Monthly Archives: January 2007

The Salvation of Non-Christians

Is Jesus Christ essential to the salvation of humanity? If so, how? One verse in the Bible in particular is often quoted by Christians to suggest that no one who does not explicitly believe in Jesus can be saved:

 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.  (John 14:6 KJV)

 On it’s face, this seems to be pretty bad news for anyone who hasn’t known about Jesus during their lifetime.  Billions of people have lived and died on earth and never heard the name “Jesus”. Among these were some very good people – some probably better than the average Christian.  Among these were some very sincere people, who tried to follow the truth as they understood it – possibly trying harder than the average Christian.  Would God really deny someone entry into heaven simply because they hadn’t heard of Jesus, while allowing someone to enter who was less moral, less sincere – but who said a “sinner’s prayer” and used the name of Jesus?

 In spite of all attempted defenses or explanations of this by Christians, we all know deep down that something’s wrong with this picture.  When our deepest moral intuition conflicts with our understanding of a particular scripture – we need to at least ask ourselves if we have possibly misunderstood the scripture.

 The Gospel of John, in addition to the above scripture, includes many similar “I am” scriptures in which Jesus claims great power and authority, for example:

 And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.  (John 6:35 KJV)

 Or…

 Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: (John 11:25 KJV)

 Or…

 Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.  (John 8:12 KJV)

 
Critical readers may be willing to simply dismiss all these saying of Jesus as later additions by Christians who had developed a much more elevated Christology than Jesus originally claimed. And they have a point. But let’s follow this train of thought a little further. In the last scripture quoted, Jesus claims to be the “light”, not simply of his disciples, or his town, or the Jews in general… but of the entire world – including, by implication, people who had NEVER HEARD OF HIM. This echoes a similar set of statements earlier in John’s gospel:

 In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not…the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.  (John 1:4-9 KJV)

 Who is this “He” who is the “light of the world”? John identifies it as the “Word” (“logos” in Greek). This “Word” is coequal with God himself. The “Word” is eternal, and creates all things.  In the Greek philosophies, “logos” was used to speak of the underlying reality of the universe – the animating power, the supreme truth. John implies that this “Logos” is, in fact, Jesus. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. 

 It sounds almost like we are talking about two different beings. In other gospel accounts, particularly earlier ones, Jesus (although a miracle worker) seems very human in many respects. He was born, suffered, and died. He didn’t know who touched him in the crowd. He asked God to save him from suffering.  He was hungry and thirsty.  Then there are these statements in John about the eternal, uncreated, omnipotent, omniscient Logos of God.  What is the relationship between these two descriptions?

 The answer worked out and agreed to by many Christians (after centuries of squabbling) is that Jesus Christ had TWO completely different “natures”. He had a human nature (let’s call that one “Jesus”) and he had a DIVINE nature as the Logos of God (let’s call that one “Christ”) and these two natures were seamlessly united in one person.  In eastern or New-Age terminology – one might say that Jesus was an “Avatar” – a person completely united with the Divine Nature so as to be an incarnation of God.

 This helps us to understand some of the otherwise incomprehensible claims of John. How, after all, could Jesus – one individual man – be the light which enlightens EVERY SINGLE PERSON who comes into the world? (even those who’ve never heard of him). The answer is that it is the Logos of God who enlightens all people. All people, in other words, have access to the underlying Reality of the cosmos. All of them are connected to the creative energy which animates the universe. All of them have access to the universal Truth at the root of all things. All people who have ever lived are immersed in the Logos. All people are enlightened by “Christ”, even if they have never heard of “Jesus”.  Only in THIS way can Christ be the light of the world, and enlighten all.  Such a statement fits in Jesus’ mouth only because he is united with the Logos of God.

 But now let us re-examine our problem scripture: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” But does this refer to the human nature “Jesus”? Does it refer to the preacher of Nazareth, born in Bethelem and crucified in Jerusalem? Or does it refer instead to the divine nature of “Christ”, the light of the world?  If it refers to “Christ” the Logos – then the whole puzzle is solved. We might imagine a person worthy of heaven who didn’t know the name “Jesus” – but can we imagine a person in heaven other than by the path of universal truth and light? Everyone who comes to the Father comes through the Christ principle – but many of them do not know the name of Jesus.

 Every person who has ever lived is in touch with the Christ principle. It lives at the core of every soul. It enlightens the world’s great religions, and inspires all the world’s great saints.  Every good deed is done through Christ. Every beautiful thing expresses Christ. Every truth embodies Christ.  And it is through Christ the Logos that God is approached.

 I’ve quoted it several times here, but one of my favorite passages on this is from the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis. In “The Last Battle”, a soldier who worships a demon (named “Tash”) meets Aslan (Jesus) in a final judgement. He is accepted into heaven, and is confused, because he has served Tash all his life. Aslan explains to him: “For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath's sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child? I said, Lord, thou knowest how much I understand. But I said also (for the truth constrained me), Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days. Beloved, said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had been for me thou shouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek."

My First OBE

astralLet me describe one of my first and most vivid OBE’s (Out of Body Experiences). It is probably so vivid to me because it was such a shock at the time. I was working at a night watchman in college and so I slept during the day. I was staying with my Aunt. My bedroom was in the basement of her home.

I was in the middle of a dream of some kind. I don’t remember exactly what the dream was about, but suddenly I “woke up” only to find myself floating in the kitchen on the first floor! The whole scene was real, but it was even more “real” than reality. Everything vibrated with an intense aliveness. All the colors glowed with crisp intensity. I realized that I must be having an OBE (I’d read a bit about them). With that realization, a kind of excited panic set in, and I found myself being pulled forcefully backwards, like a fish being rapidly reeled in. The pulling seemed to come from the middle of my body somewhere, as if I had a cable hooked to my back. Even though I started flying backwards rapidly, I had time to notice all sorts of interesting details. I noticed several new magazines lying on a table in the living room as I rushed past them. As I was pulled through a wall, I could literally feel the materials of the wall passing through me. I could sense the sheetrock, the grains in the wooden beams. I even remember seeing lettering on the electrical cable conduits in the walls. I was pulled downward into the basement and felt the fibers of the carpeting as I was pulled through the floor. I was then very rapidly pulled backwards onto my bed, and felt myself land on the bed, back into my body, with a sudden jolt, and was instantly wide awake.

I sprang out of bed and went upstairs to check out the details of the experience. Everything in my experience had been in the correct position, down to the new magazines on the coffee table. I did NOT rip open the sheetrock to check the lettering on the electrical conduit 😉

Obviously, this one anecdotal experience is not enough to be scientifically persuasive to an outsider. However, as the one who experienced it, it was real beyond a shadow of a doubt. It was, if anything, MORE real than ordinary consciousness. It was quite literally impossible to entertain any serious doubts about the experience.

Experienced OBEers will tell you that one of the difficulties with in validating the astral world to an objective observer is that the astral is a gateway to all sorts of other worlds that appear to be related to physical reality, but diverge from it to a greater or lesser degree. It appears to require intense concentration and practice to remain in that part of the astral world closest to the physical. If you pass through any windows, mirrors, doorways or walls, the difficulty increases. Each such passage allows you to transit off to some other reality. I have experienced this myself in other OBE’s. In one of the more interesting ones I saw my children downstairs watching a particular movie late at night. When I came back from the OBE, I checked and found all my children sleeping in bed. However, several nights later, they WERE downstairs watching that movie at about the same time (I hadn’t told them about the experience).

Robert Bruce (an experienced OBEer) has suggested that to validate the OBE experience objectively, a test should be designed so that the OBE practitioner can view a target without having to pass through any doors, walls or windows. Even then, only an experienced practitioner would be able to remain close enough to the physical world to read actual targets. So OBE’s are not terribly promising as a way to gather information about the physical world. Or perhaps more specifically, it’s difficult to know, based on an OBE, exactly WHAT world you are gathering information about.