The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Sword to the Heart: The Story of Passion and Atonement

(presented in its third edition as “JRP’s Bite-Sized Metaphysics” series, here on the EU forum)
Sword to the Heart (Full 3rd Edition).pdf (2.06 MB)

If you’ve received a free version of Sword to the Heart (and/or my novel Cry of Justice), feel free to tip me $10 here at Amazon. You can tip me for multiple books of course. (I’ll get $6.75 of any $9.99 tip, Amazon gets $3.24.) You may have to scroll down a page or two to find the $6.00 listing; last I looked Amazon put it in a weird place (probably because I’ve got two listings for the same ‘book’ for sale as New.)



comment 1 (this one): TOC and links to other Section Overviews
comment 2: overview of the overviews
subsequent comments: links to, and topical summaries of, each series of entries in this section.

Section One (How Should I Be A Sceptic) can be found here.

Section Two (Reason and the First Person) can be found here.

Section Three (Creation and the Second Person) can be found here.

Section Four (Ethics and the Third Person) can be found here.

In previous Sections I have been breaking chapters down into separate “series” of posts, each series in its own thread; and so I also created content-pages for each Section providing links to each series (and links between the Sections in the first post, as with this thread).

But for this final Section I have decided to post all the chapters directly into one thread in bite-sized entries. Partly this is to help simplify my posting schedule as Easter approaches; and partly so I can change my “most active topic” statistic on my forum membership thread to a more specifically evangelical set of posts. (Readers should be aware this thread will run over 80 posts before I’m done!)

But mostly this is because, despite its relative brevity and its very different style, I consider this the most important part of the book.

The first chapter below will explain where I have arrived and why I will be switching styles to complete the book. After that, I will be pulling together various positions (previously developed in the technical argumentation) to write a poetic narrative description of what I can expect God to be doing in history–and what I ought to look for, in searching for whether God has already done it.

Leading to the cross–and beyond.

(Note: to keep the narrative thread whole, I will be locking the thread to comments until after I am finished. Which, if my schedule holds up, should be on Easter Sunday. By no coincidence whatever. :smiley: )

CHAPTER 48 – “The Story From Theology”

In the four previous sections I have analyzed dozens and dozens of metaphysical propositions–over 800 pages worth!–deciding for various reasons between them, building and shaping a metaphysic, and arriving at what Christians have historically called ‘orthodox trinitarian theism’. I have arrived there without reference to scriptural authority or claims of special revelation; right or wrong, any sceptic could in principle arrive here, too, by following out the logical trail in regard to data commonly accessible to any of us. I am a trinitarian theist, and this is why I would be a trinitarian theist, even if there was no such thing as historical Christianity, or scriptures to seek out testimony on.

I worship one God in Trinity,
and Trinity in Unity,
neither confounding the Persons,
nor dividing the Substance.

For there is one Person of the Father,
another of the Son,
and another of the Holy Spirit.

But the Godhead
of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit
is all one,
the Glory equal,
the Majesty co-eternal.

Such as the Father is,
such is the Son,
and such is the Holy Spirit.

The Father uncreated,
the Son uncreated,
and the Holy Spirit uncreated.

The Father incomprehensible,
the Son incomprehensible,
and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible.

(By this I do NOT mean ‘no one can make true reasonings or even statements about God’. I mean that all three Persons are omniscient, unlike any creature which must be less in knowledge; and I mean, a little more literally, that no not-God system or entity ‘naturally’ contains or encloses any Person.)

The Father eternal,
the Son eternal,
and the Holy Spirit eternal.

And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal.
As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated,
but One uncreated, and One incomprehensible.

So likewise the Father is Almighty,
the Son Almighty,
and the Holy Ghost Almighty.
And yet they are not three Almighties, but one Almighty.

So the Father is God,
the Son is God,
and the Holy Ghost is God.
And yet they are not three Gods, but one God.

So likewise the Father is Lord,
the Son Lord,
and the Holy Ghost Lord.
And yet not three Lords, but one Lord.

For as I am compelled by verity (and validity!)
to acknowledge every Person by Himself to be both God and Lord,
so I am likewise forbidden to say: There be three Gods, or three Lords.

The Father is made of none, neither created, nor begotten.
The Son is of the Father alone, not made, nor created, but begotten.
The Holy Ghost is of the Father and the Son, neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.

So there is one Father, not three Fathers;
one Son, not three Sons;
one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts.

And in this Trinity none is afore, or after the other;
none is greater, or less than another;
but the whole three Persons are co-eternal together and co-equal.
So that in all things, as is aforesaid,
the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshiped.

There are differences between trinitarians as to details after this–many or most of us (though not I) would be pretty hesitant to affirm that God loves rebel angels for example and seeks their salvation from sin, even though all of us would quickly affirm that God loves at least some human sinners and seeks their salvation from sin. And although all of us would agree, in principle, that God is the single ultimate Self-existent, Self-begetting, Self-begotten multi-Personal reality, not all of us would agree (though I do) that this means God is essentially intrinsically Love in God’s own fundamental self-existence. And quite a few of us would have problems agreeing that the Spirit proceeds from both the Son and the Father (though I agree with quite a few others of us that the Spirit does not proceed from the Father alone.)

There are some other disagreements among us of this sort; and those disagreements, however little they may seem, are as important as the truth of the ultimate Truth is important! Which is why professionals among us go to a lot of trouble to work on properly identifying and understanding the details. Some of our variances can be reconciled with each other; in other cases we cannot all be right about our variances. But because we care about rightly worshiping and praising God, and about rightly representing God to other people, then we care about those differences. I wish we all cared enough to recognize when our opponents also care about God and are (typically) doing the best they can to love God with all their heart and all their soul and all their strength and all their understanding (even when they have results that are different from ours, and are important enough to disagree even strenuously about!)

But after all, even we theologians are sinners, too. And to a sinner, by corrupted birth and by intentionally chosen habit, disagreement will (naturally!) tend to involve working toward non-fair-togetherness. And even toward regarding non-fair-togetherness as ‘dikaiosune’, righteousness. (Even though that word means… fair-togetherness!–the utter essential reality of God Most High, if trinitarian theism is true.)

Still, despite our differences, generally trinitarian theologians are going to agree on a huge and rather complex number of detailed doctrines regarding God and God’s distinct relationship to the natural system in which we humans live. The differences are important enough that it’s easy to forget (or, as sinners, to willfully ignore) how much we actually do agree on–in fair-togetherness with each other! Consequently it is also easy for sceptics to forget (or to willfully ignore) how much we actually do agree on. But as the orthodox trinitarian author Dorothy Sayers once said, on much the same topic, “For this state of affairs, I am inclined to blame the orthodox!”

One of those many things we trinitarian theologians agree on, however, is something that my argument in the prior Sections has often involved and finally arrived at: God acts in history, even for there to be a ‘natural history’ at all; and we can expect God to act historically in regard to human sin. (Which is why, not-incidentally, there is a second half to that Creed I quoted the first half of at the beginning of the chapter!)

That history will itself be not only history but a story.

But what kind of story will it be?

If I pull together all the things I have argued up till now, what kind of story will result?

The result will also be the kind of story I ought to be looking for, to happen in our history, sooner or later.

Telling that myth, that story of principles, which I ought to expect and search for as history, is what I will do in this final Section of chapters.

CHAPTER 49 – “The Genesis of Atonement”

What shall God do?

The devils have betrayed His love; and do betray those He loves. Yet, as the eternal ground of all reality (including theirs), still being intrinsically Love in His own unique and independent self-existence, God still loves the rebel angels.

The humans have betrayed Him, too; and are betrayed in turn by higher tormentors; and also betray whosoever they themselves can find to have power over.

Yet, still, God loves them, too.

God will do what He can, to mitigate the suffering that His beloved children cause, in their quests to affirm their own self-importance. Such a quest will always involve perverted suffering: for to make suffer, in pain or in pleasure, is to exhibit power over; and so to exhibit power over, in any perverted way, will be to make suffer.

Yet God has given them such power that they pervert.

And although He will limit it, He will not abrogate it–for He loves them.

He will let at least some of the consequences of their choices play out–for He loves them.

But neither will God, the omnipresent Love Most High, leave them alone. He will always be trying to call them back, because Love Most High knows they can only be happier, in the long run, if they are working with, rather than against, the source of their life and power. He will never let them destroy themselves utterly, in their mad lust for a freedom to be what they can never be.

For He loves them.

‘Them’, I say? ‘They’, I say?

‘I’ and ‘ME’, I say!

God is always working within me. God is always working through other people around me–even when they don’t quite realize Who they are working with. God is always working through this Nature in which I live. The devils are tampering, to one extent or another, with this Nature; just as I also, as a sinner, am tampering, to one extent or another, with this Nature.

But we rebels don’t have it all our own way. The enemies of the Lord Above plot deeply and plot well.

But the Lord Above plots, too–and He is the best of plotters.

God is plotting love and justice, to me, for me, as a rebel, and as a victim of rebels.

He is always plotting, He is always working–toward my return to Him. But He cannot simply make me return; not without voiding my personhood, undoing my childhood, which would run entirely against the point of having me personally reconciled to Him. So, what can He do?

One thing God does, is wait.

He waits, while feeling, in His voluntarily active omniscience, all the suffering we engender, in ourselves and each other–sufferings we may eventually be able to put behind us, by the grace of God, but which God as the Eternally Real at every point of our space and time can never put behind Him, but must always utterly know.

He waits, letting us, allowing us, to exercise such a dreadful power over each other–and over Him.

He waits, His Fatherly heart bleeding, because of us, for us, for our victims, for His children.

He waits, as a spurned lover waits, feeling every anguish of hell, praying to whomever will listen that His love will return.

And that is another thing He does:

We sometimes pray to God. But in awful truth, in total reversal of natural religious piety and expectation, God Most High is always praying to us: praying to us to come back; praying for us to come back. We curl up in the dark, unwanting even to breathe, praying to Whomever will listen that our love will return, wanting to pray to our love for her or for him to return. God also curls up in the dark of our souls, praying to whomever will listen to Him, for His loves to return.

He is ever praying, ever urging, with a whisper or with a shout or with the roar of a lion. In the shocking language of the Jewish Tanakh (what Christians call the Old Testament), God twists Himself in emotional torment at the adultery of His people. The language is even more shocking in the Christian New Testament grammar: God “propitiates” us!

But He acts in other ways, too. He is always and ever trying to help–not only for the ones who have begun to try to love Him in return, but also for the ones who reject what they perceive of reality, thus in principle rejecting Him.

He whispers to us, or roars to us: “Please, please, do not embrace untruth!!”

And sometimes we listen.

Sometimes we do more than listen: sometimes we listen…

and then turn away.

But sometimes, sometimes… some of us… listen–and agree.

Sometimes we do choose to work with Him.

And when that happens–when we resolve not to turn away from what little light we can see, and instead resolve to walk, to bathe, to glory in that light, as little as it may be… then, after a while, sooner or later… we see more light. A lot more; or a little more. Maybe it is only an illusion thrown by an enemy; but it is something to compare with what light we do have.

So we can walk by what light we do have; and search for more light thereby.

And when we do this, we are working with, not against, the 3rd Person of God, the Holy Spirit; and therefore we are working also with the 1st and 2nd Persons, even if we know none of them as such: we are working also with the Father and the Son.

But it is hard.

I bear the synthetic curse, as do we all: the sin of angels, and the sin of the man raised from mud–and my own sins, too. I can hear God a little more clearly when I try to work with what I do know about reality, when I try to be true; and I ardently admit and insist that this is true: for anyone, polytheist, pantheist, theist, dualist, atheist, agnostic, today, tomorrow, or deep in antiquity.

But we, most of us, can only hear a little. And often what we hear is garbled; for the lines of communication have been mangled on our end, by our ancestors, by our enemies, by our selfish perversions, even by our natural surroundings.

All these factors are real; and God will have His creation, will have us, to be real.

Yet, even so–if we look, if we listen, if we are willing to be fair, if we are willing to be humble…

We can find men and women who have walked among us for all of human history, saying something, working for something, standing for something.

And, in the process, standing for Someone.

They are fallible; they are sinners, too; their communication isn’t perfect; their understanding isn’t perfect.

But they are there–showing us there is some Way, better than the ways around them, perhaps better than the ways we ourselves know.

These men and women are the sheep of the Shepherd.

They are the saints.

For the vast majority of human history, they have also been what is commonly called ‘pagan’; although they haven’t always been what ‘pagan’ originally meant: peasants.

And though they have worked within the understandings of their time, sometimes against the understandings of their time, and not always in tune with the answers I myself have inferred–still, often there are hints, in what they do, in who they are, in what they stand for.

There is, after all, a universal religion.

The ‘catholic’ religion.

Except it is very hard to see, and very hard to hear. It requires discernment to embrace logic; and humility to embrace both myth and history; and a willingness to distinguish good from evil, and truth from falsehood.

And even then with the best of intentions–we still aren’t likely to get much of it right.

God is doing, and will do, everything He can. But because He refuses to let His creations be something other than His creations, because He refuses to stop loving His creations, because He refuses to make them less real… what He can do in our hearts, isn’t quite enough.

The saints who have walked the earth from the beginning of recorded history, and very probably from even before; who have been the salt of the earth, the taste from beyond Nature giving savor to the cultures in which they live and which they sometimes succeed in altering or improving–they may be sheep, but they are not the Shepherd. They are not God. They are sinners, too, like you and me; maybe better ethically in some or every way, yet still cursed with the sin of Adam and of angels–and of themselves.

They may walk so close to God that they are taken to heaven, in history, in legend, in myth: Enoch, Melchizedek, Elijah, Arthur.

But they aren’t good enough, they aren’t powerful enough, they don’t say enough. Even when they say more and do more than the rest of us–it isn’t enough, no matter how hard they try.

And sometimes, for all of what they represent, and for all of what they accomplish… they cause more trouble than they help.

The kingdoms of David and of Theodosius, of Arthur and of Charlemagne, have fallen–in small part or in large, due to these very men themselves; for they were sinners, too.

In order to have the best chance of changing our willed outlook (‘repentance’); the best chance of making our own responsible contributions to the undoing of our corruptedness and what we ourselves have corrupted (‘remission’); the best chance of becoming, in our lives, united with God (‘at-one-ment’, or as we say in English now ‘a-tone-ment’)–then what do we need?

We need God to help us. We need God to find a way to give us a clearer communication, a clearer communion, than is otherwise possible in our hearts.

We need God to come to us.

But there are constraints under which He must work, if He is to give us the clearest possible information about Himself, and if He is to do this without undermining His other plans.

And those constraints, some of which are quite paradoxical, are what I will discuss in the next chapter.

CHAPTER 50 – “Principles of Immanuel”

God must come to us, to give us the best possible chance of understanding Him. Not only in the ministry of the Holy Spirit to every person, inspiring and judging us in fair-togetherness, but even more directly than that, more obviously as a Person than that, more able to reveal the truth of His character in action we can see, not merely hear in our hearts.

That doesn’t mean we necessarily will understand what is happening; we might still make our own honest mistakes about it, or we might still try to fudge our way around it to protect some inflamed sense of our own self-importance.

But this leads to a number of questions about the act of God I am now considering: what should I mean by God coming to us, each of us, personally, in this manner?

Well, there have been odd tales, throughout history, all over the world, about encounters with Someone. We have dreams. We see things.

But it doesn’t take much thought to understand that such appearances, while perhaps important to us individually to one degree or another, aren’t enough to accomplish what God wants to do for all of us.

The sceptic will rightly say that these tales, taken altogether (and often even taken individually) are a garbled mess. Almost anything can be made out of them.

I am not saying they don’t serve, and haven’t served, some good purposes. But the paradoxical truth is that they are too individualistic, even assuming a proper understanding on the part of the recipients (which is assuming a lot!), to be a universal special revelation. They don’t have the best sort of trustworthiness.

The sceptic will rightly reply: very well, but He wouldn’t need to appear to each of us individually, would He? He could show up right now, ring the end-of-day bell at the New York Stock Exchange, and make a speech from the podium in front of the CNN cameras.

Yes, He could do that. I even expect that to reveal Himself universally to all persons, those living and those who have died, God will do something vastly much more impressive!

But again, would that be the best sort of trustworthiness, the best act of faith on His part, the best way to show Who He is… at least, at the beginning?

A notable show of power, even a monstrous show of power, would show us only: power.

We are already far too ready to worship mere power, whether we are religious or secular. We are already far too ready to idolize the person who can merely do more than we can; and, for that matter, we are already far too ready to jealously despise and envy those people. Even if we use a name for God that means ‘good’ (as ‘God’ in fact does as a word), we are likely to think in terms of meaning only power or authority.

What God wants to do, what we need done for us, isn’t simply an announcement or demonstration, as if He was a candidate for President with a platform, or MacArthur returning to the South Pacific, or Elvis opening a new show in Las Vegas after all these years.

Even dropping out of the sky on clouds and rolling up the heavens as a scroll, to sit in judgment upon a Jerusalem throne–or upon a Chinese Mountain of Heaven–isn’t all we need, as individual people, because if power is all that is shown by God, then we will worship only power. I do expect an ultimately obvious reign of power to happen someday, too; but because God wants to help us best, He must do something else, too… something else, first.

We need to see the truth that He is a person, first and foremost, for us–for us, and with us.

Okay, so why don’t we have a personal manifestation of God wandering around beside all of us, constantly; not showing off His divine niftiness, necessarily, but giving us the personal attention we need?

I think part of the answer is: we do have something of this sort already, in our conscience!–this is a major role of the Holy Spirit, the 3rd Person of God, in relating to God’s creatures. But if we aren’t ready to listen to our conscience, and try our best to understand it and work with it–even if we don’t recognize it to be the work of the Holy Spirit–then we are only going to be more petulantly annoyed at a personally vouchsafed manifestation of God following us around. Even if we thereby believed God existed, we still in our sins wouldn’t necessarily believe in God.

What if we all receive an experience like this when we die? No doubt that would help, and so I do not doubt it will happen (sooner or later)! But again it wouldn’t by itself help us relate to God beyond what our sin inclines us to think and expect about ultimate power.

There are numerous delicate balances, which are important to God–important enough for Him to have instituted them to begin with, and to keep them going even to this day: the balances of having a real creation, with real people, and real effects from subordinate actions and reactions. God doesn’t in fact hold Himself apart from these situations, dictating them from on high; God rather empowers these situations to exist at all, as He empowers His creations within these situations, allowing His creatures to contribute in various ways to the real story of that Creation.

This is what ultimate power actually does; but this is hard for us to imagine and to keep in mind. We need the Throne of Power to be a throne that reveals the self-sacrificial love and positive justice of ultimate power, the ultimate Truth of God Most High. We need the throne to be a seat of propitiation, not only in the sense that we throw ourselves on the mercy of the throne, but in the sense that the King comes to lead His rebellious subjects out of their rebellion, to lean upon Him, to smile upon Him.

Would multiple manifestations, seven billion God-images wandering the planet along with us, be in themselves demonstrating this truth to us about God, for us to repent as sinners and commit to cooperating with Him instead?

I discount the ‘problem’ of limited resources; He could miraculously take care of such a trivial problem as extra food. He would want to eat and drink with us, I think. Why? To show us that He cares about His creation.

But showing that He cares about His creation, means showing that He cares about respecting the rules of the Nature He has instituted. He would limit the amount of flashiness. Extra food and drink on special occasions, perhaps; but going hungry with us otherwise. Even depending on the charity of others for food or feasting.

He would especially want to let us see Nature affecting Him–by His voluntary, self-sacrificial choice.

And not only do we need to see His humility with respect to His own natural creation, but we need to see His humility with respect to us: how He lets us do a lot of what we want to do, even when it’s bad–for us, for other people… and for Him.

What we do when we sin, hurts God. I suspect the devils know this very well, better even than we can know, though I also expect they ignore or discount the truth of God’s voluntary acceptance of this suffering, preferring instead to believe that they are forcing God to react to their power.

We need to see that we hurt God with our sinning; and we need to see that God voluntarily bears our sins against Himself: suffering along with our victims–suffering for all-mighty love of us, even if we are the chiefs of sinners.

And, while there are numerous other goals that this manifestation of God’s fundamental self-sacrifice would in principle be acting to accomplish, there is also something else that I have asked you, my reader, to keep in mind, on occasion, throughout this book:

God loves sinners–and that means all of us. It at least means me; I think it includes you, too, however much of a sinner you may be. (And however much of a sinner, or not, you think you may be!) He loves us enough, as I have said before, to let us make our own horrid contributions to history, His story. The innocents suffer unjustly, because God loves us. You and I have suffered something we ought not to have suffered, if only by being born like this, because God loved our first rebellious progenitors; and because God still loves the rebel angels, and the rebel humans, who insist on tampering with His creation.

The bill for all this unjustness–not only what happens to you and me, but also what you and I inflict on other people unjustly–ends up eventually with God Himself. It isn’t His fault; but He is authoritatively, sovereignly responsible.

So, it is only fair that He should pay for allowing us to be the sinners whom we are. Isn’t it?

We need to see that God truly is fair, despite all the injustice around us. And the best way, the only way, to fully demonstrate that to us…

…is for Him to let Himself be condemned unjustly to suffer, as a Person (just as each of us is individually a person), by the enemies He loves.

But He cannot do this in a historical vacuum. There are other goals He will be acting to accomplish, too. And that will be the topic of my next chapter.

CHAPTER 51 – “The Hope Of The People Sitting In Darkness”

If God is going to maintain all the various balances in His creation, while still working to His utmost to help effect our salvation from our own sins and the sins of our predecessors, then He will have to go about it within our history–not merely within the stories we tell ourselves (although He will do some work along those lines, too), but within the real natural reality we inhabit as synthetic creatures. This means He will act within a historical context, and it will be a context of His choosing: designed and guided, even ‘tweaked’ by Him to fit His plans; but also incorporating the choices of the people, the families, the nations, who will be a part of this particular story of history.

But those people will not be sock-puppets. They will be real people; they will be fallible, even though God works with them to the best of His own ability; and they will be sinners, just like the rest of us.

In fact, they are likely to be rather sinful!

When we look back into the beginnings of recorded history, we find that God has not yet evidently made the specially self-sacrificial impact I have inferred He will attempt, doing among us small and close what He is always doing throughout all reality. There are little hints, scattered here and there, of something similar to the notions I have inferred; but however much knowledge of God was vouchsafed to our ancestors in the legends and myths of prehistory–and even the beginning of history is shrouded in such mists–the knowledge has been muffled, and forgotten.

God has let us go as far away from Him as we can, while still being alive in this Nature; as He has let the rebel angels go as far away from Him as they can. He has allowed injustice to flourish first, so that eventually we shall see that however far sin may exceed, the grace of God Most High shall hyper-exceed it!

So from this bottoming out, this chaotic mass of strength-worship, world-worship, sex-worship, blood-worship, suffering-worship (of pain or of pleasure), this worship of not-God, of the null within the non-story that merely repeats like a wheel, this fracturing and perversion of what light we do have into fog…

…out of this, God will begin His mightiest and most subtle work.

The earth was formless and filled with futility; darkness lay over the chaotic deeps, of history and of myth–the myths of the world.

But: the breath of God still hovered above those chaotic swirling depths, and over the people drowned in them. God did not leave them sitting alone in darkness; still He strove to work with them, however little that might be.