaos into order, harmony, love and life.

So I don’t see the tension between Calvinism and Arminianism(general reference to points of view) as being resolved in view of absolute conditions such as "How can God grant freedom if He thwarts that freedom and coerces it through inevitability to bend to His sovereign will.

I see it more like, “Come, let us reason together” from an intricately involved parent.

In the creation God has set in motion certain continuing foundational principles that cannot be mitigated, like…

As a man sows so shall he reap

Sow the wind reap the whirlwind

He that exalts himself will be abased (and its inverse)

Forgive and you will be forgiven (and its inverse)

etc… So you have freedom, discernment, correction and mercy all implanted operationally in the “theosphere” plus the continuing moment to moment personal involvement of the Creator who sees every sparrow fall and knows the hairs upon each head.

Along with this God reserves His freedom to choose and make exceptions and insert influencing factors…“I will harden whom I will harden and have mercy on whom I will have mercy”…“It is not to Him who runs or to Him who wills but upon whom God has mercy”.

Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved…but when from what? IMO from the result of the breaking of the fundamental principles of life and the tendency to do so because of choices driven by appetite… in other words, conversion followed by progressive transformation(Christ in you the hope of glory). To me this is a process thatt is ongoing in the cosmos on an individual to individual basis and on a progressive time to generation to age basis and on a “corporate mankind as one” basis. (chemical, organic, spiritual…the kingdom of heaven is like a measure of yeast hidden in three measures of dough till all was leavened)

In the Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis deals a lot with “gates” and “portals” and the consequences of transformation and the power of selfish and selfless persons and the effects of their attitudes and acts upon the surrounding world.

Winter comes because the Ice Queen is risen and she rises because creatures choose her delights rather than the warmth and trueness of Aslan’s Way.

In Perelandra Ransom battles with Weston’s “unman”, allegorically, to save his heart from the dominion of his mind(tree of life versus tree of knowledge of good and evil) and a bitter battle it is. (“the flesh lusts against the spirit and the spirit lusts agianst the flesh so you cannot do as you wish…the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak…walk in the spirit and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh…if you do by the spirit put to death the deeds of the flesh you shall live”)

In That Hideous Strength he dealt even more clearly(imo) with the whole concept of intelligence without faith and love and the struggle within mankind as a whole to deliver the community from that hideous power through direct action, trueness of heart and laying down ones life for a friend.

I personally think the Great Divorce is a s good an illustration of how God is working with people “behind the veil” as there could be… and a good picture of what the LOF is, and I think that if Lewis did not fully conceive the reconciliation of all things, it was because he gave a little to much credit to the power of chaos and evil, which, as we have seen in the history of the world- as well as in our own lives- must always fall to the degradation of its own entropy and inertia.

Man’s will simply cannot sustain resistance to God indefinitely and his arguments can only recycle as long as his appetites drive them and God is independently eternal but man is not, so a breaking point must come and that is when the revelation of Christ crucified will break through the veil and the soul will be redeemed. In every soul where this has occured a new portal is opened. Another gate lifted up.

“Lift up ye gates and be lifted up ye everlasting doors that the king of glory may come in”.

“The veil of the heavens will be rolled back like a scroll and the sign of the son of man will appear in the heavens and He will come in the clouds with ten thousands of ten thousands of His holy ones and every eye will see Him even those who have pierced Him.”

I never claim to possess any resolution of the tension between predestination and free will because I believe that is a mystery that can only be “seen through a glass darkly” For who has known the mind of the Lord and who has been His counselor"

I generally believe that predestination is fulfilled in both the foreknowledge of God and in the fact that He has caused all things to work together for good, and that His “kind intention” is the reconciliation of all things and the gathering together of all things into one in Christ and that he tinkers with the machine and its individual parts all along the way to accomplish a pre-determined purpose(causes all things to work according to the counsel of His will).

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us.** In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ**, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. (Eph 1)

An extemporaneous response that may or may not resolve the tensions you defined - but at perhaps enlarges perspective(or perhaps not! :slight_smile:). I am not trying to make an emphatic statement against the possibility of pre-existence either, I just feel the creation record and its language cause me to lean heavily towards the creation of a living soul when the breath of life enters the clay, and that creative act and its uniqueness kind of thrills me, knowing that every single one will eventually find its place in Him as sparks rising from the fire.

Hi Michael,

Let’s say that God sees the future event of you performing Act A at 3 P.M., August 23, 2016. Then it is impossible for you to refrain from performing Act A on that date at that time. It’s inevitable. You have no choice in the matter. Expand that to all people and to all events, and no one has the ability to choose.

It would be like watching a movie. All events in a movie have been pre-determined. No matter how many times you run the movie, there will be no difference in the events. So if all events on earth have been pre-determined, God might as well have created a race of robots.

Let’s say God is so huge He sees all possible choices and knows which one you will choose, perhaps foresee you choosing it. He might speak to you “in time” about it, but does not choose it for you. He would foreknow you. You would not be a robot. But maybe He would be really bored. :laughing:


You need to come to grips with the fact that there is paradox in reality. God’s Lordship and control over us is paradoxical to our human responsibility. Just as God is three and one. Just as Christ is human and divine. Just as we are good and evil. Just as we are living and dying. ALL AT THE SAME TIME!

Coming from the point of view that Eaglesway mentions about the spark and the clay, I think what pre-existed is God. God has always existed, and when He created man, He put something of Himself inside of us. As it says in Genesis, everything on the earth has the seed of itself, in itself, according to it’s kind. When it comes to the terms “pre-determined” and “foreknowledge”, as Paidion mentions, I don’t think that God has already determined or already knows every move that each individual is going to make. But just like the seed of a tree, that seed is pre destined to be a tree and bear the fruit of it’s kind. It’s not that God says “this particular seed is going to land in this particular spot and grow at this particular time.” But seeds go where they will, some are carried by the wind far away, some grow in rocky hillsides, some in fertile ground etc. As we know, some seeds can lay dormant in the ground for many years until they get enough water to sprout. The seed that is inside of us is one that never dies, so I suppose that even though it may take awhile, this seed will eventually sprout and grow.

There may be paradox, but there is not contradiction. Knowing in advance what a free-will agent will choose is a contradiction. “God is three and one” is a contradiction.

In His pre-existence, Christ was fully divine. While living on this earth as a human being, He was fully human.
In becoming human, He did not count equality with God a thing to be held onto by emptied Himself of His divine attributes (Philippians 2:6,7). The only thing He retained of His previous existence was His identity as the Son of God. After God raised Him from death, He regained His divinity.