The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Several lifetimes?

I have a question about a sentence from “The Inescapable Love of God.” The sentence is from the last paragraph of the book and runs:
" For though our present choices cannot alter our final destiny, they most assuredly can affect our chances for happiness in the present and in the near term future; and though our glorious inheritance cannot elude us forever, it most assuredly can elude us for a lifetime, or perhaps even for several lifetimes." The last part of this sentence sounds as if Tom thinks some form of reincarnation is possible. That would be a very drastic solution, for if our memory of our loved ones and our own path through life is no longer able to be accessed, are we really the same person? Following Nicolas Berdyaev, the Russian author and philosopher, I would say that then the Christian understandings of persons as body, mind and spirit and the idea of grace–such grace as the brigand hanging on the cross next to Jesus was given–we no longer have a Christian idea. Though the idea of reincarnation has become popular in our post Christian society, really, apart from eternal hell or annihilation, I can think of no more unpleasant fate. Does anyone have any thoughts on this?


I’m not sure Dr. Talbott gets automatically pinged when someone posts a question thread over here, so I’m adding a tag to your post for that purpose.

No doubt his view came from George MacDonald almost verbatim. Thanks to David Baldwin, I basically have all his sermons memorized. Trying to remember which one it was though…

Gabe, in “It Shall Not Be Forgiven,” MacDonald says of Judas, “…it, was to try all over again, in some other way–inferior perhaps, in some other world, in a lower school. He had to be sent down the scale of creation…” Is that the passage to which you are referring? I do not see it as pertaining to another life on this earth, however. Who knows what exactly was in G.M.'s mind there?

I think it’s possible that GMac believed in some form of reincarnation. Gabe would know better than I, since I haven’t even finished reading his sermons. I think Steve ([tag]AlecForbes[/tag]) may have said something along the same lines too – regarding GMac – if I’m remembering correctly. To me, when I read that in Tom’s book, the thing it said to me was that in the ages to come, who knows what sort of journey the unrepentant person may undertake? She may pass through several lifetimes before she begins to see the beauty of our Father. I didn’t see these lifetimes as being in this world, or as being undertaken without remembrance of past experiences. But I’ll be interested to see what Tom has to say on it.

The thing in GMac’s work that makes me think he may have believed in some form of reincarnation is his treatment of the progress (or regress) of the soul in The Princess and Curdie. Curdie is given the companionship of a monstrously ugly “dog” named Lena by the princess’s grandmother. Curdie has been blessed with the ability to tell about people by grasping their hands. When he takes Lena’s paw in his hand, he feels the hand of a child. We’re given to believe that Lena had once been a human being, but that she had become beastlike and that now she was recovering from this regression. My own picture of this (should it be true) would be that the person would start out with some sort of intrinsic location in his/her journey sort of “programmed in.” I hardly know how to describe this, though. I note that people do seem to have inborn characteristics. A child adopted by parents who hold a horror of lying, who give the child every advantage and the best rearing they know how to give, who have never modeled lying to the child, nevertheless shows himself to be a pathological liar. Where did that come from? This child came into the world with his predisposition, imo. (BTW, this is a real example, and I could share many more.) I wonder whether a baby’s personality isn’t half-made (or more) at the moment of conception.

If this is the case, or somewhat the case, then what if our life (or lives) here are a progress of climbing out of our genetic heritage – an evolution of the individual person as well as of the race, so to speak? I am, I think, very far from believing in reincarnation, but I can’t help considering and wondering about these things as I observe the lives of the people around me. For some, it seems they start their journeys at a much more remote distance than others, who seem to have had something of a head start. At any rate, it’s something to muse about. It makes me think of Jonathan Livingston Seagull (if anyone here is old enough and hippie enough to remember that little book), though I don’t remember it all that well…

Like I said, I’ll be interested to hear what Tom has to say.

Thank you, Cindy. I agree that our heredity, as well as our environment, weigh heavily on us. I would not be surprised if there are other worlds or realms or dimensions in which our journey to oneness with God continues-- yet with our past and personhood intact. I too will be interested to see what Tom says.

I’ve been reading a lot lately about how addiction is often rooted in the belief that one is worthless, and defective at their very core. (I think there is much truth to this.) When I read this example, the first thing that came to mind is the very fact that the child is an adopted child (if I interpreted what you said accurately.) I think an adopted child, (though loved and cared for by surrogate parents), may have a core belief that they were too worthless to be loved and cared for by their real parents. This perceived rejection, and belief of being worthless, can lead a child to pretend to be someone else, since they think that they cannot be loved as they are. Of course, the lies start off as an attempt to bridge the gap between who they are, and who they think they need to be in order to be loved/valued/approved/accepted, but in time, the lies become compulsive and unmotivated, as in the case with pathological liars.

There are other factors as well. For e.g, some times kids lie out of fear of punishment, or to get attention. Thus, lying may just be a faulty problem-solving skill, that they need help with. However, parents who hold a horror of lying, can often shame their children during times of correction and discipline (even though they have their child’s greatest good in heart). Shame only compounds the problem, and leads the child to lie even more. So, I think compulsive behaviour is complex, and doesn’t always necessarily mean that the child is born with a predisposition, imo.

Hi Cindy, :smiley:
I meant to respond to your tag but had forgotten about it until just now. I largely agree with you here:

I think GMac does think we tend to “progress or regress” or even “evolve or de-evolve” in this life spiritually. I don’t think he believed in re-incarnation in the strict sense, but saw the potential for further spiritual education in other “lives”-- in other dimensions/realms, perhaps-- post-mortem. I came across a passage from an essay “George MacDonald and the Forgotten Father” by Bruce Hindmarsh regarding this area, and it also touches on adoption, interestingly…

Thanks, Steve – that was very helpful! :smiley:

I’m glad it was helpful, Cindy. :smiley:

I do think Hindmarsh may be taking it a bit further than GMac intended in this bit, though:

I really don’t think GMac held to this idea tightly, but was just speculating a bit taking this “spiritual evolution” idea to its limit in his fantasy story. I wouldn’t take that passage from Phantastes as a firm indication of GMac’s theology/philosophy.

Hi Joel,

You have raised a number of important issues. So by way of a belated response, I shall here try to clarify several points.

First, I am not a proponent of reincarnation, particularly if by “reincarnation” one has in mind successive lifetimes on earth. But if we are destined to live forever, then our lives will indeed comprise the equivalent of infinitely many average lifespans on earth; if a kind of purgatorial suffering is so much as possible in some other realm, then a lifetime of such suffering may be possible as well; and if, as Paul hinted in Ephesians 2:7, we are destined to be agents of revelation in future ages (and in, for all we know, many different created realms), then there may be many different ways of dividing one everlasting life into a variety of different lifespans.

Second, even as I am no proponent of reincarnation, neither am I a convinced opponent of such an idea. Instead, I am simply a skeptic in this precise sense: I have no settled view either way on the matter. See the word “perhaps” in the sentence that you have quoted.

Finally, you make an extremely important point, as I see it, about memory, particularly the memory of loved ones. But nowhere have I even hinted that the same individual person might have had a previous life of which he or she has no present memory and never will remember at any future time. Here we might imagine, by way of analogy, that as a result of a traumatic brain injury tomorrow I suffer from amnesia for the rest of my earthly life; then, in the next life I am able to remember everything both before and after that traumatic brain injury. Similarly, we might also imagine that, although I have had several past lifetimes, at some future time I will remember all of them in great detail and will also be forever united in love with all of my past loved ones.

I have no idea whether you will see this response. But if you do see it, let me know whether it makes any sense to you.

All the best,


Hi Tom…

“Reincarnation” per se doesn’t do it for me either, but as I pointed out to someone once exploring it and yet having an aversion to universalism, it is in fact “in the end” eventually universalism, lol. :wink:

But that said… I’ve often wondered IF such a notion was not uncommon in Jesus’ day, especially somewhere in the deeper thoughts reflected in this query… “And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Their belief implies that in some way this man had possible causality in his being born blind… what could that suggest but some degree of belief in reincarnation??

Suppose someone argues for reincarnation. Let me propose an alternative explanation. How do we know that a person having reincarnation memories of past lives is not tapping into Genetic Memory? We could have access to everyone’s experience who ever lived. It would be akin to the collective unconscious of Carl Jung.

But that said… I’ve often wondered IF such a notion was not uncommon in Jesus’ day, especially somewhere in the deeper thoughts reflected in this query… “And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Their belief implies that in some way this man had possible causality in his being born blind… what could that suggest but some degree of belief in reincarnation??

Possibly but also the alternative is that his parents sinned and the consequences fell unto the child. “who sinned this man or his parents”? Another possibility (believe it or not) was that the baby sinned in the womb.

I’d imagine any “consequences” would have already been understood as covered by the “or his parents”, which then still leaves the “this man” open to speculation etc.

Hmm I’m thinking the likes of Rom 9:11 or even Deut 1:39 somewhat mitigates against that thought/option. :question:

Born Again … and Again and Again?

August 25, 2014 in Theological Studies

Author Michael S. Heiser

Was Jesus open to the idea of reincarnation? The question may seem odd, but it’s one that many people, even biblical scholars, contend has a positive answer.[1] The idea comes from a passage you’ve likely read dozens of times.

John 9:1–4
“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but in order that the works of God might be made manifest in him (he was born blind). We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.”

Notice the disciples’ question: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Many presume the question indicates that the disciples believed the man born blind really could have sinned before he was born, and that his pre-birth sins caused his congenital blindness. This presumption is followed by another: that Jesus’ answer wasn’t a categorical denial. Since Jesus doesn’t come out and say, “What a silly idea, don’t be ridiculous!” Some have argued that his response means that in this case the man born blind didn’t sin in a previous life, but perhaps that could have happened in another case. Could this interpretation be correct?

Reincarnation is the belief that the soul migrates from one body to another, different body, in a long (possibly endless) succession. The idea of the “migration of the soul” cannot be found in the Bible, or in other Jewish writers of antiquity,[2] which indicates the disciples were likely presuming something different: People can do good and evil while still in the womb. Paul addresses this misconception in Rom 9:9–13Open in Logos Bible Software (if available), when dealing with the case of Jacob and Esau. Even if a pre-born person could sin in the womb, this does not involve the migration of a soul.

Romans 9:9–13

“For this is what the promise said: ‘About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.’ And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’”

Matthew 16:13, where some people suggest that Jesus was John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the Old Testament prophets, is also no help to those who want to see reincarnation in John 9:3–4. Jesus and John were contemporaries, born six months apart (Luke 1:8–36), thus John’s soul could not have migrated into Jesus’ body. Elijah never died (2 Kgs 2:1–17), and so the migration of his soul is also not possible. If Jesus were one of the prophets, who had come back to life, then the prophet would be resurrected, not the prophet’s soul in another body. There are other, more technical flaws in this interpretation of John 9,[2] but from this examination alone, it should be apparent that the idea of Jesus approving of one being born again into another physical body, is dead . . . again.


[1] The notion that Jesus embraced reincarnation is usually associated with New Age writers such as Elizabeth Clare Prophet and Dolores Cannon. However, J. D. M. Derrett, a highly-respected Greek New Testament scholar, recently promoted this view in a scholarly journal article, “The True Meaning of Jn 9, 3–4” (Filología Neotestamentaria xvi 2003), pgs. 103–106.

[2] See “Did Jesus Allow for Reincarnation? Assessing the Syntax of John 9:3–4” at

Is It possible that Tom was referring to the age(s) to come rather than any thought of reincarnation as such as discussed above?